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Food Glorious Food!

I’ve been actively watching what I eat. And by that I mean I eat whatever I want but track each morsel, with laser-like focus, as it makes its journey to my mouth.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s not Food’s journey. Food isn’t trying to get into your mouth!” Really? Are you sure about that? Think about it this way: If Food doesn’t have a mind and influence of its own, they why can’t I stop eating the tasty bites?

My relationship with Food is by far the most complicated in my life. (That’s a bold statement for someone like me who’s made many questionable dating choices.)

Food is celebration, sorrow, entertainment, quality time and nourishment but it’s rarely just fuel. I get the concept of “calories in” and “calories out” and the impact of that delta on my waistline. I still find it’s easier to get the calories in. So this time of year, after the high of the holidays and as we slog through the last slow, grinding, snow-filled days of winter, my meager attempts at mindfulness are taxed to the max. That’s a problem.

About 2 years ago I lost weight and thankfully I haven’t found it again, though those pounds stalk me.

I didn’t have a weight loss plan. When my doctor asked how I lost the weight, I told her I was on the “close my mouth” diet – Food can’t jump in if you don’t give it an opening. I ate what I wanted. I just ate less and less often.

The cornerstone of my weight-loss plan was (and still is) my diet donut. Every morning, I have one old-fashioned donut. And here is where the mysterious and mythical power of Food peeks out from behind the curtain.

The diet donut isn’t about portion control. Food has always been a little standoffish with me in the mornings and I don’t pig out at breakfast. It isn’t a health choice. After all, donuts are fried and to the best of my knowledge, a kale, beet, chia seed flavor donut is yet to be invented. The diet donut is a bit funny and a bit of comfort. I remember going to an old-time cider mill as a kid and getting crisp and hot, real-deal donuts. My diet donut is not one of these. It is not the stuff of memories.

I think my daily, diet donut is all part of Food’s master plan. It’s just tasty enough to call me back again and again and just bad enough to prime me for even more deliciously bad things. Like last Sunday at brunch when I thought it was a good idea to have a margarita with my cinnamon strudel cake at Sonny’s (Portland, ME).

You should go to Sonny’s if you’re ever in Portland. The brunch was awesome (even the parts with protein and no tequila) and they take their drinks seriously. When you go, you should take me. Let’s do it before I give up donuts and pry loose Food’s grip on me.

I will quit them one day – donuts, that is. It is my intention to break up with them and keep up the diet. I’m just not ready. I’m not ready to take Food on and break its mysterious hold on me … maybe after one more great meal…?

Disclosure: I wrote a draft of this post back in January after an amazing dinner with margagogo correspondents at Meadowsweet (Brooklyn, NY). The Down East Bureau Chief, the Head of Borough Research and margagogo’s Medical Director all gathered for one of the best strategy sessions ever. The food and drink at Meadowsweet was so good, I’d go back there as fast as the subway will take me. After dinner, we moved the meeting over to Baby’s All Right. It was NOT all right (Ok, you probably saw coming and it was double cheap because I stole it from a Yelp review.) But the waitress promised us a pitcher of margaritas with “like 7,000″ limes.

7,000 of anything plays perfectly into my notion of excess so even though there was live music in the back and different music blasting in the front and even though our pitcher of margs was “like” 6,995 limes short of the promise, the evening was great.

So tonight I will go home and have soup and an apple for dinner as a token step toward freedom from tasty treats. But as I slurp soup, I’ll be thinking of friends and margaritas and dinners and cake and all the great things I can do with 7,000 limes – like maybe make a donut.

Baby's All Right

In honor of National Margarita day, I want to tell you about the most well-balanced, perfectly shaken, slightly smoky, not sweet, not sour, perfectly-citrus-with-a-tequila-tang margarita I’ve had all year. (And by “all year,” I’m going for a rolling 12 months and not the less than 2 months of 2015.)

That’s what this blog is about after all: The search for the perfect margarita.

The thing is, I don’t remember. I don’t remember the best margarita I had all year.

