Thursday, April 24, 2014

Seventeen Syllable Bliss

Haikus start my night
Honky-tonk, poet joins me
Did you want to dance?

After my sheer pleasure in last month's Hand to Hand Haiku, I couldn't resist asking if a poetically inclined friend would be there.

"Um...YES! (She wrote, totally pretending like she knew about this event) Thanks, Karen. My zeitgeist conscience."

Part  of my delight in tonight's event was that there were three times the attendees of last month, not the least of which was my friend and her date.

Also joining me at my table was one of last month's haiku battle winners, who, sadly, had not written any new haikus for tonight, a shame given some of the brilliant 17-syllable combinations she'd put together last month.

Our smart and hysterical host, Raven Mack, led off with a monologue about having been to multiple funerals at a junkyard, "Where they play 'Free Bird' non-ironically."

My friend and I were laughing louder than anyone else in the room.

I'd ordered dessert, a devil's food cake with coconut creme anglais, a grown up take on a Hostess Snowball, minus the artificial pink color, but embracing two of my very favorite dessert components, chocolate and coconut. All I know is I got some longing looks from those near me as I ate it.

After Raven warned us, "If you hear someone repeat a haiku, boo the shit out of them," Aaron and Elizabeth were our first competitors.

I should be glad it
doesn't cost anything to
just sit and think...yet

Albert and Scott battled it out 21st century style with haikus about Instagram and hashtags. Not my thing, but I get it.

Follow the right shows,
eat at the right restaurants
Get your little hat

There were so many more people competing tonight that the rounds seemed to go much more quickly, with my friend and I laughing frequently at Raven's running commentary, things like, "Y'all ain't read one sex haiku yet!" an accusation if ever there was one.

Visit for a while
Take a selfie by the back
Friends see I'm fearless

RVA's resident anarchist Mo battled with host Raven for a death match of epic proportions. Mo led off.

I don't want to fuck
a redneck boy, I want to
be a redneck boy

Raven volleyed back.

For record store day
I lack discretionary 
income like always

Scott and Ellie had a match and Ellie got seasonal.

Rabbit flesh, peanut 
butter for the dog. Feast on
this. Happy  Easter.

I don't know how many times my friend turned to me and exclaimed, "I love this so much!"

That's what Hand to Hand Haiku does to a thinking person. And if tonight was any indication, next month will be even more crowded with haiku readers and rabid fans like us.

Sadly, they had to leave because the poetic one had to get home and grade papers, but I hung around for the second act, J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices, an extremely tight Nashville country band (two guitars, bass, pedal steel, drums) who create way too much fun for a school night.

My earlier date was replaced with the second shift, this one also a poet, but with no school night obligations. Passing the front bar, someone had asked him about what was going on in the back and the best he could say was that there was a band playing and he'd been told they were tight.

Sometimes you just have to listen to your zeitgeist conscience.

There were more tattoos than cowboy boots in the audience. Multi-instrumentalist Josh Bearman and his lovely wife showed up and were soon two-steppin' to the music, getting the party started.

The band got a couple of songs in- I think they were doing "White Lightening"- when the pedal steel player realized his amp wasn't working and began frantically trying to get amplified.

While he investigated, J.P. told a joke about an instrument-playing octopus at a bar that eventually involved a sex punchline.

J.P. told sad stories about the great songs he'd written, some for a Zac Efron movie, another for NPR's "Car Talk" and how his musical brilliance had been squandered when neither went anywhere.

There were divorce songs, truck songs, drinking songs and Waylon Jennings songs and the crowd danced to almost all of them.

Late in the evening, J.P. said it was time to "hose off the dogs" and slowed things down so people could stump and drag, or whatever you call slow dancing in the country music world.

I have to admit, as a woman, it's always nice to be asked to dance, whether we accept the offer or not.

But if you're not going to ask me to dance, the least you can do is write me a haiku.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Permission to Mount

Love is the only interesting thing. It's far more difficult than sex.

When you've had a long three days - sore hamstrings, insufficient sleep, a packed schedule - there is no distraction quite like a British comedy and popcorn for dinner with a girlfriend.

Well, perhaps a weekend away with a boyfriend, but that seemed unlikely on a Tuesday night, so I invited Pru to join me for "Le Week-End," a bittersweet romantic comedy (drama?) at the Westhampton.

Given the nearly 80-degree weather, the patio at the Continental next door to the theater was mobbed with people quaffing a bevvy and talking loudly to each other.

Clearly, the goal of most people today was to enjoy the fine weather, while Pru and I closeted ourselves away indoors with maybe eight others for a film that unfolded like a series of life events more than a film.

Her: You make my blood boil like no one else.
Him: That's the sign of a deep and true connection.

The film was set in Paris where a Birmingham, England couple married for 30 years take a long weekend to celebrate their anniversary and/or end their marriage. The jury seems to be out on which one they'll do.

In terms of visuals, the film was beautiful, showing Paris as a place of grand hotels with flowering window boxes, close-up views of the twinkling lights on the Eiffel Tower at night and a series of bistros and cafes with chefs fileting fish and shucking oysters in front windows to tempt passers by.

You'll be sorry that you never loved me enough.

The acting was superb with Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan conveying middle-aged people not satisfied with the status quo.

Experienced enough to realize the importance of having been together for 30 years but still adventurous enough to consider trying something different if it'll make them happier, the film struck a balance between what was and what might be.

Would it be okay for me to bravely mount you?

Besides terrific performances, the script was spot on, completely believable in how long-time couples can pick at each other and still be very much in love. Kind of like my parents twenty years ago. Or now, with more wrinkles.

