Happy Diwali!


Happy Diwali, everyone!  Tonight we will light candles and feast on delicious vegetarian dishes, in celebration of the Hindu festival of lights.  On the menu will be eggplant, pumpkin, and aloo gobi.  My roti making skills leave much to be desired, however, so I’ll be purchasing some Naan.

Do you like the beautiful photo, above? I found it here, along with more gorgeous photos of Diwali celebrations around the globe. These are from 2009.

Día de los Muertos

Today is The Day of the Dead, otherwise known as Día de los Muertos.  It is a day to remember and pray for beloved family and friends who have died.  I thought maybe I’d slow down and reflect on some loved ones who are gone.

First, of course, is my mom.  It’s been 4 1/2 years since she died, and of course, I still miss her every day.  I miss our long conversations, and I wish she were still here.  I don’t miss her being sick, and all of the stress that that gave me.  Mostly, I think about all of the things that she’s missing by not being here.  Pomegranates and persimmons are in season right now, and she loved them both.  Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and for several years, she worked for Catholic Community Services in Juneau, working to help people keep their children, when they were at risk of losing them due to child abuse.  She would train them in better ways of managing stress and anger, and give them parenting skills.  It was a job that she loved, but which was SO exhausting and often depressing for her.  While at that job, she had a lot of vacation time, and she would take off a month this time of year and come to California.  She would spend a week with my Grandma and Great Aunt, a week with me, a week with her friend Kate, and then another week with my Grandma and Great Aunt.  It seems strange to me for it to be Autumn, with the days shortening, and not have her visit to look forward to.  Gosh, I wish she could see how popular ‘The Big Bang Theory” has gotten.  She <i>loved</i> that show from the very beginning.  I miss you, mom.  If you were wrong, and there is a life after death, I hope you’re happy and healthy and well.  If you were right, and there isn’t, then at least I’m glad you’re not sick and suffering any more, and you live forever in my heart.  Sigh.

Next is my Grandpa.  He died in the spring of ’88, and I still miss him quite often.  He was a difficult man to like, but sometimes easy to love.  He used to make me chocolate cake, and we’d watch horse races together.

Then there’s Ted’s father, Pops.  He died in November of ’93, which is SO long ago now, but it feels like yesterday.  Ted and I were newlyweds, and that was the first big deal thing we had to deal with as a couple.  He was ill for a while before he died…not bedridden by any means, but he was slowing down mightily.  It was very difficult for him, because he was a man who loved to be busy.  Ted and I were talking about him yesterday, and how he loved his job, loved working, so much, that when he finally retired (after having a stroke left him unable to perform surgery), he had about 2 YEARS worth of vacation time banked.  So he basically went on vacation for 2 years, and THEN retired.  Crazy, huh?  I have a fond memory of him teaching me to calypso dance, and the many parties that we had at his house.

My Great-Grandma, my Mom’s Grandmother, was the first big loss I suffered.  She was such a loving and sweet woman.  She died in November of ’87, just after her 88th birthday.  I remember going to visit her and my Great Aunt (Aunt Flo, who now lives with my Grandma) in Modesto as a kid.  She was always busy with crocheting.  Actually, not crochet, but some kind of needlework that I don’t remember, where you pull the yarn through a pattern, and make a pretty wall hanging or maybe rug.  I’m not a crafty person, never have been, but I always admired her dedication and her love of the craft.

My other Grandfather, who I never met.  I met my father when I was 21, my sisters when I was 22, and my father was going to take me to meet my grandparents soon, when my Grandfather died.  I met my Grandmother for the first time at her husband’s funeral.  My dad had told them about me, though, and I was welcomed into the family with open arms.  I do wish I had been able to meet him…he seemed like a great guy.  I wish my only memory of him weren’t him in his coffin.

Last, of course, I have to remember my sweet dogs, Genevieve and Samantha.  Genevieve, I miss her so much every day.  I still cry quite often, thinking of her.  She was such a sweet funny girl, and we often talk about funny things she did, and how she made our lives richer by being here.   Going for long walks with me, spinning and digging and laughing when she was excited.  How delicate and pretty she looked after being groomed.  How ruffian and scruffy she looked after sleeping in the mud.  How bad her breath smelled sometimes.  How she would follow me from room to room, even after she went blind.  How she unplugged my computer from the monitor, causing me to think maybe I was going blind as well.  Samantha, who was my childhood dog.  I got her when she was just a puppy, and had her until she was 16.  She grew up with me, moved to California with me, kept me company when we would move YET AGAIN and I would have to go out and make new friends.  Easier done with a faithful dog by your side.  She died in 1988, the same spring that my Grandfathers both died.  It was a difficult time.

