#81- P.S. WBS!

Dear Friend

Growing up, I loved having pen pals.  I met them everywhere- Church Camps, Summer Vacations, Friend of a Friend of a Friend… sometimes I don’t think I ever even met them, like in one instance when my mom met an exchange student from Poland at her work, and we began writing to the family back in Poland because there was a little girl the same age as me. It was the ultimate text messaging.

I do occasionally write letters back and forth with my exchange sister, Erika, who lives in Japan.  But it’s sporadic at best, with each of us sending one or two letters and gifts back each year.  Sometimes more if there is a natural disaster such as a Tsunami that compels us to get in contact.

As I was making my list, I was recalling all my fond memories of having a pen pal and thought it’d be fun to get Natalie on board now that she loves to write and draw pictures.  And even more so living farther away from friends & family, Natalie often likes to mail things to her grandparents.  So I set out to find us a pen pal.

Write Back Soon

It’s not so easy.  Especially now with texting and internet.  I mean, even now with a pen pal in place that fits the bill, as soon as we got their letter I sent her a text message saying we got it….. ho hummmm.  So, this Bucket list item I have to say is more for our Kids,  Natalie and Caleb/Sarah.

Caleb & Sarah are our friends from my old work place who I always stayed in contact with, and who just recently moved to Virginia… just in time for stormy weather and Holidays!  The great news is, Natalie loves the idea and every time she sets out to do art and writing now,  she intends it to be sent to the Anderson Family.  And Caleb & Sarah’s art now graces our refrigerator as well! I hope we can maintain it for awhile.  At least until Natalie is old enough to start collecting her own pen pals.  Thank you Anderson family for K.I.T. 😉  We will W.B.S. and cross #81 (find a pen pal, keep a pen pal) off our list!

#98- My Yearly Fill of Testosterone

My review of these 3 movies I admit is a tad late in the game, considering its been a few decades since their release, and I might be the last adult in America who hadn’t seen them.

Goodfellas, Scarface and the Godfather are undoubtedly some of the most referenced movies of all time.  So much so, that this item ultimately made my list when my friend Alfonso referred to Scarface on my FB wall and I finally threw up my hands in surrender.  What man cannot or does not regularly quote these characters?  As we watched all three movies, it was like one long “ooooohhhhhhh! so THAT’S where the saying comes from…”

Prior to this, I do believe every bachelor pad and college fraternity house I’ve had the pleasure of visiting had the posters and other paraphernalia up as if it were modern day decor. As if, if they display it their manliness increases 3 fold.

So, here is my valuable assessment of all three:

Goodfellas-

Ray Liotta, Hot. Joe Pesci, Not. Robert DeNiro, So-So.

Scarface-

freaked me out. So not Hot.

The Godfather-

Michael Corleone, Hot. Robert Duvall, Not. Don Vito Corleone, Silver Fox.

I think this may have also been my very first Marlon Brando movie.  I now understand the infatuation.

#75 Throwdown!

Macaroni Cheese Throwndown

The Trophy & the ballot box

Last year around this time, a friend posted a picture on FB of his Macaroni & Cheese and prematurely declared himself the winner of all things noodles with queso. Several people called his bluff, including me, but I took it a step further- I challenged him to a Throwdown.

I suspect I might have to enter him into my small category of friends I fondly refer to as ‘pansies,’ because he didn’t follow through then, and didn’t follow through yesterday either at the First Annual Mac-n-Cheese Throwdown.  See, after the FB Posting it stayed in my mind and made it on to my bucket list – #75, where Tori, Chad, and a few dozen other friends felt that declaring a Champion was a worthy cause to gather for.

Macaroni Cheese Throwndown

IkleMac- A top favorite for me! Jen had me with the homemade Parma-Crisps…

We put the invite out on FB, laid down the ground rules and commenced shit talking and witty bantering.  It was literally 2 weeks of hysterics online before ultimately 8 competitors showed up (a few, including my above mentioned friend, bowed out due to loss of testosterone) and 20 more people came to judge.

