Musings from Quince

Remembrance of Pools Past
July 19, 2010, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Seasonal | Tags: , , , ,

Time Warp!

Here we are in the thick of summer, with days averaging in the 90’s, and the humidity right on up there.  What better way to cool off than a dip (quick or lengthy) in the pool?  Of course, it helps if you HAVE a pool, but many of us don’t, though some of us are fortunate enough to have friends with pools….of course, there’s always the athletic club pool and public pool, but there’s something special about hanging out at a friends’ pool, especially with a fun group, zillions of bottles of wine and champagne, platters of delicious food (some healthier than others), soft fluffy towels, and an adorable gazebo/changing area to boot…not to mention assorted chaise lounges, umbrellas galore, and plenty of seating on teak benches and tables…..a friend of mine has been threatening to put in a pool for quite sometime, and this year she actually did it!

Mighty Close to Eden, c.2010

  Jumping in her pool serves as a catalyst for a trip back in time, where growing up in Miami, we had a pool, which back in the late 50’s, was still slightly novel.  I was about 6 at the time, and I remember my swimming lessons in that pool like it was yesterday.  Within a relatively short time, I sprouted gills and essentially spent every waking free moment playing in that pool – it had a very deep end, and friends from the neighborhood would descend, and we’d spend so much time in the water that eventually we turned into puckery prunes, with bright red bloodshot eyes, and chlorine-bleached hair. Can-opener? Watch out…Watermelon? No problem! Cannonball? Bring it on!

Aaahh, time for a dip!

Our family really enjoyed the pool and patio….the terrazzo tile was really slippery, so we had to be careful, but it was always the epicenter for entertaining, etc.  The patio was screened in, so it was easy to barbeque and have food around, without being bombarded by flies and mosquitos.  My step-mother, Julia, reigned supreme when it came to whipping up the most delicious meals ever….steaks on the grill, Florida lobster (crawfish), stone crab claws, it went on and on.  And some Sunday mornings, she’d do pancakes and we’d sit outside….those were the days.  My sister, Karen, celebrated her birthday one year when she was in high school shortly after the pool was completed….I remember about 50 kids showed up, and she walked them AROUND the pool (no one got in?!) like it was some sort of mysterious watering hole. However, this was in January, and sometimes it actually became a bit too chilly for a swim.  Did I also mention we had an entire row of key lime trees on one whole side of the pool which provided an endless year around supply of limes for limeade, pies, etc.  Yes!  Was I lucky, or what!

Full Service Gazebo

Anyway, what I find so amazing is that after that first plunge, all the frustrations of the day seem to melt away and all of a sudden you’re engrossed in heavy discussions with really smart people (seriously!) about what George Clooney is up to, or what Chelsea’s wedding dress will look like.  And most importantly, who’s going to refill the wine glasses (or flutes) next time around…and BTW, that little gazebo/cabana houses a changing room, mini-kitchen, a fully stocked large fridge, a large basket of assorted sun blocks for your choosing, and everything else you could possibly need to make your afternoon dip the highlight of your day.  I for one, feel very fortunate  not having to resort to the garden hose and sprinkler in the back yard this year!


Dripless vs. Droopless
July 8, 2010, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Essence | Tags: , , , , ,

Beeswax vs. Wax

Well, this week I’ve learned something about candles….more than I wanted to learn, actually, due to rather unpleasant circumstances inside Quince!  Of all the weeks to lose air-conditioning, this one is probably THE worst, with temps. soaring to 91 degrees INSIDE the store…cooler than 102 degrees outside, but nevertheless extremely uncomfy.  Now, I’m not blaming anyone for this – parts just wear out, and it just happened to be Quince’s turn.

