#1 Dinner at Besh’s

If you have even just glanced through this blog, you know that I love great food. It’s not just that I love to eat, it’s that I love to appreciate food.  Perhaps you could say that I love to appreciate saporific beauty.

I heard of John Besh several years ago, but since I still haven’t made it to New Orleans, I just assumed I probably would never get to enjoy his food.  After marking eating at a Bobby Flay restaurant off my bucket list three years ago, I thought I had pretty much emptied that bucket (that’s in the running for the name of this project… #emptythebucket). But there’s something alluring about John Besh, and suddenly he showed up on this not-bucket-list-but-something-list.  Perhaps it’s because he’s not your typical “celebrity” chef.

Or perhaps it’s because he’s Catholic.

Yes, I admit it. I wanted to eat at a John Besh restaurant because he’s Catholic. Because he’s on the board of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. Because he likes St. Josemaria Escriva.

Come on. If I can enjoy incredible food and also support a Catholic, I’m in.

So when he opened a new restaurant in Nashville, Marsh House, despite the fact that I had heard nothing about it, good or bad… I knew I needed to convince Manda to go there for our annual joint-birthday dinner.  Lucky for me, she wasn’t hard to convince.

The restaurant is attached to a hotel, which for some reason normally would kind of turn me off. But I was pretty set on liking this place, so I pushed that aside. The two hostesses were wearing adorable blue wrap dresses, and a nice man in a suit showed me to my table. He later stopped by to chat while I waited for Manda, just to make sure I didn’t need a drink while I waited.  I appreciated how down-to-earth the wait staff seemed, while also remaining completely professional.  (Like the wonderfully perfect gesture of folding your napkin for you if you left to use the restroom. Always a nice touch.)  We later found out that the nice man in a suit was the sommelier.

The menu is seafood-based, and the majority of it consists of small plates meant for sharing. There are also several meat and seafood entrees, and a raw bar menu that features a selection of oysters.

We both ordered cocktails – mine was whiskey-based and Manda’s had prosecco.  Both, while very different, were nicely suited for the cold weather.

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The one article I read about Marsh House was an interview with Besh where he spoke highly of the gumbo, stressing that he had worked with the chefs to make sure they got his recipe – or rather, his mother’s recipe – just right.  So Manda and I split the gumbo (which they dished up beautifully in separate bowls for us).  Manda also ordered oysters, and loved them. I passed.

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For dinner, I was excited to see swordfish on the menu, so I couldn’t pass that up.  Swordfish isn’t a fish I generally see at the places I frequent. I distinctly remember the first time I had swordfish – it was in 2001 at a restaurant in Rome in a neighborhood near the Aventine Hill. I was told that it had a more meat-like texture than most fish, and I ordered it on a whim… and loved it. Since then, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve had it, and I was anxious to try it again.

This didn’t disappoint. There was a nice light breading on it – more of a slight crust than anything – and it was served with winter greens and a tomato jam. Manda ordered the stuffed flounder, and it looked pretty incredible- almost a work of art, and probably more worthy of a picture than my dish. Oh well.

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We both saved room for dessert, of course… and when we couldn’t decide between the opera cake – a buttermilk chocolate cake with ganache and espresso – and the pumpkin cheesecake with cranberries and brittle… we ordered both.

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Good night. They were both incredible, but the pumpkin cheesecake was simply out of this world. I was afraid it would be a bit cliche- a concession to every PSL lover and a throwaway tribute to fall. I was wrong. Manda hit the nail on the head when she said it was more of a mousse than a cheesecake.  It was exactly what you wanted out of a pumpkin dessert – enough spice to bring home the pumpkin (since pumpkin doesn’t actually have much a flavor by itself) but a lightness that left you completely content and not overwhelmed.  The brittle and toasted marshmallow on the top were the companions you would expect – but surpassed expectations – and then the cranberry drizzled around the plate was a completely unexpected guest but rounded out the dessert without being a strange forced reference to Thanksgiving dinner.

