Skip to content

Category: Essays

What I Love This Week: Schwa (Part I)

The last few weeks of work have been hard. Back-to-back deadlines have meant I’ve had to do late nights and weekends, which means cancelling on friends, missing social events, and moving plans. This, coupled with my propensity for anxiety, has meant the past few weeks were straight up brutal.

I’ve always been an anxious person. About three years ago, a particularly blunt and honest friend told me — just a few weeks into our friendship — that I probably had an anxiety problem. In many ways, it serves me well. I have never missed an assignment, am able to get passionate about almost anything I’m working on, and learn very quickly. However, it also causes me to get nervous and snippy when, say, my brother is running late to brunch and the server won’t seat our massive party until everyone is present. (Hypothetically speaking…) It also can lead me to be short-tempered or impatient, and this behavior is what I have been specifically trying to nip in the bud. However, when things seem to be piling up, or my life feels off-balance, I can start to feel overwhelmed and deeply unhappy. This, I’m sure, tends to happen to everyone. But non-anxious people seem to be better at letting something fall by the wayside and avoid feeling crushed by the pressure to perform.

So, anyway, that gives you a bit of insight into my mental health on the third week of seemingly non-stop deadlines and late nights amid the crushing backdrop of the realization that what I currently do for work is likely not what I want to make my career. Before you sigh “Millennial,” hear me out. I love working. I imagine myself always working a lot. However, I imagine myself doing it in a profession I love so dearly, that it is not my job, but rather an extension of my life. I’m still figuring out what that profession is, and in the meantime, I love the job I have right now, which is, all things considered, an amazing gig: I’m compensated nicely, I am empowered to take on a meaningful role, I get to freely communicate with my “superiors” and benefit from their experience, advice, and leadership styles, and I have an office full of peers who are constantly making me a better person through constructive criticism or by good example. However — here comes the anxiety again — every so often I find myself lamenting my youth that feels like it is slipping away and the experiences that I am missing all for a career I don’t want. Obviously, this is terribly dramatic. But, that’s how I felt towards the beginning of last week.

Amid this crazy work schedule, PIF scheduled a surprise birthday dinner for me, and, after being pushed a week due to deadline chaos, was rescheduled for Tuesday, July 26th. Somehow, despite a report due that Friday, the stars aligned (actually, shout out to Alexis who made those stars align), and I was skipping towards the 22 bus by 6 PM, meaning I had more than 2 hours to get ready for dinner.

And when I say ready, I mean mentally and emotionally ready, because although PIF had tried to keep a secret (he never can), I knew where we were going that evening.

We were going to Schwa.

My knowledge of Schwa was that shit could very well go down. The chef, Michael Carlson, was unpredictable, prone to cancelling the night of a reservation, and that the whole staff often got drunk throughout service. (Like the enablers we are, we still planned to bring some bourbon for the kitchen.) However, up until this point PIF had had enough conversation with Carlson that made it clear cancellation was unlikely and that the restaurant was a little more predictable these days, though you still get a reservation by calling the restaurant during the week and hoping you get through. PIF never gives me enough detail when he retells interactions, but I imagine these conversations went like this:

Early July

PIF: *ring ring ring*
Carlson: Hello, Burger King, may I take your order?
PIF: Uh, I’m looking for Schwa?
Carlson: This is Burger King, do you want a burger or what?
PIF: Uh, no, uh, I’m looking for Schwa…
Carlson: Yeah, dude, this is Schwa.
PIF: Oh, *nervous laugh* great! Do you have anything in a few weeks?
Carlson: Sure, how about Tuesday July 19th?
PIF: Oooh, perfect, cause Anthony Bourdain says Tuesday are the best days to eat at restaurants.
Carlson: My restaurant is good every day.
PIF: *Laughs*

They discuss wine and he tells PIF to bring champagne, a non-oaky Pinot Noir, or a white Burgundy.

After my deadline is shifted

PIF: *ring ring ring*
Carlson: Hello?
PIF: Hi, uh, I have a reservation for July 19th, but something came up…could I move it a week?
Carlson: Your girlfriend is making you change it, isn’t she?
PIF: Yep.
Carlson: Sure, come the following Tuesday, 8:30 PM.

