Saying Goodbye

You grow up thinking your parents are indestructible. My mom has always been the rock of the family. And Pops? Well he could handle anything that came our way. Looking back on my childhood, I suppose Dad wasn’t quite as handy as I thought. The tools in the garage may have always gotten used, but the cars often dripped some kind of fluid. We may have picked out our own Christmas tree from atop the mountain, but there was often a trip to the hospital and stitches involved. The patio and yard walls may have gotten built, but they often leaned a bit. And the roof may have gotten re-shingled in the middle of summer, but there were many bent nails along the way.

This isn’t some flowery tribute to a perfectly flawed man. I remember having family barbeques and guests gushing to me about how lucky I was to have such a sweet father with an amazing sense of humor; it made me gag. I barely remember him ever even speaking to me as a kid and he certainly wasn’t cracking jokes at breakfast. The only time he acknowledged my existence was when he was yelling about something I may or may not have done. He would come home from work and we’d do our best to disappear while he sat in his chair, reading his newspaper, and nodding off until dinner. The same nonsense would occur after dinner, unless one of us caused a commotion that interrupted his snoring. He and mom sacrificed so much for us kids that attention for each other just took a back seat.

After his retirement, I saw a different side of my father. The endearing, goofy guy that others knew all along finally showed himself to the family. His craftiness was spent on his children’s homes and his eyes glistened as he played with his grandchildren. He had a different pair of suspenders for every day of the week and he basked in our teasing of his ensemble. Time spent in his chair with the newspaper became interactive as he would shout out crossword clues that had him stumped. He still wasn’t perfect and often drove me nuts, but I got to know the man who gave me life and I enjoyed his company.

I am thankful for the “no-nonsense”, “get your hands dirty” character my father instilled in me. There were a lot of life lessons he taught me, both through conscious effort and his actions. Heck, you may have to hold the handle down, but I fixed that damn toilet myself! And the fire extinguisher was on standby as I replaced all the light fixtures in my house, but they look darn pretty! Despite being the baby of the family, I spent many years observing and mimicking independence and strength; my greatest asset and perhaps my biggest downfall.

My dad passed away this holiday season, quickly and relatively quietly. He wasn’t angry or miserable. His aging body was beginning to take hold and I think it was a good time for him to pass on to the next life. Some of my family and friends have expressed concern over my reaction, and some will likely be upset that I’ve turned to an online outlet. But dad was one of my first subscribers to this blog and, while I haven’t posted often, I suppose it’s been our way of keeping in touch. I know Pops was proud of his growing family; he never hesitated to express his pride in me. And perhaps that’s all I really needed from my father. I’m thankful I can say goodbye and remember him now with a fond smile and a glistening eye.

From the Shelf

I’ve wanted to get back into writing lately, but don’t want to just babble about food and that seems to be consuming a bit of my life at this point. Alternatively, I checked out the pre-blog archives and decided to put  a couple of them out here for inspiration.

Dear Diary –
So we’re having this discussion in class the other night about discrimination and a girl starts giving her point of view. Don’t get me wrong, I believe she had the best of intentions, but she says “… I just look at a homeless person or someone in a mental hospital and think ‘in a flash something could happen and that could be me’… I could be the one on the other side.” In just that moment I realized how ingrained prejudice is in our society. 
You see, even in a most sincere thought, a line is drawn… the good side and the bad side… the normal and the damaged… us and them. We fight for acceptance, we compete for success, we compare ourselves to one another, and yet somehow we all view ourselves on the better side… whether it’s because we’re more financially successful or we have higher morals than those that are, we’re always on the better side.
There’s a fine line between empathy for the situation and pity for the person. When asked what he’d do if he had the chance to get out of his wheelchair and walk away, Murderball star and quad-rugby olympic athlete, Mark Zupan, said he wouldn’t take it. That response seems so shocking at first, but why? The wheelchair is part of his life and he loves his life! We should all be so proud of who we are and what we’ve become without judging others for not achieving the same.
One year I was asked to go back to my high school and be a guest speaker on Broadcasting for career day and I laughed. I was unemployed in my field and anything but a role-model. Honestly, I love the experiences I’ve had in my life, but I wouldn’t wish it on some poor, unsuspecting teen. But why not speak to them about making choices and not being afraid to take chances to find your way? I don’t know if I made an impact, not that you could ever quantify such a thing, but I’m glad I didn’t run away simply because I didn’t “measure up” to whatever imaginary scale I’ve designed in my mind.
I’d like to challenge everyone (including myself) to change the mindset; we’re all individuals. I know it sounds so simple, but how often are we told to view everyone the same? “Don’t treat anyone differently”… screw that! There is no normal, there is no perfection, and we are all striving to find happiness; the happiness may actually be found in our own individuality. Let’s celebrate it within ourselves as well as others! 

