Saturday, March 31, 2012

A sleepy weekend in the Queen City

How fitting that it's raining in Knoxville right now as I write this post.

I visited Charlotte, N.C., for the first time last weekend and it was quite a fun, rainy time. Fortunately, the skies were clear when my friends and I were out on food adventures and when they were showing me the sights around town. But as soon as we got back to their house, it started to rain. It was quite conducive to going to bed at night, lingering in bed in the morning, and the Saturday afternoon nap I took when their baby went down for a nap. A sleepy weekend, indeed.

While in Charlotte, I spent a lot of time staring at this little one:

All together now: Awwwww! :) She belongs to my friends Will and Angela.

I met Will when he was with Scripps, the company that owns the Knoxville News Sentinel where I worked until last year. You know how there are just some people you connect with right away? Will was one of those. Well, Will got a sweet job and took the family on to Charlotte.

I've come to realize that friends moving away is not such a bad thing. I get to go where they are and explore a new place. Will and Angela are a couple after my own heart and are all about food adventures. For weeks before I went to Charlotte, Will would send me links to eateries and bakeries we could explore. My only concern was how we would fit them all in. We did our best, though :)

Angela threw down in the kitchen that Friday evening when I arrived. (I told her she should consider opening her own eatery. The woman is good!) After Frances the baby went to bed, Will and I went to French bakery Amélie's for dessert while Angela had some down time at home.

The bakery had a lot of cool wall art but this was my favorite:

On Saturday morning, we went to Luna's for brunch. They don't use fire there. Literally. Most everything that came out of the kitchen was raw, meatless ... and tasty.

Then it was on to the Farmer's Market next door. Of course, I had to sample stuff. We eventually left with chocolate-dipped macaroons and cookies.

That evening, we went to Meskerem, an Ethiopian restaurant. On the way there, we saw this double rainbow.

On Sunday, we visited Pike's Soda Shop for brunch (and then ducked into a neighborhood bakery for some treats on the way back) before I got on the road to head back to Knoxville.

We did a lot of eating and laughing. (Frances wasn't too keen on the loud laughter and would cry each time she heard it... which was every five minutes the first night. She got used to it by Saturday.) All this was really the backdrop for the sweet and refreshing catch-up time we had as we talked about life and our doings.

Oh, yes, there was one other part to the weekend:

Will and Angela's crazy, sneaky cat, Olive. Because of my allergies, she had to be banished outdoors and was only let in to eat and at night to sleep. But she found ways to make her presence known. I went to the bathroom during the middle of the night and when I came back to the guest room, something told me to flip the light on. There was Olive, with one paw on my bed and about to jump in it. She meowed in protest as I shooed her out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Food adventure: Italy

Today would have been a good day to wear stretchy pants.
The Ready for the World Cafe was simply amazing.

Plus, there was a cool surprise guest: Knoxville City Mayor Madeline Rogero! She came at the invitation of Pellissippi State Community College President Anthony Wise.

The cafe also had the largest crowd ever today: 80 people. Awesomesauce!
Now, on to the food: All I can say is, wow.

Appetizer was arancini, deep fried risotto balls stuffed with prosciutto and peas and seasoned with Italian spices. It was served with marinara, spinach and grated mozzarella.

Salad was panzanella, a mixture of garden veggies and chopped pieces of Italian bread tossed in olive oil and red wine vinaigrette.

An aside: I loved the table decor. Crazy fact: did you know the average Italian drinks 26 gallons of wine every year?

Entree was braciole (pounded beef that was stuffed, rolled and baked with tomato sauce), polenta (corn meal cakes) and topped with garlic sautéed escarole (salad greens).

Dessert was a blood orange gelato served with crispy almond Florentine cookies and chocolate-covered orange peel. Nom!!!

Confession: it pays to have friends in the kitchen. My co-worker Amy and I got two servings of the dessert. We were joking with our server Matt that we wanted seconds. Next thing you know, he came out with them. Amy and I were speechless for a few seconds. And then we dug in :)

We gave Matt a big hug as we left.

