A Ninetieth Birthday Party

Laura’s grandmother turned 90 this past week. Ninety! Roman number XC. Not only are we all blessed to still have her gentle soul in all our lives, she is also in wonderful health and so much fun to be around. To celebrate, the entire Friedel family gathered at the Hyatt in Cambridge, Maryland for a celebratory dinner.

We try to make every trip not just a destination, but a journey. For this journey, which requires navigating the beltway of our nation’s lovely capital, we made the trip a bit more bearable by stopping for some Pho (pronounced “Fu”) at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Duong in Centreville, Virginia. I still don’t remember how we found the place, but I do remember Laura’s squeal of delight when she spotted it in a non-descript strip mall on a previous journey. We have yet to see another white person in the restaurant in all our visits and we go there every single time we head that direction.

Pho is traditionally a complex beef broth made from fire roasted onions, star anise, fire roasted ginger and a lot of other spices. It is gently simmered for hours, strained multiple times and brought back to a low boil before serving. Your choice of meat is added and cooks right in the broth along with noodles and is served with bean sprouts, mint, fish sauce and hot peppers.

Out of pure frustration, Laura starting making it at home and hers is very nearly as good as the restaurants! There is now a place in Blacksburg on South Main Street that makes it in house, but we still love the restaurant in Centreville!

We made it to Laura’s parents in record time, even with a stop off at BCBG where Laura finally found the little black dress that she has been looking for. I have to admit, seeing her in it made the wait outside the dressing room well worth it. I also made some new friends and was informed by the sales staff that boots were definitely “in” and Laura was very cute in her dress. I joined a crowd outside the store to watch more geese than I have ever seen in my life cross the sky. They didn’t blot out the sun, but there were a lot!

After resting and recovering from the six hour dash from Blacksburg to Trappe, Momma Sue rolled out an amazing artichoke dip and Laura’s Dad shucked about three dozen oysters. Aaaaaahhhh. (Imagine Homer Simpson.) After gorging on oysters, dip and some excellent beer, we headed off to Latitudes Restaurant in Oxford, MD to meet with Granny and Papa Baldwin. It’s probably one of the only restaurants on the Eastern Shore with working fuel pumps. At a loss as to what to order on their simple yet elegant menu, I settle for duck while Laura dives into a cast iron seared flank steak.

The conversation dips and flows and I order Laura a glass of Malbec from the Mendoza province of Argentina. Granny tastes it and promptly orders a glass, as does Momma Sue. In retrospect, I guess we should have had a bottle. Laura generates howls of laughter from Granny when I give her one of my potatoes. “Seriously?? You have duck on your plate and you gave me a freaking potato!!” What can I say? It was a good potato! We share our food, as usual in this family, with Momma Sue passing around her polenta, knowing full well my weakness for that dish!

We pile into bed early, rather exhausted from the travel, food and laughter and awake to an amazing omelet breakfast prepared by Laura’s’ Dad. His main ingredients were leftover stuffed bell peppers. Who’d have thought that would be so good? After lunch we head out to Cambridge to the Hilton to meet the Friedels.

By this point, all the food is beginning to run together in my mind. The food was amazing and the newest Friedel, ten-month old Josh kept us all entertained while we were eating with his quite discerning taste in truffle and parmesan fries along with lemon. I had to physically hold the lemon wedges out of his mouth to keep him from swallowing them.

Even though it was a short trip, we had so much fun. We all met for breakfast the next morning before disembarking and a lot of fun was had by all. The drive back was uneventful and even faster than the trip up and we pit stopped at Einstein’s Bagels in Chevy Chase to stock up for breakfast this week.

I’m so thankful to have married into such a wonderful family. Over the years, in my mind they have stopped becoming my in-laws and have simply become my family. That is one thing that a lot of people don’t realize when they get married: Your new spouse comes with a whole new family! In my case, this is a good thing.

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