At every turn, I was never sure what might happen next and found myself continually surprised at how this couple handled playing tourist, going to a party of strangers hosted by the reliably hilarious and handsome Jeff Goldblum (as an American in Paris) and dealing with each other when others intrude on their lives.

These days a man still wanting to make love to his wife is practically a far-out perversion.

Part of the film's appeal is the recollections of their youth, the '60s and '70s, when idealism still ruled their choices and they hadn't let the burden of life crush their spirits.

And yet, both know deep down that everything is still achievable. He wants to write a book, she wants to be a painter and dance more. He wants more sex, she wants more romance.

Pru and I agreed in our post-movie discussion that the beauty of "Le Week-End" was how vividly it depicted the challenges of middle-aged romance, a far cry from starry-eyed relationships of youth, but not without its own kind of optimism.

Mistakes made mean lessons learned and potential for relationship successes that weren't possible earlier.

Him: People don't change
Her: They do, they get worse.

Maybe that's true, but how else do old dogs learn new tricks? All I'm saying is, in my experience, old dogs can be very sweet.

Try me again and I promise I'll be more fun this time.

Tonight, just what I needed.

Heron Trumps Hummingbird

There's much to do when the ladies are coming for bridge.

Of course I'm talking about them coming to play with my mother since my one sustained attempt at learning bridge back in the '90s at the behest of a male friend who insisted all smart women should know how (I'll note here that his wife did not), did not stay with me much beyond that decade.

But my parents, now that's a different story.

They come up in an age when  smart couples did play bridge regularly and I can remember her hosting bridge luncheon parties for female friends during the day and co-ed evenings of the same, except with drinking involved.

When she, a born and raised D.C. city girl, first moved to the northern neck, she told my father she had two requirements: home delivery of the Washington Post and women to play bridge with.

Done and done.

Most of her bridge games happen at the local women's club but she's also part of a smaller group who play in each other's houses once a month. Tomorrow is her turn to host.

Which meant she wanted me to come down and help her prepare while Dad worked in the yard.

Some of my "chores" were pure Spring pleasure, like getting the big screened porch in shape by whisking away webs, re-potting petunias and filling the hummingbird feeders that hang on the side of the porch, resulting in the tiny birds showing up within minutes.

Her face lit up when I suggested a flower arrangement for the table, so I went out to the yard, past some brilliant goldfinches in one of the birdbaths and gathered some lovely pink, lavender and white blooms - two colors of lilacs, camellias, the palest of cream jonquils, tulips, blooming rosemary, even some vibrant purple money plant- depositing them in an enormous vase that smelled heavenly.

When I told her about the colorful little birds I'd seen, she one-upped me by saying she'd seen a heron in the sycamore tree this morning with a just-caught fish in its beak and watched him swallow it still wriggling. She was a tad grossed out by eating live fish, but then she doesn't eat oysters, either.

She wanted me to make a dessert, so I sliced up a pound cake and frosted six layers with dark chocolate ganache before having the brilliant idea to gather some violets and make candied violets for the torte.

Can't say I've ever had, much less made, candied violets, but with Google, all things are possible and I soon found not only two methods to do it, but some history, including that they were very popular in the 19th century, showing up in country cafes, at afternoon teas and in candy shops.

Needless to say, I headed back out to collect an array of white, lavender and purple violets to candy.

While washing, drying, dipping and sugar-dusting the violets, I wondered aloud if my Mom's Irish grandmother might have ever candied violets.

My mother laughed, saying it was unlikely, given how practical my great-grandmother had been, but she told me she remembered one of her annual Spring cleaning customs.

She'd take down all her lace curtains and wash them in sugar water, drying them between pieces of wood studded with tiny nails to hold the curtains in place and keep them taut to dry.

The sugar acted like starch, she said, and kept them crisp for another year. Amazing the family history you learn while you're making edible flowers..

As for the violets, they turned out beautifully, each glittered with super-fine sugar crystals I'd made by crushing sugar with a rolling pin, and when I left they were laid out on a rack to dry until Mom puts them on or around the torte tomorrow.

Between that and the flower arrangement, it looks to be a lovely afternoon for smart women to be playing cards on the porch.

I told her to tell them she did it all herself.

They Heart Us,They Really Heart Us

You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I'm part of the ladies of RVA Dine.

Toast's owner Jessica had organized a benefit dinner at the now defunct 525 at the Berry Burke for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, staffed by an all female crew- chefs, hosts, servers and busers and even pulling from the food writing community. That's where I came in.

Of course I wanted to do my part, but with limited restaurant experience, I felt like my best contribution would be clearing dishes and pouring water, two things I long since mastered growing up in a large family.

And while plenty of the women serving had restaurant experience, many of them hadn't waited tables since the '80s. We were all inexpertly in this together.

We had to be there a half hour in advance of the dinner to have our picture taken en masse, the best female chefs in RVA in their chef coats along with the ragtag service staff, all of us in "I (heart) the ladies of RVA Dine" t-shirts.

Waiting for the 120 people who'd reserved seats to arrive, we stood around discussing what was to come, not sure how much of a clusterf*ck it might be, but convinced that to some degree, it would be a shit show.

As the first course was being plated and all of us convened in the kitchen to start grabbing plates, someone announced, "Would you look at all this pussy power in the kitchen?" I might not have phrased it quite that way, but okay.

The evening unfolded as a continuous stream of delivering plates and clearing them with filling water glasses and chatting with guests in between.

