No Sleep till Brooklyn

Not to give my mother-in-law a complex, or anything, but we often head out of town as soon as she arrives for a babysitting job, I mean family visit. Our birthdays and wedding anniversary are perfectly spaced throughout the year, so practically anytime she comes to visit, we have an excuse for a getaway celebration.

Last weekend my mother-in-law flew in and we decided to see “Springsteen on Broadway” and visit our oldest daughter, who has just moved to New York, as an early anniversary trip. Our newly-minted New Yorker encouraged us to spread our city wings beyond our perennial fallback hotel, the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, so we decided to stay at the William Vale hotel in the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn.

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The William Vale hotel

First surprise, it’s not any cheaper to stay in Brooklyn and the hotel rooms are not any bigger. I think the Marriott Marquis is obviously more convenient to Broadway and I swear the room is a bit bigger, but not having to figure out which side of the elevator bay has the elevator that goes to your set of floors is a huge plus for the William Vale. It’s easy to go in and out of the hotel, and Williamsburg is a great place. The pace is slower than the mid-town, often because you are dodging toddlers and their stroller-pushing parents, and the scale of the neighborhood is much more human-sized. No rows of skyscrapers blocking the sky and many of the intersections manage traffic and pedestrians with a stop sign. There is a sense of community in the shops and restaurants– not just tourist traps trying to process hordes of visitors. People live, shop, and dine in Brooklyn and that vibe struck me as much more European than other areas of NYC that I’ve visited.

One of the many shops in Williamsburg

I loved all the green wherever it can grow in Brooklyn

The concierge at William Vale recommended Antica Pesa (https://www.anticapesa.com) when we were unable to secure reservations at Lilia (https://www.lilianewyork.com). Our dinner at Antica Pesa was very good. The crudo e bufala croccante sold us on the restaurant when we read the review on The Infatuation  as the “best fucking hot pocket you will ever eat.”( https://www.theinfatuation.com/new-york/reviews/antica-pesa) It was.

If a Hot Pocket were an It Girl

We also ordered the Gita Fuori Porta, basically an Italian charcuterie board, that was fine, but a little bit of a let down from that damn fine Hot Pocket. The three of us then shared two pasta dishes-Spaghetti caccio e pepe and the Schiaffoni all’Amatriciana- that were tasty and, to me with all of my one trip to Italy under my belt, cooked like they do it in Rome. Our second course was the Fiorentina—a Porterhouse steak brought to the table pre-sliced on a sizzling cast iron platter. My daughter pulled her pieces off right away to have them quite rare, but I left mine on a few moments more to make sure it quit mooing. We were both pleased. The menu states the Fiorentina is for two, but with the starters and pasta courses, we shared the steak amongst the three of us and were satisfied with our portions. A slice of tiramisu for the table rounded out the night.

The Fiorentina finished cookout our table

The only disappointment was the wine list. We ordered the only Brunello they offered, and it was…okay. Maybe someone who wants their Brunello to taste like Pinot Noir would love it. The second bottle was an Ornellaia La Serre Nuove and it was fine, if overpriced. We were really looking for a special wine and were not impressed with the wine offerings. At the end of the night, we ruefully looked back at the restaurant’s dictum forbidding outside bottles of wine and realized too late why that rule exists. If you love fruity Italian wines, there may be a winner for you. Otherwise, I think I would recommend ordering wine by the glass, but definitely go try that Hot Pocket.

For a quick nightcap we headed back to the William Vale. They have an extremely popular rooftop bar that has a long line to wait for the dedicated elevator to go up to it. If you are a guest of the hotel, your key card in the regular elevator will allow you to go straight to the Westlight rooftop bar. And wait in line to get a drink and have a screaming conversation with your party that no one can hear anyone else. We had a drink at the bar in the hotel’s restaurant Leuca. It was calm, with attentive bar staff, and conducive to a conversation.

We returned to Leuca for brunch the next day before heading to Bushwick to check out the new pad. Many fewer thousand- dollar Bugaboo strollers, but still a neighborhood feel with lots of kids around. Bushwick is grittier than Williamsburg with more gang tags and less art graffiti, fewer shops and a lot more bars. And so much weed. A gentleman on a stoop rolled a blunt the size of which I’ve never seen outside of a Cheech and Chong movie. It’s hard as a parent because I want to protect my kids, but I also want my kids to be independent and follow their dreams, even into Bushwick. I doublechecked that she still had her pepper spray and I made peace with the fact that I lived in some let’s say more colorful areas and had never had any problems—unlike the multiple property crimes we’ve endured since moving into an affluent suburb.

Please return her accordion! Bushwick accordion larceny

My daughter decided to join us for dinner in before our show and after freshening up at the hotel, we had a 45 minute Uber ride to Broadway from Williamsburg. We had trouble deciding whether to eat in Brooklyn or close to the theater, and we forgot to make reservations when we committed to heading to midtown before dinner. We were lucky to get seated at Le Rivage, a French restaurant that we enjoyed on previous visits, and didn’t complain about our table being on enclosed porch. The wine prices, especially for a restaurant within walking distance to the Broadway shows, are reasonable and we got a decent bottle of Saint-Emilion Bordeaux. I chose to go more down-home in my 3-course prix fixe choices. I started with the country pate– it was a little drier than I prefer and they gave me the tiniest dollops of country and Dijon mustards. The restaurant had a huge trophy from a NYC burger festival for its French Onion Soup Burger and I had to try it. Bleh. If you are of a certain age and went to public school, imagine “swiss steak”—which is neither Swiss nor a steak—on a bun with fries from a food service freezer section. I did enjoy the chocolate mousse for my last course! My husband had the trout almondine and my daughter the duck a la ‘orange from the upcharge menu and they did liked their dinners. well enough

Stage before the show

After bidding our daughter farewell, after all, tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway are expensive as hell, we headed over to watch one of the best shows we have ever seen. For over two hours, the Boss told stories, jokes, and accompanied himself on the piano, guitar, and harmonica to soulful renditions of some of his greatest songs. I knew he could sing and play, but I was astounded by how well he could draw in his audience and make the theatre as intimate as talking around a kitchen table. For me, I was sometimes torn between whether I should act like I’m at the theatre or like I’m at a Springsteen concert. Judging by the forlorn “Bruce” calls and sporadic clapping in time, I wasn’t alone. But, man, it was awesome. At the end, he apologized because his wife Patty Scialfa, who usually comes out to play with him,  had flown out to do mom stuff and reminded us that, “there is no understudy for the wife.” When the house lights were brought up so the audience could take photos, he went ahead and gave us an encore as amends (like anyone could be mad at the Boss after a show like that!)

The encore

As the show ended, we didn’t get outside fast enough to be in the front of the theatre for the autograph signing and hand-shaking that he does on the way to his waiting car, but we were good.

The next morning we walked around Williamsburg to find a Polish bakery that I had noticed walking to Antica Pesa Friday night. We never found that one, but we did find a great one in Martha’s Country Bakery!

I had a flat white and an almond croissant that, close your eyes French people, rivaled what I’ve had in Paris. My husband had an Earl Vanilla latte and a berry turnover and berry sconce, and a berry Napoleon, their specialty, to go. I brought black and white cookies as big as a salad plate home for the kids and Grandma. No one tried the cookies until Tuesday and it disappointingly dry and crumbly—maybe it had been fantastic on Sunday, the other baked goods certainly were.

Overall, I really enjoyed staying in Brooklyn more than staying in the more congested touristy areas close to Times Square. We took Uber to get around in the city and my daughter took a combination of the subway and Lyft. While I may be too old to rock the party eight days a week anymore, a weekend in Brooklyn is perfect!

Scoring at TJs

Have you heard of the hedonism treadmill? We’ve got a grocery store hedonism treadmill going on in my neighborhood. First, we only had the basic Giant food–to be fair it was clean and bright and had more variety than any grocery store our parents and grandparents had ever shopped in–but we heard tell of this amazing grocery store out of New York called Wegmans. The first Wegmans to open in our county need police to direct traffic, that’s how crazy we were for a grocery store with all the regular stuff, plus an amazing prepared foods section and babysitting! The next Wegmans to open up in our area ditched the babysitting area, but put in a bar, and since all my kids were in school by then, I thought that was a great idea. It didn’t take long, however, to grow tired of all those options. You know, Wegmans was great and all, but, well, it was just so big! If only a smaller grocery with great organic foods and a top-notch prepared foods section would open. Our prayers were answered by a brand-spanking new Whole Foods, with a pub! Apparently the grocers’ marketing teams know our area! It was awesome and a glass of wine before shopping helps those Whole Foods’ price go down, but, you know, maybe what we really needed was a grocery store with convenience foods and organics, but cheaper. Next stop on the food store hedonism treadmill was Trader Joe’s. While our new TJs does not have a bar, it does have ample parking.

I thought I’d share some of my new-found faves from Trader Joe’s

I made the honey roasted pumpkin ravioli and it was amazing! I prepared according to the package directions and served it with melted butter and some jarred pesto (from Wegmans). One package served two of us.

The Tapas Sampler has 3 varieties of cheese in just-right amounts and a great price of $9.99. I’d be hard-pressed to get three different cheeses for that price anywhere else. When I want to serve two or three varieties of cheese, I have to buy bigger blocks which substantially raises the price and often, there is leftover cheese that goes to waste.

The wine is really priced well and there are a lot of tasting notes on the shelf which helps me to navigate through unfamiliar wines. On opening day, they had a wine tasting and some really mellow customers waiting in crazy-long lines.

In the frozen food aisle, the macarons are ridiculously inexpensive and unbelievably tasty! A box of 12 in a variety of flavors in $4.99! I like to keep a box on hand just in case. I keep buying them because I’ve eaten them “just in case” the football game is on, or it’s not.  The Taste of Alscace flatbread and a glass of wine can save any day when you walk in late and starving.

How I Learned Somm-thing about wine

You know the feeling when you fall in love with something and discover there is a whole genre of movies and documentaries just waiting for you? That’s how my husband and I felt when a friend mentioned that we would like Somm on Netflix. We watched it and became totally invested in who would pass their Master Sommelier test. It’s like watching the Olympics of wine tasting— they can accomplish extraordinary feats like discerning grape varietals, climate of origin, and vintage years by observing, smelling and tasting the wine. We followed our favorites in the next installment,  Somm: Into the Bottle, and started printing off wine tasting worksheets from Masterssommeliers.org so we could play along with our wine of the night. From watching and learning, I am pretty confident I could discern a Chardonnay from a Pinot Noir and not much else with real confidence. But seriously, the sommeliers sharing their journey have an extraordinary gift and I’m grateful to those who are able to taste and describe for those like me, who are still figuring out how to describe wines they want to drink with dinner. Needless to say, we are stoked for the premiere of Somm 3 next month!

My brush with fame

Thirsty for more, we next watched Decanted, a documentary about winemaking in Napa and it highlighted the establishment of Italics winery. Of course, Italics was at the top of list of wineries to visit. I must admit I was fangirling a little bit during our tour and tasting. It was a blast to see the improvements made to the buildings from the time that the documentary was shot. What can I say, I don’t get out much!

I blame our next wine flick for my husband’s obsession with checking every wine cork we pull at a restaurant to make sure it matches the label on the bottle. Sour Grapes is the saga of wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan. It draws you in with a true-crime story, and then offers a glimpse into a world of Lifestyles of the Rich and Spending a Shit-ton of Money on Wine. When it came out that Johnny Depp spent thirty thousand a month on wine, I wasn’t too shocked, but I was flabbergasted by the money dropped by Burgundy collectors and the video clips of Rudy and friends bragging about the cost of the bottles they had popped that night. I felt so much better about socking away a few Napa Cabs that cost more than our monthly car payment in 1990.

Yup, he checked the cork against the label here

 

So what is the most important thing that I’ve learned from my wine entertainment? The best way to learn more about wine is to drink more wine! And that’s a lesson I can take to heart.

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Go ahead, rose´ all day!

My favorite rose´is Caldwell’s Joy, a heavenly rose´of Syrah with an astronomical price tag–around $70 a bottle–so there’s no all-day party at that price point for me! Fortunately, it’s not hard to find a delicious supermarket rose´ that delivers the flavor of summer with a price as tiny as a Kardashian bikini.

My faves under $15

French Blue rose´ of Bordeaux is my go-to bottle because it has enough structure to stand up to summer fare like grilled chicken and salads, but can also segue into heartier wines when used as an aperitif.

Marval rose´is perfect for  beach or poolside parties because 1. it has a spout for serving and a handy spot for hanging and 2. you get 1.5 liters for about $15!

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve rose´is very light and fruity, but not too sweet!

Pool Boy Cotes de Provence rose´ could be the ultimate poolside accessory with its plastic bottle and handy screw top. #safetywine

Summer Water rose´is fruity, light, and crisp, and my favorite wine with sushi and a tuna poke bowl!

Charles and Charles rose´is the steal of the summer at 10 bucks! Crisp and tangy it is the perfect glass for lounging in the sun. I love it with aged cheese and something salty!

To the Beach, Beach

Our nearly-annual trip to the beach will soon be upon us, and I can’t wait! Our visits and the cast of characters have morphed through the years, and we have started to come pretty close to what we consider the perfect beach vacation. For us, we have distilled the 7 days into sand, wine, and food.

I’ve  learned a lot of lessons along the way. Living with other people for a week really taught me about what I like and what I can learn from how others do things. Years ago we went with my husband’s extended family and they wanted everyone to cook at once, and then the families would just heat up a plate of the various main dishes and sides. Very efficient and you did not have to coordinate dinner time, but I like the camaraderie of everyone visiting in the kitchen while I cook and sitting around a table with nothing but time begets the best stories. I also learned that there is a secret circle of hell that resides at any oceanside grocery store on a Saturday, the traditional day of east coast rental turnover. On our first visit to Hilton Head Island, I froze a baked ziti and brought it and enough groceries to get through the weekend. When we arrived at our rental house, I popped it into the oven and by the time we unpacked and had taken the kids to dip their toes, it was ready. Bringing the groceries requires a lot of forethought and planning, but it was so worth it to stroll into the Publix on Monday afternoon and not have stand in a checkout line that stretched to the back of the store.

