Three highlights of today, each of which made me think

I will go from the not-so-good to the really good.

1. Mulch. My dad got 5 cubic yards of mulch delivered today, as he does every year. Well, okay, last year he got 10. Have you seen a cubic yard of anything recently? That is a large measurement. Anyway, it takes a lot of time to spread 5 cubic yards of mulch. Like most yard work, spreading mulch annoys me. It’s particularly irksome because it’s so cosmetic (and otherwise pointless). It’s all about the Very Green Lawn (or in this case, the Very Brown Mulch Beds in the Very Green Yard). He could just not do it one year, and the plants would be fine.

So, okay, whatever, he has his interests. If he wants to go all out for his Very Green Lawn, that’s fine. But the problem is, he drags us along with it. We can argue about the reasons behind it, but then the mulch people deliver the mulch, and, well, there is a Huge Pile of Dirt in our driveway, and we’ve got to move it sooner or later. So either we help or we feel guilty.

Ultimately, though, the net result? I do about 2 hours of yard work. Hell, that’s good for me. So, as the rest of this post will continue to drive home, I have no right (nor desire) to complain.

2. Ultimate Fighting Championship. My friend Kemal invited me over today, because there was a big UFC fight on TV. Apparently this guy Royce Gracie, a previous champion, came out of retirement to fight Matt Hughes, the up-and-coming all-star. Now, when I heard about this professional fighting thing, what did I think? Well, first, pro wrestling, which is ridiculous. Then, pro boxing, which I’ve never seen, but I know it involves Don King and a lot of punches. Then, well, Ultimate Fighting Championship- is this one of these extreme cage-match sort of competitions where people break limbs and gouge eyes?

In my mind, it’s unlike, and more respectable than, any of the above. There are a few rules: no eye gouging, there are a few places you can’t hit, but other than that, it’s pretty much fair game. The match ends after one fighter is knocked out, one fighter surrenders by “tapping out”, the ref ends the match, or three 5-minute rounds have passed. So there’s some punching and kicking, and there’s some wrestling (“grappling”). There’s a lot of technique to it- the champs have to know lots of different fighting styles- jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling, etc.- in order to win. Yeah, they have to be strong too.

There was a remarkable lack of trash-talking, scantily clad women, and people getting hit with folding chairs. I mean, these elements showed up, (except the folding chairs) but that’s to be expected, I guess, given the fact that it’s the ultimate display of machismo, right? A lot of the fighters were very cool about the whole thing- they helped each other up, even hugged each other after a good fight. Yeah, some of them drew blood, but ultimately, it was a sporting contest, not a bitter fight between rivals, and certainly not a scripted melodrama.

Oh yeah, and Matt Hughes demolished Royce Gracie. Some of the other fights (they had about 8 fights, Hughes-Gracie was the “main event”) were much better contests.

3. Chez Francois. Yeah, that’s the name of the restaurant my family and I went to tonight. Yeah, it was as extravagant as it sounds. The reason started off as a belated Mother’s Day event for my mom, but then sort of morphed into a celebration of my birthday. That is pretty clever: there’s no way I’d let us go to a place that indulgent for my birthday.

The food? It was so good. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how many courses there were. Let me count through them:

1. A little asparagus soup, topped with a red pepper soup, served in what looked like a double shot glass with a tiny spoon. I mean, it looked like a green and red layered shot. Compliments of the chef. Big points for presentation, and it was a neat little pre-meal.

2. Appetizers: we shared some lobster bisque (with a very airy puffed pastry on the top) and some shrimp in kataife phyllo (looks like shredded wheat) served with a pineapple and raisin (maybe?) chutney. The bisque was particularly great (the pastry was a nice touch); the shrimp, particularly interesting. Next time I go to a Greek store, remind me to get some of this Kataife stuff. It’s neat.

3. Salad: Man, I almost forgot this, and it was really good. Hmm. What were the greens? I don’t remember. Some fancy greens. With onions, bacon, and hard-boiled egg crumbled on top and a “champagne vinaigrette” dressing. Points for the dressing. Also some french bread, with honey butter. The bread was unremarkable, but the butter was very good.

