Gratitude

Thirty years ago, on a frigid December day, I came into this world to the best parents and siblings a girl could ever want.  I showed up early, caused anxiety, and disrupted Christmas.

I think they’ve forgiven me.  I think.

On Wednesday night at my Bible study, I got off on a tangent (imagine that) while speaking about the Immaculate Conception.  God redeemed Mary, but He chose to redeem her by preservation, whereas we are redeemed by deliverance.  That much was in the notes.  But I got caught up in a reflection about my own life and how God has blessed me.  No, I’m not saying I was preserved from sin ; ) But I am in awe of how much He has blessed me and how little I deserve it.  He has saved me from so much pain, suffering, and heartache — because He gave me the family He gave me.  I didn’t deserve to be born in the United States of America, to loving Catholic parents, who raised me well and continue to take care of me.  I didn’t deserve to be taught the Faith from an early age, to be nurtured in the Church so that I could fall in love with Her.

I don’t deserve my incredible siblings, their spouses, and my nieces and nephews, either.

But it all comes back to Dad and Mom.  They are the people who made my siblings and me the people we are today.  Who made it possible for my sister to say yes to religious life.  Who made it possible for my brother and sister to choose wonderful spouses, to raise wonderful kids.

I wish I could begin to express the gratitude that I have for my parents.  I don’t want to embarrass them, and if I listed everything this blog post would be never-ending, so I won’t go into detail — but Dad and Mom, you know what I’m talking about.  For today and for every day of the last thirty years — thank you.

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I realized after writing this post that I don’t have a picture of just my mom and me.  I’ll have to remedy that when I go home for Christmas!

 

A birthday dinner fit for foodies

I usually wait too long to post about a good meal, so that by the time I get around to writing about it, I’ve forgotten everything.  Well, I figured I should probably post as soon as possible about dinner last night – since I already can’t do this meal justice, and the only way I was going to remember everything we ate and how it was prepared was to take notes.

No, I didn’t take notes.

Manda and I have been wanting to try Husk since before it opened.  The original Husk is in Charleston, S.C. and in 2011 was named “Best New Restaurant of the Year” by Bon Appetite.  So when we heard Sean Brock, the chef behind the restaurant known for celebrating Southern ingredients, was looking to open a second Husk in Nashville, we were pretty excited.

Every time we wanted to go, reservations were impossible to get.  So we made it a priority to get reservations for our birthday week.  Boy, was it worth the wait.

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We couldn’t get reservations until 7:45, and when we got there the restaurant was hopping.  On a Tuesday night! It was a different crowd than I was expecting, but I liked it — a mix of young professionals and older people.  (not a hipster in sight, surprisingly)

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The restaurant focuses on Southern ingredients (even things like Cheerwine and Peach Nehi soda!), although there are definite hints and influences from other cultures (our waitress explained how one dish was influenced by Chef’s time in Africa, for example).  When you walk in, a big board tells you what food came from where that day.

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When we flipped open our menus (a paper menu that changes daily, of course), we both did a double-take.  It said “Happy Birthday!” on the top of it.  Happy Birthday?  Manda looked at me with big eyes.  I dismissed it. “Is it their birthday?  It must be their birthday.”  Our favorite grilled cheese food truck just celebrated their birthday, so I had that on my mind.

Then one of the waitresses stopped by.  “We heard you all are celebrating a birthday?”

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We told her that we were celebrating both of ours.  But how did they know?  We never got to the bottom of it.  We suspected a friend of calling, but he didn’t.  So perhaps we’ll never know! They brought us celebratory cider, which they feature prominently on their drink menu (with a reminder the cider used to be more popular than beer in the South).  We toasted our birthday and agreed we were quickly falling in love with this place.

IMG_6410The water glasses were wine bottles.  awesome.

Our waitress was fantastic — the perfect combination of casual yet professional.  She was very approachable but knowledgeable.  She wasn’t snooty in any way, but knew the menu backwards and forwards and seemed to really understand the ingredients.   It was clear she was at ease with the menu and wanted us to be as well.  I didn’t feel embarrassed to point to a cocktail on the menu and admit I had no idea what everything was but that it sounded wonderful.

