There are them’s that like surprises and them’s that say they don’t.
I don’t know what I’d do without surprises. I love them. In fact, I spend everyday in eager anticipation of being surprised.
And usually I am rewarded. This is partly true because anyone living an examined life is going to be treated to a panoramic vista of wee to huge surprises as the day unfolds –but also, because people as a class all by themselves are slap full of surprises.
In addition, Mother Nature holds a full hand of bizarre cards–like this, well, fungus thing that I encountered on a recent walk through my neighborhood. No need to travel to the wilds of the Serengeti or to the Amazon rainforest to witness something amazing–here it was, right at the tip-toe of my New Balance–a beefy-lipped mushroom thing the size of a charger that looked, as the ole Irish ditty goes, “Mighty Lak a Rose.”
It was the kind of surprising discovery that makes one long for grade school days, when those minutes of show and tell time allowed us to share the good, the weird, and the surprising news of our individual lives. Relevancy was not required.
Maybe somewhere there is an enlightened company, probably a start up company, that begins the day by allowing its employees to share whatever strikes their fancies. Much of what might be said could be dull as dirt–but I doubt it. I think that most days we’d walk back to our offices with a nugget of gold in our pocket–a detail of someone’s life that surprised us.
What I like about surprises is that they quicken our senses, and quicken our minds. Surprises make us more creative, and bring us into the exact moment that is now.
This past week, Mr. Wu presented me with a wonderful surprise. It was one of those evenings when I just couldn’t think anymore, and I had no idea what to order–other than for some reason I did crave asparagus.
As I walked from my car, the air felt muggy and oppressive. The storms from the gulf were coming up river from the gulf, sending strong gusts of wind that were twirling the tops of the tall pine tress outside the Royal Panda. Inside, Mr. Wu surprised me with a light dish of vibrantly green asparagus and sweet white scallops dressed with a spicy sauce.
Allowing other people to surprise us is a smart thing to do. Sometimes other people know us better than we know ourselves.
Mr. Wu embraces fruit and enjoys serving it–and eating it–for dessert.
I like fruit, too, but sometimes finding fruit in its fruitiest state is at best a gamble. More than a few flavorless or mushy apples, pithy oranges, and rock hard peaches will put a serious dent in one’s ardor for the arbor.
Thank goodness for the summer months, when local farmers bring their fresh produce to roadside stands and farmers markets, and mouth-wateringly pungent, drippy peaches and sweet juicy berries are abundant and just waiting to be had.
This past week though, I’ve been enjoying my very own harvest–thanks to a very generous neighbor who doesn’t give a fig about figs.
“Take them all!” she encouraged, but I didn’t need much encouragement. Indeed, I’ve had a covetous eye on her tree for the past several weeks, and have been watching patiently as the figs that began as hard little green knots grew soft and fat –until finally the limbs of the tree began to droop ever so slightly.
Then last Sunday I walked over and gathered a bucket of the lovely golden green globes. The rest is delicious history.
I cut all of the figs into slices and baked some of them for future use as garnishes. Spread out and touching on the cookie sheet, they looked like a mosaic or a stained glass window.
The rest of the figs were stewed on the stove top with butter and brown sugar until they formed a beautiful sticky goo of fig preserves. I trolled through a variety of recipes, some of which called for the addition of balsamic vinegar or of a liquor of some ilk.
But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to add a single extra ingredient–their darn figginess was just so sumptuously figgy. Why mess with perfection?
But I did play with a variety of fig aps, like framing the colorful slices in tiny squares of pastry and sprinkling them with a just a bit of brown sugar before popping them in a hot oven.
But the hands-down favorite was a triple combination consisting of the rosemary and garlic sourdough rolls that I sliced and toasted and then spread with tart, creamy chevre and topped with the hot fig preserves.
What a delightful way to start the day with a cup of coffee–and it was equally good with a glass of crisp chardonnay as an appetizer.
