Monday, January 26, 2009

Art Smart

In order to escape the sense of impending doom that has been building up in our house over the past two weeks ( read the post below this one if you need the details), Noe and I decided to take a breather and head in to New York City on Saturday afternoon. It was a little bittersweet in the sense that it was the last time we'll get to take advantage of Noe's free museum admission perk, but at the same time it was great to get the hell out of town, even for a day.

Noe and I have gone to New York City eight or nine times since we moved to CT. The first time we went (with Joe N.) we took Noe up to the top of the Empire State Building and to the Statue of Liberty because he had never been to New York. The second time - only a month later - was at my insistence because I simply could not handle the fact that a giant Christmas tree was sitting two and a half hours away from me at Rockefeller Center and I might not get to see it.

Mostly, though, we go to museums. This might sound boring to some, but Noe and I love museums and New York City has some of the best. We've visited "the big three" - the MoMA, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Met - multiple times, sometimes for special exhibits; sometimes just to see things we may have missed on the last visit. For our last admission as corporate members, we chose to revisit our favorite, the Met.

When it comes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I just don't know where to begin. The first time we went (in the fall) we headed immediately for the Egyptian wing and the Temple of Dendur. Maybe I read The Egypt Game too many times as a kid, but I knew that I had to see this collection. I was not disappointed in the least. From the small ornaments and figurines to the hieroglyphic scrolls; from the ornately decorated tombs to the reconstructed temple itself, Noe and I were completely entranced. We spent half our first visit in this wing alone.

Temple of Dendur

The Egyptians liked their cats as much as I like mine.

Almost better than the Egyptian wing (almost) is are Greek and Roman galleries. I love looking at the old pottery, the urns (some with extremely racy scenes depicted) and most of all, the statuary. It's these objects that for whatever reason really click in my mind as being old. The fact that you can stand two inches away from something that was sculpted or crafted in dates that end with "B.C." resonates with me. The statues are my favorites; I love to picture how these must have appeared when they were first unveiled, not missing any appendages or facial features.

If you are inclined to giggle at naked statues,
the Met may not be the place for you.

"See Noe? This guy has no face."

This visit, however, we mainly wandered amidst the Asian art objects and the various paintings. The Asian collections contains some beautiful scrolls and prints, including the "36 Views of Mount Fuji" series by Katsushika Hokusai, which contains the fairly famous The Great Wave off Kanagawa (below).

I love this print.

The Met has a great number of paintings (duh, it is an ART museum) and Noe and I made it a point to check out more of those this time. Last time we were fresh off a visit from the MoMA, so we skipped the Modern Art wings all together. This time, however, we were rewarded for our efforts with numerous Picassos and Dalis. We also checked out a ton of van Gogh and an impressive Georgia O'Keefe selection (unfortunately, we did not remember the camera until we were already in the van Goghs).

You need to get up close and personal with a van Gogh
to understand how much paint is actually on this canvas.

Yet as cultured and sophisticated as Noe and I appear to be, we are not above laughing at great works of art. One particular painting in the European wing caused us to dissolve into giggles to the confusion of the people around us:

Sacrilegious as it may seem, Noe and cracked up the second we saw this painting of St. Michael and St. Francis (being Catholic, we recognized Francis immediately - he gets a lot of love from the painting and statue world). We're not sure why St. Francis was painted with such an "ooh, big deal" expression, but that's how we interpret this painting. The imaginary conversation goes something like this:

St. Michael: Hey Francis, check this out!

St. Francis: Ooh, you killed a dragon. Whoop-de-freakin'-do.

All in all, a Saturday spent at the Met was a great way to unwind from the week. The stop at the Grand Central Market before the train ride back never hurts either, especially when I get to collect an assortment of cheeses from Murray's or prosciutto and salami from the meat counters. And no Grand Central stop is complete without picking up a Junior's cheesecake, but that's another post in itself...

