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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

For Jeff Willner, A Friend

A Friend, Native Garden-Stater, and Fellow Dead Head, not to mention loyal son, brother, and husband, Jeff Willner, is at peace now. This is for him...

It's at times like this that human nature compels us to look inward, at our own lives, and assess the connection we have with friends and loved ones. Selfishly, I am so proud that Jeff wasn't just "my sister Robin's friend," or "my friend Nancy's brother." He was my friend, and we shared a moment in time that I feel compelled to share with you, if for no other reason than to bring a smile of recollection...

I don't recall the exact year (late '80s), but it was summertime, we were young and still living in New Jersey, and I was looking for a way to make money without having to actually...work. Nancy knew I loved music as much (ok, maybe almost as much) as Jeff, and he presented me with what seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime: playing security guard at concerts at Giants Stadium! Yes, you heard me correctly: 2 average sized Jewish kids from Bergen County were going to deal with the unruly riff-raff that descends upon the Meadowlands. Well, Jeff had done this the summer before, so he was my senior leader. Armed with the coolest shirt I ever wore (It actually said SECURITY on the back!), we made our pilgrimage together to East Rutherford. As fate would have it, my first 2 shows I worked were the first 2 Grateful Dead concerts I've ever attended. Jeff's sage advice to me: "Don't worry where they put you at first...when the music starts, just rush inside and you can get near the stage." Spoken like the wise man he already was.
Of course, me being low man on the security totem poll, I was stationed outside, by a fence, helping ensure no trouble-makers tried to hop the fence to access the inner sanctum of the parking lot. I was alone, and wondering what plum assignment Jeff, the wily veteran, had garnered, inside the bowels of Giants Stadium. Like the obedient underling I was, the moment I heard the first tune-ups of the Dead's music, and the roar of the crowd inside, I made a mad dash toward the security entrance, dodging Dead Heads along the way. I made it inside, still wondering, "Would I be able to find Jeff in this throng of people?" He was my beacon; my buoy in a sea of tie-dyed madness. More importantly, I wondered, "How the hell would I get home by myself??... Jeff drove me here!"
Lo and behold, I was able to spot him among the other blue-shirted security detail... and of course, Jeff Willner had the best seat in the house.
I will never forget that experience: it rained for most of the show that night, I recall; through "Shakedown Street," "Sugar Magnolias", and "Aiko Aiko," among others. I was converted. I had heard the Dead before this, but now I was a part of it. This would be the first of more than a dozen Dead shows I'd see in my lifetime (and from onstage, no less!!)... and I have Jeff Willner to thank for it. We'd flash each other knowing smiles every once in a while ("Can you BELIEVE this?!?!"), while intermittently scanning the crowd and trying to look officially serious and detached from the euphoria, if not menacing and intimidating. I could tell Jeff got as much enjoyment and satisfaction out of seeing me experience this, as he did experiencing it himself.
There were other concerts that summer -- Bon Jovi comes to mind -- but nothing compares to that 2-night stand at Giants Stadium with me, Jeff Willner, and the Grateful Dead. In retrospect, as you get older, you understand that it's the memories; the experiences you share, that count. A recently departed friend of mine once said, "It's not how many toys you have that matters most in the end. It's the stories."
Jeff and I shared that story together, that moment in time, like a freeze-frame snapshot, from that otherwise nondescript summer of our formative years, together. I carry that with me, and recount it often, as it still stands as a highlight of my youth.
Thank you for that memory, Jeff. Without you, it wouldn't have been possible. And I cherish that time now, more than ever.
Enjoy the music up there... I know you have the best seat in the house.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I left my heart...

OK, maybe not my heart, but a piece of this food lover's ticker is definitely longing to be back in SF. The perfect capper to my month-long foodie excursion. Dinner at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, where I sampled a few different dishes. The only minor disappointment was the toughness of the ribs. The sauce was decadent, but I was expecting the meat to be a little more succulent. Everything else was beyond reproach, though.. even the wheat beer (whose name I fail to recall... DOH!)...
Lunch the next day before my show at Yank Sing, where you must prepare to be bombarded by a cavalcade of waitresses, carting to your table all sorts of goodies before you can barely put your napkin on your lap. All of the dumplings were incredible. I had some shrimp, poke, veggie. What a fun experience, and some of the top dim sum you'll come across...

San Francisco has such an international vibe to it. You sense it just walking its streets, and then you see it and taste it with the plethora of dining choices that can be made. And the Ferry Building market? Where else can you find a gourmet chocolatier next to a wild mushroom stand, across from a charcuterie, just down from a lavish wine shop.... it's as close to food/window shopping nirvana as I've experienced!

Back home now, and prepping as a finalist on Home Cooking Star. I made the Top 10, and had to complete a Black Box Challenge to get there (think Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef). It was exhilarating and reaffirming to know I could execute an entire meal with a laundry list of ingredients in under an hour. I did, and the results were satisfying, if not delicious.
If by some miracle to stumble across this blog before getting accosted by me electronically (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, e-mail), you can visit
http://homecookingstar.ning.com/group/richhollenberg to vote...