Thursday, April 29, 2010

Stepping Up to the Side Dish Showdown

As I've been working to improve my blog, seeking new trinkets to put on it and some ideas other than just "Here's What I Ate Today" (though, admittedly, I am having quite a bit of fun reporting on that!), I've done a lot -- a LOT -- of gawking at other people's blogs. Some are so cool and artistic that I can only writhe in jealousy and wish I had both talent for presentation and time to work on enhancing my skills; others need some help, and I would personally hesitate before making a couple of them available for public perusal. But one which I particularly liked was Cinnamon, Spice and Everything Nice, which has great hearty recipes and beautiful pictures of fabulous food ... and also offers one of my new projects: the Side Dish Showdown.

As our charming hostess? ringleader? cat corral-er??? -- a.k.a. "Cinnamon Girl" -- describes it: "Side Dish Showdown is a monthly blogger event to give side dishes the attention they deserve." Thus, rather than preparing an entree and then tossing some slices of cucumber or a quartered orange on the side (though fruits and vegetables are good for us and shouldn't be denigrated!), put a little effort into it, why don't you? Don't neglect the poor side dish, sad and lonely on the edge of the plate rather than getting its moment in the spotlight. Make it ready for its close-up!

Feeling as though I was accepting a dare, I thought I might try this. I'm always up for a new cooking challenge; and so I thought to myself, "Self? What side dish should we make when the category is 'Anything Goes," but with a special emphasis on Spring vegetables?" And my Self pointed out to me that we had just bought new red potatoes ... thus the matter was settled. Some cumin seed, some coriander, a pinch of red pepper flakes ... Indian Spiced Potatoes it is! And then the dilemma, what to serve as the entree for them to accompany?

I'd defrosted some chicken, but only found inspiration at the very last moment after going to the grocery store with Tom and hearing the Brown Cow Cream Top Maple Yogurt calling to me. I poached some chicken and diced it, then stirred together some of the luscious yogurt with garam masala, hot curry powder and ginger. I mixed the chicken into the sauce, poured it over some naan, and a Curried Chicken Sandwich was ready and waiting. Spinach would have been a fabulous addition! Too bad I didn't have any ....

The entire meal -- which I only fully conceived of and started to prepare moments after walking in the door after both work and a visit with Tom -- was magnificent, if I may dislocate my own shoulder to pat my back. Jeremy thought the chicken was too spicy, but his friend Doug had a second helping of the potatoes and said they were so good he could happily finish off the batch ... :)

And so, here I offer my first entry into the Side Dish Showdown ... enjoy!!!

Indian Spiced Potatoes

6 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 pounds new red potatoes, cut into 1/2” dice
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon lemon sea salt flakes (or 1 teaspoon salt and a spritz of lemon juice)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a 10” skillet over medium high heat; add the potatoes and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the water, cover, lower heat to medium-low, and cook for 10 minutes stirring once halfway through. Uncover the potatoes, add the cumin, coriander, lemon salt, red pepper flakes and kosher salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes until potatoes are golden and tender.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Floozie on Facebook!!!

Quickie post for a morning on which I'm so, so tired (long story, need permission to tell it ... how's THAT for piquing people's curiosity???).

Got a new page on Facebook just for Food Floozie: click on this link and then "Like" me, since apparently people can no longer be "Friends" on FB ....

Looking forward to seeing all your smiling faces on the page ... :)

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Shiksa, The Bagels and the Blintzes

I love, love, love what is collectively known as "Jewish" food -- absolutely adore it!!!  Now, of course, I have to clarify that I love all Jewish food -- both Sephardic (mostly non-European -- the Asian, African and South American cuisines of those expelled around the time of the Spanish Inquisition) and Ashkenazic (Central and Eastern European).

When most people think of traditional Jewish cuisine, they inevitably think of the Ashkenazim and the chicken soup, lox, pastrami and other foods available at delis.  And ya know what???  While that is only a minor part of the entire repertoire, that's okay -- those foods are good for the soul, and each one holds a special place in my heart.  There's time to introduce people to tzimmes and charoset and hamantaschen (no, they're not just German Christmas cookies -- they're Purim treats!), and all sorts of other delicacies.

