Our new Retaining Wall

Kyle and I just returned from our inaugural camping trip as a couple to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary.  I’d love to tell you about that experience – it was memorable for all kinds of reasons.  And I’d love to recount my visit with family and friends in Michigan during which I met my nephew Reuben, celebrated my parents’ 40th Wedding Anniversary with a renewal of their vows, and attended my college friend, Oven’s, wedding, but those tales will all have to wait.  What I really need to catch you up on is our retaining wall project.

We had high hopes of finishing all kinds of projects in our yard this summer.  Three to be exact: building a retaining wall along the side of our fence, putting in a patio so we can have an outdoor dining area, and putting up a shed.  It’s important to dream big, right?  All we finished (well, sort of finished) was the retaining wall.

Kyle’s brother, Tyler, has been in town this summer in between semesters of Dental School.  In fact, he’ll be in Seattle for the next two years, which we’re really excited about so we can hang out with him and his girlfriend Jess who is starting a Dental Hygiene program in Seattle in the fall.   Tyler was looking for work for the summer and is a good, hard worker, so we hired him on to help with our retaining wall.

Here’s what it looked like before we started:


Tyler did all of the prep work for the wall which started with digging out the grass and weeds and making a nice long trench.

That first day, we also got a couple of yards of gravel delivered.

Tyler singlehandedly shoveled most of the gravel from the driveway up to the wheelbarrow (which was up the steps from the driveway), and wheeled it to the backyard.

Look at that positive attitude! 🙂

That’s SUPER HARD WORK!

Kyle was able to come home fairly early each day so he could help, too.  He couldn’t have been that productive at work with all the phone calls and questions we bothered him with throughout the day anyway. 🙂

Most of the project was completed with good ol’ fashioned shovels, and man-powered tools, but Kyle’s dad let us borrow his “Jumping Jack” compactor.  It was a bear to lift up our steps to get it into the backyard, and it was a bear start.  Once Tyler got it up and running, it continued to be fickle and every once in awhile would seem to take off on a shot, making it really difficult to control.  You should have heard Tyler’s yell of surprise everytime it took off like it did here:

On the second day, I joined in and helped with some general stuff in the yard.  We knew we’d have to do a dump run or two, so I took advantage of that and took out a bunch of weeds and huge portions of plants we didn’t want.  Tyler worked on digging out the tougher stumps and random rocks placed throughout our yard and continued working on the wall itself.  We got our delivery of three palates of retaining wall stones that day.  I’m very proud to report that I singlehandedly moved one and a half palates of the stone from the driveway to the backyard.  Here’s my victory photo from when I emptied the first palate:

Once that bottom layer of stone is down, things move pretty quickly.  So, by the end of day two, things were looking pretty good!

Kyle’s parents (and their dog, Shelby) came over for dinner that night to check out the progress.  Everyone pitched in a little bit, and we, of course, rewarded our hard work with delicious carne asada tacos and Bonbon S’Mores.  Ah…the satisfaction of standing on your own work. 🙂

With considerably less hours on the third day, the wall was done.

Now, we just have to figure out what we want to plant in it!! (Hence, the “almost done” feeling.)   At this point, we’ll probably just wait until next year to do the planting, but plan to at least put down some mulch so it’s not covered in weeds by that time.  Let us know if you have any suggestions for what to plant!  There’s really nice full sun up by the garden beds, and about three-quarters of the way to back of the yard, it becomes shadier.

Thanks Tyler, for all your hard work.  We definitely couldn’t have accomplished this without you.

Bonbon S’Mores

I have a tendency in life to make simple things complicated.  Take, graham crackers, for instance.  It’s something you usually buy from the store, right?  And then turn into an ooey gooey chocolately marshmallowy summertime treat…

Well, I did that, but I made the graham crackers.  And then I turned them into an ooey gooey chocolately marshmallowy *frozen* summertime treat.

It started just like any baking endeavor begins: flour, sugar, baking powder, salt…

Look carefully in the background and you can see the bird about to approach the feeder!

Oh!  And butter, of course!

The recipe called for a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, which I don’t own. So, I just used one of my trusted wooden spoons.

