August 14, 2016

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The Best of Sisterhood

Spring break.
I am vacationing with my extended family, including my brother and sister.

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We are in Utah driving through Zion National Park at sunset. Our mouths are agape as we cruise past The Watchman.

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I ask Billy to pull over so we can get out of the car for pictures. I grab my sister Amy for a quick selfie in the gorgeous evening light under the steep red walls.

I put the camera at waist level so the image will show both the scope of the cliffs and our faces. This angle is a dangerous position for women of a certain age.

I adjust the camera.

Fix your chin!” I say to Amy

Oh, right!” she replies as she stretches out her neck, smoothing the wrinkles.

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What did you just say??

My 13-year-old daughter busts into this exchange, aghast. How could I be so rude to Aunt Amy?

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Where do I begin?

I can say ANYTHING to Amy and she understands.

She accepts me when I’m brash and direct.
She accepts any indelicate words as well-meaning.
Amy assumes good intentions.

Amy isn’t just a biological sister, she is a sister in the broadest, most gracious sense of the word. Amy is part of the greater Sisterhood where you

…have each other’s back
…accept foibles and failings
…push for the best in each other
…love unconditionally and laugh uncontrollably

Amy is what every person should have as a friend.

And as far as the chin thing goes, though I subscribe to Nora Ephron’s sentiment that “Anything you think is wrong with your body at the age of thirty-five, you will be nostalgic for at the age of forty-five,” I still think it’s worth making photo adjustments.

(Overhead is best. Sunglasses help.)

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I know Amy agrees.

Happiest of birthdays sweet sister.

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Thanks for loving so well!

August 2, 2016

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5 Summer Olympic Games for Your Team

WE LOVE watching Olympic events and, even though we are more than a little nervous about Rio’s readiness, we are thrilled for a family viewing event!

I originally posted this for the Summer Games in London and used it for the winter games as well, but it still works now. Here’s a few ways to have your own “Team” celebration!

1. Family Viewing Party  – Move around the furniture, pull out the bean bags, bring out the popcorn and watch the festivities together.  Sure, Bob Costas is a fine announcer (pink eye never looked better!), but making jokes and having ongoing family commentary on what’s happening is THE best!!

Cant. Wait.

2. Medal Competition – Of course we’re going to cheer for our country, but then we thought “why not add MORE countries to the mix?”  The more the merrier.  And so, we each selected five additional countries to adopt for the games.  We started by pulling up the medal table from London (here) and then picked a couple of large, medium, and small countries to put on our list.

Through the course of the games, each person will “win” every time one of their countries wins a medal.

What do you win?  A sticker of course!!!  (I hope you didn’t expect something fancy!)

3. Decorate!  After picking our countries, we printed out flags from each country.

My daughter cut out the flags so that each person had a complete set of the countries they were cheering for.  She didn’t turn them over until you could correctly match the flag with the country.
Next, everyone decorated their door.

Billy and I have an especially festive door!

When we have friends staying with us in the basement, they are drafted into the festivities.

4. Food Celebrations!  It’s no surprise that I’ll turn any occasion into a chance to have a new dining excursion. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to experience food from at least one of EACH of our adopted countries.  I’m guessing this is why my son picked China, my daughter picked South Korea, and I KNOW that’s why I adopted Italy.  I’m already scheming on where we’re going for Japanese food from Billy’s list!  

5. Learn Something!  We’ve decided that we have to learn and teach each other five facts from our adopted countries.  This could include how to say a word in a different language, explain the meaning of their flag, talk about their athletes in the games or even, as Billy suggested, learning a local dance.

In all instances, our goal is to have fun and cheer along!

Here are my five countries ready to bring on the medals!!!

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What’s your favorite thing to do during the Olympics?

July 14, 2016

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Joy’s Brownies

“I don’t usually crave brownies, but I want to take a bath in these brownies
or at least smother my face in them.”**

Fun Fact: my parents have had three different Joys live with them (one spelled her name Joi, but still…) and one of them, Joy Engler, loved to bake.

