Thursday, January 31, 2019

Around the World and I, I, I

Italy and the promise of spring and true love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy. 
~ with apologies to Bertrand Russell

Maybe it was all the talk about Italy at my Dad's birthday party. Maybe it was as simple as wanting a well-paired meal on a chilly night.

And while neither of us was particularly gloomy (if you don't count the cold weather), Acacia's mini- Italian wine dinner seemed like just the thing on a Wednesday evening.

But only after Mr. Wright had again dazzled me with another heretofore unknown skill set, this time, yo-yo tricks.

Handing him the WVCW yo-yo I'd gotten at yesterday's rooftop Beatles serenade, he proceeded to do things with it that I'd never seen before. My only complaint was that this was a 21st century yo-yo chosen by a college radio staff, so it lit up red and flashing with each movement. Because apparently, a time-tested toy like the yo-yo needed to have more bells and whistles in order to hold a millennial's attention.

Don't get me started.

And while he couldn't demonstrate an Around the World - my small living room couldn't accommodate the arc - it was no problem to show me a Forward Toss, Rock the Baby or Walk the Dog. Multiple times, I might add, because I laughed so hard the first time.

Of all the ways you expect a man to court you, this one was new to me.

Wine dinners, on the other hand, I could do with my eyes closed, although why would I want to when I had such fabulous company and such artfully appetizing food?

We joined a lively dining room full of other wine dinner devotees, a lot of them couples like us, although history has proven that we generally outlast the masses. And we did.

As I'd hoped, it took only the first bite of a stellar first course salad of arugula, thinly sliced pear and prosciutto in a honey-pecan vinaigrette and paired with a light, lemony Alcesti Zibibbo from Sicily to feel transported to warmer climes and outdoor afternoon sipping.

Or perhaps that's just first course wishful thinking.

Our plates and glasses had barely been cleared when an older couple sitting behind me finished dinner and got up to leave. Neither looked especially happy or even a tad loopy, but what amazed me was that they could possibly be finished already. All I could think of was that they'd arrived the moment Acacia opened and bolted their food, but Mr. Wright clarified the situation because they'd been in his full view.

Apparently they'd endured the entire meal in silence, stoically eating but without talking. Is it unkind of me to say kill me now if I ever get to the point that I can sit through a four course meal with wine without some lively conversation?

Don't answer that.

Next up was deep purple beet ravioli stuffed with scallop mousse, which needed a more assertive wine, and Casale del Griglio Bellone Bianco had just the right kind of roundness, plus a long finish, to stand up to the depth of flavor in the ravioli. That it was from Rome, according to our soft-spoken wine rep, only added to its charms.

Can't say I recall the last time I drank wine from the eternal city.

We used the leisurely pacing of the meal - something I adore about Acacia's wine dinners - to discuss next year's winter vacation and where it should be. Me, I'm always going to vote for a beach, but at the very least, Mr. Wright and I concur on temperature. Minimal clothing and constantly open windows, that's our mantra.

As a long-time fan of the Nebbiolo grape, I couldn't have been happier to be poured Eredi Lodali Bric Sant'Ambrogio Nebbiolo d'Alba, with its delicately floral nose and full mouthfeel. An ideal wine for a ridiculously cold night.

The chef had outdone himself pairing it with a rich Parmesan-crusted flounder in a lemon caper sauce - Mr. Wright claimed that the look on my face after my first bite was akin to rapturous - and made even more indulgent by being served over saffron risotto with a flurry of crispy leeks sprinkled everywhere.

We decided (okay, this chocolate-lover made a case for) on ending our meal with date cake drizzled with balsamic caramel and - wait for it - brown butter Guinness ice cream riding shotgun. Partly it was a nod to the Italian meal - the only chocolate I had during two weeks in Italy was the bits of it in stracciatella gelato - and partly it was how wildly appealing that combination sounded.

Nailed it, and Nebbiolo didn't hurt any, either.

Much as I swooned over the understated richness of the cake under the downright obscene caramel, it was the softening gelato mixed with the rest that spoke loudest to me. Like a childhood memory, it called to mind ice cream cake rolls where the ice cream almost becomes part of the cake, infusing it with additional flavor.

Or maybe that's just the multiple Italian wines talking.

Like the Spanish, we're devoted practitioners of sobremesa, so we lingered at the table talking until it became clear that closing time was nigh.

When we left, our bellies were full of Italian food and wine, spring was a few hours closer and we were the least gloomy couple you could meet. As that sage Sheryl Crow sings, "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad."

If it makes you happy, it can also be incredibly good. Haven't you heard? Dates are the new chocolate.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Get Back, Loretta

It was 50 years ago today
That the Beatles went outside to play
And since they never went out of style
VCU  guaranteed me a smile
To Cabell's rooftop I took my ears
Fab Four songs in fresh air for to hear

January 30, 1969 was a freezing cold day in London, with a bitter wind blowing on the rooftop by mid-day. So chilly, in fact, that John borrowed Yoko's fur coat when the Beatles plus Billy Preston headed to Apple HQ rooftop for a surprise show.

Fast forward to January 30, 2019 in Richmond and it's a freezing cold day (35 degrees but feels like 23) with a bitter wind blowing at 24 miles per hour.  Too bad for me, the fur coat my husband gave me in the '80s had long since been sold via classified ad in Style Weekly during the '90s.

Truth be told, I was never really the fur type in the first place.

But fur or not, a music lover doesn't pass up a 50th anniversary, especially when a rooftop-like third floor balcony has been procured and the weather is replicating the original, so I layered up - 6 on top, two on bottom - and took a wind-blown walk to Cabell Library.

Up on the third floor, the campus radio station WVCW had already set up speakers on the balcony. The first familiar face was the poet, who'd been under the misconception that actual musicians dressed like the Beatles were going to play (the librarian later copped to expecting the same thing) when in fact, the plan was to play the original set list (minus the extra takes) along with a couple more Beatles favorites and close with the live recording of the final song from the original performance.

What I hadn't known was that students from Emanata, the student-run comic anthology, were also there with plans to illustrate the floor-to-ceiling windows leading to the balcony with Beatles-related drawings.

The event's organizer went up to a trio of female students and asked if they'd come because they were Beatles fans and though they answered in the affirmative, none of them had seen the original performance footage. He suggested they YouTube it, while I marveled that they'd bothered to come.

Promptly at noon, "Get Back" began blasting out of the speakers and the artists began drawing. Even better, one of the DJs began walking up to people like me with a gift. "Here, I'll give you a yo-yo to commemorate that time you came to hear the Beatles on the roof," he said, handing me a blue yo-yo emblazoned with the station's call letters.

Could there be a better souvenir? I don't think so.

But there was a better place to listen to the music and that was on the balcony, so I left the crowds inside to watch the drawings beginning to take shape - John Lennon was already instantly recognizable with no more than glasses and eyes drawn - and planted myself on the balcony.

Besides, it was much easier to see the drawings taking shape without a gaggle of people in front of me. And yes, it was cold and the wind was gusting, once even knocking a speaker on a stand over, but the whole idea had been to hear the Beatles on some semblance of a rooftop.

Et tu, conference room dwellers?

My vantage point near the railing overlooking the Compass afforded me a bright blue sky, a fair amount of wind, a view of passersby and a peek into the VCU community's appreciation of the Beatles. Occasionally, a student or two would glance up when they heard the music from above, say, "Don't Let Me Down" or "I've Got a Feeling," but that's all they'd do is look up.

Although I could hardly expect the two guys wearing shorts (if their mothers only knew) or the girl in a mini skirt to slow down or their skin would have frozen, I was honestly surprised at the lack of reaction from below.

I'd been expecting groups of listeners to form on the Compass, intrigued to hear music blasting from the library and reverberating off of Hibbs Hall a microsecond later, but no. The only people I saw pause at all were of an age that screamed staff or faculty.

And the one older guy I was absolutely positive would stop and stay, a guy with distinctive blue hair, didn't even seem to notice. I gave up hoping others outside would appreciate what was giving me so much pleasure.

At one point, the librarian pointed out that all he needed was for his hair to be blowing in the wind (a la Lennon in the film footage) before commenting that mine was. Of course, a smart woman would have worn a hat given the cold.

Because the goal was to recreate the original performance without duplicating the second and third takes the Beatles had done, a few additional songs were added in, so after "Dig a Pony," they went to "Penny Lane," which got no more response than its more obscure predecessor.


But out on the balcony, there were three of us who reacted instantly when "Hey, Bulldog" came on because it's not one that lesser Beatles fans know. When I mentioned that to the organizer, he admitted he'd been the one to request it.

Well done was all I could say.

By the time the live third take of "Get Back" began, complete with Paul's improvised lyrics to reflect the occasion ("You've been playing on the roof again and you know your Momma don't like it. She's gonna have you arrested!"), I didn't care about being cold.

Thanks WVCW for providing the coolest possible way to revel in loud Beatles music, January breezes and celebrating a cultural milestone outdoors.

I've got a feeling I might have enjoyed it even more than you did.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

On Looking Like a Badger

Nothing like a good anachronistic costume drama on a soggy night.

As many times as I'd seen the previews for "The Favourite" at Movieland over the past few months, I wasn't expecting the movie I finally saw tonight. The preview, like so many, didn't really convey the film's essence, instead using snippets of scenes that suggested a period romp with some "Mean Girls" action.

Not even close.

Instead, it was an absurdist take on history (politicians holding indoor duck races, royals pelting a naked man with rotten fruit for sport), full of modern-day dialog ("No pressure," said no 18th century person ever), pathos (a queen who keeps 17 rabbits in her bed chamber to signify the 17 children she miscarried or were stillborn) and crazy fish-eye camera lenses that made the palace feel like a claustrophobic fun house.

Also, lots of vomiting due to drunkenness, binge eating and poisoning. Oh, yes, and a hand job. And granted, the opulent costumes were pure eye candy, even if no 18th century royal ever wore a dress covered in large polka dots.

