On Eating and Walking in Washington, DC

This past week my family and I flew into DC for our son’s graduation from his Master’s Program at GWU. Just like last year for his undergrad degree, there was no actual ceremony, but we gathered all the same, getting an Airbnb that was problematic but in a good location. More on the dangers of renting on VRBO or Airbnb in another post. Suffice it to say that NEVER AGAIN will we rent from either one, and that had it not been for the kind intervention of a lobby receptionist, we would have been scrambling for a place to stay.

After our rocky start, it was a wonderful odyssey of being together while eating and walking, with the occasional Metro ride or Lyft thrown in the mix. We’ve all been to DC multiple times and its one of our favorite cities; the monuments and museums, the diversity of neighborhoods, and of course the great restaurants.

A highlight of the trip was being some of the first to step back into the National Portrait Gallery and the American Museum of Art. They have huge collections thoughtfully curated. I always appreciate plenty of cushy places to sit down and contemplate art, and these museums (they are attached and flow into one another) have plenty. In the center of the two is a huge rectangular atrium with flowing water and lots of orchids. Do try and make your way up to the third floor where the conservationists work behind glass, like a zoo exhibit.

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This trip we walked from the Mall around the tidal basin, and saw the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials, along with the “forgotten” patriot, James Madison. They were right, I didn’t know who he was – without really saying so, the memorial lets you know that Mr. Jefferson cribbed a lot of his material from Mr. Madison. I found the Jefferson to be disappointing. As one of our party said, it seems to be last on the list to get repaired. There’s a small museum underneath the giant rotunda. You take a very slow, creepy elevator down. It takes so long that you start to wonder if you will end up trapped and entombed there yourself. The museum (when the elevator door finally opens) is dingy, sparse, with a sad little gift shop. The poor clerk in there was so happy to see people. We bought magnets out of pity.

The FDR monument is fantastic. It is completely outdoors, and is built with giant blocks of stone. Water was planned to move through the whole thing, but that seemed to be a repair that has been indefinitely on hold as well. Bronze statues and carved paragraphs highlight the events and words (All we have to fear is fear itself) of his four terms in office. I was struck by something Eleanor said about him – that it was his disease that gave him both the compassion and the resilience to become the President we needed.

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MLKs monument makes it look like he is striding out of a mountain and it has his wonderful words and thoughts carved into the walls surrounding it. The whole walk around the basin was pleasant and not too strenuous. That said, we were walking an average of 20,000+ steps a day (roughly 10 miles a day) so you might want to take that last sentence with a grain of salt.

Another jaunt was to Georgetown and the oodles of cute townhouses all snugged up against one another, painted in various colors. The waterfront was enjoyable, if a bit stinky, and I finally got to cross off a bucket list item – climbing up the 75 steep “Exorcist Stairs.”

Taken by my son Steven, who had run up ahead of me. Show off.

We had our share of coffees and snacks as we did our walks, and ate at local faves such as the Old Ebbitt Grill by the White House. It’s a stuffy dark wood place where I had a great Caesar Salad. We also popped up to Union Market where you can get your choice of street food. My kids opted for Miso soup and a tasty breakfast, while my husband and I shared a really good eggplant parm sandwich.

Other tasty places were Poets and Busboys (hint: get the Vegan Nachos and share – they are pictured at up top) and the fun Fisher’s Farmers Bakers by the waterfront where I had the most delicious sandwich of Brie, Avocado, and Roasted Veggies on a fantastic apple walnut raisin bread. I did not share. Don’t forget to grab some chocolate there too – they sell it by the half pound. However, highlights of the eating portion of this trip were all found by our graduate. He picked several winners. The first was chef Jose Andres’ Zaytinya, which featured Mediterranean mezze plates and fortified sangria. We shared plates, ate, and talked for three hours as the staff whisked away empty plates and replaced them with more tasty bites and an endless supply of flatbread. I’ll dream of the lemon sorbet for a long time.

The second was located just off of the DuPont Metro stop, Mission, which had a fun bar scene vibe, and lots of outdoor seating if you wished it. The food was tasty tacos (the vegan mushroom ones were outstanding) as well as some good sizzling fajita platters. You are not going there for the service, or the comfortable seating, so just enjoy your tangy margaritas and the company.

The topper for me was our final fancy meal, at Rasika. It’s Indian food to the nth degree. Stunningly delicious food and impeccable service made this my favorite meal. I even hopped off my vegetarian diet to have the Halibut Malai in creamy yellow curry as my main dish. I love a good curry, and this was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. It came with its own side of fluffy basmati rice. The kids all had super spicy dishes that made my nostrils quiver, such as Lamb Mirchi Korma, and Chicken Tikka Masala. Sides included delicious truffle Naan and a variety of chutneys. If you go you MUST get the side dish of the crispy spinach called Palak Chaat.* Palak, I learned from our quirky waiter, is a type of spinach you can find at Asian markets. I’d fly back to DC just for that dish. We went all out on the desserts here, sampling a black rice pudding with an edible silver garnish (ooo lala) and a spectacular apple/cardamom sorbet.

