Anatomy of a Birthday Weekend

Or, What We Did On Our Birthday Vacation

Thursday (our birthday weekends start early, by necessity)

  • Tour a school that we might want Baguette to attend next year.
  • Decide that we do not want Baguette to attend that school (it seems like a very good school–just not what we want for her).
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio and back yard.
  • Go to speech therapy and music therapy.
  • Go to Costco and buy food and birthday cake.
  • Clean the house.
  • Make items for party games.

Friday

  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the back yard.
  • Do some work that needs to be done even if I am on vacation.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the back yard.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Welcome grandparents and great-aunt, who are visiting from out of town.
  • Go out to dinner.
  • Clean the house.
  • Make party favors.

Saturday

  • Make party favors.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Make signs for food.
  • Clean the house.
  • Clean the patio.
  • Locate the Happy Birthday banner we bought two years ago.
  • Put up the Happy Birthday banner.
  • Locate more tape for the Happy Birthday banner.
  • Make the salad.
  • Put the Happy Birthday banner back up.
  • Welcome guests. Realize again that we have invited a really large number of people.
  • Abandon hope of keeping the Happy Birthday banner up.
  • Make sure parents and children are enjoying themselves.
  • Call the pizza parlor and confirm that the pizza is actually going to be delivered.
  • Make sure that Baguette has the chance to find some quiet time.
  • Put out the pizza, salad, and signs for the food.
  • Realize that I have left another parent supervising Baguette in the front yard for far longer than is reasonable.
  • Ask Baguette if she wants pizza. (“No thank you.”)
  • Ask Baguette if she wants macaroni and cheese. (“Yes.”)
  • Bring a chair we took outside for the party back inside, because Baguette wants to eat at the table in the breakfast nook like she always does, not at the table on the patio where her friends are.
  • Make sure everyone gets food.
  • Eat one slice of pizza and some salad.
  • Realize that, in spite of all the cleaning, the living room still contains a case of baby wipes and a 3-pack of contact lens solution.
  • Decide not to care.
  • Bring out the cake and put candles on it.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light the candles.
  • Try to light one candle, which is the most that we may be able to keep lit with the breeze.
  • Abandon hope of lighting the candles.
  • Serve the cake.
  • Encourage Baguette to say “thank you for coming to my party” to as many children as possible.
  • Say goodbye to everyone.
  • Try to get Baguette to nap.
  • Abandon hope of getting Baguette to nap.
  • Regroup with grandparents and great-aunt when they come back from their hotels for dinner.
  • Order Chinese food.
  • Eat Chinese food (adults) and macaroni and cheese (Baguette).
  • Open presents from grandparents and great-aunt.
  • Accept that the most enticing part of presents is the paper, which tears interestingly and can be draped as a fetching hat.
  • Say goodnight to grandparents and great-aunt.

Sunday

  • Have morning meltdown (Baguette, with collateral damage to Mr. Sandwich’s hearing).
  • Regroup with grandparents and great-aunt.
  • Caravan to 7-11 for coffee.
  • Caravan to L.A. Zoo, because it is the weekend and therefore we go to the L.A. Zoo.
  • Look at zoo animals.
  • Get in line for lunch.
  • Take Baguette for a walk, because the line is too long. (Mr. Sandwich)
  • Realize that Baguette is screaming, and Mr. Sandwich is waving energetically from outside the cafeteria.
  • Take Baguette and try to comfort her.
  • Realize that 5 feet away, a zoo docent is holding a small constrictor.
  • Consider one’s pathological fear of snakes.
  • Ask Baguette if she wants to touch a snake.
  • Confirm with Baguette that she wants to touch a snake.
  • Hold Baguette while she touches the snake.
  • Wash Baguette’s hands.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Leave zoo.
  • After Baguette falls asleep in the car, take advantage of the situation to trim her fingernails while Mr. Sandwich runs into the hardware store.
  • Go home and let Baguette unwind.
  • Make brownies for Baguette to take to day care the next day for her actual birthday.
  • Watch Baguette start to spool up again when grandparents and great-aunt rejoin us for dinner.
  • Try to prevent meltdown.
  • Fail.
  • Take Baguette into her room, comfort her, and tell her that she can take time to calm down, but that we will be in the living room so she doesn’t feel abandoned.
  • Give Baguette iPad when she asks for it. (Mr. Sandwich)
  • Be grateful that, this time, the iPad helps her come out of the meltdown instead of exacerbating it, because there is no predicting.
  • Send grandparents out for In-N-Out.
  • Welcome Baguette when she comes back to the living room, feeling better.
  • Feed Baguette one of her favorite noodle dishes.
  • Tell Baguette that we will be on patio, and that she can come out when she wants to.
  • Eat In-N-Out while Baguette plays with party games on back lawn.
  • Say goodbye to grandparents and great-aunt, who are returning to respective homes on Monday.
  • Give Baguette a bath.
  • Open a few gifts for Baguette and talk to her about what they are and which of her friends gave them to her.
  • Write thank-you notes to those friends.
  • Wrangle Baguette into bed.
  • Sleep fitfully.

