Sunday, August 30, 2009

With a book and a Cuisinart . . .

Just finished reading Julie and Julia, the book by Julie Powell about her year of cooking every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

First of all, I was never a reader of Powell's blog, though I had heard of her before the recent movie adaptation of her adventure. However, I think her idea of cooking every recipe in such a landmark cookbook is an intriguing one, and I was interested to see how she fared in her quest.

Not bad, it turns out. Julie managed to cook every recipe in the mammoth tome in exactly one year. And she also re-invented her life.

If you're looking for lots of recipes or cooking tips, you won't find them here. What you will find is a delightfully irreverent young woman who cooked and wrote herself out of a dead-end job and a feeling of hopelessness. Julie was 30-ish, working as a secretary, and feeling adrift when she decided to cook every recipe in MtAoFC in the next 365 days. With her husband's support, she figured she'd blog about her efforts.

Most consumers of pop culture know what happened next. She gained a cadre of followers, media attention, and a new career as a writer. In the book, one learns far more about Julie's life, her struggles, and the journey she takes to find herself than French cooking, but that's kinda the point. Powell never claims to be a great cook. (In fact, she admits over and over again that she's not one, often describing her failures in the kitchen.) And whether she is or not, who cares? What's admirable is that she set her mind to something and did it. She did it, even though it would have beena heckuva lot easier to sit on her couch eating Fritos for another 365 days.

I loved reading all the zany stories she threw in about her friends, the dinner parties she threw, and her adventures in grocery shopping for aspic recipes. (Spoiler - aspic requires calf hooves. Seriously.) In this book, Powell told unflattering stories about the folks she worked with, she examined the human need for food with an unflinching eye, and she ate a ton of butter.

Good stuff.

Good loop.

Hubs and I watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist last week. Cute, cute, though it did have "Indie" stamped all over it (though it's a Sony picture).

The movie tells the story of Nick, the only straight musician in a gay band. Nick's girlfriend, Triss, has recently broken up with him, and he's having a pretty hard time getting over it. By the time he's created a mix tape titled "Closure: Volume 12," his friends are fed up. So they pounce on sweet Norah, who happens to be an acquaintance of Triss (and Nick's mix tapes) when she shows up at a club one night.

Soon, Nick's friends are convincing him to spend the evening with Norah searching for the elusive performance of underground band Where's Fluffy? In exchange, the friends promise to make sure Norah's drunk confidante gets home all right.

After one sleepless night, the duo manage to end up at the secret concert. In the process, Nick's found a way to slip the chokehold of Triss, and Norah's discovered that she doesn't have to be everyone's caretaker.

It's a great little love story, and it made me remember what it was like to be so young, when everything seemed so important, and when a rock song really could change your life.

Worth seeing!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NYC Countdown!!

Today is August 26. In a month or so, I will be in New York City!! I cannot TELL you jow jazzed I am about it. This will be the first vacation hubs and I have taken without the baby, and I KNOW that I will miss sweet little booger, but I am sooooo ready to play in the city with hubs!!

I've never been a tourist in New York. When I've gone, I've flown up there, worked my rear off, and promptly flown back home. But THIS time . . .

Hubs and I booked a studio apartment near Times Square. We'll be there for a week, so having a little extra space, plus the kitchenette, was worth it to us. I went ahead and bought two City Passes, and they get you into all kinds of attractions without making you wait in line: The Met, The Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island, the Natural History Museum, the Empire State Building, etc. We also booked tickets this week to see both The Lion King and Wicked, two shows that I think both of us will like. (Everyone I've talked to that has seen either/both has absolutely raved.)

We've moved on to the dinner reservations now, but I think we'll only book one or two places we really want to go and leave the rest up to chance.

