Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Today, My Life Started Over

I discovered one of the greatest desserts on the market.

The Twix Ice Cream Bar.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Day 2009

I don't have pictures to document anything, but I figured since I gave Thanksgiving so much attention, I ought to give a brief reenactment of our Valentine's Day.

To start with, we slept in. That was probably a good enough present as is. Virginia Tech was supposed to play at Maryland at 2pm here, but the game wasn't on TV. So, we decided to order the game on ESPN Full Court. It was the weirdest thing. I saw all these stories about how we lost, but I can't for the life of me remember there even being a game on that day. So weird. I just have a two hour span of blackness in my memory.

So after that, Melissa decided she wanted to go shopping with her new credit card (if you are her family and are reading this, she's being responsible I promise). So she got in the shower first and I took the opportunity to sneak out and take care of some V-day business. It is not easy to surprise someone with whom you share a one bedroom apartment.

I had bought a card about a week ago. We both said we shouldn't spend any money on the holiday. Melissa is actually a hater of Valentine's Day, and I long ago promised to change her mind. I went to Frye's and fought a ridiculous crowd in their floral department trying to find the perfect flowers. I opted out of the bouquet theme and went with a single two-tone rose. It was a sunset-orange with pink 'trim.' I also bought two glass champagne flutes for the bottle of champagne I bought earlier in the day while we were at the grocery store shopping for dinner. I tried to buy it without her seeing it, but that was virtually impossible. We got Freixenet...only the finest. It was her choice!

My roommate was borrowing my car, so I was borrowing hers for the excursion. I left the rose on her windshield and snuck the glasses and the Snickers she had asked for (but didn't know she was getting) into the house while she was getting dressed. I showered and then we headed to the mall for her to get the new clothes she had been hoping for for so long.

I offered fashion advice as a part of my 'make the day special' promise. She couldn't find the boots she really wanted or any jeans, but she did get four nice tops (that is fashion lingo for 'shirts').

We were on our way out of the mall when the gelato stand wooed us for samples. They get us every time. This time, we decided to actually buy something though. We got a pint of two flavors - white chocolate peanut butter, and dark chocolate. The girl behind the counter compared it to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Not far off.

So we headed home and I started to make dinner. We had a bottle of wine that Melissa had bought randomly a week ago but never opened. We uncorked that while I got dinner started. This was the crowning achievement of the night.

I started with the yams and sweet potatoes, cutting them into shoe strings to make french fries. I brushed them with olive oil and then dusted them with sea salt, Himalayan grey salt, and organic raw sugar. They went into the oven while I got started on the rest of the dinner. This was the experimental phase of dinner.

Next was the broccolini. I wasn't sure I'd like broccolini, but Melissa requested it. I threw some butter in the pan and then tossed in the greens, then added a little balsamic vinaigrette. I covered the pan and let it sautee while I prepped the steaks.

We had gotten two cuts of filet mignon from the grocery store. They were a little fattier than restaurant filet, but not so much as to annoy us. I rubbed them with a little sea salt and cracked pepper, then put them in a pyrex glass dish on top of one small slab of unsalted butter each. I put two more small slabs of unsalted butter on top of each cut. Those were tucked away to be cooked last. We both like our steaks mid-rare.

The broccolini was about finished at this point, so put it in a Corningware dish lined with aluminum foil and stowed it in the microwave to stay warm.

Next came the portabella mushrooms. In the same pan, I threw another small slab of unsalted butter and then tossed in a packet of mushrooms. They were pre-sliced. I poured in some Worcestershire sauce and then put the lid back on.

All the while, I was checking on the fries periodically. I was getting worried. They were not looking good. Some were charred to blackness, others were still soggy and cold-ish.

Once the fries were as finished as we thought they were going to be, I took them out and covered them with tinfoil. The mushrooms I put on a low heat.

I threw the steak in for a very short period of time so that it would be mid-rare. It ended up being closer to rare, so it had to go back in after we sat down to eat. No big deal.

The food all ended up being spectacular. The portion of the french fries that didn't burn and didn't stay soggy were fantastic. The mushrooms and the broccolini were delicious. The steaks were perfect. The wine complemented the meal pretty well.

After dinner, we got a movie on demand, lit a bunch of tea candles around the apartment and drank our champagne. We had our gelato with the Snickers broken up and sprinkled on top.

