Thursday, August 24, 2006
I discovered last night that I have a problem.
Leaving the office yesterday, I noticed that Bath and Body Works continued their "Hand Soap Special!" sale into this week. There's one in the building I work in, I pass it twice a day at least. "OOooo," I thought to myself. "I think I could use some more hand soap, and 3 for $10 is a pretty good deal." But, I paused, and decided to restrain myself, being already late to my train.
Good thing, because when I got home, I found this---(see above)
Doh. I think I have a problem.
What would posses someone to load up on soap like this? A continual fear of being grimy? A secret desperation that a burglar will rob the soap from our showers?
I don't know. I just...don't know.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Happy Fifth Birthday to my favorite place on earth!
Last night, my buddy R and I went to enjoy the extensive festivities and to attempt to win a multitude of free desserts, coupons, and a jar of 2,000 jelly bellies. We also partook in amazing slow roasted "Nellie-the-Pig" pork sandwiches, slathered in apple coleslaw and bbq sauce on freshly baked brioche rolls. Delicious.
Favorite Moments of the Evening:
- Meeting the CFO and hearing that they're hoping to open new locations in the 'burbs!
- Using ALL of my willpower to refrain from diving headfirst into the 4' tall, 3' wide, five layer, chocolate buttercream cake standing in the bakery section
- Conniving a free cookie out of the bakery lady, after I did NOT win the "tic tac dough" game where we threw hard rolls into a box
- Smelling Nellie-the-Pig roasting outside on the sidewalk. Mmmmm, slow roasted pig. Poor Nellie was turned into hundreds of delectable porchetta paninis.
- Heading to the cafe to eat, and discovering, to our delight, that they were giving away a free dessert to whoever wanted to unscramble their menu items in a Word Scramble game...the answers were down at the bottom. Did I get a red velvet cupcake to follow the piece of formerly mentioned chocolate buttercream cake? Yes, yes I did.
- Grabbing glasses of delicious free Laurent-Perrier champagne and asking the cute french guy in the tux to pronounce the name of it, over and over again.
A great time was had by all.
Monday, August 21, 2006
The bread was hot, crusty and fresh. The garlic and fresh herbs laid out for olive oil and bread dipping was fantastic, as was my glass of icy white sangria.
It was the perfect end to a great day. You've got to go.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
You are 31 years old today and I am SO glad you were born more then three decades ago. Waking up next to you and falling asleep nestled in your arms are the best parts of my day.
You have three grey hairs on your right sideburn, and four on the back of your neck. I love each one of them and look forward to how you'll look as a "distinguished" older man twenty years from now.
Thank you for being a living example of earnest commitment, steady discipline, honesty, and most importantly, what it means to live out love on a daily basis.
Enjoy your day honey, may you have many, many more.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
It was a hot Sunday afternoon in late May this year.
I had just laid down for a long nap in our bedroom, which is off the back of the house. Earlier in the day, with a lump in my throat, I had asked S if he would cut down a year-old silver maple tree that was growing just behind the garage. The poor tree struggled for life all through the drought last summer and I had watered it by hand daily; but this year we discovered it was the type that dropped bucketful's of those "helicopters" all over the yard. The maple had to go.
As I drifted slowly off to sleep, I heard the soothing sounds of S puttering in the yard.
Two hours later, I woke with a start, listening carefully to a quiet rustling right under our bedroom window.
"What in the world could THAT be?" I thought to myself. The maple was on the other side of the house from our bedroom and I couldn't imagine what S was working on beneath our window.
I swung my legs out of bed and poked my head out the window; S was standing shirtless in the backyard, perspiring and yard-gloved with dirty sneakers. He beamed up at me.
"Hi honey! I cut down the maple tree!" He shouted up at me. "And I cut down the yucky bushes."
"The yucky bushes? What do you mean, 'the yucky bushes'?" My heart started to beat rapidly as I looked down at him in all his sweaty glory.
I ran out of the room, down the stairs, and out the back door of our house to where S was standing, smiling broadly.
"Wait, what bushes did you cut down, dear?" I asked, looking around frantically.
