A More People-Friendly New York

I’m sitting at Taipei International Airport, “borrowing” Singapore Airlines’ wireless service (I’m sitting just outside their Silver Kris lounge – don’t tell them, please) after a relatively painless 16-hour flight from Newark, including a one-hour refueling and crew change in Anchorage, Alaska.  Time for another update on New York.

As part of his summer work schedule, my cousin had Friday off from his job at MTV, freeing him up to accompany us around the city.  After lunch at ‘ino in the Village, we stopped by Magnolia Bakery, a place made famous (as I understand it) in Sex and the City, ostensibly for their delicious cupcakes.  I tried them and have to say that the cake was very dry and the icing too sweet.  But then, there are few cakes that I really find all that moist.  Below, a line of Sex and the City groupies, queuing for their cupcakes.


Biing joined us at Magnolia and then he and Tawn went for some more shopping.  I’ll tell you one of the secrets to great trips together: when you have divergent interests, sometimes it is better to spend a bit of time apart on the trip, following those interests with people who are like-minded.

As such, Brad and I headed to the southern tip of Manhattan for a ride to Staten Island.  This free ferry service, which departs half-hourly from the South Ferry subway station, is a good way to catch a view of the skyline and Statue of Liberty, without enduring the expense and crowds of a harbor tour.


It takes about twenty minutes on the trip and as soon as you reach Staten Island, nearly everyone rushes off the lower exit and back up the stairs to board the same ferry for the return trip, such is the minimal appeal of this borough.  There’s probably enough sites to merit a little exploring, but we followed the crowd and made an immediate return, too.


The South Ferry subway station has been completely redone, as has the ferry terminal.  It is beautiful, clean, and very tourist-friendly.  In fact, having visited New York regularly over the past twenty years, I have to say that there are a lot of recent changes that are making the city more and more people-friendly, both for residents and visitors. 

One of these changes is the recent reworking of several blocks of Broadway in Times Square, closing it to traffic and making it into a pedestrian-only area. 


In this photo taken from our room at the Marriott Marquis (where we stayed our final night), you can see three blocks of Broadway, painted red, which is now off limit to vehicles.  Additionally, changes have been made to Seventh Avenue, creating more room pedestrians and giving over designated lanes to vehicle making left turns.

While I understand there has been some initial grumbling by those who have to drive in the city, the changes certainly make the space much more pleasant and safer for pedestrians.  No longer do you have to take a risky walk in the gutter to avoid the awed crowds; now you have much more pedestrian-friendly space in which to navigate.


Above, a view of a piece of sculpture installed on the closed portion of Broadway in Times Square, a collection of damaged beach chairs.

Interesting thing: after alighting from the Staten Island Ferry, I saw this dragonfly perched on a piece of rebar.  I’m a bit amazed my camera could actually focus on it!


Our flight boards in ten minutes, so I’ll add more later.


New York Bites

May I tell you about my ideal New York vacation?  If I could have any type of vacation in New York, it would be a strictly food vacation.  I’ve loved seeing my friends and meeting Xangans, but the absolute best New York vacation would be going from place to fantastic place, trying all the great food that is available in this city.

The highlight of the trip was our dinner at Le Bernardin, which I’ll write about in the next few days.  That wasn’t our only good eat, though.  Here are some other places we went:


John’s Pizza – three locations in the city, this one in Greenwich Village – has been widely hailed as the best pizza in NY.  This is a matter of opinion, of course, as everyone has their favorite place for pizza pie.  John’s coal-fired ovens are something of a dying breed and lightly char the thin crust.  We ate here with Malcolm, Sally and Biing and really enjoyed it.


The better of the two pies was this bianco – no sauce, just mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and ricotta.  The crust is a little thicker than the Italian style pies I’m familiar with, but still thing with just a little chewiness.  Excellent pizza.


We actually spent a lot of time down in the Village and the surrounding neighborhoods.  This little street was very cute.  It reminds me of the “New York Street” on the Universal Studios backlot.  Something about it doesn’t quite look real.

P1190084 After the pizza, Biing took Tawn shopping.  Knowing he would enjoy it better without me, I headed off with Malcolm and we hung out at a coffee shop, browsed for books at Strand Bookstore (“18 Miles of Books!”), and stopped by Otto Enoteca Pizzeria, Mario Batali’s foray into family dining to try his olive oil ice cream.