When stirring alone didn’t seem to work the mixture into coarse crumbs, I had to pull out my pastry blender.  Bet you’ve never seen one like this before!

(It’s the kind my mom had when I was growing up.  One year for Christmas, she gave each of her kids one in our stockings.)

Once I got the mixture to resemble coarse crumbs, as prescribed by the recipe,  I added molasses and water and had to stir and stir until the dough formed a ball.  You know how you always get to that point while stirring where you think it’ll never come together?  That’s what I felt like right about here:

Some of the dough is obviously coming together, but there’s that last little bit of crumbs at the bottom of the bowl that just don’t want to combine.  Gahh!

And then, just like magic, the unruly doughy/powdery mixture becomes a ball and the insides of the bowl begin to gleam with the buttery dough.From here, I had to divide the dough in two, pat it out, and cover it in plastic so it could chill out in the fridge for awhile.

(Oh – as a quick side note: I was making these for a crowd, so I had to double the recipe.  I probably could/should have divided my dough into four so I could later roll out smaller sheets of graham cracker cookies, but I thought it would save time to just do the two large sheets and it worked fine.)

Once chilled, I rolled the sheets out really thinly between parchment paper.

Next, after 15 minutes in the freezer, I cut the dough into 2-inch squares and gave them the classic graham cracker look with several pricks from a fork.

About 17 minutes later, they came out of the oven looking like this:

Mostly the same, but they poofed up a tiny bit and have a little brown around the edges.  🙂

Once cool, I could start breaking them apart by hand.

At this point, after several more minutes in the freezer to chill the squares, I was finally able to start working on the ooey gooey part.  Marshmallow fluff goes on the inside of one of the cookies.

And softened ice cream goes on the inside of the other cookie.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the smaller container of ice cream seen in the background of these photos, one of our guests can’t have dairy, so I made his with a store-bought graham cracker and soy ice cream.  Can you tell which one is his in the picture above?  🙂  (Bottom right-hand corner)

Very gently, but with a firm hand, the two sides of the cookie sandwich come together.  It’s amazingly difficult to get them to stay in place.  I wish they stayed looking like this throughout their 30-minute visit in the freezer.

In case you’re curious, the issue was that the ice cream became soft enough that it seeped out the edges of the sandwich and all over the parchment paper.  The marshmallow creme hardens just enough that the two textures didn’t really freeze together.  Fortunately, even after a half an hour in the freezer, that meant I could still separate the two sides, scoop the once softened and now semi-frozen ice cream off the parchment paper and back onto the cookie.

So, the last (and most difficult) step comes next.

These

became this with just a few minutes in the microwave and a couple strokes of my spoon.

And, then, after some tricky dips and turns in the chocolate bath, the Bonbon S’mores were ready for their final firming freeze.

It’s pretty obvious to tell which ones I did first, isn’t it? 🙂  It gets increasingly difficult to dip the whole sandwich into the chocolate as time goes on because the chocolate hardens a bit and the ice cream begins melting again.  You have to work really quickly!  And, the other trick is to have A LOT of chocolate, which unfortunately means that at the end of the project, there’s a lot leftover that just goes in the compost.

In any case, after years of having cut out this recipe from a random Rachel Ray magazine that I had around, I’m glad to have finally made them and tried my hand at turning yet another simple thing in life – the S’more with store-bought graham crackers – into a rather complicated and time consuming Bonbon S’more with homemade graham cracker cookies.

This ooey gooey chocolatey marshmallowy *frozen* treat was enjoyed by all!

In case you want to try your hand at this, I found that  the recipe is already online.  Just follow this link.  Enjoy!

The arrival of summer

First, a few updates:

1)  The garden has been a success.  We’ve eaten all of our lettuce and spinach and I’ve harvested all of our carrots, which we’re slowly making our way through.

(In the garden bed closest to the house, can you see the gap from where all the greens and carrots were??)  We’ve been eating our peas and strawberries and are waiting on the tomatoes, tomatillos, and squash.  We lost our cucumber early on, I’ll definitely have to replant our peppers if we really want to eat them, and I can’t quite decide if I’m going to start some of our herbs again.  (Our basil never took off – probably because I put it outside too early – and the cilantro bolted.)

