Love and Marriage…and Business

March 10, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

The number two question I get asked about The Urban Grape is – how do you and TJ work together without killing each other (the number one question is how did we meet)? I don’t mind this question at all, but I do keep a special place in my heart for those that follow-up with – “Do you know how the founders of Pinkberry [or insert any other number of businesses] were happily married and then had a nasty divorce after they went into business together?” 

I thought about this question last night as TJ and I watched The House of Cards. We’ve never had an Airforce One blow out along the lines of Francis and Claire, but I’d be lying if I said that TJ and I haven’t had our share of fights along this journey. And with no visiting monks in our grand foyer to help us reconnect, how do we keep moving forward instead of letting the pressure of running a business together drive us apart? The answer is simple: I have no freaking idea, but I think it comes down to two simple rules.  

Rule number one: we have almost complete separation of church and state at The Urban Grape. TJ is the wine buyer and the head sales person. All things related to wine start and stop with him. He also deals with the money, because he’s seen me try to do simple math and it’s not pretty, and the store operations. I manage the managers, and market the stores. As we like to say, I sell the stores, he sells what’s in them. I don’t work the sales floor because I also manage our kids and home, and my main priority in life is to be the one who picks them up from school at 3 and puts them to bed at night. It doesn’t always work, but I try. Together, we do business development. That is the only place where we really overlap, and while I probably take the lead there it’s is more often split along the lines of who has time to tackle things as they come up. I can make a wine suggestion, he can make a marketing suggestion, but in the end, we trust the other person to make the final decision. In terms of business, this is they key for us.

Rule number two: Know when you’re a business partner, know when you’re a spouse. We used to really suck at this. But now we make time for each other outside of work, and I think this is the key for why we can be around each other all the time and not want to murder each other. Champagne is often involved – last Friday it was a nice bottle of Bollinger. It doesn’t have to be as fancy, but dammit, a little sparkle helps a lot with that spark! 

For Christmas this past year I gave TJ 12 months of date nights to places we’ve been meaning to try but haven’t ever been to. It is a great feeling to shake off UG for a while and just hang out. I also wear lipstick, and get out of my jeans – two things which are probably greatly appreciated by TJ. This past Saturday we did a day date and poked around Beacon Hill. It was almost pathetic how excited I was to sit at Tatte on Charles Street and watch unencumbered people go about their lives – and to be one of them!! I drank a latte in a real cup, everybody. I can’t even tell you the last time that happened, and how much I appreciated being a wife and not a business partner in that moment. 

Is it true that nothing is forever, except for Francis and Claire? I don’t know. I think they’d have a better shot if they drank some more Champagne together. And they really aren’t doing so well on that separation of church and state thing, either (hello nepotism?!). But Francis and Claire are curious folk, and we’re just normal every day people, doing the best we can to grow a business, a family, and a marriage. So far so good. 

 

 

 

 

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Best.Dinner.Ever.

March 5, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

True cooking inspiration hit last night. And thank God, because I was sure that I had lost all ability to cook this winter. 

It started with the October 2014 issue of Food & Wine which I had not read until last week when I sat down to do my periodical cooking mag purge. Flip, rip, dump. Repeat. In the end I only had a few recipes that sounded good, and only two that I really, really wanted to try. This is how low the cooking tank has run this winter.

First up, Butter-Roasted Chicken with Soy-Garlic Glaze, aka a riff on Peking chicken. I’m linking to the recipe, but I kind of winged it to tell the truth. I only had half of the needed soy sauce, so I used a Sweet and Spicy Chili Sauce for the rest. Because it was sweet, I omitted the sugar. I added more ginger and garlic than it called for. I also used avocado oil on the chicken instead of canola oil. Play around with this recipe. You kind of can’t mess it up, and the true key is the butter under the skin anyway. 

You’re supposed to make little pancakes from scratch to go along with this meal, but HELLO, that is not going to happen. I’m a working mother on a timeline, people. I cannot make from scratch pancakes on a Wednesday and survive to tell about it on a Thursday. The recipe called for garnishes of cucumber and scallion, so I made a cucumber salad with greek yogurt, lemon, dill, garlic and scallions instead. Bam – done, and healthier to boot. 

