Juicy Olive

The quest for “the good life” should never be complete but it should definitely begin now.

Getting with the Program April 30, 2009

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When I was younger, I was keenly aware of three kinds of adults: those who were ultra-hip and tried very hard to blend in with the cutting-edge tenth graders; those who were drastically behind the times and still stuck in circa 1970 attire; and those who were somewhere in between.

I have no aspiration to return to high school. I’m happy to be my age and don’t need the affirmation of the “cool kids” to know I’m a great woman. However, as I’ve grown older, I’m increasingly aware of how easy it could be to slip into Sally Seventies’ shoes: lose track of what’s shaping our trends or dismiss those trends entirely and you could lose touch with the modern times.

Increasingly, the ability to stay on top of “what’s hot” is not just about knowing your fashion, your hairstyles and your tastes in music; technology has taken center stage in defining the times.

A few years ago, my brother David and I were hanging out and he opened up his laptop to check something on Facebook. At the time, I was not on Facebook and didn’t even know what it was. I fired questions left and right about the site, its usefulness and asked questions, such as:

* Why would you want to post updates on what you’re doing? Don’t your friends know, and who else really cares?

* Do you want everyone else to know all of these tidbits about you?

* Aren’t you afraid that those pictures are going to fall into the wrong hands?

However, a year later I found myself logging on to Facebook and setting up an account. At first, I was confused. And then, slowly, it started to make sense. I began to enjoy it. I had fun reading up on the lives of friends whom I had lost touch with or seeing pictures from the party I wasn’t able to attend.

Flash forward a couple of years and the world is buzzing about a new communication trend. As with Facebook, I really didn’t understand Twitter and tweeting. Yet I signed up…and still I was stumped. In fact, I agreed very much with a colleague of mine that it felt as if you were at a very cool cocktail party with very cool people who were talking about interesting topics, but you’re the nerdy wallflower in the corner making conversation with the guacamole – increasingly questioning what’s so “cool” about these folks after all.

And then one day, it all came together. I figured out which people I want to follow and started having more people follow me. I started to realize that Twitter is becoming a revolutionary way to share information and connect with like-minded individuals.

For so many reasons, I’m glad for my perseverance in these trends. Without them, I would have never known what happened to Becky Gordon – a childhood friend, or I wouldn’t have been able to track down my favorite college professors. I also wouldn’t have been one of the first to read today’s TIME 100 or been given coupons for free wine and cupcakes!

But even more important than that, I’m staying abreast of the way the world is turning. I’m not giving in to the tendency to find comfort in the familiar and discomfort (and therefore avoidance) in the new.

Quite honestly, I have no real desire to “be cool” anymore – I left those days behind at Rock Island High School. But I admittedly love getting to know about the trends and giving them a shot. Without doing so, I’d never be writing this blog. I would be able to email my friends. Heck, I’d probably still be trying to call all of you using two soup cans connected by string after sending a note to you on a stone-chiseled tablet!

Today’s Juicy Olive tip of the day: give the new a chance. You don’t have to embrace it. You don’t have to love it. But like those peas and spinach you just KNEW you’d never like, just try a few bites. You never know, it may change the way you view modernity. And if not, then when you’re knocking it, you’ll be doing so having been there and done that.

Want to follow me on Twitter? Please do! I’m @HarkerGirl and would love to tweet you!

 

Thank you, my friends, for my health! April 23, 2009

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Ringing in 2009 with the Chicago girls

Ringing in 2009 with the Chicago girls

This morning’s New York Times had an article that caught my eye: What are Friends For: A Longer Life. The journalist reported the results of a number of studies that found an increase in overall health for people who have an established and substantial circle of friends. Moreover, those with deep social networks had fewer incidents of obesity, longer-lasting brain health and a lower likelihood of unexplained death.

WHOA! So, what Tara Parker-Pope is telling me is that in addition to the silly vacations, champagne-filled afternoons, marathon phone calls and near-obsessive instant messaging, my interaction with all of you will keep me around longer? Hot damn!

My dear friends from college - Amy, Gina, Ashley and Becca

My dear friends from college - Amy, Gina, Ashley and Becca

I’m sure it seems a little sappy to the casual reader that I’m always gushing about my friends and how important they are to me. But this article backs me up! You all ARE important to me! And, as Lindsay always says, if you’re a true Juicy Olive, you pick your friends for the wonderful qualities they exude, the values we share and the promise of goodness to come. For my friends and I, that means independence, humor, honesty, integrity, intelligence and sophistication. What does it mean to you?