But last Sunday, I indulged in some of the old favorites -- bagels and blintzes.  It was a good day, I have to admit!  I try to limit my intake of yeast and of white flour, but sometimes God sends a strong enough message saying "It's okay" that you just have to give in.  I'm sufficiently obstinate and enough of a control freak (despite having no semblance whatsoever of influence over my own life) that I'm not usually a "'Cause God said so" kinda girl.  But when God speaks to me through a tray of bagels, as well as through freshly made blintzes ... well, who am I to turn a deaf ear???  He even placed cookies in my path, so I indulged in just one oatmeal raisin cookie; and since oats and raisins are good for you, I can delude myself that there was some health food on the plate!

Anyway ....  after enjoying the bagel and cream cheese that I don't usually permit myself, while simultaneously schmoozing with friends, the wonderful Marcie Greenfield (whose Savor Ann Arbor walking tours are de rigueur for newbies and townies alike, and on my "to do" list when we can coordinate our busy schedules) gave a demonstration of how to make blintzes -- those fabulous crepes filled with ricotta or sour cream with fruit or salmon or lots of other mix-ins, then fried in butter because they're not unhealthy enough already.  C'mon -- you know that butter makes everything better!  How else will they get that gorgeous golden glow, short of a tanning salon???  Baking may be a substitute, but it's just not the same.

I don't usually go through the many steps required to make blintzes; they're not difficult, but they are time consuming ... and frankly, everyone already knows that I just want to eat!  I have a recipe that calls for pouring some batter into a baking dish, cooking it a bit, then topping it with the cheese filling and pouring the rest of the batter over everything; then it bakes into a 3-layer casserole that can be cut into squares, with a fruit sauce poured over it (since I've always made a sweet blintz casserole, though after tasting Marcie's lox/dill filling that will change).

So Marcie was giving an excellent presentation to a group of some exceptional women about the beauty of blintzes, and trying to pour batter and fill/fold crepes and brown the blintzes ... it was a lot to manage when the steps progress quickly and require undivided attention.  So when she asked if I wanted to help, well, who was I to refuse both a friend's invitation and an opportunity to cook?  So I buttered the pan, poured the batter (not as well as Marcie did, with a few holes here and there ... mine weren't pretty, but who cares once they're filled and fried and fabulous???), and generally did my part to be helpful.  Here's the process, for those who want to go for the full gusto:

Pour the batter into the pan and cook it until the edges curl ....

Flip the crèpe to cook it briefly on the other side ....

Place the crèpe onto a work surface ....

Place your desired filling into the center of the crèpe (this one happens to be ricotta with lox and dill ... sigh) ....

Fold up the left and right sides, then the top and bottom edges to form a square; then fry the blintz on both sides in a hefty dose of butter to get one of the truly glorious wonders of the food world!!!

I ate with abandon, because bagels and blintzes are truly foods of love.  Blintzes are traditionally served for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (which will begin on the evening of May 18 and end 2 nights later), which celebrates the Israelites' receipt of the Torah; dairy foods are part of the custom, and these can be rolled to resemble Torah scrolls.  I'll have to remember to make my Fried Ice Cream Torah Scrolls for you, 'cause they're just too cute ... though I'll be coming home from a trip to Philly with Tom that Wednesday -- his daughter is earning her Master's in Urban Design from the University of Pennsylvania!!! -- and I may be too busy doing laundry and replenishing groceries, not to mention spending time with Jeremy whom I'll have missed terribly over the course of 5 days, to make the effort.  But it's the thought that counts, right ...?

Until next time, eat with no regard to fat or sugar or sodium contents -- just enjoy!!!

Friday, April 23, 2010

If It's Saturday, There May Be Time to Putter in the Kitchen

Ya know, one might just think that I have nothing better to do with my time and my money than to eat out, to shop for groceries, and to cook/bake.  Well, admittedly that little entity known as "my job" does, occasionally, intrude upon these pasttimes ... good thing I consider my co-workers to be extended family then, so I'll keep showing up!  And money always helps if you want to keep eating.  So weekends should be a good time for puttering in the kitchen with all my free time -- ha! -- though it doesn't always happen.  This past week, though, was ideal.

I spent my entire Saturday (well, the entire weekend -- but Sunday's adventures will be another post) fixated upon food ... I'm sure you're shocked, just shocked!  Starting on Saturday morning as I caffeinated while Tom and Jeremy slept, I baked the first batch of brownies for Jeremy's graduation party.  Oh, haven't you heard???  Jeremy earned his G.E.D.!!!  We've already started celebrating, but officially there will be festivities in June, right around the time he gets to wear that cap 'n' gown I never -- and he never, either -- thought he'd get to wear.

