Thursday, October 27, 2011

Return to Wonderment

Cafe Terrace at Night - Vincent van Gogh

To celebrate my return home from a week-long business trip, my husband took me out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, the South Congress Café. Located at 1600 South Congress Avenue in Austin, this eclectic restaurant sits smack dab in the middle of the funky fun SoCo neighborhood.

We were seated at a window booth, and I was struck by the stickiness of the table. When I mentioned it to the waitress, she explained that the tables were in the process of being refinished, and ours had not yet been done. But, the arrival of our salads made me forget all about that.

I ordered the Caprese Salad, a simple combination of fresh heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella cheese, homemade pesto and pine nuts, drizzled in balsamic vinaigrette.  Delicioso! 

Gene’s salad, which I’ve eaten before and featured here on my blog, is still my favorite – the Very Bleu Salad.  Being a salad snob, it’s rare to find the perfect leafy combination, but South Congress Café has a definite winner.  Romaine, chunks of gorgonzola cheese, rosemary candied pecans (oh my!), hard-boiled quail eggs and their very own balsamic vinaigrette – need I say more?

As for our entrees, we both tried dishes we hadn’t had before.  Gene selected the Cajun Seafood Scampi – jumbo shrimp, ahi tuna, sea scallop, and jalapeno sausage on a bed of angel hair pasta.  Now, I am a big fan of Cajun food and seafood, but I found the spices in this dish to be a bit too heavy and hot for such a light pasta.

I, on the other hand, reveled in my Sea Bass Gnocchi. I think this is the best piece of fish I’ve ever eaten! (That’s saying a lot, since I’ve eaten many fabulous fish dishes!) The dish consisted of a pan seared sea bass filet, homemade herb gnocchi (an Italian dumpling), roasted fennel, oyster mushrooms and watercress. The fennel was such an interesting licorice-like flavor that perfectly complimented the fish. The shift manager, who stopped by our table, commented that the Sea Bass Gnocchi is his favorite dish.

Hats off to the chefs, once again, at South Congress Café!

"5 Chefs" - Laura Barbosa

"All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind." --Kahlil Gibran

"A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that's when cuisine is truly exciting." --Charlie Trotter

Ciao Down, Y'all!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Unfitting Fat in Flight

I returned to work in September as a contract business analyst for the same company, working with all same people, after a two-month hiatus when my original contract ended. During this second tour of duty, I have made several trips out-of-town, but probably the most notable was my first trip to St. Louis last month.

I was given very little notice to make travel arrangements, and both legs of my flight were completely packed. However, the segment from Chicago to St. Louis was a bit more packed than I had counted on.

Wagging my cumbersome computer bag and purse through the skinny aisle of the plane, I passed row after row until I came upon my destination near the very back of the plane. Air travel is so stressful, and I had walked at a fast clip from one end of the Chicago O’Hare Airport to another in order to catch my connection (which is always the case at O’Hare).

Let me just stop right here to say, “I really hate the Chicago O’Hare Airport!” Okay, got that out of my system. Now, where was I? Oh yes…

So, there I was, frazzled, looking at my boarding pass to be sure of the seat assignment. If I could just get there, sit down and relax. Almost there…32, 33, 34A… the window seat…right next to…(insert sigh)…the very obese man in 34B. The big guy was engrossed in both his iPad, which was sitting atop his enormously large belly, and his iPhone, which he was holding in his right hand as he feverishly tapped the screen of his iPad.

I got the attention of my new seat mate, and looked elsewhere for a seat as he rose and moved out of the way. I slid into my long awaited respite. As the gentleman reclaimed his seat, he also claimed half of mine. I silently cursed myself for not beginning my diet sooner and losing another 20 pounds. With all my mental and muscular might, I tried to will all the flesh on the right side of my body to draw in as close as possible to my bones. It didn’t seem to make much difference.

I was being terribly infringed upon, but this was a full flight. What was I supposed to do? I weighed the pros and cons of asserting my right to a full seat, having paid a full fare. But, goodwill won out over comfort, and I decided to endure the hour-long flight to St. Louis without contention.

Feeling somewhat intimate with the unwanted body encroaching on my seat, I opted to make the best of things by starting up a conversation. After all, if we were going to be physical, I should at least know this man’s name.

Mr. Big finally ended his phone call and reluctantly turned off his iPhone when the flight attendant came by a second time, again asking that all electronic devices be put away. I casually asked how he liked his iPad, and Mr. B launched into a discussion about this latest, greatest device, rotating it on its perch of massive flesh so I could see the screen better. As he continued to talk about himself, never asking me any questions, I realized how self-centered this man was, how oblivious he was to my discomfort and feelings.

Unless you’ve actually had a close encounter of this kind, it’s really difficult to convey the many thoughts and feelings I had racing through my brain. I wanted to appear interested, kind and considerate. I wanted to be tolerant and empathetic. But inside my head, the conversation was seething with disgust and feelings of injustice.

Why was I to be put in such an incredibly uncomfortable situation simply because the man next to me chose not to purchase two seats instead of one? “If the flight hadn’t been full,” my alter-ego answered, “it wouldn’t have mattered.” But, shouldn’t it matter?!

Why did the airline allow this man on the plane with only one ticket when he was clearly not able to fit into one seat? “Silly woman! Charging an obese man double the price to travel would clearly be discriminatory, of course!” The voice continued, “Can you just see the lawsuits, the negative publicity? Equal rights for weight-challenged people!” Yes, I could begin to see how pressing this issue would cost the airline a lot of money in the long run. It’s almost as if I could hear the airline executives saying, “Let’s just ignore the whole obese passenger situation and hope no one makes a fuss.”

About that time, Mr. Big began to snore. Oh joy.

Notice the nice soundproof earphones? Mr. Big obviously knew that in order for him to get any sleep he would have to shut out his own loud guttural snoring. Wish I’d had a pair. And, just in case you’re not feeling my pain yet, here’s another shot to further make my point.

The only real solution, in my opinion, is to have all passengers take The Seat Test. As with our carry-on luggage having to fit into the overhead compartment, so should all passengers have to fit into one seat if they only buy one ticket. You take up more than one seat, you buy more than one ticket. Period.

As for my most uncomfortable travel experience, I am still deciding whether to demand the airline reimburse me for half the cost of my seat. I figure I could probably get a jury to award me emotional damages as well. I do feel I was violated and did not get my money’s worth of a seat!

As I relive that very long hour of my life, I can hear another voice inside my head saying…

“Good grief, Grayson! Enough already! You should’ve spoken up when you had the chance! Get over yourself! Somebody hand that woman some cheese to go with that whine!”

Yeah, yeah, I hear ya.

As a fitting follow-up to a fat blog, stay tuned for another fabulous food review coming soon to the Texas Twang.

Happy Trails to You and All Your Voices, Y’all!