Six cafes down, four to go. Up next are France (April 3), Liberia (April 10), Persia (April 17) and Germany (April 26).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

iPhone editing stinks

Note to self: Say No to iPhone editing.
I had a minor blogger crisis last night. I tried to tweak a spelling error in this post via my iPhone before I went to bed and accidentally deleted it instead. I should have known better but I was in a rush. (Mistake number one.)

After I calmed down, I sat on the bed and typed the entire thing from memory into the "notes" app on the phone and then emailed it to myself. I pasted it back via a desktop this morning.

I'm grateful that my journalism training came in handy for this one. I lost many a story during my years as a reporter largely because the computer ate it. After fuming, all I could do was sit down and start over. (My fellow writers can relate, I'm sure.)

Crisis averted. I'm pleased with the way the second version turned out. For those of you who read the initial "Bizarro World" post, can you tell a difference?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bizarro World experience at UT

Remember this Seinfeld episode where Elaine enters Bizarro World and makes friends who are the opposite of her and Jerry in behavior? I'm having a similar experience at UT and it tickles me.

               (A shout-out to my friend Mark for the Bizarro World reference.)

Meet Terry and Kevin.

These UT facilities guys are the doppelgänger of another duo from my former life: Jim and Don.

Jim and Don work in the machine shop at the Knoxville News Sentinel and they're my good friends. They are the kings of breakfast and have held feasts in the machine shop that drew the entire building.

I noticed Terry and Kevin shortly after I came to UT last year. I would always wave or say hi to them. They work together and like Jim and Don, you rarely see one without the other.

I decided I wanted to get to know them because they reminded me of my beloved friends so I chat them up every chance I get.

Terry has been at UT for 29 years and enjoys his work. Kevin has worked there five years. He seems like an all-around nice guy. (Don has worked at the newspaper for 40 years and plans to retire at the end of the year. Jim has worked there 12 years.)

I look forward to getting to know Terry and Kevin better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thursday thought

Hehe. This one is for you music lovers :)
I saw this in the office of a UT music professor when I went to interview her yesterday. I don't read music so she had to clue me in. After she did, I chuckled.
Y'all have it figured out yet?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Surprise cookies in the mail

I love "just because" gifts.

One showed up in the mail Monday -- or I should say, about a dozen of them did. These butter cookies hail from the Antigo (Wis.) Bakery. They were a little beat up from the journey but they were still oh, so, tasty.

(I pause here to say, "ME LOVE COOKIES! NOM! NOM! NOM!)

My friend Laura has long been blogging about the bakery, their goodies and the goose displayed in their window. The goose changes clothes with the seasons and holidays.

I've inquired a time or two whether the bakery's treats were any good. Laura decided it was time for me to see for myself.

Sending the cookies was a way for Laura to check off an item from her 101 in 1001 list. (Item 54 was "mail a card and gift to a friend "just because.")
I'm glad I was able to help her accomplish her goal :)

Those cookies have been deadly. I polished off the last three today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Celebrating the first day of spring

Nothing says "first day of spring" like a treat from Rita's Italian Ice. It's even better when it's free :)

To commemorate this glorious day, the Market Square franchise gave out complimentary regular-sized ices.

I've known about today for the last two months. I'm on their email list so when they announced their winter closing and today's event, I put it on my calendar and have been looking forward to it since.

Following our staff meeting this morning, I ate a quick lunch and began plotting when I could escape to Market Square. Fortunately, I found an accomplice. I snookered my co-worker Charles into going with me.

We got there just in time. The line was out the door within five minutes of our arrival. After picking up our goodies, we sauntered out of the store and found a perch on the square to eat our ices and people-watch for a few minutes. Then it was back to work.

  Charles with his mango gelati and vanilla custard

I love this sign!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Becoming a painted lady for one night

My friend Barbara is planning to enter an online makeover contest so she's asked to use my face.
Accordingly, I met Barbara at her house this evening before Taekwondo so she could work her magic. She sells Mary Kay and used her products on me.

Here's my "before" picture. She told me I couldn't smile. I think I look a bit sleepy:

Here's the end result. This shot was taken with my iPhone camera. Barbara took a sharper shot with a regular camera and in that one, you can better see the different shades and colors she used.