Monday

  • Put brownies in car.
  • Take thank-you notes to day care, along with party favor for one guest who didn’t get one.
  • Give brownies to teacher.
  • Realize that Baguette would still really prefer to have some quiet time.
  • Recognize that at this point there is nothing to be done about that.
  • Drop off thank-you notes.
  • Wonder how ABA will go tonight.
  • Wonder how birthday phone call with aunt and uncle will go tonight.
  • Wonder if Baguette will catch stomach bug that is running rampant through her school.
  • Think about how, at this rate, it will take several days to open Baguette’s presents.
  • Go to work.
  • Really, really intend to write the rest of the thank-you notes.

Little girl in chair, covering face with "Happy Birthday" balloon

What We Ate on Our Summer Vacation

When we decided we wanted to go back to Santa Barbara, that naturally meant that we wanted to revisit some of the restaurants we particularly enjoyed.

First, though, we decided to cut down on breakfasts out–we rented a studio unit. However, it turned out that what we imagined to be a kitchen was actually a mini-fridge and microwave. I don’t think the place was misrepresented, I think we brought some faulty assumptions. But the mini-fridge did mean that we could pick up a few things at Albertsons and Lazy Acres (which is like if Whole Foods and Bristol Farms had a passionate affair that resulted in a really classy baby) and cut down on our meals out.

So where did we eat?

Some local friends introduced us to Cajun Kitchen, where we ordered a plethora of pancakes, eggs, and sausage. (Just assume we ordered this everywhere unless otherwise specified–one of our goals is to get Baguette to eat, and this meal is pretty much a sure thing.)

El Pollo Rico in Goleta featured BBQ chicken and “tri-tip” (actually skirt steak). Everything was a little dry, but the flavors were great and we did not go away hungry.

We had two dinners at Mesa Pizza Co.–I really liked the crust and toppings here, and Baguette is always a fan of cheese pizza. She’s also a fan of pepperoni pizza, although she’s as likely to discard the pepperoni as she is to eat it.

We also made two trips to Mac’s Fish and Chips Shop on State Street. While most of State could pass for a fairly generic mall that happens to have a street running through it, Mac’s was a find. Between the two visits, we ate fish and chips, bangers and chips, beef and onion pie, clam chowder, and Toad-in-the-Hole. Oh, and mashed potatoes. All delicious. We’ll be back when we’re here next.

Mac's Fish and Chips Shop

If you haven’t had McConnell’s ice cream, you may be able to find it in a Whole Foods near you. We were able to go to their actual brick-and-mortar location, and were not disappointed. While Baguette was intrigued but reluctant to share either Mr. Sandwich’s Golden State Vanilla or my Santa Barbara Strawberry (in a waffle cone, no less), she eventually mustered the courage to take a taste of my ice cream–at which point she yelled, “It’s a party!”

So, naturally, we went back for another party the next night.

By the way, Mad Dogs may have great hot dogs, but I’d pass on the shave ice. It’s not real shave ice–what they’re selling is essentially a sno-cone, and believe me, there is no comparison.

Our return visits were a mixed bag:

Farmer Boy, while one of our favorites last year, dropped from “leisurely” to “so slow we tipped badly.” The food was fine, but not good enough to make up for the incredibly slow service. I was on my third cup of coffee before the meal came, and that included waiting for the fresh pot–and a side order never showed up at all.

We were happier with Garrett’s Old Fashion, with fast, friendly service and good food. It was a marked contrast to the previous morning at Farmer Boy. When we made a final trip on our way out of town, not only did we again get fast service, but the waiter remembered that I’d ordered an extra egg for Baguette the previous day, and asked if I wanted that again. If we lived in Santa Barbara, I’d be a regular.

But I can’t decide: should I be happy or sad that Baguette can open a mini-fridge without assistance?

A Whole Lot of Food in One Post

It’s been a long time between posts. So let’s go to the highlight reel, shall we?

Recently we were introduced to Fabrocini’s Italian Restaurant in Tarzana. Best chicken piccata I can remember.

Little Toni’s in North Hollywood has great pizza–we had Canadian bacon, meatballs, and garlic on ours. It makes me wonder why we haven’t been adding garlic as a topping all along.

Tacos Michoacan serves some awesome carne asada, and the price cannot be beat.

