Saturday, April 30, 2011

Still Here!

Spring is flying by, but we're still lucky enough to be enjoying springlike temperatures.  Any day now, I expect the mercury and the humidity to rise to 90, and stay there 'til September.  In the meantime, I'm truly grateful for the beautiful weather we're having this weekend, and the time to enjoy it!

Last Sunday, you may recall, was Easter.  Which meant that Miss Chef and I were both working at the restaurant (she in the kitchen, I at the door...and the dining room...and back hall...etc.)  It was a really rough day; one that should go into the book every chef's career is worth.  The dishwasher didn't show up; the first seating had a table of 20 that took longer than the allotted time, leaving 20 people standing outside waiting to be seated; the kitchen sent out the wrong party's meals first; I had to go on a run to KFC for bags of ice, and we still  ran out; the last-minute replacement dishwasher knocked over a bus tub full of dirty dishes, breaking plates with a resounding crash that stopped conversation dead in the entire restaurant.

And we still had a seating to go.  Phew!

Oh, and it got better...apparently, back at the house, Rosie was busy having intestinal issues.  'Nuff said.

Of course, all that on a Sunday made Monday a struggle--we both had lesson plans to finish up, and neither one of us had the energy to do it.  I don't know how, but we both got through the day, and then struggled on through the rest of the week.  I don't remember ever being so happy to see Friday night!

But that's not what I came here to share with you.  I thought maybe you might be interested in seeing how the garden is doing?  Of course you are!  I know I am; I hardly get to see what's going on out there during the week.

l to r: tomatoes, peas, beets, broccoli

Well, it's coming along.  So, remember how I said I was only going to do a spring garden, since we'll be gone for two weeks this summer?  Yeah, well, Miss Chef and I went to the farmers market last Saturday (really? We had time to do that??) and somehow we ended up bringing home some tomato plants.  I blame Miss Chef.  She'll blame me that there are three of them.

Apparently, the way for us to buy a reasonable number of tomato plants is to plan not to buy any at all.

The big gap in the garden is for our neighbors to plant something.  Or, if they never get around to it, I'll put a squash plant and a zucchini plant in there, and see how they make out on their own.

In the small boxes in front of the garden, you can see where Miss Chef planted some herbs and marigolds.  And in the background, you can see the two flower beds she finished off a week or two ago.

The snapdragons are blooming, and all the plants look pretty happy.  I found the tag for the middle plant in the picture above: snow princess.

We had some pretty heavy winds a few days ago, from the remnants of that awful storm that killed so many in Alabama and other states.  We lost a few flowers.  I've always been terrified of tornados, since growing up in Ohio with regular tornado drills in the hallways.  I'm so grateful we were spared, and yet so nervous about the upcoming months.  May this be the worst Mother Nature throws at us this year.

So grow on, happy beets....

...keep climbing, little peas...

...because we'd like to eat you before the tornados do! lol

Flowers, you just keep up the good work, ok?

So Blogger wants me to write "tornadoes," and that just doesn't look right to me.  Doesn't growing up in Tornado Alley give me some sort of authority here??

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Miss Chef Did

So, while I've been blithering through my week, stressing about everything I possibly can, Miss Chef had a fun Monday afternoon.  She's paying one of the cooks at the restaurant to...well, basically to be our yard boy.  He came on Monday to start on my long wish list, and Miss Chef left school right after class to make sure everything was ok.

Being spring, she couldn't help herself.  She spent a little money at Home Depot, and finished up two flower beds that had been started last year.

gerbera daisies surrounded by white impatiens

begonias around snapdragons and a white flowering plant I don't remember the name of

Miss Chef was quite pleased with herself for preparing a surprise for me, and I was very happy to have another project finished.  So, I had to share.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Flartus Did

It's been a long, busy week, and the charms of Charleston are being buried under overtime, lesson planning and a really messy house.  All the more reason to put down in my journal everything I can remember.  One caveat: this is a really, really long post.  I have a lot I want to remember. :)  But never fear, there are plenty of pictures!

First off, we had a tiring departure from Charlotte.  Miss Chef and I both worked Thursday night, I until eight, she until about nine.  So it was about 10 pm before we finally hit the road.  (I had dropped Rosie off on Wednesday with our friend Maria, who adopted Smoky.)