A former food critic complimented my writing, saying, "I always enjoy reading your reviews." When I thanked her with a raised eyebrow, she insisted, "No, I'm not just saying that. I like the way you write."

I took a quick moment to go to the bathroom between the third and fourth courses, finding the ladies' room occupied (of course) but a woman guest headed into the men's room and invited me along, assuring me that she was just going to change her shirt.

"When I got here, I looked in the mirror and realized you could see right through my shirt and with the size of my boobs, that's not good," she explained, trading her sheer blouse for an RVA Ladies dine shirt while I took care of business.

For the rest of the evening, whenever I was near her table, she called me "bathroom girl" and giggled.

At another table, a guy with a superb mustache looked at me and said, "So you really like the Daily, I guess," an odd thing to say since I've never been to the Daily. "You're in there like three times a week," he insisted. "Okay, maybe 17 times in the past month."

Explaining that that was impossible, he was stunned. "Well, then, you've got a doppelganger and she comes into the Daily all the time. She's really pretty. You should come in, too."

I said I'd take it under advisement.

Things were hot and raucous in the kitchen, with a bottle of bourbon being passed around and servers delivering drinks to the chefs who wanted them, but the plates coming out of there were picture perfect, clearly the work of pros.

Food-wise, I was most surprised that the dish prepared by Chef Carly of C'est le Vin and Chef Lilly of Pasture seemed to be the most challenging for diners.

Very few plates of the divine combination of smoked wild mushrooms, balsamic braised collards, quinoa and arugula almond pesto with a poached egg sailing atop it all came back licked clean.

Either they'd left the quinoa (although how, I can't imagine), pushed the greens to the side, or left part or all of the egg.

I had it on good authority from two foodies that it was a fabulous dish, so perhaps the crowd just didn't get it. I know when I finally got a couple tastes, I had to question people leaving even one bite.

And speaking of Chef Carly, she teased me that part of her kitchen routine is to drop something on the floor and ask a cute waitress to pick it up."If I did that tonight, I'd drop it in front of you," she said coyly.

It may have been because I was the only person on staff wearing a skirt.

At one point, I was clearing dishes and I clumsily picked up a plate, apologizing that it was my first time being a buser.

The plate's owner grabbed my wrist and asked what I did in real life so I told her. "That's so cool! We have to go out together. Soon. Here's my card." I stuck it in my bra.

Another table, another unexpected attention. A man said he could get used to being waited on by movie stars.

We're not movie stars, I assured him, laughing at the notion. "But you're RVA stars!" he said. I gotta say, that's a new way of looking at the life of a freelance writer.

While we weren't technically up to speed on service - there was much going in the out door - the camaraderie was terrific and it was great fun for someone like me who hasn't spent time in a kitchen to become part of the rhythm of the night.

By the fourth course (spring lamb loin and shank, barley, English peas, maitake and ramp gremolata, yum) of seven, I was feeling pretty comfortable with what I needed to do to serve, clear and water as many tables as I could get to.

I was particularly proud because I seemed to be the only one who hadn't pulled out a phone during her shift, long one of my pet peeves for real servers.

Over a few courses, I developed a special relationship with the two guys sitting at a bar table away from the main dining room, teasing them almost as much as they teased me.

It was in between the fifth and sixth course that Emilia of Heritage taught me and another serving neophyte how to balance a third plate. We looked at each other in wonder, sorry that no one had schooled us three hours earlier.

By the time we got to the double dessert course (and praise heaven because the staff had worried that we'd have to serve two dessert courses), I got some lovely validation.

At a table of all men, one looked at me and asked if he could get a coffee. His buddy nudged him and said, "Don't ask her. Karri's our server."

"I don't want Karri, " he said, ignoring his buddy and grinning at me from six inches away. "I want her instead." Coffee was never served with more care or a bigger smile.

So it only took me seven courses to get the hang of it.

If this freelance writing thing goes up in smoke, looks like I'll always have busing to fall back on.

Monday, April 21, 2014

I Had a Dream Last Night

Perhaps I didn't celebrate 4/20 appropriately.

What was I thinking working in the garden all day when I should have been one toke over the line? On the plus side, I did get to see my favorite beagle for a while.

Given that today was Easter (he's back!), I was grateful that Secco was even open, walking in to find a soft-spoken painter chatting with a cheese whiz/wine expert. He's one of my favorite people with whom I can discuss food and art.

After considering the same Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose that I'd had last night, I went with something new, a Nebbiolo-based Rose.

Music was spot on - Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes and a live version of Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)," as perfect a piece of poetry as David Byrne has ever written.

I'd brought the Sunday Washington Post for entertainment, finding in it a piece about taking gondola lessons in Venice, a less expensive way to traverse the canals, not to mention the thrill of doing it yourself.

First up was a chicken liver mousse with rosemary mustard and pickled currants, a delicately earthy chicken liver mousse so light and airy it could have floated away.

To up the decadence factor, we followed with a buckwheat crepe stuffed with duck confit, slivers of asparagus, honey and grapefruit, challenging only because it was tough to get all the components in one bite, but well worth it when I did.

It was strange how dead Carytown was, with few people walking by and an overall sense that everyone was somewhere else. I guess that meant that Secco was full of heathens, among which I count myself.

A trio came in looking like they'd escaped from Easter on Parade with colorful shorts and bow ties, ordered a bottle of red wine and almost immediately had to have it bagged to go when they told their server, "Oooh, our  ride will be here sooner than we thought!" There was almost a little squeal at the end.

With no ride forthcoming, cheese seemed the way to go for our last course and so I chose Goot Essa mountain valley sharp cheddar, Appalachian Alpine-style cow cheese from Galax (not just for fiddlers!) and Olli's wild boar salami, always one of my soft spots, with a golden raisin chutney and the house apple butter.

