Norm had it right. He went to a place where everyone knew his name. He walked in, everyone waved and exclaimed, “Norm!” and he sauntered to his chair so nonchalantly but all the while feeling a slight elation from the comfort of knowing he was accepted.
Or maybe he just really wanted a beer.
Either way, the recognition was evident.
As I was driving home from work today, my little PT Cruiser coughing a little from the unfamiliar snowy weather, I thought about my Cheers – a little bread and wine bar in good ol’ Coos Bay where I walk in and am always greeted with a smile (I’m understating here – this place has the best darn bread and wine I’ve ever had in my life). One of my good friends was working there tonight, and thinking the variable weather was going to cause people to stay indoors, I decided to stop by to keep her company (and taste some great wine). Well, she didn’t need the company, as the place was hopping, but I unknowingly did. Not experiencing a sense of loneliness, I never really realized what I may be missing in the small art of conversing with interesting people. Tonight I got that pleasure, well after the cafe had locked its doors.
Sitting between a 91 year old woman and an ex-Coastie dungeness/prawn fisherman, I swiveled my head back and forth between the two, soaking in their many, many experiences and stories like a sponge in the desert. At times, I felt inadequate – what do I know about anything? I’m just a girl pushing 30 who teaches and loves to cook. But the softness and warmth of their genuine conversation pulled me in without me realizing it. As many conversations in our neck of the woods turn to the water, when asked about my own fishing experiences, I talked about fly-fishing in Colorado, casting for hours before catching a measly 12-inch trout. Which prompted the lovely woman, Jane, to talk about jumping (literally!) off her dock – her dock – to go clamming. Shovel and bucket in hand. That spurred our fisherman friend, Henry, to talk about tides and water temperature with such passion and delicacy you would think he was reliving pulling up his first full pot. I’m sure my wide-eyes gave away my interest; this was so much better than watching reruns of Deadliest Catch.
Meanwhile, the owner’s son, Sam, was prepping for tomorrow’s chowder lunch (the most amazing clam chowder I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot of chowder). I noticed he happened to be slightly distracted and, having overhead him earlier in the night, I simply reminded him of a few things he needed. And in unnecessary thanks, he brought me a piping hot Rustic French Baguette, crusty and soft, and still smelling like sweet yeast. I was more than humbled. The combination of true genuineness and mouth-dropping amazement from Henry and Jane, and the over-the-top generosity of Sam made me feel like the luckiest girl ever to step foot into Coos Bay (did I really just use ‘lucky’ and ‘Coos Bay’ in the same sentence?). But then I just realized, this is the small town nature – people have fantastic stories (that are simply daily life to them), and when you get right down to it, they care about each other. I wanted to hug all of them, but didn’t, of course. That would just be silly.
I did, however, exchange numbers and accept an invitation to go clamming off a private dock, and receive a card to get fresh prawns still wriggling from the shock of fresh air. And I came home with a beautiful loaf of bread, which I knew exactly how to eat.
Well, eating it plain would really have been the best way, but I wanted to make a “dinner” out of it. Nothing big, especially since Rob is gone for the night, but something tasty and similar to Henry, Jane, and Sam: exciting, understated, and memorable. So I made a classic go-to dip, my Lemon Rosemary Balsamic & Oil (actually, it’s one of Rob’s faves – maybe I should have saved it for when he came home!). I call it a Balsamic and Oil because I really don’t use a lot of oil (compared to your normal oil and vinegar dips), but rather flavor the oil with the vinegar. “Marinating” the balsamic vinegar with the lemon zest, rosemary, and a hint of garlic, really creates a lot of flavor that hits the mouth all over – tangy, earthy, sweet, and fresh. I only include a bit of oil to add a touch of fat, giving the dip a smooth feeling, but not enough to weigh down or muddle the other flavors.
With Sex in the City as background dinner ambiance, and my latest issue of Food and Wine as a placemat, I ate way too much bread this evening (which doesn’t help the detox), but absolutely loved every second of it. I’m so thankful to have a comfortable place where some people know my name, and even more thankful to have learned three more names from walking in the door tonight.
- 2 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, unpeeled
- zest 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
- 1 1/2 tsp good extra virgin olive oil
- 1 good crack of black pepper
- Your favorite bread for dipping
Preheat the oven to a high broil. On an oven-proof tray, heat up the garlic clove for about 5 minutes, until fragrant. Remove and let cool for a minute. ** By heating the garlic clove on high heat for a bit, it brings the oils and sugars to the surface of the clove, thus able to be easily pulled into the vinegar.
Meanwhile, add the vinegar, zest, rosemary, and oil to a serving dish. Take the garlic clove and place it underneath the flat side of a chefs knife, and smash the heck out of it with a firm smack with the palm of your hand to the knife. The peel should come right off, and the clove should have split apart. Add the garlic clove to the vinegar mixture. Let sit and “marinate” for about 10-15 minutes.
Rip (or cut) apart pieces of bread for dipping. Give a good crack of black pepper over the vinegar before serving.
*** The Empire Cafe is located in the Empire District of Coos Bay, OR and sells artisan bread, hard-to-find wine, and other homemade goodies. It’s fantastic. No, seriously. Even carb-haters will love it.