And it was.  The Old Tom Mullen — a gin drink (Ransom Old Tom) with Meletti Amaro, Clear Creek douglas fir, maple bitters, and allspice dram. Can you say Christmas?  Yeah.

IMG_6414Manda got a bourbon-based drink with allspice, sorghum, and black cherry, which looked equally wonderful for a cold winter’s night.

We ended up splitting a “First” — a refreshing salad that I wish I could even begin to describe.  All I know is that it was a winter brassicas salad with pecans and pears… and this crazy tarragon concoction that was creamy and goat-cheese-like.  Let’s just say it was wonderful.

IMG_6415Can you seen that light green block-type thing in the middle of the bowl? hiding under the lettuce? that’s the tarragon concoction.  Wowzers.

Manda had the chicken dish (with dumplings and …mustard greens, I think?), which our waitress had recommended.  My first instinct was to try the duck, but they were out.  So I chose the Southern Vegetable Plate.  When I questioned it, Manda said, “It’s like at Cracker Barrel, when you just want to order all the sides. … Only better.”  And it was.  A bunch of sides.  And a million times better.  No fried okra here, people.

IMG_6418It’s not something I normally would order — give me meat and lots of it — but I’m so happy I did.  I didn’t miss the meat at all.  Top left was my favorite — sweet potatoes with jalapeño butter.  It wasn’t spicy at all — just very flavorful.  The skins were crispy, the middle of the diced potatoes was moist and wonderful.  I could have eaten a huge plate of just those.

Top right was my least favorite – cabbage dressed with something.  It was good, don’t get me wrong, but if I had to pick a least favorite, that would be it.  Bottom right was cauliflower, again, dressed with something wonderful. I wish I would have taken notes, because honestly, this isn’t sounding nearly as amazing as it really was.  Bottom left was farro and beans and something else… I know, I could never be a food blogger…  And then the middle was grits with tomatoes and a poached egg.  Good night.  Delicious.

Everything on the dessert menu looked fantastic – of course.  But Manda settled on a caramel pecan cake (I think!  Manda, I should have written this all down!) and I had the Soft Serve S’more – basically vanilla ice cream topped with Olive & Sinclair chocolate sauce, graham cracker crumbs, and toasted marshmallow.

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We left VERY happy girls.

And since I clearly need a lot of practice before I become a food blogger, if anyone wants to take me back to Husk, I’m available.

 

 

 

The Art of Waiting

Tonight is our monthly Theology on Tap gathering.  I’m in charge of getting the speakers, so I suppose it looks like a cop-out tonight when the speaker is me.

To my defense, people have asked me in the past if I would speak sometime, but it always seemed a little strange for me to speak when I’m supposed to be hosting it.  What am I going do tonight — introduce myself?  I guess so.

But the reason I’m speaking is not because I was too lazy to get a speaker – it’s because the topic I wanted addressed is something that’s been on my heart a lot lately, and when I thought about who I might ask to speak about it, I decided I should just do it.  It would give me a chance to think about it more, and it would ensure what I wanted said would be said!

The topic is the Art of Waiting, a phrase stolen from this book of talks by Mother Mary Francis.

When I told people the name of the talk, people would often ask me, “Waiting?  For what?”  That itself was fruit for meditation.  Aren’t we all waiting for something?  Most of my audience tonight is in the in between stage of their life — many of them have graduated from college or are in graduate school and are discerning their next step.  They may have jobs but are not in serious relationships, or they may be in serious relationships but unsure of marriage.  So we can find ourselves in this period of waiting … waiting for the next step, for the next thing, for what comes next.

But even those not in this in between stage are still waiting for something.  We spend our whole lives waiting.  We wait to get married and then we wait for children and then we wait for those children to leave us alone and give us some peace and quiet.  We say we’ll be happy when we’re married, then we say we’ll be happy when we have kids.  We say we’ll be happy when we discern our vocation, and then we say we’ll be happy when we make final vows.

If we aren’t happy waiting… we ain’t going to be happy.  Because ultimately, the only time in our life we won’t be waiting for something is after we die and go to Heaven.  Then we’ll be perfectly happy.

