Artichoke Hearts, A Love Story

My last blog was about “first dates” and since last week would have been my 37th wedding anniversary (had the marriage lasted), I decided to write about a first date with my ex. This is likely the nicest story I will ever write about him. And, as you might have noticed, I enjoy writing about food. I believe food and romance go together, don’t you? Here goes. 

“You’ll love it,” he said, gazing at me across the kitchen counter where he’d prepared his favorite recipes. As a starter, Tim introduced me to what looked like a large green flower bulb, perfectly arranged on a platter alongside leaves of the same plant and a dip he concocted simply from melted butter, lemon juice, and a dollop of mayonnaise. His sky-blue eyes softened–seeing through my contrived smile and raised eyebrows that this was my first encounter with an artichoke. Without a word, he looked me in the eyes, peeled off a leaf, dipped it in sauce and scraped the flesh with his teeth. 

Getting acquainted with the artichoke and the man behind it, I discovered similarities between the two. Both were “an acquired taste” for me, like some of my favorite wines. Just as I’d never seen or tasted an artichoke, I hadn’t dated anyone like Tim, a knowing and caring man underneath a rustic demeanor. With some insight and inspiration, I found myself falling in love with both. Attempting a new and unfamiliar dish for the first time can be a bit unnerving, so preparation and presentation are equally important in making that first impression. 

What family and friends may not know about me is that I’m a curious and adventurous soul willing to tread, cautiously, beyond my comfort zone to try something new. An open mind is essential and it’s best not to bring high expectations to the table. Just be present in the moment with what is directly across the counter in front of you, and you will enjoy a uniquely flavorful cuisine. Take it slow in the beginning, savoring each mouthful, while gradually becoming familiar with its tastes and textures. This process can take time, and it’s wise to sample something new a few times in different settings to fully appreciate its value. One might find, over time, that this newfound fare is a delightful source of pleasure. 

The artichoke, if not harvested, will become a beautiful purple flower or thistle. Since quality matters, one should learn the source of any new acquaintance–vegetable or human. As it turns out, both the artichoke and Tim are products of southern California. At the core, each has a warm and tender heart, protected by strong outer layers, rough and virile on the surface. Unearthing the heart isn’t easy, but the reward is out of this world. 

The artichoke can be roasted in the oven or on the grill. Tim’s artichokes are steamed until soft enough to peel back layers and get to the heart. This delicacy can be served up at any temperature, but it is best after a good simmer, and it’s always wise to let it cool down before handling. You’ll know it’s done when the stem is fork-tender. 

The artichoke and the man may be delectable, but they can also be intimidating and precarious. The reason an artichoke’s fuzzy center near the heart is called a choke is because it is a choking hazard. The danger of marrying Tim was my bringing unrealistic expectations to the table, moving too fast, anticipating the perfect finish, and ultimately discarding the heart. 

First Dates

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In my last blog, I mentioned one of my favorite pastimes is sitting at a bar observing people and taking notes. This may seem intrusive, but it’s how I get my stories.

You just know when it’s a first date. Body language gives it away. She folds her hands in her lap, nervously fidgeting, her nails perfectly manicured, with a flashy ring on the middle finger of her left hand, evidence she’s unattached. His hands appear misleadingly pure, nails neatly trimmed, fingers soft and fair, as if they’ve never touched a woman or known a hard day’s work. And the hair, a focal point for each of them—hers highlighted and cut into perfect layers, flowing down her back and around her face. His the same, only shorter. And if I had to place a bet, I’d say he’s had some work done on his face. His features are just a little too flawless, perhaps an attempt at youth and integrity. 

Her drink is a feminine pink cocktail with a thin slice of lime clinging to the rim of a dainty glass, to imply: “I’m a ravenous feline, graceful and sleek, clinging to my virginity.” His drink is served in a lowball glass, maybe scotch or whisky on the rocks, and sits alongside an amber-colored beer screaming: “I’m a red-blooded American boy, working up the courage to ask you back to my place.” 

They share an appetizer—herb hummus with grilled flatbread, tomato, cucumber, onion, and feta. Each has placed a small amount of food on an appetizer plate rather than digging in to share from the platter. Yet it hasn’t been touched. She worries about messing up her lip gloss. He’s afraid taking a bite will expose his bad manners. 

He attempts an awkward cut into the pita. Who eats pita and hummus with a knife and fork? If I could get inside his head, I’d say: Just pick it up, Buddy. That’s how it’s done. But he gives it up, sets the fork down, picks up his phone, and… Oh no! He’s showing her a selfie he took while looking in a mirror–the naked upper-half of his body. I gather he wants her to check out his abs: “When I saw this view of myself, I asked ‘where’s the nearest buffet?’” Gag me.

I see he has slipped off his seat and is heading toward the restroom. This is her chance to take a bite. She forgot to ask for utensils, so she grabs the pita bread and scoops up a serving of hummus to devour before he returns. After looking over her shoulder, she tears off another piece, scrapes more hummus from the plate, and quickly consumes it while checking her phone. She takes a corner of her napkin to blot excess oil from her t-zone and gently dabs at her mouth before reapplying lip gloss–just in time to see him rounding the bar to approach his seat. She takes a small sip of her drink, attempting to wash down any remnants of hummus from her tongue. When he returns, he’s seemingly more confident than before his trip to the restroom. 

Before his butt hits the seat, he begins talking about two women he dated previously, both long distance relationships. He explains that the chemistry just wasn’t there. It’s hard to make out the rest of the conversation held quietly under background music and voices around the bar. He does most of the talking as she continues to fidget with her hands, collecting her cloth napkin into a perfect triangle against her lap, now delicately reaching for a sample of pita and rearranging the hummus on her plate.

