Less than 15 minutes before 2006 turned into 2007 one could find me lying in bed, staring blankly at the ceiling while clutching an unhappy belly. It probably wasn't a good idea to start my New Year's Eve meal with a frosty bottle of Mike's Hard Crisp Apple and top it off with chilli, corn chips and hot wings. Aside from my stomach contents resembling a mass of beans/tomato sauce/corn chips/chicken meat floating upon a sloshing tub of mildly alcoholic apple juice, after dinner I had watched Shaun of the Dead with Tristan, Tristan's friend Nathan and a few other people who were at Tristan's house for his family's New Year's Eve party to help keep us awake until midnight. The comfort level of my tummy was not aided by having a mind filled with disturbing images of blood and entrails. Blood and entrails are okay inside the body—not so much outside. (I'd like to add that the movie was otherwise fun.)
As I contemplated going downstairs to check out that Times Square ball dropping business on the telly, Tristan excitedly burst into the room.
"I MADE THE BONFIRE!" In his slightly crazed state he most resembled the family puppy, Hoppy. Hoppy is named Hoppy for a very good reason; she hops a lot. Like "I had way too much caffeine today!" a lot.
"Dude, it's raining," I weakly stated.
"Yeah! I got it! Look outside!" I peeked through the curtain to see the pile of wood and branches across the driveway in a bright orange blaze.
"Whoa. That takes dedication."
"Or a butane torch!"
After sipping some champagne to ring in the new year, a few of us went outside to observe the fruits of Tristan's labor in the form of a mountain of flames.
"Where others gave up," he announced while staring straight at his father, "I went on! These hands created fire! I AM PROMETHEUS."
We had the vague idea of making s'mores earlier that day, but the fire was much too large for anyone to safely get close to it while roasting marshmallows, aside from that we were all overly stuffed from dinner. We just stood around the fire and watched it burn while light, misty rain continued to fall on us.
"This is where my OCD traits comes in handy," said Tristan in reference to spending possibly an hour to turn damp wood on a semi-rainy night into a roaring bonfire.
Out of my 21 years of life, it was surely my most enjoyable New Year's celebration.
pickles and meat
My biggest fooding day during my stay in Virginia was on Saturday when Tristan, Nathan and I went to Charlottesville, a city about a 45 minutes drive away from Tristan's hometown of Louisa. Tristan insisted that I try the best dumplings and cheeseburger he's ever had.
Marco and Luca (found in "a tribute to an exceptional life" in the Downtown Mall) features a small menu of dumplings, noodles and buns. That it expanded from originally being a weenie take-out window to today having a medium-sized dining room is a testament to its popularity.
Since the food was pretty cheap (I don't remember the prices off the top of my head, but trust me), I ordered two orders of dumplings (12 pieces) and a vegetable bun despite knowing that we would be getting cheeseburgers afterwards. I ended up ordering the most food out of the three of us. Tristan and Nathan understand the concept of moderation; I obviously do not.
I wanted a pile of dumplings, and a pile of dumplings is what I got. Juicy, lightly crispy, just-fried pork-filled dumplings coated in hot sauce. The skins were just thick enough so that the dumplings wouldn't fall apart and not so thick as to disrupt the delicate balance of dough and meat. To make a comparison to something you may be familiar with, they were thicker, crispier, softer and less chewy than the skins of the dumplings you can get at $1/5 dumpling shops in NYC's Chinatown. Actually, they're not at all like the Chinatown dumplings, but the specialty of the restaurant reminded me of the Chinatown version. Although I've eaten a lot of dumplings in my life (oh what an exciting life I lead), I don't think I've never had dumplings quite like M&L's version with a thin, crispy crust, soft skin and perfect amount of filling...which totally sucks because I'd love to eat them again, preferably without having to trek all the way back to Charlottesville.
I also ate a vegetable bun because I cannot resist soft, squishy steamed bread stuffed with chopped vegetables and glass noodles. Pork buns are higher on the popularity scale with most people, but vegetables buns have always been my favorite.
After roaming around the mall and letting the Chinese food settle in our bellies, we went Chaps for Tristan's favorite cheeseburger.
And...a good burger it was. It wasn't the best burger of its type that I've had (fast food type burger as opposed to a bistro type burger), but there wasn't anything bad about it either. All the ingredients were in the right, non-overpowering proportions and tasted good by being appropriately fresh (vegetable matter)/juicy (meat patty)/crunchy (vegetable matter)/soft (meat patty and bun). If I hadn't already eaten a pile of dumplings I probably would've enjoyed the burger more instead of envisioning a stomach filled with sedimentary layers of differing foodstuffs.
