Sunday, October 22, 2006

Celebrating Homecoming ... By Staying at Home

This weekend at Chez Lauren and Richard was pretty quiet ... Friday was Walkout Day, a pre-Homecoming tradition at Northwest where the school closes down the day before Homecoming weekend. I was a little tired from the day before; the weather cleared off enough mid-week to let me take care of some to-do list items: weed whacking around the house, edging and mulching the rose garden, edging and re-mulching the rock garden, and edging and mulching the garden strip at the front of the house, but she wanted to do something productive on the day off, so Lauren and I spent most of Friday rehabbing the bedroom closet.

"Rehabbing" meant taking out the existing hangar bar, sorting winter/summer clothes to send downstairs, selecting older clothes to put out on Freecycle, and putting in a new double hangar bar with shelving on either side. After nine hours straight, we had a much better organized closet. We're saving reorganizing the office/storage closet of chaos for another week.

Homecoming itself we took a pass on, because we weren't able to get tickets to the game. Just as well ... it was wet, cold, and miserable, so instead, we spent the weekend at a slower place: some cooking of comfort food (Lauren's patented chicken noodle soup) on Saturday evening, followed by a crafts project for Lauren (repairing a keepsake box made by her parents).

On Sunday, we walked to church despite the cold weather (and ultimately, halfway into the walk and again after church, through light snowflakes). This evening was our next to last "pre-letter" meeting with our minister before he submits the letter to the diocese bishop asking for permission to marry Lauren and myself, and now, I'm in the living room, updating the blog with Opie on my lap while Lauren grades student assignments.

Friday, October 13, 2006

One Ring to Rule Them All ....

One more step toward marriage: Lauren and I chose our rings this week ... after sorting through a few designs, we settled on this one.

We wanted something stylish, but not too extravagant, and settled on a titanium design (very light and hypoallergenic), that nicely complemented the Claddagh rings we chose for our engagement.

When it came to choosing an inscription, we were making the usual Lord of the Rings jokes about the "One Ring to rule them all ...", and it took a bit of thought to come up with an appropriate engraving other than that. Since the two of us are both fans of mystic poet Jalal-Uddin Rumi, we arrived at this:

"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along."

Of course, we'll probably continue to joke that in order to read the inscription properly, you'll have to throw the rings into a fire ....

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fine Dining in Maryville???

This week's been kinda slow ... for me that is, not for Lauren. It's mid-term season for her. Me, it's been quiet, apart from the usual fun with job hunting (still looking), wrestling with bureaucracy (towards filing for unemployment ... not what I wanted to be doing at this point in my life but the right job hasn't shown up yet). In the meantime (and this is by no means filler ... okay, some of it is), after a trip to Des Moines to pick up the last load of items I'd left pre-move with a friend, I thought I'd reflect upon the change in dining opportunities.

When I first moved to Maryville, I was used to a variety of good, ethnic restaurants in Des Moines ... ADong downtown for Vietnamese, with its 137 menu options, succulent springrolls, and never-fail bowls of steaming, fragrant pho, for Thai-leaning Chinese Cafe Su (home of the best, biggest crab rangoon anywhere and the only place to find dim sum in Des Moines), Cookry for traditional African (the groundnut stew is a must, as well as the jerk chicken, and if you're there on a Saturday, you must try the fufu), Thai Flavors on 14th or Cool Basil for excellent Pad Thai, and the Des Moines Art Center restaurant on weekends and First Fridays for the monthly-changing "surprise me" and excellent desserts, among other restaurants I haven't named yet. When I moved to Maryville, I was wondering if I was downgrading that area of my life. Although there aren't as many restaurants here as in Des Moines, there are a couple of notable places (and some I haven't tried yet), ranging from upscale ethnic, to BBQ, to authentic truck-stop cafe, so it's been pretty good so far.

I should point out that apparently, the best non-commercial ethnic offering in town is sponsored by the college's FACS department (yes, I know, this is a shameless plug for something my fiancee's department sponsors ...). Starting this Friday, my fiancee's department hosts a series of ethnic meals on Friday evenings called Friday Night Cafe. While I have yet to experience it, she assures me that I won't be disappointed, and we do have tickets. (Okay, end of shameless plug.)

Otherwise, for commercial ethnic, we have several different choices. For Greek, Italian, and otherwise fine dining, there's A&G next to downtown. It's nicely appointed, with outdoor patio and bar, and it's most notable for Friday night Greek nights, as well as some nicely done entrees. In particular, the rack of lamb is exquisite, but a little steep at $22.00 per person, which is why it's best done for special occasions or split between 2 people. For Greek, they serve a full range of Greek specialties (gyros, souvlakia, mousska, spanikopita, souvalaki, roasted chicken, accompanied by pita, salad, and rice pilaf, etc.). On average, prices range from $5-10 dollars for lunch menu items, to $17-22 for dinner entrees.

