26 September 2012

on the virtues of bowl food

It is past 2pm, and I have just sat down to eat lunch. Because I've just come home from a trip, my pantry is rather bare, and my meals have taken on an eccentric flair.

Honey Nut Cheerios, followed by handfuls of candy corn and peanuts.

Toasted English muffin and potato chips.

So many variations of grilled cheese.

But for lunch at work, I ran out of options when I ran out of peanut butter yesterday, and so here I am at Boston Market with a Market Bowl in front of me.

This is the obvious and only possible end to my dearth of food: to reach a point where I am so hungry for something of value that I—literally—order all my comfort foods and have them presented to me in a bowl.

Mashed potatoes.


Perhaps you've seen a commercial for this and thought: WHO would eat that? Isn't it just like those KFC Bowls* but maybe—MAYBE—healthier because it uses rotisserie chicken and not fried chicken {that may or may not actually be chicken}?

I am here to say to you: I would eat that.

I once was like you, disdaining the Bowl that's advertised as "Eat Anytime, Anywhere," which, when you think about it, pretty much sums up the root of America's obesity epidemic.

But then—so many good stories hinge on a game-changer phrase like that—but then, I was faced with a lunch of:
  • an egg cooked in a microwave
  • grape-flavored popcorn {Why is that even made? Why is it in my office? It's basically popcorn covered in grape Kool-aid powder, no joke.}
  • or the Market Bowl
Technically, no, those weren't my only options. I suppose at Boston Market, I could've gotten a chicken pot pie, but as soon as I pulled in to the parking lot and saw the big sign for "Eat Anytime, Anywhere," I thought, in a mangled, Liz Lemon way: I want to eat to there.

And now I have; I have had a Market Bowl, and I am here to say: It is a good idea. It is comfort all mixed together, and it's like 75,000% better than grape popcorn.

Also, I'm most definitely going to the grocery store on the way home. Please hold me accountable to this/to not eating another Market Bowl tomorrow. Thanks.

* I should point out that I have, in fact, eaten a KFC Bowl. Okay, more than one. Maybe like five. Also, I tried the KFC Double Down—the sandwich where the bread is replaced with fried chicken and there's bacon in the middle. Here ends my bad-for-you-food disclosures. Unless you want to hear about my love of hot dogs.

Oh, who am I kidding? We all knew I'd eventually try this Market Bowl. It was made for me, in the way that peanut butter was made for chocolate {and if the peanut butter-chocolate mix was then deep-fat fried, then it was really made for me}.

25 September 2012

the midas touch of early fall

It is past 6pm when you emerge from the office building, having stayed later than you intended, and now the sun is giving everything a golden look. The Midas touch of early fall.

You had heard all day how beautiful, how matchless it was outside—from the co-worker who went out at lunch to an old high school friend who went on a run along Lake Michigan on her day off and decided to post it on Facebook, this fact that she had been out when the day was perfect.

But you were at your desk all day, facing a window and imagining what it must be like outside, but inside all the same with eyes glazing over in that digital look. You were working on a spreadsheet and working toward this very moment when you would step from the building and into the Midas light.

Here it is now—you turning to gold along with the trees and the stop sign and the road home. There are no impurities in this gold, just a 24-karat gleam to the end of a day that hadn't felt significant until this moment.

23 September 2012

quebec in pictures

Place Royale on an early morning run: It got that name when they installed the bust of Louis XIV there. It apparently wasn't enough for him to have Versailles and to be called the Sun King; he also needed this square—considered the cradle of French civilization in North America—to be named after him.

Samuel de Champlain saying to Quebec, "I totally discovered you and claimed you for France. Why is Queen Elizabeth on your money now?"

He's probably also, from his perch on that plinth, thinking: What, the governor's house I built back in 1620 on this ground high above the St-Lawrence River wasn't good enough for you? You had to build the Chateau Frontenac, a fancy hotel, here instead?

Un bol de cafe au lait, s'il vous plait: Coffee in a bowl. I'm going to start offering this to people when they come over for coffee: Would you like an espresso, a Waffle House mug, or this bowl from Ikea?

In France, you can have cafe au lait in a bowl with breakfast—the better for dunking your bread and jam in, you see. But here in Quebec, I discovered you can get it any time, even with lunch, and they won't look at you funny. Bonus points for Quebec.