He took me by the hand and led me over to the wooden fence that stretches along the west side of our house. "Those bushes, they were yucky bushes!"
As I looked in utter horror at the desecration of five, FIVE, beautiful, mature, viburnums that used to grow happily all along our ugly, brown fence, my fingernails cut into my palms as I curled my hands into tight fists and began to shake. They would turn a breathtaking fiery orange in the fall, and bore bright red berries I'd include in flower arrangements the past summer.
"Oh honey, NO. No no no no no no NO NO NO NO. NO!" I gasped. "What in the world made you think they were yucky?"
He shrugged. "I dunno, they just were. I cut down the ones outside the dining room too."
In a panic I turned around and ran to the remains of the two, 15 foot high, gorgeous dogwoods that were planted outside our dining room windows. They were gone. Cut back to the ground.
I sank to my knees and wept. Now, just so you understand, we do not have children. We do not have a dog. We do not have pets of any kind, not even a fish. And I? I am a very tenderhearted person, eager to pour loving care into any of the formerly mentioned creatures. But, because we both work full time right now, no pets. Hence:
My YARD is my pet.
Last summer through the drought, I had watered these bushes hours and hours, moving the trickling hose day after day, carefully keeping the dogwoods alive and well. We would sit in the dining room eating dinner and I would think to myself, "Thank goodness for those bushes, they were planted perfectly to block the view of our neighbor's house and air conditioner."
Unfortunately, for me and for the bushes, I never said any of this ALOUD to my dear husband.
And now, they were gone. All gone.
I'll spare you the details of all that was said and done, but suffice to say, after a trip to Home Depot that evening where S saw how much two foot tall dogwoods and viburnums cost, there are now 25 charming little ivy plants growing happily along the fence. Planted and watered by S.
And the dogwoods? Two and a half months later, they're growing back slowly. Maybe five years from now they'll cover that ugly air conditioner again.
I've hidden the hedge trimmers. And the shears. For good.
What IS this?!? A fat, deformed zucchini? A pumpkin, I hope...
Last spring I planted squash, zucchini and pumpkin seeds in our backyard. 24 foot-long vines with leaves the size of the human head have sprouted, and now I found something growing....but I can't tell what it is.
PLEASE let it be a pumpkin, I love filling the house with gourds come September. It would be nice not to have to buy them.
It's the small things in life, right?
Friday, August 11, 2006
The next time you're in Chicago, you MUST make time to visit this Very Special Place. Words simply cannot describe the goodness that is Fox and Obel, but I shall make a valiant attempt:
A cafe and restaurant.
A gourmet grocery store with cooking classes.
A fabulous place to host a party with mouth-watering catered foods in a beautiful loft-like room overlooking the River.
Award-winning breads and pastries.
An entire wall of olive oils, (which you can taste with a piece of freshly baked bread) and another wall of colorful aged vinegars.
Stinky, beautiful cheese.
House-made charcuterie and dry aged steaks.
And best of all....free parking.
That's right folks, just two blocks from Navy Pier on Illinois Street, you drop your car off at the valet in front of the store, get your ticket validated with the purchase of a coffee or anything else, and enjoy a few hours of relaxed, free parking- an unheard of phenomenon in the downtown area.
In order to help you with your first Fox and Obel experience, I've developed a First-Timer's Guide. Follow the steps to have a sublime two hours at one of my favorite places in the world.
1. Arrive at 9:00 am on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Leave your car with the smiling valet and prance inside, up the ramp, into the produce section.
2. Enjoy the sights, smells, and TASTES of things like pepino melons, baby pineapples, squash blossoms (stupid rabbits), and donut peaches.
3. Sneak over to the prepared foods section, where the head chef (who was formerly the sous chef at Charlie Trotter's) offers selections like Maryland blue crab cakes, sweet corn and pepper salad, macadamia nut encrusted halibut, chipotle bbq shrimp on skewers, and so much more. Bat your eyes and ask nicely for a taste. Repeat, four or five times.
