Category Archives: Tete a tete (That’s French for “dating”)

Eat, Pray, Poach

What with one thing or another, this weekend went by without a moment to spare. My column for the co-op was due, which in itself is enough to keep me blissfully engaged for 72 hours. For every column, I develop a new recipe, test it 2 or 3 times, write my heart out, and take a bunch of pictures. In this case, I made a wonderful French dish, which I won’t say more about until the article is out in February. However, the detail crucial to the arc of my weekend is that I must have poached, medium-boiled, and soft-boiled about 82 eggs.

Food photography is not yet my strong suit. I went to Ace to get a flood light, hoping it would help me take salacious pictures, but it only threw a red-orange light on everything, and it certainly didn’t get better when I knocked it off its makeshift ledge and broke the bulb on the floor. C’est la vie! Julia Child, if you were born in the digital age, what would yooooouu have done? After you mastered the art of French cooking, would you have mastered the art of blogging about it? In the end, I scored best with those pictures taken in natural sunlight. (Click on it. You know you want to.)


In addition to making a infernal mess in the kitchen, I also met my favorite gals for our short fiction discussion, attended back-to-back holiday parties, and went on not one, but two dates. Remember those?

I ended up at a strip-mall cafe in a suburb I don’t recall sipping Ethiopian coffee with a computer systems analyst. My philosophical disposition was already understood, so he asked me a ton of questions about my understanding of relationships. I responded with even more questions, deconstructed the whole yin/yang affair, and felt like I applied the Socratic method to dating as we reached the limits of our provisional knowledge. I suspect I wasn’t so graceful, though, when I stepped out of the cafe, looked around, and asked, almost incredulously, “Now… where are we?”

Better yet, I also ended up drinking tea at cozy and dimly lit Uncommon Grounds with an intelligent, curious, and curly-haired psychologist with a PhD. He had read my blog before we met, and one of the first things he said after we sat down with our tea went like this. “I told my friend I was meeting Carrie…” (pause, given that this is my name), “like Carrie from Sex & the City. She might write about me!” It was clear he was being playful, although I also decided then and there that his statement would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. (wink)

We had a nice, slow volley of a conversation and I liked his habit of alternately looking at me or staring pensively out the window at Hennepin Avenue while he spoke. Before I knew it, we were done talking and he was kicking my butt in a board game I had never played before. If dating isn’t enough to keep you on your toes, trying playing a breakneck game of Bananagrams while you do.

I suppose there are some things in life, like poaching eggs, snapping pictures, or playing board games while dating, that a girl’s just gotta learn how to do.


Life on My Own Terms

Lately, I haven’t been writing as much as I want to. Since I moved, I’ve been spending my time unpacking, painting, and finding all the right things I need for my new/old home. I also go to the gym, hang out with my friends, work from 9 to 5, freelance after hours, and try to follow my favorite blogs, catch the news, and read at least a few pages of good fiction before bed.

It feels like I’m always busy. To maximize my time, I haven’t been cooking in my usual style. I buy the same few things from Seward co-op and cook simply, almost sparely, with no fanfare and rarely a picture taken. No dinnertime Tweets. No facebook updates again declaring my love for beets. Just the simple act of making myself something to eat.

The other thing I haven’t been doing lately is dating, which puts a cramp in my favorite habit — going to restaurants. As I describe in my tagline, I love writing about how the city, dating, and food come together in amusing ways. For the last two years, I filled many posts with my renderings of boy meets girl and they go out to eat. But somewhere in the middle of my extended experiment with sociability, something inside me shifted and I pretty much lost all interest.

Do I want to find someone to spend my time with? Of course I do. In so many ways, I think I’m meant to be in a relationship. But at this point, the possibility feels so remote, I can only look at other people’s relationships and marriages with “bemused incomprehension,” to use a phrase from Tim Kreider’s wonderful post at the New York Times. He calls marriage and parenthood “an entire dimension of human experience undetectable to [his] senses.” When I think about relationships, and dare I say marriage, I imagine a vast foreign country I may never get to visit, usually somewhere near Morocco, with beautiful, distant horizons, rare luxuries, exotic spices, roasted flatbreads, and a mutual love so sweet even the hardships are painfully romantic. But if I close my eyes, I can almost feel it.

In some ways, I’m not concerned about the sizing-up, reckoning-day thing Kreider calls “the referendum,” where the personal choices we make in life are discreetly judged by the people we know. If I were, I’d be actively hunting for my perfect partner and trying to build four happy walls around us both. I’d also be checking the dial on my biological clock and wondering why I seem to be immune to its ticking.

