Eating at a Restaurant Alone

Normally when I do something outside of my comfort zone on this blog it involves jumping out of a plane, walking on fire, or plunging into an ice-cold lake. While this week’s post seems mundane by comparison, it actually made me really uncomfortable to think about it. When I saw an article asking “Are You Ashamed to Eat Out Alone?” I decided it was time to mark this one off of the list.

Yes, I’ve grabbed a quick bite here and there by myself before. I have a favorite lunch spot back home that I sneak off to each time I visit and I’ve spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours studying alone at coffee shops. But I have never gone to a nice restaurant and enjoyed an entire meal alone.

I set up a few ground rules:

  1. I could not go to a bar, but it was ok to sit at a bar.
  2. No technology. I had to keep my phone in my bag (though taking a photo or two was ok).
  3. I had to go to a nice local restaurant.
  4. I had to order, at the very least, a cocktail I’ve never tired, an entrée, and either an appetizer or a dessert.
  5. I could bring one piece of reading material.

Picking a restaurant was not an easy task. There are new amazing restaurants popping up in Nashville every day. The choices were limitless, but I wanted to find just the right spot. Perhaps I was over thinking it, but since the only thing I was there to enjoy was the atmosphere and food, I had to make sure both were just right. I tried to find a place I hadn’t been to, but nothing was really striking my fancy for this particular experience. I perused lists of the best restaurants in Nashville and City House seemed to pop up every single time. I’d been there before so I knew it had excellent food, a great drink selection, and I could sit at the bar and watch what was going on in the kitchen. It was perfect.

I had to work late, so I got to the restaurant after 9. I asked for a seat at the end of the bar. I settled in and ordered a drink called the Bandit, which was made of Averna, grapefruit juice, Ginger Ale, and a lime. It hit the spot.

Margherita

I ordered a margarita pizza. Usually you can order it with an egg on top, but they were out that night. Heart break! If you have not had an egg on a pizza before then you are not living life to its fullest. I had the perfect seat; I could watch the guys spin the dough and then cook the pizza right in front of me in a beautiful wood-fire oven.

Pizza Oven

To keep me company I brought a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I have not read since middle school. Perhaps it is appropriate that the epigraph states, “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure. In fact, other than in-flight magazines, I don’t think I’ve read for fun in over a year. I forgot how nice it is.

Kitchen view

For dessert I had the Honey Vanilla Panna Cotta which had fresh peaches, preserves, prosecco jelly, zabaglione, and buttermilk cornmeal cookies. This was my first time trying panna cotta. It was basically a sweet creamy gelatin dessert with some white wine jelly and fresh peaches. The peaches were sweet and fragrant; they were all I could smell while I was eating the dessert. It was absolute heaven.

Panna Cotta

I really liked eating by myself. I was nice to have some alone time at the end of the day. I particularly liked that being alone meant I got to move at my own pace. If I wanted to read for a few minutes while I contemplated having a 4th slice of pizza I could (and did). Usually I am so busy talking at dinner that I forget to eat and then have to devour the food so I don’t make people wait. This time I could eat as much as I wanted at the pace I wanted, and I enjoyed the dining experience a lot more. I even finished my entire dessert (but I did take home the last 2 slices of pizza).

The Roller Derby

This week I decided to expand my horizons in the world of sports and attend my first roller derby. I’ve heard about the Nashville Rollergirls for a while, but I’ve never had a chance to go see them. I spent most of the time confused about what was happening, even after reading the rules.

The teams each have 5 skaters on the track. The teams are made up of a Jammer, a Pivot, and 3 Blockers. The Jammer wears a star on her helmet and is the skater who scores the points. She does so by passing the other team’s blockers. The Pivot is a blocker who may become the Jammer, and score points, if the Jammer passes on her star. Finally, the Blockers try to stop the Jammer from passing and scoring points.

Roller Derby Block

Really, it just looked like a lot of people running into each other. Each bout consists of a series of 2-minute “jams.” They start out with a lot of shoving until eventually a Jammer breaks free. In this instance, it was Toronto’s Jammer who constantly lapped Nashville’s blockers. There are actually some rules regarding blocking; a skater may block with her shoulders, hips, and rear (yes there was a lot of bootie bumping), but blocking with elbows, hitting in the back, and tripping are illegal.