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The atmosphere of the restaurant gave me the same feeling I had at Bar Americain – it was more relaxed than I expected, and there were people in jeans — but it was just the right mix of classy and casual – definitely an elevated feel that was comfortable without being ostentatious.  Our waitress mentioned that the decor was supposed to evoke a train station (which it did, without being over the top) because of back in the day, that’s what used to be in the neighborhood.  Any indication that a place recognizes the history of Nashville gets props from me, especially in a neighborhood like the Gulch that is congested with brand new restaurants, condos, and bars that are trendy today and will probably be closed tomorrow. So many of the places – and people – that have come to Nashville seem ignorant of the true charm of the city, which is quickly disappearing as it grows faster than is probably healthy.

How many of these new places are worth the hype?  Probably very few. But, while I admit I went in tonight pretty biased … I’d like to see John Besh’s place stay. The menu was elevated without elevating anything just for the heck of it.  Most of the ingredients were recognizable, and while brussels sprouts and beets made an appearance, the menu was largely devoid of the trendy ingredients that people probably only eat because the person next to them told them they should.

First item of the list complete.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Chef Besh had come out and talked with us about Josemaria Escriva. Maybe next time.

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Biscuits and Bikes

Saturday was a gorgeous day – one of those Nashville February days that make you forget there has to be a March before April.  It was 65 degrees and sunny, and luckily I filled the day with fun to take full advantage of the beauty.

Manda and I had decided to celebrate Saturdays being work-free (a relatively new concept for me, and a brand-new one for her) by hitting up a new brunch place for breakfast. Biscuit Love began as a food truck and now has a brick and motor location.   We got there in the nick of time – not ten minutes after we ordered, the line was out the door.

IMG_0750I couldn’t resist the basic biscuits and gravy, which is not the most photographic food.  It was great, and my only complaint was that the gravy cooled off too quickly, which is always a danger with biscuits and gravy.  IMG_0749Manda had the Lily- biscuit french toast with lemon mascarpone and blueberry compote.  I’m definitely getting that next time.  And there will be a next time. To seal the deal, they had good coffee and absolutely delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice.

After hitting up the sales at the Ann Taylor Loft next door, I dropped Manda off back at her house… but quickly called her while I was still in her driveway.  It was a beautiful day… why not go bike riding?

Nashville has a bike rental program that features stations of bikes throughout the city – rent a bike, ride it around, and return it at the same station or a station across the city.  There is a station right on a greenway, so it’s the perfect opportunity to rent a cute red bike and jump on the greenway. We rode to the grocery store, visited a friend at work, and ended up riding to another park a few miles away.

I’ve missed riding, so it definitely inspired me to get my bike down here and ride more often.  It was the perfect Saturday adventure!  And maybe I began to burn off that gravy. At least began.

Here’s to 65 degree days in February.

More random fun (on a quiet weekend)

Last weekend I tried to be good — I had a talk to write, and I decided I would say no to all social engagements until the talk was written.  Well… I still managed a few random fun moments, since that’s what I specialize in around here.

Thursday night (so not quite the weekend yet) my friend Jackie and I went to the rodeo.

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Thanks to my friends Steve and Barbara, who took me to my first rodeo last year (did I really not blog about that!?), I could say, “Hey, this ain’t my first rodeo.”

I have to pick out my favorite cowboy to root for, and this night it was Mr. Green Chaps.  It turns out Mr Green Chaps is 8th in the country for bull riding.
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This is not Mr Green Chaps, but entertaining nonetheless:

The other social event of the weekend was a festival in Germantown, where I went with some friends to grab dinner before Catholic Underground Saturday evening.  This guy made an appearance:

IMG_8147So… a quiet weekend for me = A rodeo and the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

The week included dinner with the Bishop from Laredo, TX, who was in town and called me up for a visit, and happily that turned into dinner with two priests, three deacons, and three seminarians from our beautiful diocese.  Then Wednesday night was a iconic Nashville experience that included seeing David Wilcox at Music City Roots and dinner at the Loveless Cafe.

I love this town.

This weekend is the Glory Conference – so say a prayer for all those who have traveled to this amazing city to delve into truth, beauty, and goodness.

 

 

here’s to the fun stuff

When it comes to personal blogs, it seems that there are two types of blog posts.

A) The ones when people’s lives look incredible

B) The ones when you feel sorry for them.

