Thursday, September 1, 2011

Starfish Brasserie

My family just ate an amazing meal at the Starfish Brasserie in Bethlehem, PA. The occasion was my darling husband's birthday. It's a place we know well - but didn't realize how well we knew it until we had one of the tastiest, friendliest and comfortable fine dining experience we could have ever imagined with two 8 year olds in tow.

At the time of this writing, I only wish I could conjure detailed writing like a famous food critic - because I know what I write won't do the experience justice.

Our kids have been to many restaurants - but going to a fancy place like this usually takes a good amount of psychological prepping (or threatening) for good behavior. We tell them that not everyone else in the world is as charmed by them as we are - and others in the dining room don't need to be "entertained." Our server, Gary, knew us, so he was very attentive to make sure that we all had food served at the right time, and in the right sequence. We know pretty much what the kids would like, and what they'd be willing to try.

The kids know that this place has the BEST French fries Bethlehem, so Gary made sure to bring a huge plate of them to the table with our first appetizer, blackened catfish. Kris (chef and owner) then gave us a complimentary plate of white anchovies with caviar... zomg! amazingly fresh. Definitely NOT the kind I'm used to seeing slimed on a cheap pizza.  To our surprise, our son likes fresh anchovies. The texture of the caviar was a little "bumpy" but he liked the salty goodness. Our daughter wasn't as adventurous. She did try it - and contained her reaction enough not to cause a scene.

For the main courses, we knew to order only one meal to split with the kids (lobster crab and Macaroni and cheese). I ordered the pork loin, Steve ordered the lamb chops. I told Gary I would split the lobster and pork with the kids - asking him to give me plates to divide it at the table. Kris took the trouble to split them on the three plates in the kitchen. Each were beautifully plated; and the kids nearly licked their plates.

The freshly baked sourdough bread with a tomato infused olive oil for dipping was a big hit. And yes, my son did like that plate. - OK, he used his fingers, but still I hope the other diners weren't too grossed out by his enthusiasm for a good thing.

Dessert was creme brulée for me and Steve, and the kids chose the chocolate mousse. My son loved cracking the crusty sugar - and they both had a lesson in real vanilla. When my daughter saw the vanilla seeds at the bottom of the brulee, she remembered seeing the black dots in the home made ice cream we make. Again, the fingers came out to get all the good stuff.

Somewhere in the middle of the caviar, I had a hankering for some vodka. (I was thinking about a scene in the movie, "Benjamin Button" - or whatever the real title is - you know, the one with Brad Pitt and a lot of makeup?) So I ordered a chilled vodka straight up. What Louis the bartender sent to the table was a rather large martini glass full to the rim of Absolut. I was happy. Wait a minute - who's birthday was this again? We decided at that moment, to add our wedding anniversary to the celebration. We're used to combining family occasions.

All told, each dish was so delightfully prepared; we actually could taste the main ingredients. They weren't overwhelmed with seasoning or complications. The fresh fish and local produce was heavenly. I only wish I could eat there more often.

Kris is a very generous restauranteur. Bethlehem is lucky to have such a nice place to go for a spontaneous dinner. Louis is one the BEST bartenders around. And Gary is a most attentive server. We were so pleased with our meal and evening. It was a great night.

All the best to Starfish - and hope to eat there again, really soon.

#77 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why I chose to continue playing

Many of my colleagues are surprised when they found out my doctorate is in bassoon performance. While I chose to leave the professional musician's world at a time when administration seemed to be more my calling, I still love to play. I'm lucky that I work for an institutional that not only allows me to play in the ensemble, but gives me the chance to mentor others just by performing with them.

I believe that some of the best learning experiences I've had as a musician were the moments I got to play next to brilliant performers. I learn through the making of music - not by being told what to do. I'm not saying that I'm now the "brilliant" musician. But I do get to show them my special tricks, and also how to get productive in rehearsals.

I have a special way of counting multiple rests so that one can count up to 16 measures on one hand. I learned this from the principle bassoonist in the Kalamazoo Symphony. I also know how to share snide remarks without disrupting the conductor. I also know when to tweet and more importantly, when NOT to tweet - as in, not when the rehearsal is going on, unless I'm sitting out for a movement or piece. The students here also don't know how to acknowledge when one of their colleagues does a good job on a solo. Or how to encourage entire sections to blow their chops off - and enjoy the work. Some of them are starting to get the shuffling feet after a solo. We also eat a lot of recovery bananas. I always have my reed tools handy to help a student in need. Other more seasoned players help the students read through the music - and support them later in the semester when the course load gets a little crazy.