This experiment was fun. You have to understand that I don't wear makeup beyond chapstick on my lips and cocoa butter on my face. I used makeup my senior year of high school for like two seconds. That was following a photo shoot I'd been a part of in Colorado. (Story for another time. I'll have to dig out those pictures for show-and-tell in a future blog post.)

My love of athletics and all things physical overruled my desire for makeup very early on. I sweat way too much (and on purpose) and makeup became inconvenient because it would run and get on everything.

But I've worn it for special occasions like my sister's wedding and when I was a 2010 contestant in the Dancing With the Knoxville Stars fundraiser for East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

I liked what Barbara did to my face. I hugged and thanked her and then drove straight to Taekwondo and sweat it off.

God is showing off again.

God is putting clothes back on the trees.
I daresay he's doing a spectacular job this spring. I spotted these beauties on Sunday:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend of emotional extremes

What a weekend of emotional extremes.
It awes me sometimes that the heart can experience both joy and grief simultaneously and not explode. That's where my heart is this weekend. Both emotions were invitations to celebrate life. And that I did.

On Friday after work, I jumped into the car and zoomed to Franklin, Tenn., for my friend Kristen's birthday. Here's the catch: she didn't know I was coming. I had been scheming with her family behind her back and I enjoyed every minute of it. She's like my little sister and I wanted to love on her a bit.

The look on her face was priceless when she opened the front door and saw me standing there. Heh. After several rounds of squeals and hugs, Kristen, her parents, sister and I went to Bonefish Grill to celebrate.

After dinner and dessert, we took the party back to their house for dessert No. 2, a homemade birthday cake. (lemon cake with lemon frosting. No, we didn't drink lemonade with it.)

Everyone went to bed and Kristen and I hung out for a bit, alternately watching funny YouTube videos and chatting.

Less than 12 hours later, after a quick breakfast with Kristen and her parents, I headed south to Fayetteville, Tenn., for the funeral of a friend. This, too, was a celebration of life but gosh, it was so hard. David died unexpectedly Wednesday at age 49. This hurt.

David's family has been my family these nine years I've lived in Tennessee. His sister Amy was my church youth leader and mentor when I was in high school in New York City. She and I met in 1997. She was the one who taught me what it meant to be a woman of integrity and what it looked like to live it out.

When I moved to Knoxville in 2003, Amy was one of the first people I called. (By this time, she and most of her family -- parents, siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, etc. -- were living in Fayetteville.) I didn't really know anybody in Knoxville so I went to Fayetteville for a weekend that first month. I've been going several times a year since then.

(Amy's home is the one place outside of East Tennessee that I know how to get to without having to look at driving directions.)

Her family and I have done life together. We've celebrated weddings, babies, anniversaries and birthdays together. We've also walked through hard heart and family stuff together. Sometimes, I showed up just to hang out.

(An aside: Fayetteville is the only place where I've seen an active Piggly Wiggly. Talk about hardcore Americana.)

David (pictured above with his sweet daughter Melissa) was a truck driver. He would call me on occasion when he was passing through Knoxville. We promised each other we would do lunch or dinner when he came through town but we never could work it out.

There were many tears today and will be for a while. But there was also joy and laughter as we shared stories about his antics, his passion for cars and the way David tangibly loved people. And there was hope -- hope that we will see him again. David knew the One who gave his life in order to make reconciliation and relationship possible between men/women and God.

I am exhausted. But I am excited about tomorrow and its adventures. Whatever is in it, I want to live it well.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Firing myself from yard duties

After seven seasons of mowing my own grass, I finally called it quits.
I've fired myself from yard duties.
Maybe it had something to do with this early spring we've been experiencing. Not complaining at all. I just didn't expect to start mowing this early in the year. I woke up one day and it seemed as if the grass had sprouted two feet and the weeds, even taller.

In years past, I was always so excited to do the first mow and weed-eating of the season. This year? Nope. Maybe it's because my mower and weed eater are both out of commission right now. (Maintenance stinks sometimes, ya know?)

All this has been really good, however. Honest! It just so happens that I have a neighbor whose main source of income is his myriad odd jobs.

I marched right up to his front door Wednesday evening and our conversation went something like this:

Me: "Hi!"
Neighbor: "What do you know?"
Me: "Um, so, this early spring has thrown me for a loop. Do you still, like, mow grass for people?"
Neighbor: "I do. How about tomorrow?" and he quoted me a really cheap price.
Me: "Sounds good," I said, smiling really big.