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Needless to say, with all that eating, it was a good thing we clocked about 60 miles of walking on our 6-day trip. Side note: folks seem ready to travel, the planes and airports were packed. And even though we had our shot cards laminated and ready to show if asked, nobody did.

*Here is a version of the Chaat from THE CURRY GUY: just click the link to get to it.

 Spinach Chaat | Crispy Spinach Snack THE CURRY GUY (greatcurryrecipes.net)

On Perfect Moments and New Phones

My new phone is passive aggressive. It supposedly uses facial technology to open. Or that’s the idea anyway. Sometimes it “recognizes me,” but mostly I get “no match” when I stare into its heartless little lens for facial recognition. Doesn’t matter if I give it a stink-eye either. Time after time I’m forced to plug in my PIN to get access to this possession that seems to own me, rather than the other way around.

I am overly dependent on my phone. The landline was cut long ago, and my computer is also being uncooperative these days, so I’m forced to use the phone and all its glorious apps for multiple things. Interestingly, I hardly ever use my phone as an actual phone. I take more pictures with it than calls. Once it grudgingly opens, the suspicious little phone takes lovely snaps, but there are days that I miss the delayed gratification of taking a picture and not knowing if it turned out okay until I take ALL the pictures on the roll, then get it to a developer.

When the kids were small, 15 or so years ago, we’d take our film to Costco to be developed and get doubles of everything, not knowing what would be good and what would not be, and to include the better extras in letters (!) to my parents. Even back then, ruffling through the giant bin of developed photos belonging to multiple people, I marveled at the trust inherent in that just-leave-it-out process. I mean, I could’ve grabbed someone else’s photos no problem, and the same could have happened to us, but there was never an issue. We didn’t want those other people’s photos, just ours thanks.

I’ve been attempting to purposely break free from technology since the start of the year. Maybe the phone knows this, and its non-admittance is its form of a sit-in. Long walks and swims help, but I still find myself called back to the screen more often than is properly healthy. I did have a perfect moment of peace the other day. I was sitting on our couch in the late afternoon with a cup of tea, reading a mindless novel (oh okay, you will totally judge me for this but it’s Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, the whole Twilight saga from Edward’s point of view.) I was neither tired nor hungry nor thirsty, nor hot or cold. The window was open, and a cool breeze lightly ruffled the fluffy edges of our single blanket that survived The Fire four years and two weeks ago.* I could hear the light tinkle of the neighbor’s wind chimes. Someone had started cooking their curry for dinner, that wonderful scent just a whisper in the air.  At my feet my old dog, who is still hanging in there, was snoring in her contented old-dog way. In our own kitchen, I could hear the sounds of our youngest son prepping to make dinner, the dim music from his earbuds leaking through as he pulled out pots and pans. I breathed in, and out, and watched the edges of the blanket move gently in the breeze, and for that bit of time, all was well.  I recognized it for what it was, an exquisite moment from the gift of life and savored it. I remembered a bit from the classic play “Our Town” where the dead warn Emily to pick an ordinary day to return to, not an important one, that the pain of the beauty of an ordinary day would be almost too much to bear. I hadn’t fully understood that warning before, but in that moment, I did.

I pay a price for them, though. Soon after they happen I am gripped with anxiety that something in that peaceful picture will be ripped away from me soon. It’s the aftermath of The Fire, this belief that at all good things will be taken away. It comes along less often than it used to. Time does heal. Maybe it’s time I take a cue from my phone, and when those thoughts arise, firmly state, “No Match,” and refuse to let them in. Not even if they give me the stink-eye.

*ON SALE! You can read in detail about The Fire and donate to animal shelters at the same time! “On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything is available on Amazon in both kindle and paperback – its part of Kindle Unlimited at the moment and discounted too!

 Amazon.com: On Rescue Dogs and Losing Everything: Uncovering Resilience and Finding Joy after Disaster Strikes eBook: Upton Bracey, Stacey: Kindle Store

On Nostalgia and Things I Could Do Without

Since I’m the middle of writing a new novel, I welcome distraction. Going for a walk or cleaning the fridge have new appeal. So does thinking about anything other than my new characters. In my mental wanderings this week, a few things popped up. Specifically; nostalgia for items that will never have a comeback, things that puzzle me as to why they exist (and I wish they did not), and finally, two secret cooking ingredients.

