Live the life you want your kids to experience.

IMG_6939
The photo of my Grandpa that sits on the bay windowsill in our living room.

Laughter through the tears and a smile from an aching heart.  That’s what we’re facing.  Tomorrow marks the 5th anniversary of my Grandpa’s passing.  I remember every moment of the days and weeks leading up to that day, and the heartbreak when he passed in the early hours of Sunday, September 22, 2013.  The days, months and even years following his passing have been, at times, incredibly sad, where the tears have flowed like they did 5 years ago, and also wonderfully heartwarming, as I let the memories of all the time I was blessed to have with him flood back into my heart.  The last 5 years have been, in a word, bittersweet.

Gram_Grandpa with turkey
My Grandpa, with my Gram, carving the Thanksgiving turkey.  

His absence in our lives is palpable, but the mark he left is indelible.  Whether I’m making his Sunday gravy, enjoying a cool breeze, which he affectionately called “God’s air conditioning,” or looking at a photo of his infectious smile that’s sitting on the bay windowsill in our living room, he’s with us.  When my family gathers together with food and good times, he’s with us.  As Nick, his kids, and his family join mine, Grandpa is right there with us.  In everything we do at Fat, Drunk & Fancy, he’s with us.

IMG_0016
My Grandpa, on my Dad’s deck on Lake Hopatcong, NJ where my Grandpa would feel the breeze from the lake, close his eyes and say, “Ahhh.  God’s air conditioning”.

For me, Fat, Drunk & Fancy is a tribute to my Grandpa and the mark that his warmth and love left on my heart.  It is a collection of my childhood memories and all the holidays, family gatherings, meals and conversations that took place at the dinner table.  It is a feeling, like the one I always felt walking into my Grandparents house where I knew I was home.  It is a taste, like the gravy my Grandpa finally taught me to make two weeks before he passed away.  Fat, Drunk & Fancy is all these things, all these feelings, all  these memories wrapped up into a gift that I want to give to other people, especially my two step-kids.  They get that feeling every time they enter our home.  They are a part of every conversation around the dinner table.  They lend a hand in making the gravy now and savor the tastes of great food and loving family.  They know how infectious laughter is and share in it openly.  They will be with us this weekend as we celebrate my Grandpa’s life.  Nick and I both hope they will learn how incredibly special this man was, not just to me and my family, but to everyone he met.  They never had a chance to meet him, and neither did Nick, but they will surely feel his presence.

IMG_6931
I mean, what is there to really say about this?  My Grandpa was a character and liked to make people laugh.

There will be laughter, plenty of laughter.  The stories will flow like wine into a waiting glass.  With any luck, someone will snort.  Probably me.  Definitely me.  We’ll pull out pictures and listen to exactly how Grandpa came to be dressed in a hula skirt one day, and what was so funny in the picture sitting on the windowsill.  He lived the life he wanted us to live, and through this celebration, and through the way in which we live our lives now, his lesson is being passed down to my step-kids, and you can see the excitement, wonder, and happiness in their eyes that they are along for this ride.

The History of Lobsterfest

IMG_0579On a warm Saturday in July, 5 years ago, we decided we would have lobster for dinner as a way to change things up.  It was a welcomed treat for us along with Gram, with whom we were residing at the time.  I can’t recall what prompted the idea, maybe a show on the Food Network, or likely it could have been a “we feel like eating Lobster” kinda thing.  Regardless, one invitation went out to our friend Maya and the four of us set out upon this task.  We used four large pots of water, as the lobsters we purchased were HUGE.  We waited patiently for the water to come to a boil and one by one, Nick proceeded to drop each monster into its respective pot, with Maya and me waiting at the ready with the lids.  The second lobster decided he wasn’t going down without a fight and lurched his claw out of the pot, which sent me screaming and running out of the kitchen while Nick and Maya burst into hysterics while covering the pot.  Eventually all of the lobsters succumbed to their fate, we set up our feast on the table on my Grandmother’s porch, and went after these giant creatures.  I remember one of them was so big, and its claw so large, that Nick eventually had to take a claw hammer (no pun intended) to it to crack it open.  We named this unexpected mascot of the event, “Chernobyl claw.” As afternoon faded into evening and we were stuffed with lobster and other accompaniments, Lobsterfest was born.

