Chicago, James Beard, & Decisions | Pt. 1

So much has happened since I last posted a proper update, but I’ll spare you the hum-drummery, the “catching up” minutiae of the past few months, year(s)?  Because I have a feeling this is gonna be long:


It’s true, I (was) still in Kansas.  Halfway through culinary school at Johnson County Community College even.  I do love my job/apprenticeship that lets me make good food with fun people.  My new love, my “second career”, my artistic switch to a different medium.  But if you know me, you know I’ve never been able to stay in one place very long.  I get bored easily, I suppose, or try and outrun my brain.  So I started looking for opportunities.  I had this dream of rooting down in my home state, of opening a small restaurant, which then became a food truck, then a small market/deli, but I just don’t know if that’s who I am…who I’ve ever been, and maybe it’s just time to stop fighting it.

I’ve been doing well in school.  I feel at home in a kitchen.  But I’d be lying if the male-dominated bullshit that I’ve been scrawling about in my small notebook hasn’t pissed me off enough that I started seeking outlets.  I found a program through the James Beard Foundation, “Women in Culinary Leadership”.  It is basically an accelerated, 8-month culinary program with different restaurants around the country.  I applied.  I was gifted some amazing recommendation letters from people I absolutely respect and admire.  I chose only restaurants within a day’s drive (I have health issues, my family has health issues).  Lo and behold, I was selected for a Skype interview for a restaurant in Chicago.  I passed that, knew by that night I had 10 days to figure out how to get up to Chicago to do a tasting (all of this is SO out of my comfort zone, as the restaurant was/is an ethnic fusion establishment).  I figured it out.  I have not been feeling well, and the whole time my anxiety and nerves were through the roof, but I got it done and got on a train.  I wanted a train so I would have time to think, to plan, to research.

I got into Chicago around 3pm.  I had a rolling bag and a backpack and foolishly (stubbornly) decided I would walk to my hostel.  It was hot, I’ve had terrible back/hip problems, and have GI issues as well (hello, stress!)  Got to the hostel and it was a damned oasis.  It was further than I thought.  I watched the spider remaking its web on the outside of our window for I don’t know how long.  Amazing view though.

2017-06-04 17.32.59.jpg

That was one of two photos I took.  Me, the “photographer”.

So, I relaxed.  I showered.  I wrote this:
“This place smells like every place. The hostel, the McKittrick. Sunscreen, Louisville. The cold humidity of the lakefront, New Orleans in Winter. I’m being confronted with my body’s New World Order in relation to how I think of myself, a traveler, always in motion. Now limitation. Things I could once do without a second though, give pause, regret. It makes me sad, but it’s also a relief. Things are just different now, and I can’t force them back the way they were, just adjust and move forward.”

Then I went in search of a Walgreen’s and got exhausted, was in pain.  Ended up getting European-picnic style dinner from Eataly (which was on the next block, and I hate how much I went there).  But, you know, when you’re tired, when you’re confronted with Life Changes, Body Betrayals, you just need a cocktail in your room, arancini, black rice salad, fresh fruit, and dark chocolate.

Fun Fact/Honest Sidenote: C turned into D during this whole trip and I don’t think I can stay in hostels anymore.  It’s not exactly private.

I had one whole day before I had to do my tasting menu (four dishes, two in line with the fusion concept, two of my own).  I set up a time (2pm) with the Sous Chef to come in and look at the kitchen, pantry, walk-in and see what I would need.  I had the morning to try and not freak out, to just relax and think.  So I decided to walk a few blocks to the lakefront and grab a coffee.  I stumbled on a market (Ok, it was a fucking Whole Foods.) and grabbed a sourdough roll, a small wedge of cheese.  I was going to keep the European picnic train rolling.

I got to the lakefront and it was cloudy, colder than expected, and of course, windy.  I was starting to feel exhausted, so I sat on the steps and was just situating myself when I noticed a gentleman walking by and boisterously interacting with everyone.  It’s fine.  I lived in L.A.  I lived in New Orleans.  I can handle a little crazy.  I acknowledged him kindly and he started on his way, then doubled back.  Crap.  He started a conversation, I responded.  I was polite, but reserved.  I tried not to engage, but it didn’t matter.  With some people, it doesn’t matter.  He kept going.  And going.  He was animated, and a few times invaded my personal space.  As a female, you gauge every conversation with a male stranger and I couldn’t figure out the threat level on this one.  I honestly couldn’t.  I sat there, just listening and nodding, trying to figure out if he was full-blown unstable, delusional, or completely with it and just aggressively oblivious, to the point of not caring.