Yeah, it may sound a little strange, but there is an olive oil ice cream as well as a salty caramel ice cream on the dessert menu.

I know what you’re going to ask: What did it taste like?

As much as I don’t want to answer, Like olive oil, that’s the best answer I can give.  It wasn’t super sweet, but the predominate flavor was of very good quality olive oil. 

It was very interesting to try and I enjoyed it, but I don’t know if I’d be running out to eat more of it anytime soon.

The salty caramel was notable because, unlike “salted” caramel, which implies a little bit of salt flavor added to the caramel, this ice cream truly was “salty” caramel, something overly salty.  It went beyond complementing the caramel flavor and ended up overwhelming it.


Above, olive oil and salty caramel ice creams, along with a scoop of Santa Rosa plum sorbetto.  The plum was really the winner of the three, tasting just like a big bit of ripe plum.  Reminds me of the creative seasonal ice creams I enjoyed in July 2008 at Ici in Berkeley.  More about that here.


Thursday evening we headed to Grand Central Station (below) for a pre-show dinner at Grand Central Oyster Bar, with my college classmate Steven.  The Oyster Bar dates from 1913 and is an institution that still earns its reputation.  The seafood here is really fresh – they run out of many things later in the day because they only stock one day’s worth of inventory.


I haven’t seen Steven in the 15 years since I graduated university.  Not only were we classmates, we actually worked together (along with Andrew) on our senior research thesis and were also disc jockeys at our school’s radio station, KSCU.  He’s been in New York for many years and married just this past year.  It was really nice to catch up with him and see him again.


Preparing to get a little messy, Tawn dons a bib.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar is, not surprisingly, known for their fresh oysters.  There were more than a dozen types on the menu Thursday evening and we ordered two samples plates, each with two types of oysters from each coast.  From the West Coast we had Carlsbad Blonde (Baja, Mexico) and Chef Creek (Washington).  East Coast options (smooth edges versus rocky ones on the left coast) were the Tatamagouche (Nova Scotia) and Wellfleet (Massachusetts). 


The flavors were very distinct: sweet versus briny, fruity versus metallic.  All were wonderful.  Sadly, I became confused about what was what and so couldn’t provide any more specific tasting notes.


Tawn and Steven had the bouillabaisse, one of their classics, with a rich tomato broth filled with lots of fresh seafood.  The quality of the seafood was excellent.

I was looking for some crab crakes, but they only have those on Wednesday.  For some reason, I took the waiter’s suggestion of deep fried softshell crab, which are in season.


The two crabs were very tasty and not oily at all.  But the side of waffle fries was just too heavy.  Something lighter – maybe a vegetable? – would have gone with the crabs much better.

We weren’t able to linger and visit over dinner as we had tickets – also part of our wedding gift from friends and family – to see Billy Elliot at the Imperial Theatre.  The show was nice, with superb dancing by the young boy playing Billy (David Alvarez, one of three boys who rotate the role).  The language was quite salty, especially given the number of young people in the audience. 


Above, two days after the show, Tawn is still inspired.

The music (Elton John) and books and lyrics (Lee Hall) weren’t catchy.  Fifteen minutes after the show, I couldn’t hum a single tune.  The dramatic flow was also a bit stilted; had I not seen the movie, I wouldn’t have been able to clearly follow everything that was happening.  Still, we had excellent seats and from and entertainment value perspective, we had a great time.


Friday for brunch we followed the recommendation of one of Tawn’s friends and headed back to the same corner of the Village where we’d enjoyed John’s Pizza.  This time we ate at ‘ino, an Italian wine bar that serves excellent bruschetta and panini.


This restaurant, at 21 Bedford Street, is a tiny hole in the wall.  We saddled up to the bar and had an excellent culinary experience.  Our server was a friendly lady named Annie and another guy – maybe he was the owner – came over and spoke with us very knowledgably about Italian wines.  Since Brad lived in the Milano area, he had some specific questions about varietals from that area.  The man helping us really knew his stuff.


Four types of bruschetta from back left: Sweet corn and ricotta; sweet onion; artichokes and peccorino cheese; white beans, tomato and basil.


Four types of panini from back left: Pork loin with spicy mayo and fontina cheese; summer squash; prosciutto, bel paese and sweet onion; and bresaola (beef prosciutto), asparagus and pecorino peppato.


