Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mac & Cheese; Kevin's Famous Chinese Chicken Salad

My Gpa was feeling like he hadn't seen the family in awhile, so he wanted to have a get together. Since he's in a nursing home, and it's tough to transport him, we schedule these things there. They have a "Bistro" which is just a room with tables and chairs for eating at; we reserved the room and everyone signed up to bring something.

Lisa asked me last night if we were coming, and what I was bringing. I said I was thinking about bringing a chicken, but I wasn't sure. This morning, I forgot to pick up the chicken at the store, so I had switched to Mac & Cheese, which I could make from what I had at home.

Mac & Cheese

I'd never made Mac & Cheese from scratch before, but I'd watched Bobby's mom make it enough times I felt I could do it. I had a little macaroni and some shells - not enough of either by themselves, but plenty together. In the fridge I had some Cheddar, Mozzarella, and creamy Havarti - I cut all of that into little cubes so they would melt faster and more evenly. In a large pan, I melted a stick of butter, threw in some salt and pepper, and a little cream - I only had a tad left, so I used milk for the rest. When that was warm, but not quite bubbling, I threw in some of the cheese; as that melted, I added more cheese and stirred almost constantly, adding milk when necessary. When my noodles were done, I drained them, put them back in the pot, and poured my cheese sauce over top and mixed it around. I poured most of that in a baking dish and threw it in the oven for a bit; the rest I put in bowls for Emma and I to try.

Bobby stole a bite out of my bowl, and liked it so much he stole the rest. I should have put some extra cheese on the top, and tomatoes, but I didn't. Next time. Maybe some bread crumbs or something too.

When we got to the nursing home, I found that Lisa had missed my "not sure" and told everyone I was bringing chicken. Oops. The Mac & Cheese was well received though. No one else had brought a meat dish, but my uncle Kevin brought his famed Chinese Chicken Salad. I'd heard of it, but never had it, and today I wound up going back for thirds, and fighting the temptation of fourths. Lisa and I had him email us the recipe, this is what he sent us:

Kevin's Famous Chinese Chicken Salad


1/2 cup Canola Oil
1/3 cup Red Wine Vinegar
4 tbsp Sugar **Note: I've tried to substitute the sugar w/ a sugar substitute but it just does not taste right
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1/8 tsp Garlic Powder (or 1 clove)

Chicken Breast
Romaine Lettuce
Sliced Almonds (toasted)
Sesame Seeds (toasted)
Chow Mein Noodles (The fried kind)

Mix dressing, chill
Boil chicken breast until it shreds easily with a fork, cool (He just puts the breasts in a pan full of water and throws it on the stove. When it easily falls apart when stuck with a fork, it's done.)
shred chicken with fingers
Add to lettuce, celery, green onions (chives)
Add seeds, almonds & chow mein noodles
Serve with rice or bread sticks if desired

Tasty stuff, I tell you. I'll be making it soon.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Crossroads Guitar Festival Dinner

Mom decided she wanted to have a party at my house - it was to be her and Dad, my Aunt Lisa and her boyfriend Nigel, Bobby and me. Our house is in the middle, and we have a really large television, which was apparently necessary for her party. She had some surprise she wouldn't tell anyone about.

Everyone made it over today around 5pm, and mom pulled out her surprise - a DVD of the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Eric Clapton puts together this festival where all these amazing guitarists get together and jam. Bobby and Nigel both play, and she thought they would really love it.

The concert played on the TV while we finished prepping dinner. Mom prepped the food and Dad barbecued it - Lisa said she wanted meat, so that's what we had - with a couple of veggies to go with it. Mom and Dad pulled out the last of their wines brought back from Italy, and a few others they'd been saving for a special occasion; Dad brought some of Bootleggers' first batch of saleable beer.

Near the end of the evening, Emma and I pulled out the chocolate chip cookie dough we had left and baked it up. It went over so well and they were gone so quickly that she wanted to make more. We took some of my butter cookie dough and put M&Ms in it for round two. Not nearly as good as fresh baked chocolate chip, at least with out the tea, but it was the thought that counts.

Overall, it was a nice evening, and I was again glad to have people over; wishing to do so more often. Perhaps even another casino party...