In fact, Joy made the absolutely BEST brownies and fortunately she taught me her method.  I spent years making these bad boys and almost forgot about them until I was pressed into finding something new for a dinner.

Where was the recipe? I texted Mom and my sister and eventually found close-enough approximations that I was able to piece together the recipe below.

“Joy’s Brownies” will certainly change your dessert game.

Here’s what you need:

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1 box German Chocolate Cake Mix (Don’t use the “pudding” kind)
3/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup evaporated milk
¾- ½ cup chocolate chips
1 bottle caramel syrup*

Optional – Chopped nuts for the topping

*Substitution – if you don’t have a bottle of caramel syrup OR if you prefer a thicker, more decadent caramel, you can melt a bag of caramel candies with another 1/3 cup evaporated milk for the filling.

NOTE: THIS DISH REQUIRES COOLING TIME, SO DON’T MAKE THIS LAST MINUTE!!!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the cake mix with melted butter and evaporated milk.

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Stir until a dough forms. It’s gonna be gooey!

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Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray and cover with a light dusting of flour. Then put approximately half of the dough on the bottom, pressing together to form an even layer. I try to go light on this layer to make sure I have enough for the topping, but it’s always a little tricky. (Fair warning.)

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Bake for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with a thin layer of chocolate chips. I prefer the small kind if/when I have them. Drizzle with caramel.

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I use almost a complete bottle so the chips are covered, but not swimming.

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Take the remaining dough and press it into pieces between the palms of your hands and cover the top of the caramel. The result will be a bit of a puzzle. In fact, it’s going to look like a mess and, if you’re like me, you’ll worry that the dish won’t hold together.

I have never made this dish without being convinced that I’ve ruined it.

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Return the oven and bake 15-18 minutes. The result will be like this…  beautiful!! 

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But still, there is some serious goo in the middle, so allow the dish to cool completely before cutting into pieces.

 

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PRESTO!!  Joy (Engler)’s Brownies.

As tasty as ever.  Enjoy : )

 

 

**This loosely quoted sentiment is from a friend of mine who had these brownies over a month ago at my home. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long, but Summer Hours Don’t Cha Know!!

June 26, 2016

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The Man I Love

I married a younger man.  A man who, even today, on his birthday, is still in his 40’s. His youth is hardly fair – especially since he  manages, 99% of the time, to be more mature than I.

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When we were first engaged, people told me how lucky I was to find him. “He’s the best,” they would gush. “I’m sure you’re so excited to find him.”

Hmmmm. Yes. Of course I was excited. I mean, I had waited TWO YEARS for the proposal. I was thrilled — tired of being patient, but thrilled.

But there were darker thoughts too. Why was he the bigger catch in our relationship equation? Had he been hiding a secret fan club from me? Perhaps, just maybe HE was fortunate to find me?!

Where were the people saying that? California?New York? They weren’t in Atlanta…

I realize the mere whisper of this “what about me” mentality proves the point – he was less petty – more evolved – or mature than I.

And there you have it.
Case closed. He’s a “better” catch.

Don’t worry about my self-esteem. I’m good. I’ve made peace with the fact that I did, indeed, marry up.

Doing life with Billy Phenix is on every measurable scale, an unqualified win.

In fact, it’s all I could do not to make an entire post gushing about the sweet, amazing man I love. (You can find earlier posts here and here which do the trick.)

However, to switch things up I thought it would be more fun to share some of Billy’s quibbles, quirks, and things which make me say, huh?! even after all these years.  I feel like it’s good for the world to have more fodder on what makes this guy tick.

Ready or not — let’s go.

1. Billy has zero tolerance for cats – he says they steal your keys. I like cats and think they are hilarious. Fortunately for Billy, my allergies don’t allow for a feline in our mix, otherwise there could be some tension on this point.