Nick eat 2015
Nick “playing with his food”

The following spring brought thoughts of continuing Lobsterfest as a tradition.  Nick and I had moved into our current home, and the story of last year’s festivities had spread to other members of the family.  We now had a large yard, so we upped the guest list to 14 people and provided specific instructions: we provide the lobster, but the rest of the event was BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) and BYOS (Bring Your Own Sides).  In keeping with July in New Jersey, it was super-hot & humid, but sunny.  We ordered the lobsters from our local supermarket, this time already steamed.  Large tables were set up in the yard, and I decorated with all sorts of lobster-y accoutrements. We feasted on our delicious crustaceans among our guests, and as the day turned into evening, we cleaned up all the tables and set up beer pong, wrapping up after midnight.  

group_2015
The 2015 Lobsterfest Crew
backyard eve
2015 – The 2nd Annual Lobsterfest

Being old pros in our heads, we decided to invite a few more the next year and our guest list went up to 18.  In the week leading up to it, people started to text me asking if we would reschedule if it rained.  I didn’t know what they were talking about as I never thought to look at the weather.  I said it would go on rain or shine…still never checking the weather, but instead just trying to convince myself that it would all work out.  The day came, and I set up the outside – it was beautifully decorated if I do say so myself.  It was humid, but it wasn’t raining.  Then I started to notice the clouds…and then the raindrops came…and the skies opened up from there.  As I tend to do when things don’t work out as planned, I freaked out.  Our house is less than 1000 square feet, and we had 18 guests to feed lobster.  Thankfully one guest showed up with a tent, which became our impromptu kitchen in the driveway (housing the huge pot and burner in which to cook the lobsters), and later as the beer pong hall when we moved it to the backyard.  While the guests all enjoyed it, I was a ball of stress the entire time, and honestly don’t remember it that well.  

group shot 2016
A few of us braving the elements in game of beer pong.

Last year we decided to move Lobsterfest to September, figuring that at least the temperature would be on our side and hopefully the rain as well.  We were right about the rain, but of course it was still hotter than Hades…like 90 degrees.  We again expanded our guest list and invited over 20 people.  This time friends came from other parts of the state and other parts of the country!  That was a first and also the first year I really felt that we had this event down to a science.  

group_2017
The 2017 Lobsterfest Crew

Now in 2018 we are approaching the 5th Lobsterfest coming up this weekend.  The guest list is about the same, with some friends traveling from out of state to share in the festivities.  The weather looks good at this point, but now I’ll make sure I keep an eye on it as the week goes on.  Our lobsters have been ordered, I’ve started organizing the decor.  The menu is mostly set and I’ve started a shopping list.  We are ready to go.   

IMG_0786
The standard set up.

Nick and I love hosting this event.  After Thanksgiving, it’s our absolute favorite.  We both talk about how we can’t wait until we have an even bigger home, so that we can invite more of our friends and families.  Now, there is one rule that makes this event a bit of a throwback to our youth.  No parents allowed.  It’s like a college party, though our palates are refined with the pizza having been replaced with lobster, but the partying style is the same, complete with beer pong and other games.  Sometimes pizza does make an appearance as a late night snack, so maybe it’s more like a college party after all. 

Through all the evolution of the event, the rambunctious fun, expansion of the guest list, and a party going late into the night, there is one constant.  Gram is always present, along with Maya, Nick and me  We are the original four.  No matter Gram’s age, nor the distance Maya has to travel to join us, Lobsterfest wouldn’t be the same if one of us weren’t there.  So this weekend, if you smell the sweet scent of steamed lobsters and hear the laughter of great friends and family late into the night, know it’s our traditional Lobsterfest.  Know it’s a blast and we hope to one day to have the space to invite every single last one of “our people”.  Know that you can make a tradition like this for yourself, because this is a tough list to crack!  Know also that these memories last forever, and can start with a small gathering on a summer evening, simply by changing up the menu for a special treat among special people.

 

 

 

 

Love hard.

I was driving home last night and a new song by Meghan Trainor came on the radio called, “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.”  It’s a really sweet love song about not taking people that you love for granted because none of us knows what tomorrow will bring.  As I drove, listening to the lyrics, I couldn’t wait to get home to Nick and the safety of his arms.  John Legend also sings on the track, and it was the lyrics he sang that really touched my heart and made me want to take a hold of Nick and everyone else that I love most, wrap us all up in one big hug and never let go. 

