Tag Archives: food

A Great Get-Away: Portland

Much as I like to think I’m an organized person, inevitably there are trips when I realize too late something that I failed to pack. Usually remedying the problem just takes a trip to the drug store for some toothpaste, or relying on the room’s alarm clock rather than my favorite travel version. But last weekend when I unpacked at the hip and wonderful Hotel Modera in Portland, as I was hanging up the cute tops I’d brought for dinnertime outings, I realized a more significant omission: the pants I’d planned to wear them with. And no, the casual blue cords I wore on the train just wouldn’t cut it.

Off to Nordstrom we went, where I scored a great skirt that filled the bill, plus a couple sets of fun tights to go with it.

So despite the fact that I don’t seem to have born with that love-to-shop gene that many women have, I ended up doing some prime tax-free shopping while in town. The extent of shopping I do while in Portland is usually inspired by  the great spirits available. Previous trips it’s included Aviation gin or one of the amazing eaux de vie from Clear Creek Distillery. This trip was no different, I also picked up a bottle of Ransom Old Tom gin at a downtown liquor store.

Instead of the shopping, what’s been drawing me to Portland most in the past few years has been work-related events. Preparing for and attending the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Teaching a class at In Good Taste. Doing a bit of promo for a cookbook, like my recent Gourmet Game Night event at Cafe Nell.

But last week’s trip was intentionally different. No work, all play. Finally a tourist in this city I so adore. At oh-dark-thirty the morning after Thanksgiving, my husband and I boarded the Amtrak Cascades train down to the Rose City. And we packed those couple days with great meals, meeting with friends, exploring the city in a relaxed fashion.

Little surprise that meals served as the foundation of our itinerary. Friday, after dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked across downtown to have lunch at Kenny & Zuke’s. I had once popped in here a couple of years ago, to pick up a bagel for the train trip home, but never sat down to try their famous housemade pastrami. Lunch was well worth the 30 minute wait, I tried the reuben made with that pastrami (instead of the traditional corned beef). It was outstanding, as was the simple potato salad alongside, light and flavorful, not drowning in mayo. Bob loved his PLT (pastrami-lettuce-tomato) sandwich, which showed off the pastrami even better.

Our post-lunch stroll took us through the Pearl District, where we found the Museum of Contemporary Craft, one of the new things I got to do on this visit. The small museum currently has a very cool exhibit featuring creative interpretations of “the book,” not to mention a really great gift shop with wonderful arty items. Our museum entry was gratis, thanks to the coupon in the Portland Perks booklet we were given when we checked into the hotel. There’s a special promotion going on now through December 20 at a couple dozen hotels in the area, with a 2-night stay you’re given the coupon book–to spur some of that tax-free shopping!–along with (believe it or not) a $50 bill to get you started. Details on the offer are here.

Dinner was a treat, a long-overdue trip back to Nostrana where Cathy Whims and David West have created a warm and welcoming room for enjoying comforting food that showcases Northwest ingredients with Italian sensibilities. Given that bounty of chanterelles the Northwest is experiencing this year, we tried the chanterelle trio: with farro and borlotti beans, in a leek sformato and baked with Scarmoza cheese in the wood-fired oven. All delicious. I recall in the pre-Nostrana days the degree of research and experimenting Cathy was doing to perfect her pizza prowess, so we couldn’t let pass a taste of her margherita pizza. I’d like to do that “Bewitched” wrinkle-wiggle of my nose to make one appear on my desk right now….. Outstanding grilled leg of lamb with tapenade and celery root gratin, scallops with rapini, a very delicate and rich lasagne verde, the entrees all shined. With little room left for dessert, we sated ourselves with the butterscotch budino (pudding) and a small scoop of vanilla gelato with Faith Willinger’s Tuscan chocolate sauce. Perfetto.

Saturday’s meals took us to Pok Pok for lunch and Paley’s Place for dinner. What’s not to love about Pok Pok? Aside from perhaps the chilly wait outside this time of year. But it made warming up at our table in near the bar that much more delightful. We skipped the beloved chicken wings, instead opting for some items new to me: muu sateh, Carlton Farms pork marinated in turmeric and coconut milk then grilled; the Northern Thai herbal salad; wide rice noodles with Chinese broccoli, pork and egg. So flavorful, bright, delicious. I’ve loved every meal I’ve had at Pok Pok.

Dinner was a little step back in time, I hadn’t been to Paley’s Place in ages, over ten years. I love the setting, the cozy house-turned restaurant on a quiet corner in the Northwest of Portland. Vitaly and Kim Paley have been taking great care of Portland diners for over 15 years, unstuffy and personable, focused on regional products cooked with a light hand, letting the ingredients shine. Carrot soup, local oysters, a sampler of charcuterie started off our meal with friends. I set with a classic for my main course, Paley’s rabbit ravioli served with chanterelles, bacon and butternut squash. Both husbands had the seared tuna, the fourth opted for beef tartare.

Oh, and carless in Portland? No troubles at all. We took a free MAX ride from the train station to the hotel, no more than 2 blocks to walk at either end. Dinner at Nostrana and lunch at Pok Pok made me think the Tri-Met system plans routes around the city’s top restaurants: no transfers needed from downtown and we landed no more than a block from either. (Major plug here for the Google Maps app I’ve got on my Blackberry, not only a great map tool but the “directions” option includes public transit, with reliable bus numbers and departure times…. LOVE IT!) The Portland Streetcar took us directly to the corner where Paley’s Place is found.

The only problem with this great weekend in Portland was that it was simply too short. But we’ll return before long to hit places we missed on this trip, like dinner at Country Cat, a stroll through the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, cocktails at Beaker & Flask. And maybe some more of that shopping!!

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Europe Adventure 2010: France and Italy

Home again, home again jiggity jog…… What a trip that was, three weeks so full and enriching and reviving that it felt like we were gone for two months. So I suppose we got our money’s worth. And our time’s worth. But it’s great to be home. Another sign of a good trip!! Great restaurants and stunning countryside, inspiring history and phenomenal markets — but in the end it’s hard to beat the comfort of being back in your own bed.

The view from our friends' home in the village of Pergo in southern Tuscany

Planes, trains and automobiles. Five different flights got us from Seattle to Rome, then from Paris back home again. Trains of varying speeds and spiffyness took us from Rome to the Tuscan countryside, from Florence to Nice (via Milan), then from the byways of Alsace into Paris. And in five days of car rental I motored over 800 kilometers from Nice to Arles, around the Camargue, through Burgundy and eventually dropped our Renault off at the Strasbourg airport where Alsatian friends picked us up.

Classic Alsatian flowers and architecture and charm in the town of Riquewihr

We went. We saw. We conquered museums, markets, meals, and miles and miles of countryside drives and city walks.

With nearly 1000 photos to organize and nearly as many experiences and impressions to try to capture, it may be a while before a cogent recap of this trip gets posted. If ever that really happens. But some off-the-cuff highlights and random thoughts.

a)  The color of the season in Paris is PURPLE in all its delicious shades: eggplant, cassis, violet, grape. Coats, sweaters, shoes, purses. And anyone who knows me knows that the last thing I pay attention to is fashion, so this had to be a pretty obvious one……

b) Pop-up music/performances abound in Europe. In Arezzo it was a small stage set in a town square with ballerinas practicing for an event of some kind, as we sat nearby on a restaurant patio having lunch. Sitting at a cafe in Paris near the Palais Royal, we were serenaded by a string octet performing beautiful classical pieces. On the Pont des Arts near the Louvre, it was an American high school band doing their thing. An all-time favorite Paris memory is being on the metro and a guy jumps on and starts singing Blue Skies, one of my very favorite songs. I will never tire of unexpected art of this fashion.

An impropmptu (and wonderful) concert, serenading our cafe lunch near Palais Royal

 

c) As might be predicted, our vistas when driving around the Tuscany countryside for a couple of days rarely lacked for an olive tree or two (or two hundred). The region surely lives up to its reputation for locally-made olive oil. But this was a surprise: I asked our friends about those lush fields of hip-high, vivid green plants with broad leaves. Would you believe that Tuscany is also a big producer of tobacco? Could have fooled me! And we saw lots of fields of it in our time there.

One of a few black & white shots I took inspired by a photo exhibit we'd just been to in Paris

d) In Florence we did go to the primo museums that every tourist really should visit: the Uffizi (with many special pieces of art, the highlight for us Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”) and l’Accademia (David). In Paris we skipped the Louvre and the Grand Palais, opting instead for the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation‘s exhibit of black and white photos by Harry Callahan (which inspired a handful of b&w shots following the visit) and the Musée National Eugene Delacroix in the home-studio the artist lived in literally around the corner from the hotel where I always stay in Paris (never having known the museum was even there).

e) I’d bet that a gelato a day can do as much for our well-being as any apple could. I didn’t quite get a daily dose but did indulge when I could. One friend directed me to the lemon gelato at Gelateria Carabe in Florence, another to the rich

Amazing artisinal gelato in Florence

 treats of Vestri also in Florence (I tried pistachio and vanilla there).  To be honest, though? Best gelato I had on the trip was at Amorino in Paris. Twice.

f) When in Rome, do as the Romans. And when in the Black Forest, eat a piece of Black Forest Cake!! A fun surprise addition to our itinerary was one day driving to, and through parts of, the Black Forest in Germany. I knew of course that Alsace is on the German border, but didn’t realize my friends’ home was so close as just 25 km or so from Germany. One day we headed that way and got a tiny taste of lovely German countryside, surprisingly distinct from the Alsatian countryside so nearby. I couldn’t NOT try the traditional chocolate-cherry-whipped cream cake while there. Very simple and quite delightful. Look really forward to going back and exploring the region more.

 

The real deal: Black Forest Cake, in the Black Forest!

Heavens. So many more pictures!! And so many more stories they evoke. But they’ll have to wait for another time. Hope you enjoyed this little sampling.

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On the Road: Kentucky

It’s probably just as well that the camera was still in my suitcase in the back of the rental car. Probably wouldn’t have been a good idea to be taking pictures while driving yesterday afternoon. There had already been a serious accident on I-64, a backup I’d soon be caught in. But I wish I could have captured a snap of those brown highway signs saying “Next Exit: Buffalo Trace Distillery” and Woodford Reserve and Four Roses. Truly a bourbon-lover’s delight, this place is. Though I hear folks come for the horses as well.

I’ve already learned a lot about Kentucky in my first 12 hours (part of which was sleeping in my cozy bed at Gratz Park Inn). The first culinary insight of note is that of “hot browns.” Never heard of this regional indulgence before. I understand the tradition is to toast some white bread and top it with a mound of sliced turkey (always) and ham (sometimes). Add a cheesy sauce, some sliced tomatoes and a couple slices of bacon, crossed in an X on top. Pop the pile under the broiler until it’s all bubbly, then dig in.

Chef Jonathan Lundy, owner of Jonathan’s at Gratz Park, helped introduce me to hot browns, telling me that it originated at the Brown Hotel in nearby Louisville. His version, which started my dinner last night, upscales the dish a bit, adding scallops. Rounds of toasted brioche are topped with sliced turkey and country ham, a sea scallop, a piece of bacon, finally tomato. The cheese sauce is pooled around the toasts. Delicious. In small doses. I can’t imagine making dinner of classic hot browns, as is the tradition around here.

My dinner mate and I split the fried green tomato salad, which was tasty, with its buttermilk dressing and garnish of crispy bacon (a theme!). Dinner was cola barbecued bison brisket for me (tender and really delicious) and peach glazed pork chop with grilled peach and cheesy scalloped potatoes (for her). Everything was luscious, tender, flavorful. For dessert the chef brought out a signature creme brulee that was flaming with a puddle of local bourbon on top. Quite a finale.

I’m off to explore some of the local spirits today, something I’ve been wanting to do for years now. Here was the little preview I found in my room when I checked in yesterday. Bodes well for a great couple of days before I head back to Louisville for the hard-core business part of the trip.

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Tastelessness

No judgement here. This isn’t about a person’s lack of fashion sense nor someone else’s questionable “did you hear the one about…” humor. Right now I’m eating a bowl of breakfast cereal that is familiar enough that I feel like I’m tasting it with each spoonful. The crunch and texture help me believe that it’s any other morning of breakfast ritual. All I’m missing is the flavor perception.

Some mean bug has settled in my head, clogging it in myriad creative ways. For the last few days, it’s meant I’ve been able to taste little or none of what I’ve been eating or drinking. I realized over dinner last night that it reduces eating to a mechanical exercise in mastication. It gets pretty boring after a few bites when those waves of flavor satisfaction aren’t in the picture. The bulgur pilaf had great texture to enjoy, but I missed out on the nutty flavor and the richness of the pistachio oil I’d stirred in before serving. The pork tenderloin’s stuffing of blue cheese and walnuts added more textural interest to dinner, but I could only barely perceive the sharp tang of the cheese’s character. Such a drag. Didn’t keep me from having strawberry ice cream after dinner, though! Some comfort transcends tastelessness.

I’m a little worried about the dinner party tomorrow night (a couscous reunion I’ll be writing about soon) and not being able to verify the flavors of all the various dishes on the menu. I’ll have to enlist help from friends for that. And trust the memory in my cooking muscles as I go through the motions without being able to smell or taste the progress.

This is quite a minor roadbump in life, to be sure. And actually kind of a fascinating one. But I am looking forward to getting back on the taste track here soon.

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Wine Pairing, Made Simple

I’m trying to keep an open mind about this….. I got a press release this morning about a new line of wines called Wines That Love™.  It sounds a bit odd at first, but read that as “Wines That Love [fill in the blank].” And you can fill in that blank with Pizza, Roasted Chicken, Grilled Salmon, Grilled Steak or Pasta with Tomato Sauce at this point (with more menu items to come). 

These new wines go down a path that nearly turns food and wine pairing on its head, selling the bottle based pretty much solely on what’s for dinner. No Wines That Lovethinking required. Chicken? Grab the bottle with the bird on the front. Novel, to be sure. But perhaps no more so than other labels that have taken any and all pretension or intimidation out of the wine-buying experience, such as the Mad Housewife label.

It might be easy to dismiss this as a sort of hokey operation, just skimming the surface of wine appreciation. Which, honestly, was my first reaction at reading the release earlier today. Interestingly, the Wines That Love wine director has quite a pedigree. Ralph Hersom is the former wine director from Le Cirque in New York, and before that he was at Windows on the World. He offers good tasting notes on the web site, discussing tannins, varietals, intensity, acidity. So for the initiated among those new wine buyers, there is a bit of an education to develop the future wine-lovers. And that’s certainly a plus.

I really am not a wine geek at all, nor do I consider myself to be a food snob. I did, after all, write a post about Tater Tots, and admit in another that I occasionally give in to a Domino’s delivery. More lowbrow disclosures are sure to come. On the subject of food and wine pairing, my MO is generally to not follow any particular rules but instead drink what I want with what I want. So I guess the whole guise of selling a bottle of wine tied to just one type of food seems more limiting than perspective-opening. After all that pizza may have goat cheese, artichokes and pine nuts, leaning more toward a moderately rounded white wine, maybe an unoaked chardonnay. Or it could be a pizza with lush tomato sauce, roasted peppers and coppa, calling more for a sangiovese or other medium to light red wine. The “drink this bottle with roast chicken and this one with grilled steak” premise just seems a bit simplistic to me. So much is variable.

But hey, if this is a means to make more people comfortable with buying wine, versus not buying it at all because they find it intimidating, I’m all for it. Maybe this is the right answer for a big cadre of new wine consumers. Company president Tracy Gardner states in the release, “My goal is to double wine consumption in this country by solving the most difficult issue consumers face, ‘what goes with what?’ Wine That Loves solves that problem.”

Perhaps it does. At suggested retail of $12.99, this certainly is an easy group of wines to experiment with. I’ll give a bottle or two a try when I can. Current distribution is limited to New York, Rhode Island, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maryland, D.C. and Massachusetts, according to their web site. If you live in one of those states, the site helps you track down a local retailer.

Cheers!

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A Food Life List

At the culinary professional conference I attended in New Orleans a few weeks ago, one of the most engaging and inspiring workshops I attended was called “Framing the Farmer: A Food Life List, Ten Food Experiences Before I Die.” The farmer in question was the eloquent, insightful, soulful Mas Masumoto-author of Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm, among other books, and owner of Masumoto Family Farm near Fresno, California. He had been a keynote speaker at our conference here in Seattle a few years ago and had us laughing, crying, doing some impromptu creative writing and generally feeling inspired about our day-to-day work. I’ll never miss an opportunity to hear him speak. He presented this year’s workshop with his wife, Marcy, and charming, talented daughter Nikiko.

I’ve not gotten on the whole “life list” bandwagon yet, so the idea of a food life list was a doubly new exercise for me. Masumoto spoke of the importance of setting these culinary goals for ourselves, in concrete, written, detailed form. He, naturally, used the perfect peach as an example, how mind-blowing it is to finally taste a juicy, aromatic, honey-like peach warmed by the sun after a lifetime of eating bland mass-produced fruit. It’s not about achieving perfection, per se, but more about the pursuit itself. It helps create dreams, goals, nudges us to want, and demand, more from the food we eat.

Before long the family was passing out sheets of paper they’d had printed up with “My Food Life List” across the top. Then, five minutes or so to start committing our own food life lists to paper.

I found my thoughts turning to destination related experiences: sitting in a small rustic chalet in an Alpine village, eating raclette that’s been warmed alongside a wood fire. Being in the north of Italy during porcini season (and I was specific here, it’s to be at a porcini festival for an all-consuming experience).

I guess my sense of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences is inextricably tied to place. In part, it’s geography. But more importantly about going to the source, changing my own surroundings so that I become more aware, more alert to the many dimensions of newness around me. Not just the bite of food going into my mouth, but the smells, the sights, the people, the mood and ambiance.

The thing that stymied me about completing my food life list that day-I only wrote down three of the recommended ten items, sensing that I’d failed an exam-was that I felt I couldn’t know yet what should be on my life list. I don’t really know what wonders of the culinary world I haven’t yet experienced until I cross them for the first time. It’s hard to know what we don’t know. 

What I did think about was the amazing food experiences I have had that would be life-list worthy. Near the very top of the list are bliss-out moments that include eating king crab on Kodiak Island in Alaska, crab that had been lifted from the frigid water not an hour earlier and cooked immediately shoreside in a gigantic pot over a propane flame. And strolling the bustling Via Tribunali in central Naples last spring, eating my first slice of honest-to-god true Neapolitan pizza in pizza’s birthplace. And I still have never tasted ice cream like that my girlfriend and I ate frequently (delicious, and it fit our limited budget!) on our 1985 trip to Turkey.

Only the pizza was a tangible goal I had on my mental “life list.” The crab and the ice cream? I didn’t know they’d be so rapturous, so delicious, and ultimately so fully burned into my permanent food memory until after the fact.

Near the end of their presentation, Mas Masumoto and his family handed out special little plastic covers for our life list notes, magnetized so to easily display on our refrigerator at home, proclaiming our goals for all to see. Because mine is just those wimpy few goals at this point, it’s on the fridge, but down low, away from line of sight. I’d like to proudly present all ten goals front and center some day.

So, here’s my proposition. Maybe we can all help each other with our food life lists by passing along a few of the life-altering, blissful, once-in-a-lifetime food experiences that you have experienced and know other food lovers would relish as well? I can’t wait to read your suggestions. I may add them to my own list and move it to a more prominent position on my fridge.

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Back to NOLA

I leave bright and early tomorrow for a week in New Orleans, where I’ll be attending the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. I’m on the board, so being at the conference is something of a command performance. But I’ve only missed one conference–San Antonio, for no particularly good reason–in the 16 years I’ve been a member. It’s a highlight of my year.

 

Returning to New Orleans for this year’s conference is big in a number of ways. Topping the list is support of the city. Conference groups much larger than ours have been patronizing NOLA for months now, but I don’t know that a food-focused organization has made a major appearance yet. It’s our honor to be giving back to the community well beyond our hotel and restaurant dollars. Different sectors of the organization, from food photographers to cooking school owners, have devised ways to give back through a range of activities. As a whole, we hope to all encourage food lovers to return to New Orleans in support of those people working so hard to rebuild their lives. K-Paul's bandAnyone reading this who’s within a crawfish-toss of New Orleans might want to consider attending one conference highlight open to the public: our Gumbo Giveback on Saturday evening April 19, benefiting the Crescent City Farmers Market.

 

For me, this is a nostalgic return to the site of my first conference as a member of IACP, back in 1993, which was also my first trip to New Orleans. I’ll never forget piling onto a bus for a pre-conference tour that took us into the surrounding region for a food tour. It was maybe 9:30 in the morning and we were all handed small paper bags of fried pork skin. They are serious about their food at any and all hours of the day in this part of the world! Our host was Paul Prudhomme, which was a huge treat. A phenomenal introduction to the area.

 

At the time, Emeril Lagasse had just a couple of restaurants there in town–Emeril’s and NOLA–and had just started (if memory serves right) his first show on the Food Network. He had not yet shot up to the stratosphere of culinary stardom. I’d had an interview with him early in the week for Simply Seafoodmagazine and returned for dinner another evening. It was a who’s-who of customers that night, including Julia Child. Mr. Lagasse was nonetheless incredibly gracious and kind to this fledgling magazine writer and editor; I remember he brought me a small glass of brandy to help relieve the discomfort from a raging cold I’d picked up. (I had the chance to meet with him again on a trip he’d made to Seattle a few years ago. The security detail was new, but he was the same warm, friendly, engaging chef I remembered.)

 

Enough with the reminiscing. I did make a quick trip to NOLA last fall for meetings in advance of the conference. It was good to reconnect with the city. The French Quarter/Riverwalk core where we spent most of our time was in fine shape, no visible remains of damage. The only visible hint of hurricane aftermath where I went was the random closed shops; many folks have chosen to leave town if the prospect of rebuilding overwhelmed. A friend from cooking school days works with Paul Prudhomme and we met for dinner one night at K-Paul’s (where he and I had lunched back in 1993; I had their Cajun Martini both times, a tasty tradition). He’s an upbeat guy, but the toll of Katrina was still in his eyes, and in the lower, slower tone of his voice when describing the previous months to me. His own home was thankfully not severely damaged. But the damage to the city, to his friends and family, colleagues, the psyche of his hometown–the ripple effects are clearly there. And it’s why even where you don’t see damage, there isdamage. Slowly rebuilding, slowly turning the corner, slowly regaining that “laissez les bon temps rouler” attitude. But they still need help. (This photo is one of the colorful caricatures from K-Paul’s. Up above is a shot of the band that paraded through the restaurant during dinner.)

 

Irene’s was a crazy-busy place, loud, bustling, too many bodies, not enough R & O'schairs. So frenetic I’m afraid I don’t much recall the dinner specifics. The next night we ate, thanks to deep-inside information, at R & O’s in nearby Metairie. So low on the radar, I can’t find a decent link to offer. No-frills, all the way. This photo gives you an idea. Napkins off the roll, baskets of saltines, bottles of Tabasco, eating with your fingers, deeply friendly service, pitchers of beer, an old boxy TV in the corner,  amazing seafood (a nearly empty plate of garlic shrimp below). Ask a local once you’re in New Orleans and surely someone can steer you in the right direction. BUT, it’s important to ENUNCIATE clearly. Or you’ll end up at Arnaud’s, a far fancier spot in central New Orleans where you’ll probably have to behave yourself.

 shrimp

I would give anything to be able to share a couple of other photos with you from that trip, but nightime shooting outdoors just didn’t work out. We walked one night to dinner at Irene’s after a reception at Bourbon House, both in the French Quarter. It’s like some civic stage manager yelled “cue the parade” as we wended through the streets. Out of nowhere came a marching band leading a crowd on a wonderful brassy march, tossing beads. Later on our way back to the hotel, we happened upon on a less touristy, far more arty parade that clearly was celebrating Day of the Dead. Large fabric and papier mâché figures, skulls, skeletons paraded through the quieter streets of the Quarter, bobbing gently to more somber but still spirited music, akin to that of a jazz funeral. It was mesmerizing.

The city is still mesmerizing, surprising, delicious, delightful–if operating at some fraction of its earlier level of frenetic energy and joie de vivre. But it’s coming back. Long as we all continue to return to the city, those who live there can work toward returning to their lives, many of which so bitterly disrupted.

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