Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lessons of the Fall

I have that feeling again.
That one where all your senses are in hyper mode. Like you are experiencing a big threat from an as yet to be identified source. This circumstance makes it a bit hard to sleep well or concentrate fully or be a cheerful presence in the lives of others. I am one of those who believes being a cheerful presence in the lives of others is relevant. The more stressful times are, the more relevant a positive demeanor becomes.

Today I was up early, before daylight, before the paper arrived, hours before Blowfish and the dogs began to stir. So like my grandmother I headed to the Kitchen to start up a big pot of scratch made chili. One of my favorite Fall comfort foods. I also find the orderliness of cooking a soothing activity. It's very rewarding, you begin with raw and end with yum. A very satisfying equation indeed. Certainly life in general is not this orderly as it is possible to put forth all your best skills and end up with nothing.

In our little Southern community some really good things have gone bad. In the past month two of the best restaurants in our being revitalized downtown have fallen. Both have been great dining experiences for a decade or more. One is owned by a husband and wife who met at a prestige cooking school in California. He is awesome at both American and Greek cuisine. Their place also offers a unique blend of the two . She is an incredible pastry chef making desserts as the mood or local ingredients motivate her. There is no dessert menu. At the rear of the restaurant there is a dessert counter. There, in a vintage, glass fronted display, there is a wonderous array of incredible, and very beautiful offerings. They have names like Chocolate Elegance, SummersTaste and Bean There for the coffee dessert lovers. There is often Pistachio Cheese Cake and in the hot summers, amazing desserts of seasonal fruits and delicate crisp cookies. One of my favorites is Fresh Peach Triffle but there are old timey favorites too like Grandmother's Bread Pudding and Tea Cakes. I have been known to skip dinner in favor of dessert and a fine cup of tea. Alas, these experiences are over. They just could not survive the economic realities. I sent them a thank you note in appreciation of all the wonderful experiences we have had there. There was a picture in the paper of the last day... the line wrapped around the block but it wasn't long enough to save them. There are rumors they will stay in our area and offer special events catering and maybe a bakery. I hope so as their life's equation is now askew.

Another wonderful restaurant which offered authentic New Orleans cuisine is gone. No more fabulous Sunday brunches offering Mimosas and Beignets to help you wait for the coming feast.
The chef there is considering a return to his family home in New Orleans. If this is his reality then, of course, we will not be able to continue to experience his genius in another locale. Sigh.

When I drive down the main artery of town and see all the chain restaurants thriving, I get so annoyed. Why go to an O'Charley's or Texas Roadhouse and consume chemical food when a short trip downtown would get you an amazing meal from fresh and often local ingredients, in an interesting environment , for the same or less money?

We also have downtown a beautifully restored 1800's vintage hotel. The developers and architects for this project did a stellar job. The former hotel is now condominiums on the upper floors with the street level being occupied with a Pub, a Billiards Parlor, an English Tea Room, an artisan Pizzaria and gathering rooms for special events. There is off street parking and valet services. Well, make that was. This week we learned the developer/owners have filed for bankruptcy.

Today, after the chili got to bubbling on the stove, the paper came. I wish it had better news. Our one, in town, lakefront restaurant is closing tomorrow. The Fishy's days of calling in an order of chicken wings and watermelon from the boat is over. No more pulling up to the dock and sending one of us to climb the bluff to fetch the picnic. No more sitting on the outside deck under the big shade tree on a hot August afternoon to drink Coronas with lime, listening to the Buffet lyrics til the sun sets on the lake. No more smell of spices intensified by the trip thru the fryers. My only eat out junk food source is closing tomorrow.

There are quotes in the paper from all these business owners. They say kind things about a community that supported their businesses for years but accept the reality of the tightened purses in an area with 12%-17% unemployment. They are gracious, keeping their broken dreams and broken hearts clear of the newsprint. One was asked by some under socialized pup reporter, " So what will you do everyday now that you don't have a restaurant?" With grace and forbearing this fine restauranteur replied,

" I will count my blessings daily for all the years I have lived my dream".

I read that quote a few weeks back.
I think reading that quote was the beginning of the dum-de-dum-dum-dum playing in the back of my head.

I see a parade of tradesmen come through my front door weekly. Fine specialty technique painters, mural artists, tile setters, carpenters, installers. They come through the door clean and pressed with handouts listing their skills and references. They come saying they have seen a FishyDesign sign up at the ya-ya development and is there, will there, can there be work for them on this project? They come through the door with hope and leave in despair. I give them all the positive feedback honesty allows. I do not wish to give false hopes. If there is no chance for them on this project, I keep their handouts for future possibilities and wish them well.
One exited my front door and sort of stood out front for a bit before coming back in. He came not with hunched shoulders and slumped spine but with a smile and a little gleam of hope showing.
" Say Fishy, I was noticing your little flower patch out front and those big pots by the front door need some tending too. And if you don't mind my saying your windows could use a good cleaning and that car with that company logo on it looks road weary and dusty so how about I get these things to looking fine for you?"
This man is a very skilled craftsman. A year ago he had a waiting list of folks eager for him to bring his talents to their projects. I paused before responding,
" Well, I have been meaning to get over to the nursery and fetch the fall plants and some nutrient rich dirt for those pots and a few other things but I've not gotten to that yet and my schedule won't stretch to include that activity today." His grin broadened a bit as he asked, " You going to do a fall display too with straw bales, corn stalks, pumpkins and such? Well, I been doing those for my Mom since I was a sprout, I can go and get all those needs seen to and come on back and have everything just wonderful before you close for the day." It simply was not possible to say no. We discussed flower choices and the slimness of the budget.
I fetched the funds remaining in the petty cash and making change drawers and off he went . Over the course of the day I would see him working out front with the energized body language of the purposeful. When he came in to invite me to take a look at his results they were awesome. Every bit as good as when I do it and maybe even a tad better. More importantly was the smashing into my brain reality that this man was proud of his accomplishments of the day. I doubt the satisfaction of the day was about the meager amount that went into his wallet. I do believe, for him, it was the pleasure of looking back over the days accomplishment . The equation of that day was a bit better. He put forth his efforts and ended up proud rather than empty. God bless him!

As I watched him driving away I heard myself praying aloud,
" Lord, if it be thy will I would really be so very grateful to not be the next business owner in the paper saying how nice it was to have once lived my dream."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I am yearning for a new adventure. I am busy with my design practice, and very grateful for this reality in a community where small businesses are toppling daily. But , I also need to go forth and have experiences which aid me in my personal growth as a designer. I have no wish to become static, doing the same thing day in and day out.

A place I am currently interested in is Cavallo Point Lodge which is now part of Golden Gate Park. This location was once Fort Baker, sitting tucked into the Sausalito side of the Bridge. Here, in a brilliant bit of adaptive reuse the former officers quarters have been rennovated into a luxe lodge. There are the lodge quarters, a restaurant of some note, a spa, an art gallery and the cause of my yearning ... a cooking school! It's all albout sustainable foods, cooking from the local farmers markets and artisan growers ...... they are BIG advocates of heirloom varieties and cooking with said produce. They are serious about what they call the
triumverate of chef-farmer-vintner. Students of the once monthly cooking school travel to the
San Rafael market where selections are made, menus are planned, so the experience is farm to table and fresh, fresh, fresh.

I am also interested in the "green" rennovations of this historic location, the art, the general ambience of the locale. Sigh. I am definitely yearning for this exerience. Anybody else out there having fall yearnings?