9 posts categorized "Food and Drink"

June 11, 2010

Dancing Across the U.S.A.

IMG_2092  We have danced, sang, done yoga, watched Vacation twice, made everything from sunglasses to false nails out of Wikki Stix, and eaten massive amounts of bananas (inexplicably called mee-aws by Little Guy) and pretzels while traversing two-thirds of the country.  Now we are settled into decent hotel digs in Memphis for the next (drum roll) 36 hours!  Woot!  Almost worth unpacking for that length of time.

Due to massive internet disasters in Oklahoma City (high speed internet access, my *ahem*...), I not only screwed up our hotel reservations for tonight, but had no opportunity to write about our Grand experiences on Tuesday.  The Grand Canyon was, well, incredible.  I won't go on and on and on...just on and on, as I feel it is one of those places where one really has to go, explore and form their own opinion.

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I will say that I had two disappointments: 

  • It was extremely crowded and I did not prepare myself for that.  I should have assumed that everyone and their brother (and his sister, tottering around in her high heels) would be there.  I should have guessed that few pictures could be taken without 5 other families ending up in the picture.  I should have realized that I should not be surprised by the family that has a picnic at the rim of the canyon that consists solely of food from McDonald's.  Somehow it just seemed sacrilegious* in a national park.

  • We didn't realize that it would be under construction.  Not the canyon (well, guess it is always changing a bit), but the upper rim areas.  Some observation points were closed off entirely, and Nicholas had to be carried away from the boullywassays (bulldozers).  Note to both of us: next time ensure Ergo is on top of luggage, not buried beneath.  While Nicholas enjoyed the walk, it really wasn't super-friendly for a running toddler.  The paths were fine, but what toddler enjoys the paths? Attempting to climb down the rocks on the rim, that's much more fun!

IMG_4715   IMG_4720  Other than the above?  It was everything one would imagine and more.  I am betting the other 276 miles that make up the rim are as fabulous as the mile we trekked.  Just looking down at the valley made us all want to plan week long camping trips.  Well, Little Guy did not vocalize this per se, but when he finally took a really good look at the canyon and shouted, "Oh, my GOSH!", we took it to mean he was suitably stunned and would consider visiting again.

The only difficult part was getting back in the car and gearing up to drive 8 plus hours to Albuquerque.  We ended up having lunch off the beaten path in Cameron, and this (and the time change) added more exhaustion than we originally planned.  The flip side?  Somehow, along the way, the kids became far more patient and while I can't say they enjoyed sitting in the car for hours on end, really impressed us with their abilities to occupy themselves.

We did have a tiny issue at the Grand Canyon.  I think Kelsey had her fill with the drive, and was less than excited at first.  I did my bad mother bit (which I regret, but please, after 3 days in the car...).  We ended our disagreement with a hug and we both managed to shake free of the stuck-in-the-car-for-days-on-end stress.  The kids still had their moments (who wouldn't) but still managed to amaze me.  By today, any remaining crankiness was all but gone, and now we have two days to recharge.  More importantly, Saturday begins the home stretch of the drive.

It's not over, I know, and more challenges may remain over the weekend.  However, all things considered, I would not hesitate to do the trip again, but I would build in more time.  While we have loved seeing the country, too much of it has flown by the window.  We have watched it pass, our noses pressed to the glass, knowing there is so much more to stop and explore along the way, but just not enough time to do it all.  Well, not now, but who knows what the future holds?

*Call me a food snob, after two years of living in locavore heaven in California, I will gladly lend you my Michael Pollan collector's set.  I wasn't going to comment when I noticed and at first brushed it off as snobbery on my part. After California,  I think any meal eaten when communing with nature should be a slow-cooked, carefully prepared selection of regional delights (or a PB&J, fine, just not fast food).  However, I kept my mouth shut.  Then Pete muttered under his breath, "Who on earth has a picnic of McDonald's in the Grand Canyon?!"  Case closed!

June 01, 2010

Whee!

IMG_2053-1 Nicholas's expression says it all:  we are feeling a bit footloose and fancy-free.  Peter cleaned up the leftover dregs at the house last night..(you know, those little items that seem to escape the first five look-sees) and met with the property manager today.  The walk-through seemed to go well and there was a handshake, a return of keys and garage door openers and the final farewell.  We are now completely finished with the house and can truly relax for the next few days.

