December 29, 2015

Santa Came!

For the first time ever Santa paid a visit to my house, and for the first time in 13 years we were all together for Christmas. Magic was in the air, and there was a tinge of sadness in our hearts that mom wasn't there. We carried on traditions, and Parmesan salad & snow tunnel cake were musts when it came to planning the menu. Dinner was a success. Blaine made it home just in time, and it was a special treat to have dad join us. Mike stayed the night with Daisy & Tuco. Needless to say we had a very full house on Christmas eve. Santa snuck in, while visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

Just before 7 o'clock there was a knock at the door, Nick informed us that Santa had indeed arrived. We all gathered around the tree. Soon after, piles of torn paper surrounded us. Nick was thrilled to receive a Xbox Kinect, Nerf guns and even a BB gun. Addison wasn't quite sure what to make about all the fuss, but she is enjoying her shopping cart, big wheel, new books and a stroller, which she often uses to tote around guns rather than her baby dolls. The rest of us received all sorts of goodies, but the best gift of all was our presence. This year has taught us all how meaningful that is.

Christmas day my dad soaked up the rays, while Frank and I soaked in the hot tub. Dad has never traveled away from home for Christmas, he took a liking to how we do it in the desert. Later, we celebrated with Frank's family at his cousin's house. We enjoyed a great meal, and laughter ensued when we gathered around the table for a Cards Against Humanity session.

Days before Christmas, I took the family to Ethel M's to share my tradition of admiring the festive lights that cover the cactus garden. We followed that up with dinner at In-N-out and dessert at Sweet Addiction.

I hope Santa brought you all the wonderful gifts of the season.

December 24, 2015

December 22, 2015

A Quickie in LA

As I mentioned my dad is visiting. Prior to his arrival, Amy and I discussed a trip to the Grand Canyon. It seemed like a good idea since we haven't been, but the logistics were not practical. Amy is uncomfortably pregnant and I'm just getting back on my feet, it's chilly and quite aways from home. We scratched that idea, and came up with Plan B, which was to introduce dad to the gloriousness that is Langer's Pastrami. I found a cheap van rental via ACE Rent A Car, customer service was lacking, but the 12 passenger van fit the seven of us well. We had plenty of personal space; which is welcomed on road trips. I secured a good rate last minute via Hotwire at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Hawthorne and booked two rooms.

We left Vegas about 8 o'clock Saturday morning. Our first stop was lunch at Langer's. Dad enjoyed the pastrami and the latkes, which came as no surprise. It was fantastic as always. LA was warm and clear, it was a lovely afternoon. I wanted to soak up the warm rays, it's been so chilly at home I couldn't get enough. We got settled at the hotel, and then we set off for the beach. Unfortunately, our plans were derailed when a storm blew in. We watched the rain fall at Manhattan Beach with hopes it would soon pass, but no such luck.

We ended up relaxing at the hotel, and later Frank and Nick were able to swim. Hunger didn't strike until late so we grabbed some eats at Ricos Tacos El Tio. It's a quaint space around the corner in Inglewood. The neighborhood has the reputation of being "ghetto" but Frank and I found no issue with it. We drove, but it was easily walkable from the hotel. We brought back tacos, burritos, quesadilla and a torta. The latter two were the best of the bunch. The torta is where it's at! The quesadilla wasn't only your typical grilled flour tortilla dripping with grease from meat & cheese. This was fully loaded with lettuce, pico and avocado. Muy bueno!

Sunday morning, we cruised through Inglewood seeing the Forum and Randy's Doughnuts; before arriving in Marina Del Ray, since we've never been. There wasn't much to woo us, so we drove around a bit finally coming upon a sledding track made from fake snow and hay bales located across from the beach. We hopped out for a photo because the concept cracked us up. Nick and I ended up going for a ride. I was nervous about my ankle, but they say it's healed... I'd never get the opportunity to sled at the beach again so I had to go for it. I totally admit poking fun at it, but it was a helluva good time. It was warm, I wasn't bundled, it was slick and speedy. They're on to something here in LA!

Afterwards, we stopped at the park nearby. The kids chased the birds, and we took turns on the swings. We were going to walk over to the beach but Mike preferred we go to Venice Beach. We took the short drive, parked and walked over to the water. The sand was pretty compact which I appreciated, I'm not quite ready for the loose sand yet. Clouds rolled in, it was a bit too chilly to stay too long. Plus, we were hungry, Mike had his sights set on Joan's on Third. So, we continued on to Hollywood for a bit. I thought a late lunch would be less hectic, but no such luck. The place was a zoo. Frank drove around while we placed an order to go. We chowed on sandwiches on the road back home. It was a whirlwind trip, but we enjoyed ourselves. It's always nice to make new memories.

December 14, 2015

Day by Day

"So day by day, I will move on

Can't stop now, it's been too long

Day by Day, I will grow stronger

Strides I take, they will grow longer

Day by Day, step by step,

Live my life, no regrets

Day by day, I will keep movin' on, day by day"

- Day by Day, Dirty Heads

This Friday marks the 12-week mark after surgery. Recovery has been slow and frustrating, but I feel I'm in the home stretch now. I've made great strides the past couple weeks. My walking is improving, I moved back upstairs, I can wear two shoes, and I even started driving with only the right foot. I was released from the boot at 10 weeks. An ankle brace was the next step; however, if I wear it all the time, it will restrict my range of motion. Which seems counter-intuitive, the doctor was in agreement that it is best to improve range and gain strength. If I walk on uneven surfaces, in crowds or long distances I'll lace up. The rest of the time I want to put my foot and ankle to work to get all those parts moving in unison as they should. I still have a lot of work to do, but I've definitely turned a corner. I'm feeling more like myself everyday. I've not been able to walk four of the past seven months, the remaining three have been a struggle. It has really taken a toll on me, but I feel like a return to normalcy is near.

