What a joy true friendship is. I’m talking about the kind of friendship that is born in honest and open sharing from the soul, from the gut, from the heart, and from the mind. Friendship that allows two people to live hundreds of miles apart from each other and yet always feel very closely connected.
I am presently visiting with one of those friends. We last saw each other two years ago when she and her daughter passed through town and spent the night. Before that, we last saw each other when my daughter and I passed through town and spent a night with her back in June of 2004. Our previous connection had been in Naples, Italy where we met and developed our friendship over a period of a couple of years.
When we reconnect it is as though we have not been apart. We seamlessly pick up the loose ends of our relationship as though we had met for coffee just last week. There is a comfort and a power in this kind of friendship. There is no need to waste time in explanations. We look into each other’s eyes and we know where we’re at.
As we wrap our arms around each other in those first few moments of greeting, it’s like taking a warm, well-worn comforter off the back of the couch and pulling it snugly around our shoulders. Or perhaps like pulling that favorite old sweater out and pulling it on. It’s like sitting down with a cup of hot tea or coffee in front of a welcoming fire.
In friendships such as this we find strength and comfort to help us through those hard trials in life. We know that we can surrender and lean in without being judged or criticized. We can laugh together, cry together, pray together, and sit in silence together respecting each other’s presence.
I was truly not sure what prompted me to make this visit at this particular time. I arrived here late on Sunday afternoon after a seven hour drive. By bedtime, around eleven o’clock, we had talked ourselves tired! We had shared the rich and intimate details of “where we were at” as well as a wonderful home-cooked meal. The years of ups and downs, of joys and sorrows, of hopes and dreams – achieved and dashed – lay on the coffee table between us and spilled out across the carpet. We could see and feel the growth that had come to each of us through those experiences.
Monday dawned bright with sunshine and sparkling blue skies. I came downstairs full of sleep and found a note on the counter and coffee ready to go:-). She had gone to work for a few hours but was home by early afternoon. She found me sprawled on the deck of the pool soaking up some summer rays. She laughed delightedly at the picture I presented, content that I was so enjoying her beautiful home.
We spent the afternoon talking some more, getting into those kinds of details and clarifications that only women seem capable of seeking in their deep friendships. She is dealing with marital issues and so it is good to be there for her, to just listen and love her. It was an afternoon of joy and laughter and, yes, a few tears. We jumped in the pool a couple of times to refresh and restore not only our bodies but also our spirits.
Another wonderful meal later and still more talking. It’s as though we know we have this short time together and we need to get as much heart-to-heart in as we can. I introduced her to my web page and left her to read as I spent some time checking through her portfolio. She is an amazing interior decorator and creates incredible artistic finishes, including original murals, faux finishes, and awesome wall and cabinet textures in peoples’ homes.
And then the bomb drops. An email that shatters her heart. And in one instant I understand why I am there at this given time in her life. I can be sounding board and shoulder to cry on. I can offer support and some calming objectivity in the midst of chronic heartache. I can be the arms of God holding her as she cries. I can move in close and also give her space. I am friend.
Well I just don’t care what others may think, I think that eating really good food falls into the “self nurturing” category! There’s no denying that I am a “foodie”, whatever that may mean. To me it means that I take absolute delight and pleasure in eating exquisite food, especially when it is perfectly presented and superbly served.
So let me introduce you to GrillSmith of Tampa, Florida. My husband and I ended up there by “default”. Best default I’ve experienced in a long time! We were on a trip to Tampa (Musings- The Muse Is Back) and needing to go to Mass, we googled to find out which Catholic church was closest to the Westin Hotel where we were staying. We found Christ the King on South Dale Mabry Street.
Next in order was to google and find out what restaurants were close to the church. There were a couple, one name that I recognized from a chain across Florida and which I wanted to try, and the other was GrillSmith. (I remember thinking “Oh, that sounds like your typical ‘sports bar’). When we came out after Mass, we looked around and Richard saw GrillSmith just down the road. I had a moment of disappointment but decided it wasn’t worth making a fuss about. Was I glad!
When we walked in we were greeted by the hostess and the shift manager. The ambiance was low-light (not dark) and warm. It was very spacious inside and although it was quite full it did not give the appearance of being crowded. Glancing quickly around me as we were seated I noticed that there was a wide cross section of all ages: young people, young couples, families with children, older couples. Spanning the width at the end of the restaurant was an impressive bank of “grill stations”.
We were quickly approached by our server, Tom, who soon let us know that he had a sense of humor and a good sense of service. The menu was extensive but not overwhelming and offered such a unique variety of dishes that I was salivating moments into reading it. We needed more time to make our selections so Tom delivered the drinks and gave us our space.
Segments of the menu were labeled Small Plates (appetizers), Grilled Tortilla Pizzas, Fresh Salads, Fitness Plates, Steakburgers and Sandwiches, Pasta, Food On The Fire, Steaks and Chops, and Desserts. There were maybe five or six offerings in each segment. Each one sounded more succulent than the other. I would mentally choose one then read another and change my mind! Everything was so tantalizingly described.
We eventually narrowed our choices down, choosing to share an appetizer – Sticky Thai Wings (we chose the smaller portion; six rather than a dozen, and lived to regret it!!). You’d think that wings were wings? Not so my friends. Some wings are good, some are excellent, and some are pure heaven – as were these. They were served to us in the form of an artistic mini-mountain, abundantly drizzled with a sesame-honey sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds. However, because they had been marinated in a citrus five spice hot chili there was the most marvelous under kick to the overall flavor:-).
You remember at the beginning of this posting I declared myself to be a “foodie”? Well, my husband is the opposite. Don’t get me wrong; he enjoys good food, but he doesn’t “rave” about it! Some dishes elicit slightly more excitement than others for him but he’s mainly an “it’s fine” or it’s good” kinda guy when you ask him how his food is. Very, very occasionally he’ll pronounce a “really good” about the food.
By the time he’d finished his first wing he was “mmm-mmmm-mmning” it. After the second wing he was licking his fingers and said something like “gosh these are soooooo good” followed by “this sauce is reeeeally good”. And as he polished off his third (and last!!), he made a comment along the lines of “Babe, you must dip your bread in the sauce”. High compliments from the likes of my husband!
Our main courses arrived. Richard had decided on the Margarita Grilled Tortilla Pizza. It arrived sizzling and looking delicious. I think (I didn’t check this out with him) that he was a little disappointed when he saw it. Maybe he was expecting something a little more substantial looking. I know I was. But when he bit into it all disappointment (real or imagined) and doubt disappeared. He was back at that “mmm-mmmm-mmning”, and as he finished it I heard another, “This is reeeally good”.
My final choice had been from the Fitness Plates. I figured if I was going to indulge I might as well make it healthy indulgence! Tom served me the Avocado Salmon. This was the best grilled salmon I have ever tasted, and laced over the top of it was a divine crushed avocado and wasabi concoction. The salmon was accompanied by smashed cauliflower and fresh grilled vegetables. I have had mashed cauliflower before, and it was OK. This was another one of those “heaven” moments; it was delicious!
In between our courses and as I was enjoying each bite of everything, I had been discreetly eyeing the various dishes that were being served to our fellow diners. The presentations were wonderful and some of them quite curious. I totally forgot to ask Tom what the small bamboo baskets were piled high with something – delectable I’m sure. Perhaps a mountain of lightly battered calamari??
For the moment GrillSmith is only located in the Tampa area. I’ve checked out their web sight and there are five existing restaurants in the Tampa, Clearwater, Lakeland area. A sixth location will open up this fall in Brandon. I’m hoping that they will eventually expand out across the State. In the meanwhile, if you’re in the Tampa area don’t miss out on this fine and exciting dining experience. And for those who are wondering, prices are very reasonable for this kind of quality and service. (Our bill for an appetizer, two “mains”, freshly baked breadsticks, and unlimited soft drinks was $42.)
Many years ago, perhaps in 1981 or 1982, I treated myself to a short course in pottery. I was living in London at the time and worked in the area called The City. This is the financial district where all the major banks have their head offices and various supporting financial institutions and the London Stock Exchange are also located there.
An adult education program was being offered in a school near my office and one of the classes on the evening schedule was pottery. I have always had artistic inclinations and loved indulging my creative side. The course was only six weeks long and, because it was being offered within the City education system, the cost was very low. Pottery was one area of the arts that I had not tried and so I enrolled.
As soon as I touched the wet clay I was hooked. There is something both soothing and sensual about working with clay. I am a very tactile, hands-on type person so I was in my element. By the end of the first class I already had two pieces made and ready to dry. I could barely wait till the following week when we made another, slightly more complicated piece and also glazed our first work.
Upon returning to the third class I was ecstatic. There on a table sat two items with my name printed neatly on a label in front of them. They looked like something that I would buy in a store. They looked professional. One was a flat, rectangular, plate-size dish with a slightly raised, inch-wide border that I had glazed in a deep burgundy red overlaid with a black speckle effect.
The other was an eight inch tall cylindrical container with a lid that had a small loop handle on top. This I had glazed in a soft grey-blue that was slightly mottled in effect, even allowing hints of light green here and there. I had engraved the letter “R” in this piece because I had made it as a gift for my mother. It sits upon my hearth today.
I made several other pieces over the course of the six-week class. I gave them as gifts to my family members for Christmas. But the class finished all too quickly and nothing more was offered. I researched several other adult schools but found no more pottery classes. I felt as though I had eaten an appetizer and was still hungry for more – lots more.
Years went by and I moved back to Italy and life took a totally different turn. I remarried and started a second family at age forty and got a little lost in child rearing and home making. Years passed, other activities filled my life and I forgot about pottery until recently the hunt for a gift for a friend took me to a small art gallery and there was the sign: Pottery Class – any level, come and have fun.
I signed up in a heart beat and two weeks ago went to my first evening of working the clay again. It was as though I had never stopped touching this marvelous material. Clay is so malleable, so soft, so giving and forgiving. If something doesn’t go quite the way you expect, you just wet it down and start over. My heart was singing and I shaped and designed and created until my joy was on overload!
We used three different techniques and created three different bowls. Each one was very unique in shape and finished design. One was very smooth on the exterior but we cut out flower and leaf pieces and put them on rather like an appliqué. On another we engraved whatever pattern we desired. On the third one, which was very open and shallow, we created a textured finish on the top side and left it smooth underneath.
Tonight we went back to glaze our pieces. So many colors and finishes to choose from! I made each one different, but somehow either the color mauve or eggplant seemed to make its way somewhere onto each piece. My soul was very happy by the end of the evening. Now I just have to be patient. Our teacher will fire our pieces in the kiln tomorrow and they will be ready for pick-up on Saturday.
This was just a two-evening class. But before I left I spoke with the teacher. More classes are coming up and she is hoping to offer them on a regular basis. Thank you God, I need this kind of soul food. My creative muse needs nurturing on a regular basis.