Friday, September 2, 2011

The Peace of a Mall

Rare is the day that Mom, Meridith and I go anywhere significant during the week, since Dad works all week, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ("Significant" in this valley meaning anywhere for more than two to three hours). Rarer still are the days that we spend that much time at the Valencia Town Center Mall. Yesterday was that day.

There was an open house last night at La Mesa Junior High, and Dad naturally had to be there to explain to the parents his curriculum, take any questions, etc. So for Mom, Meridith and I, the question for us was where we'd want to go for over three hours. Could we really stand to go to the Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive again for that length of time? What about the Target in Golden Valley that's close enough to Dad's school? But we've been around and around and around that Target so many times that I not only know where the book section is, but I can tell you a few of the titles that they probably still have on those shelves.

Ever since we had gone to the Valencia Town Center Mall about a month and a half ago, in which we got a few things from Hot Dog on a Stick in the food court, Mom wanted to try the veggie dog that I had last time. Plus, despite there not being a bookstore in this mall complex anymore (Borders closed about two months ago, I think, and when we moved to Santa Clarita, there was B. Dalton Booksellers in the mall, but that fizzled out, oh, I can't even remember what year that was. Five years ago, maybe?), there was still mall space to walk around, stores to peek in and then walk right by.

Dad dropped us off in front of the food court at the mall, and we spotted Hot Dog on a Stick, but first a table to sit at, to decide what we wanted to eat. The food court seemed reasonable. I could find a quesadilla at (I actually had to look this up just now on Google because I forgot. That's how memorable this mall is) Cabo Cabana Fresh Baja Grill, Meridith would most assuredly load up on the fried cheese things they have at Hot Dog on a Stick, and Mom could try that veggie dog, along with whatever else she might want.

But then we thought further. There was Five Guys Burgers and Fries in the outdoor Patios section of the mall. There was also Red Robin. And then there was Souplantation, the buffet of salads, soups, pastas, and breads. We discussed our possibilities, with Mom saying that she wouldn't mind not having that veggie dog if we found something else, and then we hit upon it: We hadn't been to Souplantation in years. Let's try it!

You may also know Souplantation as Sweet Tomatoes. Same company; it just depends on which area decides which name would be appropriate. Sweet Tomatoes wouldn't fit as well into this mall complex because despite some of the high-end stores, it's fairly low key. The Souplantation name blends right into that.

If I could live only on the blueberry muffins offered at Souplantation, I would. That's my definition of heaven in food, and it surprised me when I was going to get veggie pasta marinara from the pasta station that there was a guy at the counter in the back, scooping cornbread batter and plopping it into each square on a burned-all-to-hell baking tray. I didn't exactly expect custom-made bread by any means, and to keep up with what this business demands, no doubt the batter has to be made ahead of time, but with how those blueberry muffins tasted, like you'd never come down from that high? I figured either someone had to be making the batter in the back, or there is some caring soul who makes that batter elsewhere, who makes sure that there is as much love that can be put into it, as much that the blueberries can hold. I hope that's what it was, because there's no way these blueberry muffins could have tasted otherwise.

If at all possible, I don't like to go to a mall when crowds of people usually do, such as the weekend. Give me a late Thursday afternoon like that one, sitting in that sparsely populated Souplantation, eating my gargantuan salad (crumbled hard-boiled eggs, huge chunks of blue cheese, plain corkscrew pasta, and spinach leaves being some of the many highlights), completely at peace with the world, and impressed by the tomato-themed carpeting, all those tomatoes on all those vines. They stretched as vastly as the salad bar entrance did.

Soup is an interesting conceit at Souplantation, and maybe it depends on the location, but for the clam chowder they had, probably not. I know it's based on cost, that you can't find a clam chowder here that's full of clams, but there were more potato sticks than anything else in that chowder. Nevertheless, the pleasure was indeed in finding those pieces of clams, and then it was time to move on to yet another blueberry muffin. Only later did I try the brownie they have, and I liked that part of the inside was dark with chocolate. Not dark chocolate, but dark enough to almost be syrupy while still retaining the cake texture of it.

The only disappointing part of the experience, even though I didn't try it fully, was the macaroni and cheese. Put more life into it! The noodles looked so forlorn, the cheese liquidy. The only thing that saved it, when I got some for Meridith (She loves macaroni and cheese) was putting a large amount of sprinkle Parmesan cheese over it. But the macaroni and cheese should have been able to do that on its own, if the sauce had been thicker, if there had been as many cheeses as there was in the fettucine alfredo that I loved there. That was peace in pasta.

Done with dinner, we walked back to the mall, taking the escalator to the second floor to go out to the Patios section. Before that, a few minutes in Gamespot for Mom to find out how much the store would pay for Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance games we don't use anymore. There are so many DS games for so many interests! No wonder they'd only pay a dollar or two per game or a little more. The market is so saturated with them!

Then we stopped in the nearby Disney Store, as we always do, Disney fanatics that we are. I saw the advertisement they had for The Lion King in 3D coming to DVD, and was reminded that I desperately want to see it when it comes to theaters for a week, starting September 16. I also like that the villains of Disney movies are being acknowledged more and more, such as the Scar plush I saw, and one of my favorite pieces of movie trivia came to mind: After nearly shouting the line, "You won't get a sniff without me!" in the song "Be Prepared", Jeremy Irons blew out his voice, and voiceover master Jim Cummings sang the rest of the song. The change is most apparent in the line, "Be prepared, for the murkiest scam." I recognize that as Cummings because of his spoken-voice roles in The Road to El Dorado (as Cortez) and Shrek (as the head guard). Cummings also provided the singing voice of Rasputin in Anastasia, and it sounds exactly like Christopher Lloyd if he was singing, though he only provided the spoken-voice role.

Then to the Patios, to Williams-Sonoma for Meridith, for her to look at all the cooking supplies, and for the quick thought that someone had to have pissed somewhere in the store, because it smelled like that when we walked in, though it dissipated as we walked through the store. I was searching for any kind of mustard that wasn't yellow or brown or any of the standards that are usually found on supermarket shelves. I wanted to find something different, and I did, on a center display across from the door: A tarragon dijon mustard imported from France. Now I want to know more about France's take on mustard, that they seem to have a greater respect for it than we do here in the United States.

After Williams-Sonoma, there was nowhere else to go. Not Macy's. Not Sears. Not anywhere else because we know every part of that mall so well. There is no novelty. But right then, we found padded chairs next to a floor-to-ceiling window at The Coffee Bean, along with a long wooden table in between those chairs, and that's where we sat, I on the blue padded one, and Meridith directly across from me, and Mom next to her. There, I read almost to the end of Donuts: An American Passion by John T. Edge (The final book in his four-book series, and unfortunately the only one that suffered from clear writer's fatigue, as the enthusiasm and fascination that had been present in the three previous books felt muted), and enjoyed a pleasantly warm evening. It had been a long time since I had enjoyed any evening like this and though I don't like anything about this valley, and look forward to moving on, there are those little moments like that one that this valley provides that at least shows it wants some understanding. But it's buried underneath all the plastic bull that thoroughly dominates every street and shopping center. For one night, though, I found it. And for the first time, I found a sense of peace in this valley. Hopefully that's a sign that we'll be moving on soon.