Friday, February 21, 2014

Food Friday: Pitfire Pizza | Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

Last Sunday, Kim and I had a "sister day" in North Hollywood. We got manicures and pedicures, and decided to spend the day eating/drinking/relaxing in what we hope will be our neighborhood, come summertime/post-wedding.

After our pampering, we headed over to Pitfire Pizza, on the corner of Lankershim and Magnolia in NoHo. There are several locations around LA, but this is the only one that matters, because it's within a few blocks of where we plan to move. I've been to the area a handful of times before, but never to Pitfire, so we each ordered a pizza (and, full disclosure: a pitcher of sangria big enough for a party of five), and soaked up the perfect Southern California weather on the patio.

I ordered the Brussels sprouts and bacon pizza, which is easily the best decision I've so far made this year.

Brussels sprouts seem to be the new hot vegetable, based on nothing other than the fact that suddenly every restaurant is serving them -- blackened and salty -- and grocery stores care them in various packaged forms for all your roasting and salad needs.

We roast Brussels sprouts at least once a week, and nothing can compliment the earthiness of sprouts quite like salty bacon. This pizza merged two of my favorite things into a mouthful of crunchy, salty goodness, and the pizza itself wasn't too shabby either. The crust is crisp and thin, with just the right amount of salt-kick. Not overly cheese-y, garlic and chile added for kick, and just the right amount of cream to balance out the heat. The only way they could improve this pizza is if their crust had a bit more chewiness (like Delancey: crispy outside, chewy inside). Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing.

Seriously, my new favorite pizza topping combination.

Sadly, the "sprouts n' bacon" pizza is a winter special (scroll down on the menu page to view the other mouth-watering offerings), so it likely won't be around come spring time. I can only pray that when I'm living two blocks away and next winter rolls around, this will be back on the menu.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Honeymoon [Re-]Considerations

*Warning: I've re-read this post after writing it three days ago and it's possibly the whiniest, White Privilege-y, and entitled thing I've ever written, because shit -- I have it really great, and I'm so lucky, but I make it sound like everything is so hard. So here we go... you've been warned...

After Jonathan and I got engaged, we (OK, mostly I) spent a good amount of time researching all-inclusive beach resorts in Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and the Caribbean islands. We were fairly convinced that after planning a wedding for over a year, and Jonathan finally finishing grad school a month and a half before the wedding, we would want to relax, with no worries, on a beach somewhere drinking Mai Tais.

Then, in May last year, we went on a lovely vacation to Puerto Vallarta with my parents, where we used their timeshare and stayed at a resort with all-inclusive amenities. All the food and drinks we could want.

Halfway through the week, Jonathan and I knew that an all-inclusive, beach honeymoon was not for us.

Aside from the fact that my fair, freckled skin burns like a Scotsman's, I absolutely abhor excessive heat and humidity, and swimming in the ocean isn't really my thang, the primary concern became that sitting around wasn't how we wanted to spend our first 1-2 weeks of marriage. Because when the bulk of your budget is going towards your resort, food, and drinks... you end up mostly sitting around, gaining weight and feeling bored.

So we regrouped. Just like when we shifted away from a Santa Barbara wedding to one in the California Sierras, we had to reassess our priorities.

  • city/metropolitan area -- with museums, theatres, shopping (things to do)
  • walkable -- someplace where we can easily, and safely, walk around
  • good public transport -- renting a car in a city is not an option
  • $2000-$2200 flight budget -- this limits our options significantly

Within an afternoon, we agreed on an ideal location that would give us everything we wanted:

London, England.

My parents offered to let us "put in" for an exchange using their timeshare. I'm not entirely sure how it all works, but it goes something like this:

Since my mom and dad own a timeshare in Puerto Vallarta, they have the option to exchange it for other affiliated properties around the world. In order for us to get an exchange in London, it means that someone who owns their timeshare in that city needs to want to exchange their spot for one in Hawai'i during the same time period that we need. Unfortunately for us, the timeshare property in London is very small, and June (summer) is the busiest time of year.

Simply put: demand is high and the odds are against us.

But we put in the request anyway for London, and to open up our options, we requested Edinburgh, Vienna, and Paris, all of which have super high demand demand as well. But hey, since the timeshare is already paid for thanks to the yearly fee my parents pay, then that means -- if one of our exchange requests is successful -- we could stay in one of these cities for one week, essentially free of charge.

Back in June, when we put in our requests, this sounded like the perfect solution to our "super expensive flights to Europe" dilemma.