Amy and Charlotte - out way too late

Amy and Charlotte - out way too late

On this gorgeous spring day, say a little prayer, raise your glass, give a hug…take sincere action to thank the universe for the friendships you have and the health they bring to your world.

 

Striking a pretty pose with Stephanie

Striking a pretty pose with Stephanie

Good friends are good for your health.
~ Irwin Sarason

Colorado ladies livin' it up in Vegas

Colorado ladies livin' it up in Vegas

 

Claudia on Manners

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When we last met Claudia (our anonymous single gal making her way in the dating world), she was walking around in amazed stupor from her date with the guy who told her about “his first time” on their first date. Needless to say, she’s decided to leave that guy in the dusty trail she created while sprinting away from that evening.

Over the years, Claudia has had some zinger dates, and one of them was with Jeremy. They met via an online dating sight and after several email exchanges, agreed to meet at a local pub for a drink. Up until this point, Jeremy seemed very promising – up…until…that…point. In short, it wasn’t a good date and Jeremy was NOT a match, despite what the website would lead them to believe. The evening was a reminder to Claudia of how important basic manners were and why she was so grateful to have these core values:

  • Be on time: Even though Jeremy suggested meeting at 6:30, he showed up at 7:15
  • Be courteous: Jeremy called Claudia to let her know he’d be late…20 minutes late
  • Don’t chomp gum: Jeremy mouthed on a huge wad of spearmint gum the entire time 
  • Ask questions as part of conversation: Jeremy tried his hardest to make the whole discussion about himself
  • Don’t be rude: Jeremy made a whole host of racist and homophobic comments – not wise in an era of increasing diversity
  • Leave the money talk at home: not only did Jeremy provide Claudia with the exact details of his W-4, he also asked Claudia about her own income and said he was weirded out by women that made a lot of money

The list of lessons we could learn the hard way from Jeremy goes on. When Claudia shared this story with me, we were dumbfounded: it’s reasonable to assume that a knuckleheaded bigot like Jeremy hasn’t won any hearts recently, but where are the good matches?

One thing is for certain: Claudia has the right idea, and I’m proud of her for sticking with it. She knows who she is, what her values are and what she wants to achieve. She surrounds herself with people who share those values, and eventually she’ll find a winner.

Until then, we can be entertained by her neverending tales of modern courting…up next, Claudia’s date has a rap sheet!

 

Plat du Jour April 17, 2009

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Yesterday’s post about Morocco has me straight back in the medinas. I can’t get my mind off that trip today. So, I figured it may be fun to share a bit about the glorious cuisine in Morocco as a way to channel my memories and tempt your tastebuds.

The interesting thing about Moroccan food is that there are actually a fairly limited number of ingredients, but the way you work with them transforms even the most simple of items into masterpieces. I learned that one day at the charming cafe called Nid’cigogne. Just across the street from the Saadian Tombs, I sat and looked down at the street from the third floor terrace of this simple establishment. After climbing a steep set of stairs, I settled in at the table and gazed out at a couple of storks who were carefully guarding their nests – and potentially engaging in similar people-watching as I.

Storks spectating from above.

Storks spectating from above.

I had read that Nid’cigogne was a good spot for an authentic, yet simple lunch. Boy did it deliver.

Upon glancing over the menu I noticed very affordable salads, and so I assumed that they’d be an appropriate starter. I selected the sampler of Moroccan salads. As a main course, I asked for a beef kabob sandwich.

Seemed basic, and in many ways it was. But this simple establishment was clearly waiting to teach me a thing or two about what makes these basic dishes so remarkable.

First course: moroccan salad medly

First course: moroccan salad medly

The salad sampler was HUGE! Truly, I didn’t need any more food than that. For a mere $3, I received three different salads. One was a sweet carrot mixture – served at room temperature, the carrots were cooked al dente and dressed in a vinaigrette of bright olive oil, cumin, parsley, sugar and salt. Another was a cold rice salad with tuna. I honestly wasn’t sure if there were any other ingredients. As a result, you got the true flavor of the fish and the real texture of the rice. Finally, a classic tomato salad with roasted peppers, olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin and onion. All three were alarmingly simple, yet so flavorful.