So really, we’re all waiting to die.  But no one really thinks about that.

Tonight’s talk is gong to tackle a few things:

-The two extremes of waiting: 1) those who never wait [Christmas without Advent, instant gratification] and 2) those who always wait [people who are afraid to take the next step, who’d rather perpetually discern rather than take a leap of faith]

-What we do while we wait

-The remedy Jesus Christ gives us while we wait – also known as the “pledge of future glory” …

So if you’re in the area, come by Corner Pub tonight, buy me a beer, and hear it for yourself.  If you’re not in the area, well, invite me to speak to your Theology on Tap group sometime … because I know there are lots of Catholic young adults out there in the same predicament.

In the meantime, I have Mumford and Sons on repeat.  Which song?  Oh, you know.

Ever heard of Mary Martin?

There were things that irked me about the live Sound of Music tonight.  But if we’re going to critique, let’s complain about the right things.  It was cracking me up to see how many people were upset about the “new” songs, the “changes,” and the way NBC “messed” with the movie.

Newsflash… there was A Sound of Music before Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.  What America watched live tonight was the stage musical, not the film.  (Although they did end up using Something Good, which surprised me … that was a song written for the film.)

Yes, the mountains looked fake.  This wasn’t a movie — this was a live stage production.

Critique away.  But at least know your facts before you waste oxygen (or internet space) on your rants.

November food

I can’t believe I neglected to post about the food I ate in November!  So it gets its own post.  Fitting for this blog, really.

Strangely enough, it won’t feature any of the usual food you think of when you hear the word November.  And that’s not because I didn’t have a delicious Thanksgiving.  Our Thanksgiving rocked, mostly because my sister and I have been celebrating it together enough now that we have everything figured out — what sides are necessary, what to make when, and that there’s always a danger to forget that last batch of rolls in the oven.  But I didn’t take any pictures — shocking, I know.  (I’m pretty sure my friend Rick thinks all my pictures from our trip to Rome were of food.)

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Manda and I decided we needed a real meal before seeing Alton Brown.  We ended up going to Silo, where we had gone last year to celebrate our birthdays.  (It’s a fun new tradition we started — the two foodies go to a new restaurant together to celebrate our days of birth, which are only 6 days apart… and a year.)  That pork chop was mine — I was amazed how thick it was and yet how perfectly cooked it was (now that Bishop Gainer has told me about sous-vide cooking, I’m less impressed — that MUST be what they did).  I ordered it almost solely based on the fact that it came with homemade herbed marshmallows.  What?!  Yes. They were awesome.  The drink on the right was Manda’s — I forget what it was called, but it looked good and much more grownup than mine. Mine was pink. But it was called Roman Holiday, so I went with it.  The top dessert was mine — apple chess pie with an oatmeal cookie, whipped cream, candy apple glaze.  Chess pie is a southern thing — I had never even heard of it before living here. I had never had a flavored chess pie other than chocolate, but it was a great fall dessert.  The bottom dessert — well, what pink Manda didn’t drink, she ate — grapefruit chiffon cake, vanilla mousse, and grapefruit sorbet.   A work of art.  The tragedy came when we realized there was a danger we’d be late — and I made Manda rush through the experience of that chiffon cake.  So, so sad.  I was hyperventilating when we rushed out of the restaurant and the valet guy wasn’t at his stand.  HELLO!  WE NEED TO LEAVE!  STAT!  We ended up sitting down in our seats at the theatre with only about 45 seconds to spare.  Whew.

IMG_6095Have you ever met someone whose talents just seem to keep coming?  For example, you know he sings, he dances, he choreographs and produces shows, oh, and sang back-up for Brenda Lee (you know, the usual). And then you find out he could also be a gourmet chef.  Sure, why not?

