Dinner Ticket

I made the reservation –or rather, bought the tickets–  a month or so ago, because I finally could make a reservation there.

Didn’t tell him where but nearly begged him to ask me

That day, advised him to eat a light lunch, as an experience involving at least 14 tasting courses would start at 5:45pm

We drove, drove then drove: through two cities and into a third

Parked, we walked by windows showcasing glimmering wine glasses lined up like a fragile, lethal army, beneath cured meat slices hanging by hooks on the ends of string. Then, past a bright blue industrial freezer door, you know, with a chrome handle as wide as the door? It opens and the bearded Helpful calls to us “guys! C’mon back here! You here for dinner?”


You’ll be sitting with these fine 6 people. That centerpiece that looks like it might have food in it, slide it away to help open up conversation with them. We went to college with one of them, anyway

Hopefully my response to “are you lawyers?” did not offend

Two bites came before our drinks did: a tasty toothpicked canape dipped in “porcini garlic dirt” and then several gems of vegetables and fish, arranged on personal granite trenchers

boubon drink
I already drank the smoke

My drink emitted smoke

Bourbon and smoke go together

The drink for one of the lawyers hissed, foamed and probably glowed in the dark, too. This was … unexpected. The server came back with a cleanup rag and more of the beverage, to top off the class

The evening moved forward, upward, outward with several courses that didn’t require a utensil, one that involved walking though kitchen to have the artistes assemble the course in a plate as we walked it through the line

Smoke (steam) came out everyone’s noses: a roomful of dragons, we were. Such trust in the guy with the bucket of pearls

My first taste, I think of fiddehead fern, raw scallop. And first and maybe final bites of morels, this year

Pork belly that ruined all bacon in the future, forever. Well, for a few days anyway. Bacon can’t be ruined, if it’s still available

This came with the drink bill

The bread in the meal came all in one course, just over halfway through, and we seasoned it with amaretto and bone marrow butters

Ever had a deconstructed beef wellington?

Ever had beef wellington and were able to comfortably move away from the table, when done? Why do that? Perfect portion, cutest little pastry. A plank of tidbits

So, part of the centerpiece was, in fact edible: I KNEW IT. Chocolate breadstick.

The macaron! It was unfair to all other macarons, to dip one end in chocolate, and help it stand up

And just like an rollicking evening spent by a campfire, with scary stories, unfamiliar and sometimes eerie views of familiar things, and much laughter: the last bite was of marshmallow.

20 courses of familiar flavors, unusual textures, exuberant specialists and thoughtful presentation.

Happy birthday to my sweetheart. I’m glad you enjoyed the meal at Travail.

Please pardon -or maybe you enjoyed? – my semi-poetic stream of descriptions. I wasn’t sure how else to describe this ride of a meal, and there was rarely a moment, much less an appropriate moment, to stop and take a picture of all the edibles that came our way, nor of the wide range of facial expressions all over the room, during our time there.

Crunchy crooked forward what?

gong at River Garden Yoga
“That is a huge gong.”
I’ve had chapped lips for 2 weeks.

When last I did training for something big and athletic, my secret weapon was a deep-tissue massage every 5 weeks and a really tough weight training session, every Sunday. This time it’s getting comfortable with 5 runs per week – and organizing my runs so that I can get to a weekly yoga class and spend motoring time with fantastic husband (and his super fun new car). I changed it up out of desire to improve my running but also out of desire to set up time to spend with said husband.

I’m feeling strong as a runner but a little out of whack as me. One of my best friends at work, climbing and cake appreciation moved 1,669 miles away last fall. I’m teaching not four but one yoga class per week. My body spends seven times as much time in the car each week. I’m no longer the knowledgable long-timer at work. I have six…SIX! socks that have lost their matches in the last month.

Those are some of the losses. The recent victories include: better pay in new job, new challenges. New faces, plenty of new things to learn in a new business for me. New conversation topics at breakfast and dinner. New opportunities to listen to great podcasts. That one awesome yoga class I teach each week is populated with a terrific and slowly growing pack of regular students. I continue to discover new music (thanks to husband and Adrienne) and great pose sequences and cues (thanks to the Ted Roseen classes I attend on Saturdays).

Change is good, right?

I don’t know if the chapped lips are due to exposure while running, or nervous chewing on said lips.

I’ve had a kink in my neck for two weeks now, which might be due to something in my new work arrangement – the longer drive that can’t be substituted for a 40-minute walk, the open seating arrangement that offers less privacy but more communication, the laptop, the ebb and flow of my project. Sleeping hard, or not sleeping well at all. Worrying about new things. Or old things. Plenty.

