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. 🙂

chipotle

200px-Chipotle_Mexican_Grill_logo.svgWhat can I say about Chipotle that I haven’t said before? How can I pay true homage to the wondrousness that is them?

It’s the rice, really. I never thought much about rice in a burrito before, but it’s amazing. And while I know cilantro isn’t everyone’s thing, I love the lime in the rice. It makes the whole thing yummy. Also, I’ve recently become addicted to the medium salsa. Spicy, but sinus-clearing. 🙂

Before you wrinkle your nose about the insane caloric count of a Chipotle burrito, let me say this: I never eat one without budgeting. As a Weight Watchers convert, I don’t believe in deprivation. When we deny ourselves our favorite foods, we’re doomed to failure, sooner or later, in our healthy eating goals, because it’s just about willpower, then, and not about developing good habits. So I have Chipotle, not every day but now and then, and without guilt. With a bowl of cereal for breakfast and a low-carb, low-cal lunch, a Chipotle dinner isn’t anything to worry about.  (Just for the love of god, watch out for their chips. If you want them, go ahead but keep in mind that a single chip serving is the same as eating half a chicken burrito. Personally, if I want chips, I get Baked Tostidos at the grocery store.)

And I have such nice Chipotle memories. It was a Chipotle in Manhattan where the fabulous Amybeth showed Amy and I her engagement ring that first time. It was a Chipotle here in Amherst where I told my brother and sister-in-law that, well, there was a guy I kinda had a thing for, and that I’d tell them more soon. And a few years later, it was another Chipotle in NYC where we went the night after our engagement, out with family and friends. (Amy, you were there then too. What is it with you and Chipotle and marriage?)  Coincidence, yes. But all nice ones. Chipotle, I’m not going to go so far as to give you credit for the many nice things in my life, but I will say, you’ve been good to me.

putting a ring on it

Yesterday was three months to the wedding (we like counting down to things, if you couldn’t tell) and we celebrated by going to Jared’s to pick out my wedding ring. As a side note, there’s an experience for you. You walk in the door and they insist on taking you on a tour of the facility, even when you say what you’re there for. “Our company was founded in blah blah… here our our watches… our corporation has a strong commitment to excellence… these our our newest pieces…” Yeah, I don’t need the tour. I was in this place all the time when it was a Don Pablo’s. Unless you’ve still got the tortilla chip warmer in the back, I don’t need to see anything else.

So then they sit you down and start showing you rings with enormous stones on them, even though you said you’re just there for a band, and even though your fiance has already bought you a ginormous and if I say so amazing diamond and sapphire ring that, frankly, weighs down your finger enough already. My ring is awesome, and I will say that, even if it’s bragging.  I’m going to include a picture here, too, because damn it, that’s one of the perks of being engaged, imho. 2011 11 28 001As my cousin said once, “When you’re engaged, it’s pretty much all ‘Let me see the ring’ and “When’s the wedding?’. No one is going to ask you about much of anything else during that time, so you might as well enjoy it.” And I do. Dave had this made, with a stone he picked out specially, and it means the world to me. But, I’m an LM, and I’m not looking to add more bling. Just a band. At Jared, however, they must give you a tour of the diamond mines first; it’s required.

Finally, after our trip through the catacombs ended, they found us a very nice and simple band that is just what we were looking for, and that matches the one I got for Dave. It’s funny. I’d thought about skipping a wedding ring entirely, but in the end, I wanted one. I started thinking about the ceremony, and that nice moment when I’ll put the band I picked out for him on his finger, and I want him to do the same for me, on mine. What that moment symbolizes means everything to me. Honestly, we could use ring pops, really, and it would mean the same thing.  But these will last longer. 🙂

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.

three days and three years ago

Dave and I met each other for the first time three days and three years ago. It’s also the day we fell in love, became a couple, and our lives together began. It was not, however, the day we started being friends. That happened much earlier.

We met on the Internet. But we didn’t meet, you know, on the Internet. Not in the dating-site kind of way. We met on something called a newsgroup, or Usenet, that an alarming number of you probably weren’t alive to see or weren’t aware of at the time. Back when the Interwebs Was Young, folks liked to talk to each other about their favorite subjects, just like they do now — but there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no web sites, really, just text, and so, via newsgroups, you could post about your favorite topics, shows, what have you. They’re still around, sorta. And you can read the archives of them on Google Groups. But the point is, back in the day, there was nothing for a couple of The West Wing fans to do but to lurk around the alt.tv.the-west-wing newsgroup, in order to get their weekly post-episode fix. I used to post these weekly recaps of a sort, called “Random Thoughts”, after every episode. Dave, it turns out, used to read them. One day he contacted me, via email. He asked to borrow some videotapes (ha!) I had, of past episodes. I let him (I confess, a little reluctantly — I hate lending my stuff) and we started emailing each other. One day we started calling each other, too. And then, for about ten years, we emailed, called, and eventually texted each other, a lot.

Yes, I said ten years.  I looked forward to those emails every day, and I loved talking to him for hours. The years went by and nothing changed, and then one day in 2010 I realized he was my favorite person in the world to talk to. That I loved the sound of his voice. That I missed him when he was away, or busy. That I was jealous of the idea of him being with another girl. I told my best friend, Tom, and he pointed out the obvious, that I had feelings for this guy, and that I needed to do something about it. He was right. So about a month later, I did.

Dave was pretty dense and didn’t get what I was trying to say to him until I’d hit him over the head with it, but he came around fast, then. A few weeks later we saw each other for the first time, there in that airport, and by the end of that day I knew I wanted to love him forever. Luckily, I gather he felt the same. So now it’s three years and three days later, our wedding is four and a half months away, and forever is already here.

And that’s how we met. 🙂

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.

Finally?


The other day someone asked me “what’s new” and, of course, I answered by saying I was getting married this fall. This was a person I don’t know that well, and only in a work-related context, but I’m excited about getting married, and freely admit that I rarely miss a chance to talk about it. So I said, I”m getting married”, and she replied, “Oh, finally!”

Finally?

photoI know, right? I’m withering on the vine, here. A spinster. Long past the point where I’d given up hope, of course. My hope chest itself was covered in dust and stored away in the attic. I’d been thinking idly about taking up crochet and getting a few more cats, maybe playing some mahjong. Someone should give Dave a medal for taking me on, aged though I am. It’s like when Taki says in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “We never think this day would come!” Finally. Who says these things? Does no one think before they speak anymore? I think even she was a little chagrined at her slip because the rest of the conversation was rather awkward and couldn’t have been over quickly enough for either of us.

Look, I’m a thousand times happier now that I have Dave in my life. I feel like the luckiest person alive. That doesn’t entirely mean that therefore my life was miserable beforehand. I was okay. Nowhere near as happy as I am now, but okay. I would have been okay, too. I wasn’t languishing around feeling worthless because I didn’t have a man. So I don’t know that I like putting it that way, because it makes it sound like the reason I’m happy now is that I finally have someone, not because I finally have Dave.

So, finally? Well… yes, in the end, even if not in the way she meant it. 🙂

This is really happening, isn’t it?

This weekend I went to buy wedding shoes. I drove myself over to a local place called “Dyed to Match”, based on a shoe I’d seen on their web site. I don’t like heels and my dress is the perfect length right now, so I wanted ballet flats. I tried them on in my size, and those were tight; going up a size, they fit fine. Five minutes and too many $$ later (put “wedding” in the name of anything and it costs twice as much, apparently) and I was done. Some people might think they’re a little plain, but they’re comfortable, and honestly, if my shoes are what anyone’s looking at that day, I’m not doing something right.

But something about buying the shoes got me thinking.  It feels different now, somehow. I realized today it’s that I finally feel like a bride. Oh, not about marrying Dave — I knew I wanted to do that by the end of our first date. But the wedding part. The bride part. I don’t think I felt like it was really happening until now.

It’s weird because it’s not like this was a significant step (pun intended) or anything. We’ve been planning for a while now. We’ve done tons. I’ve been to bridal shows, read bridal magazines, spent too much time on The Knot. We’ve got a place, a judge, food, music, a photographer, a huge wedding party with tuxes and dresses (and shoes, come to think of it), flowers, a cake. We have a pianist, invitations, a finished guest list. I have a dress hanging in my closet, a tiara on the shelf, and a veil on order (why is it taking so long?). We have a spreadsheet that lists in meticulous detail every last thing we need to do for the wedding (it’s Dave, of course there’s a spreadsheet) and it’s not that long anymore. So why is it that buying this shoe (well, two shoes, really) is the thing that finally made me realize it’s not all just a fairy tale? We’re not just talking about what-ifs. We’re not making up a nice story. On that day in November we really are having that wedding, at that hotel, with all our friends and family, and the flowers and the dresses and the foods. I really will be walking down that aisle to that wonderful man, and having a first dance, and cutting the cake, and hearing toasts. Me. I’m getting married.

I never, ever thought I’d be the girl in the pretty white dress, and I never thought I could be this lucky, but I get it now — I really am. Who needs a glass slipper? Apparently my plain white shoes have magic powers too.