All in all, it was a fantastic day.

Disclaimer: Many uses of "I" in this blog should really be "we." However, I refused to let Melissa do any work, and she only gave guidance here and there on the finer aspects of chef-ing. She also helped with some prep work, but I made her promise she enjoyed helping before she was allowed to lift a finger.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Northern AZ Road Trip: Part 4

The grand finale!

As promised, the final episode of our road trip takes us to the Grand Canyon Village and Tusayan, Arizona. We couldn't afford the lodges in the Village, which sit right on the rim of the Canyon, so we passed through the village in the middle of the night and headed down about 10 miles to Tusayan to find a hotel. We had initially intended to stay at a local hotel (as opposed to a national chain), but soon discovered that the Red Feather Lodge was in no position to expand its business due to lack of quality accommodations. We pressed on to a Best Western down the street with promises of a nice restaurant that would be open at that time.

I happened to catch the scrolling marquee on "Pizza," ironically enough. This was obviously the next day, but this is neither here nor there at the moment.

We arrived at the Best Western to discover that renovations had the kitchen closed down for the night at their restaurant. They recommended the Grand Hotel across the street for food. We booked a room with the Best Western and ventured next door. We walked in to a not-so-crowded bar and restaurant full of local townies. I swear the record skipped and everything went silent when we walked in...very awkward. We looked at the menu and discovered the least expensive thing on it was about $15, so we about faced and headed out. Tusayan has even less to offer than Page. We found a little pizza place that was "open late," as in they were full of people. Turns out they had been closed for about 20 minutes but no one had locked the door and they were still letting people come in and order pizzas. So we ran to the general store next door, which was closing in 5 minutes, and bought a bottle of wine. We got a pizza and headed back to the hotel to just hang out. The pizza was kinda not great, but we needed something in our stomachs. Had a bottle of wine and explored the hotel, which boasted a game/billiards room. Game room was also closed for renovations.

We decided then to wake up early and go see the sunrise at Desert View. I checked online and discovered that sunrise was scheduled for 7:38am (I think), and the spot was about 20 minutes away. So, it was bed time.

We got a slower start than we meant to, forgetting how long it takes to bundle up against freezing temperatures (in the teens/20's there at 6:30am). We raced back up north and east to Desert View. We didn't really think about the fact that a sunrise starts about 20-30 minutes earlier than its officially scheduled time, so we experienced a good portion of it on the drive, unfortunately. By the time we got to Desert View, the sun had almost completely risen. The trip was not in vain, however. We got a stunning view.

This is the Desert View Watchtower, ordinarily opened for business with a ladder to the top. We were not there during business hours. The white spot behind it is the moon.

The rest of the photos of the Colorado River and the Canyon vista don't look great, but you can see all of them, along with the rest of the photos of our trip, on my Flickr page (Sedona, Page, and Grand Canyon).

After enjoying the views, we headed back to the hotel to get breakfast and shower up. Unfortunately, on the way back, we were attacked by RABID MOUNTAIN LIONS!

Not really. But we scoured the countryside for a glimpse of one. Futile.

The award for strangest moment of the trip goes to our hotel breakfast experience. As I was gathering my fruit, eggs, biscuits, etc. from the buffet, I hear a soft, puzzled voice saying my name. I know it's not Melissa. I look up and it's Minka. She used to work at the Melting Pot awhile back, but moved to Cincinnati out of the blue. She and her boyfriend were traveling around the country for his work (he's a contractor for some kind of construction company I think). They happened to stop in Tusayan, which is in the middle of nowhere, much like Page. Awkward conversation ensued for a little bit, then we all went our separate ways.

After breakfast, we showered up and headed back to the Grand Canyon Village. There were lots of things to see and do there. Unfortunately, there was also a ton of donkey dung everywhere. We walked leisurely around the rim trails (only the ones that didn't involve hiking gear, since neither of us own any) and enjoying the views and the fresh air.

We stopped in a couple shops and historic buildings that had been converted into shops. I bought another gorgeous photo of a cloudy, colorful sunset over the Grand Canyon taken from...if I remember correctly...Maricopa Point?