*soapbox dismounted* (by the way, Suki gave me a 4.3 on that dismount, but I refuse to acknowledge her judgment of me)

Money Don’t Buy Ya Class

You know how sometimes you go off in an email and you have to just walk away to let the steam wear off before you actually hit send? I was in one of those quandaries last Thursday night with this blog post. After several days of cooling off, I still don’t really have any nice things to say. You’ve been forewarned.

Let me begin by stating that I am not a part of the club crowd. Even when I was going to clubs, I’d have to get trashed to withstand any of it. Enter the invite I received to the grand opening party of Narcisse Champagne & Tea Lounge, “toasting a new era in elegant dining and nightlife.” They broke the evening up into 3 stages: A VIP/Media Preview from 6-8 (to which I was invited), RSVP’d guests from 8-10, and open to the public starting at 10 for the nightlife. With a name like Narcisse, it didn’t sound like the place would be my speed, but I figured I’d go and at least check out the menu that we were supposed to be sampling during the event.

I arrive at 6 and find a table outside, with velvet ropes and all, manned by unbelievably scantily clad girls with hair teased and sprayed to the skies like they were ready to walk a runway. Rather than donning the latest fashions, however, they had text stamped on their expanses of skin, reading things like “Taste me, I’m delicious!” and lip prints everywhere like there had been an orgy in the dressing room. Now that screams sophistication. My name was checked off the list and I was directed to go down the red carpet to a girl with wristbands. Had it not been for a manager-type guy standing in the way, arguing with another employee, I might have been able to get by. He was not bothered by my presence and I was apparently perfectly capable of turning around and walking on the outside of the rope to get my wristband. Great first impression for a media audience.

As we went up the escalator and in the main entrance, I couldn’t help but notice another  red carpet, photo-op backdrop, several employees standing around talking and texting, and no photographer. Again, as we looked around for some direction, there was no acknowledgement that we were even there. Inside there were people milling about and champagne distributor reps stationed at various tables, ready to fill my non-existent glass. The bar was open, but they weren’t providing champagne glasses. Some detective work devised that we were supposed to grab one from the table at the entrance, not that any direction or assistance was provided whatsoever.

At this point you’re likely saying “but Chase, it was their grand opening and everyone has service kinks to work out on opening night.” Well I actually heard they’ve been open for about a month now and they personally invited the media to come at this time to evaluate the place. It’s not like I was showing up as some secret shopper to sabotage their service, they had my name on a list of people who would be writing about the experience, for goodness’ sake.

After obtaining my champagne glass (that a friend had to grab off the table out front while the employees still looked around like deer in headlights), I even had a problem gaining the attention of some of the distributor reps. A couple of the women were so busy talking to each other that they couldn’t be bothered to pour champagne, and often I had to ask what it was that was poured in my glass. Come on people, it’s your job to sell me on the damn product! The supposed sampling of the menu amounted to a bite of steak on a pile of garlic mashed potatoes with, as I believe the cocktail waitress described them, “some cute little mushroom things.” I wanted to say “Awww, bless your heart, honey, you’re sweet. Now go put some clothes on and run along back to school.” It tasted good, but a plastic fork and no knife made it difficult to eat for those with smaller mouths than mine. I was also lucky enough to score a plastic cup of greens with some sweet dressing and a slice or two of pear. When questioned about the dressing, the second cocktail waitress had to run back to the kitchen to retrieve the answer. It didn’t matter, since I couldn’t hear the response over the noise of the crowd. Sure was some elegant dining!

So that brings up another point, as the venue filled with hundreds of people (still supposedly the VIP/Media phase of the evening), it became ever-so-apparent that the place had high ceilings; it was loud and hot. There’s something seriously wrong about having sweat drip down my back in the middle of winter at a cocktail reception. To add to the crowd, there were ridiculous performers scattered about. As if a ballerina belonged at the bar, stretching her legs out and doing pirouettes? Then there was the indescribable chick in the photo who was just floating along the floor and creeping people out with random cotton ball antics.