Roller Derby Jam

Perhaps we didn’t pick our first bout well. The Toronto Brusiers beat the Nashville Brawl Stars 342 to 136. Ouch.

 

I asked my friend Will to come with me. He agreed, as long as I promised to photograph and post his “disappointment at watching women play sports” on the blog. Knowing Will’s sense of humor, and believing him to be a relatively normal human being, I assumed he was joking. Then it occurred to be that a few weeks prior we had to explain to him what Title IX was. The jury is out. However, Will actually loved the roller derby and got pretty invested in the game. In fact, I took another video, but couldn’t post it because of his enthusiastic and expletive laced cheering. So instead, here is a picture of Will lying on the floor pretending to be a cat.

Will Cat

Making Cheese & Milking Goats

I’ve been a bit remiss lately with my posts. I’ve been spending most of my time at the office so trying New Things has had to take a backseat for a while. Last Sunday I was able to sneak away for a few hours to try my hand at cheese making and drove north of Nashville to Standing Stone Farms to have a class with Paula Butler.

Paula started by telling us the legend of how cheese was discovered. The story is that a man was traveling through the desert in the Middle East. He carried goat’s milk with him in a pouch made from the stomach of a calf. After his day’s journey he stopped to rest for the evening. When he opened the pouch, after a day in the desert heat, the milk had separated into curds and whey. He drank the whey and went to sleep. When he awoke the next day, he discovered the curds turned into cheese overnight. In order not to waste anything that could be valuable food, he tired the cheese, and the rest is history.

Once we got a short intro to the world of cheese, we began making delicious butter, mozzarella, and ricotta.

Seperating Butter

Paula showed us a super simple way to make fresh creamy butter. All it takes is room temperature cream and an empty plastic bottle. Pour the cream into the bottle, up to 1/4 full, and give it hard shake about once per second until the butter starts to form. Eventually the buttermilk will separate. Pour out the buttermilk (into a colander and bowl if you want to keep it), and what is left over is the butter. Just cut open the bottle and, voilà, delicious homemade butter!

Homemade Butter

It was the best butter I’ve ever had. It was light, creamy, delicious, and only took 2 minutes. I don’t think I’ll ever buy butter again.

Tasting Butter

Yes, I’m eating butter with a spoon. Don’t judge. If you tasted it, you’d do the same.

Mozerella Ingredients

Next we moved on to a super fast mozzarella that you can make at home in about 40 minutes. To make the mozzarella, we used a gallon of whole pasteurized cow’s milk, citric acid powder, calcium chloride, liquid rennet, and salt. Rennet usually comes from the lining of a cow’s stomach (hence the story about how cheese was discovered above), but Paula, being incredibly awesome, uses vegetarian microbial rennet. I was pumped about this.

Curds and Whey

Apparently cheese making is not cooking, it is science and it is pretty exact. For some cheeses, everything must be sterilized. If you do the wrong thing at the wrong time or at the wrong temperature, you get clumpy soup instead of cheese. For some cheeses, everything must be sterilized before you begin. I won’t go into the details of what to add when, but the most interesting ingredient to me was the rennet. The purpose of it is to coagulate the milk and to separate it into curds and whey. (See curds above and whey below.)

Whey

After science does its thing, and all the curds are separated, you add salt and place the curds in the microwave for 1 minute at a time, and drain any extra whey. Apparently if you don’t drain the whey, the cheese won’t come together.

Stretching Mozerella

Once all the whey is gone and you have a solid pile of mozzarella, take a spoon to stretch and fold over until it becomes taffy like. From there, you can shape it into balls, pinwheels, or anything else you desire. The hot fresh mozzarella was so yummy. I couldn’t stop eating it.

Ricotta on Stove

Finally, we made a delicious ricotta. The ingredients were a gallon of whole milk (goat or cow), 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, citric acid, and kosher salt. Combine the ingredients and heat milk to 184 degrees. You need to make sure to occasionally to scrape the curds off of the sides of the pots, otherwise it leads to hours of scrubbing or replacing your pots. Once it heats to 184, set it to the side for 15 minutes.

Ricotta Curds

When it is done cooking, you have delicious fresh ricotta.