I’m thinking of all of you today, remembering good times that we had together.  I miss you terribly, but as long as I live, you will always be in my heart.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Today is Canadian Thanksgiving! Happy Happy Thanksgiving to all of my Canadian friends and family. Ted was born in Canada, and though he renounced his citizenship as a child when he became an American citizen, recent changes to Canadian law say that if he wants to be, he can be Canadian as well. Groovy, huh?

We celebrated last night with a typical Thanksgiving feast, including roast turkey and stuffing, candied yams, cranberry sauce, pie, and veggies. Yum. Give thanks, for whatever things you have to be thankful for. For us, right now, it’s family, friends, enough food to eat, a comfortable place to sleep. Interesting work, a good school for Maya, a country where we have such a good life. Health insurance and healthy bodies, books to read and movies to watch. We are fortunate in so very many ways. So today, we give thanks.

A Recommendation…


(picture found here)

Ted’s doing a radio/video show called American Liberal, on TRadioV.com, and at the end of the show, they (he and his co-host) give a recommendation…sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s an album, sometimes it’s a life thing.  This last episode, Ted recommended an overnight getaway.  I agree wholeheartedly.

Maya went to Los Angeles (Orange, actually) last week, and Ted and I had 4 days together in between her leaving and coming back. She had fun with her cousin, went to look at some colleges, went to the beach and looked at the Stars on the Hollywood walk of fame.

While she was gone, Ted and I did some work (boring), but we also went on an overnight away to Santa Cruz. We haven’t gone on any kind of vacation at all in quite awhile. When you have an old blind dog who needs 12 or more pills a day, plus tends to give you about 15 minutes warning before she craps up the house, you don’t leave town. Too cruel to take her with you, because she’s blind. Too cruel to leave her behind, because she’ll crap up someone else’s house. Between that and the month-to-month of our finances, vacations aren’t as often as we would like them to be.

Way back when, in 1983, I saw The Fixx at Day on the Green, at the Oakland Colosseum. It was the beginning of my Jr/Sr year of High School (I graduated in 3 years), and I was feeling like I had my whole life ahead of me. Which, duh, you do. By the way, that was an amazing concert…Oingo Boingo, Madness, Thompson Twins, The Fixx, and The Police. So I was excited to see them again.

Ted worked a bit on Friday morning…I went for a swim. Then we went to lunch at a delicious and somewhat fancy restaurant in our area, Bridges (remember the restaurant from Mrs. Doubtfire?), and then drove down to Santa Cruz. Back when I was in my early 20s, I used to sometimes go to a place in Santa Cruz called “Cooper House”, with my friends. They had some killer rum drinks. It first turned into a nasty crepe place, which I think doomed it. Then it was destroyed in the 1989 earthquake. Anyway, I like that neighborhood, though it’s gone through a lot of changes since I spent any time at all there in 1986. So we walked around, looked at the shops (some chain stores, some independent…several thrift shops with used clothing), enjoyed ourselves. Then we went to the Boardwalk, and talked about fond memories of our childhoods going on the rides, though neither of us wanted to go on them anymore. I have to say, I’d rather go to Santa Cruz than to Disneyland any day of the week and twice on Sundays. The rides aren’t necessarily as good as Disneyland, but the ocean is RIGHT there. You don’t pay to get in, only to ride. There are decent restaurants right on the pier, in easy walking distance. The lines aren’t NEARLY as long. The smell of salt water is in the air. And while there’s no chance of running into Donald Duck or Ariel while you’re walking around, there are cave people on the sky ride. In the summers, they have free concerts there on the beach. Not top name acts, clearly, because the venue can only handle a couple of hundred people, who bring their own chairs or towels and sit on the sand.