Miss Chef did the full three-hour drive, while I stayed awake to keep her awake.  We had a little trouble pinpointing the hotel, in part because Miss Chef didn't remember exactly the name...turned out to be a Best Western.  We dragged into the room, brushed our teeth and dropped into bed around 2 am.  But only after setting the alarm for 6:30.  Ugh.

Miss Chef was attending a Food Educators conference at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.  It's an annual, nationally-organized event which drew members from as far away as California.  I'm sure Charleston's reputation as a creative culinary hotspot didn't hurt.

After dropping her off at the conference Friday morning, I drove on down East Bay Street to find somewhere to park the car.  Historic downtown Charleston is not worth trying to drive in.  I had reservations for a pirate tour at 10 am, which gave me an hour or so to wander.  I decided to head up to the Visitor's Center north of Marion Park.

It turned out to be a much longer walk than I anticipated, but I picked up some useful maps.  Then I wandered down King Street.  Most of the stores hadn't opened yet, but I noted a few that I knew Miss Chef had to visit.  Most important was an olive oil store similar to one we'd visited in Chicago.  Less important was this:

Still, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the historical and ultra-hip.

I wandered further down King Street, into the more residential areas.

I did a very sloppy job touching this photo up...

Thank heavens I stopped to look at a map, because I had wandered two blocks too far to hook up with the pirate tour.  I got a little exercise that morning, jogging along looking for a street that changed names, with six minutes to go...but I did make it in time.  Here's another shot of Eric and Capt. Bob.

Although beautiful, Capt. Bob made a bit of a nuisance of himself at times, squawking incredibly loudly when groups of schoolchildren went by.  Apparently he wanted to play with them!

On the pirate tour, we walked the lower part of Charleston, "south of Broad" (where the SOBs live, naturally).  We heard about the tales of Stede Bonnet, Jack Rackham and Mary Bonney and of course North Carolina's favorite, Blackbeard.  Eric knows his stuff, and enjoyed punching a few holes in pirate myth.  There was no "arrrr"ing and no walking the plank.  But Blackbeard did stuff lit cannon fuses under his hat to intimidate his victims.  I'm quite certain that the manifestation of the Dread Pirate Roberts in the movie the Princess Bride was drawn from Blackbeard's biography.

After the pirate tour, I wandered up to the historic market, where I rather quickly strolled past the tchotchkes, gewgaws and booth after booth of budget-busting sweetgrass baskets.

I had a decent lunch at the Sweetwater Café on Market Street--a pretty good pecan-crusted chicken sandwich that looked kinda gross and was hard to eat, but made good use of those pecans.  To make Miss Chef proud, I substituted a salad for the fries, but it was a very mediocre salad.  Oh well, I tried.

I've decided I have to get over any discomfort re: photographing restaurant meals, before our trip this summer.

At some point Miss Chef called me to let me know she'd be done by 4:00.  I was thinking about heading back to the hotel for a nap, as I was at this point footsore and still tired.  The disappointment in her voice made me decide to keep strolling along the streets, soaking in the atmosphere, and stopping to take advantage of any handy park benches I came across.

Savannah's not the only town with beautiful cemeteries!

That evening Miss Chef and I had reservations at Cypress, whose chef is a James Beard nominee.  Since our table time wasn't until 8:15, we decided to graciously give in the the cajoling of friends of ours in Charlotte.  They had seen on a Food Network show a bit about a new cocktail bar in Charleston that does things the old-fashioned way.  They have specialty ice cubes to suit each drink.

Naturally, Miss Chef was intrigued, so we headed off to the Gin Joint.  We got to sit at the bar, which is a desirable spot, for we got to watch firsthand the careful pouring, stirring and shaking that goes into a well-crafted cocktail.  There wasn't a blender to be seen.  I got a blackberry royal fizz (girly, beautiful and delicious) while Miss Chef got the Gin-Gin Mule--shaken up with housemade ginger beer!  She loved it.

After getting a good buzz on, we crossed the street to Cypress, where a very open and modern space greeted us.  The dining room soars all the way up to the top of the building, giving a grand view of the glassed-in two-story wine vault.  We counted 24 bays of about 8 columns each, holding two or three varieties in each column.  Impressive a bit, non?

