Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimistic

This week’s photo challenge is Optimistic.

How do you fuel the fires of optimism?

In between my son’s water polo matches, we were on a quest for Pho. It was a rainy day and my son was hungry. It was a perfect meal for a cold, wet day. We found it. 

Here’s mine. Size small with extra wontons.


Here’s my son’s Pho. Size Extra Large with all the extras. He took them all, mine included.


I begged my son to take this picture. You can see just how much bigger his soup is. He could barely hold it together, he was so hungry. He got extra wontons and extra noodles.


Did we finish? Nope. Not even close. But…we were so optimistic.

For more Optimistic photos, please visit the Weekly Photo Challenge site.

Thanksgiving Quandries

For this year’s Thanksgiving meal, I will responsible for cooking. This also includes planning. We all know that the secret to a successful Thanksgiving meal with numerous side dishes delivered to the table piping hot all at once is….more than one oven! Correct? But unless you live in a hotel or you’re just lucky, you’re like me and most likely have just the one oven.

So, in my mental preparations, I’ve determined what I need is one less side dish that requires cooking in an oven. In a quick Google search, I discovered the Pinch of Yum blog and this dish:

Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad. Image Source: Pinch of Yum

Doesn’t this look fabulous? The perks: it’s cold and crunchy so no oven is necessary, and it has bacon! Double win.

After discovering Lindsay’s recipes over at Pinch of Yum, I wondered if I, too, could be a food blogger. I’m sure I don’t have what it takes. Seriously though, I could just look at Pinch of Yum’s photos all day long. Everything looks just yummy!

I decided I want to make this recipe in place of the green bean casserole that everyone pretends to like. I’ve tried for years to consume the green bean casserole, placing mere spoonfuls on my plate and leaving them for the last possible moment at which point they were simply too cold to swallow. I have now solved my problem. It’s called Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad.

If you make this salad, however, don’t be tempted to buy those chopped bags of Brussels sprouts you see at Trader Joe’s, because they are not, I repeat are NOT, the delicate shavings of Brussels sprouts you see in the photo above. And believe me, I’m tempted by the pre-chopped bags. How much of difference is there between chopped and shaved Brussels sprouts? Apparently, a lot. It’s all about the texture, darling, and texture is everything. It always is.

So, how does one accomplish these fine, delicate shavings of Brussels sprouts? I’m so glad you asked. You use a nifty, little cooking tool called a mandoline, which is also capable of crinkle-cuts and playing music if you strum it just so. Kidding okay. Please don’t try that at home.  I understand it’s sharp and possibly a good idea to wear gloves while using the mandoline, so now it seems this recipe has become a bit pricey and dangerous.

Be careful out there. Aside from my this splendid recipe, a tremendous storm is in the forecast in the Sierra Mountains, possibly preventing half our expected party from attending Thanksgiving dinner. While we couldn’t be happier that snow is in the forecast (go snowpack!), it’s coming all at the wrong time. I guess I can’t expect the weather to follow the holiday schedule. Personally, I think the weather knows exactly what it’s doing.

Will I make the Bacon and Brussels Sprout Salad? Will my family make it over the snowy mountain? I just don’t know.

In the meantime, do you happen to have a mandoline I can borrow? Do you eat the green bean casserole? What’s your favorite vegetable side dish?

Wishing you a safe, warm and Happy Thanksgiving if you’re celebrating the holiday. And if you’re not, I still hope you’re happy, safe and warm!

It Costs How Much?

Remember that scene from I, Robot where Will Smith’s character orders a beer in a diner and it’s like $27? No? I couldn’t find the video or a meme to share…you’ll just have to take my word for it.  When I saw it I remember thinking, Wow, that’s one expensive beer. I hope it never gets that bad. 

Friends, has that time come? Are things that bad? Well, no…but maybe it’s close.

I did find Fox Mulder in a diner. Image source: doppelvancouver.com

Here’s what I’m wondering. Where do you draw the line? And at what point do you throw in the towel and say “It costs this much” and I’ll pay it.

Paying for The Big Screen

I already accept the fact that watching a movie in a theater with my family with popcorn and one drink to share will cost approximately $40. Rounded up. Don’t you always round-up now? This is for the matinee price.

2 x $7.25 = $14.50 (kids)
2 x 7.75 = $15.50 (adults)

Refreshments = $9.75

Total = $39.75

If we miss the matinee and go to a later show, add another $10 for a grand total of $50. We can never seem to make it on Bargain Tuesday, which would be the smart thing to do.

The cheap alternative is to stay at home and watch Netflix. Simple, right? This requires choosing a family friendly movie everyone can agree upon that is not a complete waste of time. Inevitably, we end up watching a movie we’ve never heard of before and a half hour later decide it’s so awful we end up switching to another episode of Bob’s Burgers. Sometimes The Big Screen is simply easier.

