Thursday, February 6, 2020

Bloomington Restaurant Review: Homey Hot Pot

Here in Bloomington, restaurants come and go pretty quickly. Hell, I guess everywhere restaurants come and go pretty quickly. It's a tough business. But there's one restaurant that's stuck around for a while now--since 2017, which is pretty impressive. My friend Joelle first told me about it: "Homie Hot Pot. You cook your own food at the table!"

Y'all, I'm not a cook. It just doesn't come naturally to me. And why the hell should I go to a restaurant and pay for food that I have to cook myself? I may have said something like that to Joelle before dismissing Homie from my head. 

Well, years pass and people change, and yet Homie remains, an assuming little establishment on Walnut, a couple of blocks north of the square. And somehow, I came around to the idea of trying Homie Hot Pot, which I did on a grey, chilly Sunday afternoon in early January.

(I took Joelle, of course.)

It's not a place that has a noticeable ambiance--that's not why people go there. Homie's is All About the Food. It's, like, $20 or $21 for unlimited hotpot stuff and sushi, to say nothing of the peanuts and pickled vegetables they dump on your table pretty much immediately. (Word from the wise: don't linger over-long on these free little noshes. Focus on the food you order.)

Obviously you cook your food on the burners that are embedded on the table. 


The server takes your order of your broth type and all the meats and vegetables and noodles and rice and dumplings you want, and in short order comes back, plunks your hot pot on the burner, pours your broth in the hot pot, turns the burner on, and then brings you all your (uncooked) food. 


The broth in the hot pots comes to a rapid boil, much like a witch's cauldron, and then you can start plopping the food in the pots. And once the food cooks...then you eat.


And eat.

And eat.

And then, if you order sushi, you eat some more.

The verdict? I'd go back. This is a restaurant where you can definitely get value for your money. Furthermore, there are options here for foods that I daresay it's hard to find elsewhere in Bloomington--lotus root, taro, wintermelon, quail egg, and so on. (Did I eat any of these? No I did not. Don't you judge me!) I was a little put off by the whole cooking-my-own-food I said, I am not a natural cook. How do I know when I have cooked the shrimp or beef or whatever enough? What if I kill myself from food poisoning? I'm still alive now, so I guess I did okay.

When it's cold and grey and wintery out there, this is a good place to retreat to for a hot and hearty soup with your choice of all sorts of tasty things. I can't imagine that it would be the most appealing place to go to in the summertime, but then...maybe that's when I should review this joint for its sushi!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

2020 BookIt List: January In Review

Good golly, Miss Molly...hello, February!

My pride in getting 6 books read in January, despite my neverending sickness, is a little quelled by the fact that each of the books I read was historical fiction. That, in and of itself, isn't so much the problem. It's just that I love historical fiction, and I keep intending to branch out. So, in that sense, I kinda failed in January. Oh well, whatevs. Here's a review of the books I got through:

 The Lady and the Highway Man, The Vanished Bride, and the Widow of Rose House
I'm lumping all of these together, as they all cover my favorite historical time, The Victorian Era. The sad thing is, I'm always looking for a good Victorian novel to devour, but so much of the time, the novels I consume disappoint, somehow. Perhaps it's my expectations that are at fault, and not the novels. The Lady and the Highwayman looks to be the start of a new mystery series involving the headmistress of a lady's school and her partner-in-solving-crimes, a penny dreadful author. It wasn't awful, just not very substantial. Still, I might read a sequel. The Vanished Bride will appeal to those who are in love with the Brontës; in this novel Charlotte, Anne, and Emily, with their nogoodnik brother Branwell, are defying custom and propriety as they scamper about the Yorkshire countryside, trying to solve a mystery. The author does a rather good job with the atmospheric settings, and one does come away with a sense of each of the Brontës as individual--again, I wouldn't be adverse to reading a sequel, should this turn out to be a series. The Widow of Rose House, I found to be the most annoying and disappointing. The plot is okay enough: a scandal-riddled widow returns to America to renovate an old house; old house is haunted and no one will go near it; to avoid financial ruin, Scandalous Widow commences an association with a vaguely Doctor Who-vian Mad Scientist, who is determined to study the ghosts and put them to rest. Of course he's indifferent to scandal, and of course they fall in love. I think my beef is more with the characters--the Mad Scientist is a little to perfect, and the whole thing just felt really insubstantial. 

Basically, The Turn of Midnight is a medieval soap opera about a too-good-(and educated)-to-be-true English noblewoman and her serfs as they try to survive the Black Death and basically revolutionize medieval society. I'm not sure what it is about this book, or its predecessor The Last Hours, that appeals to me. The author does a fine job with the pacing and the unrelenting suspense, and I'm almost disappointed that there doesn't seem to be room or reason for a third book in this series.