“In the blink of an eye
Just a whisper of smoke
You could lose everything
The truth is you never know

So I’ll kiss you longer baby
Any chance that I get
I’ll make the most of the minutes
And love with no regrets

Let’s take our time to say what we want
Here’s what we got before it’s all gone
‘Cause no, we’re not promised tomorrow”

 When I got home I ran straight into the house, took Nick by the hand and held onto him for dear life as we danced and listened to the song together.  I squeezed him tight and made the most of those few minutes before we went about our evening, working on our book. 

Then this morning, I received a text from Nick that a former industry colleague of ours suddenly passed away.  He was just around 50 years old and had two small children about the same ages as my two step-children.  I felt my heart immediately sink with the weight of his wife, children, family and friends’ grief.  While I haven’t talked to this former colleague in a long time, I remember him fondly, especially because of how he spoke about his wife and children.  He loved them with his whole heart, and you only needed to ask about their well-being and you could not only hear his face light up through the phone, but you could feel it.   

We don’t know what the next second, next minute or next day will bring, so love hard in this moment and in every moment that you can.   I’ll always remember my colleague for the love he had for his family and I will do all that I can today and all the days ahead in the hopes that I will be remembered in the same way.  I will never regret taking an extra second or two in every moment possible to kiss Nick a little longer, hold my step-children a little tighter and do all that I can so my family and friends know they are loved.  My heart is big enough and my love is strong enough for anyone and everyone who chooses to be a part of it and I am grateful for each day that I get to share it.  

Rest in peace, Brett, and may your love stay in the hearts of your family forever.

My struggle with the “Fat”

My first summer living life on my terms has been awesome.   I work when and where I want, letting my freedom and the life happening around me inspire how Fat, Drunk & Fancy will impact the world.  Nick and I are writing our first book (to be released in early September!) and are allowing ourselves to move through the creative process with fluidity and without constipation.  There’s so much happening and I am loving every second.  So much so, that I put on a pair of shorts yesterday and thought, “huh, these are tight; they must have just been washed,” only to feel them continuing to cut into my skin several hours later.  And that’s when I knew I had been loving life in the only way I’ve ever known how – through food…and lots of it.   

Some of the aforementioned overindulgences…

IMG_5850

Yes, I am the creator and owner of a business called Fat, Drunk & Fancy.  Yes, I realize it has the word “Fat” in it.  Yes, I know people are expecting gluttony and debauchery, but here’s the thing…it’s not just about the food and the wine, although those things do play a part in the story.  Nick and I love food…I mean WE.LOVE.FOOD…and we seem to love it in excess.  BUT, as Nick and I have been screaming from the rooftops, it’s not just about the food, but about how you experience it with others and the conversations that are had when people are together around it.  We are creating a space where people can have conversations about the not so serious, good-hurt-in-your-sides-from-laughing fun stuff as well as the raw, ugly cry, hard stuff.  There is no topic that is off limits, but there is a demand for open mindedness, respect and love. 

And so it is under this guise of honesty that I share with you that I have always struggled with my weight.  I mean I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t overweight.  Not in the extra 5, 10 or 15 lbs (space) range, either.  In fact, in my experience an extra 10 lbs is simply the consequence of a holiday weekend.  No, I’m talking at least 25-30 lbs overweight for as far back in my life as I can remember.  I remember being really young and my Dad would make little comments/give me a look when I would put seconds on my plate; my beloved Grandfather, the man who can do no wrong, even once commented after I had lost some weight in my 20’s that “you were starting to look like a house!”  I don’t ever remember shopping in a juniors section of the clothing store, but instead going right to adult size.  My mom had me in the doctor’s office when I was 16 to go on a diet pill called Meridia, which was later taken off the market by the manufacturer following a study that linked it to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.  Basically, if I didn’t realize for myself that I had a “weight problem,” my family would do it for me.  The conversation was never about weight being a part of an overall picture of health, but instead it was about weight, period, whether it be the number on the scale, the size of my clothes, or how I looked in comparison to all the kids around me.  

My cousin Lauren and I at approximately 8 or 9 years old.  Good hair, no?

