I don't usually eat breakfast, but Lee Anne does. So in Phoenix, I EAT BREAKFAST.
Especially when it contains homemade fig jam from Bologna. Lee Anne worked on an organic farm in Bologna for two weeks over the summer and brought back a bounty of mashed fruits in jars, fig being the best one. Tender gobs of whole figs swam in their golden syrupy juices just waiting to be gutted by my spreading knife. Waiting...for the gutting...and then to be smashed upon the hearty raisin walnut bread Lee Anne bought from La Grande Orange the day before. Oh, the beautiful combination of fruity sugar and bready sugar to form an even more delicious mass of sugar.
Breakfast turned into lunch as Lee Anne's mom presented us with bowls of bun, rice noodles garnished with cilantro, tasty sweet and hot sauce of some sort, sprinklings of crushed, crunchy peanut souls and chopped up chunks of freshly made spring rolls. Or deep-fried cylindrical meat-filled goodness. I had never assembled spring rolls before, but it's quite easy. I mean, it's quite easy after someone has already made the filling and bought all the ingredients and set them out for you.
You simply lay out a spring roll wrapper and verrrry thinly (like see-through thinly) spread on your filling of choice on a little less than half of the wrapper. Mrs. Shaffer made the filling out of ground pork, shrimp and rice noodles seasoned with soy sauce and various...things I do not know. I assume mainly soy sauce.
And then you ROLL! And you look REALLY HAPPY WHILE YOU'RE DOING IT! Because I SAID SO. More specifically you roll it up halfway, fold in the pointy sides, then roll it up all the way and seal the other end with a smidgen of meat paste. A smidge of a smidgen.
Then you fry. You FRYYY those semi-meat-filled sticks in a pot of oil and watch the bubbles dance around the edges and inject deliciousness into every crevice. INJECT!!!
And then you eat. Best not to eat it when its innards are hot enough to cause painful skin lesions, but don't wait too long or else it'll be a cold, oily stick of less potential deliciousness. You could cut em up as garnish or swaddle one in a lettuce leaf with herbs, mint being my favorite. Swaddle away, my dear children.
After lunch Mr. Shaffer took Lee Anne, Kimberly and me to the Desert Botanical Garden, a large cacti-filled reserve overlooked by a hole-filled mountain formation that looked like Jabba the Hutt with a few extra heads.
We ambled through the garden towards the sculptures created by Patrick Dougherty made of a bagillion or so intertwining branches shaped into hollow balls. Quite nifty. I'm not sure what else I can say about them. They're a bunch of branches! They look really cool! Like being in a POD of NATURE! I have no clue how the artist made them bend to his will (you can see some of the process here), but I guess if it weren't a special skill we'd all be repurposing wayward branches into giant balls of...branchness...
Let me show you more plant life from the land of heat and flatness and lack of moisture. There's a lot of weird stuff, kind of like how the depths of the ocean are filled with weird-ass sea creatures that glow neon green or sprout legs on command or stuff like that. Not that cacti possess any powers like those. Um. But it'd be cool if they did.
I liked the nubbly cacti. If they had faces, I imagine that they would be very cute. Big round vapid eyes, staring into nothingness...yes...
This plant grew its own threads. For what purpose? NOBODY KNOWS.
Lee Anne and I thought this plant looked like vertical poop. Poop with papery flagella growing out of its head. Yeup. Quite a looker.
Old Man of the Andes was one of our favorite plants. It has fuzz! FUZZ! Not that you can really pet it since it's also covered with spikes, but...aw, fuzz! It was even better after Kimberly gave it a face.
RAWR, CACTUS HAS GRUMPINESS.
Although its label said Boojum Tree, I christened it the Stupid Tree. Stupid because it consisted of a thick trunk with evenly spaced spiky twig-like branches that perpendicularly grow out of it. But why? What was Nature thinking? It looks cool, but silly and kind of stupid. Like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, which could be said about most of the plants.
(By the way, I know Nature is smart. Kinda. I mean, the Earth is going along alright aside from the humans destroying everything. So I assume there's a good reason that the Boojum tree has graced the world with its confusing presence.)
That cactus had a tumor. Or an extra brain. I think I saw it pulsate.
Our favorite cactus (or my favorite cactus) had the face of a grinning cyclops with a bottom row of nubbly teeth. Heehee! HEEHEEHEE! BWAHAHAHA! You don't think it's that funny? Oh. Well...we did.
Yes, we're really good at amusing ourselves.
I thought the street signs in the Phoenix area were awesome, or at least much easier to follow than the street signs in New Jersey (and elsewhere). They're large and easy to read and at night they're backlit, which is great for those of us who are optically challenged. Of course, it's not like the signs in New Jersey are hand-scrawled on scrap plywood, but they're not the easiest things to read when driving at night. Especially when you're a mediocre driver with bad eyesight. Like myself.
For dinner Lee Anne made a dish of pan-seared fish with a buttery sauce of chopped tomatoes and capers. And...probably more things, but Lee Anne would know better than I would what the ingredients were. YOM YOM!
For some vegetable matter Mrs. Shaffer made peppery diced potato and sugar snap peas with sliced carrots. Double YOM YOM! ("Yom" is a funnier version of "yum," in case you were wondering if I was speaking another language. Why is it funnier? I dunno. I think it has something to do with the cuteness of the word, cute because it's grammatically incorrect and cute because o's are the most rotund letters. And you know round things...they're funny! Yeah. That's my explanation.)