Afternoon of July 26th

PIF: Phone rings and he sees it’s Schwa.
PIF, thinking it’s Carlson cancelling: Hello?
Carlson: Hey, man, you still coming tonight? (Oh, the irony that I am now so flaky that the most flaky chef needs to make sure we aren’t flaking.)
PIF: Yep!
Carlson: Cool, see you then.
PIF, remembering that I told him we may need to bring wine glasses since I read they don’t carry it: Oh, also, should we bring stemware?
Carlson: Nah, man, we got you.
PIF: Okay, cool, ’cause we read online…
Carlson: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Though PIF and Carlson were BFFs by now, little old anxious me was having heart palpitations as I got dressed. I wanted to look cool, but not snooty. How was I going to act? I’m obviously a food geek, and this wasn’t Alinea where you have to fake it til you make it even though you can’t afford the wine pairing and you’re trying to convince them you’re still as high society as the foreign dignitaries sitting two tables over and getting a special menu. How do I exude coolness without seeming like a total douchebag, anyway? I eventually opted to just put on a comfy dress that covers any tummy bulge and flat sandals, cause nothing would be worse than tripping in heels in a tightly packed 800-something square foot restaurant.

PIF arrived at my apartment with two bottles specially picked by Melissa at WineHouse — a real champagne, of which only a few bottles are made each year, and a light Pinot Noir — as well as 750 mLs of Buffalo Trace (his fave affordable bourbon) for the chefs. And after a quick costume change on my end, we were out the door.

To be continued…

Leave a Comment

This Blog is Stupid.

Lately, amid seemingly constant acts of terrorism, racism, homophobia, and police brutality, I have found myself questioning the frivolity of my food obsession, this blog, and the pressure to be ridiculously active on social media. As I turn up my nose at those who like Stan’s Donuts, a large majority of the world will never ever be able to taste let alone contemplate where they can get the best doughnut because of the discriminatory reality they live in and the infinitely more dire decisions and fears they must face daily.

I do not kid myself that my “trials and tribulations” are even remotely as important as those faced by the majority — I repeat — the majority of the world, the other (more than) half that is only shown in the media when it can boost ratings and scare the rich and white. I realize what an absolute fucking privilege it is that I can sit on the internet for an hour researching where to go for dinner or debate whether to take an apartment because the kitchen doesn’t face the living room.

However, I know I must recognize that I have this immense privilege and, while I can absolutely enjoy and appreciate how lucky I am for my series of life events — the parents I was born to, the country I was born in, the opportunities I was given — I cannot turn my back on the realities of others and pretend it is not my problem. I am horrified by the attack in Turkey, the bombings in Baghdad, the murders — to only name a few — of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Laquan McDonald, the deaths in Dallas, the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and the constant trauma of those who live with fear or violence or hunger or poverty daily because of viscous, repeating cycles that have stripped them of opportunity, hope, and piece of mind.

From the process of cooking to the concept of a meal, I love food because it is such a connecting force. It is an opportunity to slow down, to connect with past and present, to bond with friends and family who are close and with people in far away lands. Eating is an opportunity to embrace humanity. It is a beautiful intersection of necessity and art. For me, it is the cornerstone of what is good in the world. Food is fleeting. Within minutes, a painstakingly created meal can be gone. And yet, people pour care and consideration into every detail. How is life any different? Every single one of us is only here for a little while, but every single one of us should be given the opportunity to be nurtured and given the utmost attention and respect and opportunity to flourish regardless of our short time here.

I’m constantly evaluating what I can do to improve the lives of others, to give others the same chance to work their way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There are the “easy” ways — financial assistance, sharing a Facebook post, changing a profile picture — that are all helpful in their own way. But what are the hard ways? How can I ensure that at least a few more people in this world get to enjoy the things I do. I’m truly asking, because I don’t even want to begin to pretend I know exactly what is needed and how I can best support all of the those who are suffering as a result of these terrible occurrences and are constantly affected by systemic discrimination or what I can do to help change their reality. But what I do know is that I would love to be in a world where the intricacies of food can be contemplated by more people, where a parent does not have to worry about how to get food for their family but instead how to best prepare it, where all races do not fear law enforcement as if in a dystopian novel but rather have access to fresh produce at a local grocery store, where a teenager’s mind doesn’t have to be filled with awareness of gang lines but rather contains accurate information about the nutrition value of various foods, and where more people have enough well-being to contemplate where to get the best doughnut.

3 Comments

When I ate at…Arbor (Chicago)

After ogling at their Instagram for weeks, PIF and I finally made a reservation for Arbor, located in what used to be an underwear factory in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.

When I say we made a reservation, I don’t mean we called and talked to the host, told him or her we wanted a reservation for two on Friday night at 7:30, then hung up and showed up at 7:30 on Friday night. Arbor does it completely differently. When PIF called one day to see if we could get a reservation for later that night, he was given the phone number of the chef and told to text him. So he did.