Many of my invitees keep kosher, but will eat products that have come from my little treyf ([TRAYf] = non-kosher) kitchen if they're dairy or pareve ([PAHRv] = neither meat nor dairy).  And so, because I swear by Nigella Lawson's motto "Never knowingly undercatered," I have begun the baking/freezing to ensure having sufficient treats to induce diabetic comas in my guests and fellow celebrants.  The first contribution to my buffet was pareve brownies using Earth Balance butter substitute -- the only tolerable product I've found, both flavor- and consistency-wise.  I also used non-dairy chocolate chips ... who knew that the generic brand I can buy at Kroger, rather than something like Ghirardelli -- are pareve???  It actually says so on the package ... wow.  Otherwise, the recipe is a standard-issue brownie recipe which makes the house smell amazing and which produces moist cake-like brownies that are rich and delicious ... truly, I mean it!  If you didn't know they were pareve, you wouldn't know they were pareve.

Afterwards, Tom and Jeremy and I made a long-awaited -- ever since catching an enticing glimpse of a sign in the window that a new Indian market was coming -- trip down to the Om Market on Nixon Road, a new haven of temptation near my house which must have done some research to know that I need a source for goodies that is within walking distance rather than across town.  Owned by the Patel family that also owns The Wine Seller, they were still stocking shelves and organizing the store when I was there, during its first week open.

But what a selection of wonderful items!!!  Freezers with naan and parathi and samosas and other vegetarian treats that I could take to work for lunch (where meat is not permitted).  They even carry the Pillsbury breads which I find endlessly amusing -- the Doughboy on packages of roti!  I know it makes me seem like the proverbial Ugly American to buy them, but I still chuckle every time I see them ... and yes, I am well aware that I have a perverse sense of humor.

There were shelves -- long, long shelves -- of so many spices that even I, who have an entire freezer door-full of spices (and which Jeremy will readily confide are mostly Indian -- cumin, coriander, fenugreek, garam masala ...), didn't recognize all of them.  There were bags of savory snacks, chivra, loaded with lots of little crisp and crunchy goodies.  There were kits and jars of sauces for preparing foods if you're not much of a cook, and lots of ingredients for those of us who thrive upon cooking (especially Indian food, one of our particular favorites!).  And there's lots more space to fill, too, though I can't imagine what else the store could possibly stock ... maybe bindis, since I'm reduced to just the boring brown ones and could use an infusion of sparkle for my forehead ...?  Food-wise, there is abundance and variety.

But best of all, the Patel family -- Mom, Dad, and one of their sons -- simply couldn't have been more friendly and more welcoming, with radiant smiles and extraordinary generosity of spirit.  (Sad to say, when I've shopped at other Indian markets I've been essentially ignored and treated as a stranger who doesn't seem to belong ... and that's the most polite way I can phrase it publicly.)  They offered samples of jalebi -- a beautifully bright orange sweet that is a kinda/sorta syrup-coated funnel cake; I'd never seen it before, and they were happy to let all three of us enjoy a taste.  Mrs. Patel walked right up to Tom as he examined what appeared to be a bag of itty bitty popcorn, to explain that it was popped sorghum that was particularly good coated with butter and salt and eaten as a snack.  Although I like to think that I know a fair amount about Indian food and cooking, I am happy -- thrilled, giddy, ecstatic! -- to know that I can ask any question, seek out information, and be welcomed at the Om Market.  I will absolutely be a regular, and one of their best customers!

And so, what did I make with my purchases of red lentils and coconut milk???  Why, a fabulous lentil soup with spinach, of course!

Curried Lentil Soup

1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 teaspoons hot curry powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon coriander
cayenne, to taste
pinch of saffron (buy cheap saffron at Middle Eastern markets -- $4-5 for less than a cup; it's machine-processed, but who cares???)
3 cups water
1 cup split red lentils
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
1 cup tightly packed baby spinach leaves

Heat the oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.  Add half the onion and half the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the onion and garlic, the salt, seasoned salt, curry, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne and saffron; cook for 1 minute, then slowly add the water and stir to combine everything well.  Add the lentils, bring to a boil, then cook on low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the coconut milk and cook for another 15 minutes.  Add the spinach, and cook just until the leaves wilt.  Serve hot.

I served the soup with some paneer-filled parathi (freshly heated for just a few minutes on each side in a frying pan) and a fabulous snack mix that Jeremy had picked out for me, which I happily stirred into my soup but which Jeremy ignored and Tom ate sparingly as an acompaniment; it had lots of crispy nibbly things and some raisins and just a hint of spice ... sigh ... and perfectly complemented the soup.  I could eat entire bags of that stuff, and have even made my own; believe it or not, the numerous varieties of chivra are even better than Cheetos, one of my very favorite snacks despite their appalling lack of nutritional (or any other kind of) value.

So, I got to bake, I got to cook ... my house smelled fabulous, absolutely fabulous!!!  Sunday was another adventure, but in a commercial kitchen and with good ol' fashioned soul-satisfying Jewish food.  I'll leave you with that tantalizing tease, until next time ....

Note: This post was added to the Kahakai Kitchen "Souper Sundays" Round-Up ... what a great idea, encouraging me to make more than just chicken soup for ailing loved ones!!!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Warm Night, Good Food, and Exceptional Company

Thursday night came, and it was a kinda/sorta Date Night per Tom's and my developing tradition.  But we invited his very dear friend and soon-to-be-retired co-worker Carol along, too, so that she could see the Docent Invitational Exhibit that Tom has 3 beautiful artworks in.

Of course, we had to start with dinner!  And since the Prickly Pear Cafe was hosting a benefit for Alpha House, which provides support and temporary shelter for the homeless -- 10% of the day's proceeds were being donated to this fabulous charity which I found out Carol's daughter works for, and which my employer supports through regular volunteering opportunities throughout the year (I help to coordinate those volunteers' shifts, too, since this is a cause that's near and dear to my bleeding heart) -- it was the logical choice.  Even if the food were cheap and sleazy, we'd have eaten there for the mitzvah -- "commandment," often interpreted as "good deed."  But it certainly helps that the food is fabulous!!!

Everyone knows by now (if you don't know this, you haven't been paying attention!) that my brain becomes paralyzed by menus ... too many choices, everything sounds good -- being an omnivore makes things difficult, rather than being a picky eater who will only settle grudgingly for one or two options.  So, do we want an appetizer?  How hungry is everyone?  Do Tom and I want to order a repeat performance of what we'd eaten last time, and what was that again???  What am I in the mood for -- salad on an 80° day, or something substantial, or something I love but wouldn't bother to make at home?  Decisions, decisions!!!  Thankfully, the still-warm chips with excellent salsa were there to assuage the hunger pangs as the perusal took place.

Carol highly recommended the San Antonio Pecan Chicken Salad, telling us that it was enormous and the three of us could easily split it.  "Organic greens, dried cherries, Anejo cheese, honey, pecans, char-grilled chicken breast" -- it sounded like an excellent choice.  The chicken had perfect grill marks, Jeremy's own personal standard of excellence, and was incredibly tender.  The pecans were candied rather than just tossed in plain and unadorned, and the greens were -- as you can see -- picture perfect.  The dressing was a bit sweet (frankly, syrupy sweet in places where there was too much of it), and Carol and Tom both thought that blue cheese dressing would be a lovely accompaniment.  Devotée that I am of Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Stilton, and any other variety that you can name while I'm still caffeinating and my brain is not at optimum speed yet, I would wholeheartedly endorse that suggestion.

I had never tried the crabcakes before -- I've had the exceptional Butternut Squash Soup with Pinenut Butter, the Sweet Potato Enchiladas, and the Chipotle Flat Iron Steak Salad -- and Tom highly recommended that we split them; well, anyone who can help in my decision-making processes earns lots of brownie points and kisses from me!  And it was an exceptional choice -- rich, generous portions of crab meat with a lovely crisp cornmeal crust, topped with just the right amount of a slightly spicy cheese sauce and served with huge portions of rice and black beans as well.  This plate is a perfect amount for two people, with no salad beforehand ... and I'd had salad beforehand.  So, did I have leftovers???  HA!!!  About 1/4 cup of beans was left after I devoured everything in my path.  I'm a good eater ... and I will not hang my head in shame.