At one point, someone commented to me that they couldn’t tell if this was a party or a meeting, which I took as a compliment for all of us.  1 pm on a Sunday, with not much alcohol in play, lots of kids running around and some serious tasting game faces on yet everyone was having a great time.  I was stuffed! After I got home, I kind of wished I had brought some tupperware for some leftovers….

Macaroni Cheese Throwdown

Tasting & Mingling

Seeing as it was our first Throwdown, we weren’t sure what to expect- and there were a few friends who not only rose to the occasion, but also blew us a way.  First, I have to say I didn’t taste a single bad dish.  All 8 were absolutely delicious, so it truly did come down to personal preference.  Some were spicy, some were meaty, some were cheesy…. etc, etc, etc.  But the presentation of the dish seemed to possibly also be a factor as it came down to two final dishes that added a little “flare”….

Macaroni Cheese Throwndown

Walt & his Jack & Cheese Fleet

I mean, let’s just be honest, if you are a Sailor who did an entire theme of BOATS filled with Mac & cheese, pulled pork and drizzled with Jack Daniels Sauce, topped with shots of Jack as Smoke Stackers and an ornamental pirate ship as your presentation….. you might win. (P.S.- he brought cider for the kiddos, so sweet of you Walt)

At the same time, if you are Italian and have already won a Turkey Throwdown a few days earlier, and know the importance of subtle flavors of correct spices AND presentation… you might win too….Nick was so confident he didn’t even bother to name his, and it proved to not be an issue- people just described it on their ballot so we all knew who the vote was for. Stuffing dinner into a bell pepper is almost a guaranteed win.

Macaroni and Cheese Throwdown

Nick’s…. no name needed

It was for these reasons that we had an inevitable tie between the two. Luckily, Tori & I planned for this and had Plan B: vote again for just these two. Had the two dishes tied again, we would have gone to Sudden Death round: who ever could list the most cheeses they knew of, wins.

Macaroni Cheese Throwndown

Carly & Tori tally the votes

Seriously tho, both dishes were excellently executed so I can see why it  was between the two. Jack & Cheese Fleet won by one vote, which was good news for Walt, seeing as he brought his own decorative trophy/Belt. Maybe next time, the man should dress in costume as well and then we won’t need a tiebreaker round!

Macaroni Cheese Throwdown

Cocky much?

I swear this guy is hysterical! He wasn’t kidding when he said he had a speech prepared, win or lose. As cocky as he appears though, Walt had a great attitude about the entire Throwdown and was a very deserving winner.  I’m glad you won Walt!

I couldn’t have been more pleased with how everything turned out.  It was so nice seeing friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, it was nice seeing their enthusiasm for the event, oh and I almost forgot! There was a $5 buy in for everyone in attendance and we raised over $150 for the Dixon Montessori School!  Win-Win-Win! There is already talk of the next throwdown, maybe in a few months… Possibly meatballs or cheesecake.

Macaroni Cheese Throwndown

Another favorite- Deep fried Mac N Cheese Fritters to top your mac n cheese….

I wouldn’t mind Meatballs just because the play-on-words surely would gets some good laughs….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to all my friends!  As Bill said, “This is what Dixon is all about.”

Macaroni Cheese Throwdown

Winner Winner Jack Daniels Dinner!

#10- The French Laundry

French Laundry

Wine Menu on an iPad

The question everyone debates when The French Laundry is the topic at hand is, is it worth the price?  I think really that’s a question only a person willing to find out can honestly answer. I was willing to find out.

On the way there, Blake & I started talking about what food meant for us; something we’ve discussed many times…. typically after experiencing some God awful meal. I recalled the first time in my life I had the epiphany that food could be interesting: when I was 12 or so, my dad made a Baked Apple Chicken dish. Apple & chicken together? Foreign language!  Then, while in Japan I had a steak tare tare. I had no idea what it was, as the translation wasn’t all that clear either. Actually, I don’t really even know if that’s what it was.  All I remember was thin slices of raw beef that was to be dipped in a sweet cream sauce before consuming- and having it melt in my mouth. A few years later, it was a visit to Julia Child’s Kitchen that did me in.