Butter Cookies

Another food I never cared for as a child - butter/shortbread cookies. So boring. You get a tin of them for Christmas and they sit on the counter until you throw them away, right?

Well, Bobby's parents wound up with a tin this Christmas, and for some reason, when I go over there, I can't stop eating them. All I want is a cup of tea and one (or four) of those cookies. I'm sure I'm the only one eating them, and I flirt with the idea of asking to take them home with me. More evidence of my changing tastes, I suppose.

A couple of weeks ago, Emma and I had to do some grocery shopping, and we looked around for a tin of them, but to no avail. I was going to have to stock up next Christmas. I mentioned this to a co-worker, and he responded with, "You could find a recipe and make your own."

Why the heck didn't I think of that?!
And so the search began, and after reviewing a few recipes, I settled on this one. I think what did it for me was that her Danish great-grandmother used to make them. Once I had some free time at home, I whipped up my cookie dough.

I made one alteration - I used shortning in place of butter, as I always do when baking. It felt wrong, making butter cookies with no butter, but it was a sample batch. I baked 9 cookies, and put the remaining dough in the freezer for the future.

Thinking of the cookies in the tin, I expected little compact cookies, but the dough expanded as cookie dough does. The cookies were firm, the way butter cookies are, but they weren't quite as dense as the store-bought kind. They reminded me more of sugar cookies, but not soft as fresh baked cookies are. The flavor is a bit different than the store-bought, and at first I was disappointed, but then I dipped.

Something about the way these cookies taste dipped in tea is divine. Thier firmness holds up well when dipped, and they seem to sponge up just the right amount of tea, so they have a soft flavorful crunchiness. I find myself wanting them all the time. Now I just need a tin to put them in.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spa Girl

Once upon a time, I worked at a day spa. Late high school and early college, so I suppose it would be included in my formative years. It was an outdoor spa, so summers were very busy, but winter could be really slow. I worked there four years, half of which I spent as a receptionist for spa services - meaning I booked facials and massages and body treatments for people... and hung out with a lot of therapists.

Working there left me a touch spoiled. Training new therapists for body treatments required a guinea pig - often me or one of the other receptionists. Treatments often involved massages, and I can't tell you how lovely it is to have four people massaging you at once. On cooler, slow days, it was not uncommon for one of the therapists to offer me a free massage, and I often returned the favors by rubbing tired shoulders, arms and hands, and learned a lot from them about different techniques. Bobby is very appreciative of this now.

Some of the therapists were great believers in the more holistic benefits of massage, and all that went with that - whole foods, essential oils, a more natural lifestyle in general. Others, not so much. Between these therapists and the training sessions, I learned a lot about natural remedies and the benefits of aromatherapy.

Whether I believe in all of it, I know that having someone massage between my shoulderblades often made my headaches go away, and that I love many of the smells of many essential oils - much more than I do sprays from Bath & Body Works and the like. I've been back to the spa many times, at first to visit with old coworkers, later as a guest. I have some bath/massage oils that I purchased there, and when I smell them, they remind me of those days of frequent massages.

If you've been to my house, you know I have an amazing bathtub. It's not overly large, so as not to waste water - just a simple five feet or so (which is perfect for my 5'2" self), but with jacuzzi jets and a heater, and a tapered end perfect for laying back on. All of this makes for a nice, relaxing way to end a long day.

Today was such a day. Bobby is in Norco, visiting with Emma and his family, but I've been a little slow at work lately, due to my wrist, so I couldn't get away early enough. When I made it home, I had a little soup, some of my fine herb chevre with salami and garlic-herb crackers, and some pinot noir. Since I had some dough in the fridge, I baked myself up some chocolate chip cookies for desert - surprising how well they go with red wine - and drew myself up a bath.

I picked a few lavender flowers from the yard and threw them in the water (I am going to need more of those plants), lit some candles, and poured myself some more wine. I was hoping the lavender flowers in the water would share their scent with the room and me, but they only seemed to share with my fingers when I rubbed them. I can't use many bath salts or bubbles, my skin reacts. I thought of using my bath/massage oils, but I'm running low and the line has been discontinued, so I decided to save them; my fingers were telling me it was about time to get out anyway.

