Italy: the Pope is Dope

IMG_0192Before coming to italy I had purchased several tours. One of them was to see the pope`s Wednesday afternoon talk. I certainly would not have bought a tour in order to get a ride if I had known our apartment was literally one block from the vatican. I spoke to the tour on the phone and they saw no problem and it was too late to get my own ticket.

The coach dropped us off even further away than the bridge of angels. As I walked, cursing the cramp in my calves, I applied some good old Catholic logic — your suffering could not even compare to the suffering of Jesus. Jesus had way more to contend with than leg cramps.

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The huge square at the vatican was cordoned off into large seating sections thank god! Chairs! People were hesitant to approach the front but a lifetime of concerts has taught me to just keep walking towards the stage until somebody stops you. So I got 3rd row. Center!

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Pope Francis appeared on one of those econo metal stairs on wheels they use to get high things off the shelf in Costco. A bunch of guys were pushing him way too fast so it was like

here…comes…the…pope…there…goes…the pope….

But I thought it was really cool he hit all the sections so everyone could see him up close even way in the back.

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The talk was very long, exacerbated by the fact that it was interpreted into about 8 different languages. The sun was hot and of course there was no shade in St Peters Square. There is also no water available. They need vendors like at the baseball game. But. As I suffered from terrible thirst I thought about the Roman soldiers giving Jesus vinegar when He asked for water.

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Pope Francis did give a nice homily about The Exodus not only being an escape but a journey of hope, and how in these difficult times we should choose to travel the way of hope.

As the Mediterranean sun bore down on me, I realized I only had to be there for two hours. Jesus had to hang out in the sun for three hours.

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Italy: All Roads Lead to Rome

DSC03163It was a long journey fraught with misadventure, but we have made it to Italy. I would not even be here without my brother Glen’s emergency delivery of my forgotten prescription to the airport. Bob’s mom Bridin rented a nice little apartment that just happens to be a block away from St Peters Square. The winding marble stairway to the third floor apt is certainly a workout.

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The little cobblestone alleys are very safe feeling and near such a literal mecca that many people speak English. My Italian phrases are helping more than I expected.

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Last night we had dinner at Taverna Angelico around the corner. We shared an appetizer plate. There was a semi hard cheese called “Pecorino di Pienza” I will dub it “pecorino magnifico.” Adorned with a light drizzle of honey, it may have been the best cheese I have ever eaten. I thought, “If the first thing I put in my mouth in italy is THIS good, it’s going to be one heck of a trip.”

From the interwebs:

This unique sheep’s milk cheese gets its name from the ancient city of Pienza, located just a few miles from Montepulciano. Pecorino di Pienza is considered the best pecorino produced in the Crete Senesi, a specific area within the province of Siena…Pecorino di Pienza, a favorite of Lorenzo il Magnifico, is a cooked-milk cheese made with whole, raw milk from sheep of the sarda breed (or possibly appenninica or sopravvissana). The sheep are raised out in the open and graze exclusively on the local flora. The aromas of rare plants that grow in the clay soil of the Crete Senesi (wormwood, meadow salsify, juniper, broom, burnet …) can be sensed in the sheep’s milk.

…After about 40 to 60 days the fresh cheese is ready to be consumed and has a soft, slightly spicy flavor. If left to age for five to twelve, or even eighteen (the best for grating) months, the cheese will have a 40% fat content, a full, long-lasting flavor. This aged cheese is not spicy, but has a tannic aftertaste and a soft, crumbly texture in the mouth. Pecorino di Pienza pairs perfectly with chestnut honey from Montalcino and the wines of the region, from Chianti to Montepulciano

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The carpaccio was also unbelievable. Can I say drizzled twice in one post? I think I have to. The carpaccio was drizzled with an intense and thick balsamic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as pleased with my pasta. Bob, however, loved my pasta as well as his own fish dish. The waiter noticed something was awry and so I told him I just wanted something light. I asked for an entire plate of that cheese. So delicious.

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N’Awlins: Wandering Around the Quarter

DSC01319 (Copy)Every time I walk through Jackson Square I remember seeing Al Taplet selling his folk art for $50 and it makes me crazy that I didn’t buy one. I didn’t have 50 bucks back then anyways, but I still regret it.