That and the Op-Ed section and I was in heaven.

But a newspaper only gets you so far entertainment-wise, so the next stop was Commercial Taphouse for the B-Snap-tet Easter throw down.

The quartet - bass, drums, guitar and sax- were deep into it when we arrived and I scored a Hornitos while the woman in front of me (wearing a spangly headband across her forehead a la Olivia Newton John in the "Physical" days) turned around and gave me the hairy eyeball for no reason.

Too bad we'd taken so long eating that we only caught a few songs, including the devastating "The Strange Charmer," one of the songs off their upcoming record recently recorded at Minimum Wage Studios with Lance Koehler.

I was especially taken with bassist Brian hitting the bass strings with a stick to achieve an eastern-sounding effect.

It was a shame when they ended their set, maybe not for them, but for those of us who'd arrived later and missed much of it.

When I asked to make sure of the name of the song "The Strange Charmer," one of the musicians said, "She can call it whatever she wants to."

That's the reward of being a heathen who goes to hear music on Easter when decent folks are home with family.

Or doing the 4/20 thing, if you know what I mean.

I love the passing of time
never for money, 
always for love
Cover up and say goodnight

Goodnight.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I'm Gonna Be an Optimist about This

I don't often make the rounds on Saturday night.

But when a friend suggested a progressive evening, and pink at that.I signed on for the sheer novelty value of it.

I chose a thrift store find my friend Pru had procured for me (for a whopping $3.50) and made my way to our first point of congregation, Pasture, mainly because one of us had never been.

The music was safe- "Under Pressure" and "Safety Dance"- and the service was wildly variable considering the bar wasn't that crowded. One of the guys observed that men seemed to merit better service than women.

Not much I can do about my girl parts.

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
cause your friends don't dance
And if they don't dance
Well, they're no friends of mine

The five of us made the most of a couple of bottles of Le Petit Balthazar, a Cinsault Rose the color of pink diamonds while crowds filled the tables and booths around us.

We tried a few nibbles - chips and dip (the chips being stellar) and meatballs with redneck romesco, more or less so-so.

Holmes told us about his post-tax day revelry, which involved alternating whiskey with tequila, as sure a recipe for disaster as any I've heard. Today they'd spent lunching on the Potomac.

Before we knew it, it was time to hit Rappahannock, where we fell hard for Commanderie de Peyrassol Rose, a wine I first had back in 2011 and bonded with immediately for its earthiness and delicacy.

A blog reader had been so taken with my prose about Peysarrol then that he'd commented about it, forever bonding us on the subject of great Roses.

After Old Salte oysters, my personal favorite, oysters and pearls (Rappahannock oysters with trout caviar) and wood-grilled octopus in piquillo pepper sauce with blood orange that had the Frog and me in raptures, we had to conclude that the food far surpassed the service. A pity, really, especially considering the noise level in the room.

If you're going to be noisy, at least be efficient.

One in our group opted for the Thibaut-Jannison blanc de Chardonnay, a perfectly beautiful expression of Virginia sparkling, offering me a taste and cementing my opinion of Claude's talent with bubbles.

Yes, ma'am, I could drink that all night long. But tonight was all about the pink.

We eventually abandoned Grace Street for Manchester, since the Frog had proposed Camden's as our final resting place and we were all about following his lead.

Someone has to be in charge or we'd forget all about the dining portion of the evening.

We arrived to find the last of the leftovers from Legend Brewery's 20th anniversary celebration, a drunken lot if ever there was one.

Ignoring the slurring remains, my party of five headed straight for the wine cases, choosing three sparkling Roses to accompany our dinner.

All three of the women in the group are rabid fans of bubbly pink, meaning we were suckers for the chilled array we found waiting for us.

Monmousseau Brut Rose kicked things off as we discussed the perils of Easter on Parade, the upcoming restaurant week and how to get to Merroir. Hint: not Route 360.

We got the party started with appetizers of seared scallops followed by roasted pork with banana, a perfect pairing of sweet and savory.

The lovely Monrovia Farms beef was all over the specials menu and two in our group chose the Monrovia Farms pot roast, reveling in the long-cooked and flavorful meat and veggies.

When we moved on to Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace, I decided on steak frites, a bavette of bottom sirloin with horseradish sauce, fries and a salad, a sweeping representation of all the food groups on one plate.

With the Killers and Bastille playing overhead, we tackled our final bottle of Gruet Brut Rose, an ideal pairing for our chocolate pate with walnut crust, a necessity for the women in the group and of negligible importance to the guys.

But if you close your eyes
does it almost feel like
nothing's changed at all?
Does it almost feel like
you've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

I usually try to keep Saturdays to a dull roar, unwilling to join the weekend amateurs, but sometimes you just gotta put on a $3.50 dress and let it your pink freak flag fly.

Especially when you don't want your friends to leave you behind.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Apples in Stereo

Never buy apples on sale or cider at the store.

How do I know? Because Professor Apple said it was so.

Tom Burford is Prof Apple, an expert on apple cultivation from Amherst County, Virginia and the author of a new book, "Apples of North America," the source of his talk tonight at the Library of Virginia.

I was surprised at how many couples were in attendance, but perhaps that was because it wasn't just a talk but also a cider tasting with Blue Bee Cider and Albermarle Cider Works.

Fact: it's far easier to get your significant other to do something cultural when there's drinking involved.

