Saturday, August 3, 2013

This week

OK, I've sworn off blogging about my life in general. But this was one crazy week and I need to capture it somewhere so that when I think I'm having a bad week sometime in the future, I can look back here and realize that things are going OK.

I guess we'll start with last Saturday, since that is exactly a week ago. What has happened so far? Well, we just got finished throwing a big wedding party (reception, you might call it) for my sister and her new husband, who had been married a few days before. We had family come to the party who had never seen our house; in many cases they'd never been to Boston at all. It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. That had happened a week ago. My sister was out of town visiting friends now, due back in a few days. And Jim, the kids and I all had a pretty bad cold involving a lot of coughing.

On Saturday morning, Annie wakes up with a stomach bug it seems. We have her rest for a few hours and she seems fine, so we decide to lie low and go for a ride to our favorite farm, where they have an open barnyard day. We put sunscreen on the kids, but we neglected to check the weather to see that it was actually going to be really hot and sunny outside. Well, suffice it to say that open barnyard didn't last long. It was so hot and as we were walking back to the car, Annie gets sick again. Poor kid. The rest of us, by the way, are hacking up a lung. Really stinks to be sick.

The kids fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we get home. Jim packs to leave for his business trip to Chile. The kids wake up and Annie seems to be feeling a lot better. Her appetite seems to be coming back and stuff. We take Jim to the airport. He's coughing and stuffed up and feeling sorry for himself.

Here's where Jim gets off of my crazy, bad week. As it turns out, he gets upgraded to business class for his entire trip down to Chile. He has interesting business meetings with powerful Chileans, eats chacareros everyday, and goes skiing in the Andes. Yeah, he also has a cold. Did I mention he can see the Andes mountains from his hotel room window?

OK, back to my reality. We drive home from the airport. Both kids are crying and missing daddy. We have dinner, which came out well because it involved no creativity on my part (grilled fish, rice, salad).  The kids go off to bed. An hour later, Annie wakes up, all itchy and hot. She has hives on her legs and arms. I can't figure out what's going on. First we try the Caladryl but that was useless; next we tried Benedryl which was better. I can only come up with two guesses as to what happened. Either she's reacting to the new bottle of sunscreen I used on her (she has had a bad reaction to sunscreen in the past); or she's got f*@$ing poison ivy. And we were at the farm, remember? Where Annie sat down in the grass a couple of times to get a rock out of her sandals. And I look on-line and they say that poison ivy lasts at a minimum 10 days. Yikes.

Annie wakes up a couple more times during the night, but by morning, the rash has gone away. Must've been the sunscreen. Phew.

Sunday was relatively harmless. Poor Annie now demands to see photos of her daddy before she goes to bed because she misses him so much. I think it's mostly the stall tactic of the day for bedtime, but there's also a sweetness there. Business trips do take their toll on the little ones.

Monday, my sister and her husband get back from Corning and find out that there's been a decision on my sister's visa! Due to some discussions we have that evening, right before bedtime, I can't sleep all night, going over stuff again and again in my head.

Tuesday, my sister gets her visa, packs up all of her stuff, buys a next-day plane ticket to France, and leaves for Providence with her husband about half an hour after dinner. (They were dropping her car off with a friend, spending the night, and then taking a bus to New York the next day, where they were flying out). Not sure when I'll see them again.

Wednesday, I finally decide to see my doctor about this cold, since I have now been sick for 3 weeks and my co-workers have diagnosed me with everything from asthma to tuberculosis. I have tended to go into a coughing fit right when I'm on an important phone call or with a client. The client, of course, thinks that they're going to contract some hideous disease, I'm sure. So time for the doctor.  But, on my way back from dropping the kids off at daycare, I hear a horrible scraping on the pavement. I look around - whose car could that be? Then I realize that it's me! Of course it is. My muffler pipe has dislodged and is scraping along, under my car. The car is also, shall we say, LOUD. Luckily, we have a Meineke at the corner of our street so I bring the car down there. The guy at the desk smiles and says that he heard me coming and doesn't need to ask me why I've brought my car in today. I get that all fixed up for the low sum of $700. (My car is nearly 11 years old with 138,000 miles on it. Trying to figure out when the time will come when a $700 investment means it's time to buy a new car. Not yet. I can't handle car shopping). The best part was when, after the guy told me the cost of the muffler job, he then tried to sell me on a headlight cleaning kit that "only" cost $40. What?

