We always say we’re wanting to go to brunch when Tina’s serving up at Black Forge, but it seems the brunch schedule and our schedules never mesh. But at last, last Saturday, we had a free morning, so we went up for some coffee and a delicious sampling of quiches. And then we stopped at the mall on the way home because, I mean, might as well if it’s right there.

Paul’s co-workers are big fans of doing escape rooms and one of the nearby libraries set one up for free, so in the evening, we went to do that and ended up being the fastest team, escaping with 10 minutes left on a 30-minute time limit. As a result, we got put in for a drawing for prizes, and Paul’s name was drawn for a Starbucks gift card. Nice to go do something and get money for it instead of having to pay for it, plus that library was pretty nice. I know my brother visits that one a good bit and our library is connected to it and others in the county, I’ve just never stopped in.

And afterwards, a few of us went out to Mad Mex, because Paul and I can’t be within 15 minutes of the place and not go. It’s just so good.

Our favorite movie theater, Row House, was doing a sci-fi, memory-focused theme for the week, and they were showing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Blade Runner. As much as I would love to see Eternal Sunshine in a theater, I’ve already shown it to Paul–but he’d never seen Blade Runner. And if we’re gonna go, I’d rather go see something at least one of us hasn’t seen before. It’s part of what I love about Row House. It makes movies you have seen a little more fun, but because it exclusively shows older releases surrounding a different theme every week, you get a chance to see something that’s long left theaters on a big screen in surround sound.

Of the two movies, I think I enjoy Eternal Sunshine more, but as far as seeing something in a theater, Blade Runner was the right choice. I’d forgotten how beautiful its cinematography is, and when the movie started with those awesome, ridiculous noir-esque shots of what they thought of as a futuristic LA, I was really happy Paul’s first exposure to the film wasn’t on one of our laptops in our bed. Hilariously, the movie is set in 2019, and when that title flashed on screen, I laughed out loud. But also…Sean Young. That is all.

Wait, one final thing–approximately everyone out-acts Harrison Ford in that movie.

We seem to only do this when we go to Lawrenceville, maybe because it’s super easy to do it, but we make it a point to never eat at the same restaurant twice. We just kind of had the idea and stuck to it, I think because the first time we decided to eat in the area, we decided to just walk until we found something interesting, and in the process, we just saw how many neat restaurants there are. So we try something new every time, and usually, we choose just based on walking until we hit something we’ve never been to. It was a Sunday evening, so a few places were closing up, which made taco place Condado the winner.

Condado is essentially build-your-own tacos. They have a menu of suggestions to choose from, sure, but you can also just fill out what you want–basically the same concept as Burgatory, just with tacos. We opted for some of the suggestions, and I took it easy because both vegetarian options sounded spicy, and I went for the one that sounded less likely to destroy my tastebuds. I ended up being wrong, but that aside, it was a great taco. It also introduced me to jackfruit, which is apparently a pretty good meat substitute due to its texture and the fact that it takes on other flavors similar to the way tofu does.

So basically, despite eating a taco that was a little too much for me, I loved the place. Paul did, too, and it may put a wrench in our plans to just wander Lawrenceville for food.

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Like I said, wedding stuff has started to dominate our time. I had another dress fitting Saturday and need one more, basically because my boobs are too small. Mom had a fitting at the same time and barely needs anything done.

We followed it up with dinner at Roland’s, because nothing says “my dress is a bit snug and I want to drop my waist measurement a tad” like ordering a plate full of rigatoni. I’m great at health and fitness, guys!

I followed that with brunch Sunday morning with Paul’s parents. We decided on President’s Pub for rehearsal dinner because the cost is similar to other local restaurants for better quality, and since his parents are paying for it and his mom has a tendency to want these things her way, Paul invited them out. I’ve actually never gone to the jazz brunch and have heard very good things, and it’s probably become my go-to brunch spot now. Live jazz music with a pretty typically brunch menu with locally sourced ingredients. I honestly don’t know why there aren’t bigger crowds at this place, like, ever, but they seem to be doing okay. We plan to go Tuesday for a fundraiser to benefit residents of an apartment building that collapsed downtown, and I’m kind of hoping this place sets itself out as a community staple.

Anyway, the point is as usual, I went in preparing to have to defend our choice to have it there and lay down the law about how it’s our wedding and we won’t accept financial help if it means the final say isn’t ours, and she ended up loving the place. I’d say it was a smart move on Paul’s part, but I’m not convinced he knew it would go that way. I think maybe we got lucky.

