Saturday, December 28 2019

pho, cards, and sherpa socks

Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone! Hope you're all having a wonderful day. At the moment, we're barreling down the interstate highway bound for our home in Madison Wisconsin. Icy rain is gently rapping the windshield, "New Body" by Kanye West is quietly thumping through the car speakers, and Rodney is in the back seat man handling a blueberry donut like it owes him money. Marissa kindly agreed to drive the first leg of the journey so I could write.

I didn't sleep great last night, but that was probably my doing. To celebrate our last night in Minnesota with Marissa's family, I sort of opened the throttle on the pizza, snacks, and beer. So I had a difficult time rolling out of bed this morning, but thinking ahead at the warm cup of coffee waiting for me at the Caribou drive-through, I persevered. We packed the car, said our goodbyes, and left this morning around 9:30. Something tells me that I just need to unpack and have a nice bowl of soup, so the plan is to pick up some groceries at Hy-Vee and whip up a leak and potato soup for dinner.

Yesterday was a pretty great day. We lounged around the house all morning drinking coffee, and when we finally got hungry enough, we jumped in the car to grab some Chipotle. Walking all the way up to the door, we stopped in our tracks - "Closed". Marissa called her parents, who were parking the car. As they discussed a back up plan, I obnoxiously hush-shouted Pho into Marissa's ear. She laughed, and added "Alex is really excited about that Pho place… OK see ya there." Hearing that it was actually happening, I started to get excited for our suddenly adventurous lunch. I was referring to this little Vietnamese restaurant in Rochester that is right off one of the busier roads. Despite it's unimaginative black-on-white signage that just reads PHO THAI, I insisted that it was promising. "I have a good feeling about that place," I'd say while passing it, wagging my finger out the window. So needless to say, this was a pretty big day for me. We would finally put my restaurant instinct to the test.

We sat in the middle of a dining room, and to my relief, they were busy. Very busy. That's the first good sign of a restaurant. But despite the bustling dining room, we were quickly served drinks. We ordered some egg rolls for Rodney, then glancing over the menu, the beef rice noodle soup caught my eye. "Is it spicy? I'm kind of just looking to flush my system here," I said to the waiter gesturing at my nose. "It can be as spicy as you want, you can just add chili oil," he said directing my attention to a small jar and spoon set out on the table. According to the menu, the beef rice noodle soup had slices of steak and chunks of beef tendon, which honestly sounded so weird that I had to try it. Ten minutes later, the waiter lowered what looked like bucket of soup in front of me. Steam was billowing from the pale yellow broth, and giving it quick stir showed thin, delicate slices of beef, green onions, and what looked like a birds nest of beautiful white rice noodles.

After cutting up Rodney's food, I beckoned for the jar of chili oil, and generously dabbed my soup with the miniature spoon. The deep red oil beaded and rolled around the surface.

The soup tasted glorious. My nose started to run, which garnered some teasing from the table, but it was exactly what I needed. As my nose ran, I could feel my sinuses flood with fresh air as the beef broth warmed me from the inside out.

Digging around with some chopsticks, I found a small chunk of meat, but it was ghostly white. "Ah, this must be the beef tendon," I said holding it up. Marissa looked at me in horror as I closed my eyes and chewed it. It tasted like a fatty piece of gristle, only it melted in my mouth without chewing.

In short, Pho Thai was an experience. And as far as meals go, it was probably the highlight of my week. Maybe I'm biased, wanting to prove my new restaurant instincts as worthy.

We returned home and Grandma Mary visited. She dropped off some Lincoln logs for Rodney, and she gave me a pair of warm rubber soled socks. "Are they too small?" she asked with concern as I squeezed my big feet into the fuzzy sheath. "Nah, they're awesome! Look at me, I look like a sherpa!" I happily replied.

We said farewell to Grandma Mary, and Rodney, Marissa, and I retreated into our bedroom for a long afternoon nap. The beef noodle soup was still resting comfortably in my stomach, and to not capitalize on the lunch with a nap would feel like sacrilege.

The rest of the day was pretty low key. We ordered a pizza, and after putting Rodney to bed, Marissa and I watched animal planet and played cards until we couldn't stay awake. It was a fun way to unwind after a long trip.

After seeing family on both sides across three states, we're tired, but our heart is full, and we're feeling proud to have finished our hectic holiday week in one piece. I'm thinking about my couch, a bowl of soup, and my dogs.

We have a day to recoup, then Marissa's sister and - as of yesterday - her brand new fiance will be staying with us until New Year's Eve. As Marissa and I played cards last night, we planned out some meals, and I think the Recker kitchen is really going to bring the heat. Justin, if you're reading this, you had better come hungry. We're going to test the limits of what you claim is an iron-cast bottomless stomach.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Wherever you are, hope you find time today to recoup after the holidays. Even if you have to recoup in the car. There's still something comforting about an empty, cold highway, isn't there?