While I am sure we will be anxious to get settled once we arrive in Virginia, there is something...no...a lot... to be said for living with fewer items.  We have not finished our de-cluttering and reorganizing and those two items are still on my task list for next year.  Theoretically, we could be headed out again in 14 short months and I would love a move as stress-free as this one.  

After Peter returned home (definition: wherever we are living at the moment)  we headed back to the Art & Wind Festival to celebrate. Kelsey had arrived home from Camporee late this morning.  She was safe, sound and exhausted, but still had plenty of energy to look for snow cones and cotton candy.  The kids had fun on the bouncy rides, we enjoyed a bit of  very tasty fair fare, and Nicholas was able to watch (hold onto your hats) the ladder being put away on the really super-big and awesome Truck #34. 

IMG_1933 Speaking of "fair fare," kudos to Kristen of the McNabb Clan!  She correctly guessed that the items in question in my Santa Cruz post were none other than deep-fried Twinkies.  Nothing like that to make the funnel cake covered with goopy strawberry sauce seem high on the ol' ANDI scale.  Apparently she has not tried them either, so sadly, still not a clue as to what they might taste like...and perhaps that is a mystery best left unsolved?

May 31, 2010

And they're off...

IMG_2025 IMG_4623 IMG_4634 With a giant belch of exhaust, the truck heaved to the left...to the right...back to the left...then righted itself again and managed to finally pull forward.  All 15,000 pounds (give or take) of our 'stuff' was headed east.  Odd for a change that our household goods will only be crossing rivers and going through woods, save for 250 pounds.  The only items shipped over any large body of water will be those that Peter chooses to send by UAB to you-know-where.

I have to say this must be the least stressful move yet.  I finally let go of the notion that we have to do everything ourselves, and hired painters and house cleaners.  Brilliance in action and well worth the money.  We were able to focus on the move, not fret about matching colors or whether the fridge was clean enough, and Peter (bless him) uttered the magic words when the maids left yesterday,

"I am hiring a maid/housecleaning team to come to the house next year on a biweekly basis."

It just doesn't get more romantic than that.

Now don't get your panties in a wad or think he's gone off the deep end, but with three kids, a cat, maybe a dog (yes, it's time, a shelter visit is in order..), he decided that's a necessity.  You know what? After parceling out jobs during this move, I have realized that doing it all on a regular basis (much less just during a move) is a worry I don't want.  I think a little help may just aid me with holding onto my sanity over the next year...along with exercise (really need a good Yoga class), learning how to sew (and knit),  photography lessons, that occasional glass of vino, and, of course, my dear, sweet kiddos and all of their activities.

IMG_4643 IMG_4647 Now before all of that happens, we have to finish up life here.  In case you are wondering, we are sort of pretending everything is status quo.  Kelsey went to Camporee* this weekend and I will assume is having an absolute blast.  When we aren't trying to Freecycle remaining items (anyone need a stainless steel wastebasket for their office?), we are enjoying local events like the San Ramon Farmers Market (The Green Lantern's grilled artichokes are not to be missed) and the San Ramon Art and Wind** Festival.  We are hitting favorite eateries for the last time and I will have one final jaunt into the city this week.  It's hard to imagine that this time next week we will be on our way...

Oh, that reminds me: the itinerary.  Some have asked, and here is the (extremely) tentative plan:

  • 6 June, depart San Ramon and stop in/around Barstow area
  • 7 June, drive to Flagstaff
  • 8 June, visit the world's largest hole in the ground (just couldn't resist...) and head to New Mexico
  • 9 June, drive, drive, drive and spend the night in Oklahoma City
  • 10 -12 June, an 'extended' stay in Memphis (technically Germantown) to hang with the 'rents and eat the world's best BBQ!
  • 12 June, drive, drive, drive and spend the night somewhere on the TN/VA border
  • 13 June, arrive in Edgewater (home of Baby Nate!), and celebrate a certain someone's birthday...