In other ways, the referendum has come to visit. Hell, it’s set up shop in my heart and I rarely think about anything else. For me, the referendum is about personal fulfillment and finding the resolve to confront a bewildering abstraction that lives right in the middle of my life. Some people find themselves through marriage and children. Some through buying a house or a condo. Some through making a dent in the corporate world. I’ve learned that I will fully become myself through the act of creativity. For me, before anything else, I’ll be satisfied once I find my personal expression and get it out there in the world.

I just need to figure out what that is. I see a manuscript, a menu, and some old table linens. Flowers flirt together in a small glass vase on the table. I’m writing and editing at my own desk and cooking in a big kitchen. There’s open windows and exposed brick. There’s also an exhilarating sense of freedom because I know that the life I’m jealously peering into is my own.

In Case Anyone Asks

Although I can see how the conclusion might be drawn, I certainly didn’t grow up in the kitchen. I didn’t eat long, lavishly home-cooked meals at the table with my family. We ate things like meat, potatoes, corn, and peas and seasoned our meals with salt, pepper, mustard, and ketchup. The division of labor in the kitchen was just as simple as our food. My mom cooked every one of our meals. My dad’s only job was to show up, mash the potatoes, and eat.

It wasn’t until I was in my first relationship that food naturally became a major part of my life. Unlike my parents, my partner and I built a strong bond through food. We subscribed to a CSA and experimented with cooking based on whatever vegetables the farm sent our way. We ‘d bring backpacks from our apartment in Bed-Sty on the train into Manhattan to load up on groceries from Murray’s Cheese, the Chelsea Market, and other specialty stores. We’d reference our favorite cookbooks (primarily Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), write down our original recipes, and play Beatles records while we perfected the sauté.

One day, his mom asked me where I learned how to cook so well. I was so surprised she asked this question that I didn’t know how to answer. Somewhere along the line, I had learned how to cook.

I often ask myself why I like cooking so much–and every time I come up with at least 12 answers. Here’s one of them. Cooking is something I can commit myself to.


I think about that fantastic scene in Julie and Julia when Julia Child, played so joyfully by Meryl Streep, and her husband Paul first arrive in Paris. Over an impossibly charming dinner, she emphatically poses a question to her diplomat husband about how she will spend her time in France: “But what will I doooo?” she implores. All she knew was that she loved to eat.

The rest is history, I suppose. Child committed herself to cooking, transformed her life, and fundamentally changed American kitchens.

So in case anyone asks, that’s why I love cooking. Creativity, passion, and determination all come together when you set out to cook a wonderful meal. It’s also something wonderful to doooo.

W.A. Frost and the First Snow Fall


In one of his short stories called Winter Dreams, Fitzgerald perfectly describes the scene that fell on his hometown of St. Paul this weekend. “The days have become crisp and gray, and the long Minnesota winter has shut down like the white lid of a box.” photo(2)

Intrepid gal that I am, I didn’t let the first big snow fall of the year box me in. This weekend, I hung out with friends at 20.21, The Craftsman, and Riverview Wine Bar. I caught the British Advertising Awards (tell me please, what’s the big deal?) and the new Woody Allen movie. I walked to Nina’s twice, once to meet Nathan for breakfast and book-shopping at Common Good. The second time to meet a new gal named R, who proved to be a fast friend with a considerable interest in the city. I also went to the gym, made soup, did lots of freelance work, and bought a new sweater at Macy’s. (Remember, there’s always free parking on Sunday!)

As if that wasn’t enough for one weekend, I also had a second date with PS. Last week, we met at Eli’s and had a nice time chatting at the front table by the window. On Sunday, he called to ask me out again. Rather than the usual back-and-forth that can be so characteristic of these situations, this guy simply said, “Hey, I made a reservation for us at W.A. Frost at 7.” Now that, I love. No asking. No dalliance. Just good, old-fashioned datemaking. I graciously accepted.

But Frost? Truth be told, I was hesitant to go to there on a second date, given that it is fabled to be the epitome of romance. But when the dating gets tough, I suppose the tough get dating. I flipped up my hair, put on the new sweater and my snow boots, and crunched my way there in the snow.

282977658_bee1fd19ac_oI know that W.A. Frost has won many awards for its food. I know it used to be one of those creepy old pharmacies. I know Fitzgerald probably stopped by for an ice cream and a bottle of Coke, and that perhaps Nina herself used the corner of Western and Selby to pick up some of her brothel’s clientele. But as beautiful as that patio, high ceiling, and lovingly restored interior is, when I’m at Frost, I just don’t feel like I belong there. Maybe I’m a little too much like Fitzgerald, living in flat after flat, moving from town to town, not so sure whether to accept or reject the landed gentry living it up in all those prestigious Summit Avenue homes. Or maybe I just need to spend more time at the bar rather than the dining room.

I finally confided in my date. “It feels kind of . . . pre-theatre in here, if you know what I mean.”

“Of course I do. We’re the hippest people here,” he said, not missing a beat.

And so it goes. To date well is to be a curator of moments, collecting those that stand out and tell a story about an individual. I liked this particular moment. It said he understood.

I ordered pan-roasted Norwegian salmon with goat cheese risotto, bloody mary consomme, and petite herb salad. Everything about this entree came together nicely, especially the moat of consomme around the meal. PS ordered braised Fischer Farms pork belly with sauteed brussels sprouts petals, Vine Valley Farms butternut squash and miso broth, bacon-braised grits, and pickled pear. He also spoke highly of the bright rim of orange squashy stuff that surrounded his meal. The thing I like about Frost’s traditional plating is the always unexpected line-up of ingredients that accompany it. Bloody mary consomme? Pickled pear with a squash miso broth? Having a meal at Frost is a little like finding a wild outfit in your grandmother’s stately closet.

The entrees, though, were mere appetizers to the extraordinary dessert that followed. We shared a Meyer lemon cheesecake with gingersnap crumb crust, toasted pine nuts, Ames Farm honey, and candied Meyer lemon zest. Woo boy. I’m a lover of all things savory, and this dessert was almost like a third entree that was satisfying on so many levels. “Make sure you get a pine nut,” PS said. No problem.

I think I’ll be returning to Frost to sit on the patio in the summer or to meet the bartender, who seems to have a good reputation. I’ll be using it as a wine bar that has a most impressive list from around the world. I’ll be sitting by the big bar windows to watch the snow fall in such a lovely part of town. It’s a perfect winter spot, which also reminds me why I like the snow. It’s fun to say goodbye in. PS and I parted gracefully on the street corner as I donned my hat and walked back home.

W.a. Frost & Company on Urbanspoon

Girl Meets Cafe. Boy Meets Girl.

If I were in pursuit of a cafe that resonates with me on many levels, it might go like this.

SWF, 33, seeks cafe that works hard by day and dresses up well at night. Friends consider me a discriminating cafe-goer, so I hope you are an open-minded, comfortable place to spend hours on end, have free Wi-Fi and ample electrical outlets, and don’t look at me funny when I come to the counter three times in one afternoon.

I get along best with cafes that have a reverence for dark coffee, substantial deserts, and vegetarian-friendly meals for those cases in which I overcaffeinate myself and need to eat something before I pass out. I consider myself aesthetically driven, so please offer a civilized respite from my busy day. Major bonus points if you have an appreciation for wine and art.

gigisfront If Gigi’s Cafe in south Minneapolis were to reply to my ad, I would fall in love with it on almost all accounts. Except for one. Gigi’s does not have free Wi-Fi. It’s such a bummer, I know, but as we single gals know, you can’t hold out for absolutely everything in your soulmate. Major two-way compatibility is key, and beyond that you need to look into your heart and accept the other for who they are. In this case, Gigi’s is a wonderful cafe that’s versatile enough to sling your morning coffee, support your mid-day freelance work, or offer a flirtatious backdrop for a romantic date. And there ain’t a thing wrong with that.

I showed up at Gigi’s at 7:30 earlier this week to meet RP, a fellow with whom I was having a first date. I got there a minute early and placed my cold-weather accoutrements on a chair to get organized. When I looked up, he was coming in the front door. We recognized each other and shared one of those implicit flashes of relief that quietly says you are interested in this person you just discovered before you.

He got a chickpea spinach salad and a chocolate brownie, I got a peach three-berry cobbler, and we both ordered a glass of Malbec from the satisfying wine list. I chatted up the girl behind the counter who let me know that Gigi’s is the name of the owner’s grandmother. The owner also runs her own coffee distribution company that keeps a number of local businesses well caffeinated. RP then joined in and said he knows the woman who manages the kitchen. I was intrigued. He paid for our food and drink, which we lined up on our arms like good servers and went to find a seat.

It turns out that RP used to work as a bartender and server, so he had plenty to say about food and local restaurants. He is also studying to be an urban planner, so we spoke at length about the Twin Cities, the built environment, and things like the flâneur (“a gentleman stroller of city streets”) and psychogeography. This common ground offered many twists and turns in a long conversation full of digressions and regressions, like a long walk through the winding back streets of St. Paul and up the hill again.

Before we knew it, the house lights came on, the chairs were turned onto the tabletops, and we had to gather our things. I said that it didn’t feel like a Tuesday night. He said, “No, it feels like a Saturday.” What a surprise to find a cafe and conversation good enough to make even a humble weeknight feel like weekend. On the street outside the cafe, I somehow came to shake his hand,  holding it in both of my hands like I was lightly patting a snowball.

Gigi's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Almost-Vegan Date with a Side of Mixed Emotions

Level: Intermediate

Active time: 6 hours

Servings: Two

Ingredients: 1 man. 1 woman. Many good intentions and a healthy dash of ego.

Directions: Mix everything together and hope for the best.figs

Ten minutes ahead of schedule, DW called and said “I’m standing outside by a beautiful cathedral.” That meant he had arrived, so I went downstairs to let him in. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile, and with the prospect of this dinner date, there was a good spark in the air that continued throughout the evening . . . or at least most of it.

Given that our connection was new and we weren’t eager to define anything, we never put any terms to our relationship. I knew he had a date earlier in the week, so I was planning my playful inquisition to get some of the details. I would wait until the end of the meal.

For the night’s menu, I instinctually decided to use figs as my guide. They’re so sweet and sensual, and on some level I thought their history as a sacred fruit might appeal to a literary bohemian who doesn’t eat meat or cheese. And I was right. He even got nostalgic when he saw the package. He said he used to eat figs all the time, but considered them empty calories and decided to eat nuts instead. Go figure. He also eats eggs raw because it is faster and healthier than cooking them. (And with that disclosure, he suspiciously seems like a guy who has no need for a chef-girl in his life, dDSC00846on’t you think?)

One of my favorite food combinations is white beans and sage, so to start, I made pan-fried white bean fritters. I mixed a batter of flour and cornmeal with cannellini beans, peppadew peppers (I love those things), and sage. I pan-fried it by the tablespoon on high heat. With a dusting of salt, I had a flirty fall appetizer. Share, dip, repeat.

To dress up the sacred fruit, I made fig and fennel pizza starting with a creme fraiche base that included lemon zest, cinnamon, cayenne, and a little sugar. On top of this base, I added fennel (sliced thinly and caramelized in balsamic), steamed spinach, figs, garlic, and rosemary. This combination proves strange enough to get anyone’s attention but satisfying DSC00850enough to be eaten indiscriminately.

Toward the end of dinner at what seemed like an appropriate juncture, I decided to say, “So? How was your date?”

He paused. “Do we have to talk about that now? I think we should just enjoy the moment,” he said, diving back into his meal.

Uh oh.

Nutritional information: On a short-term basis, the undefined Almost-Vegan Date is very good for you. Long-term potential should be defined in traditional terms for maximum health benefits.

Planning an Appropriate Dinner

I had a long and productive late-night conversation with DW last night, and at the end of things, we decided we’re happy to continue seeing each other. “You know what this means,” I said. “I’ll have to make dinner for you.” The connection between us has been fun and carefree. We’ve gone for walks and attended book events, but not once have we been to a restaurant or shared a one-on-one meal. If he could, he might live on literature alone, with a big side of guitar.

One night at his place, he decided that he wanted to fix us a snack. In a few minutes, he showed up in the living room of his apartment with hummus (“Egyptian homos,” he said like an American, pointing to the package and laughing, imagining a group of gay men from Egypt), pita, and a few stalks of raw asparagus poking out of each of his clenched fists. This was an endearing moment, standing next to his canon of serious books like a happy kid with something to share. He gave us three stalks each.

“I’ve never really ate raw asparagus,” I said, more surprised than anything. He enthused about its virtues, telling me to chew it for a long time for better enzyme action, and apologizing that he accidentally bought white pita. What a curious guy, I thought. He’s not all that interested in food (and doesn’t eat cheese or much meat), but he is concerned about whole grains and discussing the finer points of digestion.

So back to last night, as I tried to fall asleep, mostly wide awake and disoriented from the late call, I put aside the bigger questions of the evening and wondered what this guy might want for dinner.

How to Make a City Love You

How long do you think it takes for a city to get you with its charms? When I lived in Manhattan, it happened the moment I walked out of my apartment and realized that Bleecker Street, Washington Square, and two-dollar falafel sandwiches were just around the corner. I was so excited. It was so easy to live at large.

When I lived in Chicago, it took longer to feel that connection. My job was located in the deep burbs (equally as inhospitable as the “deep south”) and I spent way too much time in my car. It wasn’t until I got to know a particular urbanist, Joseph DuciBella, that I was let in on the secrets of the city and started to feel truly at home.

If we created a simple list of charms, the Twin Cities wouldn’t easily stack up to the rest of my geographical resume. But still. After three years of living in St. Paul, I feel an almost surreal sense of having been here a long time. When I went to Manhattan, it was about a degree. When I went to Chicago, it was about a relationship. This town has been all about me. And that, of course, is an education unto itself. I feel like cultivator, layering people, stories, and experiences together in a way that makes sense to me. It helps that I have a cool job and great friends, and also that I am single. A few bars, neighborhoods, and restaurants have quickly become classic, and both cities feel like a foundation on which we all can do most anything we please. I often see people I know, and the baristas serve me without asking what I’d like. In MSP, everything always overlaps. I feel like I’m starting to live at large again, but this time in a totally personalized sort of way.

To make a city love you, you must first fall in love with something it offers. I started with those things that seemed special about MSP: coffee shops, co-ops, and Magers & Quinn. I’ve discovered some of my favorite books at Magers & Quinn as though they were shelved there specifically for me, and as an editor, I’ve attended a number of my author’s readings.

oct16aLast week, I went to Magers & Quinn to see Steve Lerach read from his new book Fried: Surviving Two Centuries in Restaurants. I also brought a date, which is another way to make a city love you. See a lot of people. My date asked the best questions during the Q&A, and after the reading, he introduced me to three or four of his friends who happened to be in the crowd. There was the quirky academic he used to work with at the Black Forest Inn, and they told some hilarious server stories. There was also the cool duo who co-host the Wednesday Spoken Word show at KFAI (where my date is a DJ).

The whole night became a reflection of the book we went to hear about. Part of why Steve Lerach is credentialed to write Fried is that he has lived and cooked in Minneapolis for thirty years. Thirty years! He told us how his book started out as a master’s thesis on the history of restaurants as far back as the French revolution. But the more he dug into the past, the more he saw parallels to the people he has worked with throughout his career, and this cast of cooks and sous chefs took over the focus of his writing. Eventually, his story became their story instead. Their story demanded to be told.

And that’s another way to make a city love you. Let the story of its people become your story, too, whether you have lived there for three or for thirty years.


“Can I begin my analysis now?” I asked my restaurant-loving date, T, as we settled into our seats at the three-week old Pop!! in downtown St. Paul. The location in Northeast has had some success and we were eager to see how it came together in the fairer of the two cities.

The Warhol-inspired decorative screen with a bright medley of Campbell’s soup cans. Very cool. The Lichtenstein-inspired pop art dots that grace the menu. Also very cool. As I searched for more inspiring detail in this strangely bright and cavernous space, I started to struggle with what I wanted to say next. The table we were sitting at (and every one near it) felt like they were located under the chefs’ heating lamp and we were the plated food set to linger at a low heat. Everything felt orange and toasty. T noticed my silence and asked the most pertinent question of the evening. “So, you like the dots. What else?”

My honest answer one appetizer, two entrees, two cocktails, and a bottle of Malbec later is this: Eh. I’m not sure yet. Pop!! is well-intentioned, but we felt that none of the elements came together in a truly memorable way. We ordered Picadillo Empanada appetizers stuffed with seasoned ground beef and served with olive relish and chimichurri sauce. We agreed that the empanada dough tasted flat, as thought it had sat for awhile, and would have loved more of the chimi sauce.

I ordered cous cous with sauteed shrimp, chorizo, saffron tomato broth, and olive relish. Although the entree lacked personality, the shrimp were nicely cooked and made me happy, like a good chorus in an average pop song. T ordered the vegetable paella, which he found disappointing. Always making healthy choices, he thought it would be a nice, light meal of the much-loved Spanish variety. When the waiter took off the lid, T poked at his meal with his fork, disturbed by the little pool of grease formed around the edge. A few bites later, he was disappointed. “There is nothing paella-ish about this meal. But I’m so hungry, I need to eat something.”

My favorite part about the night was not the restaurant’s attention to detail, but my date’s. He pointed out that the Northeast location of Pop! uses one exclamation point, and the St. Paul location uses two: Pop!! But rather than calling them exclamation points, he called them “bangs.” When he saw the use of two of them, he got my attention and said, “See, two bangs.”

T and I walked off into quiet St. Paul and the first cool night of the year. “I still want to go to a ‘real’ restaurant with you,” I said, given how much we enjoy food, restaurants, and all of the opinions formed therein. As it is with the fate of Pop!!, though, I guess it’s still a little too early to tell.

Pop!! on Urbanspoon