We decided to get some air and head out to the balcony where we could hear each other speak. Unfortunately, they had the heat lamps turned on outside. When I asked one of the servers if they could turn off the one above us, I got an uneasy response of “I don’t know, I don’t think we can, but maybe you could move to the other end where there are smaller heat lamps.” So much for getting some air!

I saw a lot of great people who I would love to have sat down and caught up with under different circumstances, but I just had to get out of there. At 7:50pm I had to fight my way past people to get out the door and saw the line of apparent RSVP’d guests growing downstairs. I stopped elsewhere to get some dinner on the way home and managed to tweet the sentiment that still resonates today: thank you, Narcisse, for bringing my own personal hell a little closer to home. This place embodies everything I cannot stand about our society that should have been left in Vegas, as described in their own words…

“This unique Champagne & Tea Lounge is suited to fulfill the desires and needs of the affluent self loved characters from all the surrounding areas of Scottsdale to metro Phoenix. The champagne bar will serve as an upscale destination with an air of sophistication and sensual style. The atmosphere inter mingles genres of stately old world opulence with a nuance of modern charm. Narcisse is a unique gathering place intended to stimulate the senses of taste sight and sound. Its progressive atmosphere will tease, excite and celebrate these senses continually throughout the experience.”

Imposter

I have a confession to make… I’ve been impersonating a food blogger. I don’t know how it happened; I don’t cook well, I have no education in gastronomy, I simply like to eat and tweet. This has somehow afforded me the opportunity to attend various media events and grand opening celebrations and it is now time to fess up and tell you all about it!

Deseo

Let’s start with an event at Deseo at the Westin Kierland resort. The location is down a beautiful staircase and we all started the evening in the cocktail bar with a muddling class, learning to make mojitos.I’m not much of a mojito fan, as the lime and mint can often overwhelm my gringo taste buds, but the staff here muddled the mint so gently and kept the simple syrup so simple (and less syrupy) that they were quite light and refreshing. They also made us some berry mojitos to throw a different twist on the classic. I could imagine sucking quite a few of these beverages down by the pool any time. They also treated us to some popcorn drizzled with truffle oil, a little-known foodie trick to keep things interesting. After the muddling class we were escorted to the counter in the dining room for a ceviche lesson with renowned chef Douglas Rodriguez. After watching the creation of three different ceviches and sampling all of them, I was quite impressed with the fact that each had an incredibly unique flavor. I do have to admit that I was disappointed in the lack of avocado, as I like the buttery contrast to all the acid, but the rainbow ceviche was amazingly fresh and delicious.

Our event at Deseo continued with a dual-entree of steak and sea bass with a couple of sides. The steak was good, but the fish was the star of the evening for me. I cannot begin to describe the perfect, buttery, crisp crust on this piece of fish and the tender belly that just melted in my mouth. The night was topped off with a tasty dulce de leche dessert. In all fairness, we were treated like absolute royalty and to experience even half of this would probably put a serious dent in anyone’s wallet. The Miami-style Latin cuisine is not something that often interests me, but I will visit Deseo again because of their unmistakable mastery of seafood.

The Herb Box

Let’s move on to the media grand opening event of The Herb Box location on the Scottsdale Waterfront. These local darlings have taken over the former Estate House and done a great job turning it into an exciting, welcoming, yet casual dining atmosphere. With an amazing cheese selection, unique wine list, and decadent red velvet macarons, we had a great introduction to the place. The owners are friendly people who are obviously passionate about utilizing fresh ingredients and bold flavors. What excites me most about The Herb Box is the market concept they’ve incorporated at the street level, where you can stop by and pick up a sandwich, salads, bags of their light and crispy plantain or sweet potato chips, some artisan cheese, and/or unbelievable baked goods. There are even some soon-to-be-stocked wine shelves at the market to provide everything you need for a romantic evening at home at a convenient pickup location. Fingers crossed for some Arizona wines to make the inventory!