IMG_4648IMG_4649So, until next Sunday,  we are happily ensconced in our second room in ye Old Residence Inn.  We received a hearty welcome from the staff upon check-in and enjoy the fact that Caitlin can walk to and from school (and the library!) for one more week.  Nicholas is sad to miss the carpool with "John John" (Cait's carpool buddy), but we still have the frantic race to get Kelsey to school...at least some things don't change.

*End of the year Girl Scout Camping trip...s'mores, tents, hiking, swimming in lakes, campfires, and scary stories galore. 

** Nicholas decided that the firetrucks were THE reason for the festival.  They had the ladder extended all the way...if there had been an "ananance", too,  we might never have seen the rest of the goings-on...

May 19, 2010

Chez Panisse

IMG_1946 Thirty days ago, Peter ran frantically into the house.  He and Kelsey had just come home from her First Communion Retreat and he was anything but calm.  He was muttering and sputtering, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise.  I started fearing the worst, and finally he came up with,

"I swear, 30 days before, I swear, I was up at 6 a.m.!"

Huh?

"I swear, I went to Open Table, I clicked on May 17, a table for two, it was ONLY 6 A.M. and it was fully booked! How could this* be?!"

I was taken aback.  I knew this anniversary celebration would be important, given his upcoming deployment, but never guessed in my wildest dreams that this was in the offing.  Yes, I had mentioned it now and again, but I didn't expect him to remember that there was one place I really wanted to try.  A local establishment just down the road, a homey yet rustically chic kitchen known for its gastronomic delights. 

  IMG_1957 IMG_4550 Peter was trying desperately to get reservations for Chez Panisse.

I hadn't said anything in months, and with everything else that was going on, it was now the last thing in my mind...but not his.  He was so worried that I would be upset if we went on May 18, instead of May 17.  I couldn't get over the fact that we might actually enter the restaurant with reservations for one of the famed seating times. 

He planned a new attack.  He set his alarm for 11:59 p.m., kept Open Table up, and clicked on the 6:00 p.m. slot the minute the clock struck midnight.  Success! 

Four weeks later and several hours later, the sitter was here,  the kids had their salad and pasta, and we headed up to Berkeley.  Despite hitting traffic, we arrived in good time, and snagged a parking space only yards away just as the meter struck 6 p.m.   The restaurant blended well with the neighborhood, a simple brown building dressed primarily in greenery.  We stepped through the door and began our journey to slow food heaven.

IMG_1952IMG_1953I cannot say that I am a food critic of any sort, but one would have to be hard-pressed to have a single complaint about the meal.  The halibut tartare melted in our mouths.  The garlic soup was so light, but the touch of the poached egg and toasted bread stretched it close to a meal.  The quail was tender and juicy, petite, yet filling and perfectly paired with the fava beans and greens.

The slow food was just as it should be...prepared from local products with such care, spread out so as to not overwhelm, and completed with a just a hint of dessert (oh, the strawberries...).  Our waiter, Howie, was available when necessary, but unobtrusive and exceedingly skilled with wine pairings.  It truly was an evening to remember. 

Oh, sweetie, thank you for such an incredible treat.  Next year, same place, same time?  I'm only half-kidding....

Note: Please ignore the grainy photos, there's only so much an iPhone can do...

*It is a little known fact, but Chez Panisse does not give reservations more than 30 days ahead of time.  It is probably a more widely known fact that they book up quickly.  Thus the only way to ensure a time at the restaurant is to book the moment the clock strikes midnight.  You could try and call the next day....but I wouldn't wait that long!

May 02, 2010

Lunch with Guy

Guy is Grandpa, at least for the moment in this house.  Grandpa arrived Thursday afternoon in order to attend Kelsey's First Communion, and Nicholas immediately dubbed him, "Guy."  Guy is quite the term of endearment, used for the person who drives his toy trucks, for Kelsey's swimming teacher (real name: Brian), for the garbage man (on a pedestal in Nicholas's eyes), and the person who steers the fire truck that seems to whizz past us almost daily.  It's quite the catchall term, and apparently much easier to say than Grandpa.