Dinner was superb.  Although it took a while for the server to approach the table, the rest of the service was fine.  To start, we ordered a charcuterie plate, which included sopressata, carapaccio (I think), pâté and head cheese! I had never tasted head cheese and was relieved to discover that the reason I don't like it is because it's too fatty.  Bleah.  More pâté, please!

Here's an ugly photo of my beautiful entrée.

Pork schnitzel on white corn hominy, dressed with beautiful radishes, pickled red onion and the sweetest roasted red peppers you can imagine.  I was so taken with my meal that I can't even remember what Miss Chef had!  I think it was a vegetarian risotto--it had ramps in it, which she wanted to try.  They were a little stingy with the ramps, but I do believe Miss Chef ate all her vegetables that night.  And then I made her drive home, because the wine on top of the cocktail was too much for me to handle!

So that was day one...oh boy, this is getting long.  Ok, day two was Saturday, which meant, of course, a visit to the Farmers' market!  So we once again got up too early.  The market was pretty darn big, with plenty of local artisans and crafters, and lots of greens and local strawberries.  Yikes, it's strawberry season already??

After doing our bit to support the local economy, I drove Miss Chef off to school ("Have a good day!") and headed down the peninsula.  This time I parked in the garage by the Aquarium, for the boat for Fort Sumter leaves from right next door.  It wasn't a pretty boat, but like any smallish ferry.  The National Park Service owns the fort, so a Ranger (complete with Smoky-the-Bear hat), was on board to give us a very nice summary of the events leading to the first hostilities of the Civil War.

Here are a few quick shots from my brief visit to the fort.

A re-enactor playing Union commander Major Anderson.
Maybe I should crop out those tourists behind him, eh?

Some more authentically historical artifacts than that pay phone...

A wall of the powder magazine damaged by an explosion.
It's now supported by concrete beams.

And a couple of shots from the boat ride...

the USS Yorktown

I got clever at this point, and tried out the free trolley run by the city.  I highly recommend it--there are three different lines, and they pretty much hit all the typical tourist areas.  One even stopped right in front of our hotel, over on the Ashley River side of the peninsula.  Huh, wish I'd noticed that the day before.

I stopped by the farmers' market again for lunch...

A ginormous ham-and-cheese omelet sandwich(??) and the best grits I have ever eaten.
And I don't really like grits.

...then back to Market Street to get onto a carriage tour.  I was hankering for some more general history of the buildings after my pirate tour, and also eager to get off my aching feet.  This is Al, a six-year old Percheron who likes to rest his head on things...including, according to our guide, the backseat of a very high-end BMW convertible.  Anyway, Al pulled me and my aching feet (along with several other tourists) around town while I learned a lot more about Charleston.

Thanks Al!

St. Phillips church with yet another carriage--Charleston smells like horse poop.

Oh heck, now even I'm getting bored of all this...  Skipping along...  We went back to the Gin Joint that evening, before our reservations at Oak.  This restaurant is a steakhouse, which seems to specialize in ridiculous portions and attract a loud and tipsy clientele.  The food was great--the $15 burger was actually worth the price--but we couldn't wait to get out of the noisy bar area, and skipped dessert.

Sunday Miss Chef was free, so we spent the morning and part of the afternoon walking around--again.  I cannot express how much my feet hurt at this point.  But I made sure to drag her down King Street to that olive oil store.

Oh, but I can't forget my most important food discovery in Charleston!  The Macaroon Boutique, on John Street!  I found it Friday afternoon, I think...and dragged Miss Chef in there on Saturday and Sunday.  It's the most authentic French bakery I've seen in the States (notwithstanding the apple turnovers in front).

Not to be fooled by the name, I discovered they make delectable croissants, beautiful breads and of course...those incredible macaroons.  I must, must go back, because I just didn't have room time for the delicate-looking almond frangipane.  Oh, and how did I happen to find this place, you ask?  As a matter of fact, I strolled right by, until about two storefronts down, I was hit by The Smell.  The Aroma.  The delicious, wafty perfume of fresh baked goods.  More simply put, I followed my nose.

Ok, just two more photos to wrap up...

The wildly picturesque graveyard of the Unitarian Church.

Sleepy bookstore kitty in the front window.
A professional at ignoring curious passerby and patrons with noisy cameras.

