Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It was a rainy day in Florence....

I had an espresso yesterday about 3:00, so as you can imagine, I had trouble sleeping last night. David and I did manage got get up relatively early and after a breakfast of prosciutto, bread, yogurt, and apple we did some reconnaissance to figure out where we will catch the bus to Siena tomorrow. Thank goodness we did because it was a little harder to find than I expected and I would not have wanted to try and and do that with my backpack.

Of course, it was my cute outfit had to stay behind. Also, the streets were filled with guys trying to see umbrellas. There is always someone trying to sell you something. Why doesn't that happen back home? We just don't have that as part of our culture. Sure, there are the kiosk people at the mall, and the clipboard people, and homeless guys at every intersection, but there is not as much annoying sales back home. You know...the people who come up to you in a restaurant and try to sell you a watch.

Well, anyway... We had a busy day. Our first stop was Mywalit which sells the cutest...wallets. And purses. I will be going back to get this totally cute purse. I also have my eye on some really cute boots. I'm glad we are coming back to Florence because it is going to be a shopping extravaganza when we do!


Our next stop the Bargello, which is the national museum. It used to be a prison. There are some great Renaissance sculptures there - works by Donatello and Michelangelo and others. Our visit was cut a little short because I HAD TO EAT. We found a great place close to gather Piazza Della Signoria. We had a yummy assortment of focaccia sandwiches and finished it off with caffe macchiato. We sat next to young woman who was telling her boyfriend how she got an "excellent" in her Italian class, yet she spoke no Italian to the server. She probably though we were total morons too so I shouldn't talk.

Next it was off to the Gallileo Science Museum. Really cool, and on one there. At first I wondered what I had gotten myself into as I stared at the wax and terra cotta obstetrical models from the 18th century. If they want to scare women off from childbirth, that'd be the way to go. Use your imagination.

But, we also saw Gallileo's telescopes and HIS FINGER. Yeah, some of his followers cut it off and preserved it. I don't know why. Later, his thumb and index finger and a tooth were found as well. It seems Europe is littered with random preserved body parts (go back and see my post about our visit to Valencia, Spain).

Our next stop was Santa Croce, which was amazing. Gallileo, Michelangelo, Nicolo Macchiavelli all have tombs here and there is also a monument to Dante. There are also amazing frescoes here by Giotto and his godson (can't remember his name). The godson did a fresco series of the life of Mary. My favorite panel was the one where they are deciding who she will marry. Leaves and doves shoot out of the end of Joseph's walking stick indicating that he is the one. I'm a little disturbed that he looks old enough to be her grandfather, but I do like the addition at the bottom of the picture of the guy breaking his stick in frustration.

Of course, the day would not be complete without gelato so that was our next stop. Yummy.

We headed back to the apartment where we facetimed with my sister (yay!) and then lounged about before heading to dinner. We went to Tratorria Gabriello and it was quite good. David's ossobucco was yummy. No dessert....we were too full.

Tomorrow we head to Siena to begin our walking tour!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

There is a blogger app!

And now I am trying it.

This is another photo from the restroom. What's her face from Canada just really likes people to know where she has been.

Not sure how to get the photos in here.

Look! A carousel!

After a good night's sleep

So, I gotta say...I just spent a lot of time crafting a particularly witty blog post, and blogger saw fit to have some sort of crazy error and it was all gone.

The other problem with using the iPad for updating the blog is that I can't actually scroll all the way up and down the page. So, all those photos at the bottom of this? I have no clue what order they are in or which ones are actually there. So, uh....sorry about that. Hopefully you can figure out what they are. 

So, David and I tried mighty hard to stay up until 9 pm last night, but we just could not do it. We finally gave up at 6 pm consoling ourselves with the fact that we had been up for over 24 hours and surely we would sleep at least 12 hours.

We both woke up around midnight, and golly, I felt really really awake. So, we took some Advil PM. I figured we get at least 6 more hours out of that.

And 10 hours later....

Our first stop of the day was the Accademia, where you can see the David, and quite honestly, not a whole lot else. It's actually a pretty small museum. One people wait in line hours to see. I bought tickets ahead of time we skipped all that mess.

The David is AMAZING. Did you know he is 17 feet tall. Just awesome and powerful and I could have sat there all day.

Alas, I was hungry. Can't have that. We wandered around and stopped at a gelato place. Since I don't know Italian very well, I wound up ordering enough gelato for a small family. So, that was pretty much my lunch.

At first, when we got to Florence, I sort of made fun of people because they were all wearing their puffy coats, like it was about to freeze over at any minute, when in reality it's like 57 degrees. But dang, it feels a lot colder and I longed for a puffy coat. I also made a poor shoe choice ands the tops of my feet were cold. I really wanted to be able to write a witty caption for the photo below of me doing my "this is what I am wearing today" photo...something about regretting my shoe choice. But I can't because blogger on the iPad is stupid. Maybe there is a blogger app?

Anyway, so's a little chilly, and it was nice and cool in the Duomo. 

Which I am sure is great in the summer when it is really hot and there are hordes of tourists. I was a wee bit cold as we did our audio tour. David and I love us some audio tours (I think that line needs to make it into the holiday card).

The Duomo is really cool...actually it is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. But everyone just seems to call it the Duomo. We could not climb the 463 stairs to the top of the dome, nor could we go down into the crypt, both of which were very disappointing. But, we were just sort of winging it today and sometimes you go places that are closed. Oh well.

We did climb the bell tower, which had lovely views. And we laughed with some French guy about all the stairs and how you think you are at the top, but you just keep going. 

All this activity made me thirsty, so we found a little place and had a bad pizza and good wine. Yes, bad pizza does exist in Italy. I've had it.

We had over to the Piazza Della Signora,  where there are some statues (Perseus with Medusa's head) and a replica of the David.

 It is also where the Palazzo Vecchio is.  Oh, and we also wandered through some markets and another square where we some the same gypsy woman who asked us for money yesterday and would not go away. 

We had dinner at a lovely little trattoria. But I'd really like to head back to the place in the photo below and get some candy!

I am not sure what I am doing here. Everyone else was rubbing this boar's nose, so I did too.

Italy Day 1

Exhibit A - our super cute kitchen

There is a point, right before any trip starts, when you realize that you are about to spend 14 hours traveling and will not be able to really sleep in a bed again for over 24 hours. At that moment a sense of dread kicks in.

This was not that moment.

Before every trip, David and I hit Surdyk's Flights at the airport. We each had a wine flight and a sandwich, and wrapped it up with a very lemony lemon bar. Eventually, we had to head to our gate, which is when that feeling of dread kicked in.

That, and I have a question: if federal regulations allow only one carry on and one personal item, why don't the airlines enforce it?

Flights in short - I still think Schilpol Airport in Amsterdam is awful (and we have to go through there in the way back), lots of crying babies, could not sleep.

But, here we are in Italy! I've already facetimed with my sister twice (ain't technology grand?), we have been to the grocery store, and visited a little market near the Santa Maria Novella, where we picked up some cheese and bread and then had a yummy yummy sandwich.

We were also accosted by a gypsy who would not go away. At least the guy selling necklaces left us alone. Ugh. So awful.

So, now it is 4:00 and I really want to sleep, but David and I are forcing ourselves to stay awake and get on Italy time. It is sad, but here I am in Florence and I just want to stay in the apartment (which is super cute by the way...exhibit A above) But we have great plans for tomorrow and I can't wait to tell you all about it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Paul Bunyan

So, David and I are headed to Italy this week! This post is really a test post to see how easy/difficult/annoying it will be to update my blog using the iPad. So far, so good.

If I don't need to bring my little computer with me, it would just be easier to leave it at home. One less thing to carry.

You might be asking yourself, what is with all the pictures of Paul Bunyan. Just practicing adding pics using the iPad.