DSC01310DSC01316 (Copy)The cast of Godspell was hanging out

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“Canned food is a perversion,’ Ignatius said. ‘I suspect that it is ultimately very damaging to the soul.”
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces   

“I avoid that bleak first hour of the working day during which my still sluggish senses and body make every chore a penance. I find that in arriving later, the work which I do perform is of a much higher quality.”
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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The Cafe du Monde Tried to Kill Me

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When you’re in New Orleans, you always stop at the Cafe du Monde for their hot beignet. On this particular evening I left Bob to order and made my way to the ladies room. Or at least the line for the ladies room.

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You know how industrial bathrooms have 2 gigantic toilet rolls encased in a plastic dispenser? When it was finally my turn, I was just sitting there, minding my own business and the goddamned thing fell right on my head! Roll and all! When I tried to get out of the bathroom, I was locked in! After much pounding and fiddling, I finally made my way out. I told the next girl, “Turn it all the way to the left, then hard to the right.” She said, “I’m not locking that door.”

THE EVIDENCE:

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N’awlins: Omni Giveth and Omni Taketh Away

DSC01327After watching a movie in our room until around 10pm Monday night, I realized I was hungry. I had only eaten crab claws and half a cup of jambalaya all day. So I called down to room service and ordered steak frites, profiteroles and an iced tea. What followed was a comedy of errors like a Benny Hill episode with the poor bellhop running all over to the tune of Yakety Sax. I was especially amused by the line, “I’m sorry I did not bring your profiteroles. I did not know what they were.” And comically, every time he showed up to fix something else he brought another iced tea.

Finally I ordered a calzone from Magazine Street Pizza and I swear it was the best calzone I have ever eaten!

The next morning I had my heart set on Mother’s. But Bob was hungry and wanted to visit the hotel’s breakfast bar. I thought it was strange to have a free continental breakfast at a hotel of this caliber, but there it was. After we finished, a server appeared and handed us a check for $50. We were so upset! There was no sign or verbal warning that it wasn’t free. 50 bucks for a couple of pancakes and a piece of bacon. Oh well, we decided, with the amenity we were actually still $50 ahead. In fact, we were $50, 1 birthday cake, 2 profiteroles and 4 iced teas ahead!

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N’Awlins: Omni and Coop’s

New Orleans OMniIn order to get low fares, I had booked our flight out of LAX at 5:50am. We had to get up at 3am! We figured we would drop off the luggage and then wander around like zombies until check-in time. Well, apparently I had signed up for some Omni membership plan because they upgraded us — and our room was ready. Right away. Oh heavenly sleep! We were snoring away in the comfy beds when someone knocked on the door.

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“Who is it?”

“I’m a hotel employee ma’am. We have an amenity for you.”

“Is it a DO NOT DISTURB sign?”

As soon as I opened the door I felt like an asshole because they were bringing up a birthday cake and a card signed by the employees for me. SO SWEET.

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A little while later we were awoken by the telephone ringing. Bob answered and they asked him if he wouldn’t mind looking for a Hawaiian shirt a previous occupant had forgotten. Bob asked if they could do this later. They told Bob, “He is standing here and he is very…insistent.” So Bob had to turn the light on and I suggested Bob take his own Hawaiian shirt down and insist it was the only one he found in the drawer. But Bob understands that there are people who don’t appreciate my sense of humor, and he produced the man’s shirt.

We woke up later in the afternoon and discovered an envelope on the floor. I cooed, “oooh! Another amenity!” It sure was. Inside was a card apologizing for housekeeping’s lack of thoroughness and a credit for $100 to be used all at once. They only had a small cafe, but the Omni Royal was home to the much-awarded Rib Room, so we made a reservation for Tuesday night.

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It was still sunny, so we took the Riverside streetcar to our favorite local place on Decatur: Coops. The streetcars don’t turn around. There is a steering wheel on either end. So when they hit the end of the line, the operator walks down the row slapping the seatbacks so that they slide to the opposite side and are now facing the other way.

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My favorite thing at Coops is deep fried crab claws with an intense horseradish cocktail sauce. Bob usually gets pasta opelousas, but this time he ordered the sauce on a chicken breast instead of fettucine. I ordered a side of rabbit jambalaya, which was much spicier than I remembered.

