like a kid loves candy and fresh snow

February 4, 2010

I’m sorry. I kind of forgot about this place. Mostly I just haven’t had anything I’ve felt was worth saying.

Yesterday was such a great day. It involved very good incidents with my two favorite things: food and snowboarding.

I reasoned with myself that since snowboarding season will be over agonizingly soon, it would be okay to skip class and spend the entire afternoon at Perfect North. I brought a friend along and we were on the slopes by 12:30. Since it was the middle of the week, there were very few guests. This was nice for two reasons. The first and obvious one is that there were no lines at the lifts. None. And second, no one wanted any lessons, so after I checked in at lesson call the first time, I was given permission not to come back. Having to head to the ski school every 40 minutes can be irritating. It’s something I don’t mind in the least on days when I’m scheduled- it’s a small price to pay for the benefits I get for working there. But on a day off, especially having a friend with me, it’s nice not to have to be anywhere at any time.

The snow was so amazing. Everything was freshly groomed and soft, and shredding down Center on snow like that is exactly the reason I snowboard. I wish I were a more able writer, because I’m at a loss to describe the feeling. By the way, I spent five minutes trying to find a better or more forceful word than “exactly” for that sentence but there isn’t one that really accurately describes how much stress I mean to put on it.  Hitting run after run of perfect snow made me realize how much I love this sport. That each run only lasted thirty seconds or a minute, before having to take another three-minute ride up the lift (even with no lines) made me realize how much I want to move to where everything is higher.

We got through most of the slopes in an hour or two, and ran into my dad at around 2. I’m glad I saw him. He and I used to snowboard every single weekend together when I was 18, 19, and since becoming an instructor I’ve rarely had the chance. We hit a couple of runs together before taking a break to rest our ankles.

With one exception (an equipment trade with a friend last year that only lasted two or three runs) I haven’t skied in seven or eight years, since I first strapped myself to a snowboard. I was never particularly good at it, I’m sure my form is terrible and I don’t recall ever being able to hit the hardest runs.  But I got it in my head a few weeks ago that I might like to try skiing again, because I’ve been wanting so badly to get more into the terrain park and I am just so uncoordinated that I’m not doing so well on my snowboard. I think maybe I’d have a much better time, and much better luck, if my feet were separated from each other. So when my friend suggested mid-afternoon that we tried skis, I was pretty enthusiastic. He had never tried it before, but then before two months ago he’d never been on a snowboard before, either, and now he’s probably better than some of the instructors, so I had high hopes. I used my guest pass to get two sets of rentals, and after half an hour of trying to figure out ski boots (equipment that has absolutely no relationship whatsoever to snowboarding boots, I’ve decided), we were ready to go. We went down the “easiest” rated runs once or twice, and I tried to give my friend a little advice and, at the same time, I was thinking to myself, “How do these things work again?” Once I felt less unwieldy, we hit some of the easier longer runs, Far Side and Backstage, and I remembered how much I really enjoyed skiing once.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t have a revelation and decide I should hang up my snowboarding boots or anything. But I think I might just spring for a pair of skis at the end of the season. I need to go out a few more times first and make sure it’s worth it, but I had a really good time on them.

It started to get late and my friend and I made plans to go to Tink’s Cafe, a restaurant I’ve been interested in since I was about 16 and first started exploring Ludlow Avenue and Clifton’s Gaslight district. It also happens to be exactly next door to the building where my parents first moved when they came to Cincinnati, and one block from the apartment I lived in when I was in culinary school. Why I never managed to try the place is a mystery to me. They focus on American and Southern cuisine, and my friend loves Southern food more than anyone I think I have ever met so when I first described the place to him as we passed it weeks ago on our way to Sitwell’s coffee house, it grabbed his interest.

After one last run down Center on our usual snow equipment (after which I announced aloud, “and THAT is why I snowboard”),  we left Perfect’s and made a quick stop to change out of snow pants and into slightly more appropriate attire, and then made our way to Ludlow and Telford.

The entire front of the restaurant is windowed, so I had a good idea of what the place is like from walking past it all the time. Never the less, when we came in, I was surprised at how small it is– the place sits maybe only 60 people at comfortably spaced four-top tables lining the walls with two rows in the middle. It’s intimate without being too cozy, with high white walls, hardwood floors, and some abstract art on the walls. There was a duet playing last night, a stand-up bass and classical guitar, which made for very nice, unobtrusive background music.