Today we did a test pack, where we got everything together just to check things out. Seems like we did pretty good. Well, I think this will work. It is a little annoying, but I think I'll survive. La la. La.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Race Story

A couple people have asked me to tell them my "race story" about completing my first half-marathon, which I successfully completed yesterday. In truth, I don't have much of a race story. I ran...I kept running...I ran some more...then I kept running even more. I don't really have any crazy stories to tell, but I'll try to make it as exciting as possible. Disclaimer: re-reading this now, I realize I have failed in this regard.

I did see a couple people throw up. That's exciting, right?

Okay, so...back to my story. It was cold Saturday morning. Brrrrr. Before the race I snuggled up to the engine of an idling semi-truck along with some other runners. Once I was in the crowd of about 10,000 waiting for the race to start, I felt okay. I lined up with the 2:20 pace group...that's a 10:41 minute per mile pace. This seemed pretty reasonable and I felt would get me to the finish line in under 2:30, which was my goal.

It was about this moment that tragedy stuck. I realized that the playlist I had made for this event had not been synced to my iPod. This was particularly distressing since it had Gangnam Style on it, and I was really looking forward to listening to that at some point. Instead, I listened to the mix I had made for Nathan (which I have come to realize has the "F" word on it), which meant I heard a lot of One Direction and Rhianna.

Grrrr! Perhaps this was why I sort of felt like crying as I stood there in that huge crowd. Or maybe it was because I was all alone (with 10,000 other people) because my husband was up with the 8:30 per minute mile pace group (holy crap that's fast). Or maybe it's because I was about to try something I've never tried before. Actually, yeah...that's why.

So, the gun goes of...and we just stood there. And then we'd move forward a little. And then stand there. And then move forward a little. And hey! Then I could actually see the start line!

Once we got going, I felt great. Almost immediately I realized I would not be needing my hat and gloves for long. I would have tossed them aside, but it was David's hat. And I knew I would want the gloves later. The gloves fit in my pocket, but the hat...I carried that hat for 11 miles. 11 long miles. At least I wasn't carry an entire outfit, which some people I saw at the TC marathon seemed to be doing.

At about two miles, I realized I felt kind of hungry. I freaked out a little bit, because I still had 11 miles to go...and there wasn't any kind of nourishment until mile 8.5. I pictured myself bonking at mile 7 and being carried off the course. Fortunately, once I started drinking water, the feeling subsided.

Around mile 3 I saw some friends...and then about 3.5 I saw my mom, sister, step-dad, and nephew. And then at mile 4.5 I saw my dad. And then I was sad...because I'd seen them all at the beginning! And who would cheer for me at the end when I was tired and grumpy?

I needn't have worried. At mile 8.5, while I struggled with the little packet of Hammer Gel, I heard my dad shout "MICHELLE!" and there he was! Smile! "You're doing great!" What a great boost!

And then just a little ways away I spied my step-dad and his camera. I knew that meant mom, Gretchen, and the Little Guy were nearby so I started looking for them. They were on the other side of the road, so I veered my way over there to give them all high-fives, and then I was on my way again!

Really, having people there to cheer for you helps so much. Most people do not cheer for random people like I do. I like to pick random people and yell, "I like your socks!" or "Way to go dude in red shirt". Then again, the last two events I cheered at were an Ironman at about mile 80 of the bike leg and a marathon at mile 19....both points where people REALLY need a boost.

I felt really good still at mile 10. Really good. I'd been a little ahead of the 2:20 pace group for about 4 miles, but they caught me at mile 8.5 and then I stuck with them again. When I got to mile 10, I really thought, "wow...I'm going to run the whole way! I'm going to finish with this pace group and David is going to be so proud I stuck with them the whole way!" Really, all that was left was a 5K!

Then....then there was this long, slow hill. Maybe it was around mile 10.5. Do not let the organizers of the Monster Dash fool you when they say it is a downhill course. Whatever. That hill really sort of did me in. I stopped and walk for about a 1/2 mile, and lost the pace group. Once I started running again, I could see their little sign bobbing around in the crowd, but I knew I'd never catch them. So much for the 2:20 dream.

Then, light at the end of the tunnel! I saw my friends again at mile 12. It was just the little boost I needed to keep least for another half-mile. I stopped and walked for just a little bit, and was really kind of annoyed with myself. I mean, there I was in the last mile, and I was walking. I searched on my iPod for the Beastie Boys. I needed something to get my adrenaline going.

So yeah...once I could see the finish, I got sort of emotional again. To the point that there was a very, very brief time where I was having trouble getting a good breath and worried I was going to fall over within sight of the finish. I managed to get control of myself. In the end, I never did cry. Maybe when I finish a marathon.

I crossed the finish line, and just felt really glad to be done, and sort of....well, sort of like I did after I went skydiving. I didn't feel this great adrenaline rush or anything. I just felt sort of dazed and spent and bewildered. If you have ever seen my skydiving video, you know that when they asked me how it was, I responded in sort of a spaced-out voice, " was neat".

My next thoughts were: "Boy, I hurt" and then "Man, I'm cold".

The first person I saw was Michael, and I was so happy to see him, because that meant I wouldn't be wandering around all alone trying to find my husband. Right behind him were David and Paul and I think I told them my time (2:23) and there was some chatting, I got my water, and my measly bag of food. I find it interesting that Team Ortho gives you the exact same amount of food at the end of a half-marathon that they give you at the end of a 5K. I guess it was okay...despite the fact that I'd been hungry at mile 2, I wasn't feeling too hungry at that moment.

Michael suggested that we go down for a beverage at the post-race party, and really all I wanted to do at that exact moment was go home. The three of them had all finished at least a half-hour before me, so I think they were at sort of a different point in their post-race recovery. I was just cold and sore and wanted to get away from all the people.

Yup. Upon completing my first half-marathon, the most immediate feeling I had was, "I want to go home."

Fortunately, that feeling passed and we all want to the Grandview and ate lots of eggs and bacon and drank a lot of coffee. Next time, I'll be sure to suggest a place where I can get a Bloody Mary. But, it was a lot of fun to share our race stories and wear my medal in public.

So, now that it is the day after...I had a great time. I will definitely do another half-marathon. I had so much fun and for most of it, felt really great. Just that last mile and a half sort of sucked, but the rest felt really good.

And surprise, my shins feel pretty good. My ankles and toes are pretty sore, but my shins held in there.

My official time: 2:22:59. A PR!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Change of Plans

It is Saturday morning at 8:22 a.m. If I had stuck to my original plan, I'd be sitting in a classroom right now on campus. But a funny thing happened on the way to the weekend...

Someone commented on my blog.

I'd been debating whether or not to take this class. I decided to see if it was possible for me to finish the paper that was due the first day of class. I even started writing a few paragraphs Wednesday night. But, I woke up Thursday morning and there was a comment on my blog. My own family doesn't even comment on my blog anymore....probably because there isn't much to comment on.

Actually seeing a comment on my blog made me think about updating my blog which made me think about how I'd really like to stay home this weekend and work on the pink sweater which made me think about how I'd really like to stay home and hang out with the Little Guy this weekend.

So I dropped the class. I'm taking Italian anyway and that's enough work.

Here's the latest news. I have the back, right front, and half of the left front of the pink sweater done. I've made surprisingly few mistakes for a lace pattern. I'm still searching for a small, portable project I can take to Italy with me. I was hoping to avoid socks, but a friend from work recently learned how to do Magic Loop, which reminded me how much fun that is. So, we'll see.

The Italy trip is a little over a month away! This weekend I plan to do a "practice pack". Mostly because I'm excited and it gives me something trip related to do. I also need to think carefully about what to pack. I'm keeping a close eye on the weather in Tuscany. When we went to Spain, I expected weather of one type and had planned accordingly. I checked the weather before we left and it was MUCH warmer than we thought it would be, so I was able to last minute change my packing plans. I really do hope it is on the cool side while we are there because I want to wear my cute boots.

That's all for now. Will try to get some picks up soon.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Upcoming Plans

Hello! Yeah, so...the blog isn't really my first priority these days (how many times have I said something similar? Hmmmm).

