Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hugging a Tree

You know what's hard? Putting up a Christmas tree by yourself.

And I'm not talking about some 9 foot monster of a tree, I'm talking about a Charlie Brown kind of a tree, the kind that needs a little love to reach its full potential. The kind that needs Linus to wrap his blanket around the base to help it stay upright. The kind that starts to lean when you look at it.

It's not just difficult dragging it up a flight of stairs and through an extremely narrow hallway by yourself, it's also challenging to get it in the stand and determine if it's straight or not when you can't be under the tree and in front of it simultaneously.

Once all that was accomplished, I began stringing lights on it when it began to lean precariously and I lost an hour of my life reworking everything so it could stay upright and support lights and decorations, too.

After another hour in, my hands were brown with sap, the tree was wearing its holiday finery and I was itching to get out of the house. Where better to go than to meet the friend who'd been so kind as to send me to see "Mame" today?

We met at Amour because I also wanted to eat and they have terrific small plate options, the better to pair with an exquisite Blanc de Noir with which we toasted "Mame."

First up I had two oysters swimming under a mignonette of canola oil, sherry vinaigrette and shallots, each a perfectly balanced bite of the bay.

Cauliflower soup was a revelation made even more impressive when I heard that the cauliflower had still been in the ground at noon today. The rich soup was adorned with Parmesan-crusted cauliflower and sauteed cauliflower greens, a decadent bowl I couldn't finish despite how fresh-tasting it was.

Next came tuna and cantaloupe ceviche, the unexpected sweetness of the melon a delightful addition. I followed that with duck confit with gnocchi and Granny Smith apple sauce, a dish of contrasting textures- pillowy, crunchy - and mouthfeel - rich, tart - that was also being enjoyed by a couple of regulars at the bar.

Turns out the  woman was only taking in the gnocchi, though.

She said she eats nothing with feet, so duck was out but she also admitted to loving Soprasetta ("It doesn't have feet") and other cured meats. Her man said it wasn't an issue of ethics but rather the texture of meat she found offensive.

How anyone couldn't love that duck confit is beyond me, but the really strange part is that she loves blood pudding. "So she'll eat congealed blood," her man observed with a grimace.

That led to a discussion of other edibles such as Scrapple (he was raised in Philly so it was a staple) and his father's favorite: white bread with Karo syrup and butter. It makes my teeth hurt to think about it, but he said his Dad ate it for lunch as a kid and never outgrew his taste for it.

But the main reason for my visit had not been to discuss food or this couple's upcoming winter vacation in Key West, but to compare notes on "Mame," which my friend is already planning to see a second time this weekend.

And a third time on closing night.

As it turned out, the couple had also seen it, so our four-way conversation became a love-fest about the musical, how it captured even non-musical lovers, what a top-notch cast it has, how exceptional the choreography was and what a feel-good experience watching it had been.

"It grabbed from the opening scene and made me happy all the way through," my friend said. The non-feet eater told us that "Cabaret" was her favorite musical but allowed as how it was a downer. Not so for "Mame," which radiates sunshine, lollipops and rainbows start to finish (even through stock market crashes, job firings and death of a beloved/rich husband).

Given the caliber of the production, it's the kind of show every theater-loving patron in the city should see. Hell, even people who think they don't like theater or musicals are likely to get their socks knocked off by all the talent onstage.

Instead of dessert, we all shared a cup of Les Confitures a l'Ancienne hot chocolate (my latest obsession), a decadent French extravagance that capped off our meal nicely after so much savory.

But the Scrapple lover had other ideas for happy endings, so we ended up trying a 2007 J. Fritsch Gewurtztraminer, a swoon-worthy sweet and ripe late harvest wine that tasted of lychee and finished with honey. Perfectly lovely, in other words.

By then we'd all moved on from "Mame" to the pleasures of traveling France's 1,000 miles of canals, something the couple is planning to spend two summers doing.

But that's a few years off so for now, they're going to pack up the little teal Christmas tree she won at a fundraiser and drive to Florida for the holidays.

You know what's easy? A teal pre-decorated Christmas tree. You know what's way more fun?

Wrangling a Charlie Brown tree into yuletide submission. Decking the halls with a trail of fallen pine needles. Celebrating with sparkling conversation.

It made me happy all the way through.

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