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Posts Tagged ‘Beauty’

I was recently reading an article in Saveur’s December issue.  The article is entitled, “Personal Space: an editor’s kitchen reflects a lifetime.”  The writing is about Judith Jones (an accomplished cookbook editor who published Julia Child’s first cookbook), her kitchen and recent publications, and about how one’s kitchen can be a telling reflection of the style and personality of the cook who spends time there.  This was a thoughtful article, but what struck me the most were the pictures of Judith in her little kitchen and apartment, as well as the mention of her latest cookbook, The Pleasures of Cooking for One.

Judith talks lovingly about the design of her kitchen and living space, thoughtfully created and conceived by her and her beloved husband.  Every detail held special meaning to them, even down to the accidental garde-manger they created during renovation, reminding them nostalgically of the years they lived in Paris.  The pictures in the magazine spread show a tiny and elegant woman.  She stands in her kitchen, carefully cutting chicken; she sits alone in her cherished dining space, her beautifully lined face illuminated by candle light, gourmet meal before her (silver platter included) and a glass of red wine in hand.  Her smile conveys the anticipation of sharing her personal space with such an audience and a youthful giddiness radiates through her expression.  So much like me, she is surrounded by books in every room.  As I continue to read, I think, “Where is this husband of hers?”  My eyes read ahead to the title of her cookbook and I realized with sadness that he, of course, had passed away in 1996. 

I know that the author probably intended for me to be impressed with Judith’s quaint and thoughtful kitchen, to consider what message that my own kitchen may send to its guests, but instead I was instantly struck with the sadness of Judith’s solitude at her dinner table.   My mind wandered through a multitude of memories that are filled with laughter, love, memorable meals and even more memorable people.  I have shared countless days and evenings eating the best meals of my life with people that I love indescribably.  I pictured Judith’s life similar to my own, filled with these same common experiences.  Just like she and her husband lovingly created their perfect environment, so have Jon and I spent time sharing our dreams and hopes with one another.  Perhaps her kitchen and her home itself remain unchanged and are host to many lively dinners with friends, but some things in her life have definitely changed.  The realization that everyone will not always sit at the table and stand in my kitchen hit me with immediate force; it literally brought me to tears.  I cannot imagine not sharing my kitchen, my cooking, the experience of eating, the joy of a lazy evening, with the people that are dear to me.  Not one single person could go missing without drastically altering the fabric of my life; especially my husband – my one true love.  To me, the table is such a sacramental place.  How enormously blessed am I that I don’t have to sit at it alone? 

One of the most memorable (albeit simple) moments of my life was a time when Jon and I had just finished a delightful, weeknight meal; our home smelled delicious, candles were lit, music drifted through the house, my belly was full, and I was sitting next to the man I feel honored to share life with.  I specifically remember that my feet were stretched out and resting on the empty chair that sits across from me at our table, glass in hand, mind at rest.    I was struck, at that moment, with the sheer joy of being exactly where I was.  (A very rare moment for me and my chaotic mind!)

Since reading about Judith, I have considered in depth that these meals and experiences are even more of a treasure than I realized.  Of course they are some of the best times of my life, but also ones that are not always guaranteed.  I’ve experienced the truth of this in the painful knowledge that I will never eat another meal at 421 South Euclid Street, surrounded by my Grandma and Grandpa in what was one of my favorite kitchens.  I will never be able to pick another avocado or lemon out of their backyard.  Reading about Judith and her kitchen has caused me to realize the fleeting nature of our lives with a more poignant immediacy. 

That being said, I would like to thank everyone who shares these times with me, everyone who allows me to cook for them, everyone who has fed me well, everyone that sits around the table with me and hangs out in my kitchen, everyone that has shed a tear with me across the table, everyone that has squealed with delight over the perfect bite, everyone that has poured me a drink and danced with me while we cooked, everyone that has allowed me to gracefully unbutton my pants due to an overstuffed belly, everyone that has shared their dreams and listened to mine as we rested from our dining.  These are the best times and you all are a gift and a blessing to me, a beautiful part of my life that I cherish and appreciate.  And even though I am nearly one hundred percent certain that she will never see this, I would also like to thank Judith.  She’s helped me to think about how blessed we are to share these times with one another.  I hope she really has found pleasure in cooking for one, and that her kitchen is still crowded at times with friends and loved ones that fill her heart with joy.  And most of all, I am so thankful for Jon, who shares the table with me night after night and graciously receives my successes and failures in the kitchen.  While my love of food has been with me since childhood, he was part and parcel to the beginning of my culinary exploration in the kitchen.  I hope I never have to sit at the table without him. 

P.S.  And thanks to Becky  – who conspires with me about a full life and continues to encourage me to blog!

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grandmas wordsMy Grandma Cecil had a habit of writing her thoughts down on little pieces of paper.  These little paper gems were tucked away all over her house; in drawers, inside of books, in glass dishes, posted on the giant bulletin board that occupied one of her kitchen walls.  Now that she is gone, and now that I am a grown woman with a lot of questions for her, I cherish each of the few little scraps that I have salvaged as insight into her thoughts, her hopes, her affirmations, her struggles, her wisdom, her encouragement.   I am so thankful for the things that she taught me as a young girl, but these little notes must suffice as answers to my grown up questions.  These notes must suffice as the means to understand who she was, woman to woman.   

Perhaps I also assign great value to these little notes because I am a note taker myself.  I know the weight of the good intentions, the proclaimed mantras, the reminders jotted down on small pieces of paper.  Little notes and index cards abound in my house in all of the same places; between the pages of books, posted to the fridge, in pockets of pants, purses and notebooks.  These little notes are my best attempt at bringing some order out of the chaos of my brain. 

About six months ago I came across the thoughts that I frantically scribbled on a flight from Germany to Los Angeles.  I was contemplating some of the biggest decisions of my life; breaking off an engagement, moving away from my family, free education and apartment by the beach in California, pursuing a very intriguing man that I had just met in Israel… lots of things to think about.  I knew that these could be the absolute best or absolute worst decisions of my life.  For whatever reason, Psalm chapter one forty three, verses five through twelve were my prayer.  Each line was a cry for wisdom – each verse had specific meaning to me personally.  I’ve since broken off that engagement, moved from California and married that intriguing man, and my life is the most beautiful it has ever been.  I have revisited that passage of scripture many, many times.  I know it by heart.  It is my personal liturgy when I am seeking wisdom, comfort or council.

So you can imagine my delight and amazement when I opened the pages of a book and out fell a little card with my Grandma’s distinctive script, recording the very same verse that carries so much meaning and significance to me.  I smiled all the way down to my bones. 

 

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.  I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.  Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.  Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down in the pit.  Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.  Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord, for I hide myself in you.  Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good spirit lead me on level ground.  For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.  In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant.  Psalm 143:5-12

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the legend

the legend

Let me tell you about a place that I love with all of my heart – a place that makes my eyes water from nostalgic emotions and the spiciest mustard on the planet.  I love this place because it serves delicious food – I love it because it is historic and has a story and an identity – I love it because it is located in my sunny home state of California.  These are all things that speak the love language of my heart, but I love it mostly because it reminds me of my family.  This place is part of our story – part of our history and tradition.

So, this humble post is dedicated to Philippe’s, home of the Original French Dip, and to my Mom for Mother’s Day (and also to my Aunt Valerie who is a mother and to Cecil who is their mother and really to Wayne too, who isn’t a mother but definitely deserves a special nod)…

Philippe’s was founded in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu.  After accidentally dropping a baguette into some beef pan drippings, the “Original French Dip” was born.  Praise the Lord for that.  There’s some controversy on the actual circumstances surrounding the fateful dropping of the bread and who actually subsequently requested the accidental sandwich, but who cares?  The most important thing is that we ended up with juicy, flavorful, meaty, sandwichy goodness. 

While Philippe’s was sold in 1927, it has been owned and operated by the same family since.  Not a lot else has changed

these prices are history

these prices are history

since then, either.  For instance, the floor is still covered in sawdust.  The coffee is still ten cents, the lemonade seventy cents.  The mustard is still so spicy that it will literally make you cry.  Ladies, called “carvers,” still take your order behind the counter and serve you almost immediately.  They wear the same uniforms.  Pickled beets, eggs and pigs feet are still offered, purple and ostentatious.  Potato salad, macaroni salad, tapioca pudding, fruit pies, pecan pies, cream pies – all of these remain on the menu.  Beef, lamb or pork sandwiches can be dipped or double dipped.  The lines continue to extend to the back of the room.  The only thing that seems to change are the articles and reviews of Philippe’s that are posted on the walls.  In accordance with the spirit of the place, history and stories surround you. 

You will make new friends in the line at Philippe’s.  Everyone is exited to tell their neighbor about how Philippe’s is their place.  They’re excited to share their personal story and offer a recommendation of what to order.  I used to think that our Philippe’s story was unique; that we’re the only ones that consider it sacred, sawdust-covered ground.  But I’ve discovered that almost everyone in the line has been there many times before.  Most likely,

hungry people

hungry people

they started coming with their parents or grandparents, just like me.  It’s a good thing that you will make friends in line, as you may be sitting next to these same folks at the communal tables that all diners eat at.  Sharing stories, tables and tasty, tasty food is a beautiful thing. 

In turbulent times, it’s nice to go to a place that seems significant and unchanged.  Philippe’s is a beacon – a reminder that good things can last through World War II and the Depression and whatever economic crisis we find ourselves in.  I know I’m giving a lot of existential meaning to a French Dip sandwich shop here, but the place has significance!  My grandpa, Wayne went there for years and years, then he took my grandma, Cecil, and they took my mom, Paula and her sister, Valerie.  Then they all took me, and later my cousin Gabriel.  Going to Philippe’s was a family outing; birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days.  When my Grandpa Wayne passed away, we went to Philippe’s in his honor.  When my Grandma Cecil passed away, off to Philippe’s to eat her favorite, a lamb sandwich.  Since then, I’ve insisted on sharing spicy mustard and pickled beets with Jon, my husband and Jason, one of my dearest friends.  Now they’re part of the story.  When I go, I get more than my regular double

the spread

the spread

dipped beef – I get to feel a connection to people that I love – people that I can’t necessarily hug or kiss or speak to anymore.  Instead, I do what I do best; EAT (with a lot of reminiscence on the side).  I can picture my young and dapper Grandpa ordering his favorite sandwich from his favorite Carver.  He would know her by name.  He would know her story and she would remember his regular order.  Again, I can blame the tears on the mustard.

Normally I love to get really passionate and intense about food and flavor, and there is definitely some delicious noshing to be had at Philippe’s, but here I would encourage you to head to there for other reasons.  I’m convinced that once you step through the door you will feel the connection with everyone else who has been going there for years.  You will definitely come back for the sandwiches, but you will also return to this historic place because it will be part of your story.  You can make it a tradition.  Let’s share a table. 

Philippe’s – The Original
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Let it be known that Philippe’s is actually pronounced like “Fil-eeeps” – we, however incorrectly, call it “Fil-ip-eees.”  Way better.   

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Yesterday I made four pounds of black-eyed peas.  FOUR POUNDS.  That’s a lot of beans to contend with.  The two

the beans

the beans

largest pots that I own were filled nearly to the brim.  Jon and I were headed to Trinity House with some of our friends.  Dinner is brought to Trinity House nightly by different groups of volunteers, who then have the fortunate opportunity to break bread with the residents and hear their stories.  We had been recruited, and our assignment was to bring black-eyed peas.  I am so thankful that we went.   

Trinity House is a beautiful place; a center of redemptive cause and purpose in the middle of Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn district.  Also beautiful is the fact that despite poverty, poor development and changes in social and economic structure, the pursuit of justice, empowerment and reconciliation is still taking place amidst this urban area.  Signposts of African American history abound around Trinity House, which is located in the center of this famous neighborhood – the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.  The home of Trinity House was once the largest African American funeral home in the city; the dining hall of Trinity House is the chapel that once held the body of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  History and stories of hope surround the residents of Trinity House. 

the view

the view

Trinity House is run by a local Atlanta church – Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Any familiar with the downtown Atlanta skyline could pick it out; the steeple juts into the sky, with the words “Jesus Saves” displayed like a beacon.  The men at Trinity House are formerly homeless, almost all of them overcoming the addictions that destroyed their lives.  They arrive at Trinity House broken, hungry, tired, burdened – they depart sober and employed, with a home and money in the bank – restored and redeemed. 

the house

the house

Upon arrival at the house, we are instantly greeted by a smiling face – my one hundred pound pots of beans whisked away into the kitchen.  The lobby is elegant and cozy, with a painting of Dr. King proudly displayed on the walls.  We pass the glowing, stained glass windows of the chapel and land in the middle of the hustle and bustle – lots of chatter and laughter as dinner is being assembled and strangers introduced. 

The evening begins with a tour of the facility.  Our tour guide, Saeed, takes us around and explains the program – the men – the history – the meaning and symbolism that is deeply rooted and woven into the program.  The front door is open to any who are ready to change, but not all are accepted – Saeed explains that the Trinity Program is not one for those who need – it is a program for those who want.  If accepted, men are often given a new name that symbolizes their new journey (Saeed is formerly Adrian – his new name and identity meaning “fortunate”).  All men start at the third floor and work their way to the second floor, staying anywhere from six months to two years.  Brothers of the house wear shirts that coincide with their place in the house and their progress.  The colors of the shirts are drawn from an African flag – green for the land – red for the blood that was shed – black for their skin.  Real community exists here; accountability programs are staunch, and the Brothers often decide in a committee fashion on the progress and promotion of one another.  Harmony, respect and dignity are common themes.  Pictures of graduated Brothers adorn the walls; many of the counselors former members themselves.  Again, this is a beautiful place. 

the chapel

the chapel

After the tour we all sit down for dinner, volunteers and Brothers evenly dispersed around the chapel.  Everyone dines on some delicious soul food – green beans, black-eyed peas, rolls, salad and fried chicken.  As dinner wraps up, the time for stories begins.  Everyone has a turn, including the volunteers.  I was humbled and moved as I listened to the stories of the Brothers in the house; some with Master’s degrees, former business professionals, fathers, husbands, chefs, project managers, musicians – men from all paths and places.  You cannot judge appearance – you never know a person’s story unless you hear it – every created human being has dignity. 

The atmosphere in the room is not sad or heavy – it is filled with laughter and noise – hope and joy – acceptance and love – stories of dark pasts, furture plans, hopes and dreams.  We laughed and clapped and danced and sang- we were humbled and ministered to.  We were inspired. 

 All I offered was black-eyed peas for 25; I left feeling whole, joyful, hopeful – glowing with all of the knowledge and inspiration that the men of Trinity House had offered to ME.  They do this for people five nights per week.  This is a beautiful thing.   

a beautiful place

a beautiful place

I plan to go back to the Trinity House often.  I am anxious to watch the progression of the Brothers that I met last night; I am anxious to receive their wisdom and contagious hope.  I am anxious to bring my own love to the dinner table – I’m already thinking about what to cook next… 

a happy crew

a happy crew

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