So, I have been doing some knitting. Here is proof.

Will post details on the pattern later, but it is from my Vintage Baby Knits book which I purchased for the cute factor. Note to self - back in vintage times, most baby patterns were knit on size 1 or 2 needles. This, a "quick" baby project is actually not so quick. No matter...I am knitting this large enough that I have plenty of time! Ha! Ha ha!

I am also looking for small, portable project to take with me when D and I head to...Italy!

Yes...the two of us are going to Italy in November. I have a feeling we'll get rained on a bit, but oh well.

Here's the deets:
We are flying into Florence and will spend a couple days there. I've rented a cute little apartment for us with the most darling tiny kitchen you have ever seen! So, we'll sort of wander about for a few days and then head to Siena, where we will begin an 8 day self-guided walking tour of Tuscany! We will walk from town to town (if it is very rainy, we can hitch a ride with our luggage) around Tuscany and eat much food and drink much wine! Then we had back to Florence, where I've secured another adorable apartment (with Wifi and a washer and dryer!) and we'll spend a few more days there, pretending to be Italian, maybe a day trip or two, before we head home.

How did this all come about? Well, our Budget Travel magazine arrived in July and there was an article about this woman and her mom and sister who did this walking tour of Tuscany. I read it and said to D, "We should do this!" and he was sort of like, "ok". About the only other thing I've done so implusively was drive to Wal-Mart to purchase a "You've Got Mail" on VHS after seeing a commercial that said. "Own it today!" So I did. The tour is through this company, Girosole. We have puchased the tour, airfarre, lodging in Florence, and have been researching bus and train transport for day trips an whatnot. We are super exicted and I can't wait to share photos and such on the blog.

Only 70 days!!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Next on the List

This past Saturday, the group hit the next restaurant on the list, Saffron Restaurant and Lounge. The chef, Sameh Wadi, has competed on Iron Chef America. He didn't win, but he did impress the judges. Saffron is a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant. Think hummus, lamb, tagines, those sorts of things. Saffron has been open since 2007, so it is one of the older restaurants on the list. I've been there before, as had Kym and Kyle.

The last time we were there was a few years ago. The restaurant was going through a phase where the wine list was on an iPad. That was sort of the thing there for awhile - menus on iPads. Is anyone still doing that? This time, I was happy to see the wine and drink list on paper. Nothing against iPads...I guess I'm just a traditionalist when it comes to menus.

I started off with a drink called the Mirage - I was attracted by the combo of bourbon and beer in the same drink. It was quite good. David had a Secret Agent - Classic. It's basically a surprise drink...whatever the bartender wants to make you. With my dinner I had  a glass of red wine, which I wasn't as excited about. Oh well.

Saffron is a good place to go if you like to share. I like that in a restaurant...makes it a little more fun when you can try a little bit of a lot of things. We mostly shared while we were there...I got a little greedy with my baby artichoke salad. Most everything is meant to be shared, and the big plates and tagines are suitable for two people.

David and I had the marinated olives and pickles, because I love olives and I love pickles. I love pretty much anything pickled for that matter. These olives and pickles I was not too excited about. There was some sort of herb flavoring I didn't care for. I can't put my finger on it. There were also some pickled carrot, celery (?), few pickles. I'd skip that next time and maybe try the crispy potato chips.

We also had the falafel soup, which was really interesting. I was picturing sort of a broth with falafel floating in it, but that was not the case at all. I don't really remember what was in it, but it was a cold soup, very tasty, green and creamy (my career as a food writer just died a slow death with that sentence). It also had pickled something, which I don't remember, but it was very salty, in a good way.

I already mentioned the baby artichoke salad which was very very good and when there were only two little artichokes left it finally dawned on me that I should have shared. Oh well.

For an entree David and I split the lamp tagine and it was very good. There were olives in there, and again...something about those olives I did not like.

Now, if you were to go to Saffron, I would tell you to get the chicken with the eggplant lavash. The other two couples each got the chicken and it was amazing. Chicken is always tricky in a restaurant. If you read enough food writing, you start to realize that chicken is the like the red-headed step-child of the foodie world. It dries out easily, is bland, blah blah blah. But this chicken, this chicken was amazing. And I will go back to Saffron for the sole purpose of ordering this chicken. Thank you to my friends for letting me try a bite.

I don't remember dessert. Oh wait! I do. David and I shared the Hazlenut Financier. It was a lot crispier  (hard!) that I thought it would be. I'll leave it at that.

Our server was quite pleasant. Not a rah-rah cheerleader type, but she knew the menu and guided us well.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Restaurant Roundup

For the last few months, David and I and a group of friends (mostly the Spain Gang) have been working our way through a list of restaurants. The list was initially made a year and a half to two years ago, but we never got going on it. When we decided to pick it up again, we discovered that several places had closed. And of course, all sorts of wonderful places had opened in the meantime.

The list has been hovering around 17 places. It seems that once we've ticked a few off, we add a few more. We chose the first restaurant by pulling a number out of hat. Since then, we have our server pick a number between 1 and whatever and that determines where we go next. We've only "rigged" the selection once. More on that in a moment.

David and I are the keepers of the list. David is a total Excel dork. Before each visit, we randomize the list and then number it. A different restaurant is always number 1. We think it is more fair that way.

The list is quite eclectic. We've been everywhere from 112 Eatery to Matt's Bar. There are places on the list that some people have been to, but we've tried to keep it to places that the majority of us have not visited.

So, this is how my friends and I decide where to eat. And when we plan our big trips, we do Powerpoint presentations and then vote. That's just how we roll (we are spontaneous as well! It isn't all planned!)

I was thinking I should write about these little restaurant adventures of ours. We've already been to eight restaurants, so I'm going to give a little summary of each one. With any luck, I'll write up the rest as we go along.

Restaurant Number 1: December. Scusi. This has been one of my favorites so far. It's owned by the Blue Plate folks, and they pretty much can do no wrong in my book. This visit with just Kym, Kyle, David and I. I love a restaurant where I can get a cheese plate and olives. In fact, an entire meal of cheese, olives, and wine would be just fine by me. I think if you look over their menu, you'll get an idea of the kind of food I like. Garlic, capers, cheese...yum yum yum.

I had the short ribs and the roasted button mushrooms. They were amazing. This was months ago, so sorry I can't provide more of a description. Suffice to say, I still think about those mushrooms, and the short ribs. A mark of a good meal. I'm still thinking about it months later (there is a sandwich at the Longfellow Grill I feel the same way about). I don't remember if we had dessert, so it must have been just okay. But the meal was perfect. Our waiter was great. Super nice and attentive. Overall, Scusi is just a great place. It's fancier than the other Blue Plate restaurants, but not pretentious. I'd probably make sure I put some effort into my appearance before I went there, but since it's on St. Clair in St. Paul, you don't feel like you have to go all out.

Restaurant Number 2: Hazel's Northeast, also in December. We were off to quite a start! Hazel's is in the old POP! space. I loved POP. I used to live in the neighborhood (sort of) and frequented it quite often. Enough that I felt it was sort of my place. Eventually I moved and then they closed. Hazel's is a fine restaurant. But it doesn't stand out as one of my favorites. This time there were all eight of us that had been to Spain (Kym, Kyle, Lea, Amit, Alan, Erin, David, me). A little reunion of sorts. It was date night, so we got some sort of wine or dessert deal. All I really remember about what I ate was that it had couscous and it was the special. I think there was steak involved. It was good, and made for great leftovers the next day. We also had cava, as sort of a nod to the Spain Gang being together again.

If I lived in the neighborhood, I can see visiting Hazel's pretty regularly. But I don't, so it's unlikely I'll be back anytime soon.

Restaurant number two was supposed to be Travail, but they were closed that night. They just close from time to time. Good for them.

Restaurant Number 3: 112 Eatery, January. You really, really, really cannot go wrong here, and I have to put it way at the top of my list. I had eaten here before, and was soooo excited to go back. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say this is the best restaurant in the Twin Cities (but then again I have not been to Travail or Tilia or any number of places yet).