I mostly slept and did laundry on Wednesday. The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with me except the remnants of a virus.

Thursday morning, I'm starting to feel better. I get ready to go to work, put the kids in the car, open up my car door, and realize that someone has rummaged through my car over night. The glove compartment is open, papers everywhere. My parking money is gone. Someone has broken into my car. Though not really broken into, since the doors were not locked. Low and behold, the same happened to Jim's car. I forgot to lock his doors too. The jerks got a grand total of about $10 from us. Nice work. (I think they were looking for GPS devices). The saddest part was Annie asking if the "swipers" took her toys or her wading pool. (The only easy way to explain theft to a 3 or 4 year old is to tell them the person is behaving like Swiper the Fox on Dora. Annie understood immediately). But seriously, who breaks into a 10 year old Corolla with 2 large car seats in the back and toys strewn all over the car? Isn't that evidence enough that I'm totally broke? The most valuable thing in my car is Ian's Winnie the Pooh phone! Why waste their time? (The Pooh phone was not stolen, by the way. Darn.)

I was so rattled at this point, but I was really wondering what was going to go wrong next. Because, you know, when you think things are bad, they can always get worse. And I did nearly lock my keys in the car at the grocery store on Friday with both kids still buckled in their car seats in the car, though I think Annie would have figured out how to open the car door if I needed her to.

Friday, I took my Zyrtec like my doctor told me to (she thought that maybe the cold was partially exacerbated by hay fever or other allergies). I immediately lost all of my energy and got nauseous. Instead of realizing that these are probably side effects of the drug, I start wondering if maybe I'm just going to always feel like this. Maybe this is what getting old feels like. But then, I'm like, WTF? I'm only 36. I have to chase my kids around for a lot more years. I can't lose all my energy now! It seems that as the drug wore off during the day, I felt better. I have stopped taking the Zyrtec now - the cold seems to be dissipating and I really need energy with my kids.

But things have been going OK since then (knock on wood). Jim gets home tomorrow morning. Let's hope that when I wake up in the morning, he will be nearly here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lucky Dragon

After a few weeks' hiatus, we continue with our Chinese restaurant journey. This time, we tried a place less than a mile from our house - Lucky Dragon, at 21 Scammell Street, just off of Hancock Street, in Quincy. This restaurant is in a small strip plaza with plenty of parking. We got take-out but there is also an eat-in area.

Jim gives it one thumb down. I tend to agree.

I ordered one of the combination dishes - "Tofu with Veggie Combo." It was supposed to come with either pork fried rice or plain rice, as well as an appetizer of my choice. I got the vegetarian spring roll.  Jim got Szechuan spicy pork, plus Peking Ravioli as a side dish. We ordered fried shumai for the kids. We had just gotten ice cream because Annie had to get three shots at the doctor's today and needed ice cream afterwards. So we knew they weren't going to eat very much.

First of all, my dish came with the pork fried rice mixed into the rest of the dish. In other words, they slipped me the meat!  A big minus.

Some white rice came on the side. (If you look above my meal, you'll see one of two Haitian mangoes that I bought at the market in Downtown Crossing yesterday! So yummy).

In addition to slipping me meat, the spring roll was just mixed in too. So, while it tasted pretty good, the shell was soggy because it had been sitting in the rice. Most restaurants package spring rolls in wax paper. Also, we had to cut it open to make sure that they didn't slip me some meat there too. But they didn't. It actually tasted pretty good, even though the texture was off.

