I Am Not a Foodie, But . . .

No one would call me a foodie. I live out of my microwave oven, and when my six-year-old oven cratered last Saturday night, forty-five seconds into nuking a baking potato, I kicked it to the curb (well, actually the garage, and one of these days I will take it to the electronics recycling place), ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for supper, and went to Target for a new one the next day. My wine-conscious friends think I’m hopeless because I’m perfectly happy with grocery store whites (bottled, not boxed).

But this week I had a rare opportunity to enjoy a carefully planned six course dinner, with appropriate wines, at a wonderful restaurant, and I can’t express how amazing and wonderful it was.

My friend Jo Anne had given her brother, Ed Banker, and sister-in-law, Anne Newtown, a Chef’s Day at Brennan’s of Houston for Christmas last year, and they finally scheduled their day for August 22. Ed and Anne, who are both devoted foodies and excellent cooks, spent the day in Brennan’s kitchen, dressed in their new chef’s jackets (with their embroidered names), learning about the management of a fine restaurant kitchen and choosing their own special interests (sauces and stocks, I believe). Here they are about to eat the lunch they prepared, a giant Louisiana crab cake.

Ed & Anne at Brennan's

The package included dinner for six, and Ed and Anne were kind enough to include me, along with Jo Anne and two of their close friends, Chris and Judy. None of us knew what to expect (although all of us knew that one can always expect the very best at Brennan’s), but Ed and Anne had been told it would be a six course dinner. Jo Anne and I joined them at seven o’clock, in time for the first glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I pretty much lost track of the wines, although the sommelier came out with each bottle to tell us about it. I know there was a second Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay from South Africa (delicious, and I don’t usually care for Chardonnay) at least two bottles of Petite Sirah (a favorite of Ed and Anne’s), and one of a blended white from the Willamette Valley (my favorite). Fortunately the waitstaff was adept at removing just the right glasses at the right time, but each of us had three glasses (one water and two wines) in front of us for most of the evening.

The food was even more amazing, and one or another of the chefs came out with each course to tell us about it. I wish I could remember the details of the sauces and seasonings (I hope Ed and Anne caught them all, because I get invited to their house for dinner now and then), but the menu was so overwhelming I can’t repeat it all. But here goes:

First Course: Crab salad on a thick slice of beefsteak tomato (locally sourced, as is much of Brennan’s food), with bits of watermelon and cantaloupe and a dollop of caviar on top. The tomato was the kind we all say we remember from childhood but haven’t seen in the grocery store for forty years, the kind that reminds us that a tomato is technically a fruit.

Second Course: One large, whole (with head) barbecued shrimp and two smaller shrimp (I think they were sauteed; they certainly weren’t boiled or fried), over Texas grits made with goat cheese, all with a marvelous sauce that I can’t even describe.

Third Course: Half a quail, roasted, with cornbread dressing, served on a wedge of waffle and topped with a quail egg, sunny side up (one perfect mouthful—I don’t remember ever eating quail before, and I know I’ve never had a quail egg), and another amazing sauce.

Fourth Course: (And here I really tipped into dining paradise) One lamb chop, cooked as rare as lamb should be, served over rice and mushrooms, with asparagus. (Lamb may be my favorite meat, but it’s not particularly popular, or readily available, here in Texas.) Oh, how I wish I could describe the sauce!

Fifth Course: Three perfect pieces of cheese. One of the chefs came out and told us what order to eat them in. The first two were cheeses I’m not familiar with, and I wish I’d caught the names (maybe someone else remembers), but the third was a small, and very strong, square of bleu cheese. I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat that one in quantity, but the size on the plate (beautifully embellished with berries, nuts, and a small piece of bread) was perfect.

Sixth Course: And then came dessert. Instead of identical plates for all, as in the first five courses, a stream of waiters delivered what seemed like an endless stream of dessert plates to the table. As Catherine the Pastry Chef described each one (the word sugar was particularly frequent), our eyes expanded like children’s in a candy store. Five minutes earlier, we’d all been too full to eat again all weekend, but now we managed to pass the desserts around the table and sample every one, leading to a lively discussion of their merits (no two of us arrived at the same ranking). We tasted pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream, peach cobbler with cream cheese ice cream (made on site), lemon meringue pie (about four inches high), white chocolate bread pudding (my personal favorite), Grand Marnier creme brulee, Mississippi Mud Pie (a towering stack of chocolate delight), dark chocolate bread pudding, strawberry shortcake, and Brennan’s classic Bananas Foster.

We were far too happy eating, drinking, and talking to take pictures of the food, but Anne did take this one of Jo Anne and me (behind all those wine glasses) before we left, about three and a half hours after we sat down to dinner. Definitely one of the most remarkable meals I have ever enjoyed.

Kay & Jo Anne at Brennan's

RWA 2014

I spent last week on the San Antonio Riverwalk at the annual Romance Writers of America Conference, and I’m still recovering. Too much fun, too little sleep. I had no special reason to go this year, but my friend Jo Anne Banker and I signed up as soon as registration opened. In fact we’d been planning to go to this one since we went to New York in 2011. San Antonio! Road trip!

RWA 2014 toteThis year I had a completely stress-free conference. I wasn’t involved in the Golden Heart contest, and I didn’t make any editor or agent appointments. I went to have fun, hang out with my long-distance friends, and learn something about independent publishing, and that’s exactly what I did.