112 Eatery is just perfection. The service is outstanding. Our server really knew the menu. He was friendly and personable. He made great recommendations, didn't make us feel rushed, really just a great guy.

I think between the six of us, we managed to order just about everything on the menu. My main dish was the short rib chili (I have found recently that you really can't go wrong if you order short ribs). It wasn't really chili at all...but it was amazing. Love. Also tried the bread pudding, the fried shishito peppers (reminded me of some peppers we had in Barcelona), the stringozzi. It was ALL good.

But the best part of the meal was the butterscotch budino. Oh. My. God. If this was all I ate for the rest of my life, I'd be one happy girl. It is happiness in a little jar.

Restaurant Number 4: Republic, February. Republic is this great bar on the West Bank/Seven Corners. It used to be sort of a dive called Sgt. Preston's where you could get a fishbowl full of alcohol. Now it's a little classier. I go here quite a bit since it is close to campus, I like their happy hour, and it seems to attract a less obnoxious crowd then some other campus bars. Then again, I'm usually there around 5 p.m. which might have something to do with it.

It was PACKED when we were there. David and I started at the bar and slowly moved around until we found a table that would seat all eight of us. This involved a table switch with some very accommodating people.  We had just the cutest waiter ever (I've seen him there many hipster). Republic has a great beer list. I also like that during happy hour all the burgers are $5. I often order whatever I want and then get a little container of pickled onions on the side. They have great fish tacos and pork tacos as well, and the salads are yummy too. After someplace as fancypants as 112, it was nice to chill here. Oh, and I love their guacamole.

Restaurant Number 5: Bar La Grasa, March. I really really wanted to like Bar La Grasa. I had heard so many wonderful things. The waiter at Republic said he loved it. But...I just didn't. It was so loud. I practically had to shout to have a conversation. I could barely hear our waiter. And it was so slow. I don't remember what I ate. I was too unhappy.

Restaurant Number 6: Matt's Bar, April. Jucy Lucy! There's a debate here in the Twin Cities about who has the best Jucy Lucy. Matt's Bar, the 5-8 Club, the Nook. I think I'll always be partial to the Nook because David and I went there on our third date and he introduced me to the Juicy Nookie. But Matt's Bar is awesome. And remember how I said I liked Scusi because it was not too pretentious. Matt's Bar is about as unpretentious as you can get. You don't even get a plate.

Restaurant Number 7: Eat Street Social, May. I started off pretty cranky here. Finding parking was a chore. When we got there, we were seated at a huge table and I had visions of Bar La Grasa and shouting to be heard. But, it wasn't bad. And our server was just great. I love a fun, personable server.

We started with appetizers...bread and cheese, sausage, and mussels. Now...I don't really like shellfish, but I think I had three or four of those mussels. They were that good. Dinner for me was steak with very yummy potatoes and ramps. These made a reappearance the next morning for breakfast as part of a very yummy egg concoction.

They have fantastic cocktails here as well. I had an "Of the Older Fashion". My drink of choice lately is the Old Fashioned. Yum.

Restaurant Number 8: The Butcher and the Boar, June. This is the only one that we sort of rigged the selection for. I strongly suggested to our server at Eat Street Social what number she should choose. So, June found us at this new restaurant. A place with bourbon flights. How great is that?

This place goes right up there with my favorites. First of all, eating here was enough to convince me that being a vegetarian is just a really bad idea. We started off with a sample of various meats "From the Butcher". This included Turkey Braunschweiger, which was amazing. I've always liked braunschweiger. Call me crazy, but when I was a kid I just loved that stuff. But this was so much better. I split the Beef Long Rib with Kyle. Fall off the bone tender. I also ordered a pickle plate which I really didn't need. The Caramelized Broccoli was also delish.

Don't really remember dessert. I guess I am more of a savory food person. That...and bourbon.

So, that's it. The first eight. My favorites so far...112 Eatery, Butcher and the Boar, and Scusi. I'm going to try and keep up with the next eight so I can write decent little reviews.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Running Hiatus

Well, my running ambitions have been put on hold. What? You didn't know I had running ambitions? I do. I have remarked to various people off and on that I'd like to do the TC Marathon in 2013, when I turn 40.

Side note: People who actually run marathons are NOT the best marketers of the experience. Everyone I have ever known who has run a marathon has talked about how much it SUCKED. Apparently, after 20 miles your body just revolts and it's all a mental game. As a particularly lazy person, I'm not sure why this sounds like something I want to do.

David and I have signed up for the entire Monster Series (Polar Dash 5K, Get Lucky 7K, Minneapolis Marathon Relay, Minneapolis Duathlon, and Monster Dash Half-Marathon). Yes...I am going to do a half-marathon. But first, I needed to get ready for the marathon relay. I found a nice 10K training plan which didn't use any words I didn't understand such as fartlek, tempo run, or lactate threshold.

Instead it encouraged me to run for 30 minutes moderate. 45 minutes light. 30 minutes moderate with 5 short bursts of speed (30 seconds each). I can handle that.

What I couldn't handle was going from running maybe twice a week to four times a week and then five times a week. Oh first it was great. I was running faster. Faster to me is a few times running a 10-minute mile. A miracle!

I was also running farther. 4 miles easy. 5 miles a couple times. I got to week 5 and was looking forward to a 60 minute run one Sunday, when I realized I just could not ignore the pain in my shins anymore.

Shin splints. I had these in high school when I was on danceline, and at that time I thought it was kind of cool. There was always a debate about whether those of us on the danceline were athletes. Well, athletes get shin splits! I am an athlete. But this...this was different. No doubt this can be attributed to the fact that I am now 20 years older.

I ran for about a week with the pain...I think the longest run I did was 50 minutes and when I was done I was hobbling around like an old lady. This coincided with a cold, so it seemed a good time to take a rest. I took about a week and a half and then headed out again.

Problem was, not my left calf was really starting to hurt too. I got on the treadmill one day and oooh....not good (I can't think of anything witty to say. It hurt).

I managed to make it through the marathon relay with no problems. Some pain, but not too bad. I ran a couple times this past week, but stopped and took many breaks. The last time I ran was Sunday. I did three miles while we were in Winona. And then I decided to stop. My left calf really hurts and my shins protest when I chase the bus (another reason I should be biking to work). Actually, they kind of hurt just walking around, but that might be the heels.

I am on hiatus, like your favorite TV show. Let my poor shins heal. And my calf. Stupid calf.

This is so disappointing to me because I was having such a good time running. I was so proud of myself. Sure, I'm slower than just about everyone else I run with...but I could do it. I could do 5 miles, propelled only by ME. I was getting faster and having a good time. And now...sigh.

So, what now? Well, the elliptical and I will become friends. In the past we haven't really enjoyed one another, but I think that might change. I'll also be getting to know my road bike really well. And I might hit the pool for the first time in a year. With any luck, I'll be back pounding the pavement in a few weeks. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, May 28, 2012

More food! More food!

Several months ago, I found a amazing recipe through Pinterest. I am fortunate to have a husband that will eat tofu. There are many people out there that won't. I'm even more fortunate that he will also eat meatless veggie crumbles, meatless sausages, and all sorts of other fake meat products. He may draw the line at turkey bacon. I know I do.

Yes, turkey is real meat. But turkey bacon is fake bacon.

Earlier this week, I was feeling a little lazy and not quite up to making whatever concoction I had planned, so I went with the Carmelized Tofu recipe from 101 Cookbooks. I actually have Heidi Swanson's cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. I bought it at Patina the same day I bought this thing. Both have been handy, but really...this is a much better way to cook eggs in the microwave.

This recipe is a delicious way to make tofu - I'm sure that is primarily because it has three tablespoons of sugar in it (that doesn't sound like a lot...but when you are scooping it out you just think, "holy moly, that's a lot of sugar!"). It also has a lot of brussels sprouts, so it's all good.

So, here is everything you need.

