Good Morning Star Shine

Inspired by Star, I painted my nails to match her Crayola yellow manicure.

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.

A rainbow awaits!

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

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My Crappie Mother’s Day a la Wu

Carnations being readied for presentation on Mother’s Day

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.

Mr. Wu with 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.

Shrimp rolls
A Mother’s Day Treat

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.

Crappie a la Wu
Crappie a la Wu

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 Sidewalk Cafe

Sea Bass with 2 Sauces

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.

Mussels and 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!”

Mr. Wu came outside to catch up on the latest news and to share a toast.

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!

ImageEach 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.

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First, a nest of colored eggs.

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And then, a miracle times five.

Happy Easter.

A Spring in My Step and a Polonaise in My Nose

ImageSpring blew in quickly this year and it seems as if all things flora have burst into a cacophony of bloom.

ImageFirst, the Bartlett pear trees shimmered precociously with delicate white petals that fell like snowflakes to the ground in lacy drifts.

ImageThese were chased quickly by the red buds, the pink blossoms of the cherry trees, and the sturdy blooms of the dogwoods; all in a quick succession, much like the finale of a fireworks display.

ImageAnd 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.

ImageNo one can remember seeing so many different flowers blooming beneath so many budding and flowering trees –all at one time.

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.

ImageWhen 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!

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Winter Solstice and Wu

Mr. Wu's holiday meal included an exquiste platter of Peking Duck and vegetables.

It’s been quite a long while since I’ve written an entry…for a number of reasons the planets in my small corner of the galaxy seem to have been out of alignment for the past few months.

But now,  precisely because of the way the planets are aligned in the cold winter sky and the way the  sun sits frozen in its winter solstice, it seems the time is right for me to begin writing again.

Today is the shortest day of the year. As well as the longest night. On this day of distilled daylight a song called “Live Like You Were Dying” comes to my mind.

The song, written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, was performed by Tim Mc Graw and describes the answers a man gives when asked what he did after he was given the news that he had a terminal illness.

He responds that he “went skydiving and Rocky Mountain climbing”, adding that he “loved deeper and spoke sweeter, and gave the forgiveness [he’d] been denying”. In summary he says, “I hope someday you get the chance to live like you are dying.”

That’s what I’ve been thinking about today, how the things that matter can be so easily brushed aside by deadlines and commitments.  How it is that the things about life that are most important to us get so easily misplaced while the most mundane activities take precedence. On this briefest and most fleeting of days I was determined to try to do some things that matter to me.

My life is not one of great adventure, but really, I don’t need to jump aboard a “bull named Fu Manchu” like the song’s protagonist does in order to feel alive and in the moment.

In fact, I’ll take a meal of “Duck a la Wu” over “2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu ManChu” anyday of the week!

Oh yum oh brown and crispy heaven. The skin on the duck was roasted to a deep mahogany and was as crisp and light as a potato chip! These fragile  pieces were too delectable to wrap up in the rice wrappers. As Emerson said, beauty is its own excuse for being–so it follows that one shouldn’t make a mishmash of something that ought to be enjoyed in its solitary splendor!

Mr. Wu prpeared a dish of shrimp, scallops and crab to complement the platter of Peking Duck.

Mr. Wu likes to serve complementary dishes, and often creates  very original pairings. Like the dish that Mr. Wu chose to serve last night– a dish that is not on his menu.

It was absolutely superb and allowed the Peking Duck to maintain its dominant roost on the menu while at the same time playing a delightful supporting role.

Nestled in an emerald bed of his perfectly cooked (and it is ALWAYS perfectly cooked) asparagus was a mounded reef of pink shrimp, creamy white scallops, and vermillion flecked crab meat–all washed with a delicately briny oyster sauce. Divine. The pairing could not have been better.

Mr. Wu carved a white rose to garnish the Peking Duck platter.

Mr. Wu’s presentation for this holiday meal was as beautiful as I have ever seen–and I’ve seen some truly artful compositions gracing his tables. The white rose was so lovely, and the orange monarch butterfly Mr. Wu deftly carved from a carrot was a delicate masterpiece.

I fear that those of us who frequent Mr. Wu on a regular basis (and I am certainly not alone in this, because I see other “regulars” there all the time) sometimes begin to take the extra care and attentions of Mr. Wu for granted.