Sunshine Moon Peking Pub

Moving on to perhaps the biggest surprise, Sunshine Moon Peking Pub. An odd name, for sure, but you have to respect a guy who names a restaurant based on a line out of his young daughter’s mouth. Again we were treated like royalty, with personal visits from the owners and chef and a never ending delivery of food and wine. But I was blown away by… wait for it… the perfectly medium-rare pub burger with a runny egg, caramelized onions, and kewpie mayonnaise all piled on top of a super-soft brioche bun. Yes, you heard correctly, someone has successfully combined a Chinese restaurant with a pub and mastered an awesome burger. The wings were also very well cooked with a well-balanced pineapple glaze over evenly crispy and meaty chicken. A solid Mongolian Beef dish started the entrees off right. In fact, we tried almost everything on the menu and it was all damn good. The Orange-Peel Chicken was a bit of a sodium bomb for me, but it was a favorite of others at the table, so I’d recommend trying it to decide for yourself. The Shrimp in Lobster Sauce was a special treat, with a sauce that might as well have been made from egg drop soup. Don’t be too thrown off by the menu reading black beans, as they only sprinkle a couple throughout the dish and I wasn’t really able to discern why.

Another great dish at Sunshine Moon was the “Soft Egg, Soft Noodle.” This puppy was a bowl of perhaps the best noodles I’ve ever had, with incredibly flavorful beef, and the fried egg on top just threw it over the moon. Did I mention dessert? Classic rainbow sherbet and a dish of fried ice cream with cream cheese and strawberry sauce. A “kind of deconstructed strawberry cheesecake,” as described by the chef (who is quite yummy in his own right). The evening was one of those rare moments when you think to yourself “this is a good day… good day indeed.” The endless array of amazing dishes, the bottomless glasses of wine, the comfortable atmosphere, and most of all, the incredible company of friendly faces made for a truly memorable night. Is it traditional, authentic Chinese food? Probably not. Is it a gourmet stop on the Scottsdale culinary roadmap? Nah. Is it quality ingredients with good flavors, plentiful portions, and convenient takeout? Absolutely, and I’m a big fan.

Open Eyes

I took a quick road trip to my hometown this weekend. I drove right past the crowds and the news vans and the roadside memorials, choosing not to make this trip about the sensational tragedy that took place last week. Instead, I spent hours reconnecting with my best friend from kindergarten. She’s my “be fri” and I’m her “st ends”, as evidenced by the corny, broken-heart necklaces we both still have from grade school. We talked about work, life, love, and our lack of appreciation for what’s right in front of our faces in this never-ending quest for happiness.

As I departed I looked out at the beautiful desert, reminded of the days when we learned to make prickly pear jelly and dried fruit leather out on the porch. I drove past my elementary school where my first and only screenplay was acted out in front of the whole assembly by the cool, older sixth-graders. As I went by my junior high I wondered if the mural still hung in the library, and my mind wandered to those mornings when I got out of class to help paint it with my first major crush. I giggled again like a schoolgirl as I envisioned him painting his “autograph” on my cutoff jeans; I don’t think I ever washed those.

Why is it that so often it takes a terrible act to force us to take stock of our lives? I’m not claiming to be happy or to have found the meaning of life, I’ve been the textbook definition of alone since birth, I’m overweight, sick of the city, and unsatisfied with a typical 9-5 job. But today I’m surrounded by amazing people, I have experiences of which others only dream, and if I can just remember to see the beauty in each and every day, I might just make the world a better place.

On the drive back across the desert, I passed by an orchard I’ve seen a million times. I pulled over and truly saw it for the first…

Hodge-Podge Blog

I took some time away from the daily grind last week to indulge the groupie in me and reminisce about being in the music ‘scene.’ A musician that I admire had a post offering free admission into a show for volunteers to help out on the current tour. Assuming it was to sell merch, I replied expressing my interest. Little did I know, they were more desperate for a “runner” (this is where I impress y’all with the lingo).

You see, when on tour, bands can’t exactly use the tour bus to drive around town and get to radio interviews, back and forth from the hotel to the venue, and/or out to eat. Rather than spend ridiculous amounts of money on car services or taxis at every stop, they utilize their street team and social media fan base to acquire free transportation… pretty savvy! So there I was, detailing my car, coming up with the perfect playlist, borrowing a GPS (just in case they stumped me), and even baking zucchini bread for the roadies, all in preparation and excitement to be designated chauffeur for a day.

Of course, 360 days out of the year a convertible low-rider is ideal transportation in Phoenix; this turned out not to be one of those days. A horrendous hail storm had the band arriving late, forced me to recover from a slight hydroplane incident, created a nightmare of roof leaks at the club, and caused a simple 2-minute drive from the venue to the hotel to become a 20-minute adventure down random side streets.