French Laundry

Cheers

Having these moments didn’t turn me into a “Foodie” by any means, but it sent a very clear message that food could be mouthwatering AMAZING entertainment. I wish I could cook (cook consistently good anyway) but just as I find fauxtographers to be insulting to Photographers, I would find me claiming to know how to cook to be insulting to …. Thomas Keller.

With that said, I won’t be ‘reviewing’ his meal.  Contrary to 1,200 plus Yelpers who felt the need to give their two cents and reduce his work down to a 5 star rating scale on a social website, I will simply say it was very humbling to be present in a beautiful town, a beautiful restaurant and with beautiful food.

One thing is for sure, from our seats it was obvious this restaurant employs a small group of very hard working people.  No one is hanging out. No one is slacking. No one has a hang over from the night before.  Everyone is on their A Game, knowing the meal origins and wine pairings inside and out. At times I felt like our server should be awarded an honorary degree in Wine knowledge. We felt welcomed and comfortable.  This is important to note, because I think some of the intimidation is wondering if you’ll be sniffed out as a millionaire-fraud.

French Laundry

First Course: Oysters and Caviar

Also important to note is that even though the menu is 9 course prix fixe, there are about 6 or so ‘in between’ dishes, starting with two amuse bouches, fresh baked rolls, ice creams, cookies, etc. etc.  I left definitely feeling very full, and with a gift bag of “to go” pastries from them as well.

So, some suggestions to you, if you happen to decide on a visit yourself:  First, I would suggest getting a reservation during the Summer months.  Our reservation was at 5:30, but it was already pitch black and raining.  This only meant we couldn’t enjoy the outdoor landscape and garden where they grow many of their own ingredients.

French Laundry

Lamb

Second, take a pen and ask for your own copy of the menu to write down tasting notes.  Sounds cheesy, sure, but for this experience it might be a good idea to write down the english translation of what you were served along with how it was cooked/presented. I didn’t have a pen, but I did ask for a copy of the menu.  After so many servings I started loosing track of where we were at and what I had ordered. In the end, it makes for a great personalized souvenir.

I do have a tip for how to get past the phone games to get reservations, so ask and I’ll let you know.  It worked flawlessly for me, but it was a result of trial and error.  I spent half the year trying to get reservations before figuring the system out.

In summary,  the entire dinner was about 4 hours of perfection. Was it worth it? Yes.

French Laundry

Dessert round 1

French Laundry

The “half bottles” cellar was our view from the table

#33- Public Speaking


Somewhere down the line, I think in college, I outgrew my fear of public speaking.  I rather enjoy it, actually, if it’s on one of my favorite topics.  When I made this list back in the beginning of the year, I was hoping to have some sort of Rockstar career at this point where I’d be bestowing my wealth of knowledge to the masses here on the Coastside.  But, babies and maternity leave and sparse populations are something I didn’t really consider.

But as I sat here and reflected on what I’ve done so far, and what I still needed to accomplish, it dawned on me that I DID give a speech this year (#33 on my list)!

Not at all planned, a little spontaneous and a lot of fun, this is the story: Natalie’s Preschool lost their teacher to a move across country and since my School District job is one of those part-time, make your own schedule and work where you want to work deals, I offered my services to them until Holly was born. During this time, the Preschool held their annual Preschool Graduation- where I found myself being asked to plan and give a presentation.

So, I did just that.

Naturally, the speech combined a few of my most favorite issues: Children and literacy.  I had been reading a HILARIOUS book to the kids during group times- “STUCK” by Oliver Jeffers, and we decided to act it out for everyone in attendance. If you haven’t seen or read the book, you MUST put it on your Christmas Wish list for the kids.  I love reading, not just to kids but to any group of people.  I’ve done it plenty of times in my college courses, my staff meetings, visits to the Senior Center.  People love story times.

