For me, the holiday season begins when the leaves almost imperceptibly start changing color in October, when those warm, pumpkin-ish earth-tone appear in fields, supermarkets, and on the trees. In rapid succession we get Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and it ends with my birthday in January (what can I say? Nature saved the best for last). It also ends with five or six additional pounds, but let’s not go there.
Life being what it is, it’s often impossible to celebrate on the actual day. This year, for example, I have an opera rehearsal on my birthday. So you sort of end up celebrating around it. For ’99, it started this evening when a group of old college friends (collectively, The Gang, aka Club Zeta) took me and a fellow Capricorn out to dinner to celebrate our respective birthdays.
The restaurant was a suggestion of mine. One of my favorites, a California gold rush themed restaurant called Claimjumper. If you haven’t been there, Claimjumper can be described in one word: big. Everything is big. For example, one person ordered a baked potato for dinner. Not hungry, you say? Au contraire, this potato weighed five or six pounds and was filled with chicken, grilled vegetables and other assorted goodies. I kid you not, this thing was a lethal weapon. It’s roughly four times the size of the typical large Idaho potatoes you’ll find at a grocery store. I don’t know where they get these things, but every time I go to this place I feel like I’m in the middle of an Alice in Wonderland episode. Either I’m shrinking or the food is growing.
Claimjumper is most famous for their Mother Lode cake. The Mother Lode is an insanely rich chocolate cake measuring about 16″ in diameter and about 20″ tall. You can gain weight just looking at it. I eat at this place quite a bit, but I can’t claim to have ever seen anyone actually order a slice. If portion sizes can be used for shock value, Claimjumper epitomizes it. They’re the Jerry Springer of the restaurant industry. Not that I’m complaining–I often eat two meals just off of what I take home, and the food is always excellent. You may be aware that Federal law requires restaurants to make nutritional information available upon request for the food they serve. I one requested the nutritional information on the Mother Lode. Total calories: 880,000.
Anyway, my own selection was the black tie pasta, which is a combination of tortellini and bow tie pasta in a rich cream sauce. It’s completely decadent, and I enjoyed every bite. Oddly enough, the topic of conversation somehow got onto diets. Claimjumper is the anti-diet restaurant. But it seems my friend Dave and his wife Michelle on a self-imposed diet. They’re not supposed to eat any carbohydrates or sugars, which basically means no breads, cereals, and certainly no pasta. But they can eat all the meat and fat they like. In fact, their recommended breakfast is eggs and bacon. Kind of weird, but they claim this diet is used in hospitals to get heart patients in shape for surgery in a hurry. Almost as an additional twist of the knife, the waitress kept bringing plates of cheese bread to the table, a food Dave loves. By the time we were done, there were about 15 large pieces on various plates. At the end of the meal, the server invariably asks what (as opposed to if) you’ve got left to box up.
The conversation was pleasant and friendly. This was the first time I had seen Ken and Miriam since their wedding in December, so it was a good opportunity to hear about their honeymoon and the New Year’s Eve party they threw at their place. Miriam said she was a dishwashing fanatic because all the china and dishware was, of course, new. I think as the years go by we’ve become somehow more appreciative of each other as members of a group with a special bond.
Of course, before we left Kevin (the other birthday boy) and myself were subjected to a third-rate birthday song from the servers. Don’t they do that at all restaurants? It’s some sort of Health Department regulation, I think. Whey they do a surprise inspection, they check sanitation, food prep, and that you sing a dorky birthday song to customers. The desert they served, a cookies-‘n-cream ice cream cake, was fabulous, as expected.
The worst part of the evening was battling the cold I’m stuck with. If feeding a cold is supposed to work, it sure backfired this night. After dinner I went to a walk-in clinic, sure that I had strep. Thankfully that turned out not to be the case. Despite that slight unpleasantness, my 98-99 holiday season is winding down to a pleasant though exhausted end. And just think–it a few months the stores’ll be pulling out decorations to start it all over again.