While much of our work for this special weekend was completed early on, I had a terrible time deciding on a gift.  Once I figured out something meaningful, but not overwhelming, I needed to find a store that might offer such an item.  I was really hoping to find an independently owned shop that might have a larger selection of unique jewelry or books that might not be highlighted in larger bookstores.  Nothing off the wall, but I love supporting local businesses, and an extra bonus if they are remotely free-trade and/or eco-friendly. 

I heard of a local store, Sagrada, in Oakland, and could tell from their web-site that they had a large religious/spiritual selection.   Having not been to Oakland too frequently (other than the zoo, science center and airport), I figured a trip to the store would give me a chance to explore a bit more.  We decided to go Friday morning, and headed west on a gorgeously clear and sunny day.  Ideally, we would have taken the Bart, but opted to drive as we had to be at school for pick-up by 2:30 p.m.

IMG_3318 IMG_3320 IMG_3323 The shop is located on Telegraph in the Temescal/Telegraph neighborhood.  Parking was a bit tricky, but we found a spot and walked half a block to the store.  It was everything I had hoped for and more...spiritual, but in many directions.  While they had a healthy section for the celebration of First Communions, it could be said there was something for everyone no matter what their belief.  I found the key gift for Kelsey and a few cards for other cousins also making their First Communion.  Dad and Nicholas also explored, finding a crayon table (key for the younger set) in their small, but well-stocked children's section, and a water-go (in this case, a fountain).

IMG_1820 IMG_1814 Dad made a few purchases, and we realized we had just enough time for a sit-down lunch.  Our only problem was deciding where to go. Everything along the block whet our appetites, and after a bit of discussion, we settled on Ethiopian at Asmara.  It was a simple, but charming restaurant.  We were promptly seated and took entirely too long to decide on a meal.  We ended up sharing a beef entree and vegetarian combo of red lentils, yellow lentils, mustard greens and veggies.  It was served with generous amounts of injera bread and salad. 

IMG_3328 IMG_3329 The lentils were smooth, but flavorful and the mustard greens were finely chopped and just a bit spicy.  I also opted for steamed milk with honey, the perfect accompaniment for my meal.  Nicholas asked for a fork at first, but once we explained that they weren't necessary, he dove in and alternated between eating with his fingers and utilizing the bread.  Dad also got into the spirit of things, and we before long the tray was nearly empty.

We couldn't stay for dessert, as the school day was almost over, and we still had rummage sale stuff drop-off (a whole car load!), choir practice (and extra practice for Cait), as well as our first cook-out of the year on the to do list.  I really wished we had more time to explore, though, as it was a neighborhood full of unique shops and eateries that I now regret not finding sooner.

April 03, 2010

Caught red-handed!

IMG_4227 In every sense of the meaning.  Little Guy up and disappeared on us this morning (no worries, for a whopping 2 minutes), but you know when it gets too quiet, and they don't answer when you call, you begin to wonder...he could be quietly playing cars or quietly creating a masterpiece on the wall with an ill-gotten marker.

I wondered more when I couldn't find him, walked into the office, and heard a funny rustling sound.  I looked around the corner...and found him peeking out from the closet, his sister's Jelly Belly bag in hand.  Guess he knows a tasty treat when he sees it?  

Note to self:  Jelly Bellies must be stored much, much higher.  In fact, too high for me to reach probably best!

April 02, 2010

A Belly Full of Jellies

IMG_4209IMG_4225Jelly Bellies, that is.  A tour of the Jelly Belly factory was part of Kelsey's class study of Economics.  It was really quite simple:  watch many hungry parents (okay, one mama in particular) race to the Jelly Belly Factory store (when said tour was concluded) in order to spend a tidy sum on, oh, we'll call it "Easter" candy.   Never mind that several of the bags were purported to be filled with flavors that only she likes...

  IMG_4222 IMG_4224 Yeah, I was ridiculous.  Let's start at the beginning though, which was an hour long ride to the Factory, half of which I spent convinced I was going to get a Fastrak ticket.  There was one bridge to cross on the way, and everyone mentioned using the carpool lanes.  So, I did.  Then I realized it said Carpools AND Fastrak.  I then figured it was for carpools only if one has Fastrak.  We do, but it was in Peter's Tahoe, which had been parked for hours in the Financial District.