Since we all ordered separately I ended up paying for my burger after Tristan and Nathan. However, they didn't know why I was still at the counter while they were ready to leave.
"Robyn, are you buying ice cream?!" they semi-incredulously asked.
"For god's sakes, I have my limits!"
I wished I had enough stomach space for ice cream.
To settle our stomachs of dumplings and burgers, we went to Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar for...tea. Although tea is supposed to aid digestion and whatnot, it definitely doesn't work for me. I just end up feeling like a sloshing water balloon. A water balloon filled with predigested meat, bread, and tea. Something's probably wrong with that.
But I'm glad I was pushed into having some afternoon tea, as the shop was uniquely cool. Woody, dark, cozy, funky decorations/souvenirs everywhere, lots of hookahs if that's your thing, and many different enclaves depending on what kind of environment you wanted to hang out in. Since the lounge area was packed (for good reason; it's snuggly), we sat on the brightly sun-lit mats by the windows facing the street. NO SHOES ALLOWED.
Tristan and Nathan shared a pot of Moroccan mint tea while I drank a pot of masala chai. Don't ask me why I kept ingesting more than they did. The staff member who brought our tea told us that he just went to Morocco and instructed us pour the tea from high up in order to aerate it. I didn't really like the tea until the last, sugar concentrated dregs, which tasted more like melted peppermint candy and less like tea. My milky, ginger-y masala chai was sweet enough for me to enjoy it, but not something I'd crave on a regular basis. I just like water! Or milkshakes! By the time we were done drinking (and I certainly couldn't finish my entire pot of tea), my belly felt the opposite of entirely happy.
We semi-passed out on a grassy hill at the end of Main Street for some soothing downhill digestion before Nathan met up with his family at a nearby movie theater.
I ended up burping meat and pickles for the rest of the day. Totally worth it, of course.
sammiches and ice cream
On the previous day Tristan gave me a little tour of his family's farm. Little because the farm is...little. And not a whole lot grows in the winter. Here are some random images:
As someone who has never had pets growing up and isn't very accustomed to roaming around nature, it was an eye-opening experience to be around so many non-human life forms and lots and lots of dirt. It's a nice getaway from city life, assuming that you're not stuck with people you hate.
After visiting Tristan's mum's animal health clinic (where I was obviously unfamiliar with the animal world) we ate at Obrigado, the least conventional eatery in Louisa, which otherwise has McDonald's, Hardee's, Chinese take out, Pizza Hut, and the like. Obrigado didn't fit in with the previous cuisine landscape, but the people must like it since it's been open for at least a year.
I ordered the Tuscan chicken sandwich, "Grilled chicken breast, fresh mozzarella cheese, pesto-mayonnaise, lettuce & tomato on a crusty roll, served with fresh chips". I love tender, juicy chicken. And soft, chewy, thin-crusted bread. Together. Freshly made, thick, crunchy potato chips were unexpectedly delicious.
Tristan ordered the cheese quesadilla, "Grilled flour tortilla filled with Monterey Jack & cheddar cheese, tomatoes, scallions. Served with salsa & fresh fruit". I'm not that into quesadillas, so...well. There it is. YUM!
We naturally followed our lunch with ice cream at Sweet Creations, an ice cream shop (that also sells loads of...spices?) in the nearby town of Mineral. Of couse, it was my idea. And I ate 90% of the surprisingly large cup of banana pudding and eggnog ice cream, not so much because I wanted to (despite the creamy deliciousness) but because Tristan was full and refused my order of, "EAT MORE ICE CREAM, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD".
Tristan insisted on going to Hardee's to buy sweet tea, but I just realized that we never got to drink it! Euh. I'll have to try it some other time.
Back to NYE
I never finished talking about New Year's Eve. For insance, it wasn't all full of indigestion.
Tristan lured me into drinking his Turkish coffee by telling me it was sugar-ified and thus not entirely distasteful to my bitter-hating tastebuds. He boiled the sugar/coffee grinds mixture and water in an ibrik and let it get appropriately foamy until it was done.
He poured the steamy brown sludge into tiny green and gold demitasse cups. I took a little sip—it tasted...like coffee. Sweeter than normal coffee. Not sweet enough for Robyn.
"Can you add more sugar?"
"Yeah, like the rest of the sugar in that container."