I went to a lot of workshops on independent publishing, picking up ideas and inspiration. I have yet to decide whether I want to follow that path, but I think I’m leaning that way. Humorous paranormal stories don’t seem to be in high demand in New York these days—one respected agent I spoke to said that she sold no paranormals at all in 2013—but there are readers out there who enjoy them.

I heard inspiring—and often very funny—talks from wonderful writers. Cathy Maxwell stepped in at the last minute to give the keynote address at the Golden Network Retreat. Susan Elizabeth Phillips gave a great workshop on character development (the characters in our manuscripts, that is), and she and Jayne Anne Krentz, long-time friends, told us about their adventures as writers.

One workshop I attended focused on the challenges and benefits of being a “mature” writer. I think all of the women at that presentation were over fifty, some published, some not yet. One attendee was 83. I went to numerous talks by and for independently published authors (definitely a new alternative for us mature writers), until they all ran together in my overworked brain. In fact, by Friday afternoon everything was running together. Fortunately, most of the sessions were audiotaped, and I am awaiting my copy so I can listen to sessions I attended and sessions I had to miss.

RWA 2014 booksThere were books everywhere, and I brought home even more than I usually do, one advantage of driving rather than meeting the packing requirements of airline travel. (The FedEx store at the hotel was constantly busy, shipping boxes of books home for those who were limited to their suitcases.) The tote bags we received at registration (imagine two thousand women wandering around with the same tote bag!) were filled with books, and there were more on the chairs at the general sessions.

The Readers for Life Literacy Autographing was the only Conference event open to the public, and people began lining up at 2 PM for the 5:30 opening. The hall was filled with five hundred or so authors signing books donated by their publishers, and countless enthusiastic book buyers, filling the shopping bags handed out at the door. The book sales raised over $58,000 for literacy programs. I went in intending to say hello to women I only see once a year, but I ended up buying a few books, too. I also went to several of the publishers’ free book signings during the conference and collected more books (including some for the neighbor who looks after my cat when I travel and refers to the conference as “Kay’s Book Thing”).

On the social side, I visited with many friends I’ve made through the Golden Heart at the Golden Network retreat, shared dinner one night with the Firebirds (at Tony Roma’s) and another night with the Lucky 13s (at the revolving Chart House atop the Tower of the Americas, with a panoramic view of San Antonio), as well as smaller dinners with friends. Houston writers filled at least three tables at the awards ceremony so we could cheer together for our finalists.

Next year the RWA conference returns to New York City. I may need a Really Good Reason to make it to that one. But that’s what I said in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and the reasons turned up, so who knows? The RWA Conference is the kind of vacation that leaves you needing rest when you get home, but it’s worth every minute.

Changing Habits

Today is the first day of the rest  of my life.  All of us can (and probably should) say that every day, but this week marks real change for me.  Some months ago, Jo Anne and I started planning for change at the Scorekeeper.  In May Jo Anne gave notice to our largest client that we would be parting ways at the end of September, the close of their fiscal year.  Jo Anne and I both want more time for writing, reading, and sleeping.  The third Scorekeeper, David, has passed all four parts of the CPA exam (on the first try!) and needs to work for a year for a CPA or the IRS in order to be certified himself.  So it was time for change.

This week we spent wrapping up reports for the big client, packing up boxes of their records and a computer that belongs to them, and today is the first day on our new schedule of three 7-hour days (usually Tuesday through Thursday) a week.  Two less days I have to make the 60-mile round trip commute into Houston.  And, since we’ve decided to open at 10 AM instead of 9, no more days of getting up at 6:15 to fight the 8 AM traffic.

Flowers 100313Jo Anne has been referring to this as “semi-retirement,” but I’d rather think of it as a new phase, with more time for all the things that have been hard to pack into weekends.  I have my usual to-do lists on virtual post-it notes on my computer screen, things to do now that I’ll have a couple of weekdays free:  a couple of doctor check ups for me, the vet for Nutmeg, get the roof inspected.  The Houston area is expecting its first noticeable cold front this weekend, just in time to push Tropical Storm Karen away from us (sorry, Gulf Coast neighbors to the east), and we’ve had some decent rain lately (if the rain gauge didn’t show it, I could tell by the toad stools popping up in my lawn), so maybe I can get back to that extensive clean-up-the-overgrown-back-yard project.  The front yard needs mowing, if I’m careful to avoid the hurricane lilies.

I have plenty of writing projects:  this weekend I want to polish the first chapter of my work-in-progress to send to the West Houston RWA Emily contest.  I have an edited manuscript waiting in Scrivener to be compiled into a Word file and sent to an agent.  My critique group is back on track, with a new member.  I have Ideas waiting in line.

As for reading, the supply is endless.  I have a list here on my desk of new books I want to pick up, several by my Golden Heart friends, and Diane Kelly’s latest Tara Holloway mystery.  Not to mention the book shelves in my bedroom and all those blogs and articles waiting in my email box.

Last night when I went to bed at my usual midnight I turned off my alarm clock.  This morning I slept until almost 8 AM (no thanks to Nutmeg, who climbed on and off my chest, purring and washing my face and generally suggesting it might be time to get up).  I’ve already received five work-related emails this morning, but I’m thirty miles from the Scorekeeper and my work computer; the work will keep until Tuesday.

I haven’t decided yet what to do with this first day.  Go shopping, maybe with that book list, and have lunch out?  Work in the yard, starting with collecting all those mushrooms?  Read a book?  Catch up with a couple of TV shows I missed last week?  Two extra days a week, and the possibilities seem endless.

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