40th Birthday Celebrations

I turned 40 a few days ago. I’m not bothered by turning 40, but I know it’s one of those ages that’s supposed to be a big milestone birthday (although by the amount of 50 related birthday things compared to 40, I think 50 may be the new 40). Honestly the only birthday that ever really bothered me was 36 of all ages. I think because that felt firmly middle aged and sent me into a new demographic category that did not include any 20s.

Anyway, I used turning 40 to have some fun celebrations. I know a lot of people do big trips or something like that for their 40th, but I wanted to do something that let me celebrate with all my friends. I knew that if a good number of my friends were going to come I had to make it a kid friendly event, so I decided on renting a pavilion at a park and having it catered.

Really I had been literally thinking for years about having blacksauce kitchen cater a 40th birthday party. Alas that dream was not to be fulfilled as they suffered a fire a few months ago and told me they currently didn’t have the capacity in their temporary space to cater a party that size. As my second choice I went with Blue Pit BBQ, which lets be honest is still a great option. I rounded it out with fruit and veggie trays from Eddie’s. I also got my cake from Eddie’s because I’m not going to lie as much as I love more sophisticated cakes I will forever and always associate birthday cake with sheet cake. Give me that overly sweet frosting with tons of it piled on in roses and other decorations. I mean not all sheet cake is good. Some of it’s pretty terrible, overly dry or made with that oil slick whipped frosting which should be outlawed. Eddie’s however makes an A+ sheet cake and it was exactly what I wanted for my birthday cake. And because my friend Alison is the best she surprised me with tons and tons (I have no idea how many, but there were a lot) of biscuits from Mason Dixon Biscuit Company to make up for my inability to have my blacksauce biscuits for my birthday.

I wound up renting a pavilion in Wilson Point Park in Middle River. I had never been there before or even heard of it as I have spent little to no time in Middle River in all my years in Maryland. I was just searching around online trying to find a park that had a pavilion big enough. A lot of them topped out at 40-50 people. Ultimately one of those would have been fine, but since I was inviting around 80 people I wanted to get something big enough in case most people showed. I found the website for Wilson Point Park that said they had a pavilion big enough, but I wasn’t sure since I didn’t know anything about the park. God bless the person who posted this video on YouTube because it’s pretty much what sold me on it. I did a quick drive by in February to make sure it did look okay in person, which it did. After going out there and realizing its location near I-695 and I-95 I also thought it would be a nice sort of central location for my friends who would be coming from all over the Baltimore area. It also had a nice big parking lot so there were no worries about parking. And there was also a nice big playground near the pavilion for the kids to play on. There was also plenty of lawn space to set up various lawn games as well.

I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. After months and months of seemingly endless rain here in Baltimore the weather on Saturday was gorgeous. There was a nice breeze and the shade of the pavilion made it the perfect temperature.

It was so nice to have so many of my friends gathered in one place. It made me feel very special to have so many people come out to help me celebrate, and made me realize how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. The day went by way too fast and I definitely didn’t get to spend as much time with everyone as I would have liked. I feel like there were some people I didn’t really get to talk to at all, but I hope they had a great time and know that I appreciate them being there. It was the perfect day and just what I wanted.

The party on Saturday was my big celebration, but I of course had to celebrate on my actual birthday. I took the day off work because I try to never work on my birthday if I don’t have to. I started the day off with a massage. Then I took myself to the movies to see Hearts Beat Loud. It was a sweet little movie starring Nick Offerman as a single dad whose daughter is about to leave for college. They manage to write a song that gets some traction on Spotify causing him to try and use that as an excuse to keep her at home while she’s still trying to spread her wings. There was lots of great stuff for the music lover in me along with a wonderful story about family and support and letting go.

My final birthday fun was making my husband take me out to a fancy dinner at The Charleston. It’s been Baltimore’s most renowned fancy restaurant since I can remember helmed by multiple James Beard Award nominee Cindy Wolf. The menu is presented as a tasting menu with around 20 dishes on it and you decided how many courses you would like from 3-6. It’s not like a prix fixe menu where you get one appetizer, one main, and one dessert or something like that. With this you could order 6 meats if you wanted. Their dessert is also included in the meal and not counted as one of your courses. Even so it is definitely pricy and something I always had a hard time justifying to myself. In addition, the menu is definitely meat heavy so it felt doubly hard to justify going with my vegetarian husband. He even whined about it when I told him we were going. But as with all fancy restaurants where they are actually prepping the meals from scratch and not reheating something they ordered from U.S. Foodservice or somesuch, they were able to make him something not on the menu. He ultimately wound up having a better experience than I did. I had notified them during the reservation, and they addressed it as soon as we got there and walked him through the veggie friendly options already on the menu and then pointed out some of the things that could be easily converted to vegetarian. And then said they could put something else together with any other ingredients on the menu. He wound up getting essentially one dish from each category.

