Cincinnati and a big surprise

Earlier this month I went on my longest business trip in years: first a daylong meeting in Chicago, then 3 days of meetings in the Cincinnati area. Travel likes this means living in an artificial world of airports, dining out, meeting rooms, and taxis. There's nowhere to go for a walk, nowhere to buy groceries let alone prepare food. I ran 15 miles during the course of the trip, but never outside--it was all on hotel treadmills. It was a fruitful trip though, and I am grateful to have hilarious coworkers to travel with. Here are some food photos that help tell the story.


A shaved beet salad eaten in a hotel restaurant called Andiamo, which is inside Chicago's O'Hare airport. The green part of the salad was mostly arugula and mustard greens, so quite piquant. There were sticky-sweet bits of lemon-almond praline rather randomly scattered about.



The next night's dinner was also at O'Hare, Romano's Macaroni Grill. Here are drinks for three--a margarita, a bloody Mary, and I had the La Rossa.




I ordered appetizer romano meatballs and they were actually amazing. They definitely had some orange zest going on. Also a mediocre house salad.



Then on to Ohio. The facility where we worked had a barista machine: the buttons say things like cappuccino, whipped coffee, coffee latte, whipped milk. I need one of these.



We dined at a Malaysian restaurant (Straits of Malacca) that was pretty good. My dish was called Hokkien Mee—it was thick, chewy, delicious rice noodles with shrimp, chicken, and baby bok choy. Our dinner conversation with local hosts revolved mostly around baseball teams and beer, one of these topics being of great interest to me. (We discussed Vermont's small-batch and highly sought after Heady Topper by The Alchemist, as well as the Over-the-Rhine area of Cincinnati which was home to 38 breweries before Prohibition and is staging something of a comeback. If I ever visit again I want to go on a Cincinnati Brewery Tour.)




The facility with the awesome coffee machine also provided a breakfast buffet (hardboiled eggs, yogurt, berries, granola, bagels, cream cheese) and a hot lunch buffet. Above is lunch on Italian day--meatballs, grilled chicken and vegetables with a creamy pesto sauce.




At another dinner I got a semi-local beer, Commodore Perry IPA by Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland.



Aladdin's Eatery was a Middle Eastern place; I ordered beef kibbee. It looks a bit dry here, but once I asked for tahini sauce and hot sauce to douse the kibbee it was excellent. Rich savory spiced beef studded with pine nuts. I want some more right now.



This wasn't my beer, but it's evidence that we were in Kentucky on this trip. Because the Cincinnati airport is actually in Northern Kentucky. Who knew?!



My beer this time was a Goose Island IPA, from Chicago.


 

We were at an Outback Steakhouse so we had to get a Bloomin' Onion.




My bacon cheeseburger was surprisingly delicious. Tip: Don't order a steak at an airport steakhouse, because they will NOT give you a proper steak knife. A fellow diner had this problem. We saw a guy at another table actually pick up his steak and start gnawing it.

And then...

When I got home from this trip, late on a Friday night, I was met with a rather major surprise. It was something that had been brewing without my knowledge for weeks, and took three in-laws and several close friends to pull off.

You may recall that a few months back in July I reluctantly traded in my VW Jetta TDI for a Subaru. I missed the VW. It was fun to drive and it had a certain unique class that a Subaru doesn't have. In fact, everybody in Vermont has a Subaru. When I go to drop my son off at his progressive preschool I park in a line of seven other Subarus. Oddly, this dropoff was also one of the times when I would encounter my Jetta being driven around town by the guy who took the trade. I traded it to him for the bare minimum price, in my opinion, being $300. But being a mechanic, he saw its potential and proceeded to fix it up and use it as his driving-around car. So I kept seeing my beloved car, that I'd let go for a pittance, being driven around town and seeming perfectly fine! It's true I couldn't afford to fix it, but still... it bugged me.

At the same time, my spouse's even more ancient car had finally become illegal at the stroke of midnight on Halloween. That's because it was only inspected up until October 2014, and we didn't think we could get it renewed easily without pouring in money for repairs. (For instance, why bother starting your car with the correct key when it will start just as well with a screwdriver? Which is what my husband was using. It was in that kind of shape.) So all week while I was traveling, I kept thinking about how that old Benz would probably be gone when I got home--maybe sold to someone for $300.

These two car stories collided the moment my ride from the airport pulled onto my street to drop me off at 11:30 at night. There in the driveway, in the dark, next to my Subaru, and in the place where the Benz used to be, was MY JETTA. I peered at it as I tried to piece together what I could possibly be seeing. As I struggled to compute, I noticed that a) it really was my Jetta, not some bizarre doppelganger, because it had dents in all the right places, b) it really seemed to belong there, because it was bearing the same license plates that had earlier in that week been on the Benz, and that I knew for a fact belong to my husband, c) my husband was coming out of the house saying, "Look at my new car! The kids love it!!" He'd been waiting up for me to enjoy the surprise that he'd been working on for days. It was so funny, and I was so totally flabbergasted! What a guy.



Home again. I love my family.

Adorable, cozy luncheon? Try Pickity Place!

