Hope’s Comeback

[Originally published in The Tulsa Voice]

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Hope Egan is a charming interview. Funny and affable, with frizzled red curls, she carries conversation with the effortless wit of a bartender. It makes sense, considering her long, storied past and many posts in the Tulsa restaurant landscape. Her inventive tastes, sharp cocktails, and cunning service know-how have been a beloved fixture in the Tulsa food scene for more than 28 years.  

In years past, you might’ve caught her at such Tulsa favorites as Camarelli’s, Lucky’s and Ciao. In 2005, she started cooking professionally and selling her creations at the Cherry Street Farmers Market under the name “Hope’s Table.” In 2013, she conceptualized and was a founding partner of Tallgrass Prairie Table, downtown’s popular farm-to-table restaurant. In 2015, after designing and executing Tallgrass’s sister concept, The Bramble, Hope left daily operations of the company.

Now she’s introducing Tulsa to her newest creation, Red Thistle Catering Co.

“I feel like I’ve come full circle back to where I need to be,” she says.

As a boutique catering outfit specializing in from-scratch dishes made from locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, Red Thistle plates what Hope describes as “delicious food, simply prepared and elegantly plated.” Red Thistle is the product of the same slow-food fandom that primed Tallgrass and The Bramble, served in a more intimate setting.  

Red Thistle’s offerings marry the sophistication of culinary-minded cuisine with the sensibilities of fresh, carefully prepared ingredients. Food from purveyors like Blakely Family Farms, Tria Yang, Middle Mountain Dairy, and Yer Vang Moua’s Farm are made into fanciful creations like farm beet tare tare, grilled pork belly with pickled porter peach, local heirloom salad with mint vinaigrette, and blackberry shortcake with vanilla mascarpone. Most dishes fall somewhere between modern American and Mediterranean, with seasonality driving the menus.

Beginning in April, Hope will post up alongside the other Saturday morning Cherry Street Farmers Market vendors to sell Red Thistle specialties—prepared and packaged seasonal meals, soups and spreads, baked goods, and even a few specialty cocktail mixers.

Perhaps most exciting about Hope’s new endeavor is her Saturday Night Supper Club. Once a month, Hope will cater intimate dinners in the home of a private host or hostess, with seats available to the general public. The BYOB dinners will serve between 15 and 30 mixed guests, with the themes and menus developed according to host and chef’s whim.

Throughout our interview, the question on my mind—and probably everyone else’s who heard about her departure from Tallgrass last year—wasn’t just, what happened? But, how are you? I followed Hope’s lead during our time together, thinking it uncouth to bring it up, and was surprised when she herself mentioned the unfavorable publicity that rained down on her last year. But Hope describes her 2015 with a reassuring sense of optimism.

“This last year has really been a gift. It’s been a year of transition, of personal growth.”

As she tells it, 2014 brought a personal unraveling. With the mounting stress of work, family, and deteriorating health, it wasn’t long before the bottom fell out; she was booked on a DUI arrest on December 29th, 2014.

She swirls her iced tea around, calmly composes herself, and describes a particularly painful, humiliating, stress-soaked blip in an otherwise full, flourishing life: major screw ups (that became majorly public), the shelving of family life, and the pain of untreated mental illness. 

“I didn’t cook my family dinner once in a year,” she recalls. “I fell apart.”

Witnessing her candor is both moving and uncomfortable. As I listen to her talk, I’m struck by a few things: one, the bravery with which she speaks of what transpired over the past year, and two, the humility it takes to share it with a journalist.

In light of what’s happened, I wonder whether or not Hope feels like a victim. But listening to her describe growing edges, and balancing her mistakes with all that’s happened since, she seems more comfortable with the term “advocate.”

“I think there’s a double standard with women in the business,” she explains, recalling the swiftness with which the media took up her story and describing the tendency for women’s mistakes to receive harsher criticism in the public eye than their male counterparts. Hope says she knows plenty of male restaurant owners who’ve made similar mistakes, but who have not-so-narrowly avoided criticism for them. Rather, the mistakes were often swept under the rug, or hmmm’d at without so much as a wayward glance.

