Sunday, November 27, 2011

November's Nearly Done

It is official. Holiday season is upon us. I'm a slight scrooge, so I do not acknowledge the upcoming holidays until the Thanksgiving meal has started digesting. (To me, Christmas music anytime before the week of Christmas is just annoying.) This year I'm slightly more festive than last. Last Thanksgiving, J and I had Chinese food and went to the beach. I was unemployed and less than thrilled about my current city. This year, things have changed: I'm employed. :) We were invited to a traditional dinner hosted by my co-worker's mom. (We do crafts together once a week.) I love Chinese food and I had a great Thanksgiving with J last year, but I love Thanksgiving food even more. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so it was nice to spend it in a more traditional way this year. It was also nice to be around a family, even if it wasn't mine.

The food was amazing, and I wouldn't expect any less from my crafting guru. She makes awesome brownies, but even better stuffing and mashed potatoes. The turkey was good and the gravy was made from scratch. There were croissants and green beans and baked ziti. (Ziti is their family tradition, but I held off in order to maximize the space in my stomach for stuffing and potatoes. Starch, starch, carbs- I love starches and carbs!!!) Dessert was pumpkin pie and brownies. J and I were happy campers.

After dinner, J and I kept our tradition by going to the beach. We looked for shells and enjoyed the cooler weather. Once we got home, we did a big clean up and then set about decorating. J and I had purchased some ornaments from Target for a couple of bucks (literally, these things were twenty five cents) last year, so up they went. Instead of a tree, we did a garland. The cats and Ruby would have had too much fun with a tree and since we will be home for the holidays, we didn't want to bother. The theme this year was snowflakes, navy, and silver. J and I don't agree on much, but we agree that we hate red and green. Getting the garland up was actually pretty tricky. We admired our handiwork with beer and hard lemonade.

Also keeping us busy is our adorable four legged baby. (That conjures up a funny image.) Ruby is everything we could have hoped for and more. We are simply mad about her and I understand now why people get so obsessed with their dogs. She's my Best Thing Ever. She knows to be calm when I'm upset/sad about something. She knows the sound of my car and when I come home later than J, she is anxious to greet me at the door. She's happy to see me in the morning- and in the middle of the afternoon when I've been home for hours. Ruby's smart... and a little stubborn. We're still diligently working on potty training (the dog attack and broken leg were huge set backs for us). She can be a little sneaky sometimes and she likes to eat fuzz. But she's great at her tricks and commands: sit, stay, wait, come, paw, high five, spin, twirl, drop it, leave it, and lie down. The only one in her repertoire that she is really missing is: "POTTY. Now, please?" She just got fixed last week. She was miserable the first day. She couldn't sit, so she'd just lean on me. And she was drugged, so her puppy eyes were especially sad. But the next morning she was already full of her signature joie de vivire. She's my bounce-back kid. I love her tenacious, precocious, sweet mannerisms. She gets car sick, just like me. And although she's not very vocal, she's got a fierce little growl when playing tug and she makes the funniest whimpers and grunts in protest of having to ride in the car.

Ruby's been spoiled with the company of a friend for the last week. We're puppy sitting for a friend's dog. It's a toy poodle that J and I have sat for before. This dog is such a sweetie. She's so well mannered and loving. The only problem is that she's a couple of years old, so she can find Ruby to be annoying. It is sort of like sisters, except one is a "too-cool" teenager and the other is a sticky-fingered two year old. They still play nicely, and once in awhile J and I can get them to both calm down and rest on the couch at the same time. We will all be sad when her owner comes to pick her up. (It has helped with the potty training a bit. J and I are consistent with the older dog- and it's a good model for Ruby, even though there still have been accidents...)

Work has been surprisingly difficult. I thought it would calm down. Even though the pace is not as frantic, the work seems to multiply and I find every minute of every day occupied with helping students, helping co-workers, answering e-mails, fixing the copier, unjamming the printer, getting more paper for the copier or the printer, etc etc. I have a hard time just making it to the bathroom. And the scary thing is: there are now four of us in the office who are doing this ALL DAY LONG. I'm looking forward to December because after the second week the semester ends. So, aside from being a puppy parent and working hard, I've also been working towards the holidays. Just because I'm a scrooge doesn't mean I hate Christmas. My favorite part of the holiday is giving gifts. I have a "token of appreciation" problem. I like to give people stuff. Mostly small stuff. Sometimes hand-made stuff. But I'm a stuff-giver. So Christmas is a great time for a stuff-giver. And even though the holidays don't start for me until after Thanksgiving, I still anticipate gift giving long before hand. When purchasing gifts, I start in September. This year I had a goal of making 50% of my gifts, so I started in July. I upped the goal to making 90% of my gifts. I will only buy things for J, since he does not want beaded jewelry or dyed silk scarves. :) I'm still making him little things though. It is a challenge to think of what people could possibly appreciate- and I have a feeling my brother(s) would rather have something spiffy, like an xBox Kinect- but I'm on a budget, people- and a mission to fight corporate America. Even if I am one person. So I've been a good little elf- toiling away at my kitchen table/workbench, trying to beat the clock.