Sugar! I used some raw sugar that I have had for approximately eight years. It was bought when I still worked at St. Ben's and made a disaster of a jerk chicken for my then-boyfriend. The relationship was kind of a disaster, too (I was going to say he was kind of a disaster, but that's mean). I did use the powers of the internet to find out that sugar lasts indefinitely, so I could use this when I'm 98. There are also some toasted pecans, cilantro, salt garlic, the brussels sprouts, and peanut oil. How can you not be excited about a recipe that uses peanut oil? The recipe calls for a splash. My splashes are quite generous and would be suitable for swimming by very tiny children that have been shrunk by that laser ray thing in "Despicable Me".

Where is the tofu you ask? It's off to the side, getting a little tofu massage by it's buddies, the cans of chickpeas. I am amazed how much water there is in tofu.

Now, I am not the type of person who cooks all  Rachael Ray style and chops while something else is boiling. Save time? Bah! For me, cooking is fraught with stress and worry that everything in the pan will burn while I mince the carrots, so I prefer to get all my ingredients ready to go before hand. This is called "mise en place". It also gives me a chance to use my wee little prep bowls. Those French know what they are doing!

Of course, this occasionally leaves me standing around with nothing to do while my tofu gets squished. More time for this, I say!

I like to drink my wine from the little tasting glasses we got at the New Glarus Brewery. I was also surprised that this wine actually had a cork, because it seemed like more of a screw-top brand to me. Whatever. I don't know what I mean by that.

So,  I had a couple glasses of wine and then started to brown my tofu. Recipes always state about how long it should be before your tofu or meat or onions should be browned. It always takes longer for me. But, it does look lovely when it gets all golden. Then I added my pecans and the sugar. It is just so pretty, I think.

It gets a chance to rest on a plate where it makes the acquaintance of the cilantro. A match made in heaven if you ask me.

I had no problem getting the brussels sprouts all nice and crispy.

Then it all comes together. David felt it could use a little something else, perhaps some red pepper flakes. I'll try that next time because I appreciate a little zing with my food.

This is AMAZING. You should make it. You will love it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Behold! A Sock!

Yes, I finished this sock. This is really nothing short of a miracle. It has taken me a year to knit this one sock. I purchased this yarn and pattern one year ago at the Shepherd's Harvest Wool and Sheep Festival. It has been so long since I finished knitting anything that I had to pull out my Vogue knitting book to see how to graft the toe. I discovered that the instructions in that book are really pretty crappy. Fortunately, I had other sources.

Fortunately, it fits! Although, I should have added a few extra rows to the cuff sot the ruffly edge aligned better with my ankle. Next on the needles will be the second sock, and also a baby sweater for a co-worker's little peanut. Since I have no baby-friendly yarn in my stash, I think I'll need to go shopping.

Today has been spent alternating between being incredibly lazy and trying to tackle the pile of crap that hangs out in my bedroom. By being incredibly lazy, I mean playing solitaire on my phone. I'm not talking a game or two here or there....large chunks of my day have been lost to "40 Thieves". Combined with the allergies/cold thing I've got going on, I feel like a slug.

I believe he is checking out the fish skeleton we saw.
My sister and her fam did come over today for a bit and we took a nice little walk along the river. The Little Guy has this "Walk Around the World" personal project. I forget the story, but he's pretty into taking walks and seeing different parts of the state. He did pretty well, although he was getting a little whiny towards the end, so I asked him if he wanted to sing. He didn't, but did not object to MY singing (as anyone else would), so I began with "The Ants Go Marching..." and whad'ya know? He joined in and sang all the way back to the car, including up the long flight of stairs we were sure we would need to carry him up! Am I a miracle worker or what?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The post in which I pretend to be a food blogger

I'm going to go all "food-blogger" on ya'll here. Why? Well, I've been reading a lot of food blogs. My knitting blog consumption has dropped to, completely zero. I should really start looking at some of my old favorites again, but food blogs are so much more interesting to me right now. People that have food blogs usually have beautiful photos of the most delicious looking food. It gives me many ideas.

Also, at the moment, the state of my knitting is this:

This poor sock has sat in this state for, oh...maybe nearly two months now. All I need to do is graft the toe. That's it. Of course, then I have to start the second sock. In order to get that nice, ripply cuff I have to cast on about 300 stitches, on a size zero needle. You can understand why I am less than enthused about this. It's particularly sad because it's been at least 10 months since I started this sock. Woe to this sock, that may never see the darkness of shoe.

Since I've been neglecting knitting, I've been doing other things, such as reading more (I find that if I am doing a lot of knitting, I do very little reading, and vice versa) and cooking. D and I are doing very well on our pledge to eat out less. Yay us. Hopefully I'll be able to share some of my cooking adventures with you all as well as my knitting adventures.

As you know, today is Easter Sunday and we headed to my dad's house for Easter dinner. Everyone was asked to bring something and I said I would bring a pie. Why a pie? Because if worse came to worse I could just go buy a pie and no one would really care.

A few months ago, I received Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts in the mail. I believe I got this because years ago I joined a cookbook club and from time to time I forget to decline the month's featured selection. As such, I have several cookbooks I never would have bought on my own, such as the Essential Jaques Pepin (complete with DVD!), a book all about grilling (we do not own a grill), and some sort of guide to backyard parties (nor do we have a backyard). This pie book, though, I felt would be useful, despite the fact that I am a wee bit afraid of pies...everyone always makes pie crust sound so difficult. You hear these horror stories about crusts gone bad, ruining an otherwise promising pie.

I looked through the book and chose the easiest recipe...Peach and Berry Tart. The appeal lay in the lack of pie crust and that the filling was essentially fruit and sugar. Easy.

I ran into my only problem when I went to the grocery store and remembered that you can't get peaches in Minnesota this time of year. I believe last year about this time I also was craving peaches and was VERY disappointed. Martha assured me in the book that this recipe takes "kindly to improvisation" so I decided to use just berries - strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Yummy.

I lined up all the actors in this little play for a group photo. I am stealing this technique from just about every food/cooking blog out there. Food bloggers love to line up all the's like a little roll call before you get the show on the road. As you can see, the corn meal was a bit camera shy. There are also two pints of tomatoes angling for some attention; perhaps a loaf of bread as well.

So, that was it. All the things I needed. Of course, Martha states that the cornmeal should be stone-ground, but I don't think you can find anything that fancy at Cub Foods. Some flour, sugar, an egg yolk, salt, butter, and vanilla extract. And of course, the star of the show...the fruit.

I was very excited to pull out my food processor to make the crust. The food processor was excited as well. It squealed with delight when I pulled it out of it's little hidey-hole, a storage ottoman in the living room. Yes, I store my food processor in the living room. We have a small place and my options are limited.

Of course, then I always go through the "how the heck do I put this thing together" mode before D comes over and points out that I am putting the work bowl on backwards or some such thing. But eventually, I was ready to go.

Mmmm...doesn't this look good. All the crust ingredients just waiting to be pulsed "until dough just begins to come together." What ever that means. Martha doesn't really explain that too well. Fortunately, I have watched many an episode of America's Test Kitchen where they often make dough. In addition to these shows making me very excited to finally dump little hunks of butter into my food processor, they also gave me a pretty good idea of when to turn the food processor off.  Right about here:

I then dumped all this into my tart pan with removable bottom (finally! I'm using a wedding gift!) and then pressed it into place. Easy peasy I tell you. I don't have a photo of that moment. I was too anxious to get it into the oven, where it baked at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. While that was happening, I mixed together my fruit with the sugar. And that was it for the filling.

When the crust was ready, I dumped the fruit in It seemed like it could use a bit more fruit, so I mixed up a wee bit more berries and sugar. All in all, I'd say I used about an entire 16 oz. container of strawberries and about a cup of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Back in the oven it all went for another half-hour or so.

I have to say, since the recipe called for peaches and I was using strawberries as my main fruit, I was a little worried about the timing. I checked it quite often. But it turned out perfect.

