About two weeks ago, we went to the Cheesecake Factory at The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks to pick up slices for each of us for what we thought would be a visit to the beach here in Ventura and having our cheesecake there. But the Thomas Fire and the subsequent smoke blanketing our region made that impossible. So we had our slices at home a day or two later.
At the Cheesecake Factory case, I spotted one called Chris' Outrageous Cheesecake and decided to try that without knowing anything that was in it. When my mom, my sister and I were at the Cheesecake Factory a few weeks before that for dinner, I tried the Adam's Peanut Butter Fudge Ripple Cheesecake, and that was more palatable than the monstrosity I subjected myself to: Chocolate cake, brownie, coconut-pecan frosting, and chocolate chip coconut cheesecake, to crib from the order that the layering is listed on the website. It made me wonder: Why does Chris hate people? What happened to shake that life so badly early on?
Now, I've done bad to myself over the years. In my mid-20s, I devoured tubs of Extreme Moose Tracks ice cream from Ralphs in the middle of the night, while not going to bed until 5 a.m. Yeah, I was an idiot, both to myself and to my health. In that same time period (it may have been because Santa Clarita tended to feel isolating, and what are you supposed to connect with there besides going out of the valley in order to do anything interesting?), I also inhaled so many Dr. Peppers over a span of months, that I had a worrisome caffeine problem. Mainly too much of it. Try sleeping under that condition. No chance. I finally pulled myself out of it after realizing how truly awful all this was.
But none of that was as bad as that slice of Chris's Outrageous Cheesecake. I sat at the dining room table, forking my way through it, appalled at how this one slice of cheesecake completely disrespected the sanctity of cheesecake, and decided right then and there that I need to taste again simply to enjoy it, not to just taste to shovel whatever into my mouth and go back for more and more, unthinking. In other, thinner words, I needed to get back on a diet and fast. Forget all the milk chocolate squares I had indulged in in weeks' and months' past. The worry of job hunting will do that to you. Never mind the one bag of pork rinds my mom, my sister and I shared in one shot back in early November (my love of all things pig knows no bounds, though). Forget the different root beers I had tried, and the egg nogs I had tasted in order to find the best one here (that was necessary, though, because having left Las Vegas, I no longer had the egg nog from Anderson Dairy, which, to me, was the best one there, and that's a local brand). I needed to partition my eating life once and for all. Keep it to more fruits and vegetables for my daily eating, and save the really important things for every now and then, but also know what those really important things are. Keep a list so there's never any doubt.
That list, diet-motivated or not, has varied from place to place, everywhere I've lived. In my teens, living in South Florida, I loved the chicken nachos at Miller's Ale House in Pembroke Pines. Huge portion, and I cleared off the entire platter. Extra cheese and no jalapenos always helped. Come to think of it, I also loved them in Las Vegas because there was a Miller's Ale House at Town Square. It's the one restaurant I've been to where my order has never wavered, from then to now. But those days are done. There's no Miller's Ale House in Southern California. As to boba tea places, such as No. 1 Boba Tea in Las Vegas, I ordered a peanut butter and banana smoothie from the first time we went there, to the last time five years later, no matter if we went to the one in Chinatown in Las Vegas, the newer Galleria at Sunset location in Henderson on Mall Ring Circle, or the one on Eastern, in the massive Target shopping center, which was our go-to-location.
But that's gone, too. I don't lament it because here I am, with so many new experiences, and still more to try. In Oxnard, which is one of the unhappiest cities I've ever been to, I was relieved to find that they have a Vallarta supermarket, so we don't have to schlep to Santa Clarita for one. They have two in Oxnard, and Mom and Dad had gone to the dingier one when they were visiting here, but we were lucky to bump into the much cleaner one last month when Dad was looking for a Fallas bargain clothing store. There, I discovered something that, when I have it, is better than books. Seriously. It's chicharrones which, in this case, are mainly pork fat. I'll have to get the name of this type right next time, but when I had it, I knew that this was paradise. That slice of Chris' Outrageous Cheesecake is what put me back on a diet, but those chicharrones are what keeps me on a diet because I want to be ready for the next time we go to Vallarta.
With this in mind, I've come up with a list of those foods important to me. Not the daily essentials, like bananas. I already know those. But those which I most likely would go to great lengths for if I had to, but fortunately, I don't have to for most of these. Some may require adjustments, as will be noted. But all this is who I am in foodstuffs:
Tillamook medium cheddar cheese.
Kroger blended vanilla yogurt (especially in the large tub from Ralphs. I have given up other yogurts for this one).
Grilled pork sausage spring rolls from Pholicious in the food court of the Pacific View Mall here in Ventura.
Vietnamese iced coffee from Pholicious in the food court of the Pacific View Mall here in Ventura (Vietnamese iced coffee became my lifeblood after my sister introduced me to it at 99 Ranch Market on Maryland Parkway in Las Vegas at VeggiEAT Express in their little food court. The iced coffee at Pholicious isn't as good, but it's good enough. At The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks, they're opening a Vietnamese place in the food court and I must try the iced coffee there. I hope for it to be like the iced coffee at VeggiEAT Express, but considering my limited options in this part of Southern California, I'm not going to get too choosy).
The ham-and-cheese croissant at Master's Donuts that is not only generously filled, but is also the longest croissant out of all the donut shops I've been to thus far in Ventura.
The carnitas quesadilla at Vallarta (the best quesadilla in the Ventura County area. The runner-up is the cheese quesadilla at La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill in the food court at The Oaks Mall. My local quesadilla at La Mancha Mexican & Seafood in the food court at the Pacific View Mall is way too heavy, although the basic quesadilla at Snapper Jack's Taco Shack in downtown Ventura is acceptable).