Noe took a picture of me buying $30 worth of cheese at Murray's.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm Mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore (OK, yes I will because I have no choice, but whatever).

I try to keep overly personal stuff - especially whining - out of this blog. But since 90% of the people who read this do in fact know me, I'm going to diverge from my normal policy for a post and allow myself a moment to recap what has been going on around here.

The reason Noe and I uprooted our life in Michigan and moved to Connecticut was because the pharmaceutical company he works for closed their Ann Arbor labs. At the time I was a contracted worker at that site but had already taken a new job. The company offered Noe a job in Groton, CT and bought his house for the appraised value, paid for a moving truck, and several months later we were out here.

It was a hard transition. I am sure most of you know from reading this blog that I have built up a certain amount of affection for New London itself, and I do enjoy the monthly or so trips two hours north or south to New York City and Boston. But coming from a happening college town, southeastern CT was a hard sell for us. It was much harder for us to find things to do and even when we found them, we did not have as many choices on how to do them. I essentially gave up tennis and didn't find a soccer team until two months ago. It took Noe that long to find a tennis league. It appears that you can't see a movie after 9:00 PM. We're limited in our choices of restaurants. (I won't go on about these things, because the point is we got past them - but they sucked for a long time and some still kind of do.)

We did - and do - love our house. We paid WAY more than we thought was an acceptable price, but it was about on par with Connecticut in general (there was major sticker shock the first time we looked at houses out here). We eventually made some good friends that we spend a lot of time with.

Now, the same company that moved us out here has laid Noe off, and not for anything performance-related. Just part of general downsizing. Which would be depressing and discouraging at any time or place but is especially so when you moved 750 miles and gave up a house and life you really liked to get here.

Even worse? There's no jobs anywhere right now but there definitely are not any for a pharmaceutical chemist in this area of the state. And it's not like I make enough money to support two of us.

So essentially, it looks like we get tasked with trying to find two decent jobs in the midst of what is turning into the next Great Depression; we get to sell ANOTHER house we both like for way less than what we paid for it; and we will probably have to move right after we finally got to a semi-decent quality of life out here.

Awesome. Suffice to say, I have been in a terrible mood for the past week and a half. I am not even depressed about the job stuff - I am just mad. Mad that we went through this whole process. Honestly, I don't know why Noe's employer didn't just give all the Ann Arbor employees severance when the closed the stupid site instead of relocating 800 of them only to roughly that amount of people a year later. Classic move on their part, yes, but nonetheless extremely irritating.

I'm not even worried about us, per se; I am just livid that I have to A) give up my house and B) do this all again. Even if we end up moving back home - and let's face it, with Michigan not exactly being a hotbed for economic activity, who knows how likely that is - it is still going to be a long, drawn-out, pain-in-the-ass process.

So please forgive me the lack of blogging, hanging out, and general pleasantry over the past couple weeks. I have not been the most fun person to be around. And I promise I will not turn this blog into a rant on all that is wrong with my life. I've accepted it; I'm getting over it (well, not really, I'm still pissed beyond belief but able to conceal it publicly at this point); and I am fine. You do not need to worry or send "it will be OK" messages (although I did appreciate them).

It is what it is. I'll keep you posted on what we're going to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Five Things I Love This Week

5) Pet Cameras
A Pet Cam can provide you with hours of amusement. If you do not believe me, check out my cat's blog, The Buns-Eye View. Seriously. Being lame gets more fun every day.

4) Zdeno Chara.
Why? Because his name starts with a "Z" and breaks the basic rules of spelling. Because he is 6'9" and people probably see him walking around T.D. Banknorth Garden and think he plays for the Celtics instead of the Bruins. Because he could hold someone at arm's length and let them swing and they would never touch him. What's not to like here?

3) Hockey Skates
I could never stand very well in figure skates, let alone actually skate in them. Hockey skates are God's gift to weak ankles and enable me to circle the Norwich Municipal Rink an infinite amount of times, dodging little children while "Careless Whisper" by WHAM plays over the loudspeaker.

