Monday, May 30, 2005

No Obligations Weekend

After the kids left, J laid out her plan for the weekend, our first with no church or child or social obligations. We spent some time poking around the internet looking at hotels. We got great laughs from the rooms at The Wildwood Inn ( in Kentucky. The Cupid Room sent us over the edge, into fits of hysteria. After we'd settled down a bit, we headed out for dinner at The Winds.

Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be one of their really "on" nights. Of course, it was still wonderful. Maybe the service was the problem. We had the one server we really don't like. She is simply inept. She can't even pronounce the names of the cheeses, for God's sake! She has no business being a server in a nice restaurant if she can't pronounce things like d'Affinois, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola. If it was hard for her, but she learned it anyway, that would be one thing. But, she doesn't even seem to try. Friday night, she simply plunked down the platter & said "Here you go!" I had to get up & get a cheese menu from the host, so that I could identify the cheeses. I had it down, too, just by reading the descriptions and looking at the cheeses. If I can do it without even tasting them, she should be able to. I think she just didn't want to pronounce them, quite frankly, and with the way she butchered the names once she noticed what I was doing & came over to identify them, I don't blame her. But, she needs to learn. She is also just unpolished. When a piece of my appetizer dropped from my fork onto my plate as I transferred it from the serving dish, she made a comment about it. When a woman at the table behind me spilled some wine, she again commented. Not something like, "Let me help you clean that up", but something like "butterfingers"...not that, but in the same "Ha, ha, you spilled" sort of way we do with close friends. Which is rude for a server to do. We always debate over her tip, and we are not casual low tippers. We have decided that the next time we make a reservation, we'll simply request not to be seated in her section. She ought to be at Perkins, not The Winds.

The cheese service was good and included a couple of old favorites and a few we hadn't tried before. Of course, my favorites were the stinky ones, while J liked the hard Spanish stuff. I was thrilled to see the Vietnamese catfish nuggets on the menu & talked J into ordering them even though she wanted to try the Italian shaved salad with Taleggio-topped toast. We should have had that. I saw it arrive at another table & was quite envious. The catfish nuggets themselves were still quite tasty, but they had decided to make them into summer rolls, using 2 sheets of rice paper for each. It was too much and overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the catfish. The rice paper gave J the creeps, reminded her of human flesh, she said. I hope they will go back to just the fish alone. It needs no embellishment but a hint of sauce. They had run out of the mushroom elixir, so we opted for the fish stew. It was good, but too spicy for my perimenopausal wife to eat without consequences later.

My main course was pork tenderloin with an herbed crust. It was fine, but a little boring. The spinach gnocchi that came with it was also a little boring, although the green beans were fresh and tasted like summer. J's beef tenderloin was fabulous, juicy and full of lush flavor. I was ever so jealous! None of the desserts grabbed us, so we went for a little walk & then went home to bed.

Saturday morning, we made some of the cinnamon coffee we bought in Waynesville last Monday. Then, we packed a bag in case of an overnight stay and headed for Cincinnati. Our first stop was brunch. We had been looking for some kind of mom and pop diner where we could get bacon, eggs, and hash browns. The only one we spotted looked a little too homey, as in the sort of place that has no non-smoking section. Or has one right next to the smoking, with no partition. So, we skipped it. We had about resigned ourselves to Cracker Barrrel when I spotted a familiar name. I had seen something on about Encore being good. So, in we went.

The service was pretty slow, although the gal was friendly. We ended up giving our order to the manager. We'd gotten water, but the server kept bypassing us. As she walked by one more time, J said, "Um..." and got no more out because the gal was already past us. The manager, however, heard her & took pity on us. We split chicken & andouille spring rolls (which were actually in egg roll wrappers) and they were terrific. For my lunch, I had a great burger with a tinch too little blue cheese (I always like extra) and an order of spicy fries. J had andouille & chicken pasta, which was delicious, too. We split white chocolate praline crème brûlée for dessert. It was absolutely divine, one of the best desserts I've had in a long time. I don't even like white chocolate, but this was silky and lush with a perfectly caramelized crust. Fabulous!

We headed on down to Krohn Conservatory to see the butterfly show, but there was no parking and no prospect of finding a space anytime soon, so we gave up on that. We can always go to the butterfly house at Cox or the one in Columbus. We drove up the hill and parked at the art museum instead. We had a wonderful time there, poring over the Greco-Roman and Egyptian articles, peeking at the Cincinnati & Asian rooms, and delighting in the "Crowns" show. Looking at those women in their hats & reading the stories that went with the photos was so much fun! Once, we found ourselves next to a black woman about my age and an Indian woman about my age. The Indian woman had the most adorable little girl, clad in a frilly, flouncy white dress. We admired her baby and talked about hats. I said I should have worn my tiara & the black woman said that she has been wanting to get herself a tiara. I urged her to do so & she said she thinks she might, since we're all queens. I loved that! I told her that I wear mine to the grocery. In the museum store, there were some hats. I fell in love with a big white straw one adorned with water lilies and pearls. It seemed to me a hat for a Cancerian. I could never bring myself to pay $109 for a hat, though! I think I'll pick up a white straw hat at Target & adorn it myself. I am sure I could find a strand of faux pearls & some silk water lilies & make it myself!

After the museum, we drove around downtown & into Kentucky, trying to find something to do. Unfortunately, Cincinnati is not terribly tourist-friendly, as far as we could tell, and we couldn't figure out what to do without a parking hassle. We didn't feel comfortable just parking & roaming the streets, as we have done in places like Monterey, St. Pete, and Madison. Cincinnati feels different. We have never gotten the bad vibe from Columbus that we do from Cincinnati. J even lived there, but we felt happier heading back out to the suburbs. J was horribly frustrated & cranky from being cooped up in the car far too long, so we found Rookwood Commons & stopped at The Pub to sit on the patio & formulate a plan.