I was most impressed with the beauty of Mr. Wu’s gratitude last night and the way in

A butterfly garnishes the delightful seafood entree.

which he expressed it, which was distinctively Eastern. There is a wholehearted generosity of spirit that permeates the manner in which he says “thank you.” It surpasses good manners, and goes beyond being gracious into a state of spiritual gracefulness.

I’m a grateful person. The darkness of my losses makes  me all the more appreciative of the precious light that remains.

And as the days begin to grow longer,  I’m encouraged by Mr. Wu’s holiday celebration to fill them with more hours of  lightness and joy by following his example  of generosity and  gratitude.

Summer Supper Chez Wu

Crisp green beans paired perfectly with the tender white sea bass robed in a dark Peking sauce.

Mary’s email  arrived this afternoon–“Isn’t there sometime we can get together this week and have supper at Mr. Wu’s?”

“Yes! You tell me when,” I responded.

And so this evening I met friends Bill and Mary at Mr. Wu’s for a delightful summer supper. We had a lot to catch up on–children and gardens and guild and travels and of course, animals and critters–after all, Bill is a retired veterinarian  and a great student of wildlife (including human behavior).

We began with a bowl of Mr. Wu’s “Bowl of Complexity”–otherwise known as Hot and Sour Soup. The name “Hot and Sour” does this magnificent brew no justice, as the bowl contains myriad flavors that blend and mingle on the tongue. I’ve yet to meet anyone EVER who has not exclaimed that Mr. Wu’s hot and sour soup is the best they have ever had. Ever. Of course a photo would have been a nice thing, but I got so excited, I slurped it all down and did not think of taking a picture until I was gazing forlornly into the empty bowl. Mr. Wu makes his own stock–the soup is truly a gourmet treat.

Mary had two requests–green beans and fish.  I always kid her about the way she asks Mr. Wu to “choose something” while at the same time giving him a grocery list of ingredients. When she announced that she did not tell Mr. Wu what to make–this time Mr. Wu laughed and said, “Right, she let me choose the sauce!”

Bill's Hunan Shrimp arrived with an unexpected vistor--a witty little snail carved from a radish garnished the plate!

SO tonight Mary had sea bass in Peking Sauce with green beans and brown rice. It was a beautiful dish– the dark, spicy sauce with the delicate white fish and colorful green beans was simply stunning. And delicious. I know. Mary let me taste it.

Bill, well, Bill ordered the Hunan Shrimp. As always, no surprise. Or so we thought. But Mr. Wu had a surprise for Bill–he had carved a witty little snail from a radish! It was so cleverly made– it was carved from an upside down radish so that the snail’s little feelers were  created from the root-end that had been split. It was awesome!

Mr. Wu's festive Singapore Noodles are a party on a plate.

I had a very hard time deciding what to order–that is the problem with having tasted so many of Mr. Wu’s dishes. It complicates things to know there are so many different dishes I am crazy about. I finally settled upon his Singapore Noodles, because they are a wonderful bright color with festive bits of veggies and shrimp and bits of pork strewn like confetti through the dish–and because the rice noodles have such a fun texture.

After the meal Mr. Wu brought  a small plate of  sliced oranges and fortune cookies. It was a sweet ending to the meal, but our most satisfying dessert was found in the companionship and the stories that we shared.

Little Buddy sits wordlessly, thoughts filling his little butter head.
Little Buddy sits wordlessly on his perch, his little butter-head filled with unshared thoughts.

The hen turkey that returns each year to Bill and Mary’s house in the country to raise her brood–four little ones  last year, and nine this year. The way roads in Kansas run due east and due west along property lines–while roads directed north and south bend and veer according to the earth’s longitudinal curves. A son’s new love and his satisfying new job. Re-cycling recipes with a new twist and what size tables to use for an upcoming party. Armadillos who dig holes,  pet raccoons gone wild and parakeets who learn to talk and the ones who never do (that would be Little Buddy).

Our summer supper chez  Mr. Wu  was  perfect in every way. It was an evening well spent. As I walked to the car with my sack of purple (yes!) tomatoes that Bill picked in his garden this morning, I felt relaxed and cheerful.

And very thankful. For summer suppers. And  friends like Bill and Mary and Mr. Wu.