Anytime you bring a group of people together, the opportunity exists for there to be clashes. Anytime you make plans, there’s a possibility none of them will come to fruition. Sometimes though, the mixture is just right, the plans align and at the end you find yourself confirming with those you’ve come together with that “NOTHING COULD HAVE BEEN MORE PERFECT”. Not one thing went wrong, nothing could have been better; nothing needed to be added or subtracted. That was this weekend (excluding the Whiz on my Cheesesteak and Frreenie cheating and arriving a day earlier than me).
My plane departed and left on time. I landed, exited the plane, jumped in the car with Frreenie and Blue – and within minutes we were at Pat’s eating a ‘wich wit. After our close to midnight repast, we drove by City Hall the 30th Street train terminal, up Chestnut Hill, and found ourselves at our hosts lovely house.
Seated in the deep leather couches in the living room the three of us did our catching up Friday night. We discussed music, families, children (well, they did, not me as I am my own kid), and business. Before I knew it, it was quarter ‘till one and WAY past bedtime. I trundled up to the princess room, tucked myself into bed and headed to slumber land.
I call it the princess room because it was pretty impressive. In just a month or so, it went from a college teenage boy’s room to a guest room. It was thoughtfully appointed with lovely art work, a small desk to hold a computer, and reading material ranging from the architectural wonders of Philadelphia to the history of bathroom design. (Do you see the bouquet there on the desk? Totally full of herbs from the garden!)
Just as anticipated, Saturday morning dawned sunny and beautiful. Frreenie, the first one up was in the kitchen – starting the coffee as I padded downstairs. Within moments we were curled up in the family room with fresh roasted and brewed coffee, the NY Times, and classic jazz. (and my secret lover)
Soon our host joined us. Perusing the editorial page we discussed our world while making our plans for the day. By ten o’clock we were loaded up in the “cash van” and headed back to South Philly and the Termini Brother’s Italian Bakery. We picked up a few things for dessert – ate our free sample Cannoli – and then headed out for the Italian Market.
We stopped at Fante’s where we treated ourselves to a few essentials; mircoplanes, manual coffee grinders, and cookie cutters. Further into the district we hit a spice store, a cheese shop, the green grocers, and a Mexican grocery store. Leaving South Philly behind, we drove through Chinatown and headed to Reading Market where we scored some Salumi, Capicola, Olive and Thyme bread, sharp cheddar and Pecorino cheese, and few different types of olives for our lunch.
Fully satiated, we went truckin’ over to the Penn State campus and caught the R. Crumb retrospective. Crumb introduced such characters as Fritz the Cat, Schuman the Human, Mr. Natural, and Angelfood McSpade into hippie iconography, as well as the catchphrases as "Keep on truckin'”. Although we aren’t particularly fans of Crumb's politics and humor, we are of an age to remember it appearing in our adolescent lives. Most striking of all was the mastery of his drawings. Seeing a 6 or 9 box comic strip laid out on a 9x12 sheet, a pen and ink drawing – full of cross hatch shading – and miniscule details, with no (or hardly) any white out was amazing.
Finishing up the retrospective, we looked at our watches and realized it was time to get home and begin cooking our feast. The cooking preparations began on Thursday when Frreenie and Blue made the famous tomato dipping sauce from the Santore Roma tomatoes.
They’d also been to the Korean market – where they bought squid, baby octopus, and shrimp. Blue marinated octopus and squid in a secret concoction and then readied the brazier When he was done with the secret sauce and cooking we had this on for our appetizer spread
Each weekend visitor contributed “something from home and a skill” towards the weekend’s repast. Frreenie brought lump crab meat from his business meeting in Baltimore which we turned into crab dumplings,
I diced and chopped onions, garlic, and peppers for the shrimp curry and put together the Middle Eastern carrot fritters. Just as we finished our prep work – and began to nipple on the appetizers, JOTS arrived with the wine – and the most incredible Chincoteague oysters.