Fortunately, after dinner we had to walk several blocks to the car, walk past maybe 3 storefronts to get from our parking spot to the Gallery, and stood while studying the artworks before walking past those same 3 storefronts to get back to the car ... gotta burn off those calories somehow!  Some green tea once Tom and I got home, and it was a perfect evening with excellent food, intriguing artworks, and exceptionally warm and congenial company ... :)

Prickly Pear Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Still Having Fun While Senility Creeps In

Well, the Docent Invitational Exhibit Reception was held at the Riverside Arts Center this past Saturday night, and I was there twirling in my beautiful new dress in the only pair of high heels that I own.  Jeremy told me that Tom should be sure to let everyone know I'm already taken; and Tom said I looked "like a million bucks" ... :)

But do I have a photo to commemorate my rare and priceless non-officewear, non-jeans, and non-jammies moment?  Did I take a picture of the buffet table that I, of course, meandered over to on "enumeritus" (thank you, "Squidbillies"!) occasions?  Heavens, no!!!  Your foolish Food Floozie switched purses -- bad words that I haven't uttered, literally, in years -- and very inconveniently left her camera at home.

Now, admittedly, the little red purse with sequins was cute, and it was much easier to tote than the behemoth that I usually carry my life around in.  However, while I remembered other critical items like my lipstick and a card bearing the Jewish traveller's prayer (don't leave home without it!), not having brought my camera is really posing (no pun intended -- ha!) some problems for someone who likes to decorate her posts with a little bit of color and with lots of food.

So the one and only picture that I have to offer from Saturday night is the lovely one at the top of the page.  MUCH credit to my beloved, Tom, for taking it before the schmoozing began and further opportunities were lost!!!  But unfortunately, I now have to compensate for the lack of pictures from the actual event by placing props around my home and asking them to pose photogenically for me ... sigh.

Anyway ... let me tell you about those fabulous chocolates that are not yet for sale but will be soon, I hope -- I'll keep you posted when I learn more.  They were made by a friend of Tom's who is a devoted chocolatier in his spare time, after work.  They're raw (only heated slightly, for melting), vegan and organic -- all normally terms that would make me think of tofu and other wretched ingredients not readily placed into my mouth.

But these sinful little tidbits are simply the purest chocolate, with nothing to interfere with your sensual experience.  They literally melt over your tongue as you are transported into a reverie ... I exaggerate not, even though I am admittedly prone to both enthuse and to effuse.  Daniel, the man who creates these magical treats, has located a commercial kitchen for production and is currently networking to seek outlets for sales.  A company name, packaging ... all of those little details are still a-brewing.  But Daniel had better speed up this process, as I steered every one of my guests on Saturday night to the chocolate tray and every single person was nearly in ecstasy from just the small tasting opportunity.

As for the rest of the buffet table -- my vegetable and chip tray with Spicy Mustard Dip (photo taken prior to Saturday night, or else you'd be using your imagination for that, too) seemed to be pretty popular, though no one seemed quite capable of figuring out that the bowl of chocolate stuff surrounded by cookies was yet another type of dip ... sheesh!  Cookies disappeared, but the bowl of chocolate -- bowl of chocolate, may I reiterate! -- was barely acknowledged.  Oh, well -- their loss!  The mini bagels schmeared with a lox-dill cream cheese and then cut into quarters to become bite-sized were also a hit, so I was 2 for 3 with my offerings.

Besides my contributions, there was a Mexican dip in a 9"x13" Pyrex pan that looked remarkably like spaghetti topped with tomato sauce (to my trifocal-ed eyes) until a closer perusal showed beans and sour cream and -- ohhhhh -- shredded cheese underneath the chunks of tomatoes.  It was good, once I figured out what it was!  There was a beautiful cheese tray with very thick asparagus for a garnish (???), lots of fresh fruit, cheesecake, cookies, and more food than I can remember after 4 long days.  (The senility of the title refers not only to having forgotten my camera, but to my inability to even remember why I've walked into the kitchen at any given time, let alone what I ate on Saturday!) There was even a nice assortment of beverages such that I could add dribbles of white wine to my sparkling water, making me feel a bit grown-up in my party dress (but without becoming an embarrassing drunk, since I have perhaps one glass of wine annually and have no tolerance whatsoever).

Tom's father and stepmother drove out to Ypsi from Royal Oak for the event, which was a nice surprise; I'd known they'd been invited, but hadn't expected them to come out.  But as Gary put it, this was a family event and he always shows up for family events ... even though, as Monica pointed out, the Masters was on and her golf-addicted husband was missing it!   Tom's sister Sandy came, as did an old acquaintance from his former writing group.  Several of his co-workers, who are just wonderful, attended -- Daniel (of chocolate fame), Flo, and Sara (whose mom has even commissioned an artwork from Tom after seeing a fabulous piece he'd made featuring a photo of Sara).

Fellow co-workers and very dear friends of Tom's -- Alan and Carol -- had prior commitments and couldn't attend the reception, so they'll get private tours; Carol's will actually be tonight, after dinner at the Prickly Pear (which just happens to be donating 10% of today's proceeds to Alpha House to help the homeless, I might add, which is how it was selected as the restaurant du jour).  I asked Tom to warn Carol that I have the odd habit of photographing my food, so she should be prepared ... though, according to my beloved NYT, I am not alone in this hobby; and I do it for the sake of my faithful readers on and Food Floozie, rather than for my own perverse amusement.  Rationalize, and all can be right with the world!

Many of the people I'd invited couldn't attend because they're observant Jews and the reception was held before Shabbat ended after sundown.  But others -- mostly my "bubbes," as I affectionately call the women in their 80s who have adopted me and taught me to play Mah Jong -- came and ate and laughed and, oh yeah, made sure to schmooze with Tom and to fuss over him and to admire his beautiful artworks.  I was thrilled to have them there, and it wouldn't have been the same without their love and support.  I hope they know how special they are to me, and how blessed I felt that they considered this an important occasion to attend ... :)

So, I came, I ate, I schmoozed, I ate, I ate some more, and the reception was a huge success!  Stay tuned for my next post -- "Prickly Pear and Paintings," or something like that ....

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dalat and Dresses on Date Night

Tom and I planned a “date night” for this past Thursday, the 1st -- opening day for the Docent Invitational exhibit in which he is showing 3 photographs at the Riverside Arts Center (76 N. Huron in Ypsi). We tend to be a couple of homebodies, so we have determined that it is important to go out and experience the world on occasion rather than simply isolating ourselves peacefully with our various creative pursuits of digital photography, writing, and cooking. We may not need to hire a sitter to watch any children -- his daughter being 25 and living in Philly, and Jeremy being 19 -- but we do need to take time for ourselves just to have some fun and to find new diversions. Daily life can become too routine without deliberate efforts to seek new stimuli.

So we started with dinner at Dalat (100 Michigan Avenue), conveniently located across the street from the Arts Center. I had heard of it -- and even driven past it countless times -- but never eaten there before … provincial child that I am, as a product of NYC and its neighborhoods, I tend to stay very much in Ann Arbor with its multitude of offerings. I also like to cook, so obviously I spend more time in my own kitchen than I do in restaurants.

I really do enjoy Vietnamese food, though, despite not eating it very often. Therefore, as you can well imagine if you know me -- or know of me -- at all, I was overwhelmed by a menu filled with 59 listings of different salads and soups and entrees PLUS desserts and beverages. Fortunately Tom has a favorite dish which we knew we would share, and we decided to try a new option, as well, in addition to that.

The favorite is #14 -- Bun tom thit nuong cha gio: “Rice vermicelli, grilled shrimp & beef, cut eggroll, bean sprouts, cucumber, topped with cilantro and crushed roasted peanuts. Served with sweet and sour sauce.” Oh, the mundane details of this ingredient list do not begin to evoke the beauty of the dish! Before you even see the large, deep bowl you can smell an extraordinary fragrance; and then the food is so beautifully, artfully arranged … it entices, and yet it almost seems sacrilegious to disturb the array. On top of the rice noodles and bean sprouts there are bite-sized pieces of meat and of small (but not baby) shrimp, each with a dusting of the nuts and a drizzle of both the nuoc cham -- chili-garlic-fish sauce -- and sweet-and-sour sauce that Tom had added judiciously. The egg roll was sliced into not-quite-1” pieces -- perfect for eating, but without making the mess oneself of either cutting or biting into it -- and carefully placed around the circumference of the bowl. Truly it was a thing of beauty to behold, and a labor of pride and love.

But that’s not all, oh no! We also ordered -- after much deliberation over hunger levels vs. desire for too many delectable options -- #32: A nameless entrée described simply as “A steamed rice plate of grilled basil chicken breast with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber.” Zzzzzzz, right??? It sounds like a grilled chicken sandwich from McDonald’s or something! Oh, but let me assure you -- this dish had an even more fabulous aroma than the other. The rice had an indistinguishable hint of spice that did not impart much flavor but which seduced with its fragrance. It was perfectly cooked -- each grain distinct, and yet with just enough cohesion (rather than actual stickiness) to be easy to eat without losing stray grains. And then there was the chicken breast -- so tender, so moist, so full of flavor, but not overpowered by either basil or cilantro. And mixing/matching the rice with the beef and the noodles with the chicken … these two dishes were perfect complements to each other.