And finally, my main dish was pretty bland. I put soy sauce on, as well as some of the sauce that came with the spring rolls, and that improved it.

The kids' shumai contained a paste on the inside, rather than just shrimp rolled in dough, like we've seen at many other places. They didn't eat any of it.

We gave Annie and Ian chopsticks and they were fascinated by those. But they didn't eat anything.

Jim was expecting a spicy dish, but it was bland, and also very salty. He's been thirsty all night since eating his dish. He didn't think his Peking Ravioli was so great either. My dish didn't have much taste either, although it wasn't particularly salty.  Also, we spent nearly $40 for this food, which is way too much for random Chinese takeout. If we're going to spend $40 for takeout, I'd rather go to our favorite Indian restaurant at the corner of our street, Punjab Cafe.

So I don't think we'll go back to this place, which is too bad, because it's really close to our house.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Quincy Dynasty

Tonight we had dinner at Quincy Dynasty, located at 47-49 Billings Road in North Quincy. This place came recommended by some non-Chinese friends of ours. They seem to offer more Szechuan-style food (as opposed to many of the other places we've tried, which specialized in Hong Kong-style food). They offer both eat-in and take-out service and we ate in.

To start, this place seems to be geared towards the American crowd. Our reasons for this assumption were first, that there weren't any chopsticks available, and also, they didn't automatically serve tea, there were many gringo dishes on the menu (like "Chicago-style chow mein") and that it came recommended by our American friends. :)

We ordered vegetable spring rolls as an appetizer. Then I ordered "Four Treasures Vegetables" with white rice, and we ordered chicken lo mein for Annie. For Ian, we ordered off the kids' menu (seriously! The first Chinese restaurant we've been to with a kids' menu!). He got Peking ravioli and chicken fingers. Jim remembers ordering Spicy Mongolian Beef, but I don't see it listed on their menu now, so I'll just say that it was a spicy beef dish. We also ordered tea, once we saw that they weren't going to bring any out.

The food came out very hot, of course, so Jim and Ian had to work on cooling it down:

(In the above photo, you can see three out of four of the dishes we ordered ... just Annie's is missing).

Jim was very impressed with the food; I wasn't as excited. Both of our dishes came with a heavy sauce, which may just be a trademark of Szechuan food. While my food tasted OK, it wasn't anything special. However, Jim thought his was great. He also ate Ian's Peking Ravioli, which is one of Jim's favorite Szechuan appetizers.

Other good points about this restaurant are, obviously, the kids' menu, and also the service was quite good. Our waitress did not speak a lot of English but she was very attentive. Also, the kids did venture to try the food. They mostly ate rice, but they both tried their dishes, which is very positive! They also loved the tea.

On the down side, parking could potentially be a problem, particularly if you arrive after 6.  We got there at about 5:30 and actually found 2 spots right out front, but by the time we left, there were a lot of people looking for parking. Also, I'm not sure this place was as clean as I would've liked. There was food under our table from a prior patron. Not so nice when Ian threw his straw on the floor. We knew he'd freak out if we didn't give it back to him, but didn't really want him putting it back in his mouth. (Jim wiped it off and returned it to him).

All in all, this place was a mixed bag. Not sure if we'll go back.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pho Hoa

Today we tried Pho Hoa, a Vietnamese restaurant at 409 Hancock Street in North Quincy that calls itself the "Health Conscious Choice."  It's a new place in an old bank building on the corner of Hancock and Billings, and according to its website, it's part of a large international chain with other locations throughout North America and Asia. I've driven by it a few times and was intrigued.  I hesitated checking it out because I was worried about parking. Today, we were originally planning on trying out Quincy Dynasty, which is just down the street, but when we found parking right by Pho Hoa, we decided to try it out. We'll try Quincy Dynasty some other time.

All right, so before I go on, I'll acknowledge that this place isn't actually a Chinese restaurant. But for the greater goal of finding more interesting restaurants in Quincy, this place qualifies.