Tags: Figs with Goat Cheese
Last week, I had ten reasons to smile every time I glanced at my canary-tipped fingers. And with the addition of several gold bangle bracelets and a Ferrari red top, not only had I catapulted out of my conservative box, I was time traveling back to a time when fashion was fun.
When you have a great job, Uncle Sam doesn’t come anywhere close to getting a share of your compensation. The rewards can come to you from all directions. Maybe it’s flexibility, maybe it’s a relaxed workplace, or neat co-workers. I’m blessed to put a check by all of those factors, but one of the best things about my job is that I get to meet lots of fascinating people. Enter Star, a vibrantly unique young woman who walks in her own force field of creative energy.
Star is pre-zactly the sort of person I might otherwise never meet if it weren’t for the intersecting lines of our lines of work. She’s all mid-towny and gloriously avant garde, with curly blonde hair bursting forth from colorful scarves and headbands while feather earrings flit happily near her shoulders. There is always an element of surprise about her colorful and trend-setting outfits that is perfectly, absolutely right. It comes as no surprise that she is working as a stylist with a husband and wife team who are two of the most talented people in the fashion business.
Star finds herself at that splendidly exciting cusp that marks your late 20′s and early 30′s–life still teems with an infinite number of discoveries–but there is a light dusting of accumulated experiences to inform decision making. Like most people destined to be super-successful, she has shaped what is quite obviously an exceptional talent and eye with an exceptional education. And there’s more than that– I’m profoundly touched by her blunt honesty coupled with tender concern as she goes about her work. And she makes me laugh.
In Star, I see something of long-ago-me; from the git-go I enjoyed seeing her come into the store to choose her “this’s and that’s” for photo shoots. However, I have a feeling that at first my “me-ness” might have been shrouded by the environment. But no matter.
I was free to watch and absorb Star’s talent as she worked at various fashion shoots, and it wasn’t long before I found myself thumbing through hangers and sizing up shoes in a new way. And now, mama’s got a brand new bag, and shoes, and clothes!
My first foray took me to Anthropologie at Saddle Creek. The music and the vibe of the place made it really easy to channel my new muse as I held each article of clothing up to the same scrutiny, “What would Star say?”
I left with a bag full of clothes (that are me) and a new attitude about myself. It was a thrill to try on clothes and to realize that I needed smaller sizes. The Wu food Project has led me to lose over 25 pounds, and I’ve not spent one day feeling hungry or listless because of “dieting”.
A big, big part of the Wu Food Project has been looking for signs along the way, and asking for directions. Lucky me to have discovered this bright southern Star to help guide me back to me.
It’s funny how something as seemingly trivial as yellow ( or cornflower blue, or pale lilac, or sea foam green) nail polish could be so instrumental in making me feel in touch with my old self. And yet it makes perfect sense. There is a joy and a serenity in being the same person on the outside that you are on the inside. Thanks to Star there’s a new twinkle in my eye–and in my closet!
From the rock musical, “Hair”…
Good Morning, Star Shine
Good morning starshine
The earth says hello
You twinkle above us
We twinkle below
Good morning starshine
You lead us along
My love and me as we sing
Our early morning singing song
Good mornin’ starshine
There’s love in your skies
reflecting the sunlight
in my lovers eyes
Good morning starshine
so happy to be
My love and me , as we sing
Our early morning singing song
Can you hear me?
Singing a song
Loving a song
Every culture has its own offbeat most-favored delicacy –an esoteric treat whose mere mention causes the collective socks of its passionate fans to roll up and down.
For many Southerners, and for me in particular, there’s nothing better than a plate full of sweet and delicious crappie, the lithesome and wondrous cousin of the sunfish (pronounced “croppy”). The other day I mentioned this preference to Mr. Wu –well, I more than mentioned it. In fact, it is possible that I may have rhapsodized, rather passionately, which explains why when Mr. Wu called me on Saturday night to wish me a happy Mother’s Day, he announced that he had gone fishing and caught some crappie that had my name on it for my Mother’s Day dinner.