The real highlight – and I want you to understand how amazing this was – was the truffled egg toast.  A thick slice of bread, hollowed out in the center, filled with fontina cheese, two eggs, and black truffle olive oil, then baked.  The eggs are still soft, fresh black pepper is cracked on top, and lightly sauteed asparagus are the perfect foil to the truffle flavor.  This is heavenly!


Tawn and I in the bar mirror.


We concluded the meal with an affogato – gelato with two shots of espresso poured over it.  Yummy.

The truffled egg toast was so good I came back for another on Sunday morning when Tawn wanted to sleep in an extra hour.  He wasn’t happy to hear I had gone without him.


I’m sitting at Newark Liberty International Airport as I write this.  We’re on our way back to Bangkok.  I’ve been in the US for 24 days, my longest trip back since I moved.  It has been a lot of fun and I still have more to share about the trip, so I’ll be back on in a few days!


Upper East Side

Wednesday (after breakfast, of course) was mostly about the east side of Manhattan.  We were up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art twice, met another Xangan for lunch and strolled across Central Park.  All of this before going to dinner at Le Bernardin!


I’ve been here countless times both for work as well as pleasure.  My most recent visit to New York was in October 2005.  It was the last point I was in the US before moving to Thailand.  New York is also important to me because I had accepted a job here at the end of 1999 and almost moved here.  Had I not decided the job was flawed for several reasons and quit before moving here, I never would have gone to Thailand between jobs and met Tawn.  So you can see why NYC holds a lot of meaning for me.


On our way to the museum the first time, walking from the 86th Street subway station, I spotted a Tim Hortons donut and coffee shop.  This Canadian chain, which I like, is making inroads into the northern US, it seems.  Good for them!  I doubt they’ll supplant Dunkin Donuts as the morning snack of choice for New Yorkers, but you never know.

P1180871 Our first visit to the museum was mostly spent in the exhibit on ancient art from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul

It contained many beautiful pieces that reflect how much of a crossroads that country was, with so many different styles and techniques, adapted from many different cultures.

We also headed to the American wing, a newly renovated space that has a superb collection of silver.  Tawn was taking pictures of lots of tea sets and I’m sure he was disappointed that the gift shop wasn’t selling any reproductions of them.

The museum also has this interesting space that looks like an Etruscan courtyard.  The museum does a great job of intermixing spaces and the use of natural light in many galleries to keep visitors from feeling like they’re going from one darkened room to the next.

We could easily spend days on end browsing through the museum’s broad collection.  We had an eye on some other exhibits and resolved to come back later in the afternoon.  But first, we had an appointment in Bryant Park with another Xangan.

Yes, this has quite unintentionally become the trip of meeting Xangans.  In this case, it came about because Wai Sze, a fellow blogger with whom I’ve been corresponding about an upcoming trip she and her husband will take to Thailand, noticed that we’d be staying nearby her office.


Bryant Park is a great space with lots of trees and shade, free tables and chairs and games spread throughout the place.  It reminds me a lot of Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, a public place that invites people to linger and enjoy the space.

We had a quick lunch at Witchcraft, a sandwich and salad kiosk located in the park, and a short visit before Wai Sze had to head back to work.  My cousin, who had also joined us, headed back to work, too. 


After Tawn took a few more pictures around the park, we headed back to the Metropolitan Museum, where we met up with our friend Biing.  A long-time New Yorker, Biing really knows his way around and has given us lots of tips of places to eat, things to see, etc.


Here, he and Tawn are on the museum’s rooftop garden and Biing is pointing out famous sights: Yoko Ono’s home, Madonna’s home, etc.

After a few more hours at the museum, we walked across Central Park to the west side.  It was threatening to rain the whole way, but luckily we never had more than a few drops at any time.


Posing in front of one of the most-photographed spots in New York City: Bethesda Fountain.  We also stopped by Strawberry Fields and saw the John Lennon memorial before finally catching the subway back to Brooklyn.  This would seem like a long day in and of itself, but we still had dinner to catch!

Stay tuned…


The Egg and I

We arrived without incident at New York LaGuardia airport on Tuesday evening, taking an approach path that brought us right over midtown Manhattan.  I shot some video, which didn’t turn out perfect, but which is worth seeing.  Will try to get that together soon, although no promises as I’ve been pretty busy.