Overall, it’s been a really good experience for our first garden.  We learned a lot, and have some good ideas for next year.  We’re still in the midst of a great debate about whether we should use starts or seeds next year.  Any advice??

2) I completed the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in 1 hour and 59 minutes on June 25th.

!!!

It feels like such a great accomplishment.  I’ve stayed away from running since then since I really did my knee in on the day of the run.  I’m still undecided about whether it’s something I’ve checked off of my bucket list, or if I’m game for another race.  Kyle is really inspired to get back into running so he can do the ½ next year, so that’s tempting to be able to run with him.  Speaking of running with someone – I did end up running with the same guy the entire 13 miles!  I noticed within the first mile that I could always see him from the corner of my eye, so I said, “I like your pace” and we chatted for a bit and then stuck with each other throughout the run.  He was from Germany and works for Brooks (which is one of the companies that sponsored the run).  Apparently, he was one of the few visiting from Germany who actually ran the course.  Most of his co-workers ended up working.  Every time I think about the run, I realize how important he was to helping me stick with it and carry on – especially since my knee started hurting between miles 5 and 6.  You can probably spot him in a few of the photos on this link.  (He’s wearing a black shirt with yellow on it.)  If not, you can definitely see him in this photo taken by Kyle’s mom. It’s a little bit like playing “Where’s Waldo” to find me in this photo. 🙂

I’m glad to have the race behind me and looking forward to staying fit and healthy in ways other than running for the rest of the summer. 🙂

 

Summer officially began for me a few days before the ½ Marathon, but I took a 4-day class the week afterwards, so it didn’t really feel like I was done with school work until June 30th at 4pm.

My biggest accomplishments of the summer thus far are doing tons of yard work and frying myself in the sun at the beach on the first 80+ degree day we had.  (Needless to say, I didn’t return to the beach the next day.  As luck would have it, now our weather has turned and there are no 80 degree days on the radar over the next 2 weeks of forecasts.  In fact, right now, it’s cloudy and misting outside.)

In honor of summer, I’d like to be more diligent about posting on the blog.  I can keep you updated on the progress of our upcoming yard work.  We’re hiring Kyle’s brother, Tyler, to help us with a bunch of stuff next week.  The main project will be putting in a retaining wall along the side of our fence in the backyard.  We’re also hoping to make a patio next to our solarium so we can have an outdoor dining area.  Later in the summer, Kyle is planning to build a shed in our backyard.  My big project will be to continue to weed and prune, which feels like a never ending job, so it’s a good thing I find it rewarding and addictive to work in the yard.

We’re making a trip to Guemes in a couple weekends, I’ll be in MI for a week meeting our newest family member, Reuben, who was born to my sister Katy’s family on May 12, celebrating my parents 40th wedding anniversary and renewal of vows, and having a mini reunion with my college friends as we celebrate our friend, Oven’s, wedding.

Kyle and I will also be taking our first camping trip together for our 3rd Anniversary at Big Arm State Park in Montana.

So, stay tuned.  And – for your sake, we better hope for a few more of these chilly and drizzly days so I actually get to those updates.  Assume I’m at the beach, working in the yard, or cooking something delicious if the blog stays quiet for awhile.

Happy Summer!

 

 

 

 

 

The garden

I’ve been wanting to tell you about our garden for awhile.  We moved into our house about this time last year and never really felt like we had the time or space in our minds to think about the yard since we were mainly focusing on getting our things settled inside the house.  So, this year, we have been super excited about the prospect of being more thoughtful about our edibles.

We started by getting all of our fruit trees structurally pruned by a professional tree service company last winter.  Had we timed these photos right, we could have shown you what they looked like in the prime time of their flowering.  But, here’s what they all look like as of May 22:

Plum Tree

Pear Tree

Apple Tree (with our new bird feeder!)

