Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Café closed (but blog continues)

The small café that inspired this blog, sadly, has closed after about 10 years of operation. Sadly. The trough of the economic downturn has reached our fair burg, forcing the owners to call it quits. The presence of a huge state university created shielding economic bubble, but finally the center on could not hold. The place attracted a business lunch crowd, but not so much dinner

The 50-year old stand-alone brick building with two large front windows on either side of the door, started as a beer joint/domino hall, and is owned by the descendents of the original proprietor. The dining room walls were chockfull with fishing artifacts: hooks, poles, a framed display of knots, nets, reels, oil paintings, pulleys. Neon beer signs provided a warm glow. The used wooden chairs and tables had been sanded and refinished to a gloss.

The kitchen was all stainless steel appliances, food prep areas, shelves, and sinks. This restaurant routinely scored 100s on health department inspections. The chef was meticulous about food safety and cleanliness.

Although the menu was roadhouse fare—chicken-fried steak, catfish, ribeye steaks, hamburgers, BLTs—the menu contained some surprises: crawfish etouffé and occasionally, seafood gumbo.  For special occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, the chef (grandson of the original owner) would whip up sublime entreés, such as fish in a white wine sauce. Everything was prepared from scratch: even the onion rings were meticulously cut buy hand and dipped in a house-prepared batter.

The chef/owner routinely employed waitstaff from a substance-abuse halfway house. All those I worked with were outstanding, smart, efficient, and hard-workers. It was a great place to work and, to my thinking, a cultural icon.

Whither blog?

A tacit rule of the blogosphere is that one should post regularly. But my work hours prevent much activity on weekday evenings, and my quotidian ramblings don’t strike me as compelling reading. But I love the idea of a blog, and I love having this outlet, so I will continue.

When I started this blog, the intent was an outlet for amusing anecdotes from waiting tables at a small, independent roadhouse-type café. The café, its customers, and my fellow employees provided a wealth of material: addressing as “Hon” the former president of the enormous and famous state university in this fair city, appreciation of the hell-like atmosphere under which cooks work, the stage-whispered comments about a collegiate locker room from a well-respected community member, and admiration for the hard-working recovering substance abusers who served and cooked.

Later the reconstruction of my house from the ground up provided good material and photos. That project is on hold at the moment, to be resumed December 27. And there was the occasional completed craft project photo, home-crafted whittled crochet hook, farmers’ market.

 I notice photos of dinner and restaurant reviews are popular, but I rarely dine out. I did post a review of a particularly bizarre experience at what had been my favorite restaurant, Square One Bistro, on Tripadvisor.  The restaurant recently reinvented itself and, I hope, with an improved outlook. I joined a warm and welcoming Book and Dinner Club Meetup, affording me the opportunity to try new restaurants while enjoying good conversation. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Community Potluck

The Venn diagram of organizations functionally overlapped with the Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market is a type of paradigm-shifting, progressive, socially responsive roadmap of the Brazos Valley.
One Friend of the Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market is active in the Association for Social Entrepreneurship. A member of this group informed me of the twice-weekly community.  Every Saturday and 5:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m., this group hosts a potluck open to all at Neal Recreation Center.
One market day, customers could purchase vouchers for food that was donated to that weekend’s potluck after the close of market. Great idea, and a carload of gorgeous greens were delivered.
For two weekends now, I have prepared a dish to share: large crockpot of beans and greens and other vegetables and yesterday, a vegetarian lasagne with a picante kick to share for the Sunday midday meal. About 50 persons played soccer or warmed themselves around a wood fire on the grill. Others set up the table. Some of the folks appeared to be homeless or down on their luck. Others appeared to be nice, socially conscious college students. One young man had a comprehensive knowledge of the warming “quotient” of various fabrics (polyester, silk, wool) gained from “field study” while homeless. Admirably, he is now a college student.
The group—adults and children alike—took hands in a large circle. One regular member gave thanks for the meal we were about to enjoy, followed by introductions around the circle. The man to my right tenderly gripped my hand and that of his right neighbor, the entire time, even as he said the prayer of thanks.
I am a huge fan of potlucks. After another session of warming myself by the fire, I got in line. There was chicken and all manner of vegetables, salads, breads, lots of Christmas goodies. Iced tea.
After I found a seat, I noticed some of the college student-looking folks were not eating. Should I have abstained? No, a few were partaking. One college student said some more fortunate people make a distinction and consider themselves to be serving those left fortunate. But it was all good. I can hardly wait to return.

Multibeans1 1-lb package mixed beans, with kidney beans removed and replaced with mayocoba beans
many types of peppers, including a jalapeno or three, diced
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 bunch collards
1 bunch beet greens
3 or 4 bay leaves (laurel)
1 teaspoon basil
chile powder
kosher salt
Soak beans overnight. Discard soaking liquid.
Four or five hours before the event, sauté diced onions and peppers. Rinse greens, stack, roll up, and cut into strips. Throw everything into a 6-quart slow cooker with about twice the volume of water as vegetables. Cook on high four hours. (Important note: if it is necessary to add more water, add boiling water. Adding cool water will cause beans to harden.) Discard bay leaves (choking hazard).

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Good-bye and Godspeed, Daddy

My father passed away December 11, 2010, almost a decade after being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and was laid to rest with military honors at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Cave Creek. The service was a celebration of life rather than a funeral: a 21-gun salute and solemn prayer provided by the Disabled American Veterans, the presentation of the flag to my Mom by a Marine contingent, the mourner's kaddish by our neighbor and good friend of almost 40 years. Mom and each of us four children read an anecdote or two (to some knowing laughter). The ceremony ended with a bittersweet and utterly lovely rendition of Sunrise, Sunset by a professional singer, a friend of the younger of two brothers.

Dad on a photography outing.

He was an electrical engineer, avid hobbyist photographer, outdoor adventurer (camping, hiking, whitewater rafting, sailing), tennis player, husband, father of four and grandfather of seven. He had served in the Marines and always identified with The Few, The Proud. In 1970, he determined Arizona was the place to raise a family, so my parents left everything and everyone they knew on Long Island, New York, and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona.

I credit my father with with my love the the outdoors, of classical music, and more recently, of dogs.

His public and private personas were different. During my Thanksgiving visit, I learned of a side of my father I never knew. Throughout our lives, we had a contentious relationship. I learned recently, that he had a large cadre of loyal friends from his photography and outdoor adventure interests, as well as his dog-walking friends. The telephone never stopped ringing with calls for him, and there was a constant stream of visitors.

We made peace at the end. I wish it had come sooner, but that one conversation I will always treasure.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Found on a commute

Moving down the road at 12 mph, I’ve found all manner of items—
  • Leatherman precision multipurpose tool and leather pouch
  • wood-handled screwdriver
  • crescent wrench/pliers combo
  • lots of towels (chain cleaners)
  • wallet with money but not ID removed (tried for months without success to find owner)
  • all manner of clothing.
Yesterday, on a slightly different route on my daily commute to the office, I spied a piece of purple netting. In a hurry, I decided not to stop. Then I saw a discarded flexible cell phone protector. About 10 feet away, on a grassy swale beside the road, was an iPhone. I stopped, picked the three items up, and continued to work. I can use the 1.5 yards of netting on a sewing project I have in mind.

I charged up the iPhone using the sync cable from my iTouch, figured out the name of the owner via Facebook, and sent her a message. Very grateful, this young mother picked up her telephone, and gave me a small poinsettia and a cool bookmark of copper wire and a stone as a token of appreciation.

A Washington, D.C., commuter found a pannier belonging to another cyclist. A few years ago, I read a blog limited to items other cyclists had found along the way.