Hope remains optimistic about what’s ahead, and says that one day, she might like to use her story to help advocate for women dealing with mental illness.

“I’ve been learning how to take care of myself, how to make my family a priority. I’ve been able to cook everyday. It’s been very liberating. Self-care, transformation, work… last year was about finding out how I could do all three and achieve some balance.”

And Red Thistle, it seems, is the center of that balance.

“I’m really excited to feed people again.”

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What’s in a necklace?

Today is Thanksgiving, and as such, I had this pretty incredible thought hit me right between the eyes: I am really not grateful enough.

Don’t get me wrong: I know full well that I have a lot to be thankful for. I have:

-a rag-tag team of superstar friends that I see on the regular (AKA, the greatest people you will ever meet)
-a body that works, and does absolutely everything I need it to do
-a wonderful job at an amazing company that lets my creativity run wild every single day
-a myriad of stellar freelance gigs that let me write and write and write, and eat all the food, and sip the wine, and listen to songs, and act like I know what I’m talking about, and never get tired of it
-a really fabulous little apartment
-a city I love with plenty of delivery pizza options just down the street

and perhaps the greatest gift of all: a wonderful family.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: it took some time for me to fully grasp that last one.

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There we are–buncha stone cold weirdos at our favorite place in the world (Shogun Hibachi Grill).

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For those that don’t know, I’m the youngest of two (see the other spawn above)–the products of a wildly inappropriate joke-making dentist, and an ultra-loving spitfire mother who loves helping people, and only wants to drink Diet Coke out of giant, styrofoam cups. Preferably from Sonic. (Read: she’s crazy. We both are).

Here she is:

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This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my mom, or our complex relationship. Which is actually one of my favorite topics, and the subject of much pondering, joy, and work over the past twenty years (I’m leaving out everything that happened up to age five, because you can’t really be haughty and mad about someone not letting you go to your birthday party wearing only your Big Girl Barbie Underwear. That’s absurd. Few people could pull that off, like maybe Madonna or Amy Poehler).

My mom is one of the biggest feelers I know, and she’s probably also my favorite person in the world.

Here’s what you should know–for now, at least–about my mom. Back when she was my age, she was a fox. All platinum blonde hair and collar bones and smug, sultry gazes. Seriously, I have photographic proof.

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That hair! That halter top! That ‘love me’ look! All I gotta say is dayum, momma. Now there’s a gal with style.

The truth is, when it comes to my mom, I know I have more to be thankful for than I could ever put into words. Thanksgiving or not, I am aware of her generosity every single day. So in an attempt to skip the sap and not fall apart completely with sheer emotion, I’m going to tell you a little story about one of my most prized possessions, and how it made its way from my mother’s hands to mine.

See that necklace right there? It’s perfection.

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It’s also a family heirloom.

That’s right–I got it from my mama. (The face, too…).

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I feel like this is probably the point in the blog where you’re like, GREAT. ANOTHER OVERLY-STYLED, WANNABE FASHION BLOG. PERFECT.

Listen lady: it’s not a fashion blog. But sometimes you get these photos made that look awesome and you love your mom and it’s Thanksgiving so you make a blog that proves both.

…Just so we’re clear.

Anyway, back to the necklace.

This necklace is circa 1970something, and has been in our family since the dawn of time (or 1970something). It is not expensive (at least, I wouldn’t guess so. I suppose I don’t really know if it is or isn’t), and looks like something you might pick up at a jewelry swap or second hand store. It’s made of tiny, multi-colored wooden beads that make pinning its origin or intended style a little challenging. It’s really kind of perplexing, but looks totally awesome with any outfit. Again, proof:

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Here it is up close:

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And accessorized for some flash:

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Let me be clear: I. Love. This. Necklace. I wear it 2-3 times per week, sometimes keeping casual, sometimes dressing it up. I love that it’s neutral, but still super unique. I also love knowing how special it is, and that–as far as I’m concerned–it’s a one of a kind piece, from a one of a kind lady.