While we were waiting for our plane in Kansas City, Tawn discovered that his camera has a feature that combines multiple images.  He played around with several interesting ones, including this comparison of our travel outfits:


We are staying with my cousins Bradley and Silvia in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.  I’ve not spent any time in Brooklyn before, so it is nice to explore another borough.  Sadly, Silvia is back in Italy this week visiting her parents, so no opportunity to see her.

Brad and Silvia have a trio of cats, two of which came from Italy when they moved back here a few years ago.  The third cat, which they adopted from the shelter, has one eye and is named Willy. 


The cats seem to be everywhere, all the time!


Thursday morning, Brad had to go into town to work, so Tawn and I started our morning with breakfast at Egg, a southern style breakfast place in the Williamsburg neighborhood.  Above, cousin Brad waiting for the train on the opposite platform.


While not much to look at from the outside, the little patio area was pleasant and the service was friendly.  Oh, and the locally roasted coffee was fantastic!

P1180837 SNC13642  

We sat outdoors and since the table was covered with butcher paper, started putting it to use.  Tawn remembered that today was Mother’s Day in Thailand (which coincides with Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday – August 12th).  After unsuccessfully trying to reach his mother by phone to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, he settled for drawing something for her and taking a picture of it, which he can show her upon his return.


I added my own wishes.  I’ll let the Thai readers evaluate my penmanship or, as the case may be, crayonmanship.


Of course, all this doodling led Tawn to start sketching ideas for our house, based on things he had seen that inspired him:


The food at Egg is really good.  They are known for their buttermilk biscuits, which happen to be a specialty of mine.  I tried them with pork sausage gravy and a side of scrapple.

The biscuits were flaky, but also pretty dense and tough even with the flavorful gravy smothering them.  Points for flavor but points taken away for texture.


Scrapple is a breakfast meat with German/Amish country origins.  It is made by boiling the scrap meat and bones left after butchering a hog, then combining the meat with oatmeal, cornmeal or another thickening grain, and seasoning it.  It doesn’t sound good, perhaps, but it is very tasty.  My mother makes a batch every Christmas and gives it to family members as a gift.  The scrapple at Egg was especially well-seasoned, with some chili powder and anise seeds adding a kick to it.


Tawn had a cheese omelet, bacon, hash browns and a tomato compote.  The eggs were beautifully done and the hash browns were deep-fried and yummy.  The common theme for all their food was that things were well-seasoned.

After lunch, we headed into Manhattan and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  More about that soon.


Tying up KC

As I mentioned, Saturday evening after the official reception, we had an open house at my sister and brother-in-law’s house to provide for time for visiting.  If you ask me, this was the best part of the weekend.  Not only did we have another four hours to catch up with friends and family members, we also had a chance to eat some of Kevin’s barbecue!


Above, my grandmother, Anita, my sister and one of my uncles dig into the spread.

These pictures don’t do Kevin’s ability with a smoker justice, but here are the St. Louis style pork spareribs and, below that, the pulled pork shoulder.  With some Carolina-style vinegar sauce, that shoulder was amazing.



Anita pulled together a caprese salad – ripe local tomatoes with fresh mozzarella cheese, basil chiffonade, and some extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Tasty stuff!


What is a wedding without a cake?  Even better, why not two of them?  Albert and Trish stopped by a well-known Swiss bakery near the Plaza and came back with these two lovely treats:



Tawn and I cut the cake and ran into a bit of a culture clash.  In Thailand, the person who controls the cutting of the cake also controls the relationship, or so they say.  I was wondering why it seemed like Tawn was trying to wrest the knife from my hands as we cut!

Sunday morning we were up early to drive Lilian and Anita to the airport for their return flight.  Afterwards, we met Andy and Sugi at Classic Cup Sidewalk Cafe on the Plaza for brunch.


The company was excellent and the food quite good.  Portions were overwhelming, though.


Tawn had this southwestern-style quesadilla and scramble.


Cheesy grits with Italian sausage and fried eggs.  Tasty, but so heavy.  Didn’t finish them.


Sugi enjoyed this turkey version of eggs benedict.


Andy had another version of eggs benedict with a side of grits.  If I recall, these had sausage on them?  Andy can correct me in the comments if I’m wrong.