My friend Kevin invited me and our mutual friend Jackie over for dinner one night… and it was like no other dinner.  We started with cocktails and cheese (he brought over from Italy, of course)… and didn’t stop for a few hours.  Tomato bread soup with croutons (ah-mazing), homemade gnocchi with pesto (made with basil from Martina McBride’s garden, natch), pork tenderloin on a bed of arugula with a stuffed roasted acorn squash (I thought I was back in Italy), homemade limoncello (goodnight nurse) and a fantastic berry crostata with homemade whipped cream (which was highlighted with rum and pumpkin pie spice– brilliant).  Not only were we wined and dined, the conversation and company was the finest.  And he sent us home with leftovers!  I wish more of my pictures would have turned out, but none of them do the meal justice.  I told Kevin if it wasn’t so scandalous, I’d move in with him tomorrow.  And soon be as big as a house.  Scandalous and gluttonous.  Yikes.

IMG_6216To wrap up this November food post, I have to highlight the adorable cupcake bakery my brother-in-law took me to immediately after I deplaned in Charlottesville.  My sister had discovered the place during her many hospital stays, and it’s been a comforting side trip ever since.  On the way from the airport to the hospital, Patrick and the boys and I stopped to pick up a treat to take to Jill (it was completely altruistic, I assure you).  Cupcakes may be a passing fad, but these seemed exceptional — not too pricey and not too over-the-top.

IMG_6223It’s shocking that this wasn’t mine — I actually chose the Black-Eyed Susan, which was a mix of white and chocolate, mostly because I wanted to taste their white cake but didn’t want to be too boring.  But I had a bite of this pumpkin one, and it was fantastic.  I had heard a lot about Sweet Haus, and I was glad I got to experience it first hand.

In addition to cupcakes, Sweet Haus also has jars of candy and other delights.  The following picture was taken with the caption in mind:

IMG_6217What’s the point?

Where did November go?

We just entered my favorite month of the year and my favorite liturgical season, all in one day.  My joy at the arrival of Advent doesn’t prevent me from wondering where this year went, though.

November seems to have flown by – like every other month this year.  And my good intentions about blogging about each fun event in November has turned into this single “November in review” post.  I suppose it’s for the best… a review is probably enough for all of you.

IMG_5929It took Fall awhile to come around, but she at least made an appearance in the Target parking lot.  The trees there are gorgeous every year.

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No, that’s not Kenny Chesney.  I’ll give you a hint — that’s the periodic table of elements behind him.  Yes, it’s Alton Brown, and if you have the chance to see him live, do not hesitate.  Go.  You might think, “What happens when a chef goes on tour?”  That was my thought, too.  But since Alton is awesome, I knew it would be worth every penny.  And it was.  He was better than any comedian, sang hilarious songs, and made chocolate ice cream in ten seconds.  Oh, and baked pizza in a 54,000 watt “mega bake” oven he created with rock star stage lights.  It was fun to see a lot of the Good Eats crew join him for the road show, too.

Go to the Inevitable Edible Tour if it comes near you.  You won’t regret it.  (Unless you have no idea who Alton Brown is.  If that’s the case, I feel bad for you.)

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We started teaching in Kentucky this fall, and the second weekend in November found me up in Lexington.  They are blessed with a fantastic bishop, and it was a joy to have dinner with him the night before we taught.  It was a great turnout — about 300 catechists — and I’m always humbled at the response we get when we teach.

That same weekend, I took advantage of the quickly-escaping nice weather and went on a hike with friends.  The color was gone (it never lasts long enough!) but the hike was still beautiful.  I almost thought I was back in Virginia.

IMG_6003Montgomery Bell blasted a tunnel into the ridge here, where the Harpeth River makes a horseshoe, and directed the river through it to power his iron mills.  Only the tunnel still exists, and now the property (where Bell once lived) is a state park.

IMG_6019Earlier in the month, one of the cellists from the Symphony, Xiao-Fan Zhang, told me about a free event hosted at the symphony house bimonthly.  It is sponsored by U.S. Trust and involves a small audience, free wine, and a concert on the stage of one of the most beautiful symphony houses in the country.  (I’m a little biased.)

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My friend Molly and I headed out for the night, not really sure what to expect.  When we arrived, all the doors of the hall were locked– but we were pointed toward the side stage door, where a symphony volunteer found our names on the exclusive list and then waved us through the back hallways of the symphony house.  The same chairs that the symphony members sit in to perform were arranged on the stage for us.  There was wine, water, and soft drinks, and the musicians were mingling before settling down and welcoming us.