This chicken was incredible. This chicken was the best roast chicken I have ever had. This chicken was devoured down to the bone by my entire family, including my parents who were visiting. I made two chickens, envisioning the easy dinner I would be able to make tonight from the leftovers. There is not one scrap of chicken left in my house. Even the cat had some. 

To top it all off I sliced some Sumo oranges (I have a Sumo love affair going on and I’m not ashamed to admit it. They are almost out of season, so if you haven’t had one yet RUN to the grocery store and get one), and served them with honey and shredded coconut. To my utter delight, Noah devoured his serving of oranges and even declared them “Yum – so good!” Jason said they made his lip hurt and when his lip hurts he has to have an apple, so I’ll take my 50% victory and call it a day. 

Serve this with a creamy Chardonnay. We drank the Liquid Farm “White Hill” Chard from Santa Rita, which we sell for $49. The Byron we had on sale last week would work too if you want a cheaper option. The true pairing will be rosé, so I’m making this again as soon as those 2014s start rolling in. You want a wine with cream and acid. As long as you’ve got that, you’re set for a pairing. 

Make this tonight, you will love every bite I promise. 

 

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An Unexpected Pairing

February 23, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

As we got ready to watch the Oscars last night, I asked TJ to pop a bottle of bubbly for me, and hinted pretty hard that I thought the Billecart-Salmon Sous Bois would be a good choice. Yes, this is a moderately expensive bottle of Champagne ($100), but it’s been sitting in our fridge calling to me. A relaxing Sunday evening of watching the Oscars seemed like as good a cause as any to celebrate. Before he got into the wine with me, TJ shook up a Negroni, a cocktail he’s been working on perfecting for a couple weeks now. 

We had nothing in the fridge, so I ended up making an orange sesame chicken and broccoli (soy sauce, OJ, sesame oil, honey, ginger, garlic, a little corn starch) over white rice that I cooked in chicken broth and olive oil. I wasn’t looking for a perfect pairing, just trying to get something on the table that everyone would eat.

Well, lo and behold, it was an actual perfect pairing. Champagne and chinese food always go well together, but this particular pairing was so spot on that an actual wine pairing moment was had (a wine pairing moment in our house involves TJ exclaiming wildly). The ginger in the sauce brought out all sorts of new notes in the Champagne, really bringing its acid and vibrance to the forefront (the wine for the Sous Bois is aged before second fermentation, so it’s not as fresh and yeasty as some other Champagnes). The creamy, buttery white rice paired nicely with the richness of the wine, giving it an incredible mouth feel in the mid and end palates. The result was a lively yet round and creamy Champagne experience. Please excuse my terrible photo of the moment, the kids were yelling at me to put down my phone. 

Next time you’re whipping up a stir-fry or getting Chinese take-out, pop a bottle of bubbly for a great pairing. It doesn’t have to be the Sous Bois, any sparkling wine will add a little festivity to the moment. 

As for the Oscars, I’m going with ScarJo for best dressed, Jon Legend and Common for best moment (although when Julie Andrews came out….chills), and John Travolta for Hollywood icon most in need of shock therapy. 

 

 

 

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Winter Cooking Slump: Solved!

February 19, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

I am so crazy sick of thinking of what to feed people, I can’t even stand it. We’re basically down to a rotation of beef stew, spaghetti, and chicken cutlets. This has to be the biggest cooking inspiration drought in my career as a homestead chef. All I can think about is that real chef up in Maine who is only cooking with hyper-locale ingredients. I wonder what in the world he’s serving, and if he is so sick of turnips right now. 

With no end in sight to the need for warming comfort food, I turned to my slow cooker with the thought of cooking once and then eating the result throughout the week. So starting with a basic pork shoulder recipe from Against All Grain, I slow cooked and then shredded five pounds of pork. This recipe is super simple – you sear the pork shoulder on all sides, and then in the same pan add onion, garlic, fennel seed and pancetta. Deglaze the pan with some red wine and voila, into the slow cooker it goes for 8 hours. 

