A simple band of leather and copper

I wear it every day and usually it goes unnoticed. Sometimes a stranger or friend will comment on it, that it looks cool, or is stylish, but hardly ever asks more about it. It’s a simple piece of brown leather; two buttons hold it around my wrist. Bound to the strap by two smaller pieces of leather is a copper ring. If you look closely, you’ll see two names engraved on the band.

These are my children, my pride and joy, my heart shared between two precious young people. On either side of their names is a heart. Decoration, a sign of my love for them, or something to take up the space? No, these hearts mean something much more. They represent a further division of my own heart, the love I have for an entirely different group of people.

December 2008

May 2009

November 2009

March 2012

Those hearts represent these months and years. Those hearts represent my four other children. My children who are not here. The ones who quietly came into and left my life before anyone ever had a chance to know them. I have six children; two are with me today, sleeping in their rooms across the hall as I write this, and four who were taken far too soon by an event we rarely speak of: miscarriage.

They each have as story, and to keep that silent is to ignore their presence in my life, and their absence that I feel every day. Each one had a profound impact on me and the course of my life. The first was a Christmas blessing and heartache. I was still newly married to my first wife, and we wanted to begin a family. Just before Christmas, on December 23rd as I recall, we found out that my wife was pregnant. Such excitement was hard to contain, but her immediate spotting tempered our exhilaration. It was a nerve wracking holiday, and not long after, it was confirmed: she was miscarrying. The baby was approximately 6 weeks old. We took some time and tried again, this time in the spring. Again excitement at a positive test, again spotting, cramping, and another heartache six weeks along. This heartache impacted more than just us, it impacted our families, and stole the joy I should have had at learning I was going to be an uncle early the next year. You see, there’s no instruction manual on how to mourn an unborn child; you fly blind and hope you find your way out of it. That’s a scary proposition. Autumn came and this time we enlisted the assistance of a fertility specialist. Again our hopes were up, and again they were dashed between 6-8 weeks into the life of our third baby.

Within weeks of the birth of my first nephew came the news that, with help, we were again pregnant. There is a joy that most parents have during the course of a pregnancy, a combination of excitement, joy and fear. I was barely able to savor a moment. The fear of another loss, the heart stopping moments every time a doctor opened his mouth, and the long, slow march of specialists that monitored every moment of this pregnancy. I finally exhaled when I saw my son, heard him cry, and could place a protective hand on him. Some day he’ll understand why I always place a hand on his back when I’m near him. It’s because this was where I first placed my hand when I whispered to him that I would always take care of him. His was my miracle baby, and I wasn’t going to lose him now.

More than a year later we decided to try again and give him a sibling. Back to the specialist and again good news. Now, I’m an optimist by nature. My wife was not, and understandably so, but I wanted to be strong for both of us. Pessimism can’t be good for you, so I would offer the opposite, despite my inner fears. She felt something wasn’t right. I wish she had been wrong. Late one night we headed to the ER, and our fears were confirmed. It was another miscarriage, this time at 15 weeks. She had to deliver the baby, and I had two phone calls to make. I remember the exact spot at St. Barnabas where I stood to call our parents and give them the news. It was nearly 4am, but both knew why I was calling. I can even recall the words I spoke as I broke down in tears and slid down the wall to the floor, “we lost the baby.”

Now the difference between 6 weeks and 15 weeks is profound. We knew it was a boy. He had two arms, two legs, two eyes, just like my children today. He also had a name; Mason Maxwell. We were asked if we wanted to see him, and at first we weren’t sure, but then knew we needed to see our son. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING can prepare you for when a nurse comes into your room with a wrapped up blanket, knowing your dead child is in her arms. Don’t ever make the mistake of telling me that’s not a baby, because after his mother held him and later handed him to me, I held him as she rested and we waited for a priest to come and bless him. I held my son for four hours, and that was the only time I ever had with him. I talked to him, kissed him on the head, and told him I was sorry a thousand times because I couldn’t save him. After he was blessed, a wonderful nurse who had cared for us with such tenderness said it was time. There would be an autopsy to determine what happened, and then he would be cremated. I made those arrangements after he was taken away. I watched as she carried him out of the room, knowing I would never see my son again. This, my friends, is what agony looks like. That was also a terrible way to spend my wife’s birthday.

Fast forward another year, and a mere two weeks after the anniversary of Mason’s death, we welcomed our daughter into the world. Again, specialists made it possible. Again we agonized for nine months and through countless doctor visits. Again I put my hand on my little girl’s back and told her I would always protect her.