Fresh Ricotta

We first tried it plain, which was warm, delicious, and creamy. Paula then suggested adding some hot sauce. What a brilliant idea. Cheese + hot sauce = life changing.

Ricotta Hot Sauce

After the cheese making class, Paula took me out to meet her adorable goats.

Goats

She started with 2 a few years ago, and has now worked her way up to a herd of 34.

Goat Milking Riser

When she opened the door, the goats ran right up to their stands. Apparently the goats are creatures of habit and know exactly what to do and the order in which they should be milked.

Milking a Goat

Paula brushed down and then cleaned the utters to prevent anything from contaminating the milk. She showed me how to grip the utter and roll my hand down to get the milk. She said that this is different than the process for milking cows, but I’ll just have to take her word for it. Trixie (I think that was her name) wasn’t a fan of a newbie trying to milk her. After she protested, I stopped, but Paula encouraged me not to let the goat bully me. Which I found amusing.

Goats Milk

Succes! I milked 3 goats and only managed to get one of them angry at me. I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for cheese making anytime soon, but I do plan to make homemade butter from now on.

Sweat Lodge Ceremony

I few weeks ago I returned to the Golden Wings Center for a sweat lodge ceremony. After glass walking and fire walking there, experiencing a sweat lodge was obviously the next logical step.

According to Angela and Justin, the wonderful owners of Golden Wings: “The sweat lodge is a Native American purification ceremony. The Spirit can pick up some ‘rust’ along the way with the experiences of physical life. This rust is all the beliefs we carry that keep us in fear and judgments. The sweat lodge (Inipi) is symbolic of the womb. By returning to the womb, we leave each lodge with the opportunity to begin life anew. In this sacred experience, we are purified and cleansed. The focus is towards the future: once we let go of that which no longer serves us, we can begin to enjoy the blessings and new beginnings ahead of us.”

The sweat lodge was made of a round wooden frame approximately 10 feet in diameter and was draped with dozens of blankets. In the center of the lodge was a circular pit dug for the hot stones. Outside of the lodge was the alter and ceremonial fire (which was heating the stones).

Sweat Lodge Fire

There were about 25 of us in the tiny little lodge; it was very close quarters. We either sat on towels or directly the ground. I elected for a towel, despite being advised that the dirt would be cooler. I’m just not that earthy. The steam ended up making things quite muddy so I think I made the right decision. Once everyone piled in, 7 glowing red hot stones were placed in the pit. A prayer was said and they closed the flap on the front of the lodge so it was pitch black on the inside. I was not expecting this. The darkness made me really uncomfortable. It was disorienting and I felt out of control.

Inside Sweat Lodge

Once the water started being poured over the rocks the heat became oppressive. I was expecting something like a sauna or hot yoga (which I love), but instead it was like being hit by a train and the humidity made breathing difficult. I was shocked at just how quickly sweat began to pour down my face. I spent most of my time sitting there telling myself that it would be over shortly and that my inability to breath was just in my head. I longed for fresh air. Fortunately, we were only in there for a few minutes. We were in there long enough for some prayers and a song and then, happily, the door was opened allowing some of the heat to dissipate. Some people stayed inside during the break. I, however, chose to get out and stretch my legs and enjoy, what felt by comparison, a very cool 90-degree day.

We then piled back in for round two. This time 7 more rocks were added to the pit and the flap was shut again. I didn’t think it could get any hotter in there, but it did. This time when the water was poured and the steam started to rise it felt a bit like I was drowning. No matter whether I took deep or shallow breaths, I felt like I was under water. Finally, when I just couldn’t sit there an longer, I shouted “door!” This was the signal for them to let me out. I wasn’t panicked or afraid to stay in there, I’d just sat in there long enough to realize that it wasn’t for me.

Sweat Lodge Structure

Some people talk about being “called” to do certain activities. Something just speaks to them and says “today you should walk on fire” or “today you should take part in a sweat lodge ceremony.” Well, that day I definitely felt called to go sit in a refreshing cold creek bed rather than sit inside of a pitch black sweat lodge. One of the things I love most about Golden Wings is that it is isolated from outside world and I can spend a few hours technology free. There was something very peaceful about spending a Sunday afternoon with nature.