Although it's apparently a chain, it had the feel of a locally-owned restaurant. We sat in a booth and Ian was pretty impressed because I think it's the first time we've eaten in a restaurant where he wasn't sitting in a high chair. The restaurant was very clean and not crowded at about 5:45 when we got there.

We ordered vegetarian spring rolls as an appetizer, and then Jim ordered beef pho (the famous Vietnamese soup), I ordered Goi Dau (cabbage salad with tofu), and we got chicken stir fry with egg noodles for the kids. There were many varieties of beef pho - they had a whole page on the menu dedicated to pho. But they also had a vegetarian section of the menu, which I really appreciate.

Customer service was generally pretty good, though for some reason, just as in other Vietnamese and Thai restaurants that we've been to, they don't bring all the food out together. The spring rolls came out first (as expected). Then my dish came out, followed by Jim's. About 5 minutes later, the kids' dish came out. But the wait staff was very nice and brought us napkins when Ian spilled an entire glass of water all over the table, floor and down his shirt and pants. No one seemed to be put out when Ian screamed (such as when we took the glass of water away, took away a spoon he was about to throw across the room, etc).

Both of us felt that the food was OK - not as good as Pho Pasteur, a Vietnamese restaurant we frequent in Boston, but still quite good. Everything was freshly made and plated well.

What was cool is that both kids tried (and liked) the food! Annie ate all of the chicken, as well as some noodles and some of the vegetables in her dish. She even experimented with chopsticks. Ian wouldn't touch the chicken dish, but liked Jim's pho!

He insisted on feeding it to himself, which meant that he got lots of pho on his clothes, seat and floor. But some ended up in his mouth! Jim ended up putting the bowl right under his chin to try to catch the drippage. Ian also had a couple of bites of the spring roll and some noodles. Not bad!

It was quite reasonably priced - the bill came to $30 for three dinners with an appetizer.

And in the end, parking wasn't a problem. They advertise on their door that there is parking in the back, though I'm not sure if they just mean further down on Billings (where we parked) or some secret parking lot. However, if you drive down Billings towards the railroad tracks, there are a good number of parking spaces on the street. We'll keep this in mind when we try out Quincy Dynasty sometime.

All in all, this is definitely a place I'd go back to, though I think that if I were to choose between this place and Pho Pasteur, Pho Pasteur is going to win every time. The advantage to this place is that we don't have to venture into Boston to enjoy good Vietnamese food! As a side note, there seemed to be a good number of interesting restaurants on Billings Road. There was a Japanese restaurant across the street, and next door was a Chinese seafood restaurant. So we'll be back.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ming's Seafood

This week we tried Ming's Seafood at 1 Brook Street, Quincy (it's actually on Newport Avenue in Wollaston, about a block from La Paloma). This place came recommended to me by the same friend whose parents are from Hong Kong and who recommended Yummy last time. The word was that it had very good food, but got crowded quickly.

It being Saturday night, we knew we had to get there early if we wanted to get a table. We arrived at 5 and there were already a couple of families eating, but there were still plenty of tables. Both diners and staff all seemed to speak Cantonese as a first language - a good sign. Also, I've always been told that the mark of an authentic Chinese restaurant is when you see tanks of fish in the window, and sure enough, there was a whole wall of fish tanks as we walked in, full of crabs, lobster, shrimp, and some fish. These were not for decoration; rather, they serve really fresh fish here.

Jim ordered the Beef Chow Foon again, and I ordered Shrimp Lo Mein. We ordered vegetarian spring rolls as an appetizer, and ordered Chicken Udon for the kids. After a few minutes, they brought out heaping portions of the food, and it was all really good. Nothing was too greasy or too salty.

Jim liked the Beef Chow Foon here better than at Yummy Cafe. I also want to mention that Annie tried all three dishes! (We promised her dessert if she tried everyone's dish). She said she liked everything except the onions in Jim's dish.