Waiting for the talk to begin, I overheard a woman discussing her upcoming Rose party Monday. She was instructing one of her guests to wear the same gray sweater he'd worn last year, the better for them to hold up glasses of Rose against to compare hues.

You know, salmon versus strawberry pink versus pale cherry.

Forget the gray sweater, I've never heard of a Rose party in April. I'm going to a couple, but they're both in June. Could this be jumping the Rose gun?

The editor of Richmond Magazine came in and said hello, asking where I was off to after the talk and tasting, because she was certain I had additional plans. When I told her dinner, she said I didn't have to tell her where and I didn't.

Charlotte of Albemarle Cider Works introduced the professor, saying his work had inspired them to start a cider operation. She told us Courtney from Blue Bee had apprenticed with them for a year before starting her urban cidery.

It was becoming clear that the cidery world is just as incestuous as the restaurant or music community. And at the heart of it all is Tom Burford, aka Professor Apple.

"I would bet everyone of you here likes apples a lot," the Professor said. "Else, why would you be here?

He started with a little history about how apple seeds had been brought to Jamestown in 1607 (European honeybees arrived in 1611) to plant, not for eating, but for cider.

The Virginia soil turned out to be so fertile that apple trees flourished and they were soon grafting to duplicate the particularly tasty apple trees.

That's when the best part came, as the Professor took us through the really tasty heirloom apples, so many completely new to me.

Arkansas black, the new kid on the block in 1870, Ben Davis, one of the most promising apples of the future and Black Twig, which I've not only picked myself, but the Prof called one of the great apples in America.

There was the Cannon Pearmain, an old historic Virginia apple he told us to keep our eye on, the Grimes Golden he described as the sugar apple that makes fabulous brandy, Harrison, the most desirable cider apple and lost for many years and only rediscovered by the Prof in 1989 in New Jersey.

So it turns out that those little Lady Apples I thought were purely decorative make exquisite cider and vinegar. The Lowry, he said, deserves to be brought back. The Newtown (or Albemarle Pippin) is such high quality it's used to make "Sunday cider," special stuff, in other words.

Pilot is the apple of Nelson County, Northern Spy makes the best pies and Ralls is the apple of Amherst County, planted by Jefferson at Monticello.

Roxbury Russett is the oldest named variety, Smokehouse is a great frying apple (and what his mother was picking when she went into labor with him) and Virginia Hewes is considered one of the best in the world for cider.

And the Winesap, well that's a classic apple perfect for brandy.

Dizzy at the array of apples we'd just learned, someone asked the Professor's favorite. "My favorite eating apple is the last one I ate," he claimed.

He should know. This is a guy who had introduced heirloom apple varieties to New England the West Coast, France and Senegal. His passion for apples and identifying and preserving long-lost varieties made him a fascinating speaker to listen to.

To close, he implored us to seek out heirloom apples, go to farmers' markets and orchards and help support bringing back apples that taste good instead of the dreaded red or golden Delicious, an apple I've refused to buy or eat most of my life.

Our brains newly full of apple info, he dispatched us to the cidery tasting just outside the lecture hall doors, like a 3rd grade teacher sending the kids off to recess after a morning's lesson.

Since I've been to both cideries, I limited myself to one tasting at each: Albemarle's Jupiter's Legacy (because it uses Black Twigs, natch) and Blue Bee's Aragon 1904, which tastes one step removed from champagne to me.

I have to say, as book talks go, this one rates right up there with the moonshine author at Chop Suey, here. Say what you will, but tasting aids make learning more fun.

Thanks, Professor Apple!

Walking in to Magpie for dinner didn't look promising. Every bar seat was taken, but I was told I could waste a three-top by sitting there, a position that always makes me feel guilty.

Still, I wanted to eat, so I did, hoping a stool would open up soon and I could move.

I ordered a glass of M. Lawrence "Sex" Brut Rose, only to find that the clamorous table behind me had gobbled up the last bottle. Clearly there would be no sex for me tonight.

My server graciously suggested a Cremant d'Alsace instead and I was happy to make the shift from Michigan to France.

An amuse bouche of caramelized onion puree with a lump of blue cheese and bits of cocoa crisps was presented, one perfect bite to whet the appetite.

One of tonight's specials was bacon-wrapped rabbit country pate with rhubarb ('tis the season) jam and housemade pickled vegetables and since I was already sipping bubbles, pate seemed like a natural.

I'd only taken a few bites, slathering the pate thickly on toasted crostini, when two guys arrived for a later reservation to find that their table was not yet free.

Here was my chance to assuage my guilt about taking up a three-top, so I invited them to join me. They pretended to protest for a minute, worried that they were intruding on my evening, and then six more people walked in and they gratefully accepted my offer.

Explaining that they needn't feel obligated to converse with me, the one not getting the drinks was having none of it. "No, we're extroverted, so we want to talk to you." Well, now, this was going to work out just fine.

Thomas and Joe were on their second date and as charming as they could be. After procuring beverages, we proceeded to share information about restaurants we liked, where we lived and how they liked life in Richmond, both of them being fairly recent transplants.

"What's an attractive woman like you doing eating dinner by herself on a Friday night?" Joe wanted to know.

Who you calling attractive, I wanted to know.

They were intrigued by the many faces of Helen's, how different it is for dinner versus late night or brunch. Joe insisted that the Hill Cafe has the best fried chicken in town, a fact I doubted. Thomas wanted to know about all the cheap eats deals I could share.

Before long, I had a talker on either side of me, asking questions and providing answers to mine.

I inquired if either got out to hear much local music and  got nothing, but Thomas offered that one of the friends who was joining them was a singer in a band.