Last night, I used some of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker and about three cups of shredded pork to make a really simple but incredibly satisfying pork ragu. The recipe I used is also from Against All Grain. Because I’m desperately trying to lose the weight I’ve put on this winter while sitting on my couch in front of the fire drinking whiskey old fashioneds and eating chocolate cake, I served it over zucchini and yellow squash noodles. The noodles are so filling and comforting and a huge bowl is only something like 90 calories. TJ drank this with the Trillium Rubble while I had water and wept inside. (Also,maybe it is just me, but recently I have found that the gluten free replacements make me feel just as crappy as the glutenized products do. So if I’m going to have pasta, I’m going to just go for the real thing – hence my love affair with a box of Nella pasta this weekend, in front of fire, with a whiskey old fashioned. Cue the need for zucchini noodles.)

Tonight we’ll be rolling in the door just before dinner, so I’ll use some of the pork to make pork and goat cheese quesadillas for the kids and TJ, while I throw some of the pork on a salad for me. Tomorrow night, thank God we’re going out and dammit I’m wearing real shoes no matter what! The last of the pork will top a red lentil soup I’m making on Saturday. If there is any left on Sunday, we’ll top it with poached eggs for a filling breakfast. Cooking crisis solved! If you have any great ideas for family-friendly meals that will break this slump, please send them my way! I love to hear about what other people are cooking. 

Don’t forget that our #BostonWarms donation drive starts today and runs through Sunday. Donations have been coming in like crazy – even from my mom in Mexico and my sister-in-law in Texas! Click here for more details.

 

 

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How to Support #BostonWarm

February 18, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

I have been cold all winter. Cold toes, cold nose, cold ears, cold everything. Unless you have a thermonuclear core, I would guess you’ve been feeling the same way too. The one thing that gets me through the day is knowing that I can crawl into my cozy flannel sheets at night, with a cup of hot (sometimes boozy) tea, a giant hulk of a husband who throws off a lot of heat, and a fur-lined cat who has taken up the role of my personal muffler this winter (I’m not kidding, we’ve been sharing a pillow all winter and sometimes I steal his tail for my neck).

But a report on WBUR yesterday really made me think about how lucky I am to feel the cold through my Canada Goose puffer coat, my giant ski gloves, and my array of jaunty yet warm hats. [photo below from WBUR - hope they don't mind that I used it]

When the Long Island shelter closed this past October, it increased our city’s displaced homeless population by 30% (yes, apparently the homeless can go from merely homeless to displaced homeless). It also closed the majority of beds used for those seeking rehabilitation from substance abuse. Add in our record snow and the bitter cold, and you have what was described as the “perfect storm” of agony for Bostonians living on the street. Temporary warming shelters have opened in the city, but these are not really shelters, more a place to find a bit of warmth, have a bowl of soup, and be triaged by a doctor before heading back out. They are noisy, dangerous, filled with everyone from drug addicts to pregnant women, and the last resort for desperate workers trying to save desperate people. 

I posted about this on my personal Facebook page yesterday, and was pointed toward #BostonWarm, a movement by the fantastic homeless outreach programs at Old South and Emmanuel churches. I spent an eye-opening day at this day program many years ago, handing out sandwiches, talking to people, and working on art projects. It was humbling, to say the least. #BostonWarm has a wish list on Amazon, and the items will make you cry in their simplicity – things like backpacks, gloves, hats, emergency mylar blankets, and hand warmers. The most basic of basic needs that people need to survive this brutal winter. Not to get warm, not to feel cozy, not to feel safe, but just to survive. 

I don’t know about you, but ordering from Amazon for me takes about two seconds. My credit card is in there, my favorite addresses are stored, and somewhere along the line I think I even signed up for free shipping. I can spend $100 on Amazon in about two minutes. Yesterday instead of buying sticker books for the kids or bulk flour, I bought hats, gloves and hand warmers. 

You guys gave us an amazing sales week last week when we desperately needed it. Sending those hats and gloves yesterday felt like the least I could do to say thank you and to pass it forward. We Bostonians may bitch and moan and gripe and bellyache, but we also take care of each other. When you’re pulling on your gloves today, I’d love if you’d consider sending some to #BostonWarm too. 

Coming tomorrow – slow cooker pork ragu, movie and wine pairings, and more. 