I found these 2 whimsical hare candelabras recently on a journey out-and-about, and just had to have them….in the right setting, they will be fabulous (actually, my house would be the perfect setting, but I just don’t have any room left!)…so, they’re for sale.  They weigh a ton (solid brass) and wouldn’t have budged if left outside during Cville’s recent “microburst”.  In the meantime, I thought I’d add some candles for effect….the ones on the left are beeswax; on the right are wax….both kinds are high quality, burn cleanly, and don’t drip.  But who knew one type would droop severely if subjected to a high room temperature?  Granted, 91 degrees is way outside temp. parameters for comfortable living, but if these candles were outside in a patio setting, let’s say, during a party, the drooping would give way to countless snickers and wisecracks (you get it, don’t you?) which could add a lot of hilarity but may not please the hostess.

I’m casting my vote for beeswax vs. non-beeswax.  I sell lots of beeswax candles in the store in a variety of colors….they all seem unaffected by the temperature spike, thank goodness!

I’m also very happy to say that my a/c has been restored……the parts came in a day early, and the guys have been on the roof of the building for hours in sweltering heat doing their best to get some frosty air blowing around in here again.  The temp. in 2 hours has already dropped from 91 to 86!  So many people suggested I close the store for the week, but I just couldn’t do it in the event someone made a super-human effort to get down here and shop.  Besides, abandoning Quince is something I would never do, and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to sit here in agony on my behalf while I escaped to my friend’s brand new swimming pool for a dip and a quick Grey Goose & tonic, heavy on the ice and lime…..

Well, this has been a “Study in Wax”….if you have any similar stories, please comment, and please feel free to suggest a caption for the photo below!

Hmm, create your own caption!

The Perfect Summer Couscous Salad
July 6, 2010, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Recipes, Seasonal | Tags: , , , ,

The Best Sidedish, Ever!

Well, here it is….the perfect dish to take to a party or serve as a side when you’re entertaining at home….Couscous salad goes with just about everything: burgers, chicken, lamb, etc.  but also is vegetarian/vegan (I just realized this!), so all types of foodies can enjoy this stuff.  Warning, it’s terribly addicting, so watch out!  I basically made this recipe up, and you may certainly make substitutions, but here’s what has worked for me…..

First, buy a box of “Near East” boxed couscous….any flavor but plain….follow directions, then dump in a big serving bowl..let cool….then, add:

1 15oz can drained & rinsed chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

3 or 4 scallions, sliced thinly

broccoli florets, a cup or so

1/2 cup or so of chopped cilantro

1 cup or so grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup or so of pine nuts or walnuts

Then, open up the spice cabinet and add salt & pepper to taste, plus  2 or 3 shakes of garlic powder, cumin, & chile powder.  Drizzle olive oil over mixture and stir it all up.  Add additional spices & oil, if needed.  Again, just throw it all together, and don’t go crazy over exact measurements!  Can be served room temp (no mayo, so it does really well at outdoor gatherings) or slightly chilled.

Serves about 6 people…..recipe easily doubles or triples for a larger crowd!

Enjoy!  If you try it, let me know what you think!

The Virtues of Dining… Alone!
July 1, 2010, 8:20 pm
Filed under: Essence, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

My Baby!, c.1970

Well, I can remember the first time I dined alone…..I was 16 and enjoying a phase of self-discovery which had opened up the moment I got my driver’s license.  Not only was I sporting a brand new 1970 Camaro (dark metallic blue, yes!) in 1970, I felt on top of the world with this new-found freedom.  I drove to school during the week, and prayed Mom would hand me a long list of errands to run on Saturdays, requiring me to get in the car and go somewhere, anywhere!  Coral Gables, South Miami, downtown Miami, anywhere!  Usually I headed into the Gables, parking on Miracle Mile, which offered a ton of great shops and restaurants.  One restaurant which was a family favorite was Chippy’s, a New York style deli with a typically lengthy menu featuring all the usual sandwiches, sides, entrees, and desserts (I will never forget their homemade tangerine sherbet!) seen in great Jewish delicatessens.  One day, I was out and about, and decided to pop in there with all my packages, for a cherry coke.  I was seated in a booth and before I knew it, had ordered a BLT….from the first bite, that was the best BLT I’ve ever eaten in my life….was it the perfect bacon?  gobs of mayo? deli bread?  crisp lettuce, runny tomatoes? 