4. Now for my favorite part: The Bakery. Step up to the large section surrounded by tempting displays of freshly made double baked almond crossiants, 20 types of daily made breads (everything from true French baguettes to Olive Ciabatta, Challah, and Walnut Sourdough), apple turnovers...wait, I'll just drop the list in:
Croissant- Almond, Chocolate, Westphalian & Comte, Maple Pecan Danish, Orange Cream Danish, Key Lime & Baker's Cheese Danish, Brioche Tart, Cinnamon SwirlSticky Bun, Apple Turnover, Scone-Ginger, Currant, Muffin-Blueberry, Angel Food, Cranberry Walnut, Pumpkin-Creamed Cheese, CrÃ¨me Fraiche Coffee Cake, Campground Crumb Cake, Biscotti-Pratesi, Chocolate-Fennel, Cookies-Chocolate Chip & Pecan Cookies, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Breton Sugar Cookies, Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies, Apricot Rugelach, Vanilla Poundcake, Almond Poppyseed Poundcake, Gingerbread, Bittersweet Brownies, Creamed Cheese Brownies, Pie-Browned Butter Pecan, Apple, Buttermilk Chess, Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bittersweet Ganache, Layer cake-Devil's Food, Butter, Coconut Cream, Carrot, Red Velvets, Sachertorte, Opera, Buche de Noel, Dark Chocolate Pecan Tart, Key Lime Tart with Italian Meringue, Sour Cream Apple Tart, Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart, Fresh Berry Tart, Baked Fruit Tart with Frangipane, Bread Pudding Chocolate, BrutCrÃ¨me, and Creme BrÃ»lÃ©e.
Yep. That's about all of them I think.
Go ahead, buy yourself one. My personal favorites are the white chocolate chunk cherry cookies and the almond croissants. Save it for later, you'll need it.
5. Next, head over to the meat and fish counters, where four butchers and fishmongers prepare dry-aged prime cuts of beef, make brats and sausages from scratch, marinate Bell and Evans chickens, and prepare wasabi lobster salad and tuna burgers. They are always happy and sometimes, if you're really quiet, you can catch one singing to himself in the back as he de-bones a fish.
Craving a hearty rabbit dish in red wine sauce? You'll find the bunnies here. Quail, buffalo and venison loin too.
6. If meat doesn't do it for you, walk down to the cheese counter, stopping to taste an olive oil (or nine) at the gigantic gleaming wall of oil from all over the world. You'll be able to smell the cheese from six feet away.
I'm not a cheese girl, so you won't find me waxing poetic about it, but rest assured that it's awesome. Chue Flada, Portuguese cheese with thistle rennet, raisin and brandy coated Regal de Bourgogne, real Parmigiano Reggiano and Capriole Goat Cheese are just a few.
Taste as much as you want, the little wedges just keep coming from the friendly Frenchman with the bad teeth behind the counter.
7. By now, you've worked up a thirst, and most probably, a healthy appetite. Head past the cheeses, hang a left and walk into the lively cafe. Gaze up at the tempting menu and decide what you want. Perhaps a foamy caramel latte in their perfect sized mugs, or hearty Black Angus Steak Frites for those looking for a little more. Although, it is only 9:30 on a Saturday morning, so maybe you just want a stack of Stonewall Kitchen buttermilk pancakes with real Vermont syrup, or huevos rancheros with their addictive red chipotle sauce. Not an easy choice.
Oh good, you decided on a medium skim mocha, topped with homemade Valrhona chocolate sauce and whipped cream, and your earlier purchased double baked almond croissant from the bakery counter. Good decision. (Don't forget to have your valet ticket validated!)
The cafe is lively, filled almost to capacity with locals who live in the nearby "Platinum Coast" neighborhood , yuppies with their matching ibooks, silver-headed single gentlemen sipping hot coffee and flipping through the Chicago Trib, and even a news anchorman or woman from the nearby NBC building, grabbing a quick bite between shows.
Just as luck would have it, you grab a table right alongside the windows, where you can watch the tourists walking to Navy Pier as you scoff from above. If you're smart, you've brought a good book and perhaps your journal (unlined, spiral bound only, thank you very much) to write deep thoughts in as you wait.
The nice waitress brings your mocha and you tear into the most deliciously gooey, crisp, sugary crossiant you've ever had. Perfection.