When I finally did pull myself out, I went in search of a lotion for my legs. I'm not a big consumer of lotion - I really only use it after shaving my legs or if I have a sunburn; my skin is rarely dry. What I wanted to use was a body butter, but the only body butter I have seems to be an artificially, powerfully scented tub I received as a gift awhile back. I like berries and chocolate, I just don't particularly care to smell of them. Lavender, Ylang ylang, bergamot, vanilla, eucalyptus, mint... these are more my style. I settled instead for using some of the coveted massage oil I'd just decided to save.

But then, as it is wont to do when I am alone, my mind wandered. I began wondering where I would go to find a new bath/massage oil for when I run out, and that spiraled into wanting pure essential oils so I could add it to unscented lotions... which led to thinking about the mint and lavender I have in the yard, and could I make my own essential oils? I had to stop myself, when I learned making my own would require purchasing a still (used to distill oils from plants). I have enough projects right now - I'll just have to search for oils for now.


Emma is a really picky eater - one of the most picky I've met. Her cousin is not picky at all - in fact, I think the child will eat anything you put in front of her, provided she's hungry. Emma's pickiness can be somewhat frustrating at times - when deciding what we are going to eat, we contemplate whether we want to make something tasty and put up the necessary fight to get her to eat, or if we want to cave pre-emptively and just have spaghetti (or rather, buttered noodles for her) or pizza or tacos or chicken strips (not actual chicken) or something similarly mundane that she'll gladly gobble up.

Bobby was a picky eater as a child, but now it seems he'll eat anything I put in front of him. He has this idea that I will also eat anything, probably because I've always liked foods most kids avoid, like sushi. Secretly though, I'm a pretty picky eater myself, always have been. My pickiness is just very different than most people's. The best example I can give is cheese - as a child, I was never fond of cheese. I know, I'm a freak of nature.

Every kid I know adores cheese, and will eat blocks of it if you let them. Growing up, I would only eat cheese if it were melted on nachos or pizza, or in a quesadilla or grilled cheese sandwich, etc. But cold cheese, blech. No cheese on my sandwich, cheese & crackers (although, my 12 year old self did like those spray cans of cheese like substance, but I don't think that's actual cheese), package of string cheese, nothing. Doesn't matter what kind.

But recently, I've been acquiring a fondness for cheese. By recently, I mean in the last 3 years or so. Not sure if it is coincidence that around the same time I also developed an appreciation for wine and beer; it seems my tastes are expanding. There are other foods I never cared for growing up that have in the last 5 years become appealing to me: lettuces other than iceberg, avocados, bell peppers (although I still avoid the green ones), raw red onions, shortbread cookies...

It may also be the kind of cheese I was trying. I'm still not very fond of cheddar, and I still don't like thick slices of cheese on a sandwich, but I do like thinly sliced provolone. I can eat gouda and edam and havarti straight, and now it seems I always want them to be in my fridge. I like gorgonzola, and I tried brie for the first time last month and enjoyed it quite a bit. Last week I bought a small package of herb rolled chevre (aka goat cheese) to try.

I only recently began to appreciate cheese on my salads as well. I still avoid cheddar, preferring feta, parmesan, and anejo, but something about the chevre and crackers I was snacking on made me wonder how it would taste on a chicken salad. So last night I made salads.

Herb Chicken & Chevre Salad

I picked and chopped some marjoram and oregano from the back yard, mixed it with a little basil pesto (I need to buy some basil to plant, last year's are sleeping, or dead), olive oil, crushed garlic, fleur de sel, and pepper. I rubbed that onto and two chicken breasts so that the herbs coated them, and put them on a skillet over very low heat.

I chopped up what romaine and red leaf lettuce I had left, a little red cabbage (I would have preferred radiccio, but I didn't want to go to the store, and mine isn't ready to pick just yet), and tossed that with some olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. After portioning that into some salad bowls, I put some tomato slices and red onion on top, sprinkled with pine nuts and crumbled some of the herb rolled chevre on top. By then I'd pulled the chicken breasts off and they'd had a chance to sit a moment. I chopped those up and put one on each salad.

Tasty stuff, I wish I'd taken a picture because it was beautiful too. Even Bobby, who normally shy's away from chicken was really pleased with the salad. I'm definitely making that again.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dinner Party & Bad Religion

In early January I received one of those emails from Ticketmaster, letting me know what's going on nearby, and on the list was Bad Religion at the House of Blues in Anaheim. I called Bobby, thinking it would be a fun show, and we decided to buy tickets for us and his brother and sister. Last night was the night.

