Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Is It Hot in Here or Is It Just Me?

I dealt with today's heat in the old-fashioned way.

All the ceiling fans were on. By mid-day, I'd slanted the slats on the blinds to keep the worst of the afternoon sun from the front room. I brought up the standing, oscillating fan from the (subterranean and refreshingly cool) basement for the bedroom.

Hearkening back to ante-bellum times, I even took a quick 20-minute heat nap, just to allow my brain and body to recharge.

Then I did what any self-respecting southerner would do and got myself to an air-conditioned restaurant to meet friends.

Our trio had hoped to eat at the bar, but a mid-afternoon call had informed us that the bar was fully reserved, a good news/bad news kind of dilemma.

Don't get me wrong, I've always been thrilled that Acacia is willing to take bar reservations, even if the cut-off is 7:00. A 6:45 reservation guarantees you a great seat for the entire evening.

But tonight those reservations were taken and we'd be sitting at a table. First world problem.

After ordering a bottle of J. Sparkling Rose, we were brought Desiderio Jeio Prosecco, a somewhat similar color but let's be real, Italy is a long way from the Russian river valley.

Our server acknowledged the error and offered to go back for the correct bottle, but Holmes insisted on keeping it ("We're thirsty!") and having the J. second and, truly, the lady and I had no motivation to argue with that logic.

I don't think it was us, but it appeared that the floodgates opened shortly after our arrival and before long almost every table was occupied.

Surely part of the reason for that was that softshells have arrived at Acacia, a fact quickly made known on the interwebs and all three of us were chomping at the bit for them.

A lovely combination of grilled nectarines, housemade Mozzarella, arugula, Marcona almonds and aged sherry vinaigrette made up my first course while I heard about my friends' imminent week in Boston and Narragansett.

It'll be her first time at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, a place I only saw for the first time six years ago so I envy her the thrill of experiencing it for the first time. I don't know if it's a girl thing or an art thing, but it's definitely a thing.

The fried softshells were atop refreshing compressed cucumber and Meyer lemon with creme fraiche and chives, a fresh-tasting take while my friend got the entree portion and her softshells were fried in bacon fat (as was the cornbread) with sauteed greens.

Man, the first softshells of the season always knock your socks off, don't they?

By then we were into the bottle of J. Sparkling Rose and my friend, a native, was telling me how Isley Brewing in Scott's Addition is in a building that used to house a candy shop she and her mother frequented back in the '50s and '60s.

No doubt sweets came up because it was time for dessert for the last of our pink drinking, and chocolate almond tort with black pepper ice cream and vanilla pickled rhubarb ('tis the season, after all) and fresh strawberries seemed like just what we needed. It was.

Soup to nuts, does anyone ever have a bad meal at Acacia? Certainly tonight did nothing to further that idea.

Holmes invited us back to his house for music (where we retired to the man cave), warning us that we'd have to listen to what he's been listening to lately.

That turned out to be a whole lot of really old but really excellent music, some of which was educational for the other female and me.

Who knew that "Black Magic Woman" was a Peter Green song that began life on a 1968 Fleetwood Mac album? I probably should have known but didn't and only do now because we listened to part of that album tonight.

He moved on to "The Beatles Anthology" and just when I thought there was nothing new Beatle-esque to hear, I got an earful of outtakes, rarities and alternative performances, some of which blew me away with their simplicity or youthfulness or sometimes just with how much the song had evolved with time.

There was a goose bump moment when John introduces Paul to sing a new song called "Yesterday" and there's no peep of recognition, no mass screams because no one knew the song yet.

That's an amazing thing to hear, like witnessing a period in history you missed. And the stripped down version of "It's Only Love" was sublime.

As we're sitting there listening to this album and discussing it, I begin noticing the stuff in the man cave. Piles of CDs, each of which Holmes claims to know the contents. Comic books in plastic sleeves.

And a small, leather bound notebook which, when I open it, holds pages of cramped handwriting. "That's my Beta library," Holmes says as if that's a normal thing to say.

Hello, 1982 called and they want their giant tape machines back.

Apparently at one point he'd done a complete listing of every Beta tape he had and numbered each for easy locating.

I start reading the library, fascinated to see what's in his listing. Almost at once, I see: 10/1/84 David Letterman show: Dylan and Liberace.

That's right kids, there was a time when the man who revolutionized folk music took the stage with a Vegas act for the sake of TV. The '80s were scarier than anyone wants to remember.

On the same tape (#102, in case you're interested) was Tom and Sue's wedding (uncut). Makes it sound like there were some pornographic elements to the nuptials that had to be later excised, doesn't it?

Tape #103 was labeled, "Music tape for bachelor party," presumably the party that preceded Tom and Susan's wedding (Tom, by the way, is no longer married to Susan).

As might be expected for the mid '80s, the mix included the Clash, Captain Sensible, Cream and Squeeze.

Because I continued to read titles from the library, Holmes is soon consumed with curiosity to see if we can locate a tape and watch it. The lady and I question that he would even still have a Beta player to play it on.

"Right here," he says, gesturing at the artifact the Smithsoian would probably want for their collection. "I've got another Beta player wrapped in bubble wrap in my attic for when this one goes out. It's on its last legs."

It's tough not to laugh loudly when your friend tells you so seriously that's he's planned for future Beta usage by stockpiling.

When he puts the first tape in, we get nothing. He winds the tape and still nothing. "Might be time to get out the Sanyo," he says solemnly. But then he tries another tape and we're seeing his Dad's 80th birthday party with the entire enormous family singing "This Land is Your Land" to Dad.

Shots of the family that pan around the room show a lot of big '80s hair on the women and bad glasses on the men. Unfortunately, Holmes is the camera man so we never see him or his hair.

But the truly wonderful part of the tape was the next day when Dave taped an interview with his father, who sits reclined in a red Lazy Boy, talking about himself. "I'm 147 pounds stripped naked," he says, apropos of nothing.

For the longest time, he holds a cigarette in his hand without lighting it as he talks. Eventually, he lights it, while informing the camera, "I've stopped inhaling."

Because after 70 years of smoking constantly, it was time to get healthy, I suppose.

Off-camera, Holmes asks him what foods he likes and he says cod, mentioning that "they" say fish is good for longevity and cauliflower, something he says he used to dislike but now loves.

Asked about music, he covers a lot of ground, including a discourse on "The Damnation of Faust" and how Faust should be pronounced in the French way not the German way.

The man was clearly brilliant, not to mention mesmerizing for his wide-ranging erudition, cig always casually in hand.

He mentioned his wife frequently and eventually we got to see her upstairs in her new kitchen where she is slicing up some tomato aspic.

That's right, tomato aspic. A delicacy from the days of "Mad Men," now a quaint cultural memory like the Sanyo. A whole way of life gone with the wind.

Like afternoon heat naps and slanting the blinds.


  1. Aspic continues to be on the buffet at our multigenerational Christmas gathering. Always there, though not always all eaten. Actually put some on my plate for the first time this past Christmas, not bad with the turducken. Aspic, keeping family no longer with us still present. And don't forget the cottage cheese/ dukes mayo mixture in the center of that festive red ring

  2. It makes me happy to know people are still serving aspic! Kudos to you and yours for keeping the past alive one gelatinous slice at a time!