I remember my vacation in Colombia with my friends when my only concern was where I was getting my next great meal and what would be on my plate when that meal was set in front of me because my Spanish is sub-par at best. I sipped margaritas, looked at palm fronds waiving in the breeze, rolling ocean and cloudless blue sky. Every one of them was perfect.

There’s something about context that colors a whole experience.

I was in Costa Rica after a day of horseback riding through rain forest and eating with a local family when our guide offered us cashew wine. Cashew wine, you wonder with a raised brow and wrinkled forehead. Yes, it turns out a cashew is a nut and a fruit. A fruit that looks a little like a giant apricot or pepper with a claw.

And cashew wine, in that moment in the forest with macaws cawing in the trees was extraordinary. So extraordinary that we couldn’t wait to try some at home and sitting with friends in a New York City apartment, it was the worst thing ever.

In Portugal, we sailed the ocean blue and drank vino verde. I loved it. I loved its green tint and young, crisp taste. The sun set over the ocean and sails filled with wind and the wine was the best thing I’ve ever tasted. And then I got back home and you can guess what I think about vine verde now.

But I remember those moments and those drinks and always will. Those moments and those drinks were the best.

Last week, Moss Beach Distillery (Half Moon Bay, CA) was the scene of a perfect moment if not a perfect margarita. I was with people I love with a view anyone would have to love and got a margarita that would be hard to love if not for all the other lovely things that went along with it.

I realize this blog isn’t about the goal of finding the one, single perfect margarita but about the journey and all the fun and friends and family who keep my company on this path. “Perfect” is a subjective concept anyway, right?

So maybe I’ll never find that “perfect” drink. But, I’ll have lots of fun trying.

Snowmageddon 2015

In January 1996, 20.2 inches of snow fell on New York City. I know this because I just googled the stats and because I lived here in NYC in 1996.

Today, we’re bracing for another storm. If you watch the news, you know it’s the storm to end all storms and it’s named “Juno.” Names aren’t just for hurricanes anymore and since a named storm raises anxiety, “Juno” is better click bait than simply saying “it’s going to snow.”

During most of the day, the sun was kind of out. There were flurries flying on the wind and nothing was sticking. Had I been home to watch TV, I’m sure I’d have seen local news teams standing in front of the city’s salt storage or in front of a parked plow because there wasn’t any snow to stand in front of but the reporting must go on. And then I bet the coverage cut away to pandemonium in a supermarket.

Bread aisles up and down the east coast are empty. I guess people crave carbs and refined wheat when it snows.

I remember when a big snow storm, for me at least, was a big social event not a news event.

There’s a magic moment in New York City, when the snow baffles the noise. When they’re aren’t any cars out and plows haven’t made a pass, there are no motors, or horns and any city noise left to float through the air gets wrapped into the snow. People hunker down so if you’re out and about, your feet forge their mark on the pristine path and the crackle and crunch of your boots on the snow is the loudest thing around.

In 1996, I lived in a 6th floor walk up on the Upper East Side and had friends across the hall and on the floor below. We hung out in good weather and bad and on the night of the big storm, we owned First Avenue. Looking both ways was about dodging snowballs, not traffic. We ran circles and walked shoulder to shoulder in the center of the avenue and plopped down to make snow angels and more snow angels. Back home we gathered with pink cheeks, chilled finger tips and snow dampened jeans to sip red wine and wonder if we’d have to go to work the morning.

“Juno” got a late start so I think that perfect snow moment will probably arrive around 2AM when I’m tucked warm in my bed. And the friends I shared the 1996 blizzard with are now spread across the city and the country and by the middle of the night tonight, will hopefully be happily asleep dreaming of snow days.

So tonight, I’m turning off the news. I’m going to read and maybe watch a movie and sip red wine and remember the perfect pink-cheeked abandon of a magic snow moment.

 

Times Square, NYC Snowmagaddon 2015

Times Square, NYC Snowmageddon 2015

 

 

 

Blessings Big & Small

I love my nieces’ chubby-knuckled hands. I know they’re growing into confident women with the strong grip necessary to lift a margarita and become margagogo staffers.

I like candle light reflected on a tin ceiling. It dances.

