catching up

WOW! it’s been a month this time! lots has certainly happened, so i’ll try to squeeze it all in. as time passes here in the house, it seems like we’ve been here for months. i grow more and more accustomed to the patterns of living here. the new-ness is fading quickly…and it all feels so right.

back in june, tony and i got to go to chicago for a party. every year, my company hosts a party for all the managers in each region. it was quite spectacular! they flew the two of us to o’hare and put us up in the swissotel. the party itself was at the mid-america club in the aon building (formerly the standard club in the standard oil building). after riding up to the 80th floor, we had a cocktail reception with some yummy hors d’oeuvres. then across the hall to dinner—a beautiful salad, your choice of filet mignon or sole with lobster mousse, followed by a trio of desserts. then came the dancing. we all got up and danced, including the big bosses! it was an absolute blast. it was easily the nicest company-sponsored event i have ever been to, whether it was a company i worked for or someone else’s. tony was quite impressed, especially since as a civil servant he never sees any perks like this!

once we had gotten to chicago, we had a couple of hours to spend before we went to dinner. although it was 101 degrees out(!), we walked up michigan avenue with all the tourists and did some shopping. we sampled a couple of my favorites among the local delicacies. these included a stop at garrett popcorn shop for that most unusual treat, the mini-mix. it’s their signature combination of cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn. there are a couple of provisos here: it’s best to go when there is a line, so the product is right-out-of-the-popper fresh and warm. the other is to make sure that every mouthful has some of each flavor. it’s that particular blend of sweet and salty that really works. i know it sounds weird, but the locals all know about it. at least half of the people i saw in line ordered the mini-mix. (warning! do not try this with other brands of caramel and cheese popcorn…it’s just not the same.)

we also managed to squeeze in a chicago style hot dog. tony had never had one of these, either, and he loved it. for those of you who may not know, the ingredients for these are strictly enforced. you start with a steamed poppyseed bun—never toasted and always with the poppyseeds. then you place a boiled vienna beef hot dog in the bun. there are those who run the hotdog across a grill, producing the so-called char-dog, but this is not for the purist. the toppings are non-negotiable: yellow mustard, bright green sweet pickle relish, raw onion, fresh tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear and celery salt. the only choice is whether you want it with or without sport peppers, which are pickled serranos. tony’s comment was that there was so much stuff on top that the hotdog got lost. that’s sorta the point here…you’re not just eating the sausage, but also all the other goodies, too. it should be falling out of the bun as you eat it. it was absolutely delish! a few of my favorite haunts for this include fluky’s, byron’s and the famous superdawg, which still features curb service with carhops!

back on the homefront, we’ve been enjoying entertaining our friends here at the house. everyone is anxious to get in and see it, of course. folks have been coming over for dinner, which i have loved because it has given me a chance to get back to my cooking. i did so little entertaining in my shaker heights apartment and i really missed being in the kitchen! because of the heat, i’ve been doing mostly cold buffets…some combination of salads, followed by fruit desserts. and mostly, we’ve eaten out on the front porch. i really do like spending time out there. the way it’s configured, it’s relatively private. there’s a gigantic maple in the front yard that shields us from the street, so it amost feels like a separate room. and it’s the best place to catch a breeze (our downstairs is not air conditioned).

i am getting more used to being a west-sider now, too. i’ve found someone to cut my hair over here. he’s a friend of ours, he’s fairly convenient, and he charges 40 percent less than i was paying in beachwood…and he does a really great job to boot! i’m getting used to the local giant eagle, although i do miss heinen’s. i’ve found a wonderful little bakery a couple of blocks away. they’re germans, so it’s the type of stuff i like. they also have a deli counter, with schaller and weber meats! one of my favorite finds has been the honey hut. voted the best ice cream by northern ohio live magazine, it certainly is a winner in my book. i’m hooked on their turtle sundae. two scoops of ice cream (try it with their coconut flavor), hot fudge, hot caramel, lots of salted, toasted pecans and whipped cream. it’s become a weekly ritual for tony and i to go there on my weekend.

the house itself is coming along nicely. we still have things we want to do, but it’s mostly livable now. the kitchen is done and all of our stuff actually fits into it! the dining room came out nicely. we have a little sideboard in there in addition to the china cabinets. we have all of the beautiful stemware that we received as ceremony gifts displayed in there, as well as my mother’s noritake. i have always loved this china (colony #5932, with a platinum band, for all you dish people), which she bought in the early 60’s. it is an absolute model of simplicity and timelessness. i love it that it is actually visible now, rather than hidden away in a cupboard. we have used it every time we’ve had guests.

the bedroom is done, as well as our offices. my office is quite comfortable, with my computer setup and a comfortable chair for reading. i’ve hung some pictures in there and it really feels like home. the living room needs some attention, still, but i figure we’ll feel more of a need for that once the weather turns and we can’t use the front porch anymore. i got the garage cleaned out and have been keeping my car in there for now. my little garden has been quite successful out back. everything is in containers this year. i have one tomato plant, which i think will be plenty. so far it has 18 tomatoes in various stages of ripeness, with many more blossoms still happening! otherwise i just have herbs…ruffled purple basil, oregano, spearmint, lemon thyme, rosemary, chives and sage. i have been using these a lot in my cooking…what a pleasure. i look forward to next summer when i have them in the ground and they won’t need twice-daily watering. the heat here has been very hard on them in their little pots.

last week, tony and i went to boston for a few days. i had a couple of days of training scheduled, so my airfare and hotel was taken care of, as well as two days of rental car. all we had to cover was tony’s plane and the remaining car rental, plus meals. we had a very nice time out there. we did a lot of walking, including the entire freedom trail. we ate some great meals, too. the first day we had lunch at the union oyster house. it’s the oldest continuosly operating restaurant in the united states. i had the lazyman’s lobster. they take all the meat out of the shell for you, put it in a gratin dish with butter and breadcrumbs and run it briefly under the broiler. what a treat! no more fishy-smelling hands. it was worth paying the premium price to have this work done for me. we then walked through the north end, stopping for a cannoli at maria’s pastry. it was one of the best i’ve ever had, filled on the spot with delicious ricotta filling. i also picked up a sfogliatelle, which i had not had since i lived in new york. (hats off to karl for this recommendation. he also steered us to artu, where we had lunch a few days later.) we had dinner the next night at ken’s steak house. you may have seen their line of salad dressings at your local supermarket. there are dozens of varieties available, and they line the halls as you enter the restaurant. unfortunately, when you eat there, you are only given one choice: house dressing or caesar. we both chose the house. it was good, but i’m not sure how it led to a salad dressing empire. our last night, as we were leaving, we stopped in the terminal at logan airport for a lobster roll at legal seafood. once again, the work has been done for you with this dish…no shells to deal with. this was all an epiphany for me—i’ll never again order a lobster in the shell. huzzah!

back in cleveland, i discovered last night that the tremont district is just about 10 minutes away, right up the road. we had dinner with a friend at the lava lounge. it’s a cool room with good food and yummy cocktails. it’s definitely someplace i’d like to go back to. there are lots of other restaurants and hotspots in that neighborhood that i’d like to try. now that i know how close it is, i’ll make more of an effort to get up there.

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