Fortunately, not all the historical fiction I read was fluffy. One of the first books I read this year was Homegoing, a family saga that imagines and explores the experiences of Africans involved in the slave trade (both as the perpetrators and the victims), and then follows their descendants through colonisation and decolonisation in Africa, as well as Antebellum America, the Jim Crow and Great Migration years, and well into the 20th century. Now, I've read plenty of books, both fiction and nonfiction, depicting the experience of the people who were enslaved and exploited through these centuries. However, I've never read anything depicting the experiences and histories of the African people who participated in the slave trade, so this is a really valuable addition to the historical fiction genre.

Pachinko was hands -down my favorite book of January. I started reading this just last Friday at lunch, and then brought it home and had this 500+ page book finished by 11 PM that same evening. Set in Korea and Japan, mostly, starting in the 1930s, this story follows the ebb and flow of one family's fortunes as they endure and experience decades of 20th century history. The bonds of this family, fraught with love, loyalty,  conflict, duty, were a profound joy to see unfold.

So! That's my progress on my 2020 Book-It List. What did you read in January, and what was your favorite book?

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Are You There, 2020? It's Me, Mel

In the last hours of 2019, I had a few friends over to my place for drinks before we went forth to conquer Bloomington on New Year's Eve. (How adult-y is that? A cocktail party! I even set out crudites in my grandmother's monkeywood dip bowl.) It was a lovely little gathering, well-oiled with my signature gimlets and jovial conversation. At some point we fell into the habit of bellowing "2019!!!!!" anytime we brought up unpleasant things that happened in the year 2019. And then, of course, as the clock inched closer to midnight, we would occasionally bellow hopefully, 2020!

Well. Fast-forward to 3.5 weeks later...and I am still waiting for 2020 to show up. You see, I am now considering January a "soft opening" for 2020. Dear readers, this month has kicked my ass. What I thought was an ornery little cold quickly devolved into strep pneumonia. What even is that? And how freakin' extra can you get?

To make a short, miserable story even shorter: I spent far more time than I would like laying on my couch, too dizzy and achey and feverish and exhausted to do more than force myself to chug fluids and binge-watch The Crown. It's only been in the last week that I've really started to get on the mend. It's only been in the last few days that I've really started to have honest-to-god energy. It's only been, like, oh, tonight that I started pondering what I want to do with the rest of 2020.

Mind and Body Shit
-I've got a Y membership, and a body that is very much aware of the fact that it is almost 40 years old. You can fill in the blanks.
-Starting, and sticking with, a habit tracker and health log: I'm very interested to see what the correlations are between my lifestyle and my physical body--i.e., how much sleep I get, what I'm eating, how much I'm moving, and how I am feeling.

Work Shit
-This year, I'm due to be re-certified as a librarian here in Indiana. In order to do that, I've got to prove that I've acquired XXX amount of hours of professional development. In a typical case of the cobbler's children never being shod, or something, I've been so wrapped up in other parts of my job that I've neglected this. And so now I've got 11 months left to get my shit together and re-librarian myself.
-Update my resume on LinkedIn. *Disclaimer: I have no specific reason for doing so, other than I think it's a good idea to always have an updated resume.

Fun, Creative, Hobby Shit
-I'd like to do some work with hand-lettering, which is, frankly, all the rage in the Plannerverse. I've got pretty decent handwriting, so I'd like to see what I can do to jazz things up and branch out even more.
-Create a scrapbook of my Bucketlist Trip to Australia or participate in NaNoWriMo.
-Blog at least 3 times per month

Adulting Shit
-Join AAA
-Get my car detailed
-Possibly pay off one of my private student loans
-Reconnect with my Nationwide Retirement account
-Meal plan and ook more

Indiana and Travel Shit
-Plan and have a lovely 40th birthday weekend in Cincinnati with my nearest and dearest
-Try one new restaurant a month here in Bloomington
-Visit my sisters at Thanksgiving (or have them visit me)
-Explore at least 5 new things or events in Indiana

Honestly, in typical overachieving Indygrrl fashion, I've got lots of other hopes and goals and plans and dreams and ideas. These are just the highlights of what I hope to accomplish, if I don't get stricken with Black Plague or Swine Flu or strep-dropsy or whatever the latest thing is. Hope springs eternal, even if my energy and health do not.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

That Went Downhill Fast

2020. It was going to be, if not the Year of Mel, at least a damned good year. And early reports indicated this to be an accurate expectation. No disappointments, dramas, or disasters (at least in my personal life) occurred in the first few days. My first weekend of 2020 was absolutely lovely--relaxing and yet productive, too. Right up through Sunday afternoon. I had my planner layout for the week ahead:

Prepped up and ready for me to jot down my work shifts, the Very Important Board Meeting, my therapy appointment, the program I'm doing on Thursday, the fun social engagements. And I was prepping my smoothie for Monday's breakfast, I sneezed. And became aware, simultaneously, of the scratch in my throat, and my nose feeling stuffy. Ding dong! It's my semi-annual death cold of doom.