I don't like being too scheduled on a trip, but I do like to have a clear priority in mind of what I want to see/do. On our A list for this trip:
American Museum of Natural History
Times Square (which will be hard to miss, since we're staying so close to it)
The Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
The Empire State Building
Central Park (lots to see and do here)
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Stop by Grand Central Station (I've been wanting to go here ever since I heard the Mary Chapin Carpenter song "Grand Central Station." Plus, they actually have a few decent restaurants in the terminal.)
The Met (This will take at least the better part of a day, and that's if we are ruthless with what we want to see.)
Rockefeller Center (We may do the Stage Door Tour here. Plus, hubs wants to go to Top of the Rock)
The New York Public Library (Do I want a picture of the lions? You betcha. Do I want to breathe in the hush of the reading room? Of course. 'Cause I'm a nerd. At least I own it.)
Chinatown ('Cause I love me some dim sum. If I go to a city that HAS a Chinatown, I go to Chinatown, honey. Not only is the food delicious, different, and cheap, there are usually great little shops to poke around in.)

B list: I'm also interested in dropping by the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, St. Patrick's Cathedral, The Cloisters, and the WTC site.

I also have a few friends in NYC that I haven't seen in ages, and I'm going to make it a priority to have lunch/dinner/drinks/whatever with them while we are in the city.

We have a week, and who knows if we'll get to it all, but we're sure going to take the biggest bite out of the Big Apple that we can! Hope New York is ready for us. ;-)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Temporary loss of sanity

We now interrupt this blog to bring you a temporary loss of sanity.

On Wednesday, I got a last-minute call from New Stage. They were holding auditions for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I didn't go in for general auditions this year, because I'm not crazy enough to think that I have time to work full-time all day, rehearse in the evenings, and still see enough of my family to keep my brain from exploding.

But. But, but, but . . .

They told me they were interested in me for both the roles of Maggie and Mae. Maggie, the sexpot lead who spends most of Act II seducing her husband, is a legendary role. However, such a legendary role requires a hell of alot of WORK. Tons of lines to learn, not to mention going to some pretty unhappy places mentally and emotionally. Plus, she prances around stage in little more than a slip for half the show. (Which would mean I'd have to be STRICT about my eating between now and late Oct. And you know how I love my fried chicken.)

Mae, however, is the bitchy sister-in-law out for the family's money. She's a much smaller role. Mae drives a Cadillac convertible. Mae is married to a lawyer. Mae wears all her clothes. I talked to hubs about it, and we agreed that, if I actually got cast as Mae, I could probably accept the role.

Sooooo, like a complete wacko, I headed out to New Stage this week and read for the role. I won't know for a while whether or not I'm cast, but franky, just taking the leap to audition at this point is a stretch for me. If I DO get offered the role, accepting it will still be a whole discussion with hubs and a long, hard look at scheduling.

Eeeek. What was I thinking?!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Home improvement

Over the weekend, hubs and I decided to let booger stay overnight with one of his sets of grandparents (Brian's folks). In the interim (in addition to have a magical date night at Biaggi's), I decided to help my folks with a little home improvement project.

A while back, they'd had the interior of their house painted. But when the job was complete, they didn't re-hang their curtains and pictures and things. As a result, the walls looked kinda bare and the rooms unfinished. So I open my big mouth and offer to go over there, measure the windows, buy curtains, come back, and hang them. (The curtains they had were as old as me. Seriously. I can't remember a time when they weren't hanging lifelessly on the window, begging me to put them out of their misery.)

Satuday was easy. The plan was to remove all the old hardware from the windows, sand and patch the walls, measure the windows, talk with mom about what kind of curtains she wanted, then go buy the stuff. However, we ran into a teensy problem when dad didn't have any sandpaper. (This is characteristic Dad. He HAS every tool and home improvement implement known to man. But dang if he can find any of it. It's always "somewhere around here.") No big, I thought. I'll just patch and sand the walls tomorrow.

So I go out and buy the stuff we need, then return on Sunday. I sand the wall, patch, then sand again. Now, we just need the paint to touch up the areas I've repaired. Dad has sworn up and down that he has the paint. Well, he does have about a million cans of paint in the utility room, but none of them are labeled. Soooo, we open tons of cans of paint, going, "This isn't it." "That it over there?" "Nope." I finally grabbed a red crayon and starting writing on the cans we'd already opened, big letters - GUEST BATH, MASTER BEDROOM, etc. (Trust me, this will pay off for me at some later date. I guarantee it.)