Via text message, Chad Little – the chef and owner of Arbor along with Leonard Hollander – explained to PIF how Arbor’s entirely unique Midwestern Omakase worked. Only available on Thursday and Friday nights, Arbor crafts a 3-, 5-, or 7- course dinner tailored to your tastes and past experiences. Because they were fresh on our mind, PIF told Chad about the unique and delicious hamachi pipettes and amazing oxtail dish we had in Austin, Texas (and, incidentally, were part of a recent blog post, which you can read here). He also told Chad the intimacies of our food life, for example, how I am an “opportunistic” pescatarian, “who won’t say no if you put a nice piece of pork belly in front of her.

The day of our reservation, we still had no idea what to expect. We were literally squirming with excitement as we rolled up to The Green Exchange,  a repurposed and multi-functional space that was lively that Friday night. Smack dab in the center of the second floor, enclosed in glass walls with exposed ceilings and an assortment of tables to fit every seating preference, was Arbor.

We walked in and in the slightly awed confusion of newbies tried to figure out what to do next. The restaurant, which also functions as a cafe by day, was dark aside from the light from the hallways diffusing softly through the glass. Small parties engaged in intimate conversation were scattered around at the tables, which ranged from high tops to two tops to benches. Over at the bar, obvious regulars were sipping on beers and cocktails comfortably while chatting with the bartender.

As we stood there taking it all in and grinning like idiots, a handsome man-bun donning fellow approached us and, in an accented voice of ambiguous origin, asked where we’d like to sit. Being a sucker for cushioned seating areas and an even bigger sucker for nooks, I asked if we could take one of the little couched private booths.

“Of course!” he responded and proceed to grab the closest table and carry it over to the little nook, which I had failed to notice was table-less. That turned out to be one of the least accommodating gestures we received that night.

Alyosha, whose accent turned out to be Moldovan, immediately poured us a glass of a prosecco-like wine, which we sipped on as we gushed about our first impressions. A few minutes later, one of the chefs appeared and delicately placed in front of us a colorful board, complete with cheeses, house-made bread, house marinated olives, picked onions and cauliflower, dried grapes, cherry compote, and honey from Arbor’s hives, complete with the comb. I couldn’t help but exclaim that that honeycomb was one of PIF’s absolute favorite foods.

Every single part of the plate was delicious, so much so that PIF ended up eating one of my slices bread. (Yes, I saw that.) We savored each and every bit individually before seeing who could come up with the best combination. When we finished, the chef who had been delivering a course to a nearby table removed our plate before Alyosha returned with a new wine. During this pour, the fact we were celebrating the fact that PIF had recently received his H-1B visa came up and he and

Alyosha bonded over being resident aliens. By the time our next course arrived, the three of us were knee deep in an intellectual discussion on the history of world political movements.

Course number two was a beet carpaccio topped with an apple and mixed greens salad and accompanied with housemade granola, sunflower butter, and fine vinegar, an interesting combination that perfectly combined the five tastes.

After that was the moon fish ceviche with pineapple, red onion, and sunflower sprouts. Don’t know what a moon fish is? Neither did we. Luckily, Alyosha came in with the assist. Moon fish is round and flat (kind of like…a moon…) with a vibrant pink color and a deep fishy flavor kind of similar to tuna. Because of this, it was a heavier ceviche than those I have had with white fish, which was good considering it happened to be the first snow of the season.

Next, Leonard brought out tagliatelle with apples, beef cheek, and a soft boiled hen’s egg, inspired, he explained, by his trip to Italy. The pasta was just imperfect enough to make clear it was housemade. The soft, sweet, and slightly tart apples – an ingredient I have never before had on pasta of any kind – balanced the rich beef cheek, reminiscent of the ox tail from Austin’s Vox Table. The egg, which was so beautifully boiled that I couldn’t stop to snap a picture after cutting it open, was seriously one of the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot of eggs) and added an extra bit of moisture to the dish such that no sauce was needed.

Between dishes, while PIF ran off to the bathroom for the third time (we were doing the wine pairing but…come on), Alyosha stopped by holding a bottle. “Do you like vodka?” he asked. “Oh, yeah,” I responded, which elicited laughs from the couple nearby, who were somehow related to one of the kitchen staff.

Alyosha set down two “eyeball” glasses and showed me what was in the bottle – St. George’s green chili infused vodka. When PIF, making the short now-familiar commute back from the bathroom, caught sight that Alyosha was holding something new (remember, glass walls), he ran over, eliciting more laughs from the couple. Alyosha poured us two glasses and told us to sip it. Spicy, but relatively gentle, I immediately wanted to mix it with strawberry into a nice summer cocktail. But that’s a topic of another post.