Like truffles, crappie qualify as a gourmet treat on the basis of their high unobtainium quotient. You can’t buy these fine little fish at your local grocery. In fact, you can’t buy them at any grocery because they are classified as a game fish. Mr. Wu, an expert angler who prefers to catch striper bass, told me that even he was amazed to catch such a large crappie.
When he called, Mr. Wu asked me how I’d like him to prepare the crappie. Well, honestly, I’ve only had it fixed one way–filleted and fried. Oh it’s mighty fine that way, folks. But I knew that this would be tantamount to putting ketchup on escargot to Mr. Wu, so I asked him what his thoughts were.
“Ahhhh, you could have it with a chili sauce, or steamed,” he suggested in an obviously noncommittal fashion.He may well be the most well-mannered person I’ve ever met.Getting him to tell me how he would he prepare something that he wanted to cook in order to please me was obviously going to require a Jedi minuet.
“Hmmm, well, it’s such a delicate flavored fish,” I opined, fishing, you might say, for a suggestion from Mr. Wu. “Probably a spicy sauce would overwhelm the sweetness of the crappie,” I hoped I was on the right track, but Mr. Wu was not showing any cards.
Finally I simply asked him straight out, “Mr. Wu, what do you think?”
“I would steam it,” he answered quickly. Clearly, there was only one correct answer, and I quickly agreed with his insight.
When I arrived late Saturday night, Mr. Wu was seated in the rear of the Royal Panda carving roses from carrots and the wait staff was seated nearby, busily snipping the stems of a bucket of ruffled pink carnations and folding them into colorful cones of festive wrapping paper to be given to moms on Sunday.
Mr. Wu surprised me with a glass of Chardonnay and a small plate of his crispy shrimp rolls. I say surprised because he isn’t enthusiastic about me over indulging in either one, preferring that I invest in a wiser use of calories. We shared a hearty laugh over this rare opportunity to indulge because it was Mother’s Day.
And yes, even though it was Saturday night, it was indeed Mother’s Day somewhere. In fact, it was already Mother’s Day in Taiwan, and Mr. Wu told me that before he went to bed he would call his mom and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. Who knew? Well, I didn’t. Turns out that Mother’s Day has been celebrated in Taiwan and China for years. This should provide us all with some cheer that moms are unilaterally appreciated east and west.
And then the crappie appeared, made manifest in a cloak of vivid red pepper, green onion, and ginger and resting in a pool of brown, aromatic broth. It was a thing of beauty. I was overwhelmed by Mr. Wu’s kindness. Even if I had never taken a bite, it was such a generous and thoughtful gesture. The world at that moment assumed a sweet oneness.
And so it is with the Wu Food Project, which may be more about Wu and his relationship to food than it is about Wu food. It may also have evolved in such a way that it is now more about a work in progress than it is a project.As I continue to eat healthier, I find more rather than less pleasure in the food I eat.
There was more crappie than even I could eat, so Mr. Wu wrapped it up for me, and I had crappie for breakfast. Later today I’ll pick up my mom and and we’ll gather round the set with my sons and watch the Grizzlies in the Grind House of FedEx Forum and hope for a victory.
But already, thanks to Mr. Wu, it’s been the most wonderful and crappie Mother’s Day ever!
Mr. Wu’s restaurant occupies a corner of the shopping area and encompasses a very pleasing and spacious courtyard that leads to a garden area. Three large tables with comfortable patio chairs are available for diners who wish to take in the balmy spring breezes and enjoy the pleasure of a catered picnic a la Wu.
Last night, Mary and Bill and I decided to gather at the Royal Panda for a relaxing meal.
It goes without saying that Bill had already made up his mind that he would order his all-time favorite entree, the Hu-nan shrimp. He merely leaned back and smiled while Mary and I mulled and mused over the many tempting dishes –any and all of which would be delicious.