When the duo arrived, I was introduced as their new friend, one who had saved them from having to stand in the middle of the restaurant with nowhere to go. Forget the gratitude, I wanted to know which was the musician to start that conversation.

"What local bands do you like?" he asked me, testing me. When I mentioned White Laces, he said they used the same producer and an immediate bond was formed in that way that music-lovers do when they find someone who likes a band they do.

We moved on to venues when I said I regularly frequented Gallery 5, the Camel and Strange Matter and Thomas said he'd never heard of Gallery 5.

It is my un-sworn duty in life to school people on the finer points of Jackson Ward's diverse offerings, explaining to him that if he'd been to Comfort- and he'd told me he had -then he'd been a mere block from the venue.

When the server came to get them to lead them to their table, we all said heartfelt thanks for the company and conversation.

I'm not going to force myself on anyone, but I'm not going to waste a three-top if I can help it, either.

Never buy apples on sale, cider at the store or turn away perfectly good company. Professor's rules.

Just Like Heaven with Chandeliers

It's not about the bands, it's about the momentous occasion.

Richmond now has a mid-sized venue, something it's been sorely lacking, and tonight was opening night.

When a friend inquired if I was going to the new Broadberry tonight, I asked the same of him. Nope. "I am, among other things, registering my disapproval of them being so goddamn predictable in their booking," he wrote.

Here's the thing, my friend. What matters about the Broadberry is not what bands play the night they open their doors.

What matters is all the bands that can now play Richmond because we have a venue the right size to attract their audience and fill so they don't skip over Richmond and go to Charlottesville.

So quit yer bitching.

After feeding my hired mouth, that's where I went, happily finding loads of familiar music lovers there.

The music writer offered me some of her candied bacon and observed, "All our people are here.". The theater lover complained that he hadn't seen me since Hardywood back in January. Then there was the bass player saying, "My goal is to get Karen to grin." Plus the dimpled drummer, the multi-instrument playing physicist, the lovely hospitality manager. All my people.

And to a person, they all said they were there to celebrate that we have a new venue.

The former Nu nightclub means that the new Broadberry retains far more glitz than your average venue. Four massive chandeliers hang along one wall and the lighting system over the stage is worthy of a drag queen's catwalk.

There were tables and chairs, already filed with seated people, all along the length of the extensive bar with a pit up front for those who wanted to stand to see, hear and dance to the music.

And, perhaps most impressively, there were people of all ages there, a far broader age range than a Camel or Strange Matter show. A really good sign.

While talking to Goldrush's handsome bass player, bandleader Prabir came by, set lists in hand. When I tried to look at them, Mr. Bass insisted that the songs be a surprise.

'There are no surprises in a Goldrush set," Prabir corrected him, a statement I can agree with, having first seen them back in 2009.

The band took the stage and after the first number, "The Exit Song,"Prabir proclaimed, "That's the first song ever played at the Broadberry." As a girl near me noted, the sound was good.

"Anyone bummed about missing the lunar eclipse Monday?" science geek Prabir asked of the noisy room. "We 're going to play a song that says f*ck the clouds!" and played "Pale Blue Dots."

After playing "Roll One," he finished by entreating the audience, "Roll one more, folks. Let's legalize that shit. Let's also legalize critical thinking."

Let's. It's statements like that that and that he uses phrases like "your kith and your kin" in his lyrics that make him a Richmond treasure.

When their set finished, a musician friend walked by and we talked about his upcoming outdoor music series starting up again in a few weeks.

I went to a bunch of them last summer in Scuffletown park and this summer he's expanding the series to all kinds of things, not just music. Ah, the pleasures of outdoor performance.

Prabir wandered by after that, complaining that there weren't enough girls at the show. I pointed out a few within easy reach.

"That one has Daddy issues, that one has three exes, that one can't even pronounce my name," he said, eliminating them all. I suggested he eliminate anyone who didn't understand the phrase "kith and kin" but he told me not to be hasty.

A friend I rarely get to see was sitting at the bar and called me over, surprising me by telling me how much he liked my writing. "I love reading you because you make me feel like I'm there," he said. "All the details you include, the way you talk about what you saw and heard makes it so real." I could have kissed him.

Instead I thanked him and told him I was going back up closer to the stage. "Of course you are," he said grinning.

Black Girls took the stage next, a far more assured band than when I first saw them at Sprout in February 2011.

Just back from a tour of the southeast, with tonight's show being the final night of the tour, the singer asked, "Hey, Richmond, we've been on tour. What's new? Nothing? Cool!" and then launched into a tight set no doubt honed by this recent set of dates.

Two guitarists, bassist, drummer, keyboards and singer, they were all sweating by the third song. Their influences are interesting, shot through with '60s soul, Steely Dan, '70s rock and somehow making it all sound dirty. Snuff rock, they call it.

"Time to get a little looser," the singer called out, hoisting his plastic cup of red wine. "If we don't start now, the night will be over before you know it." Dancing in place began in earnest at this point.

The crowd was thick by now, at least up near the stage where I was and a very short friend and I were continuously being bumped into and stepped on.

A guy with a gorgeous red beard and piercing blue eyes came by me twice, the second time looking me right in the eye and saying, "I just came by to step on your toes again."

Do what you have to do, my friend.

Finally after a string of upbeat songs that had some people all but pogo-ing, the band slowed it down, bringing in a trombone and trumpet for a song I'd have slow danced to if I'd had a date.

They couldn't leave us there, though, so there were two more upbeat danceable songs, including one where one of the guitarists got down into the crowd ("If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!"), getting everyone all aflutter.