Example A:  The SAHM posts a recipe for the incredible dinner she made last night that just happened to be gluten-free, nut-free, and organic, alongside pictures of her adorable children wearing clothes she made by hand while homeschooling them, with a Downton Abbey reference thrown in and a final picture of the flowers her gorgeous husband bought her “just because.”

Example B: The SAHM writes about the fact that she hasn’t slept in five weeks and has gained eight pounds just by looking at a Snickers bar and has to take a break from this blog post because her youngest child just pooped on the floor and where did Johnny go? but hopes to finish the eightieth load of laundry before lunch because she knows the child she just finished potty-training will probably wet the bed during her nap and why is the fire alarm going off? but maybe tomorrow she will get to take a shower if …

As a single gal, I fully recognize that I too can write either of those posts.  I can either tell you about my fun social life or I can bemoan my singleness, the state of the world today, or the various chores, errands, and to-do list tasks that haven’t gotten finished because I work all day and come home to other things that need priority- and therefore am probably just eating cheese for dinner because that’s what in my refrigerator.

Let’s go with the first, shall we?

The Derby party that almost wasn’t

The Saturday of the Derby, I went to a lovely baby shower for my friend Lori and then headed back to town for the first Musician’s Corner of the summer.  Musicians’ Corner is a fun free concert series in the shadow of the Parthenon.  A group of us met up there in the afternoon and enjoyed the beautiful (very warm) spring day.  It was a really fun, low-key afternoon with people coming and going, eating at food trucks, sweating, and listening to good music.   Holly Williams was one of the artists — she turned my head when she announced, “My granddaddy wrote this song…” and then launched into a Hank Williams song.  One of my friends wryly commented, “I think she’s going to make it in the business.”

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Jars of Clay

We were planning on heading back to my friend Manda’s house to watch the Derby — we had the makings for mint juleps, Kentucky browns, and two Derby pies waiting for us. The last band to play was Jars of Clay, and we were enjoying their concert and I was losing track of time when I saw Manda packing up at the corner of my eye.  I glanced at my watch.  5:20.  Holy cow, we were going to miss the Derby.

We went into action, throwing all our stuff into bags and scattering our different ways towards our cars.  My friend Matt called back, “Do you need anything!?” as he headed to his car.  “Ice!” Manda called back, and we ran for mine.

I laughed the whole way to her house.  We were throwing a Derby party and we were going to miss the Derby.  Who does that!?

We ran into her house, I turned on the TV, we all put our hats on, KY Browns went into the oven, Matt arrived with the ice, and the Derby began.  A few people did end up missing it, but they arrived in time for mint juleps, so it was all okay.

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We just threw this together.

 

Birds and Brandy

That next Monday, Manda and I headed south of Nashville to hit up Hobby Lobby for our Steeplechase crafting.  She needed a ribbon for her big hat and I needed some props to build my fascinator.

I love Hobby Lobby.  It’s a good thing there isn’t one near my house.

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I was persuaded not to get this for my head.  Maybe next year.
(I hope you all are thinking what I’m thinking right now)

After shopping, we treated ourselves to a fantastic dinner at Gray’s on Main, the former-pharmacy turned brandy bar in downtown Franklin.  Their menu is delightfully southern, while their cocktail menu honors the drink culture of the late 19th century, when the building was constructed.

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fried green tomatoes with roasted creamy corn and goat cheese,
fried pimento cheese with moonshine pepper jelly, shrimp and grits on collards, and bacon-wrapped figs with goat cheese and a balsamic reduction

The cocktail menu features brandy, the drink of the late 19th century, and so we let our waiter choose the drink he thought we would like.  After hearing what we usually drank, he advised us to try the White Mule, a play on the Moscow Mule. I loved it.  I would drive to Franklin for it.  It featured Delord Blanche Armagnac, a cognac that is sold nowhere else in the United States.  Looks like I am going to have to drive to Franklin for it.

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complete with a copper mug.