Guess what?  It really is just for carpools, and I guess they take really awesome photos of each car and decide if the tiny heads in the back seat are real or fake, and then ticket (or not) appropriately.  I have just never heard of any carpool lane allowing you to avoid the payment of a toll entirely...pay it faster with something like Fastrak, but never avoid it.  Live and learn! 

We arrived at the factory in good time (yes, on 1 Jelly Belly Lane) and had no problems parking.  Note to anyone interested in going:  go early!  We arrived at 9:02 a.m. and the parking lot was nearly empty.  By the time we left at 10:38 a.m., it was packed to the gills. 

We headed inside, snapped a few photos (sorry, about your nose President Reagan), and began the tour almost immediately.  I also learned the best way to ensure there won't be a long wait is to decide to use the restroom.  If there is a wait, it immediately dissipates the minute you walk away.  Thankfully, there was some snafu with the number of Jelly Belly hats distributed, and we didn't miss a thing.

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We went up the candy corn staircase, rounded the bend, skipped the optional photo with Mr. Jelly Belly, and enjoyed a taste of the Honey Bean Jelly Belly...pure YUM if you love honey (and I do).  The tour itself lasted no more than 30 minutes, and probably would be shorter if there weren't have oodles of kids pressing their noses to look at the (sadly, not operating) Jelly Belly making machines.  Unfortunately, we went on an inventory day, which meant that the factory was empty save for thousands of pounds of Jelly Belly ingredients and the equipment required to produce them.

Don't worry, JB must have known this could happen, and had monitors with videos of the entire process set up at several key points around the factory.  The tour took place in a  glassed-in hallway that looked down over the floor, and there was no shortage of good views of monitors or actual candy-making equipment.  Nor was there a shortage of samples throughout the tour...banana (okay).and ..juicy pear (super YUM).

IMG_1655 IMG_4220 I am not sure if we spent more time in the factory or the store.  I realized with Kelsey being distracted by the notion of possibly buying the world's largest jawbreaker, I had plenty of time to shop for the kids Easter baskets. If questioned, who wouldn't believe that I was just buying a few little treats my hosts next week, the fabulous Salty Dog crew?  

Now lest you think I have lost my senses and suddenly endorse eating oodles of Jelly Bellies, most of which are made with an ingredient I detest, well...I make exceptions.  I do love many of the flavors, can't stand normal jelly beans, and since we aren't huge candy eaters, I think a bit now and again won't hurt too much.  The funny thing?  Just as I was bemoaning how all of the flavors were only made with corn syrup, I found this mix. Oh, yes, I had to test it...and the flavors passed with flying colors.  Definitely on my list.

I was ever so grateful to have those to snack on for the ride back...one vegetarian potsticker and a mug of coffee do not a breakfast (or "brefits", as Nicholas says) make.  Trip to the Jelly Belly factory $44.19 plus cost of gas.  The fun had with Kelsey (and, yes, getting Easter goodies)?  Priceless.

February 01, 2010

At post?

DPA675F-376If you are in the Foreign Service, you probably have heard of the blog, At Post.  It is relatively young, but has already earned two mentions in the Foreign Service Journal and is rapidly gaining a quite a following.  Due to a request for winter photos, I submitted a picture I snapped on Christmas Day 2007. 

It was our first white Christmas in Iceland and utterly gorgeous.  I took a walk around the neighborhood between gift opening and guest arrival and marveled in the beauty.  Despite the freshness of the snow, one can see by the footprints that many had already been out to enjoy and bask in the glow.  After all, we were down to maybe two complete hours of daylight at that point.  In fact, in my mind, the day was much brighter, perhaps because I was so used to the longer winter nights (all 22 hours of them!).

DPA675F-370 DPA675F-372 DPA675F-374  If you have a chance, please peruse the blog.  Better yet, if you are in the FS and have oodles of photos that might fit a category, don't be shy, send them in!  I think it's a fabulous idea for a blog, and will end up being a very unique photo album.

