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Gettin’ real at Sichuan Gourmet

Gettin’ real at Sichuan Gourmet

Although I’m not tripping over myself to devour scorpions and fermented shark meat, I do think I qualify as an “adventurous eater.” When encountering a new-to-me cuisine (or variation of a cuisine), I’m eager to pick random things on the menu, no idea what they are, and be surprised by the outcome. This is how I ended up paying 15 Euro for a plate of hash browns in Switzerland. “Roesti” sounded like something FUN, but no, it’s just potatoes. Good potatoes, but not 15 Euro potatoes.

The buzz on the street about Sichuan Gourmet is that it features “authentic” Chinese food. I find the description somewhat troubling, as China is so massive that there is certainly more than 1 “authentic,” and also, I’ve never been to China nor do I have any other such cultural exposure to qualify me to judge what is “authentic.” I noticed when we walked in that maybe 20% of the dining room was speaking English, so I took this as an auspicious sign for a good meal.

Sichuan Gourmet

I like that they’ve got 2 menus: a Sichuan menu and an American menu. The Sichuan menu has all kinds of traditional dishes. The American menu features the typical American “Chinese” dishes, such as General Tso’s chicken, lo mein, fried rice, etc. We, of course, ordered fairly blindly off the Chinese menu. I am pleased to say it worked out very well.

Chicken hot pan
Mr. Beez ordered a chicken hot pan, which sizzles and cooks right on the table top. It looked very good, but it was full of hot peppers. I am a wimp and can’t take the heat, so I didn’t eat any. He did report that he enjoyed it thoroughly.

Basil Chicken
The Basil Chicken was sweet and strong with garlic and basil. All around excellent.

Baby bok Choy and black mushrooms
I loved this dish of baby bok choy and black mushrooms. The bok choy was steamed and the mushrooms had a sauce, but were not heavy with it. It had the saltiness I expect from Chinese food, but without so much oil and heaviness.

Steamed Whole Fish

We also went all out and got a steamed whole fish, which was just fantastic. If I’m going to order fish, I want a head on my plate. I don’t eat the head, I just want the satisfaction of staring into my opponent’s eyes. This fish was flaky and flavorfully stuffed with ginger. The sauce was not overpowering. My mom and I shared the dish, but I am a glutton and probably could have eaten the whole thing.

The meal was more expensive than our usually Chinese take out bill, but the quality was high and the service attentive. The servers are all business and not very chatty, which is just fine with me. I like that they have some huge tables and also a private room, this could be a fun place to take a book club or just go out to dinner with a big group of friends.

Sichuan Gourmet on Urbanspoon

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Exploring THE ROCK

Exploring THE ROCK

It’s a little heartbreaking that our vacation is well over, and with the exception of a 2 day firm retreat to Cleveland next week (full of meetings, not adventuring), I’m not going anywhere fun in the near future. As is typical after vacation, I returned to a chaotic workload and not nearly enough time to get everything done. Add on top of that the myriad tasks that go along with settling into a new house and selling an old one, I’m surprised I haven’t completely lost my mind. I’m close though.

The one activity I was looking forward to the absolute most on our vacation was our tour of Alcatraz Penitentiary, better known as THE ROCK. I’ve visited San Francisco many times in my life, but never have I had the foresight or organization to buy Alcatraz tour tickets in advance. You can’t just stroll in and buy same-day tickets. They sell out a few weeks in advance. As soon as I knew we’d be spending part of our vacation in San Fran, I booked our trip.

View of San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz

View of San Francisco on the boat to Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Alcatraz


The first part of the tour is the ferry ride over to the island. My kid LOVES all modes of transportation, so she was pretty jazzed to be riding on a boat. The bay is extremely windy, and since it was a hot day, this felt pretty comfortable. The boat ride is only about 10 minutes, which is just enough time for it to be fun, but not long enough to get boring.

Happy campers on our way to prison

Happy campers on our way to prison

alcatraz

We got to the island and had a short orientation about where to find things. I was really hoping to tour the island and prison with a live guide, but instead the tour is self-guided with a headphone device. Fair warning: a self-guided tour with a 3 y.o. who refuses to wear the headphones is torturous. She quickly got bored, and I was NOT about to ditch this activity because she was bored/tired/bratty. So I guided myself through much of the tour, carrying her and gritting through my teeth “You WILL be quiet and behave or so help me.”

Child, I may leave you here.

Child, I may leave you here.