Concert Tix

Speaking of big screens, my sister asked a few friends if they had wanted to see The Rolling Stones in their last concert tour. Ever. Many of them had already seen them, but still. It was to be their last. $300 for nosebleed seats. Hmm…

Well, they do have those big screens? Would you pay it? They didn’t. No takers. Big screens or not.

Simple Things

But I’m not necessarily taking about concert tickets. Let’s face it. Those have gotten pricey. What about the simple things in life that maybe don’t cost as much, things we think we can afford?

The other day, I took my son to a yogurt bar. You know the self-serve kind, where you decide how much, with a dizzying amount of tasty toppings available to add to your creation.

While I am being very mindful about how much and what, my son had lost all sense of time and place, and piled spoonfuls of crumbled brownies, chocolate chips, gummy worms, and pirouette cookies, and last but not least, marshmallow sauce onto his towering, yogurt mountain. Yes, it was an extreme yogurt creation.

Extreme Yogurt Creation + Mindful Half Cup = $16.59!!

It’s not like I live in New York City or anything. Instead of paying for it, I wanted to throw it back in the face of the guy at the register. I know he’s not to blame.

My son urged me, “C’mon. Let’s just get out of here.”

Nowhere in the store was the price of the yogurt listed. It was like their little secret. I asked and found out it cost .59 per ounce. Okay, my son got too much. It’s noted.

We left after my son ate half of his and had a tummy ache. That place – Oopa! Yogurt Bar really should be called Oops! – It Costs Too Much. We’re not going back.

We could have gone to Costco

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Costco is a huge warehouse full of bulk food, as well as household and recreational items to drool over and gawk at while you buy necessary bulk items only available at Costco and can’t possibly fit in your refrigerator, and you furthermore stuff more food items you just sampled into your cart you never planned on buying in the first place.

Here’s a tip: If you’re uncertain how much you’re spending at Costco, just count up the items and multiply by 10:

10 items x $10 = $100

It’s approximate, but it works like a charm. Unless, of course, you want to throw a Sheepskin rug into your cart. I’ll take Sheepskin for $100. Lovely. You can do that math.

It’s softer than any bulk item and will last longer, too.

But where was I? Oh, yes. You can also get a frozen non-fat swirl, that’s chocolate and vanilla, for $1.35. What a bargain!

Who needs toppings?

With the membership, Costco will also get you the cheapest meal in town. You can get a Hotdog with a Drink for $1.50.

For cost savings, you could always go to Costco on your way to a ballgame. As a kid, I often went with my family to Los Angeles Dodger games. It wasn’t really a big deal. We showed up, bought tickets the day of, had ourselves a Dodger Dog, did the 7th Inning Stretch, had a wee bit of traffic and drove home.  Simple.

These days…not so simple. The nearest pro team is the San Francisco Giants. Let’s just say, we have yet to go to a Giants game. It looks something like this. Cheapest seat is $17/ticket. That doesn’t seem too bad, although that’s assuming those seats are available, and you can spend a lot more. Let’s just say you get these. So for a family of four it will cost:

$17 x 4 = $68 (to sit)

Well, you’re gonna have to eat. Unless you can get the Costco meal deal before the game, and let’s face it, that’s not the same thing as eating a hot dog in the park. So, what will that cost you…

But, hot dogs? Who wants hot dogs when you can eat “Dungeness crab between two slices of garlic butter-brushed grilled sourdough,” Caribbean BBQ, and pizza from the best pizzeria in America. How can you not eat that? Do we even ask what that costs? You can’t miss out on this. Did I mention this is only the “Center Field” concessions?

There’s parking and since you traveled maybe you get a hotel, because the traffic most definitely will be bad. I’ve lost track of how much this costs…and beer, probably $27/beer.

Who cares at this point because you’re at the AT&T park watching the Giants play baseball. Aren’t you just happy to be alive?

$27 a beer? Possibly. Image source: sf.eater.com

Or you could stay at home and lay on your sheepskin rug. That’s sounding like a cheap option.

Has your nose ever bled in a nosebleed seat? Do you pay for the big screen? What does a beer cost in the ballpark? What will you pay for no matter what?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Connected

This week’s photo challenge is to show how two (or more) things — people, objects, places — come together. I have a few photos to share.

Connecting with Nature: Under the Rainbow BridgeFullSizeRender (32)FullSizeRender (30)

Connecting with Music: From Bach to the Beatles
Connecting with Food: At the Farmer’s MarketFullSizeRender (34)FarmersMarket3 FarmersMarket2

For more connections, please visit the Weekly Photo Challenge site.