Years have passed and life has changed. Divorce is always difficult. It changes the dynamic with your children, and unfortunately limits your time with them (anything less than seeing them every day is limiting). Getting married again was an easy choice, as I married my best friend. I feel so fulfilled in so many ways. Family and friends bring endless joy to my life, and my children fill me with love and pride. But there will always be a hole in my heart. A place where my four other children live now.

I’ve never been shy to talk about this topic, but I don’t go so far as to advertise it. This is the first time I’ve written about it, and it’s nearly 2am on a Sunday morning. I could have waited until morning, just rolled over and gone back to sleep, but I couldn’t risk losing this thought. I couldn’t miss the chance to capture this story so I could share it. So many other parents are out there who are similarly suffering in silence. No one knows how to mourn an unborn child. I’ve had plenty of practice, and I still don’t get it right in my mind. You don’t forget how you feel, but you can certainly feel alone. The only way to break through that is to talk about it. OWN YOUR MOURNING. These are your children, and just because they’re not with you now, just because you may never have met them, they are a part of you. Talk about it. There’s no shame in it, no weakness. If I lost one of my two living children now it would devastate me and everyone around me. The loss of my four children devastated me then, I just didn’t have someone to bury, to memorialize, but I did have someone to mourn and I do it every day. Sometimes it’s a day that just reminds me of it. Sometimes it’s hearing of a friend or acquaintance who is also experiencing this loss. Most of the time, however, it’s when I put on a simple piece of leather and copper every morning, and when I kiss it before I take it off at night.

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.

A Tale of Two Foodies

Fat, Drunk and Fancy.  I know what you’re thinking; this reeks of debauchery, excess and pretentiousness…. aannndd you’d be wrong.  What does it mean?  We’re glad you asked.  Fat, Drunk and Fancy is about living life with no regrets.  It’s that feeling you get when you sit around the kitchen table with family and friends, sharing a fantastic food experience or amazing cocktail, where you feel free from fear, where you start to believe your dreams can and will become reality.  It’s the good hurt in your sides from laughing and the soreness in your face from smiling with the family you love.  It’s a really, REALLY good time, all without Aunt Betty’s over dramatized dental issues.   It’s who Nick and Kim are, a couple that lives all of this, and their stories about how Fat, Drunk and Fancy will deliver some of those same good hurts.
In Kim’s words:

My earliest childhood memories are not of trips to Disney, Christmas presents under the tree, or any other “things,” but instead are consumed with holiday dinners, family gatherings, meals around one table or another, although most I recall were with my Grandparents.  I’d walk into their house on any given day, event or not, and it smelled like a home cooked meal — even if they hadn’t been cooking.  It was warm, it smelled like food, and I never felt anything in that house other than love. 

I remember too, dinners that my Dad hosted at his house – he would be in the kitchen preparing and cooking for hours, and we’d gather on the deck overlooking Lake Hopatcong, NJ enjoying the array of food that my Dad had prepared.  I remember always being so excited for those gatherings, or any gathering where I was with my family.  I would bounce around the kitchen while my Dad cooked, totally getting in his way, watching out the window for my Grandparents’ car to pull up, staring at the clock, wishing it to move faster.  My Grandfather loved sitting on the deck at my Dad’s, looking at the water, laughing with his family gathered around him. 

Food has been the bond that has tied my family together and the way in which we’ve always shown love for one another.  We’ve celebrated the holidays, birthdays, and each other over food.  We’ve mourned losses and shed tears over food.  My Grandfather passed away just after midnight on September 22, 2013.  That evening my family gathered around the dinner table, eating my Grandfather’s gravy and meatballs.  There were only a handful of containers of his gravy and meatballs left in the freezer.  I had never been so sad or experienced such loss in my life, but we did exactly what my Grandfather loved most.  We sat around his dinner table, in his home, eating his food, and we honored all that he had shared with us.  We laughed, we cried, but we were together.  We gathered around the table again when there was just one last batch of his gravy and meatballs left to be eaten.  Again, in his home, and around his table, we spoke of my Grandfather as if he was sitting there with us.

In the years since my Grandfather passed away, our family has changed and looks a little bit different now with the addition of my husband, Nick, my two step children and Nick’s family.  Our traditions have also changed a bit over the years, except for one thing:  the food.  It’s still very much a part of my family, and now the life I share with Nick.  

The way in which Nick and I have chosen to live and share our life was born out of love for family.  Food has always been a part of my family and now I yearn to create that same familial connection with the world, a connection that allows for the container to create a life with no regrets through a foundation of pillars that Nick and I live by and strive to inspire others to embrace as well.  We invite you to join us at the table where you are free to dream fearlessly, love hard, try new things and experience life on your terms.

