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dropping like flies

I hosted my first-ever bridal shower this weekend. We had tea and scones and pretty little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. There were presents and scrapbook pages and cut roses in vases. And it was good. And I hope memorable.

Lately, it seems like everyone I know is engaged or married or having babies. So very few of us singles are left. I have weddings to go to in March, April and May. Juliet, my roommate from grad school, is having her second baby; my friend Andy, who was sanity in a SLO world, is expecting his first. Shara and Serena got engaged over Christmas; Ali saw the judge.

And I find myself battling the questions. Everyone asks: When? And when? And when?

Really, does it matter? What if the answer was a resounding "NEVER"? I mean, what is so wrong with being unmarried?

Apparently, everything, according to our society. I was listening to a radio segment on Friday about how you pretty much get shafted if you never get married. Sorry, no tax break for you. No support system.

And then of course, there's the social stigma of the whole thing; terms like "old maid" are fun, aren't they? And your family (or perhaps, just my family) thinks you're some kind of freak. And they constantly worry that because you are unmarried and a woman, you are unable to function because there is no one to take care of you. What about being able to take care of yourself? What about being independent? Apparently, that is socially unacceptable and totally unheard of.

Don't get me wrong -- I am not against marriage. (Although I am kind of against weddings -- they always seem to be a source of a ridiculous amount of stress. It makes me sick to see my friends literally cry over the planning. Isn't this supposed to be a happy time?) I just don't like the timelines and the expectations and the judgment that comes with not living your life the way everyone thinks you should.

When the time is right, the time is right. And you don't need a ring or a dress or a new name to know it.

And if that time doesn't come, so be it. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong at all.

hominy hominy hominy

Pete, Sylvia and Whitney are coming over at 7:30 tonight for dinner. One of the dishes on the menu is white bean and hominy chili slow-cooked in our fabulous crock pot for eight hours.

That's right: Eight hours. So imagine my panic when at about noon, after visiting three stores, I realized I couldn't find hominy anywhere in our neighborhood. Not even at the health food store, which usually has all kinds of obscure stuff. (I'm assuming the lack of hominy has something to do with the fact that our neighborhood is primarily Chinese and Russian immigrants, so hominy -- a staple in the Mexican food aisle -- is non-existent here. In fact, the Mexican food aisle at the Cala down the street from us is full of Taco Bell products, if that gives you any indication of the kind of Mexican cooking that happens in this part of the woods.)

So there I was, frantically flipping through the phonebook and calling all the grocers within decent driving distance. (I really, really didn't want to have to drive all the way across town -- 30 minutes, not including the time it takes to find parking -- to go to a Mexican grocer in the Mission.) Andronico's in the Inner Sunset normally carries hominy, but they were sold out. (Seriously, was there a rush on hominy today or something?) Luckily, I found what I was looking for at Cal-Mart in Laurel Village. Despite the horrible name, Cal-Mart turned out to be a fantastic store -- all kinds of goodies, plus a real deli counter with real butchers and meats from local farms. I wish I had discovered this place earlier, instead of two weeks before I move out of the city.

And yes, not only did Cal-Mart have hominy, but I actually got to choose between white hominy and gold!

So the chili is in good shape. Phew!

I paid $4.50 for this crap

This is what I'm eating right now. And it sucks.

The Café Kona takeout menu described it as a Garden Salad -- lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, onions, with house vinaigrette. I thought, Great! This seems healthy! I'll take it!

And I assumed by "lettuce," this meant actual leaves of lettuce, which in my experience, is the standard for salads. (Hell, you can go to McDonald's and get leaves of lettuce. Gross leaves. But still leaves.)

Instead, I ended up with a box full of the thinly shredded iceberg lettuce (have I mentioned I absolutely HATE iceberg?) -- the kind you put on a deli sandwich, not use in a salad. This sad mess was surrounded by a few equally depressing sliced cucumbers (at first glance, I actually thought they were pickles), some stinky onions and the most pathetic tomatoes ever.

I cannot believe I paid almost $5 for this.

Seriously, I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that Napa sucks if you're looking for a good, inexpensive, somewhat healthy lunch. My only options seem to be (1) very nice, very expensive sit-down restaurants that I can't afford (money or time-wise), (2) fast-food joints, (3) mediocre "family dining" chains like Marie Callender's, or (4) "wine country" delis with overpriced bad food (one of these places actual gave me the worst food poisoning of my life about a year ago).

And I have tried. I've wasted my lunch breaks driving up and down Trancas looking for something decent to eat. I've taken coworkers' recommendations (sadly, this stupid Kona place was one of them). I've experimented with taco trucks and the soup stations at the supermarket. I've even sampled the veggie burger at Burger King (not bad, if you ask for no mayo -- and yes, there are actual leaves of lettuce on it).

But I'm close to giving up and resigning myself to brown-bag lunches forever. Well, at least until this place opens up.

on the cheap

How to eat for free or get some kind of deal on every dinner you have over the weekend:

1. Use the gift certificates you've been hoarding for the last year: I am bad when it comes to gift certificates. I will save them forever, waiting for a "special occasion." This weekend, I realized that "having too much credit card debt/needing to pay a rental deposit on new house in Petaluma" qualifies as a "special occasion." So Friday night we used the $40 certificate I got for my birthday (which was all the way back in May) and went to Thep Phanom, arguably the best Thai restaurant in the city. (Why is it so good? Two words: Crispy basil.) Thep Phanom is already pretty reasonably priced, and when you skip the alcohol, you can have a fabulous meal for two (appetizer, two entrees, rice) without paying a cent over $40.