Touring the prison was fascinating. Alcatraz is a lot smaller than I imagined. There were only a total of about 1500 inmates who were housed here during its years of operation. The cells of course were very small, and the whole prison was designed in the panopticon model. Back in college, one of my literature professors had a couple lectures on the panopticon, so I was very excited to dust the cobwebs off of my education and feel s-m-r-t.

alcatraz

Alcatraz lighthouse

Alcatraz rec yard

More than anything, the tour made me sad. The audio tour gave the impression that Alcatraz’ conditions were barbaric and a thing of the past. It suggested that the modern penal model is focused on rehabilitation more than punitive measures. Given several cases I’ve handled recently dealing with inmate civil rights, however, I can tell you that the housing conditions at Alcatraz are fairly reflective of the modern conditions in many restrictive housing units (and in some ways Alcatraz may be a more comfortable living situation, in light of the Department of Justice’s recent findings concerning the Pennsylvania DOC’s use of restrictive housing on mentally ill inmates.) It made me sad to think that all the tourists don’t realize that these conditions aren’t actually a thing of the past, but actually a view of confinement conditions that still exist.

Alcatraz Prison

I was hoping that the tour would be ghost-story spooky, but unfortunately there were no such scary tales. Nonetheless, it was a tour absolutely worth taking. Had my kid been older and better behaved, it would have been a great opportunity to talk about social expectations, the need for law and order, and also the importance of treating every person with dignity and humanity.

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Home sweet (new) home!

All the furniture and boxes are moved into the new house, and some additional new furniture and the washer/dryer are being delivered today. There is lots of unpacking to do, but we’re on our way to normal. There have been a few minor but easily repaired hiccups, but in general the move has been smooth. Last night was our first sleep in the new (air conditioned!) house. Baby Beez was so excited to take a bath in her brand new bathtub, and was just so excited in general that she would.not.go.to.sleep.

There are a few things this house has that we sorely lacked in the old place. First off: closet and cabinet space! So much space to store our things! Our things are not spilling out everywhere! Hooray!

Also, there is a lot of blank wall space, which we just did not have in the old place. We own some framed pictures, but not a whole lot. There have been a few items I’ve wanted for a while, but never bought because I had no place to put them. Now I can go from window-shopping to real shopping, and get this place jazzed up a bit. The only room with a theme in this house is Baby Beez’ bathroom. I managed to convince her to accept a fishies themed bathroom instead of a princess bathroom. Everything else I’m taking the approach of just decorating with things we love. And here are some things I love:

Tugboat Printshop

Tugboat is based in Lawrenceville and makes just gorgeous prints. I’ve been eying the prints for years and have never committed to plunk down the cash. The prints are all limited editions, which means that due to my own failure to commit, I missed out on getting a print of my all time favorite of theirs: The Big Bad Wolf.

big bad wolf

I love this print SO MUCH, and actually visited the printshop when they were down to their last 2 or 3 prints, but didn’t take the plunge because it was expensive. I regret that so much now, because I realize it would have totally been worth the cost. Hopefully they will someday do a reprint.

Even though I can’t get my #1 favorite, there are some runners-up that I really like, and will likely pick one for our house.

Crystal Skull.

crystalskull_woodcut

Robin & Juniper

robinandjuniper_woodcutprint_tbps

Ruby Red Rose

rubyredrose_print_snow

I’m also planning to get a Mapsburgh Pittsburgh Fantasy Map print. I think this would be fun to hang in Baby Beez’ room because she loves Lord of the Rings. Mapsburgh also does Pgh neighborhood cutouts. Although Mt Washington isn’t on his list currently, I could commission it. That could be a fun piece for the dining room/living area.

Pittsburgh Fantasy map

I absolutely love this Pittsburgh Coffee Break print by smalltower. I have long considered buying it to hang in my office, especially because the building I work in (Oxford Centre) is featured in it. I think with its brightness and cheeriness, it would fit well in our kitchen.

Pittsburgh Coffee break

We also have some family photos and documents which have long been sitting in storage, waiting to hang. I don’t plan to go out and buy prints just for the purpose of filling the walls, but it is so nice to finally have the wall space that when a print really speaks to me, I can actually buy it and know I will be able to find a place for it.

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And we’re back! So now you have to suffer through the pictures.

And we’re back! So now you have to suffer through the pictures.

We arrived back in the ‘burgh at the fine hour of 6am today, took a nap, and got right to business with getting things moved into the new house. By Wednesday, we’ll be outta this old place. I’m so excited!