Our server greeted us and told us we could sit wherever we’d like– there were a handful of tables taken and most of the row nearest the windows was occupied by what we soon learned was a wine-tasting group (oddly enough, my dad was just talking to us earlier that day about the prevalence of wine tastings listed in the papers lately). We sat against the inside wall and had an array of staff members come over to give us water and bread plates and dinner menus, as well as a wine list and a beer list. I didn’t bother looking at the wine list. I’ve only recently developed an interest in wine, and while I admit it is limited, I am not interested in paying nine dollars for a glass of wine of which I could get an entire bottle for less than twice that price. And I don’t think I have enough of an understanding for wine yet to appreciate how it complements foods. On the other hand, I will totally pay six dollars for a beer I know I won’t find anywhere besides other high-end bars or Jungle Jim’s. There is something probably hypocritical or narrow-minded about this. After a few minutes, our server asked for our drink orders and I got a Rogue Mocha Porter, a favorite I’ve only had two or three times and a happy discovery to find on the beer list.

After he brought our drinks, the server told us the specials including a fish I can’t remember for the life of me and a cheese plate to be ordered as either an appetizer or a dessert.  He also let us know they have a lot of great desserts. I have to say, hearing him calmly explain each dish while looking us in the eye made me realize I need to work a bit on my presentation at my own job. He was very impressive, not only because he was so good but because he didn’t act like anything he was doing was impressive: he was comfortable and soft and friendly and managed to position himself as in control (as any server will tell you, that’s really what’s going on in a restaurant: the server has, or should have, control of the table and its occupants– without them being aware of it) while making me feel like he was just being helpful.

After he left us to make decisions, we agreed we wanted the cheese plate and debated its place in our meal, deciding to share the caribbean steak tartare as an appetizer and leaving the cheese for dessert. I then had trouble deciding between the grilled chicken and barley risotto, which came with green beans and cottage ham; the diver scallops, which were prepared with lots of autumn flavors with butternut squash and apples and arugula with brown butter and a cider gastrique; and the salmon, which had a corn tamale cake, avocado, and citrus flavors. I love risotto and the barley sounded like a neat idea so I decided on the first. My friend got shrimp and grits.

The tartare was pretty amazing. First of all, the portion was more than generous. It was dressed with this very nice, light but creamy spicy mayonnaise, surrounded with a mango salsa, and topped with my new favorite food ever: perfectly fried plantain chips. Mmm. Slight banana flavor, nicely salted, oh my gosh, I am in love. They went perfectly with the rest of the dish, as a sort of scooping helper.

My chicken and risotto exceeded my expectations. It smelled incredible, a smell unique to barley. The risotto was very well done, it was creamy and had just a taste of some kind of cheese, which was a nice surprise. It went very well with the crispy, salty ham and brightly flavored green beans, and there was some caramelized red onion to accompany the flavors. The chicken itself was also tastier than I’d hoped for, and had a nice juicy texture. There was a lot of it, though, three huge pieces. I would have traded one, or even two, for more risotto and ham and green beans. One small complaint I had was that either the thin brown sauce (the menu just listed it as natural jus, although it seemed dark in color to have come from chicken, so maybe I am confused) which was otherwise delicious, or possibly the risotto itself, was a bit too salty.

I forgot to mention, someone snuck a small basket of bread onto our table just before our first course, which held two slices of white and two of wheat. I was so in love with the white bread and my friend was so in love with the wheat that neither of us even tried the other. The white was warm, soft, and had a perfect crunchy, flaky outside, and it was mouth-wateringly yeasty and salty.

Before the server boxed up my two remaining pieces of chicken, he told us the desserts. Before he was finished, my friend and I both knew we weren’t getting the cheese plate. Instead, we shared the peach cobbler and a chocolate peanut butter cake torte thing, which came with a mixed berry sauce. I tried the cake first and immediately, food still in my mouth, declared that it tasted like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Which I meant as an enormous compliment. My friend’s response was perfect: “Well I love peanut butter and jelly, it got me through college”, before diving into it himself and agreeing. The peach cobbler was also delicious, everything was slightly warm and the peaches were perfectly sliced and still slightly crunchy, and it came layered with whipped cream and some nicely-spiced cobbler crumble.

As far as affordability goes, Tink’s didn’t break the bank. For two beers, an appetizer, two entrees, and two desserts, the bill was something like 85 dollars. I want to note that that our beers were only five bucks each, which I really appreciated– not that that’s particularly cheap for a beer, but it’s not outrageously overpriced, something a lot of restaurants do and get away with, and with significantly less-pricey beers than ours.

I want to go back, if only for the plantain chips. Nom nom nom.