But the real news is that my dear friend Madame Scandal (of Tea & Scandal) came for a long weekend. As she, like the Sandwiches, loves food, I figured that a tour of Los Angeles food institutions was in order. No, we did not enroll in L.A. Trade-Tech, although I hear their cafeteria–run and staffed by the culinary arts students–is excellent.

So what did we do?

First, we had lunch at Salsa and Beer. This may not be an institution, but it’s mighty fine Mexican food, which is tough to find in Madame Scandal’s home state. Dinner, naturally, was In-n-Out. You just can’t beat a good double-double.

The next day, we packed up Baguette and headed to Hollywood. Our destination? Pink’s. Verdict? A hit. That evening we invited a few other friends over for a cookout over the wood-fired grill that Mr. Sandwich has installed in our back yard.

Saturday started off slow, but wrapped up nicely with the second L.A. Street Food Festival at the Rose Bowl. Yes, I know that’s not in L.A. But the field was the site of dozens of tables stocked by local food trucks, which have become a Twitter sensation. We ate so much, and enough time has passed, that I don’t remember all of the details. But I loved the banana pudding at Nana Queen’s, and I’ve never been a fan of banana pudding. I’d go back for more of Nana Queen’s, though. Manila Machine had good adobo, although unfortunately they had run out of lumpia. And although I didn’t spot The Grilled Cheese Truck until I was too full for anything but dessert (the concourse or mezzanine or whatever it’s called midway up the stands still seems like an odd spot), I did finally get to try Coolhaus‘s ice cream sandwiches. While I had never before imagined ice cream that includes candied bacon, I can tell you that it? Is delicious.

One suggestion to the organizers: although there is a cool factor to being on the field, the need for vendors to run food down from the trucks added to the slowness of quite a few lines–even for those of us who spent the extra $$ for VIP tickets (totally worthwhile, I might add). Why not have the event in the parking lot, like the monthly swap meet held there? You can still control access (the swap meet does), and it seems like there would be fewer delays.

On Sunday we made a trip to the Encino Farmers’ Market (who doesn’t love farmers’ markets?) in the morning, and made our way to Philippe’s in Chinatown for French dip sandwiches.

And then, sadly, on Monday Madame Scandal had to go home. Frowny face. We live too far apart.

But the eat goes on.

Baby Showers Bring Some Kind of Flowers

Babies need a lot of stuff. A lot. Of stuff. Fortunately, custom allows us to ask our friends for that stuff. And even more fortunately, I have very generous friends.

However, rather than detail the stuff, let’s assume that there are some standard elements of baby showers: people you know, and gifts. Rather than detail them in a manner that can sound nothing but familiar, I’ll focus on the food.

If you’re looking for a place for a women-only event, you might try High Tea Cottage. Just south of Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, it must have started life as a house. Now it’s home to a wide selection of brewed teas, tiny sandwiches, and pastries. (Why “women-only”? Oh, come on. Not that many guys are into high tea. Admit it. They will.)

Lest that sound snarky, it was all delicious. We had “Windsor Castle” (a black tea so good that Queen Elizabeth serves it) and some other tea that I have to admit that I didn’t drink, but that everyone who did liked a lot.

Sandwiches: chicken-cranberry, curried egg, cucumber (my favorite). Scones: served with Devonshire cream and lime curd. Tiny pastries: delicate and excellent, with rich chocolate and flavorful fruit fillings.

My next shower was a surprise: I had to stop work unexpectedly, so I figured that the shower my boss had talked about was unlikely to happen. After all, who can pull something like that together in–literally–24 hours?

Answer: My colleagues. These are some seriously efficient people. And they don’t just get things done, they get them done well. I’m lucky enough (well, not when dieting) to work with a number of gifted bakers.

Shower number three featured some truly excellent pizza, although I don’t know where it came from. However, I do know where the cake came from: Porto’s. This place is seriously good. I haven’t been there myself, but I have been lucky enough to be at events featuring food someone else picked up. This cake was no exception. It was so good that I’ve been eating it all week. Good thing I don’t have gestational diabetes, because that would really have put a cramp in my snacks over the past few days.

So thanks, everyone! The generosity has been pretty overwhelming, and the food was great. But I have to admit that what’s going to stay with me the most is the time I got to spend with family and friends. You really can’t beat that.

We’re Cooking with Gas

Sandwich Père and Sandwich Belle-mere came to visit this weekend, and today Aunt and Uncle Sandwich joined us. As you might imagine, there was a lot of food.

Friday night the four of us went to the Canoga Park Yang Chow. We’ve been to the Chinatown location several times, and were delighted to find that the closer location also has fantastic black bean sauce, as well as excellent dry sauteed string beans.