Meanwhile, at work, I’ve been promoted! I had a very positive review with nothing but praise for the good work I do and how reliable I am, and it comes with an 80-cent-per-hour raise that’ll kick in at the end of the month, just in time to focus on paying down credit-card balances from the wedding–which, fortunately, isn’t a lot. We have a couple expenses we put on cards, in some cases to take advantage of no-interest deals, and I’ve been steadily paying things down after all other bills are paid. Paul got a raise, too, so it’s great timing all around.

Wedding planning has reached that point where we don’t have a lot of major things to do, for the most part, but instead have a bunch of little things that need handled. And that’s kind of how everything else has been–we’re not so busy with life that we’re bogged down and constantly doing something, but we’ve been doing things.

We had a graduation party one Saturday, then spent a little time at the Whiskey Rebellion Festival that weekend, although we missed most of the big fun things. We’re still going with our dance classes, and we’re still regularly going to the gym. We’d started slacking on our weightlifting routine, so we’re getting back into that.

I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale thanks to a Hulu trial we got trying to find a different show, and I figure I might as well use it. I wish I would’ve known sooner what this was actually about, because I would’ve picked up the book much, much sooner than I did otherwise. I didn’t find out until all the buzz about the show–which, by the way, I’m loving, for all of its creepy fucked-up-ness. I’ve read and watched a lot of shit and maybe it’s just because I’m a woman, but I think this is hands down the most extreme, disturbing sort of dystopian fiction I’ve seen. It’s a nightmare. I love it.

I also made some progress toward cooking more. I mean, I make dinner just about every night, but I never really do any baking, and I thought with the wedding coming up, it could be a good idea to try to make some of our cookies. That said, that’s not what I made. We were at Giant Eagle one night grabbing some little things, so I figured I’d get on my Pinterest and find a delicious food we didn’t need to buy a lot to make. I found a banana cake and made it a couple days later, and I have to say, being that this was the first time I’ve baked basically anything from scratch, I did a pretty good job. I also enjoyed actually making it more than I thought I would. I get impatient with cooking because I get bored with the actual act and just want the finished product, but I think actually having something delicious to show for my work makes it feel less annoying. But I don’t see myself doing it often, and definitely not the way Paul will bake cookies to cheer himself up. It’s also not something I want to devote a ton of time to, in the sense that when articles need written and a wedding needs planned, I feel like I don’t have the time to spare. So for now, culinary adventures in general are gonna be limited to days off with nothing else going on. I feel like I’m losing time I need for other things otherwise.

Lack of space doesn’t make it easy, either. We have basically no free counters and the kitchen table depends on whether or not it’s recently been cleared off, so that’s why I mixed a cake while sitting on the floor.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of a ModCloth pop-up shop in Pittsburgh, so of course I dragged Paul downtown with me on a Friday after work a couple weeks ago. I promised he’d get dinner out of the deal. He just, you know, had to sit and wait for me to buy clothes first. And if ever there was a man who was obviously so not into his fiancée buying clothes, it was him, sitting on a couch in the middle of the store looking tired and bored. Bless him.

I was hoping they’d have more of their dresses stocked, but it’s probably better they didn’t–it’s expensive stuff, and just buying two skirts did enough damage.

I’d asked the Internets for dinner recommendations. We’re in that part of town often enough that we’ve tried a few of the well-known restaurants, and I was looking for something different, especially since I know Pittsburgh has a lot more to offer than one might think. The original plan was to hit a taco place, but we changed plans to meet up with Terra’s sister-in-law, Tina, who had some jerky to give us for donating to Terra’s brother’s crowdfunding page. Check it out if you like jerky. I’m a vegetarian, so I’ve never actually eaten it, but I hear good things from people who do like jerky.

So instead of staying downtown, we figured we’d make things easier on her and picked a place she’d recommended, actually, on the North Side close to their house. Honestly, the switch wasn’t a big deal–all the suggested menus were appealing, and the winner was chosen initially because Paul didn’t want to walk too far, but I’m glad we ended up where we did. We tried Benjamin’s Burgers, who had an interesting selection of burgers, including veggie options. They also had a smoked tofu sandwich that intrigued me, as well as lots of cheese options. We had an appetizer of brie with honey and apples, and I went for a veggie burger topped with goat cheese and apple. Paul had a smoked-salmon sandwich that he raved about, so Benjamin’s is a definite winner for us next time we’re on that side of town and hungry.

We spent Sunday at Renfest with his sister Emily, who’d never been. We enjoyed the festivities and vendors, as usual.

Last weekend, we got invited along for Mardi Gras at a social hall near my parents’ house. Initially, I wasn’t gonna go–tickets were kind of expensive for a church function, and the dinner choices were only meat. But turns out my mom has connections and was able to arrange for me to get a vegetarian dinner, so I decided to go ahead and go, and Paul said he’d tag along, too.