I got home yesterday evening and voilà! I had the perfect yard, clean edges and everything.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Food adventure: Korea

The Ready for the World Cafe, UT's international lunch series, is gaining a fantastic reputation in the Knoxville community and this makes me giddy.
I think I've found kindred spirits. Today's foodies were a mix of returning folks like me and new explorers. The newbies were mostly folks who are unrelated to the university (some of them high-profile). But more about them in a bit.

First, the food. I have to say, I think this week was my favorite one yet. It was quite authentic, thanks to the helping hand of Dr. Youn-Kyung Kim, a professor in retail and consumer sciences and a native of Korea. She worked with the students cooks today.

The first course was Japchae, a noodle dish with beef, spinach, garlic, onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, mushrooms, carrot, and green onions. Can someone say, "Mercy!"? I was shoveling this so fast into my mouth I didn't even bother with the chopsticks. It wasn't getting enough in there quickly so I switched to my fork and we were in business.

The second course was Hobakjuk, a butternut squash soup with pine nuts.

There was a surprise lurking inside the soup. I dipped my spoon in and found this: a little rice ball (two of them, actually.) One table mate called them the Korean version of matzo balls. Tee hee. The soup itself was tasty. The rice balls weren't the table's favorite but at least we tried them.

The entree was bulgogi, a marinated beef dish. It came with bokkeum, a potato and carrot side, and gaji namul, a steamed eggplant with lots of yummy spices including red pepper flakes. I loved the spiciness of the eggplant but I suspect there were lots of burning tongues and sweating bald spots in the room.

Just when I think I'm full, I find that I can make a little more room for dessert, you know, to fill in the cracks. I'm glad I did. The final course included ginger cookies, a fried wonton-like snack covered with nuts. It was served with strawberries and tangerines.

Ok, I've tantalized you enough. Now, I'll tell you about the people who were part of this afternoon's adventure. I totally enjoy the food every week but the company makes it even better. The cafe has been a neat way to spend time with co-workers and friends during the work day and meet new people.

Lately, the cafe has been drawing some high-profile guests like this guy who came today.

He's Anthony Wise, the new president of Pellissippi State Community College. Funny enough, when I was an education reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel, I chatted with him over the phone for stories on several occasions. At the time, he was over student affairs or academic affairs or something of that sort. Now, he runs the place.

I also ran into Oliver "Buzz" Thomas, executive director of the Great Schools Partnership. He and I got to know each other well during the five years I covered education.
My lunch table included familiar and new faces. That gorgeous chica staring at you is my friend Megan. (We've turned the cafe into our lunch date.) The four people to her left were all new. I loved that!!

On this side of the table was Julia, our office intern; Amy, the assistant director of the department and my media relations sensei; next to her is her husband Bob who works for the FBI (he likes to say he works with calculators not guns.) The lady showing bunny ears behind him is Donetta Poisson,  the interim director of the UT Culinary Institute. She runs the student lab class of which the cafe is a part.

This fine lady is Dr. Kim, the professor who helped with authenticating the meal.

Oh, Megan happened to bring the UT Torchbearer article about my U.S. citizenship. I love that my friends are also celebrating this awesome part of my life journey.

UT's spring break is next week so the cafe will be closed. It resumes March 27 with Italy. By the way, it is open to the public. Get a ticket by calling 865-974-6645. It'll be worth every penny of the $12 (or $10.20 if you're a UT employee.)

Remaining countries are France (April 3), Liberia (April 10), Persia (April 17) and Germany (April 26).

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An afternoon among the stacks

I spent one afternoon this week among the stacks and I got some swag to show for it.
<--- (Be jealous.)

One of my favorite things about being a journalist/writer is this: a lot of my meetings and interviews don't take place in my office. I get out.

That's why Monday afternoon found me sitting on the sixth floor of UT's Hodges Library meeting with the new dean and peppering him with questions about his priorities and such.

The Libraries is one of my coverage areas for the university and I couldn't be happier. I am a book nerd. The smell of books thrilled me down to my toes as I walked among the stacks. I was with familiar friends.