During the second break, a blogger I'd met a while back joined me, leading to some satisfying music talk about the evolution of soul music, the sheer amount of information available on the liner notes of older albums and the pleasures of flipping through record bins, even if, like me, you don't have a turntable.

Describing his record buying habit as "being so far down the hole, he can't see daylight." he was excited about finding an original Supremes album recently. Needless to say, he was bowled over when I mentioned still having all my old Supremes albums.

Soon after, No BS assembled onstage, minus Reggie Pace who's out of town and whose smiling face and enormous energy were missed and David Hood who was apparently quite sick tonight. Of tonight's bands, this is the one I've been following the longest - since 2007.

Drummer Lance Koehler took charge, instructing the crowd, "We need that rumpus to be shaking!" and taking off with enough brass to ensure that that happened in short order.

One girl, perched on table, danced with every part of her body while sitting down. Most of us just danced in place as Bryan Hooten took the mic and rapped the next song.

"This is like heaven," Lance yelled. "We have chandeliers, we have beer! Here's to the Broadberry!"

It's a toast worth making. We've entered a new stage of Richmond's music scene and it's exciting to think of what's to come.

Tonight wasn't about predictability, it was about celebrating all the bands who will play there in the future.

You can be sure I'll be there with all my kith, getting my toes stepped on and enjoying every moment.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On the Slow Track

Some days just go down easily.

Today I drove to the northern neck, passing a gas station sign that read, "Coming soon, Spring!" and an insurance office sign that said, "Life is a roller coaster. Enjoy the ride!

Promises and advice, what more could you ask of a road trip?

My destination was Warsaw to spend the afternoon with a furniture maker, a man who lives on the 800 acre property his family has owned since the 19th century.

He asked if I was up for a walk and we set off to see wood and trees, past bamboo groves planted by his grandfather.

He told me that they were most striking after a snow, when they were bent from the weight of it and the scene resembled a Japanese print.

My only complaint as we meandered around looking at drying trees, stacked boards and the ruins of the original house built in 1840 was the wind, which was fierce.

When we headed back toward the house he spent 15 years building to replace the old farmhouse, his mother came out to offer us razzleberry pie with ice cream.

Make no mistake, she hadn't baked it for us, but for her two old St. Catherine's school buddies who'd come to lunch.

Never one to turn down pie, much less razzleberry which I'd never had and needed to know more about, I answered yes for both of us.

Turns out razzleberry pie is made with raspberries and marion berries and she was one of those women who makes a crispy, buttery crust, so the unexpected mid-afternoon dessert was a real treat and we finished the interview with our tongues stained purple.

After an easy drive home, I found a message from my date tonight, changing the time we were meeting at the Roosevelt.

Just as well since I needed a good clean-up after traipsing through the back forty (or 400).

When I got to the Roosevelt, the joint was jumping, but I found two empty stools and sat down to wait for my friend.

I'd brought Sunday's Post travel section, knowing I'd get there first and figuring it would give me time to catch up on my reading.

The magnificently-bearded bartender Brandon was good enough to bring me the Virginia Fizz I was craving while I followed the story of intrepid travelers intent on having breakfast in London, lunch in Paris and dinner in Barcelona, courtesy of a new higher speed train.

Spoiler alert: lunch at Gare de Lyon's Le Train Bleu was by the far the highlight. Crispy pig and escargot terrine would have won my heart, too.

Maybe it was reading about that meal, but it wasn't long before I realized that I wasn't going to be able to sip bubbles indefinitely without sustenance.

Razzleberry pie only takes a girl so far.

To tide me over, I asked Brandon for a snack of crostini with ricotta and Charlottesville honey and he delivered not only that but tales of his recent move, characterizing his shift from the Hill to Carytown briefly and back as the "Church Hill shuffle."

As in, people try to leave and can't. The Hill has a hold, apparently.

My friend showed up at last and we moved to stools on the far side of the bar, away from the fray.

Starving, we ordered quickly, both starting with salads of roasted beets, smoked bluefish, "everything" crema, horseradish and pickled onions.

I've had many an everything bagel, but it was my first (but hopefully not last) everything crema, the assortment of flavors tying together the beets, fish and greens to perfection. Friend and I were particularly taken with the caraway notes in the crema.

Because the restaurant was so busy and several people had babies with them (don't get me started), we had to lean into each other to gossip and share stories, a sacrifice we were more than willing to make to catch up.

I was seeking her advice on taking a selfie, something I need to do for an assignment and clearly something with which I have no practice, asking her to recommend filters and effects. She's the kind of wise ass friend who tries to tell me about one that makes you look enormous and another that ages you, neither of which hold much appeal. I may be a Luddite, but I'm not a complete idiot.

No doubt I'll be able to figure it out. If I can take pictures of others with my camera, I ought to be able to shoot myself this once.

With another glass of Fizz to cut the richness, I dove into a bowl of gnocchi carbonara with spicy Surry sausage and al dente peas, only to look up and see a friend coming through the door.

It was the singer and fan of sad folk songs I know and she was obviously on a date with the handsome man whom I'd heard about when we'd had brunch recently.

Given the shortage of available stools, they had no choice but to sit beside us so I tried to stay hidden behind my date so as to not cramp her style. Besides, I'll hear the details later if she wants to share.

While my date enjoyed peanut butter pie (I'm not a fan but helped her with the whipped cream), the chef came out and chatted with us while he enjoyed a beer and making us laugh.

Fully fed, lubricated with bubbles and laughing at dry humor from a Beard nominee.