Then when we finally find the paint, we can't find a paintbrush that isn't ruined. Dad is telling me that we can use a little roller and fill up a tray with paint, etc., etc., but I'm thinking that we just need to dab paint on a few areas, not paint the whole dang wall.

In the meantime, mom is sitting serenely in her chair, working the crossword, and looking up occasionally to tell us to make sure we're doing this or that we should keep from doing that.

By now, as you can imagine, I'm getting a little frustrated.

We eventually worked the whole mess out, and by the time I left on Sunday, we'd hung four curtains, replaced one lamp, and hung a whole bunch of pictures on the wall. The place looked WAY better than it did when I showed up. Curtains just have a way of finishing a space, and we moved a little furniture around, too, to create a more symmetrical floor plan. There's no way Dad could have done all that by himself (You really need two people to hang curtains so you can make sure everything is level.), so I was super-glad I'd gone over there.

Dad asked me when I was coming back to help out again.

I told him, "Not until I forget how horrible the last two days have been."

But then we giggled a bit, I kissed them both, and I headed out. NEXT time, I'm thinking we'll hang some more pictures and merchandise a couple of the shelves in the den. But that might not be for a while. Heh.

Do the Hustle!

Last Thursday, I managed to score some tickets to the StoryTellers' Ball, the big annual hoopla thrown by the Greater Jackson Arts Council. This year's theme was Motown Downtown, and the party was held in the Mississippi TelCom Center. I knew JUST the person to ask. Mel loves these kinds of parties, is a great dancer, and rocks a cocktail dress. There really was no question. (That's us, being goofy at the party, above.)

Because I was late getting my act together, I didn't have a funky Motown outfit. But remember a while back, when I said that I could fit back into one of my old college dresses? Honey, I pulled that thing out of the closet, slipped it on, and hit the town. Felt really good.

Mel and I showed up around 8 p.m., hit the buffet, then danced! So much fun! They had a live band, a cool silent auction, and martini bar. I saw tons of people I knew from my days in the arts, and there is just no better person to go to such an event with than Mel. Love that girl.

Stay tuned for our further adventures this week! We've signed up to go to Easely Amused on Thursday!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Northeast Mississippi Ramblings . . .

Day two of our adventures in Northeast Mississippi found us rustling up some breakfast at Atlanta Bread Company. Oh my Gawd. That place had some reallyreally good almond croissants and some AWESOME coffee. The only thing that kept me from slurping down a second cup of said coffee was Sandi's admonition that there weren't too many clean restrooms between Tupelo and Oxford, which was where we were headed next.

Anyhoo, we left Tupelo after breakfast and arrived in Oxford by mid-morning. We clowned around in the Ole Miss campus for a while, tromping through the Grove and posing for corny pics in front of the Lyceum. After that, we browsed the stacks at Square Books, where I hadn't been in YEARS. I found two volumes worthy of buying, and we retreated up to the balcony to people-watch for a bit.

After that, Stace wanted to go to the Oxford Cemetery to take pics and soak up the atmosphere. She hoofed it all over that place while Sandi and I sat in the air-conditioned car. That is, until we located Faulkner's grave. We all agreed that was worth a trip into the oppressive heat, so off we marched.

By this time, we were coming up on lunch, and we decided to get a quick, light bite at the Bottletree Bakery. I had the granola with fresh fruit, which was delicious, and I bought bagels and ciabatta for hubs. The next time I go back, I'm having the downtown, a fresh bagel smeared with cream cheeses and topped with tomatoes, thinly-sliced red onions, and capers. In fact, I'll be making this concoction at home.

It was nearly 1:30 p.m. when we finished lunch, which meant that Rowan Oak was open. (They open from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sundays.) I hadn't been there since college, so it was a real treat to re-visit it! We paid $5 admission, then had the run of the house and considerable grounds.