2) Stop and Shop Frozen Desserts
Stop and Shop Frozen Desserts are among the most delicious desserts on the planet. If Noe and I ever get married, I seriously think I will forgoe a wedding cake and set out platter upon platter of Chocolate Cake Bites, Cheesecake Bites, and Chocolate-Covered Cream Puffs. I have never tasted any mini dessert - let alone a grocery store brand frozen dessert - so glorious. Stop and Shop even trumps Trader Joe's in the frozen dessert arena. If we move back to the midwest, I don't know what I'm going to do without these things.

1) Books that involve someone quitting/getting let go from their job and becoming wildly successful doing something they actually like, or if not becoming wildly successful at least getting a large enough severance to go to cooking school in Paris.
Yeah...this is probably not going to happen to me, but check out The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn. Not that I think I could hack it for a second in French cooking school (or American cooking school, for that matter) but I can dream while I make cheapened versions of coq au vin in my crockpot that would make the Cordon Bleu chefs cringe, can't I?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Meatless in New London

No, I'm not going vegetarian. But I have been thinking lately that it would be better for my body - and the planet - to eat a little less meat. Or a lot less meat. It really does seem like every meal revolves around protein sometimes, doesn't it? (Of course, that is because meat is DELICIOUS.)

I read a lot, and sometimes I read random things. A few months ago in an airport, I noticed a copy of the infamous diet book Skinny Bitch sitting unattended on an empty seat. No one ever came and picked up, so before boarding the plane, I swooped it off the seat and into my bag. I wanted to see what all the fuss over this book was about.

Basically, it was a "sassy tome" (publishing house marketing words, not mine) written by a former model and a former model casting agent about how cutting all meat, dairy, caffeine, and most alcohol out of your diet is the only way to be healthy and skinny. Needless to say, it's a little extreme, yet I think the basic principles outlined did have a point. We probably all should eat less meat - better for us, better for the environment, etc. And I get the majority of the book's points about dairy: I mean, we really ARE the only species on the planet that drinks the milk of another species (although I think cheese is the most glorious food on the planet).

However, I do not necessarily agree with the book's assertion that the only way to be completely healthy is to replace all of these things with vegan products made to simulate them. I mean, a veggie burger or crumbled tofu are certainly a good protein substitute for hamburgers and taco meat. But have you ever read the label of vegan "cheese" or vegan "bacon"? There's just as many scary-sounding unrecognizable ingredients as there are in a Kraft single (processed "cheese" food?) Instead of eating all this fake stuff, wouldn't we be better off maybe to cut drastically back on the meat but to fill that void with fresh fruits and veggies? To be fair, the book does advocate fruit and vegetables in a big way. But almost every recipe in the accompanying cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, contains multiple fake ingredients.

I decided to do a little experiment and but back on meat for one week to see how it went. I decided on lunch, a meal I normally fill with leftovers from the previous night's dinner (I figured we could eat the leftovers for dinner the next night and save me some cooking - two meals for the price of one). Just out of curiosity, I bought some of these vegan substitutes to see how they tasted.

My first meatless/dairy-free meal consisted of a Boca burger patty (which I have eaten before simply for the convenience of being a microwaveable food) with vegan bacon and vegan cheese (I got tired of typing to quotation marks around "bacon" and "cheese" - you guys know what I am talking about).

The vegan cheese - or Veggie Slice, as I believe it was called - looked exactly like a Kraft Single...which is something I never eat (I buy sandwich cheese from the deli counter). It was even encased in individual plastic sleeves (shouldn't vegan products be more environmentally friendly than that?)

The vegan bacon was pretty weird looking from the get go - first of all, it was maroon; second, it tore apart really easily. Also, the flat strips did not curl up or shrivel at all when cooked. It went from being a semi-soft maroon strip to a crisp maroon strip. I stacked the bacon on top of the burger and melted the cheese over the whole thing - it took longer than regular cheese to melt - and apprehensively took a bite.

