Friday, November 18, 2011

truffled vichyssoise + butter lettuce salad with lemon-mustard vinaigrette

The first time I ever had vichyssoise, I was sixteen years old and staying in a rented house in the North Carolina mountains for a church weekend with my parents and siblings and several other families. As a first course one evening, our congregation's unanimously elected cook, Marcia, served us a cold potato and leek soup. We ate it out of mugs, sitting at a picnic table in the yard, all of us still flagging from the day's early July heat, which was formidable even after sunset and even at that altitude. Vichyssoise was the perfect food for that evening and its quintessentially blue Appalachian twilight, and Marcia's version was, not surprisingly, the perfect one to serve as my introduction to the dish.

Marcia was one of my first Sunday school teachers when my family started attending church again in 1982. Powell Presbyterian had a small congregation, and some Sunday mornings I was the only kid in the class. Stories have always appealed to me; I often say I'm a sucker for a narrative, which is probably why I became an English teacher. Marcia's explanations of biblical tales gave me a familiarity with the narratives of both testaments that would eventually help me win a partial Bible Scholarship to Montreat College ten years later. (I wrote my scholarship application essay on Noah and the significance of the rainbow's promise). Though Marcia always wore ladylike skirt suits to church, she was no shrinking violet. She had studied chemical engineering in college and then worked for eighteen years as a safety analyst in the nuclear industry, in addition to having raised three sons. Even now, whenever I think of the Biblical St. Paul, I always picture her bearded, intelligent, kind-faced husband of the same name. Marcia was kind, too, yet she was also outspoken and had a certain earthiness: she made my high school church friends and me blush furiously when she remarked baldly, during one youth group outing to her house to harvest peaches from her orchards, "Hmph! Sex is the smallest part of what marriage really is." (I suspect we had probably been giggling and whispering about something along those lines.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

bram stoker's pot roast

Happy Belated Halloween!

So, I was talking with my friend Valerie recently about my fascination with maps. This love affair with cartography began when I was in elementary school: my favorite subject next to English was social studies. Later, as a thirteen-year-old, I kept a journal; in it, there's a notebook page filled with the names of ten U.S. cities, chosen during a couple of summer days I spent poring over an atlas, where I'd decided I might want to live when I grew up. One example: the intriguingly named Snowflake, Arizona. When I got my driver's license, I became an avid railfan, so I have a box full of paper maps in the basement from my days of chasing trains on zigzagging back country roads. (Those days are far from over, actually.)   

In our current technological age, with the advent of Google Maps, I can freely explore new places, revisit old ones, and find all of the railroad tracks I want, anywhere on earth. Google's Street View makes this even better, because not only can I see a bird's-eye satellite view of a location, but I can virtually walk past it and see what it looks like from a Heather's-eye view. I do this a lot more often than I'm guessing the average person does. Over the past few months especially, it hasn't been unusual for D to come home and ask me what I did that day, and for me to answer, "Well, I walked past our old apartment on E. 101st and then I went to that little place in midtown where I used to buy jump rings," or "I was trying to find the restaurant where my parents and I ate one evening in Cañon City, Colorado, back in 1999," or "I spent the afternoon revisiting Paris/Venice/Seattle/Lenoir City."

So, last week when Valerie and I were talking, I told her that a couple of days before, I had been strolling through the real Dracula's hometownSighișoara, Romaniavia Google Street View. I also confided to her that my new mission is to spot a train passing by on Google Street View. The idea hit me after I happened to look "up" on a particular Tuscan freeway at dusk and see a beautiful waxing crescent moon, and I suddenly realized that these pictures were taken at random moments by a camera on a Google Maps car traveling through the region. Surely, these cameras might serendipitously catch other cool things, too?