Saturday, July 31, 2010

Down by the Water - Part II

Part II of my St. Augustine Food segment is about Saltwater Cowboys, a restaurant set among the salt marshes just off the inter-coastal. If we looked hard enough, we could have tried to spy my dad's place, but we were focused on the fare - namely getting our fill. Luckily it was still early and we had beat what everyone promised to be "the crowds." It seemed strange to imagine as we walked toward the shack-looking hideaway with it's great old wood and worn out feel. It seemed completely deep south, as if frog legs and alligator tails SHOULD be on the menu in a place like this (the South has a way of making me feel like I'm in a foreign country of sorts for that reason).

I'm not sure what got in to me but we happily chose to sit out on the back porch, forgetting the weight of humidity on our skin the past few days. The view drove home the southern feel with a long dock that seemed to lead to no where, at least with the tide out. The strange sounds of zapping and late afternoon crackled in the background and a den of "stray" cats sat just below the deck, waiting for handouts (during the meal, a few came up to take in the guests, explore their options, and Jedi mind trick us into giving them scraps).

Adding to the already heavy air, we choose to dig right in to the fried goodness of it all. D went with soft shell crabs and I choose to get a good ole fashioned southern fixture - fried chicken, baked potato and cheese grits (cheese in grits?! yes please! with a side of heart-attack thank you very much).

Our server gladly took our order and promised to return with cheesy bread. We had clearly discovered a cheese mecca deep fried in fat with a side of marmalade for sweetness. I was in heaven.

And then the food arrived...

and we lost all real estate on the table (and in our bellies).

By the end of it all, we were in pain with the amount of food we had eaten in the heavy humid air - it felt unbearable. Even our drinks were sweating.

We still managed to order take-away key lime pie and pineapple pecan pie (what I imagined to be different than it was b/c I LOVE pecan pie - the key lime beat it out hands down). Inside the restaurant AC felt unbelievable especially since our pores no longer worked properly - now clogged with both sweat and oil. Families were stuffed in to tables at the front end of the experience while their kids ran around squealing (soon to be in food coma). We looked at some of the old-fashioned photos along the walls and D stopped for a hat (he had to commemorate the best soft-shell crabs he has ever had). When walking out, we passed the droves of people waiting on the front porch to get in. Thank god they had an outside bar or surely the would loose business on the wait. One man said to me as I passed by, "look, dessert!" I wish I would have coolly said, "Thanks, I hear the pie is good too!" (It was one of those moments that you want to have a re-do on for the sheer comedy lost).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Down by the Water - Part I

We were just in Florida...two weeks ago. In any case, we had two really great meals I don't want to let slip away. The food was fantastic, but more so, it was the surroundings that snuck in to my heart.

The first night we were in St. Augustine, we went to a place called the Purple Olive for dinner. We had eaten a few hours before with my dad (after we traversed a good portion of the US and the eastern Florida coastline) but after he went to sleep, it just felt right to take D down along the beach as soon as possible, along the strip that has been so fondly familiar my entire life.

In any case, we found ourselves here for dinner surrounded by local art. It began as one of those meals where you remind yourself, "I really enjoy hanging out with my partner." (D had just returned from the bathroom only to report the table of cougars on the other side of the restaurant checked him out. I liked his candor.) It was that kind of night - where the conversation might take us any place and be light-hearted and fun.

We ordered soup to start. I chose a delicious avocado-based gazpacho. It was breaking towards the end but I thought it was a brilliant and unique take on the old reliable summer soup (I still need to search for a recipe online to make here). D always inspired by a coastline nearby - ordered the Red Snapper Special with black beans. And though I haven't had any fish since I started getting round, my craving for fish and pasta beat out my fear of mercurying my kid to death (too bad the photo doesn't do the plate justice).

As I said, it wasn't really the food as much as the atmosphere. Half-way through our soups, an older man walked in the the room and was seated at a table across from us. He was a character of sorts, a regular for sure. He owned the place the second he walked in - it almost seemed as if he was the night time entertainment the way he commanded every one's attention by speaking in general to the room and so boldly to the staff (they all knew him so well and didn't even have to take his drink order). We were intrigued, as was everyone else. It took us a little while to fully acknowledge his activity and break the privacy of our table but once we opened ourselves up to paying attention, we were taken in by his energy and charm. We even invited him to come sit with us for dinner. He was alone and we knew he had great stories to tell. He turned us down numerous times as he didn't want to interrupt our meal but he still felt inclined to converse from table to table, which we happily did. The staff treated the scene as if it was his normal routine. It was the kind of thing that sounds annoying in theory when you're out for dinner but everyone in the room really did not seem to mind and I felt like we were the lucky winners who got the man's attention first. D had to ask where he was from and find out what his story was. He shared his background about living in New Jersey and starting a business after he retired from Mountain Bell (shout out to my pops who worked there for years as well, adding a bit of irony), he shared about his kids and being married and loosing his wife, all between sips of Merlot and our meals being delivered. There were moments where we drifted to our entrees and sat in silence again but always we would return to further the conversation. It was an interesting back and forth. "Are you sure you won't come sit with us?" we pleaded. "No, it's better this way," he replied (it didn't suit his otherwise outgoing personality).