 

It’s all in the family

I hope I don’t sound like an alcoholic, but one of the other highlights of last week was a random Thursday afternoon bourbon tasting at one of the wine stores near my house. My friend Liza had seen on Twitter that Belle Meade Bourbon was doing a free tasting and featuring mint juleps. I convinced Manda to meet me there.  We were going to pick up some things for Steeplechase, taste the Belle Meade Bourbon, and go on our merry way.  I didn’t expect that the person giving the tastes would actually be one of the owners of the distillery, nor did I expect his story to be so fascinating.  You can read more here, but basically two brothers discovered that their great-great-great grandfather had owned one of the three most notable distilleries in Tennessee (the other two being George Dickel and Jack Daniels, and he was far out-selling Jack Daniels).  The distillery closed during Prohibition and had become family lore. The brothers decided to reopen the distillery a few years ago, a hundred years after it had closed.

I loved hearing his story and was fascinated by the history and the details of distilling.  Kind of a random Thursday afternoon, but I’ll take it.

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Am I in Italy?

My friend Mario turned the big 3-0 on Friday, so we all went out to DeSano’s, a local pizza place, to celebrate.  Father had told me that it was the closest I would come to Italian pizza, but I’m a bit of a snob and a skeptic, so I had to taste it to believe it.

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It was pretty darn delicious.  The atmosphere was amazing — big communal tables, lots of noise and laughter, and a full view of the pizza-making process, complete with dough-tossing and audience participation.  Father announced that it was Catholic, and it was true.

Mario even got to catch some dough… while wearing a birthday cake hat made of balloons.  (the perks of having a balloon artist as a friend.)IMG_0013

 

The Social Event of the Spring

Last but certainly not least… the social event of the spring… Steeplechase.  You can read all about the event in last year’s post, when I became enamored with how easy, fun, and classy the event was – for only $15.  Of course, you also have to factor in the expense of your picnic and your fascinator.  But who needs to buy a $80 fascinator from Macy’s when you can make your own!?

My friend Megan got a series of awesome texts like this a few nights before….

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but with her help and Manda’s shopping guidance, I managed to pull of a fascinator that didn’t not cost $80, did not feature a bird, and still made a statement.

The finished product:

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It even held up in the wind.  Well, most of it.  I had a bit of a casualty with the big feather in the back, but that just means it’ll be easier to change up and update for next year’s race!

Oh, Steeplechase, how I love you.  I love your bow ties and your seersucker and your picnics and your horses.  I love the thrill of the race and the laziness of the afternoon.

The rain even held off, which seems to be a theme when it comes to the second Saturday in May.

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I have the most beautiful friends.

Cheers!

A dulcedomum – joaninordinarytime mashup

IMG_7763I had been looking forward to Jill’s visit to Nashville for a long time — before we were even sure it was happening.  As she mentions on her blog, she and John Paul came to town to meet Christopher da Vinck.  Chris is the author of  The Power of the Powerless, a moving testimony to the difference the weakest among us can make in this world.  (You should read the book.  You should also read the article that started it all – here. He read it during his talk, and it was awesome to hear him read it out loud.) As soon as I heard he was coming to speak at Aquinas, I knew Jill needed to come and meet him.  It’s a miracle that it all worked out, and I truly saw her visit as a gift from God.

As I drove to the airport to pick her up, my heart was so full.  I don’t know how else to describe it — I thought my heart was going to burst with love and excitement.  Her visit was going to be short, but I was going to have her (and John Paul) all to myself. I was going to have the chance to show her my life.  And I was very, very happy.  And grateful.

We went straight to Jack’s to get BBQ for lunch, then it was back to my condo to just sit back and relax (for the first and last time).  She had never seen my condo, so even something as simple as that gave me great joy.

That night was the lecture, and beforehand we were able to go to a reception for Dr. da Vinck so that Jill would have a chance to meet him and talk to him.  As she mentioned on her blog, John Paul might have gotten more attention than Dr. da Vinck… but I don’t think he minded. : )

IMG_7736John Paul is very camera-aware.

Everyone was so excited to meet Jill and John Paul – it was quite humbling.  All my friends and coworkers had been praying for them for the last year, and they all commented that they felt like they already knew Jill.  And John Paul was a rock star– the whole trip he took it all in stride, always smiling, always flirting.  He let people hold him, he showed off his cracker-eating skills, and he just generally charmed everyone he met.