2. He thinks Disney World is better than Disneyland.  Uh. No.  Since I’m in charge of traveling logistics, he doesn’t have much of a chance of winning this one which is good because he’s never been more wrong. (I hope I don’t have to disable comments on this post…)

3. Billy doesn’t value a freshly squeegeed shower.

4. He allows the dog to manipulate him. I’ve never seen someone over-serve dog treats like Billy Phenix.

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5. If there’s an OCD spectrum on the whole pressure washing thing, he’s firmly planted on the far side of the wash-until-everything-is-ridiculously-clean end. We were staying at a friend’s beach house once, and he offered to pressure wash. They thought he was joking and passed on the offer, but I know the truth!

6. Don’t even think about hanging the toilet paper with the tp going under.

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7. He doesn’t eat my homemade thin mints.

8. He eats more than his fair share of carrot cake.

9. He dislikes artichokes, asparagus, and okra. I chalk up the first two aversions to his lack of exposure, but what kind of Southerner doesn’t like okra?

10. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s so odd to me – Billy stops gas pumps on even numbers. Who in the world pays attention to such things??

Ah yes, this man has his share of quirks and I love them all. The very happiest of birthdays to the very best man I know!

June 19, 2016

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Phone Calls With Dad

Like anyone living far from their birthplace, I settle for a Father’s Day phone call with Dad rather than a face-to-face visit. While I’m sad to be across the country from him, the call is an adventure in and of itself.

Chatting with Dad is never exactly normal.

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The fist idiosyncrasy is my parents actually finding their phone.  The creation of portable, wireless phones has led to the Where Did I Leave The Phone game. If Dad doesn’t pick up right away(and he usually beats Mom to the punch), chances are the phone has moved to another room; it is never left or forgotten, it simply moves to a different room.

Crazy how that works.

Rule #1
If there’s no answer, call back because Dad is looking for the phone.

Unless, of course, he isn’t. Because sometimes the phone isn’t charged, so it’s not ringing. Other times the baseball game is on and he’s not listening for my call.

Rule #2
If he doesn’t pick up after the second call, don’t stalk him. Try calling after the Dodger Game.

Of course, if my Dad answers the phone, he’s going to mix it up and answer by saying, “Joe’s Pool Hall.”

Dad likes making people think they’ve called the wrong number.  Like every other Dad I know, he enjoys messing with people like that.

Rule #3
Ask to speak to “Joe” – everyone needs old jokes

Sometimes I’ll call and after we exchange a few pleasantries, Dad will segue the chat by saying, “Joy, I wanted to talk to you today because _____.”  (Fill in the blank with the a wide assortment of topics from choir concert news, to political observations, to questions about the dog or family.)

Whatever the topic, I’m immediately confused.

Didn’t I call HIM?
What are we talking about?
How did I lose control of the conversation so fast?

Rule # 4
Stay flexible – Dad is still the boss of you

Even though Dad clearly enjoys answering the phone (when he can find it and between innings), it will never occur to him that you are actually calling to talk to him.

Instead he’ll lead with “your Mother’s not here, so you’re stuck with me,” or “Let me get your Mom for you…”

If Mom IS around, you’ll have 1/16th of a second to stop him from setting down the phone and looking for Mom.

“GAAAAAAILLLLLLL — IT’S JOY!!” he’ll scream.

Rule #5
After saying hello, always say you’re calling to speak with HIM!

The truth is Dad doesn’t enjoy long phone calls.

He wants to cut to the chase and figure out if there’s something interesting to report on the family, if you’re planning a visit, or if you want to speak to Mom. Otherwise HE wants to tell you that he’s proud of you, who you should vote for (though he’s uncharacteristically quiet on this election cycle), and to let you know how he’s praying for you.

At this point, his gratitude for your amazingness (because, if you care enough to call, you ARE amazing!!) will usually prompt him to tears which is awkwardly sweet. Though the tears aren’t 100% reliable, what you can count on prior to any sign off is a prayer.

“Joy, let me pray with you…”

These six words starts the blessing which is so notoriously Dad. At this age and stage of life, Dad is mostly interested in how he can speak words of encouragement. He blesses a string of factors in my life: kids, husband, work, church, studies, whatever comes to mind.

