My feast of the 7 fishes

I learned about the Feast of the Seven Fishes when I moved to Philadelphia.  My good friend Cathy taught me about it and it fascinated me.   Most years I go to Ohio for the Christmas season, but this year I decided to stay in Philadelphia.  Needless to say, the feast of the seven fishes does not exist in rural northwest Ohio.

I have experienced the feast once before at the now closed restaurant Sbraga. It was a lovely, fancy, and ultimately expensive meal.   I was talking to  my friend and colleague about the meal the other day, and he told me that he cooks the feast himself for him and his wife..   After talking to him about it, I resolved to figure out how to cook a version of this meal for Sam and I on Christmas Eve.

We opened up a very good good bottle of sparkling wine that we picked up in South Africa and dug in.   Here is the menu I prepared.

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#1 Oysters on the half shell and Mezcal oyster shooters

They would only sell oysters by the dozen, so we ate 6 last night.   Tonight, I made an oyster shooter to kick the night off and served the remaining with lemon.  They came from Connecticut.   Quite briny in the best way possible.

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#2 Bruschetta with Anchovy

Simple and delightful.   Sam made the bread the day before from leftover whey he collected from making labne.  The anchovies were a good quality.

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#3 Scallop with roasted oyster mushrooms

The green sauce is a puree of parsley, lemon, white wine, pepper, and touch of honey.   I was really proud of this dish.

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#4 Micro Green Salad with smoked salmon

I eventually dressed this salad with a lemon, horseradish and mascarpone dressing.

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#5 & #6 Shrimp and clams over with linguine

This was the weakest dish and yet I loved it.  It was a bit too much like a broth, rather than sauce.   I made a quick stock out of the shrimp shells with some saffron.  White wine and butter made the dish for me and I bet it will be better tomorrow.

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#7 Roasted Branzino

We ate this with roasted sweet potatoes and olives.  There is also a bed of dandelion greens, but I did not blanch them long enough and they were bitter.   The fish was super good and I ended up eating my piece with some leftover mascarpone dressing.

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Review

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A few days in Scottsdale

The Scottsdale/Phoenix part of my trip is at an end and I couldn’t be happier. I am writing this from the loudest coffee shop I could find, and if I wasn’t waiting for Samer I’d start driving north right now. I’ll get back to my thoughts about this coffee shop, but let me fill you in on what I did the last few days first.

We got to Scottsdale late Sunday night and checked into the Mountain Shadows Resort. I loved this place. It was built-in the 1960’s but is currently being refurbished. Architecturally, it feels retro and decorating makes it feel really modern. The view was nice and the pool was excellent. I’d easily go back to this place. Everything about it felt very hip.

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I spent a lot of my time lounging around the hotel and reading a few different things. It was all very low-key. The first morning I went to Maverick Coffee for breakfast. This was my favorite coffee shop in the area. Cool staff, good food, and very good coffee. If you are hanging in Scottsdale you should stop in. I spent my morning at the pool and the gym. Afterwards treated myself to lunch at Simon’s Hot Dogs. A Colombian family runs this really good hot dog shop. It is great for a cheap eat. I had an all beef hot dog with pineapple on it. It was really good and I’d love to try some of the other ones on the menu.

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When Samer was done with his conference we went to the Desert Botanical Garden. This garden is beautiful and fascinating to someone who doesn’t have any experience with desert flora. I learned a lot about the plants of the Sonoran desert. There is a type of cactus that is called a cardon and it gets really tall. The botanical garden is big and takes quite a bit of time. The sun went down while we were there, which limited learning about the plants, but it made for a very peaceful walk.


We had dinner at Maria’s Frybread & Mexican Food. I have never had a frybread before, but my understanding is that it is a Navajo food. It’s basically a savory elephant ear that is covered with meat in a red or green chile sauce. They then add some lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese to it and it is a extremely heavy and delicious meal.

The next day I tried a new coffee place called Altitude Coffee Lab. I did not like it is as much as Maverick Coffee. The coffee was fine, the food was mediocre, and the staff did not have it together. It was nice to sit outside, but the old man who let his dog jump on me ten times and the dad laughing at his kid throwing rocks made for an annoying atmosphere. I would skip this place in the future.

Sam had half of a free day, so after the pool we had lunch at Grassroots Kitchen & Tap. I thought the place was good. I had a locally made hefeweizen with an order of shrimp and jalapeno cheddar grits. It  tasted great. It was heavy, but totally worth it. After lunch we visited the Musical Instruments Museum. This museum is excellent. They give you a set of head phones and when you walk close to a display the NFC technology causes the device to start playing. You do not need to type anything in.

I loved exploring instruments from all over the world. There were so many instruments.  I heard great reed based flutes from the Middle East and concertinas from Europe. You could easily spend all day exploring this place. We rushed it, because we got there late, which is a bit disappointing.  However, I did guilt Sam into playing the piano for a second.


On my last day I had breakfast at the hotel (Hearth 61). The chilaquiles were surprisingly good. I took the afternoon to visit the Phoenix Art Museum. It’s an okay museum. There is nothing bad about it, but I think the Philadelphia Art Museum has me spoiled. Very little of the collection was incredible. They did have some contemporary Brazilian art, which I liked a lot.  If I had to pick 1 museum in the area, I’d easily pick the Musical Instrument Museum.