I never asked what crazy things

He sat at a picnic table shaded by an umbrella typically used by employees and the public, and he waited. All of the picnic tables, situated at the entrance to the grocery store, were sturdy and black, and bolted to the ground to prevent anyone from stealing them. They had purpose and function. Employees and the public alike sat at the tables to have a quick bite, take a break or check a shopping list. His purpose wasn’t any of these. He only waited.

I could have easily walked by him except out of the corner my eye, I saw him and stopped. He had a pleading look, but he didn’t say anything. From the get-go, I saw that he was out of sorts, clean enough, but it looked like he hadn’t slept much and his hair was sticking out in every direction; he had that electrocuted-frizz look going on. He was Caucasian, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but uncomfortable as if hadn’t showered or had a decent night’s sleep. He looked like he slept on someone’s couch or in his car, or even somewhere less desirable.

“Do you have some money for some food?” he asked. I sensed his hunger. Sitting outside a grocery store was a prime spot for asking such a question. Indeed, clearly he was on target.

“I don’t have any cash, but I can buy you something.” He raised his chin and we made eye contact. I sensed relief or disbelief or maybe something close to joy. Who am I kidding? He was probably so hungry he was beyond any rational thinking. I suspect I was the first to make such an offer. I live in Folsom, California, an area where you simply don’t see many down on their luck. It’s mostly hidden from view, and when you do see it, it’s just as easy to look away and pretend you didn’t. It’s a seemingly wholesome place (wholesome Folsom), although I know there are pockets of drugs and crime. It’s hard to escape that anywhere I suppose. This guy wasn’t strung out on anything from what I could tell, although he may have been at some point in the not too distant past. It was hard to say.

What I knew for sure was that the guy was starving. He knew exactly what he wanted from inside the store as if he had been going over it in his mind for hours, thinking of nothing else. What did he want? Frozen bean burritos and Gatorade. You could get two burritos for fifty cents, he told me. He asked if he could go in with me to do the shopping.

Inside the store, I asked if he knew the store well enough to know where things were. We walked for a bit and I introduced myself and he told me his name was Daniel. He was cautious and open at the same time.

He selected an assortment of burritos from the frozen section.

“Do you have a microwave?” I asked.

When they thawed, he would eat them, he told me. They’d keep until then, I guess, but not for much longer. Being August, the days were still pretty hot. I didn’t want to feel as though I was lording over him or that he had to shop with me, so I left to get one of those lazy, bagged salads you throw together. My plans had been for an unusually quick shopping trip.

When I was on my own wandering the store, I thought about my brother who went through meth rehab three times before pulling through. Now he’s a sponsor for many and wants to be a drug rehab counselor. What would he tell him? Would he offer advice? Would he get his story? Was I ready to hear his story and, if I heard it, would there be anything that I could do to help him? Did he want help? Would he ask for it if he did? He was starving, and that was the priority, but these questions floated through my mind.

I spotting him in the drinks aisle. Icy burritos were spilling out of his hands and now he added two large Gatorades to his load.

“You can get those drinks cold, you know,” I told him. “Don’t you want them cold?” There I was again remarking on the temperature of his items and, as soon as I said it, I saw how pathetic it was and how little I understood about his desperate situation. It seemed like it was the only thing I could say to show I cared, and it was trivial and weak.

He shook his head, “No, this is fine.” The temperature was not a concern and probably hadn’t been for some time.

We walked together with our items in hand.

“I was working at the Rubio’s, at the India House,” he went on to say. I had never asked questions, not because I didn’t want to know, but that I didn’t want him to think he had to explain in order for me to buy groceries. “Sometimes when I don’t eat, I do crazy things.”

“Well, no one should go hungry.” I never asked what crazy things.

I have a difficult time determining age these days; everyone just seems young to me. His need to survive dimmed any youthful recklessness he may have had in him. He seemed ageless to me then. He just needed to eat.

I did something and he truly appreciated it, but really it wasn’t very much. About five bucks is all. I left feeling I could have done a lot more for him or at least bought him something fresh. I’m not in a great financial position to feed other people and I didn’t do it so I would feel good about myself. I simply recognized that everyone should be able to eat, shouldn’t they? And yet, so many don’t and we may watch them suffer because it seems easier to look away. For once, I had compassion, and I have to tell you, it did make me feel good. Mostly, it made me feel human.

photo credit: Breads via photopin (license)

Monday Lunch Madness

You know the scenario. It’s a whole string of events that bring you to this ever so delicate impasse: the realization that you do not have all the essentials to make your child’s school lunch.

And it’s all your fault.

If you don’t have a child, I imagine this could apply to you, solely, on any day, Monday or otherwise.

I was terribly busy all weekend and that grocery store visit evaded me. Yes, it did. All by itself! It’s amazing how this occurs. I drive by the grocery store and I’m lead to believe that it can be postponed. Whatever urgency I feel on any given day is re-adjusted to meet the more immediate need, like getting a smoothie. C’mon, you only live once. At least in this lifetime.