So we drove into Uniontown last Saturday and he hung out with a friend for a little bit while I headed to my parents’ house, where my mom had the house to herself for part of the afternoon–except for former coworker Danny taking a look at a leaking hot-water tank. So I pretty much just spent the afternoon hanging out until I had to go pick Paul up, the we headed off to Mardi Gras.

My mom described it to Danny as “like a wedding, except you don’t have to bring a gift,” although I pointed out you have to pay to go instead. But she was pretty much spot-on–sit-down dinner from a local go-to catering company and dancing, with both a DJ and popular local band No Bad Juju. My vegetarian dinner of stuffed shells wasn’t great–something about the cheese didn’t taste great–but everyone else was pleased. In a rare role reversal, I actually finished Paul’s food, as each meal came with mashed potatoes and green beans and he doesn’t like green beans.

I spent most of the night drinking–open bar!–and dancing. One of the funny things I noticed is that it’s like a family tradition for the women in the family to hit the dance floor while the men mostly sit and talk, with the exception of cousin Alison’s new husband Chuck, who did join Alison for a few songs. But Paul, my dad, and my godmother’s husband stayed off the floor, meaning I got nice surprises like coming back to cake waiting for me between band sets.

Also tru to form, I can’t keep up with my mom and aunts twice my age. They have more dance stamina than I do, and I’m genuinely surprised I wasn’t more achey the next day.

Because of the late night and free-flowing alcohol, we spent the night at my parents’ and everyone slept in pretty late. I got Brandon to make us breakfast, and we hung around for a little bit before getting cheaper groceries nearby, dropping off some recycling, then heading home.

The week has brought a lot of work, and this weekend so far has been a lazy one. We went out last night to try a new restaurant in town, President’s Pub, which is a really nice, neat place I really liked. We’ve been watching them fix up the building since the summer–we’d pass it walking to and from the farmers market downtown, and I took notice when they started putting up a really nice stone front, huge wooden doors, and a liquor license. When the weather got colder, we weren’t walking by anymore, but I did try to peek over and see if an opening date was posted. I believe they started with some private events in December, and now they’re fully open for business. We were gonna make it there eventually anyway, but Paul’s tai chi instructor had good things to say, so we headed over. I’m in love with their mac and cheese, with truffle oil and mushrooms, and I also loved their lemonberry mascarpone cake. And I had a very potent Manhattan. I’m looking forward to going back. I have my eye on their grilled cheese and a spinach and goat cheese salad. Our local food scene has been getting really good lately, which is exciting.

As for today, we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. I never liked the holiday, and I think Paul’s okay with not making it a big thing. So today is laundry and grocery shopping! Exciting stuff.

The accidental theme of the day about two weeks ago was “places that used to be churches.”

About two weeks prior to that, Brandon had tagged me in a Facebook post about David Duchovny playing a show in Pittsburgh. He recently released an album, and I found out later–when it was too late, actually–that he was also appearing at a convention, so my guess is he either had the convention scheduled and decided to toss in a show or vice versa. As a huge X-Files fan, I had to go, even though I’d only heard the album’s single one time. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. Doesn’t matter when you get to see Fox Mulder.

The interesting thing, though, was seeing where people know him from as I posted my pictures over the next few days. Some people know him as Mulder, others know him from Californication, which I have yet to watch.

I’ve mentioned before how the apartment is packed with recycling. It’s tough to get rid of around here–the building doesn’t collect it and I can’t bring myself to just throw it all away, and the place I used to take it between home and work cracked down on non-township residents using the place. Whenever I go somewhere, I look up if there’s a nearby drop-off. If we’re going to Terra’s, I put some in her bin. If we’re going back to Fayette County, I take it to the local Penn State campus. If we’re going to the city, I take it to a big drop-off spot, so we grabbed a couple bags to take. And then when we were on our way, I thought maybe I’d better double-check the hours. And of course, that’s the one weekend when they were closed to hold a big fundraiser. Of all weekends we were actually heading there with a car full of recycling.

I didn’t want to just not take anything–we’ve done that way too many times, normally because we can’t make it in time because of traffic or something, hence the overload. So I started looking for somewhere else we could take it, and I found one.

Turns out it’s actually better than our original place. It’s much easier to get to–it’s only a few minutes off the parkway, instead of having to cut through the city and backtrack to wherever we were going in the first place. So it’s gonna be our new spot, hopefully saving us time. I’m planning to take more today.

