western new york eats

In November, it is with a heavy heart that I will leave behind family, friends, Wegmans… and all of the wonderful foods of Western New York.

Of course Long Island has a great many things to offer. It has diners, which are convenient and comfortable. It still has Chipotle, thank goodness. It has the best take-out chicken parm we’ve ever had. And of course, it has Dave, which makes all the rest entirely moo. But it can’t compare with the eateries back home. Buffalo has crappy sports teams, an ugly unusable waterfront, lousy schools, snow (though not really that much more than anywhere else) and a bad economy. But it also has seriously good eatin’, and a lot I’m going to miss.

I’m not much of a chicken wing fan, really, but I enjoy them every now and then. Dave loves them (I’ve been assured access to them is not why he’s marrying me). Here in Buffalo we make wings really well — they started here, after all. I knew that, but I didn’t really appreciate it until I saw what passes for wings somewhere else. Yikes. How small were those chickens? And stop breading them, gross! By the way, they’re chickens. Not buffaloes. Why would anyone call them “buffalo wings”?

Personally, I think we have great pizza here, too. New York is known for it, but theirs is the thin-style crust, and not so much to my taste. I like the really cheesy gooey kind, not deep dish but not paper thin, either. And of course then there’s bingo pizza. No bingo is complete without bingo pizza.

Beef on weck is hard to find anywhere but here in Western New York. You can get good beef, I imagine, but not the rolls. I don’t eat it often, but I’m going to miss having the option to do so.

All Buffalo natives revere is Mighty Taco. it’s very hard to explain, if you’ve never had it. It’s nothing like Taco Bell, nothing at all. But it is like someone took Taco Bell and made it not crappy and not disgusting and really, really good. It’s cheap, quick, everywhere and yummy. Mighty, long may it rule.

Moving away from fast food, there are just so many great restaurants here, Irish, German, and Italian. Sean Patrick’s has been a favorite of ours for the past few years — the nice booths in the bar, the potato soup. Our first date was at a wonderful place called Mulberrys, a hidden gem down in Lackawanna. It used to be a “best kept secret” kind of place, but I think everyone’s heard of it by now. It doesn’t look like anything from the outside, but inside it’s delicious and romantic. The meatball is enormous and the homemade lasagna is so good… and I’ll never forget that first night Dave and I went there and he held my hand for the first time.

chefsBut hardest of all to leave is my favorite restaurant of all, Chef’s. I’ve always loved it there, the red-checkered tablecloths, the fishtanks, the pictures on the wall. I remember going there with Mom in the year before she was gone, and what a nice time we had. Or with my cousins, Kate and Em, when they were little. And all the times Dave and I have been there, sharing noodles Lady-in-the-Tramp-style. It’s a special place for us. I mean, spaghetti parm alone — it’s one of a kind. And then there’s just something about being there, about how it’s always busy and bustling and full of people out having a good time. It always makes me happy.  That’s why we decided to have our rehearsal dinner there, and I’m so glad — one last Chef’s dinner out before I go. 🙂

at the curb

In preparation of the move, I’ve been getting rid of things. My curb has seen a bizarre rotation of everything from scrap metal to an old gas grill (gone in five minutes). For me, it’s been oddly refreshing.

It seems like the older I get, the less crap I want to have around. Less clutter. Less things. I’m not going minimalist or anything, that’s for sure. I will still be filling up a big ol’ U-Haul in November, with furniture, boxes, books, things. But I’ve been slowly disposing of, recycling, and giving away as much as I can, and it feels good to be starting a bit fresh.

Some of it is about getting older. I mean, just how long was I planning on keeping my high school jacket from 1986? It’s old, beat up, and I’d never be able to fit my arms in it again, let alone the rest of me. Same for the award for the thing I did I can’t remember, and my sophomore yearbook, and the clock that used to hang in my bedroom when I was a kid (long broken). These days I feel like a thing is… just a thing. The people I still have in my life, those keep moving forward with me. But things don’t. They might have sentimental value, but only what I give them. And I find myself wanting to look forward more, and back less.

Some of it is from going digital. CDs, boxed up or gone, as they’ve been burned onto hard drives and back up drives and in the cloud. Movies, at the very least de-cased and boxed. Some of my books, too; I did a purge and got rid of anything I know I’ll never read again. It was three huge bags (that went straight to donation), but I’ve still got two full bookcases. Sigh.

And lastly, it’s about making room. Not just physical room, though we are going to have less of that than I’m used to. Anyone who has had a basement, and then not had a basement, knows what I’m going through. But in a way it’s more than that. Dave and I are starting together, now. I want space for new things that are just us. Space on the walls and space in the closets, sure, but also just space for anything that means something to both of us. That’s worth making room for.