 Besides, the vodka was all but forgotten upon the arrival of the dessert. Leonard began to describe the small cake, made with butter, sugar, and flour, before PIF burst, “what is that?” and pointed to the bright magenta frozen dessert that lit up the plate. It was beet gelato, which was creamy, tart, and true to the ingredient that gave it its brilliant color, which proved to be the star of the meal. Also gracing the plate was a subtle icing, crunchy housemade granola, and a golden gooseberry. Paired with a sparkling dessert wine, it was an all around perfect way to end the night.

You may remember that there are few things PIF loves more than honeycomb. After dessert, Chad came out and told us he was going to bring us some to taste and we were so excited to get to extend our stay at Arbor a little longer. Shortly thereafter, he returned with a plate dotted with an array of golden to dark red puddles of honey (and some little chunks of “bee bread”) each labeled by hand along the rim. Chad pulled up a chair and walked us through each one – honeys from various seasons, years, and states of processing from Arbor’s own hives, inexplicably dark and chunky honey from the South Side of Chicago, bright orange sea buckthorn- and quince-infused honeys from Latvia, and propolis honey. With little spoons, PIF and I indulged in each one, comparing flavor, sweetness, and texture and gaining a greater appreciation for the diversity and complexities of honey with each bite.

Eating at Arbor is kind of like eating a gourmet meal at the home of a close friend, assuming that friend also has a garden with 60 varieties of herbs, fruits, and vegetables at his or her disposal and happens to have studied the art of plating. Apart from the food, the meal was perfectly paced, with plenty of space between us and the next guess, and no sense of being rushed. It was comfortable to chat with the staff about anything from the plate put in front of you to world politics, a nice contrast from the normal divide between diner and waiter. All around, Arbor presents exactly what I look when I go out to eat – a chance to experience and learn something new, to feel a sense of togetherness, and to live entirely in the moment. And for that, we can’t wait to go back.

Read more about Arbor and Chad and Leonard’s vision by going to www.arborprojects.com.

 

Leave a Comment

Austin City Limits 2015

It literally took me a full week to mentally digest, reassess, and prepare this post about our trip to Austin, Texas for Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL).

If there’s one thing PIF and I love nearly as much as food, it’s music, and Weekend 2 of ACL could not have been more perfectly designed for us. I survived high school in part by listening to Modest Mouse and meanwhile, PIF has been listening to one of his favorite artists, Deadmau5, for 10 years (I know, lots of mice up in here — my dad has already made that joke).

Both Modest Mouse and Deadmau5 were playing during Weekend 2, and, if it couldn’t get any more perfect, Modest Mouse was the set right before Deadmau5 on the exact same stage. We’d never seen Modest Mouse together, but when PIF and I saw Deadmau5 together for the first time nearly a year ago, it was a night that *cliche alert* changed our lives — or at least our relationship (though I suppose they are one in the same). Deadmau5 was also doing an after-show, and we had gotten tickets to that so we’d be able to see his DJ set in a smaller venue. For these reasons alone, plus the chance to eat all we could in a new and fabulous food city, this was set to be a really special weekend.

Austin far exceeded our expectations.

When we reluctantly had to return home, we left agreeing that the best thing about Austin is that the food scene is so wonderfully creative. And I’m not just talking about the high-end, Michelin-starred, famously avant garde restaurants. Even the most affordable little cafes — nay, even the food stalls at the festival — were doing things we had never seen before.

Here are some of the highlights:

// Vox Table //

Smoked Hamachi Pipettes
 

As tasty as they are pretty and interesting – You slide all the speared goodies off with your teeth and then shoot the sauce inside the pipette into your mouth. 

Braised Akaushi Oxtail
We couldn’t resist – oxtail isn’t something you come by often. And this oxtail was so perfectly cooked, it literally melted in your mouth. And the little potato pillows were fantastic as well. 

 

// Odd Duck //

Raisin toast, pork belly, pb&j, fried egg, blue cheese, tomato jam
 

 

This dish shouldn’t work. But it does. Oh, but it does. PIF and I ate in stunned silence. Buttery pork belly with all the other fixings – this dish was gluttony incarnated. And yet, because it was somehow perfectly balanced, it was surprisingly light.
 
Hot & Crunchy – Avocado
Photo via Instagram by @thesimplesol
 
Everywhere we looked people were carrying tortilla-wrapped fried goodness stuck inside a cone cup that looks like something you pull from a water cooler. We finally got ourselves one and immediately regretted not getting these at the fest all weekend. Huge chunks of fried avocado, topped with all sorts of goodies, wrapped in a beautifully fresh tortilla and stuck in a paper cone that allows eaters to keep their hands clean! Brilliant! 
(Side note: The Mighty Cone is the reason I developed a cardinal rule of music festivals — only buy food from stalls that have a food truck. Why? They know how to either prepare food in a small space or know how to prep food that had to be transported.)