I’ve also learned to bring my own spices. Even if I plan to buy the meat for a main meal at the beach, I bring a Ziploc bag with the various spices for that dish with me. Again, a few minutes of planning at home saves a lot of money at the grocery and your cupboards are not full of barely used jars of thyme. My favorite homemade mixes to bring are Mexican seasoning for ground beef, thyme and salt for oven-roasted skin-on chicken breast halves, and ingredients for the brine for skinless, boneless chicken breast. I also bring my own salt and pepper grinders and my good knife. I hate using a dull knife and sometimes the cutlery at a beach house is dull or missing altogether. Also, bring a Sharpie. With so many people running around, it’s imperative to label bottles of water, and my kids would tell you, the last packages of snacks that you are claiming.

We also bring our own wine. We might pick up a few bottles at Publix, especially of Rose´, but we bring the good stuff from home. For us, it is worth the hassle because we get to choose what we’d like to drink and not settle for some overpriced mediocre bottle. Hilton Head Island is a 10-hour drive down the most congested, spirit-testing stretch of I 95. To keep our wine cool, if not our heads in the traffic, we use gel-filled freezer packs between the bottles and keep them covered, away from direct sunlight. And drive like hell.

All the stress of the drive melts away at the sight of the bridge to the Island—except I’m still pissed at the guy who was tailgating me so closely that I couldn’t see his headlights while I’ve got a string of cars barely a car-length in front of me and we’re driving, well, let’s just say I’m keeping up with traffic. Dude, there is nowhere to go, the traffic is bumper-to-bumper to the Keys! Sorry, I had to get that off my chest.

The march of time has changed our group—expanding families and conflicting schedules caused the trips with my husband’s extended family to peter out and our family became the locus for a new group. Our first visit to Hilton Head was  just my family of six and my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law has gotten remarried and her husband now joins us, my nephew started joining us with his wife and daughter, had two more children and then has gotten divorced and remarried with the addition of a step-son, my dad has passed away, but my mother still comes, and we worried that my oldest would be unable to join us this summer after college graduation because of work, but she can! I think that is a hidden beauty of annual vacations. Because they are discrete points of time in a whirlwind life, I can look back at each vacation and remember what my family was like with crystal-clear clarity because it wasn’t muddled by errands, appointments, practices and the muck of life.

Mornings are spent walking on the beach, drinking coffee by the pool, and giving warnings about putting on enough sunscreen. Depending on the day’s tide, we might boogie board on the incoming surf or start the sandcastle of the day. Since we tend to get up with the sun at the beach, it doesn’t seem odd to crack a beer before lunch and then eat lunch with a rose´ to fuel a full afternoon of swimming and chasing the badminton birdie down the beach since we never seem to be able to return it to the server. As evening approaches, I head back to the house to shower and begin dinner prep. I love to have theme nights for dinner and a lot of times there’s a specialty cocktail to match our upcoming meal. Margaritas, of course, for Mexican night and Aperol Spritzes for Italian night. For the kids, we make slushies out of the sour mix and bring  San Pellegrino flavored sodas for some Italian flair.  Dinners are long and leisurely, when they were small the kids watched a video after dinner while the adults lingered and now most of the kids are old enough to drift in and out to catch a story and then go back to their phones. Like the wine, the reminiscences flow and a great counterpoint is that my parents and mother-in-law did not see each other (except for our wedding day) until we started going to the beach together and obviously, we didn’t know her husband until about 10 years ago, so the older generation is sharing backstories with each other that we had never heard before.

And so the days repeat. We rent bikes and we will bike to lunch one afternoon and then at least one other time, we will bike to get ice cream. We’ll take a few leisurely bike rides down the beach or around the lagoons looking for alligators (we always find them!), and there is always one misadventure, like the time a rainstorm caught us unawares. But no mini golf or arcades, no eating out every night, and definitely no shopping at outlets—in all seriousness, why is outlet shopping on vacation a thing? We play games at night, Tripoli, Hearts, Spades, and the kids’ favorite—the fishbowl game. Sometimes I plan crafts, like everyone gets a small canvas and paints a beach scene or one year we collected our corks and made pirate faces with Sharpies on some and tied others with kitchen twine to float them as a pirate raft in a little pool left during low tide.

At the end of the week, we finish packing and get ready to return to Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Alabama, (and now New York), but we are connected, both my nuclear family and our extended family. Shared stories and experiences will carry us through until the next time, and as our parents age and my kids start their own lives, there is always the bittersweet feeling that things will never be the same.  But I hope that these weeks at the beach with nothing more than sand and family time will be the mortar that builds the foundation for the kind of tradition that keeps our family, however it changes, together throughout the years.