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Seattle: One Breakfast, Many Tentacles

Lola's SeattleJonathan, a close friend of ours (and best man at our wedding), recommended breakfast at “Lula’s.” I suddenly realized he meant Lola’s. another Tom Douglas restaurant I had visited on more than one occasion. He insisted we try “Tom’s Favorite Breakfast.” It was a bit steep for breakfast at almost $20, but Jonathan knows his food. Tom’s favorite breakfast consists of: mediterranean octopus, sugar snap peas, spring onion, potatoes, bacon, green garlic yogurt, poached egg, and toast.

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Bob had to say it was the best breakfast he had ever eaten. I tried a bit of the tender charred octopus, but went with my Seattle staple, a morels omelette. Sometimes I will even add fiddlehead ferns if I’m feeling crazy. Their smashed potatoes are whole new potatoes bashed with a cast iron frying pan and sprinkled with kosher salt.

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Seattle Top Pot Donuts

IMG_4575 (Custom)You simply can’t visit Seattle without making a stop at Top Pot Donuts. Sadly, they no longer make their famous peanut donuts, but we will carry on somehow.

Top Pot opened in 2002 on Capitol Hill in 2002. The name came from an old Chinese restaurant sign the co-founders bought that said TOPSPOT. When they had the sign taken to be restored, the “S” fell off. Hence we have Top Pot Donuts.

The founders loved the retro sign and it fit their dream of creating a cozy donut spot that wasn’t full of buzzing fluorescent lights. They began with a recipe for their handmade donuts from the 1920s, and created wood counters, glass display cases and a 2-story bookcase to make Top Pot as far away from a fast food donut shop as possible.

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Seattle: There You Were Under the Tree of Song

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This is Hendrix’s original grave in the humble family plot before his memorial was built. It seems a little sad and neglected in this picture, but this Seattle cemetary is actually lush with grass. The only reason for the dirt is because the constant stream of visitors created a well-worn path that didn’t allow the grass to grow.

On November 26, 2002 Hendrix’s body was exhumed and reburied under a much more fitting marble dome memorial in another section of the same cemetary, Greenwood Memorial Park. If you are in the area and would like to pay your respects, you can find the location at findagrave.com.

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Golden rose, the color of the dream I had
Not too long ago
A misty blue and the lilac too
A never to grow old.

There you were under the tree of song
Sleeping so peacefully
In your hand a flower played

waiting there for me.

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Seattle – Pioneer Square

IMG_4702 (Custom)We took a day to just wander the cool Pioneer Square gentrified neighborhood in progress. Lots of coffee joints and bookstores, but also little homeless encampments. “In fact, The Pioneer Square-Skid Road Historic District, a historic district including that plaza and several surrounding blocks, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”

Seattle’s first settlers built a town here. After it burned down, they rebuilt it adding some Roman embellishments to the Victorian style. They decided to build the new city at a higher level, so they built the new city right on top of the remains of the old. You can take an underground tour and see the old storefronts, but it’s an hour and a half of walking on creaky old steps underground and that’s just too much of a commitment for me.

My favorite feature of the area is the iron and glass pergola built in the early 1900s. Sadly, on January 15, 2001 an eighteen-wheeler semi crashed into the pergola, destroying the original. It has since been restored.

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Another great thing about Pioneer Square is Salumi, the best sandwich shop in the world. They cure their own meats and sausages. They are Mario Batali’s relatives, if that helps. We ordered an Italian sausage with peppers sandwich and one with porschetta, which is mind-blowing.

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The Seattle Dog

IMG_4380Sure, it’s not a Jersey ripper or a Chicago dayglo relish dog, but the Seattle dog has gained a reputation of its own. It’s one of those drunk foods that you eat from a cart at 2am outside of your favorite bar. The strange creation consists of a grilled dog, brown mustard, maybe some sauerkraut, maybe some jalapenos, and then its special ingredient — cream cheese, which warms and softens when it hits the heat of the sausage.

We had gone to Neumo’s when Bob was on tour last time, so we headed over there with Anne, and I jumped out of the car to buy one from the vendor. Nobody else even wanted a bite! It wasn’t so weird, and I love cream cheese.

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Seattle Catchup: Sunday

Bob and AnneI never did finish posting my Seattle trip. It’s hard having 2 blogs. One always suffers. But before my next trip, I figure I’d better write a little something about my last trip.

