Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book recommendations

In no particular order:
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
The Little Book, Selden Edwards
The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Monday madness

Praying on the side of the road
My Monday night turned out to be *quite* interesting! First off, I had a work event in Oakdale that I was a little nervous about attending as I knew I would know very few people there. The event was fun and interesting with a lot of Democratic bigwigs in attendance so I was glad I went. About a mile from the place as I was heading home, I hear a horrible scraping metal sound so I pull off the road, certain I have a flat tire. Imagine my confusion when I get out of my car and all of the tires are perfectly fine. What? So I get on the ground and what do I see but what appears to be my entire exhaust system laying on the ground. Awesome. And I was so mad at myself that I didn’t have a tow truck number in my phone, because my car has been acting up for the last six weeks, and I have pretty much been waiting for it to strand me someplace inconvenient.

I end up calling my insurance company for a tow suggestion and she asks for my car’s VIN to look up my policy. Amazingly, I have that info. at my fingertips, but when she types it into her computer they apparently don’t have a policy for my car. What?? Turns out she was wrong, but I did panic for a moment.

So I am waiting for the tow truck to arrive when all of a sudden an older gentleman pulls up next to me on a motorcycle and asks if he can help. I tell him I have a tow truck on the way, but he asks if it is okay to look and I say yes. He figures he can rig the muffler, etc., enough to get me home to E.P. and starts digging in a bag of random metal bits. The tow truck guy comes along and kind of laughs at the scenario but gets down and helps the guy. I’m in the mix as well in my dress and heels, laying on the ground and holding a flashlight as cars are whipping by at 9 at night on 494. Good times!

They were both nice and manage to cob together bits of metal and wire to attach the muffler enough to get me home. (Mental note: put a damn wire hanger in the car!) I offered money to both but the older man did not want anything and the tow truck guy is covered by my insurance (particularly as he now doesn’t even have to tow me).

Everyone is getting ready to leave and my Good Samaritan gestures for me to come over. I was thinking – great! Is this where he kills me a/o steals my purse? No, he wants to pray. So there we are, 9:30 p.m. in the dark on the side of the interstate, praying together. Once I was back on the road he followed me for a bit, and then suddenly he was gone. That freaked me out for a minute in a Twilight Zone kind of way, but then I realized he took an exit. Dee de dee de dee de dee de…

I ended up taking Tuesday off to get my car fixed, and actually had quite a productive day at home. First off, the car got fixed for under $150. The guy told me – unprovoked – what good condition my car is in, and I almost laughed in his face given that it has been in one shop or another repeatedly during the last six weeks. I was sort of hoping the exhaust falling off and getting fixed would also somehow magically fix the underpowering problem, but no luck there.

Anyway, I got quite a lot done while I was home. I hung a new curtain rod in the bedroom (the other was falling down), caulked the bathroom sink, finished rearranging the living room, finished putting new knobs on all of our closet doors and put the bookcase back together in the basement. I also taped off the basement entryway that was hot pink (Josh says it is cranberry) and primed that to a nice, dull shade of beige. Two coats, and I should be able to paint it tomorrow. I actually felt a sense of relief to see the bold color toned down so significantly.

Future projects include painting the bedroom, which I already have paint for, painting the upstairs entryway – which we still need to decide on a color for – and finish rearranging the basement. I also have to clean out/rearrange some closet space since I want to turn our upstairs coat closet into more of a shelving/pantry type storage area. Always some minor little thing to plan for/think about. I’m sure I drive Josh crazy, but fortunately he puts up with me!

The Modern Café
For dinner we met Ted and Natalie at The Modern, a little place in NE between Erte and Northeast Social Club. Josh and I got there first and on first viewing I was a little skeptical. On the plus side, it turns out Tuesdays are half-priced bottle of wine nights. Yay! We split two bottles, a Super Tuscan and a Malbec.

Ted and Natalie got there and it was great to see them! I really enjoy meeting up with them and we don’t do it nearly often enough. Ted is also preparing to do some tiling in their bathroom, so I told him I am waiting to start tiling our basement entryway until he has done it so I can call on him for help!

The food was really tasty. Josh and I ordered fries as an app and Ted and Natalie ordered seasonal squash. For dinner I had their pot roast, which they are well known for, Ted and Josh both had a shrimp chorizo stew of sorts, and Natalie had split pea wonton raviolis. Mine came with a big dollop of white stuff that I thought looked like cottage cheese. I thought that was odd and took a big bite to see… nope. It was a big forkful of horseradish! Good stuff, but better in smaller bites! For desserts Ted and Natalie had mango panna cotta and we had chocolate pots de creme.