8. After reading, journaling, and people-watching for over an hour, you're out of time. Unfortunately you've missed the Wine shop, the Flower Shop, the special kitchen for their cooking classes, and the cute men in the Charcuterie Department. That's ok, there's always next time.
9. On the way out, you may want to buy a baguette (it's impossible to find genuine French bread out in the 'burbs unless you make it yourself) and perhaps a cream cheese brownie for your patient husband who is waiting at home.
Don't forget to grab this month's list of cooking classes, or you'll run the risk of missing out on the annual Soups and Stews class that INCLUDES your very own Le Creuset iron pot http://www.lecreuset.com/new/home.php for the extremely reasonable price of $65.
10. It's been the perfect morning. The valet brings your car to the door, helps load your purchases into the trunk, and smiling as always, closes your door for you. Au revoir!
Being Hot and Sweaty.
My sticky thighs.
Hair sticking to the back of my neck.
Mosquito's biting the back of my arms as I weed the garden.
Air so pregnant with moisture it's difficult to breathe.
Damp towels because I'm taking two showers a day.
Rabbits de-flowering the squash and pumpkin vines. I have nothing to show for three months of monstrous vines taking over the yard.
Having to wear pants and two layers of tops to survive the 61 degree Office, then sweating through them ALL as I walk home from the train.
No legal holidays all month.
Summer colds that stuff you up and leave you with an annoying, hacking, horsey cough.
How the grass looks after a long summer of blazing sun and a few trickles of rain.
Looking around at all my co-worker's empty desks: they are on vacation somewhere lovely and cool, like northern Michigan. I, am not.
How long Friday feels on a deadly quiet August afternoon in the bond business.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Right about now, amidst the dog days of August, I find myself wishing for just one lick of true, Italian gelato.
It was a hot, lazy afternoon in Florence. S and I had just stumbled into town after a long train ride through the south of France. We walked by a lively cafe, drawn closer by the sight of dozens of varieties of delectable gelato at the ice cream counter, topped with things like sun ripened strawberries, juicy pineapple, shredded coconut, rum soaked pound cake, and more.
S's eyes widened in anticipation. He pointed to a waffle cone and said "Cio, per favore" and watched, as the girl loaded his cone with FOUR KINDS of gelato. The 14 inch creation was topped off with a SECOND cone stuck through the middle, functioning as a toothpick would in a club sandwich. Mine was a lowly almond-encrusted sugar cone, filled with two delicious selections of dark chocolate and tiramisu.
We wandered through the city, feverishly licking to keep up with the melting ice cream dripping down our hands. It took S almost 45 minutes to finish his. A good day.
Oh the memories.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Scandalous, I know, but just listen: I am so envious of my husband's ability to cut his own hair with the $23 clippers bought at Target or somewhere equally as frugal, versus my trips to the salon for attempting the perfect blonde highlights and a sassy bob. Now, I realize there are places to get a cheapie haircut and highlight job, but one chunky-zebra-stripe experience and jagged "feathered edge" later, and I was done with that. For life. Month after month, he taunts me with the "Haircare" expense comparisons, and if it were some sort of sporting competition I would be the constant loser. 0-44. To infinity.
It's such a simple process for him:
Step One: Doff shirt
Step Two: Stand in shower
Step Three: Load whatever-appropriate-number guard onto clippers
Step Four: Buzz head
Step Five: Rinse off
Step Six: Look fabulous
It just is NOT. FAIR. Why was I born with dirty-dishwater colored hair the consistency of duck down? Deep, in my heart of hearts, I know I was meant to be blonde. Glowing, sun-kissed, flowing in the wind, blonde.
I remember the day when I had the courage to show him the receipt for the first time after coming back from a haircut/highlight. We had just gotten engaged and I was feeling the need to share with full disclosure concerning this area before "'til death do us part." The poor boy had no idea what was coming, being born into a family of four brothers.
"So what do you think of my hair?" as I shake my newly highlighted head back and forth, wafting the fragrance of apple-scented shampoo charmingly to his nose.
"Umm, it looks great. Is there something different?" He looks at me nervously, like he's sitting for an exam but can't remember what class it's for.
