Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's just how I thought it would be.

Katie and I were sorority sisters, and through Facebook, we reconnected and arranged to have dinner when I was in New York.

When I knocked on the door of their apartment, I heard a screech. It was Emmett, Katie and Peter’s 3-year-old son. He loves having company, has brown curly hair, and can say, “I gorgeous.”

While Emmett watched The Iron Giant and ate carrots and hummus, Katie and I caught up about the last 16 years. We also talked about the details of her 21st birthday (which are still surprisingly vivid), who we’ve kept in touch with, and who we haven’t kept in touch with. Peter said “That was 20 years ago!” only a couple of times.

Incidentally, I still remember the titles we gave the memoirs we had jokingly said we'd write. Hers: It’s Just How I Thought It Would Be. Mine: Oh, I Understand Now. We’ve realized how cynical and naïve (respectively) those titles are. But there's also a little bit of truth to them. In a good way, of course!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New York hotels (and being a satisficer)

I'll be in New York at the end of the week. As usual, I deliberated about where to stay.

But I’m trusting TripAdvisor: the reviewers rated the hotel where I'm staying one of the top 30 in the city.

I am really trying to be a satisficer about this decision.

Which is a challenge for me, as I tend to approach even tiny decisions with the passion of a maximizer.

Sometimes I wish the Internet didn't exist. Because then the main venue for my exhaustive, exhausting research would be gone. And I would not know about all the great deals and fantastic service that other people got, that maybe I could have gotten had I looked into it a bit more.

This weekend, I won’t be having complimentary wine and cheese or cookies or apples or a fancy continental breakfast. Nor will I be hanging out at a rooftop bar with young, hip guests.

But if all goes well, I will be sleeping in a clean, quiet room, and the hotel will just be part of the background on an exhilarating trip. That's the thing about New York: I have never had a bad time there. So I can be a satisficer about the city, if not its hotels.

See you in the Big Apple!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oh well, Papa.

I was still thinking about the puppy I saw on Valentine's Day, so I stopped by the Humane Society tonight. Here’s a link with the pup's photo, but by the time you read this, someone will probably have snapped her up.

Janis, a 20-pound, four-month-old border collie/spaniel, arrived as a stray from a shelter in Tennessee. She has dark eyes, teensy teeth, and a face that looks more foxy than in the photo. I loved meeting her: she gave kisses, hopped after her rope toy, curled up in my lap, and tried to chew my fingers and the heel of my shoe. She also put treats in her mouth and then dropped them onto my coat. Wacky!

I considered whether I should have Pops meet her.

Then I arrived at my parents’ house.

Pops had eaten a package of noodles, fish flakes, and half a bar of soap. She had also left a few pieces of shredded plastic bag in the dining room. Sigh.

If there’s room for a second dog, I’d prefer that he or she be not too smart. Not stupid, but not smart enough to, say, open the bathroom door, unscrew a pot of lip gloss, and eat it. Oh, Papa.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day clichés, in a good way

A card.

That was my one request for Valentine’s Day. No more and no less. What’s not to love about cards? They’re inexpensive and meaningful. In the wrong hands, I suppose they can also be high-pressure and terrifying....

But enough about my theories.

Ben and I started our Valentine’s get-together by visiting the Humane Society. I was curious about a German shepherd mix but got distracted by an adorable border collie/spaniel puppy who had the same lonesome expression Papa has. Don’t worry, I was just browsing. I can’t have two crazy border collies!

When we got back to the house, Ben made dinner while I took a nap. (His one request for Valentine’s Day: that I stay out of the kitchen.) There is nothing like waking up from a nap to the smell of baked chicken, potatoes, and veggies. Really, sharing a home-cooked meal is one of the best things ever.

After dinner we played Uno. I wanted to get him something else — something a little less… um, small, but earlier he insisted that I not buy him anything. He’s “not really into Valentine’s Day.”

So my contribution to the evening was a deck of cards and some chocolate mousse.

An aside: Making the mousse required three phone calls to Yukie, one of which started, “Oh my ganache!” I should have read the reviews before trying a new recipe. It would’ve also been nice if mine turned out as pretty as, say, Diane and Todd’s version.

Anyway. Chocolate mousse might be a romantic dessert cliché, but it is also very tasty. (I chose not to point out the lumps.) Ben hates whipped cream, so I used only a little dot to brighten up the berry garnish.

Getting his picture taken is another thing he doesn’t like, so I’ll spare you the shots of him shuffling cards and eating chocolate mousse.