We've been lunching at Pickity Place for as long as I can remember. Over the course of about 30+ years we have visited now and again for a charming multi-course lunch in the ultimate woodland tea-room. They serve the exact same menu for a month at a time, and the dishes have heavy emphasis on herbs grown in their own gardens, from herb dips to herbal tea to edible flower garnishes.

Lately we have been making a special effort to get to Pickity Place for a ladies lunch about once a year. My mother, my daughter, and I drive for over an hour to get to "Little Red Riding Hood's house" (it was used as a model for the Golden Book edition of Little Red Riding Hood back in 1948).

 

 

 That's a wolf-in-the-bed pillow

The gardens and atmosphere are delightful!

 

 

 



You'll happen to find a lovely blog about last year's mouthwatering menu here. Here's what we had today in October 2014...



 
Herbs are everywhere, from tucked in the water carafe to sitting sweetly on the table.


 
Butterfly crackers and herb dip, plus crayons already set out for our younger diner.


 
Butternut squash soup with ginger creme fraiche. Super chicken-y and savory.


 
You get complimentary tea or coffee--I picked the spiced tea which was so sweet it tasted like cider. 

Salad with apple, pear, cauliflower & Stilton. 


 
We were each served a warm slice of cranberry ciabatta bread with orange cranberry butter--so infused with berries it was pink.


 
 The main course was chicken with a walnut crust and side of sautéed squash. The chicken had a delicious apple-sausage stuffing.


 
Toffee cheesecake with heathbar crunch, raspberry cream, mountain mint, and strawberry. 


People under 12 can select a half order of the entree, or a kid's menu item. Our kid picked the latter: sandwich, apple, cookies. The latter two come in a cute basket.

 



The main kid's course was a giant tuna sandwich. One could also choose grilled cheese, cream cheese & jelly or PBJ.


There are not one but two shops on the grounds, plus a picturesque herb drying shed... see below.

 


 


As we were leaving we lamented not seeing a cat on this trip. Then we turned the last corner.


October days

Hi! It's October already! Here's what I've been up to. Maybe not exciting, but it's what I've got.

I'm obsessed with hummus. My favorite would be to make my own, but next best (and more realistic) is to buy the Inspirations brand from Hannaford grocery store. Inspirations is creamy and comes in appealing flavors like Roasted Garlic and Sriracha. And Hannaford is about half a block from my desk, so it's EASY. Hummus also helps me eat a ton of vegetables. YUM.



I've started reading books again. For years I'd given up on reading anything longer than a magazine article, but I suddenly became hungry for length. I'm drawn to books by women at the moment. I quickly finished "Hyperbole and a Half" by Allie Brosh, then ripped through "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, and now I'm reading Diane Keaton's memoir "Then Again." (Mom, you would like it, she grew up in California and then moved to New York as a young adult. Her writing sounds so like Annie Hall!)


Also... I'm watching more Netflix streaming. Maybe because the days are getting darker sooner so I'm more inclined to snuggle up with my iPad. I finished the first season of "The Mind of a Chef." I now definitely want to hang out with Rene Redzepi in his Danish test-boat kitchen.



I also really enjoyed "The Punk Singer," about Kathleen Hanna, who is just incredibly cool.





Here's my final update, a good negative split on a Friday afternoon! Maybe a Friday run should be standard for each week, because it feels great. Running a quick 3+ miles helps me burn off crazy feelings from the work-week, and feels a bit virtuous! I was proud of this run--check out especially the "average pace" column, second from the right. Faster faster faster.


A Monday in Los Angeles

Maybe you've noticed that I love dim sum. I also have strange ideas about what might be a fun tourist attraction. For example, the last time I was in Paris, I visited the Paris Sewer Museum... neat!

Anyway, on our recent trip to Los Angeles we stayed an extra day to be touristy, and my family was super sweet by accommodating BOTH of my touristy requests: to visit Lunasia for dim sum, and to visit the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


Lunasia--super premium dim sum restaurant. Five stars!


 
Lots of dark wood and sunshine.


 
Deep-fried Taro Cake (wu gok!!) Perfectly crisp and sweet.


 
This was a new one for me and a fast favorite: Pan Fried Turnip Cake with XO Hot Sauce



 
Pork Siu Mai



 
Pan-Fried String Beans


 
Soup Dumplings were another first, also known as XLB (xiao long bao). Inside each whorled dumpling is liquid soup--place one in your mouth carefully and all at once to get a delicious exploding soup experience.



Veggie Bean-Curd Wrap


 
Our table


 
Oh wait, more is coming...


 
Excellent and fluffy Char Siu Bao.


 
Shrimp siu mai.


 
Rice Noodle with Beef



The finisher: Sticky Rice Wrap. I learned from our hosts that when you eat these, you're admitting that you are done with everything else and ready for the "filler."


 

But it is such good filler! I'd eat a sticky-rice wrap anytime.



Lunasia doesn't have carts, instead you order from a menu. Our hosts told us that menu-ordering can be good because food is super-fresh and hasn't been pushed around on a cart for X minutes. It was pretty yummy, though I also enjoy the adventure of cart service.



Saying goodbye to Lunasia. I love you!!!




Next stop, Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.... and the people who rest in peace there.







The younger Chaplin and his mother



We drove around a bit and could not miss Johnny Ramone. 











Till next time, Hollywood!