The only fortified city left in North America: Quebec has also left its cannons out and pointed in various directions. They are ready, should anyone ever try to take them back from the British.

Unless it's themselves: there is a separatist movement here in Quebec, much like how some people in Texas would like to secede from the United States. I'd say if the Quebecois want to be their own country, they can all just hole up in the fortified city, drinking their bowls of cafe au lait, and putting those cannons to good use.

Problem with my plan and why I'm not in charge of countries: The cannons don't work any more, there are no longer doors on any of the gates into the city, and even though the French had the high position and the fortifications, the British still beat them on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

I would most definitely go to church there, assuming it's an Anglican church, which is a big assumption here in what was once the seat of a Catholic diocese that stretched all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Actually, there is an Anglican church in Quebec—Holy Trinity. It was the first Anglican church built outside of the British Isles, and did you know that it has a section set aside specifically for members of the British Royal Family? No one else can ever sit there, which makes it even more exclusive than the Royal Box at Wimbledon.

Un autre bol de cafe au lait: This one at brunch at Le Clocher Penche in the St-Roch neighborhood. I'm reading the book The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food by Adam Gopnik, and should you ever want to really enjoy eating alone {as I often have to do on work trips like this one}, bring that book.

You can read about the glorious social history of the restaurant and the recipe, all while eating. It will make you appreciate where you are, not feel like the odd (wo)man out in a restaurant of people enjoying conversation and each other.

Later, when you're back with people and you don't have to eat alone, you can dazzle them with trivia about what the French Revolution has to do with the restaurant.

Le Sang des Saints: My meal at Le Clocher Penche, and fyi, that translates to "the blood of the saints." It was boudin noir, a poached egg, pears, and caramelized red onions served over naan with a balsamic reduction. If I purposely forget that "boudin noir" is blood sausage and if I purposely forget how it's made, I love it so much. It makes being forgetful worth it.

The most photographed hotel in the world: That's what they say about the Chateau Frontenac, so I thought I'd add another picture to the count.

20 September 2012

quebec: so french and yet

Quebec City truly is a slice of France in North America, although there are these—almost jarring reminders that I'm not actually in France.

I can be walking down a cobblestone alley and it seems so much like I'm back in France, from the just-washed streets in the early morning to the sidewalks that never seem to give enough room for two people to pass each other.

And then I can turn a corner and run into a shop selling hockey jerseys or even football jerseys: this is not France, I have to tell myself. Not France, not France, not France. Repeating it helps me remember.

Seriously. Outdoor cafe. Flowers. Cobblestones. How is this not France?

Plus, the cars are all wrong for this to be France; French cars are smaller, and of course there's the whole different makes/models thing. Here, it's all the same cars as in America on streets that look very French.

This morning on my run, I passed a Jeep Liberty, a Ford F-250, and a Land Rover. Where are the Opels and Renaults? How does an F-250 navigate the back alleys? Not France, not France, not France.

Also on my run this morning, I saw the Chateau Frontenac and plotted ways to move there permanently. This is a diverting way to spend a run when you're doing more hills than you, a person who lives in Illinois, has seen in awhile.

I go back to France every other year or so and the French part of me gets to come out. That's the part that knows what it feels like to have my powers of language stripped down. It's the part that feels triumphant for making it through small talk and the part that knows that if you need help, you have to ask for it, even if you don't know how to say it.

The French part of me knows that loneliness will hurt but it won't destroy you.

And my French side is, in some ways, my writer side because I did so much of it when I lived there—perhaps a by-product of having lost my main form of communication.

That simultaneous feeling of panic {what if I can't get the words out?}, triumph {I did!}, and a need to document it all {what a world we live in!} is something I very much associate with France because that's where I was the foreigner and that's where I tried to make a life, if only for a little while.

To come to Quebec, then—where it looks so much like France and where they do, indeed, speak French {with an accent, although I, of course, also speak French with an accent}—but to have so many things double-signed in English and to hear English so frequently...well, it feels a little topsy-turvy to my French self.

It feels like I've stepped into a blend of France and home—but maybe that's a good place to be.

