The Good Old Days

I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you’ve already left them.” — Andy Bernard

Everyone can relate to this feeling — this longing for the good old days that we are sure have passed us by. For some of us, it was high school, where we lived like kings and queens as big fish in small ponds or maybe we didn’t blossom until college where that tinge of awkwardness that kept potential suitors away floated into the ether and we came into our own. Late night parties and staying up until 4 in the morning just to talk because we could.

In my mid-30’s, it’s easy for me to look back on those times and reminisce about that one time we packed 9 people into my green Dodge Avenger (3 in the front, 4 in the back, 2 in the trunk) for the 10-minute drive from our small Iowa college town to the only place that was open that time of night — the truck stop diner that never closed across the state line.

I like to think that I enjoyed those times of my capricious youth to the fullest, but even then I remember the times where I found myself sad and longing for the past or for the future.

What is it about us as humans that keeps us from savoring the moments of our life like we would each morsel of a 9-course meal prepared by a master chef?

When we are in our lives, we’re often sidetracked by just that: life. Life sometimes gets in the way of us finding beauty in ordinary. The one person who I never saw this in was Michael Scott, played so brilliantly for 7 seasons by Steve Carell. Everyone has had a Michael Scott in their life: that bad boss who just doesn’t understand the line between friendship and management. The guy who inevitably says the wrong thing, not out of malice, but out of a desperate attempt to be liked.

(Michael was always the heart and soul of The Office and why they continued the show after he left is beyond me.)

The thing about Carell’s portrayal of Michael that was so damn endearing despite his many peccadilloes was that he was one person who seemed to live in the now…to enjoy his life at every aspect. Sure, he got depressed at times, but his zest for life and the people around him made him such a likable character who, despite his obvious flaws, was just good. He believed he was an amazing basketball player and the World’s Best Boss (according to Spencer Gifts) and he fell head over heels in love with a woman who WAS THE MODEL IN AN OFFICE FURNITURE MAGAZINE.

When the executive producers decided to make Andy the boss after Michael left, I think that they hoped that he would find that same wide-eyed appreciation for his life, but even in his relationship with the adorable Erin Hannon, he couldn’t see past the end of his nose.

In the finale of the show, seeing Andy say this quote resonated with a lot of people. I remember watching the episode live accompanied by Twitter (an irony that is not lost on me) and seeing so many people tweet out that quote over and over and over again. We all have that same longing for understanding what is good about our lives and appreciating it in its time rather than six months or years or decades after the fact.

But what I’ve found in my life is that you just need to make a decision to start enjoying the mundane. Find beauty in the normal. And embrace your life wherever you might find yourself. Sure, it might not be the place you thought you’d be at 36, but it sure hasn’t sucked up to this point either.

“I went to the woods to live deep and suck the marrow out of life.” — Henry David Thoreau, as quoted by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

So live deep and recognize that even at the worst, you are alive in the most amazing time mankind has ever seen.

Here’s to the Good Old Days that are yet to come. May we find ourselves enjoying them.

Thoughts on LOST

LOST

The survivors of Oceanic 815 have captured our hearts and minds for the past 6 years. The day after, it’s difficult to assess just how the show’s end will fall into the annals of television history. Some people hated the finale. Others, like me, thought it was fitting and touching.

Cuse and Lindelof created a world that sparked controversy and debate. Was it purgatory? Who were Jacob and the Man in Black, really? OMGWTFPOLARBEAR? They should be commended for such a huge accomplishment. I predict multiple Emmys in the show’s future (too little too late?).

There are people who are indignant about the way the show ended and to them, I say, please remember that it was still just a TV show. It was a special one, but just a TV show. It entertained, made us think, theorize and discuss in a medium where people typically just sit back and enjoy their half-hour nuggets and then go about their lives.

Monday morning, I woke up and I was still thinking about the show and its end. I feel like it paid respect to us as viewers that we have the ability to fill in the blanks. We don’t need everything explicitly spelled out and explained because what’s the fun in that? If Cuselof would have laid out exactly what everything meant, wouldn’t that have been a disservice to the show that meant so many different things to so many different people?

At the heart of the show, it was always about people. It was about relationships and how we are all flawed and how those flaws are really what makes us interesting and beautiful. The mystery of the island provided this fascinating backdrop that made us ask questions and stay engaged. But ultimately, through a combination of flash-forwards, flash-backs, flash-sideways and excellent storytelling and top-notch acting, the characters of the show became real and tangible to us.