I left work a tad early, and the place was deserted. Jon's truck was out front, but he and Bobby clearly weren't there. When I called, Bobby said they went to refill the propane tanks, and would I get some steaks. Seems we were having a little impromptu dinner party as well. So I trekked over to Stater Bros. (it's farther than Ralph's, but the meat selection is always better), for rib eye, a salmon fillet for our non-meat-eater, two bunches of asparagus (did I mention my current obsession?), and a baguette too. Gotta round out the meal...

I arrived just in time for Brian and Erica's arrival; Jon and Bobby were already back and playing Halo 3. I prepped the asparagus, and left them to prep the steaks and the grill while I got ready for the show.

By the time I was ready, dinner was almost done. We sat out on the picnic table on the patio, and enjoyed our meal and the company. It was lovely outside, and I was happy to have some guests for dinner (wish we did more often, I love eating with others). The steaks were good, and we all shared in the very good salmon (grilled with fresh herbs from my garden). Apparently I am not the only one that enjoyed the asparagus, because it was quickly consumed. The baguette we couldn't stop dipping in the fresh olive oil I'm spoiled by.

Though it would have been nice to play around a bit longer, it was time to head over to the show. We said goodbye to Jon and piled in the car.

Bad Religion had two openers, neither of which any of us really cared for, so by the time they went on, it was about 10pm. Seems we could have milled around the house a bit longer, but c'est la vie. We waited too long to find a spot, so we wound up in the very back. I'm a mere 5'2", and Bobby's not a tall man, so we couldn't really see much, but the music sounded great. The lead singer mentioned a few times how long they've been doing this together (27 years), and how they still enjoy the fact that they can play around like this, and still sell out the venue.

The musicians are clearly in a groove with one another; the sound was album quality. I've never been very into Bad Religion, though I like their stuff very much - they were more a band I enjoyed listening to when with others. I don't know the words to most of the songs, just the ones that frequent the radio, but the crowd knew them and proved it.

Bobby and I felt a little old. While we enjoyed the show, we weren't excited about standing in a hot, sweaty room where we couldn't really see. For the last few songs we were out at the bar, watching the show on the screen, listening to the music coming out the doors. When the show was over, we collected Brian (Erica stayed with us), and made it home well past my bedtime...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Would Rather Be Baking

This post on La Tartine Gourmande makes me want to buy specialty flours and hang out in my kitchen baking. And then lounge in my hammock in the sun and eat my chocolate teacakes and drink tea. I don't even know where I could buy specialty flours locally... I'd probably have to order online...

The thought of specialty flours makes me think of Stranger than Fiction, when Will Ferrell's character brings the baker girl (Maggie Gyllenhaal) flours. It's a cute scene in a very good movie - worth watching if you haven't yet. It was a thoughtful gesture, and made me smile.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Roasted Chicken with Tomatoes and Olives

I subscribe to a few blogs about life and cooking via Goolge Reader, and I occasionally find my mornings hijacked by them. I see a new post, and sure enough, there is a tantilizing recpipe accompanied by pics that make your mouth water. Suddenly I'm planning out dinner. This morning I was greeted with this post on French Kitchen in America, and my dinner menu was set.

It looked so tasty. I'd never cooked a whole chicken before, and was a little concerned that it would be too much leftovers, but then I figured I could always use any leftover meat in a soup. On my way home I stopped at Stater Bros. and was pleaseantly surprised - a whole chicken is about half the price of the packages of a particular cut. My whole chicken was only $3.50. In hindsight, I suppose it makes sense - they aren't preparing it for you, just sticking it in a bag - but I just never thought that even though it's more meat, it would be so much less. Even sillier - Bobby prefers white meat, and I prefer dark, so it makes sense for me to just buy whole chickens.

I flirted with the idea of adding in some asparagus (I'm currently in love with asparagus), but I decided instead to try the original recipe first, play with it next time. I did, however, go with Mimi's variations by adding potatoes and putting lemons inside for extra moisture (oh, how I hate and fear dry chicken).