Alphabet pretzels (all 26 letters plus “@”) are endless party fun. They’re even better when they’re baked in butter. I’m hopeful that 2015 will see the introduction of the hashtag pretzel. #PretzelFun

Brownies, a treat that’s not quite a cake and not quite a cookie, are inspired. The person who invented them is a culinary genius and has contributed to my happiness too many times to count.

I appreciate a well placed curse word. Sometimes, it’s truly satisfying to let one rip.

Margaritas and chocolate. Chocolate and margaritas. This blog could have just as easily been called “chocagogo” and I could run around looking for the best chocolate to eat and share.

I’m lucky to have great role models and blessed to love and be loved.

I like snickerdoodles. They taste good but mostly I like them because “sinckerdoodle” is silly to say.

I have a really cool jacket that earns me tons of compliments every time I wear it. I’m lucky to have had the choice to buy it or not.

My parents are together, happy, healthy and busier than I am.

I like to make my bed with fresh, warm sheets straight out of the dryer. Then I like to get in it right away.

Volunteering makes me feel connected and I’m glad to lend a hand. I believe good intentions can start a domino effect so a small act might be bigger than I think.

Comfortable shoes are a relief.

Holiday lights and decorations and music fill me with a peaceful, warm feeling. Have you ever listened to a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing “Silent Night?” The first time I heard it, it moved me to tears.

I’m grateful for so many things big and small.

When the world becomes too scary, I count my blessings. Being grateful helps me catch my breath and soothes my soul. From Ferguson to Brooklyn to Peshawar (and lots of places in-between) there is so much pain and fear and confusion and many, many souls to soothe.  I wish I had some answers – any answers. I wish I had a broad and healing touch. It is so much. It’s so big.

So I take a deep breath and count my blessings.

And I’m grateful for my nieces’ chubby-knuckled hands.

Hope, Robert Indiana - NYC

Hope, Robert Indiana – NYC

 

I think America’s love affair with the automobile has less do to with the romance of the open road and everything to do with the grossness of the shared travel experience.

In your car, you’re the master of your destiny. Sure, getting stuck in traffic can mess up a schedule. But you can control your departure time. No need to plan around catching the 10:03 train out of Penn Station. And you have complete control over who rides with you. Your seat mates are hand-picked. You know, before you invite someone into your car, if they have suspicious hygiene habits. You might even appreciate your passenger’s annoying quirks and because you’re friends (or family) you can tell them to “cut it out” if they become too much.

You’re not locked in a hurtling tin missile full of cell phone chatting, coughing, seat hogs who can’t spell etiquette let along display the graciousness required for group harmony.

You can probably tell that I’m bitter because I’m car-less.

Yes, I’m a mass transit user. I take at least one plane trip each month. I ride the subway and I’ve taken a few MegaBus trips. In the last several weeks, I’ve jumped on Amtrak for several round trips. I’ve had lots of experience. I’ve had hours to endure and lots of time to think.

My last Amtrak trip was especially hideous. I fought my baser instincts (as I always do) and didn’t try to protect the empty seat next to me. As much as I’d like a buffer, everyone has a right to a seat and they shouldn’t have to work hard to get one. I don’t need the conductor announcement asking riders to be courteous. I am the picture of courtesy. So when a Converse clad hipster asked if the seat next to me was taken, I beamed, “It’s all yours!”

It was a beautiful moment. He was polite, I was polite. The possibilities stretched before us. Maybe we’d strike up a conversation about the latest must-have plaid shirt or about which Brooklyn restaurants are curing artisanal bacon in their basements.

And then it hit me. The smell. His smell.  He had a dank and stale dirty hair, over-worn clothes smell.

Between his foul odor and his gurgling – yes, he had a rumbling, wet cough, I felt as if he’d unzipped his chest, plucked out a lung and pulled it down over my head. The train ride was four hours long.

Maybe Amtrak could increase ridership over night if they took a page from Soul Cycle’s book. Soul Cycle, a popular spin class, felt the need to put a list of rules up in their gyms reminding riders that nobody wants to share their odor. Check out #3.

