Monthly Archives: May 2007

Familial Serendipity

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my computer at 2:30 pm, still in my pajamas, when the phone rang.  It was my mom’s cousin Amy, who moved back to Philly last week after about 40 years away.  She was in lobby with her sister Angie, and they wanted to know if I was interested in having a late lunch with them.

I said I’d love to, except for the fact that I hadn’t actually taken a shower or gotten dressed yet that day.  Amy relayed this information to Angie, and when she came back said, “Can we come up and wait in your apartment while you shower?  Angie says there’s nothing interesting to look at in her’s.”

I said of course and we hung up.  I flew to the door, unlocked it so they could get in, and leaped into the shower.  Ten minutes later walked into the living room, clean and dressed (although I still had wet hair).  Amy was talking on her cell phone to my mom, giving her a step-by-step tour of my apartment, and Angie was sitting on the floor near my front door, going through the bags of books that were sitting there, waiting to be gotten rid of.

We had a nice lunch at Devil’s Alley and later they headed off to babysit Derek, Amy’s grandson (and the primary reason she moved back to Philly).

At about 9 o’clock last night I was headed home after an evening of meditation and hanging out with some girlfriends on a Center City roof deck.  I turned down the back alley that runs behind my building, when I spotted two familiar figures walking towards me.  It was Amy and Angie, returning to the parking garage to claim their car after an evening of babysitting.

One of the things that Amy was looking forward to about moving back to Philly was the opportunity to run into friends and family on the street.  She would often read my descriptions of running into Sabrina or Dan or Angie and long to be having thos same experiences.  And in that instant, I was able to give her one.

I stopped in my tracks, raised my arms and said,  “Now what are the chances of this?”  Amy broke into laughter and Angie said, “What a surprise!”  We hugged hello, commented on what a treat it was to see each other twice in one night and said goodnight.

Stories from Reading Terminal Market

For the last couple of months I’ve been dropping hints that I had a new project in the works.  Finally, after a fairly slow start, it is launched and I am happy to present to you Stories from Reading Terminal Market.

I will be spending a considerable amount of time at Reading Terminal over the next three months, talking to merchants, shoppers and eaters alike, asking for their recollections of encounters, experiences and excellent food.  I’ll also be interviewing people throughout the city who have stories to tell that involve the market.  I’m looking to hear about memories, recipes, family traditions and deep attachments to all things that involve Reading Terminal Market.  (If you have something to say on this topic, please shoot me an at

The idea for this project sprung fully formed from my head sometime back in February.  Thanks to a few friends and family who helped out with some introductions, I was able to schedule a meeting with the management of the market and get the go-ahead from them.  I am looking forward to seeing how it evolves, and I hope that you all will follow along.

Dinner confessions

I have found that there are certain things in life that I only eat alone.  Take the dinner I made myself tonight when I got home from class.  I sauteed a very small onion with a few roughly chopped cloves of garlic (that by itself keeps the non-garlic lovers away).  When they were starting to get some color, I squeezed in the juice of half a lemon and then tossed in two bags of baby spinach from Trader Joe’s (I really like spinach and I’m always dissatisfied with what results from a single cooked down bag).  I scoot the mess around with a wooden spatula, until the leaves are all wilted.  I turn it out into a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper and give it another squeeze of lemon juice.

Now, here’s where it gets magical.  I drop in several chunks of soft goat cheese while the spinach is hot, so that it sort of melts and the dissolving cheese and caramelized onions turns into a sauce that is best eaten with the aid of some toasted rustic bread.

When my mom is all alone for dinner, she will often make her “white” dinner.  I’m not entirely sure what inspired this combination, although I think it’s mostly the ease and the softness.  She brings two small pots of water to a boil.  Half an hour before she wants to eat, she pops a chicken leg into one.  Ten minutes later, she puts a peeled and roughly chopped potato into the other.  They are ready within moments of each other and she eats them sprinkled with salt, a glass of milk on the side.  Not exactly well balanced, but very comforting.

Other nights, when the idea of even chopping an onion seems overwhelming, I go for my stash of frozen veggies (typically spinach or asparagus) and defrost something in the microwave.  I poach an egg on the stovetop (boil water, crack egg in, wait 3-4 minutes, remove with slotted spoon) and drop it on top of whatever veggie I went for.  A sprinkle of salt, maybe a drizzle of olive oil and I’m eating.  Yummy, fairly healthy and protein-y.

What do you make when you only have to worry about feeding yourself?

Quarters and peanut chews

A couple of days ago, I emptied all the loose change from my wallet. It was getting unwieldy and difficult to close, and I figured I didn’t really need all those quarters, nickels and dimes. I had some bills, I’d be fine.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon helping Cindy get ready to move all her worldly possessions to Pittsburgh, where she’s recently started grad school. I took her to pick up the rental truck and then ran off to Wawa to get some lunch, planning to meet her back at her house.  All of the free spots in front were taken, so I went a little further down, finding a metered spot half a block away.  I parallel parked easily and was grabbing my stuff when I realized that I had absolutely no money with which to feed the meter.  My practicality in emptying my wallet had totally failed me.