PD_0016

I wish I had some beautiful bow to wrap up this story with that would tell you how I finally lost weight to where I was finally happy with what I see when I look in the mirror.  While I don’t yet have that ending, I do have hope.  One day in early 2016, I walked into a Weight Watchers meeting after hearing that they had changed the program to be more focused on whole foods instead of the processed packaged foods.  I remember talking to the leader of that meeting, Ann, and I said that I just wanted to check out what it was all about, I needed to discuss it with my trainer to see if we thought it was right, blah blah blah, excuse excuse excuse.  Ann listened patiently and said something to the effect of, “you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t already know it was time to change.”  Whatever the specific words were, she was brutally and refreshingly honest.  I joined Weight Watchers a few days later, in February 2016, and by the time Nick and I got married in November 2017, I had lost 48 lbs.   

On the left: Me, right after starting Weight Watchers in 2016 / On the right: Me, at our wedding in November 2017.

IMG_5846

The last time I went to a meeting and weighed in was almost 3 weeks ago, and I was up 10 lbs from our wedding.  Based on the way my clothes are currently feeling, I’d venture to guess I’m probably up another 5 lbs.  I have no excuses, no reasons.  It just is what it is.  Maybe one day I’ll finish the weight loss part of my journey and maybe I won’t.  But it’s something that I’ll always be honest and forthcoming about, and something I’ll always look to understand better about myself so that maybe I can help somebody else.  In the meantime, there is a Weight Watchers meeting on Tuesday morning with Ann, and I’ll be there to get that beautifully loving slap of honesty that we all need every now and again.  And life will go on.

The most recent picture of me (and Nick!) from June 2018.

IMG_5645

 

The Anthony Bourdain Influence

“The value of a dish is the pleasure it brings you; where you are sitting when you eat it – and who you are eating it with – are what matter.” -Anthony Bourdain

It started like any other day, until I checked in on my Instagram feed. There was one picture after another of one of our culinary idols. A man who seemingly embodied the principals of Fat, Drunk and Fancy. A man who publicly lived life to the fullest, and inspired us in many ways. A man whose inner darkness seemingly overtook him. It was an endless stream of pictures of Anthony Bourdain. He killed himself in his hotel room in France, where he had been filming Parts Unknown. How could this be? How could somebody who not only shares our passion for a food experience, but who also understands that it’s not about the food but about the people you’re sharing it with, kill himself? It’s almost too much for our brains to process.

Over the last couple of days since the news broke, we’ve both felt such sadness and such loss. Our conversations are filled with memories of Anthony; different episodes of Parts Unknown and No Reservations, interviews in different media outlets, excerpts from Kitchen Confidential. But mostly, it’s about the feeling that we’ve always felt when we think about him. Anthony Bourdain was seemingly able to accomplish what we are trying to create at Fat, Drunk & Fancy – an unapologetic, real, unpolished community of people who came together over food to try new things and ask questions to learn from one another about living life on their terms.

In its ability to bring people together and make us feel safe, happy and comforted, I guess I’ve always thought that food saves lives. At least, this has been our reality; loving food so much and wanting to share it with people to create those experiences where you can learn more about people, their values and hopefully then more about yourself. And so, when this belief is shaken like it was by Anthony’s suicide, we find ourselves asking, “What are we missing?”. We don’t have that answer yet, but it continues to be one we are looking for and hoping to provide in Fat, Drunk & Fancy.

One theme that continues to come up as the stories of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain unfold, coupled with the staggering statistics in the rise of suicide over the last 15+ years is the role of community and real human connection in society, or rather, the lack thereof. On the Friday following Anthony Bourdain’s death, Sheryl Sandberg said to MIT grads, “I hope you will use your influence to make sure technology is a foray for good in the world. Technology needs a human heartbeat; the things that bring us joy and bring us together are the things that matter most.” Now more than ever, there is a dire need for a place where people feel like they are a part of something that is real. A place where there is empathy, honesty, courage, passion and love. We believe the thing that will bring these people to this place is the food, and the feeling you have around the kitchen table. In a way, I think that’s what Anthony Bourdain did for us – he brought us to a place where we felt we could be exactly who we are without apology, and he did it with food as the catalyst. Yet maybe this place and this feeling is what Anthony was missing for himself, and so we are doing all that we can to make sure that Fat, Drunk & Fancy is this place for someone else. We’re not pretending to be able to save lives, but maybe, if we provide that much-needed human heartbeat that we are all reaching out for, we can do some good for the world and those who long for that connection in the silence of their hearts and minds.