It was becoming clear that I wasn’t going to have some time to myself to think and then that started to piss me off.

But then, then I realized the dynamics of the situation weren’t that simple.  I sat there, a lone white girl, one an only somewhat busy lakefront, with this man, yes, this black man, standing over me being loud and occasionally getting close.  Then I noticed the cop cars.  They drove by, slowly, five or six times pointedly looking in our direction.  As much as I wanted out of that situation, I knew there was nothing I really could do unless things really and truly took a wrong turn.  And then I felt pissed because I was trapped, and I let myself get trapped because I had so much on my mind, so much stress, I didn’t feel like being called a bitch right then just to end it.  I was vulnerable and distant and it pissed me off more that another human being didn’t pick up on that, or simply didn’t care, and disengage.  And I was/am pissed that the reality of our country’s racism threw a wrench in the good ol’ fashioned “this man is borderline harassing me.”  So I sat there and took it.
The fucking levels, man.

I thought my best hope was going to be to simply say I had to be somewhere in a few minutes and got up to start walking.  He kept talking, non-stop, all these stories, grandiose stories, walking alongside me.  I would stop, nod, say I had to go and start walking again, and he ended up walking with me saying he was going in the same direction.  I knew there was a Target a few blocks away, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going “shopping” with me, so when we got to the corner, I tried to make my exit.  He mentioned again that he was taking me to a movie next week and if I wanted to come eat at his workplace, it would be on him.  I’m not sure why he thought I was a local, but after obligingly putting his email in my phone,  I let him down and finally walked into Target while he watched.

I walked around for awhile, long enough that he should be gone and went back to my hostel, mentally and emotionally fucking exhausted.

I hesitated sharing this, because it involves difficult issues and frankly, I’m scared to say the wrong thing anymore.  But it happened, and it’s as true as I can tell it, and if anything, I suppose it shows the difficulty of modern human engagement.  Just try not to hurt anyone, or get them hurt, I suppose.  I could’ve been more assertive, but the only thing he took was my time and mental energy.  All I could think about was de-escalation and even if it took an hour and a half (no joke), I guess it worked.

Also, dudes, fucking stop it.  Fucking stop dominating women without their consent.  Because that’s what that is.

This is ridiculously long and I’ve not even started day 2.  This is what happens when you don’t write for awhile.  Maybe someone got something out of this….more later

Link

Geographical Navel-gazing

Geographical Navel-gazing

The places I have lived can be split into very distinct periods of my life, even in repetition.  Looking back, I have found time marked in periods of five to six, beginning upon my indoctrination into “womanhood”.

0-16.
I had a very idyllic childhood.  Even if I felt like a freak because of my lazy eye, it was never an issue thanks to the absolute love of my family.  My memories of childhood are pure and good, at least until 16, when adulthood beckoned and I was unprepared.  Yet, even though I became indoctrinated into the world of sex and relationships through the high drama that small towns specialize in, Topeka, KS is seen with rose-colored glasses for most of my upbringing.

16-21.
It was during this time, this relationship, that I visited Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans for the first time.  Not knowing how much each would later shape me as a person.  At sixteen, New York had my heart.  It was the goal.  My introduction to Los Angeles was experienced attached/detached, with him, wanting to break free but not ready, under the shadow of dramatic adventures.  New Orleans, much the same, yet the drama turned to eleven.  Punishment for wanting freedom, a delayed deception, hidden only because he knew, oh he knew what it would do.  New York though, New York was mine.  At sixteen, free to walk alone and independent.  I sent him home early and took charge of my experience.  It may be the first time I realized how exhilarating traveling alone can be (my “solo hurrahs”).