Our vacation was full of the unexpected. I anticipated that our visit to my dad and stepmom would be very similar to my summer visits in college. I remember we sat around a lot, watched TV, read books and really didn’t do much of anything. I remember being bored. Now I suspect that those bored visits were a remnant of my high school attitude of “everything sucks.” During this visit, we had plenty to do! We did manage to fit in a few minutes here and there to relax, but spent most of the days out and about. We ate well, drank well and did lots of fun things. It was a great visit.

The sights– A jet boat tour of the Rogue River and Hellgate Canyon

Hellgate Canyon

Hellgate Canyon

Jet Boat

The eats: Dinner and brews at Standing Stone brewery, cheeses at the Rogue Creamery, wine tasting at Southern Oregon vineyards and of course, the 4oJ wouldn’t be complete without jello pretzel salad!

photo 5(2)

Standing Stone Brewery

Rogue Creamery


Eagle Point winery

Ledger David winery

Jello Pretzel Salad

And the ACTIVITEEEZ: Splash park! Visiting the horses on a farm! Hanging out with family! The Eagle Point 4th of July 5k Race and Parade!

Central Point splash park

Gavel Ranch

Cousins


Eagle Point 5k


Eagle Point Parade

Eagle Point Parade

photo 5(3)

Fourth of July

Hopscotch

Cousins

‘murrica!

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The Week We’ve been Waiting For #VACATIONALLIEVERWANTED

The Week We’ve been Waiting For #VACATIONALLIEVERWANTED

It’s been quite a week. We closed on our new house on Friday, left for vacation first thing on Saturday morning, and when we get home from vacation on Sunday, we move right into the new house. Normally I don’t say anything about being on vacation until I’m already back, but all our stuff is packed in a POD, so there isn’t anything in either our new or our old house, anyway.

This year’s vacation has been a low-key visit with family. Because we had a 5:40 am flight out of the ‘burgh, we decided to stay overnight at the hotel at the airport. I took Baby Beez for a swim, and was very successful at tiring that kid ahhhhht (wonderful result: she was so tired that she slept through most of the morning’s flight).

Swimming

We flew in to San Francisco to spend a day checking out the city.

First things first: Breakfast. We braved the 30+ minute line to get a table at Dottie’s True Blue Café, and it was absolutely worth it. Hanging out on a Saturday morning on a sidewalk in SoMa with a 3 year old is full of interesting questions like “Why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk?” So yes, all around an experience.

San Francisco

Dotties

The ambience is irreverent and fun (not a typically kid-friendly place, but ours stayed out of the way and we didn’t even get dirty looks for bringing her there). The menu is full of all kinds of sweet and savory treats. Dottie’s is famous for their pancakes, but when it comes to breakfast, I opt for eggs. I got zucchini cakes with poached eggs and spicy marinara, and a side of lamb sausage. Amazing. The bloody mary could have done with a few more garnishes, but the drink itself was solid. Dottie’s is A+

Dotties 2

Despite being totally stuffed, we decided our next item on the itinerary should also be full of food. Off to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building we went. The Ferry Building itself is full of gourmet food stalls, like Pittsburgh’s Strip District or Philly’s Reading Terminal market. On weekends they also add on an enormous farmers market. We only made it through about 1/3 of the farmers market stalls, and it pains me to say this, but the variety in California’s agriculture blows Pennsylvania out of the water. All the fruit! The fruit!

Ferry Building 1

Ferry Building 3

Ferry Building 4

After stuffing ourselves, it was time to burn off some calories at the playground.

Playground

And then, a quick rest at our super cool hotel, Hotel Tomo. The price was in line with most of the hotel chains we are familiar with, but the hotel itself had personality and good service.

Hotel Tomo

Hotel Tomo 2

After the brief respite, it was back to adventuring. First up: The Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate

golden gate family

And afterward, of course, we ventured to Chinatown for some dinner!

Chinatown

All of this running around on the first day was followed-up with a quiet day of driving up to Oregon, aka quality time with my audiobooks.

Road Trip

I spy Mt. Shasta.

Mt Shasta

Once we made it to Oregon, we’ve been spending the time hanging out with family. Baby Beez was very excited to go fishing with her Papa. We came back empty handed, but had a lovely time enjoying the gorgeous surroundings.

fish lake

Fish Lake 4

Fish lake 2

That's enough fishing for today.

That’s enough fishing for today.

Today was also busy, with a trip to the Spray Park, a visit to a farm, and hanging out with family. Tomorrow, finally, is a day of doing not much of anything at all. I’m excited to check out a class of Bikram Yoga of Ashland, and we’ll spend the rest of the day just hanging around the house.

Good night.