Jump ahead eight months to now, February, and we are still waiting on word about the exchange. In my estimation, it isn't looking good and I'm definitely disappointed, because I was starting to get really excited about seeing King's College again...

You see, originally -- leading up to January -- Jonathan and I decided that London was definitely where we wanted to go for our honeymoon. Both of us have been there, but I spent literally one day in the city when I studied abroad at King's, and Jonathan was so student-poor when he studied over there, that he couldn't afford to actually do anything. So we knew that, even if the exchange fell through, we wanted to spend the first weeks of our married life in the UK, experiencing the food, booze, museums, parks, tourist sites... day-trips to Egham and Cambridge to visit our schools... just taking time to walk the city together, and explore. It would cost us more than if we used the exchange, but it would be worth it. We had the money in our budget, we could make it work.

Then I got really sick.

After seven months of having London (and Europe) on the brain, getting sick and racking up $2600 (that's my deductible, so I'll be paying at least that) in hospital/doctor bills put a major damper on our lofty honeymoon plans.

One of our pre-wedding goals was to get out of debt (not counting student loans; that will take years), and this unexpected medical fiasco was just not factored into our saving / get out of debt plan. Even though $2600 is a drop in the bucket compared to what it would have been had I been uninsured (I have anxiety just thinking about it), it completely eats into the money we planned to set aside over the next few months for the wedding. More money going into paying off our credit card means less money into the wedding account.

Super bummer.

Over this last weekend, we went back to the drawing board. The easiest and most painless way of cutting down on our honeymoon budget was to take international airline flights out of the equation. Additional thoughts and considerations, after eight more months of prioritizing:

  • domestic -- drivable or cheap flights have to be possible
  • someplace we haven't visited before (as adults)
  • city/metro isn't a requirement, but an ability to go to good restaurants, be outside and explore, bar hop is still a necessity
  • option for some luxury, maybe -- saving $2200 on flights means we can stay in a nicer place, or maybe enjoy a spa treatment or two (you know, YOLO and such)

There are so many options in the US that fit this description, but being the picky-priss that I am, it was easy to rule out mostly every option that came up... Inevitably, thinking about the United States, there were few places that I've been eager to visit that aligned with what we were looking for, and even fewer that we could possibly afford. But in the end, we kept coming back to... 

Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park. Yellowstone.

Truthfully, back in our initial honeymoon discussions -- before London was even on the radar -- we discussed Jackson Hole. I liked the idea, but Jonathan thought, "Well, it'd be nice, but maybe not special enough for a honeymoon? Plus, we could vacation there in the future, with children." I agreed: traveling to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone would be totally doable with a gaggle of kids, whereas foreign travel would be a little more of a challenge, and pricier. So we put it on the back-burner and it was quietly replaced with dreams of international travel as a duo.

Jonathan visited all these places as a kid, but I've never been near Wyoming. We've always loved road tripping together, and talked four years ago about going to Yellowstone. It just never happened. Plus, my aunt/uncle/cousins have regularly vacationed in Jackson Hole, and they love it. When my dad's close friend found out we were considering Jackson Hole, he got very excited and insisted on talking to me about it -- apparently he also spends a lot of time there, and can't speak about it highly enough.

Needless to say, I'm intrigued. I like the idea of continuing our mountainous, outdoors-y wedding theme, and getting a chance to do some outdoor activities together. We love hiking (though this time I would stick to easier trails), and it'd be so fun to raft down a river, stargaze, rent some mountain bikes, and explore the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone together. Plus, Downtown Jackson Hole seems really fun, with great restaurants and bars, but not so big that we would need more than a week to scratch the surface of it.

A road trip is not the kind of honeymoon I would have expected to have, but there's something about it that really fits our style.

I'm warming up to the idea.

We're still trying to find out if there's even the slightest chance that the exchange will go through, but I can tell you that saving thousands on plane tickets and using that money to rent, say, a convertible, stay in a fun/more luxurious accommodation, and enjoy a bit of fine dining once or twice sounds appealing. (Plus, no stifling dollars-to-pounds exchange rate to worry about!)

Definitely a major shift from our original plans, isn't it? I think we covered all possible landscape options, except maybe the desert. But hey, there's still time.

Anyone ever been to Jackson Hole as an adult? In the summer? Thoughts or recommendations? Things to be wary of? Stuff we can't miss?