DPA675F-344 DPA675F-435 DPA675F-443 DPA675F-450  I realized while looking back at that time period, that I left out some of my own photos from that Christmas that I intended to post...you know, one day.  Guess that time has come. The first set includes three pictures of the kids at Árbæjarsafn, just on the outskirts of town. It's a unique open air museum and this was the first year we had a chance to visit it at Christmastime. We enjoyed games, súkkulaði, and watching the making of Laufabrauð, among other activities.  It was a bit nippy, but the kids love watching history come to life.  It's probably quite obvious, but the other photo is of the girls in front of the Christmas tree at the annual Christmas party at the Embassy.

The second set of photos include the girls posing as Icelandic Santas during our annual trip to the Christmas village in Hafnarfjordur, our last Icelandic Christmas tree, our home for three years, and an Icelandic snowman.  I wish I had written about it at the time, but I am guessing I must have been preoccupied with our (then) upcoming move, as well as the impending arrival of LG.

October 25, 2009

October Showers

Today could have been miserable.  Not only was the weather a bit iffy by some standards (not mine, I love rain!), but the traffic was a tangled, knotted mess when we least expected it.  However, too many good things happened today to make it anything but a happy success.

We started off the morning with a visit to old friends, two sisters very close in age to both Caitlin and Kelsey.  Cait has known the older sister since she was a year old, amazing given our lifestyle.  For whatever reason, jet lag, three years since we last saw them, tween angst, Cait was a bit nervous and shy.  However, they had time to catch up a bit, and promised to keep in touch.  

After a quick lunch, we scurried off to Janet's house to finish prepping for the shower with only a brief detour to check out the old house. Yes, we still do quick drive-bys, but they are totally for her benefit.  She freaked out about the "new tree" in front of our house (our old renters planted it), and, of course, bemoaned having to leave the neighborhood (4 years ago, but I get it).

Classically, we got caught in a nasty mess of traffic on 236 or Little River Turnpike.  Turns out we were lucky, though, as we missed the bulk of the storm. We arrived at Janet's in time to get ready for the shower, and head out for a few more supplies.  Then, the fun began...

IMG_3218 IMG_3215 Guests started trickling in at the appointed time, and then the Mom to Be arrived looking happy, relaxed, and just a bit pregnant courtesy of the adorable bump.  Drinks (Habibi Fizz & Lemonate) were served, games (Which TV Mom are you, Fill in the Nursery Rhyme, & Woof or Waa) were played, and the Mezza cuisine brought guests back to the table for seconds and thirds.  It was a combination of Lebanese Taverna, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods at their best.

After (or during, for some of us) the Mezza, the gorgeous array of gifts was opened.  Shannon's Little Lad will have no shortage of clothing, toys, bath items, or sailing accoutrement.  The afternoon ended on a high note of chocolate cake (gorgeous and incredibly rich), and treats from a local chocolate shop. Without a doubt, the afternoon went off without a hitch, and the glow of happiness from the mom to be just lit up the room.

IMG_3200Babybib All of the thanks are due to Shannon's incredible circle of friends and family, both those who there in person and those who could only attend in spirit.  While Jen Pope organized the shower from top to bottom, to include the homemade cake (and frog atop the cake!), Janet was the official shower hostess.  Some of you may remember that she also hosted my baby shower eons (I mean, years) ago when I was pregnant with the wee one who was old enough to play bartender (simmer down, non-alcoholic drinks only) today!

Caitbecky Babyloot Ann and Erin created tasty beverages, and games that had everyone interacting.  Caitlin not only turned out to be a magnificent bartender , but also a waitress, taking plates and refilling so that all could truly relax and enjoy the day.  Nor can we forget everyone who drove in for the day from the extremely happy Grandmas, to cousins, co-workers, neighbors, & a last-minute drop-in for a photo-op from Jack, Janet's husband and photographer extraordinaire.


Note: I took the photo of the favors and the bib.  All other photos are courtesy of Janet, with the exception of the group photo, which was taken by Jack.  Many thanks to both of them!  Oh, and the significance of the bib?  It was my second crafty project of late.  The first was another bib that I did not feel photo-worthy, but gave to Shannon anyway, as I am sure it will still come in handy at meal time. The last picture is of Caitlin standing next to Grandma Happy (or Becky, Shannon's Mom)...love the shot, thanks, Janet!