Image

19-24.
To be so young in Los Angeles, and after six months, so free.  I fumbled, I faltered, I expanded and contracted.  Los Angeles, though I could never inhabit again, was crucial to my upbringing, to exploration.  It proved that even good fish can live in shallow water.  It mixed darkness and light at a constant 70 degrees, consistent enough to find truth amongst the backdrops and scenery.  In the end, so many good fish starting swimming away, the frustration of transportation, the consistency itself, meant it was time to leave.  Los Angeles, in hindsight, holds the youthful, experimental part of me.

24-30.
Home again.  A complicated prairie.  The town of my birth never felt like home and I detest many aspects of it with an almost visceral quality.  Education called me back and I found a niche 20 miles over, found friends for life, a very expensive piece of paper.

Life became very easy.

30-36.
I watched a city I love brought to its knees.  Like many, I wanted to help, so I enlisted a friend and we drove to New Orleans in the dead of night to gut houses, a year later, returning to rebuild.  It was like a punch in the face, seeing her like that.  We have a complicated history, Nouvelle Orleans and I.  At  seventeen, she was ground zero of my young emotional pain, though I wouldn’t know it until eighteen.  It was the drawn out deception that hurt more than the actual act, something that, to this day, I try not to think about, a pain I can feel in certain parts of my body still, though a dull, fleeting ache.  Because of that, I had never considered her a viable option for anything long-term.  But it wasn’t her fault, time passes, she needed an ally, and I needed her complications.

New Orleans, New Orleans felt/feels like home.

And here I am, on the precipice of 37, conflicted again.  Because I love this city, I love her unconditionally, yet she tries me.  My city of young pain has turned around and hurt me again.  New Orleans, my heartbreak hotel.  It’s not her fault she’s the scene of the second crime.  Truth be told, it could have happened anywhere.  But it didn’t, and she will forever be tied to those two personal truths.  She can’t help making you feel, opening you up.  It why she’s sought out, why she’s taken advantage of, exploited.  America’s last authentic joy and pain.  It’s not her fault that “authentic” is now a commodity, that the murky waters creep up from the Gulf and the shallow waters from the West.  But I don’t know if I can watch it happen.  Sometimes, sometimes you just love something so much that you have to run away (and I mean this on at least two levels).  Seeing her stripped of her honesty is almost more unsettling than the crime, the land loss, the entire state bending over to take it from oil & gas.  I’m not sure I can watch her Disneyfied, commodified, homogenized for the masses.  I’m not sure I have the strength to stop it.

So here I sit, with the post-trip blues, wondering if I had it right twenty years ago, or twenty years ago, I knew it was right now.  Or I am I just running (wherever you go, there you are).  Constantly running, because standing still means spending too much time in my head, always, always in my head.  Or maybe I’m just simply unhappy with the status quo, the recent emotional upheavals, the boredom, and need a change.

I don’t know.  I know that I had an amazing trip and I know I have amazing friends and family and that’s all I’m really sure of right now.  I know I’ve said a lot and nothing at all, under the guise of vague wordsmithing, because that’s what I do.     2014-06-28 13.10.53 2014-06-27 22.13.39 2014-06-27 20.05.16 2014-06-27 20.07.42 2014-06-27 15.56.22

I know I love your churches literal and figurative, and all of your red doors. 2014-06-24 21.45.06 2014-06-25 18.19.57

2014-06-27 15.25.05

2014-06-26 18.11.41 I know that “Sleep No More” and the entire McKittrick Hotel will never leave me and I just wanna go back and back and back and stay there forever.  I know that even though the couple who owns Hogs & Heifers (NYC/Vegas) was very nice and inquisitive about you, I won’t do that to you, New Orleans.  I still love you too much.2014-06-28 21.30.56 2014-06-28 20.18.39 2014-06-28 16.18.26 I know that it was nice, so very nice, to walk and walk and walk.  I know what it’s like to have a little piece of you hanging around in New York, if only for a little while. 2014-06-28 20.17.58

Kentucky, two years ago… (Part II: The Reckoning)

HOO boy, it seems silly to write this right now, what with the news lately, but times are rough and people need bourbon.  Even if we’re all going to be killed by global warming, a chemical attack or radiation, that’s years from now, right.  Until then, there’s still Kentucky and there’s still bourbon.  I’ve also been sick and feeling down, so screw you guys.  You get what you get when you get it.  Friggin’ kids.  GET OFF MY LAWN!