2. Order a lot of pizza: We probably order from Pizza Orgasmica at least once every two weeks. And every time you order a pizza from them, you get a magnet. And if you collect 10 magnets, you get a free pizza, any size. On Saturday night, we cashed in our 10 magnets on an extra-large Kama Sutra pizza (yes, don't you love these names?), topped with hearts of palm, roasted garlic, spinach and mushrooms. Then we raided the wine refrigerator for a bottle of Maloy O'Neill 04 Petite Sirah (super, super fruity -- like swimming in an ocean of ripe red and black fruits). It turned out to be a pretty nice evening (if you ignored the unnaturally cold weather and complete lack of heat and insulation in our apartment).

3. Take advantage of Dine About Town specials: Dine About Town is one of my favorite deals ever. During the month of January, a number of amazing San Francisco restaurants offer three-course lunches for $21.95 and dinners for $31.95. Seriously, this is a great way to check out places that may normally be out of your budget. Last night Jenn and I did the Dine About Town thing at Americano. Typically, entrees alone at this restaurant (see the photo above) are in the $20-$30 range, so Dine About Town is a fantastic deal. We started with a cranberry bean and bacon soup, then had a fennel sausage pasta and finished with warm chocolate pudding topped with ice cream (which was the best part of the whole meal -- it was so damn good). And we brought our own wine -- the Taltarni 02 Pyrenees Shiraz -- and shared it with our server, so no corkage.

one mystery solved

So remember the mystery Sauvignon Blanc that I loved but didn't have the name for? I asked one of our directors about it, and he actually brought me a bottle. Turns out the wine is the Sauvignon Republic 2006 from Stellenbosch, which retails for about $18.

Sauvignon Republic Cellars is interesting. The operation is based in Santa Rosa, and its entire focus is Sauvignon Blanc. They only make three wines -- one from the Russian River Valley, another from Marlborough and a third -- and the one I fell in love with -- from South Africa. The goal, apparently, is to showcase different terroir.

We opened our bottle of 06 Stellenbosch on Tuesday night. (I figure since we're moving, we might as well try to drink as much wine as possible, so we don't have to haul it all with us.) The first time I had this wine, I remember thinking grassy and slightly dirty (but in the best of ways). This time around, I got grapefruit, grapefruit, grapefruit -- on the nose, on the palate, everything. Reminded me of a fabulous drink you might order at Sunday brunch. Crisp, fresh, yummy.

But I'm wondering why I tasted such different things the first time I had this wine. Was it the food? (I had it with a big, fancy meal the first time vs. pizza the second time.) Was it the company? (Board of directors in suits and ties vs. at home with the bf and our cats.) Did my tastebuds change somehow? (I just found out I have allergy-induced asthma -- maybe the medicine affected things? Or being stuffed up for so long?)


At times, I think this city gives gifts. One night, a papier-mâché parrot in the tree in front of our apartment. We laughed and took photos, then left it on its perch because you can't tame a wild thing. Another time, the brief glimpse of a man walking down Market Street with a cat riding on his backpack; I swore the animal smiled. Once, on the way to a play, a $10 bill on the sidewalk; it covered parking and then some.

We are leaving the city. It had to be done. It made sense. We needed space and air and less time spent driving to places with space and air. But I am sad. I've lived here since June 2004, the longest I've ever been in one place. I've been happier here than anywhere else.

But it's time now, time for the next adventure. And I look forward to the gardens we will have, the Mexican bakery around the corner, the yarn store down the street, the green hills and meadows.

I am sure there will be many more gifts.

yes, for real

Wow. And wow.

On New Year's Eve, Brian had a dinner party. Actually, let me rephrase that. On New Year's Eve, Brian had a dinner event. When we arrived, he showed us the menu, which was framed and written in French. And each dish was accompanied by an exquisite wine.

And I almost wet my pants when I saw what was on the wine list: 1976 Château d'Yquem.

Sauternes is hands down my favorite wine; if I were a cat, it would make me purr. I have a very a small collection at home -- some 01 Château de Malle, 01 Castelnau de Suduiraut, etc. And I would like to save up to buy the 01 Yquem eventually. (Although I should move quickly, because I heard prices are already at $500 for a 750 ml!)

But the 76 Yquem is the stuff of legends.

1976 is The Year. And Yquem is The Producer. And obtaining a bottle of the 76 Yquem was The Dream.

I cannot even begin to explain The Joy that was my New Year's Eve.

First, we had the wine with two kinds of pâté (goose and duck). Then, several courses later, the Yquem returned for a dessert pairing.

The wine was phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal. It had this beautiful golden, honey-toned color. And it was the most balanced wine I have ever experienced -- everything about it was perfect. It just coated my mouth -- the entry was like liquid creme brulee, but not overly sweet or syrupy or alcoholic -- just absolutely, perfectly balanced. And the finish went on and on and on ... with a whisper of floral notes at the very end. And you got the impression that even though this was a 30-year-old wine, it would still be good for many more years to come.


What a start to the New Year: There we were, five of us, gathered around a table in Brian's studio apartment, watching the ball drop on TV, each of us holding a glass of the most beautiful wine ever.

If this is any indication of what's to come, 2007 is going to be good.