We had a really fun Valentine’s Day. Puppies, flowers, dinner, chocolate mousse — and a card, too. What more could a girl want?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chocolate babies

Maybe it’s post-vacation blues (can you get jet lag from going to California?), but I’ve been craving sweets lately.

I’ve been trying to pace myself with my treats from Marukai, a Japanese store with a huge snack aisle. (Here's Yukie with some Hello Panda cookies.)

For some reason, Marukai doesn’t sell Choco Baby candy online, but you can find boxes of them on Amazon. I love the adorable packaging of the five-pack assortment.

In case you were wondering, a Choco Baby is not a baby-shaped chocolate; it’s a pellet of chocolate shaped like a blunt Tic Tac. Some (but not all) of the babies have a star-shaped design inside. So charming!

It's humbling to shop at Marukai; there's a whole candy world left to discover. At some point, I'd like to try the Ginger Ale KitKat. It could be disappointing, but what if it's the best thing ever?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Newport Beach, last days of vacation

Even though I’m back in Milwaukee now, I’m not quite ready to make my vacation a distant memory. So I thought I’d post a few photos.

Opening the back patio doors, we had a view of other villas. There weren't that many people around, so it was really quiet. Quiet = my idea of a good time. (Sad, I know.)

The place felt secluded. Technically, it was: the tennis pro said it had only about 70% occupancy.

To get to the tennis courts, you could follow the path that curved around. I never actually walked to tennis; Dad drove me to my lessons so I didn't have to trek uphill!

Stepping outside the villa, I could see the pool. There are actually a few different pools, but this is the one I spent time at. (I guess no kids really play in the pool that's near registration — mental note for my next visit.) The weather was in the mid 60s most days — too cold to be sitting outside. Luckily the water was really warm! Ah, sunny days.

My parents and I also walked along the beach at Crystal Cove. We picked up a few shells and browsed the souvenir shop.

I was also curious about the people I spotted on the decks of the historic cottages (I've never known anyone who lived on the beach).

Alas, I did not get to play in the poolside ping pong tournament because it rained on Friday. But with five days of tennis, beachcombing, and hanging out in the pool, I can’t complain.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Speaking of restaurants (a lesson)

Saturday I had to replace my modem. When I tried to install the new one, the tech support person asked me my password. I did not get it right. So she asked me my security question: “What is your favorite restaurant?”

“The Social?”
Longer pause.
“I don’t know. Balistreri’s?”
“That’s it, you got it!”

She sounded genuinely pleased.

The lesson: Security questions should not have subjective answers. My dad’s middle name or mom’s maiden name will never change.

The allure of chain restaurants

My parents and I had dinner at The Crab Cooker. Again.

Yesterday, the three of us ate at Il Fornaio in Irvine. If you didn’t know, Il Fornaio is a chain (primarily West Coast) that serves Italian food.

It is also, along with Red Lobster, my favorite chain restaurant. (No rude comments about the RL, please.)

I’ve been going to Il Fornaio since college. And though I can’t remember my first visit — in San Francisco — I have memories of their lobster ravioli, chicken breast sautéed in butter, and three-layer chocolate terrine. I’ve been there with Liz, Evan, Susanne, Linda, and Scott — at different times, but usually for something at least slightly celebratory.

When I lived in L.A., I went to Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. I’ve tried, over the past two decades, to get there as often as I can.

Most times, I appreciate the consistency (the sameness!) of chain restaurants. But Il Fornaio is different. Though I almost always start with their house salad (greens, garlic croutons, shaved parmesan, and their house vinaigrette), it’s not because I’m afraid of change. It’s because that’s one of the best salads in the history of salads.

So chain restaurants aren’t always about my resistance to change. They are sometimes about the anticipation of going to a place that has excellent food and great memories.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Newport Beach, February 2010

I’m here in Newport Beach on the second day of my vacation. Today was sunny and in the mid 60’s. I played tennis outside and even got a little sunburn. It was, to use an adjective I don't get to use much, delightful.

After lunch, my parents and I hit the malls (I wish we had Nordstrom Rack in Milwaukee) and then had dinner at the Crab Cooker. My crab cakes and rice pilaf arrived on a paper plate and were simple and tasty. And I loved the huge jar of saltwater taffy near the door (you have to use tongs to get the candy out).

It’s a weird feeling, being on vacation. January was such a busy month, it’s nice to have a week with not much to do. My big plans? To play more tennis this week before the rain sets in. Other than that, it’s a very low-ambition vacation. Oh, I would also like to play some ping pong if I have time.

In case you were wondering, Papa is staying at Christa’s this week. Christa sent me this photo: looks like Pops is making herself at home. So we are all enjoying our home-away-from-home. I am really appreciating timeshare life.