After we had gotten ourselves less frazzled with a few moments in the sun, we decided to walk around the shopping center & then pick a place for dinner, either P.F. Chang's or Buca di Beppo. We looked in Z Gallerie (and fantasized about having unlimited funds to decorate), Anthropologie (the same, plus additional fantasies centered on being skinny...I love that place, it's just fun!), Lane Bryant (where everything this season seems to be for the style-stupid), Talbot's ("you can look just like your elderly W.A. S.P. aunts!"), and Banana Republic (which, despite its politically gross name, had some gorgeous clothes...none in my size, of course). There is a yellow silk skirt & a filmy, soft yellow top I am going to get J once pay day rolls around. She'll look spectacular in it and loved it. She is trying to get back into wearing dresses & skirts now that her mom can't make her wear them anymore. When I get to my weight goal, I am going to have to have a great job to support my clothes horse-ishness! Sur La Table was closed and we were getting too hungry to go into Wild Oats, so we decided on Buca di Beppo.

The inside is an absolute trip, with gaudy decorations in all the places that don't have crazy pictures on them. I am not even able to describe the surreal fun that is the inside of this place. Sophia Loren & Frank Sinatra are everywhere, as are all kinds of other Italian folks. They slip naked pictures in here & there, nothing vulgar. Also slipped in are horrid amateur oil paintings and poorly glazed ceramic kittens. Walls are adorned with records by the likes of Dean Martin & Enrico Caruso. It's like a 1950s Italian restaurant as re-visioned by the part of your subconscious responsible for dreams! Amazing. The music is all over the kitschy Italian map, leaving, "Hey mambo, mambo Italiano!" rattling around in my head for what will probably be days. The service is friendly & the food is good. It's not fabulous or anything, but it is good. Solid. I can make better at home, but why would I when I can eat it in such a hilariously fascinating place? We had some garlic bread & some mozzarella caprese (mine is infinitely better) for our appetizer. Then, we had a big plate of spaghetti with meat sauce (and J had to order a meatball, a half-pounder...I figured that "one meatball" song wouldn't have sounded so sad to my mom had she thought of this size meatball). The tiramisù we had for dessert was entirely too rummy for J. We joked that between my cosmopolitan & the dessert, I was sure to fail a blood alcohol test should we be pulled over. On the way out, as we passed the window box overflowing with obviously fake flowers in every color of the rainbow, we noticed that the phone number's last 4 numbers are 7673 (although on the sign, they had spelled it out...POPE). Too much! I can't wait to take my mom. Maybe they'll take us through the kitchen again, since it'll be her first time there.

We decided against a hotel, since it seemed silly to waste $100 on a few hours' sleep & no time in the pool. So, I drove home singing along with the radio while J dozed beside me. I love that she feels so safe in my hands. Once home, we watched Austin City Limits for a little while before falling asleep. John Mayer was on. I love his gentle, smooth voice. It turns out he's not just some little pop boy, either. I assumed he was mostly pretty face & lush voice, but it turns out he's actually a damn fine guitarist. He also seems to have some pretty impressive musician friends. Buddy Guy played with him, as did Double Trouble. I am usually biased against anyone doing a Stevie Ray cover (unless it's Jimmy), but he did a good job.

Sunday morning, we slept in until 10:30, which felt great! We got some good coffee at Dino's and picked up picnic food from Current. We loaded our basket with sandwiches (chicken salad for me, turkey with all kinds of stuff including avocado for her, both on rosemary foccaccia), dill potato salad, Neptune salad, broccoli salad, and fruit. I also tucked in some Mike-Sells green onion potato chips, since the Neptune & broccoli salads don't appeal to me.

We drove down to Caesar Creek State Park for our picnic. We had a wonderful time lying in the sun, eating & talking. I had brought along Isabel Allende's Zorro and I read some of that aloud to J. Then, we went to the fossil beds & prowled around looking for trilobites and other neat stuff. After that, we spread our blanket at the beach. We put our feet in the Memorial Day-chilly water and lounged in the sun. I read aloud and we watched babies and dogs go by. The diversity was amazing for Southwest Ohio. We saw several Hispanic families, an Asian family speaking what sounded to our ignorant ears like a Chinese dialect, some Indian families, a Muslim family with the mom wearing the hijab, and several of your standard redneck groups. Plus, us dykes. It was interesting.

We stayed there until after 6. Then, I took my wife to dinner at Applebee's. I tried the teriyaki shrimp & steak skewers from the WW menu & those are quite the yummy dinner. Had I eaten all my rice (I don't care for their rice...too Americanized & weird), it would only have been 7 points. Of course, I ate bites of J's guac-laden fajitas & half of the appetizer, a wonderfully peanutty Thai chicken "pizza" (much better than California Kitchen's). Throughout dinner, we watched birds working on adding to the nest & feeding their bambinos. It was our second bird encounter of the day. The first was at the fossil site, where a mama killdeer hollered at us for getting too close to her nest. We actually found it, with an egg...speckled & lovely.

After dinner, we took a bit of tortilla out to the birds. Then, we walked over to Coldstone Creamery to indulge in some crazy-good ice cream. Mine was coffee ice cream mixed with Oreos, brownies, and toasted almonds. J had chocolate ice cream with brownies & pecans. Mmm. As we ate our ice cream, we took a walk. It was so delicous to be out in the warm evening, strolling down the sidewalk eating ice cream.

We went to bed early, since J had to work today. Since her boss is in, I can't go hang out with her, so I am feeling a tad pouty. Usually when she works on a weekend or holiday & the boys aren't around, I get to go, too. Oh, well, I guess I'll read more of Zorro and write the June newsletter.

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