The A to Z guide to the Napacalypse

is for Apothic wine that you should never, ever drink, unless you like your Swiss Miss spiked with rubbing alcohol.

B is for bottles of wine that you should save to help commemorate good times.

is for corked, which you don’t want your wine to be-unless your into wet cardboard aromas

is for Del DottoWinery that I want to make fun of for their pretentious, imported Italian cave, but their wine is soooo good.

is for Extra-Dry, the champagne preference of the under-aged and your mother-in-law.

is for full-bodied wine and how Napa Cabs roll.

is for Gallo wine, most likely where we all started.

is for half-bottle foolishness, when is 375ml ever enough?

is for indecently priced wine lists—really, $39 for Cupcake?!?

is for JohnFucking Caldwell and his Prometheus-like smuggling clone gift to us all.

is for Kalon–where you go To for some of the best Cabs in Napa.

is for LeftBank Bordeaux that have power and elegance and cost a lot.

M is for Muga, a great Spanish wine with lots of cedar notes.

is for Napa, of course!

O is for Oenophilia, which while harder to spell, sounds nicer than borderline alcoholism.

is for phylloxera, an evil aphid that eats the souls of wine lovers and the roots of grape vines.

is for OnQ which makes great wines in Coombsville.

is for refrigeration and is the secret ingredient to enjoying grocery store wine.

is for sommelier who should be an expert in wine, and not an asshole

T  is for terroir which is important for understanding that where a grape grows affects its taste and the wine that is created, but when I have to say it, still makes me feel like the priest in A Princess Bride

is for ullagewhich is where the wine used to be at.

is for vineyards that are as beautiful to look at as they are necessary to our survival

is for wax seals that you drill though with a corkscrew, not send yourself to the emergency room with a stab wound to the palm while trying to cut through the wax.

is for the xs formed in wooden crossbars of crates to store wine.

is for yeast which makes grape juice so happy and pretty.

is for Zinfandel and why that pizza tastes so damn good.

Life

The last month has been one of those mile markers in life that kind of sneak up on you. Obviously, I had known my daughter’s college graduation was coming this past May for the last 4 years (Thank you, child, for gettin’ ‘er done in four!) and the kids’ birthday always come one after another in a dizzying six weeks’ time, but I was still surprised to find myself with an adulty adult, a nineteen year-old who already has a year of college under her belt, a seventeen year-old who has to start seriously looking at colleges, and a fifteen year-old who can get her driving permit in six months. After years devoted to helping (pushing, prodding, nagging) the kids meet concrete goals: learning to walk, talk, read, tie their shoes, put laundry in the hamper (I’m still working on that one),drive a car, fill out a college application, how do I help them learn to live?

The shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain as bookends of a terrible week made me think about what is a good life? Is there anything I could do, say, or show my kids that could possibly light their way back if they ever find themselves in a dark place? And I have no answers.

Spade and Bourdain were both wildly successful by every yardstick imaginable. I had a Kate Spade diaper bag and those kids grew up to have Kate Spade handbags. The persona of insouciant New Yorker translated into fashion, a desirable home décor line as well as well as books. Anthony Bourdain was famously cool and hip with TV shows and got to live a life traveling and eating that seems like a dream— a job where I get paid to travel and chow down? Undeniably, their success came from deep reserves of talent and hard work. So when I tell my kids to persevere through school and work and good things will come to them, while not a lie, it is no guarantee that it will be enough. With success came fame and money. I never think of fame as a prerequisite to a good life, and I can easily see that as a stressor. But money, that is supposed to be the elixir that cures all. Once basic needs are met—food and housing—money can be transformative–education, philanthropy, travel, Frette sheets, Romane´-Conti, and someone to clean your toilets. Still not enough. And medical care. In a time of uninsured and under-insured, money gives you access to the best doctors and facilities. Didn’t matter.

Please believe me, I’m not criticizing Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain for not being happy or thinking them selfish for not appreciating the lives they led. My heart breaks to think of the pain they suffered to make the choice they did, but that pain terrifies me because they left behind people they LOVED. So they had love, in addition to the success, but the torment blinded them and I want to know, could anything have made them grope back to the light?

I don’t know. And, I think every parent agrees, that is the scariest part of the journey.

If you or anyone you know needs help, reach out.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

You’re not alone. Confidential help is available for free.

1-800-273-8255

New movies and a glass

Book Club

Formulaic comedy about 4 older women (divorced, widowed, never married, and married) trying to get their groove back after reading the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. Jane Fonda’s character Vivian, out of all the stereotypes, is the most tiresome. Vivian is a successful businesswoman who has stayed as sharp in business as her plastic surgeon’s scalpel, and feasts upon an array of one night-stands instead of eating carbs. Alas, her playgirl attitude is not because Vivian finds relationships draining and chooses to spend her emotional energy on her life work and girlfriends, but she’s just a girl afraid of getting her heart broken. Why can’t a successful woman choose not to be in a long-term relationship (or relationships) because it’s a rational choice not based on fear?