And that doesn't even begin to touch on the stellar performances of the three women who star in the film - Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone - all of whom got Oscar nods. If only one can win, my full support goes to Coleman who manages to convey all the contradictions of the Queen's personality, loneliness and ailing body without losing the humanity of her as a flawed woman.

Not to be overlooked is how utterly refreshing it was to see a movie with so much girl power, not to mention that all the male roles were in service of the female characters.

Mac had seen the film with her Mom on Christmas Day and told me that her Mom had found the film to be a downer. I'm guessing she wasn't the only one because when the final scene dissolved to black tonight, there was  stunned silence in the nearly full theater.

The guy behind me turned to his date and said, "No way," as if disappointed that things hadn't been wrapped up in a more happily-ever-after manner. This is satire, people. Do we really think that Queen Anne said, "I like it when she puts her tongue in me?" No, no we don't.

Besides, every now and then, it's good to be reminded that bad behavior is its own punishment.

Driving home, I realized that with tonight's movie, I've now seen four of the eight Oscar nominees for Best Picture: "The Favourite," "BlacKKKlansman," "Green Book" and "A Star is Born," although how that last one got in there, I'll never understand.

Give me a good satire with bite, bossy women and heaving breasts any day. That's entertainment.

Sunday Morning Coming Down

I wouldn't want to brag about being a good daughter.

Okay, I wouldn't ordinarily, but who else but a very good daughter would go to dinner at a place that has Tr*mp wines on the wine list?

Not to mention that I'd just gone to the Northern Neck on Wednesday to make lunch for my Dad on the occasion of his actual 87th birthday, so it's not like I was looking to score points or anything.

Daughterly duties done, that lunch might have been enough for some offspring.

But while we were in Islamorada, I'd gotten an invitation to Dad's birthday dinner and the 26th of January seemed forever away and my brain was probably somewhat softened by all that sun and relaxing, so I'd casually mentioned it to Mr. Wright and he'd agreed.

It probably didn't hurt that he and my father have a mutual admiration thing going, but his brain may have been a tad vacation-compromised, too. An acceptance was sent.

So there we were, driving to the Northern Neck Saturday afternoon, allowing enough time to get ready and have a glass of wine in Irvington before setting out to meet an abbreviated version of the family (including the only sister and brother-in-law he'd yet to meet), meaning only eight people for dinner at the Kilmarnock Inn.

Although I've been to the Inn plenty of times, I'd never noticed the political slant of the menu before. I'm talking about a menu with the title "Filibusters at the Kilmarnock Inn," that then moves on to "Starters for the First Term" (and second term) and includes such entrees as the POTUS platter (filet mignon) and the Presidential Running Mate (NY strip).

Refusing to be part of that nonsense, I instead opted for seafood wontons followed by a salad of greens, craisins, Feta, olives and pecans, then flatbread with wilted arugula, marinated tomatoes, goat cheese and bacon.

Not a partisan opinion in sight.

But no self-respecting liberal wants to open up her wine list and see, not one, but two, Tr*mp Winery options staring back at her. Goodness knows, I remember all the yard signs in this neck of the woods back during the election cycle, so I knew I was a stranger in a strange land, but the decision to offer those bottles can't possibly sit well with every Inn visitor.

So I have to assume management are idiots.

Eager to share my disdain with the choice, I discretely pointed out the wines, first to Mr. Wright and then to Dad, both of whom made their opinion of the inclusion obvious in their return looks. My discretion was necessary because one sister and her husband are of a different political affiliation than my parents and me and I wasn't looking to start any discussion on that subject.

Instead, a lot of the evening's conversation involved travel. Seems the absent Sister #5 and her husband are about to take a river cruise through Europe, although no one seemed quite sure of where they were leaving from or going to. Sister #3 regaled us with a laundry list of Italian cities she and her husband have been to, while lamenting not having decided which one they want to retire to.

When talk turned to sports and the topic of ballparks, a mention of me - the least sports-inclined of my Dad's six daughters - having been to Wrigley Field caused Sister #4 to say to her husband that it would be a good one for them to visit.

Even an athletic failure like me knows that, as ballparks go, I got to see a game at one of the best.

In typical Sister #3 fashion, once she realized the depth of Mr. Wright's sports knowledge, she wasted no time in bluntly asking him what he was doing with me.

Ah, sisters. Can't live with 'em, can't kill 'em.

The second problem with the Kilmarnock Inn, after its wine-buying habits, is that it's located in Kilmarnock, where they roll up the sidewalks by 9:00 on a Saturday night. We'd barely finished our desserts when we were informed that they'd finished up everything they needed to do and were closing up for the night.

Translation: we needed to clear out.

Fortunately, two of the couples were staying at the inn, so we all adjourned to the gathering room, a euphemism for a good-sized room located near the inn's cottages with a TV, a pool table and leather library chairs for lounging. Bottles of red and white wine helped keep the party going once it was decided that shooting pool was in order.

Luckily, as the two least coordinated (but best read, I might add) sisters, Sister #4 and I immediately settled into chairs to chat while the ultra competitive Sister #3 teamed up with her husband and challenged Mr. Wright and Brother-in-law #4 to a game.

Little did she realize that you don't challenge Buffalo and Chicago natives to pick up a cue without expecting that they've spent some time in a few pool halls. Even after what Brother-in-law #4 referred to as "giving them a shellacking," Sister #3 continued to insist on additional games.

Meanwhile, Sister #4 and I, comfortably sipping Grillo on the sidelines, were also learning about hidden billiards talents in our partners. I can still use the excuse of newness, but they've been together for 30 years, so you'd think pool would have come up before now.

Eventually, the victors refused to shellac the losers even one more time and we left the inn to recover from family time those who were sleeping there.

We'd opted out of brunch with the clan so that we could have a leisurely Sunday, eventually landing at the library to hear Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Bill Lohmann talk about his book, "Doctor Copter" about the physician who'd made weekly treks to Tangier Island to provide medical care.

For us, it was a rare cultural activity on one of our Irvington weekends, but to locals, it was like the second coming. Attendees not only filled the large room where Bill spoke, but also another room downstairs where they'd decided to broadcast his talk to accommodate the overflow crowd.

I'm sure a big part of the appeal was the Northern Neck/Tangier connection - many of the original settlers in my parents' village came from Tangier - because the doctor flew out of Whitestone in the early years and later Topping. That said, Mr. Wright posited that it was a function of being held after church let out, being a free event and, probably most important of all, that local women make cookies which are then served to attendees after the lecture.

What more could a curious Northern Necker want on a Sunday afternoon?

I don't know about what else those people might have wanted, but we closed out the weekend at Merroir, sitting on the porch for a change because of the temperature. A couple and their dog were the sole occupants of the outdoor seating but even they eventually caved and put Rover in the car so they could dine in warmth.

Meanwhile, the porch provided everything we wanted: a view of the water, a bottle of Hugl Gruner Veltliner and a platter of Old Saltes to get the party started. After the Ruby Salts I'd had at Perch and the gigantic Apalachicola ones I'd slurped in Isalmorada, I needed a palate correction back to what a truly briny oyster should taste like and Old Saltes never disappoint.

But we'd come, not just to chow down, but to talk and Mr. Wright's rockfish under caramelized onions and my fishcake over mixed greens provided the fuel to do a post-vacation look back while considering next year's winter getaway possibilities.

He likes to say that there's an awful lot of thinking and talking that goes with this relationship, while I'm convinced it's really just a whole lot of planning and executing.

Not that I'm complaining.

Well, except when it comes to businesses foolish enough to serve wines labeled with the name of the man attempting to destroy the American democratic experiment.

Can't we just give him a shellacking and be done with it?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Days of Brut and Beans

It was a combination Burns night and Wilson tribute set to a picnic.

While no haggis was involved, Holmes did invite me to dinner and a listening party on the night usually devoted to a traditional Burns supper. Having had haggis once, in Scotland, I was only too happy to swap out sheep innards for Buzz and Ned's barbecue and whatever records he was going to spin.

The whole reason for staying in rather than going out is Beloved's broken elbow, which has gone from the cumbersome plaster cast sticking straight out from her body she was wearing a month ago to a thick bandage covered by a contraption with a large hinge that at least allows her to look less like a statue, even if she still can't go to work.

When I got to Holmes' house, she immediately apologized for being in her pajamas and I countered by pointing out that I was still in my walking clothes, Either way, it was a picnic, a decidedly casual occasion, even if if we did wash it all down with Graham Beck Brut Rose in Holmes' mother's cut crystal glasses.

Once Holmes finished steaming shrimp and making cocktail sauce just the way Beloved and I like it (with enough horseradish to clear our sinus cavities), we sat down with our shrimp cocktails. Spread all over the dining room table was our feast: barbecued chicken, pork barbecue, Hawaiian rolls, cole slaw, baked beans and marinated cucumber and onion salad.

The only thing missing was corn on the cob, which Holmes had considered and decided against. A good call if you ask me. I'd just as soon do without and wait for summer rather than make do with winter corn.

The barbecued chicken had been my suggestion, making Holmes and Beloved's surprised enthusiasm for it especially gratifying. Big, irregular hunks of dark and white meat in a nicely-seasoned sauce resulted in nearly all of the chicken being eaten while barely a fourth of the pork met its demise.

It's a rare meal where yard bird trumps pig without it being fried. Of course, now that Facebook has told me that people who eat fried chicken once a day die 13% sooner than those who don't, I have to ask. Who eats fried chicken every single day?

After we'd stuffed ourselves silly, we retreated to the basement, where Holmes announced that tonight's theme was "compilations," beginning with "Attack of the Killer Bs Volume I." That's B for B-sides, so more obscure songs.

Picking and choosing, he started with Marshall Crenshaw's "You're My Favorite Waste of Time," again recounting the story to Beloved of me driving (as he tells it, going 40 mph in a 55 mph zone) him and I to Ashland Coffee and Tea to see Marshall Crenshaw.

Some friends just never forgive you for opening up about your personal life while they're stuck in the passenger seat.