Bob flew in and met me at our airport hotel on Sunday. Anne Pancake, my best friend since forever, picked us up with her daughter, Zola. When Karen and I got back into her car after our dog rescue misadventure, Karen asked me, “If you had been able to take that dog away from that guy, what the hell were you going to do with it?”

Without skipping a beat, I replied, “Give it to my friend Anne. She loves animals. True to form, when I told her the story Anne said, “Oh, I would have loved to have a little Jack Russell!”

We went to Serious Pie for lunch, part of Tom Douglas’ empire. Their wood-fired pizzas are just so damn good. It is always one of my first stops. We shared the Soft Egg, Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza, and one with morels and asparagus. Amazing.

Serious pie pizza Tom Douglas’ Magnolia bakery next door is famous for their triple coconut cream pies. Luckily, Serious Pie has added it to their menu.

Serious pizza triple cream coconut pie

Anne’s whole family, her, husband, Ed, and daughter Zola are all massage therapists. We went over to their place for a spa day. Anne has a big warm pool she uses for Watsu. It’s a trip. She puts a float behind your neck and under your feet, then gets behind you and hooks he arms in your arms and slowly swishes you back and forth, then does a bunch of other movies that made me kind of feel like a mermaid and kind of like a baby. It’s very relaxing and a nice low-impact treatment for people with pain, bad joints, disabilities, and probably the elderly.

Then it was Bob’s turn in the pool and Ed gave me a relaxing massage. The whole time he talked about my health and the benefits of what he was doing, and I have no idea what he said. Bob came out of the pool early. Anne said he is so flexible she was too rough on him. But later Bob told me, “Her hands were on my shoulders, and all of a sudden I felt a third hand! I didn’t know if Ed or Zola had gotten in the water and it freaked me out.”

I asked him if the third hand was in the small of his back. He nodded and I laughed, “That was her foot!” She did the same maneuver on me. She dropped us off at our new little hotel that was closer to downtown. Old and cozy, in a neighborhood half gentrified and half the stomping grounds for the homeless.

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Bob’s Clawhammer bandmate, Rob and his wife Lisa happened to be in town. They invited us to Anthony’s Pier 66 or dinner. The view was gorgeous. Since they were treating, we let them pick some dishes to share. We enjoyed a strawberry salad, a poke dish, scallops, and a seafood pasta.

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We walked home along the water. It was a beautiful night.

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Seattle: Would-be Superheroes and Pike Place

DSC01813Saturday after the workshop, Karen, who had never been to Seattle, asked me to take her somewhere that was not a place to eat. Since museums would be closing soon, the only thing I could think of was Pike Place. Luckily, she loves shopping and I still found places to eat.

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DSC01816IMG_4178IMG_4168IMG_4175I love Lowell’s and took a break in the second floor bar for their clam chowder. Unfortunately 13 Coins has ruined all clam chowders for me. Theirs is so good, Lowell’s pales by comparison. Although I do love anything in a bread bowl.

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I have been debating whether or not to tell this story, since it kind of makes me look like a reckless idiot and will terrify my mother. But this is the adventures of Kiki Maraschino, right? And it was kind of an adventure.

After we visited Pike Place, we were driving back along Alaskan way. It was made even more desolate near the sports arena by ongoing construction. On the first block with restaurants and people we were stopped when we saw a young homeless couple waiting for the light with a beagle dog. The dog was barking and the man was screaming at it to shut up. He then lifted the dog up by its choke chain, letting it strangle. Karen, a serious dog lover, and I were both freaking out. When he let it down the dog tried to run, and he yanked it back hard, letting it get scraped along the pavement as its legs went out under it. We were so incensed and confused, we had no idea what to do.

Then the man did something I have never seen before and hope to never see again. He reached down and started punching the dog in the face. I said, “Fuck it. Pull over. I’m going to kill that guy.” When our light turned green, Karen zoomed into the right lane and pulled over in the driveway of a restaurant. I flew out of the car and flew at the couple, who were crossing the 8-lane boulevard. I shouted, “You can’t treat a dog that way. It is against the law. You are going to go to jail. Now give me that dog.” I reached for the leash and the guy pulled out a knife. He didn’t hold it up; he held it at his waist to show it to me. I didn’t think about getting hurt. I thought, “Oh my God, I bet that thing is filthy. God knows what kind of diseases I would get from it.”