But more than that, I love how every time I put it on, I’m reminded of my mom. I love thinking about where she found it, how she might’ve worn it back in the day, and if she had any idea that her own daughter would be wearing it thirty or forty years later. It’s funny, because I feel more like myself in this necklace than I do in any new piece of jewelry. Probably, that’s because it was made for me, chosen for me before I even knew it. I guess that’s the funny thing about moms: they’ve got us on their mind and in their plans well before we ever even come along.

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(This is what I normally look like, when Valerie Grant isn’t taking professional photos of me for my blog headshot).

We should be thankful. Always. Thanksgiving, and thanksgiving this year especially, when people across the world are literally killing themselves trying to travel to a safe place. And because I live in Oklahoma, and am protected by the security of my nation and job and family and friends and delivery pizza, I have the time to stop, put on a necklace, and be filled with gratitude. If you’re not sure what to be thankful for today, get lost in your mind for a bit. Chances are, there’s something in there that wants to be let out, celebrated, and shared–just like this post.

Now, that fabulous lady up there is pulling a piping hot turkey out of the oven as we speak, and I bet she could use a hand…

Until next time, happy Thanksgiving from my batshit crazy family to yours.

Love,

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For Every Three Things, Do One.

With the hustle and bustle and the ragged-run chaos of daily life, it’s easy to forget a few things. I forget about my dry cleaning, I forget about the oil change I need to get, and I often forget to be kind, and to take care of myself. In retrospect, I realize now that I can’t really do either of those last two things if one of them is missing. Continue reading

Fool’s Bold

Some days, I feel like a fool.

A silly, young, pathetic, naïve little fool.

I have days where I can’t get it together. Days where, try as I might, I can’t make my senses work in tandem to produce results. I can’t find the club soda in the bottom of the machine, even though I’ve just watched it fall out of the rungs in front of my eyes. I can’t help but get to work exactly six minutes late. I can’t cook red meat without setting in on fire and drying it out like a brillo pad. I can’t remember to put my gym shoes in my bag—twice.

Some days, I spell ‘restaurant’ wrong, over and over and over again, even though I’ve been spelling that shit out my whole damn life.

Some days I try too hard. Some days I think people are being awful, when really, they’re just being… people.

I hate feeling foolish.

Somewhere along the line, I learned to associate foolishness with weakness. Playing the fool. Acting ‘a fool. You sure fooled me. “That there’s fool’s gold.” To be a fool was to be willfully pathetic.

In my quest to be bold, I’m learning a lot about what it means to fail, and to be fooled. Failure is such a terrifying absolution—one that feels so finite, so done, with no hope of undoing. Failure is the dreaded end that comes at the hand of foolish choices. And of course, foolishness is the gas that fuels the fire of failure.

Don’t you ever just get sick of the eminence of failure? Doesn’t your neck ever get tired of watching your back all the time?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m a damn fool.

I’m the kind of fool that gives money to people who ask for it on the street. I’m the kind of fool that thinks things will come together. I’m the kind of fool that asks questions I already know the answer to, just because it helps me a little bit to hear it said aloud once or twice. I’m a fool in love, in war, and in the wine store. I buy the $15 bottle because the label’s pretty and I like to feel fancy on a Sunday night. Sue me.

But here’s something I’m learning: there’s a little bit of fool in EVERYONE.

There’s the organic fool, who pays three times market value for food at Wealthy Living, because it makes them feel better to “know what’s on their plate.” (I can tell you what’s on my plate too—five Dove Dark chocolates, a hunk of Cabot cheese, and some spilled wine—heavy on the GMO). There’s the birth control free fool, the grin and bear it fool, the speed dating fool, the gambling fool, the up in da club fool, riding dirty fool, the religious resurrection fool, the let it ride fool, and the worst fool of all—the self-important fool.

I’ve known a few of each of these in my life, and I’ve been them myself more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve kept them as friends, colleagues, teachers, and enemies, and I’ve foolishly let them ride out their faults, thinking they might turn it around. We never do.