It was actually so easy to get to that we were ahead of schedule. Whenever I eat before a concert or something, I like to go two hours in advance–it allows you plenty of time to get there, park, eat, then get to your next destination. We had maybe a full extra half-hour, and we set of for Church Brew Works, which we’ve been meaning to try ever since Paul and his dad had some of their beer at a Geibel auction a few years ago.

It’s a really neat place. It used to be a church, obviously, and in some ways, it’s still set up like on–the center aisle is clear, and big, wooden tables and chairs flank the sides, plus a full bar on the left. In front, where the altar would’ve been, is where they brew the beer.

I wasn’t really hungry–I think we’d eaten leftover pizza for lunch or something, I don’t remember. But I was conflicted over whether or not to order pasta, since it’s my weakness, but I made a smarter decision and went with their Veggie Spaghetti. It’s zucchini “noodles” in a beet marinara with vegetarian mushroom and lentil “meatballs.” And it was awesome. It’s kind of exactly what I need out of a meal–vegetarian-friendly and enough like pasta that I feel like I’m eating pasta when I’m really just eating vegetables and therefore eating healthier.

Paul had pumpkin soup and Oktoberfest pierogies with bratwurst and sauerkraut in them, and we ended with a tiramisu dessert. He had a couple of their beers, I had the Oktoberfest special German sangria that was pink and delicious. It tasted like sweet white wine and peaches.

The thing is, it’s what some would call frou-frou food–delicious but in expensive, small portions. Now, this is actually fine with me because I’m quite willing to pay a lot for something really good, and I prefer more reasonable portion sizes. But when you’re Paul, who’s 6’5″ with a huge appetite, it just doesn’t work unless you order a lot of stuff or eat before you go out to eat. Which, admittedly, he probably should eat more anyway. He liked the food, but because of the price and portion sizes, I don’t think he was too happy. And then there’s me, who’s been kind of craving that Veggie Spaghetti the last few days.

We were still really ahead of schedule. I had to drive since Paul was a little drunk (plus in a bit of a mood, not related to the restaurant or me), and we drove the few minutes from Lawrenceville to the Strip District, found parking, and walked around to kill some time. Unfortunately, not too much, since most of the stores close around 5 or earlier and we walked about as far as we reasonably could–we got to a point where we were almost beyond the string of restaurants and stores.

We stopped at McDonald’s, in part because I really had to pee and in part because Paul was still hungry and wanted a burger. And then we waited in line for a while, then we stood around Altar Bar–a church turned concert venue criticized for its poor sound system–and then David Duchovny came on and we had a good time for a little while.

It’s been a fun but busy couple of days.

Thursday was McKeesport’s annual International Village food festival, so Paul and I ventured out. We’ve been trying new routes in and around the city–especially to and from Terra’s house–thanks to construction. And we’ve found some good routes that keep us away from the congested parkway and inevitable tunnel traffic, except that we somehow missed a turn, then took a wrong turn and ended up making a huge circle and significantly screwing up our travel time.

The good thing about this was that in the meantime, Terra was off with her friend Gemma getting a new ear piercing, and her appointment ran late. Our navigational setback ended up being almost perfect–we made it to Terra’s maybe five minutes before she and Gemma got back. Terra and Paul exchanged birthday presents, since their birthdays are about a week or so apart, and then we walked over to the park for the food festival. On the way, we saw her niece, Betty Jo, who is basically the cutest baby to grace my Facebook feed right now. She was also covered in remnants of food, so I guess she had a good time.

As for us, we hung around for a few hours. The grilled pineapple at the Hawaiian stand might be the simplest item there, but it’s one of my favorites and one of the only things I consistently get every year. Everyone else tried out some Lebanese, I split a funnel cake with Terra since her diabetes makes that unwise, and I ended with some lo mein, despite making jokes about how the Chinese line was the longest of all of them. I mean, who goes to an international food festival for Chinese food? Similarly, I refused to eat any Polish or similar foods because my family makes them all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I really love haluski, but I don’t need to get it at a food festival.

That said, my own complaint about that festival is how similar some of the booths are. The Vietnamese and Chinese stands were basically the same, as were a lot of the eastern European and Mediterranean-area ones. On top of that, being a vegetarian sensitive to spicy foods can be really limiting when it comes to trying new things–I would’ve loved to have tried the Soul Food, but it was all either spicy or meat. (That said, if I were actually traveling to these countries, I’d seriously consider at least included seafood so as to truly experience another culture because I think it’s important.)

The festival isn’t all food–they do have a craft section, although it’s not as international as the rest of the festival. It’s more of the typical stands you’ll see at fairs, but it is always fun to browse. Terra and I even walked away with some great-smelling soy candles that I think were locally made.

And Friday night, we stayed in for the first time in weeks and drank some wine before a weekend of family gatherings and mountain excursions.