As the berries cooked, they sort of formed their own little liquidy, gel-like base which held things together nicely. Gosh. Doesn't it just look beautiful? Even better, you can either serve it warm or at room temperature, making this the perfect thing to bring to a party. It looks all impressive and like you spent a lot of time, but in reality, not so much.

I enjoyed this with some whipped cream. And how was it? Fantastic? Just sweet enough. And the crust was amazing...the cornmeal really gives it a wonderful flavor. Doesn't this look like something you would get at a restaurant (other than the poor placement of the whipped cream)? I feel so amazing.

 I'd love to try this with some other fruits. I think I cranberry tart would be divine - I am picturing it with little curls of lemon zest on top. Or how about something tropical, maybe with mango and kiwi? I really think the possibilities are endless. Mmmmm...this tart may be my new go-to to bring to family gatherings.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vacation reading continued...

I am sure you are all just waiting to find out what I read while I was on vacation!

I finished reading, "Bottom of the 33rd: Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game" by Dan Barry. What a great read. Even if you don't like baseball or know anythjing about baseball, you could still enjoy this book from a human interest perspective. Sure, it helps to understand terminology such as "ground out to 2nd", "caught looking", and "batter's box", but it isn't necessary. I was pulled in by the telling of people's stories: the batboy, the first-baseman's wife, the kid that made a pact with his dad to stay until the end of the game, no matter what (little did he know). This is what made this book one you didn't want to put down. The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings played for 32 innings, until 4:09 a.m. Easter Sunday morning, before the game was mercifully suspended until it could be completed two months later.

I also read "Crunch Time" by Diane Mott Davidson. This is one of a series about a crime-solving caterer! This is, I think, the 15th book in the series. I saw it in one of the little stores at the airport before we left and was ecstatic. I've read all the books in this series. In reality, they kind of make me shake my head. I mean...this woman is a caterer. She lives in small town in Colorado, where apparently someone is murdered every few months, and somehow the caterer knows all these people, some of them quite well. Some of the plot twists and turns just make me shake my head...but, apparently people really do use puppies to smuggle drugs. The books also include recipes...she is a caterer after all. This is a perfect vacation book. You don't mind if it gets wet next to the pool or if you leave it behind on the beach.

On the flight home, I started reading "The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration." It is about the millions of African Americans who migrated from the south to other parts of the county from about 1915 to 1970. It is fascinating and heartbreaking. The true stories of people's lives are so much more rich than what you might find in fiction. This is a book I can't wait to get further into.

Having started on "The Warmth of Other Suns", I find myself less drawn to finishing up the Harry Potter series, but I am still working on that as well.

I'll write more about our vacation soon. It was just fabulous. Warm sun, white sand, fantastic company. We really had a great time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vacation Reading

Tomorrow David and I are heading to Florida. Perhaps I mentioned how utterly exhausting our trip to Spain was and how while we were still there I was desperately imagining white sand, a beach chair, some sort alcoholic beverage beside me, and a book.

This little long-long weekend getaway is our answer to this.

This leaves me wondering...what book should I take?

There are two books I am currently reading. David and I are both working our way through the Harry Potter series (he for the first time, me for the second). I could easily finish "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", but it's quite large and a library book to boot and if it were left behind someplace I would be angry.

I am also about halfway through "The Year of Endless Sorrows" by Adam Rapp. I picked this up at the Guthrie gift shop when we were there for a play (Rapp is a playwright as well). It's about a guy from Minnesota who moves to New York, gets work at a publishing company, has acute knee pain, and is working on a novel about a guy with acute knee pain. And in the novel he is writing, the knee is an alien or something weird like that. I'll admit...I got sucked into Harry Potter and haven't touched the book for months.

Part of the problem is that I read ahead...flipped forward to the last chapter and sort of skimmed. I do this with most books I read...even Harry Potter and I've read it. I know how it ends! So, I read ahead a bit and the book actually ends on a rather depressing note. What did I expect? It is called "The Year of Endless Sorrows." That being said, it is also humorous without trying too hard, full of characters that have character, and...and...this is why I don't write book reviews. I don't know what to say. But I picked this up in the store, read a few pages, and had to buy it. He creates a world where you can feel what these characters are feeling. You can see these guys in their crummy apartment, feel the main characters boredom at his job, his sense of hopelessness and longing for his typewriter. That...and there is a conversation between the main character and his mom that had me laughing out loud.

I also grabbed "Brave New World" out of the backroom. A classic...I should read it. And it is pretty compact and would fit easily in my purse. I can see on the inside cover that this book once belonged to my mom's friend and step-dad's first wife, Rose. Her phone number and address are in there...332 Clark. And she obviously owned this before she was married because it is her maiden name written inside. Rose had beautiful handwriting. Every now and then I'll grab a book from my mom and step-dad's house and once in a while there will be notes in the margin in Rose's handwriting. I find this sort of comforting.

Another book I recently purchased is "Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other enemy nations". Apparently, these other enemy nations include Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Libya. Would this book create any suspicious looks going through security? It is a "Words Without Borders" anthology...the goal of which is to humanize the individuals in countries the United States has deemed enemy nations.

I also have a book called "Nocturnes" which is a collection of short stories by Kazuo Ishiguro. I like his writing, although all I have ever read by him is "Never Let Me Go" which about half-way through I wanted to throw against a wall. That is of those books that once you realize what is going on, you are too sucked in to put it down...yet you almost wish you had never picked it up.

On my Kindle I've got "Bottom of the 33rd" which is about an incredibly long minor league baseball game. I love it. It isn't just about a's about all the people involved, from the umpire, to the pitcher, to the owner, to the kid making hot dogs. I've also got "The Warmth of Other Suns" about the migration of African Americans to the north in the first part of the last century; "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World" which has something to do with money; and a book called "Cooking Solves Everything" by Mark Bittman that I don't even remember buying. Oh yes...and how can I forget? "The Works of P.G. Wodehouse"...this one was free. I'd finally see enough references to P.G. Wodehouse and how witty he was that I figured I should just read something by him.

I also considered "Catcher in the Rye" which I've read about three times. Believe it or not, I used to carry around a copy of this in college. During finals week, when I was in the library all the time, I would read a chapter or two as a break. Other people thought this was weird.

If I had a copy, I would probably take "To Kill a Mockingbird" because I read it in high school and I am curious about how it would read differently to me 20 years later.

So, that's it. Now you've got somewhat of an idea of the sorts of things on my reading list. Most likely, I'll pick up some crummy mystery novel that I can leave behind in the airport lobby and never miss. What do you think I should read while I am on vacation?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy New Year!

Last night, I went to the the "Travelers Circles" program sponsored by the MN Council of Hosteling International. My friend Jon coordinates some of these programs and I volunteered to go and talk about Spain. I was so nervous! I was sure this would be a group of very well-traveled people (I was right about that) and that I would not be interesting enough, or have beautiful enough pictures to give an adequate presentation (I was wrong).

I had so much fun speaking with them, and everyone was so friendly. Many people afterwards complimented me on my presentation and my pictures. One woman was so sweet and told me how much she enjoyed my energy and how I wouldn't have even needed photos - just listening to me was enough. It was a wonderful evening. I would love to go back to hear some other presentations or even present again. Those of you that know me well know that I really enjoy public speaking, so this was right up my alley.

So, where will David and I go next? Well, we've been throwing around some ideas. One thing we would love to do is a bicycle tour through Vietnam. In the last week I've been particularly intrigued by Fiji. I really would love to do a beach vacation soon. Spain was so exhausting and when we got back I immediately wanted to plan a trip to a beach someplace. We've been having sort of a dinner club with the group from Spain and last week when we got together we broached the topic of the next trip. It probably won't be a European vacation...maybe South America or Southeast Asia.