Above, a cool bike parked in front of the Classic Cup.

After brunch, they headed back up to Omaha.  Really nice having the opportunity to meet them in person and spend lots of time together this week.

Our final days in Kansas City were filled with errands, packing and spending more time with my grandparents.  We scanned many more pictures and also taught my mother how to do the scanning so she can continue the project when I’m back in Thailand.


Tawn and Emily had some time to do yoga together…


Ava made it a point to come in each morning and wake Uncle Tawn up.  Here she’s sitting with an apple slice in her hand (notice the bowl on the bed), jabbering away about this, that and the other thing.

Finally, Tuesday morning we closed the bags, said our goodbyes, and headed for the Big Apple.


Above, Tawn on the flight to NYC.

Stay tuned…


The Reception

IMG_0254 Friday evening after returning to Kansas City, Tawn and I met my cousins (one local and two visiting) as well as a few KC-based friends at Cafe Trio.  Trio is a nice restaurant/bar right on the Country Club Plaza shopping center with a nice deck that overlooks JC Nichols Memorial Fountain.  Of course, they couldn’t handle seating for a dozen so we just occupied the bar area, slowly expanding as adjacent drinkers left.

Eventually, one of the owners came over to see if we were planning on eating dinner.  I explained that we wanted a table but the maitre d’ had said they couldn’t accommodate us.  Telling him that it was our wedding night (my gaydar went off when speaking with him, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to mention it) and we wanted a table, he was accommodating and a few minutes later we were sitting at a group of tables on the deck.  Sitting on it was a complimentary bottle of champagne.  Nothing like pulling family strings, huh?

Saturday was the big reception.  We opted for an afternoon reception since our guests included several young children and some older adults for whom a late night event might be tiring.  The site was Lidia’s Kansas City, the first restaurant in Lidia Bastianich’s small chain.  You may know Lidia from her Public Television cooking shows.  The restaurant location is a former freight building across the tracks from Union Station.  It is beautifully designed and their upstairs reception area has lots of light.  We enjoyed great service from our two servers, who really went out of their way to make it a special event.


Above, Albert makes a very nice toast to our health and happiness. 

It was a lovely reception with lots of family members, family friends and a few close friends who came in for the event.  These included three high school friends who have been close to my family over the decades.


The meal was a three course menu with a choice of entrees: either a lovely lemon chicken or a trio of homemade pasta with included a wild mushroom ravioli, seafood fettucini and a rigatoni with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe.  Dessert was a lemon olive oil cake with basil sauce.  It was really nice.  All their pasta is freshly made on site, which makes all the difference in the taste and texture.


In addition to a very thoughtful toast by Albert, a long-time family friend, my mother made a beautiful speech:

Chris and Tawn:

We never thought we would be able to celebrate this occasion of your wedding.  How much joy we feel that it is a reality for the two of you and for our family.

One of the realities of being parents of a gay or lesbian child is that the child is not the only one who much “come out of the closet”.  To continue with our relationship as your parents, we had to come out as well.  We had to grow into the understanding that this is who you are and that it is necessary for us to continue loving you and supporting you in your life because you are our child and everything else is secondary to that fact.  For us, that means sharing your activities with extended family members and friends with the same openness that we share Jennifer and Kevin’s activities.

A similar growth has occurred for your sister, her husband, and more recently their daughters.  Likewise, your grandparents have grown in their understanding of this aspect of who you are.  Aunts, uncles and cousins, to widen the circle, have also experienced a growth of understanding.

This understanding is: You are of us and we are of you and that will never change.

Today the family has gathered around you, both physically and in spirit, to celebrate this road of your life’s journey.  We welcomed Tawn with open arms nine years ago, loving him as your choice of a life partner.   Now, Tawn, we welcome you as Chris’ husband and Chris as your husband.  We love you both with all our hearts and pray that your life together will be strong.

How lucky am I to have such supportive parents and such a supportive family? 


Knowing that we were heading to New York City next, most of our guests had chipped in to make our visit there very memorable.  The gift bag, which we are opening below, contained a one night’s stay at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square, two tickets to see the Tony Award-winning show Billy Elliot, and reservations at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, which Restaurant magazine rated the 15th best restaurant in the world this year. 