——————————

So yeah, Kentucky.  I went there, and saw some stuff and drank some bourbon.  Not LOTS of bourbon, because I don’t remember getting drunk.  Just a nice, pleasant mellow amount of bourbon.  Maybe it was lots of bourbon, but I spaced it out a good deal and did it all responsible like, especially since I was by myself and that damn crab refuses, absolutely REFUSES, to get his driver’s license.  Deadbeat.

On my third full day in Louisville, I left.  For good reason.  I decided to finally head down to Bardstown, the bourbon festival, and a couple distilleries.  But first, we had to check out of the HILTON Seelbach.  It really is a beautiful old hotel though.

seelbachceilingWEBseelbachcounterWEBcrabseelbachstairsWEB

First things first, we had to get some coffee.  And do some good ol’ fashioned trip plannin’, on paper, son (remember, this was before I had a smartphone).  I prefer doing it this way anyway, it just gets harder when the tools become obsolete.  ANYway….

crabvintWEB

We drove down to Bardstown, KY, Bourbon Capital of The World.  Before taking in the festival, I decided to stop by a couple distilleries first.  The closest was Barton 1792 Distillery, owned by the Sazerac Company (of New Orleans! Ok, Metairie). They make and bottle 1792 bourbon, as well as bottling and shipping many other types of liquor.  I like 1792 alright.  In my little book, I gave it three stars, so it’s a good bourbon, mixed or straight.  It’s a little heavy on the rye for my tastes however.

The setting is very much a factory/warehouse setting, and I’m convinced that a bourbon carries it’s place with it.  How could it not?  After soaking up the wood and air in rackhouses for years and years, how could it not take on its surroundings.  Maybe that’s too froofy for you, but I love bourbon.  It’s America’s Spirit, dammit and it’s damned magical.

barton120

Jesus, how artsy is that? Yeah, that’s a medium format b/w taken with my Holga. No biggie.

bartonX_WEB

X marks the spot, where 1792 is made.

bartoncornWEB

This here’s a big ol’ vat of kern. Bourbon, as you may well know, is bourbon because it’s 51% corn instead of rye. And a mash that contains wheat instead of rye is a “wheated bourbon”, which are, generally, my favorites. Though I have been getting down on some rye and bourye lately.

bartonrackhouse1WEB

The 1792 rackhouse.
You can learn more about rackhouses and the science involved here: http://www.whiskeyprof.com/how-a-traditional-rackhouse-works-small-batch-single-barrel/

bartonrackhouse2WEB

The rackhouse is usually my favorite part, except for the tasting room. All those barrels just soakin’ up that wood with the seasons and the wind. It’s poetic, galdernit.

bartonbarrelcrabWEB

Mr. Crab enjoys it too.

I’ll spare you the boring photos of the boring ol’ warehouse and shipping system (but it fits in with my “bourbon carries its place” theory. Instead, here’s what Mr. Crab got up to in the tasting room and by the World’s Largest Bourbon Barrel.

1792tastingcrabWEB

He’s pretty stoked about the barrel plug, but I’m pretty sure that’s just drunk talk. Bourbon should be handled with moderation and class. Ohhhh, Mr. Crab.

biggestbarrelcrabWEB

Hey look! It’s the World’s Largest Bourbon Barrel!

So that’s stop #1.  Off to Maker’s Mark in nearby Loretto!  😀 😀 😀

Kentucky, two years ago… (Part I)

Leave it to me to write a (sort of) travel blog from a trip I took two years ago.  I’m a slow mover, I am, and I see no problem with it, by gum.  Think of this post as a too-short aged bourbon.  Maybe I should have waited six, seven years…like my always forthcoming China book.  Daaaaang, you just got served, Jill.———————

About two years ago, I was at the Museum of the American Cocktail here in New Orleans (which I highly recommend if you’re visiting).  I picked up a copy of Imbibe magazine that was dedicated to the best places to drink in the South (this included cocktails AND coffee, so I had to).  I discovered there was an entire festival dedicated to bourbon (of course there is. this should not be surprising.)  I decided that this would be my trip for the year, before I quit a job that afforded me travel time, money to do so, and a little bit of paid time off.  My last solo hurrah (I love a good solo hurrah), if you will.  So, come September way back in 2011, I boarded ye olde Southwest air bus and (eventually) made it to Louisville where I picked up my car and checked in at the Seelbach.