Friday Five: Octopi

  1. 1. What’s something you own at least eight of? Pairs of shoes, just about every type clothing item I own, CDs, books, records.
  2. 2. How particular are you about the ink in the pens you write with? Not very particular at all, but I do have a slight preference for a nice, flowing ink.
  3. 3. What’s something interesting you know about octopi? Just that inky business, really. That and I once saw a GIF of an octopus unscrewing the lid of a closed jar it was inside of.
  4. 4. What seems to have a suction-cup-like grip on your attention lately? I don’t really know. I can’t think of anything I’ve been that incredibly focused on, at least not more so than other things.
  5. 5. These questions were inspired by a song in which one of the repeated lyrics is often playfully mis-sung as “How am I gonna be an octopus about this?” That was going to be my question #5 this week, but then I thought nobody would ever come back after a thing like that, so your real question is: When you travel, whether it’s to a completely different culture or just to a neighboring state, how adventurous is your approach to the cuisine? Sufficiently adventurous, I think. Before I went to Mexico, I mentioned that I was considering doing a vegetarian hiatus for the trip, although not because I wanted to eat meat like the Craigs thought and encouraged–I thought eating vegetarian in Mexico, at least off of the resort, would be hard logistically. I thought vegetarian food would be hard to find, especially considering I don’t like beans, but I was also pretty confident that the Craigs would have no patience if I requested we seek out vegetarian-friendly restaurants and would’ve basically said, “Too bad.” I got by on shrimp. But the thing with traveling and being a vegetarian is that I do think it’s important to experience other cultures, so I’m willing to taste non-vegetarian foods–I did that at the Greek food festival Paul and I went to recently, although I won’t give it up entirely and order meat dishes for myself. All that said, though, I do have limits–I’m not gonna eat anything too crazy, meat or otherwise.

Friday Five: Veggies

  1. 1. What’s your favorite tomato thing? Because I love pasta, I love tomato-based sauces. I also love ketchup. But if we’re talking whole tomatoes, a tomato sandwich with mayo.
  2. 2. What’s your favorite celery thing? I like celery on its own, but probably my favorite thing it’s in is Grandma’s potato salad. Mom and I have gotten pretty close to recreating it.
  3. 3. What’s your favorite broccoli thing? I like broccoli on its own, too, but never seem to eat much of it. But I like it in alfredos.
  4. 4. What’s your favorite eggplant thing? Definitely eggplant parmesan, or this amazing eggplant lasagna this Italian place by my apartment has.
  5. 5. What’s your favorite spinach thing? Spinach and artichoke dip! I like it pastas, too, or even salads.

Friday Five: Sammy

  1. A breakfast sandwich is typically made with some kind of bread with egg, cheese, and some kind of breakfast meat. What’s the best variation on this theme you’ve tried, or what variation would you like to try? First off, I’m a vegetarian, so my breakfast sandwiches are always just egg and cheese. And partly because of that and partly because I’m not the most adventurous eater, that’s about as far as I go–my breakfast sandwiches only get as about exciting as being on a bagel or croissant instead of bread. Now, that said, my favorite sandwich at local staple Primanti’s–and the only meatless one anyway–is their egg and cheese. And in case you’re not familiar with Primanti’s sandwiches, they come with coleslaw and French fries on them.
  2. A sandwich cookie is typically made with two thin cookies with some kind of sweet, creamy filling. What’s the best variation on this theme you have tried, or what variation would you like to try? I’m a huge fan of the chocolate chip cookie ice-cream sandwiches.
  3. A melt sandwich (such as a tuna melt) is typically some kind of bread with some kind of filling plus some kind of cheese, grilled or fried until the cheese is melted. What’s the best variation on this sandwich you’ve tried, or what variation would you like to try? See, the vegetarian thing keeps me away from melts, too. I either eat a salad on bread or grilled cheese, pretty much, although I have had sandwiches that replace the meat with a portobello mushroom.
  4. If all you do is smear some peanut butter and jelly between two slices of bread, you have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What do you do in order to make yours just a little better? Jack shit! You don’t understand, my eating habits are disgustingly boring. 
  5. What are your thoughts on sprouts in a sandwich? I don’t like sprouts at all anyway, so I don’t really like them in a sandwich. That said, when I eat sandwiches loaded with veggies, I’m more likely to overlook things I normally wouldn’t like because they’re buried in other flavors. I’m pretty sure I have eaten a sandwich with sprouts in it but didn’t notice for this reason. Similarly, I don’t really care much for avocado, but there was this fantastic veggie sandwich I had a couple times at the resort in Mexico with avocado that I didn’t mind.