The salads include some unusual ones, including a pecan crusted, blue cheese chicken, as well as the usual Cobb and chef varieties. The entrees range from upscale bar-grill items through nice entrees, with restaurant burgers, chops, steaks, sandwiches, pasta entrees, and a wonderful lunch menu (lighter pasta entrees, some of the chop and steak options from dinner, twice-baked potatoes, a Greek sampler plate if you're eating there other than Friday night, and wraps). The lower-priced lunch menu includes soup and salad combos, a reasonably priced quesadilla with dipping sauces, and even liver and onions (yeah, I know, it's sick, but I like liver and onions).

They also do a spa menu with some lighter pastas and salads, including a honey-balsamic glazed salmon and spinach combination, and most of the entrees are accompanied by A&G's home-baked bread and honey-butter ... one loaf of that, and you're almost full already.

Their desserts are also well-done, including a tiramisu that's slightly more frozen/chiled than the average, a wonderfully done bread pudding (Lauren's favorite), which for a little extra can be served flaming (soaked with Barcardi 151 rum), and a newly introduced frozen lemon custard/cake that also does well. However, my favorite dessert there is a baked apple pastry (baked apple wrapped with pastry, dusted with cinnamon, and served with ice cream and whipped cream).

For Chinese, we have a few options here ... The Mandarin (American Chinese, nothing fancy, and Happy Garden, which again is fast-food Chinese). The other alternative for Chinese here, strangely enough, is the local Hy-Vee supermarket. Surprisingly, they do put out a good product ... again, nothing fancy, but not bad, either.

The other ethnic alternative is Mexican: La Bonita and a new place which will replace the former Julios (which was closed due to alleged undocumented illegal alien staffing problems).

The remainder of Maryville's restaurants can be broken down into the following categories:

1)Sports Bars and Grills

For the most part, this is taken up by JWs, the revamped former Bobcat Grill on campus, and Carsons, a newly opened sports grill downtown.

In the Student Union at the college, JW's is basically a sports bar with free trivia machines and games, but without the alcohol (since Northwest is a dry campus). They serve a pretty decent (and decently priced) range of burgers, entrees, soups, and salads. Lauren puts a vote in for the buffalo chicken salad, while I've found that they do a mean BBQ beef sandwich on Texas toast. We both agree that their best offering is a homemade kettle-fried potato chip that is worth indulging in once in awhile (otherwise, it would be detrimental to our health). JWs is mainly used by students and faculty, but anyone can eat there.

The other, recently opened sports bar is Carsons ... we haven't eaten there yet, but once we do, we'll let you know how it was.

2)The aforementioned BBQs ... Bubbas BBQ and Fixins, Pink Floyd (catering, but they sometimes do parking lot sales) and Hey Vern (also parking lot sales). Lauren has mentioned Bubbas before. It's owned by a local American Royal competitor who has won several times there ... if you want large portions, incredibly large pulled meat BBQ sandwiches with an incredible dry-rub (that should not be profaned with sauce, according to Bubba), and award-winning bacon/cheddar/onion smashed potatoes, Bubbas is where to go (although it's now only open on Wednesday-Sunday, probably due to BBQ competition season). Pink Floyd and Hey Vern, I haven't had yet, so I'll have to reserve an opinion on them for later, too.

3)Fast food and family food chains - Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, Sonic, Applebees, McDonalds, Hardees. Been there, done that before. Enough said about them.

4)Truck-stop cafes - Gray's. Outside of town on Highway 71, Gray's is your typical truck-stop cafe ... inexpensive burgers, breakfasts, weeknight specials, and daily desserts. Not bad.

5)Coffeeshops - right now, we only have two, Main Street Coffee, a small coffeeshop located next to the fitness center on Main, and a small one embedded in a local used antique/bookstore. We used to have a third, but it went out of business. We have heard rumors that a Starbucks may be coming into town (part of that 22,000 new stores they have planned), but so far, that's just a rumor. A St. Joe based coffeeshop may also expand here, but that's also a rumor as well.

I should point out that most of our eating out usually takes place at the local Hy-Vee salad bar, inexpensive and good for our diets, or else we grill out or stay in and cook ... speaking of which, I need to dig out that lamb curry recipe I promised to make Lauren this weekend ....