He added the rest of the sugar. Mm, all better! For me at least. BWAHAHA, I RUIN EVERYTHING!!!
Insisting upon some fiber for lunch, Tristan made salads of baby spinach, crisp peppers and celery, spritzed with some light Italian dressing. Mmm, so tasty. Just what I needed after having eaten too much cooked, starchy, meaty food.
At some point Tristan, Tristan's 16 year old brother Fletcher and I moved down to the music room and started playing random stuff. Fletcher is a freakishly good drummer and killed off some of the inner hairs in our ear canals when he went into "death metal" mode (he has two pedals connected to his bass drum...and he has two snare drums...and other loud things), but it was all good fun. I rarely get the opportunity to "jam out" (I play drums and guitar poorly, among other things). Being around Tristan and Fletcher made me wish that I had a sibling who also liked to play music. Saaaad.
Tristan and I (okay, mainly Tristan) made olive oil bread from a new cookbook he received for Christmas. He was happier than he looks in the photo, I think. I mean...come on, BREAD! Bread equals happiness.
After mixing the dough, shaping it into a giant ball, letting the giant ball rise, splitting the ball into two loaves, shaping those parts into balls, letting those balls rise, flicking some water onto the dough and baking the risen dough, we had LOAVES OF BREAD! Ta-da! Um. Yeah. I'm leaving out the recipe because I don't remember what it was. It wasn't my favorite kind of bread, but because of the extra water in the oven (we also put in a dish of water on a lower rack) the crust was especially crusty while the innards were nice and soft. Mmm, crustyyy.
the next morning
We woke up around 7:30 AM to catch my 1 PM bus back to NY since Tristan had to drive 2 hours to the closest DC metro station (Vienna) and then take the 50 minute ride to the bus station in DC while also fitting in a quick stop at the Eden Center, a Vietnamese shopping center that neither of us had been to before.
The early rise in the gloomy, rainy weather did not excite Tristan. On the road we stopped into Sheetz so that he could get some coffee. Some not very good cofffee. A too-large portion of this not very good coffee.
He didn't realize until he got into the car that he had bought a medium size, not a small. Neither of us actually saw a small. Either there was no small cup or we totally overlooked it. Tristan's description of the coffee is, "That coffee was stank nasty." If you care about your coffee, it's probably best to avoid Sheetz. I'd go just to see the sign that says, "SHMORNIN'!"
With the aid of Mrs. Jones's GPS doohicky, we made it to Eden Center and grabbed a quick bite at Song Que, which specializes in sandwiches, those shakes with ginormous tapioca balls, and lots and lots of various delicious looking convenient Vietnamese foods that I was tempted to bring home even though I wouldn't get back to NJ for another 10 hours.
Tristan's jackfruit shake majiggy with the giant tapioca balls came with a weird plastic cover on the lid. "Leaf World"? ...Huh? The first thing it made me think of was Leaf House, which was kind of weird. I don't know what the Chinese part is, but I assume it something that makes more sense than "Leaf World".
For a whopping $2.50 I got a perfectly sized shredded roast pork sandwich stuffed with tender juicy pork bits, pickled vegetables (carrots, cukes, and radish), cilantro and sliced chiles. I can't imagine how anyone couldn't like this sandwich. The flavors are strong, but not heavy and the balanced combination of the roasted meat and raw vegetables is refreshing. A little bit of sour, sweet, hot, crunch, non-crunch, and...oh yes, all this goodness is stuffed inside fresh, mildly crusty white bread. While this wasn't the best bahn mi bread I've had, it got the job done and didn't disappoint me.
And then...it was back to Jerz. Or back to NYC, then New Jersey. Leaving Tristan and his cool family was depressing, but maybe I will visit again some day.
The bus to NYC took about 5 hours. I met up with my good friend, Lee Anne, who was visiting from Phoenix and stayed at my house for two nights. On Tuesday night we ate dinner in NJ with my mum and did a buttload of NYC fooding yesterday. That blog post will have to come...muuch later.
So sleepy. Kind of sick. (I was very sniffly and asthmatic in Virginia.) Very much back-logged with blog posts and photos. I have to move into my new apartment soon, probably next week. So. I'm going to predict that the writing quality of this blog is going to go downhill for a while until my brain starts working again. Although saying that implies that it once worked.
Euh. Time to blow my nose.
Marco and Luca
York Place, Downtown Mall
115 W Main St
Charlottesville, VA 22902
109 W Main St
Louisa, VA 23093
117 Mineral Ave
Mineral, VA 23117