On my birthday, by the light of a candle that stood knee-deep and proud in a slab of peanut-butter-chocolate confection, I said to Jules,
“Wow. So 35. That’s, like, halfway to 40.”
He then reminded me that 35 is halfway to 70.
(1) CURSE ENGINEERS AND THEIR LIGHTNING-QUICK MENTAL MATH. You know what I meant, right? 35 is halfway between 30 and 40!
(2) Last week I dreamed of a book* on a pedestal in a bright white room. I peered inside the book, gasped, smiled, and slammed it shut. Then I ran, but I had a feeling I would be back.
(3) Despite considerable thought devoted to the subject, I still wonder if, despite my 35 years of Earth experience, I am responsible enough to create suitable living conditions for more than a Welsh corgi. I am relieved that I am not the only person who feels this way.
(4) I remind myself that thinking other people have their acts together is a trap. I feel like someone needs to reinforce this concept for me on a daily basis. Maybe in the form of a smartphone app featuring Admiral Ackbar?
The candle smoke hung thick in the air, in the dark. It curled toward my forehead, then dissipated.
Otherwise the day passed much like any other.
In September, during summer’s last gasp, a writer friend invited Jules and me to eat dinner in total darkness at the Seattle Blind Café.
We met in a candlelit foyer at Nalanda West—a place where, about a year earlier, I’d quit a basic meditation class because my feet kept falling asleep and I because I could not stop thinking about meditating while meditating. I was thus ever more determined to be UBER PRESENT AND MINDFUL during dinner. I directed my focus to sliding a plump strawberry off a fruit skewer without dropping it on the floor. Someone explained the timeline for the evening. There would be dinner, music, and stories from the blind individuals helping run the event.
We diners lined up single file, right hand on right shoulder of the person ahead, in a sort of Conga Line Into The Void.
The dining room was legit dark. Every window and door crevice had been blocked, every electronic device dutifully tucked away. One of the blind volunteers who led us into the room took my hand and set it on the back of a chair. “You’ll be sitting here,” he said. Later he told us his process for navigating a new city by bus every few weeks. Remarkable.
My hands were instantly all thumbs. I extended them in front of me. I discovered that the staff had taken pity on us and put our water in plastic bottles. There was a bread basket to be passed, olive oil dipping to be navigated, conversations to be started with the disembodied voices an arm’s length away.
At this point I would love to be able to say that the darkness increased my senses of taste and smell. But really, it just made me nervous. On the upside, no one knew how much bread I was taking from the basket, so I was able to soothe myself with more carbs than would ever have been socially acceptable in the light.
The food was vegan small bites.** Save for dessert, it had all been plated before we sat down. Some people started eating with their hands, licking avocado mousse from their fingers. This made me more nervous. More bread. More bread.
“Oh, there’s a fork at the top of the plate!” came the voice of Disembodied Jules.
Thank heavens, I thought. I grabbed the utensil, and yet I still couldn’t navigate my meal. I could barely get my food from plate to mouth. Everyone else seemed to have mastered this, and everyone else had moved on to discussing flavors and textures. Did you try the Brussels sprouts? That avocado mousse has a kick to it. And that ginger glaze on the carrots!***
Approximately 40 minutes later, I located the carrots. I attempted to spear one. A switch flipped in my brain.
“THIS IS A SPOON,” I said to Disembodied Jules.
“Yes,” he replied.
“YOU SAID IT WAS A FORK.”
“I know,” he said. “But it’s a spoon. Couldn’t you tell from the feel of it?”
In the end, it was not the dinner, but the music, that got me. The weirdest tears ever somehow dribbled up and out, against gravity, from a brand new part of my gut. I should have collected them in my water bottle and labeled it This This This, Remember This.
Then someone lit a candle. My eyes adjusted. And the room was ten times bigger than I thought it would be.
*It may or may not have been this book, which simultaneously delighted and terrified me as a child.
** Quite small bites. If you go, eat a snack beforehand, so you can focus on the experience sans rumbly belly.
*** Turned out that the chef who prepared said carrots was sitting across from Jules the entire time. Later we found out that his day job is cooking vegan, organic meals for a preschool.****
**** VEGAN ORGANIC PRESCHOOL. Is this amazing, or is it as annoying as the babyccino? Discuss.
The Blind Café runs in several cities and returns to Seattle from February 11-13.
In which I document that I really did try to get a jump on New Year healthy-ish eating.
In 2016, I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’m training to become a Pilates teacher.
Yes. She who online-orders pizza with one eye and watches QVC with the other. She who, at least half the time, just wants to lie in a pile of warm laundry and eat a baguette. She will, of her own volition, shimmy into a black unitard* to practice breath and precision and grace and poise.