Chile Spiked Watermelon 
Photo via Instagram by @acleats
 
It was f*ing hot, we were probably dehydrated, and since we hadn’t yet discovered The Mighty Cone, we didn’t want to risk spending $10 on a shitty taco and the lines for smoothies and ice cream were about 100 people long. And that’s when I saw him. A man carrying a giant wedge of watermelon, covered in a deep red powder, walking away from a stall with a line only a few people long. We walked triumphantly past the hoards waiting for ice cream, because just from the smell of it, we knew this was going to be good. At it was. The only pit fall? Big hunks of juicy watermelon covered in red dust is really, really messy. Which is why I’ve adapted it to this much more white-shirt-friendly version:

 

Chile Spiked Watermelon (clean version)

Ingredients 
(per 2 cups watermelon)
 
watermelon
zest & juice from 1/4 of a lime
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
(less if you’re weak — just kidding. But 1/8 tsp will be pretty hot & spicy)
1/8 tsp salt
a few pinches of pepper
mint (optional)

Instructions
  1. Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.
  2. Grind together lime zest, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper using a mortar and pestle, or use the back of a spoon, until it’s a uniform dust.
  3. In a large ziplock bag, add watermelon and lime juice. Shake it up.
  4. In small batches, add dust and shake bag after each addition so that chunks get evenly coated. Repeat until all the dust has been added and watermelon cubes are evenly coated.
  5. Place in refrigerator and allow to sit for 30-60 mins. (This will allow the juices to soak in and the cooler watermelon is more refreshing, in my opinion. However, if you don’t want to wait, by all means go ahead and eat! It’s still very tasty.)
  6. (optional) Top with chopped mint.
  7. Serve!

 
Leave a Comment

on perspective

This post was originally featured on my blog What the Health Now? before being transferred over to Three Times Per Day.

 

There comes a time, or more likely many times, when one is faced with circumstances that try his or her patience or anger management abilities. If you’re like me (i.e. you have a lot of emotions and/or character flaws, depending on who is talking), these events occur on a rather regular basis.

Throughout my childhood, I was a bully’s wet dream. I reacted to anything and everything, and vehemently. My intense reactions to stressors were nothing less than self-destructive. As a college student, I realized the error of my ways.

*FLASHBACK*

When I was in middle school, my local public library had a used book sale every afternoon. (Actually, they probably still do but that is irrelevant because this story is set in circa 2004) Quite often, I would stop by on a regular basis and impulse buy as many $1 to $2 books as I had money for.

One such book was called The Art of Keeping Cool.

No, it wasn’t a self-help book. It was some little-known fiction novel. And I actually never read it so this piece is not going to be on what I learned from this book. What it is going to be about is this: The Art of Keeping Cool.

From my 20 years of experience being part firecracker, part Energizer bunny, the most valuable lesson I have learned is The Art of Keeping Cool. I only became a novice in this art in the last, say, 6 months. But this skill, and some medication (kidding), have been correlated to an immense increase in my own personal happiness and in that of my amazingly tolerant friends, who no longer have to spend hours reassuring me that so-and-so was completely out of line or that X is probably not mad at me because I said I was going to that social gathering and then I didn’t go.

I call it, practicing perspective (patent pending).

“Da fuq,” you say, as you wonder why you’re taking advice from a neurotic twenty year old’s amateur blog.

But, seriously, it works.

Practicing perspective means when you start getting riled up–frustrated, annoyed, angry, embarrassed, disappointed, guilty, etc., etc., etc., you stop and think “Will I care about this in a week? Month? Year?”

If the answer is “no” to any of those time periods than it’s just not worth stressing over. Practicing perspective means keeping your eye on the big picture and adjusting where your emotional priorities lie accordingly.

It’s a simple method that works wonders. I imagine cardiologists and therapists all over the world would see a massive decrease in business if everyone would follow this method.

So just to recap:

In the event of a stressful situation…

1.) Take a deep breath

2.) Think “Will this matter in…”

          a) 1 week

          b) 1 month

          c) 1 year

If no–exhale–and move on. Don’t spend any further time worrying your pretty (or handsome) little head on it. You time can be better spent on worrying about all the things you answered “yes” to for a) b) or c). 

Now get off this blog and go enjoy your life!

Leave a Comment