We had dessert to make the moment last longer (that and it sounded friggin' off the hook - Chocolate Gateau made daily and meticulously by the chef). We wanted more time with our new friend. I could have taken him home in a take-away bag. He told us things like, what he saw when he saw us looking at each other (which made us look at each other more) and why we should appreciate the little things. He made D get up and pull my chair out when I came back from the bathroom. And when D asked for his bill along with ours, the waiter said "no" in a way that explained we were not the first people to ask and also not the first people to get shot down. One couple even came over to introduce themselves to him. D finished another glass of wine to drag our time out even more - we didn't want to leave while he was still eating. There were few people left in the room when we finally got up from our table to leave. I went over and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He held both my hands in his in a way that reminded me of my grandfather; in a way that was so kind-hearted and appreciative and delicate for a man. He asked for one more hug, which I gladly gave. He looked at us both with his lifetime behind him and ours ahead of us. He told us to take care of each other one last time. Even thinking about it now, I can't gush enough about this man's energy.

I wanted so badly to take his photo from across our table but something in me felt it would be an invasion of the magic. Rather our waiter captured this one horrid shot that seems to be taken from a 1991 disposable camera (can you dig my SATC Sara Jessica Parker moment with my entree dish in front of my pregnant belly? Yes I did just SJP myself - it's my blog, I can do that here).

Monday, July 19, 2010

En Plein Air

"in the open air" - a French expression particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors

Art night is always so inspiring and this past one was a special treat. We made our way over to Cheesman Park for some late day light as it flirted with natural colors and general park activity.

I always forget what a great view Cheesman presents: not only can you catch glimpses of the front range but you also get a great perspective of downtown. The Acropolis sits as a vantage point, alive with the smooth moves of a yoga class directly followed by the excitable activity of a dance group.

The people watching can't be beat. Passersby run and work out, some sit or lay with lovers and friends, some stroll in deep conversation (and some yell obnoxiously horrible untruths about Denver's general population and though I want to curse "them" and send them packing to their dream locale - Colorado Springs - I can appreciate said crazy to be just as much a part of this juicy scene). It all is so active and alive with only the type of energy and promise only a summer night can bring.

We sit and toy with our paints, creating blended color and revealing shape. I'm so glad Jody found some time to take photos while her masterpiece marinated.

Gina took Jody's sage advice and figured out impressionistic color.

Julie used her palette knife to create these beautiful strokes.

I played with my new watercolor set (who would have thought me + watercolors but I do like how mobile it can be).

Dessert follows a wonderfully fresh salad from Julie's garden and some cold pasta, which seemed suiting for the heat. Stories abound - some about work, some about family, some about pregnancy, some about long lost English professors (mmm).

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

The Pièce de résistance in my garden this year is the strawberries I planted in the oversize metal bucket my mom gave me a few years back. It's the first time I've planted strawberries. I find them to be a light-hearted, colorful addition to the crew of veggies and herbs I have kicking around.

In any case, I've been watching them like a stalker and I think I missed my first chance at their fruit - not sure if it was the squirrels who beat me to it. Today though, I got up close and personal in a private photo shoot. They make me so happy to watch - their colors are beautiful and their dimply skin so plump. When I planted them I envisioned on hell of a Strawberry Shortcake, something to the likes of Alicia Paulson's beautiful work, but sadly I don't think the "crop" will provide enough. For now I will have to take it in slow growth and enjoy one bite at a time. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Food Fireworks

I started this Fourth in such an unusual way. Most of the time, we are in the mountains camping. Years past, we have been far, far away backpacking in some beautiful Colorado country and avoiding all the fireworks of the city. This year though, we couldn't even bring ourselves to get out of town. Too many house projects and busy weekends made this one the one to be at home. So instead, D got up early to take his dirtbike for a ride. I woke up at 6:45 am to feel the unbelievable coolness of a cloudy morning and catch him for a few minutes. A satisfied Ginger lay in the early morning grass. I decided cuddling in bed with my book was the way to really begin the day (that and some chocolate milk). It felt too early though and once my love kissed me goodbye, I was fast asleep again. Later on, I woke up to a quit house with the sun peaking out from behind the early morning grey. I decided to make hast with the chorizo refried beans that D made this past week (truly a brilliant concoction). It would be the perfect base to my homemade huevos rancheros and proved to be one of the best breakfasts I have ever made. So great, I had to document it.

Afterwards, I realized I've been neglecting the beauty in the garden and decided to take a spin with the camera to catch some of the greatness we have growing out back. Something about it feels so fulfilling even though I do little more than water the plants and eat their bounty. Maybe that's enough; maybe it's getting back to that intrinsic activity of harvesting ones work.

Maybe it's knowing this is fresh, un(chemically)tarnished food I can enjoy anytime.

Maybe it's knowing there is a canvass outside my back door always changing.

Enjoy the holiday!