Dominican Republic photo credit | London photo credit | King's College, Cambridge photo credit | Jackson Hole photo credit

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Remembering Shirley Temple

Shirley in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, via

Late last night, I was sitting on the couch talking to Jonathan and randomly noticed A Little Princess (the book) sitting on my bookshelf, buried amongst the other books I've saved from my young years. I got so excited suddenly, and burst out to Jonathan that, "Oh my god, in the doctor's office waiting room last week, they were playing Shirley Temple's A Little Princess and I was so upset that I couldn't stay and watch it -- it's been years, and it was always one of my favorite versions of the story, and one of her best films." I even pulled Heidi (again, the book) off the shelf, another great adaptation of Shirley's, and then started talking more about how I adored her films as a kid, and how much watching them shaped my childhood.

Then Jonathan (the graduate student in Film Studies!) revealed that he had never seen a single Shirley Temple movie, and I was aghast! I vowed to him that I would now be dropping everything and dedicate myself to educating him on one of the most iconic (and adorable) film stars in Hollywood's history.

And then, this morning, he woke me up with the news that she had passed away.

I don't think it's a coincidence that she came up in my mind so vividly last night. I grew up watching Shirley Temple; her films are some of my earliest memories, and I have my parents to thank for recognizing the value of old movies, and trusting that Generation Y minds would have the patience to sit and watch movies that we could never get our young friends to watch with us, but that Kim and I cherished and have continued to cherish as we've grown up.

With her passing, I will celebrate by forcing Jonathan to watch whatever movie of hers I can get my hands on. (May I suggest A Little Princess, Dimples, Bright Eyes, The Little Colonel, or Heidi as great starting films to watch, in case you're looking to remember her, or delve into her work for the first time.)

We'll also be drinking some Shirley Temple Blacks, because we're grown ups now, and rum makes most things more enjoyable.

To Shirley: You won us over with your curls and dimples, but kept us watching because of your talent and charisma. You've done amazing work for film and the world, as a diplomat, and we have a better Earth because you lived on it.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Things Worth Sharing

Emily Jeffords, From the Valley

The last half of the year, I really went out of my way to avoid writing here. Typical excuses were that I was spending 98% of my computer time on my work laptop, and therefore didn't have access to any photos. Also, my camera that I took with me to capture certain events (you know, ones too important to document with a cell phone camera) was always, like, way over there on the bookshelf, and nowhere near where I was sitting at the time. And not only that, but, like, the chord to connect it to my computer? Lost, I'm sure of it, since I can't find it without moving so much stuff.

But the truth is, there was and still is a lot of stuff I want to write about.

My best friend had her 2nd baby in July, and my sister and I were the luckiest ducklings and got to be in the hospital room when he was born. And I got to take pictures of the whole shebang.

Jonathan and I got to spend five days on Whidbey Island in Washington, and got to do lots of things, but most importantly we saw our friend (and wedding photographer) Joe propose to one of my best friends, Jessie -- surrounded by around a dozen of their nearest and dearest.

Lots of wedding stuff is done. Dress and rings are purchased, vendors are booked, Save the Dates have been sent out, the booze for the open bar is starting to get acquired, music planning is coming along, I'm starting to freak out a little... I mean, the wedding is only 4 months away! I can't even. Where did the time go? I'm already kicking myself for not documenting every detail.

I've developed some serious baby fever, and it seems only fair to write about it publicly.

I'm planning to write about all these things, if for nothing else than for me to just remember and document. This blog has no focus other than, maybe, Stacy's life and stuff she digs, so I don't want to be that person who acts like it matters if I don't write. But hey, if my sister and my best friend tell me enough times that they're sad I don't write more, then I guess it's worth the trouble, even if -- by contrast -- my mother doesn't even know my blog URL. Because I like it. The writing, that is. I do. Especially knowing that, as years go by, I'll be ever-so grateful that I took the time. Future Stacy will be happy to relish the memories. The more, the better.

For the 26 of you that actually read this blog when I write something new (two thumbs up for Google stats!) -- thank you for indulging my over-sharing tendencies. I hope to share much, much more this year, since it's gearing up to be a doozy.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sick Days: A Quick Rundown

Pinkie Pie making me smile while I'm imprisoned in the hospital

It's Saturday morning, February 8th, and I'm realizing that it's been just over three weeks since I first got sick with [what I thought was] the flu. This is my first weekend of freedom from sickness and hospitals in what feels like ages. It's overwhelming and depressing to think I actually lost three weekends and two full work weeks of my life.

It's not all that interesting of a story, though it was all wholly unexpected. Never in a million years -- when wracking my brain before Christmas about whether to pick the PPO or OAP (HSA) on my company's medical plan -- did I think that I would end up meeting my $2600 deductible before February even rolled around. Especially since I haven't been sick enough to see a doctor (save for a urinary tract infection) for probably 10 years. Maybe more.