More often than not I’m listening to the prayer while navigating Atlanta traffic, shooing away a dog begging for attention, or trying to block out playing children, but still I hear his words. I recognize his gifts to me and realize, yet again, the point of the call has been hijacked. I can’t bless Dad nearly as much as he can bless me.

What a gift.

And so the final rule…

Rule #6
Cherish your Dad

I am so grateful for mine.

 

June 6, 2016

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How Do You Keep Work Interesting?

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“When you’re in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it.” – Twyla Tharp

Do you ever stop and think about the sheer volume of creativity around you?

Consider the music you’ve heard, the engineering in your phone, the design of your car, the marketing you’ve seen, the films you watch, the gardens  you stroll through, the blogs you read; the sheer volume of creativity in the world is astounding when you stop and think about it.

We are made to be creative. Calling yourself  “non-creative ” is the same as admitting that you can’t innovate, problem solve, outwit, outsmart, or create anything.

Is that really you? NO!

Of course, maybe you aren’t bringing much creativity into your work life (at home or in the office) and if that’s the case, life’s got to be feeling pretty dull; you’re likely feeling “stuck.” There’s no shame in that, we all get stuck sometimes.

Not to worry, you can get out of the rut.

If you want to regain the “magic” in what you’re doing, or at least some of the “interest,” you’ve got to find a way to play at work. Psychologists call this “Flow,” and it’s the ideal state for learning and creativity.

If you aren’t playing, creativity will be a struggle. If you’re not being creative, you’re going to feel all clogged up. So the question is: do you prioritize  play? Do you recall the basic elements you need?

Here’s a quick reminder:

  1. Create margin/unstructured time in your day
  2. Change your environment
  3. Look at something unusual
  4. Do something fun
  5. Experiment

The video below is a quick story of a photographer who had to recharge his innovative juices. He says, ” the necessity [of being creative] kills the magic.”  I love the lengths he goes to to find something interesting.

Your journey could be much less rigorous, but hopefully equally inspiring!

 

June 3, 2016

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Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

You learn more at a funeral than at a feast—
After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover
    something from it.
The Message – Ecclesiastes 7:2

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“This is a sad, but beautiful book.” This is what my friend said as she loaned me When Breath Becomes Air.

She was right, of course. But she could have used an entire list of words.

Tragic
Inspiring
Humbling
Honest
Brutal
Engaging

The plot of the book is, unfortunately entirely true.

When Breath Becomes Air is the story of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who spent a decade of his life studying medicine only to be diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at age 36. As the book jacket describes:

One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present?

However sad the story is, Paul’s experience of being on both sides of caregiver and patient is unique and, fortunately for the reader, very easy to read. He never drifts into a place of self pity (“why me?”), but he carefully observes the transition from his role as doctor to that of patient.

“It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics changed as soon as I became one.”

I might be quoting that sentence for the rest of my life. Such truth…

Further on I found his language around living with a terminal illness particularly compelling.

“The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget. You may decide you want to spend your time working as a neurosurgeon, but two months later, you may feel differently. Two months after that, you may want to learn to play the saxophone or devote yourself to the church. Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.”

In living the “process” what Kalanithi discovers is how to live.

“I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely. The problem wasn’t really a scientific one. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”

Paul Kalanithi’s story continues until his death, and the book, although technically unfinished, closes perfectly with thoughts from his wife.

“Relying on his own strength and the support of his family and community, Paul faced each stage of his illness with grace—not with bravado or a misguided faith that he would “overcome” or “beat” cancer but with an authenticity that allowed him to grieve the loss of the future he had planned and forge a new one…. Even while terminally ill, Paul was fully alive; despite physical collapse, he remained vigorous, open, full of hope not for an unlikely cure but for days that were full of purpose and meaning.”

Re-read that last snippet.  In the face of death he found something important…“hope for days that were full of purpose and meaning.”

Isn’t that everyone’s hope? Reading this book made me grateful for Paul Kalanithi and for life itself.

A beautiful read indeed.

May 31, 2016

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Summer Hours

Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12

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I’m ridiculously excited about having the kids around this summer, but I realize I’m going to need to redeem the hours when they are typically in school in order to get some work done.