Soul Etiquette SoulCycle 1024x695 Soulcycle brands spinning and spirituality

Maybe we’re all a bit bonkers and need to be told to leave our phone out of an exercise class and to be kind. Maybe odor control isn’t just an automatic, well-of-course-I-don’t-want-to-stink kind of thing. Soul Cycle is on to something (and I’m deeply sorry I giggled at the list and I swear, that will never happen again).  It seems we need rules. We do better when we have standards to live up to and guidelines to follow.

And so here I am with… drum roll please …  margagogo’s Official Rules for Harmonious Travel.

The first few apply to all Transit Options (Trains, Planes, Subways, Buses and even Taxis)

Be clean. This includes hair, teeth, clothes – everything on or about you should be spiffy. Once, on a plane trip back from Istanbul, I sat next to a young man who smelled so bad that every time he shifted enough to accidentally air out his pits, I nearly suffocated. When he lifted his arm to take his drink from the flight attendant, I feared I’d faint. I think he was an exchange student off on his first big adventure. I wanted to tell him that the hero, the guy who gets the girl (or the guy), is never smelly. If you think of it from a purely selfish point of view, you never know who you’re going to sit next to – your future spouse, your future boss … or the person who doesn’t speak to you and hates you because they have to share your air.

Smiles Everyone, Smiles! Though it’s a risk, it’s possible to say “hello” without being obligated to chat for the duration of the trip. And I’ve heard (I’m sure I should quote a study here) that being nice in general is not only a good thing for other people but it makes you feel happier. So, when we’re all in it together, being nice is a win/win.

Make an Effort! Make an effort to keep your germs to yourself. Even if you believe that coughing into your elbow doesn’t make a bit of difference, everyone appreciates the effort. Same goes with crying babies. Effort gets you sympathy. Apathy, even due to complete exhaustion, earns ire.

Air Travel:

– If you’re sitting in Row 28, don’t put your luggage in the overhead at Row 5. That just messes everyone up and causes a giant traffic jam when the person in Row 5 has to fight against the tide to get the stuff they had to store in the space above your seat.

– Board as your row is called. As tempting as it is to try to board first, you just gum up the works.

– Please leave your beer soaked rabbit and cabbage curry hot pepper surprise at home. Nobody cares that it was your dear Grandmother’s special recipe. They just care how it smells.

Subway Travel:

– There is a special place in heaven for the subway rider who willingly gives up their position in the car to step out when it isn’t their stop so they can clear the path for people getting off. Please do this.

– Don’t lean on the pole. People need something to hold on to when standing on a moving train. Nobody wants that thing to be your belt loop or any part of you.

– Please take your backpack off. Believe me, you have no idea how big that thing is.

Bus & Train Travel:

– Shhhhhh. I might want to know what you’re having for dinner so if you stand up and make a general announcement, something like, “If anyone wants to swap recipes, meet me in the café car in 10,” I might join you. But, I don’t want to hear a lengthy cell phone discussion about peas, or roast beef or what your Aunt Jane did at dinner the night before.

And finally, always share. I’m not woman enough to tackle the age-old problem of who gets the arm rest. But, I do know that you shouldn’t try to save the seat next to you for an imaginary friend. Share the aisle space. Don’t hang out in the bathroom, tuck stuff under the seat in front of you if it will fit. Put it on your lap if your ride is short. When you get your private plane or train or bus, you can do whatever you want. (And when you do get that private ride, please invite me along. I’m an excellent passenger.)

See, isn’t everyone feeling happy now? (Did I leave anything out? Feel free to share – sharing’s good!)

If you want to feel happier – or even happiest (and at this point you’re not afraid of a subway ride) go check out the new bar on 121 West 10th street, NYC called The Happiest Hour.  They smile, they’re kind and the only odor I detected was from the free french fries they kept bringing out and setting on the bar. Yes, I said free french fries – could they get any more friendly?

The vibe is tropical retreat meets old school diner meets high-end cocktail bar. Picture getting a grilled cheese in Havana. And you should get the grilled cheese – it was warm, buttery, cheesy goodness and it came with tomato soup. The fries were bottomless. The margarita was excellent.

The Happiest Hour was worth the trip. There was harmony. The Happiest Hour lives up to its name … and they haven’t even published a list of rules.