It tasted like nothing. I mean, it tasted like Boca Burger, which if you have ever had one, you know has a pretty distinct taste. But not only did the vegan cheese and bacon not taste anything like cheese or bacon, they just didn't taste like ANYTHING. I was kind of disappointed - I was expecting more. Even more terrible would have been OK - totally tasteless, however, is just not worth it.

I ate the fake cheese and fake bacon on a ground chicken burger the next night purely to save some calories and found myself also saving taste as well. Honestly, instead of using these products to cut weight you should just skip them all together. I am more mad about ingesting 80 calories of tasteless cheese and bacon than I would be about eating a naked burger.

So...although I still am actively trying to cut back on meat and some dairy, the only fake products I am keeping on the menu are the Boca burgers, Morningstar Breakfast Patties, and Silk vanilla soy milk. I am willing to swap out meat for soy products occasionally, but I am done trying to substitute things like bacon and cheese. And since I hate real mayonnaise, I can safely say I will never try vegan mayonnaise.

Some things just aren't worth it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Brunch Time

It's no secret that I am a big fan of Dev's on Bank Street. It is also no secret that back in my Ann Arbor restaurant days I was a big fan of brunch. Brunch was the restaurant employee's perfect meal: you'd work late on Saturday, then leisurely meander to whatever was that week's hot spot sometime after 11:00 AM and you got to order booze with your breakfast. In a word, ideal.

Anyway, when we (the Trifecta) learned that Dev's was opening for brunch, we knew we had to check it out. We even managed to get the boys to come with us.

Dev's brunch is served tapas-style, like a significant portion of their dinner menu. You can order small plates of multiple breakfast dishes, all ranging between $3 and $5. The boys were a little skeptical that the small plates would not provide enough food but agreed to check it out anyway.

We needn't have worried.

The portions are smaller than if you ordered a full breakfast at a regular restaurant, yes, but they are by no means wimpy. Amanda and I each started with the French toast - one slice of thick, cinammony-tasting bread not too heavily battered and fried to perfection. The French toast was dusted with powder sugar and, in a glorious touch, was topped by a heap of crispy prosciutto. We drizzled it with a little of the maple syrup served on the side and tucked in. The slightly sweet bread, the maple flavors in the syrup and the salty prosciutto were a match made in heaven.

French Toast with Prosciutto -
This quickly became a table favorite.

Most of us chose egg-based dishes for our second round. The Egg Benito was a popular choice at our table - a poached egg served upon a potato pancake and dressed with sweet potato fondue, with the diner's choice of smoked salmon, prosciutto or spinach. Amanda ordered it with the spinach and Noe and Kevin tried the prosciutto (we're big fans of prosciutto in our group). Once again, we needn't have worried about the portion - the combination of egg, starch, and meat or vegetable was satisfying and filling. The poached eggs were maybe a tad overcooked, but that's a very minor issue and probably just dependent upon whoever cooked them that day. Both versions of the Egg Benito were deemed a hit.

Kevin and Noe's Eggs Benito -
another big hit with our group.

While the boys and Amanda were tucking in Benito-style, Katie and I picked slightly different veggie and egg-based choices. Katie went in for the Flamingo Egg - another poached egg creation, this time served on a mound of roasted vegetables; I chose the Spanish Frittata, a mini open-face omelet stuffed with roasted red peppers, ham and cheese. Both dishes were delectable - once again, the poached egg was perhaps just a tad overdone, but surrounded by a mountain of perfectly roasted potatoes, peppers, and other veggies. The Frittata was cooked perfectly and bursting with the fillings.

The Spanish Frittata

Noe choose the Basque sandwich for his second plate. The Basque is served open-face and consists of scrambled eggs, chorizo, potatoes, and red peppers on chewy chibatta bread. Like the other items we ordered, this savory sandwich provided an excellent balance of starch and protein. The slightly spicy chorizo and slightly sweet red peppers proved to be a very complimentary flavor combination. The scrambled eggs were perfect - not too dry but not too wet and runny, either.