Sincere thanks to all who made it through to the end!  If you ever find yourself headed Charleston way, let me know and I can point you in the direction of some delightful tasty treats.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where Flartus Was

Ok, ok, calm down, y'all!  I was only gone for a long we were fairly close to home.  Here's the answer, in pictorial format.  They're arranged more or less from least to most obvious, so see how quickly you can identify the city!

Ready, set...GO!

The most beautiful post office I've ever been in.

A slightly different view of a famous landmark.

A couple of other iconic landmarks in camouflage.

Typical architecture

A well-known street.

Does this help?

This is iconic, isn't it?

Get out your old history books if this doesn't solve it for you.

Look, I'll spell it out for you...

I have tons more pictures that I'd like to show you, but that's all I have time for right now.  To summarize, Miss Chef had a conference to attend here, and I went along for the ride.  She was in sessions most of Friday and Saturday, so I spent a lot of time walking around on my own.  I also did a pirate tour (thus Cap'n Bob and friend in my previous post), a carriage tour and a tour of Fort Sumter where the Civil War began.

Our timing was wonderful.  This month marks the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, so there were extra events and exhibits.  The farmers' market started this past Saturday.  The famous shopping area of King Street was closed to cars for Second Sunday, so we were able to spend some time strolling along.  And Sunday was also the twice-a-year French service at the Huguenot Church--which we missed, because we forgot to calculate in time for packing up and checking out.

Most of all, though, the weather was fabulous.

And yes, we ate a lot of fabulous food.  But more on that later.  For now, I'll just say Charleston has won me over completely.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Where in the World Is Flartus?

Hmmm...wherever it is, Miss Chef is definitely with her.

They have beautiful gardens...

...and the weather is gorgeous this weekend.

But.....!  There's more than just pretty scenery to enjoy.  There are some interesting characters...
Cap'n Bob is the one on the right.
...and lots of historical artifacts!

So...where in the world is Flartus??

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Positive Things in March

Phew, what a month!  This one put me through the wringer.  This picture's about the only one I could wrangle up that I haven't already posted here.  With the long hours at work, all kinds of excitement on our HOA board and Miss Chef's neverending need for ironed chef jackets, my little photography hobby's suffered.

A few weeks ago, I turned back through the pages of my planner where I keep track of my Positives, to discover I'd skipped nearly two weeks.  "Well, this month's list will be a short one," I thought.

But now as I flip all the way back to March 1st, I think perhaps it might not be as short as I'd feared...

1. After weeks of stressing, cleaning and extra effort, Miss Chef's culinary department at the Art Institute received a very positive evaluation from the ACF (American Culinary Federation).  This means the program is likely to be certified, giving each graduate the designation CC (Certified Culinarian) to put after their names.

2. After a horrible, stressful long day in which I had to deal with non-work issues while already several days behind at work, Miss Chef had dinner waiting for me at home: Jim 'n' Nick's Barbeque.  She knows just how to make me happy!

3. I finally opened the bottle of wine given to us by neighbors.  Not just any wine--they actually made it, right in their living room!  They have a sort of wardrobe set up with all their fermentation process; it's a side hobby they've been dabbling with.  But, even for dabblers, the wine was good; so good I had to call them up to tell them.  It was a nice way to reach out and connect with people we see only sporadically.

4. The numerous Bradford pear trees started their annual floral show around the 4th.  Within a week, the ornamental cherries and apples were joining them.  It's always a spirit-lifter to walk or drive around town when everything is so gracefully blooming.

5. During one of those horrid, stress-filled weeks, I found myself outside late at night, waiting for Rosie to find the perfect spot to pee.  Looking up, I noticed the frigidly clear sky with the stars like the proverbial diamonds.  One in particular caught my eye--it was blue, and it twinkled.  I don't recall ever seeing a star twinkle so definitively.  It made me feel like I finally understood why the stars have always held such mystery for us.  What are you doing up there, Blue?  And what are you trying to convey with your twinkles?

6. When I stress, it really affects my sleep.  Even when I do sleep, I do it poorly, often waking up feeling like I've been clenching every muscle in my body for eight hours (or six, as the case may be).  One morning I awoke in the dark, desperate to escape the negative frame of mind that was defining my existence.  I found myself silently praying, "Help me see the love."  I don't pray.  Not normally.  But I do believe in the power of prayer, and, if nothing else, I do believe in the benefits of raising your thoughts to a higher plane, above the petty worries of daily life.  I'm not going to tell you that I walked out the front door that day to sunshine and roses...but neither did I have an anxiety attack on the drive in to work.