This requires reshuffling priorities and saying no more often than usual.

However, the biggest opportunity comes by shifting my online and blog time to work. (I generally do these activities very early in the morning or late at night.)  As a result, you may notice a drop-off in how frequently I post and/or the amount of new content.

Maybe you won’t notice at all.  After all, maybe you’ll unplug too!  Maybe you’ll hurry home and throw some food on the grill, or take a walk, or catch up with friends. This is no time to be sitting in front of a screen!

Whatever your summer hours look like, make it memorable!

If you want more frequent doses of Team Phenix this season, follow me on Instagram, my social media drug um venue of choice.

May 30, 2016

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A Grateful Pause This Memorial Day

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” 
Joseph Campbell

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If you don’t have the chance to attend an official Memorial Day event, maybe you can pause a moment and express gratitude for the men and women who died in service to our country.

For me, this old-school montage sets the perfect tone.

Hopefully it will for you as well.

I am so grateful to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

May 29, 2016

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Dining Out: Brush Sushi Izakaya

I’m guessing most of us know what defines sushi.  However, I’m also guessing most of us DON’T know the Japanese word “Izakaya” which is basically the Japanese equivalent of a tavern.

So when you’re looking for Japanese food, if you choose a sushi restaurant expect raw fish, rolls, and a minimum of cooked dishes.  However, if you go to a sushi IZAKAYA restaurant, expect an assortment of cooked food as well.

The good news is Atlanta has several incredible options for izakaya around town. In fact between Miso Izakaya in O4W, Shoya Izakaya in Doraville, and now Brush in Decatur, you have every opportunity to experience the fabulousness of Japanese “tavern” life.

While all three of these spots are really terrific, Brush has the distinct advantage of having both great food AND a wonderful location for post dinner wandering (there’s not much to do after dinner in the O4W or Doraville locations).  Still, Brush would be worth going to an island for their amazing food.  I’m so excited for you guys to find this place!

To start, we went with a cold appetizer, the poke which is tuna, salmon, avocado, house-made chili oil served in a beautiful arrangement.

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The fish at Brush is never frozen and much of it is flown in from Japan.  I swear you can taste the difference. If you’ve never eaten raw fish, this should be the place to start. AMAZING!

Next we opted for a cooked dish, the dumplings called Wagyu Gyoza which is American kobe beef, cabbage, chives wrapped as dumplings. The dumplings are cooked on a plate with the dough, then flipped over to be served. Thus it appears as a pancake-like dish.

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However, when you break the dough apart you find  your more traditional dumpling.
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As fun as the presentation is, the taste is better. Definitely put this on your short list!

Next up we ordered the chef’s sample Yakitori (2 @veggie/chicken/pork), which are grilled skewers of meat and vegetables. 

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The pictures really don’t do the flavors justice. While the veggies were decidedly unremarkable, the chicken and the pork skewers were so richly flavored I could have made a meal of them.

The skewers are cooked on a charcoal grill using Japanese white charcoal which apparently reaches 1000 degrees!  I checked out the prep area and the coals were white and oddly shaped – like a long rectangular cube. 

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Whatever the secret, the output was just delightful!

Next up was the House Chashu Rice with seared pork belly, green onion, soy-cured yolk.

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We LOVED this dish, but since we had just finished a pork belly skewer, we would probably switch it up next time.

Finally, we were onto a couple of sushi rolls.  For me, any decent sushi bar has to have a great spicy tuna offering. Fortunately, Brush does…

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Doesn’t this picture scream GET IN MY BELLY??

I hear it!

That said, the show-stopping, shut-the-front-door, drop-mic, game-changing dish of the night was the final thing we ordered, the Salmon and citrus made with sundried tomato and cucumber.

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The next time Creative Loafing comes out with a Best Dish List, this HAS to be on it.  I can’t even tell you how happy I was to eat this creation. There was a light, tangy taste which was surprising and delightful.

SO great.

Friends, if you eat at Brush, please let me know what else you order. We are most definitely going back!