Beef Kebab Sandwich with Fries

Beef Kebab Sandwich with Fries

Next up was the $4 beef kebab sandwich. There’s basically one kind of bread in Morocco: khobz. Cooked in a huge, wood-fired community oven, loaves are about 6″ round and 2″ high. They’re crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. At Nid’cigogne, they took half a loaf and stuffed it with perfectly grilled steak (juicy and charred) and shredded lettuce. That’s it. The fries were crispy and not greasy. I didn’t even end up using the ketchup, though I went heavy-handed with the mixture of cumin and sea salt served with it. The earthiness of the cumin and the sharpness of the salt brought out the natural flavors of the beef.
By the time I was about halfway through the sandwich and a few fries in, I was stuffed. And I was amazed. The ingredient list to make this meal was so simple. And yet I had so many flavors coursing through me.
While I’m clearly someone who is willing to go all-out for the meal of a lifetime, it’s critical that we all remember how much simplicity counts when pleasing our palates and getting back to the core of what makes food so good.
 

Moroccan Musings April 16, 2009

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Two months ago, I was in North Africa. Two months. I can’t believe that so much time has passed so quickly since that glorious adventure.

A typical hammam in Morocco - pay a surprisingly low fee to soak in the healing vapors in these gloriously appointed steam chambers.

A typical hammam in Morocco - pay a surprisingly low fee to soak in the healing vapors in these gloriously appointed steam chambers.

Two months ago, I was finishing up a hammam at Les Bains de Marrakech – feeling high from the rose oil and steam and orange flowers and sweet mint tea. Upon everyone’s suggestion, I booked the full afternoon of relaxation. For a mere $70, I received the works, including:

* A hammam scrub – wearing just my skivvies, I was soaped up with black soap, then scrubbed me down aggressively with a stiff mitt. This experienced “scrubbing lady” worked wonders: rubbing layer after layer of dead skin away – leaving me pink and clean.

* A 90-minute massage. Heavenly.

* A 30-minute rosepetal bath. Dreamy.

* A 30-minute nap. Indulgent.

* A plate of sticky pastries stuffed with almonds and drizzled with honey. Gluttony.

The way to find yourself in Morocco? Among other things, settle in at a rooftop terrace with a cold lager and a few blank pages.

The way to find yourself in Morocco? Among other things, settle in at a rooftop terrace with a cold lager and a few blank pages.

Two months ago, I was writing in a journal every day – recording thoughts, experiences, ideas and dreams. Within the pages of the journal, I decided to give the Juicy Olive a whirl – resolving that sharing my philosphy of life with others may just make a difference. I wrote about how shocked I was at the drastic misunderstandings we Americans have of the muslim world. I sketched pictures: little boys hammering metal into lanterns, women offering to paint my hands with henna and the old man with pliers and a jar of teeth offering to cure my dental dramas. I tallied the prices of my purchases: $1 for a pair of earrings; $10 for a silk and cashmere scarf; $100 for an antique wedding blanket; $90 for a camel hide pouf. I recorded the way the clear, dry sun felt on my skin and the way the preserved lemon smarted on my tongue. I jotted down words in arabic and wished that I could learn the ancient caligraphy of such a gorgeous language. I rushed to write down the little history lessons I acquired throughout the day. I spent a whole day writing in french and was pleased to realize how quickly it came back to me. I transcribed lyrics from songs that were programmed into my iPod that week – knowing that it was partly music, but mostly their association with that trip that made me so desperate to remember them. I pasted ticket stubs, receipts and business cards; leaves, petals and fabric into the pages – knowing that one day they’d make memories come a little faster, emotions return to me with very little effort.

Two months ago, I left a little bit of myself behind in Morocco – the unsure woman who feels burdened by some of life’s meanness. I came back with a new piece – the woman who is interested in showing the world who is boss and who knows in her heart that the good life is something everyone can have. It may not come in the same form for everyone, but it’s something that everyone deserves if they want it and are open to it.

Two months may have passed already, but I plan never to forget the times I had in Morocco. I want to keep finding new adventures to add to these memories. That’s what Juicy Olive is: a quest to share our pursuit of the good life and encourage each other to go the hell after it.