A view from my tiny room. Louisville looks, and feels, very….”Northern” to this Midwest-born girl. Despite its claims of Southern charm, it is gateway at best.

A word about the Seelbach:  This is a beautiful old hotel in downtown Louisville that has been absorbed by the monster that is Hilton Hotels & Resorts.  While I appreciate that the building has retained most of its charm, F. Scott Fitzgeraldyness, ghosts, and grandeur, I do not appreciate paying $200+ a night to stay in a tiny room where they charge for internet.  I stayed at the Seelbach one night and then jumped ship for the Ramada (further from the center of town, but internet is free.  it was the principal of the thing.)  If you go to Louisville, definitely stop by the hotel though, if only to visit The Old Seelbach bar.

The next morning, me and Mr. Crab got up, lazed around a bit, and headed out to explore.  I had no real plans other than getting some coffee first, then wandering around the city.  My trusty Imbibe magazine told me to head to Quills in the Highlands area of Louisville, an area filled with bars, shops, and other things the kids are into.  Though the shop was definitely “hip” (and I know that word is played out and some of you hate it, but it was pert dang hip), I didn’t feel unwelcome or judged.  Coffee was above average (on the non-chain specialty scale) and the pastry was right there with it.  I spent probably an hour there on my laptop since this was before I had my smart phone.  I would recommend Quills due to the simple fact that it was relaxed and had good coffee.  You really can’t (and probably shouldn’t) expect more than that from any beverage provider.

A clean, well-lighted place.P1040992WEBAfter that, I just drove down Baxter Ave, which turns into Bardstown Rd.  I was looking for a bookstore.  I had no idea if there was a bookstore down that way and forgot to look it up, but LO AND BEHOLD, books.  Weird.  A+ for that, Louisville.

Armed with a map and a couple “things to do” books, I went back to the Seelbach to re-group.  And by re-group, I mean drink.

And may a chorus of angels sing thee to thy rest…

So, that is the The Old Seelbach Bar’s bourbon selection.  Yeah, I know.  Being pretty green in the world of bourbon (I liked Maker’s, a lot, I knew that), I gave up and just asked the bartender for recommendations.  That’s when he gave me the manna from heaven that is Van Winkle (12 year).  I was in love, and forevermore on a quest.  In my little notebook, I merely wrote, “Van Winkle 12yr – smooooooth” with about five stars after it.  Only one other bourbon came close to the warm happiness that came over me at that moment (more on that one later).  Of course, little did I know at the time that this magical elixir was so hard to find and purchase (and that I would come to revere and love it even more for that).  NO MATTER!  I was sitting at a bar that F. Scott Fitzgerald might have visited, with days to spare and no one to answer to but a blue plastic crab.  I was one happy Pappy (AHA!  See what I did there.)

After some weird Kentucky bar food (I won’t even go into it) and a bourbon, I decided to walk around downtown a bit.  There is a decidedly Midwest air to the city.  I felt like I was back in Topeka a few times, a Topeka that didn’t let its downtown die and a Louisville that used its river as a feature rather than an afterthought.  Of course, living with the Mississippi in your backyard, does make the Ohio elicit a rather, “Huh.” response, but there you go.  Nothing much to report other than White Castle isn’t as good as I remember it and Louisville seems pretty proud of the past, but more so about the corporate present.

P1040995WEBFor dinner that evening, I went to 732 Social (also recommended by Imbibe).  I would link that, but the restaurant actually no longer exists, which is a shame, because I had a fabulous meal and bourbon cocktail there.  It was part of the whole Urban Bourbon Trail, however, and I applaud this marketing effort.  I did not get my passport stamped at any of the locations however, so no t-shirt for me.

And thus ends days 1 and a half.  I know, I know, try and be patient for this rip-roaring tale of solo hurrah!

Rollei back in time…

Gallery

This gallery contains 9 photos.

I recently received some film back, a single use Rollei camera I purchased two years ago.  Los Angeles, to San Francisco/Oakland, to New Orleans.