IMG_7745We may have been a bit disruptive during Dr. da Vinck’s talk.  John Paul knows how to make his Aunt Joannie laugh.

IMG_7742We had to take a lobby selfie.  I have a big mirror that greets me as I wait for the elevator every morning, and it’s occasionally too tempting to take a selfie of my outfit for the day. I try not to do it very often (because no one really cares what I’m wearing), but my Instagram followers suggested hashtags like #lobbyselfie and #waitingfortheelevator, so now it’s kind of a thing.

Wednesday was spent having fun — an exhausting and fun mix of seeing Nashville and taking John Paul to meet his fans.  Jill commented at one point that she felt like they were on a book tour.  It’s an adequate description — they were two celebrities who were in Nashville for a short time, so they needed to see the sights and meet their fans.

It was a beautiful day, so we set out for downtown to eat a big southern breakfast at The Southern, then headed to the Johnny Cash Museum gift shop.  Then we made a loop down Broadway and over to the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, playing tourist.

Our first engagement of the day was my friend Cathy’s classroom at St. Ann School, where her fourth graders were anxiously waiting to meet the little boy they had been praying for.  Then it was over to Aquinas for Mass and Bible study, then off to a late lunch at Bobbie’s Dairy Dip.

IMG_7776The day was only half over!  I thought they deserved a relaxing afternoon, so we went over to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens to enjoy the dogwoods and tulips in their peak.  The bizarre cold snap the night before had hurt some of the flowers, but there were still plenty to enjoy.  Some of the parts of the gardens and the mansion were less than stroller-friendly, but we still managed to see a lot and delight in the beautiful day.

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IMG_7788Our next stop was the Cathedral, where the Chrism Mass was going to be starting in about an hour.  You might remember that I had the joy of teaching the men in formation for the permanent diaconate during the fall of 2012.  Since we had found out about John Paul during that time, I had asked the men and their wives for their prayers.  One of them in particular, my good friend Rafael, has been a prayer warrior for John Paul and Patrick and Jill ever since.  The deacon-candidates still pray for John Paul at every class, and I was continually humbled by their love for someone they had never met.

Rafael was waiting for us outside the Cathedral, and it was like he and John Paul were old friends.  John Paul let him take him into his arms, and Rafael proceeded to take John Paul right into the Cathedral to meet all his deacon-candidate fans.  We made a bit of a spectacle in the middle aisle of the full church, but it was such a beautiful moment.

Over and over again during this trip, it became clear that John Paul has touched many, many lives…. just by being John Paul.  The heroism of ordinary life, the power of prayer, the witness of the weakest … these lessons have ceased being theological postulates or groundless maxims and have become quite real and evident.

The last stop was, quite fittingly, our sister’s home, the Dominican Motherhouse, where we enjoyed a visit with three of Sisters who have been like family over the past 15 years.  Then it was home for dinner and a lovely visit with my cousin and his wife!

I hope I didn’t wear Jill and John Paul out, but it was such a rare gift to have them here and I wanted to squeeze out every joy!  I think one of the best compliments Jill could have given the visit was when she said she felt like she was living in my blog.  I think that’s a good thing. : )  (It was right after seeing Vince Gill eating dinner and a woman horribly mispronouncing my name.  Welcome to my life!)

Next time the whole family is coming!  (right, Jill?)  And not during Lent.  There are too many ice cream places to hit up…

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Sister Act

I am beginning to get a reputation in my family for the unusual opportunities I discover around Nashville.  One night when my brother called me, he was surprised to actually reach me.  “You don’t a book signing to attend?”  No.  “The opening of a convention center?”  No.  “A festival of some sort?”

That’s one of the reasons I love this city.  There are a lot of opportunities for fun, culture, and randomness.  Sometimes they find me, sometimes I find them.

A few weeks ago one found me.

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I was on a panel before the traveling Broadway show Sister Act.  

All in a day’s work, right?