Some nights require no effort on my part whatsoever.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stand Back, Eternal Feminine

Two things were certain tonight: death and taxes.

Actually, it was a tax relief party at Nacho Mama's Boulevard Bar and Grill, an offshoot of Nacho Mama's in Carytown.

Owner Raoul was hosting the party, meaning that bass-heavy dance music was pumping when Pru and I walked in and endless pictures were taken throughout the evening.

When I questioned having to smile for the phone yet again, Raoul lectured me about the importance of self-promotion. No doubt his, not mine.

The tequila menu was more limited than I would have expected for a Mexican place, but I cut my tequila teeth on 1800 and I'd take it over overpriced Patron any day, which I did. Twice.

A DJ was playing full-on 21st century disco, meaning club versions of songs as unlikely as Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back." Hysterical.

Just to prove he knew a little disco history, the DJ even played a thumping version of "MacArthur Park," although not Donna Summer's, but easily one of the sappiest and stupidest songs ever written.

Someone left the cake out in the rain? Who does that? Who writes that?

Despite the pouring rain and falling temperatures outside, people kept arriving (including several Carytown business owners), to celebrate and the bar got really loud while I took advantage of a tax relief deal on flautas.

While enjoying a nicely spiced chicken version Pru told me about a fabulous website she'd found for cute, inexpensive clothes, a company that unexpectedly, she found, also carried rubber lingerie.

This was relevant mainly because, oddly enough, a co-worker had e-mailed her today asking if she knew anything about buying a vinyl bustier. She knew enough to school him on the use of corn starch with vinyl clothing and directed him to her new favorite website.

I'm lucky to have such knowledgeable friends.

With the pool visible through the wall of bar windows, everyone was raving about what a terrific place that's going to be once summer arrives and the pool is open.

Margaritas and scantily clad people, an easy way to go from 0 to 60 in no time flat.

Eventually we had to leave the still-expanding party to make an 8:00 curtain at Richmond Triangle Players. I've been spending a whole lot of time in Scott's Addition lately.

Waiting for the play to begin, I learned a new term when Pru told me about the stash of books she'd scored at the recent main library sale (36 books, $35). I'd skipped the sale because I haven't finished reading the last stack I'd gotten at the library's book giveaway (13 books, $0).

She and a co-worker (not vinyl guy, though) have a long-standing tradition of taking the afternoon off to go to the book sale and then to lunch at Chez Foushee.

In fact, that was the last time I'd seen her, as I was leaving Foushee with a friend after lunch and they'd been arriving.

These two are such accounting nerds that they actually keep colored spreadsheets, with listings for TBR ("to be read," the term I learned), what they've read and what they're looking for in terms of books for others.

They're so hardcore they also don't hesitate to buy a hardcover version of a book they already own in paperback. Okay, I can understand that one.

It's the optimism of that term - to be read - that I was so taken with. If I ever started my own list of TBR, I fear it would consume me. And, honestly, in some cases, I don't even know something needs to be read until I stumble upon it. One of those thirteen books I'd picked up, "Last Train to Memphis," would never have been on my list and I wound up positively enthralled with it.

And while we're on the subject of readers, it's a good thing Pru and I fell into that category because Henley/Shakes' production of "Wittenberg" presumed a literate audience and tossed out erudite witticisms and insider jokes like nobody's business.

It all hinged on that old saw, reason versus faith. Yes, that.

The play revolved around Hamlet and his senior year at Wittenberg University (before his father dies and he ascends the throne), Dr. Faustus, a devilishly provocative teacher of philosophy and Martin Luther, a theology professor who's seriously questioning the church. The fourth character is called the "eternal feminine" and plays every female role.

How brilliant is that assemblage of characters?

There's a local dive called The Bunghole, where Faustus plays some "light lute" and sings "The Seeker" and entreats the crowd to "take care of your bar wenches."

Meanwhile, Martin Luther is aghast at the church's selling of indulgences as "get out of jail free" passes for sinners, using drink to self-medicate as he questions his faith. "Seventy three books in the bible! Know how many mention alcohol? 72!"

One of the most hilarious scene is a tennis match between Hamlet and the unseen Laertes, playing for Paris University. Wearing a white doublet tennis ensemble for the ages, Hamlet lobs the imaginary ball and jabs at his foe with physical grace and biting wit.

One scene began under low light with one character on his knees and the other sitting in a chair beside him, although the motion of his head was not immediately identifiable for what was happening. A few seconds in and someone in the last row said loudly, "Oh!" alerting everyone to the on-stage oral action.

Hello, we were at Richmond Triangle Players.

Laughs continued when Faustus nails up Martin Luther's doctrine, thereby starting the Protestant reformation and pissing off Luther who hadn't planned to share it. He adjusts.

Once Hamlet gets word that his father has died, he has to return to Denmark (and we know where that's going) and Faustus tells him to question everything. "I don't want to end up hearing about the tragedy of Hamlet," he warns. Oops.

Faustus is taking a sabbatical to go "underground" and Hamlet counters by telling him to think before acting so his life doesn't become a cautionary tale. As if.

Our night of intellectual theater ended back at the Bung Hole with Faustus singing "Que Sera, Sera" and the eternal feminine chiming in with "Let it Be."

The beauty of the play was that everybody in the room already knew how the three stories were going to end up right from the start. We knew because we're readers.

Which may or may not explain my favorite quote from the play. The world is a book. Those who do not travel read only a page.

Absolutely true. But the only thing harder to make than a TBR list would be a TBV list.

Besides, I've got no faith in my ability to make a spreadsheet and no reason to try. Que sera, sera, no?