The Basque Sandwich

Of course, it wouldn't be brunch without booze. Dev's features both classic brunch cocktails, the mimosa and the bloody Mary - at the extremely reasonable prices of $4 and $3, respectively. While no one really felt like going in for the orange juice and champagne combination this time, Kevin and I did order some bloodies. They were nice and spicy and neither too vodka-y or too tomato-y (the perfect balance can be hard to strike). Kevin first ordered the variation titled "Maria and her Two Amigos" which came with two giant Cajun-season, celery crusted shrimp. The shrimp were so delicious they almost could have been a tapas choice of their own.

It's worth noting that Dev's also provides a good selection of several juices and pours extremely drinkable coffee - and the coffee, although poured from a regular coffee pot and not a thermal carafe or anything of the like, did not ever taste as if it were allowed to sit on a burner and "cook down" - every cup we drank tasted fresh.

We go to Dev's partly for the food, but also for the service. Candace and Bunny are always happy to see us and make a point of coming by to chat. Kristina was friendly and efficient as always and never left us with an empty coffee cup or an empty plate or glass in front of us.

The tapas portions were big enough that we were full after eating two each but small enough to mix and match and try different things. Everything we had was delicious and there are several items on the menu that we were interested in but no one was hungry enough to order (I guess we had banked on the boys being able to eat more than they did). We didn't need a reason to come back, but the anticipation of trying out those items - and those $4 mimosas - gives us one.

Hopefully Dev's brunch will stick around - it's the perfect way to start a Sunday.

View the complete brunch menu here:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Three Hours Well Spent

Last night, Katie, Amanda and I went to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

We all loved it.

Yes, it's long - coming in right around three hours - but the story moves well. It does get a bit draggy in the middle, but we only noticed that because all three of us were tired anyway.

The movie has just a little bit of a Forrest Gump feel to it as the backwards-aging Benjamin makes his way through history - although Benjamin isn't so much influencing the events around him (like Forrest did) as the events are influencing him.

The film's funniest moments come in the first hour or so, when Benjamin is a young boy trapped in an old man's body. Benjamin has been taken in as a baby by a black woman who runs a sort of nursing home - so appearance-wise, Benjamin fits right in with the other boarders.

You don't see Benjamin go to school or receive any sort of formal education, but since he looks like an adult, people speak to him and treat him as such and he gleams his education from those interactions and his own experiences.

The film boasts not one but two great actresses - the always-spectacular Cate Blanchett (a favorite of mine since Elizabeth - Cate Blanchett can do no wrong in my mind) and, in a small but pivotal role, the chameleon Tilda Swinton (right) as Benjamin Button's first real love.

Slight digression -Tilda Swinton never ceases to amaze me with the way she completely morhps into drastically different characters in every movie she appears in - the commanding White Witch in the Narnia movies, a tortured corporate attorney in Michael Clayton, and the bored socialite wife of a dignitary in Button. Most of these characters don't require appearance-altering makeup or effects - Tilda Swinton is a good enough actress to embody them without it.

That tangent is not meant to discount Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's performances, which are necessarily enhanced with makeup and effects (Tilda Swinton really only appears in one period of the movie). I don't know that anyone has a more captivating presence than Cate Blanchett playing the mid-twenties/early-thirties version of her character - the porcelain skin, the red hair, and that arresting expression...seriously, that woman has the most amazing bone structure in her face. You literally can not stop looking at her.

As for Brad Pitt - I've always thought he was a good actor who only occasionally gets sidelined by stupid pretty-boy roles (Meet Joe Black and Troy, anyone?) He's in fine form in Benjamin Button, acting through his makeup and not relying on it. And if you want to see a tortured, soulful expression, well, just wait for Brad to age backwards into his forties/thirties and you'll get it (the fifties-era costumes - white t-shirts and sunglasses - don't hurt him, either).