In Nick’s words:

Food and family.  That’s the essence of my being.  There’s hardly a memory I have that doesn’t involve the people I love and the meals that we’ve shared.  I am the first born of a young couple from Brooklyn, NY, who broke down societal norms by blending vastly different cultures to make a family.  This may sound dramatic, but in the early 70’s a German Lutheran marrying an Italian Catholic was a big deal.  And so began a journey when yours truly burst onto the scene, and immediately was held over the Thanksgiving table, where my grandparents had my hand touch every piece of food to be served (I have a picture of this, I assure you).  Maybe that’s where my love of food came from.  Maybe it came from my strong desire to help and to be a part of the mix.  That led to the early demise of a lovely copper teapot (what happens when a three year old goes to make mom a cup of tea and doesn’t know there needs to be water in the kettle..) and a very soggy meatloaf (so you’re not supposed to fill the bowl of meat in the sink with water?) and numerous other mishaps that led to laughter and learning.  

My kitchen memories are grounded in Sunday mornings with my father.  We were the Catholic half of the household (my sister and mother made up the Lutheran contingent), and would head to Mass at 9am… every…Sunday…  But then it was off to DiPietros in Maplewood, where I would gaze longingly at the provolone drying in the window while my dad bought fresh bread and with any luck, a piece of fresh mozzarella.  We’d hop back in the car and immediately tear off the heel of the bread and start munching.  For most of my life I thought that’s how bread was supposed to look when it came in the house!  For the rest of the day the house smelled of garlic and onions, frying meatballs and simmering gravy.  Sunday dinner was an institution and has remained a staple throughout my life.  The same was true for trips to Grandma’s house in Brooklyn and even on longer trips after the relocation of many family members to Florida.  

My mother did not share that same passion for food, likely scarred by bouts with Dinty-Moore beef stew and various organ meats hitting the table.  She does, however, have a sweet tooth, and her excitement for all things chocolate carried over into her son (albeit I don’t discriminate against other sweet flavors).  She’s in her element outdoors and packs a mean Fluffernutter for lunch on the boat.  She is the balance in the Italian diet and provided green things (read: vegetables) and other variety at home.  

From a young age I loved cooking and sharing food with friends and family.  I became a rabid fan of the Frugal Gourmet, and by the time I was 10 had a subscription to Gourmet Magazine.  There were authentic Chinese meals prepared with family friends, curried lamb roasting over a charcoal grill, and an obsession with making the greatest cheesecake of all time.  I always noticed that food brought people together, put smiles on people’s faces, and could brighten the darkest days.

Through the darker times in my life, food was my escape, my comfort when I couldn’t find direction or happiness.  It brightened up some tough times, and helped put life’s challenges on the back burner, if even for a little while.

Now, with my wife Kim, my two kids, our huge combined family (of which her’s accounts for 80% of the crowd) the kitchen is always open, and the sun is always shining.  We welcome people into our home with a smile and the prospect of an amazing experience.  Our kids shed the stresses of the day and try new things every time they are with us.  Food and family naturally go together, and that is the rule in our home.

The Black Manhattan – come to the dark side

So I get a fair amount of crap from my lovely wife about my affinity for a certain cocktail: the black Manhattan. This is a drink I make at home (I’m enjoying one as I write this post actually) and order out whenever I get a chance (or remember). It’s also true that I have taught several bartenders across the country how to make this drink, simply because they weren’t familiar with it. That doesn’t make me special, it makes me a fan of the drink! So, how did this love affair with a particular libation come to be, and how can one do it at home? So glad you asked because I’m ready to share!

My first experience with the black Manhattan was two years ago in Denver. The location was Matsuhisa, a to die for sushi joint that is part of the Nobu Matsuhisa’s group of restaurants (yes, that Nobu). If you’re in Denver and are craving sushi, make your reservation now. I’ll wait.

So I was the first in my party to arrive, so I did what any self respecting traveler would do, I headed to the bar. There I perused the menu and settled on the “New Brooklyn.” My bartender informed me that the cocktail was better known as the Black Manhattan. One sip and I was hooked. Be sure to order one when you get there and get hooked as well.

So after several cocktails, I had a new favorite. Obviously my intention was to bring this back home and enjoy it out and about, as well as while sitting on my couch. A few weeks later it was off to a local haunt to meet some clients and my lovely bride. Of course I ordered a Black Manhattan, but I was met with a puzzled look. Education time my friend! After a quick lesson and insisting that the bartender try the drink, a new favorite was available (Addams Tavern in Westfield NJ now makes an excellent Black Manhattan). Ever since I have been spreading the good word of this cocktail, much to my wife’s embarrassment!

