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A Real (If Short) Vacation

You may not be able to tell, but that’s us on the beach.

[Editor’s Note: Every time I think I’m just going to write a super short post and throw up some pictures, it turns out to be… well… the opposite of short. Sorry. Remember you can always skip the words and just look at the pretty stuff.]
 
We just got back from the first non-visiting-relatives vacation we’ve been on in years. True, we were visiting a friend, but… it is so not the same. We went to Portland, Oregon, which is an excellent place to be, and is the current home of my best friend in the world ever, Lindsay. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Funky city plus lots of amazing nature and only 90 minutes from The Ocean. (Which, we decided while there, should be the goal of ALL vacations.)

Aside from the Incident* with my drivers’ license, it was an awesome trip. We had some adventures in and around the city with a plethora of gorgeous views, some of which you’ll see below, we ate really well. Possibly the best ever on a trip away from home. So let me recap for you. 

Saturday.
We arrived, famished, a little after noon. 2pm our time. Lindsay had leftover roasted root vegetables (delicious) which we ate with some black bean burgers and cheese (also tasty.)

Our plan was to celebrate her birthday as well as mine (they’re about 2 weeks apart) during our visit, so she invited a handful of friends over for a dinner party. We discussed some options and hit the farmstand and the grocery store, where we snagged some tasty local wines in addition to the other ingredients. We ended up with an appetizer of some wonderfully creamy cheese (not Brie, but something like it, sorry I forgot what), caramelized shallots, and fresh figs cooked in wine on some very crusty bread. We followed it with fennel-roasted (FRESH ALASKAN!) salmon over mixed greens. For dessert, we made this Mocha Marjolaine cake, which was fantastic. While devouring it, Lindsay and I discussed the handful of little changes we would make to the recipe to take it from a 10 to an 11+ the next time. (In case you’re thinking of giving it a try – and you should – we agreed that you should ditch the almonds and use only extra-toasty hazelnuts; make the coffee whipped cream stronger and use it between all the layers; coat the whole thing with the dark chocolate ganache; and skip the ‘light’ chocolate ganache altogether.) We also grilled some peaches and served them with vanilla ice cream. Amazing.

And then? Board games and WhiskeyTime™and even more desserts because a few more people showed up with brownies. Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became way late in our time, and moderately late on Portland time, and we totally crashed into bed and slept forever.

Apparently, we took no pictures on Saturday. 

Sunday.
Until we woke up at what felt like noon but was actually 9am or so. We cooked up some eggs on toast before driving out to the coast. Once there, we had lunch at a pub/brewery, which had totally decent beer. We all ordered some kind of fish because, you know, we were on the oceanfront, so why would we eat anything else? I had some excellent crab cakes; Julia had a seared tuna wrap which was good, but would have been improved by more tuna and less wrap and a menu description that actually implied it was in a wrap (as opposed to on a bed of spinach as we imagined.)

Wave Jumpers.

Then we EXPLORED. We ran in the ocean and jumped over the waves. And maybe, just maybe, while I was trying to film one coming into shore, it might have come faster than anticipated. And I might have a video of us squealing and running away, taken on my phone-in-hand, à la Blair Witch. It is hilarious. At least to us.

We climbed up a sand dune…
Beach, with view of the sand dune we hiked up
Victory. And pretty rocks. And my finger.
…and sat on the edge of an amazing cliff…
Awesome rocks and a big cave

We ate dinner at another seafood joint near the water. Clams, Bouillabaisse, Fish & Chips, Shrimp, Clam Chowder. And then three of us fell asleep in the car on the way back to the city…

Sunset at the Ocean

Monday.
On our last full day, we decided to run amok in the city proper. We visited Powell’s bookstore, which was as huge and awesome as I remembered it. We went to a little tea shop with over a hundred varieties of tea (in bulk!) and re-stocked our supply. We wandered up and down the street around it, window shopping, trying things on that we’d never buy, trying things on with no intention of buying them and then buying them anyway…

When we tired of that, we sat on Lindsay’s front porch with glasses of wine. And then we finished the day with a bountiful, yet unbelievably reasonably priced, sushi dinner. And by reasonably priced, I mean we spent less for the four of us than we ordinarily do for the two of us in Chicago and we got more food. 

Tuesday.
We had just enough time for a quick stop at the infamous Voodoo Doughnut followed by a tour through the Columbia River gorge. Which is lovely and breathtaking and very rainforest-y.

Washington state to the left of the river; Oregon to the right
Waterfalls are pretty.

And then we went to the airport and came home to Chicago.