Such a thoughtful gift!  Something we will really enjoy and, an added benefit, it certainly packs easily!

Saturday evening my sister and brother-in-law hosted an open house, with pretty much all the same guests gathering for further visiting and home-smoked barbecue.  It was nice to have several more hours to visit with everyone, especially since several people flew or drove a long way to visit.

Yes, it was small and not nearly as fancy as many weddings and receptions I’ve been to, but I think it was very nicely suited to who we are and what we value as a couple.


We’re Married! (Now with Photos)

Thanks for your patience as Tawn and I went through a weekend’s worth of wedding celebrations and then tried to sort through pictures in order to share them, and the associated stories, with you.  We were fortunate to have several guests with cameras and had the opportunity to gather the pictures before the weekend ended.  Another friend, Ryan, shot with a digital SLR and hopefully we’ll have some even nicer pictures to share with you in a few weeks.

Thanks also to the dozens of congratulatory comments and well-wishes.  More than ever, this trip in which we’ve met several Xangans, has reinforced what a community this site really is.  We appreciate all your thoughts and greetings.

On Thursday morning we headed north to Council Bluffs, Iowa, about three hours from Kansas City.  While my sister, brother-in-law and the nieces went to the zoo, Tawn and I took a nap then picked up guests from the airport.

Along the way, we had a rather blogable moment as my brother-in-law borrowed the keys for the sedan in order to remove something from the trunk.  He then kept the keys in his pocket as they headed off to the zoo, something I didn’t discover until thirty minutes before Lilian and Anita’s flight was scheduled to arrive.

We ended up taking a taxi across the river to the airport, what ended up being a $50 round trip!  Thankfully, though, Lilian and Anita were easily found at the baggage claim and the timing worked well.


Above: Tawn, Anita and Lilian at La Mesa Restaurant.

After dinner at a Mexican restaurant (I realize I’m repeating a bit of a previous entry, so my apologies), we headed to the Cass County (Nebraska) Fair to enjoy the rides on the midway, a taste of cotton candy, and the roar of the crowd at the tractor pull.

Top: Tawn, Lilian and Anita in the grandstands at the tractor pull.  Middle left: The same trio buying some cotton candy.  Middle right: A single passenger spins round and round as the sun dips below the western horizon.  Bottom: Tawn, Chris, Sugi and Andy.

P1180649 P1180656

Driving home along the country roads, Lilian and Tawn dozed as Anita chatted with me to help keep my eyes open.  After dropping them off at the hotel, I headed back out to the Omaha airport as Ryan’s flight arrived at 11:30.  After stopping by a local diner so he could order dinner (six hours on Southwest with only peanuts – but that is to be expected), I called it a night.

Bight and early on Friday morning, we were showered and dressed and ready for breakfast.  The obvious choice: the Cracker Barrel.  Below, Anita and Tawn wait for their grits.


We arrived at the courthouse at 10:30 and went to the County Recorder’s office to pick up the license.  The clerk, who had been grumpy on Tuesday morning when we first applied, seemed a little less so this morning.  Maybe she’s more of a Friday person?  In either case, we reviewed the document, signed it to attest to the accuracy, and then headed upstairs to the Court Clerk’s office.


Above, waiting at the Court Clerk’s window with our witnesses, Anita and Ryan.

Thankfully, there weren’t any cases in session so the waiting area outside the courtrooms weren’t filled with the scraggly assortment of people who were there Tuesday morning.  Still, there were a few people around, looking on with curiosity as the dozen or so friends and family members filled the room.

Below, pre-wedding picture with my family members who had made the trip.  Note the bemused lawyer getting into the elevator in the background!


This whole bureaucratic process reinforced for me that marriage is, more than anything, a civil function: a legal recognition by the state of the relationship between two adults.  I believe more than ever that all “marriages” should be identified by the state only as “civil unions” and that the churches should be allowed to do whatever additional ceremonies they see fit.  Separation of church and state.  Anyhow, let’s not get into the political aspect of this issue here.

While we were taking pictures, the judge came out of his courtroom and called us in.  He was very friendly and invited people to walk in front of the bar if they wanted to take pictures from the area in front of the bench.  Oddly, though, everyone respected the institution and stayed in the viewing gallery.