The people on the island were all flawed in one way or another. The show lasted as long as it did and succeeded because we saw ourselves in the survivors of Oceanic 815 and their very evident flaws. That’s why I loved the show and the finale.

The fact that I’m still thinking about it more than 24 hours later means one of two things: A) it went way over my head and I’m still trying to sort it out, or B) it was completely awesome.

I’m going with Option B.

The Art of TV Bromances

The bromance is a stalwart tradition of the sitcom world. Some of the greatest relationships of television were not the Ross & Rachels of history or the Sam & Dianes, but rather the Chandler & Joeys and the Norm & Cliffs. The hilarity of comedy usually hinges upon the hijinks of two or more dudes.

This probably could spiral into a discussion about how there are not nearly enough good girl-girl relationships on primetime TV, but let’s avoid it for now, okay?

These are some of my favorites from recent years, in no particular order:

Chandler and Joey — Friends

Roommates. Best Buds. Hilarious.

J.D. and Turk — Scrubs

The only ones who have a song together. I give you…”Guy Love.”

Andy and Bobby — Cougar Town

A newer bromance…not a shocking one, though, considering Bill Lawrence created both Scrubs and Cougar Town. I’m guessing there’s some sort of bromance in Lawrence’s past.

Michael and Ryan — The Office

This may be a little more one-sided, but it’s pretty funny.

A.C. and Zach — Saved by the Bell

I originally thought this one should be Zach and Screech, but after watching this hilarious fan video, this was more accurate.

Hurley and Sawyer — LOST

And another fan video, and also in honor of the series finale tonight.

Mac and Dennis — It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

These guys would redefine bromance if they weren’t both so narcissistic.

Vince/Turtle/Eric/Drama/Ari — Entourage

Can’t wait for the new season! June!

Bert and Ernie — Sesame Street

Bromance? Or more…you decide.

Kermit and Fozzie — The Muppet Show

The whole bit in The Great Muppet Caper where Kermit and Fozzie are identical twins…so funny.

Troy and Abed — Community

Honestly, this bromance was the one that inspired me to make the list. Community is one of my favorite new shows and the Troy and Abed vignettes at the end of every episode are freaking awesome.

I know that I’m forgetting a lot of bro-love. Can you help me out?

Top Chef at The National

Sometimes, my life is just far too awesome for words.

Place Setting

Sunday night, I was invited by a friend to attend an amazing event at The National Golf Club in Parkville — a 6-course dinner prepared by season six Top Chef contestants Eli Kirshstein and Kevin “Beardy” Gillespie and The National’s Executive Chef, Eric Barkley.

You may remember a few weeks back when I talked about the Top Chef Tour coming to Kansas City. In that post, I said:

[My friend] Eric [who is the Director of Food & Beverage for The National] is actually bringing back Eli and one of my personal favorites, Kevin “BEARDY” Gillespie for a special 6-course event (two by each Top Chef and 2 by Chef Barkley from The National) at their clubhouse in May.

Well, I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest to this amazing event. Alli and I were seated next to the pastry chef and executive chef (and 4-time James Beard Award nominee) of bluestem in Westport, which was really a treat. Not only were we treated to an amazing meal, but we had some great company and got some insight into the cooking side of things from Colby and Megan.

And now, the food…

Walleye with Sweet Corn and Black Truffles

The first course was prepared by Chef Barkley. It was a walleye served on a bed of sweet corn topped with ramps (wild leeks), morels, black truffles with a white wine foam. There were a lot of things that I just typed that I had never eaten before Sunday night, particularly ramps, which are apparently a very difficult to acquire vegetable (unlike normal leeks). As a lead-off dish, this was bright and interesting, but kind of large. The sweetness of the corn counteracted the acidity of the pickled ramps and the richness of the walleye and black truffles. I liked it a lot.

Scallops with Mushrooms

The second course was prepared by Chef Kirshtein, a scallop served on top of black garlic with Enoki mushrooms. I was really looking forward to having some scallops, but was a little disappointed in this dish. The scallop itself was nicely cooked and the black garlic was delicious, but I couldn’t get into the mushrooms. I want to be adventurous in my eating, but these were a little out there.

Chicken with Broccoli Gremolata and Lily Puree

This next dish surprised the crap out of me. I did not expect that Chef Kirshtein’s chicken with broccoli gremolata and lily bulb puree would be my favorite course of the night. I have never tasted a chicken that was cooked better. The skin was crispy and the meat of the chicken was rich and tender and in stark contrast to the vinegar-y broccoli gremolata. Another wonderful surprise about this dish was the lily bulb puree. This was a point in the meal where it was extremely helpful to have chefs Garrelts at our table. I learned that lily bulb was actually a fancy name for onion. So basically, it was like a potato puree, only with onions. And it tasted awesome.