What started Friday, January 17th, as a simple case of a nasty flu (headaches, chills/sweats, fever, fatigue), developed into a week-long sickness so unbearble that I actually felt I was going to die, at times. Hyperbolic, I guess, but when you're dealing with consistently high fevers of 104.9, it can get a little scary. Monday took me to Urgent Care. (They were useless.) Wednesday took me both to an internal medicine specialist, then the ER to get a spinal tap, since my doctor was suddenly very concerned about meningitis.

Hours of waiting in the ER left me face-to-face with Sexy Doctor, who insisted that we were not dealing with bacterial meningitis, because (essentially) after this many days, I'd be dead already. And if it were viral meningitis, there was nothing they could do anyway; it would take care of itself. May as well go home.

More fevers, severe headaches, not eating anything but half a banana (maybe) each day, my mother came down to spend the following weekend with me. My doctor, one week after the fevers began, put me on a 5-day antibiotic which, surprisingly, helped me feel a lot better by the time the weekend was over. I was relieved; finally in the clear, maybe?

After having already missed 5 days of work (using my carefully-saved PTO that was meant to be used for my honeymoon in June), I was eager to get back to work. So Tuesday, feeling lightyears better than I had the previous week, I returned to my computer and got back to it.

Unfortunately, over that weekend, I'd still been dealing with minor fevers and headaches, and developed a bit of blurry vision and hazy "floaters" in my eyes. So I took some time on Wednesday morning to see an ophthalmologist.

To my surprise, upon looking into my dilated eyes, the ophthalmologist -- with the DEADEST EXPRESSION I'VE EVER SEEN ON A HUMAN BEING -- told me point blank, "This isn't an infection in your eyes, it's in your brain. I'm very serious. You need to leave here immediately and go to the ER to get an MRI of your brain."

And that was that. Jonathan took me to the ER. Both of us completely terrified by this point, we waited. Then we got a room in the ER. Then waited. Then I was moved to get the MRI. It was freaking scary, that machine is crazy small and confined, and I'm not even claustrophobic. Then I waited some more.

The doctor came and told us that, even if the MRI came back negative, they were going to prepare a room for me and admit me to the hospital for more tests. My fever was still consistently climbing to 102, and after 12 days, that just wasn't acceptable.

After more waiting, the nurse told me -- GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE -- the MRI was clear. No apparent tumors or major swelling to be found. PHEW!

But they moved me to a room in the hospital and admitted me anyway.

More tests. Lots and lots of blood work. A spinal tap scheduled for the next morning. A blast of antibiotics, as a precaution, just in case.

I thought maybe I'd be out by the next evening, after they'd done the spinal tap. I ended up being in there for four days, Wednesday through Sunday.

Consistently, my blood work came back negative for everything they tested. (At one point, my potassium was a little high. No big deal.) The spinal tap revealed a higher level of white blood cells than they ideally want to see. (Normal is 1-5, mine was 18, a really really really sick person can be as high as 80-100.) It was obvious that whatever I had, I was recovering from it, because my WBC count appeared to be on its way down.

By Sunday morning, I'd completely had it. I told them I no longer needed these antibiotics (all bacterial tests for four days had come back negative, plus my veins had been completely pulverized thanks to the IV drip) and I felt great now, thank you very much, time to go home. They agreed, even though we were still waiting on tests.

Discharge approved.

So I went home. And it was glorious, because I got to see my dog and lay down in my own bed. And shower.

All of the doctors that I spoke with that last day in the hospital, and since, have "hung their hat" on this being viral meningitis. There are still tests out (apparently they don't test for West Nile every day -- surprise surprise), so I probably won't know the results of every test until my follow-up appointment next Tuesday.

But all signs point to viral meningitis. I don't know how I could have gotten it; I never see people or go anywhere -- I'm a hermit. But hey, the important thing is that I'm feeling nearly 100% again, save for some minor haziness still clouding up my vision, and a few unfortunate side effects from the antibiotics. Ah well, c'est la vie.

To everyone:

Thank you for your well wishes while I was in the hospital. I felt a little silly, since by this point I was feeling so much better than when I was really, deathly ill the week before (and subsequently not updating Facebook all that much), but your thoughts and prayers really made me feel loved. I can't tell you what it meant to me.

To Jonathan:

I honestly don't know how I would have made it through the last few weeks without you. You gave up so much of your time, and committed so much energy to taking care of me. I can't imagine what I would have done if I'd been living alone. You're my absolute hero, and your selflessness will not be forgotten. I love you more than I can say.

And I'm just so damn grateful that it's all over.