NOSTALGIA

I miss real keys to hotel rooms. You know, the ones that if you forgot to turn them back in, you could “put in any mailbox to return.” Part of the fun of staying in a hotel was those keys, the way they snicked the door open as opposed to the little chirrup you get now from the electronic ones. If you go into the way-back machine, there were even bigger keys to bigger locks that had teeth in them that looked like they could open a castle door. Those needed a hard turn and gave a solid thwock as it moved the heavy lock. You knew you were safe on the other side of those doors. Another thing in favor of the old-fashioned ones is that you could opt to hand it to the desk person on the way out, so you wouldn’t lose it, say at the beach. They’d put it in your numbered slot behind the desk, and pass it back with any phone messages that came in when you returned. I don’t know about you, but we regularly left things behind at the beach. Everything from hair ties to sunscreen would sift away into the sand. When the kids were young, it was the sand toys that went missing. I feel bad about that now, adding to the ocean plastic and trash problem with our inability to hold onto the things we brought with us. But you wouldn’t lose your room key back then, for sure, as it was living back at the front desk of the hotel. Now with its credit card size and disposable nature, hotel keys are easily misplaced and forgotten. Just as easily replaced of course by the machine they have at the desk, but in the end just not as satisfying as a real key. I will say I rather liked the waterproof plastic bracelets we were given in our last outing to Mexico that both opened the doors to the hotel and were also scanned at our meals. You couldn’t lose those either.

Another thing I am nostalgic for, in a pink hazy memory way for how it was, rather than the actual annoying reality are the Thomas Brothers Guides. Those in the know, raise your hand. If you lived in a large city, you HAD to have one of these or else wander, lost and doomed for the rest of your days. The Thomas Brothers Guide was a large, spiral-bound map book of every single address in the city. You went to the back, and looked up the address of where you wanted to go. It would give you a page number and grid letters and numbers such as G-20 for that address. Then you would go to the page number and look up G-20 on the grid, and somewhere in that square was your address. You’d figure out by flipping map pages how to get from where you were currently to there, and write down directions on a piece of paper. Party invites would include the page number and grid of the address you would need to find. If you were verbally giving directions, you’d say you lived in B-15 on page 82. I swear the seat-back pockets in cars were created specifically to hold your Thomas Brother’s Guide. Yes. I miss them. It was like a treasure hunt, and there was real satisfaction in successfully arriving at the destination using this technique.

The final thing I am nostalgic for (this week) is when movies at the movie theatre didn’t have ads. You heard me. No, really. You’d get your popcorn, grab a seat, and then watch previews, and then the movie. No ads. I really miss this one.

THINGS THAT I COULD DO WITHOUT

1. Infant Shoes. The ones people put on defenseless babies when they are still far from crawling, let alone walking. Yes, they are absolutely precious in that way that all wee things are. They are however, not needed. I’m guilty of having bought a pair of these once for a baby shower before I had my own kids. The cute factor got me. But when I had my own, I realized how impractical they were, as well as being pain-inducing if the kid had some on and was kicking you as you carried them.

2. Long, Dull Stories Before the Recipe. I don’t mind a few words like, “My grandmother made this for us when we were kids,” that’s fine. But OMG someone get these folks an editor! There are sometimes buttons for “skip to recipe,” but these stories are not that interesting. And most good recipe-folks are not good writers. Just saying.

3. Ads Before Movies at the Theatre. *sigh*

TWO COOKING SECRETS

1. Worcestershire Sauce. Yes I had to go look at my bottle in the fridge (sparkling clean, thanks to aforementioned avoidance of ‘staring-at-my-computer-screen,’ also known as ‘trying-to-write’) to spell that one correctly. Brits add all sorts of extra letters to their spellings. Extra U’s add special panache; colour and flavour. That aside, if you have a savory dish, I recommend you add a generous splash of this magical sauce, it makes everything taste better, and your friends will love it. Turkey Chili benefits greatly from this addition.

2. Buttermilk in Baking. This is a relatively new discovery for me, but after seeing several recipes using buttermilk in cakes, I have incorporated it into more things – when milk is called for I will add buttermilk instead. It’s wonderful.

Of course if you are vegan, don’t do either of these things. I have no idea what is in Worcestershire sauce, it’s a secret and could be boiled innards for all I know. Oat Milk will do almost as well for your baked goods. And it’s sustainable.

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On Death and Taxes and a Weekend Trip to Fort Worth

“Mom, I can hear you sighing through my noise-cancelling headphones and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.” For those not in the know, the latter is a psychedelic rock, head-banging sort of band, so my sighs must have been hefty indeed.

Sighing is a stress-reliever in my tool belt that gets frequent use. As opposed to say, stabbing people in the eye with a fork, or dunking my head in a tub of water and screaming until I cannot scream any more. We are probably all glad I sigh a lot.