Anyway, after introducing the children who were graduating, speaking a little bit about what we had been doing in the classroom and why this book was special to us, we acted it out and then presented certificates.  It was a very fun time 🙂

I didn’t think to take pictures at the time, or have someone take pictures for me. So, I had to back track a bit to find some that would work for this blog.  You’d think with all the parents there I’d have a huge selection to choose from!  But since I was there for only a short time, I didn’t have too many permanent connections with them, so I am thankful to the parents who were able to email some my way.

Captive Audience?

#41- The Giving Tree

carved name into tree

“Do you have a pocket knife I could use to carve my name into a tree?  Preferably one you don’t care about if it gets ruined?” I ask Blake, who had just spent most of the day cleaning out his ‘man cave.’

It’s a stupid question, really. Because second to having an unexplainable multi-flashlight collection, Blake has a pocket knife collection. He promptly gives me a crap knife, telling me not to hurt myself. “I probably will,” I say, fumbling to open it. And for the record, I have no idea how to close a pocket knife either. It’s no unusual thing for there to be open pocket knives sitting around (and not in Natalie’s reach) in our house; After I use them for some silly craft project, I set them out for Blake to close when he gets home from work.

“Which tree are you going to carve?” he asks, and I point to our apple tree.  I’ve been considering which tree to carve my name into ever since I put #41 on my list.  I love LOVE love trees, and was a tad bummed there was no tree I had a secure attachment to as of yet.   The apple tree will do.  We’ve had two seasons so far where it’s produced hundreds of apples to which I made hundreds of applesauces and apple butters passed out to friends and family at Christmas. So, at least me and Apple Tree have a history now.

I start carving, careful to keep my fingers, hands and other loose body parts as far away from the knife as possible.  Carving this tree is much easier than I anticipated.  I imagined hacking away at it until blisters formed, possibly drawing blood.  Not the case.  Had I been really dedicated to this project, I probably could have gotten away with cursive.  How bad ass would that have been?  Who does cursive when defacing mother nature?

As I cut into the tree, I considered what it meant to do this.  Trees symbolize strength, rooted deep into the ground, producing many benefits for us, and living for hundreds of years.  Wait- what?  I’m not that sentimental to think I’m now one with this tree that bears my name.

carved name into tree

Freshly Cut

But I finish and step back to admire my work, almost completely tucking away the tinges of guilt.  I mean, who else remembers Ferngully and Avatar?  The child in me hopes I didn’t hurt Ms. Apple Tree here in my yard and I make a silent promise to continue caring for her for as long as I am living here.

Looking at my name, I realize my existence here on this Earth is now recorded- for as long as this tree is standing.

#25- Listening to the King

B.B. King Mondavi UC Davis

No Cameras allowed, so yet another iphone photo to document…. boooo

Two years ago my sister-in-law graduated from UC Davis and the ceremony was held inside the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.  It’s already a gorgeous facility in itself, but the moment I heard the Bagpipes play, I knew I needed to come back for a live show (#25).  It was majestic! I will never even attempt to understand the science behind engineering a auditorium in order to best suit the sound of music, but I will say that the Mondavi Center spared no expense in mastering this, and it proved itself again last Sunday night when we attending B.B. King’s concert.

We couldn’t have chosen a better show in my opinion.  There are hundreds of reasons why I adore B.B. King.  On weekends when I was a kid, my dad would blast his blues music throughout the house as he worked outside on the yard.  We knew it was a good day when King was singing.

The man is 87 years old!  I had no idea.  His singing seemed so effortless, from the very second he wailed his first lyric.  I began thinking it was one of those situations where I could die peacefully listening.  Despite all the talent shows we have on T.V. these days, I honestly don’t think many of those people have much to compare against King.