The house is a beautiful country home, and nearly all of it is open to the public. You are provided with a brochure offering a self-guided tour to the home, grounds, and outbuildings. Many of Faulkner's personal effects and furniture are still on display there, and historical photos lead one to believe the home is in much the same state it was in while the legendary author lived there with his family.

By the time we finished exploring Rowan Oak, we were hot and tired. We decided to drive to Sandi's parents' house in Coffeeville for some air conditioning and cold beverages before heading home. We enjoyed visiting with them for a while (and learning all kinds of incriminating things about Sandi), and they plied us with iced tea, free bell peppers from the garden, and homemade fig jam. After a bit, we loaded into the car and headed home.

Fun, fun, fun! We are already deciding where we'll go next. The Coast? The Delta? Birmingham? Any suggestions, folks?

Continuing road trip adventures

In honor of a couple of birthdays, Stace, Sandi and I decided to hit the road once again last weekend. It was Sandi's turn to choose our destination, and she decided to show us around the part of Mississippi where she grew up. Saturday morning found us headed straight for Tupelo.

We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, which is one of the newest properties in Tupelo. It's a very nice hotel, with a small indoor pool, a restaurant, room service, etc. I'd recommend it to anyone; I think we were all very pleased with our stay and the location of the hotel.

First things first, though. We arrived in Tupelo right at lunchtime and made a beeline for the Fairpark Grill (located right next to the hotel). I'd heard from a co-worker that it was a great new restaurant in the area, and we were not disappointed. The grill offered a full lunch menu, plus breakfast/brunch! I chose the smothered eggs with fruit, toast, and hashbrowns, washed down with a big cup of coffee. Delicious, and only about $8.

Then we moseyed on over to the birthplace of Elvis Presley. I'd never been there, and I've always wanted to visit. I'd heard some disparaging remarks about how little the attraction offered, but they must have stepped up their game in recent years. Currently, you can tour the small, two-room house, then visit the Presley family chapel for a short video presentation, then tour the museum, which has several interesting displays in addition to some multimedia presentations. All told, it took us about an hour and a half to make our way through it all, and admission was about $10.

After that, we thought we'd shop a bit at Tupelo Hardware Store. To my great disappointment, it had closed at noon. Boo. Hiss. Instead, we consoled ourselves with shopping in the downtown Tupelo area, where I found some cute stationary, a girly monogrammed clip for my work ID badge, and some books for the baby.

Still going strong, we headed to the Tupelo Automobile Museum, which was one of my favorite stops of the trip. They have a wonderful variety of vehicles on display there, and they are arranged chronologically, allowing viewers to experience a tangible timeline of the car's evolution. Not only that, each vehicle has a small speaker box in front of it. Press the button on there, and you get some brief information about each car. Fascinating and brilliant. I could have spent all day at this attraction. (They even had one of Liberace's old cars! It had a candelabra perched on the back! Ooooh, and they had a DeLorean! Sooo cool.) And because we'd been to the Elvis birthplace earlier in the day, we got reduced admission! A mere $7.50!

Feet aching, we stopped at the hotel for a brief rest before going out to dinner at Harvey's. Sandi had waxed poetic about this restaurant on many occasions, and I found myself wondering if it would live up to the hype. Rest assured that it does. We wolfed down spinach and artichoke dip (one of the very best I've tried), then I had a Caesar salad and the New Orleans seafood pasta (don't worry; it's not very spicy). Even after all that (and a glass of red), I still made a tiny corner of room in my tummy for a few generous bites of Sandi's bread pudding, which really was one of the best bread puddings I've ever had. (For a skinny girl, she knows good food when she eats it. An admirable quality.)

I will never understand how on Earth we waddled into the Scrugg's gigantic feed-and-seed/Super Wal-Mart/Home Depot, but we did. I took the opportunity to buy some cowboy boots and note that the store had PINK firearms for sale. (I am sooo not kidding.)

Exhausted, we rolled back to the hotel and sunk into bed.

More to come . . .

Forkfuls of happiness

Two places to nosh in downtown Jackson that I thought I'd post about.