And there is a homecoming to prepare for. My dog is basically naked (if you want a dog that doesn't shed, get an Italian Greyhound). But she's a wimp when it comes to anything below fifty degrees. She already has a sweater (its a black and white striped number with a skull and crossbones) and she actually likes wearing it. I know, I know. I sound like one of those crazy ladies with the monkey for a pet, "He likes dressing up. Don't you? See, he's chewing my face with his teeth, that means he likes it." But when I say, "Sweater?" She runs immediately to me and practically barrels her head in the neck hole. She also has a hard time parting with it. I don't blame her- it's nice to be warm, and to be warm and stylish. But a wimpy sweater that only covers her chest and back isn't going to cut it in a Wisconsin winter. So we ordered her fleece, hand-made dog jammies (from Etsy). They have little monsters on them. Because she's my monster- nothing too girly for my baby girl. (If my dog was named Lola, she'd be decked in pink, but Ruby's signature color is red, and she's too rough and tumble for tutus.) ;) She also has long skinny legs, so we got her booties. And a hat for her thin ears. She's going to be more layered than me! I'll have to get a picture of her in full Wisconsin weather regalia. (The hat she hates- so that might not last. But I'd rather have a warm dog than a frozen one.)

Whew- this post was far longer than I intended. I'm just so excited about going home. And for my family to meet the apple of my eye. I'm looking forward to family, friends, and food. (Speaking of food, J and I went back twice to Rancho Grande- their burritos are the best I've had down here. We also tried Taco Rico- service was super fast but food was so-so. The price for the portion is great, but I'd rather have Rancho Grande.) I don't know if I'll carve out the time to post before home, but if I don't:

HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES!! Stay warm, my Sconnies, and travel safe.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mmmmm Miami

It is now “Fall” in Miami. By “Fall” I mean that it is no longer blazing hot and the threat of hurricanes have subsided. I still don’t consider it to be truly Fall because the leaves don’t change colors and any décor of Halloween or Thanksgiving looks simply ridiculous down here when it reaches 80 degrees on a regular basis. One of the things I liked most about the changing seasons back home is the pseudo hibernation you go into- layer on thick knits and eat massive amounts of yummy food. I hear it has been snowing back home. =)

I’ve been keeping busy with work. At the end of the summer we had to gear up for the upcoming season. I’ve had some technical and slightly difficult tasks added to my job description. This doesn’t bode well for a perfectionist like myself because I constantly stress. There are a lot of people relying on me to do the data entry correctly. It could have major consequences for them if I don’t. When I was in college, I worked well under pressure, because I was the person applying the pressure. I don’t work well under pressure when a whole department or organization has high expectations. It gives me knots in my shoulders and searing pain behind my eyes.

Therefore, I’ve been laying low on the evenings. I read, I craft, I watch television- I avoid being on the computer as much as possible at home since I’m on it all day at work. I’ve also started volunteering at a local botanical garden that I’ve been taking some crafting classes at. I’ll be volunteering more this weekend for an Art Fair. I was asked to submit some crafts for the Art Fair since I took some of their classes. I worked pretty hard on dying about a dozen silk scarves and I submitted a couple pieces of jewelry. We’ll see if anyone wants what I make! If so, I might consider quitting my day job and open a crafting business. I’m only half kidding.

The biggest reason I work is to have money to enjoy myself (second to paying bills of course). So I’ve been exploring more of the dining options down here. I know I’m a very picky eater. I’m probably worse than a toddler. But, for all of my pickiness, I love food and I enjoy going out to dine and try things I like prepared in different ways. (I still will never like cooked veggies or avocado.)

The first restaurant I tried was actually a whim. I love buffalo sauce, but I hate eating wings off of the bone. I had been at a Halloween party with some acquaintances and I was really hungry after I left (first one to go, I’m so boring, I know). I had been dying for wings and BW3s boneless wings have not been cutting it. I had gone to the party as a hipster. No one got it. It was meta-hipster. Part of the costume was Pabst Blue Ribbon. To stay in character, I had a couple, and when I drink- even the slightest amount- I get super hungry. So, I was hungry and craving buffalo sauce. I decided now was the time to try real wings at a local place that I’ve been hearing of called The Sports Bar. It’s an original name, I know. I ordered wings, and cheese fries. It was the best decision I’ve made in awhile. The wings were amazing! The perfect amount of spicy for the slight burn you feel in your mouth that only blue cheese can cool. The fries were seasoned really well and they came with two cups of nacho cheese. It was a truly gluttonous experience.