7. My eldest nephew celebrated his 12th birthday over there in the land of Angles.  Due to the time difference, I had to take a short break in the afternoon and go stand in the parking lot to call him from my cell to wish him a happy birthday.  How cool is it that I can use this tiny little plastic gadget to have a crystal-clear conversation with a loved one 4,000 miles away?

8. Miss Chef got a random Friday night off.  Since her favorite meal is one that she doesn't have to cook, we ended up at TGIFriday's for dinner.  Boring, right?  No, because we never get to have a normal, Friday-night date, so it was pretty special for us.  I even had a pretty good glass of wine.

9. I got my taxes done!  A month early!  All by myself, without any wringing of hands, I downloaded Turbo Tax, then sat down on  a Thursday evening and got it done.  I even beat Miss Chef to the punch.  (If you're wondering why this is such a big deal, check back in a couple of weeks...I'm going to re-run my tax rant.)

9b. Part of my stressing had to do with money.  We've been trying to set cash aside to cover all of our expenses for our Big Summer Vacation, but bill after bill came up.  Annual things, like Terminix, the dog's pills, the oil change "oh and you need $500 worth of work" experience.  The positive?  I had forgotten about tax refunds.  Mine was enough to finish off my credit card and cover the apartment in Paris, including the refundable deposit.  Big load off my mind.

9c. Oh, and my state refund--that's for shoes. :)

10. I went to the volunteer meeting for the Matthews Community Farmers' Market--check out the link to see how lucky we are to be able to support this market!  I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that getting together with a group of like-minded people is an infrequent pleasure that I truly appreciated.

11.  I got the garden in, more or less.  But you already knew that.

12 Without any planning at all, I brought Miss Chef breakfast in bed on a lazy Sunday morning.  She was still snoozing when I got up with a grumbly in my tumbly.  After getting on slippers and sweats, I toddled out to the kitchen to toast a bagel.  I slathered it with cream cheese and some of our homemade jam, then carried it back to bed, Miss Chef was much more awake, and feeling a bit peckish herself.  It was a quiet, humble little moment of happiness to split that yummy bagel.

13. Miss Chef returned the favor by grilling some burgers for dinner later.  So much yum!

14. Speaking of yum, we went back to the Crêpe Cellar, where I'd had dinner with some friends last month.  Miss Chef had been wanting to go, and she was not disappointed.  We had a lovely, delicious Sunday brunch.  I ate far too much, but loved every bite.  No dinner was needed that night, I can tell you.

15. Chef Adam had a wine tasting at the restaurant on a Monday night, when they are usually closed.  Since Miss Chef had the night off, and was on break from school--no 4:30 am alarm on Tuesday--she made us reservations.  The rep running the tasting had done one for the restaurant staff the week before, and Miss Chef was impressed by his depth of knowledge and clear explanations.  We ended up tasting six wines that night, all from Oregon and Washington states.  We also ended up staying for dinner, as neither of us was in a state to drive home right away!  hee hee

16. The evening of the wine tasting, the temperature was forecast to drop down to the low 30s (yeah, those 80-degree temps ended a couple of weeks ago).  Due to our, erm, exhaustion, I completely forgot about covering the newly-planted broccoli and thriving lettuce.  But, in spite of a heavy frost, they both came through with no damage at all.  Plus...the peas and beets came up that morning!  (But you already knew that.)

17. Perhaps the best news of all--Miss Chef found a colleague with the knowledge to try recovering our crashed computer drive.  Not only did he recover ALL of our files--including everything for my French class starting Monday--; not only did he do it for less than half the price of Best Buy, in a miniscule fraction of the time; not only did he discover that we were right to go buy another one, since the old one was beyond repair...but he also said the new computer was a really great machine that he'd like to own himself.  In almost complete ignorance, we had made a very good decision.

Wow, what a roller coaster it's been.  Compared to last month, starting back to teaching seems like nothing at all.  I hope your March went out like a lamb, and is leaving you with a wonderfully pleasant April.

Wanna be positive, too?  Here's where you can share: