Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For Better or For Worse

We interrupted the first weekend of living with our in-laws to attend a wedding in Newton, New Jersey. (Why are they living with their in-laws, you may ask? Tune in next week for the whole unbelievable story).

Back to this story: we had this out-of-town wedding for two people that I had only met once. The hub thought we should go (he is big on doing The Right Thing even when it is also The Hardest Thing), despite the fact that we had been packing boxes until two A-M the entire week, getting ready to move.

So I agreed to go.

Have you ever noticed that the trips that you don't want to take are often some of the best ones?

For some reason, HTG thought that Newton sounded like northern Jersey. That's the Jersey that everyone thinks about when they make fun of the Garden State. They picture barges of trash and loud-mouthed girls with orange tans and overly white French manicures. They think that every street corner has strip clubs full of guys that look like Tony Soprano. (Note to New Jersey's tourism board: you can send my check to "Cellar Dweller in Baldwin, of her In-Laws").

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when our trip took us to central New Jersey, through some of the prettiest country roads I've seen for quite some time. This is why they call it the Garden State.

Newton is in Sussex County, a county which famously had more cows than people until the 1950's or so. Its original name was Tockhockonetcong, but the surveyors in 1715 thought that wouldn't look too good on a t-shirt (nor would it fit on the map they were drawing), so they opted for the more marketable Newton. Today, Newton sits on the Tockhockonetcong River; if you can say it, you must be a native. Or drunk. When I've had one too many, I've found that everything I try and say comes out as "Tockhockonetcong."

You can learn more about the town's history at

We arrived at the Yellow Frame Presbyterian Church in Newton a little early. My husband informed me that--even though the invitation said that the wedding started at 3:00--it wasn't going to start until 3:30 because "it's a Chilean thing." (The bride is from Chile). So we hung out in the parking lot and took a couple of pictures, while I listened carefully for music that would suggest the whole "Chilean thing" was just a rumor. I hate going to weddings late.

While we lingered, I noticed that there was a large fan--the kind we used to keep the cows cool--in the front window of the church. I began to suspect that the chapel was so historic that it didn't have air conditioning. (As much as I love old buildings, I do not love old buildings without a/c or heat. Really, I'm a historic traveler, people, not a re-enactor).

The church was a Queen Anne structure, my favorite architectural style. That meant that there were lots of great details everywhere--from the hardware (see left) to the stained glass above the unsightly cow fan. And there was a wall full of photos of the church's ministers over the years, going back to 1750.

Speaking of details, the bride and groom thought of them all--including cute paper fans that their ushers handed to all of the guests as they entered the church. Between the historic church, and the flapping fans, the whole day had a nice old-fashioned feel.

After the wedding was over (in a record 23 minutes--if that's a Chilean thing too, I may love Chilean weddings as much as I love Chilean wine), the hub and I lingered a bit longer, checking out the historic cemetery across the parking lot, as well as some of the other picturesque areas around the grounds. (Note to self: plant more cosmos next year. And get a mailbox).

Remember how I said that your worst fears can create your best memories? Later that afternoon, we were treated to an open bar (a good resource for newly married couples as well as those married for years and years), unusual appetizers like Chilean meat and corn pie...which was exactly what it sounded like. When the bride came by to say hello (which is when I spoke to her for the second time in my life), she said it was her favorite dish as a child. I'm no child, but I could see it cracking my top ten pretty easily.

After the appetizers, we enjoyed a Chilean sea bass that was worthy of a fancy restaurant with a $100 tab. It was, as I told the groom, like a great anniversary dinner.

After the eating and the greeting, the hub and I slipped away (pre-cake) to start the long drive back home, driving away from one of the prettiest parts of New Jersey as the sun went down and the deer came out. The drive reminded me of why I happen to love the state--from their juicy red tomatoes to their gorgeous Victorian structures to their juicy, gorgeous call girls.

Oh, and it reminded me that I wanted to wish Charles and Magaly a happy happy union: may you love each other no matter what-through thick waists and thin hair, for better and for worse, while living with your in-laws or living out your dreams. I hope your marriage lasts as long as the Yellow Frame Church you were married in.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Organic Truths in Washington DC

Despite popular theories, I am not Amish.

I grew up in an Amish area. I was not allowed to travel more than 5 miles from home. And I worked hard as a kid. I envied those cushy sweatshop jobs in China. The ones where the kids got to be kids for two or three hours a day.

But that all that doesn't mean that I am Amish.

My love of the plain people and their fancy desserts is well documented.

My dislike of Washington, DC is equally well documented.

But what would happen if you combined the two?

I found out last week when I visited Nora's (, a trendy organic joint at 2132 Florida Avenue.

Now, I wasn't looking for a trendy organic joint (as I write that, I realize it sounds like something else entirely). I was meeting a friend who was in town for a seminar, and all I wanted was a restaurant that:

1. Was right off of New York Avenue. I wasn't driving through a traffic circle this time.
2. Had valet parking. (See above: once I found the place, I wanted to be done. I wasn't driving through a traffic circle this time).
3. Had entrees under 50 bills.

Nora's should put all of that on their website.

Even without those critical optimizing keywords, the restaurant was 90% full on a Thursday night.

My friend was waiting at the bar when I arrived (which tells you something about her--which is that she likes her vodka tonics--and something about me--because I was late, having forgotten that even without the circles, the city has plenty of annoying stop lights which seem just long enough to let three cars drive through). Anyway, in the time it took me to write that parenthetical bit of useless information, my friend had chatted up a local gentleman who said the restaurant was his favorite. Well, he was a local in the past, but still liked to hit the old neighborhood to enjoy a good meal (while enjoying the pretty women at the bar as well).

In addition to checking out my friend (whose motto is Better Men in 2010, if you would like to submit an application), this gentleman also was nice enough to check out the menu. He thought the chicken curry sounded good...and my friend thought so as well. That's what she ordered. I think she liked it, although it's sometimes hard to tell with her.

I went with the Amish veal. Why? Because the idea of something Amish in this city of stupid traffic circles and unvarnished frivolity made me laugh. And the rest room had cool murals of Amish people (at least I think that was the artist's inspiration...the gal above looks Mennonite to me, and so does the quilt). Artistic license aside, I fell for the marketing of the dish and was pleasantly surprised when it came out.

The meal was far from Amish--the plate was a little pretty for that, and the portions a little small. But it was tasty, and the mashed potatoes underneath were a great surprise.

Because it was a girls' dinner, we goaded each other into getting dessert (the rule here is that when you eat with girls you are honor and duty bound to get dessert. It makes up for any dinners with men where you cannot--even if you did not like your dinner and are as hungry as a horse--you cannot order anything indulgent after the main course.)

My dinner companion went for some chocolate concoction that practically gave me a migraine just from the proximity to all that cocoa.

I opted for a dessert that made my chocoholic friend's nose turn up--rhubarb pie. I know that not everyone is a fan of rhubarb, but--being the good Pennsylvania Dutch girl that I am--nothing makes me happier than a dessert that's more tart than sweet. And the fact that everything was organic was just icing on the cake...or a sweet lattice topping on the pie, as it were.

In fact, it was so good, I would even consider braving another drive to DC to have it again.