*The Incident: So when we got to the airport in Chicago to get on the plane to Portland, we found out the hard way (yes, that means during the TSA screening process) that my driver’s license had expired on my birthday. Which was the week before. The lady was nice enough to let us through, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But after about 24 hours in Portland, I realized I could have the same problem on the way home and they might not be so nice and ohmygod panic. Which was followed by another, smaller incident in which I was not allowed to purchase a really wonderful-sounding glass of wine because I couldn’t prove my age. So. I called Illinois, who told me they couldn’t do anything and I needed to come in person to renew it. Which, of course, I cannot do from Portland. So. I went to the airport hoping they’d be nice and let me through, and somehow, magically, they didn’t notice my license was expired and they let me through. And then Julia tried to go through but her license lists 2009 as its expiration date. But. Illinois does this stupid thing where you can renew online if you haven’t been in any accidents lately and then they mail you a sticker to put on the back which says it’s good for 4 more years. Which she’d done, and it was, so they let her through too. And then we went home. On Wednesday I renewed my expired license in about 7 minutes and hopefully that is that.

Wherein Regular Life Feels Like Tech

A note to any non-theatre folks who may be reading this: Tech is the week or so right before a show opens, when rehearsal moves from a room with tape on the floor to the actual set on in the theatre; rehearsal props are exchanged for real props; street clothes are tossed for costumes and makeup; fluorescent lights are traded for blackouts and bright, hot lights; sound effects are queued up; and the dancing in the dark that takes place off and on stage between and during scenes is choreographed. It sounds magical and poetic (and it is, once it all comes together) but the journey there is not an easy one. Technicians come in early and stay late; actors play bits of scenes over and over again to get the timing just right; directors and designers tweak every little detail to fit their collective image of the perfect show. It’s a week or so of long (12+ hour) days, little sleep, few breaks, and lots of hard work. In short, it’s exhausting. Which is why it is always followed with a party (booze: required) and if you’re lucky enough to not also have a day job, you may even get the whole next day off to recover.

Sometimes, my actual life outside the theatre gets all crazy busy and feels like a tech week and I just cannot wait until all the things are done and I can sit on my ass for five minutes without feeling like I’m falling behind. This was one of those weeks for both of us. If you are not interested in the minutiae or my rambling, you should just skip right to the recipe. For everyone else, here’s how the week went down:

For starters, Julia’s show, The Chicago Landmark Project, opened last night. So she was super busy all week long working on costumes for that. I think I might have seen her on Tuesday night for about seven minutes. Secondly, I’d volunteered to host this month’s A Practical Wedding book club on Saturday, and for some reason I decided it was imperative that I finish reupholstering some chairs before the event. And also that our condo needed to be spotless. (Which means, in addition to the usual upkeep, things like mopping floors and beating rugs which haven’t been done in a long, long time need to be dealt with.) And that I should plan at least one fabulous appetizer (see below) and maybe make a cake. Oh yeah, and I had to finish reading the book… (You guys know I’m an over-achiever, especially when it comes to hostessing, right?)

So after work every night I was frantically pulling out old staples, sewing piping, and inhaling many years of dust and cat hair. Which is fine, because I’m usually home by 7pm and I planned quick meals, and on Tuesdays I get off work early, so of course I’d have plenty of time to make pretty chairs and deep clean the place before Saturday. At some point during the week, we were invited to a party on Sunday afternoon by a friend we hadn’t seen in a long, long time and decided we could squeeze that into our upcoming weekend. And at some other point later in the week, Keely texted me that her babysitter was sick and she had reservations at Tru for her birthday dinner and could I possibly babysit on Sunday night? And though I was pretty sure all I’d want to do come Sunday night was sit on the couch in my jammies and watch TV, I was also pretty sure that it would be cruel and bad-friend behavior to say no unless I actually had a prior commitment, and I could watch TV my jammies at their place while the baby slept anyway, right? Because – Tru! And her BIRTHDAY! And have I told you how much time she spent helping me write and edit our wedding ceremony? Come on! Only a terrible friend would not help out. So. The week got a little busier but was still totally manageable.

On Tuesday, I was planning to do the grocery shopping and then come home and slow cook some spare ribs after work, since the baby’s grandma comes to take over at noon. But at 9am she called in sick, so I ended up having to work the whole day. Luckily, Julia had a little time, so she got the shopping done, but I still had about five pounds of ribs that had been soaking up dry rub overnight and needed to be cooked. So… I started those at about 5:30pm when I got home and finally consumed my super failure of a dinner around 10:30pm. Wednesday passed without incident. On Thursday, I got stuck late at work again, and didn’t even get home until 9pm, after which I had to make dinner and was so tired from all the getting things done that I didn’t do any work on the chairs or the cleaning and I really felt bad about that, and then, holy crap, it was Friday already.