**UPDATE: From Thursday to Sunday of this week, we will be collecting donation items for #BostonWarm at both of our stores. If you bring a donation in during this time, you will receive 10% off beer and spirits purchases (no minimum or maximum) and bottles of wine, or 20% off cases of wine (12 bottles of wine). Applies to in-stock items only. 

Donations include: 
- Non-perishable food. Canned items must be in pop-top lids.
- Warm hats, scarves, mittens, gloves and socks. No other clothing items please (they cannot store them on the other side)
- $43 checks made out to City Mission Society with Boston Warm in the memo line. This is to rent storage lockers where the homeless can store their items.

We will deliver all donations to Old South Church next Monday!

 

 

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Spotlight Wine: 2012 Cristom “Jessie Vineyard” Pinot Noir

February 17, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

 

This time of year can be summed up with one word – fatigue. As in, I have clothing fatigue (which wool sweater should I wear today?!), shoe fatigue (hmmm….tall Sorrel boots or short Sorrel boots?), food fatigue (our dinner choices this evening are beef stew, or beef stew), and most of all palate fatigue (oh look, another 10R Cabernet Sauvignon, how original). We’re all looking for something – anything – that can liven up our days. So glad you asked, today’s Pinot Noir is just the thing. 
 
This Willamette Valley wine has me singing “She’s My Cherry Pie” on repeat. It smells like cherries. It tastes like cherries. But it’s got vivacious spiciness that rounds out the fruit, making it interesting, not insipid. Most importantly, it’s got acid. Do you notice what is missing from our months of beef stew? Acid. The bright dance of acid across your tongue will make you feel like you’re drinking cherry lemonade on the front porch in the warm sun of spring. 
 
Make yourself a hearty salad with a nice bright vinaigrette and pour this wine along side it. For a moment, a brief but wonderful moment, you’ll be transported away from this frozen tundra to a world where taste buds matter. Enjoy. 
 
 
Regular Price: $70/bottle
 
15% per Bottle Discount: $59.50/bottle
 
25% four-bottle Discount: $210 ($70 savings at $52.50 a bottle) 
*That’s like buy 3, Get 1 Free! 

 

 

 

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Yoko’s European Adventure!

February 13, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

*Valentine’s Day is more than just expressing love for the people in your life. In today’s blog, Yoko encourages you to fall in love with wine as well. Join Yoko this Saturday from 2-5 at UGSE for a tasting of her favorite rosé bubbles for Valentine’s Day!

 

This Saturday February 14th is Valentine’s Day, when people express their love to others with chocolate, flower, card, Champagne, and other gifts. Today I decided to take a moment to express my love for wine. In fact, I could be still jetlagged and emotional after just coming back from 2 & 1/2 weeks in Europe seeing and working with my wine friends. 

Rioja, Spain was my first stop, where I saw my friend Julia. She is the 6th generation of Bodegas Moraza, located in the town of San Vicente. The property is run by her dad, 2 of her uncles, Julia and her boyfriend Patricio and their aim is to produce fresh honest style Rioja wines from carefully cultivated organic grapes, which express true terroir and quality of fruit. I stayed at her apartment, and from the time we woke up with a cup of espresso to the evening when we stuffed ourselves with the whole potato omelet, we talked and talked, about friends, foods, Boston. But somehow all we talked were connected back to wine. Besides seeing Julia, I also love spending time with her dad. All his life, he lived in Rioja making wine. He took me around a tour of San Vicente, explaining me the history and how important wine has been for the people of Rioja. Interesting thing is that he speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. However we always manage to communicate and understand each other. I guess this is what people call “universal wine language”

After a lot of wine, steak, and pinchos (or tapas) for 2 days in Rioja, Julia, Patricio, and I headed to Montpellier in south of France to attend an organic wine fair called Millesime Bio. This up and coming trade show focuses on organic wine producers, mostly from European countries of France, Italy and Spain, to meet potential importers and wine buyers around the world. While Patricio was off to meetings, I spent time at the booth with Julia. There I saw Julia’s face light up with twinkles in her eyes as she was telling the story of her family and winery to the people visiting the booth. It was a special moment for me to witness her love for wine, culture, history, and family. I meet many wine people all the time but not everyone’s got that kind passion and love, which you can see and feel.