Both wonder within their individual minds how this will end. “Will he invite me back to his place?” she muses. “Have I impressed her enough so she can’t resist me?” he considers. She gingerly tastes her cocktail and follows it with a quick sip of water to clear her throat, realizing he has asked a question she’ll need to answer. But, damn it, I didn’t hear the question. She’s talking with her hands as he talks with his eyes. The food is barely touched though I see they’re both hungry. Maybe saving their appetites for what comes next. 

A True Food COVID Experience

Let’s talk food! 

As life begins returning to normal after months of stay-at-home pandemic measures, I dare to venture out to my favorite places. 

Prior to February 2020, I made a monthly date with myself to visit a cherished indie bookstore, Changing Hands, and enjoy the afternoon lingering at my favorite eatery, True Food Kitchen. I’ve missed the atmosphere, service, food, drinks, and camaraderie among team members–bartenders, waiters, cooks, managers. And visitors like me–health fanatics with a passion for savoring great food and good company. 

Typically, I sit at the bar to people-watch, read, and record my thoughts and observations while sipping on Cava Mercat (Penedès, Spain) or Sauvignon Blanc Crossings (Marlborough, New Zealand). As a side note, I’ve experimented with several types of wine over the past few years. Reds and whites of various vintages and regions. Ultimately, my preference is any sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. 

Now I safely sit at a “sanitized” table with access to a “contactless” menu, using a barcode scanned with my iPhone. Now that’s sophisticated! It’s a different world. And I’m okay with it. What I’m not okay with is the young hostess who concerns herself that I might need assistance, “Ma’am,” using the barcode technology. I may be old, but I’m not stupid.

Because it’s a new day, I’m sipping on a craft cocktail instead of wine, possibly the best drink I’ve ever tasted. I can’t tell you the name of it because it was muffled under the mask of my waiter. But it’s a cranberry-infused organic vodka with ginger liqueur, cranberry and lime juice on the rocks. Luscious. I’ll tell you what else is luscious. The gorgeous green eyes of my waiter. I’m embarrassed looking at him and feel as if I should look away, but I’m bedazzled. He’s likely one-fourth my age, but I’m also not too old to recognize beauty when I see it. Hot damn. 

For starters, I have in front of me a spectacular herb hummus with cucumber, organic tomato, onion, olive, feta, lemon oregano vinaigrette, and house-made pita. My entrée is an ancient grains bowl with miso sesame glazed sweet potato, turmeric, charred onion, snap pea, grilled portobello, avocado, and hemp seed. Fresh ingredients in layers of goodness. Is your mouth watering? 

True Food Kitchen will create your favorite meal while meeting the need for gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, or other science-based nutrition. Ingredients are farmed organically and crafted to entertain your taste buds with savory delight. 

If there’s room left in your belly after taking pleasure in this fabulous fare, you might enjoy the Chia Seed Pudding with banana and coconut for dessert. It’s a joyful end to this True Food COVID experience.

Welcome to my blog!

As I write this welcome blog, I’m turning 60 and treating myself to a primo margarita at my favorite Mexican restaurant. I’ve wanted to start a blog for a long while, and now my friends, it’s time!

First a little about me. You already know my age and my favorite beverage. My first memory of childhood is an image of my 8-year-old self, sitting cross-legged on the floor of a small, hallway linen closet, writing poems. I’m not much of a poet now, but I love writing personal essays and memoir. 

Life took me in directions I never would have planned for myself had I known better. I studied business (not my heart’s choice) at Arizona State University, got married (rather hastily), had two amazing kids, got divorced (not hastily), earned a master’s degree, and retired one year ago from a career in health care administration. A mentor of mine asked me a couple years ago what it is I really want to do with the rest of my life. My answer? Spend time with grandkids and write. Committing this to someone I respect was the first step in realizing my dream. Aside from writing and hanging out with toddlers, my companions keep me company—Millie, a ten-pound Shih-Tzu, and Zulu, a 100+ pound Sulcata Tortoise. 

I don’t know about you all, but this pandemic has changed me—in a good way and maybe a not-so-good way. I know for sure I’m more grateful than ever before–for family, friends, home, and pets. But, on the other hand, I’ve had a lot of time to think about stuff, and in a way, I’ve become a little bitchy. All my life, I’ve felt as if I could never live up to the expectations of others. And then one day, I realized I don’t have to. This was a revelation I wish had come to me decades ago. I’ve been told by previous employers that I’m “too nice” and I needed to “be bold.” Readers, I’m happy to say I’m finally taking their advice. It’s never too late to throw out the nice and bring on the bold!

I’m excited to share what I’ve learned from two failed marriages, parenthood, grand-parenthood, “petowner-hood” and the challenge of leaving a successful career to follow my dreams.  I’ll be sharing my projects and publications as well as book reviews. My new adventure feels risky and a little scary. But it’s the best gift I could give myself…the exception being this delicious margarita.

I hope you’ll join me on a fun journey of “new beginnings” and I’d love to hear your suggestions on topics to cover in my blog. Just keep your ideas (mostly) clean and (always) respectful of everyone on this planet. 

Thanks for coming to my Birthday celebration. If you were here, I’d buy you a margarita or whatever refreshment you enjoy. I want to get to know you, learn from you, and share stories about life, love, and everything “women.”

Happy days are ahead.

Photo by DESIGNbyJA on Pexels.com

Cheers!