Ultimately I think he enjoyed his dinner more than I did mine. Either it didn’t say on the menu or I missed it but I didn’t expect the seafood in my second course to be curried. If I had known I would have ordered something else so that was disappointing, but completely my fault. Even though I don’t love that curry flavor the dish was still good and probably would have been great to someone who loves curry. The bronzino I ordered as my third course was delicious until I got the very center and it was not as done as I would have liked. There wasn’t enough left to bother saying anything about it. I have no doubt that if I had they very quickly would have brought me another piece of fish or replaced it with something else of my choosing as the service was very attentive and they even removed the beer my husband spilled from our bill. I am kind of still dreaming of the blue cheese that was in the salad I ordered as my first course though. My husband left extremely pleased with everything he ate. We’ll probably make it back for another special occasion at some point.

So far 40 has been a great year. Hopefully it keeps up.

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.

Happy 9th Anniversary to My Husband

Nine years ago today I made one of the best decisions of my life and said, I do to my husband Paul. I am grateful every day to have him in my life, and not just because he cooks dinner and does the laundry. That certainly doesn’t hurt though. I love how he makes me smile, and how we share the same clever sense of humor that may amuse only us. I appreciate that he puts up with me and lets me drag him to tons of concerts he doesn’t care about because he knows that I love them. He’s the best husband I could ask for and the perfect mate for me.

Unfortunately, due to a family emergency we aren’t spending our anniversary together this year, but I raise my glass to our nine years of marriage and look forward to celebrating many more in the future. Cheers!

 

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Girls’ Weekend in the Poconos

This past weekend I headed to the Poconos with a couple of friends for a girls’ weekend. We used to go on these pretty much every year, but thanks to other life things like babies and weddings and houses, it’s been a few years. We decided to try and get back in the groove this fall. We settled on renting a house in the Poconos for a long weekend. Sadly one of my friends had to back out last minute to go to a funeral instead. We definitely missed her, but now we have a good excuse not to wait a whole year to plan something else.

We headed up on Friday and somehow managed to turn a 4 hour drive into 7 hours. We stopped for lunch outside of Lancaster at the Oregon Dairy farm. They have a restaurant, gift shop, and market there. I was thinking the market would be more like an Amish market than the grocery store it really was, but the restaurant was totally what I was hoping for. I had a delicious grilled turkey sandwich with cranberry relish on a pretzel roll. Then since we were at a dairy farm we all decided we needed ice cream for dessert. The amount of ice cream they gave us was absurd. I only ordered a single scoop and couldn’t finish it. My friends both ordered two scoops so they could get more than one flavor. I’m pretty sure they each had at least a pint of ice cream. It too was really good. We spent almost two hours at our lunch stop between eating and getting some stuff in the market. We tacked on another hour along the way between stopping for coffee and adding in a more substantive grocery stop near our destination.

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We rented a place on Airbnb located in the Pocono Ranchlands development near Bushkill Falls. The development has things like pools and horseback riding you can do, but it was obviously the wrong time of year for swimming and I can’t imagine any of us heading out on horseback. We pretty much found stuff to do elsewhere. Even though mileage wise it seemed like it was pretty remote from anything because all the roads between it and civilization are pretty much light and stop sign free it didn’t really take that long to get to things to do.

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I went for a walk by myself every morning around the neighborhood. I saw lots of deer. Most of them ran away as soon as they saw me, but these guys just stood there and stared at me.

After our large, late lunch we decided we didn’t really need dinner so grazed on some cheese, crackers, and charcuterie instead. The house had a fire pit in the back yard so we spent the rest of the evening sitting around the fire and of course making some s’mores for dessert.