Deciding what to order just to get the ball rolling was a lot easier. After all, appetizers require so much less commitment. And no matter what you order–they’re all yummy. So it was pretty easy to choose our first appetizer, Mr.Wu’s highly addictive shrimp rolls.
If there is any doubt as to how much we enjoyed them, note in the photo that five of them are already missing. Mary wanted the mussels, which are as pretty as they are tasty, nestled in a fragrant chile oil and broth and topped with yellow bean crumbles.
I forgot to mention that when I arrived, Mary and Bill had already been seated and Mr. Wu had quickly sent out a nice wine bucket filled with ice for the bottle of chardonnay that Mary and Bill brought with them from their house. That’s one of the nice things about Mr. Wu–he is fine with people bringing in their own wine.
Mary, not surprisingly, told Mr. Wu to surprise her, and then much to our amusement, proceeded to tell him, “But I do want fish, and I want the orange sauce, and I want spinach!”
As it turns out, Mr. Wu decided to surprise us both with the same dish. It’s not on the menu, but if it was, I guess a good name for it would be Sea Bass Hot and Sweet, because the lovely white fish comes with two different sauces; one is a sweet orange sauce with notes of caramel, and the other was a spicy, slightly tangy sauce.
Mr. Wu, as usual, was spot on with his choice for us. The two different sauces allowed the sea bass to show two very different personalities–perfect for the two of us who could not make up our minds!
Each year, a small brown mamma wren sets about establishing her own exacting world order within the circular green confines of a wreath that hangs on my front door. The effort meets with varying success, if one is focused on the end result.
And one never does know the end. With Adrienne and the loss of her in my heart today, I tend to side with the industrious little wren, whose little wings beat in perfect synchronicity with the moment in which she pecks, sings, and flies.
Her gift to the world comes with each day.
First, a nest of colored eggs.
And then, a miracle times five.
And while it has been a thrilling visual treat to greet this colorful riot of spring, it must be said that most of us are viewing its abundance through red, itchy eyes. Indeed, a yellow fog seems to have enveloped us, and this mighty wallop of pollen is not only evident on cars and windshields, but even the pavement.
Walking, which I have decided is a non-negotiable requirement of the Wu Project list of “best practices”, has been one step forward in the exercise program–but maybe two steps back in terms of contending with hahhhahhhhhhavoc (simulated sneeze) in the allergy department.
It’s easy for me to mark this time of year–my baby child entered the world at this time–and my dear beloved grandmother, Jeah, departed it on that very day some years before. I remember how it seemed like the world itself lay dormant on that frantic ride to the hospital to give birth–and yet, only the next day, when I returned home with a baby boy, red buds and jonquils were dancing in the March wind. In that other March, when I had to bid farewell to my grandmother, a carpet of violets encircled her white frame farmhouse. How we loved picking wild violets in the woods, spring after spring. I carried them with me that lonely day, and left them with her. The next day, it snowed.
The experts who understand pollen say to walk in the evening when possible–and to wash your hair often. This strategy seems to be working–other than itchy eyes, I’ve not had any major misery, and even if I had, it would probably be worth it. I’ve lost the ten pounds that had arrived with my sedentary winter months.
Have I said this before? Yes. Of course. By now perhaps I may have said it all twice–but sometimes the hard lessons must be repeated: it is necessary for me to literally walk the Wu walk. Mr. Wu must walk a kajillion steps a day. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzz. Back and forth from the kitchen to the front door where he welcomes each patron as if expecting them for a dinner party at his home.
When the earth is abloom with such fine things as azaleas and tulips nod at you as you walk along, it’s easy to feel downright cocky about your intentions. You just know that as the spring breeze touches your cheeks that you will be able stand your ground and to keep on keeping on. But our smothering heat and humidity will soon return, and just like the wet and bitter cold of winter, walking will become less of a euphoric experience, and much more of an ordeal.
In the meantime though, I’m going to enjoy every second of beauty, every sweet breath of spring, and every lost pound!