Next week, I will (hopefully) be writing about Nada, the upscale Mexican restaurant that took the place of Bella two years ago, on Walnut across from the CAC. It was listed as Best New Restaurant in 2008 and it was opened by David Falk, chef-owner of Boca, who was once rated Best Chef in Cincinnati and named the worst local chef to work for in the same issue of the same magazine (Cincinnati magazine) if I can find someone to go with me. Or Hugo, another Southern-inspired restaurant for which I already have a potential companion (the same friend who came to Tink’s, which should be obvious by the statement that this place is Southern-inspired), if we can find time. I’m excited about Hugo. It was actually listed as a runner-up to Nada for Best New Restaurant that same year. I adore Sean Daly, the chef-owner, who I interviewed as part of a Careers in Hospitality class I had to take in culinary school. He was listed in the same survey where Falk was named as the worst local chef to work for, as a chef to watch. (In case anyone would like to read the survey, and I recommend it because it is hilarious, go here.)


and the architecture i’m taking in with my mind

October 5, 2009

Next week marks the six-month anniversary of my waitressing job at the hotel. In that time I’ve learned that it is much more acceptable there to complain about the job than say anything good about it. So I would never admit this to any of my co-workers, but here it is.

Sometimes, I really like my job.

Last night, I had a guest who was from California and in town by himself. He was in a talkative mood, a trend among solo business travelers who have just arrived at the hotel that night and who are usually just looking for some friendly interaction during what might be the slowest few hours they’ll get on an otherwise hectic trip. I learned that he was a vintage and antiques trader, and I ended up having the most wonderful conversation with him about the Netherland Plaza Hotel. The hotel is located in Carew Tower and it is one of the most incredible examples of French Art Deco architecture anywhere.

When I was a kid, I was part of the gifted program at my school and I’ve had several wonderful experiences because of it, but one that stands out is being lucky enough to have a tour of this building when I was around 11. Not only did we get to go up to the observation deck (Carew Tower is also the tallest building that makes up the Cincinnati skyline) but we had a guide who gave us some great insight into the design of the hotel. We were shown around the Apollo gallery, the lobby to the entire building, which is adorned with glossy black lacquer, with bronze and gold and has a fountain-esque gold chandelier that is at least a story high. We saw the entrance to the hotel lobby, a broad, welcoming black marble staircase surrounded in perfect Art Deco plum and lilac, and the hotel’s lobby itself, with cream-colored marble floors, bronze and gold lighting fixtures and turquoise ornamental ceiling frames. We got to peak into their two-story ballroom which was an awe-inspiring sight, as it is lined on both sides with gold mirrors, and at the far end there is even a two-story, single pane gold mirror. It took me a minute to remember the name and once I did I laughed: It’s called the Hall of Mirrors.

My favorite part of the tour was Palm Court. I think it used to be a part of the hotel’s lobby, but now it houses Orchids at Palm court, an AAA four-diamond, ACF Award of Excellence-winning restaurant that was also rated Best Restaurant in the City by Cincinnati magazine in 2009 (as an aside, I have read that issue every year since I was about 16 and Orchids has always rated in the top 10). You can view the majority of the restaurant from certain parts of the Gallery, as it is open two stories high. I remember the first time I ever saw it: I couldn’t take my eyes off the gray-purple scalloped high-backed seats. If I remembered nothing else about the tour, I would have remembered those.  The Court is long, painted mostly in purples and pinks with enormous gold-framed murals that stretch on to the gold and pink ceiling with plenty of turquoise accents. One end had wide, flat, long draping crystal wall chandeliers that stretched between the open stories and, in their foreground, wide turqouise columns. I remember thinking to my 11-year old self that ah, this is what a really nice restaurant looks like.

i can’t afford to breathe in this town

September 26, 2009

One night last week at work, a co-worker of mine asked me how school was going. We talked for a while and I commented that I realized that I should be taking Arabic. I mentioned my interest in studying abroad in the summer or next fall, somewhere in central Asia or the Middle East. He asked about my area of study and I explained that I was a political science major, minoring in comparative religion. When he asked what I wanted to do with that I told him that I wanted to work on international policy, focusing on that region, and began expanding on my explanation. Now,  I like studying politics and I’ve always known that I wanted to be involved in government, but it’s only recently that I’ve understood specifically what I want to do. So for the first time ever, when people ask me why I’m studying what I am, I have an answer- a really good answer, at that. Despite my visible enthusiasm, my boss said something that made me feel completely taken aback.