I then took a train to Paris, where I spent 3 days. One of the highlights was to reunite with my classmate Tony, who I had not seen since the graduation of the hotel school we went to in Paris 15 years ago. As we sat down for dinner at a cozy French bistro near Vendome, we did a pretty good job catching up with a bottle of Champagne Drappier Blanc de Blancs. Even though I had not seen him for such a long time, I told him with my limited French that every time when I see a bottle of wine from Jura, where he is from, I thought of him. We drank more and talked more about food and wine of Jura and we both agreed that it is a good thing I come to France only once in a while because if I stay there, I will eat everything and my waistline will be out of control. 

My last stop during this trip was London, where I worked as a translator for a group of Japanese winemakers for a week. The group is called Koshu of Japan (http://www.koshuofjapan.com), promoting a wine made from Japan’s original Koshu grape. I have been tagging along with them every year in London for the past 5 years and I experience the challenge and excitement of introducing a wine, which is brand new to most of the people in the world outside of Japan. It is a lot of work since you have to start with explaining about the grape and wine itself but then also to promote the product in a very competitive UK market and around. It is, however, also a very rewarding work. Scratching my head, discussing with winemakers what and how we can do better to promote the wine, I feel I am at the full use of my brain, even a half of which was intoxicated from glasses of wine at the table.

What I love most about wine has been that it brings people together and 2 & 1/2 weeks in Europe with my friends, I went back to that fundamental. Wine connects everything and makes our life more interesting and exciting. My heart is filled with lots of love, and wine indeed. Happy Valentine’s!

* This Saturday, I will be hosting “Pink Bubbles” tasting at UGSE and opening one of my favorites, NV Champagne Marc Hebrart Rose!

 

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Boston – It’s Time to Show Your Local Love!!

February 11, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

Do you hear that? It’s 8:03 AM and it’s quiet in my office. For the first time in a week, my brain isn’t battling to think over the never-ending din of Tom & Jerry on the TV, two little boys wrestling and pillow-fighting, and the constant plink-plink-plink of our windows leaking from the ice dams on our roof. Just…silence. 

I know this silence is short-lived because more snow is coming tomorrow, and let’s face it, we’re looking at more snow days in the next week. And I know the windows will start leaking again soon enough, hopefully in time for the insurance adjuster to see just what we’re dealing with here at Jamaica Plain’s very own version of Niagara Falls. But for now, in this silence, a blog. 

Yesterday, Christopher Hughes at Boston Magazine wrote a fantastic, and really necessary article about how these storms have wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry. I would go so far as to say that these snow storms and the fact that so many of us literally can’t get our employees to work (all but two of UG’s employees rely on the MBTA, for instance) have added up to utter disaster for every category of small businesses across greater Boston. And when small businesses are struggling, as all of us are right now, you can be sure that our hourly employees are also getting hit, and hit hard, in their wallets. The restaurants mentioned in the article talked about how they had to lay off staff. That’s not something we would do at UG, but for sure they are working less shifts. I’m not an economist, but even I understand the trickle down effect on the city’s economy. 

It would be so easy for me to get into a rant here about snow removal (or the lack there of), the Patriots parade, the MBTA, so on, so on, etc., etc. But honestly, I think we’ve moved beyond that. Boston is the type of town that rallies around its small businesses, and WE NEED YOU NOW. We need you to make the choice to visit our stores and restaurants. We need you to stay loyal to your hairdresser, your dog walker, your handyman. We need it this week and we need it for the months to come, because that truly is how long it will take all of us to make up for the week of snow days we’ve had in the past month, and the daily disruption the snow has caused for our businesses. 

 

I know I speak for all small business owners when I say that, in return, we will welcome you. We will give you the unparalleled service that has roots in sheer gratitude. We will go the extra mile. We will put awesome stuff on sale from Nachos (Lone Star Taco!) to Dom Perignon Rosé* (at UG this week!). Most importantly, we will still be there when the daffodils bloom and on that day when, after a long winter of frigid seats and a cold steering wheel, you get in your car and it feels warm and toasty from the sun. It means WE will be there, instead of another bank or an AT&T store. 