Fast forward to now, Thursday evening...I've only been able to go to work yesterday and today. Monday and Tuesday were lost to a black hole of tissues, sleeping, and snotting.  Do you feel guilty taking sick days from work? I know I do. Emotionally, I worry that I am slacking, failing, disappointing the people I work with. Intellectually, I know--this is why we are given sick days. I know that my colleagues would rather I rot away at home rather than give them my creepin' crud. I know that I have to listen to my body and set my boundaries. But that's a lot of meetings I'm not attending, interviews I'm not conducting, schedules I'm not designing, emails I'm not answering, input I'm not giving, information I'm not processing. To say nothing of my own personal goals not being attended to. So, part of this week has crumbled to dust before it even started. 

You see where this is going, right? If part of this week is ruined, then all of this week has been ruined. And so, it's a logical next step that the rest of the month is a lost cause, too, right? And if January is up in flames--welp, there goes 2020. Dead in the water. 

Once again: intellectually and logically, I know that's not the case. But when I'm sick and miserable, it's hard not to feel that that's my reality. 

Interestingly, my Eldest Sister, the Ghoul Next Door, is going through her own rough time right now--some rough workdays that are taking a lot out of her. She and I are discussing how one crappy day can kickstart you down the path to Self-Loathing City, home to the towering skyscrapers that line the avenues of angst, the boulevards of broken dreams, and the address that my negative self-talk calls home: Everything You Ever Touch Turns to Shit Street. Population: all of us. Or at least those of us who constantly wrestle a certain part of ourselves which is our own worst enemy. 

My sister, wise woman that she is, has gotten better about salvaging a day--a week, a month, hell, maybe even a life--from the spiraling shitstorm that a crappy disappointment can provoke. She says she lets herself have an "oh well, that could have gone better moment," and then simply does better at the first opportunity. So, in other words: acknowledge the failure or the disappointment, but don't let the failure/disappointment live past its own moment in time. Move on to the next moment, the next opportunity, hell, the next day if we have to, but don't wallow in what's happened or let it determine what happens next. 

But. She also thinks that a Bad Day Emergency Plan is a good idea. And in theory, I agree. In practice, though, what does that look like? Stay tuned. Once the Death Cold of Doom has moved onto its next victim, I am going to explore this more. In the meantime, I'm going to go try to stay hydrated, and I will call that Doing Better. 

Do you have a Bad Day Emergency Plan? What does it look like?

Saturday, January 4, 2020

52 Lists for Happiness: Week 1

Someone I knew said recently that I am "a woman of deep irony," which I think is probably pretty true. One of the ironies of my life is that when I am experiencing happiness, I usually simultaneously am filled with conflicting thoughts which potentially undermine this happinessAm I worthy of this happiness? It's fleeting, therefore it's not real. At the very least, it won't last. It's just my privilege that affords me this happiness. Etc.

(Aside: even if it is my privilege that affords me this happiness, does it make it any less genuine? Also, should I be more obligated to appreciate and experience this happiness, so that I am not wasting this opportunity and privilege?)

(See what I mean?)

Anyway, to cut this rambling short: I struggle with the concept of happiness. I also struggle with online shopping right after Christmas, which means, that this year, I ended up with this book:

So, I'll bite. Let's see what we can see.

Week 1's Project was to List What Makes You Happy Right Now. So I did: 

Looking back over my list, I'm struck by how much on that list is sensation- or productivity-based. The sound of the wind howling, of my cats purring; the feel of my warm feet on a cold night; the sight of a brightly and neatly-polished nail (preferably mine). The sense of accomplishment at the end of a productive day, knowing I've helped someone at work or been useful to a friend, feeling as though I am needed. Just as there are languages of love, I wonder, are there languages oI f happiness?

Week 1's  Challenge was to Take action. How often do you actually get to experience these things? How can you take one item on this list and turn it into a daily practice of happiness?

Upon honest reflection, I think it's possible-likely, even-that many of these things do happen on a daily basis. I call one of my sisters frequently (I'd bug the other one more if she didn't hate the phone so much); I try to have productive days every day; I often ponder old, happy memories. So perhaps in those sorts of situations, it's a question of permitting myself to relish the residual emotion (hopefully, happiness) that comes from these things. But then, does it become a situation of being hyper-aware of my thoughts and feelings and analyzing them as they happen, and then getting to the point where I am over-thinking it...