Never having prepared a whole chicken before means I've also never had to deal with the gizzards. Not sure why exactly why this grosses me out so much, but armed with my plastic bag I was able to handle it.

As it came closer to the end of the cook time, I found myself checking the time and temperature impatiently. I'd been dreaming about it all day, and I was getting hungry. When I pulled my meal out of the oven it looked like this:

Not much different from Mimi's pic, although she's a better photographer than I am. I was eager to dig in, but I impatiently waited out the instructed 10 minutes before carving. It all smelled so lovely.

The chicken was incredibly juicy, but I'd expected a bit more flavor in the meat. It was very good, but next time I think I'll add in more Herbes de Provence - on both the chicken and the vegetables. Perhaps I will brine the chicken with the herbs for the day, and cook later. That should help infuse the flavor deeper into the meat. As for the veggies, I think that by adding the potatoes I diluted the seasoning. The onions and tomatoes were very flavorful and tasty, and the olives made for a nice contrast. Next time, I think more garlic slices. I love garlic.

I think I will make soup with the leftovers. All of them. Just throw them in a pot with some stock and some additional Herbes de Provence; maybe a bay leaf as well. Should be tasty.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Planting My Vines

We finally did it - my vines are in the ground!

Mom and Dad arrived today while Bobby was out finishing some small tasks at a jobsite near home. I'd already spent the morning cleaning the patio and yard a bit - wiping down tables, shaking the leaves of the hammock, raking up some leaves in the yard - and pulling out the shovels we'd need for our task of the day.

I got out the book I was using as a guide, and we discussed what exactly we needed to do, and how we would stray from the directions - the directions are more for setting up a home vineyard, but I only have two vines (a Cabernet Franc and a Pinot Gris), and they are going at the end of my patio, so I want them to be somewhat decorative too.

I pulled out my bare root vines and set the roots to soaking while we worked. I think Mom and I made a pretty good team - we made excellent time moving the river rocks and digging the first three holes, and it wasn't long until we were planting the first vine.

Instead of burying the posts for the trellis deep into the ground, we buried these cement block things with a metal bracket/saddle attached so you just bolt in the post. We lined those up with the existing posts for the patio, with the vine in between. Instead of the posts being six feet apart, they are a touch more than five.

I'm glad we started early in the morning - it was bright, but still cool out; ideal for working outside. After the first side was done, Mom went to pick up some supplies, while I started moving the river rocks on the other side. She came back with lunch, and by then Bobby had returned, so we sat on the patio together and ate. It was an absolutely stunning day, and I got the sun I was so craving. I was eager to finish the job, and now that the rocks were out of the way, I went to move the tarp so I could start digging my new holes (we laid the tarp down on the grass to keep the dirt off it).

I tried it myself the first time, but there was too much dirt on it. Mom came to help me and after quite a bit of effort it was in place. I grabbed my shovel and began to dig, only to feel pain in my right forearm.

It didn't hurt all the time, just when I used my arm - at all. Bobby helped me acheive the depth on the first hole before going off to help Dad with the door, and Mom did more work on the second half. I kept working, but I'm not as useful with my left hand.

We theorized that I sprained a ligament in my forearm, near my wrist, when I went to move the tarp alone. My arm hurt pretty bad, and I was pretty upset that I hurt myself doing something as simple as moving a tarp. But we finished the task, and long before the boys finished with the door.

Kitchen Door

Mom called last night to ask me something, and I mentioned that I was going to be home planting my vines, and if she and Dad weren't busy, it would be nice if they came over for lunch or something. They decided to come by; Mom to help me with my vines, and Dad to hang our new side door.

The door in question is in the kitchen. It is nice to have open, but has always been somewhat difficult to open, so we pretty much ignore it. Just before Gma died last June, I noticed termite droppings near the foot of the door; we have a contract with Orkin, and they came by the morning of the funeral to treat the door. Unfortunately that didn't help - the termintes had already made it pretty deep into the door.

When we took out the carpeting to lay down the new faux wood laminate, we discovered not one, not two, not even three, but four layers of old tile and linoleum flooring. Each time new floors were put in, they just piled it on top. Once the carpet was in, that meant that the doors had to be shortened just so they could open over all the flooring. Cutting off that bottom section exposed the wood to the elements - and termites!