So what is this lovely drink? It’s quite simple and only requires one addition to a well stocked home bar. Rye is the preferred base, but you can certainly use bourbon. I enjoy it with Bulliet or Angel’s Envy Rye. The second ingredient is Averna, a Sicilian liqueur that replaces the sweet vermouth that traditionally makes up a Manhattan. Two parts rye, one part Averna. A few shakes of angastora bitters and an orange peel, and you have a masterpiece on your hands (and in your glass). I typically enjoy mine with a large cube, but you can certainly enjoy it up if that’s your style. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, try it. Let me know what you think, and if you’ve become completely obsessed with it, to the point of annoying your spouse. Only then have you truly arrrived. Now to finish my drink…

Turtle + the Wolf

Turtle + the Wolf

It started with a bomb cyclone, followed right behind by a polar vortex. In other words, it was winter in New Jersey, so suck it up buttercup. We committed to a monthly dining experience with my wife’s cousin and her husband, and this was the maiden voyage of this culinary adventure. With much fanfare and anticipation, we made our way to Upper Montclair for our first experience with a two year old gem, Turtle + the Wolf. The culmination of chef Lauren Hirschberg’s lifelong dream, the setting was perfect for the evening. The warm lighting and inviting staff left the chill of the arctic air outside far behind. Dark wood with an industrial feel, lit primarily by the open kitchen to our right. Audible under the hum of a lively crowd was music that would make Alt Nation on SiriusXM proud. Our table was at the mid point of the long narrow restaurant, perfectly situated for the meal to come.
Our server, Ben, met us with a smile, opened our wine, and gave us a minute to peruse the menu. This is not an extensive menu, but that is a thing of beauty. If you do it right, you don’t need endless options. Also, as a BYOB, the wine list started at home, and it was a selection we would not have otherwise found on a wine list anywhere. This is a strong nod and shameless plug for our friends at Vincent Arroyo Winery, and their 2014 Winemaker’s Reserve Petit Sarah. Make your way to Calistoga and get acquainted with them now.
Now, there are restaurants who have daily specials, or the catch of the day, but I can’t say I’ve seen the Berkshire Pork selection of the day. Pork equals happiness, so sure, I’m in! What, pray tell, is the pork of the day? Ben revealed that today it was pork belly, and all was right in the world. Additionally, there was a sea bass crudo, as an alternative to the yellow tail crudo on the regular menu. A few more minutes, plenty of laughs, and we were ready to order. One of the lessons we teach my children is that we try new things. Looking at the appetizers, that was necessary for all involved. Ordering for the table is a pleasure, and this was no exception. The sea bass crudo, chicken liver mousse, seared fois gras, and the steak tartar made the cut. Upon arrival, these appetizers clearly stole the show. The sea bass was a clean and refreshing departure from the other rich dishes, topped with sliced jalapeños and a citrus and oil drizzle. The chicken liver mousse was firm to slice, but spread on the accompanying crostini with ease, accented by a mustard seed relish. Topped with a perfectly placed egg yolk, the steak tartar was creamy and delicious. And, oh, the fois gras! Seared to perfection, with a concord grape reduction and roasted peanuts. Our wine cut the richness perfectly, with not a single morsel remaining on any of the plates. This was a glorious beginning!
For our entree selections, we cast another wide net. Clearly the pork belly had to happen, as did the duck pot pie (DUCK.POT.PIE), short ribs, and the roasted butternut squash. There was nothing low calorie about this meal (well, maybe the squash) but with a proper glass of wine, who’s going to complain? All were cooked perfectly. For me, the pork belly was a contrast within itself. Crispy on the outside (I mean like cracker crispy) and tender and juicy below the perfect crust. The duck pot pie, tucked inside a pillow of pastry, was creamy and rich (thank you duck heart gravy). The short ribs fell off the bone and the accompanying potato purée made each bite a symphony of flavor. The squash was also tender and flavorful. Now, these meals were delightful, however we had one consistent observation. Each could have been enhanced with some salt. The flavors were begging for a punch, to jump off the plate and explode. A heavier hand with the salt would have put them over the top. No one left disappointed however.
Ben was a perfect host, great personality and just enough attention paid to our table. He arrived with dessert menus in hand, and clearly this was not a crowd who knew how to say no. We went with the appetizer approach and selected an assortment of treats. We limited it to three selections; the Zeppole with fig preserves, Maple pot au creme, and the Chocolate – Peanut Butter Tart. Thank God for coffee, because these desserts were decadent! The zeppole were surprisingly light, the others not so much. This is not a complaint. After our plates were cleared, we lingered and talked, never feeling rushed. It was another excellent culinary experience with wonderful ambiance. On an otherwise cold and dark winter night, Turtle + the Wolf provided a memorably warm experience.