So get out there, Boston. Pull on your boots and go get your hair cut. Meet a friend for a day of shopping at small stores, with cocktails at local bars in between. Ask a girl on a date and earn extra points with her by picking a cool local place instead of The Cheesecake Factory. Pick up a Valentine’s Day gift from a brick and mortar, not from Amazon. Let’s show this snow who’s boss! 

*It’s true! Dom Perignon Metamorphosis Rosé and Zardetto Prosecco are on sale this week – something for everyone! More info here, and our don’t forget our free tastings this week too – all Valentine’s Day themed! 

 

 

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Lyme Disease: We Are Not Crazy

January 23, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

I should not have clicked. That’s the moral of this story. If I had just been following my New Year’s resolution to avoid click-bait stories, I would have passed this article by, and been all the happier for it. But I did click. And now I’m angry at what I read.

Let’s get some things straight before we get going on this blog. Today, you will not be reading about wine. Or the latest dinner I’ve made. Or the newest trend in whiskey. Today, we are going personal. If you don’t want to go there with me, best to get off this train now. Also, it’s important to know that while I do love to buck the trend, and am most definitely my own person, and do love the Sons of Anarchy, I am at heart a herd follower. I do not believe in conspiracy theories (although I did once fall down the rabbit hole that Paul McCartney is not actually Paul McCartney, I mean the internet makes a very convincing case), I do not believe that the government is working to plot our demise, I do believe in our society’s rules and expectations. I vaccinate, I get the flu shot, I eat organic, I pick up my dog poop.

Back to the click-bait. The headline said this, “Real Housewife, Fake Disease.” It was what I will classify as an opinion piece – because it contained no actual scientific data outside of links to status quo studies – about Lyme Disease. Specifically about Yolanda Foster, the Real Housewife of Beverly Hills who has been very open about her struggle to feel well after being diagnosed with Lyme. I really try hard not to read the articles about her because it brings me back to my own, sometimes hopeless, struggle with Lyme, and I always get sucked into the comments which consist of only two things – other people’s pain because they too have been sick with Lyme, or disbelieving comments saying people with Lyme are just looking for attention. Both make me sad, and frustrated. In all, I just try not to think about Lyme disease, even though it has framed my life since the spring before we opened The Urban Grape.

I honestly couldn’t believe the tone of this click-bait article. It was degrading, patronizing, and misleading. It was written by a doctor under a pen name. I clicked through to his Twitter feed, also a pseudonym, and was blown away by his arrogance, his disregard for people’s pain, his bullying tone and his smugness. His pseudonym had given him power to be unkind in this new kind of way that we see now – the anonymous social media unkindness that I will go so far as to say is ruining our country. He wasn’t an infectious disease specialist, he was a pediatrician. So how he felt he had the right to write something so baseless, I will never know. It wasn’t until he let slip that he worked at a prominent Boston hospital that it all became perfectly clear. Because my story also starts at that same hospital. So let’s head there now.

In April 2010 I took the boys to my parents’ house on Martha’s Vineyard, what one compassionate, leading researcher in Lyme later described to me as the “Lyme Chernobyl.” TJ was in Boston, overseeing the construction of UGCH. It was unseasonably warm, and we worked outside in my mom’s garden and the boys and I played and sat in the grass most of the time we were there. Because it was off-season, my parents weren’t yet spraying for ticks around their house like they do all summer. It’s expensive, but it keeps us safe, or safer, from ticks.

About a month later, I wrote to my doctor complaining of persistent, debilitating headaches. He suggested it was stress-related because we were in the final stretch of opening UG. He prescribed me Amitryptilyne. I never took it (although, fast-forward, I do take it now).

That whole fall of 2010, I felt strange. I had sensations that I was falling backwards, my limbs felt funny, I had headaches and memory loss. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t right. I went to the same doctor in January 2011 and he gave me every test in the book, hoping to disprove his initial concern that I had MS. He did not give me a Lyme test. All of my tests came back negative – I was the picture of health. He told me to get more rest, try to relax and do more yoga. He said I was suffering from the exhaustion that so many new mothers feel.