Years ago, I used to frequent the buffet at the Edison Walthall Hotel for lunch. It was quick, delicious, and reasonable. But then, as is the case at many historic hotels, the property began to show its age. Worse, the staff at the restaurant began treating patrons as if they were an inconvenience rather than a revenue stream. As a result, I stopped going there. (There are plenty of places in the downtown area that will take my money, feed me well, and treat me like a queen.)

I had such hope when I heard that the property had been purchased by new management and was being renovated. This week, I popped in to check out the restaurant, and you can color me impressed. First of all, the staff is friendly, professional and prompt. Secondly, the food is absolutely delicious. Third, prices are reasonable and on par with similar offerings in the downtown area.

Today, the buffet boasted chili, a full salad bar, lasagna, spagehtti, a variety of vegetables and breads, roast beef, and desserts. In addition, Wednesday is "pastabilities" day, where they have a fresh pasta bar. Basically, you choose your ingredients, noodles, and sauce, and the chef will create a pasta dish on order for you.

It's all yours for a standard price of about $10. If you haven't been lately, it is definitely worth checking out. I will be visiting often in the future.

I have also had the opportunity over the last few weeks to visit Taste of the Island, a new Caribbean restaurant on Capitol Street. (It's located in the old Blue Cafe space.) For a mere $7 you can get an entree with two sides, and an additional $2 buys you an authentic Jamaican soda. (I loved the pineapple soda and the cream soda.) So far, I've had the jerk chicken (spicy and lovely), the curry shrimp (delicious, and a very generous portion), and the meat pies (piping hot, with a wonderfully flaky crust).

For sides, you can't beat the rice and peas and the fried plantains. YUM. It's not the type of place I traditionally dine-in (it has more of a takeaway feel), but let's be honest here: with food this good and prices this cheap, who cares WHERE you eat it?

Go there asap!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Baked beauty

While no baking expert, I don't have too much trouble baking fruit breads, cookies, the occasional cake or pie. But what has eluded me all of these years is a good stab at bread. Not pumpkin bread or banana nut bread or anything like that, but just good, plain bread. White, sourdough, wheat, even rolls. When I'd make them, they'd come out heavy and leaden. I don't know if I didn't knead them long enough, or if I was too impatient to let them rise properly, or what, but I always end up with a much denser, chewier bread than what I hoped for.

One of the goals on my 101 list was to learn how to make a good loaf of bread. Last weekend, I think I made a pretty good start of it. The recipe I chose was a standard brioche recipe from Barefoot in Paris. I chose this recipe because not only is brioche a wonderful, eggy, buttery, light bread, but also because I trust Ina Garten not to steer me wrong.

I mixed all the ingredients together on Saturday morning and let the bread rise in the fridge overnight. Then I rolled the dough out and put it into two loaf pans Sunday morning, before letting it rise a second time and baking it for about 45 minutes.

And it came out gooooooood. See that pic? That is but one of the two glorious loaves I baked. I put a nice egg wash over the top before popping it in the oven, so it has a wonderfully brown, shiny crust. I'm feeling pretty good about it, yes indeedy. And the bread is delicious simply toasted with a bit of butter and jam spread on it. I also have dreams about making French toast with it on Saturday morning (if any is left).

In fact, I'm feeling so drunk with ability that I migh try a different recipe later this month. If you have a good standard bread recipe, please share!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Update on My 101

July was a great month! I got three things checked off, and the pieces are already in place to check off two items next month. Woo to the hoo!