Unfortunately, since the photos on the menu looked so gorgeous and the offerings were so unique (i.e.: “Red beans, yellow mung bean and green jelly. Served with coconut milk and ice”), we were too full for dessert … sounds like a future adventure to me!

Then we meandered through the neighborhood for a bit, as Ann Arbor’s pre-Yuppified (too many hair salons, phone stores and chain restaurants these days for my personal liking) character has clearly wandered down Washtenaw and into downtown Ypsi. There was an alternative art gallery that Tom wanted to show me; but it has apparently been displaced by my new favorite clothing shop, which is saying something considering that I am the Queen of Thrift Shops and never buy anything but shoes and underwear new or at retail prices : Lezley Anne’s. It is at 128 W. Michigan Avenue, and is worth going to even if you have to crawl in torrential rain on blistered knees; I am completely and utterly enamored!

There are dresses and more dresses, each one more colorful than the next … well, how could a girl like me, who wears gold and purple nail polish and sprinkles glitter into her hair for special occasions, resist??? And Lezley, herself, is just the kindest, warmest hostess you can imagine, placing no pressure upon customers as she shows off her amazing artworks (that’s really what they are); she seems far more intent upon making new friends and sharing her pride in the neighborhood than she does in making a sale.

But oh, it was hard not to become her new best customer as I perused the beautiful clothing, fabulously sensuous fabrics (Tom even took a picture of one gorgeous cream-colored skirt with pink and green dots, to use as a photographic texture), and vivid colors. I tried on several dresses, completely abandoning my usual stoic ability to resist full-price items (even if “full price” is only $35 … $35 for a brand new dress!!!) only to become utterly infatuated with several options, including some I could’ve/would’ve worn 20 years ago before age and gravity wreaked their miserable havoc upon me. But there was a clear winner among the contenders, which I will wear for the April 10 reception for the Docent Invitational at Riverside. Tom’s face lit up when he saw me in it, which meant everything in the world to me and made me feel beautiful as I twirled around in the full and flirtatious skirt.

As we talked to her, we learned that Lezley actually designs some of her own fabrics and is delving into organic cottons; the printer across the street lets her create her designs there, before she then cuts and trims and sews her one-of-a-kind dresses. Lezley told us that she’s never felt such a strong connection among neighbors and pride in a community, such that the shopkeepers and restauranteurs along Michigan Avenue are like members of an extended family. Tom and I were proud to support a local artist, as well as a collective spirit such as the one we were welcomed into as we ate and shopped and just immersed ourselves in the ambiance.

But there’s more -- don’t forget the art exhibit, which continues through April 24! We meandered into the nearly-empty room to revel in seeing Tom’s pieces, which brought me enormous and indescribable pride, without the noise and bustle of crowds intruding upon the experience. The reception for Tom’s (I call it his, even though there are 15 other artists involved!) art exhibit is on Saturday, April 10 from 5-7 p.m., and everyone is welcome to attend and to schmooze with the artists. (I’m bringing food, too, with a plan “du jour” of baby bagels with cream cheese and lox, a spicy dip with chips and vegetables, and a chocolate dip with cookies.)

There is an extraordinary variety of works being presented by the docents who work at the Arts Center, as well as by the guests that each docent was permitted to invite -- everything from paintings to sculpture to photography, with the simple listing of each of these media really seeming inadequate. Tom’s works are stellar, of course, with one of them -- twin, though not identical, images of a mannequin no longer able to maintain a public façade -- being a particular favorite. His friend Tara -- one of the docents, who very graciously invited Tom to participate in the exhibit -- also has some photographs on display; the one of an abandoned armchair in an alley with a vibrantly colored "Jesus" graffiti-ed in the background, and another very peaceful one of lovely pink flowers, are two that I found particularly distinctive and touching.

So come on down to the Riverside Arts Center on the 10th to see Tom’s work, to meet the artist (and later say “I knew him ‘when’!”), and to watch me giddily spin in my beautiful, sassy new dress ….

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