"I just got it cut. Don't you like how it looks?" Batting my eyes and sidling up close to him, I reach into my purse and pull out the receipt and hold it, crumpled, in my hand. "Having a good haircut really makes me feel nice, it does wonders for a girl's self esteem."
He freezes, realizing I am going somewhere with this.
"So, let's play a little guessing game. How much do you think it cost?" My heart beats quickly, knowing that my poor future husband is in for a blow. Imagine a young George Bailey, from It's a Wonderful Life, and you won't be far from the mark.
"Ok, how about $25?" he says. Poor, poor boy.
I slowly raise my hand and show him the receipt. "No. That's how much we tip them."
A look of speechless horror passes across his face, as he gazes down at the wrinkled piece of paper. My face is hot and flushed, I am blushing with shame and awaiting his final judgment.
"Huh. So how often do you have to do this, once a year?"
"Nooo, more like once every six to eight weeks." I blink quickly, my mind feverishly scrambling to think of a compromise that will help make this newfound knowledge more palatable. "But, I think I can stretch it to once every three months. Would that be ok?"
He sighs heavily and looks down at my red face and newly blonde hair. "Is it really important to you?"
"Oh yes, oh yes! I can't even explain what it feels like when I walk out of there, like I'm a new person!"
The look he gives me is tinged with despair, as understanding sinks in that this is a battle he lost before even beginning to fight.
I'm waiting for the day when someone comes up with a pill to change your hair color. Sign me up for a lifetime's prescription.
Friday, August 04, 2006
I am counting the hours until our first visit.
Good things lay ahead for the weekend; most importantly, "sleeping in" past 8:00 am. It doesn't get much sweeter in life then to roll over at 5:14 am, glance at the glowing alarm clock, and realize that I have at LEAST another three hours to sleep.
The other regular highlight of most weekends would include the planning and cooking of a large meal, to be consumed Saturday night. Putting together a menu, shopping for the food, and getting it all to the table, hot and hopefully delicious, rank as some of my favorite things to do in life. For example, S's 31st birthday is coming up this month and I invited our parents over for a celebratory dinner. Is it strange that I already know what we'll be eating and where I'm buying the ingredients? I don't know, sometimes I feel alone in my obsessiveness. Tell me what you think of the menu:
~Houston's Hot Spinach Artichoke dip, served with El Milagro tortilla chips and pineapple salsa
~Marcella Hazan's Pasta e Fagioli (a delicious hearty italian pasta & bean dish, with tomatoes, ground beef and other veggies, eaten with a spoon)
~Slow roasted garden tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar, garlic and thyme topped with Parmesan cheese and broiled
~Homemade crunchy garlic bread
~Birthday Cake (a buttermilk vanilla yellow cake with dark Valrhona chocolate frosting) and Hagaan Daz vanilla ice cream
I realize the spinach dip doesn't fit with the rest of menu, neither does the birthday cake for that matter....but frankly I don't care. Reading Frank Bruni's (New York Times Food Critic) of Houston's spinach dip made my mouth water, therefore we're having it. That's the beauty of being the cook, right?
Anyways, back to my love of Fridays. The sweetest time of the day is collapsing into bed with S, turning the light out, giggling and snuggling and realizing we have two whole days to be together before work approaches on Monday. Life is good.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
As most of my friends will attest, making lists is a full-out hobby of mine. It could easily become an obession if I allowed it to spiral out of control. For example, what kind of person actually ENJOYS keeping an ongoing grocery list....of four stores at once? Or, knowing she's throwing a baby shower for a friend, begins planning the menu, shopping lists, and chores to accomplish...three months in advance? I think I have a problem. They say admitting it is the first step, right? Anyone know if there's a place one can go for help with obsessive list making?