The service was also excellent. Everyone was really nice to us, even when Ian decided to throw a total fit in the middle of dinner (we ultimately had to take him out of the restaurant after he tried to pull the tablecloth off the table and knocked over a glass of water). The wait staff would come over to refill our water glasses and smile at him and try to make him laugh. They were very kind.

A downside to this place could probably be the parking - it could be difficult to park on Newport Avenue ( very busy street) or Brook Street. We had no problem finding parking, but we also arrived early. The other possible difficulty is that we could see how it would fill up quickly. There are only a few tables available. So it's a good idea, on both counts, to arrive early for dinner!

In sum, this seems like a pretty authentic, Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant, with excellent food and service.

Given that we've now found two great Hong Kong-type restaurants, we are going to focus our search on yummy Szechuan-style food in Quincy! We're taking a break next weekend due to a business trip, but tune in soon for our next sampling.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Yummy Cafe

Week 2 of our Chinese restaurant adventure! We got take-out from Yummy Cafe, located at 669 Hancock Street in North Quincy. This place came recommended to us by a colleague of mine whose parents are from Hong Kong. He described it as a place that serves comfort-type food, Hong Kong style.

Jim ordered Beef Chow Foon (beef with wide noodles) and Pork Dumpling Soup. I ordered spring rolls (vegetarian) and ginger-scallion lo mein. We ordered chicken fried rice for the kids.

The lo mein was a big hit with me, Jim and (unbelievably) Ian!

It was a pretty simple dish, just noodles, spiced with ginger and mixed with scallions. It was light and tasty.

Jim thought the food was very good, but was hoping for something a bit spicier. Annie and Ian gave thumbs down to the fried rice (but Jim thought it was tasty).  The kids give thumbs down to just about all the food we make that isn't pasta, fruit or hot dogs.  But they gave huge points for the fact that this place included chopsticks in the takeout bag!

A couple of other points.  First, it's cash only. Not a big deal, but you have to be ready. Also, diners could probably eat-in there, but it's a small place and the eat-in facilities aren't kid-friendly (no high chairs, no public restroom). It is located on one of Quincy's busiest streets, so parking seems like it could be an issue, except that they state on their menu that they have more parking behind their building.

Their menu is a lot smaller than many Chinese restaurants, and I actually appreciate that. I'm not one of those people who enjoy getting handed the phone book when I'm expecting a menu. But, on the downside, there were very few vegetarian options.

Our verdict? This place had delicious food. We would go back.

Inferior Terrace

The first restaurant we tried as part of our quest was Imperial Terrace, located on Sea Street in Quincy.  Some background first. We have driven by this restaurant nearly every day since we bought our house 12 years ago. Click on the following link to see what the outside looks like, from  Given the lack of windows, etc., we always envisioned that it would be the sort of place where there was cock fighting going on in the back and people would be eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor. In a word, it was sketchy. So sketchy, in fact, that some friends of ours termed it "Inferior Palace."

In the interest of dispelling all preconceived notions, we knew that this had to be the first restaurant we tried. So, a week ago Friday, we parked and walked inside. It didn't look like anything we expected.


Jim ordered a spicy pork dish and I ordered Vegetarian Moo Shu (also called Moo Shi at other places we've eaten). We ordered shrimp spring rolls as an appetizer, and chicken fingers for the kids.

The food was very heavy and salty.  I didn't get through much of it before my stomach didn't feel quite right. When the waitress came by to see if we wanted to take home any of the food, the only food we brought home was the chicken that the kids didn't eat! I knew I wasn't going to eat any more of my dish.

The service was pretty good, but unremarkable.

Also, this may sound gringa of me, but usually you're offered chopsticks at Chinese restaurants, and many times the menus are bilingual.  Nothing like that here. These small things and the large number of Buick-type cars in the parking lot let us to believe that this may not be the most authentic of Chinese restaurants in Quincy.

All in all, it wasn't as sketchy as we imagined, but we won't be back. Here are Jim and Ian in front of their cowboy front doors, on the way out: