Monday, October 22, 2007


Well, it's just that this year I live in a townhouse, not an apartment building. And I see lots of kids around. Well, maybe not lots, but definitely some. So I'm sure I'll probably get at least a few Trick-or-Treaters this year.

And you know, if you wait until the last minute to buy Halloween candy, all of the good stuff is gone. My first time really getting Trick-or-Treaters at my own place, I'm not going to be the person handing out Smarty's and candy corn. Absolutely not. So it's best to stock up early, to make sure you'll be giving out quality candy.

And the grocery store had a special - two bags of candy for $5. It just doesn't make financial sense to only get one. I mean, with that deal, they're practically paying you to take the candy.

So that's why I have a basket full of Reese Cups and Kit Kats sitting on my kitchen table.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Delicious Reading: My Life in France

I'm too young to really know who Julia Child is. Her esteemed book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, came out way before my time, and no one in my family even owned a copy. Her famous television show, The French Chef, is no longer really aired, and the only impression that I had of it was watching the Muppets parody it and make fun of her cavorting around the kitchen with her high-pitched voice.

But the more I immerse myself in foodie culture, the more her name pops up as more than just a cultural icon with a goofy voice. Jacques Pepin writes about his friendship with her, and how he wished he had come up with the idea to write her book before she did. Julie Powell devotes an entire year of her life to cooking every one of her original recipes, in an attempt to capture her joie de vivre, and allow herself to be inspired by her approach to life. Adam Roberts writes about understanding what made her so great when he rents her DVDs from Netflix, and how she really paved the way for so much that we see on TV today.

So I found myself ready to learn more about this supposedly remarkable woman. Who was she? What was her story? Finally, granted my wish, and My Life in France, which she co-wrote with her husband's nephew, Alex Prud'homme, arrived on my doorstep.

From page one, I was entranced. The book chronicles the years that Julia and her husband Paul spent in France while he was working for the US government, and tells of how, by falling into and embracing the French culture, she found herself.

She was not young. She married for the first time in her late thirties. She was not beautiful. The book is peppered with pictures of the two of them, and I searched each one closely for attractive features. None. They didn't have children. They moved around constantly. I found that all of these things only made her seem more extraordinary, especially given the time that the book takes place, when women didn't wait that late to get married and certainly didn't dig into careers later in life. She seems to be such an intriguing combination of plain and brilliant. How wonderful.

Her descriptions of her life made my heart swell and nearly brought tears to my eyes. She and her husband were so in love, so inspiring. Their attitudes about the joys of life, through food and art and friendships... I couldn't decide whether to plow through the book, or to take is slowly, drinking in all of the rich scenarios and letting the attitudes marinate inside of me.

I admired her hard work - I had no idea how much time and painstaking research went into that now-legendary cookbook. I related to her relationship with her father, which became more and more strained as she continued to grow and experience different cultures and form her own opinions. I envied her relationship with her husband, who continually supported and helped her through her culinary endeavors.

More than anything, though, the book inspired me to keep living life to the fullest. Work hard. Reach for things. Find who your family is and love them. And savor... hmmm, savor... Actually, that's it. Just savor.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A bad day?

"You have one - new message," the metallic timbre of the Verizon voicemail lady chirped into my ear.


"Hey Erin, it's Erica at Well, today we surrendered our ABC liscence to the state, so now when people order from it'll come directly from California and there is no need for our office anymore. So we're finished. I have no idea what I'm going to do... I mean, they said I can work up north through the holidays, but after that, who knows where my life is going to go. So anyway, I just wanted to call and let you know that we won't be ordering from you anymore. And now you know why. So it's been nice... well, I really don't know you. Um... it's been nice ordering from you and not really knowing you I guess. Have a nice life."


No joke. That was the message on my voicemail yesterday afternoon. I should have saved it, just in case I'm ever having a bad day and need a lift.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Table convo

"What can I get you to drink, amigos?"


"And for you, Seniorita?"

"Just a water."

"No beer?"

"Nah. If I start drinking I'll want to blow off the movie and just go get a glass of wine somewhere."

A few minutes later, drinks are dropped on our table. My water glass probably held half a gallon of water.

"Don't drink that. You won't see a single frame of the movie."

"I know."

"You probably have to pee just looking at that thing."

Blink, blink.

"You don't know me..."

That's the nice thing about dinner and a movie with a friend of three and a half years. You can count on them to mind your bladder for you.

PS - The Heartbreak Kid sucked. Hard.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tales from the Biz: Carlos and Avril

Once upon a time, at a very busy, kinda high-profile (at least back then) restaurant in New York City, there was a new manager named Carlos.

Carlos had never worked in a restaurant before. He was a recent graduate of a well-known, upper-crust business school, and had done a little bit of time on Wall Street. He came from money, and one day at one of those parties where the women try to hide their plastic surgery scars, men swing their dicks around and brag about their success, and people like me wander through with trays of drinks, he had met the owner of a very large and successful restaurant group, and decided that when he grew up he wanted to be just like him.

So he took a job managing one of his idol's establishments, so that he could "learn the business from the ground up."

Like many people who are stupid enough to take a job that would require them to work eighty hours a week making $35,000 a year in New York City, he hit the ground running. Running around acting like he knew everything, that is.

He was a jerk. Racist to the busboys, sleazy to the women, attempting to take advantage of the chef, bossing around the servers... He assumed that he was smarter than everyone else who had worked in the industry for years. Little did he know that a piece of paper from a hoity-toity school that Daddy got you into means nothing when you are in the trenches in a restaurant.

Someone must have clued him in on the fact that having the senior servers on your side is wise, because he did actually listen to a few of us on occasion. So we took full advantage by just sitting back and watching him dig his own grave, looking for little ways to humiliate him. Like accidentally letting it slip to the GM when he comped his banker cronies hundreds of dollars worth of food. Or clueing the busboys in on the fact that he spoke Spanish and was trying to keep it a secret, in an attempt to one-up them, so that they would not get the mistaken idea that he was on their level in any way.

And then the ultimate...

One night an executive at some record label came in after a concert with about twenty people, among them Avril Lavigne, who at the time had just released her first album. She was an adorable, tiny ball of energy, punked out in cargo pants and wearing sequined devils ears, even though Halloween was months away. She was also young - we all knew that she was only about nineteen - but ordering drinks nonetheless.

Standing right outside the door to their private room, my cohort, Jeff, pulled Carlos aside.

"Look, dude, someone needs to card those guys. We can't do it, because they won't take us seriously, and then they'll hate us and not tip us well. It needs to be someone with more authority. I mean, you're the only manager on right now. Can you imagine how much trouble you'd get into if they find out you let all those kids drink in here?"*

"Yeah, you're right. Don't worry, man. I'm on it."

Carlos swallowed hard and bounded into the room. We gathered outside, quiet as church mice, and peered in.

"Listen up," he bellowed with as much false bravado as he could muster, "I'm, uh... going to need to see everyone's ID's in here. Right now."


The room went silent. The executive's chair scraped back as he got up and backed Carlos into a corner.

"Listen, kid," he spat. "The owner of this company is a personal friend of mine. My label brings huge amounts of money into his restaurants every year. How do you think he'd like to hear about you being the one to personally blow that?"**

"Uh.... uh..."

The room burst into laughter as Carlos mumbled something about "guessing it was ok" before he scurried out of the room.

"Where do you think he's going?" I asked Jeff as he darted past us.

"To change his pants, I assume."

We smiled slyly to each other as we ducked back into the room to take drink orders.

Point - servers.

*It is widely known in the New York restaurant scene that you never check the ID of someone famous. Let them have whatever they want. And don't ask for their autograph.

**I actually kinda loved that people in New York were willing to be completely unmodest about the power throwing money around could have. So un-Southern, realistic, and fabulous.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Countdown to the Dinner Party: -1 days; The Aftermath

I'm not going to lie - there were a couple of moments of panic. Like when one of the couples cancelled the day before. And when I brought everything home from the grocery store and thought that there was no way that I had enough room in my refrigerator. And when I started imagining potential conversations around the table and worried that my guests would have nothing to talk about. And when I first started to smash the potatoes and they seemed to be nothing but a pool of mushy goo - too much liquid.

But in the end, everything turned out great. My Favorite Foodie Friend and her hubby accepted my last minute invite and rounded out the group. I closed my eyes and shoved everything into the 'fridge. I realized that I had invited all adults, and that they were perfectly capable of coming up with dinner table conversation on their own. The potatoes settled down and the consistency was perfect.

I love to entertain. I love the planning that goes into it, from the inviting to the menu-ing. I love making the lists and shopping for the ingredients. I love spending the whole day prepping the house and getting everything ready, Food Network blaring in the background for inspiration, naps and reading breaks peppered into the schedule. I love hearing the chatter at the dinner table, and I love staying on top of keeping everyone's glass full. I even love the satisfaction of working my way through a pile of dirty dishes the next day, and getting the house back into its everyday order.

I love cooking for my friends and loved ones, but get very uncomfortable when I am complimented on my efforts. That may seem weird, but I think it's because that's not why I do it. I do it for the feeling of comfort and safety that you feel when your house if full of happy, fun people. When people's glasses and bellies are full there is a certain sense of relaxation and love that drapes over the room, and it feels great to have that aura in your home.

Incidentally, I minored in vocal performance in college, and still sing from time to time. I have always gotten the same uncomfortable feeling when people compliment me on my voice. And furthermore, the reason that I sing is very similar to the reason I cook - because when everyone comes together to create music, there is that same sense of camaraderie, warmth, and love. It's not about one individual and their talent - it is what everyone is doing together that makes it such a wonderful thing. It's not about what I did in my oven, it's about the feeling in the room as everyone shares a meal.

And that is why I love to entertain. And why I'm already planning the next one...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Batter Up

Through another blog that I read religiously, I just found a site that has the most creative product line to benefit breast cancer that I've ever seen.

Check out Save 2nd Base. Buy a t-shirt. Help boobs.

Countdown to the Dinner Party: Three Days; Securing the Sixth

Last week:

"So, I'm having a dinner party for my Richmond co-workers. I need a sixth. Wanna come?"

(We've been friends for years, he works at the same wine store that I used to, so therefore will enjoy the great wine and food, and is easily social and talkative to other people. Unfortunately, he is also a total dude.)

"Well, I might be going to Boston that weekend to catch the Sox. Sounds like fun, though."

"Um... ok, well let me know."


"So, what's the deal with Boston?"

"I'm still working on it."

"What does that mean?"

"You know me, I do everything last minute. I'm a last minute kinda guy."

"Ummm... yeah. Ok, look, I need to know whether or not you can come on Saturday. You're my first choice, but if you can't come, I need to be able to invite someone else."

"Another dude?"

"No. Just a sixth person. To even it out."

"Yeah, but it's all couples. You need another dude."

Huff and puff.

"Fine. Let me know if you can come so that I can find another dude to fill you place."

"Give me until Wednesday."



"Ummm... yeah. Boston is off."

(In my head...

"Surprise, surprise.")

"Oh yeah?"


"So you're in for Saturday?"

"Sure, sounds like fun."


"I know. It will be. Can you bring some cheese?"


Exasperated sigh.

"Yes! You know, for an appetizer? I'm asking everyone to bring an app and some wine."

"Yeah, but all of the others are couples. Don't you and I count as a couple?"

"Um... no. We are not a couple. You know that. You are simply the sixth guest to round this thing out."

"I know, I know. Yeah, I can bring some cheese."

"Thank you."

"I'm not really sure what to expect with this thing, though. I mean, what is it going to be like?"

"What do you mean? It's dinner and wine. It's going to be awesome."

"Yeah. It'll be cool."

"Thank you."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Countdown to the Dinner Party: 4 days; Finalizing the menu

After much internal debate and cookbook flipping, I have decided that the theme for dinner on Saturday will be "Kicked Up Comfort Food". The goal was to serve really good food that wouldn't leave me trapped in the kitchen while everyone is there, and be able to show off a couple of culinary tricks but still have the food be completely accessible and not feel too fancy.

I've asked each couple to bring an appetizer and whatever wine they choose to share, and said that I'll take care of dinner and dessert, and that I'll have some wine as well. Here is what I have decided to cook:

- Ina Garten's Meatloaf
- Mashed potatoes (with lots of cheese and sour cream)
- Spinach casserole (a Thanksgiving favorite)

And finally...

- Paula Deen's Banana Pudding (Which, if you've never had, is amazing - incredibly rich and creamy. Truly a grown-up version of this childhood favorite.)

Choosing the wine that I would serve was easy. This past quarter, I won our sales goals initiative, and was rewarded a magnum of Pegasus Bay 2004 Pinot Noir. (Our New Zealand portfolio is really sophisticated, and we specialize in their high end Pinot Noirs. If you've never had one before, you must try it. New Zealand is the new Oregon.) Since I feel weird about "winning" (I hate competition and would rather play with a team), I figured, who better to share the prize with than co-workers? And who else was guaranteed to appreciate the bottle? The earthy flavors and subtle fruit should compliment the turkey meatloaf beautifully. Also, I happen to have a bottle of Pegasus Bay 2004 Encore dessert wine (a gift from the importer's rep after we did a wine dinner together), which should be a really cool compliment to the creamy banana pudding.

I thought that making it a Pegasus Bay night would be fun. Also, like I said, when better to open those bottles that I've been saving than a celebration with co-workers?

Now onto the less fun tasks of preparing for the evening. Have I mentioned how much I hate cleaning the apartment?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Reason #298 why I love my Richmond counterpart

Don and I both work in Richmond, sorta tag-teaming the city. Since we have totally different accounts, we rarely actually see each other. But we end up chatting on the phone a lot, sharing insider info and tales from the road. He is a great guy, mid-thirties, father of three, husband of one (luckily). So it is conversations like these that I have come to treasure:

"Dude, I don't know about this new rep working for Tri-Cities. She just doesn't have the look of most of the other reps."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she looks like they just plucked her out of a freshman English class, gave her a portfolio, and threw her onto the road. I mean, she's really young, and was wearing like cargo pants and sneakers. And one of those Old Navy v-necks."