Standing around in the kitchen we slurped down the oysters, dipped rustic Tuscan bread in the Sanatore Romano dipping sauce and swilled Prosecco. I don’t think there’s a better combination than the salty brine of oysters and the sweet bubble of the Italian Wine.
It took us about an hour to graze through the appetizer course – then it was time for the main meal. Sitting around the table we couldn’t believe our bounty. Fragrant Shrimp Curry, spicy carrot fritters, the dumplings and brown rice.
As we ate, we had the liveliest of conversations covering politics, guns, wine, cooking tips and food secrets (JOTS is a bread maker, Mit doesn’t like peanut butter, Blue won’t eat cilantro, and Frreenie’s extended family is sure he was trying to kill them one holiday with rosemary and garlic!).
After dinner we adjourned to the fire pit where JOTS serenaded us with his guitar and classic rock/folk repertoire. It’s impossible to sit around a fire and not talk about childhood memories, Boy Scouts, and family outings. If you’d have been the neighbors you’d never know this was a first time meet up.
Too many of our experiences and pasts overlap for there to be any cracks of uncomfortableness (is too a word!) or quietness.
Besides the talking and the singing there were desserts from Termini’s and matching wines (JOTS IS AWESOME!!) to accompany them. Before I knew it, it was one o’clock in the morning. Quickly I gathered up my dessert dish, wine glass and departed for the princess room. Sweet slumbers quickly engulfed me – and the boys all found their way to their respective beds sometime later.
Sunday morning was what ALL Sunday morning’s should be. French press coffee, biscotti, jazz, comfy leather couches, the New York Times and three handsome men. At our leisure we enjoyed the morning, and once again gathered around the table. There we consumed French toast made with the left over Tuscany bread and North Carolina “country ham” (please read VERY, VERY salty ham). With groaning stomachs we took showers, did dishes, packed suitcases and sat for our portrait.
With hugs, back-slaps, and plans to meet up again we bid goodbye to Frreenie.
Then JOTS, Blue and I headed downtown for the Gee’s Bend Quilt exhibit and the Calder Jewelry display at the Philly Art Museum. With sadness , as the afternoon shadows lengthened, we bid goodbye to JOTS, which left Blue and I alone until my plane departed. Of course … we had to go EAT!
Although Philly isn’t my town, Blue asked if I had any ideas of where I’d like to have dinner. Immediately I suggested the White Dog Café was a huge supporter of the “Eat Local” movement – and since we’d spent breakfast talking about gardening, sustainable and responsible agriculture, Michael Polland’s two books, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”, shouldn’t we go there to eat?
It was a great choice for many reasons. It was right next door to the Penn/Drexel campus’ where we’d already been, it was on the way (more or less) to the airport, and Blue had eaten there in the mid-eighties, when it was a ground breaking idea to combine food and activism. We had a great meal – and it’s nice to know that the White Dog hasn’t rested on its laurels – or become slack with success and abandoned its earliest passions.
Our meal began when we split a Panzanella Salad (Lancaster County Heirloom Tomatoes with a Red Wine Vinaigrette toasted Metro bread, Genovese basil and shaved pecorino cheese). It was followed by Blue’s entre of Mustard Grilled Lamb with an Oregano-Ramp Pesto, accompanied by a Middle Eastern chickpea stew and organic spinach sautéed with zucchini. I shared my Seared Breast of Guinea Hen with Local Potato, Wild Garlic, and Pulled Leg Hash and braised sweet peas with spinach and Madeira hen jus. I think the Snaggletooth Red Rhone blend enhanced my enjoyment of the food, company and setting. It certainly helped me avoid thinking of the inevitable ending that was drawing ever closer.
As the sun set, Blue dropped me off at the airport – and in the darkened Philly sky – Southwest airlines carried me home to North Carolina. It’s always nice to come home, and this homecoming was sweetened with the memories of the wonderful friends and times so recently shared with the Men of Mit.