Our 2nd apple tree

Two Cherry Trees

Two Cherries


We’re really hoping to take advantage of our fruit this year.  We pretty much missed all of our plums last year. ( think I ate one.)  All of our pears were WAY to high to try to pick.  At one point we had considered trying to pick them through the upstairs bedroom window, but they were still out of reach. The ones we found on the ground always looked like they would have been pretty good.  All our cherries went to the birds.  Every single one of our grapes went to the raccoons.  I at least managed to make a good sampling of baked apple treats.  So, like I said, we’re hoping for better luck this year!

Oh. I almost forgot to show  you our nicely pruned grapes.  We did both of these vines on our own. 🙂

We ended up buying all of our starts for the garden at two different times.  In April, we planted:

  • peas
  • carrots
  • spinach
  • romaine
  • red leaf lettuce

and pot of italian flat leaf parsley, sage, and thyme.

(In case you’re wondering why our parsley looks so measely, it’s becuase I’ve already used a huge amount of it for a chimmichurri sauce.  And – don’t you worry about that mint.  It made it into our inaugural summer mojitos and they were good enough to repeat throughout the season.)

Last weekend, we finished our planting with:

  • tomatoes (grape, roma, and tomatillos)

  • jalapenos
  • serranos
  • cucumber
  • zucchini
  • yellow squash
  • delicata squash

And, we added another pot of herbs with basil and cilantro.

We also finally got rid of a bunch of the strawberries that had been planted in one of the garden beds when we moved in.  So, we’re down to 1/3 of what had been there.

It wouldn’t be right to leave out a picture or two of some of the flowers we put in the planters coming up our front steps.

Nor could we leave out a photo of our new pride and joy:

Our rain barrel!!

Here’s hoping for a warm summer! 🙂

If only those new shoes made everything better…

I may have gotten a little overly ambitious on March 20th when I signed up for the Rock ‘N’ Roll Half-Marathon.  (In my defense, Kyle was right there with me encouraging me to do it, so it wasn’t a rash decision…)

If you didn’t read my last post, you should start there.  It gives you a little history about my recent knee problem.

Long story short: I’m doing Physical Therapy 2 days a week right now.  There isn’t a real diagnosis except that I have pretty poor tracking in my kneecaps (with too much lateral movement to the outside of my knee).  So, any type of repetitive activities (i.e. walking, biking, running, being on a machine at the gym, doing workout videos – in other words, ALL of the things I do to stay active and healthy) have a tendency to cause inflammation and pain in my knee(s). (It’s my  left knee that was really giving me problems, but the right knee isn’t exactly a perfect specimen, either.)

The exercises they have me doing will help improve stability and strengthen the muscles in the inside of my knee to help pull the patella in/up instead of out to the side.

When I first arrive for my appointments, they do some ultrasound to heat up the tissue around my knee.  Then the therapist does some stretching of my kneecap – inwards, to sort of train it to go the right direction – and then I get taped up and look like this:

I do my PT exercises with the tape, which is, when first applied, pulling my kneecaps tightly in towards the center of my knees.  The tape stays on for a couple of days, so it feels pretty weird.  Not to mention, as the days goes on and the tape shimmies around a bit, it reveals the sticky residue on my skin, which then collects all of the fuzzies from the inside of my pants.

I’m really glad that I took the initiative to call my doctor and see if he thought I should go to PT for this, because it’s obvious that I need a trained individual to help me make gains.  But I’ll tell ya….it is SOOOOO hard to not be able to do all of the things I normally do.

Right now, I’m restricted to only using the bike at the gym and at a really low resistance.  (Like…3.)  The rule of thumb is that I’m only allowed to work myself hard enough to the point where I feel a very faint dull ache with no real pain.  The point – as I understand it –  is to build up the body memory in my tissues and ligaments and stuff so my body knows what repetitive motion for a long period of time feels like.  Then, slowly, I can add resistance (and I imagine more types of machines and outdoor exercise) as I can tolerate it with zero pain.