I’ve never eaten a large amount of wings off of the bone (I’ve tried one here and there), and it was good I had a couple of beers in me because I basked in the glow of the flavor with wing sauce giving me a “Joker” smile. Why so serious? For those of you who know me well- mostly my dad- you know this is a huge step for me because I’m not that crazy about chicken, and I’m even less crazy about bones. For the entire time I lived at home, I daintily cut my meat and handed my dad the bones (with plenty of meat still on them, and YES- I know, the best flavored meat) but I cannot help it. I don’t do caveman well.

Shortly before that, I was given an amazing empanada at work. I’ve never had one before, and from what I understand, they are usually fried, but this one was baked. It’s like a mini-calzone without sauce. Something with a bready covering? Yes. I’m there. Cheese? Hells yeah, I’m double there. You don’t even have to ask. Melted cheese runs sluggishly through my veins. I had half of one of those babies and I was addicted. I held my colleague up to the wall by the lapels of his shirt and demanded where he got such goods. (Actually, I asked him nicely and he gave me a business card for the restaurant.) It was an Argentinian place called Puerto Maedero. And the next day I went. I’m so very glad I did. The interior was very cute and it was a bakery, a butcher shop, a deli, and a restaurant all rolled into one. There wasn’t a lot of seating and the tables were a little close, but I didn’t care, I was staring directly at a case of the most delicious looking tarts, pastries, and cakes. I went with the daily special- tiny potatoes in a cream sauce complete with bits of bacon and the most delicious filet mignon. For $15!!! I started the meal with an empanada, of course, for around $1.50. I left the restaurant a very happy camper. When my dad called to see if I was still alive- he hadn’t heard from me in awhile, I gushed about the meal. My dad and I have a lot in common, but one of the big things is a love of red meat. I cannot wait to get back to this restaurant!

On my way in to the Argentinian place, I noticed a Mexican restaurant. In Milwaukee, these are a dime a dozen. Down here, Cuban cuisine reigns supreme. (I stole that line from Iron Chef, I know.) So, my interest was piqued. The next week, I went to El Rancho Grande. It was, again, amazing. I felt lucky to have found three great restaurants in a month. I ordered the flautas. There were three and they came with refried beans, rice, and sour cream –hold the guacamole- picky eater over here. The servers were very sweet and attentive. The food was to die for, but the horchata was probably the best discovery of the night. I’ve never had it before. I’m a chai junkie, so it was a nice find.

Last weekend, I tried the Yard House. I’ve been told it has an amazing selection of beer. Contrary to what you might believe, given my Wisconsin heritage and previous mentions of PBR, I am not a big drinker- and not a big beer drinker at that. But, when I hear beer, I think of burgers, fries, and comfort food in general. The Yard House was the closest restaurant to my apartment of the four, and in the most “fancy schmancy” locale. Unfortunately, it broke my winning streak. It was crowded and noisy. I’ve been having some hearing problems lately, and it really bothered me that I couldn’t hear my waiter or my companion above the din. I was also frustrated at the amount of TVs. I’m here to eat, not to watch CSPAN. After a lot of deliberating, we got the spinach artichoke dip to start. It was lack-luster. I ordered the menu item that spoke to me the most- macaroni and cheese with bacon bits and sautéed mushrooms. I love mushrooms! I love cheese! I love bacon! So I ordered and what got delivered to me made no sense. I’m not a pasta expert, but it seems to me that mac’n’cheese should be made with tubular pasta that will hold the sauce. This one was made with flat, twisted noodles. Most of the sauce was left on the plate. I did not see any of the bacon that they advertised. I also learned an important lesson: mushrooms and mac’n’cheese don’t go together. The portion was decent, but the price- $15 for only pasta- was ridiculous. I left a bunch of it on my plate and stared despondently at NASCAR blaring on the fifteen televisions- unable to communicate how much this whole experience sucked. The Yard House is actually a chain, which disappointed me, because I like to find “gems.”

It was living in Madison that made me a foodie. (I probably cannot call myself that if I refuse to eat half of the things on the menu.) The few times I went out with a group of girl friends, we usually dined at a chain restaurant like, Chili’s or Olive Garden because that is what a whole bunch of broke college kids can agree on. Those times were about the friends, not the food. But when it was my chance to dine with family I usually picked Bluephies for their Ooey Gooey Pasta and Sweet-Tarts Tini. Or if it was a date I would beg to go to Harvest, L’Etoile, The Old Fashioned, or Dotty Dumplings Dowry- just to name a few. There were amazing dining options, and most of them were at really reasonable prices. If you asked for pizza, I could give you several options for the East Side, Downtown, and the West Side. Same goes for Italian, Burgers, or Chinese Food.

There is a plethora of dining in Miami. The problem is that it is often so damn expensive! If I could afford to drive to, park on, and dine at South Beach, there area whole load of options. But I can barely afford to eat a couple of blocks from my apartment. If I do, I should probably walk, because there is no free parking unless you are in the suburbs. So that’s where I’ve been looking for food. A lot of these places are tiny and hidden, but they are the “gems” I seek. Now, I just need to move to Portland, so I can dine at a great restaurant with my little Ruby. THAT would be the life.