Socially Awkward Woman’s Foodie Tour #2

Three words: Family Style Dining.

One of my friends decided to initiate a couple of us into this restaurant culture this past weekend. Being a Southerner, I’m accustomed to the meat-and-three concept, but this turned out to be a whole new level of food insanity.

Upon arrival at our food oasis, we put our name on the wait list and went to shop. We wandered through an array of Southern kitchen merchandise, around a large fountain, past a moonshine store (from which wafted a dizzying odor of pure sour “I’m made to get you in trouble”), and right into a store befitting a comic con. We were just perusing the selection of Harry Potter, Marvel, and DC bobbleheads when the text came that our table was ready. Re-entering the food oasis, we were immediately directed to the escalator.

I love riding escalators, but I require the concentration of a neurosurgeon to get on or off safely. (If anyone had been watching me, they would have seen me staring hard at the moving steps waiting for just the right moment to place my uncoordinated foot, which is attached to an even more uncoordinated body, onto just the right step.) Mission accomplished! I was following my friends up the moving staircase to dining heaven where I promptly had to concentrate again so that I wouldn’t be launched off the escalator onto the floor or into the wall.

Arriving at the host counter, we were greeted with proper Southern hospitality, and we stepped off to the side to wait and watch while tables were cleared and families came and went from the dining area. Those arriving were eager and chomping at the bit. Those leaving less so. After a few minutes, we were led to our booth which was wonderfully situated. The restaurant is actually on the second floor of the building, and the outer wall is almost entirely glass. Our booth was right next to the glass so we had a fantastic view of the fountain, the stores (including the aforementioned moonshine facility), a Ferris wheel, and the people. First, however, we had to get down to serious business – the food.

It’s a simple enough concept. You have a single page menu from which to make your selections. Once ordered you sit back and enjoy the bread and the view. It took a few minutes to make our selections. We settled on fried chicken, fried boneless pork chops, and meatloaf covered in cheese sauce. For our sides, we selected green beans, macaroni and cheese, creamed potatoes, and creamed corn. I decided to try the peach tea while one of my friends gave the flavored lemonades a whirl. Then the bread arrived – a mile-high cheesy garlic biscuit and a cornbread hoe cake saturated in butter. (I really wanted to lick the bread plate when I was done, but I settled for pressing my finger onto the crumbs and licking them off that way. Manners disappear when the food is that good.)

Then (drum roll, please) the meal arrived. Serving dishes and bowls of meatloaf, pork chops, fried chicken, potatoes, beans, corn, and macaroni and cheese were all placed before us. I don’t know if my mouth was hanging open, but my eyes were definitely as big as saucers. Here began the family dining shuffle similar to Thanksgiving. Do you want meatloaf? Have you had the beans? Would you like some corn? The dishes and bowls went round and round as we filled our plates.

I don’t know where my manners went, but it’s safe to say that gluttony beat them down into a little dark corner of my soul. I attacked the food on my plate like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. I don’t know how my friends ate, but I’m fairly certain that I just went to a happy place in my head and pretended that no one could see me. Meatloaf and pork chops had never made me so happy, and I would gladly have eaten the potatoes and macaroni and cheese straight from the bowl – without sharing.

Then partway through my second plate, my body began to protest. “Are you sure about this?” It seemed to ask me. “Maybe you should slow down.” It suggested. Being a bit older and a touch wiser than I used to be, I agreed and pushed my plate back and put my fork down for a moment. I sat there thinking that a break was a good idea, but all I could do was stare at the meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. I wanted more so I cut the break short and continued eating. All the while, my jeans protested against my ever expanding belly trying to politely, but insistently, explain that they weren’t made to stretch that far. My stomach clearly wasn’t made for it either because I actually became queasy when my dessert was placed before me. I stared at it trying to figure out how many bites I could swallow, and I finally settled for scraping the top portion off to be eaten while leaving the crust.

Only after the bill was paid and we were leaving the restaurant did a truth come home to me. My friend had tried to tell me, but I hadn’t truly understood her. That place had escalators because there was no way under heaven a person could walk down steps after that experience. Yes, boarding and exiting the escalator still required my utmost concentration, but at least I didn’t have to worry about missing a step on the way down and taking out the beach themed display before tumbling through the front window. (For the record, I wish they would move the moonshine place as it is an assault upon your already overwhelmed senses when you have a full stomach you are trying to keep at peace.)

Until next time, keep it awkward.

How Do I Unplug These Things?

“…I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you — especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, came broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you — you’d forget me.” [Mr. Rochester]

“That I never should, sir…” [Jane Eyre]

~Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

I have loved this scene since the moment I first read it because I find something universal in the imagery. I don’t think that a string between hearts or souls is restricted to romantic relationships. Rather I think our lives consist of a whole set of strings. There is one for each person with whom(?) we have ever interacted. Some of these strings are thick and strong as steel, and others are as weak as cheaply made thread. Some are firmly attached to other people, and others have been severed completely. The strength and durability of the invisible string is dictated by the condition of the relationship.

Those dearest to us are connected to us by powerful yet flexible cords. Those of passing acquaintance are connected to us by slight and filmy threads, and there are innumerable people connected by strands somewhere between strong and weak. Worst of all are the unattached pieces. Those strings don’t belong to loved ones who have died because we are all still strongly attached to those who have gone before us. No, the free floaters belong to those who have hurt us the most — or who we have hurt the most. Free floaters are the unforgivens. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t forgive, but I am saying that we often file hurts away as lessons learned so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Likewise free floaters consist of our own unforgivens in which we have harmed someone else who can’t forget. These severed pieces float and tangle among our other heart strings as reminders.