I went back to him a year later. It seemed a pattern was arising – I was okay in the spring and summer, and then got sicker and sicker through the fall and holidays. By January I was a mess. We are now in January 2012. Again, every test but a Lyme test was performed. Again, I was declared fine. My doctor’s advice? Try to ask TJ to help more around the house….you seem overwhelmed.

By January of 2013 I was in agony. My jaw was practically locked shut. I had migrating joint pain – one minute in my elbow, the next in my knee. That spring my knee stopped working. I was having agonizing knee pain, but there was no diagnosis. I had no memory function. I was messing up words, confused, and had so much brain fog that I would sit at my computer for hours just staring at the screen.

And the headaches. The headaches were unbearable. I remember once begging TJ to take me to the hospital, and then remembering that we were hosting a group of women at UGSE for Smarty Boston and I was supposed to give a presentation. I got up, got dressed, put on make-up, went in and gave a killer talk to the group, cried the whole way home and had to crawl to bed. No one but TJ knew how much pain I was in. TJ and I devised a safe word that I could text to him if things were really bad and I was unable to care for the kids – “Eskimo.” I used it more than once. I would just like to pause here and say, my husband is amazing.

The summer of 2013 I retreated to my parents house after a whole new round of doctors at not one but now two major Boston hospitals could not figure out what was wrong with me. And, no. I was never given a Lyme test. The latest doctors’ advice – “Maybe you should consider an anti-depressant, you seem really down.” And “Maybe some time away would help you clear your head.” I was basically unable to care for the kids, at least not in any coherent, present, loving way. I could barely take care of myself. I was having episodes of vertigo, crushing headaches, jaw and knee pain, memory issues, fatigue, and yes, I was depressed. Honestly? Who wouldn’t be? I could barely get a doctor to believe how sick I was, much less come up with a practical solution.

On the Vineyard, I started seeing a physical therapist and acupuncturist for some pain relief. On my initial intake they both said the same thing to me, “You have Lyme Disease.” When I mentioned this to my doctor over email, it barely registered with her. All I got was a vague maybe, with a more concrete admonishment that we couldn’t chase down all the guesses of these Vineyard practitioners. I knew that to get healthy I had to get out of the major hospitals and find a whole new kind of medicine.

I will save you the tedium of how I came to advocate for myself, found a doctor who would listen to me, and get a Lyme test (guess what, it was positive). I’ll also save you the ins and outs of my treatment, but it involved several months of herbs and antibiotics. Even more painfully, it involved no alcohol. I’ll skip to the total out of pocket cost for my Lyme diagnosis and treatment – $17,000. None of which was covered by insurance, because the hospital I was affiliated with wouldn’t treat me. Or maybe it’s more fair to say didn’t know how to treat me. Which ever you choose, the result is the same.

When you have Lyme in your body for three years, undiagnosed and untreated, it wreaks havoc with your systems. I now have an aggressively auto-immune body. The easiest way to think about it, for me, is that my immune system spent so long fighting something, that now it just attacks whatever it can find. That includes my thyroid, my inner ear, who knows what else. I live in a constant state of inflammation and pain. My headaches remain, to the point that I have started getting Occipital Nerve Blocks in the nerves around my head and jaw just to get relief (I get these at the Faulkner which is like a totally different universe in terms of compassion from what I was used to). I take a low dose of amitriptilyne every night to help with my joint pain and headaches. I have to watch everything that I eat. I should be eating even better than I do. I have found most of my answers on-line and on blogs, not from the established medical doctors in Boston. A few months ago I saw a well-respected rheumatologist to see if there was anything else I should be doing to ease my pain. He told me to take fish oil and work out. He also told me that he believes I never had Lyme.

Doctors like the one who wrote this article and who gleeful mock people with Lyme on Twitter maintain that Lyme is rare – and that these rare cases are easily diagnosed, treated and cured. It seems like a game to them, to maintain that the world is flat, and that they are right because they’re “The Doctors.” As one doctor in this long, useless line of doctors said to me, “We can’t test for something we don’t believe exists.” But here is the important part – a medical system that doesn’t believe in a disease completely misses early stage cases of Lyme that can be treated and cured long before they become debilitating. These doctors are failing us long before they mock us. Their disbelief is the reason that patients are being felled by Lyme.

