Out of the Weeds is my culinary journal of a recovering restaurant owner. The journey, for me, began at a very young age, hosting themed childhood birthday parties for all the kids in the neighborhood, and as a teenager, hosting alcohol themed parties for all the kids in the neighborhood. The adventure continued with an education of food that began in 1982 in Semarang, Indonesia, where I studied for a year at Diponegoro University, and was introduced to sate (seasoned, skewered and grilled meat), nasi goreng (fried rice), gado-gado (a “salad” of boiled vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and peanut sauce), otak monyet (monkey brain – yep, ate it, and probably had a little dog along the way too, unknowingly) and sop buntut, or oxtail soup. I visited the markets most days with our sopir, or driver, who picked me up from school, and learned to select chickens (with heads and feathers intact), live blue swimming crab, rambutans, maggis, mangosteen and marquisa telur kodok. The pembantu, or housemaids, were entertained by my interest, and more than eager to let me in the kitchen to observe, and eventually, assist, in meal preparation.
My culinary education continued in the mid to late 80’s while living in my beloved city of New Orleans. My landlady, Ms. Elizabeth Mayfield, with whom I shared a double-shotgun, decided that she needed to teach this Yankee how to cook. We spent Monday through Thursday together after work, in her kitchen, at her stove, with a glass of sherry, and a cast iron skillet. From her I first learned that the holy trinity was not just about God in three persons, that life, or at least every meal, begins with a proper roux, and there is no long E in the word Orleans. We spent hours together, in that tiny, hot kitchen on Fontainebleau Drive in the Silk Stocking District, and I learned to make red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp Creole and crawfish etouffee.
My life soon turned to the realities of a first marriage, two precious toddlers, and working to pay the bills. My pantry was full of what I could afford, and creativity was not put to death, but rarely found a place in my hectic schedule. Years passed, the loss of a parent and a divorce consumed months of energy, but my passion for food and entertaining never ventured too far from my heart. I told many friends along the way that one day I would own a bed and breakfast, or a restaurant, where I could cook and entertain guests and share the joys of a thoughtfully prepared meal and positive dining experience. One day I would compile a cookbook of the diverse dishes of my past, from Western PA, Indonesia and New Orleans, and share the odd fusion they’ve brought to my life. One day I would find peace in sharing how a culinary experience, whether it be preparing or consuming, or both, can change your day from mundane to a memory.
In 1999 I met my twin soul, now husband, and as we began a new life together, everything got brighter. His career blossomed, and hopes for my suppressed dreams resurfaced. We traveled together, sharing a passion for exploring food, wine and beer along the way. I cooked for our family, much more thoughtfully, and enjoyed entertaining in our beautiful home. I met Loretta Paganini, who became my next culinary mentor, and learned about the many pleasures of Italian cuisine. At this time, I also came full circle with my childhood, my kitchen became a therapist’s office, and I embraced the food of my past, including fresh trout from the Pennsylvania streams, venison meat (canned, ground, sautéed, dried and jerked), Mom’s pie crust, and NaNa’s chili, fried chicken, marinara sauce and Thanksgiving stuffing.
In 2007, as my children were about to graduate from high school, Jack decided to cut back his law practice after a successful career as a litigation attorney and join me in a new business venture. Our search for sunshine and a challenging joint project began. We become students of whatever we do, so the research began, and after nearly two years, we chose St. Petersburg, Florida, and the property at 1492 4th Street North, as the setting of the next chapter of our lives.
In June of 2009, we became the proud, and naive, owners of a restaurant that I named Three Birds Tavern. As many new business owners do, we were quickly consumed with the day-to-day events and happenings and found ourselves “in the weeds”. Many things were postponed during this time, including time with family(regrettably), travel, expanding our business and exploring new business opportunities. Instead, we became bogged down with archaic plumbing and electrical systems, long hours, a non-compliant parking lot, frustrating staffing issues, a 140 plus year old building that needed attention most every day, just to name a few distractions. Five years in as tried-and-true restaurant owners, I felt sufficiently “out of the weeds” to expand our business and created a retail condiment company with my recipes bottling the sauces of our restaurant, and to share with you a behind the scenes look at this crazy industry, take you along on some of our traveling culinary experiences and share a bit of my personal journey.
As of October 2021, I am a happily recovering restaurant owner and Three Birds Tavern continues with new, energized proprietors. After a year long reprieve including a relocation to the mountains of Western North Carolina and lots of family time, I am back and here to share my continuing love affair with food, drink and travel.