I don’t know how it happened. It all happened so fast.
My good friend Marilyn and I were walking to Culver City, where we feasted on some eye-fluttering, tongue-titillating fried coconut rice cakes. I don’t know exactly what we were talking about while walking, but somehow we got to the subject of home.
Just to reiterate, my home is in northern Virginia. I was telling Marilyn how much I missed my family and wanted to go back home for spring break, but didn’t know if I could afford the air fare.
And then Marilyn told me her birth home is New York, and that she hasn’t been back in more than a decade.
Boom. Suddenly we were planning a trip back to the east coast together. It made perfect sense: we’ve been watching Sex & The City episodes together for months now, so why not fly out to the city and experience it for ourselves (except the sex part)? I would invite Marilyn to my home, and she would also return to her birth home. It would be a brilliant mix of new and olds.
The conversation was half-serious, half-wistful. But every time we met, the subject came up.
Soon we were dragging our other two travel buddies, Tracy and Lindsey, into the crazy plan (the four of us went to Santa Barbara together). And before I knew it, I had pounced on a reduced fare for a Virgin America Airline ticket back to Virginia.
The fact that I received about $900 in tax returns helped. Suddenly I was armed with enough cash and a gang of food-loving travel mates. I was set. East Coast, here we come.
The Rough Itinerary:
Thursday: I land.
Friday: I hang out with my lovely family.
Saturday: Marilyn and Tracy land.
Sunday: Drag my friends to church.
Monday – Wednesday: NYC, BABY!!
Thursday: Show my friends my town, return to La-La Land.
Unfortunately, Lindsey ended up not being able to make it because of work.
But both Tracy and Marilyn were 100% on board. I picked Tracy up at Dulles Airport on Saturday, then we took the metro train out to Union Station, DC, to pick up Marilyn.
Total déjà vu moment.
I remember this super long, super steep escalator trip into Rosslyn station. It takes up to two whole minutes to ride the whole thing down 97 feet into the deep metro cavern.
And during that couple of minutes…funny how so many memories can whirl in your mind within just two minutes. While Tracy got dizzy with vertigo, I felt chilled.
We had planned to dine at The Shops at Georgetown Park that night, but we didn’t make it because by the time we picked Marilyn up, it was past 8 and we were tired. So we did a quick Yelp search and what do ya know? Art and Soul was just a couple blocks away!
I have happy memories of Art and Soul. It was about a month since I returned from my “treatment center days” in Singapore, and my dear friend Joanna had treated me out to lunch.
I remember I had many things to celebrate that day. I was celebrating recovery, I was celebrating my acceptance letter from USC complete with a generous scholarship grant, and I was celebrating good friends who stuck by me through thick and thin.
That particular night, I was celebrating pretty much the same thing. I was celebrating wonderful friendships, I was celebrating our individual progress in life, and I was celebrating a much-needed break from school. I love that my two close buddies were celebrating that with me.
If you visit Washington D.C., Art and Soul is one of the places I highly recommend visiting. It’s a tiny bit on the pricey side, but not ridiculously extravagant like Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air—even though the owner is Art Smith, a two-time James Beard Award celebrity chef and former private chef of Oprah.
It’s just such a warm, friendly soul food restaurant located at the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel that offers good ol’ Southern food with modern twists.
A tip for those who are tight on cash like we are. Come for lunch—the food is about the same portion and still delicious, but at a much reduced price.
Or…like us, settle down at the lounge area and order small plates from the lounge menu to share. It’s still fabulous and hey, the lounge seats are super comfy!
Of course, ordering from the lounge menu means a smaller selection of dishes, but you can still order from the main menu. But between the three of us, we found all the dishes on the lounge menu just as fascinating.
Like the hoecakes.
If I were any younger I would be giggling. The hoe cake! Hoe! Ho ho ho! I made a boo-boo though. I told my friends expertly that they were sort of like a dense, grit/cornmeal-based fried cake. So I was very confused when we got this:
This is the Maple Ham Hoecake with maple-glazed ham, pipe dreams goat cheese, bourbon figs and watercress.
Instead of the unleavened, gritty and mealy white-corn cakes I was expecting, this was a singular, oblong hoecakes that was more like a cornmeal pancake. It was fluffy and soft with some kind of leavening agent and definitely had regular flour in the mix. I felt stupid—but after researching on hoecakes on Google, it turns out I was RIGHT! Ha!
Hoecakes used to be made without leavening, and they were dense flat breads and a regional New World food. Apparently it got its name because they used to be cooked on top of the flat steel surface of hoes (a farming equipment used in cotton fields) over crackling fire.
Anyway, modern hoecakes now blend together cornmeal with regular flour, and fluff the cakes up with baking powder or yeast.
We really liked the Maple Ham hoecake, so we ordered a different hoecake.
This is the Poached Quince Hoecake, a sweeter version than the Maple Ham one with poached quince, sheep milk cheese, arugula and walnuts.
It was lovely—a sharp contrast between the spicy arugula and the sweet, tender poached quince.
By the way, apparently George Washington’s favorite food was hoecakes. In fact, he ate them swimming with honey and butter every morning for breakfast. His hoecakes, however, was griddled with suet (beef fat) on a large frying pan. Even with all these carbs and butter, the man was fit as a fiddle so there you go: Hoecakes with tons of butter and honey can be part of a healthy diet. Amen.
We also got the roasted brussels sprouts drenched in bacon fat and coated with tiny bacon bits and shallots:
I love how they served it in a little cast iron pot. So cute.
Hands down, one of the best ways to eat brussels sprouts.
Such a thing of beauty!!! It was a doughy, fluffy, gooey, crunchy ball of fried donut and tender crab. SO GOOD.
It’s available only from the bar menu, so another reason why you should hang out at the lounge. Excuse my ugly, chipped nails. Just look at the crab innards of that donut.
I got rather emotional before the meal, though. I’m not sure what I was feeling. It was just strange and uneasy to be back after I—admittedly—avoiding returning home for two-and-a-half years.
When you’re directly in the situation, it’s hard to step back and take a holistic view. I grappled with a lot of negativities before and during the initial stages of the trip. But I was just being silly and narrow-minded.
Now that I take a step back, I discover something poignant about communing at Art and Soul again. It’s God’s way of showing me that what matters from my past is the people in it, the souls from both past and present who are there next to me. God is telling me that every little moments in life ought to be celebrated. Sure there are tough times, but when I open my eyes and heart, there’s always, always little, wonderful details just waiting to be discovered—and celebrated.
Question of the Day: Ever tried hoecakes? You should! They are bomb!