Mostly today I am thinking of strong and everlasting connections. My career transition has pulled me out of one group of friends and into another where I have begun forming new strings. I don’t want to lose my connections with my old friends, but those relationships are being modified by time, distance, and changing roles. I have never played a string instrument, but I imagine tuning one to be something of an art form. The strings must be tightened or loosened to just the right degree for the perfect sound to be produced. I believe heart strings to be much the same. They must be finely tuned as well. Sometimes they need to be tightened for support, and sometimes they need to be loosened for exploration. Only by keeping an eye on the condition of each can the correct notes be played.

I find myself in a situation with my heart strings. There are people with whom(?) I have always been tightly bound to since they entered my life. Now I am discovering that life is asking me to loosen the strings a bit because we need to move a little distance apart. The strings are still strong and durable, but the sounds needs to change with flexibility. Right now I’m loosening the strings where I know it is necessary, and like Mr. Rochester, I’m concerned that I’m “inwardly bleeding.” However I’m not going to bleed out entirely, and like Jane Eyre, “I never should” forget those recipients and caretakers of my heart strings. We just need a little freedom of movement to improve the sound.

Socially Awkward Woman’s Foodie Tour #1

The whole career transition has left me needing a break from my everyday life so I spent a recent day in the company of really good people. Somehow there is nothing more reviving than spending a few hours with friends away from your regularly scheduled life. I’m not certain why I forget this, but I do — every time — until I’m with my friends. Then I become acutely introspective and thankful that God has graced my life with such warm, wonderful, confidence-giving women. I have never possessed the strength of self-confidence. Pigheadedness aplenty! A wish to make others believe in themselves is like a need for air and water. But I have never loved myself, and I believe that’s why God has brought particular people into my life to prove two things to me:

  1. I’m worth being loved by someone outside my own family because friends choose to love you instead of feeling obligated by blood.
  2. I need to love myself by choice as well. I don’t have to excuse my faults. Rather I need to work on my faults, but I need to learn to love myself.

So this somewhat sentimental beginning brings me to the foodie experience I had with my friends on Saturday.

Be honest. If many of us are facing an awkward situation, it’s always better to have our friends along for the ride. I love trying new restaurants, but being an S.A.W. (socially awkward woman), I always prefer company in a new place. One of my wonderful friends had picked a Japanese & Mongolian grill as our dining establishment for the evening. Right away we discovered that playing the newbie card was necessary. As we waited to be seated, we puzzled over the layout of the restaurant. Grill to the left and grill to the back. Tables, chairs, and booths between. We were trying to figure out the pattern here, and I don’t mind saying that I felt my Southern redneck was showing in my confusion.

When a host approached us to be seated, we were asked if we wanted the Hibachi grill or the Mongolian grill. That was when one of my (not socially awkward) friends played our first newbie card with something along the lines of “we don’t know because we’ve never been here before.” After a brief, if still slightly confusing, explanation, we settled on the Mongolian grill. After ordering our drinks and staring at the menus, our server returned, and I decided to play the newbie card. After telling him we had never been there (and displaying the universally confused look), he graciously explained the concept.

  1. Here’s your metal bowl – fill it with all the meats and/or veggies you want. (I won’t lie! I felt a little like Rover being sent to find my own food.)
  2. Here’s your metal ramekin – fill it with the mystery sauce of your choice (Because everyone wants to stand in the front of a line of people while tasting new and interesting — possibly mouth searing — sauces.)
  3. Here’s your name card – write your name on it, pick your side from the handy dandy photos, and keep up with said piece of card stock while juggling previously mentioned Rover bowl and ramekin.
  4. Now I send you off into Mongolian Grill-Land!

Hmmmm….now here’s where you start observing other people, and if need be, you chat them up a little so you don’t feel like a totally ignorant foodie. I watched as everyone in front of us packed and organized their Rover bowls, and then I stepped up to the meats. Looking back now, I see that filling the bowl is an art form. It’s a finite space, and you have to fit everything you want them to cook into Rover’s little feeding dish so put some thought into it.

Now being an S.A.W., I just wanted to get through the line without being noticed so I just carefully but quickly piled up my raw chicken, mushrooms, broccoli, and cabbage and sidled out of the way. Still being an S.A.W. just moments later, I had zero interest in sampling multiple sauces before deciding which suited my Southern meat-and-three palate so I just picked one that sounded good by name and swung for the invisible fence. Honey citrus sounded sweet and tangy so I put some in the little metal ramekin. (I’m really glad now that I only filled it halfway because the previously assumed sweet and tangy had a slightly heated kick in the end.) Finally I slid my Rover bowl, sauce, and name card to a kind looking gentleman at the Mongolian grill, and I made my way back to the booth with my friends.

As we sat waiting for our food, we all commented on how oddly bereft we felt without our little Rover bowls. It was as if we had gone to the buffet, filled a plate with our favorite things, and left it for someone else to enjoy. However the payoff came only minutes later when all three meals arrived hot from the grill, and we proceeded into contented food-filled silence.

I can almost hear some of the laughter now. As in, how has this woman not been to a place like this before? Does she live under a rock? Well, no, I live inside a brick house in a medium-sized town in the South. My view is this: It’s a big world, and some of us are blessed to experience a lot of it in our lifetimes, and that’s exactly what you should do. However some of us only get to experience little pieces of that big world a little at a time which means most of the time we live in a really small world. And that’s okay, too, because that’s all some of us get to do or want to do. I don’t judge either way.

Socially awkward or not, I just accept my little Rover bowl as graciously as I can. I’ll fill it with all the good things I can get in there — big or small. But I’ll remember not to compare it to anyone else’s because after all, it isn’t their Rover bowl.