The house we stayed in was nice. It had comfortable beds, nice furniture, and was well decorated, but we decided that the people who owned it must never cook when they go there because the kitchen was highly lacking in any decent cooking implements. Even attempting to make pancakes, french toast, bacon, and eggs for our two breakfasts was quite a feat with the paltry amount of cookware. We all said we would stay at the house again, but would definitely bring some of our own pots, pans, and cooking utensils.

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I don’t generally make bacon for myself at home, so I was happy to get to try out the trick for cooking bacon Michael Ruhlman shared while he made gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with Laura Lippman at the Baltimore Book Festival. You wouldn’t think, but starting off cooking the bacon with just enough water to cover it poured on top makes for some really excellent bacon. It cooks in the water first and then once the water boils off it gets nice and crispy. I definitely recommend this method of cooking bacon. Who knew?

Saturday morning we went to Bushkill Falls. There are lots of waterfalls in the area. I have no idea how the others compare, but Bushkill Falls is definitely the most commercialized. You have to pay a decent amount of money to get in. There’s also some tiny little shops and museums on the site as well as campgrounds. We weren’t looking for any kind of strenous hike though, and this fit the bill. There are multiple trails, but the one aimed at just your typical tourist is completely covered in a wooden boardwalk and stairs. It kind of felt like hiking in a giant tree house.

After that I wanted to go to some kitschy store called the Country Kettle that I had seen advertised when looking for stuff to do in the Poconos. It’s just a really ridiculous store full of kitsch, but also had a ton of bulk candy so we all indulged ourselves in some of that.

We headed into downtown Stroudsburg and walked around and then had lunch a cute little cafe/ice cream shop that based on the sign inside seemed to have once been a hardware store. I felt like I was in Gilmore Girls. This was obviously the trip of the best sandwiches because I had another really excellent sandwich. It was a chicken with arugula, gouda, and fig jam on a croissant.

Our final activity of the day was heading to the outlet mall in Tannersville. Of the three of us I definitely made out the best. I bought a new pair of shorts for the gym, 2 skirts, socks, yoga pants, jeans, a pair of gray pants, and a couple of sets of Pyrex bowls and containers. Not a bad haul at all and even better that most of it was discounted.

Our final stop of the day before heading back to the house was for dinner. One of the last places to stop before you entered the land of nothing was a little Italian restaurant/tiki bar (yes you read that right). My friend and her husband are into tiki, so rather than try and figure out somewhere else to eat I suggested we just stop there for dinner and then if we wanted we could hit up the tiki bar after. We also figured that even if it wasn’t the best Italian food, most Italian food winds up at least being serviceable. The food was actually pretty good though. I didn’t have high hopes based on the atmosphere and the sad salad the meal started with, but the pasta was actually tasty. I’m still a little sad that I ordered stupidly and just said I’d have the exact same thing my friend ordered. I too wanted the same salad and stuffed shells, but I wanted mine with meatballs not Italian sausage. I was like hey they didn’t bring me the right order until I stopped and realized I never actually placed my own order. That’ll learn me not to pay attention to what I’m copycat ordering. We were all really tired, so we didn’t wind up sticking around for the tiki bar this time. We headed back to the house and played Uno, Phase 10, and Skip-bo instead.

Sunday we pretty much just got up, made breakfast, packed up, and hit the road. We managed to get back to Baltimore in a timely fashion this time with just a stop for a pizza lunch somewhere in some small town in Pennsylvania that from what little I saw of it must be known for its antiques.

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It was a really fun weekend away. I’m happy to have girls’ weekend back in my life. Hopefully we can make it a regular thing again in years to come.

Date with Myself

My husband was up in NYC yesterday for World Makerfaire and visiting his family. I had previously bought tickets for a concert that weekend, so I wasn’t able to join him. In addition to the concert on Saturday night I also made plans to go to the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday afternoon. For various reasons it worked out that the friends that I was going to go to these things with were not able to go with me, so I spent the day having a date with myself. Luckily I’m not someone who cares about doing things alone. I know some people feel self-conscious about it and would choose to stay home rather than doing something by themselves. I’m hear to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about it. It’s much better to do things that you love alone than not do them at all. Plus sometimes it even means really good things will happen to you as it worked out for yesterday.