Getting out and about is great for lifting my spirits. We've had a couple meals out (Joe's and Sage - Yum!), enjoyed time with friends... even solo trips to Sam's Club feel liberating. Our Thanksgiving was quiet, but nice. We we were only a small group this year so we simplified the menu for ease. Frank went to Chicago. So, it was just Mike, Amy & Jeff, the kids and me. My double oven has been wonky since we moved in, but with the help of a infared thermometer gun - dinner was a success. I never would've thought Frank's impulse buy would be so useful, but I rely on it often. I roasted the turkey, and made sausage stuffing and cornbread casserole. Amy whipped up mashed potatoes, gravy and green bean casserole. We had pumpkin and apple pie for dessert.

When Frank returned home, we celebrated his birthday at Sage. Then, a few days later, Bob and Hugh came for a quick visit. We took them to Mariscos Playa Escondido for dinner. It remains my favorite restaurant and it never disappoints. We also spent sometime downtown bar hopping on East Fremont and we did a little gambling at El Cortez. We found two gems at the Container Park. First, Oak & Ivy has fantastic craft cocktails. I was a big fan of the Whiskey Smash... typically, I don't like whiskey so this was a feat. Second, we stumbled on Jinju Chocolates. This petite chocolate shop is hand crafting the most delectable treats. And they have free samples!

We spent an evening at Gameworks, and then went to see Absinthe at Caesars Palace. Frank and I saw the show about a year ago, but I was still excited to see it again. I love that it is a variety show offering the best of everything. A couple acts have changed, but overall it is still highly entertaining and full of non-stop laughs. They do offer a local's discount too.

I cannot believe Christmas eve is 10 days away. The holiday will be bittersweet. Christmas was my mom's favorite by far, so it stings a bit that she will not be with us this year. Especially since Amy, Mike and I will be together; A first since 2002. It's been fun to see the joy of Christmas through Addy and Nick's eyes. Addison redecorates my tree daily and 'ooohs and ahhhs' every time I light it. Nick tracks Magico's (Elf on the Shelf) every move and anticipates his chocolate treat from his advent calendar. Even I'm excited for Christmas morning. My dad will be visiting for the holidays. He arrives tomorrow and he'll stay through the new year. We're all excited to visit with him.

The days of 2015 are winding down. I'm very much looking forward to the new year. The last two have been my most difficult. I'm ready to put them behind me, and hope the best is yet to be.

December 9, 2015

Jessie Rae's BBQ

Barbecue takes patience and know how. I'm not graced with either gift, so I prefer to grab smoky succulent meat out when the craving strikes. My love of barbecue was unleashed in Austin, Texas. I can't get there as often as I'd like, so I must search for meaty goodness near home. I don't like chains so for a long time the Valley was lacking in options.

Thankfully, times have changed and we're lucky to have some pretty great barbecue right here in Las Vegas. While some are growing by leaps and bounds, others are just getting their start like Jessie Rae's BBQ. They are a small operation putting love into everything they do. Open for lunch Monday thru Friday, plus an occasional Saturday.

Just minutes from the strip on Valley View, you'll be greeted with a waft of smoke that fills the air when you pull up to the quaint building that is home to Jessie Rae's BBQ. A friendly "hello" welcomes you at the door, the menu is simple but offers variety. If you're lucky, the owner Mike will suggest daily specials. You'll find the best selection if you go early. When they run out, that's it for the day. It's also worth a mention that all sauces are made in house. Prices are not cheap, but real barbecue never is.

The dining room is tiny so they have a steady stream of carry-out business. My brother and I were fortunate to find a seat. It took only a few short minutes before Mike brought out our grub. My combo was Pulled Pork and sliced Brisket ($14). He opted for the Double Brisket sandwich for ($12). Both had the choice of one side, we each chose the Mac N Cheese. The combo offered a hearty portion of meat, more than I could finish. Both meats were very good. I don't know that I could choose one over the other. Which is going to make the choice difficult on future visits. The brisket was extremely tender, it had a nice smoke ring and it was loaded with flavor. It was great on its own and even better with God's sauce or Fallen Angel for a more fiery bite. The Pig Sweat was the third sauce option, and I know it is customary for pulled pork, but it's too vinegary for my liking. My brother enjoyed his sandwich too; tender brisket with the extra benefit of bold and flavorful burnt ends. The bun was fresh and it was dense enough to support the weight of the meat - which can be a feat in itself. Good eatin' for sure. I just love these mom & pop gems.

December 2, 2015

A Celebration at Sage

For Frank's birthday this year, he chose Sage. It is our favorite restaurant so I had no doubt we'd be in for a treat. The eats did not disappoint, however, the service was sluggish at best. We've dined nearly a dozen times before and it's never been like this... how do you begin a tasting menu without silverware? Yes, that happened. And no, I didn't expect "Oh, shit!" as response. But that's how it went and it didn't much improve throughout the meal. Thankfully, our signature tasting menu was as delicious as it was beautiful. The menu runs $89 and offers a few options, in addition to our choices we also ordered a side of sweet breads. Simply because we could, and why wouldn't you? They are superb. Each dish was expertly prepared, but the Octopus blew us away. All others will be compared to this going forward; I doubt any will be as tender. Truly fantastic. And the black truffle crumbs and ice cream completely outshined the walnut tart, but I didn't mind in the slightest. I adore savory & sweet. Needless to say, the delightful bites won us over, and despite the hiccups it was a fine way to celebrate.