The cause of this particular bout of impressive sighing was the torture of doing the taxes. I was in the midst of collecting all the receipts and totting them up and then putting them in appropriately marked envelopes so I could then correctly fill in the form our tax accountant sends us yearly. Piles of receipts and printed-off documents from my “keep me” file on my computer subsume whatever part of the house I commandeer for this task, and everyone knows to just leave me alone until I’m done. It’s a chore I loathe, one that must be scheduled with myself in advance on the calendar like a trip to the dentist. An entire 24-hour period is devoted to doing this one thing. On that awful day, it requires a stern personally-directed scold that it IS happening today, no backpedaling. Then I gird myself and sigh my way through it. Thank goodness for our calm, competent tax fella we’ve used for the past 17 years. I write him appreciation notes along with our checks. I’d take him baked goods if we lived closer.

My mind drifts as I sort through the detritus of a year of living and turn it into little numbers that go into little boxes on a form. This year brought a bit of musing about death. A nice woman in our apartment complex died just a few days ago. Janie’s porch had the disappointing view of the building’s parking lot near my car space. I often saw her in my coming and going. We’d say hello, and chat about inconsequential things. She was kind and considerate and remembered my children’s names. Janie died in her sleep. The cops had to break in her door when she didn’t answer on a welfare check instigated by her neighbor a couple days later. The hole is still in her door, a daily reminder that we are not guaranteed anything in this life except the leaving of it. And taxes of course. And sighing.

Conversely, I didn’t sigh much at all on our recent belated 27th Anniversary jaunt to Ft. Worth, except when we learned that the advance tickets we’d purchased to see the “Queen Nefertari*” exhibit were not timed, and that members of the Kimball always just walk in ahead of the rest of us plebian rabble. We got to the museum when it opened at 10am, and stood in line for nearly two hours before gaining entry. Museumgoers are oh-so-polite but everyone in that line was pissed, and I wasn’t the only sigh-er. I know it’s partially due to Covid and also probably an efficient way to get more people to join as members. I thought about it, but was too irritated at that point to give the Kimball any more money. Yes, the exhibit was worth it, no I won’t go back to another exhibit there until they change this policy.

Other than that, we had a ball, stayed downtown in a nice hotel, and walked a lot. My favorite amble was at the Botanical Gardens. They have the most enormous Koi fish in various ponds throughout various garden habitats ranging from a giant conservatory with jungle vegetation to an Italianate parterre to an extensive Japanese-themed area complete with pagodas and arched bridges. We arrived as it opened too and even on a lovely Saturday morning it was uncrowded. We particularly liked the giant living sculptures that looked like giant Chia pets.

The Water Gardens in downtown Ft. Worth were also a nice diversion, as were the plaques outlining the city’s history. Ft. Worth was a happening place in its heyday. The start of the Chisholm cattle trail was here, as was the western-most stop on the train that could take you back East if you couldn’t take any more rootin’-tootin’ cowboys. From Ft. Worth it was stagecoach only further into the west – next stop, Yuma, AZ some 1500 miles away. Can you imagine? The place was ripe with ornate hotels and plenty of saloons. Butch and Sundance had their picture taken here, along with the rest of the gang.

Doc Holliday was a regular at a local bar. Walking around the downtown area is a recommend from me. It was extra fun on this trip, as the National Cheerleading Convention was in town. It was fun dodging batches of gals and the occasional guy in bright uniforms hauling pom-poms and banners, practicing tosses and high kicks at the stoplights. Their moms and coaches were with them. They were intense and very focused, having flopped over that line of too much coffee and Lululemon.

Lots of good eats in Ft. Worth. Magnolia street on the south side of the city is an up-and-coming hipster strip with coffee roasters and bakeries and other assorted stores, including a glass-blowing place that gives classes. We had a great Mexican meal at Salsa Limon which has other locations too. Great guac. Our favorite eating place over the weekend was a fun little mom-and-pop breakfast joint called the Montgomery Street Cafe that had been on location since 1948. Still family-run, it boasts freshly made cinnamon rolls on Saturdays. The cheese omelets had cheese all the way through to the edges, not just glopped in the middle, a pet peeve of mine. The line out the door to get in is worth the wait, and unlike the Kimball, I will certainly go back to this place again.

It was good to end the week in a different city seeing different things than our norm. The time away from the sameness of getting through the days along with the added ooompf of tax day and losing Janie was much needed. Here’s hoping you have a weekend getaway in your future. In the interim, I recommend a few good, gusty sighs to tide you over.

*is it just me, or are you also dismayed that they had to give serious consideration to the name of this exhibit? Her actual Egyptian name is Nefertiti, but, you know it has that tit word in there, so they RENAMED the exhibit to avoid the – oh I cannot help myself –  tittering about the name. Really? Is this how lowbrow we have all become?