My friend Amy suggested I come to her gong meditation class at River Garden Yoga tonight, tempting me with words like relaxationhealing and even gong which brings not fond memories of TV talent competitions and Jamie Farr. “Sign me up!” was my reply. This is a Friday, a rest day in my training. It’s just another -additional- day in my 14-day run with this sore neck that doesn’t seem to allow me to sleep as restfully as I desire. As part of the practice tonight we needed to choose an intention – sort of like the sankalpa in Yoga Nidra. I did not hesitate to be extremely precise with mine: “Release the movement restriction in my neck. PLEASE.” This was not a day for “I have compassion for me” or “I am steady.”

You know, it kind of worked.

Time for bed.

Dervish I mean Derby Party

still life with julep recipe
Teach a man to fish…

Well, it’s still not quite as good as being in Louisville for the festivities, but it sure is fun bringing a little bit of Churchill Downs to Saint Paul for a few hours. We hosted another Derby Party last weekend, and made a few modifications that I think went well: I spent more of the party outside of the kitchen, and didn’t have too many leftovers of sweets. I still collapsed in a heap after the last guest left, but that may be more due to the fact that I’m in the middle of marathon training and did a 9-mile hilly run, the morning of the party. And no, I didn’t keep count of the juleps I’d enjoyed over several hours… but at least the cups were small, and the whiskey not as strong.

Changes we made this year, that I hope to remember for the future. I wholly confess to heavy use of Pinterest to find some (all) of these recipes:

  • Hot browns! This is apparently a tradition for the event, though we didn’t experience them at all, in Louisville. After reading one recipe for these (in a “slider “version… baked all in one pan) and knowing full well how fond a certain individual (who wore seersucker) is of sandwiches, turkey and cheese… I added it to the menu. And it was amazing, even with the parmesan accidentally omitted.

Hot browns, resting now but bound for baking. #kyderby

A photo posted by Steve Morman (@stephen.morman) on


  • Benedictine spread: another one we never saw in Kentucky, but it’s a keeper that has just a tad more vegetables than the pimiento cheese spread/sandwiches we did last year. We made up a few white-bread sandwiches (I didn’t have the nerve nor time to cut off the crusts) and left the rest out for dipping with hearty crackers.
  • Kentucky Butter Cake: So few of the bourbon balls I made last year got eaten that I decided to try a dessert without nuts or chocolate. Also: making a bundt cake is a bit less time-intensive than chocolate-dipped candies. This was a great pound cake-like recipe that I’ll do again, though only a few of us enjoyed it at the party. We’ve been happily chipping away at it at breakfast, in the days since. I suppose people got enough sugar for the day from their juleps?
  • A bag of crushed ice. I am so glad I was able to buy this, the night before the party from Shamrock Group! Last year I was making crushed ice on a nearly per-julep basis with the VitaMix, which was terribly noisy. I spent a good part of the afternoon alone in the kitchen making juleps. This year, we converted most of the food table to a beverage station, complete with julep recipe, the appropriate supplies and tools, the world’s best muddler (the souvenir bat you get at the Slugger Museum), and a bowl of ice that we just had to replenish from the cooler on the back porch, from time to time.
  • There’s a hat store at the Mall of America now: Chapel Hats! I found a great fascinator there just a week before the party, for just $20. To be fair, it wasn’t … big enough if I were trying to impress (or win our own hat contest), but it was fun to wear, and saved me a ton of time.
  • I’d love to say I planned this, but alas: it simply happened. It was a gorgeous day out and people were able to sit out in our backyard and on the front porch, sipping and conversating. I gave a few tours of our garden. It has yet to reach its full potential (of course: it’s only May) but still had a few blooms to offer up: a ton of scilla, and a few bright tulips.

Some great things we didn’t intentionally change and yet they happened:

Mary's handmade cloche
I dared her to make it
  • One most excellent hand-crocheted Derby hat (see photo at right)
  • Everybody looked great! It was fun to see friends dressed up a bit, sometimes with ties, a waistcoat, a great hat or fascinator here and there, and some festive spring dresses.
  • A tie: three of our most excellent and non-underdog-picking friends decided to bet on American Pharoah. And yet no one placed actual bets, likely because we were too busy socializing to lay down the rules: the money jar was empty. So… we had to battlefield-promote most of the best-hat/tie prizes to race winnings. I’m not sure anyone noticed?
  • We shared a treasured treat with friends who appreciated it: some of our Angel’s Envy Rye.

It was so enjoyable to spend some relaxing time with good friends, and to share some specially-made food and drinks with them! Some of them traveled from pretty distant burbs/busy lives, and that was a super special treat.

I was really happy that I wasn’t frantically trying to make a fascinator, 30 minutes before the party, like I was last year. However, I was frantically trying to prepare the list of horses and the julep recipe, and facing frustrations with my computer. And a plate of veggies never made it out to our guests. For the most part, I think paring back our food plans made it easier for me to squeeze in the “necessary” 9-miler the morning of the party – but when we do this party again, I’ll make sure to keep the morning more open for party prep.

Onward! To the garden. And maybe the Angel’s Envy Rye.