But the record held other gems from bands like the Pretenders, the Ramones and Roxy Music. It was 1983 new wave, pop rock and punk of the highest order. And, really, shouldn't everyone listen to an occasional piece by Laurie Anderson ("Lou Reed's wife!" Holmes informed Beloved, as if that explained anything) just to appreciate that we have such performers in our world?

We had a secondary theme for the evening because since our last music night, vocalist Nancy Wilson had died. RIP.

All three of us are devoted fans of her 1963 "Hollywood My Way" record - the one where she's standing in front of a yellow taxi wearing a yellow jersey evening dress that hugs every part of her body and necessitated explaining what a sheath was to Holmes-  which gets played just about every time we get together, including tonight. "Days of Wine and Roses," just exquisite.

The last time we'd seen each other had been at Holmes' birthday dinner where they'd met Mr. Wright for the first time. When Beloved mentioned that she'd found him very attractive, Holmes piped up, saying, "I'd date him!" although it sounded a lot like "I'd do him!" which he denies saying.

Either way, they regretted cousin Billie monopolizing him so that no one else got a chance to get to get a word in edgewise or find out why he's my favorite waste of time.

Regrets, they had a few.

But not me. An evening with friends devoted to 'cue and old records after a week spent attempting re-entry into the real world was about as ambitious as I could muster.

I mean, where else in this town am I going to hear someone say, "Just listen to that Hammond B-3!" in such a reverential tone?

And at a Burns night picnic, too.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Beans Spilled

When offered the opportunity to reschedule, I said no dice.

The rain poured down when Mac and I walked this morning under umbrellas, but we didn't mind because it was also 62 degrees. I got home to a message from my intended lunch date, giving me the option (since we were both coming from an hour + away) of moving our plans to a less soggy day.

Since I am anything but a weather wimp, I scoffed at her kind offer. All systems go.

Heading up Route 301 in a driving rain resulted in moments of hydroplaning, the need to slow down to far below the speed limit and the occasional vehicle sending up a puddle spray so immense my car was doused as if at a car wash.

Not ideal driving conditions, I can assure you.

My reluctance to reschedule also had to do with the fact that it had been so long since my aunt and I had met for lunch that neither of us could remember when it had been. Definitely not 2018 and we're not even sure it was 2017, although surely it couldn't have been longer than that. We used to meet up in Fredericksburg 2 or 3 times a year and then something happened to her.

She took up tennis. That she was in her late '60s at the time seemed to matter not at all.

And for someone who came to the game late, she turned out to be really good at it. These days, she plays in so many leagues that her only reliably available day is Thursday and even those are booked way in advance.

Today's lunch had been scheduled the second week of December and there was no way I was going to the bottom of the waiting list for her next free Thursday. So I took on the rain and headed north, eventually frustrating the drivers behind me who saw fit to pass me despite the lack of visibility and puddle-slicked road.

All of that was forgotten when I got downtown and found a parking space directly in front of the Confident Rabbit - why the rabbit is confident, I have no idea - which is the new restaurant in the former Bistro Bethem space where we always meet.

And there she was, this stylish aunt of mine, sitting at a front table by the window, having watched me score the perfect parking space and eager for me to sit down and start the conversation. Her first word, in fact, was, "Spill!"

Seems her brother, my Dad, had alerted her to the news flash that there was a man in my life but he hadn't been forthcoming enough for her. "He told me he really likes him," she said, sounding exasperated. "He said you should have met him 25 years ago!"

Oh, so I had a choice in when all this was to happen?

Only a person lucky enough to find the love of his life at age 23 would be so cavalier about his daughter not "finding" someone in a more timely manner. Sheesh.

There was no sense in opening my mouth for all that until we ordered. Looking at the menu, we saw that it was restaurant week, so it was basically a matter of choosing one from column A and one from column B and our server would be on her way.

When she asked if we wanted wine, I demurred, explaining that I'd just come off a vacation that had been awash in bubbles and rum and I was taking a break. The server's eyes lit up. Seems she'd just come off vacation, too, and wanted to commiserate about how painful it is to readjust to the real world after a stellar getaway.

The struggle is real and this stranger understood.

I was in heaven. Here was somebody feeling the same pain I've been feeling since Monday trying to re-engage our brains and resume old routines while secretly pining to be back in the sunshine doing nothing. When she found out I'd been further south than she had, my aunt interjected herself into the conversation.

"Wait, wait, you just got back from the Keys?" she asked incredulously. "Okay, spill!"

Our green salads arrived as I was giving her the highlights reel of how my life took a sharp right turn once I met Mr. Wright. Sharing one of my more quotable comments from our first date, my pithy aunt remarked, "You never had any problem with confidence."

Much as I tried to keep the saga to a manageable length, she kept asking questions that required more explanation until finally, I realized she'd cleaned her plate and I'd taken three bites.

Needing to wrap this story up, I assured her we were living happily ever after and it was time to talk about something else. I wanted to hear how her tennis playing was going for a 75-year old woman playing in the 18+ league.

Regaling me with tales of championships won, deciding to get shots for leg pain and being crowned "team queen" for her mouthiness and ability to win on the court, I marveled at how she's a poster child for following your passion regardless of age.

And based on the photos she showed me of her and her teammates, she was looking pretty great - of course, I always was partial to that short skirt and leggings look anyway - doing it with her flawless skin, short, white spiky hair and hipster horn rim glasses.

For lunch, I'd chosen the curry chicken salad on housemade bread with macaroni salad, while she'd gotten the tarragon chicken salad on said bread. We'd intended to share our plates so we could enjoy both but we wound up liking our own so much that we were only willing to share a bite. Too often I find curry chicken salad to be too strongly flavored, but our post-vacation server had highly recommended it and she was right.

It was perfection, suggesting curry without drowning you in it.

Because her main squeeze was at home waiting for the Comcast repairman to come fix their spotty reception, my aunt asked me if I was still without a TV and I assured her I was. Turns out that's something she's always admired me for (who knew?), even as she admitted that she couldn't live without hers, especially in Warrenton where apparently there's not a lot else to do.

My condolences.

When my aunt and I were on the fence about ordering dessert, our server leaned in and suggested that one final shared dessert would be an appropriate conclusion to vacation mode, sort of the period at the end of the sentence signifying that once it was gone, vacation indulgence was truly over.

As if. Nevertheless, we shared a slice of black bottom chocolate mousse cake while she asked me for the latest scoop on my five sisters, but there wasn't enough chocolate in Fredericksburg to fully cover that topic.

When we finally got up to go, our server came over with a concerned look on her face. "Good luck coming down from vacation. I know we can do it if we try!"

Ah, the innocence of youth. Honey, if I was trying to come down, do you think I'd have driven an hour and 20 minutes in the driving rain to talk about my life?

Confidence isn't just for rabbits, you know.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Trust Me, It's a Booster Shot

It was exactly the right day to spend with the men in my life.

Because today is my Dad's 87th birthday, I'd offered to motor to the Northern Neck and bring lunch, but only after asking what he wanted for his celebratory meal. To my surprise, the request was for a Cobb salad.

Unlikely as it sounds, can do.

The drive out was easy enough and once there, I set about making my Dad's idea of a birthday cake: lemon meringue pie. It should probably be noted that it's been a couple decades since I last made one. But I jumped in, baking the crust, stirring and boiling the filling and whipping the egg whites to make a generous meringue to be browned in the oven.

All the while my Mom is trying to convince me that, like her other five daughters, I'm a wonderful cook who has simply opted out of cooking lately.

I let her keep her delusions.

In between steps, I chat up Dad about his thoughts on the Rams, an innocuous question that led me down a rabbit hole involving Sean McVay, Jon Gruden and the ignorance of Dan Snyder. So, in other words, just another family sports discussion.

And let's not forget that I have zero interest in sports to start and was merely making conversation.

Then there's my Mom who has zero interest in cooking or new foods. As we were eating the salad, she forked up a bit of avocado and commented innocently, "This is the first time I've ever had avocado." Not at all surprised (she refused to serve us butter beans or beets during our childhood because she hated them), I asked what she thought of it. "Doesn't taste like much and that color is so unappealing," she said.

It's amazing that I sprung from her boring culinary loins.

Fortunately, my Dad's love of oysters, soft shell crabs and anchovies was enough to motivate my palate and keep the fire alive even as she attempted to raise another bland eater like herself.

We even had a little Prosecco with lunch, the better to toast Dad's longevity - "To the first two major women in your adult life!" was the best I could do - and continued good humor, despite a complete disgust with the current state of U.S. affairs. I am comforted knowing he intends to outlive the current leader of the free world solely so that he can see how the history books treat him.

I've got to give him credit for even bothering to care after all these years.

It was the oddest weather today because when I left Mom and Dad's, it was ridiculously warmer than when I'd arrived and forecast to be warmer still by this evening. I know my science knowledge is sketchy at best, but I still I can't quite figure out how it was 9 degrees on Monday and 60 degrees today.

I'm not complaining, either.

Once I was back in J-Ward, my evening was given over to Mr. Wright after he'd asked me on a last minute dinner date. Although our intention had been to get through a very busy week for both of us before reconvening post-vacation, he'd decided he needed a little company to tide him over until the weekend.

Amazing the effects it has on a person when they breathe the same air while at the oceanfront.

The night felt soft and warm when we strolled over to Bar Solita to catch up on each other's adjustment back to reality. Once we had a bottle of Laurent Miguel Grenache Blanc on the table, it began to feel like vacation again, minus the ocean flats and shorts.

Despite the absence of salty breezes, we ate like were were still beach hungry, downing a basil pesto pizza, orzo salad and grilled asparagus like we'd been out soaking up sun all afternoon instead of working hard at our desks.

Because apparently old beach appetites die hard.

Behind our booth, a familiar face popped up, although it took me a hot second to recognize the handsome server who'd shorn his shoulder length mane to a dashing short cut that made him just this side of unrecognizable. Still, it was great to see his smiling face and learn that he's roosted at my neighborhood joint.