Removing all that flooring and laying down the flat laminate left a rather substantial gap at under the door, and since it was infested, we decided to just replace it. Mom and I even went to Home Depot, picked out and purchased the door and the shade we are hanging on it. That was a few months ago. Yes, we have been that busy.

So today is the day we take the next step - sizing and planing the door, hanging it, and installing the necessary hardware. That's not the end though; we can't even leave it up - next we need to call Orkin to pretreat the door, and then have it painted. Then we can hang it for keeps.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Mind Is On Vacation

I've been feeling rather worn out lately. Too much to do, too little time; too many stresses, not enough control over them. The days go by too quickly, and I'm not prepared enough for the next few months, but there is little I can do but wait it out.

Then yesterday a coworker mentions his grandmother has a place in Lucca, Italy, but she has to actually go there and claim it by living in it for 6 months. Suddenly my thoughts return to my trip to Italy a few years ago, and how badly I want to make a return visit this summer. My mind starts planning, and I wind up daydreaming the remainder of the day.

This morning while I was getting ready, I looked in the mirror and decided I needed some sun. I don't have that lovely porcelin white skin... I need the sun, and when I don't get outside enough my skin begins to look very pasty and a little blotchy. But then my thoughts again stray, and I'm thinking about scenes in one of my favorite movies, Stealing Beauty, when Lucy arrives and everyone is napping in the sun and in the shade on a clear, warm day in Tuscany. I long to be there, in that scene, napping alongside them. Maybe when I wake up lunch will be ready - some salami and cheese and grapes and salted bread drizzled with olive oil with some slightly sweet fizzy white wine, maybe a little pasta.

But alas, I must go to work... in the office. It should be warm this weekend, perhaps I can find time to spend outside. Hopefully I can plant my grapevines on Saturday... build a little Italy in my backyard.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Out of Shape

So Bobby and I finally got down to the gym on Tuesday to sign me up. He was able to add me to his account, so it's a minimal monthly fee and no down. I had reviewed the schedules for the group exercises at the gyms near home and work and picked out a couple I wanted to make it to regularly. I started this morning with a 6am Yoga class.

This class was at the location in Fashion Island which, while a bit far from home, is relatively close to work. Bobby was a bit of a pain to drag out of bed so I wound up a little late, but that was probably not a bad thing toady.

I can tell I'm out of practice. I'm a less flexible than I was when I was practicing yoga regularly, and my hands were cramping up while in plank, down dog, and extended down dog. I think I did well though - I tried to pay attention to the little details while holding my poses so as to get the maximum benefit. Already I'm starting to feel a tightness along the sides of my stomach, and I can tell I'll be sore tomorrow. (No, I haven't started doing my Pilates video yet, but hopefully I can get myself up early again tomorrow so I can).

Tomorrow Pilates, and more Yoga on Saturday - this time just down the street from home.

Monday, March 10, 2008

So I Have This Idea...

I have a business idea, but I don't have the tools necessary to follow through with it. I don't have the technical knowledge to implement it, the capital to fund, market, and support it, or even a network of individuals with the technical and industry knowledge necessary. I just know that the opportunity exists, and that consumers and vendors would like the service on a number of levels. Of course, I can think of a segment of the business community that would not be so happy about it, but that's often the way change works.

I see businesses that offer a pieces of the puzzle, but I haven't found anywhere that they have been put together, and the full service would be much more useful than the individual pieces. I can see where ancillary services would be called for, and have already thought about where those services could be found.

Maybe I should write up a business plan, and think of things I can do to make it real...

Monday, March 3, 2008


I just came across this article on, siting a study that claimed "only a fifth of families sit down for a meal together at least once or twice a week." Granted, the article is from a UK paper, but it made me think of my own experiences.

When I was young, my mom's family got together at my grandparents' house every Sunday to eat a late lunch/early dinner together. I was very close to most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. My mom remarried when I was 11 and we moved into the next county. Our combined family now totaled six kids, and only one had moved out of the house by then. My mom made dinner quite often, and I want to say we ate together most nights of the week. TV and phone calls were not permitted.