During our confrontation the light changed again and cars pulled up to the crosswalk. A large truck stopped 2 feet from me, honking and revving its engine. Frustrated but not seeing an alternative, I walked back to the car. Unbeknownst to me Karen had run across the street to head them off at the pass and was having her own verbal altercation with the woman, who told her, “It’s my dog. I can treat it any way I want.”

Karen returned, also unsure of what to do about this poor dog. She said, “Of course we’re in a rental. If we were in my car I have pepper spray and a taser.” We found a policeman a block away and sent him back to look for the couple.

Karen looked at me, curious, “You tried to take his dog away.”

“Yeah.”

“What were you going to do with it?”

“Give it to me friend Anne. She loves animals.”

True to her kind nature, Anne would later lament, “Ohh, I would have loved to have a beagle.”

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Seattle: Queen Bee

queenbeeI don’t usually make it to The Crumpet Shop in Pike’s Place before they close, but I still managed to get my crumpets on this trip. During the lunch break from Saturday’s workshop, Karen and I just kind of wandered around and ended up at the Queen Bee.

The eponymous Queen Bee is Colleen Clark, the owner’s late mother. She symbolizes all hard-working and nurturing mothers. She raised her son in the kitchen, who became somewhat fixated on the traditional English crumpet.

The little eatery has the elaborate espresso machine that is de rigeur in all Seattle establishments. But the star of the show is the crumpet. Not only can you enjoy the traditional lemon curd or preserves and Devonshire cream, but they have crumpwiches!

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I tried the Three Kings with mortadella, genoa salami and pancetta with roasted pepper aioli and olive tapenade. I am not a fan of tapenade and left it out. Karen enjoyed a croque madame that was not battered or fried, but she really liked the jelly on it. The crumpwich is kind of gimmicky, and I probably wouldn’t try one again.

I am sorry I didn’t notice the savory topped crumpets. The Duck Confit with crispy shallots, rosemary and whole grain mustard sounds fantastic, as does the one with Beecher’s cheddar cheese, blackberry jam and fresh berries.

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Seattle: 13 Coins

16 CoinsI flew up to Seattle last weekend with an interpreter friend for a workshop. She had chosen a hotel that was serendipitously right next to a highly-recommended 24-hour steakhouse. 13 Coins opened in 1967, and walking into the restaurant was like going back in time — oversized swivel seats like Captain Kirk’s in place of barstools, and enormous leather panels reaching up to the sky to separate the booths. There was trippy Barbarella lighting and a full bar ready to mix cocktails old and new.

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photo (12)photo (13)Karen and I arrived in Seattle on Friday afternoon. We wandered over to 16 Coins. Wow. It was an adventure. The soup d’jour was clam chowder, as is often the case on Fridays. It was so thick and rich, full of cream and butter. It was even better than the King’s Head in Santa Monica, which is no mean feat. The shrimp cocktail was cold and flavorful.

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After the workshop Friday night, we returned to 13 Coins for the daily special — prime rib. They were all out. Boo. I made do with a big plate of steak and eggs. They really do know how to cook the hell out of a steak. Karen ordered fried zucchini, which were al dente rather than being greasy and soggy, and were served stacked like a little log house. We sat at the counter and were amused by the lively banter of the cooks and the impressive fire of each flambé.

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photo 2 (3)Saturday the workshop started early, so we just stopped at a coffee drive thru that looked like a tiny house. They had 20 different flavors of sugar-free syrup and 40 regular syrups. Who wants a peanut butter latte?

Saturday night we were right back at 13 Coins for the prime rib, and this time they still had it! I have to admit the meat was not that flavorful, and about halfway through it started to feel like a job. Karen ordered fried ravioli, which were excellent, and meatballs that were OK. Since I ordered a dinner we were presented with an old-fashioned relish tray.

photo 1 (2) DSC01841Sunday morning I insisted on returning to 13 Coins one more time to try their salmon benedict. The salmon was not the expected lox, but big chunks of meaty smoked salmon. I can’t complain about anything we were served, or about the service, which was very friendly and on the ball. We especially liked Clay and recommend you sit in his section if you are ever in the neighborhood.

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