 

 

 

 

 

Shit Is About to Happen

“Shit is about to happen”  –  an Ode to unstructured time. It’s not exactly a lyric poem but epic stuff can happen when you least expect.

Margagogo.com’s Marketing Director met his wife (the margagogo West Coast Correspondent) in a bar on a random night. Of all the saloons in all the world, they both walked into that one.

Years ago, just before a long weekend in Maine with my family, my then boyfriend and I broke up. So instead of entertaining him while my family looked him over, my mother and I went out looking at houses. I bought one.

Life isn’t a Jane Austin novel so every story can’t end with secured real estate and a wedding. Sometimes the prize is more subtle; it’s the adventure itself and the memories you tuck away with the experience.

A few weeks ago on a very raw and rainy Saturday, my friends (and margagogo correspondents) left the warmth of the wood stove and central heating to see what we could see. We braved the drippy sky and dropping temperatures and were rewarded with ocean views. That tends to happen when you’re on the coast but the view wasn’t just “ocean” – it was awesome, rocky cliff, churning ocean! And we found color. Bright red and green popping up to give the finger to the oppressive grey sky.

And then my Brooklyn Correspondent needed a bathroom. A great view can have that effect.

If you’re going to stop into a restaurant to use the facilities, you should probably get a drink. It’s only polite. And if we’re anything other than polite, we’re thirsty. So hitting Cook’s Lobster House was a win/win.

In all the years I’ve hung out in this part of Maine, I’ve never crossed the threshold of Cook’s. I decided it’s too touristy. My New York-living, Maine-visiting self is not a tourist unless there’s a festival, fair, parade, strong man contest, pancake breakfast, national landmark, museum or maybe leaf peeping involved. Cook’s has lobster and it has crowds. Big, giant bus loads of people looking for seafood and salt air. No pie eating contest, no biggest ball of twine, no reason for me to go. Until now.

Stepping into the bar is like taking a trip to 1958 on a WayBack Machine (without Peabody and his pet boy.) It’s the kind of place where hanging out is encouraged and I bet Cook’s has it’s share of friends who sit and stay a while. On this icky November Saturday the crowds were gone. It was just us and some locals who were probably wondering why we were there and wishing we’d go anyplace else. (Tourists!) The thing is, one of them was wearing a t-shirt that said “The drinking will continue until morale improves.” I think that makes us kindred spirits so like us or not, he’s our people.

Cook’s has a Bloody Mary with a lobster tail and bourbon with Maine blueberry and of course, they made me a margarita. As the bartender was mixing our drinks, a string of Christmas lights jumped off the wall (where it surely hangs year-round) and swung into his face. He looked at the lights and looked at us and said. “Shit is about to happen.”

Well, yes indeed it is.

Drinks at Cook's Lobster House. Check out the lobster tail hanging off the drink at the end!

Drinks at Cook’s Lobster House. Check out the lobster tail hanging off the drink at the end!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it’s possible to miss the signs of Halloween – the chill in the air, red and yellow leaves crunching under your feet and the costume and fun-size candy ads that have clogged the airwaves since August, I’d still know the holiday’s upon us.

Yes, I have a calendar. I also have an official Halloween Correspondent for margagogo.com. As a former colleague, she was endlessly disappointed with the Halloween spirit in our office. We are always in for candy but our energy wanes well before the costume stage. So she left her job behind to build a Halloween empire. As you can see, she’s been hugely successful.

Her Halloween flock is ready to go – they were ready a week ago.

All the feathers are hand cut and stitched. The little boy bird is wearing knitted legs. Yes, yellow, hand-knit bird pants. I think there are real feathers involved with the hats – I mean beaks. Last week they marched in a parade and costume tweaks are being made based on that test run. The trick-or-treat route is mapped. Halloween 2014 is almost in the books for margagogo.com‘s Halloween expert.

When she asked how I’m celebrating the holiday, I told her I’m dressing up like a “Candy-scarfing Lady” and eating Butterfingers till the candy cakes in my teeth and I’m loopy on sugar. No costumes or Halloween parties for me.

There was a time when I put a lot of effort into Halloween. I turned my creativity dial to “genius” and poured all of it into my costumes.