We asked the judge whether we could use our vows from the commitment ceremony we did in 2004 as part of the wedding.  He reviewed them and decided they complied with whatever requirements for wedding vows that the state of Iowa has, so agreed to use them instead.


Here they are:  (Video of us saying our vows here)

(Chris/Tawn), I choose you to spend my life with,
to grow with, and to make my life with.
I will honor and respect you and be by your side
as we build a life together.

You are the love of my life.
Through the challenges and joys,
the brightest peaks and darkest valleys,
the sunny days and stormy nights,
I pledge my love to you
until the last day of my life.


We then exchanged rings and continued:

(Chris/Tawn), I give you this ring as a symbol
of my love, joy and fidelity.
Wear it as a reminder of my vows to you
and your vows to me.

With that, five minutes after we started, the judge pronounced us legally married.

It is worth noting that during the ceremony, I had a view over Tawn’s shoulder of the window in the courtroom door.  I noticed two faces in it during the proceedings:  One was that of a redheaded teenage boy wearing a baseball cap, who had a confused and slightly disgusted look on his face.  The other was of the grumpy clerk from the County Recorder, whose face was beaming with a wide smile.

After the witnesses signed the license and the judge congratulated us, we headed downstairs to the adjacent park for some pictures.  Council Bluffs, a town that is perhaps a bit lost in the shadows of its larger neighbor, Omaha, still has a cute historic center and they have done a very nice job on the remodel of the park.


Above, Tawn and I pose in front of the fountain.  Below, posing with my parents, who drove in the previous day from Indiana.


After pictures, we drove to a local barbeque restaurant (C’mon, this is a midwestern wedding.  What did you expect us to eat after an important family event?) for lunch.  No pictures there as once you get your fingers wet with barbeque sauce, you don’t want to be handling your camera!

Filled up with good food and flushed with the excitement of finally being legally recognized as a couple, we loaded back into the car and headed back to Kansas City.

Reception covered in the next entry.  Once again, thanks for your good wishes.  I’m glad to be able to share this special event with you.

Tractor Pull Bachelor Party

It is Friday morning.  A loud thunderstorm passed through at 4:00, waking us up in our room at the Days Inn.  We will head to the courthouse in three hours.  Last night was our defacto bachelor party.  We drove up to Council Bluffs in the morning with my sister, brother-in-law and nieces.  My parents arrived mid afternoon and we picked Lilian and Anita up at the airport before dinner.

Dinner was at La Mesa Mexican Restaurant, whose hearty portions deserve an entry of their own. 


Three generations of the family: my mother, sister and nieces.


Lilian and Anita join us at dinner.

After dinner, Anita, Lilian, Tawn and I drove to the Cass County Fair (about 18 miles south of Omaha), an idyllic fair with games, rides, cotton candy and a tractor pull.  We met up with Andy and Sugi, enjoyed some Bud Light, and watched souped-up tractors pull a weight-carrying sled as far as they could down the field.


It was lots of fun and I have some loud video to share with you later.  Stay tuned.

Well, time to shower, shave and get ready to get married.


First Trip to Iowa

Arrangements for the Friday wedding are moving ahead quickly.  Monday afternoon I drove to KC Airport and picked up Tawn, who was flying in from San Francisco.  We then drove north two-and-a-half hours to Omaha, Nebraska where we met yet another Xangan, Andy, and stayed with him and his girlfriend at their cute suburban home.

Omaha is known for its beef (and Warren Buffet, too) so Andy took us to Brother Sebastian’s, a steak house and winery that is designed to look like a monastery.  Very good New York Strip.  Below from left: Chris, Tawn, Sugi, Andy and Ali (a summer intern working in Andy’s lab).


Tuesday morning, Andy accompanied us to the Pottawattamie County courthouse, in beautiful downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa.  It is actually a cute downtown, although the city itself has seen better days.  Andy served as our witness as we filled out the marriage license application.


Going through this process reinforced for me that the issue of same sex marriage is ultimately a civil one, not a religious one.  Nothing that we filled out had anything to do with religious beliefs; it was strictly a civil procedure, the creation of a contract between two consenting adults.

The lady working the counter wasn’t the friendliest person I’ve encountered.  I wonder if she’s just that way all the time or whether she feels forced as a civil servant to process applications for same sex weddings she doesn’t believe in.  I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s just grouchy.