 

Foodgasm

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Remember when you’re a little kid and you hear someone talking about their recent crush, and they talk about going weak in the knees? And then in your early romantic years you THINK you’ve gone weak in the knees for that person you’re dating at the time. But THEN you actually meet someone who truly gives you that stomach-churning, joint-reducing, heart-palpitating, mind-blowing sensation that lets you know AT LAST what knee weakness is really all about?

Well, that’s what happened to me tonight. I thought for ages I knew what inventive cooking was. I thought forever that I was aware of the limits of the human palate. I thought I had weak in the knees on my kitchen speed dial.

How wrong I was.

Tonight, I went to Alinea. It saddens me that I barely know how to put into words the emotions I have about this unique culinary and dining and sensual experience. Everything from the flavors (who knew wax could be so important as a serving utinsil?) to the textures (frozen white pepper sorbet anyone?) to the scents (goat cheese, onion and rhubarb dessert on lavender pillow, please) – they wowed me.

I’m thinking of what a genius Grant Achatz is and how mesmerized I was by his well-oiled machine. I’m wondering if I’ll ever know anything as tasty as his food again.

More than anything, I’m hoping all of you Juicy Olives put pennies in your jar for whatever splurge makes you happy. Maybe it’s a meal at a dining mecca. Maybe it’s a brand new bike. Maybe you want a new keyboard to fine-tune your piano skills. Maybe you just want to take lessons to learn piano skills!

No matter what, please know that the greatest lesson I can take home with me tonight and the one I want to impart to you is that the splurge is worth it. It is worth every ounce of anticipation, excitement, planning, discussion, dialogue and stress. Take the plunge. Go for the thing that felt out of your grasp yesterday.

Reaching beyond what you thought was yours is so rewarding. It gives you that feeling of knowing what being weak in the knees is. It teaches you that you never really have had a foodgasm, and that the real ones are worth it – and faking it never is. It empowers you and makes you feel full. It gives you a sense of purpose and makes goals exciting, not dreadful.

You may not be interested in giving the poached pear with olive oil and eucalyptus vapors a whirl…and that’s okay. But I urge you to figure out the adventure you’re ready to take, and then stop thinking about it – just jump off the high dive. If you need a push, just ask. I’d be happy to give you the nudge you need to give yourself over to the ecstasy of self-indulgence.

 

Anticipation April 15, 2009

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I hear that Carly Simon wrote “Anticipation” for Cat Stevens. In it, she sings: “We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway…I rehearsed those words just late last night, thinking about how tonight would be.”

So, I can’t really relate to an  early 70s love affair to a rock star, but I can totally empathize with her emotional connection to her imagination. It’s so easy to romanticize an experience before its even happened. And then you’re rolling the dice: will the actual event live up to my dreams?

I’m putting all of my hopes on my anticipation proving me right tonight – Allison and I are going to Alinea, and I’m convinced it’s going to be one heck of a meal. I shared with someone that all of this daydreaming about my meal at one of the best restaurants in the nation has been the best foodie foreplay I’ve ever had. He agreed that if there’s ever a reason to get worked up about a single meal, Alinea has to be the restaurant with all the answers. 

And answers I will need, as I have so many questions: What will happen? What will I taste? How will it feel? What will I see? Will this be my only chance? How can I make my first time as meaningful as possible? Will I feel different tomorrow?

I know, it sounds as if I’m talking about a far more intimate experience than dinner. But, in my mind’s eye, this IS a far more intimate experience than your four-square meal. I’ve been told about a powder served for dessert that, when mixed with your saliva in your mouth, becomes a delicious salted vanilla caramel. I’ve heard rumors of a thin sheet of fruit – called a “transparency” – that makes fruit roll-ups look like prison food. I read that the sound is curiously controlled so you’re able to hear only the music and your conversation – not everything else.

In efforts to channel my energy, I’ve done the following things today:

  • 90 minutes of yoga
  • a 30 minute walk
  • extensive planning and re-planning of my evening attire, shoes and accessories
  • started then deleted about 15 emails to Allison about how excited I am
  • perused Twitter feeds to determine what people are saying about Alinea today

I really cannot wait to write about my foodie delight tomorrow. I hope the anticipation is worth it. Otherwise I’ll be doing 90 minutes of yoga and taking numerous walks around the block to overcome disappointment.

Let’s hope gluttonous karma is on my side.