Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm Afraid This Means Goodbye

At 6:30 PM last night my husband and I had dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. By 1 AM we'd agreed we could never go there again. This makes me very sad indeed, but it's how we've always reacted to bouts of food poisoning -- we cut the offending dish/place off cold turkey.

Our harsh approach first took form back in 2001, when one of two meals we had in Bali led to my husband being freakishly sick for several months (look forward to that full story in a future book!). We'll never know for sure, but we think it was either chicken satay or this crazy beef-heavy Balinese feast that did him in... I partook in the former but not the latter, so I've always been convinced it was the beef feast. Either way, my husband's never touched chicken satay since. Same goes for scallops, which he had a bad experience with on Cape Cod in 2003. And pretty much anything else that makes either of us nauseous afterward. No second chances!

Last night we both ate the same thing: the "avocado crostini" starter (pictured above) -- I had one of them and he had the other three. Then we both ordered the pumpkin pasta -- which is so, so, so good, and is the main reason why we've returned to this place again and again over the years. It's pumpkin-stuffed ravioli with pine nuts and squares of butternut squash and this great, barely there brown-sugarish sauce. My husband finished his plate and I took half of mine home to warm up for lunch today.

That's not gonna happen now... because a few hours after dinner, as Badlands was drawing to a close (we're going through a big Terrence Malick film phase and had popped that DVD in as soon as we got home), I pretty much passed out. Meaning that I literally could not stop myself from falling asleep, it was as though I'd been hit with the proverbial ton of bricks. When I woke up a few hours later, I felt feverish and faint. So I pretty much just went back to bed after telling my husband about what was going on.

The next time I woke up it was to the sound of somebody throwing up in the distance. (Kind of like waking up to the sound of the ocean, or birds in the rainforest... or NOT.) When I came to my senses I realized that my husband had gone to our downstairs bathroom and was sick. Eventually he returned and mumbled, "We're never going to that place again."

So there you have it. I sadly dumped my leftovers into the trash this morning and am kind of mad at myself for insisting we go to that place last night. My husband hadn't been into it because we were just there last week when Miss M was visiting us from NYC. And now we'll never go again. Boo!

Is this how you guys handle bouts of food poisoning? Will you ever try the restaurant and/or meal again or would you rather take no chances?

- e

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

One Day by David Nicholls: Read This Book Right Now Before The Movie (Probably) Ruins It

After finishing One Day during my trip to Belize last November, I immediately granted it a spot on my Top Five Favorite Books of All Time list. So before some of you take one look at its cover to the right and scamper off, hollering, "I don't do chick lit!", let me remind you that I don't do chick lit either. Plus, One Day was written by a dude, so there. Not that a dude can't write chick lit, but the fact that a guy (who's been compared to High Fidelity's Nick Hornby) penned this book that I'm about to sing the praises of and encourage each and every one of you to read might help build my case that it is not really a "romance novel," despite what its cover makes it look like.

OK, so what IS One Day about, then?

It's the story of two people, Emma and Dexter, who we get to drop in on every July 15 from 1988 (when they meet at their college graduation) until 2007. That's right, we spend just one day with them a year... for 20 years. I'm sure a story structure like this has been done at some point in the past, but I'd never experienced anything like it, and I found it so, so clever.

Now, clearly there must be SOME sort of spark between Emma and Dex or else they wouldn't be worth keeping up with for two decades. They definitely do have chemistry, but it's more of an "opposites attract" type of thing, with her being the more serious, practical one and him being the rebellious wild child. So when I say that the book checks in on them every year, I don't mean that they're together together during that time. We learn what each of them has been up to -- sometimes they meet up on that day, sometimes they have a phone call, and sometimes they are completely wrapped up in their own little worlds and have zero communication. To spill any other details would spoil most of the story, so I'm keeping mum.

For the first four or five chapters (years) of One Day, I wasn't into it. I say this in case others have the same reaction -- I urge you to keep reading. I felt, especially in the early years, that it was hard to relate to both characters. I should also mention that they're British, so there were some pop-culture allusions I didn't really get, either. Even by the end, neither Emma or Dexter were characters I liked, per se... but yet One Day is still one of my all-time favorite books, which surely means author David Nicholls is a genius.

After trying to figure out exactly why this book had such a huge effect on me (did I fail to mention how I spent half-a-day in Belize sobbing my head off? But not necessarily out of sadness...), I realized that it wasn't because I cared specifically about Emma or Dexter, but rather because what happens to both of them over the course of twenty years was so relatable and so realistic that I just don't think anyone could keep themselves from comparing how dumb luck, bad luck, good luck, random coincidences, twists of fate, stupid mistakes, and bold decisions have played a part in his or her own life. I also think I liked the story because despite several didn't-see-THAT-coming twists in both Em and Dex's paths, and despite the kind of depressing "Life doesn't always work out the way you want or expect it to" theme, I interpreted One Day's overall message to be one of exhilarating hope. It also reinforced my strong personal belief in making the most of the time we have so as to not ever wonder "What if...?" when we're old and gray and it's too late to do that one thing, apologize to that one person, go on that one vacation, or take that big scary leap.

One Day is up there with The Time Traveler's Wife for me, if that tells you anything. My husband read it as well and also enjoyed it. I've recommended it to several people over the past six months and every one of them has contacted me after they've read it to be like, "WOW." So I am confident that you, too, will thank me for encouraging you to check it out. However, since it is in fact an international mega-bestseller, perhaps you've already read it, in which case I would love to hear your thoughts.