I’m not even allowed to take a long “exercise” walk outside right now.  It was recommended that I try only 30 minutes.  And, maybe do that with a brace, with superfeet inside my new “good” shoes, ONLY on flat services.  (No trails.)  (Personally, I think I can handle walking farther, longer, and without all those supports right now, but, I’m a rule follower and would have a hard time NOT taking the advice of my Physical Therapist.)  So, instead, I’ll just complain about it. 🙂

This is REALLY hard for me to take.  Plus, there’s the REALLY BIG chance that I wouldn’t actually be able to run the half-marathon this summer, which in case you didn’t peruse the website in great depth to find this out, is a non-refundable, non-transferable registration.  So, it feels like I jumped the gun in paying the big bucks to participate.  I know that if nothing else, I think  would be able to walk it.  (Or maybe run/walk???)

Anyone out there have an encouraging story of healing quickly from an injury??  I’d love to have a positive anchor to hold onto during my slow-going therapy.

I just keep thinking, “If only those new shoes made everything better….”

New shoes

I know I told you awhile back about how I’m so thankful that my two greatest hobbies – cooking/eating & working out – go together so nicely.  I really hate the feeling when I realize those two hobbies have become unbalanced.  Recently my left knee has been giving me enough pain that I very consciously have had to say no to working out (or at least to the level of activity that I would hope to be doing.)  It’s meant no running and on days like last Thursday, no gym.  😦

The most frustrating part is that I have no idea what went wrong or how I became injured in the first place.  I can pinpoint a run I went on in Michigan over Christmas break as being a time when I noticed a lot of pain, but unfortunately kept pushing myself and probably made things much worse than they needed to be.  When I really stop to think, though, it goes back to a time at the gym a year or so ago when I was on a stationary bicycle and had to stop mid-workout because I was in such pain.

Kyle did some online research for me and decided that I need to be stretching my IT band muscles to begin to make amends in my body.  So, we researched a little further to find some stretches that would do just that and I’ve done them on 2 or 3 occasions.  I honestly can’t tell if it’s the right type of stretching or not.  I’m thinking if it doesn’t help (or it makes things feel even worse) I’ll probably be calling up a physical therapist in the near future.

In the meantime, one of the other things we realized I have quite a bit of control over is making sure I’m wearing the right shoes when I work out.  Kyle and I usually shop at your average sports store to get our athletic shoes and mainly choose our shoes without the help of a salesperson based on our personal brand preferences, how cool the shoe looks, the price, and then of course, that “little” factor of how they feel when you put them on.  Needless to say, I think I go through shoes about once every six months, but could really be replacing them much sooner than that because they’re not the best  quality.

So, as one of my birthday presents, Kyle got me a gift certification to Super Jock n’ Jill, one of our local athletic stores devoted mostly to running and walking.  They are well known for helping you select appropriate athletic shoes for your needs.  Think personal shopper and gives you a glimpse into what it feels like to be a customer there.  Your “salesperson” is acting like a personal shopper to get you the best shoe for your needs.

We went in this afternoon and I walked out smiling from ear to ear and being super chatty about what a positive and worthwhile experience it was (and thanking Kyle profusely for my gift certificate because it’s not something I ever would have done on my own accord.)

When I walked in, one of the sales people greeted me and immediately got me into a pair of “diagnostic shoes”.  Then he had me walk and jog down the short length of  the store so he could watch my pronation.  Based on his observation, he thought I would be a person who would benefit from a medium level of support from my shoes so he brought out a handful of options for me to try.

One of my favorite things about the whole experience is that the salesperson did all the choosing.  He was using his knowledge of how the shoes are made and the kind of support they provide in order to try to fit me with the best option for my needs.  He would have me put different shoes on each foot and then go outside and try walking/running in them so I could figure out which one I liked better.  Based on my preference, I would keep my preferred shoe on and tried another one on the other foot.  Eventually, we got down to the point of having the matched pair of my preferred shoes on to make sure it was a good fit.