Francis Coppola Director’s Cut Cabernet–the BIG pour

Solo

Harrison Ford was not in it.

For people who love the Star Wars universe, it’s a fun movie. I’m lying. Star Wars fanatics will only go see it for ammunition to destroy whoever directs the next installment of the saga and deviates from sacred canon. I’m particularly thinking of you—girl dressed like Chewbacca on a 90 degree day–and one of my kids. For anyone else, I’d say it’s worth a rent on On-demand, but not the right kidney cost of a typical night at the local Cineplex.

Goes well with Joel Gott Cab

Avengers: Infinity War

No real spoilers, but was I the only person who didn’t realize this was a two-part movie?!?

I changed it up with a Moscow Mule

Deadpool 2

Still raunchy as hell, but maybe a kinder, gentler Deadpool in this one? Or it could be that any movie watched after the unrestricted trailer of The Happytime Murders would seem like a benign afternoon in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, if you know, Ryan Reynolds was there dropping F-bombs.

Another Joel Gott Cab, movie theaters need to step up their wine list game

Hello, summer! Or as we call it, the start of Rose´season.

Love finding a great bottle!

This spring has been cold and heart-numbingly rainy in the DMV–so many spring Lacrosse and field hockey games spent huddled in blankets and/or under umbrellas–that  a glorious Memorial Day weekend seemed to pop out of nowhere. Doesn’t matter, I’m still ready—I think I’m more excited about school almost being over than the kids. I do dread the multitude of texts that I’ll get for the next couple of weeks— “watching ANOTHER movie, please pick me up 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻” Seriously, if they’re done teaching after the SOLs and AP exams, why do they have to go to school to watch movies for the rest of the year? The anticipation of summer vacation will keep me going.

Pink in the planters and my glass!

I love to channel my inner Lilly Pulitzer-palm beach vibe and fill my deck and pool patio with tropical plants. I’ve gotten better with over-wintering some of the larger ones in the house. I have  banana palms that are seeing their third summer and of course, my snake plants don’t seem to care if they are indoors or out, they just stand there. The bougainvillea and mandevilla vines need to be replaced every year, but I think they are worth it. Watering them in the morning while I have my cup of coffee is a great way to start the day. And if the morning got away from me, watering them with a glass of rose´ in hand is a great way to end my day.

Fairy lights, a fire, NHL playoffs–perfect, except for the Crosby jersey.

Without school sports practices, our summer afternoon and evenings are our own. We can swim every day and do crazy things, like go to a movie on Tuesday night. We’ve hooked up a monitor to our cable box (actually, I have no idea what my husband does!) and dragged it outside to the outdoor fireplace to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs or the summer Olympics. Twilight rounds of gin-and-tonics, I mean 9 holes of golf, are enough to remind me why I stick to wine. The days that my kids love best are the days that only require pajamas and swimsuits. I think it’s the possibility of what we could do when every night is free that is so enticing. Much of the year, our time is not our own and these hours of freedom are so very sweet. Minus the hours spent washing all those beach towels, of course.

And this summer will be the biggest change of all. My oldest graduated college and is moving to New York. I’m not sure what that adjustment will be like for us as a family. I never really want to go back in time, but I’m always a little shocked at how fast the time went. She just signed a lease on an apartment and, I swear, it was yesterday that I was trying to corral her class to sign an end-of-year card for their teacher. But, much like opportunities of summer are stretching before us at home, her future, and all its wondrous potential, is right there for her.

Mood

This Memorial Day weekend, all 4 chicks are home and we’re spending it as a family with  pool time, games, good food, and rose´for those who are old enough. The kids who can drive will complain about multiple trips to Whole Foods or Wegman’s, but secretly, I think they love not only getting whatever I forgot on my list, but whatever treat caught their eye and they want to share with their sisters. Everyone will complain about the dishes, but they’ll end up collaborating on a playlist and my husband and I get to sit in the gazebo and savor the last glass of wine. And I want to enjoy this season, for all of us, and celebrate what is good for us right now. I’m excited and proud to have my first chick launched, and want to relish the time I spend with the younger girls at home.  Summer is a great reminder that while fleeting–after all, fall tryouts begin August 1–it’s the respite that we all need.

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Do you drink red or white with motherhood?

As Mother’s Day approaches, I thought I’d share the best things I’ve learned—mostly the hard way–on this journey.

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When you are making the baby’s crib, layer it with a waterproof mattress pad, a crib sheet, another waterproof mattress pad and a crib sheet. If the diaper leaks (and it will and it will be in the middle of the night), all you need to do is rip off the top crib sheet and waterproof mattress cover and, voila! A fresh sheet for baby and you didn’t even need to turn on the lights.