Saturday morning found us at Vip’s, reputed to be John Wooden’s favorite diner. I’ve yet to see Coach there, but if he comes for the pancakes, then it’s clear that his expertise extends far beyond sports. (My favorite pancakes in L.A. are still at Rae’s Diner in Santa Monica, but Vip’s are worth repeat trips.)

That evening, following a trip to the ER that turned out just fine, we ordered pizza from Brooklyn Pizza. One medium pepperoni and one medium Hawaiian later, we were sated. Another of our Westside favorites was The Coop, which had excellent New York-style pizza; Brooklyn Pizza seems like an excellent alternative.

Today was a whirlwind of cooking, to meet a variety of dietary requirements and preferences. Fortunately, I was able to find a menu that met everyone’s needs. So what did I cook?

For brunch:
Sour cream coffee cake
Scrambled eggs
Bacon
Sausage links

For dinner:
Rosemary-ranch chicken skewers
Mashed potatoes
Grilled bell peppers and onions
String beans

Why, yes, I am exhausted.

More Disappointing Than Tragic

What does a girl have to do to get a meatball sub in this town?

Yesterday J set out for adventures with friends, and these adventures included using the car, which meant that after my friend picked me up for coffee, I was on foot for most of the day.

For the portion of the day that included laundry, this was no big deal. However, when J called to say that he and his friends would be eating copious quantities of BBQ at the Bear Pit (previously discussed here), I realized that I would need my own hearty late lunch/early dinner.

One of our favorite local haunts is The Coop, a tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza place with no seating, cash-only sales, and amazing New York style pizza (New Yorkers, don’t start with me. It may not be exactly what you’re used to, due to the water–see, I know–but it’s good). Since J doesn’t like vegetables on his pizza, and I can’t eat oregano, we usually get a large pepperoni and Canadian bacon. That provides plenty of meat and avoids the sausage.

The Coop also makes excellent meatball subs. Their posted Saturday hours are 11-9, so I figured I’d call and place the order, then walk over and pick it up. But no one answered. That suggested that they might be closed, particularly given the holiday weekend. Just in case, though, I walked over and discovered that they were, indeed, closed. On the way back I stopped at the sandwich shop on the corner of Palms and Motor. I can’t remember it’s name, it’s changed ownership at least once since we moved here, it’s nothing special. And, as it turns out, they do not have meatball subs. I toyed momentarily with the idea of a Philly cheese steak sandwich, but then realized that I had no confidence in their ability to make one–and that it would not meet my needs. A cheese steak sandwich, no matter how good, is not a meatball sub.

From there, I headed over to Kristina’s Italian Kitchen, on Overland. Now, according to the Citysearch-provided menu, they do have a meatball parm sandwich. But their in-house menu showed no sandwiches at all (thanks a lot, Kristina’s!)

In the end, I came home and reheated the leftover portion of a chicken quesadilla from Baja Fresh.

Distance walked: 1.4 miles

Meatball subs eaten: 0

A Food-Themed Post

To begin with, I should probably mention that the sandwiches in the new blog header were not tragic. They were from a friend’s birthday tea, and were delightful. In fact, this was the tea that introduced me to chicken-cranberry salad sandwiches, which were so good that they left me saying “Why haven’t I thought of that?” I’m sure everyone else has been eating chicken-cranberry salad for ages.

Also, I’ve obviously been playing with the blog theme and header. This probably will continue.

Today I had a blatant opportunity to act on my 29-Day Giving Challenge, and I took it. As I walked toward Whole Foods on my lunch hour, one of the guys who sits on the benches along Gayley Avenue and asks for money asked me for money. I said, as I do, “No, sorry,” at which point he says, “A cold drink?” I said, “Sure,” and he said something that I was reasonably sure was “Snapple.” That’s when I recognized him as the guy who has specific requests when it comes to food. But I’m always happy to give people food, and a cold drink of any sort seemed like an extremely reasonable request when the temperature is in the 90s. Fortunately, it turns out that Whole Foods does in fact sell Snapple.

Both of us have been tired all week, so for the second time in four nights, we’re ordering pizza from our favorite local place–The Coop. It’s a tiny storefront with no seating, and they only take cash. However, they do deliver, and they make excellent pizza. It has a thin-ish crust with a sauce that is exactly the right degree of spicy, and it’s delicious when topped with our choice of pepperoni and Canadian bacon. The downside is that it often takes a long time, because the place is so small (tonight’s wait is 75 minutes, for example). But it’s worth it, particularly since it means that they’re getting lots of business. It’s one of the places I’m really going to miss when we move. But I still want to move.

View my page at the 29-Day Giving Challenge