The Baltimore Book Festival is pretty small and not something I generally get that excited about unless there happens to be a particular author I’m interested in, which there isn’t every year. This year there were two panels I was interested in, but sadly they were not on the same day. My book club conflicted with the Sunday panel, so I decided I would go down on Saturday instead. After a crazy morning dealing with a work issue I almost thought about bailing, but I didn’t and I’m really glad I wound up going because the panel was fantastic.

It was scheduled in the Food for Thought tent, which typically has food authors and cooking demonstrations in it. I don’t know how this panel came to be, but whoever put it together has my whole-hearted thanks. It was Laura Lippman, Michael Ruhlman, and Ann Hood speaking about food and fiction while cooking grilled cheese sandwiches. Laura Lippman’s forthcoming book, Sunburn, which is due out in February 2018 but which I had a galley of and have already read, features a scene where one of the characters cooks the woman he’s trying to impress a really fancy grilled cheese sandwich. Michael Ruhlman is a chef and author who Laura consulted regarding what realistically a person might have on hand in a kitchen in 1995 that they would make into a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. His most recent book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, is one of the better books I’ve read in 2017 so I definitely recommend checking it out. His wife Ann Hood joined them. She is apparently also an author, but I’ve never read anything she’s written. They were great together. The panel was really lively and fun. And I have new trick to try next time I’m cooking bacon. If the three of them had a cooking show together I would definitely watch.

The second part of my date I went to see David Gray and Alison Krauss at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The friend I was supposed to go with failed to put it on her calendar when we got tickets months prior and then wound up being out of town this weekend. I tried to find someone else to take the ticket last minute after we realized, but no one wanted it. So I just went by myself. That wound up being a really good thing.

I managed to snag myself a spot at the front of the lawn even though I got there an hour after the doors opened. The concert was not anywhere close to sold out, which helped. Plus I didn’t bring a chair, so I could sit where the lawn had a steeper slope. Being in that spot made it easy to meet up with one of my librarian friends who lives in Northern Virginia and was also at the concert with her sister. They had pavilion seats, but stopped out on the lawn to say hi to me for a few minutes. So it was fun to see her.

The concert was basically two sets with the artists co-headlining. During the set change some guy came up to me on the lawn and asked me if I was alone and if so did I want to upgrade my seat. I said yes, and sure. Then he gave me his ticket inside the pavilion. Not only that, but it turned out it was in row D down in the pit. I have no idea what his deal was, but I’m super grateful to him. At first I figured he had come to the concert to see David Gray and wasn’t interested in sticking around to see Alison Krauss, but when I got down to the seat the guy next to me told me that no one had been sitting there during David Gray’s set so I’m not sure what the guy who gave me the ticket was doing. Not only did I get to move way down front, I wound up in the best row ever. Right next to me were an older gay couple who were plying me chocolates and who were super excited about Alison Krauss. They kept shaking each other in giddy excitement whenever there were some particularly great harmonies. I loved it. And then on the other side of them was a woman who was probably in her 70s who was really getting her chair dancing groove on. Hashtag life goals. So it turns out I should be thankful that my friend screwed up and couldn’t go with me or I never would have wound up there.

The concert itself was full of a lot of really great music. David Gray and Alison Krauss sure can sing. Alison Krauss’s melodic voice is pretty much what imagine angels singing must sound like. All the music was amazing and I can’t complain about that at all. I was very happy to sit outside on a beautiful night and listen to it.

All in all it was not my idea of a great show though. It pretty much was all about the music. For some people that’s great. I know there is a rift between people who would prefer for artists to get up stage and use pretty much all their time playing versus people who enjoy the stage banter and other things that can happen during concerts. I fall firmly on the side of preferring stage banter and storytelling along with the music. There wasn’t really any of that last night from either artist. This is the second time I’ve seen David Gray and he really hasn’t said much of anything either time, so I imagine that’s just his m.o. I’ve seen Alison Krauss before and she has talked more between songs than she did last night. It’s how I know that she’s always cold. My husband even asked if she was wearing a winter coat last night even though it was like 70 degrees because of that whole thing the first time we saw her. The answer to that question by the way was yes. I also would have liked it if they had sung at least one song together, but alas it was very much like we were at two completely different shows. It was still a lovely evening with two artists whose music I love, and who I would see again, but it’s never going to be a concert I rave to anyone about how amazing it was.

It was a really fun day all around. I’m a pretty good date. I’d definitely go out with me again.