Chez Temporel: where I had dinner tonight. There was quiche, red wine, chocolate cake, and espresso. I chit-chatted with the people sitting next to me, and they complimented my French, saying I sounded more French than American in my accent. I then asked to be their best friend/if they could call my friends in France and repeat that.

19 September 2012

esso: les parapluies de cherbourg

I am in Quebec City at the Hotel Le St-Paul on rue St-Paul. So many things about writing that sentence make me happy:
  • getting to use a "le"
  • hyphenating St-Paul
  • saying "rue"
  • trying to remember how to make the circumflex {you know, the accent that looks like a roof} over the "o" in "hotel" {I was clearly not successful}
I am somewhere where they speak French, and I am happy—no, more than happy. In French when you want to say, "I am happy," you can say, "Je suis contente." Contente. Content. That's what I am, here in this place that reminds me of France and what it feels like to be there.

Even this hotel, Le St-Paul {Le! Hyphen!}, looks like it was transplanted from Europe: barely a lobby, twisting staircase, and oh, my room.

My room has an exposed brick wall, no closet {but it does have an armoire}, huge windows, and a radiator. The bed takes up a good portion of the room, and if I purposely forget that it was just a couple hours in a plane to get here, I can trick myself into believing that this is France, I'm far from home, and I get to reconnect with that French part of me.

Isn't it amazing how simply being somewhere else—away from the known and the normal—can feel so alive? I realize, looking back at that sentence, that it's a rather obvious, silly sort of thing to say. I've essentially just said: Isn't it cool how, when you go somewhere else, it feels different?

But do you know what I mean? As soon as we step away from the day-to-day cares of the place where we pay the mortgage or the rent—as soon as we get away from the place where you have to go the grocery store and then put the groceries away and then figure out what sort of meals to make with all that food—as soon as we leave, there's a little more room to breathe.

And to think, and in my case, to write. Even though I'm here on business {I'll be spending most of my day at sessions for the American Thyroid Association Annual Meeting. If you have any questions about your thyroid, now is a good time to ask me}, the mere fact that I can run down a cobblestone street in the early morning and have a glass of wine with dinner in a tucked-away restaurant gets my heart and mind twitching with words to write.

Even this room makes me writerly. Not a word, I know, but in a room like this, in a place that feels like France, I can do whatever the heck I want.

I read a review of this hotel on TripAdvisor from someone who was clearly very displeased and not inspired by their room. They complained that the paint around the windows was chipping and that their view was of an Esso gas station. How banal! How ugly! To be forced to look at a place where people have to go to make sure they can get somewhere else! The symbolism of it all!

I see chipping paint and think: How full of character!

And I see the Esso station out my room here {I think I have the same room as the dissatisfied person on TripAdvisor} and think: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.

That's a musical I watched in my film musicals senior seminar class at Truman. {How good it is to be an English major: my capstone project involved musicals with friends and then dissecting them, in the way that only 22-year-olds can do.} Every word—from hello to yes to important speeches—is sung, and it's in French.

It's quirky and beautiful in that way that movies shot in technicolor are: intense colors, deeper tones, and you think watching it that you've stepped into Oz and that nothing in our world could look so rich.

The last scene of the movie takes place in an Esso station in Cherbourg, and a gas station never looked so enticing and romantic. You see it and long to be part of the scene, of Genevieve and Guy's lives, of a world where you believe youthful idealism and passion will always reign.

Just see for yourself in the clip below {unless you want to watch the whole movie and not be spoiled by this from-the-end clip}.

Watching this, you may want to come hang out with a view of an Esso station, too, but I suggest you find your own Esso station: this one in Quebec is currently taken by me.

13 September 2012

remains of the day: surprising new perspectives

All I have to say on this rainy September evening is stolen from Remains of the Day.

I've been reading this over the last week—took it to Las Vegas with me, even, and if ever there was a place that called for a fastidious English butler {worried about propriety and dignity}, it is not Vegas.

But the restrained prose of Kazuo Ishiguro {I've been practicing saying his name} is like a whisper in an old stone church in Devon. He builds, in such quiet ways, to staccato shocks of emotion, not at all unlike someone in heels stepping into that church just when it was at its most hushed.