We were looking at the rain on the streets outside the window when our server stopped by to check on our interest in dessert. In what can only be attributed to lingering vacation mode, Mr. Wright requested some Oreo gelato with absolutely no suggestion from me.

On the other hand, if a 50 degree January night isn't as good a reason as any to be eating ice cream with your vacation partner, I don't know what is.

But you can be sure I'd find a way to justify anything to extend this vacation hangover. To quote Miss Diana Ross, "If there's a cure for this, I don't want it. If there's a remedy, I'll run from it."

Besides, if I can drive to the river, bake a pie and still find time to bask in the recent past, there's no cure in order. Just allow me to wallow in it a bit longer.

Spoken as only the daughter of a very satisfied 87-year old man can.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Talk to Me

If I was going to jump back in, it might as well be whole hog.

The first thing that meant was dinner at a new place in Scott's Addition, namely Perch, because Mac had gotten a gift certificate for her birthday and wanted to share her good fortune. The funny part is, it was the women at her job who'd given it to her because they know she's an adventurous eater and they're not.

As in, they wanted to all take her out for dinner but she had so many celebrations going on that it couldn't be worked out, so instead they gave her a card for a restaurant none of them wanted to eat at anyway.

I call that a win/win.

Perch is located in the former Joy Garden space and while I'd only been there once (maybe 5 or 6 years ago), my memories of it were of a dark, divided up room and not that it was the rare Richmond restaurant with a parking lot. The new interior pays homage to the Joy Garden roots in a stylish way with all sight lines leading to the gorgeous green wood-fired oven in the back.

We dove right in, Mac with a Rust and Stardust cocktail (Woodford reserve bourbon, tamarind,  vanilla, lemon and bitters, with an egg white froth) that was to die for, which is saying a lot coming from a non-bourbon fan. Having just come off a vacation involving enough wine and rum to choke a horse, I abstained with a mocktail involving guava and pineapple, among other things, called the Sound.

That it arrived in a glass resembling a carved coconut head was pure gravy.

The first thing to dazzle us post-drinks was arroz caldo, a thick soup of rice, huge pieces of shredded chicken, preserved lemon, garlic, chicken skin and egg. And while you might presume that the chicken skin was the star, it was actually the soy-marinated hard-cooked egg that had me moaning and Mac copping to a sudden love of eggs (she usually avoids them).

Every bit as stellar and with the chef's Filipino heritage on full display was pork lumpia, fried springroll-like cigars stuffed with local spiced pork and fried so lightly that I could almost forget that I shouldn't be eating them.

I always appreciate a place that sells oysters individually (even if they are overpriced that way) and Mac and I are oyster hounds, so we had to check out the offerings. Our bartender told us that the bivalves from Tom's Cove -coincidentally where he often went camping as a child - were less salty than the Ruby Salts, which was all I wanted to taste, but Mac insisted we needed to try both and who am I to argue when she's treating me?

Verdict: Ruby Salts took the prize, no surprise.

On a 34 degree night, shrimp bouillabaisse with parsnips, carrots, leeks and bread sounded like a warm dream come true. That it took the server multiple tries to figure out how to pour the broth from the little pitcher over the bowl of seafood and vegetables was more amusing than anything else.

To our surprise, it arrived with not just shrimp, but scallops and mussels too, a nice bonus but more bread would have been even better. I ask you, what's a good broth without sufficient sopping vehicles?

We had just enough time for a flourless chocolate torte with orange sorbet, a combo that's not one of Mac's favorites, but fortunately the two flavors were in separate dishes, so she didn't have to suffer the citrus/chocolate co-mingling that so offends her.

Meanwhile, we discovered on separate trips to the bathroom that they were frigid due to ongoing insulation problems and a sign on each stall informs the customer that their contractor is "working to correct the situation."

In the meantime, that's some mighty cold porcelain under a girl's tush.

We left giving a thumbs up to the industrial but softened interior, high marks to the soup and lumpia and passing grades to the bouillabaisse and dessert. The Ruby Salts worked for us but the Tom's Coves left us unmoved, so we'll call that a draw.

The second thing jumping back in whole hog meant was seeing "Talk Radio" at the Basement, a play about a character named Barry Champlain, an '80s shock jock a la Howard Stern. You know, the kind of on-air personality who will tell a handicapped caller, "Gotta run! I know you can't, but we can!" and hangs up on the guy.

For that matter, he hangs up on just about everybody, just for different reasons: they're boring, they're whining, they're missing the point. Fair enough.

His engineer wears an '80s-style sweater worthy of Bill Cosby, his producer wears a red silk blouse and flat gold necklace I can vouch for as being entirely era-appropriate and there's a never ending supply of tequila at the station.

As someone who worked in radio for a few years, albeit in the '90s, I can assure you that tequila is a mainstay, both in the general manager's office and in the sales manager's office.

A play with a central character who sits at a desk talking into a microphone the entire time has to rely on his facial gestures, eye direction and subtle head and hand movements to convey any sense of action, all of which the masterful Scott Wichmann as Barry did to keep things compelling.

And just to prove that shock jocks weren't animals, he manages to reference William Blake and Richard Speck, expecting his listeners to follow along and get every rapid-fire comment, no matter how pointed or downright rude.

For me, it was full immersion back into my regular life via a new restaurant and a solid play that brought to mind the kind of DJ birthed from the '80s.

When I lived in D.C., my husband managed a video store directly under DC 101 and Howard Stern used to call regularly to ask about XXX-rated movie titles or make crude jokes about porn stars, so I remember when people were transfixed by these new radio voices that sought to offend.

Maybe that was the beginning of the end of civility. Or maybe we didn't know how good we had it then compared to the daily depths of human discourse which have now become the new norm.

In either case, my brain seems to be engaged again, my palate teased by new dishes in a recently-opened restaurant. Mac keeps reminding me that I had my warm time and now I have to get used to winter again.

Life is returning to normal. Icy toilets aside, I can do this.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Sweeping the Room with a Glance

Now that I'm back from vacation, I find myself in a unique position.

Technically, I came back back to three assignments that came my way while I was in the Keys and which I automatically said yes to. No pressure, but one of them was due today so I knocked that out and set up interviews for the other two. But a freelancer's got to pitch to live, so I did that, too, scoring a few more assignments due the beginning of February.

All of which is well and good, but what's a relaxed and refreshed woman to do on a frigid day until those interviews begin?

I mean, besides go score an everything bagel from Nate's to get her Richmond groove back?

Despite morning temperatures in the teens with the wind making it feel like 7 degrees, I reunited with Mac and did our river walk, except with about three times as many layers as usual. Needless to say, we were in the minority choosing to be outside on a day like this and from Broad Street to Brown's Island, humans were in short supply.

If there was a bright side to freezing our patooties off, it was that by the time we got back, the temperature had climbed to a whopping 9 degrees, so at least it was warming up nicely.

But apparently not enough for my worrywart Mom, who called to tell me to crank up my heat because whatever I had it set on (64, as I always do during winter), she had just seen on TV that terrible things happen to people if their heat is too low during the vortex and she was quite sure mine was too low.

Because no matter how old you are or how long you've been taking care of yourself, Mom always knows best.

Once the work I could do was finished, I realized I had the time to do the housekeeping that I'd put on hiatus a month ago to meet all the deadlines I needed to in order to skip town for sixteen days.

Even though my apartment is pretty much always neat and organized, I can ignore dust balls and hairballs like Stevie Wonder. After a while, I don't even see the shriveled up leaves and flowers that the houseplants shed on the floor near the sunny front windows.

And those Christmas presents that never got put away? About damn time, don't you think?

So with resolve in my heart and absolutely nothing better to do, I set out to thoroughly clean house. And I have to say, polishing bookshelves, wiping down stereo equipment and dusting artwork and photographs is a solid way to remind myself that I like my simple life here, even if the polar vortex is fracturing and there are ice patterns inside my storm windows.

Granted, the vigorous cardio workout of sweeping and mopping floors to get my blood moving didn't hurt my motivation, nor did having music blaring as accompaniment.

I was so overcome by domesticity that I even - gasp! - baked a lemon poundcake, although that could be attributable to wanting to have the oven on, I can't be sure.

Once even baseboards were clean and picture frames relieved of their dust layers, it finally occurred to me. I could go out in search of culture like I used to do before deadlines overcame my life or the beach made such things superfluous.

News flash: I could go to a movie. My brain was so beach relaxed that I'd forgotten I could do something rather than just be.

Wearing nearly as many layers as I had to walk this morning - cut me some slack, it was feeling like 16 degrees out there and my body had gotten acclimated to lows of 67 - I set out for Movieland to see "If Beale Street Could Talk," the new film from "Moonlight" director Barry Jenkins, the one I'd missed at this year's Afrikana Film Fest.

That it was based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name only added to the appeal, especially after having seen the documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" based on Baldwin's unfinished manuscript.

Mesmerizingly beautiful, excruciatingly poignant, exquisitely acted and gut-wrenchingly on point about social justice, the movie was as compelling as "Moonlight" had been and every bit as important a piece of cinema. Scenes unfolded slowly and naturally, which I love, and the jazz-inflected score was a masterpiece.

My only complaint was that everyone else in the theater was part of a couple, none of whom hesitated to talk to their partner throughout the film. Generally, if there's a talker, I don't hesitate to shush them, but you can't shush 20 people.

Even so, the movie was so moving and gorgeously shot that nothing could have ruined it for me. Baldwin was a brilliant writer and Jenkins is a genius filmmaker and the result is a movie that all but casts a spell on the viewer, even when they have to put up with people acting like they're in their own living rooms.

And did I mention that my mine is spotless? Although now that I've remembered that I don't have to spend time in it, I'm not sure it matters.

Silly girl, I should have been catching up on my beach reading.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Back to Knowing What Day It Is

Bye, bye beach.

And, just like that, Islamorada is in the rear-view mirror and we're cruising up Card Sound Road en route to the Miami airport, photos on devices and memories firmly in place, all conveying some ridiculously relaxing vacation time spent.

