Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Scanning Vacations Past and Stellina Pasta Cafe

Yesterday, I was so inspired by the completion of the scanning/uploading task with my Isle Royale photos that I decided to make a day of it. At the end of the day, while I didn't win any world record scanning titles, I did get a lot of the work done. Of the photos that I decided to upload, I finished them all but our trip out West. I have a LOT of photos from that trip but hopefully I'll get that done later today. No pressure but if you're interested in taking a look at the photos, click the "My Flickr Photos" link to the right.

On an unrelated note, Bill and I are going to eat at Stellina Pasta Cafe today. My friend Laura and I ate there during Christmas break (I think) and really enjoyed the food. Today, I'm returning for three reasons: to take Bill who has been wanting to try the food, it's spring break and we have the leisure time to do these kind of things, and it's my birthday. Happy Birthday to me!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring Break 2009 and Isle Royale 1998

After having read a few Sarah Vowell books recently, I was inspired to organize a spring break trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I had this fantasy that a road trip to a major historical destination might inspire my teaching and/or facilitate the writing of my own Vowell-esque, hysterically observant essay. So, having an innate talent for list-making, I began the planning process. Dates, hotels, iternary - all selected. The problem was getting Bill on board. As much as I tried to convince him of the educational importance and star-making potential of this trip, Bill remained unconvinced. In fact, he even suggested that we start with Silver Dollar City and "build from there." The horror! In the meantime, I kept talking about calling to make the reservations for the Williamsburg trip when a colleague of mine said, "You know spring break is next week." Again, the horror! How did I managed to lose track of the calendar? I really have no clue. So, here I am, spring break week, blogging about vacations -- or the lack there of -- instead of enjoying one. And, as tribute to all those vacations not taken, I am revisiting some of my old vacation memories by finally scanning those old 35 mm film stills that I took before going digital. Here are a few photos from our hiking trip to Isle Royale (IR) in the summer of 1998.

This was an awesome week-long trip! We drove to Grand Portage, MN and took the 3 hour ferry ride to the island. Beautiful forest, beautiful lake, beautiful views. IR is a protected International Biosphere Reserve, as well as a National Park, so backpacking and camping etiquette is strictly enforced. It also meant that backpacking and camping were only permitted along designated trails and sites. What made this often grueling was that you had to hike the distance that the NPS told you to in order to get to the designated campsite for the night. Because of the ferry schedule, I think that we got an midday start the first day, forcing us to quickly high-step it to the approximately 7 miles that we had to do to get to the first campsite. We made good time on this nearly flat, mostly shaded trail so I was undaunted by the subsequent days hikes that called for hiking a few 9 and 11 mile stretches. At times, it was really tough hiking too--sandy beaches, rocky terrain, steep inclines. I think I cried at least 5 times the second or third day when we essentially had to hike uphill all day on loose, rocky paths, and little protection from the sun because we were out of the forested area. Miserable but so worth it in the end.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vin de Set

Bill and I decided to try Vin de Set because of the positive reviews it had received from both friends and critics. The reviews held true. Good food, great wine, great atmosphere.

Here's the scoop:
We arrived a little early so we headed to the bar for drinks. I ordered a Malbec (if it hasn't already acheived "it" status among local hipster wine drinkers I predict it's on its way) but the bar guy, I think, winced. When I asked about it, he offered me a wine tasting. Fast-forward and I'm drinking a big ol' glass of Cabernet Franc from Cali. Very smooth. Very alcoholic. Very delicious. After a few drinks we made our way to the dining area, where we had the opportunity to sit outside in the covered, heated rooftop dining area. Wasn't expecting that option in mid-March but we went along with it since part of the point of coming to Vin is the rooftop dining experience. And, the roof did have a nice view, one that I suspect is better under more natural, more appropriate alfresco weather conditions.

On to the food:
We started with a delicious baked brie with roasted garlic and apricot and walnut chutney. Bill ordered steak and frittes, which he called "delicious" and gave a big two thumbs up. I ordered the sirloin burger w/roquefort bechamel & angel hair onions. It was very tasty too even if the cheese, and I hate to criticize cheese because it is really the most perfect food, was a little too rich for the burger (maybe that's a French culinary preference). We finished by sharing a vanilla creme brulee, which was good, but not memorable.