This is a beautiful book, one to read slowly, and one that fits with this time of autumnal change. Even the title makes you want to get a cup of tea and sit in an armchair toward the end of the day—and look out at the setting sun and sigh.

While on the plane back from Vegas—and thinking ahead to a trip next week to Quebec City, Quebec—I read this:
As I say, I have never in all these years thought of the matter in quite this way; but then it is perhaps in the nature of coming away on a trip such as this that one is prompted towards such surprising new perspectives on topics one imagined one had long ago thought through thoroughly.

And that is all I have to say today: that and I wish I were curled up in my armchair reading. I would devour Anne of Green Gables and Persuasion and The Lone Pilgrim and that would feel like I was "coming away on a trip."

Instead, though, I'll read Remains of the Day in bed at night and get on a plane next week away from the here and the known—and I'll see what I find on a little trip away.

07 September 2012

good morning, vegas!

Well, Vegas, here we are again. Together on another morning after a night when I tried to pretend I didn't know you.

I've decided that I like you if I'm high above you. All I can hear from my balcony here in the Cosmopolitan is the hum of traffic down on the Strip.

It's white noise as opposed to the clanging, clamoring demands for attention from the slot machines and dance clubs.

It's quiet.

Yes, Vegas, my favorite thing about you this trip {my fourth in less than a year} is my balcony and how I can be in Vegas but not of Vegas.

My second favorite thing about you is the guy who gave me a high five on my run this morning along the Strip and shouted, "I bet you haven't been out all night like me!

So true, drunk man, so true.

Ah, Vegas, you never cease to give me stories.

04 September 2012

seven years of bad luck? or a fall project?

It's a sign.

On Labor Day, I was in the shower, luxuriating in a schedule that allowed for a midday shower. That morning, I'd read the entire paper*, worked the crossword, journalled, and made a low-pressure to-do list for the day.

It was so low pressure that I'd called it "Labor Day Thoughts." Just some ideas, some passing fancies that might catch my eye during the day.

Sometimes I divide my to-do lists into MUST DOs and NICE TO DOs—this helps me sort and prioritize and avoid that to-do list overload {when you think, 'If I wrote it down, I have to do it, if only for the satisfaction of crossing it off.' This is terrible logic and is slightly akin to the logic of 'If I read it on the Internet, it must be true.'}.

But even that divided to-do list felt too pressured for a day like Labor Day, the last hurrah of the summer. Summer itself is supposed to be low pressure: long meals on the balcony on long, humid evenings, long runs in the the early morning relative cool, long walks with friends, long afternoons reading in the sun.

The last thing Labor Day needed was a long to-do list, so I had my Labor Day Thoughts. Showering was one {and something I could definitely achieve during the day}, so after lunch of leftover eggplant gratin, I was in the shower, thinking a little bit about my love of to-do lists and projects, a little bit of my schedule for the week, and a little bit of how I wish it were fall already.

While shaving my legs, I was thinking about a possible fall project {note: someone who loves to-do lists, projects, and schedules will definitely have seasonal projects}: sprucing up my bathroom.

Maybe some paint? Maybe update the shower, which has frosted glass sliding doors and cream tiles from when the condo was built?

Maybe some earth-tone tiles in the shower like in the bathroom at the Pines Lodge in Beaver Creek, Colorado? {When thinking about updating your home, by the way, it's always entirely realistic to plan to mimic fancy ski lodges that market themselves as a "luxury resort." Man, my demonstrations of logic today are way off; you might be very concerned about my thinking abilities. If I followed this Pines Lodge plan, I would need to have soap shaped like little rocks and fluffy robes out for every guest.}

It was just the beginning of thinking about this bathroom plan, and at that moment, with the razor poised over my knee, my vanity mirror fell off the wall, crashed into the sink, knocked over everything on the vanity, and then crashed to the floor, smashing a bottle of Tresor {this perfume I used to wear} in the process.

It's a sign. It must be a sign. It's as if the vanity mirror was saying, "Take me now! I don't want to be here anymore! Fix this bathroom!"

And that is how I decided to re-do my bathroom.

In related news: How long do you think my bathroom will smell like Tresor? Feel free to place bets.

*"Entire" meaning "all the parts I was interested in." Sorry, Sports section; I don't think you're part of the whole paper, but I did glance at you.


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