After leaving the dean with a notebook full of story ideas (stay tuned!), my communications counterpart at the library took me on a mini tour. The funny thing about this library is that yes, they have books (tons of them), but you'd have to walk a while (and up) to find them. The library powers-that-be have turned the first couple of floors into hang-out/study spaces/coffee bar/technology labs for students. It's quite appealing, actually.

(An aside: The Hodges Library has a special collections that may rival that of a small museum.)

I left the building that day with a resolve to return and explore and a cool t-shirt the dean had made for the library staff.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In the hot seat

The tables were turned on me recently for the first time in my 10-year career as a journalist/writer.

I became the interview subject and I must say, it was strangely fun to be the one in the hot seat.

My colleague Cassandra was tasked with putting together a series of features for UT's Torchbearer magazine about the rare experiences of the university's alumni and employees. She called it "What's It Like." Knowing that I had just become a U.S. citizen in the fall, Cassandra asked me to be a part of the article. I was flattered because the journey is one I've loved sharing with people.

The magazine came out last week. I am so honored by how well Cassandra's story turned out and how it truly captured my experience. Read the feature here.

Read Cassandra's entire series here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Food adventure: India

Git in mah belleh!
That was my rallying cry yesterday afternoon as I pulled up to the table for another week of international fare at UT's Ready for the World Cafe.

This time, the journey took us to India. Sort of. I should say the food was Indian-inspired. Student cooks took some liberties with the recipes (part of this class lab is their freedom to experiment.) Some dishes weren't as authentic as they could have been but I'll give the students two thumbs up for effort. The four-course meal was delicious. It was also as aromatic as it was tasty.

Won't you take the pictoral tour? C'mon!

The first course was a hot and sour soup. (This made me think more of Chinese food.) It was flavorful with lots of veggies.

The second course was a cucumber salad with a yogurt sauce flavored with cumin, cilantro and coriander. The lead student cook said this dish is typically heavily yogurt-based but they decided to make the yogurt more of a dip. Loved the presentation.

Entree was chicken vindaloo (curried chicken) with rice and naan, a yummy flatbread. The rice had a hint of lime flavor. I could have eaten a second helping of this. It. was. amazing.

We then got a shot of honey almond milk, which acted as a palate cleanser. This was delicious.

Dessert was mango kulfi with karanji: a warm mango sauce that came with this cookie pocket filled with raisins, almonds and coconut. It was more an Americanized dessert, I thought, but it was still excellent.

Four down, six to go. The remaining cafes this semester are Korea, Italy, France, Liberia, Persia and Germany.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Voting test run

I voted for the first time-ever tonight (yahoo!!), thanks to my new U.S. citizenship.

It was rather...anticlimactic.

But it was important. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. I needed some help as I navigated the voting machine and selected candidates. The nice elderly gentleman in the red sweater was quite patient with me.
(I was surprised at how antiquated the machine seemed. A turn dial instead of touchpad? But I digress.)

I must confess, I relished telling everyone -- the lady who gave me my form, the one who checked my ID and the one who gave me my number -- that it was my first time :)

Then I waltzed out of there and texted my family. "Congrats on your newfound freedom," my eldest sister, Yemi, told me.
Now it's on to November and the presidential elections.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Black Pearl Sings!

 I went to a delightful play tonight at UT's Clarence Brown Theatre.

Black Pearl Sings! is set during the Great Depression and it tells the story of a white music archivist for the Library of Congress who travels to a Texas prison farm to record lost black folk music from an inmate there.
The play touches on topics including friendship, family and tackles tougher ones like inequality and murder.

There are no spoilers in this post so rest easy, Joy and Chandra :)

For more, here's one review by WUOT, the local NPR affiliate, and another by the Knoxville News Sentinel. The play runs through March 11.

During the show, I was pleasantly surprised when one of the actresses invited the audience to join in on a couple of the songs.

Tonight's performance included interpretation for the hearing impaired. This was a treat for me because during intermission, I had a chance to use my sign language and I briefly chatted with one of the guests who was hard-of-hearing. (We were actually in line in the bathroom so we didn't talk about deep things. Just casual stuff.)

Some scenes from tonight:

                                     The stage during intermission

                                  The stage at the end of the performance