Of course, the whole movie does sort of have a cloud of inevitable sadness hanging over it, as you know that there is only one possible outcome in the end. But you almost forget about that in the beginning as it first begins to seem a miracle that the shriveled little old man-boy's legs get strong enough to walk, and then he gets taller...the subtle progression into the younger Pitt is handled so carefully you can buy how it would seem natural to a real-life observer. That is, until he starts to get into his early sixties/late fifties and it starts becoming painfully obvious that he is in fact aging backward rather than simply getting stronger in his current condition.

Benjamin Button is probably not a movie for everyone, but I was completely entranced by it. I hope you'll give it a chance and check it out.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Yolkin' It

Yesterday was as pretty close as humanly possible to a perfect day, and I credit that perfection to starting the day off perfectly with breakfast at the Broken Yolk.

Noe and I happened upon the Broken Yolk during the fall of 2007, when we had first moved to Connecticut. We used to get up early and go walking every morning (a habit we could probably use to start again). The Broken Yolk occupies a very unassuming position in the middle of our residential neighborhood. It looks like a yellow house until you get close enough to see the signs.

The exterior of the Broken Yolk
(photo by Brian Samas)

After walking past it every day for a couple months, curiosity got the best of us one weekend and we decided to walk down for breakfast.

The Yolk is very small inside. There's the grill and dish area (calling it a kitchen seems to imply that it is its own room, which it isn't) surrounded on three sides by a counter and stools and then four or five four-person booths along the back wall. There's nothing fancy about the interior - the walls could probably use a paint job and the booths are not exactly what I would call comfortable - but it's a diner. Who's looking for fanciness?

The coffee is strictly diner-grade: think of that weirdly strong yet somewhat watery cooked-down variety that you used to find in gas stations before they all went "gourmet." But the food...

Noe normally gets an omelet with two or three different things in it. The Yolk's three-egg omelets are pretty sizable, and they pack them with the selected fillings. Bacon, tomato and cheddar is always a good pick; as is standard ham and cheese. They have a good selection of meats and veggies to choose from, including soy sausage for those who want protein of the non-flesh variety.

I usually alternate between the same two menu items. Number one is the two-egg breakfast, a classic diner combo of two eggs any way you like them (I prefer over-medium); two pieces of toast; bacon, ham, or sausage; and - last but not least - the fantastic Broken Yolk potatoes, which accompany almost anything on the menu. The perfectly seasoned potatoes are always cooked to perfection - firm enough to bite into, but soft enough to melt in your mouth. Even though I can almost never finish my portion, I consider the potatoes an integral part of a Broken Yolk breakfast.

My other staple from the Breakfast Menu - when I'm feeling more decadent - is Eggs Benedict (right). I am an Eggs Benedict junkie and have ordered them in numerous restaurants and have tasted a number of creative variations. The Broken Yolk version is the classic - two poached eggs served over Canadian bacon on a split and tasted English muffin, all smothered with Hollandaise sauce. The Yolk's rich, buttery Hollandaise is the perfect consistency, and there's enough of the velvety sauce to cover and dip the rest of the dish in without it being smothered and overpowered. (However, there is nothing the Broken Yolk can do to prevent the immense guilt factor that comes with eating anything smothered in Hollandaise sauce - you can feel the calories adding up, I swear.)

I have actually never ordered any of what I refer to as the "carb-based breakfasts" - waffles, French toast, pancakes - because I really enjoy my egg-based breakfasts. However, our good friend Brian Samas, a Broken Yolk enthusiast and amateur photographer (he took some of these great Broken Yolk pictures) has ordered just about every special the Yolk has ever offered - I'd ask him if you need an opinion.

Service at the Yolk can be a bit spotty - it's generally one or two waitresses running the show, the grill is pretty small, and the restaurant can get packed with the after-church crowd on weekends. Everyone I have dealt with there has been friendly, but I wouldn't recommend going to the Yolk if you're in a hurry.