 

Until they are school-age, keep a set of clothes along with a diaper or underwear in the car. Not only for potty accidents, but for tumbles into creeks, mud puddles, and those “splash” areas that keep popping up and soaking kids in every new town center. And don’t forget a towel. Of course a towel can be used for drying off wet kids, but if someone pukes in the car, a towel can help clean it up or be used as a dry layer between the vomit-soaked seat and the vomiter.

 

Always keep an extra poster board or two in the house. It’s amazingly difficult to find poster board at 10pm for the project due tomorrow. I kept our extra taped to the back of a bookcase to keep the paper from curling.

 

Daughters wearing similar sizes? Never buy them the same character underwear! To avoid spending forever checking the size tags, make sure one gets Disney princess and the other gets Hello Kitty.

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Keep a pack of pre-sharpened #2 pencils hidden. That way when someone needs one on their way to an 8 am AP exam, no one has to desperately search for a school supply aisle at the gas station convenience store at 7:45 am.

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Sending someone to camp or college? Make sure they take a photo of the insurance cards with their phone—we know they will always have their phones handy!

 

Before your kids goes off to college, make them a medicine cabinet in a box. Include bandages, anti-bacterial ointment, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl (oral and topical), pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, Pepto-Bismol, cold and flu remedies, and a digital thermometer.

 

Back to what wine pairs well with motherhood? Whatever the hell you want to open, because one of your kids just told you she promised her French teacher she could bring in crème brulee for 30 tomorrow morning (True story.)

 

 

French homework

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The world is filled with books and blogs built to pay homage perfect French (or Parisian) lifestyles, homes, capsule wardrobes, and/or waistlines. I can be a curmudgeonly sort and on occasion point out that the wardrobes and waistlines are the product of a lack of closets and an abundance of ashtrays, not moral superiority. But, I too get sucked into the fantasy and have enjoyed the reading about life in France in three books I picked up recently: Dinner chez Moi by Elizabeth Bard, Home Sweet Maison: The French Art of Making a Home by Danielle Post-Vinay and L’Appart:The Delights and Disasters of Making Paris My Home by David Lebovitz.

I love anything centered around food and home. And sometimes I spend so much time reading about cooking and recipes that we have to eat out because I never got to the grocery store or made dinner. I am, however, well-prepared to think about what I could make for the next meal. All the recipes in Dinner Chez Moi sounded delicious, and, more importantly, accessible to a home cook. Reading through the recipes (a favorite pastime second only to scrolling through Pinterest for cleaning tips), I was reminded that side dishes do not have to be complicated and vegetables with olive oil are not only good enough for the dinner table, but to be included in a cookbook!

The recipes that conclude each of the chapters of renovation misadventures in David Levovitz’s L’Appart are a bit more involved and sound to me more like projects than dinner, but the if you’ve ever had any work done, you’ll commiserate with David. His dealings with contractors, plumbers, neighbors, and hardware store salespeople are fraught with laughter and foreboding–as a home reno survivor there were many times in the retelling that I wanted to scream, “No! Don’t do it! Don’t believe him!”–and give great insight about real life in France.

Home Sweet Maison by Postel-Vinay, an American who married a Frenchman, shares her stories about what makes a French home special and everything she has had to learn to implement the best parts of French life in her own homes. She outlines the dedicated purpose of French rooms and how each room having its own purpose is not only historical, but how French culture survives today. Like Danielle, I believe in eating dinner in the dining room most of the time. With four kids who wouldn’t quit touching and poking each other during meals, we began eating in the dining room because I could spread the kids out enough so no one could touch anyone else. Amazingly, we could hold conversations if I wasn’t scolding anyone to keep her hands to herself every two minutes, and we started going around the table to share the best thing that happened that day. Thankfully, sister-poking has ended (and I think the battle royales over who gets the purple velvet chair have died down to skirmishes), but we still eat in the dining room and spend time talking.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the books, but I’m still searching for that elusive je ne’ais se qui. For me the French fantasy that I’m trying to unravel is how they find the time: the time to shop every day, prepare and cook a three -course meal, dine leisurely, and clean up afterward. Something as simple as how do you serve (and eat) the first course if the second course is not something that can sit on the stove? I get that a cassoulet is fine simmering in the oven or on the stove, but what about a sole meuniere? Does the cook get up from the table and go cook the fish while everyone waits? This is what keeps me up at night.

Cabs and Copycats

Instead of souvenirs, I’ve started bringing back one thing I really liked about the place I visited. We’ve been very fortunate to have traveled to some great places and stayed in amazing hotels and I try to figure out what I could do at home that would remind me of how a place felt.