When I left the museum I went across the street for a coffee and some space to write this very blog post. I stopped at Giant Coffee (where I am now.) The coffee is fine, but the music is too loud, the seats are uncomfortable, and they don’t have soy milk (only almond or oat. OAT MILK!) It’s not a great coffee shop, but I suffered through it for you, my loyal readers.

Scottsdale (with a few Phoenix excursions) was a nice break from everything, and I found some good things. I do think I have had enough and it is time to go.  If you are going to spend time in Scottsdale, here is what I recommend doing.

  1. Enjoy the sun by the pool.
  2. Get coffee at Maverick Coffee.
  3. Visit the Musical Instrument Museum.
  4. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden.
  5. Eat at Simons and Grassroots.

Sedona, Arizona

I just visited Sedona, Arizona for the first time and I loved it. Photos do not do it justice. These red rock mountains are some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We stayed in a bed and breakfast called Adobe Hacienda. The rooms were great and the view was really spectacular. I am glad we stayed out of the town, because we really got to enjoy the solitude of desert.

We arrived late Saturday afternoon and had lunch at a place called Saltrock Southwest Kitchen. It’s a hotel restaurant, but it doesn’t feel like it. We ate on the patio and the view from it is really nice. The food was good and it was a great way to settle into Sedona.

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That night we decided to go stargazing with a local group. It was great. We met at a soccer field a few miles out of town to get away from as much light pollution as possible. A group of 12 of us met an amateur astronomer who had a lot of knowledge and a very powerful telescope. The first star we looked at was Albireo. It looks like a normal star to the naked eye, but through the telescope you realize it is a binary star system with one yellow and one blue star. We learned about the starts for about 75 minutes and it was really interesting. I also liked to look at the Andromeda galaxy, I thought the view through that was pretty incredible. Even without the telescope the sky was beyond description in its beauty and grandiosity.

The next day we did 2 hikes. We hiked the Devils Bridge Trail after breakfast and Bell Rock in the late afternoon. We tried to do the West Fork Trail but the line to park the car was really long and after we waited for 30+ minutes we decided to leave for Bell Rock. Devil’s Bridge is a fantastic stone arch that you can walk out on and look over the valley. Bell Rock is a shorter hike and there is a lot more climbing on the rock. Climbing makes me nervous but it was nice to be there at the end of the day. You could relax and watch the shadows of the other mountains expand in front of you as the sun set. It was really magical.

We had some good beers and barbecue at the Oak Creek Brewing Company between the hikes. There was no view, but a chilly locally made kolsch after a hike through the desert was perfect. Sedona is one of the most beautiful places I have even been. I want to go back and spend more time here. I took a lot of photos, but

I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I just finished J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. I am not interested in politically analyzing it, because that has been done. My political analysis of the book closely aligns with Bob Hutton’s article at Jacobin called Hillbilly Elitism. Please go and read that if you want a smart and thoughtful analysis of Vance and his complete disregard of poverty.

I want to talk about my emotional and mental response to reading this book. I was born in rural Ohio, not in the Appalachian part, but in the northwest corner. It’s the flattest part of world you will ever see. A mighty glacier flattened that area into the Lake Plains about 10,000 years ago.

I left Ohio when I was 19 years old. Less than 3 weeks after I graduated high school I boarded an international flight to Russia to study abroad for the summer. I spent a my graduation money on the trip and it was worth every penny. When I returned from that adventure, I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania two weeks later for college and I never lived in Ohio again. Was I running from Ohio or to a wider world? I don’t know the answer, but it is probably a little of both.

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Camera: Rebel SL1 EF-S
Lens: 18-55mm
Camera firmware: Canon Hack Development Kit
Editing Software: Pixeluvo
Photographer: Joshua L. Ferris

There are parts of Hillbilly Elegy that forced a real emotional response from me. Many times, I knew the feeling he was talking about before the sentence would end. When he described the pervasive pessimism, the fear of imposition, or the frustration at people’s rigidity or lack of curiosity is something I think (probably obsess) about a lot.

Ohio is one of the few places in the world that make me want to respond like a conservative. When I am organizing anywhere else, I can apply a thoughtful power analysis to the situation. I try to consider the poverty, drug addiction, joblessness, and crime that many poor people battle. That analysis goes out the window when I think about rural Ohio. Unfortunately, I too often see folks in Ohio and think “turn off the TV and pick up a book,” or “you have nothing but farmland, grow food and stop with the fast food.” Those thoughts are unbelievably shitty and condescending and I try to keep unsolicited opinions to myself. They are very real and gross natural response I have to the “culture” of my home state.

I wanted to move out of my area for a very long time and a lot of that was centered around my sexuality, but not all of it. I wanted to be in a place that had things that interested me. I wanted to go to the orchestra and I wanted to see an opera. I wanted to try interesting foods. I thought the unpredictability of a city would lead to new adventures, and leaving a farm and moving to a city did allow for all of that and more. It was nice and it was what I wanted.