When I read that ridiculous article on Wednesday, I spent the rest of the day shaking. Literally shaking. I was thrown right back into the disbelief, the mocking, the being made to feel crazy. And then I decided NO. I’m not letting someone do this to me again. I am not going to let someone call this disease FAKE. I am not going to let someone call people with this disease QUACKS. I am not going to let someone refer to Lyme sufferers as CRAZIES. I am not going to let someone say that Lyme disease has no lingering effects on people. I mean, did we tell little Bobby to throw off his iron lung and get over it after Polio?

I am not going to let these people call themselves AUTHORITIES IN MEDICINE without saying this – your arrogance is having devastating effects on your patients. Your arrogance says more about you, and modern medicine, than it will ever say about people with Lyme Disease.

 

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Reclaiming the Old Fashioned

January 16, 2015 by: The Urban Grape

If we are what we drink, then I am a genetic combination of Gin & Tonics and Bourbon Old Fashioneds. These were the two drinks that I saw made in my home with any regularity – actually, with quite a bit of regularity – when I was growing up. Gin & Tonics from April 15 to October 15, Old Fashioneds for the other six months of the calendar. Start and finish dates were weather dependent, but roughly coincided with the tax filing deadlines. 

Once on my own, I fully embraced G&Ts. They were my drink of choice at every bar before the cocktail craze came to Boston, and they’re still the number 1 drink I make for myself at home, especially in the summer, and with far more attention to the ingredients than my dad’s version. But the Old Fashioned? That one took a little while to grow on me. 

My mother loves Old Fashioneds, and her recipe goes something like this: muddle a flaming red cherry (the more carcinogenic red dye the better) with a small slice of 5 day old orange, fill glass with minimal ice, pour in one drop of simple syrup and one drop of bitters. Fill the rest of your double old fashioned glass with Makers Mark. Do NOT add water, I repeat, do NOT add water. Make sure dinner is cooked before you start drinking, because that first sip is going to knock you on your ass for the rest of the night. I can force down her version when I have to, but honestly, it’s a little bit like lighting my face on fire. I need to dump half of it out and pour in orange juice just to get it down.

I don’t think I’d really ever had a proper old fashioned until this fall when TJ and I went out to dinner at Bistro du Midi and we shared one there (one glass, two straws, we’re cute like that). A real old fashioned is really freaking good. Fast forward to New Year’s Eve when one of our guests brought pre-batched Old Fashioneds. That guest happened to be Dave Willis from Bully Boy. I had a sip of TJ’s and once again was blown away – so balanced, so dry, just the right hint of sweetness. From that moment, I’ve been utterly hooked. I’m still working through a bottle of Dave’s pre-batch, and am already feeling the shakes I’m going to have when that bottle runs dry. 

What I’ve realized is this – Old Fashioneds are better with whiskey than they are with bourbon. As much as I love it, bourbon is too dominating, too sweet, too clunky. You need a spirit that will integrate a little better, and let the other flavors have their share of the spotlight. 

Here is a recipe I’ve been making, and I like it quite a bit. It’s from the Williams Sonoma drinks guide. 

3 dashes Angustura bitters
1 orange slice (I’ve been using clementines)
I lemon wedge (this is not traditional, but I approve. Traditionally there was just a piece of lemon peel as a garnish. I like how citrusy the wedge makes it, but I am a real lemon-aholic. If you don’t love lemon, just leave this one out.)
1 maraschino cherry (no, just no. Come get the Luxardo cherries at UG. They blow the others away)
1 sugar cube (who has sugar cubes? Not me. Keep some simple syrup in the fridge and add to taste)
2 1/2 fl oz of whisk(e)y – Canadian, American, Irish, Japanese….play around with it and see what feels right. We’ve been using the Bully Boy American Whiskey because it’s affordable and tastes really great in this drink. 

Muddle everything in a glass, fill with ice and add the whiskey. Stir. I add a quick splash of water, but that’s usually because I’ve added a little more than 2.5 ounces of whiskey. After all, I am my mother’s daughter. 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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