home at last

Travel is a funny thing.

I love the idea of it. I love the adventure, the romance, the newness. I love the concept of taking a vacation from my ordinary life.

But man, it makes me so tired! And the weirdest thing is that it's the slowest, most relaxing parts that wear me out the most. Sitting on an airplane (albeit trying to keep a go-go-go toddler sitting down). Having a leisurely breakfast. Watching TV. Shopping so I could finally use my Christmas gift card. Going to bed early. Somehow, these things make me feel so lazy, and unmotivated, and groggy, which become self-fulfilling prophecies for me. Does this mean I don't know how to relax? Isn't it supposed to feel good to sit around with nothing to do?

I consider myself to be a fairly high-energy person. I figure I need to be, in order to keep up with my kids (meaning, mostly, Wylie) and also get stuff done around the house. Even with my irregular sleep schedule, I don't usually feel overly tired or sluggish. But take me out of my familiar surroundings and routines, and it's like I've left my vitality at home, as well. There are always other adults around to help with the kids and meals. Laundry and vacuuming are no longer my responsibility. I don't even have any errands to run or phone calls to make. And - poof! - I turn into Miss Slowmo and feel like I'm walking around in a daze half the time. It seems that without any 'work' to do, I immediately loose my purpose and focus! By the time I was getting ready to leave my parents' house today, I was glad to be doing dishes and picking up, and disappointed that I didn't have time to vacuum. (I gratefully vacuumed my own house immediately upon arriving home. This clearly qualifies as freakish behavior.) Odd to realize that the busier I am, the more energetic I become.

This vacation was actually better than most, in terms of keeping busy (and thus keeping the yawning and mind-haze at bay). This was due to advance planning, primarily on Kalen's part. Thank goodness for a 4-year-old with an agenda! We had playgrounds to play on, museums to visit, blueberry pancakes to make, and a very-belated birthday party to throw! It was all wonderful and very enjoyable, and I do believe I made it through all of those events without a coffee in hand! (Well, okay, not the pancake part, but that's to be expected.)

We also ate better this time around than we have in the past. Oh, don't get me wrong, we always make good food while visiting family, it's just the eating out part that can be tricky. So, for one, we simply ate out less than usual, which left time for the above-mentioned pancake breakfast, a delicious dinner of bison steaks with chimichurri, purple sweet potatoes, braised kale, and a vanilla bean panna cotta with citrus and honey-roasted fruit, eggs with more chimichurri, and fresh biscuits (I heard they were amazingly tender). All excellent.

And when we did eat out, we had better luck than usual in picking really great places. The first time, it truly was Pure Luck. Driving past strip-mall after strip-mall, Josh spied a sign for Oscar's Taco Shop. We're always on the look-out for good Mexican food in Tennessee, but it had never occurred to us to seek it out in a strip-mall. Well, now we know where to go. Oscar specializes in Southern California-style burritos and tacos, based on his father's successful shops in San Diego. As it was my first time tasting that style of Mexican, maybe I'm a bit over-enthusiastic in my review, but it was so good. And so cheap! Carnitas with guacamole and a hot tomatillo salsa in doubled-up corn tortillas. Rolled tacos filled with shredded pork and deep fried, then topped with cheese. Jarritos grapefruit soda. The food was fresh, the flavors bright. The fact that we had to get it to go, and ate at the playground at a nearby McDonald's (another item on Kalen's list, which we're going to downplay), didn't dampen the experience one bit. In fact, it just made me anticipate our next trip to Tennessee that much more, so I can eat at Oscar's again. Mmmm.

Our other very successful dining-out event was when Josh and I went out to dinner, alone, for the first time in absolute ages. We chose to go to City House, on Sunday (for the special, and low-cost, Sunday menu), and it managed to meet our very-high expectations. We shared everything, sampled several new-to-us pork items, and loved it all. The cicciolli hash was the ultimate comfort food, with the rich, livery-pork flavor bolstered by potatoes and a fried duck egg. If that was all we'd had for dinner, it would have been fine by me. I only wish I had access to all those "left-over fatty pork bits" so I could make my own cicciolli . . . We also had pig heart, with celery and gorgonzola, which sounded like an odd pairing to me, but really worked. I've read that the heart is the essence of an animal, and I'd say it's true for pigs. This was cooked medium-rare, and although it was a bit tough (think of how hard it works!), the flavor was porkier, and muskier, than any loin or chop will ever be. Matched with the piquant creaminess of the cheese and the crisp celery, it was a unique experience. And even seemingly-ordinary beets and butternut squash got the star treatment when bathed in a pecan pesto with shaved Pecorino cheese. We'll definitely be trying that one at home.

Another pleasant surprise was tasting a grape varietal neither of us had encountered before: Pecorino. I know what you're thinking: "Silly Tara, it must have been a typo, everyone knows that's a sheep's milk cheese!" Which is what I thought too, until I asked our waiter, who double-checked and assured us that it was, in fact, an Italian white made from 100% Pecorino grapes. It was fruity and yeasty, with a distinct aftertaste of grape skins. Not the tannic part of the skin, but the other, grape-skin-y flavor you get when eating grapes. I liked it. I've since looked it up online, and while there's not much to read, I've learned that the Pecorino grape was thought to be extinct until it was re-discovered growing wild in Le Marche, sheep like to snack on it, and it's now grown mostly in the Le Marche and Abruzzo regions of Italy. I love learning about obscure things! I'm hoping Josh can source some for Brevetto. All in all, it was a great dinner, worthy of any other big city. Which, for Nashville, is saying quite a lot.

Unfortunately for you, however, I don't have any photos of all that good food to share here. Another casualty of vacation: I get lazy with the camera. I got the requisite shots of the kids with the grandparents and great-grandparents, but that was about it. So you'll have to settle for gazing at Kalen and Wylie.

They're pretty yummy, too, in their own way.

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