I had this thought afterwards about how opposite this experience is to your typical shoe shopping experience.  Typically, we walk into a shoe store and go for the shoes that look the coolest to us.  Then, based on appearance, we decide to try them on and if they feel good, we buy them.  Shopping for shoes today was exactly the opposite.  We shopped solely by the way they felt.  There was absolutely no thought about what the shoes looked like.  They’re blue and your favorite color is red – who cares?  They’re mesh and you prefer something more solid – oh well!  The ONLY thing that mattered was what they felt like when they were on your feet and you were walking or running in them.  (And to be honest – it wouldn’t have really mattered which shoe I ended up with because they all looked cool in that sporty way.)  🙂

It was really obvious that the salesperson isn’t there to sell you the most expensive or most trendy shoes.  Like I described earlier, his job is to be more like a personal shopper find the best match for each of his customers.  They also have an awesome guarantee that if you get your shoes home and start wearing them and you discover that they’re just not working out, you can bring them back – no matter how dirty they are – and they’ll work to get you fitted with something better.

I guess all I’m saying is that I walked away feeling really satisfied with my purchase.  It felt like a really well thought-out purchase that had my best interests in mind.

While I know that my shoes can’t be the sole cause of my knee pain when exercising, I feel pretty good knowing that what I have now is far more superior than my last pair of shoes.  I think I instantaneously become a strong supporter of shopping in stores like Jock n’ Jill where your shoes are custom fitted to your needs.

Thanks again, Kyle, for gifting me in such a unique way.  I loved picking out my new shoes today!

Top 5 Most Memorable Meals

My sister, Katy, loves to ask this question about what your top 5 most memorable meals have been.  There are no requirements for the type of meal – it can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack – and it doesn’t matter whether you were dining in or eating out.  I still haven’t made it to my top 5 yet, but I just got to add #3 to my list last weekend.

My family occasionally had fondue for special occasion dinners when I was growing up.  It was always something I looked forward to and thought was fun, but looking back, it was a pretty basic meal.  I remember that we always had steak and chicken and we cooked them in oil.  We used simple dipping sauces like Heinz 57 and A-1 Steak Sauce.  I’m sure we had sides, too, but to honest, I don’t remember them.  Maybe potatoes of some sort…???  For me, the fun was in the main course.  I loved skewering the meat onto those long forks with the colored knobs on the end so you know whose is whose.  When I’d check on the progress of the cooking meat, sometimes the oil would sputter and a droplet would land on my hand and make me flinch in a momentary state of pain.  But then I’d be right back at it to get my next piece of meat cooked.

It wasn’t until my brother, Ben, started dating his now-wife, Heather, that I realized fondue could be more than meat cooked in oil.  Heather’s family is famous for fondue and particularly the cheese variety.  Heather made us a cheese fondue in Ben’s apartment when I was in high school and at the time – no offense Heather – I really didn’t like it.  The cheeses seemed heavy and overt and it was made with wine.  I couldn’t stand the smell of wine at the time, so I was sure that was part of the reason I didn’t like the taste of the fondue.  My palate has definitely matured since then and now I really enjoy both the smell and taste of wine.  (Maybe not as much as my mom, though.  As a side note – last summer, we were dreaming up a t-shirt for my mom that would say, “I love wine” on the front, maybe in the same style as one of those I ❤ NY t-shirts.  The back of her wine shirt was going to say, “But, I HATE texting.”  Random, yes, but very funny for her children.)

My palate has matured in more ways than simply enjoying wine.  Over Christmas vacation in MI this year, we had a family feast of fondue including oil, cheese, AND chocolate.  It was quite the event and really yummy so it got me thinking about an interest I had last year in trying out the Melting Pot for my birthday.  Ultimately, I ended up having pasta out at these AWESOME restaurant called Bizarro last year.  Since I was still thinking about Melting Pot this year, Kyle and I decided to lock it down and make reservations for my birthday.

I studied the menu for several weeks prior to my big day.  At first I was trying to decide if it would be worth it to do their 4-course dinner combination (in honor of Valentine’s Day) or if we would just end up ordering things a la carte.  We ultimately decided upon the latter and took the good money saving advice from our [really amazing] server on how to get a little bit more meat (by purchasing a side order) so we only needed to buy one entrée to go along with our cheese fondue, bottle of wine, and chocolate fondue.