Noe, Brian, Delara and I outside the Yolk in the summer.

But if you're ever in the Ocean Beach neighborhood of New London and you're looking for a good, classic breakfast to be enjoyed at leisure, check out the Broken Yolk. You can view the restuarant and menu here:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Some Enchanted Evening

As I clean up empty wine bottles and look around at the dozens of empty glasses and discarded party favors around me, I think only one thought: New Year's Eve was a success.

Instead of going out, Noe and I decided to host New Year's Eve at our house (this turned out to be an even better decision than we originally thought as our area of Connecticut was hit with some serious snow and ice yesterday). We decided that I would cook a meal, everyone would donate some appetizers/dessert/booze, and we'd play video games and dance in the living room. In short, the stuff our group of friends does on a regular basis, but with more people and a general air of festivity.

Brian Samas and Sabrina stopped by long enough for Sabrina
to utilize every party favor and Samas to take some excellent photos
(this is one of them).

Dressing up was not required, but most of our guests chose to wear nicer-than-everyday wear (best dressed has to go to Doyle in his tuxedo). I actually got my party dress at Target when I went to buy paper plates and napkins.

I cooked a pan of meat lasagna and a baked fettuccine with asiago cheese - we had about 15 people and with only one small oven, pasta was really my only option (plus, I put these together on Tuesday night and just baked them before the guests arrived, which made it much easier to prep for the party). Katie made one of her spectacular salads, and that along with some good garlic breadsticks and baguettes comprised our dinner. Our friends brought over delicious appetizers and snacks, and our dessert superstars Amanda and Ryan did not fail us - Amanda brought not only chocolate mousse brownies but also her fabulous rum cake (or as we like to call it, "booze cake") and Ryan made his gigantic chocolate chunk - oatmeal cookies.

Samas's camera; photo by Doyle.
Apparently I am seriously contemplating
this glass of wine Amanda is drinking.

We had a really interesting assortment of beers and wines. I brought the Arboleda Carmenere and the XYZin 50-year old vine Zinfandel up from the cellar, Ryan added a bottle of Ravenswood Zin, Amanda added the 2005 Chateau Saint-Nicolas Bordeaux, and Katie contributed our lone non-sparkling white, a California blend called Seven Daughters. The boys made sure the beer selection was equally diverse with selections by Magic Hat, Sam Adams, Leffe, Anchor Steam, Dogfish Head, and more.

(For those of you thinking that we're big-time snobs about now, keep in mind there was also plenty of Cook's sparkler, Smirnoff mojitos in a jug, and Miller High Life.)

Trifecta hanging out with some classy dresses and some good wine -
and getting ready to start dancing!

The evening progresses casually - everyone mingled and ate, poured some drinks, played Guitar Hero World Tour (this game might require a post dedicated all to itself because it is the best video game ever), and those of us who wished to had a dance party in my furniture-less living room. Later on and a few more drinks into the evening, we switched to American Idol Karaoke - on the easiest setting because, let's face it, after a whole bunch of booze and talking over people all night, no one was really in their finest singing voice.

"With a rebel yell, she cried more, more, more!"
John tests out his new microphone stand while Kevin plays guitar.

We did turn off the video games long enough to countdown with Ryan Seacrest, the Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift, and Lionel Ritchie (what was Lionel Ritchie doing in this group? Mediating the feud between Taylor Swift and Joe Jonas?) For the big countdown, there was plenty of prosecco and - thanks to John - an excellent Oregon sparkler by Argyle (75% Chardonnay; 25% Pinot Noir; 100% delicious). Then the singing resumed once more.

"Islands in the stream; that is what we are..."
Noe and John duet.

Noe and I were extremely grateful to have such a good group of friends to celebrate with us this time around. The people at our house Wednesday night were instrumental in turning 2008 from a pretty crappy year into a pretty great one, and we were happy to see them having such a good time at the party.

Happy New Year!

Here's to 2009 - off to a good start that will hopefully continue throughout the year!