Interestingly, the application form has “Person A” and “Person B” and you can check one of three boxes for each person: “Bride”, “Groom” or “Spouse”.  We opted for “Groom” and “Groom”.


Above, Tawn and I in front of the courthouse.

You’ll find this interesting: in the hallway of the recorder’s office is this poster:


Harrah’s Council Bluffs casino will give you a complimentary cocktail with your marriage license.  Based on the rainbow color and “Everyone Plays a Part” slogan, they must be targetting same sex couples.


Last weekend we were able to meet another Xangan, although just briefly.  Ruth Ann has been reading a lot recently as she and her husband lived in Thailand back in the early 1970s.  I really enjoy her comments as she provides nice perspectives on what it was like to be an expat in Thailand then.  Needless to say, some things have changed a lot while others haven’t.


My brother-in-law has also been doing some smoking in preparation for the guests who will be in town this weekend.  You can just smell the hickory smoke, huh?


Will have information about the wedding soon… stay tuned.


Bluestem Kansas City

Two summers ago, the New York Times wrote an article about how smaller cities in the Midwest are starting to sustain not just good individual restaurants but whole groups of them, a sign of a foodie culture that is not just centered on the large coastal cities.  Two of the chefs profiled were husband-wife team Colby and Megan Garrelts (below), whose restaurant bluestem opened five years ago.

colby megan

bluestem-17 Bluestem is self-described as “progressive American cuisine” and based on the Times’ article, I decided it was worth a visit.  My friend Jack agreed to join me for this exploratory quest into the heart of Kansas City fooddom, which has long been perceived as beginning at steak and ending at potatoes.

Bluestem is a cozy, masculine, and somewhat under-lit place on Westport Road, on the edge of the local midtown entertainment district.  Next door is a Sonic hamburger drive-in, which seems about right for what you would expect.

The bar area is loungey, with leather chairs and comfortable places to sit.  The dining area is in the adjacent storefront, three floors down.  There are only about a dozen tables so it doesn’t feel too loud, although I wouldn’t describe the volume as “hushed”.

Bluestem’s menu is divided into two pages. The left page has appetizers, starters, salads and soups. The right page has proteins. While you can order alacarte, fixed-price tasting menus are their specialty, with 3, 5, 7 and 12-course menus including dessert.

Jack opted for the 3-course menu and I, unable to decide on only one item from each side of the menu, went for the 5-course tasting menu.  Here’s a look at what we are – sorry for the poor picture quality as I had to use a flash.


The amuse-bouche.  A sweet corn panna cotta with a rock shrimp and sliver of frisee.


My first appetizer: Wagyu tartare, giardiniera (an Italian-American relish of pickled peppers and other vegetables in oils), black olive caramel and potato crisps.


My second appetizer: Orchiette pasta, bacon, peas, spinach, Parmigiano Reggiano, lemon.


Jack’s appetizer: Bay scallops, summer beets, wild arugula, corriander-champagne vinaigrette.


My first main: Seared scallop, braised bacon, bok choy, soy caramel, red miso emulsion (the foam).


My second main: Piedmontese strip steak, horseradish potato, asparagus, rapini, la quercia coppa (ham).


Jack’s main: Berkshire porkloin, smoked tomato, sweet and sour peach, vanilla jus.


My dessert: cheese plate featuring local cheeses.


Jack’s dessert: two types of chocolate mousse with spearmint ice cream.

We also enjoyed petit fours – graham cracker pound cake with toasted marshmallow and passion fruit gelee.

The food was well-prepared, quality ingredients and all.  Service was attentive and the servers knowledgable.  Truly, this restaurant could be located in New York, San Francisco or another major city.  But my problem is with the price.  While the food is very good, the price is just too high.  $50 for the 3-course meal, $70 for the 5-course meal.

One thing that occurred to me is that many of the ingredients seem to be brought in from far away.  On the way out, the manager asked us how things were and I asked him about this.  He assured me that most of their ingredients come from five farmers within about 100 miles, but I’m skeptical.  The seafood items were all from the coasts.  The beef was from Texas.  The passion fruit was from somewhere far away.  My point is, being in the heart of the nation’s breadbasket in the midst of the summer, I’m sorry to see that there isn’t more emphasis on locality.  Perhaps that would help drive the price down a bit.

Still, it was an interesting culinary adventure.