"Oh." (Mentally racking my brain to try to remember if I'd ever worn anything like that to see clients. Don't think so...)

"I mean, I only know it was Old Navy because my wife has a few."


"And I only know that because I do the laundry in our house. That's right."

"You go, brotha!"

It took me about ten minutes to wipe the grin off my face.

Countdown to the Dinner Party: 6 Days; Making Lists

About a month ago on a boring Saturday, I got to thinking. In my company, there are two other reps that live in the Richmond area, and we hardly ever see each other. We run different routes, and chat on the phone all the time to keep each other in the loop, but we never really spend any time together, despite the fact that we always enjoy each other's company. In fact, I've been working with these guys for close to a year in a half, and have never met either of their wives. Weird, right?

So then I thought further. Unless someone makes the effort, takes the bull by the horns, and does the planning, we never will hang out. So I decided to host a dinner party. The next Monday, I called the men, who consulted their wives, and excitedly confirmed. Saturday, October 13th it is. Each couple will bring an appetizer and wine. I will supply everything else.

So now it is the Monday before, and I have realized how much there is to do. And as I am wont, I have furiously started making lists of things that need to be done before the big night. Things like:

- Borrow a table long enough for all of us to sit at. Not to mention chairs. And silverware.
- Clean. Actually clean.
- Make the perfect playlist.
- Finish planning menu, and make a list of things to get.
- Complete various projects around the house. Like hiding cable cords, arranging bookshelves, etc.
- Retrieve glassware from mom's house that she borrowed for a party six months ago.

This is a mere beginning. What am I doing blogging? I've got to get cracking.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Monday is the new Thursday

"Hey Vaughan, Rachael Ray says, 'Guys, you should just invite some friends over for no reason, cook dinner and watch some TV'. Awww... was that your inspiration for tonight?"

I was thumbing through a copy of Rachael's cookbook for guys that I found on his living room bookshelf, which had surely been a gift from a well-meaning sister or aunt.

"Put that shit away," Vaughan shouted from the kitchen, "I don't need advice from her to cook dinner for my peeps."

The four of us had gathered on Monday night for tuna steaks on the grill and How I Met Your Mother on the tube. After the dishes were done, I settled down in an overstuffed chair with my stemless glass of Castle Rock Napa Cabernet, a leftover from my sample bag that day.

"Dessert is served!" Vaughan called out, tossing a bag of Fresh Market's chocolate covered pretzels to his buddy on the sofa.

"Yesssss...." I mumbled happily as I relished in my new favorite combination - $12 Napa Cab, the sweet/salty goodness of chocolate covered pretzels, and CBS's Monday night lineup.

I highly recommend all three.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Inquiring minds want to know

So, is Gael Greene fucking Steve Hanson, or what?

Last week she blogged about Fiamma's revamp, and this week those of us signed up for her Insatiable Critic newsletter were treated to an entry that cautiously jizzes all over his new steak house.

I mean, I can't say that I would blame her. When he's not busy snorting coke and terrifying his managers, he can be a pretty handsome, charming guy. There is definitely some kind of powerful man appeal there. And those of us who read her book - which, make no mistake, I loved - know that sleeping with industry peeps is par for the course (or at least, was at some point in her life).

Sigh... how I sometimes long to be back in the New York restaurant scene.

Cleansing the palate and quenching the thirst

"Dude, at 3:30 we're getting a beer from the Miller Lite truck."


After five hours and counting of standing up and pouring Italian wine to increasingly drunk guests of the 3rd Annual Richmond Italian Festival, my co-worker, Wendy, and I were, eh... bella senoras... how you say...

Over it.

So an hour later we hid our plastic, foamy cups behind our wine bottles and snuck sips between repeated lines. Like...

"No, ma'am, we don't have any Pinot Grigio at this table, but try the Verdicchio. It's a great alternative to Pinot drinkers because it's still crisp and acidic, but has a bit more complexity."


"Um... well, sir, it's hard to pick a favorite, but I am a huge fan of this Nero d'Avola. Mmmmm... what a great pizza wine!"

Finally, we were called out.

"Hey," bellowed a big guy with a handful of tickets, "if these wines are so good, how come ya'll are drinkin' beer? Heh, heh!"

Blink, blink.

We looked at each other for a brief second before I launched into...

"Well, sir, we've been sipping wine all day, and beer is a great palate cleanser. Nothing refreshes you after a long day and gets you ready for an evening of wine and food like a nice, cold beer. Si, Wendy?"


Sure, we were bullshitting to get him off of our backs, but the thing is, it's true. After a day in the wine industry of sipping, swirling and smelling, nothing is better than kicking back for a few minutes with a frosty beer. Sometimes it takes that mental break to go from "working with wine" mode, to "enjoying wine" mode.

And turns out it also quenches the thirst you have for a bit of rebellion when you are caught in an eight-hour public tasting scenario. Bella.