101 things to do in 1001 days

Record family history (Create a family tree with my grandmother? Photos? Stories?)
Take Clay’s picture professionally at least once every 6 months
Make a will
Make a living will
Talk with Laura about Clay
Send a Christmas card to an estranged family member

Write to my grandmother
Attend services at three local churches
Volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to me
Go back to the gym – at least 3 times a week
Lose 10 pounds

Keep it off for 6 months
Train to run 3 miles without stopping
Try a yoga or pilates class
Go to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures
Go to the Smith Robertson Museum
Go to the Lauren Rogers Museum
Take an art class (pottery, painting, etc.)
Paint a picture
Learn to play at least one song on the guitar
Write a food article and get it published
Write at least one poem or short story
Paint the front porch swing
Tile the master bathroom
Plant some flowering shrubs in the back yard and DON’T let them die
Plant an herb garden
Fix the patio table
Get a window shade for the baby’s bedroom
Have an energy audit done on the house
Paint the shed in the back yard

Paint the inside of the garage - I did this one during July. Hubs seems to think it needs a second coat, but methinks that unless HE gives it another coat, it will stay the way it is. (It is, after all, a garage.)
Take Clay swimming
Drink wine in California
Ride in a helicopter
Ride in a hot air balloon
Go to Graceland
Go to New York City
Create a “great books list” and start reading (at least 5 books)
Create a “great movies list” and start watching (at least 5 movies)
Treasure hunt on Highway 49
Host a New Year’s open house party
Host a “dinner among the leaves” party
Host an Easter brunch
Throw a Kentucky Derby party

Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Pay off the last of my student loan
Buy some sexy new underwear
Attend at least one live concert

Go the fall flower show/festival in Crystal Springs
Visit a botanic garden
Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Watch a meteor shower
Give blood
See snow
See the ocean
Adopt an Angel at Christmas
Go bowling
Pay for the person behind me in line
Do an anonymous good deed
Learn to bake a good loaf of bread
Go on a day hike
Write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper
Go on a vacation sans baby
Let Clay ride in the convertible with the top down
Perform in at least one stage production
Attend at least one Mensa meeting
Attend at least one college alumni event
Get back in touch with some of my college professors
Learn how to play poker
Learn how to shoot a decent game of pool
Make a real paella
Make a real sangria
Get a facial
Start taking vitamins again
Take mom to have her makeup done
Discover 5 new recording artists I really like and buy their CDs
Find a pair of sunglasses that will change my life
Find my signature fragrance - This one's done! I went to ULTA and found exactly what I was looking for. In addition, I came home with good ideas for future fragrance purchases. Yay!
Take some pictures of leaves turning color in the fall
Set up and take some faux-tography shots of the baby
Write to Grace
Visit Grace in Oregon

Go on a picnic and eat food that I MADE, not food that I bought - Hubs, booger and I headed to the park with a picnic of savory chicken salad bagel sammies, chips, homemade lemonade, and gooey homemade brownies. YUM.
Visit a dermatologist

Book a session with a personal trainer
Buy sheet music for a song I like and learn to play it on the piano
Learn to do a passable waltz
Bring the baby to visit my dad at work
Take a bubble bath
Light some candles just for us, when we DON’T have someone coming over
Make mint juleps and drink them on the front porch swing

Go ice skating
Preserve Clay’s foot and hand prints
Attain APR accreditation
Buy or make Clay a kick-ass Halloween costume
Give a gift that I made.

Send someone flowers for no reason
Begin using my wine notebook again and identify at least three new wines that I like
Buy a birdfeeder and set it up in the back yard
Fix the broken window pane on the porch
Spend an afternoon lying in the hammock


First day of the challenge: January 1, 2008
Last day of the challenge: September 28, 2010

Dear Harry Potter . . .

I'd like less lovey dovey, more bone-crushing magical action, please.

Yours in wizarding,

Nicole


Hubs and I went to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this weekend. While I found the movie entertaining, I thought it was more of a logistical backflip than a great movie in its own right. I recall that one of the things that impressed me the most about this book in the series was its deft set-up for the final installment. The movie operates in much the same way. Though there is some plot action going on (most notably, Dumbeldore's death), the primary purpose of this part of the tale is to put all the pieces in place for a grand finish.

There was an emphasis on the raging hormones of all the characters in this movie, but I thought it a bit overdone and oversimplified. Less love and more story, please!

Effects were great, with the horcrux scene in a gloomy cave being particularly noteworthy. I was also impressed with the actor who played Voldemort/Tom Riddle at 16, Frank Dillane. Beautiful, with just the right touch of creepy. Worth seeing, but I'm much more excited about the coming two movies. Hope they don't screw them up.