So I stayed up until 3am finishing the reupholstery project, decided I would clean in the morning, and set my alarm for 9am but woke up at 8am anyway. And then I cleaned and re-arranged furniture so there’d be enough seating and baked some currant scones which were still in the oven when the first person showed up but it was all ok and really fun in spite of my crazyness. And everyone brought food, which you can see pictures of over on photographer Christy Tyler’s blog. (See? This post is totally on topic.) And then I got all pretty and went to Julia’s opening, which was great awesome, though I admit I was entering a sleepy haze towards the end, after which I drank a cup of black coffee and a coke so I could stay awake for the party after which the thought of 45 min on public transit to get home slayed me so we got in a cab and promptly crumpled into a giant heap of tired on the bed.

And we slept until 11am.

Did you read that? Friends, I cannot remember the last time I slept that late. My internal clock has been set to “I work at 7:30am so I wake up at the butt crack of dawn, even on the weekends” for several years now. I am nearly always awake by 8:30am on days off, and I’m often up even earlier. ELEVEN A.M. And we blew off the party (sorry Kasey, we will totally make it up to you) and then we watched TV at Keely & PJ’s while the baby slept and got bonus hangout time with them afterwards and it all turned out ok. The end.

Anyway, on to the food… besides scones, I made one of my go-to appetizers for when I’m short on time or just feeling lazy. It’s easy, fast, delicious, and elegant. And tastes really good, obviously. So here you go!

What You Need:
1 wedge of Brie
3-4 big spoonfuls of fruit preserves (I like peach or apricot)
A handful of chopped or slivered almonds
A box of crackers (I like Carr’s Table Water Crackers, or the store brand of same)

1. Put the wedge of Brie on a microwave-safe fancy serving dish. Top with the fruit preserves.
2. Microwave for about 90 seconds.
3. Sprinkle with almonds.
4. Serve with crackers.

Seriously, could it get any easier? It’s exactly what you need during tech, theatrical or otherwise. You’re welcome.

On Failure

Today was one of those days that just did not go the way I wanted it to.* Ordinarily on Tuesdays, I get off work at noon, hit the grocery store, and then have lots of time to spend working on whatever projects I’ve got going at home in the evening. I had planned to fire up the grill and slow-cook some spare ribs for several hours while working on a little reupholstery project I’m in the midst of.* Oh, but life had a different plan for me. If any of you don’t know, my job is as a nanny to a delightful 15-month-old girl, and her Tuesday afternoons are time with her grandmother.

Around breakfast time, she called to tell me she wasn’t feeling well, so I ended up working until 4:30pm. Which totally blew my plans for a grocery trip followed by 4-6 hours of slow rib cooking, because that would have me eating dinner about 3 hours after bedtime. No good. Thankfully, Julia volunteered to squeeze shopping into her tech week (thanks, honey. I love you!) and she started the ribs before I left work, so that left me getting home at a decent hour and having a (very) late dinner (alone, due to Julia’s aforementioned being in tech.)

So, when I got home I proceeded to cook the ribs, turning them, marinating them, etc. and did a little work on the chair, and then as the ribs were finally nearing the end of cook time around 10pm, I made some plantains. Sounds great, right?

Well. It was not. It wasn’t an epic fail like that time I tried to recreate Chief O’Neill’s Guinness Cheddar Soup. But. It was not good. The ribs somehow got overcooked, even though they were undercooked the last time I checked on them. The plantains were bland and too crunchy. My plans for awesome BBQ photos that would leave you drooling on your keyboards were dashed. In short – it was a big plate of “eh.”

Which I get to eat again for lunch tomorrow. Aha! The downside of always making extra dinner so you never have to pack lunch. Way too much effort for so little reward.

Oh well, failure happens. For now, I’ll be happy I’m not going hungry like so many are, and tomorrow I will try again. (Not ribs though. Something faster. And with less chance of blergh.)

*Grammar note: Yeah, I ended two sentences in this paragraph with prepositions. That is one grammar rule I just cannot get on board with. The awkward sentences that result when you try to avoid ending with a preposition are, well, awkward. And snotty-sounding. So I don’t do it. All three of you reading this probably know already that I am a high-ranking member of the Grammar Police, and I am all over that shit, especially its v. it’s and effect v. affect, but this rule? Stupid. Deal with it. No one’s making you read this, after all.