The assessment:
In fact, the last sentence of the last paragraph sums up my assessment of Vin--that the food was good, but not especially memorable. But, here's what's also very important to remember: food and ambiance work in tandem. Great food can be made bad by a bad presentation or environment (example: The Tin Can near Tower Grove Park--good food that registers bad because of its bad environment). Conversely, as in the case of Vin, good food can be made great by the presentation or environment. I'll fondly remember the Cabernet Franc and the view of the rooftop dining area and the great fun that I had with Bill. And, because of those positive memories and associations, Vin's good food gets thrown into the mix and becomes great too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Weekend Preview

There's a lot going on for us this weekend. Tomorrow night is our St Louis Symphony Orchestra night. The orchestra is performing Beethoven "Pastoral" Symphony. The SLSO description begins, "Beethoven's treasured sounds of the woods...." Music and woods. Sounds promising. Throw in a little moss and some woodland fairies and it might be perfect. Tickets are still available for both the Friday and the Saturday show if you're interested.

On Saturday, we're heading to COCA for Willa's ballet class and then to Bill's Mom's house for her annual St. Patrick's Day dinner (for lunch). She's the only Polish person that I know who prepares corned beef better than the Irish. Later, we'll have dinner at Vin de Set in honor of our 9th wedding anniversary which we officially celebrated on March 11th. We've not been to Vin before but have heard good things about the food and rooftop dining area (obviously not be experienced tomorrow night). The menu looks promising and while I haven't fully decided on what to order, I'm leaning toward the trout. I love trout.

Sunday is wide open at this point. I suppose the weather might determine what we'll do for the day. Might be a good day to work on the garden. Or mulch. Or just play Tetris.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rockwoods Reservation

When the weather was as nice as it was this past weekend, you just have to get out of the house and do something outside. Saturday was a bust for some reason but we headed out to Rockwoods Reservation on Sunday, even though some potentially bad storms were in the forecast. Glad we took the chance. Aside from a few raindrops and some wind, it was a gorgeous day.

I hadn't been to Rockwoods before Sunday but one of the first things that I noticed about the terrain was how much it reminded me of the Mark Twain Forest in the Ozarks. Way back when, a few times a year, Bill and I would go canoeing on the Eleven Point River, which runs through the Mark Twain, and/or hiking along the Big Piney Trail, which is also located in the Mark Twain. The Eleven Point is a beautiful, spring-fed, cold little river that everybody has to canoe at least once in their lifetime. In fact, a portion of the Eleven Point is designated a National Wild and Scenic Riverways System. But, I digress. Here are some photos from Rockwoods this weekend.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Just a Little Promo: Noises Off

Dando, my super friend, great actor, fab drama teacher, and awesome director, has been putting in some extremely long hours (her norm--she's such a fabulous person/teacher!) with the kids in producing the play, Noises Off! It debuts tomorrow might, March 5 at 7pm at the newly renovated MRH auditorium. I would encourage catch a show if you can.......watching her direction and the acting of the kids is always a wonderful experience. If you can't make it tomorrow night, you can also catch it on Friday, March 7th, or Saturday, March 8th. Both are at 7pm. The address is: MRH H.S., 7539 Manchester Road, Maplewood, MO 63143. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dinner at the Triumph Grill

Bill and I are probably like some of you out there: we don't go out to eat often so, when we do, we end up hitting the same old, but favorite, places. For us, those rare restaurant nights out are just so precious that we're kind of reluctant to potentially waste one by experimenting. But, we're always open to trying new restaurants when we have dinner plans with friends, which is what we had last night. Bill and I met our friend Laura for dinner at the Triumph Grill, which is located on Olive near Grand Center and SLU. Another relative locational tidbit is that the Triumph sits across from the Moto Museum. Thus, the name Triumph, as in the Triumph Motorcycle. The moto influence on this place should be noted before you go. No, it thankfully doesn't have "moto" inspired dishes on the menu. But it does have a sophisticated moto decor, which I think will limit the clientele, I hypothesize, to three main groups of people here: SLU kids (although it seems too expensive to be the usual beer and burger hangout), arts people (with clubs, the Fox, and the Symphony all within walking distance it's the perfect before or after dinner/drink spot), and, obviously, moto people.

If it occured to you to be worried about the statement about the clientele, don't. Not a problem. Wish I could say that for the dining my experience though. Since I'm not a food critic I'll keep my comments short. It wasn't a fabulous dining experience but it was an okay one. I left with two chief compliants, but they're important ones. First, our waitress was terrible. Very forgetful. Too "in-your-face" at the beginning of the evening and too "where-the-hell-did-she-go" by the middle and into the end. My rare burger was horrible too. Did I mention that I ordered it prepared medium-well? I actually sent it back to be cooked more, which I hardly ever do. And, I'm very convinced of this, they cooked only the edges to fool me into thinking that the whole thing had been cooked to my liking. Why? When I bit in, it was still rare. Perhaps had the lights been dimmer or had I had more wine ....... On the other hand, Bill and Laura had perfectly pleasant experiences with the Cowboy Steak and Shrimp Risotto. Overall the Triumph was just so-so and the menu and atmosphere not nearly interesting enough to give them another try.