I think I saw genuine panic in the singer/songwriter’s face, questioning whether he had found himself in a kidnapping scenario (which I actually contemplated after he got his shower and smelled sooooooo good and we locked eyes and… WHEW, back to reality). Once he got the map on his iPhone working, his nerves dissipated and we bonded with some great 1-on-1 time. The entire band and crew were very gracious and really down to earth; I have enormous respect for these musicians, who even listened patiently to my babble about the quality of wines being produced in Arizona. Honestly, the free admission and cd of the performance were an unnecessary bonus by the end of the night.

On another note, I was providing a wine tour through the vineyards at Page Springs Cellars last week and I almost stepped on this retro-gem of a critter. Don’t let my picture fool you (had nothing to show scale), he was about the length of my index finger! Extensive Google mastery has identified him as a male Eastern Hercules Beetle (a type of Rhinoceros beetle); the largest beetle in North America and usually only found east of Texas?! Coincidence that the band I had driven around the previous day had come from Texas? It’s the little things that intrigue me, but he was darn pretty & scary at the same time.

Event-Full?

*Disclaimer* This blog post contains my venting. If you are sensitive to venting, please check back, as I hope to have a more positive blog posted by next week. Thank you for your understanding and support.

First up, there is a reason I am not an event planner. There is just too much coordination involved and I want nothing to do with it. That being said, I go to a lot of events and have no problem providing what I hope will be taken as constructive criticism to those that plan them. For instance, the Taste of Chandler festival was a bit doomed by the storm, but had the people working the entrance been a bit more on the ball, the wine being served not been god-awful, and the VIP bags actually been handed out, I would’ve had more positive things to say about the event. The highlights of the evening (aside from hanging with some great peeps) were the gourmet tacos served by none other than Rubio’s and the amazing tea-infused pork and lavender-basil lemonade from Urban Tea Loft.

Taste of Chandler behind us, let’s move on to the Arizona Taco Festival. There’s no doubt that the guys from EaterAZ have proven they are master marketers, what with their bizarre promo videos, bright pink branding, enrolling luchadores to wrestle, and adding Surfside IV to the main stage at the last-minute. They’ve apparently improved their event planning skills from the BBQ festival as well (don’t know – didn’t go), as other reviews of the taco festival were quite glowing in comparison. Still, I feel the need to get off my chest how much they managed to frustrate me at the entrance.  We had tickets and followed the signs, had our bags thoroughly checked and our licenses scrutinized like nobody’s business (would’ve saved a lot of time by just asking if I intended to drink), only to be turned away because we weren’t VIP. And I quote “the sign says VIP Only.” Really?!? Now, I’m not claiming to be an avid reader, but I’m seeing a few more words on that there sign.

So we hauled our asses back into the back of the general admission line (that was moving entirely too slow) and were given no direction when we finally entered, tickets still in hand. We wandered through the breezeway toward the tacos, only to be turned around again by someone stating “you have to go to one of the side tents to get a wristband.” You’d think one of the 5 people at the single-line entrance could’ve indicated such a thing! There were a ton of people in those obnoxious pink shirts that seemed to be doing absolutely nothing. Needless to say, I was ready to blow a gasket. Luckily we found our friends, who had cleverly staked out a random tent to keep me from turning into a lobster, and I put it aside for a couple of hours. Nothing has ever really excited me about tacos, but I did manage to sample Petite Maison’s French crepe-version and it was tasty.

People seemed to really be enjoying the food (and the margaritas). And I must admit I was seriously entertained by the little kids that strapped on masks and jumped into the wrestling ring… how can you not wince in laughter as a 6 year-old boy body slams his buddy? Had we waited any later to go to the festival, however, I would’ve been livid. That stellar marketing, coupled with inefficiency at the gate, caused the entrance line to grow as far as the eye could see. We tracked it all the way across the bridge at the Scottsdale Waterfront and out to Stetson, as evidenced by the photos.

And, for the random thought of the day…

I’m sorry, but if you have to look THROUGH the steering wheel to see in front of your car, you need to get off the damn road… period. And before you all jump to your stereotypical conclusions (like I did), this driver is not 90 years old. In fact, when I passed, it was a girl no more than 20, who would brake and rise up on her tippy-cheeks every time she wanted to change lanes (a cause for road rage by itself).