Eating in the Metro area

Quick update on a few restaurants:

FInally got the chance to eat at The Corner Bakery in Flowood, and I was pleasantly surprised. Think Newk's with more baked goods. I had the Chicken Pomodori panini and a side Caesar. Portions are large (though I didn't think the salad was as good as what Newk's serves), service is quick, and prices are more than reasonable. They also sell a variety of sweet treats, including lemon bars, brownies, cookies, cakes, and more. Even better, they have a mouthwatering catering menu. Overall, this place is definitely worth adding to your restaurant rotation list.

Construction is FINISHED at Broad Street Bakery, and the food is as good as ever. The restaurant has returned to counter service. I have the understanding that they'll be working on some small construction projects in the back of the restaurant (and maybe with their outdoor seating area?), but inside seems to be complete. Stopped by there for breakfast a week or so ago and had as good a time as ever.

Hubs and I swanked up and went to Schimmel's last night for a wonderful dinner. He had the steak (no surprise there), and I had the fish. We split a half bottle of wine and forewent dessert in favor of ordering the crabcake appetizer. It was sooo nice to eat a peaceful, romantic dinner together. Dad was nice enough to come over and keep the bit while we went out, so we were able to just relax and enjoy our meal and each other.

While we were eating dinner, we noticed two young people come in, dressed very well, each with a rose. They approached an older man and woman at the table next to us. When they arrived the man at the table took out a gorgeous ring and proposed. The woman, nearly in tears, accepted, and they kissed. The entire restaurant burst into applause. Turns out the younger couple were her children, and this would be her second marriage. She was beaming, and so was everyone at Schimmel's that night.

Lastly, I don't think I ever reviewed Petra Cafe in Clinton. I had lunch there a couple of Mondays ago, and it was delightful. It's a Lebanese/Jordinian restaurant, and it's located in the old Potter House in downtown Clinton. The decor is nice, and service during our visit was personal, friendly, and speedy. To start, we split the fried cheese appetizer. Though it's not something I usually get at a restaurant (ever since I ordered a hunk of Kasseri served flambe, which, though exciting, didn't taste all that good), I found this version to be actually quite tasty. I followed it up with the lamb, which was served with rice and a nice salad. Everything got washed down with Jordinian tea (tea blended with rose water, almond, etc.).

I really enjoyed this place, and they cater at the restaurant and rent out a pretty amazing-looking tent for parties. They also offer a hookah to smoke at the restaurant. We didn't take a drag while we were there (and I'm wondering just a little bit about smoking a hookah that everyone's lips have been on), but maybe during a future visit. Worth going here. The food was delish!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Beauty Shangri La.

Yesterday, I found a store that I thought only existed in my mind. A store where nearly every beauty product imaginable is for sale, where knowledgable staff people can guide you to make decisions about skincare, fragrances and other products, where a full salon awaits.

Yesterday, I went to ULTA Beauty, and by God, I'll be back. It's only been open for a week or so, and I wouldn't have even known it existed if they hadn't sent me a mailer. And I might have just thrown the mailer away, except that it trumpeted "350 fragrances to choose from!" on the cover. (If you've been following my 101 list, you know that "Find my signature fragrance" is one of the items yet to be checked off.)

When I walked into ULTA, I immediately knew I was in the right place. Rows and rows and rows of fragrances were on display, and every one of them had a tester available. Not only that, they offered shoppers tons of those small slips of heavy paper that you can use to spray the fragrance on, so you don't walk out of there smelling like a cheap tramp. I spent about an hour spraying, sniffing, and choosing. The saleslady used a handy cheat sheet to guide me towards scents I'd like (based on what I told her I was looking for and other fragrances I've used in the past), and I walked out of there not only with a bag holding my signature fragrance, but with notes on other perfumes I really liked and may buy in the future.

I can already think of one friend that this store is MADE for, and I cannot wait to schedule some joint salon dates there with her. If you haven't been to ULTA, GET THERE.