Last year, I got to play Mahler's First symphony again. I was able to have a special moment in the music, and share it with a few of my friends who were in the audience. At one rehearsal, my daughter was with me and got to sit in the section. She seemed totally at home between me at the clarinet; almost like she was a grown up, too More often than not, when the kids are at rehearsal with me, they enjoy running around the audience seats and letting their imaginations run wild. They know that if they don't interrupt rehearsal, they might get to touch a percussion instrument at break. I dream of the day when all three of us play in an ensemble together. Maybe in 10 years - I'll see that dream come true.

One of my friends in the viola section got to play with his first year son in the cello section. It was a special moment to watch - and I'm sure dad was feeling a particular sense of pride. If it doesn't happen for me, I'll be OK - but it sure was sweet to see it for him.

It's the "community" players in the orchestra bring a whole side of playing to the university ensemble experience. All of the older players enjoy playing, and we're all happy to be there. Aside from that sense of community, I also need to practice what I preach.

I'm happy to say there are far more engineers, business and A&S majors in the orchestra than music majors. It's important to continue to put myself out there -just as I'm encouraging the students to do; no matter what path of learning they are pursuing.

I'm grateful that my family gives me the time to go to rehearsals and concerts. Steve is a special guy for taking the kids so I can have a little bit of fun on stage.

#76 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I'm not really a tiger mom... am I?

Music lessons start back up with weekly regularity. The kids' teachers are expecting them to be more accountable for their own practice - but we all know (the teachers and me) that it's still up to me to encourage them to practice daily and to be focused on it when they are.

It's not that I wish to be a tiger mom. But I do want them to know that someone is helping them understand that they have responsibilities; even for stuff they don't like all the time. They have to learn that they can teach themselves new pieces when they learn how to critically listen to what they are doing. They can be conscious of what they make, as much as what sounds are being made around them. There will be a time when things click - and they will fly. We are at a hump stage right now. But I've seen them click before.

They can learn new things about themselves by sticking to this - especially when they don't want to. I'm not sure they've figured out that I'm not always interested in practicing with them either. This summer, I've finally found a way to help them get through the tough parts without losing my own patience. I'm sure this awareness will come in handy when it's time to teach them how to drive. (Oh Lord, please let their daddy do that!)

I've already told them - and their daddy (my dear husband) that they will not be allowed to quit their music lessons until they graduate from high school. I know that if something drastic happens when they are 12 years old, we'll re-evaluate. But I don't even want them to think that if they whine hard enough I'll give in. I told them the music lessons is just as important as going to school. You just do it. And if you go with it for a while, you might even see it's fun once in a while.

I know my mom struggled with getting me to practice. I also know that she didn't believe me when I said my piano teacher was a nut case. It took my going away to college for her to start getting the phone calls from said teacher because she no longer had students to talk to about her lonely life. Then she believed me.

The teachers we have for the kids are amazing. I'm still sticking to my guns on this. I won't complain about how much it's costing, or how much time it takes for me to drive them to their teachers' home. I will always reward them with generous affection after each practice session. I won't yell (or wince) when they are out of tune. I will stop the practice session when it goes longer than 30 minutes. I will let them go to the bathroom in the middle if they need to. They still get to watch TV. They still have play dates.

Each parent goes through a moment when they see themselves fully on the other side of line between being a child, and being a grown up. At moments like these, I thank God my mom didn't let me quit - even when my psycho teacher nearly drove me to crush my own hand in the car door just to avoid a lesson. Yes, it got that bad. Even though the piano teacher was insane, I still learned from her.  I think she's still alive.

I know there will be a moment when my own kids look back on these lessons and realize the patience, sacrifice and the restraint I needed to garner while they were pushing me to the edge of sanity.

I only hope that if they ever get so distressed that they want to slam their hand in a car door - I'll be aware. I know we're heading for more intense days of drama. I only hope that some how, we all make it through.

#75 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

(honestly, Mom - that moment was also when I was going through a little bit of drama with other things. All is well)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Please God, let there be school tomorrow!

It wasn't that bad today. Really. The kids and I have our way about getting through the days when they're dragged to campus to wait for me to get some things done. Thankfully, I didn't have a ton of meetings or public appearances. Those are the days when it gets really challenging - because as good as they are, there is always the possibility that one or both will become monsters in public.