Books read: I finally finished the Playboy Lennon/Yoko interviews, read "Kafka Was All the Rage" and got a quarter into "The Tender Bar," so let's say I managed just over two and not dwell on my lack of reading time.

Favorite restaurant tagline: "Peace, love and hogfish" at Chef Micheal's. But what the chef really wants you to eat is the invasive lionfish because their only predator in the Atlantic is us humans. The restaurant's claim is that they're eradicating lionfish one plate at a time. Pshaw, I eat skate and puffer fish, so I've got no problem eating these invaders, too.

Typical billboard: "TIKI HUTS New or re-thatch." I bet the children of entire families have been put through college on those profits because tiki huts are ubiquitous around here.

Handwritten farmer's market sign, "Cold coconuts sold here!!" Just don't put coconuts in the trash bins because we've learned that's strictly forbidden in these parts.

Swankiest car seen: a red convertible Bentley, driving into a members-only fishing club. Who knew that Venn diagram overlapped?

Points for keeping to a theme: Because Islamorada's claim to fame is being the sport-fishing capital of the world, everyone riffs on it. When you head north to Key Largo, the sign reads, "Catch you later!" For a book on swashbuckling Jewish pirates, there's the local bookstore, Hooked on Books. Hungry? Check out the Reel Burger restaurant.

Most unexpected testament to Key West life: IVs in the Keys, a business that will fill your veins with just the right concoction to make the night before stop hurting.

Tie for most colorful Key West spots: a dessert cafe called Better than Sex and a clothing-optional rooftop bar called Garden of Eden. We hear tell of a brothel, but see no evidence.

Unexpected sighting: two gray squirrels chasing up a palm tree although we only saw them one time, so it could have been a mirage. Iguanas, on the other hand, are as omnipresent as, well, squirrels in Richmond. When you have all the windows open all the time, you just get used to occasionally seeing an iguana on the curtain.

Because the reentry to the real world begins at the airport and I'm hoping to delay that moment as long as possible, we make the requisite dive bar stop, just like we did on the way down, except this time arriving just as a handful of Harley riders do. Only problem is it's 10:15 and they're not open yet except for beers, so we cruise a bit, which is when we spot the rare Bentley.

Along the way, I notice a pattern of signs on the bridges. It's either a "No jumping, No diving" sign or a "No fishing" sign, meaning you never have to go very far to find a bridge you can jump off of or a place to catch your dinner.

Somehow, this sums up Florida for me.

Back at Alabama Jack's, I'm exiting the rental car as an SUV pulls up next to us and the guy immediately initiates a conversation with me. Seems he and his posse are just off a cruise boat but instead of  heading home, they've set their sites on a wild night in Key West. "Sort of a post-vacation vacation," he insists, smiling broadly.

Hey, I get it. Surely that's the smartest way to lessen end-of-vacation blues.

When AJ's finally lets us in, we see the bar is already full of people willing to drink beer until they opened officially. And because Cliches "R" Us at Alabama Jack's, "Don't Stop Believing" is blasting overhead as we slide into a waterfront table lower than the last time, but with a better view of the bar and its colorful patrons: serious cyclists with accents and day-glow hot pink socks, a table of self-important weekend-type Harley riders and a quartet of grizzly locals eating lunch and sipping Coronas.

Hard to tell who's coming and who's going from vacation.

Next to us is an older couple who not only know their server, but have brought their own Koozies - two each, mind you, one of which has no bottom - to encircle their bottles of beer in the sunshine. They also know to save bits of their lunch to feed to the fish under the deck.

The most I can manage from my double crabcake sandwich (not that I'm complaining, but who ever heard of two crabcakes on one sandwich?) is tossing the fish bits from the over-sized bun and not a bite more before we hit the road to catch a plane.

Le sigh. If vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it, ours was a major success. As for the adjustment to cold weather and the responsibilities of real life upon return, well, that's a work in progress.

For now, tanned legs and Mr. Wright's insistence on having "something to look forward to" will carry me forward. Or I could take Journey's advice and hold on to that feeling.

And I'm trying...with every relaxed bone in my body. Catch you later, warmth and indolence. Man, oh man, are you seductive.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Of Picnics and Sonnets

A short stack by the bay kicked off an especially gorgeous day.

Although we'd had breakfast on our deck overlooking the ocean, in a bakery, at the mid-point between Miami and Key West and at a classic diner, we'd yet to eat the most important meal of the day on the bay side.

We fixed that with a walk to Lorelei's Cabana Bar - the same Lorelei's that had provided our first sunset views - and seats on the deck with the sun on our backs.

I was almost through the second half of my pancakes (the half smothered in strawberry jam as opposed to the half swimming in Mrs. Butterworth's) and Mr. Wright was polishing off his bagel with lox and capers when we overheard the couple at the table next to us saying they'd been at Lazy Days the night before, coincidentally, the same place we'd dined oceanside.

A quick glance over at them and I immediately recognized the guy's back because they'd not only been at Lazy Days, but at the table right next to us. When he gets up to head to the water's edge, the wife catches my eye and has the same realization. "I recognize you from last night!" she says in a decided accent. "I told my husband at dinner last night that you look like my friend Terri."

Because this is 2019, she pulls out her phone so she can find a photo of Terri on Facebook to show us to prove it, but alas, she's not especially Facebook-savvy. "I'll wait till my husband gets back and have him find it for me," she explains looking a bit embarrassed. He returns and locates the picture, passing the phone to us for consideration.

Lots of hair, big smile, middle aged. Yup, that could be me.

Then the husband turns around and introduces himself, saying he's from Wisconsin in that distinctive Wisconsin/Minnesota way of speaking. All four of us are a little amazed that we could end up sitting at adjacent tables at different restaurants 12 hours apart.

When they share that they only have one more night in Islamorada before heading to Key West for a a few days, we entertain them with our Key West adventures. Their itinerary is far more rigid, with a ghost tour, a sunset cruise and tarpon feeding, among other activities, plus a reservation at a dessert cafe.

Clearly we weren't the only ones with a whole helluva lot to see and do in Key West.

When we get up to leave, they joke about running into us that evening (they're headed to Robbie's, which their server has informed them is "Lorelei's south with lots of souvenir and tchotchke huts"), we know it's the last time we'll ever see them.

We wish the Green Bay fans the best and head out.

Our plan for the afternoon involves nothing more than a picnic at Founders Park, mainly because of its beach, which Mr. Wright has discovered while out cycling one morning. Interestingly enough, for being surrounded everywhere by water on this narrow island, there are surprisingly few public beaches.

Walking from the parking lot to the park, we pass a trio of people measuring an opening in the trees for one of two stages that will be erected for the bluegrass festival taking place on Sunday. Ever the local cheerleaders, they insist we come back to hear the 13 bands. "And tonight's our Dancing in the Streets event, so you need to come square dance with us first!" they insist, big smiles on their tanned faces.

If only we didn't already have plans, you know we'd be there.

One thing is obvious the moment we arrive and it's that this is a beach frequented by locals, not tourists, perhaps because locals don't have to pay to come in and everyone else does. Scattered around the sandy beach are people sunning themselves, having brought their own lounge and beach chairs, and snorkeling or wading in the amazingly clear bay water.

The husband of an older woman wading out to thigh-high level must want to get her attention because he begins tossing pebbles so that they land just behind her, splashing the back of her legs. She ignores the splashes, wading further out, but he persists.

"Ancient mating ritual in the Keys," Mr. Wright observes.

We set up camp under the picnic pavilion and enjoy lunch before hitting the water, and by hitting, I mean wading in the warm water while admiring all the marine life on full display below the crystal clear surface. We've got no idea what most of these blob-like creatures are, but watching them inhale and exhale as schools of tiny pale green fish dart by is pretty fascinating.

A string of buoy markers delineates the part of the bay for people to enjoy, although several snorkelers, including one in a full wet suit with a small kayak (both of which seem like overkill), slip under the line and further out where boats are anchored or jetting by.

One sunken-chested, heavily tattooed guy, cigarette in his mouth, repeatedly sticks his camera phone underwater to take pictures of various things, although I can't hep but think that his falling ashes add nothing to the water quality for the underwater population.

But seriously, you couldn't finish that cig before you go in the water, buddy?

It's a gloriously stunning day weather-wise - warm, deep blue sky and little breeze - and, as we've learned, that's saying something down here because we've yet to have a bad weather day. A couple of times, there's been a bit of rain during the middle of the night, but it's always gone before sunrise. And when the sky is this brilliantly blue, it makes the various shades of green in the palm trees even more striking.

By late afternoon when we left, it was to head back to the house, not to get gussied up to go square dancing (not that there's anything wrong with that because there's been plenty of dancing on this trip) but to put in motion our plans for a progressive dinner.

And not the kind where you move from house to house or restaurant to restaurant, but the Islamorada kind where you move from oceanfront deck table to deep, cushioned oceanfront chairs to bayside dining room table to oceanfront couch, enjoying a different course - the first was Mumm Napa Brut and fried chicken followed by Florida confectioner Anastasia's dark chocolate coconut patty, the third course was pesto pizza and Prosecco gifted to us by my thoughtful Key West amigo - at each spot.

Providing the soundtrack were Vince Mendoza and Miles Davis, so that kind of progressive dinner.

It didn't hurt that the evening temperature was as seductive as the afternoon's had been, warm with soft breezes and a near full moon so bright that it cast unbelievably deep shadows on the deck and beach.

Down here, they call that a marvelous night for a moondance.

Friday, January 18, 2019

In the Mood for Sommersby

The mood necklace knows all.

If you weren't around in the '70s, you might not know about mood rings, which hit the scene with the same major cultural impact as puka shell necklaces. I never got into puka shells, but the allure of a ring that could display my emotions was right up my alley.

So when Pru gifted me with not only a mood ring but a mood necklace for Christmas, you can be sure both were packed for my stay in Islamorada. Getting ready to head south for dinner last night, I put my mood necklace on to complement my tropical flowered sundress.

Lazy Days, here we come.