The problem is that “genius” sits on a narrow, precarious point. Success and disaster are just a teeter apart.

I once dressed up as a band-aid box. To make the box shape, I put a head hole in a board and let it rest across my shoulders to make the frame of the box. I painted the logo and art from a band-aid box into a sheet and attached it. Genius! But the execution didn’t hold up to real world demands. The frame was too wide so trick-or-treating became an obstacle course. I couldn’t walk next to anyone on the sidewalk and had to turn to the side to let people pass. Worst of all, I was too wide to get through porch doors, thus putting my candy haul in jeopardy.

One year I marched in my hometown Halloween parade dressed as a garbage bag. It was so great that the local paper took my name down for consideration in the costume contest. I made my costume out of a round plastic laundry basket. I cut out the bottom so I could step through, covered it with a heavy green garbage bag and then attached carefully select (and clean) trash all around the opening. Clever, right? You can be sure there wasn’t another person at the parade in a garbage bag costume. I had it in the bag! (Get it?) But nothing says “fail” like people stuffing their actual trash – dirty coffee cups and soiled food wrappers into my costume as I walked home from the parade route. And I didn’t win the contest. Not even an honorable mention. Maybe if I’d been a sexy garbage bag ….

Then there was the toothpaste tube. Yes, I dressed up as Crest. I’m proud to say I learned from earlier years. The toothpaste tube frame fit exactly on the span of my shoulders. No way I was going to be in my own way on the candy hunt. The costume was roomy enough to hide a puffy coat so cold weather wasn’t a hinderance to getting massive amounts of candy. But my cap was. The bucket I used for the tube cap rattled and jumped when I walked. It turned with each bump so I had to hold it steady with my hand or I couldn’t see. And, it seems I forgot to taper the bottom of the tube which might explain the tripping. (I’m only now enjoying the irony of dressing up like a tool for cavity prevention so I could go out begging for tooth decay.)

Possibly my favorite childhood costume was the Tootsie Pop. My father got some local college students to make it for me. They made the Tootsie Pop top out of a beer ball and drained said ball at a party while guests colored the giant Tootsie wrapper. I was cherry flavored and I wore all white for the stick. It was amazing. The height of genius! But, I was on the older range of trick-or-treaters and fair game for trouble-makers … and the face cut out in the beer ball didn’t allow for any peripheral vision. I couldn’t see the shaving cream coming and had no chance for evasive maneuvers. Have you ever seen a giant Tootsie Pop careen down the street? It’s not pretty.

Nearly all photographic evidence is missing so I can’t show you the band-aid box, garbage bag or Tootsie Pop. Please use your imagination. The people who made margagogo possible promise the pictures aren’t lost and they’ll keep looking.

So no dressing up for me. I’ve spent the last several Halloween’s in Maine with food, a fire in the stove and friends. And of course, Butterfingers and trick-or-treaters.

The first year, I was super excited for kids to come. I waited and waited and waited and then waited some more. Finally, I backed off the door sort of following the “watched pot” theory. So my friends rang the bell just to watch me dash from the kitchen, grab the candy bowl and skid to a halt in front of a door with no kids on the other side. Later my friends made knocking sounds and I fell for it again … and again.

The kids finally showed and I lucked out with more candy than kids so I didn’t have to share my Butterfingers. My carved pumpkin was the best ever made in the entire world, my friends were funny, nobody chased me with shaving cream or stuffed garbage in my shirt. I didn’t trip, I could see and I fit through all my doors. It was pretty perfect.

New York City is of course, Halloween central. Nobody does it better if you like that sort of thing. I got into the spirit this week by heading to the West Village for dinner at Extra Virgin (West 4th St, NYC). Extra Virgin is a Village classic. The American, Comfort, Classic and Inspired food is always amazing. The bartender can mix a drink, the staff is friendly and Sunday night is Spaghetti and Meatballs night. Yum. So please go to Extra Virgin (or don’t so there will be more room for me).

And order a margarita. In honor of Halloween, I had them make mine extra spooky.

 

Happy Halloween to all and to all a good night!

 

 

 

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