The organizer of the panel, Kristin (see above picture), contacted me about the panel because she and I share a hairdresser (and love her.  I have the greatest hairdresser and share her with many other great people).  Kristin organizes a community outreach event, Arts Appetizers, before the Wednesday performance of any Broadway show that visits Nashville.  For a small price, you can come before the show to enjoy appetizers and a panel of cast members and community members with some connection to the show.  For Catch Me If You Can, for example, the panel featured someone from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

For Sister Act, they wanted… Sisters.  It all came together in the end, but it was touch and go for awhile.  Kristin had also asked me to come and speak about Aquinas’ role in the community.  For awhile, it looked like it might just be me.  So I made sure to wear a non-Sister outfit so no one would get confused. (hence the bright yellow sweater and the black boots.  When someone asked me at work why I was dressed like a bumblebee, I responded, “This is my ‘I’m not a nun’ outfit.”)

But in the end, two of the Sisters were able to join the panel!  The other members of the panel were two cast members, both playing “nuns” and understudies for the Mother Superior  and the main character.  They were thrilled to meet “real, live nuns” and had so many questions for the Sisters.  The panel discussion was awesome — everyone loved having the “real” Sisters there, and the Sisters were really able to preach the truth, clear up any misunderstandings, and witness to the joy of their life.  One of the cast members aptly commented that the Sisters manifested the joy that the nuns in the show only manifest at the end.  It was truly a New Evangelization moment.

There were plenty of funny moments too — like before the panel, when the Sisters were in line for food and my friend Manda overheard a husband and wife debating about whether the “nuns” were “real” or were in costume.  “It’s just a costume,” one of them insisted.  “Look, they’re wearing high heels.”  Some of the Sisters do wear lace-up black shoes with a bit of a heel (a solid one, like you might dance in), and sure enough, these two were wearing those shoes.  When we told them about it later, Sister laughed and commented, “I’m glad I wore my really high ones tonight!”

The two Sisters on the panel both were theatre majors in college, so they were the perfect ones to tell their story.  I think they might have joined us for the show if circumstances had been different… : )

Afterwards my friend Manda and I saw the show from pretty sweet free seats.  All in all, not the best representation of convent life or the Catholic Church, but it could be far worse. One of the final songs, “Sister Act,” was actually a pretty good lesson learned about community life.  (The show is a little different from the movie and has different songs, due to copyrights and whatnot.)

It was fun seeing the fellow panelists in action, too.  All in all,  a fun night.

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A good day.

I’m sure everyone is tired of listening to me talk about my days, my eating habits, my randomness.  Although I suppose if you were really tired of it, you would have abandoned this blog by now.

All I really wanted to come here to say is that I had a good day.  Not only did I accomplish a handful of things that really needed accomplishing (laundry; cleaning; the old seasonal-clothes-switch; running to Goodwill, the bank, the postoffice…) but I celebrated my accomplishments (and the eve of the Solemnity of the Annunciation) with my friend Manda at Happy Hour.

IMG_7544Where I had oysters for the first time!  yay!  We went to The Southern, which besides having a really awesome brunch also happens to be an oyster bar. We were just there to sit at the bar and have a nice conversation over a nice cocktail.  But then Manda was eyeing the oyster menu, and they were shucking them right in front of us… so then one of the nice guys shucking them asked us if we wanted oysters, and Manda was on the fence, and I admitted I had never had an oyster.

“You’ve never had an oyster?” he asked incredulously.  I admitted that they scared me.

He shook his head, told me there was nothing to be afraid of, and promised he would coach me through it.

So on the house, he gave me my first oyster.  Prepped it for me. Coached me through it.

And it was wonderful.

It wasn’t something I would probably crave, like I do a good steak.  But it was so fresh, so tender, so… real.  So when Manda suggested we split a half dozen, I was game.

It was as if we were experiencing food the way we were supposed to experience it.  It weirded me out at first, knowing I was eating something that wasn’t that far from life.  I like my meat cooked and my food to look differently than when it did when it was living.  But yet there was something about being closer to the food, being closer to the way God created it.

They were cold oysters, and my new friend told me I was worried about them being slimy or chewy because I was thinking of warm water oysters.  These were really tender and not nearly as slimy as I thought they would be.

Manda and I had a fantastic conversation, and I left on a high.  Friendship, fantastic service (which we are beginning to value even more than the food and drink itself, but The Southern delivered on both), a highly productive day, and a solemnity tomorrow. What more could this girl ask for?