So – this is what we ended up with:

  • The Wisconsin Blend for our cheese.  It had fontina, another cheese I hadn’t heard of, and then bleu added in at the end.  It was served with veggies (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower), granny smith apples, and bread (rosemary, white (I think) and honey wheat).
  • One Cesar Salad (that came with our entrée.) It had Parmesan crusted pine nuts on it, which I’d never had before!  And – our server had it split for us onto two plates.  We didn’t even have to ask him to do that.
  • The Filet Mignon Entrée with the Coq au Vin cooking style.  The entrée came with Portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and a vegetable bowl containing red potatoes, button mushrooms, and broccoli.  We also got a side of chicken.  The dipping sauces included one that was sort of a like a sour cream/herb dip for the veggies, a gorgonzola sauce for the filet, and then a trio of  extra sauces including  teriyaki, sweet and sour, and a curry sauce.  They were all super tasty.
  • The Original Chocolate Fondue, which had a touch of peanut butter swirled into it.  The dessert comes with strawberries, bananas, cheesecake, brownies, pound cake, rice krispie treats, regular marshmallows and chocolate marshmallows.

 

It was INCREDIBLE.  I should have had a clicker counter to find out how many times I said things like, “MMMmmmm.”  “Oh man!”  And “This is sooooo good!”  I felt like Bob on the movie, “What About Bob?”  At one point, Kyle got up to use the restroom, and I realized while he was gone, that I was continuing to make all of those audible noises while eating.  Kyle kept trying to ask what exactly was so good about it and I think it was a number of things.  First of all, it did taste delicious.  It was a yummy combination of flavors that I don’t typically make at home, so it seemed like a genuine treat, even though the meal as a whole was composed of very simple and straight forward ingredients.  (That is, by the way, my favorite type of cooking – turning simple, straight forward ingredients into combinations that make your meal feel like an intricate and beautiful feast of alluring flavors.)

In addition to the tastiness of the Melting Pot, you have to admit that the ambiance is overwhelming important.  When you’re there with one person – who happens to be the love of your life – in a cozy booth built for two, your dining experience quickly turns into a personable and private meal.  We were actually tucked away around a corner back by the door to the kitchen, but we had a view down the short hallway to the area where larger parties were dining.  I could tell that looked just as fun, but in a totally different way.  I would definitely consider going back with a group sometime when I’m looking for a fun and festive dining out experience.

The number one reason that I loved this meal enough to add it onto my list of most memorable meals is the pace of it all.  I loved that everything we ate was already bite sized so there wasn’t any temptation to stuff large quantities into your mouth and spend what feels like eternity chewing so it breaks down to a small enough size that you can gulp everything down in a swallow (or three).  Eating in small bites encourages you to truly taste and enjoy your food.  I like lingering over meals, too.  While “TV dinner night” have their place in life, my favorite part of meals these days is the community aspect of it.  It’s the time spent talking around the table, even after the food is all gone, that is so important and life giving.  Since slowness is expected at the Melting Pot, and you don’t feel any rush to leave so you can open up your table for the next set of diners, it’s an ideal place to really hunker down and savor the experience.  So, savor we did.

Oh – and the cherry on top??  They brought out a special little dessert plate for me along with the rest of the chocolate fondue.  It had three chocolate dipped strawberries ( one white, one milk, and one dark) and another couple brownie chunks with a candle in one of them.  Apparently the surprised look on my face was priceless.  J  What a treat!!

So – there you have it.  The Melting Pot Dinner for my 28th birthday has officially gone down in the record books as one of my top 5 meals.

(One of these days, I’ll try to remember to describe the other two meals that I have officially deemed most memorable.  They include Mama’s Fish House in Maui from our honeymoon trip and the Waffle House in Tennessee on the road trip that Katy and I took to meet our parents in Florida for Spring Break one year.  The Waffle House story might prompt me to also write about a recent experience that Kyle and I had at IHOP for breakfast and the bookend experiences on either side of that meal – church beforehand and the asian market after the meal.)

Oh – and another fun thing: I get to go out for Italian again this year for my birthday celebration with Kyle’s parents.  We’re checking out a little neighborhood joint, right down the street from our house called Café Piccolo.