I struggle with other people’s pessimism. Vance talks about leaving Ohio and becoming and optimist, and I feel very similar to him on this issue. I was recently in Ohio and asked, “what is one thing we could do to really change the area for the better.” Someone said, “drop a bomb.” Everyone laughed, nodded in agreement, and offered no other solutions.

Vance discusses folk’s fear of imposition. This is very true and it drives me insane. People are really scared to express their opinion’s on anything. When my family from Ohio comes to visit, I’ll often say something like “would you like to do burgers or chicken for lunch?” The response is always, “Oh, we don’t care, whatever you want.” My husband tells a story from his childhood, where a relative offered to buy him ice cream and he chose the cheapest thing for fear of imposing. That adult had a conversation with him about how he would not have offered to buy him ice cream if he was unable to provide the ice cream my husband wanted. Sam knew from that day forward that if someone offers you something you accept it, be grateful for it, and to never feel bad for accepting it. No one taught me or any one I know that lesson in Ohio. It is an absolute crazy that accepting a gift causes more stress than giving a gift.

There are many reason why I do not return often. You probably think that homophobia is on the list, but there I have not experienced much as of late. That being said, my circles are limited to a loving family and friends when I visit, so there is not much of a chance to attack me or my husband. I don’t go back because of the fear and the pessimism. Vance captured that and those passages resonated with me, so I will give him credit on those merits.

The thing that bothers me more than Vance’s analysis is how his book became so popular. I am shocked that this was (and still is) on the best seller lists. If you don’t identify with or recognize parts of it, I’d think it is nothing more than navel-gazing blogging (I get the irony). It’s 250 pages of a guy working through his mom issues. It really grosses me out to think about a bunch of upper middle class people treating this book like a national geographic.

This book’s popularity is very unsettling.

If you think it is valuable to actually spend time on some of the issues mentioned here, than skip Vance and look up the Ohio Organizing Collaborative or Redneck Revolt. These people are working to make Ohio a better place and have the optimism and courage needed right now. I am unable to help with it, but maybe you can.

Then She Fell

A few weeks ago I was in New York City for work and I had to spend the night. I decided to go to the theater and I found something called Then She Fell. It’s hard to call it a play, because it is not a play in the traditional sense of the word. There is not a stage and audience seating. The audience members play a part of the production.

The audience is only 15 people and when you enter you are taken to a small room where you are given a drink and invited to explore the space. You quickly learn that you are in a mental hospital and wher seems like Alice Liddell is interred at the hospital.

The story that unfolds is a variation of the Alice in Wonderland story that ebbs in and out of Alice Liddell’s (speculative) biography. For those of you who do not know, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wornderland as an adult man. Alice Liddell was a 6 year old neighbor girl that he befriended and used her as basis for Alice in his story. Modern scholars speculate that Carroll may have been a pedophile or at least had a romantic infatuation with the child. It is unclear and we may never know, but this performance is a story that floats between the fictional Alice and the speculative aftermath of a post Carroll Alice Liddell.

While the audience is in the room, cast members begin to split the audience apart and we were pulled into different rooms where we see and particpate in different pieces of the performance. You are lead throughout the large 3 floor building for the next 2 hours. I read that an an audience member only sees 75% of everything that is performed, so I will share some of my favorites.

Two juxtaposed Alice scenes  were very powerful. One was an innocent Alice dancing and being held by Carroll and the other was Alice as the Queen of Hearts as an aggressive seductress. Alone, each scene is choreographed well, but next to each other, it really does make you feel like you are watching a mind split. There was a madhatter’s tea party that was lovely and fun. This scene took us back to the hospital setting and it felt like a way to deliver medicine to someone having a break. It was a reminder from the playwright; “Enjoy the story, but remember you’re in a madhouse for good reason.”

Let me talk about my relationship with the other audience members. I went alone and I think that is the best way to do it. Everyone gets split up and I think if I would have went with someone it would have taken me out of the story. I think I would have thought, “Wait, where are they taking Sam?” if we had gone together. I say this because I was with a couple and one of them was split off, leaving me with the the guy together for a few scenes. Later in the performance, he and I found ourselves lying in bed together listening to a story by one of the performers. (Don’t worry it was for the sake of art.)

I am not sure what happened near the end for others, but I found myself alone in a number of amazing scenes. One scene was a small room filled with a 1000 roses and a butcher block. The roses were in different states of decay. It smelled so lovely, and felt almost transcendent. In another scene, I was in a much larger room alone with an actress. The room was staged with student desks thrown asunder. She poured me a drink and stayed very close to me. She definitely invaded my personal space, but that invasion added to the sense of the performance. She would not release eye contact with me and the actress created a feeling of intimacy I was not expecting or prepared for that night.

The final scene took me to a study where I had a cup of tea and read a conclusion about Alice and Lewis. It was a simple way to leave the world they had successfully built over the previous 2 hours. It’s not a cheap ticket, but theater in New York never seems to be. I think it cost me $140. I really liked this play and I highly recommend it. It’s weird and will not be for everyone, but I thought the actors were great. I followed them down a rabbithole and  into a very strange world that they painted beautifully.  I loved it.