I dug around the car for a moment, hoping to find a spare quarter, but I knew that unless my sister left something around when she borrowed the car last month, I wasn’t going to find anything.  Living in the city, I try not keep anything in my car that would motivate someone to break into it and spare change is included in this category.  I did find a few pennies, but they were of no help when it came to the parking meter.

Getting out of the car, I walked over to the meter, hoping that by some miracle of timing, it would have something in the neighborhood of ten minutes, which would be enough time for me to run in and out of Wawa.  It had a single minute left of paid-for time, which was not enough for my purposes.

Parked behind me was an electrical repair van, with two guys sitting in the front seats.  Their windows were down, and they were finishing up a late lunch.  I debated for a second, before stopping beside the passenger window and said,

“Excuse me.  I hate to ask you this, but do you possibly have a dime or quarter I could use?  I have absolutely no change and really don’t want to get a parking ticket.”

Before I had even finished my request, they were both digging around the van, checking to see if there were any coins laying around.  The younger guy, who was sitting in the passenger seat closest to me said,

“Just a second, I think I have some change in my pocket.”

He levered his hips up off the seat so he could dig, and came out with a few quarters and a dime.

“Take a quarter.”

I thanked him profusely while he grinned at me shyly, deposited the quarter into the meter (glimpsing the parking authority man just up the street) and headed into the store for a turkey sandwich and a couple of bottles of iced tea.  While in there, I also grabbed a couple of peanut chews, as a thank you for the generosity.  Neither of the guys were in the van when I got back out there, so I tucked the candies under their windshield wipers and went on my way.

For a moment I didn’t feel like I was in Philadelphia I experience so often anymore, but instead in a city where people are generous and look out for each other.   It was a nice feeling.

Random Friday–Best Imitation of the Least Complicated

1. Verdi Cries – 10,000 Maniacs (In My Tribe)

2. Hard Times in New York Town – Bob Dylan (The Bootleg Series)

3. Wings of Angels – June Carter Cash (Press On )

4. Dublin Boys – Antje Duvekot (Boys, Flowers, Miles)

5. Shelburne – Cross-Eyed Rosie (Lookin’ Up)

6. Least Complicated – Indigo Girls (Live at the World Cafe, Vol. 1)

7. Nothing Can Be Done – Joni Mitchell (Night Ride Home)

8. Pre-Road Downs – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (4 Way Street)

9. Streets of Glory – Classic Old Time Music (Smithsonian)

10. Best Imitation of Myself – Ben Folds (Ben Folds Live)

Song that feels the most like going home: Least Complicated by the Indigo Girls. This particular song has been part of the soundtrack of my life for going on fifteen years. It feels familiar in the same way that my favorite old green sweater does–warm and comforting and hopelessly out of style. I’m not particularly willing to give up either of them.

Band that I love, despite the fact that they disppointed me with their new album: Cross-Eyed Rosie.

Random Friday friends and family…


Recognized at Reading Terminal

Sitting at a table in the Center Court of Reading Terminal Market this afternoon, I idly noticed as a young woman walked over to a table near me and settled in. She pulled out laptop, an external hard drive and a portable mouse, looking like she was ready to do some serious work. Opening her computer, she half turned in her seat and looked back at me. I smiled, feeling slightly embarrassed, thinking I had gotten caught in the act of people-watching. She tentatively smiled back and then said to me, “Excuse me, but are you Marisa?”

My mind raced for just a second, wondering how this woman knew me. I nodded and said, “Yeah, I am.” She broke into a grin and said, “I thought that was you. I read your blog and recognized you from the pictures you post.” She introduced herself as Wendy, a name I recognized from my comments section, and we started chatting.

In the 2+ years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve never been recognized by someone I don’t know while out in the world because of it. The closest I came was when I met Pax Romano at a blogger meetup almost two years ago and he told me with genuine tones of excitement in his voice that he liked my blog.

After a couple of minutes, I invited myself over to Wendy’s table, and despite her warnings that she really needed to do work*, we ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes. I discovered that she is an artist, who is doing amazing things with wax paintings and cut out paper. She showed me some of the pictures of her work, and it all dances this line between organic and scientific in a way that is really fascinating.

At one point in the conversation, she reminded me that the most recent comment she left on the blog was one on my post about running into people in Philadelphia. In it, she mentioned how it doesn’t happen to her too often in Philly, since she still doesn’t know too many people here. I responded that the longer she lived here, the more frequently it would become part of her life. I just didn’t know that I would be part of her very next unanticipated encounter. The synchronicity of it leaves me shaking my head with tickled joy.

