A Lull in the Holidays

So Christmas has come and gone already.  I’m not really sure where December itself has mostly disappeared to…I know that we spent a lot of time getting paperwork to the requesting company or governmental department.  I also managed to work up an abscessed tooth, so ended up at the free clinic in Fauquier County.  It wasn’t what I was expecting–no overt “poor”-ness, the staff was amazingly kind and helpful (and they are all volunteers).  As they took my health history, they of course asked for medications I’m on–and the first question out of the nurse’s mouth as I began to list them was “Do you need any refills?”  Not yet, but that’s something I’ll be doing soon, as things are beginning to go low–and I need another doctor’s note to appeal the insurance company’s decision to stop paying Long Term Disability (LTD).  Since my health is “self-diagnosed” (no actual blood test or MRI/X-Ray to prove I have it) I have to KEEP proving I have it.  Like it’s just going to go away because they won’t pay beyond the end of the month.  I wish.

So let’s see…what has been going on?

Black Bear Bistro runs a weekly contest–Chef gives a particular kind of meat and then asks for recipes using that ingredient, serving it as one of the specials on Friday night.  The week before Christmas, he said “duck breast”.  I said, “brine in throwback Dr. Pepper and then smoke, serve it with a cranberry salsa and sauce it with a Dr. Pepper/bourbon reduction”.  He said OH YEAH! And I won the contest that week–and the prize?  Getting my recipe made up as dinner for free.  Needless to say, we went to BBB and had it.  Apparently it was very popular that evening.  I know that when they brought mine to me, a man sitting nearby said, “Mmmm what is that?” and then he ordered it.  And it was amazing.  I don’t know what kind of a contract Chef made with the smoke demons, but anything that man makes that comes off the smoker is just beyond words.  Moist, tender, smoky….and I like smoked foods, so I’m a sucker for anything he cooks that way.  (Note: if you like ribs, get the half rack.  It comes and you can just pull the bones out, like playing Jenga–and when you’re done, the HALF rack leaves a pile of meat about the mass of a softball–it’s at least 2 cups of meat. NOM!)

And then we hit the holidays…

We went to Beloved’s parents’ house on Christmas Eve, and Ri and Froggy (and my son, BB!) met us there for the Polish custom of “vigil”.  It’s a tradition where you begin about 6 pm (we started earlier to accommodate Froggy’s 9 pm bedtime) and then eat until midnight when everyone goes to Mass.  MIL made a special (Polish) mushroom soup, and we had pierogies–about 4 different kinds.  So we ate, and ate well.  No one went to Mass, but Beloved and I did spend the night to be there for the Christmas festivities in the morning.

We obviously didn’t have money for presents, but I made 3 kinds of candied nuts and some peppermint bark as a sort of gift.  I made Buttered Rum Almonds, Toffee Pistachios and Ginger Cashew Toffee.  All three were very popular, and MIL ate most of the cashews.  I think FIL like the almonds and the pistachios, so that works out well.  I made enough of the peppermint bark that there was some still at home for Beloved, who has nommed it all down.

Since his parents have been helping us so profoundly the past 4 months, they had warned that it would be a “small” Christmas.  Well, if it was their idea of small, I’d be completely overwhelmed to see what a big one would be.  I had given them a list of gift ideas, links to things on Amazon that I liked…I think they bought almost all of them.  Beloved had also given his list, but included some things that he thought I would like–which they also got.  And we both got gift cards with a generous amount on them.  They gave both of us a Kindle Paperwhite, and it’s wonderful.  I am really enjoying it.  Beloved gave his (old) Kindle to his father and I gave my old one to his sister.  So 4 people got Kindles that day–and his mother was not unhappy because she got her iPod, HAHA! So my haul for the day was 4 shirts, a cotton terry bathrobe (long in length and with a hood, used for actually drying myself off after a shower); a ceramic santoku knife, a couple of specialty chocolate bars (one with chilis and cherries, the other with pieces of ginger), 2 gift cards, a USB Nintendo 64 controller/game pad so that I can play N64 on my computer (and I’m using the heck out of it, playing Ocarina of Time); a framed picture of one his sister’s costume designs that she says “got her into graduate school”.  She gave a different one to each of us, so Beloved and I have to figure out where to hang our two pictures.  And of course, I got the Paperwhite.  WAY more than I expected, WAY more than they should have done–I was totally prepared not to get any gifts at all.  So to get that much was overwhelming.

MIL made a turkey dinner since the sister missed Thanksgiving with us, so we ate that Christmas evening and stayed another night there.  Wednesday, we took said sister and all our booty and headed home.  It was 24 hours of doing nothing, hanging out, reading our new Kindles or in Sis’s case, her new book (the first of the “Hunger Games”–she got the trilogy).  We did go out for Mexican food for dinner, but other than that, we spent our time being complete couch potatoes.   M- & FIL came out to our house to pick her up early Thursday evening.  We made dinner out of the turkey dinner leftovers MIL had sent home with us.  Friday, we ran errands in Warrenton–dropping off the bank statements for Social Services, faxing the lawyer the SSA paperwork I still have to fill out and send back, depositing the last LTD check in the bank and getting the rent check.

Between being out of our own home for 3 days and then having Sis over (while great to see her, and pleasant to be able to offer her the chance to de-stress) and then running errands, we were “done wore out”, as they say. Saturday and Sunday have been sent doing as little as possible, sleeping and playing on the computer.  We both need it–and the weather changed, so I was in bad pain for Friday and Saturday.  With the help of my Beloved, who analyzes everything, we managed to abort a migraine yesterday for me–but he insisted I take a muscle relaxer and they tend to make me…high.  So I made sure I did not do any driving!  LOL

It looks like we will have a quiet, just the two of us kind of New Year’s.  This year has gone by in a blur–and not necessarily because it was going that fast, but because I was so “out of it” for great portions of time.  Don’t remember much of February or March… When you don’t have a schedule, when you’re not having to go to work, it’s very easy for the days to slip by, one after another and then it’s a week gone, then a month and before you know it…seasons change and you have no idea what happened the past 60 days.  It’s part of the reason I am very careful to check the bottom left corner of my computer screen–time, day of the week and the date prominently displayed.  Or I’d completely lose track of “when” it is.

Of course we had visits from Ri and Froggy, since they got here the first week of December.  Froggy is 14 months old, thinking about walking but crawling very well.  He’s a happy, easy going child, like his father was—and seems to remember us (fondly) each time we see him.  Skype has paid off!  Now if I could just get my Lizard to install it so I can see the EG once in a while.  On the other hand, having a mobile baby here meant a certain amount of rearrangement to child-proof and protect the technology from little fingers.  That has had the unexpected benefit of opening up more space and making the main room feel larger.  I suspect that when we are completely done, and things are where we want them, we have the furniture that we want, etc… it’s going to be unique and very different from anything I’ve ever lived in before.

We already have the bed in the living room–and super smart engineer-minded Beloved made the point that we need walk space all the way around it, so why not put it down by the patio door, where we also have to have walk space in the same pattern?  We regain about 65 square feet of usable space that way.  Might not seem like a lot, but when you’re only talking about a 13 by 24 room, you’ll take all the usable space you can get!  That also puts our desks down at the end with the windows, no one is sitting in the pathway to the patio, and we can arrange our desks together better than if they were across the room from each other.  (As they would have been with the bed in its current position.)  Now if we could just get the boxes sorted and taken care of…

Still working on the hellhole of a kitchen.  I am running dishes through a dishwasher that needs replacing since it doesn’t really work the way it’s supposed to.  So it gets clean what it gets clean, the rest I try again and then I’ll hand wash.  It is reducing the amount of things to hand wash to a stack that’s not so completely overwhelming.  I know the knives and wooden things never go in the dishwasher, so I’m okay with doing those…but there are some things that just will NOT come clean in the machine and I’m going to have to do them manually.  Sigh.  I HATE to wash dishes.  Really HATE.  I’d rather do almost anything instead of washing them, so it’s VERY easy to find something else to do and let them go another day.  Did I mention that I’ve got a bit of problem keeping track of time?  Can’t put it off any longer, but doing it in clumps of energy rather than making myself insanely in pain doing it all at once.  And I’m rediscovering counter tops….

Also trying to do more cooking.  We had eggs, sausage and whomp biscuits (canned) for breakfast yesterday; dinner was (premade) Jamaican Jerk chicken breast and sweet potatoes (Beloved also had some white potatoes, mashed up).  It’s quinoa and sausage for breakfast today, and I’ve pulled a marinated in mesquite pork loin out of the freezer to thaw.  Not sure if I’m actually going to roast it, or just make BBQ sauce and braise it (boil it in the sauce, basically) and make pulled pork.  If I do, I’ll get Beloved to make some rice to go with it.  We need to go grocery shopping soon…but not today.  I expect the stores to be busy today with people preparing for tonight…

I guess that’s about it for now.  Have a safe and Happy New Year this evening–do not drink and drive!!  And may your New Year be joyous and blessed!

Namaste!

The Chef, the Bistro and Amazing Food

This is the story of how I fell in love with Black Bear Bistro.  (www.blackbearbistro.com)

Black Bear is located in Old Town Warrenton, right on Main Street, across from Iron Bridge and next door to Molly’s Pub, down near the courthouse.  The first time I went there was after I had met my beloved and he took me.  We had Lobster Mac’n’Cheese, French toast made from Great Harvest bread (Great Harvest is just down the road from Black Bear), and other things I can’t remember now, only that they were awesome.

Living in Manassas meant that we didn’t go out there very often.  One time when we went, Paul asked Todd (Eisenhauer, the chef) what bribe it would take to get his curry recipe.  Todd just grinned and said, “Let me get a pencil and some paper” and proceeded to give it to us.  He actually SHARES his recipes!  Most chefs do not, and in fact would be horrified if you asked for it.  And just so you know, it’s amazing curry.  He actually does several different kinds–and this was his yellow curry, served on a bed of rice with a choice of meat.  And what meat!  Paul got it with beef–pieces of beautifully grilled flesh, laid on top.  I took a bite of this meat that hadn’t gotten any sauce on it yet and couldn’t believe the taste.  When Paul tasted it, he said, “It’s fruity” and that’s when Todd (who was walking past) told us that it was grass-fed beef.

I blame him for the fact that the only kind of beef we buy now is grass fed.  It’s sweet, it’s tasty–and even though it costs more, it is worth every penny.  For one thing, you don’t have to eat as much.  And for another, it’s healthier for you, since there’s no corn in it.  It’s always better to eat something that has fed on its natural foods instead of being given something that will kill it.  (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the documentary, “King Corn”.  It will make you sick and make you switch to organic, grass-fed, pasture-fed…in other words, back to what your meat was eating before he corn industry came along.

Paul and I had no problem agreeing on going out to Black Bear after our wedding, for the celebratory feast.  When we wanted to order champagne–and explained to Chef Todd why, he told us that the splits he had weren’t that good, so he’d open a bottle of the good stuff and sell it to us by the glass.  He brought the bottle to the table and sabered it open–cut the top off the bottle with a knife (well, okay, so it wasn’t actually a sabre) which was impressive.  And by the time dinner was done, he told us that he was paying for the bottle.  Not only a good chef, but a very nice man.

I called my daughter during our wedding dinner to tell her that we had gotten married (the ceremony was Paul, the minister and me.  VERY small wedding).  While I was talking to her, I happened to look up and see Todd walking by.  I said to my daughter, “The chef has just gone by in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey….with the number 75 on it.  Do you know whose that was?”  Well, she’s a little young to know about Mean Joe Green, so I told her.  And then I told her, “And the jersey is SIGNED.  And the chef is wearing it like a regular shirt!”  She asked me to knock him down (gently) and take it–since she’s a Steeler’s fan.

When we moved out to Bealeton, Black Bear was on our way home from work in Manassas.  Oh, the torture…having to stop in Warrenton for dinner.  We started going  regularly enough that most of the staff knew us by name—and we knew theirs as well.  The menu changes each quarter, for as Chef Todd so eloquently says, “It’s local.  If it’s not local, it’s from Virginia.  If it’s not from Virginia, it’s from the East Coast.  If it’s not from the East Coast, it’s from the US.  If it’s not from the US, it’s not in my kitchen.”  He also has a very, very vegan/vegetarian friendly menu, so even though I gush about the organic grass fed beef, he does have more than one choice for those who eschew their meat instead of chew it.

We enjoy taking our friends and family to Black Bear.  Each time, we are rewarded with yet another meal that proves our enthusiasm and verifies our opinion.  The ribs…oh dear gods, the ribs….either on a sandwich or as a (half) rack for dinner.  Let’s put it this way, they run out of ribs on a regular basis.  Get there early if you want ribs.  Chef Todd apparently has one of the fire gods on his side, because the ribs defy human explanation.  Smoky, sweet, still juicy, like the ribs you’ve dreamt about…but in real life.  Not too heavily sauced, perfectly fall off the bone done…something to be experienced because the words do not manage to describe them adequately.

Of course that’s true about pretty much all of the menu at Black Bear.  Smoked crab and cheese dip…lobster mac’n’cheese (which the chef took off the menu for a while because he was “so tired of making it all the time”—popular just a little?).  Probably the only thing on the menu that neither Paul nor I like is the Andrew’s Bacon Habenera Sauce.  But neither of us likes habeneras, so you’re on your own for that one.  Chef has a sausage supplier that is fabulous…and because they are handmade, there can be a little difference between them from one visit to the next.  And he’ll give you that supplier’s business card so that you can go buy a boxful of your own.  Even the honey he serves is local (from an apiary just outside of Culpeper, about 35 miles away) and it’s name is Wicked Bottom–and it’s RAW honey.  Almost time to buy some and begin eating a tablespoon of it every day to help with the allergies.  Oh and they also sell the Wicked Bottom lotion bar–it’s a solid lotion, beeswax, shea butter and I don’t know what all else, but Chef swears by it and I am finding out that he’s right.  Anyone who is washing their hands as often as a chef…and still has nice hands, no cracked skin…must be using something good.

Chef does the cooking, but doesn’t do the baking (he can bake, says he…he just doesn’t want to).  So the desserts are made locally, also organic and farm fresh.  Amazing desserts…flourless chocolate cake; white chocolate cinnamon mousse; pies of all sorts.  One time, Paul got the sweet potato pie for his dessert.  Now Paul is a Super Taster.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supertaster) So when he describes food, he uses some of the same terms you might when tasting wines.  And this sweet potato pie, while earthy and sweet and the crust was nice…was hitting all of his taste buds except for one part of his palate.  We had a lively discussion with our waitress about what could be added to the pie to hit that spot.

Oddly enough, his parents were taking us out to lunch the following day…at Black Bear.  So I got up that next morning and went shopping.  Buying local or organic, I got the ingredients for the results of the discussion we had had the night before.  I made a ginger-lemon caramel sauce, adding finely chopped organic Granny Smith Apples and pecans just after the caramel formed so that the apples would not be soft.  Paul tasted it and agreed that it was just right but for one thing: black pepper.  Yep, it needed just a dash of pepper.  I added it and he declared it “just right”!

When we got to Black Bear, I asked our waiter if the the Chef was in–and when I found out that he was, asked to have him come see me with a piece of the sweet potato pie in hand.  Chef Todd found us at our just desserts…and so he tasted the pie naked, and agreed that it needed “something”.  I put some of my apple chutney (can’t think of a better descriptive name) on it…and the chef ate it.  Then went back for seconds.  Success!  I held out the container with the rest of the chutney and he (accurate word here) GRABBED it from me…and ran off to the kitchen, clutching it and saying as he left that anyone who ordered the pie that night would get this on it.  (And a few weeks later, we were in and mentioned it to our server who told us that the staff in the kitchen were wondering where that came from and that it did, indeed, go out on the pie!  I am very proud that I made something that he considered good enough to serve to his customers).

And one last story: we finally got to take Liz, my daughter to Black Bear just last week.  We stuffed her full of good, good food (and a grapefruit mimosa!  Better than orange mimosas, from fresh squeezed and organic grapefruit…omgnommy!)…and when Chef Todd came by, we introduced her to him–and told him that she had said I should take his Steelers jersey.  He laughed and said that yeah, he wore it.  What was he supposed to do, hang it on the wall?