He said, “How do you make money doing that?”

My response was obvious, of course: “You don’t, really.” He seemed bewildered at that answer. I continued, “My goal in life is not to make money.” He joked that if that was the case, why was I working that night, and was I going to just donate my tips back to our place of employment? There was an obvious disconnect there that has continued to bother me all week.

I could write about the prevalence of this mindset in the industry of my current job. I am a waitress at a restaurant in a 3.5 star hotel downtown. The hotel is part of a large corporation. The number of young people there who are in positions of management and power (and by young I mean mid-30s or younger- there are many who are only in their mid-20s) is pretty incredible. Their attitudes are mostly the same: money, money, money. Come to think of it, this is not just true of the management and those in the midst of their careers, it’s true of everyone who works there. Servers vie for tables and some are real poachers. The most common topic of conversation I hear in the locker room, a place inhabited primarily by associates (read= not management, and not anyone who works in an office- that is, housekeepers, kitchen staff, and servers), is the number of hours everyone is working and how much that translates to in dollars.

But that’s not really the point.

If this was the first time I had heard that question, I wouldn’t be writing this. But it isn’t, and I’m sure twenty years from now, when I’m deeply in to my career, I’ll still hear it.

Money was never a big deal growing up. Let me explain what I mean by that; or rather, what I don’t mean. I don’t mean my family lived minimally. We always had money. I can’t think of very many times I’ve ever been denied something I wanted. We take comfortable vacations every summer to Maine and for a while we were taking a second week-long vacation in the fall or winter. I got a car when I got my driver’s license, and so did my brother. We always had plenty of food, nice clothes, spending money, and, between us, a CD collection to envy.  Perhaps most importantly, my parents saved money for both of us to go to college. Some restraint was always used, however. We didn’t get brand new cars. We don”t stay in luxury hotels or fly first class. I rode horses for several years: no one ever bought me a horse. I don’t wear $150 jeans. While I was extremely involved in high school and didn’t make time for a job until senior year, my brother has been employed since he was 15.

And I’m not complaining. I have a genuine appreciation for what I have and have had. And perhaps because I have always “had” I don’t understand how it can be so important to people and my view is perhaps skewed. But it’s hard for me to look at things from that perspective. I always thought the point of your job, your career, was (at least ideally) to do something you love to do and, in return, make enough money to live. Not the other way around. It perplexes me that so many people view money as the goal, rather than simply a tool.

My goals in life have nothing directly to do with money and very little to do with things that require money (except, admittedly, travel). I want to work to improve the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world. In my view, one of the worst flaws in US foreign policy is the danger that those who create it might do so without an understanding of the cultures of the regions of the world they have to deal with. One of the defining aspects of any culture is its religion (or religions). Being able to counsel policy makers on the beliefs of a people with whom we as a country must have a relationship could bring about real, serious, huge change. And that is my goal. Whether or not it makes me enough money to pay for premium cable, high-end fashion, or a 40 thousand dollar car just isn’t that important to me. As long as I can pay rent, eat good food, and occasionally spend some time on the snow, if I have good relationships with people and if I come home every day feeling like I’m accomplishing something, I will be happy.

This brings to mind a conversation I once had with my father. I can’t remember exactly how he said this, I only remember the underlying idea: No one needs to try to change the whole world. But people should conduct themselves with purpose, we should all aim to impact the world, just a little, in whatever way we know how and by doing what we can and what we love. And that’s all. That’s all it takes to be fulfilled and happy, not in achieving that goal but in striving for it.

winter dies the same way every spring

September 15, 2009

My junior year of high school I found myself with a crush on a boy in some of my classes. This was, obviously, before the world of Facebook and back when MySpace was inhabited mainly by bands and “scenesters,” so I did what any sixteen year old in my place would do: I asked a mutual friend if he had this boy’s (whose name is Brian, by the way, and undoubtedly he’ll come up in many of my entries) AOL Instant Messenger screen name. He did, and I spent the next couple of months getting to know him in the evenings in front of the family computer. With the knowledge that he used to live in Cleveland and Seattle and seemed to have had a lot of experiences, it occurred to me one day to ask, “Do you ski?”