We were a big bunch, but we were fairly well behaved. Manners were important, but we had fun with it. If you asked someone to pass the butter but didn't specify where you wanted it passed to, it usually wound up on the opposite end of the table. Conversation topics were often not dinner appropriate, but no one ever seemed to mind. We told stories about our day and joked and laughed. We often had friends over for dinner, and our close friends seemed to be inducted into the family. After dinner, if you didn't pay for or prepare the dinner, you were to help with the dishes. We're all pretty good at dishes now.

My ex-boyfriend had a very different view of dinner - it was about eating. I would be hungry and start mentioning that we should go get something or start cooking. "Go ahead, I'll eat when I get hungry later."
"But, I want to eat with you."
"Because I like eating together?"
He didn't understand... never did. His family didn't eat together. The TV was always on, they just ate with the TV.

My family is fairly spread out now, and not just over multiple counties - we've branched out to another state and country too - but when we get together it always involves food. I'm actually not sure we know how to spend time together without eating (and drinking) - It's what we do.

Eating is an incredibly social activity for me - quite possibly my favorite social activity. I would rather have dinner with my family or friends than go hang out at a bar or club any day of the week. A perfect evening - great meal with people I love, wine, and a game of some sort, like poker or rummy or scrabble.

Bobby almost always eats with me. In fact our cat sits at the table with us, as if he is also part of the conversation. Sometimes we'll talk about things that are going on in our lives, sometimes we'll have a movie on, sometimes we'll read magazine articles.

His family eats dinner together too. Every Thursday he picks up his daughter and goes to his parents' house for dinner. If his dad is there, the TV will be on the sport of the season, otherwise it'll most likely be off. Regardless, it is similar to my family - chatting and storytelling and gentle teasing and laughing - and probably one of the reasons I felt so comfortable with his family so quickly.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Temecula Wine Tasting

In early July or so, Bobby and I were headed down towards San Diego and needed to make a pit stop. Since we were in Temecula, we decided to stop at one of the wineries and do a short wine tasting while we were at it. We made the appropriate exit, and after passing quite a few I told him to just stop at the next one. We wound up at Ponte Winery.

After enjoying a number of the wines, we decided to sign up for the wine club. The cost was just the purchase of two bottles of wine, at a discount, and signing up for 8 shipments a year of two bottles. As a perk, you can get free tastings for two people any time you visit the winery. Bobby had particularly liked the Super Tuscan, and I was taken with the Juliet, a sweet rose, so we bought those and signed up. We haven't been back since.

It's not really surprising - Temecula is close, but not that close, and we've been incredibly busy lately. Other than sharing the Juliet with a friend, and using the Sherry they sent as a Christmas gift when making French Onion Soup, we really haven't popped open any of the Ponte Wine. In November, no one was home to sign for our shipment, so it was returned. We have since been meaning to make a trip back for a tasting and to pick up that shipment, but alas, we have not had time.

After wine tasting with my friend last week, we made plans to go tasting in Temecula today. She was the person we shared the Juliet with and she was a big fan. Our party went from two to three when I invited Bobby's sister-in-law to come along - we'd been so busy I hadn't seen her in about a month, and I was looking forward to catching up. Unfortunately, my friend then had to cancel, so our party was back down to two.

Jessica and I each chose different wines each time so we could try as many different wines as possible. I find it interesting how my tastes have changed in such a short time. Granted, I'm often in the mood for one style of wine or another - sometimes I want a light, sweet wine, sometimes a heavier dry wine - and it often has something to do with the weather, but I found I enjoyed some wines I hadn't even remembered from last time, and I was less impressed with others that I had previously enjoyed very much. I'm not sure how much of the difference was just me being fickle, and how much was because I've been trying a lot more wines lately. No other wine made this change more clear than the Zinfindel Port that we both had as our last tasting.

When Bobby and I came the first time, that was one of my favorites. I'm quite fond of Port, though I hadn't had it much before then. We didn't buy it at the time because I couldn't think of an occasion when I would open it. I have since been trying Port more often, and even purchased a bottle of Ruby Port that I've been drinking at home. After having a 20 year old Tawny Port at my parents' house, Bobby and I decided we prefered that to the Ruby Port. When I tasted the Zinfindel Port this time around, I found myself comparing it, and deciding I prefer my relatively inexpensive Port at home.

Before we left, I checked on our missing November shipment. Turns out November was not two bottles, but a magnum of Zinfindel. Our first magnmum.