Creek Bed

I can definitely say that the sweat lodge is not for me. I’m glad I tried it and got to have the experience, but it wasn’t spiritual for me the way it is for many others. That said, I can’t wait to back and attend more events with my Golden Wings family because it is definitely my favorite place to keep trying new things.

A Night at the Drive-In

This week I experienced two New Things: Letting someone pick a New Thing for me and, as a result, going to a Drive-in Movie.  Early in the week I was informed that I had to leave work by 5:30 (not an easy task) because we had special belated birthday plans for Friday night. I was given no hints, no clues, just that I needed to leave work by a specific time for something on my list.

I love surprises, but I love figuring out surprises even more. Thus, I began my line of questioning.

“Can I wear a cocktail dress?”
“Sure, but you’ll be over dressed.”
“Can I wear cut-off shorts?”
“Do you even own cut-off shorts?”
“No.”
“Are you trying to figure out what to wear or figure out what we are doing?”
::lying badly:: “Figure out what to wear. I want to dress appropriately.”

I then consulted my actual To-Do List, but there are so many options on there it didn’t help narrow it down. When Friday arrived, I was still contemplating what I needed to wear. When I asked again I was told, “It doesn’t matter, nobody other than me is going to see you.” Once I found out we were driving an hour to get there, my first thought was, “Great, he is going to take me to a field and murder me, I better find someone to feed my fish.”

Much to my delight, I was not left for dead in a ditch. Instead, we arrived at the Stardust Drive-In Theatre in Watertown, Tennessee.

Drive in Theatre

Our first order of business was loading up on snacks. They actually had a veggie burger, which surprised and thrilled me. And of course we got the obligatory popcorn, sodas, and (my favorite) Skittles. You have to show up pretty early to get a good spot and to avoid the concession line, but that gave us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather as we ate.

At the drive in

The drive-in had a double feature: 22 Jump Street and some Tom Cruise movie that I’ve never heard of. We left after the first movie because it was getting late and we had a long drive back. 22 Jump Street was hilarious and I highly recommend going to see it (especially if you liked the first one). I was particularly impressed with the sound. In order to hear the movie, you turned the radio to the associated radio station. Because of the acoustics of the car, it sounded even better than in the theatre.

Drive in Movie

I can’t wait to go back. Next time we’ll be totally prepared with a picnic basket, blankets, chairs, and whatever else we need to partake in the full drive-in experience.

An Aerophobe Learns To Fly

Over the last year and a half my mission to try a New Thing every week has led to a lot of exciting adventures. Many of them have involved pushing past my fears and doing things that make me uncomfortable. One of my biggest fears is flying. I hate it. I really really hate it. Logically I know I am perfectly safe, but at the first sign of turbulence I become convinced that the plane will suddenly become aware that it is a 500,000 pound metal death machine, that gravity exists, and then plummet to the Earth.

I’ve been trying to work on my fear. Last year I went skydiving for my birthday. This was counterproductive. There is something about being dragged out of an aircraft the size of my car that seemed to only reinforce my fear. A few months later I tried hang gliding. This yielded better results. This is likely because we were dragged behind a plane and not actually in one.

I don’t like to be held back by my fears. Since knowledge is power, I decided to celebrate my birthday by taking a flying lesson. When I told my friends my plan a surprising number of them replied, “like, in an airplane?” When I asked what else I could be doing, one friend said he thought I’d be more likely to don a flying squirrel wingsuit than willingly get in an aircraft. He had a valid point.

I woke up the morning of my birthday and drove to Nashville International Airport for my lesson with Nashville Flight Training. As I drove past the airport I could see the commercial jets taking off. This immediately led to nausea and elevated blood pressure.

Cessna 172

When I arrived at the hanger I met my pilot Erick. I was expecting some “this is how planes stay in the air” training, but we went straight to the flight. We flew a 1974 Cessna 172M Skyhawk II. I don’t know too much about it other than it had 160hp, a propeller, and red velour seats.

About to take off

Erick let me take the pilot’s seat. When we got to the plane he said that I wouldn’t just fly the plane, but I would do the take off. That was an uncomfortable amount of responsibility. Especially considering the number of flight instruments, buttons, switches, and knobs.

Cessna Instruments

He gave me the basic rundown how the plane worked. There are pedals that control the brakes (when pressed together) and the rudder (when pressed individually). The rudder controlled the direction of the plane on the ground. Steering with my feet was really bizarre and surprisingly hard. The plane has to follow the yellow painted line on the runway and I struggled to keep it straight.

Take off

When we were ready for take off, Erick said that he would handle the acceleration, but I would be the one lifting the plane off of the ground. When the airspeed indicator reached 60 knots (69 mph) I was to pull back on the yoke lifting the plane into the air.

As we accelerated down the runway my hands went into a death grip on the yolk and I kept my eyes on the airspeed indicator. When the guage hit 60 I slowly pulled the yoke toward me. The wheels lifted off of the ground and we were on our way.

Aerial view of Nashville 2

Having the controls in my hands was a total head trip. I was convinced that I was going to do something horribly wrong. I knew Erick wouldn’t let that happen, but all I could do was imagine accidentally doing something to the controls that would send us spiraling to the ground. This was only intensified when we flew below a cloud which resulted in (very minor) turbulence. But for me, it signaled that the end was inevitably near.

Aerial view of Nashville

The airport isn’t very far from downtown Nashville, especially when you aren’t stuck in traffic. We headed towards the city to practice some turns. I didn’t enjoy that part. I really just want to get in a plane and go straight. That would be my ideal plane ride.

 
Erick showed me how to determine whether the plane was level with the horizon. Obviously you can check visually, but if you can’t see the horizon there is a turn coordinator to show whether the plane was parallel to the ground. I don’t think I took my eyes off of it the entire flight. I was really excited that it existed. I think commercial jets should be equipped with them in the seat backs.

After a few turns, Erick showed me how to use the rudder to turn the aircraft. But frankly I was so freaked out by what I was doing already that I told him I wasn’t comfortable adding to it.

Pilot selfie

Finally, Erick took back control of the aircraft so I could take some pictures. And with it came utter relief. When I let go of the yoke my hands were cramped from my white knuckle death grip.

Happy flying

Erick was a lot calmer than I was. He even took time for a mid-air selfie. He guided us back to the airport and ended with the smoothest landing I’ve ever had in a plane (thank goodness).

 
I’ve definitely eliminated “not being in control” as a factor for my fear. Even when I was flying the aircraft I was terrified. Once Erick took the controls I felt much better. Well, better. My fear is firmly based on the fact that humans were not intended to take part in the miracle of flight. That said, I will continue to work towards not letting my fear control me, one terrifying flying death machine at a time. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll take another flying lesson.

Halotherapy: 45 Minutes in a Salt Cave

I first heard about salt caves when I saw a Groupon for a halotherapy (salt therapy) session at Serenity Salt Cave. I was skeptical about the purported benefits, but I don’t think that is an acceptable reason to avoid a new experience. Halotherapy takes many forms and dates back to at least the twelfth century. The odds are you’ve had some form of salt therapy before, whether it was a epsom salt bath, or a saline inhaler to help with allergies, or perhaps gargling with salt water. 

Salt Cave

The cave (a room in an office building) is filled with 1,200 pounds of Himalayan salt. The walls are lined with giant blocks and the floor is covered with bath salt sized granules. It felt like walking on a rocky pink beach. 

Salt Lamps

I was the only person in my salt therapy session, which was lovely. If you know me, you know how much I value my alone time. I’d do very well on a desert island (except maybe for all that survival stuff). After I got settled the lights dimmed and soft music played overhead. The room was lit by 3 salt lamps, a few lamps on the wall, and flickering starry lights on the ceiling.

Salt cave ceiling

Perhaps it was in my mind, but the air tasted a bit salty. A halo generator kicked on every few minutes which pumped fine particles of salt into the air. Apparently, as the salt is inhaled it is supposed to dry out the sinuses and respiratory tract, clean out your system, and kill bacteria. It is reported to help with allergies, COPD, bronchitis, and other illnesses. 

I’m probably not the ideal candidate because I don’t really have respiratory issues. I didn’t really feel any differently after the session. However, regardless of the effects, I found the session very relaxing. I liked being alone in a quiet beautiful space for 45 minutes. I have another session remaining from the package I bought, so I will be back. I’ll likely bring a friend along next time to get a second opinion.