We were facing out into the symphony hall, which looked surprisingly smaller from that vantage point.  The instrument of the evening was the cello.  Xiao-Fan explained a little bit about the instrument before playing one of the most gorgeous pieces ever composed for the cello, Bach’s Suite No. 1 (just the Prelude).  Molly and I were in heaven.

A second cellist, Bradley Mansell joined Xiao-Fan for the second piece — Sonata in C Major for two Cellos by Boccherini.  Then he jumped on the piano and two more cellists joined the crew for Popper’s Requiem for Three Cellos and Piano (you can click that youtube video, but live it was ten times better.  I think it’s better heard close up, if that makes any sense).  Besides the Bach, this piece was my favorite.  Before each piece, they took the time to explain about the piece, introduce the composer, etc.   They finished with a collection of shorter pieces — Sarabande by Bach, Oblivion by Piazzola, and just for fun, Yesterday by the Beatles, and the Pizzicato Polka by Strauss.

We were able to take in the beauty of the music and the symphony hall — all for free!

IMG_6124And it’s always fun to be downtown at night.  I love my city.

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The next weekend found me in Chattanooga, where I not only taught school teachers on Friday and parish catechists on Saturday, but also enjoyed the plush amenities of a beautiful new Embassy Suites hotel (hello, fantastic breakfast and comfortable bed) and was entertained by my cousin and her hilarious children.

As the month neared its end, my fun was far from over.  The week after the Chattanooga trip was full of wedding fun — remember my dear friend Lori? She tied the knot on the feast of St Cecilia with her handsome beau Billy.  That meant a bachelorette party, a wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner at a landmark of Southern-dining, Monell’s, before the actual event on Friday.

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Selfies before dancing at the Wildhorse

The wedding was absolutely beautiful. When you witness the marriage of two people living the Gospel, already pursuing holiness together and now embracing the vocation in purity and true love, it makes the ceremony radiate in ways flowers and beautiful music can’t even touch.  Marriage should reflect the love of Christ for His Church, and Lori and Billy’s wedding did exactly that.

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I love the picture below so much.  Billy was standing in the church a good fifteen minutes before the Mass, and you could tell he was ready to get married!  I think the picture begins to capture that joy.

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The reception so fun I don’t have many pictures from it.  But trust me — it was so much fun I stayed out much later than I should have, considering I had to teach the next day…

The month ended with me taking a whole week off and heading out to see my sister and brother-in-law.  It’s my tradition to head out to Jill’s for Thanksgiving — I think I’ve done it for at least the last five years.  But this Thanksgiving was extra special, since my nephew John Paul came home after 20 days in the hospital.  It was a gift from God to be present at his homecoming — I don’t know if I’ve witnessed as much joy as I did that night when his four brothers and dad welcomed him home.

IMG_6251It was such a lovely visit.  Mom and Dad came for Thanksgiving day and the day after, and it was exactly the relaxing week I needed after the Fall teaching spree.

IMG_6280All of the boys have fantastic little personalities, each quite distinct.  I’ll let my sister’s blog document all of that, except for two stories.  1) Sammy occasionally wouldn’t let me leave his bedroom– to the point of standing in front of his closed door so I couldn’t open it and begging, “Stay here!”  I think if he would have done that the day I left, I would have moved into his room for good.  2) One of my favorite moments of the week (other than John Paul’s homecoming!) was when all four boys and I were crammed inside the little tent in Sammy’s room (the tent is no bigger than 3′ in diameter).  I don’t remember how we all ended up there — it was late in the evening and we were all a little loopy — and I suggested we sing a song.  Sammy burst out into the theme song for his latest favorite Thomas the Tank Engine episode, “Day of the Diesels,” and the other boys joined in at the top of their lungs.  We were all sitting on top of each other, crammed in that little tent, and enjoying each other’s craziness.  And I was thoroughly enjoying being the greatest aunt of the moment.

November – another good month.