Worth remembering

I’ve been thinking about my mother more this past year, as the wedding and the move gets closer. There are times it’s very hard to do all of this without her. There are times I know she would be very happy for me, and there are times I acknowledge that the move would be a lot harder for both of us, if she was still here. But all of that, I know, is perfectly natural. I know I’ll think of Mom on my wedding day, and I’ll probably think of her even more when I drive away from the house we shared. It’ll be hard, but it’s okay. It’s supposed to be, in a good way.

What’s hardest to remember about Mom, though, isn’t okay — it’s the times things were so awful for her, so difficult. Her life was harder than it should have been. Don’t get me wrong: she would have been the first one to say that she had a lot of joy, and a lot of love. But she deserved less heartache, less loss, and less fear. She kept so much of that from me when I was a younger. I didn’t know how poor we were, how tough we had it, how precariously we were getting by. She took care of me, and she was scared so I didn’t have to be. I asked her how she did it, once, and said I was sorry she’d had to worry about me, and not just herself. She said having me to take care of was what kept her going, and what helped her. I hope that was true. I hope I helped.  I told her as often as I could that she did good, that she made sure I had what I needed, that I knew she’d always done the best she could with the absolutely shitty hand she’d been dealt. I hope she believed me, but I know, like all of us, she still looked back with hindsight, castigated herself for not doing better, second-guessed her every mistake.

So I have to imagine if I could see her for just one day, or have just a minute to tell her one more thing, it wouldn’t end up being about my wedding dress, or about the tuxedos I chose because they’re just like the ones worn at hers, or the dinner we picked out that was one of her favorite meals. I’d want her to know all those things, but more importantly, I’d try my best one more time to make her realize that she was the best mother anyone could have asked for, and that she needed to stop blaming herself for sins that weren’t her own. Those are what’s worth remembering.

B4… and after

One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday night is bingo. Laugh all you want, but sometimes, you just gotta dab.

bingoJust to be clear, I’m not talking about fancy-shmancy bingo. Not Canadian bingo, or casino bingo, or reservation bingo. Nope, I’m talking oldey-timey church bingo. Specifically, we frequent Blessed John XXIII, in West Seneca. Bingo is on both Saturday and Sunday nights, but we prefer Saturday. Also this particular table, near the front. If you know anything about bingo, you know it’s all about ritual, and this is church bingo: you don’t mess with the ritual. We go (early), we get our table, we buy our boards. We get our bingo pizza. We set out our dabbers, we prepare for the first game. At intermission, it’s back for bingo pizza again, usually a fresh drink, and then we’re in for the second half. It’s a great way to spend a couple of hours with friends, for about $20. While winning back your investment would seem to be a reasonable or occasional possibility for some, I, as a matter of fact, have never won. But I’m really there for the pizza anyhow, though I am quite fond of my handmade quilted bingo bag.

So on any given weekend that’s where you’ll find us: me, my cousins, sometimes my aunt, and sometimes our various significant others (yes, including Dave — he’s got a very distinct dabbing style). While it’s true that there is sometimes a little too much gabbin’, and not enough dabbin’, we always have a great time. Bingo is a great opportunity for people watching, and, let’s be frank, people mocking. Bingo is a great self-esteem booster: at any given time, you’re often one of the youngest and hottest people in the room, though it’s true the competition is slim pickings. And while sometimes we’re a little mean, we’re also at least self-aware. When you go to bingo often enough to recognize the regulars, after all, you’re a regular too.

And damn it, in a few months I can’t go anymore.

I love Dave. I love our home. And Long Island has a lot of wonderful things, but bingo is not one of them. Not my bingo, and not with my people. Soon, no more snickering at O69, no more checking the balls, no more bingo pizza. If you see me drawing sad little pictures with my glitter dabbers, home on a Saturday night, all I ask is that you take pity on me and yell out “That’s a good bingo!” every now and then. It’ll cheer me up for sure.

Will there be cows?

I hate moving. I hate going through the accumulated detritus of the years, I hate worrying about having enough boxes, I hate packing the boxes, I hate stacking the boxes and living with boxes, I hate needing things that are already in the boxes. All of it. I’ve moved more times than I wanted to, and I swore I would die in this house, but then some guy came along and got me feeling all mushy and now I’m moving again. Or rather, we’re moving. There are, as a matter of fact, two charming creatures that are less happy about moving than I am.

WHAT DIS MOO-VING? WILL THERE BE COWS? MOO MOO COWS!!! COWS WHY U NO TALK TO MEE?! MOM I THINK WE STAY RIGHT HERE OK?

WHAT DIS MOO-VING? WILL THERE BE COWS? MOO MOO COWS!!! COWS WHY U NO TALK TO MEE?! MOM I THINK WE STAY RIGHT HERE OK?

For the record, I am sure Fred and George are going to love their new home. The stairs, the patio doors, the fireplace, the breakfast bar, the sleigh bed. I can’t wait to show them. But they’re going to hate the move. The packing, the boxes (well, George likes boxes), and the craziness right around the wedding. And, most of all, moving day: being in their carriers, in the car for the long drive, and then a new place, one that may seem scary at first.

People ask if I’m talking to the boys about their upcoming move yet. The answer? Fred, yes. George, no.

Fred and I have had a few chats. I tell him about the amenities (particularly the enclosed gas fireplace, which was a non-negotiable condition of move) and discuss game-day strategy. Fred is calm and unworried about the endeavor. He has minions to do his worrying for him.

George? I don’t want to scare him. He’d just be confused. I don’t think he remembers that there’s anything else out there, other than his house. I think he thinks the windows are just one big television program with not enough birds and cars going by too quickly and Outside Kitty (belonging to our neighbors) who occasionally appears as if from nowhere. This would explain why he turns and looks at me sometimes, as if to say, “Put the channel with the birdees on, Mommy.” So no, I haven’t told him yet. I’m wondering if he sleeps most of the ride, I can get away with telling him we just built new walls and changed the channel. I think it’s worth a shot.

90 days and counting

As of today, I have 90 more days at my job. I’m not counting weekends or holidays or vacation days I have already approved. Just actual work days, and there are 90 of them to go before I leave for… well, I don’t know yet.

sealI’ve worked for the Town for 14 years altogether. Especially since leaving the museum, which was always enjoying a precarious existence, it’s been a stable, secure job with good benefits, one I’ve been grateful for. A job that allowed me to stay in my home when my mother died, and to support myself since.

Leaving a job without another job lined up is scary. The only other time I’ve ever done it was way, way back, just after college. I was working in a grocery store as an assistant manager and doing okay, but we got a new manager who was, to put it politely, a total jackass. He refused to treat me fairly and I gave my notice and left, without anything else in the wings. I found something after a little bit, but more to the point, I was in my early 20s, and living at home, with a little bit of a safety net, and *still* it was scary to walk away from a job. Now? It’s terrifying.

I shouldn’t be scared. I’m not going to be on my own. I’ll have Dave, and I know he will make sure the kitties and I are okay no matter what. Contrary to what some people think, I’m not expecting him to work more to support me, or to become one of the Real Housewives of Smithtown. I’m going to get a job, one that helps with the bills and gets us health insurance. That’s the plan. It may not happen as quickly as we like, but it will happen. And I know it’ll be okay until it does. We’ve talked it out, and planned, and it’ll be fine. So I shouldn’t be scared… but sometimes I still am.

In the end, sadly, we’re always our mother’s daughters, aren’t we? The lesson I learned from my mother’s example is that you can’t count on anyone else to keep their promises, and you can’t count on someone else to take care of you. You have to do that yourself. So quitting my job and moving to a place with one of the highest costs of living in the US, and trusting this guy who put a ring on my finger to be there for me and my furry guys? It seems a little crazy, on the surface. Except that, luckily, the one thing I did *not* inherit from my mother, or any of the other stunningly bad examples I’ve had in my life, is her bad taste in men. Thank goodness that when it comes to that one particular trait, I’m nothing like her. I picked the best guy, hands down, anywhere. Dave always, always keeps all of his promises, and I can trust him with anything. That’s why I’m marrying him.

I’m still scared, and I probably will be as those 90 days wind down. Change is hard, and changing something that’s as big a part of my life as this is huge. But I know it’s going to be okay. A very nice man promised me so.

Going home

Every time I leave on a trip for Dave’s, I’m always surprised in the best way possible how nice it is. Not the seeing him part, of course. I’m never surprised by that. But let’s face it: even though I’m an old pro at traveling by now, it’s still a hassle. There’s the packing, the last-minute-item packing (contacts! phone charger!), figuring out however I’m getting to the airport, will the flight be on time, will I be sitting next to Beelezebub, will I spill Diet Coke all over the place, will they lose my luggage. Then there’s the commute back to the house, and finally, we’re there, hours of preparation, one 50-minute flight, and a couple more hours of travel later. So while I’m excited to go every time, I’m always anxious about the travel, and I hate to leave my kitties, and I hate to leave home. But every time I get there, every time we walk in the door, then I know I am home, again, and it’s wonderful.

(Except for the lack of kitties here, and that’s just for a little while longer.)