My brothers both got divorced and went through a period of transition where they were able to redefine themselves, my new friend Mia said to me on St. Patrick's Day. I smiled and nodded and knew that time was coming for me too, but I wasn't there yet. The end of February through the beginning of April was a haze of general dissatisfaction, which of course I gaged by taste. Nothing tasted strong or bright or exciting to me. A few things I recognized objectively as good (hello, there's no denying those Two Ten Jack spicy crab noodles), but after meals I'd feel like I never wanted to eat again and also...starving? Is there some perfect German or Japanese word for that sensation?
Anyway, I am finally well into the phase of defining the next thing, a task that I've been faced with many times before. A task? More like assignment that I haven't exactly passed with flying colors. More on that soon, but for now, here's a nice, long post about the things that restored my sense of taste, hunger and satisfaction.
As it turns out, going through a transitional period in your hometown with everyone and (literally) your mother making wild assumptions about your feelings and needs...isn't ideal. Getting the hell outta dodge is recommended, despite its discomfort. No sooner had I boarded the plane to Chicago, I thought, what am I doing? All I ever want to do is lay in my back yard and drink trash water. And then I got there and met this guy. I have been waiting to meet him for more than five years. I introduced his parents to one another and told them to make a baby and they went and freaking did it! He came into this world five years to the day I gave the order and his Father says this is proof I am a witch. I hope he calls me and yells at me a lot when he has his first existential crisis, which will obviously be all my fault. Suffice it to say I love him.
Here we are at Dove's Luncheonette on that day it snowed. We (his parents and I, that is) ate sweet golden beets over mole sauce, topped with pickled golden raisins and sesame seeds and mint. Crispy potatoes with shishito peppers, cheddar cheese aioli, scallions and queso fresco. A breakfast cemita absolutely doused in maple syrup. And possibly the only pancake I've ever actually loved. Why do pancakes taste better when it snows??
Every time I go to Chicago, I am stuffed to the gills 24/7 and this time was no exception. I'm beginning to think that unyielding hunger is a standard trait of native Chicagoans. Maybe hunger and satisfaction are contagious. Maybe I caught them in Chicago. My first dinner was at Split Rail, current haunt of Zoe Schor, friend of my friend Caroline Galzin. Now pause for a sec and recall that I didn't drink for all of February. Have you ever done that? It wrecks your alcohol tolerance and I was kind of one drink, one drunk already. So I get to Split Rail with my friend who just had a baby and also hasn't been drinking, and we each down half a cocktail and act like we're 18 again, sipping on Smirnoff Ice. We couldn't stop laughing at how much bread her baby was eating and Zoe sent out a whole order of bread just for him. As we stumbled out the door, we agreed that Zoe had forever altered our opinion of avocado toast for the better.
Going out to eat with other people who don't let me take total control of ordering is um, special. Most of the time I don't feel like it goes well. But not so with John, my friend's brother. One sunny morning he picked us up and drove us to Cellar Door Provisions. He insisted I eat quiche there and I wouldn't have complied with such an order from pretty much anyone else. I told him, this is my late quarter-life crisis, early mid-life crisis carbz tour across America and quiche is #offbrand. To which he replied, stop pretending like you're eating more carbs on vacation than you normally do at home. The quiche is crazy. Like a savory pot de creme baked into a perfect crust. I love it. The bread and the butter and the croissants and the smoked sweet potatoes? I don't hate them either. He sympathized with my ongoing desire for carbs took us straight from Cellar Door Provisions to Loba for coffee and canele and danishes.
Leaving Chicago was hard and going to California sucked. I mean...pass. Just pass. I don't even want to talk about it. All I can say is that I am glad I'm at a point in my life where I don't feel obligated to do a damn thing, not even stay in San Francisco to eat sourdough bread. So I changed my flight and went to Portland early.
Hey PNW, y'all make me feel like we live life all wrong this side of the Mississippi. The clean air, the functional city design, the reliable and spacious public transportation, the dispensaries, the professional and happy humans, I mean, Jesus, for a place that doesn't love Jesus, Jesus sure has blessed you. J/k y'all blessed yourselves. Good job. Good self care. If you've lived in Portland for an extended amount of time, maybe don't visit Nashville. You might pull your hair out.
The weekend I arrived my friend Meghan (there she is at Falcon Cove, OR)- for some reason I still don't fully understand- was in possession of a free rental BMW. I had never met the Pacific Ocean face to face, so we hit the road heading West. I'm not a travel writer and I'm not sure what to say about our first encounter at Canon Beach other than holy fuck??????????????
What I can say is this: the things that crawl around in the Pacific Ocean should not be eaten anywhere else except beside it. Pancakes taste better in the snow, crab tastes better in the salty mist. A co-worker of Meghan's told us we must, must, must, absolutely had to stop at Kelly's Marina in Rockaway Beach and she wasn't wrong. We nearly missed it, but I guess that's a common thing because there's a sign about a 1/4 mile past Kelly's parking lot that says something like, Looking for Kelly's? Turn Around. When we found it, I basically ran in and I pulled out a wad of cash that had been handed to me under the table for some recent styling work. I bought three pounds of freshly steamed Dungeness crab, plus one hollow crab shell filled with melted butter. Meghan did the same, but purchased a dozen raw oysters and a pound of sweet little clams.
I was about 2 oysters, 1/2 pound of clams and a pound of crab in before I realized I was legit standing up and attacking these already dead sea creatures. I kept going, seated, and at the end washed it all down with wine from a can.
I was in Portland long enough to wonder around aimlessly without plans and not feel like I was wasting precious time. On my first weekday alone I followed the smell of chicken cooking in a wood-fired oven into this tiny place called Shalom Y'all and it has changed the course of my entire summer. Like, I knew I loved Moroccan mint tea, but somehow I forgot. As soon as I got back to Chattanooga, I started planning and planting my garden around having enough space to grow mint for tea. I'm still not sure the mint I planted will be able to keep up with my new tea habit. Oh, the chicken was every bit as good as it smelled.
And while we're chatting about drinks, let's talk about the water at PokPok. YEAH, THE WATER. It's infused with pandan leaves, which are said to help with digestion, but I don't really care what they do because they make water taste like it's from the promised land. Sweet and emollient, and a wonderfully surprising thing to find satisfying.
I have saved the best for last, as one does. Surprise, surprise: it involves a beloved sourdough starter (Jake), local cheese, lots of extra fresh vegetables, ice cream, and a lady chef (Sarah Minnick). I'm talking about Lovely's Fifty Fifty. The pizza we ordered came topped generously with morels, ramps, roasted spring onions, fresh sheep's cheese, arugula, foraged wood violets, and wild mustard greens. I think this is where I'm supposed to make some awful analogy about Springtime and rebirth, but let's skip it and keep talking about pizza, okay?
Sarah's crust is the gold standard. Even the flour she uses is freshly milled in Oregon and she's talented enough to change the ratio of different kinds of wheat throughout the year. The center is paper thin, crazy strong, and doesn't get soggy at all. The edges are pillowy and burned in all the right places. Not charmed enough yet? Her pizza oven gets up to 900 degrees thanks to wood specially chopped by her Mother. The servers will let you taste as much ice cream as you want before you make a decision, but it's a poorly kept secret that you can order off menu- three mini scoops instead of one big one. I settled on gianduja, which is a lot like Nutella, but with a higher ratio of hazelnut to chocolate.