Now, those of you who are up on entertainment news are probably aware that the movie version of One Day is coming out in mid-August. I'm seeing it next week (for my redbox gig) and you can bet I'm nervous. I'm not even going to mention who's playing Emma and Dexter because I don't want you to have any images in your head when you read the book (seriously, don't Google it or look for the trailer). While I certainly hope that the film meets my expectations, I really don't see how it could ever compare to the book. So get going on One Day before mid-August, or just as soon as possible, so that you aren't corrupted by the posters and trailers that will be everywhere very soon!

As always, we're free to discuss spoilers in the comments section below. There are some BIG ones in this book, so if you haven't read it yet, look away from the comments or you will kick yourself!

- e

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Drink Your Veggies

Yesterday I wrote about how we summer-ified our deck on Memorial Day, but there was another big event that took place at our condo that afternoon as well. My husband bought a juicer. Not just any juicer, but a pretty high-end one (the Hurom slow juicer) from Williams-Sonoma that made me yell, "It costs how much???" after he told me of his plans.

"Trust me, I've researched this," he replied, and took off -- returning in a few hours with this space-gadget-looking thing.

That's an action shot, by the way, which I just snapped a few minutes ago as I was trying the thing out by myself for the first time. I will say that it is really easy to both put together and then clean afterward. If it had any sharp parts where there was even the slightest chance I could slice off my finger, OR if there were any parts that need to be cleaned after use yet couldn't be totally submerged in water, I wouldn't even bother. Any type of gadget -- especially one for the kitchen that has to do with food preparation -- must be almost effortless for me to use or else it ain't gonna happen. 'Cause I can always go across the street, order my sweet potato fries, and call it a day.

I'm not exactly sure why my husband suddenly became obsessed with buying a juicer. The idea seemed to have come out of nowhere a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in this post, we are shifting our diet a bit and I'm assuming maybe he thought a juicer would make it easier for us to fit in more fruits and veggies on a daily basis. But I was like, "Why can't we just use a blender?" My friend Nerdy P had recently told me about how she makes smoothies in the morning for herself and her son, and she throws a bunch of spinach in and he's none the wiser. With a juicer, however, it's pretty tough to work with greens (we already tried -- they just don't yield much juice).

I also asked, "Why is this better than a blender when you can't put ice in it and therefore have to put all the juice you make in the fridge/freezer if you want it to be cold?" Then I also asked, "But aren't apple skins and the seeds in berries good for you fiber-wise and whatnot?" (The juicer separates all of that stuff out, as you can see in the container on the left in the pic above. That's also where almost all of the greens we threw in ended up.)

My husband gave some extremely vague answers to my questions, so I'm still not fully convinced we needed this thing. Granted, it's been used more since Monday than the blender and food processor we received as wedding gifts have in nearly eight years, so I'm not complaining. It definitely is nice to just be able to drop fruits and veggies in without having to peel them. I'm not a big veggie eater and this is a very, very slick way for me to "drink" tomatoes, carrots, etc. without tasting them at all. If you simply throw a few raspberries into the mix, all other flavors disappear, so I'm happy about that. Above on the right is today's finished product. At some point I'm going to mix in one of those packets (one's powdered greens, the other is powdered fruit) that I received as samples and see how it goes.

If any of you out there own a juicer and want to help further convince me of why it's better than/different from/needed in addition to a blender, I'm all ears!

- e

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

And, Just Like That, It's Summer

It had been SO miserable, rainy and crappy here in Chicago the past few months that not even my SAD lamp could pull me out of my funk. But then on Memorial Day it was like Mother Nature finally decided, "OK, y'all've had enough," and summer instantaneously arrived. Seriously, we went from lows in the 40s to highs in the 90s in one day. I gave up on trying to figure out this sort of thing long ago.

But now my husband and I had no excuse to continue putting off the work we needed to do to beautify our deck and clean up our back yard (I use the word "yard" loosely, remember -- it's basically just a concrete path lined by a few clumps of weak-looking bushes).

He loaded up on flowers and whatnot at Home Depot while I braved the scary under-deck space into which the wind blows leaves, trash, and god-knows-what. This area is where our building's gas and electricity meters are and so we need it to be clear because we go back there every once in a while, but during the winter and spring this little cubby gets filled with a ton of debris. I'm always convinced I'm going to find a dead rat (it's the city, folks, these things happen) or a severed finger (that's just my morbid imagination) or a Black Widow spider (again, the imagination) or something horrible when I'm down there. But I sucked it up, put on some plastic gloves, armed myself with a few brooms, a dustpan and a trash bag, and cleaned it out. Thankfully there were only leaves and a few random balls of cat hair (who knows?) that I had to contend with.

My husband did all the hardest work. Here's our deck before:

Above you can actually get a glimpse of the four plants I wrote about here that I've miraculously kept alive for several years. See how the one in the corner is like twice the size of the others? Here's another view but with the sun in the back they're kind of hard to make out. (We decided not to transfer it into a new planter just yet -- we're too afraid we'll kill it in the move.)

And... the end result:

Last night we celebrated a second warm night by reading on the deck in our lounge chairs with our dog spread across both of our legs. (It seemed comfortable to him but kept cracking us up.) Now the question is, how long will this summer last? After waiting so long for it to arrive, the answer better be: Until December.

- e