Peerless Coffee & Tea's black tea, from Oakland (I tried this tea at Ojai Pizza Company in downtown Ojai, and it was the first tea that made me want to search for teas that taste like they should be in libraries. This one tasted like a wood-paneled, gently-lived in reading room, like the Ojai Library is to me. However, the Thomas Fire caused the Ojai water supply to shut down entirely at one point, and Mom doesn't trust the water supply to get back to what it was before the fires, so advised me not to go for the tea next time when we're there. The next time we go, it'll have been a while since the fire passed through a section of Ojai, so they might have already settled the water issue, or at least set about making sure it doesn't go off again like that. Even so, after we go to WinCo next where Meridith told me that there's a tea strainer there that would be useful for me, I'm going to order the black tea sampler they have to find out if the other teas are just as good, and to pinpoint the one I loved at Ojai Pizza Company. Or I may just stroll on in next time and ask them the exact name of that particular tea. Based on what the Peerless website offers, I think it's the Peerless Royal Blend, which boasts a "smooth, fragrant aroma and flavor." And yet there's also the Assam, "a strong, dark flavor with a heavy body." Yet this was for iced tea, so it might well be their Organic Tropic Star Classic Black for iced tea. Either way, I know I've found my tea company).
Lean Cuisine's Roasted Garlic White Bean Alfredo (This, with Great Northern beans, is what got me deep into beans. They'd always been on the periphery of my life, because of my mother's love of baked beans, and especially black beans and rice, so I guess the interest was just lying dormant. I love this because of the beans and have set out to see what other beans I might like. I'm not big on baked beans like Mom is, but give me beans as part of other dishes or flavored well enough on their own (even refried beans as it turns out), and I can be occupied for quite a while on this subject alone).
A large order of angel hair pasta with pesto (basil, garlic, olive oil, cheese and nuts) and fresh basil from Presto Pasta in the Vons shopping center right down the street from our apartment (I'm actually starting to get tired of this combination, despite my love of basil, so I may try the pomodoro sauce again, or venture into marinara. I don't know yet).
Producers Dairy Premium Egg Nog from Fresno (I can only find this at our sole Ventura Walmart, but it is the best one because not only is it thick enough like egg nog should be, but the nutmeg appears just enough to show that it's nutmeg, but not enough to start to taste like it was made in a homey arts and crafts store. Trader Joe's egg nog is too thin and tasteless, and Kroger's egg nog remains too expensive here, at $3.50 for a quart, but that one was just so-so).
Hershey's Symphony bar (the creamy milk chocolate kind, not the Hershey's standard that comes in Kisses and such. This is what makes me not have as much of Reese's anything as I have in the past, so I can have this every once in a while instead).
Veggie omelette from Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Ventura (The newest addition to my list. The first time Meridith and I went to the Busy Bee Cafe, it was so-so. Meridith's fried chicken was mostly dry, and the stuffed French toast I had of peanut butter, banana, and strawberries didn't taste all that worth coming back again. But this second time, along with Mom and Dad this time for their first time, this was the right time. Better cooks in the kitchen, for one, and I tried a veggie omelette that had carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and red and green peppers. It wasn't your typical omelet because they used pieces of all the vegetables, so you got basically a golden-brown sheen of eggs all over the vegetables, which was fine with me. Broccoli and cauliflower done like this is pretty much the only way I can eat them, and I loved how well-browned the cauliflower was, along with the sourdough toast and their home fries, with smaller cubed potatoes than I normally see in other home fries. I know I'll be getting this every time we go. It felt simple and unassuming, and I liked that, too).
It's not as urgent to me as all these, but I'm also looking for a decent chocolate malt (one in which I can taste the malt, too, rather than it being drowned out by overly sweet chocolate ice cream) and a patty melt. Busy Bee Cafe has a patty melt, but after that veggie omelette, it's going to be hard for me to consider anything else (witness the peanut butter and banana smoothie from No. 1 Boba Tea for five years, and the chicken nachos from Miller's Ale House for practically all of my life, though the gap begins now. But come to think of it, there was that gap for nine years in Santa Clarita, too).
I would also like to find great grits that don't come from the Quaker Oats packets I use all the time, besides the crock of it that I liked at Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe in downtown Ojai. However, I suspect that that'll be the ultimate for me. They're not easily found here like that. By the way, the quesadilla at Bonnie Lu's places third on my list, with the exception of their pico de gallo, which is the best I've had anywhere! There are idle nights when I get lost in the reverie of the memory of that pico de gallo! To have tomatoes and onions and cilantro as fresh as what's in there, besides whoever makes it having the power of God to make it like that, I think they must have the Shangri-La of gardens hidden somewhere in Ojai.
So, with the exception of that Lean Cuisine alfredo, all this is why I'm sticking a diet for good. I don't know when we'll go back to the Red Brick Pizza right near our apartment complex, but that California Club salad I had there could surely help me stick to my diet. Despite what it sounds like, the calorie count isn't so bad on that one. They've got salad artists over there who know how to layer salads so that you're not left with a heap of romaine lettuce as you get further into the bowl. I can't wait to have that again.
I don't think I'll be adding to this list as quickly as I would have when I lived in Santa Clarita and Las Vegas (with L.A. being closer to Santa Clarita, as well as Anaheim, Burbank, and Buena Park, and Las Vegas being, well, Las Vegas, with doing things like coming up with a list like this as a distraction against the hard living there), but I know that I can look at this list for here, and be sure that I'll be getting something good every time.