Eschewing the balcony dining room for oceanfront and sand, we stopped at the hostess stand long enough for the three women there to react to Mr. Wright. I should be used to this by now, but it still fascinates me. The first woman blatantly stares at him, eventually saying, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like..." mentioning a certain actor whom he definitely resembles.

We're far enough into our relationship that I can jump into the fray at this point, armed with anecdotes he's reluctantly shared about being stopped at airports, outside public bathrooms and once, even forced to provide an autograph despite his protestations to the contrary for the fascinated party. The three women listen to me but never take their eyes off him.

Must be tough to be admired for someone you aren't.

Only once he mentions our beach reservation are we led to a table only a couple feet from the rock-lined water's edge, with an enormous, rusty anchor half-submerged in the water just in front of us and pelicans swooping and diving for their dinner. Off to the side is a small, covered pavilion where a singer/guitarist is setting up.

For all the seafood and fish we've eaten since our arrival, not a single oyster had crossed my lips. Mid-week, Mr. Wright had suggested that it would be a travesty for me not to try the local bivalves and compare them to my beloved Virginia Old Saltes. Alas, Hurricane Irma had decimated the Florida oyster beds last fall and they've been impossible to find. The two local raw bars had closed since last season because of the situation.

But here at Lazy Days, not only were local Apalachicola oysters on the menu, but they were priced as low as my Old Saltes are at Merroir. They were practically begging me to order them, which I did, enthusiastically, when our server came by with our Charles de Fere Blanc de Blanc Brut to kick off the festivities.

Apparently just ordering was enough to get me worked up because Mr. Wright right away noticed my mood necklace changing. Formerly mostly a subdued brown color, he said it had suddenly shifted to a sliver of blue at the bottom, while the rest of the stone was now part gray, part silver, as he put it, "exactly the color of oysters."

For the record, the color change had happened in a matter of moments. "Just ordering them got you worked up enough for it to change," he observed. Needless to say, once the half dozen arrived - incidentally, easily the largest oysters I've ever slurped - the trace of blue disappeared completely, leaving only the pearlescent silver-gray.

My mood necklace was one for one as I devoured the oysters in record time.

Next came spicy conch fritters, followed by the best conch chowder we've had here yet. We used the last of the fritters to sop up the last of the chowder while the staff went around lighting the oceanfront tiki torches. Overhead, the moon, working its way toward full on Monday night, was heading high in the sky for a picture postcard view.

The visuals were accompanied by the guitarist doing songs by Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young and Van Morrison songs and doing them well enough to enhance the vibe without resorting to Buffet.

Interestingly, at the table next to us was the owner of the restaurant, down from New York with his blond and Botoxed companion and a couple of "business associates," all of them eating, drinking and talking loudly to the nebbish accountant-looking guy with them.

The blond commented about how in New York, it could be 30 degrees, but if the sun's out, people want to eat outside. Here, she complained, if it was in the 60s, people insisted on eating inside. She just didn't get it.

Tell me about it, honey. And what's with your lips?

Their focus was on the food with a little business talk mixed in, but we had to laugh when the accountant stood up, found himself entangled in his phone cord and had to wrangle himself loose from his chair while the others walked away while he fought with his cord.

Once a nebbish, always a nebbish, I guess.

It took an overly generous bowl of seafood scampi for two chock full of Florida lobster, mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops and mahi mahi in a mushroom, garlic butter and white wine sauce over linguine to turn my mood necklace an unabashed blue with accents of yellow, signaling my pleasure with so much bounty of the sea.

When the manager came over to ask if I wanted him to move a heater near me, I demurred, perfectly happy with the warm night air. He stayed to chat, which is how we learned about the cycle of visitors on Islamorada. Seems it's mostly families in December during the holidays, followed by Europeans come January and Americans come late Spring. That explained all the accents we'd be hearing since we got here.

We closed out the meal with chocolate mousse cake because a person can only have Key lime pie so many nights before reverting to form and sending my mood necklace into brilliant turquoise blue territory.

Mock 70s technology all you want, but that necklace was reading me like a roadmap. My pleasure at an oceanfront meal on a warm night with bivalves, bubbly and every kind of seafood imaginable seemed to be oozing out of every pore.

Autograph seekers, aside, the movie star lookalike company didn't hurt, either.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Palm Paradise

A getaway to the beach in January is like buttered rye toast with your Popeye's omelet. Indulgent in all the best possible ways.

As many times as I've been to the beach for a stretch, Islamorada is a different kind of salt life. Yes, we're right on the ocean and sure, all the windows are open night and day, just like they'd be if we were in Kitty Hawk.

There's even an outdoor shower, albeit not an enclosed shower, mere feet from the ocean. I can work with that and I have.

But plenty lately is a revelation to this long-time beachgoer.

New to me is the heated pool, tended to by a guy who shows up every Thursday to skim leaves and do whatever else pool guys do. The house sits at the end of Seashell Drive, with an under-construction house on one side (sawhorses present, but no actual construction workers) and on the other, a house that's been unobtrusively occupied for a day or two once a week.

And get this: once a week, four guys show up to shovel any seaweed debris off their beach and into the ocean. Make no mistake, the seaweed returns with the next high tide, but our mostly absent neighbors must think it's worth paying to have their beach cleaned even for temporary results.

This is a whole new kind of beach life I've never seen.

So basically, we have no neighbors and the privacy of that is very new and hugely appealing to us. One of the first things I do when I wake up every morning is push aside the screened sliding door from the bedroom to the deck and walk out there for a weather check.

Is it 68 or 72 degrees first thing in the morning? How much is the breeze blowing? Is the ocean gently lapping or mirror-like today? Is anybody out there yet paddle-boarding, parasailing or kayaking?

When we don't go out for breakfast, we eat it on that deck. When we do let someone else cook for us, it's at a place like Mangrove Mike's, where we're seated near an empty table that begins to fill up with a group we dub the Wednesday morning breakfast club.

One or two at a time, they dribble in, this collection of men in marina t-shirts, some with newspapers tucked under their arms. No one orders until all six of them have arrived, then it's a free-for-all of ribbing each other, fish stories and teasing the servers, who tolerate them like the regulars they clearly are.

It's easy to spot the owner of Mangrove Mike's and when he stops by our table to check on how we liked our waffle and omelet, I use the opportunity to get his story. Turns out he grew up in Tidewater, so we discuss the area's overgrowth and he laments how Portsmouth never caught on. After 21 years in the Keys, he's lost all interest in places with winters.

After 13 days and counting here, I can't disagree with him. Since our arrival, my wardrobe has alternated between sundresses and shorts. My jean jacket was only useful on the flight and on a particularly windy day at a bayside bar.

The funny part is, locals think it's cold once the thermometer hits 64 and that's where I keep my thermostat in my apartment during the winter. Here, they don jackets and hats when it hits 65. One server called 65 degrees "sweatshirt and gloves weather."

Don't make me laugh, kids.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for my daily sunbath on the deck. I's a little ritual I picked up last week once I realized that with absolutely nothing on the agenda beyond eating, drinking and sleeping - and, yes, Mac, most days I do walk and generally we walk to breakfast and dinner - why not toast my buns before beginning happy hour?

That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

True story: nothing says special occasion like a good dive.

Knowing we had reason to celebrate, Mr. Wright had suggested the Shrimp Shack after we'd stopped in one night to score a pound of steamed shrimp to eat on the deck. Waiting for them to pack up our crustaceans, we'd snuck a peak into the bar and been immediately seduced.

Wood paneled walls and a low ceiling worthy of a '70s rec room. Bar stools that have seen a lot of big butts. Colorful signs all over the mirror behind the bar. Silverware wrapped in paper napkins.

And, yes, a signed poster of Guy Fieri from that time in 2015 when he stopped by to sample the shrimp fritters and the Senator-style (that's almond-crusted) catch of the day and gone on to feature the Shrimp Shack on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

And while we're no Guy Fieri fans, we knew a good dive when we see one.

Although the Shack had been practically empty the night we'd stopped by, when we got there last night, it was bustling, as evidenced by the smiling hostess who greeted us by saying, "Would you mind a 20-25 minute wait?"

Honey, we've got nothing but time. And if you want to talk about a couple of patient people, let us tell you about the wait we had to meet each other.

Besides, barely twenty minutes later, people began exiting the bar like rats from a sinking ship and she led us in, menus in hand and apology for the wait on her lips, to the prime real estate of two center stools.

Turns out the reason for the mass exodus was that the Tuesday evening happy hour club had just left for the Moose Lodge, where it was Queen of Hearts night. The bartender, who was also a co-owner, explained that the group of four couples comes in every Tuesday and the men sit at one table and the women at another, all gabbing and drinking.

Promptly just before 7:00, the slightly loopy posse pays up and moves on.

And, yes, she knows every one of their drink orders by heart, despite the fact that half the couples are snow birds who are only down here half the year. When she goes on vacation, she notifies the group in advance so they won't be disappointed when they arrive to a new face.

Once they leave, she knows the rest of the night is smooth sailing.

Our sojourn at the bar began when Mr. Wright explained that we needed bubbles. Although they were recently out of splits of the Coppola "Sofia" Brut Rose, my first choice, we had no complaints with her suggestion of the JP Chenet Blanc de Blanc Brut splits - truth is, French bubbles do trump California bubbles - which were nowhere to be found on the menu.

Because of course the Shrimp Shack would have a secret stash of bubbly with subtle notes of lime.

We were noshing hard on smoked fish dip - a staple of our diet down here - although I couldn't help asking for Saltines instead of the Ritz crackers they typically serve theirs with, when we asked our girl to take a picture of us and the reason for the celebration slipped out.

"That's why you needed bubbles!" she grinned, snapping away.

It wasn't the moment to share that we can drink bubbly for no reason at all, but sure, we could let her think that as long as she kept bringing the splits.

Meanwhile, regulars came and went around us, each of them greeted by our knowing bartender with a killer smile and a memory that catalogued each of their preferences.