I really do love Pilates, and the Fletcher Pilates work is my all-time favorite form of exercise. During law school, the breath work saved me from being eaten alive by the Anxiety Monster. Doing standing work with the Fletcher signature red braided towel (pictured above) has managed to pry my oft-hunched shoulders from my earlobes.
I finished the teacher training prerequisites last month, and I feel like I’m progressing nicely. I feel stronger. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. But much of the time, especially when practicing the more advanced moves, I also feel like this corgi trying to jump over a child-proof fence. Enthusiasm only carries us so far, my friends.
12/31/15, 9 AM. Surely the at-home version of Juice Generation‘s green açai breakfast bowl will strengthen and lengthen my wee corgi legs, I thought. I tried one of their smoothies the last time I was in New York. It was so delicious and nourishing, it sent me skipping into traffic. In their cookbook, which I recently bought as a “Christmas present for Jules” in a fit of health planning, an Alvin Ailey Dance Company member says she starts every day with said açai bowl. INSTANT GRACE AND POISE UPON CONSUMING.
So the thing was like granola and milk, basically. The granola was hemp granola, and it was surprisingly tasty. But the “milk” was an epic fail, possibly due, at least in part, to user error. A blend of high-dollar frozen açai packet and kale and spinach and almond milk, it looked and tasted like I was eating a very expensive mud mask with a spoon.
(As I reflect on my outfit choice for that morning, I see defeat was inevitable.)
Not three hours later, Jules and I arrived at General Porpoise, a new Capitol Hill doughnut shop from the glorious Renee Erickson. I tried a doughnut filled with huckleberry cream, and Jules had the one filled with quince and autumn-olive jam. I washed mine down with an apple-cardamom soda, while Jules stuck with coffee.
“This certainly tastes like a $4 doughnut, ” Jules said between greedy bites, sugar shining on his lips and chin. I concurred. Oh, that dough. The pillowy chew of baguette innards, now deep fried and sweetened.
Naturally, Jules ate his while wearing a Marathon Finisher Sweatshirt.
Also, autumn olives, as it turns out, do not taste at all briny, and Wikipedia says they contain more lycopene than tomatoes. Cheeky Healthy Monkey.
But perhaps we shall, at least for today, measure health in endorphins stockpiled? If so:
(1) For crying out loud, the place is called General Porpoise, which is the best sea-animal pun I have heard in a long time.
(2) Inside, they have a hot-pink espresso machine.
(3) Outside, I saw a Pomeranian dressed in a (possibly cashmere?) grey hoodie layered under a doggie-sized leather jacket.
So, you know. JOY TO ME and I WIN.
Happy New Year!
*QUICK SURVEY: How would you feel if your Pilates teacher showed up to class in a gold lamé unitard?
A. Terrified. Nauseated. Some things cannot be unseen.
C. It depends. Is it 1982?
D. It depends. Am I also wearing gold lamé?
Is it really time to abandon the covers? I have an unopened pint of Stumptown Winter Cheer Cold Brew with Milk and Mulling Spices in the fridge, which I’m thinking could be enough to lure me out of bed. It promises the chocolately brew that’s my absolute favorite in summer, now spiked with cloves and cinnamon and allspice. I’m hoping that it will be like my own private pumpkin spice latte, minus the cloying sweetness and social stigma.
But said coffee is, as the name suggests, cold. Stumptown’s web copy likens sipping it to “a swim in a snowglobe.” WHO IN HER RIGHT MIND WANTS TO SWIM IN A SNOWGLOBE?
Ooooh, mixed with rum, perhaps? Breakfast drink of champions! But that would entail locating the rum while in my current chilly, non-caffeinated state. Microwave it? Expeditious but crass. And forget about brewing and infusing my own.
This is a veritable Rubik’s Cube of beverage selection.
Our electric heater kicks on, inducing a Cirque du Soleil of Dust Bunnies. Our leaky aluminum windows fog and drip and fog again. I know Jules wants to wait until November 1 to begin our futile resistance against the dampness that will make us feel like we are camping outside all winter.
Battling water with water and soaking in a scalding-hot tub will be my only relief. Oooh … iced coffee and rum IN THE BATH?
He might as well surrender, you know. QVC has been selling cozy and cheer and autodelivery butter croissants and pre-lit everything all year, but the pace has really quickened of late. Last night, they nearly convinced me that a mix of purple and blue LED firefly lights would spruce up our little winter campsite quite nicely.
Back to bed, then.
:: 45 minutes later ::
The Stumptown cold brew contains milk, which means that I can use it as creamer for hot coffee! Yaaaaaaasssssss!
MIC DROP and SCENE.
Delicious Plan Required Reading: Scone or scone?
9:00 AM: Who needs a teapot-sized Aston Martin? Being a stowaway is riveting! Have successfully smuggled self (1) into The Girl’s luggage and (2) onto ferry bound for Victoria, home of The Empress Hotel and Earth’s most influential Afternoon Tea.