Perfect Fall Weekends

Given the terrible hurricane that is destroying so many places right now I almost feel a little guilty about how perfect our weather was this past weekend. It was great to take nice long walks outside every day in it. In addition to all the fun activities I had it made for a wonderful weekend indeed.

Friday night we walked over to a little Italian restaurant in our neighborhood that has a nice patio. The weather was great for dining al fresco, so when my husband asked where I wanted to go to dinner that’s where I chose.

Saturday was Hampdenfest, one of the two street festivals that happens in my neighborhood every year. It’s smaller and much more neighborhood based than Honfest. I much prefer it that way. We went out to get something to eat for lunch and ran into a good friend who we hadn’t seen in awhile so we wound up wandering around with her and her friend from out of town, getting drinks, and then heading over to everyone’s favorite activity, the toilet bowl races. I ran into some other friends there. So it was a nice day to spend outside with good friends. Rat Czar was my favorite entry in this year’s toilet bowl races, although I needed to get a closer look inside because I don’t see where the toilet bowl comes into play in this vehicle.

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Sunday continued the theme of good times with good friends. My first stop on Sunday afternoon was at a 1st birthday party where I got to celebrate a little cutie, hang out with friends, and enjoy some of this delicious carrot cake. I even have some leftover cake to enjoy tomorrow. Carrot cake is my favorite, so I’m very excited about that.

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After that I headed out to the county for dinner with friends who recently left Hampden and bought a house out there. While I’m sad that they are no longer my neighbors, their new house is perfect for their family of 5 and I’m happy they have a great new home to create beautiful memories in. It was wonderful to sit outside in their little yard listening to bluegrass music and catching up with a group of friends who is very dear to my heart. I used to see most of them every week, but now that life has scattered us all to the winds it’s been far too long since I’ve seen most of them. It was great to all get back together for a few hours and enjoy a gorgeous fall evening together.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect fall weekend. It was a nice reminder that the world isn’t all terrible and that I have a pretty great life with a lot of wonderful people in it.

Outdoors, Friends, Fun: AKA Summer is the Best

After a terribly cool, grey, and rainy spring we seem to have finally turned somewhat of a corner and are getting some warmer sunnier weather (of course as I write this it’s supposed to rain and be cooler this week) at least for the past week. It’s been wonderful and has done wonders to improve my mood. Life is just so much more pleasant when the weather is nice enough to do things outside.

The previous weekend there was a 30th birthday party for one of my friends. We got to sit outside on a lovely screened porch and enjoy a firepit out on the patio. I love sitting around a firepit on a summer night.

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The following night one of my friends from college got married at The Elm, which is an event space a few blocks from my house. I was always kind of curious about it, so I’m glad they got married there so I could finally check it out. It was rainy off and on earlier in the day, but it cleared up just in time for them to have their ceremony outside as planned. It was a lovely wedding, and I enjoyed getting to walk there and back. I don’t think I’ll ever go to a wedding closer to the place I’m living than this one.

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On Thursday one of my coworkers and I finally got to try blacksauce kitchen for lunch. I’m a long time lover of their food from the farmers markets and festivals, but I hadn’t yet managed to make it over to the storefront they opened a few months ago. It’s only opened on Thursdays for now and it’s carry out only, so we were waiting for a Thursday when we were both free and the weather was nice enough for us to eat outside. We took our delicious food (blacksauce never disappoints) and ate it on a bench in Sherwood Gardens. It was perfect, at least until the part where we had to go back to work.

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This past Saturday I went down to Georgetown to meet another friend from college who was there for work. We had brunch outside and then wandered around Georgetown for awhile. It was great to catch up with her, and it was nice to walk around Georgetown. It’s been a really long time since I’d been there.

Yesterday my church held its service followed by a potluck brunch outside at the pavilion at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Last year the school that we normally meet at had a water main break and some enterprising person managed to think of and snag the BMI pavilion for our service instead. It worked out so well they decided to do it once every summer. The weather was perfect for it this morning, and it was lovely to sit out and stare at the water and the boats.

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I didn’t get all my steps in earlier in the day, so we went for a walk after dinner. I love that it’s still light enough at 7:30 to go out for a walk. It’s a billion times better than when it gets dark hours earlier in the winter. Everything in this post is why summer is better than winter and why I love it so much.