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One of my favorite places in the world is the Malibu Beach Inn–I love the waves crashing under my balcony and eating dinner over the water. The vibe is luxurious, but so laid-back. Alas, the only natural water feature at my house is the short-lived river that runs through the swale in my yard after a hard rain, so I can’t mimic the relaxing pound of the surf. One of the treats at MBI is the fluffy white robe in the bathrooms, and I ordered myself one. It’s the best thing ever and I’m transported back to the mornings of having my coffee on the balcony in the hotel’s robe and watching the sunrise (thanks to my east coast internal clock) as the surf churns below.

Last March we visited the Dorado Beach Resort and we had personal Nespresso espresso machines with Demi-tase china cups in our suite. The delight of the small cup of espresso with just a touch of cream changed this latte-for-life afficianado and I packed away my 12-cup coffee maker and unpacked my espresso maker. Now, in the morning, I enjoy two cups of espresso with a splash of cream that I need to savor and finish before they get cold instead of drinking a pot of coffee and cups of creamer, mindlessly warming it up with the coffee left in the carafe.

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L’Eau in Palm Beach reminded me how nice is to have turn-down service with chilled water on the nightstand. Since our current home lacks staff, I’m the one who has to either take the extra pillows off the bed or (shhh…don’t tell the housekeeping police) make the bed for turning in. There are days when I’m up and out before my husband ever gets out of bed and then I don’t go back to our room until evening. It makes a huge difference if I fluff the duvet, straighten out the sheets and blankets and fluff the pillows and then turn down the sheets. I’ve made it a habit to fill my insulated S’well bottle with chilled water and what I don’t drink before bed, I finish first thing in the morning.

Paris, Paris, Paris. There’s a lot to love there. Two things that I try to incorporate more is  serving a meal in courses and not walking around looking like a schlump. At cafes, every glass is given a coaster and your bowl of salty snacks is placed when your drinks arrive and whisked away before your dinner is served. I’m trying to stop myself from the mindless nibbling on cheese and olives from beginning (I’m still very American and mostly serve the cheese before dinner) until well after the meal is over.

There are enough books about how to dress Parisian, that I won’t go into it here, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one who looks like they just rolled out of bed from a 3-day Netflix binge. I’ve got plantar fasciitis so I can’t wear most flats for a lot of walking and I fell into the trap of wearing sneakers and workout pants everywhere. Europe is less casual than the States. I wanted to be respectful of the culture and follow the dress code for the places we visited, but I didn’t want to ruin my trip with a flare up that would render me unable to walk very far. Out of the 5 or 6 pairs of causal sneakers I ordered, I kept two pairs (one black and one blush from a French designer) and wore them with black pants or cropped jeans, a sweater, and a a necklace and earrings. We walked for miles everyday, my feet didn’t hurt, and while I didn’t fool anyone into thinking I was French, I felt confident enough about how I looked that I wasn’t hesitant about going into any establishment during the day. I switched to a black low-heeled loafers for evening dinners, but we kept the walking distance short. My point being, it was really no more effort to put on a pair of pants and a sweater than it was to pull on a pair of yoga pants and sweatshirt, but it changed a lot about how I interact with others and felt about myself all day. And I was just as comfortable!

Barcelona is more ephemeral, while I loved the food, (especially the tapas!)I haven’t figured out how to incorporate that into my life yet. Mostly because while I enjoy cooking, I’m ungodly lazy and I don’t want to wash all those dishes! While in Barcelona, we stayed at the Hotel Arts and upon arrival, the lobby smells amazing. After a long day of touring, the scent of the hotel became a signal to relax, slow down, and enjoy our evenings. Now at home, I’m trying to work on a signature scent for our home. I’ve invested in Dyptique home scents, I burn the lavender and the bois candles together and use the St. Germaine scent in a diffuser in our foyer. After a stay several years ago at the Chateau Marmont, I found the same scented candles that are burning in your room when you check in. The luxurious scent transports me back to the state of mind of a relaxing, hedonistic weekend and I can forget for a while that I have to get up before 6am to take my kids to a tournament or early practice.

Our visits to Napa are all about the food and wine with friends, and we certainly bring enough wine home with us to remind us of visits! Opening a bottle from a winery we visited really is different than one I’ve bought at the store because of a recommendation, or more likely, an interesting label. We’re reminded of the land, the winemaker, and the anecdotes we shared with our friends. The sharing of a meal and good wine is the part of Napa I remember at home—it’s a blend of food that’s in season and simply prepared and the chance to catch up and reconnect.

At the heart of it all, I’m trying to make the life I live every day more enjoyable and re-create the feelings I get on vacation. So much of it is reminding myself to take time to do the little things every day that make life brighter. By borrowing lifestyle tips and not bringing back souvenirs from vacation, I don’t have to dust any tchotchkes, which is a reward in and of itself!