This Started it All

 Who knows, but I spun into orbit, finishing off the entire thing with all the chips on the side.  Wow!  Guess what, I did it again the following weekend, and before too long, this had become my little secret ritual.

Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, Fl

  At the time, I was quite svelte, so I wasn’t compromising my shape in any way. And what does one think about while dining like this?  Plenty!  Making plans, taking notes, reflecting on the week, figuring out my wardrobe for the rest of the weekend, thumbing through the latest issue of “Seventeen” magazine….it went on and on…. Usually that evening there was a school-affiliated game of some sort (foot or basketball) to plan for, or it was date night, or whatever, but I never told anyone what I had been up to earlier in the day!

It’s something that’s stuck with me my entire life.  When I traveled a lot for business and had a free night, it was either go out and explore, or sit in my room and order room service.  Believe me, unless you’re dead tired, ordering room service is a nasty, calorie-laden, expensive waste!  As business travel took me to most of the great urban centers in our country, I became an expert at figuring out the perfect place to go on my own.  My very favorite experience of all time was in Manhattan; I had been traveling all week, was exhausted, and decided to see what I could come up with.  It was around Christmas time (c.2000), so people were having holiday parties in restaurants, filling them up, but I decided I’d take a chance.  I rang up Picholine, a cheese-a-holic’s delight, explained my situation (in town on biz, on my own) and did they have room for a party of one?  The guy couldn’t have been nicer, and said if I didn’t mind being seated in the bar, to come on over….full menu, the works!  So, I got all gussied up, grabbed some design magazines, and ended up having a fantastic evening.  I went crazy – rack of lamb, etc. etc., but nothing prepared me for the cheese cart which pulled up to my table….in the meantime, I’d been conversing with people seated on both sides of me, having a great time, but dialogue ceased when I laid my eyes on the most extensive selection of the most gorgeous cheeses I’d ever seen.  I was handed a tri-fold brochure describing all the cheeses on the cart, and I took my time choosing a variety of 6, with the help of the expert….of course, I then selected a glass of port, and basically ate my way into oblivion ( I was still relatively svelte at that point)…..the bill ended up being about $200, worth every penny, and no, I did not expense this meal.

Picholine's cheese trolley

Which brings me to the present.  Living in Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Annapolis, Washington D.C., and now Charlottesville, I admit I have practiced solo dining in all of these cities, and to this day find it perfectly gratifying to spontaneously pick a place and order up. It’s scaringly easy to do this after closing Quince at 5 or so every day, and it’s usually a spontaneous decision made at the last minute.  Unfortunately, when I think about the untold dollars and millions of calories I’ve ingested honoring this activity (and no, I no longer can be classified as svelte in any way, shape, or form), I absolutely cringe!  But, it’s a great way to unwind and run into people I haven’t seen in awhile.  I usually treat myself once a week or so – again, I’m not talking about the drive-thru or chain restaurant, but some place I can get a great glass of wine and a tasty treat….and yes, delicious hummus and grilled shrimp (thank you, Mas), an order of the best mussels in the area (thank you, Duner’s), or calamari salad with 60-second sirloin (thank you, Bang) can be respectably healthy for the most part.  And, of course, it’s always a blast catching up with Francois across the street from Quince at The X Lounge, about happenings “south of the tracks” in our Warehouse District neighborhood!

Why do many people resist dining alone?  Everyone should try it a couple of times – it’s a chance to be with yourself and explore your surroundings in an enjoyable way.  If you’re traveling, or have a free night without obligations (that could be a tough one!), grab something to read (if you want to) and head out.  You may end up not reading, but having great conversation with people around you, if you choose! Let me know how it goes!