4. The Main Course: Wow, what did I get? Okay, it was a special, so I can’t find it on their menu, but here goes:
Barramundi (a fish, originally from Australia. Supposedly, it’s like sea bass. Pronounced “Bear Monday.") with a crispy coating (… not the official description), served over thinly sliced onions and (some special kind of) mashed potatoes, with whole fingerling potatoes and asparagus on the side. Man, that was tasty! The fish was mild enough for people (like my dad) who don’t like fishy fish, but the coating was interesting. I have to learn to cook asparagus like the fancy restaurants do. I think the secret is a lot of olive oil.

My dad got Filet de Boeuf au Stilton- “Center cut filet mignon, grille, topped with Stilton Blue cheese, garnished with a cheese crisp and a potato gallette with a ruby port wine sauce.” I had a bite, and man, I think that was even better. Very rich, though, very heavy. But the super-tender steak with the creamy cheese- man.

My mom and sister split Suprême de Volaille aux Noisettes et aux Crustacés- “A roasted French breast of chicken, served with Maine lobster, cold water shrimp, and a hazelnut sweet potato mousseline, sauced with a mushroom and apple Frangelico cream sauce.” Also great, but I feel like if you get chicken at this place, you’re missing out. I don’t think I quite appreciate lobster yet- well, I’ve had it about twice in my life, and each time just a bite or two.

I really enjoyed this main course. I was the last one done, and not even because I was mopping up remains from everyone else (Although I wasn’t too proud to steal my dad’s asparagus. He didn’t want his asparagus?!). I’m proud of that. Eating slowly, actually savoring it- I’m not used to it yet, but I’m getting there.

5. Dessert- wait, there’s more! We split chocolate cheesecake and … dang… some other thing that I can’t find on their online menu, because the dessert menu’s not online. It was a chocolate molten cake (“It’s sort of like a flourless cake. Although he did use flour."- Joan, our ever-gracious waitress), with freshly made vanilla bean ice cream. Oh yeah, and it looked like this.

As for the beverages, well, they offered us a selection of two different brands of bottled water, or tap water. A “water selection” ! Ridiculous. A fine wine list, I’m sure; I would have ordered a glass, because it’s the kind of thing I should get used to doing. Plus, I like it. But when they asked me, I was caught off guard, having just told them I was 20 when they asked whose birthday it was. I enjoyed an Irish coffee with dessert though- a bit ironic at a French restaurant, maybe, but I wanted to get in one little bit of Feeling Like An Adult Although I Guess I’m Not Yet For One More Year.

They did have a “cheese selection” with dessert too, if you’re into that sort of thing. The full extent of this place’s extravagance can be found here.

So, enough about what food I ate. It was a birthday celebration! Also one of the most pleasant evenings I’ve had for just a while. My parents gave me some cool gifts, notably money to attend cooking courses here and there at Pittsburgh places and a (apparently very famous) cookbook called “the Joy of Cooking.” It was also nice when I realized that this is an occasion to celebrate, and that my family wanted to celebrate, so I shouldn’t do what I normally do at restaurants when I’m not paying: order one of the less expensive things to eat, and nothing to drink. They wanted me to get whatever I wanted, so shoot, I did. I think a great thing in life is the ability to recognize when someone wants to be generous, and to give them that opportunity.

But more than the gifts or the extravagant food, it was nice to be together with the family again. Any more description I could give is probably trite, because you know what I mean, (I hope) so I won’t keep talking, using my hammerful wordly powers* to describe this feeling of being together with the family. I love, and will miss, them.

*What I mean is that my command of language is like a hammer, whereas a skilled writer has a precision screwdriver. Yeah, it gets the job done, but it’s not usually eloquent. Except there. I think “hammerful wordly powers” is one of the most eloquent phrases I’ve used in a while. So I’ll end this post on a high note.


Anonymous -

Sometimes you just gotta hammer things . . . especially when it comes to English.

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