Know this: people will let you down. They will toss you aside, or maybe just edge you out politely. Later on down the road, they might even run back to reclaim you, grappling around feverishly in the dark once they’ve realized what they’ve lost. The trick to compassion is learning how to balance this omnipotent assurance with your own self-respect. How to love, without ceasing to be loved.

Know this: fault happens. Foolish choices happen, and then the aftermath happens, and everything goes off just the way you failed to plan it. Foolish choices? They’re a thing, but they aren’t mistakes. They’re gloriously ugly, cracked, edgy, chipped out pieces of the grander mosaic of your life. You’ll cut your finger on them every now again, but you’ll put on your big gal band-aid and move on—onto the next foolish mess.

Some days I feel like a fool, but there’s a boldness in knowing, and in being willing to admit and accept my foolish status. When being a fool means allowing yourself to fully open up to the wholeness and wildness that comes with trial, error, wisdom, and chance, foolishness gives way to certainty—the ability to accept your shortcomings, and embrace your power.

 

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

-The wisest of words from the grandest fool of all.

Bold is a Legacy

Bold is 13 states in 17 days. It’s squeezing your entire life into the impossibly small backseat of a little sedan, and making your mom ride 1,800 miles across the country with a crockpot, a stack of records, two pillows and a few books at her feet. And hoping she still loves you enough to help you unpack afterward.

Bold is shushing the adamant, resounding, nagging worry in the back of your mind—the one that’s saying, Holy shit. I live in Vermont…—for one that says, Holy Shit! I live in VERMONT! Again and again and again.

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It’s not a task for the faint of heart, this disappearing into a new life at a moment’s notice. I’m not sure it’s a task for me, either, but I’m doing it.

While my mother and I were making the drive up to Vermont, I had nothing but time to contemplate my new blog endeavor—life endeavor, really—of being bold at all costs. Simply making the conscious decision to live more boldly ensures it’s constantly in the forefront of my mind, along with the wonder if I’m really living boldly enough.

HelloNEMy mother selflessly did most of the driving on our road trip to Vermont, and left me to gaze listlessly out the window at the slow-changing landscapes, wondering to myself where I’d find my fit within it all. I thought of all the bold choices I’ve made lately, some of them intentional, and some organic. I thought of cutting off my hair, arguably my most treasured physical attribute. I thought of packing up my belongings in mere hours. I thought of how long it’d be before I saw my family again. I thought of what it’d be like to be single, if things went that way. [Update: they did.]

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My mother listened patiently, intently, as she always does. She engaged me with probing questions, wonders, worries. She listened actively, but moreover, she opened up new opportunities for conversation—conversation centered solely on me. All of this while darting through road-rage ridden Priuses, gas-guzzling trucks, lane-floating semis, and the occasional patch of rain, roadkill, and rush hour traffic. She was graceful and gracious.

My mother later went on to not only help me unpack my things and move them into my apartment, but also comforted me when said apartment was less than what I’d expected, held me as I cried like a child over all the newness, went grocery shopping for me, fixed me meals when I was too tired to do so myself, and outfitted my apartment with carefully selected, taste-matched touches of decoration to make my new place feel more like home.

All without ever being asked. All without ever asking for anything in return.

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If I’m honest with myself, I admit that bold isn’t about moving anywhere at all. It’s not about leaving your family, your friends, your job, your boyfriend, your home, or your comfort behind in favor of some sight-unseen possibility. Bold isn’t about glory.

Bold is about what you do without ever being asked. Bold is about making selfless choices based on pure listening and a genuine desire to give and serve. Bold is about who you are of your own accord—bold is having the courage to be the woman your mother raised you to be, and raising your daughter to do the same.

My mother and I had a fantastic road trip together. It was something I never thought we’d get to do, but am so glad we finally did. You learn a lot about yourself when you finally relax into honest, thoughtful mother-daughter conversation, when both parties are finally able to meet and accept the oldest versions of one another. I re-met my mother that weekend. It might be the boldest thing I’ve done all year.

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This Sunday, I’ll wish a happy Mother’s Day over the phone to the boldest woman of all. As she says, “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.” I’ve got that motto in my head these days, and I’m saying ‘yes’ to the boldness that comes with deciding to be alright.