What have David and I been up to lately? We've set some goals for the new year. The most significant is to eat out less. We ate out a lot in 2010 and 2011. We did the math. We were consistent though...only a $15 difference in dining out expenses between the two years. This decision is really twofold: it is healthier to eat at home. We'll have more control over what goes into the food and the quality of the ingredients we use. I've been reading A LOT of cooking blogs lately and also blogs about "real food" and I'm excited to make this change. I've also been having a lot of fun cooking again. I have more cookbooks than you can shake a stick at and they have been sadly neglected the last few years. 

The other reason is financial. Obviously, eating out is expensive. I do financial literacy presentations for college students, and I often talk about spending priorities and deciding what is important to you. And I always used the example of eating out...and how this was something I really enjoyed (because I DO!) and that this was something that I prioritized over other sorts of things. I still love to eat out, but we are limiting how often we do it and focusing more on our dinner group with friends and really making eating out an event. At the end of November, we will compare our dining out expenses for the year to those of 2011. With the difference, we're going to take a trip someplace between Christmas and New Years! Travel is edging out dining in the priorities category!

I'll keep you posted on our progress throughout the year. Hopefully I'll also find the time to blog a little about some of the yummy food we are making at home.

David will be doing some more triathlons this summer. I will not. I'll be focusing on just running.

I'm trying to read more and I'll try to tell you a little bit about what I am reading.

And I do still knit. I've got a sock almost has been so long since I knit socks I need to pull out my Vogue knitting book and get a refresher on the Kitchener stitch.

That's all for now folks. I hope to make it here to post a bit more frequently in the future. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

And finally, the trip ends...

We left Spain on a Tuesday. We had to get up bright and early to get to the airport. Kym, Kyle, Alan, Erin, David, and I were all on the same flight. Lea and Amit were on a later flight, and Kelly an even later one. The six of us were up pretty early, putting all the beds and mattresses back in their proper places, as quietly as possible so the others could continue snoozing.

Sigh. It was sad to leave. It is always hard to see a vacation come to an end. This one was particularly so because I felt there were so many things I still wanted to see. We didn't get nearly enough time in Barcelona or Madrid. I didn't see the bull ring in Sevilla. I wish we'd eaten more tapas. And seen more Flamenco. And we didn't get to see the market in Barcelona. So many things left undone.

But, it was time to go. Fortunately, getting to the airport was relatively quick and painless. Sure, my backpack weighed about a million pounds, what with the wine and olive oil inside. But, we had a very short walk to the Metro and then we were on our way.

The Madrid-Barajas airport is really, really huge. I think we were flying Continental. After we got off the Metro, we actually had to walk a ways to get into the airport proper. Then it was the never ending walk to find out check-in counter. I'll put it to you this way - we had to go to counter 437 or something. We started down by number 1. I'm not kidding - I think it was at least a quarter-mile walk, maybe a half-mile, past an never-ending array of airlines. Some with just one little counter, like Qatar Air. Some counters had a line stretching as far as you could see of people waiting to check in. I thought we would walk forever...this on no breakfast and no coffee. By the time we got to the Continental counter, I was soaked in sweat and pretty grumpy. There was a decent sized line there so I just threw everything on the ground and started sort of kicking it along with my feet.

Luckily, an airline employee let us know we could use the self-check in where there was no line, so I dragged my bags over there and we were able to get checked in and get rid of the super heavy bags pretty quickly. Happiness! Of course, this was not without its glitches. When Kyle swiped his passport, it asked him if he was "Javier Germikulitchtenstein" or something like that. But, eventually we were on our way.

I did have a little aggravation when we went through security. Apparently, my Kindle needed to be removed from my bag. The security lady started talking to me in Spanish and I kindly told her I didn't speak Spanish. So, she told me she needed to know what was in my bag. So I showed her, and she started speaking to me in Spanish again. Lady! I just told you I don't speak Spanish. I had to put all my stuff through the machine again. Sigh.

But, finally we were through and we found a little cafeteria/deli with some breakfast sandwiches and coffee. David and I were able to use up the last of our Euros. I also saw a guy try to put his sandwich, paper wrapper and all, in the toaster. Ooops!

Once we got to the area where our gate was, we could not leave and wander around the airport. We were trapped with only a duty free shop and some vending machines to keep us occupied. And the duty free shop was sort of lame. I just wanted some snacks - not a box of chocolates or a bottle of rum. Sigh.

I don't remember much of the flight from Madrid to JFK in New York. I watched movies. We had some lunch. I read some. We had a snack. When we got off the plan, we walked through first class...oh my gosh. It looked so nice...seats that go back to horizontal, little bags of complimentary toiletries. That is the way to fly to Europe.

JFK is the worst airport ever. We had an incredibly long walk to our gate. It was crowded. The bathrooms were gross. The bright spot was a voicemail from my sister stating she wanted her voice to be the first I heard when I arrived home. I still have that voicemail saved. Unfortunately, she was beaten to the punch by the massage salon I go to.

The flight to Minneapolis was the worst. Ugh. There is nothing like knowing you have a four hour flight ahead of you and there isn't an exciting new country you've never been to waiting for you at the end. Don't get me wrong; I was excited to be home. But...ugh.

When we arrived back in Mpls we discovered that somewhere between customs in New York and the baggage carousel in Mpls, Kyle's back-pack had been completely destroyed by the airline. I think all these months later he is still trying to get that resolved. It appeared as though it had spent considerable time being dragged on the tarmac behind a fast moving vehicle, resulting in a broken wine bottle and now useless backpack.

Thank goodness my bag was okay and our wine was safe. David and I headed to the light rail station and shared a train with some guy who was obviously visiting from out of town. He spent the entire time talking loudly on the phone to his wife about making sure the kids get to bed a a decent time. I wished we were still in Spain so I would not have had to understand his innane conversation. Then we had a really awful bus ride on a bus that was much more crowded than would have expected at that time of night. Next time, I want someone to pick me up at the airport!

And then we were home! Home sweet home...our own bed, our own kitchen, our own TiVo waiting with our favorite programs! Yay!

And that my friends, is the end of the trip!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Monday, continued yet again!

Surely, you are thinking to yourself....nay, you are muttering under your breath, "seriously, Michelle. Finish up with the trip already."'d have a good point. And, I got to use the words "nay" and "mutter" in the same sentence. Clearly, I'm sort of losing my mind.

There won't be any pictures with this post. This will be where I finish up writing about Monday in Madrid, which I have mentioned before was one of my most favorite days on our Spain trip. Madrid is just an amazing city. Knowing what I know about life, I'm sure I'll be back there someday. Because life is good and lovely. And I'm an optimist.

So, after my little shopping trip, I tried to take a little nap. As I recall, this wasn't too terribly successful. I don't know if I've mentioned this, but the bed in the apartment in Madrid was very noisy. The slightest movement set off a series of squeaks and groans that would only be rivaled by the ominous noises made by carnival rides. I was also rather excited about our evening plans with Kym and Kyle and this kept me up as well. And, it was the middle of the day and not very dark. Overall, bad napping experience.

Okay, I am completely exaggerating the "rather excited" part. It's a good thing Kym and Kyle wanted to go to the Flamenco show, because I think had we been left to our own devices David and I would have done what we do many a night at home - sit on the balcony, drink some wine, eat some cheese, watch the traffic go by. Okay, we don't have a balcony, but I think you get the general idea.

All day, we'd been sort of debating and wishy-washy about whether we wanted to go to this Flamenco show. The bar/club/restaurant had been recommended to me by a co-worker who once lived in Madrid. The show was at 10:30 p.m. (past my bedtime as we all know) and I'd read some Trip Advisor reviews and had heard that we'd be packed in like sardines. We also had to get up early the next day to head to the airport and being the last day of the trip we were kind of tired. But, we had a reservation and Kym and Kyle still wanted to go, so we decided to do it.

We decided to take the subway over to the neighborhood where the flamenco club was located. Our first stop was to find dinner. I have to say, on on way there, I thought the neighborhood seemed a little sketchy. But, we did find a nice place for dinner where we were able to be seated rather quickly. We of course had tapas: Spanish Omelet, some asparagus, some other things I don't remember. The place was pretty crowded, but we managed to get in and out in time to get back to Casa Patas for the show.

Casa Patas has a restaurant in front and the Flamenco Club is at the back. We checked in, got our tickets, and then found our seats, about 5 or 6 rows back. And yes...we were most certainly packed in like sardines. There were very tiny little tables and when you were seated, it was nearly impossible to move around. You got either a free Sangria or glass of wine with the show and you could also order tapas. and food. We skipped the tapas. The wine was okay. About what you would expect for a "complimentary" glass.

A few minutes before the show started, I headed to the restroom and when I walked in was quite shocked to see a very, very tall man in there! Eeek! Was I in the wrong place? Nope...apparently the women's restroom is also the dressing room for the dancers.

I've only seen Flamenco Mexico and then it was two women. This show was comprised of a male and female dancer and three guitarists. The show started promptly at 10:30 and was AMAZING.

First of all...I have to say. The male dancer was freakishly tall and skinny. And when you are looking up at a stage, he looked even more freakishly tall. But he was an amazing dancer, as was his female counterpart. There was so much energy in their dancing and so much emotion in their faces. I don't have any photos or video because you were not supposed to use cameras or recording devices during the show. This did not deter the Japanese businessmen sitting in front of us though. Oddly, they also left at the intermission and never came back.

I really don't see why. It was that good. I was disappointed when it was over.

The first dance was the man and woman together. Flamenco is a very passionate dance. You're probably thinking of castanets, but they were never used in this show. The guitarists would play, clap, sing a little. It was really an excellent show. I couldn't tell how old either dancer was. When they were dancing, they looked so much older, particularly the woman. Her face looked so determined and had so much emotion, she looked to be in her late 30s or early 40s, but when she was not dancing, it was obvious she was much younger.

For the second number, the man came out and danced solo. When he stepped from behind the curtain, we saw that he had changed into a red, velvet suit! The entire crowd reacted....I couldn't tell if it was laughter or more of an "oh my, I'm looking at 6 feet 8 inches of bright red velvet!" Regardless, we were quickly mesmerized by his dancing. The speed at which he moved his feet...amazing.

Later there was a number of just the guitarists and then the woman did a solo number as well. Then they danced together again. The show was over by midnight.

Despite my earlier hesitation about actually wanting to go, I was thrilled afterwards that we had. The show was amazing and I wish we had made more of an effort to see a show in Sevilla as well. Perhaps others from the group would have joined us. I really do recommend going to see Flamenco if you are ever in Spain.

We made our way back through the sketchy neighborhood to the Metro and were back at our little apartment before 1 a.m. We tiptoed around our sleeping friends and then crawled into bed. One last night in Spain. We'd be up bright and early the next day to head to the airport. Sigh.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Monday, continued...

Doesn't that sound awful? Monday though Mondays aren't bad enough already. Well, if you are in Madrid though, it isn't so bad.

We left the park. It was sad, but we had to do it. I really wanted to see the Plaza Mayor, and we had reservations for a Flamenco show that night that didn't start until 10:30, dangerously close to the "Michelle would rather be in bed" time zone. Okay, SMACK DAB in the middle of that time zone, so I was hoping to get in a nap in the afternoon.

That, and we were kind of hungry. When is that never the case? So, off we went. Here are some random street shots to tide you over.

A building in Madrid.

Another building in Madrid. There were far less people on scooters in Madrid than there were in Barcelona.

Getting to the Plaza Mayor involved another Metro ride. Yippee! I really did enjoy riding the Metro. I liked checking out people's shoes and occasionally there was a musician on board. Amplified and everything. When I really loved about the Metro though...was that one of the stops actually had a little art gallery, there below the city. An exhibit of photography. How cool is that? We only had a few minutes to enjoy this before the train came. Then it was back to checking out people's shoes.

Art gallery in the Metro Station. One of the best surprises I've ever had while riding public transportation. Sure beats the suspicious puddle on the bus the other day.

As I've said, we headed over to the Plaza Mayor. We almost missed it. We knew we had to head down a particular street. I think we sort of thought it would hit us over the head, but it's a plaza...surrounded by you have to actually turn down another street and then there it is!

The Plaza Mayor, where now you enjoy a nice meal, but where once, if they didn't like you, you would burn.

Back in the day, they burned heretics here. Now, it is a square lined with restaurants. As you walk through, the waiters greet you and hold out their menus, hoping to lure you into their dining establishment. Frankly, any of them would have been fine. Outdoor dining, you can't beat that!

Did I mention they executed people here? Where is this morbidity of mine coming from?

I'm sure we picked the place we did because it looked just fine and we didn't want to walk all the way around the square. It's hard for me to say no to people and I didn't want to have to say no to a bunch of different waiters. Of course they all had a menu of the day (menu del dia), where you choose two courses and then either coffee or dessert. We also, of course, had wine with our lunch, because that is what you do when you are on vacation.

Honestly, I don't remember what we ate too much. I probably had gazpacho and I know I had the Spanish Omelet, which was okay. I'd had better. But just sitting in this plaza that has seen so much history, on a beautiful fall day, with the best companion ever...Nothing could be better than that. And...our waiter was delightful, as many Spanish waiters are. I'm not sure how much English he spoke, but he was very friendly. When it came time for the check, I nervously got his attention and then asked David how to ask "la cuenta or el cuenta"...and then looked at our waiter and said, "la cuenta, por favor" and he smiled at me, the most genuine smile, and said "Muy bueno" and bowed at me. sweet! We left him a nice big tip. Maybe he didn't say "muy bueno"...but I am pretty sure he said, "very good" and was appreciative of my crappy Spanish.

The Plaza Mayor has also hosted numerous festivals and other happy events over the years as well.

Where to next? How about the palace? It wasn't something I had planned, but we were in the vicinity and I had heard wonderful things. The Palacio Real is supposed to be incredibly beautiful. By the time we got there, I was also looking forward to using the restroom!

Alas, when we got there it was closed. There was some sort of actual event going on. So, we just stood and looked into the great, big, huge gate. It was only closed for a bit, but we didn't wait around.

Oh dear, I had hoped to use a royal bathroom.

I really had to pee.
Let's get a picture and find someplace with a public restroom. Quick. Hurry.

Luckily, the map we had was apparently sponsored by the Golden Arches, so we headed to a nearby McDonald's, got a coke, and were on our way. I really should have taken the chance to order something unique to Spanish McDonald's, but I already was feeling a little ashamed to be in a McDonald's at all. They of course had some kind of Iberian Ham sandwich, which I suppose would have been lovely.

It's a HUGE palace. Really wish I could have seen the inside.

We wandered around a bit, but by this point we were kind of tired and decided to head back to the Metro and to the apartment. When we arrived back at the apartment, Alan, Erin, and Kelly were all in the little bard downstairs. I was sort of in the mood for a nap, but the ladies wanted to head over to El Corte Ingles to find an English-language book for Kelly to read on the way home. Since my sister's mother-in-law had highly recommended I go to El Corte Ingles, I joined them.

Kelly did find a book in the very small foreign language section. El Corte Ingles is just a massive, high-end department store. Most of what was sold in there I could never afford, but I did get a cute purple dress. Then, I'd had enough. Erin and Kelly did a little more shopping, but I tried to take a nap.

It was flamenco night, afterall. And I will write about that in another post! Ha! I know what you are thinking! Come on Michelle! It is January! You took this trip in OCTOBER.

Sorry, I can't help it. My writing attention span is very short tonight. Mostly I just want to crawl into bed and read Harry Potter. Yes, I have read Harry Potter before...but I am reading the entire series again because David is reading it for the first time. He's on the Goblet of Fire right now. I am reading the Prisoner of Azkaban. We are having a lovely time, pretending to be surprised ("OH NO! The goblet of fire is a PORTKEY!")

So, dear'll have to wait just a wee bit longer for the conclusion! And then I'll be blogging about cooking, eating out, the books I am reading, and maybe knitting.