*I hope I didn’t derail your afternoon of work too drastically!

Time to buckle down

Throughout my life, my pattern has been that the busier I am, the more I’m able to accomplish.  I fall into a mode where motion begets more motion and the energy that is created propels me from one activity to another.  However, there is a downside to that pattern, which is that it is exhausting and often brings on cold after flu after sinus infection.

These days I’m hanging out on the other end of the intensity spectrum, granted with a little more time to pursue my own projects and interests thanks to the bounty of student loans.  When I first planned this year and a half of grad school, the thing I looked forward to the most was all of the time that would unfold in front of me, to do with what I wanted (the hope was that I would be graced with abudant creative inspiration and produce fiction and food writing to my heart’s content).

Unfortunately, despite all the time and freedom, I’m having a hell of a time getting anything done.  Without the intensity of multiple activities and priorities, I find that I drift through the days, finally settling into work around 1:30 or 2 pm.  That would be fine if I didn’t then seem to still find it appropriate to make plans with friends for the afterwork hours.  Then there’s the class that forces me out of my apartment around 5:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays until the end of June.

The realization I’ve come to is that I need to create some pressure and intensity (although not too much) for myself in order to get things done.  I’m working on a schedule and I’m trying to treat my projects for the summer as if they were jobs and not just things I’m doing for my own joy and edification.  I think the thing that will ultimately pull me through is the knowledge that if I totally squander this time, an opportunity like this may not come my way again.  And that’s scary enough to motivate me into action.

Close up on Rosemary

A west coast import

Eric, ask and you shall receive. It’s planted in a pot with my existing rosemary plant, which is why I used the card to divide the two. It’s a pretty nice, if sort of strangely shaped, little plant.  I’ve never been much for naming inanimate objects, but I think we can safely say I’ll be calling this little one Mo’s rosemary (after my dad).

One green thumb

In addition to the many boxes and suitcases of books, personal memorabilia and assorted ephemera I flung across country recently, I also brought something living and fairly fragile.  If airport security had deemed me a great threat because of my tofu pate and had needed to inspect my carry-on, they would have discovered a small rosemary plant wrapped up in a quart-sized ziptop bag, tucked between a pair of green Crocs and a dirty tank top.

It’s just a small plant, but it is one that my dad grew from seed, out on the back deck of my parents’ house.  It’s origin increases it value to me by 100 times, because one of the things that I miss most about living so far away from Portland is the ability to benefit from my dad’s vividly green thumb.

During my middle school years, we lived in a house with nearly an acre of land.  My dad took his responsibility for that patch of earth seriously and, during the nearly five years we lived there, he battled ferociously against years worth of blackberry brambles, finally defeating them with the help of a rented rototiller (or was it a backhoe)?  He planted a mini-farm of corn, tomatoes, squash, beans and lettuces out there and became one of those people who offers zucchini to every passerby.

In the years since, the yards have shrunk considerably, but my dad still gardens.  There are pots of baby lettuces, bean vines wind up the side of the house and the flat, light-green patty pan squash hid under wide, prickly leaves.  Raspberry bushes line the back fence and the front steps are flanked by lavendar and rosemary.

In addition to the games, toys, books, toasters and chairs we sold at the garage sale two weeks ago, my dad also managed to sell his garden “overstock.”  A young couple showed up and, while buying a dinged up old wheelbarrow, mentioned a landscaping project they were starting.  He walked them to the backyard and they struck a deal to buy several pots of plants, including a rosemary tree so robust that it had rooted itself around the planks of the deck.

He was pleased to see it all go to a good home, but my heart twinged just a little because I wanted to be the person to have all of those lovingly grown plants (even though I know it’s neither possible or practical).  Right now, I am content with this one little plant that seems to have survived cross-country travel like a trooper and has taken up residence in my windowsill garden.  May it grow strong and fragrant, like it’s siblings.

Community of the heart and spirit

I find it amazing how three days away from the blog can make my writing muscles feel rusty and sore from disuse.  Saturday night I threw myself a birthday party and so spent a vast portion of the weekend either preparing for it or recovering from it (mostly in a cleaning sense, as I didn’t actually have a thing to drink at my own birthday party.  A fact that made my mother proud but one you wouldn’t readily assume from the stack of beer bottles sitting by my front door).

It was a fantastically fun party.  In the beginning, while I was waiting for friends to arrive and trying to keep the few early-arrivers entertained (early-arrivers, please do not feel minimized, I value you all!), I got several messages from friends saying that they weren’t going to be able to attend.  In my head I went into a dark place where I was universally unloved and would be left alone at the end of the evening with several dozen cupcakes, a quart of curry dip and an large homemade veggie tray.  Thankfully, just as that fantasy was starting to gain traction, friends started to roll in and suddenly I was awash in an embarrassment of friendship riches.

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