Pigs & Pinot - Pork Terrine with Mushroom salad and pickled cherry

The fourth course was our first from Chef Beardy Gillespie, and it was actually a Top Chef challenge winner from last season’s Pigs and Pinot challenge. What was it? It’s difficult to tell from the picture, so let me help: it was a pork terrine with a pickled cherry and a mushroom salad (not like a green salad, but like a chicken salad…it’s that gray stuff on top of the pork terrine slice). I really liked this dish. It wasn’t amazingly appetizing to look at (although it was extremely cleanly plated), but it tasted salty and sweet and balanced. Yum.

Strip Loin with Gorgonzola Bread Pudding & Vidalia Compote

Our next dish, from Chef Eric Barkley, had my favorite side item of the night. Served with a wagyu Kansas City (they called it New York…I refuse to do so) strip loin topped with a vidalia onion compote was a completely EPIC gorgonzola bread pudding with bacon. (Okay, so the dish was technically centered around the strip loin, but not for me.) So much awesomeness here. If I described it more, you might become insanely jealous and hunt me down.

Colorado Lamb Loin with Sweet Bread Fricassee

The final savory dish was from Chef Beardy and was quite an experience. Now, I’ve had lamb loin before at Perilla in New York. I have not, however, had lamb loin with sweetbread (most mis-named food EVER) fricassee, lemony greens and potato cream. I wasn’t too hip on eating the thymus and pancreas of an animal, but I figured I had to give it a shot. Really weird. The lamb was pretty good too and the pomegranate brown butter that it was served with was quite tasty.

I didn’t actually photograph the 7th bonus course, which was prepared by the Herndon Career Center from Raytown. The dessert plate was a myriad of deliciousness — a Meyer lemon verbena sponge cake, chocolate two ways, homemade orange “pop rocks” and some nitro ice cream in a macadamia nut cone. The cone was the best part, but considering that it was concepted and prepared by high schoolers, I was really impressed.

After the meal, the chefs came out and answered some questions and told stories of their culinary background and their experiences on the show. I’d heard some of Eli’s stories from the Top Chef event from last month, but it was really fun to hear some of Beardy’s stories, since he was my favorite from last season.

Me, Alli and the Chefs

I can’t thank my friend Eric enough for inviting me and Alli to attend this event. It was such a great experience to each such delicious food. I know that The National is working on another Top Chef-inspired event in September. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and I’ll be sure that you know about the event if you’re interested. If you love food and you love Top Chef, you really shouldn’t miss these special events.

I know that I’m glad I didn’t miss this one.

The Top Chef Tour

I got to check out the Kansas City stop of the Top Chef Tour last Friday.

Eli Kirshtein and Nikki Cascone on the Top Chef Tour

Eli Kirshtein from Season 6 and Nikki Cascone from Season 4 came into KC and showed off their culinary chops and answered some questions in four sessions outside Cosentino’s Market. The first 15-20 minutes were spent making a quick Scimeca’s Sausage meatball with sauerkraut, aioli and topped with some gala apples.

Sausage Meatball on sauerkraut with aioli and apples

By themselves, I like very few of the components in this dish. Sauerkraut? EW. Mustard? No thanks. But as a dish, it totally worked. The flavors worked together to create something really simple and tasty.

My favorite part of the event was the Q&A, though. As someone who’s been watching Top Chef since season one (and I’ve talked about it plenty), I was interested in hearing about the show and their experiences. One of the things that cracked me up was Eli and Nikki talking trash on some of the more well-known chefs of the world, particularly Bobby Flay (“Just throw it on the grill with some chipotle in adobo and some cilantro.”).

I was actually really surprised at how open and honest they were, pulling no punches about the contestants they competed with (Eli still hates Robin, it seems) and the challenges they competed in.

It was a really nice event and I have to say thanks to my friend Eric from The National, who got me the tickets. Eric is actually bringing back Eli and one of my personal favorites, Kevin “BEARDY” Gillespie for a special 6-course event (two by each Top Chef and 2 by Chef Barkley from The National) at their clubhouse in May. As amazing as the event sounds, the price tag might be a little out of my range.

For the rest of my pictures, check out my Flickr photoset.