Plan to recruit elite Canadian teapots for key positions in my Delicious Plan starts now. I offer an attractive benefits package. It includes a free gym membership, absolutely no health insurance, and WORLD DOMINATION.
9:04 AM: AAAAAAAAAAAAA my ears bleed! Tea-vil laughter, coupled with motion of the boat, has triggered car alarm of highly sensitive BMW parked next to The Girl’s vehicle. Pangs of longing for teapot-sized Aston Martin. Perhaps I will sneak upstairs.
10:05 AM: Fresh sea air courses through my spout! A gentleman sits alone on a bench in the covered portion of the front deck. He plays a Bach partita on the mandolin. The music reverberates off the boat’s metal hull. Children scamper back and forth and point to the passing islands in wonder and stuff their faces with french fries. Other passengers move slowly, testing conditions on the deck, deciding, at last, that Flock of Seagulls Hair For the Rest of the Day is a small price to pay for a few moments in the salt and the sun and the wind. Melody lilts. Boat lilts. We dance.
10:05 AM plus 15 seconds: Have remembered am SUPERVILLAIN WHO HAS NOT THE TIME FOR POETRY. Especially with so much coffee being consumed on this ferry. To the snack bar!
10:07 AM: Unmitigated disaster. Unable to turn off all coffee makers on ferry without blowing cover. What’s more, discovered residents are not going straight to The Empress because they are staying outside of Victoria in Sooke. Patience. Courage.
2:00 PM: NO OF COURSE YOU DON’T NEED TO DRIVE THE CAR TO VICTORIA RIGHT NOW. Why would you make a beeline for the APEX OF TEA CIVILIZATION when you can stay in Sooke Harbour and eat a salad made completely of flowers?
Oh no no, please don’t DRIVE THE CAR TO VICTORIA RIGHT NOW. Take a long, leisurely walk along Whiffen Spit even though the fog prevents you from seeing past the end of your nose! How delightful. TAKE YOUR TIME.
3:00 PM: Fog has lifted!
10:00 PM: Bah! Girl and traveling companion have retired for the night, and nary a word re: when they will be Victoria-bound. No matter. Will meditate upon the peculiar piece of stained-glass art that separates the W.C. from the sleeping area in The Girl’s hotel room. When the restroom light is on, the fish eye glows red. Soon, my devious, aquatic friend. Soooon.
9:00 AM: Excellent tea selection during vegetarian brunch at Rebar Modern Food. However, attempts to recruit pot of jasmine green tea for Delicious Plan Part #342 unsuccessful. Fool! Part #342 is one of the best parts!
Drowned sorrows in housemade ketchup. Came up for air to steal bites of grilled buttermilk biscuit sandwich.
2:34 PM: For some godforsaken reason, have been forced to mingle with dirty hipsters and browse organic cotton thingamajigs at Sitka—a lifestyle store that sells outdoorsy stuff for surfers and skaters and other people who engage in leisurely, non-world-dominating activities. And yet, I rather reluctantly admit that I enjoy stealing bites of a simple ploughman’s lunch, served by the store’s sustainable lifestyle café on their sustainable lifestyle sidewalk patio.
That salty sea air. Do I hear a mandolin? Briefly consider complete change of Delicious Plan. Will instead become dirty hipster surfing teapot.
4:30 PM: AT LONG LAST.
The Girl called ahead to arrange a vegetarian Afternoon Tea service. Be still my cold, cast-iron heart—are those mini-chocolate teapots filled with earl grey marscarpone? And I see so very many potential recruits.
Good teapots of The Empress: Take me to your leader!
Right after I pilfer a scoop of blueberries and cream.
To be continued ….
The man who sat behind me on the plane to Austin spoke to his colleague in some digital language that I did not understand, save for the bits about his work schedule. It was Presidents Day Weekend, and he could not wait to work on a holiday. Vacation days made him feel anxious and “un-American.”
Processing this statement nearly kept me from falling asleep while listening to Lady Gaga. Nearly. But I did it. I am an American. Persistence courses through my veins.
As is our custom, Jules went to Austin to check Texas off his Marathon Maniac List of States, and I went to check out the food. Our newly opened hotel offered a discount to marathon runners and gleaming lobby floors and supersexypants sculptural fireplaces. It was just down the street from Austin’s Google Fiber Space, where you can test drive Google’s 1,000-megabit-per-second Internet service.
I felt excited to be at the center of Austin’s energy and creativity. And yet I also felt somewhat old and cranky. Perhaps this was because I have been somewhat old and cranky on the inside since childhood? Or perhaps I just needed a snack?
“Who needs the Internet to run at 1,000 megabits per second?” I asked myself.
“If you have to ask, you’re too old to need it,” came the response from the nether regions of my brain. Cheeky nether regions!