I cannot picture what my life would be like if I had never asked that question, because the answer was that Brian snowboards. About a year after we started dating, I was the proud new owner of a 2002 Lamar Tripper, which was black and adorned with a metallic-white skull the length of the board on one side, and bright red with Lamar’s logo (the M is shaped like the M in Metallica, if that helps your visual) on the other. I had no idea how to use the thing and it was ridiculously ugly, but it was 100 dollars and my size. My dad, excited about my new found interest in a sport he’d tried a couple winters back while vacationing in Maine, found me some Tech Nine bindings and these awful men’s Lamar boots. That season, Brian and I worked as lift attendants at Perfect North Slopes, a very small (it used to be a cow pasture- I’m not kidding) but well-maintained ski resort twenty minutes from my house, which gave us the occasional free lift ticket and chance to attempt to snowboard. However, for the most part I was too busy working or being involved in one of a dozen school programs or taking college classes and I cannot say I developed my skills that year, even with a lesson or two from Brian.

The following season I started to go every weekend with my dad, a wonderful tradition that lasted through a few years of college. We taught each other. I’d come home for the weekend, and Saturday or Sunday morning he’d wake me up soo early (read: like 9am) and by 10:30 we’d be doing the falling leaf down the hills under the green lift. We got pretty good together and after our second year there was almost some unspoken (positive) competition between us while we made our way down any of the 20-something slopes available to us.

My relationship with Brian ended about three years after my snowboard purchase, but my relationship with snowboarding is still growing and I fall in love with it even more every time I look at my gear or photos of  snow or mountains or if I get lucky and find a snowboarding magazine while perusing the periodicals at Kroger.

A turning point in my post-high school sport of choice was probably two years ago. I started seeing someone new, Bryan, and a friend of ours, Chris, was also a snowboarder (in fact, he was also introduced to it by Brian).  Bryan was a hockey player and an appreciable skater so when I told him I used to love Rollerblading we decided to do it to exercise together. My blades were a mess, so we went looking for inline skates at a used sporting goods store. While he was looking at something I meandered around the store and came upon this ancient, first or second generation Burton snowboard, complete with bindings, a 153. A little on the short side, I thought, but perfect for someone new to the sport. “Bryan. You’re getting this snowboard.” Fifty bucks and a call to Chris and my new boyfriend was a snowboarder. The first week of the season he and I hit the snow together and by the end of the night, he had it.  Now that I had something of a social group there, I spent three or four nights a week at Perfect’s from December until March.

The next November, I went to Perfect’s for the ski swap so check out new equipment (I was, by the way, still riding my trusty Lamar, but had at least bought new bindings and boots in the last couple years) and, while oogling a Rossignol Diva MTX, met an employee named Jesse who asked me about my abilities to see if I was a good fit for the board. By the end of the conversation, he asked me to apply to be an instructor. My first reaction was,  “No, no, I’m no where near good enough to be an instructor, I’m clumsy and slow…” and he reassured me and said that I really seemed to know what I was talking about and was a very good speaker and that that was the important thing, and that my abilities would develop. He introduced me to the head of the snowboarding school and a month later I started going to training and a month after that I was officially, once again, a Perfect North Slopes employee.

Becoming an instructor is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. At least in the world of snowboarding. It’s at least in the top 5 in my life as a whole. I became better, faster, more educated, more dedicated, more interested, and more in love with the sport than I ever would have on my own. Surrounding myself with people who care about snowboarding as much as me helped, but the best part was that I got to snowboard with some of the best boarders on the hill every time I worked if I wanted to. I got lessons, advice, and pointers on speed, technique, form, how to hit rails, how to hit jumps, and how to look cool doing it.

I’ve created real goals for next season. I can’t tell you the last time I had a goal that had nothing to do with a future, life, school and happiness related ideal. I am going to 50-50. I’m going to hit a 360. I’m going to improve my speed. I’m going to learn to do and practice a butter, and to do a decent fakie. I’m going to get more competent riding switch. I’m going to get Level 1 certified (okay that one will be pretty easy).

I haven’t cared this much about anything since drama club in high school. I’d say since soccer since it’s a more parallel comparison, being a sport and all, and I did love soccer but who are we kidding, I was a bench warmer. Second-string goal keeper doesn’t require a lot of passion. I had a passion and dedication for drama that I see in myself in snowboarding. I get excited about it when I’m not doing it and I am always reading about it and talking about it.

My dad is 57 years old and he snowboards. Let’s hope I’m doing the same when I hit that age.

i’m here

September 8, 2009

Hi. I will probably edit this in the next day or two because I only have a few minutes at the moment and I wanted to have something of an introduction.

I’ll be using this blog to work through my thoughts on my studies and career and future. Because my studies relate to politics and religions, expect most of my entries to address one or both of those issues. I’ll also be using it as an outlet for some of the things I’m into: food, music, snowboarding, photography and the world. And probably other things.