All in all, it was a very good place and much better than what my first impression thought it would be. Between the three – The Modern, Erte and NE Social Club, I’d pick the NE Social Club every time!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Northeast Social Club

I am beginning to have serious doubts over whether our economy is in a recession or not! Last night I was at Northeast Social Club (in NE Minneapolis, natch) and, much like Risotto, the place was packed wall to wall with people – and their patio was full. Crazy!

That being said – I totally get why! I had a wonderful time in every way!

It’s in a great location, just down the block from Erte’ and The Modern (note to self: must check out The Modern). It’s small with great décor – kind of a French blue textured wall paper, tin ceiling look, some pretty weird paintings on the walls that I kind of dug.

I was meeting JenO and Dee to celebrate my birthday and I got there a bit early so I grabbed a seat at the bar. The bartender seemed a bit slick and gave a “If you need help navigating the wine list, I’m an expert” kind of line. I thought – whatever, you aren’t as cool as you think you are – and ordered the Opolo Mountain Zin (red, of course. Not white. Never white!!). He was pretty excited about what I ordered and said it was his favorite. He handed me the glass – and topped it off with extra “for luck,” he said – and I smelled, swirled and tasted. Oh. Yum. Yum yum yum yum yum. It may be my new favorite as well.

When Dee came, she wanted wine as well but something very smooth, and he says, “Silky smooth?” And at the same time we go, “You'll love the Cline Cashmere…” (Clearly, we both have fabulous tastes - HA!) Overall, I was really happy with their wine list. It’s short, but all stars from what I could tell. We ordered a different bottle at dinner – a red Italian blend, can’t remember the name – that was also great.

We managed to grab a table and ordered welsh rarebit and scallops for apps. Did you know welsh rarebit is basically a cheese fondue over crostini with blue cheese? I always assumed it was some random meat of some kind. The scallops came on a bed of lemony sweetcorn and both dishes were delish! (Not a huge menu selection, but everything sounds and tasted just amazing.)

For dinner JenO had walleye and garlic mashed. I didn’t try the fish but the potatoes were excellent – tasted like they had been made with chicken stock. Dee had the short ribs with a smoked tomato sauce and au gratin potatoes – delicious. And I ordered the chicken hash, which I wasn’t sure about – hash just doesn’t sound that appetizing and gnocchi is always a sure thing. But, I went for it and it was awesome! Moist and flavorful. For dessert we ordered the key lime pie, which was tart and wonderful.

As you can see, I may have a new favorite restaurant! Knowledgeable wine guy, good overall vibe, excellent food and darn good service. I can't wait to take Josh there!

Most importantly, I had such a great time with Jenn and Dee. They are wonderful, wonderful friends!

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Risotto in Uptown

For my birthday we went to Risotto in Uptown. We had happened upon this place accidentally earlier this summer, and I had made a mental note to get back there sometime. Then, in the last few weeks it seems like it was getting positive reviews all over the place – Metro magazine, Mpls-St Paul magazine, Minnesota Monthly, City Pages, the Strib and Pioneer Press. Add that to the fact the chef formerly used to chef at Arezzo, which I always meant to go to but never did, and I decided to move it higher on my list of places to check out!

The night we had stopped in to look at their menu earlier this summer was a Saturday night and the place was dead. We walk in Monday night – a Monday night! – and it is wall-to-wall people with not one empty table. (Granted, there are only 15 tables in there and maybe a dozen bar seats, but still – the place was hopping!) Apparently they were as surprised as we were, because they were seriously understaffed. I think I only saw three people the whole time, and Josh was pretty sure one of them was the chef.

First impression is I like the décor and it would be a great space for a wine bar (which, incidentally, it used to be). There is no maitre de’ stand and so, on a busy night, you aren’t really sure where to stand or go to let them know you want a table. Last, its location on Lake Street isn’t ideal, mainly because it’s a little tucked away and I don’t know that you’d think to go there if that wasn’t your destination. In other words, I hope it lasts longer than anything else seems to in that space, all of which seems to fold in under two years.