After dinner Lee Anne, Kimberly and I met up with Alex at Oregano's, an Arizonian pizza chain with random kitschy stuff all over the walls (like the pizza sign, which wasn't so random since they did serve pizza, but like the kayak-like boat hanging over our heads, which was definitely random) and fake kitschy signs painted on the exterior of the restaurant that gave it a Disneyland-feel of something new trying to emulate something old. Or something. Not that I have any problem with that.
For instance, in this photo of Lee Anne looking at me funnily as I stare back with some kind of stupid grin on my face, you can make out the pseudo tromp l'oeil painted on the brick building behind us overlooking a fake city skyline across a river of some sort. It's SO REAL!!!
For some reason the seats in the restaurant are FREAKIN HUGE. Or the table is higher than average. I felt like I was the size of a 5-year old while sitting in the massive booth.
We went to Oregano's with one thing on our minds: pizookie. This beastly combination of pizza and cookie—a possible invention of bored or drunken curiosity—consists of 1/2 pound of cookie dough spread into a 6-inch pizza pie plate that has been underbaked and topped with three scoops of vanilla ice cream. One pizookie is supposed to feed 2 to 4 people. I was pretty sure I could devour an entire one by myself even after eating dinner, but I kept quiet as we started off slow and only ordered one for the four of us to share.
The first pizookie came out in a glorious heap of melting orbs of ice cream atop a warm bed of chocolate chip cookie dough. ....Or so I thought.
"Oh no, something's wrong with this," lamented Lee Anne. I continued to lick my spoon.
"What's wrong?" I asked in between bites.
"The cookie isn't hot enough. And the ice cream has shards of ice in it. This isn't what it's supposed to taste like. ..But we've pretty much eaten the whole thing already."
While I had no previous pizookie experience to call upon, Lee Anne and Alex agreed that it was far from being an optimal pizookie. I didn't sense the gravity of the situation until Lee Anne and Alex informed Kimberly and me that the first pizookie-eating experience is supposed to make your taste buds shriek with happiness and flap their arms with glee and cause your pupils to dilate as your soul reaches the heavens, or something like that.
While the pizookie definitely made my belly happy (as though cookie dough and ice cream could do anything else), it wasn't a life-changing experience. Oh bother.
So we ordered another one. ...After Lee Anne politely expressed our disappointing pizookie-eating experience to the waitress, hoping to ensure a better second version.
For our second pizookie we ordered a cookie that was half peanut butter and half white chocolate macadamia nut. Happily, it was better this time around. The cookie was warmer and the ice cream had magically smoothed itself out.
Alex didn't take part in the second pizookie feast due to a strained belly (oh Alex, HOW YOU DISAPPOINT ME and the pizookie gods), which left Lee Anne, Kimberly and to scoop heaping spoonfuls of ice cream-infused cookie dough into our mouths. Mraah....mraaaah. That is the sound I make when eating gobs of cookie dough and ice cream. My favorite parts of the cookie were the bottom bits that had crunchified from the baking process. Such a beautiful transformation of dough to cookie that is, a chemical reaction whose magnificence is on par of that of a butterfly wriggling out of its cocoon and gently flapping its virgin wings under the golden morning sun, a message to Mother nature that it is ready, ready to liiiiiive...
Man, I really like cookies.
...But I suppose I like my friends more. Yeah, if I had to choose between friends and cookies, I'd rather have my friends.
I'm not sure how, but at some point during our pizookie eating Alex started talking about bunnies and what they do when they're delighted beyond human comprehension.
"They wuh?" The rest of us were confused. As made obvious by our intelligent "wuh" spurting.
"They jump in the air, have a little happy spasm," Alex explained while twitching to provide us with a visual aid, "and then land back on the ground as though nothing had happened."
"You know Wallace and Gromit? They kind of do that. Like..." And then Alex gave some kind of a happy twitch while wearing a wide grin, which is what he usually does (grin, not twitch).
When Lee Anne, Kimberly and I got back home, we looked up binkying on YouTube to view this phenomenon of happy bunny behavior. Indeed, they do jump in the air, spasm for a split second and then land back on the ground, usually in a different direction. I was expecting something more due to Alex's description, but I should've realized that even though Alex gave the impression that the bunnies magically hovered in mid-air for a second, the laws of physics would prevent this from happening.
Binkying became a popular act for us during the rest of the week. We must thank Alex for presenting us with this great gift of happy spasming.
Another silly theme of the week involved manatees. Say wuh? Well...Lee Anne has the most adorable plush manatee toy the size of a guinea pig (or what I think the size of a guinea pig is). Its round shape, small size and overall fuzziness makes it a perfect thing to coddle in one's hands and nuzzle closely like a baby bunny. Except it's a manatee that squeaks when you squeeze its belly.
The first time I saw the manatee I basically shrieked/went apeshit and squealed something like, "OH MY GOD ARAHGRG IT'S SO CUTE WHAT IS THAT AHRGARA [melt] EHEHA [arms flap] ARHAHR GIMME [grabs manatee] EHEHE ARHARHA [cries tears of joy] HAHA!" It's not a pretty sight, but I suspect it's quite amusing. Because cerebral meltdown caused by cuteness is hilarious.
So for the rest of the week the word "manatee" became the code word for being extra happy and crazy due to the presence of super cuteness. "Binky" became the trigger for acting out such happiness. They went together pretty well.
When Alex had to depart (he left for Florida the next day for a week-long trip) we took a photo while thinking of manatees and binkying (well, that's what I was thinking of, me and that complex brain of mine, oh ho ho), which was much better than thinking of the sadness of Alex leaving and thus missing out on joining us at Pizzeria Bianco and Pane Bianco and more delicious things, which I will hopefully write about by the end of next week.
5 MORE DAYS OF FUN ARE A-COMIN'!