"Miller Lite, Danny?" she asked the sunburnt guy who sat down next to me wearing a tank top and sunglasses on the back of his head. "The usual cheeseburger or are you in the mood for something else?" she inquired of a blond at the end of the bar. Sometimes, she had the drink poured or beer open before they even sat down.

That's some good service right there.

Mr. Wright took her recommendation on the special of yellowtail snapper, while this beach chick went with a traditional shrimp basket (albeit served on a plate) because what's a true beach meal without cole slaw and hushpuppies?

We were sitting back stuffed and still sipping bubbles when our girl arrived with a slice of Key lime pie and two spoons, her gift to us in honor of our celebration. It's the third time we've had the local dessert since we got here and each version is different than the last. The Shack's was the least creamy and most dense, its graham cracker crust nowhere near as thick as the one we'd had at Islamorada Fish Company a few nights before.

Hell, we even saw a menu with a chocolate ganache-covered Key lime pie, a combination that even this chocoholic has trouble getting her head around.

Our charming bartender had been right about the trajectory of the evening and the longer we lingered, the clearer it became that the tourist trade arrived and left early while the locals rolled up once the amateurs had gone back to their temporary digs.

We may not be locals, but we'd timed our visit perfectly, made an ally of the bartender/owner, documented the occasion and had a ball doing it.

And frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the next time we hit the Shrimp Shack, a couple of JP Chenet splits are waiting on the bar for us before our butts hit the stools.

Seems that's just how Islamorada dive bars do.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Pumping and Reeling

There's no tour guide like an old friend from college.

After getting up early enough to see the sunrise - I had pledged to do it once - Mr. Wright and I struck out because of heavy cloud cover that obliterated any rise. A thin line of orange was about all we got before a heavy fog rolled in and all but swallowed up the ocean view.

Not to worry because we were going to hit the road anyhow. Destination: Key West.

My friend has been living down here for years now and had offered to show us around and since it had been close to ten years since I'd seen him, combining my first look-see at the southernmost Key with seeing his smiling face was irresistible.

Honestly, I had no idea how much he knew.

Walking toward their gate, he called to us from behind it in a voice I'd know anywhere. That he looks exactly the same (minus a few gray flecks in his hair and mustache) surprised me not at all, although the last time I recall seeing him in shorts, it was the '70s and his shorts were, ahem, far shorter.

Regardless of what he was wearing, it was just wonderful to see him.

After taking us on a tour of the house his wife had designed, we set out on a driving tour. His first question was, "When's the last time you were in a minivan?" knowing full well what an unlikely scenario it was.

From there, the adventure was just beginning. He drove us around Old Town, Casa Marina, New Town, Truman Annex and told us about Bahama Village. His strength was in pointing out houses of people of note as well as houses that had been impressively renovated or restored. He reeled off the sale prices of houses like a realtor, sometimes sharing what the house had gone for to multiple owners.

He always was good with numbers.

With a nod to his own past, he took us to a 5th floor condo in a building he'd lived in during the '70s while stationed in Key West during his stint in the Navy. The coral-colored buildings looked out across the Atlantic Ocean and the roller-bladers, cyclists and pedestrians making their way in the park along the shore.

Eventually, we landed at the new Truman Waterfront Park, where, of all things, we spotted a Florida car with an RVA sticker on it. Now, I ask you, what are the chances?

After parking near a couple of massive cruise chips, we took a stroll before setting out on a rambling journey through Key West. We saw former Navy base buildings, including a picaresque hospital with hurricane shutters, that had been converted to residences. It wasn't hard to see how locals had been priced out of the area with large houses, extensive porches and shaded lots that screamed, "MONEY!"

Once my stomach began grumbling loud enough for tourists to notice, he took us to First Flight Restaurant and Brewery, notable because it's the building where Pan-Am Airways first began selling tickets in 1927. When given the choice, I opted for a table in the red-bricked garden under a canopy of trees but within earshot of a singer/guitarist entertaining the afternoon crowd.

When you've known someone since college, you kind of know what they eat and my friend didn't disappoint, either in his choice or his knowledge of me. When his cheeseburger was dropped off, he immediately rotated his plate so that the steak fries on it were facing me across the table. "Help yourself," he said with a grin, knowing I would.

It's no secret I've been eating fries off this man's plate since I can remember.

My shrimp and bacon flatbread quieted the noises emanating from my belly and fortified me for the non-stop touring that was to come. My friend wanted to know from Mr. Wright how we'd met and offered up a tidbit about me.

Seems he's always thought I was particular when it came to men. Never more so than this time.

Once we'd eaten, the marathon walking tour began with a vengeance. Just don't expect me to remember everything I saw or even half of what he told us, because this was upper level touristing of the highest order.

Passing by the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, we decided not to go in, although I did admire the lush garden from the sidewalk after he spoke highly of it. Joining the throngs at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery meant that we were in a former Coca Cola bottling plant, but also that we were in a place where you had to be 21 to buy a rum cake.

T-shirts labeled "Bad Bitch" referred to an early female distiller with a penchant for red wine in her rum and shooting men who tried to steal her hootch. Sounds more like a capable  bitch to me.

Climbing the steps to the Custom House Museum, Mr. Wright was smitten with architect William Kerr's Richardsonian Romanesque-style architecture, while my friend pointed out its steeply pitched roof. Seems that the Feds had a standard design for such buildings at the time and while the rooves made sense for northern buildings in places that got snow, they weren't about to change the design for Key West.

That probably accounts for the fireplaces, too, since Key West's lowest recorded temperature is 41, at least according to our knowledgeable guide. Was there anything my friend didn't know?

Inside, we saw exhibits of playwright and local Tennessee Williams' paintings, an historical exhibit called "Overseas to the Keys" about Flagler's railroad (we're becoming experts) and a whimsical exhibit by the late Ferron Bell, who split his time between Key West and Fire Island.

His colorful work used all the usual Key West tropes - tropical birds, palm trees and drinking - as frequent motifs. One of my favorites showed a house where atop the roof line sat a martini glass, a rocks glass and three shot glasses in the night sky under the moon.

An entire island summed up succinctly.

My only regret was that we arrived at the Key West lighthouse and Keepers' Quarters Museum ten minutes too late to climb its winding stairs and admire the view. I do love a good lighthouse climb.

The consolation prize after missing that was going to the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum, a treasure trove of Papa's books, photographs of him throughout his life and a glimpse into his writing studio next door. The rooms in the house, especially the kitchen and bathroom, were light-filled with large windows on three sides - such a  luxury! - but the loo got extra points for the stunningly bold yellow and black floor tiles.

One room was dedicated to his love of fishing, including the method he developed for pulling in heavier fish than had been possible before. Dubbed "pumping and reeling," it replaced constant pressure as the means to land the big one.

At least I think it was a fishing term, given that the man had four wives, a nurse love and who knows how many paramours.

Out back, the enormous pool was said to have cost Hemingway his last dime, but equally of note was that city officials wouldn't allow dynamite to be used to break up the earth, so it had been dug out by hand with picks and shovels.

Rich people have different problems than the rest of us, no?

Afterward, Moondog Café welcomed us on their deck for a final pitstop after absorbing as much local color and knowledge as two people could reasonably be expected to. We toasted the day with Gruet sparkling Rose and Big Dad sangria while nibbling on pesto flatbread and pot stickers and marveling at how much ground we'd covered in eight hours.

The subject of blog mentions came up and my friend admitted how exposed he felt whenever I refer to him in a post. "Tell me about it!" Mr. Wright cracked.

And while you might think we'd call it a day at that point, my friend had one final stop in mind. It was Mallory Square, but our Moondog linger meant arriving too late for the circus that accompanies sunsets in Key West. All was quiet when we got there.

That said, it wasn't too late to see one of two legal panhandling spots on the island and it was still fully populated despite the darkness. The handwritten sign near the men read, "Need weed and a bottle of rum."

There's much to be said for blatant honesty when trying to loosen money from tourist pockets.

Personally, all I loosened was my shoes from my feet as Mr. Wright drove us up the coast in the darkness past road construction, flashing tiki bar lights and an ocean too dark to see.

A long day, sure, but well spent with an old friend, followed by heading back to Islamorada with my new love.

Lucky and happy? Tell me about it.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

To Walk, Perchance to Learn

Every now and then, you've got to stop sipping rum and tanning your legs on the deck and learn a little something.

That meant setting out on a 5+ mile walk south, my first attempt at heading toward Key West beyond a half mile stroll to the Midway Café, which didn't count. Once I discovered the Old Road - which was the main road before the Overseas Highway aka Route 1 took over as the main drag - it had become my go-to for walks.

But once I determined to head toward the equator, my plan was to give Route 1, with its wide bicycle/pedestrian walkways, a try. It worked out well because the strip between here and Indian Key Channel was so narrow that I had views of the Bay and ocean almost the entire walk and I thrive on water views.

It was also a good way to scope out oceanfront cottages (quaint places like the Pines and Palms), marinas with diners dating back to the Hemingway days (like Bud 'n Mary's, with a hand-painted sign out front pleading, "NOW Hiring!") and, a personal favorite, a small blue sign reading "Roadside table."

And because this is Florida, the roadside table was blue and purple and under a palm tree.

My walk took me as far as milepost 78.5 where a trio of historical markers rewarded my inner nerd. One was to the Cuban rafters who have died trying to reach these shores, one was to Ponce de Leon because he'd stopped there for well water (and, who, I learned, was governor of Puerto Rico and never actually looked for the fountain of youth, despite myths to the contrary) and one to the Spanish treasure fleet that got lost in a hurricane.

I may have been hot and sweaty by that point, but the history lesson made it all worthwhile.

More schooling followed late yesterday afternoon when Mr. Wright and I took a walk over to the Islander Resort which, for reasons I can't explain, is where the pastel blue Florida Keys History and Discovery Center is located.

Bypassing tanks of beautiful but voracious and predatory fish, I went straight for the exhibits detailing local history. I don't need no stinkin' science on vacation, just extra portions of history.

Like how Key largo only became the name after the Bogart movie. Before that, it was known as Rock Harbor, which doesn't sound nearly romantic enough to attract Bogie or Bacall.

Because the Over-Sea Railway is such a huge part of the history down here, I spent time ogling photos and artifacts from the days when the train was the only means beyond boating to access Key West.

Given my food fixation, perhaps most fascinating of all was a dining car menu from 1926-1930 that featured six kinds of marmalades. The breakfast menu was as notable for the prices as for the offerings. Sliced bananas in cream? Never heard of such a thing, but at 25 cents, worth a try.

An omelet with Florida grape fruit (apparently, it was always two words back in those days) marmalade would set you back 75 cents, while a Virginia corn muffin was only 15 cents.

You know what was a steal when you needed a hearty breakfast? Lamb chops at 55 cents a piece.

Eventually, we tore ourselves away from photos and stories to head upstairs to the theater to see moving pictures of the history we'd been seeing in stills.

A Chevrolet Leader newsreel showed the new train tracks to Key West, pointing out that automobiles could drive the route in between train trips, the tires absorbing the bumpy railroad ties. Considering the size of the cars in the '30s, it probably wasn't all that uncomfortable.

But the truly compelling film was the one about the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which to this day is still the most intense storm to ever hit the U.S. with winds that reached 185 mph. Down here, it's legendary and we'd already been to the hurricane monument where the remains of over 300 are entombed, but I wanted to know more.

The film provided first hand accounts of the hurricane from seniors who'd been children when the storm hit. One, who admitted she'd always loved hurricanes before the Labor Day storm, felt differently after this one.

Hemingway - who loved Islamorada for its sport fishing - was quoted in the film as saying about this stretch of islands, "There is no autumn, just a more dangerous summer." He also came down after the storm to assist in any way he could. Many of the workers who'd been helping build the railway were, like him, World War I vets who'd been celebrating the Labor Day long weekend by getting drunk when the storm hit.

Many chose to cling to the railway bridges because they were 8" above sea level, although the storm surge was 17', leaving them 9' underwater. Footage of their dead, bloated bodies along the shore made for a solemn reminder that men who'd made it through "the war to end all wars" had been taken down by Mother Nature. Tragic.

The survivors spoke about how in those days, there was little to warn people of major storm beyond a falling barometer, which they lived by. All had memories of their clothing being stripped from their bodies by the ferocity of the storm.

Almost to a person, the survivors recalled what their fathers had said about the storm that day and afterward. Probably the most poignant was the man who, as a child, had asked his Dad what they were going to do after the devastation of the islands.

His father told him that their piece of land in the Keys was all they had, so even if all their possessions were gone, they were going to stay and rebuild because this was home. And, as of the time the film was made, they were all still here.

Walking out of the theater severely sobered by what we'd seen, it took a while to regain our emotional footing. This sunny place that we've been reveling in since last weekend is a testament to the strength of spirit of people who loved it long before we got here.

But never mind that. Now that I've fed my brain, we can go back to our debaucherous vacation lifestyle.

Can I get a Rumrunner over here?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Bait and Sip

Good thing we're staying right on the Atlantic because finding places to eat on the ocean isn't as easy as it sounds.

You can't swing a dead cat on the bay side without hitting a place offering fabulous views and island cuisine, but, man, if you want a water view that ends at Africa, you have to work at finding it.

Which we did, naturally.

Wahoo's Bar and Grill was situated over Whale Harbor Marina, a place where fishing boats pull in loaded with the day's catch and locals peel shrimp and drink beer at the long bar. Passing up the bar's scenic view because of smokers, we instead took advantage of a waterside table on the (bird poop-stained) covered deck, mere feet from where the big boats docked.

It was a fascinating perch because the ocean in front of the house is so shallow at low tide that you can walk out twice the distance of the nearby dock and the water is only up to your knees, but the harbor allows these big boats to pull in with no problem. Same ocean, wildly different depths.

But you know what? On vacation, I don't need to understand marine science, I just need a cold drink and a long view.

To that end, we perused the drink menu, eventually letting geography make the call. With Nassau a mere 159 miles away, it was a no-brainer to settle on a couple Bahama Mamas, especially now that we've adopted coconut rum as our official local drink. What Mastika was to us in Athens, coconut rum is to us here: readily available and eminently drinkable.

At least, that's how we rationalize that large bottle of Rhumhaven rum in the freezer, scored after a recommendation by the gent at nearby Green Turtle Spirits because it's made with real coconut water and pure cane sugar.

Let's just say it comes as close to tasting like how this place feels as anything we've had in a glass.

It was while we were sipping our drinks that a fishing boat pulled in and three or four guys bolted from their tables to hang over the railing to assess the day's catch. "Half a dozen good-sized ones," one of them told us. "Not much of a catch." When I asked for his best guess as to why they hadn't caught more, he posited that the water was too cold.

I don't doubt his wisdom, but sitting oceanside in an orange sundress, the late afternoon sun shining down on our backs, it wouldn't have been my first guess.

Trying to decide what to start with before dinner, we resorted to our Islamorada default: smoked fish dip. This time, it was wahoo (duh), smoked in-house and served with tortilla chips, cherry tomato halves, red onion, cuke slices and jalapenos.

Truth: no matter what fish gets smoked and made into dip, we're willing to eat it.

I gave Wahoo's points for marina humor with a menu item called "bucket of bait" because technically, that's exactly what it was: snow crab, green mussels, clams and shrimp. Clever, but still bait.

Instead, I went straight for the wahoo club, a behemoth sandwich because the piece of wahoo was as thick as the Texas toast it sat between - luckily, the Key lime/avocado aioli added no height - and there was no way to open my mouth far enough to accommodate its 5-inch height.

You hate to be that person eating a club sandwich with a fork and knife, but sometimes you have no choice.

On the other hand, we had no problem being those people with an ocean view ordering more Bahama Mamas, to the point that dessert became an impossibility, which for me is saying something.

Don't get me wrong, the bay side is great and all, especially with the right company. But happiness comes in waves.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

With a Twist

I could get used to eating on a sandy beach.

A short walk in the dark landed us at Morada Bay Beach Café and Bar, a sprawling enclave illuminated on the street side by flaming tiki torches (not the white supremacist kind) and on the restaurant side by more torches and white lights strung high up in palm trees. A row of colorful surfboards were stuck in the sand and a sliver of a moon hung overhead.

Tables were scattered around the sand and the music had a decided bossa nova beat, so you know I was happy. Some of us believe that you can never go wrong with songs dressed up with that beat, especially at night.

We scored a table on the farthest edge of table-land, away from the fray but with a view of the bay at night. Only problem was we were so tucked away it took a while for our server to find us.

But once he did, food and wine arrived lightening fast, as if to make up for the delay in taking our order. A bottle of Maison Legrand Sauvignon Blanc (as Pru is fond of saying, you can never go wrong with the Loire) had barely been opened when conch chowder, crispy fried Brussels sprouts, conch salad and tuna tataki showed up. Boom, instant dinner.

As someone who spends her life hungry, I wasn't complaining.

Our server, a Michigan boy who follows the tourist trade, had hair down to the middle of his back and a laid-back demeanor, but his service skills - thumbs ups aside - were top notch from years spent moving between the Keys and other sunny destinations serving vacationers like us a slice of Key lime pie with an easy attitude.

Because we'd purposely arrived post-sunset to avoid the exuberant crowd, the evening, with its dark, romantic vibe set to lounge music, felt miles away from Lorelei's Cabana Bar even though we were within spitting distance of it.

Just two sides of the island eating coin and I like to think that we're exceling at both.

It took a little getting used to, but after five days, I no longer do double takes every time I see a Key lime green house with a magenta gate or a place like St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church on the side of the road.

Pshaw, old news by now. That's just our current 'hood these days.

That said, coming back from lunch at Chad's in Tavenier - another solid recommendation from Mr. Wright's Vero Beach buddy - along what's known as the Old Road, we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a 30' palm tree being moved by a front-end loader, which looked like a toy in comparison to the height of the tree.

Watching the operator try to angle the towering tree to get it in a small, curved driveway with a gatehouse in the center was can't-look-away worthy. Moving palm trees, another Keys novelty.

Just this morning, we ate breakfast at the Midway Café, a brightly colored roadside spot with a patio and multiple cozy rooms, but why would we eat inside in January if we didn't have to? Turns out the name comes from the fact that it's situated at the mid-point between Miami and Key West, but, more importantly, it's conveniently only a half mile saunter from us.

Bob's Bunz was only a few steps further, albeit north, and while the Western omelet, Belgian waffle and fresh-from-the-oven biscuit we had at the bakery café on Tuesday were perfectly delicious breakfast fare, at Bob's you spend as much time reading the walls and t-shirts, all of which play on the buns motif, as chowing down.

That I walked out of there with a black "Bite my bunz" t-shirt can be construed anyway you like. Ditto the lemon yellow Keys ashtray we scored from the Coral Isles Church (and, yes, of course it's coral colored) thrift store, a vintage find complete with images of all the Keys, bright green turtles and assorted colorful fish.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, but we used it as an olive tray during yesterday's happy hour on the deck, during which we watched a great blue heron make its way ever so slowly from the ocean in front of the house three doors north to the ocean four houses south. It took hours for his shadow to stretch longer and longer but with a libation in front of us, we had hours.

With the days stacking up and no agenda beyond the obvious, it's easy to forget there's a government shutdown or snow headed toward Virginia.

In fact, the only jarring note so far was as we strolled the boardwalk around a toney marina where huge fishing charter boats are moored. Many of the boats had brazen pelicans sitting atop them, daring anyone to shoo them away and pooping at will on the boats and boardwalk.

Atop the biggest boat, though, was a red flag snapping in the brisk late afternoon westerly breezes that read, "Trump 2020, Keep America Great." Beyond wondering if the owner wasn't out of his mind didn't lose a lot of business because of it, we didn't let it affect our stroll or mindset.

As long as I'm on vacation with Mr. Wright, eating on the sand, dancing to music on the deck and basking in the sunshine, reality can bite my buns.

Or bunz, take your pick.