(Ugh, there I go again. For fuck's sake, brain, SHUT UP.) 

In other cases, I think there are certainly things I could do, mindfully, each day, to provoke happiness, or at least contentment. Taking 5 minutes to pet Austen and Indiana up into a purr; shooting off texts to my nearest and dearest; even tidying up my purse before I turn in each night. (Seriously, so many of the stresses and ills of my life are provoked by a messy purse which never yields up the whatever-it-is I need in that moment. Do you have the same issue?) 

Thus ends Week 1 of the 52 Lists for Happiness Project. 

The Days Are Long, But the Years are Short: 2019 in Retrospect that just happened. 

The other evening, I spent an hour or so flipping through my old planners and my memory journal, to try to get a sense of how I spent my time in this past year. I came away with some vague sense that I spent far too much time re-reading old favorite books, dicking about on my phone, and worrying about things that never came to pass (or at least, haven't yet.) Other highlights from the year now gone...In the 365 days of this past year, I:
  • Attended approximately 800 meetings at work
  • Worried for two weeks in February that I was going to die of breast cancer. (Spoiler alert: I didn't die. The mammogram came back clear.)
  • Attended the first match of the Indy 11 soccer season
  • Didn't attend enough therapy, but made good use of the sessions I did manage to afford
  • Read way too much fanfic
  • Got my heart broken by Avengers: End Game. Marvel, you betrayed us, utterly and totally.
  • Celebrated an absolutely magical 39th birthday with a friend in the Rocky Mountains
  • Suffered through a stress-induced eye twitch through most of August
  • Decided to finally give notice at my second job
  • Tried to re-learn the art of talking  about things other than work, and to build a life outside of my professional existence
  • Wrote in my memory journal, more than once, that my biggest accomplishment of the day was "Didn't smack anyone!" Perhaps the bigger miracle is that no-one smacked me
  • Enjoyed the best meal ever at Public Greens in Downtown Indy
  • Threw a baby shower--and pulled it off quite credibly, I might add!
  • Spent a fair amount of time on Christmas Eve making goo-goo eyes at Miles Alexander, the newborn son of my friends Michael and Anna
  • Traveled about in Tropical North Queensland for two weeks, swimming with sharks and turtles and stingrays
  • Learned that, even on the other side of the world, when swimming about in the Great Barrier Reef, I get crippled with a huge, burdensome sense of inferiority and unworthiness. Crying in your prescription snorkel mask as you swim frantically away from an aggressive Titan Triggerfish? That's a bucket list experience I hadn't been counting on but nonetheless got to cash in on. Hooray.
2019 was a year of...well, I'm not sure. It was a year. Not the best. Not the worst. It flew by, like a roller-coaster, mostly, and I reckon that's pretty darned apt. When you're whizzing about on a roller coaster, it's kinda hard to pick up a lot of individual scenes and details; it's all flying by in a blur and really, you're just holding on and trying not to plummet to your death. And that's just about the best way to sum up 2019. Hopefully 2020 will be more of a leisurely mosey down a relatively smooth path.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Oh, Hell, She's Cookin' Now! Vegetable Soup

It's not that it's New Year's Day and I'm all full of resolutions and goals and dreams and visions (although I am)--that's not why I decided to make this soup today. The reason I did it is because...well, a while back I had Panera's 10 million vegetable soup, and pretty much became obsessed with it. It was delicious, and healthy (although the various other Panera goodies I inhaled at the same time probably undermined its healthy benefits). I've been meaning to make an inferior imitation of this soup for a while, and today has been the first time in a while that I made a point to slow down and cook something for myself.

So yeah, maybe that it's New Year's does have something to do with it. Whatever.

I chose this recipe from Hummus Sapien, and stuck (mostly) to it. Rather than put in two medium potatoes, I just put in one large one. I did throw in some broccoli and cauliflower, and probably was too wussy with the seasonings. And also--sorry, y'all, I just do not keep bay leaves laying around my apartment. Call it a moral failing of mine, if you will. 

Verdict? It turned out pretty damned delicious! And with plenty left over for the next couple of days. One thing that was missing was a crusty loaf of bread. I know what I'm picking up at the store tomorrow!

Only after I was done cooking the damned thing, when I happened to peep into the fridge, did I realize that I forgot to throw in the zucchini and orange pepper I had picked up for this purpose. This was just as well, as the pot was pretty much at capacity. If I want to add more vegetables in the future...well...We're gonna need a bigger dutch oven.

I'd like to try another couple of recipes before I call this my ride-or-die vegetable soup, but it certainly was a satisfying dinner on this chilly New Year's Day.