So there you have it. Our journey was nearing an end. On our way out of dodge, we decided to get a quick shot in front of the Grand Canyon sign. They had a little stand for people to set up timer shots with their cameras. So, we did that. This was the result.

We planned to stop in Flagstaff on the way home, but when we got there it seemed boring. I'm sure there are tons of great things to do, but we didn't have the time or energy to explore too much. We passed trough a part that looked kind of like a poor man's West Annapolis.

Around 7pm, we stopped at an outlet shopping center just north of Phoenix and grabbed some dinner. Did a little shopping. Got some good deals on brand name clothing (I got some Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica clothes, Melissa couldn't find anything).

All in all, it was probably the perfect trip. Only thing that could have improved it was more time and money and a little more knowledge of the area.

Next time, we hope to have all those things.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Northern AZ Road Trip: Part 3

The final stop on our great road trip: Grand Canyon Village. But first, we made a couple very interesting stops on the way down.

I mistakenly decided a detour to Marble Canyon was well worth it. I use mistakenly lightly here, because, had we actually gotten to Marble Canyon, it probably would have been cool. However, I think we either took a wrong turn, were misinformed, or just didn't drive far enough. We also didn't make it to Lees Ferry. Just had to prioritize things.

However, we did discover a neat little landmark on the way there. Not to mention the roadside vending stands that the local Navajo women set up for peddling crafts.

The Navajo Bridge

The bridge offered a pretty great view of the Colorado River. Unfortunately, I didn't get a great picture of it.

But you get the idea.

So we doubled back after hanging out at the Navajo Bridge and deciding not to press on any further. We wanted to make sure we got to Cameron before dark. And we were hungry.

Tip from the information center attendant from Aberdeen: stop at the Cameron Trading Post. This is a historic, fully functional Navajo trading post.

We stopped there for dinner (which was delicious). I got a burger on fry-bread (so delicious - if you've never had it, fry-bread is basically a funnel cake without all the sugar). Melissa got a huge salad that was also pretty good. The Trading Post was also full of things to shop for. It had a grocery store, a restaurant, and several novelty shops all-in-one. We fought every impulse not to buy all sorts of things. The handmade Indian crafts are pretty incredible. Every store has the same stuff, and it's all too expensive. We decided that none of it was 'necessary' to our house after long, violent inner struggles.

Our next goal was to hit Desert View at sunset. We didn't quite make it to see the full sunset, but we definitely got a nice teaser for the following morning. Desert View was another recommendation from the man from Aberdeen. It is the only spot on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon that gives you a view of the Colorado River. The North Rim of the Canyon is closed during this time due to snow and dangerous road conditions. Next trip to the Canyon I think we'll try to stay on the north side. Everyone says it is much more scenic. Maybe we'll ride a donkey down from there.

So we hurried out of Cameron in hopes of reaching the sunset. We got a pretty gorgeous view that our cameras didn't really capture.

It's a little blurry, but I assure you the view was astonishing. I think the only thing better that we got to see that day was the starry sky a little later on. Once the sun had set completely, we pulled off at one of the many scenic overlooks and got out of the car to get a good look at the stars. Melissa had never seen a perfectly clear starry night with no light pollution. It was breathtaking, to say the least. We could see every star, even the cloudiness that is the Milky Way was visible. I wish I remembered all the constellations I learned in elementary school because I think we could see every single one of them. Pretty incredible.

Tomorrow's experiences will probably make up my last post for this road trip. I plan to write the final episode sometime this week. Stay tuned.

Northern AZ Road Trip: Part 2(b)

Forgot to mention in the last post...when we got into Page, we quickly discovered that there were (a) no good restaurants, at least judging by the look of the decor; and (b) nothing was open past 9. This was difficult, since we got checked into the hotel at about 8:30.

We circled around the town a few times thinking we were missing a turn to something fun and worthwhile. Finally, we landed at Fiesta Mexicana. We came in the wrong entrance and had to walk through the whole dining room to get to anyone who could help us out. We noticed that the entire restaurant was empty and closed looking. We found the bar, where the bartender and barbacks were all just hanging out. They assured us it was okay if we kept them open a little late.

So, we sat down. The bartender waited on us, had great recommendations. And made great (albeit huge) margaritas. And the food was incredible. Best Mexican food we've had since we moved out west.

So, that was that.