On the other hand, maybe I can purge some of the lists that have been trapped deep inside me here! Let's start with:
My Favorite Things at the Moment
-the white 500 thread count sheets on our bed
-The Time Traveler's Wife
-facials at the Aveda training school for a deep discount
-knowing Fall is just around the corner
-playing piano at Moody Church on the 9 foot Steinway, alone
-stocking up on expensive Italian pasta, double baked almond croissants, "fat boys" and other fabulous gourmet food items from Fox and Obel grocery store
-Fox and Obel (actually, this place deserves its very OWN list
Another time perhaps)
-Red Robin cheeseburgers
-decaf grande caramel macciahto from Starbucks
-Ina Garten and her show on the Food Network
-my pictures from our Europe trip this year (ask for them and I'll share them if you'd like)
-"comfy-cute" shoes (Thanks Amy for the incredibly applicable term)
-eight hours of sleep
-black, fine tipped, "juicy" uni ball pens
-all four of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, but especially #1 and #3
-a clean house
-watching Iron Chef just before bed with Scott, especially when Mario or Rick Bayless are cooking
-my Don Juan red rose bush that is currently climbing up the back of the house
-quiet time with God on the train
-reading in Starbucks
-holding hands with Scott, and the way we interlock our pinkies
-being in bed by 9pm on weeknights
It's mostly superficial, but what can I say? I'm a simple girl.
It'll be a long road to recovery, but I think with your help, we'll get there.
I read on the train into the City. Up to 3 books a week depending on how challenging they are. Anything works: classics, chick-lit, even the occasional venture into non-fiction to make me feel intellectual. Me and my library card are best friends, and www.half.com for purchasing cheap books was an exciting discovery. It's a 45 minute ride in, too short for my taste most of the time, especially if the novel is engaging.
The office is usually quiet at 6:45 am, when all the traders and underwriters are arriving for the day. We have a decent view from our trading floor of the downtown landscape, enough to see if it's gorgeous outside while we're trapped, thousands of feet in the air, playing with numbers and attempting to make a dent in the financial markets to justify our existence.
The highlight of my morning is the thrice-weekly trip to Starbucks, for my current drink choice of a decaf grande non-fat caramel macchiato. Say THAT five times fast. And yes, I am high maintenance about my coffee drinks. Say what you will, it's a relatively cheap thing that makes me VERY happy. All is right with the world when I know my Starbucks card has a hefty balance lurking on it.
Our desks are crowded together, one huge, open room with long tables seating 10 people, crammed together about 2 & 1/2 feet a part. Everyone has a minimum of three flat-screen computer panels, most people have four to six screens towering over their small desks. Our phones are these gargantuan black boxes with glowing blue screens, forty lines (no joke!), and a seemingly infinite number of pages to program with speed dials. All forty phone lines CAN ring at once, and combined with the shouting and screaming in the room when things get busy, it's easy to get sweaty with stress. If you've seen Boiler Room then you have a sense of what I'm talking about.
The busiest time in the bond business is almost always Tuesday-Thursday from 8:00 am-12:30 pm EST, when most new bond issues are pricing in the market. It all seems to happen in waves, oddly enough, and once the storm passes you're left feeling like you've been hit by a grimy semi truck. Monday is quiet, as you prepare to bid on bond issues and market your offerings to the Street, and Friday is clean-up day where you take care of all the crap that has built up during the week.
Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? Yeah, I thought so. When people ask me what I do and I answer, "I'm a municipal bond underwriter at a Top 10 Broker Dealer", their eyes glaze over and promptly roll to the back of their head out of sheer boredom.
Lunch is always eaten in hurried gulps at your desk. If you're lucky, you had 10 minutes to run downstairs and grab a salad, otherwise you're stuck foraging in the vending machines for a quick sugar fix.
Things begin to wind down at 4pm EST and you finally have a moment to take a deep breath and look around you, perhaps take a much needed bathroom break. The good thing about starting so early is that it is quite acceptable to be on the 4:14 pm train home. Wild horses couldn't prevent me from it on most days. You leave for the day hoping that you don't own too much and that market opens in your favor the next day. It's a strange sort of sensation, knowing that millions of dollars are at risk each night because of decisions you've made that day. Most people in this business become accustomed to that ongoing pressure, or else they don't last long.
A small taste of my day, in case you cared.
Blogging is something totally new for me. I've been journaling as long as I can remember, buying a new one from Border's was always a highlight experience as it meant I'd filled out yet another book with a year's worth of memories, lists and recipes. We'll have to see how it goes.
Welcome and thanks for reading.