Or maybe I have "the look" and "the tone" down by now. Every once in a while, my friends will catch it, like Jeremy did tonight. It's a look that we all fear from our own parents - that look that instills fear and guilt for doing the wrong thing. I still crumble at the thought of my own mom having that look in my direction.

I don't use the look often - only in those situations where I don't want to draw attention to their behavior, but they need to know that it's not appropriate. I think I've even shot my husband that look once or twice. Must be a sign of motherhood...

I just want to put that look away for a stretch. I go to sleep tonight, expecting the kids will go to school tomorrow. They'll need to get up earlier than they have for the last 4 months. Tomorrow will probably be fine. They're so excited to see their friends again. Even the worries of the strict teacher won't make their stomachs turn to hard. We'll see how their energy holds up during their music lessons later in the day.

If for some reason, school is cancelled again; we'll just keeping doing what we've done all summer long. I just hope that for their sake as much as for my own sanity, we get back to school tomorrow.

I also know there will be a moment at some point in the late morning, or maybe after lunch when I'll miss them. And I'll be wondering why in the heck I need to push them back into school so badly.....

#74 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Channelling Auntie Bernice

This is *supposed* to be the last day of summer vacation. Irene had other ideas. We were lucky that we didn't loose power and our basement only got a little "seepy" - just enough to motivate the final round of transferring all stored items into plastic containers. We're about 75% done with that project. We usually wait until plastic goes on sale and buy as many big ones as we can afford.

Our experience with Irene was a category, "no harm, no foul."

Except for the amazing amount of energy the barometer sapped out of my body, I got some things done. By the time the wind calmed down a bit, I took Buddy out for a little walk. I wanted to grab a picture of the Monocacy Creek by Illick's Mill road.

The water was rushing pretty fast. I was surprised to see two police cars parked at the road blocking any would be drivers or pedestrians from venturing into the park. From what I could see from the road, there were a couple of trees down. Still, I wished I could go in further to see the mighty water rush down the WPA project. This park is one of my favorite places in Bethlehem. I hope the storm didn't cause too much damage.

By the time Buddy and I got home, the kids and Steve were into the last episodes of the cartoon, Avatar. So much for them practicing, or trying to do any brain games to get them psyched for school. Steve didn't sleep well last night. Guess he was getting up every time the wind blew a branch against the house.

I had a little sleepiness myself. I conked out not long after I took the dog off his leash. When I woke, I didn't want to waste another day, so I decided to channel my Auntie Bernice.

Auntie Bernice was the closest sibling in age to my dad. She was an amazing cook - even before being a "foodie" was in style. She was an early devote of Julia Child; bought all the kitchen tools she need to make amazing dishes. Food was her gift for any big occasion. Her kitchen was tiny, and her budget was small. Yet she believed in using the right ingredients. "Never use margarine - always butter. If you're worried about your weight, don't eat as much." For my wedding (and for both my sisters' weddings) she made 14 different flavors of cheese cake. To this day, the cheese cake is what people remember about my wedding. My big Christmas dinners are inspired by her. I believe I'll be making more homemade candy this year. The toffee I made last year was a hit. This year, I'll add fudge and chocolate covered roasted Brazil nuts. Just like Bernice, I'll shell, roast and dip them all myself.

Auntie Bernice did everything from scratch. Bread was made every day. There was no such thing as cake mix or store bought dough. She often went to the grocery store at 4am to get fresher eggs. Her food was fabulous. What I loved most was her humble service. None of her plates matched. She set a glorious table with the stuff we put into our bodies. The table scape was a utility; not a fashion. She also sang loudly in church, and had one of the most amazing laughs; and it was genuine.

Every fall, whether we have a bounty or not, I sauce tomatoes in her honor. My mom had given me an attachment for my kitchen aid that makes saucing a snap. It is a shallow mesh bowl that fits into the large mixing bowl. The wooden scraper moved around blanched tomatoes to release all the nice flesh and juice from the skin and seeds. I also attach the plastic splash guard on top - because I slam a bunch of tomatoes in there - LOVE when cooking gets a little crazy messy.

The amount of sauce let by tonight's gathering netted two bowls. It's reducing on the stove top now. That smell is mixing with the lingering banana bread I baked earlier today to have fast breakfasts ready for the kids to grab on their way to the bus stop.

Instead of tomorrow being the first day of school I'd hoped for - it's another day of juggling the kids and work. That's OK - we'll have fresh banana bread and garden fresh tomato sauce for some wicked dinners. All is well.

#73 of 90in90 for #LUBlogTribe

PS - Yes, Banana bread will be available at the office this week.