It took a few minutes for it to slow down enough for anyone to notice we were there, but it was busy and we totally understood. Our server didn’t know crap about wine, which is fine if she had just said so. Instead, she’s like, “Well, this one’s good because it’s $50…” Whatever. As someone who came across as a part owner/manager (“I wish I had staffed more people tonight”), she should know more about the kind of wines they serve. As it was I picked a barbera, and unfortunately it was pretty awful. WAY too tannic. Ah well, sometimes you miss!

Josh had scallops for an app that had good flavor but was overcooked. I had a salad that was absolutely blah. The bread – when it finally came halfway into our meal after repeated requests – was your basic crusty bread, but nothing fabulous. And, Italian restaurant or no, I really prefer butter with my bread, not olive oil.

All that being said… the reason we went there was for the risotto, and it was really, really delicious! Josh had a saffron and sausage one, and I had a mushroom and chicken one. I am usually not a big fan of saffron as people tend to use too much of it, but it was very subtle and good. Mine I was less sure about at first, I think largely because it looked like the insides of a pot pie, which grosses me out to no end. As I got used to the earthy flavor, however, I found I really, really liked it. Last night I gave it a 6.5, but as I am eating leftovers this morning for breakfast, I give it an 8.

The restaurant overall was a 5. I’m not in a hurry to go back, though I do think it is likely a much better restaurant than what we saw last night.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Home Improvement

Although there wasn’t the usual restaurant hopping we like to engage in over the weekend, overall I’d say I enjoyed it quite a bit! I’ve created a list of minor home improvement opportunities that I’ve been bugging Josh about – nothing major, just little things that I think will make a big difference - throwing away broken blinds, painting, etc., and we finally started to get on top of doing some of them!

The problem, of course, is that I watch far too much HGTV, which will give anyone ideas. One of my latest ideas was to replace our bathroom mirror, which is industrial-sized and not particularly homey. I purchased an oval one that Josh was convinced was too small for the space and I was convinced was perfect. So, Thursday night we tore the mirror off the bathroom wall (and some of the wall off the wall, if you know what I mean). Held up the oval mirror and, of course, it is far too small! Lesson #636 in listening to my husband.

The rest of the night was me surfing the Internet looking for another oval mirror in a larger size. No dice. How is this even possible, when I am positive you can find everything one needs on the Internet?

Next morning I get the idea to look on the HGTV “Rate My Space” bathroom pages and I see several large round mirrors, including one from IKEA that I think will work. I email a link to Josh, he agrees, and we make plans for an IKEA date. At IKEA, we find the perfect mirror, and it is only $20. Twenty bucks!! I am thrilled.

On the way home we stop at Cold Stone Creamery where I try the new chocolate pudding ice cream with caramel sauce. In a word, scrumpdillyicious! Also peeped into Pier 1 and bought a new rug for our entryway. Got home and decided the new mirror will fit perfectly, so Josh started spackling the wall.

Meanwhile, I had also been bugging Josh to put some hardware on our kitchen cabinets. The only sucky thing is all the hinges (all 30 of them!) are gold, but we wanted some kind of silver knobs or pulls. Which means instead of just adding hardware, we also had to change out all of the hinges. And by we, I pretty much mean Josh, and it was an all-day job.

I have to say, the cabinets look fantastic! It is amazing what a difference hardware can make. I honestly feel like we have brand new cabinets.

I took time out of my Saturday making raspberry truffle cheesecake to run to Home Depot to take a tiling class. I was the only student so I got to ask all the questions I wanted. Took a million notes and got to do some hands-on grouting and tile cutting. Actually, I’m not so hot at the tile cutting, mainly because I’m not strong enough to score the tile properly. But, I am pretty sure I can do the thin-set and the grouting, and maybe if I get a cool new tool like a wet saw I won’t need to worry about having the muscle to operate the paper cutter-style. (Tools! I loves them!!)

I did decide even a small tiling project like our basement entryway (a space maybe 3x4 feet) could get expensive quickly by the time you buy all the tools and whatnot. The tile is actually the cheap part in a small space!

Besides Josh doing all the cabinet work on Saturday, we painted and sanded and re-painted and re-sanded the bathroom wall so we can hang the mirror. Next project? Probably finding a new light fixture and/or faucet for the bathroom sink. Then, I’ve got to start painting again – the bedroom or the front entryway, I think. Josh says chocolate brown is too dark for the entryway… should I listen to him this time?