As we walked the trail around the lovely Lady Bird Lake and explored the rest of the city, signs appeared everywhere. Oh, the brutally cheerful signs! That spirit of the plains, that manifest destiny, hurtling toward me at 1,000 megabits per second.
Did any of you feel TOTALLY EXHAUSTED just reading those?
Me too. Let’s recover during a long, leisurely, sun-dappled brunch, shall we? Perhaps on the patio of the uber-charming Josephine House, a living Kinfolk Magazine diorama located in Austin’s Clarksville neighborhood?
I instantly and fully surrendered to Josephine House’s myraid perfect details, right down to the coasters, which are letterpressed in the same rich blue as the house’s exterior.
Almost too pretty to use, right? But I did, because I slurped down nearly all of Jules’s brunch cocktail after claiming that I only wanted “a sip,” as is my custom.
We ordered two vegetarian mains: socca, a chickpea-flour pancake, topped with roasted squash and broccoli, a fried egg, and chimichurri sauce; and a black rice bowl topped with a formidable pile of vibrant roasted brassicas. I would have been perfectly happy eating only the yogurt they brought out because our entrees were running late. I might even have been happy with just a sizable handful of the yogurt toppings: tart pomegranate seeds and pecans bearing a flavor I can only describe as marzipan toasty.
Of course, nothing cheers me like bread and cheese, which I generously applied at Home Slice. It was just over the Congress Avenue bat bridge from our hotel and, thus, far too close to base camp for me to visit only once. As we sat on the curb outside during our first visit, a storm blew over South Congress Street. Raindrops slithered down my back, but a slice topped with with fresh spinach and fat dollops of ricotta warmed my hands.
Visit #2 featured cozy indoor seating and Monday’s special: a thick, square, pillowy pizza duvet of a Sicilian-style slice, complete with olive-oil-fried crust. (Here is a link to plans for an actual pizza duvet. I love pizza so much, and yet this concept seems so wrong. Why?)
Feeling better? I think we’re ready to venture out on an Austin Taco Expedition. May I suggest a stop at South Austin’s Papalote Taco House?
Jules and I originally sought this place out because the their tortas di coliflor was the Austin Chronicle critic’s choice for best vegetarian taco, but our favorite turned out to be the rajas y hongos, topped with cream sauce and queso fresco to complement the deep, abiding heat of poblano peppers. We tried several other veggie taco options (think fried avocado; mushrooms and hominy; or all-day-breakfast-style with scrambled eggs, cactus, and calabaza; all available on your choice of corn or flour tortilla). In between tacos, we scooped chipfulls of a dead-simple guacamole so freshly prepared that I could still make out the avocado’s silhouette, a faint outline marking the scene of the smashing.
I drink so much sparkling water that I am pretty sure my innards froth, so I was very much looking forward to washing my tacos down with a super-bubbly Topo Chico. But then I was mesmerized by Papalote’s margarita machine and forgot to order water. Please try a Topo for me, if you go. Also please try a tamarind agua fresca, or at least convince your dining partner to try one and then steal some of it. Just don’t steal sips of Topo, or you could be accused of STEALING FIZZY LIFTING DRINKS. We all know how that ends.
Dinner at modern, vegetable-centric Gardner quickly returned us to Austin’s cutting edge. Its interior is the kind of minimalist space that usually makes me afraid to move my chair for fear of squeaking, but somehow the restaurant still managed to feel warm and friendly.
On the menu: Small plates, plus somewhat bigger plates. Flavors and textures that alternately comforted and challenged my bread-and-cheese-addled taste buds. Fried cauliflower and soft-as-silk gnudi soothed, but then, upon tasting the beet terrine with smoked curds and dill, my immediate reaction was, and I am not making this up, “This tastes like Ikea.” Dessert paired smooth milk chocolate with gelatinous pops of rose, beet, and pomegranate.
Back in our hotel lobby, Jules and I met up with one of my dearest friends. I hadn’t seen her since she moved to Austin several years ago. As we discussed our ever-earlier bedtimes, I told her that I’ve totally won the prize for oldest and crankiest, because I now sleep with my nose connected to a Darth Vader Machine prescribed to treat sleep apnea.
“My dad has that!” she said. About 90% of the people I have told about my sleep apnea have this same response.
“O.K. WHY does everyone I tell about my sleep apnea say, ‘My dad has that’?”
She looked at me with a bemused compassion that reminded me why we have stayed friends for so many years. “Because it’s true,” she said. “The list of People in the World with Sleep Apnea includes Everyone’s Dad. And you.”
And we belly laughed and belly laughed and our laughter traveled through the sleek hotel lobby and past the supersexypants sculptural fireplaces and out into the streets of Austin, traveling at a speed of approximately 1,000 megachortles per second, past new signs and better signs.