So, I’m making my child’s lunch and I realize I am out of the most critical essential: sandwich bags.

I’m lost without sandwich bags…

Sandwich bags
The sandwich bag box is dark and empty.

The sandwich-sized bags are gone. All that is left is the box of snack-sized bags. If you’ve used them before, you know that they are practically worthless. Worthless. I mean who invented these things? Is this supposed to be a joke? That bag isn’t remotely big enough for any necessary snack. I suppose it could hold a loose tooth or a coin.

You either buy these thinking they might possibly be a good idea, use a few and then have gads of them left, or you buy them by mistake, which is what happened to me.

I try with all my might to fit this item into the snack bag and this happens:

December 2014 282
You know you’re a blogger when, in the middle of a crisis, you document it.

Is your brain wondering why I don’t have this lunch-packing convenience?

A little too perfect if you ask me. Will the lids and containers really be together forever?

Just hold on a red-hot minute. In case you’re dreaming I should have one of these items, I don’t. I planned on buying one of these once, but didn’t get around to that either.

Instead, I must search through my darkened cupboards, pre-coffee I might add, and try to piece random plastics together. They’re close, but these two are not officially a couple.

Close, but not quite.

I hope my son won’t mind the pink lid. And, an apple has never been so perfect. No bag required:

An apple a day, but my son probably won’t eat it.

Finally, the sweet treat. The only option is animal cookies from our Costco purchase made six months ago. Maybe I can finally get rid of these:

It’s like a permanent fixture like the coffee maker or toaster oven. Please, someone eat these!

Since I cannot make any further lid-container connections, I must resort to the paper napkin. It’s kind of Hobbit-esque, don’t you think? My son can pretend it’s a leather satchel with a little healthy visualization:

I see a leather pouch with gold tassels.

The biggest challenge is scrunching it all into his lunchbox. I am almost positive he won’t notice the smashed sandwich that will undoubtedly fall out of its container.

As for a beverage, it’s called a water fountain.

Lunch success!

Tell me, do you have the perfect lunch-box organizer? Do you save your plastic bags? Have you had lunch?

photo credit: Sassy On the Go Feeding Set via photopin (license)

Pass the Salt

I left Shelly alone in my apartment. She was listless and cold to the touch. I had no choice. I needed to get back to my job and I left her lying on the couch with a blanket wrapped around her. This is how I thought I would find her when I returned.

Instead she’s up and about, dressed in my clothes. At least, I think they were my clothes. She was wearing red, shiny leggings and a yellow sequined bodice with dangling tassels. I recognized it as my disco get up of a Halloween costume from two years ago.

We’re approximately the same size and height,  so it’s not entirely unforeseen that she would look to my closet for a wardrobe option. But choosing this costume was a mystery. She was prettier than me, and undoubtedly, looked better in my clothes than I did. She was thin-waisted with an attractive bosom that she flaunted, usually revealing a hint of cleavage. I mention this because she was always on some kind of diet. A girl’s got to keep her figure.

Not today, apparently. She had her head in the refrigerator, rummaging around and lifting bottles of condiments, sniffing leftover food. Bottles and packages lined the counter top.

Her disco costume in the haloed light and the bevy of food items before her muddled my equilibrium. She was supposed to be on the couch, sick with a fever. A dim haze glowed around her with my eyes trying to adjust, still fuzzy from the outside light.

“What is this? God, girl. You need to clean your fridge. I thought I was bad,” she was eyeing what looked like old taco meat from at least three nights ago. She took a bite and began adding ingredients from the items on the counter.

“Looks like you’re helping me out with that,” I inched closer, vinegar wafting in my direction.

She opened a jar of spaghetti sauce and added he remainder to the taco meat and stirred. She took a bite and shook her head. “Needs more. More salt.”

Next, she opened a jar of green olives and let them slosh down her throat. With olive juices running down her neck, she tilted the jar even further. She washed that down with can of beef bouillon. While drinking her soup, she cracked the lid of can of sardines.

Sardines, since when did I have these in my cupboard?

The sardines slithered in her mouth, tossing them back.  She looked down at her bowl of the taco meat-spaghetti concoction and dove in with a big spoon. Between bites, she haphazardly added soy sauce, garlic sauce with hot chiles, ramen noodles, and lastly, yellow mustard.

“Salty enough for you?” My stomach churned violently, “What are you, pregnant?” I turned away, as she gulped bite after bite without chewing. She reached for a jar of pickles.

“There’s no chance of that,” she said, her mouth full. “So, you still want to go to dinner?”

“Let me just go throw up first,” the retching imminent now.

“Yeah, sure. Whatever you need to do to get ready. You mind passing me those pickles over there?”

photo credit: mtsofan via photo pin cc