So we were there to see The Fixx, who were amazingly great. They were as good as back in 1983, and I suspect that if I’ve aged, they have as well. And I have. They had two shows, and we stayed to see both, which was a good thing, because they played two separate sets, with different songs. Their new album, Beautiful Friction is really good. Really good. I really enjoyed hearing the songs. But when I heard the songs from the early 80s, I LOVED that even more. At one point, when they were playing Red Skies, I remember thinking, “Oh, the Police are next!” Crazy, huh? It’s been almost 30 years. After the concert, we went to dinner (fastish food, since it was after 10 and not much was open).

On Saturday, we decided to go to see 2 Days in New York, which I’ve been wanting to see, but isn’t in our town yet. I’m not sure if it will make it here. So we went to Berkeley, and then came home after that.

We were gone maybe 30 hours total. It was so nice, so relaxing, just to get away a bit. From home. From work. From responsibilities. From so many things that we actually cherish. I’m with Ted. I recommend it. Highly.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Humid Day in Philly = Cranky Baby

Here we are on Mother’s Day, Philadelphia, 1996. It was a humid day, and Maya didn’t like humidity. Good thing we moved back to California, huh? I look so young. That was 16 years ago, so I was 30. Look how dark my hair is! That’s the color of my dad’s hair, actually…his was blonde when he was a boy, and got darker as he got older, just like me. Unlike me, he didn’t care, and let it stay dark. I didn’t want to dye my hair whilst pregnant, so I had it colored my natural color before I got pregnant. Or close. But then I went red for maybe a year, and then blonde again.

That’s a lot of dribble about hair, but what I really want to say is how much I love being a mom. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there. You don’t have to tell your kids how much you love it, if you’d rather make them feel guilty for all of the sacrifice. “Oh, I never sleep.” “No, you take the last cinnamon roll dear. I don’t want it.” “Oh, I’d love a new pair of shoes or a new purse or a trip to Europe, but you know, kids are so expensive“. Go for it. These things may all be true, but really, it’s the best job ever.

Black Cherry and Black Pepper Lamb Chops

Valentine's Day Dinner
I went looking for Valentine’s Day recipes last week, and I found a delicious looking recipe for lamb with some kind of jammy sauce on Food Network. I remembered a few months ago that Ted’s mom and I went to an event at Elizabeth Spencer Winery, they had an appetizer of lamb chops in a pomegranate jelly sauce that was absolutely delicious. So I decided to make it, but instead of buying a special black cherry jam, I used leftover blackberry/pomegranate jam from the amazing Christmas cookies I made a few months ago. Results? de-li-cious. If you like lamb, this is a wonderful dish. The risotto that went with it was lovely. Not the best I’ve ever had, but not gloppy, which sometimes happens when I try to make risotto. It was a lovely dinner. Like the brownie with a little powdered sugar heart for dessert? Yummy also.

Recipe by Rachael Ray, found here.

Black Cherry and Black Pepper Lamb Chops with Sweet Pea Risotto
Ingredients

1 quart chicken stock
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus some for drizzling
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup peas, defrosted
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a couple of handfuls
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish (I omitted the mint and parsley, though I did buy them. Lame.)
Handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
4 loin lamb chops, each 1 1/2 inches thick
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup black cherry all fruit preserves (or blackberry/pomegranate jam, whatever floats your boat)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper, eyeball it in your palm
Salt

Directions

Place the stock in a small pot and warm it up over medium low heat.

Place an oven rack 8 inches from broiler and preheat broiler to high.

Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 1 turn of the pan, with a tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet over medium to medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add onions and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes the add Arborio and cook a minute more. Add wine and cook it all away, 1 minute. Add a few ladles of warm broth and let that cook off, stirring occasionally. The risotto will take 22 minutes to cook. Add a ladle of broth from time to time until risotto is starchy, creamy and cooked to al dente. Add peas about 2 minutes before serving. Add in cheese, chopped mint and parsley just before serving.

When the risotto is half-cooked, 10 minutes from being done, drizzle the chops with extra-virgin olive oil and arrange on a slotted broiler plan. Place chops in oven under hot broiler and cook 8 to 10 minutes for medium rare. Place a tiny pan on the stove over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and shallots to the pan. Cook shallots 2 minutes then add the preserves and whisk them together with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Heat to a bubble then remove from heat and add remaining pat of butter. Whisk butter into sauce.

Season the risotto with salt to taste. Place a generous serving of risotto into shallow dinner plates. Arrange 2 chops on each plate alongside the risotto and drizzle the black cherry pepper glaze over the chops and garnish plates with extra sprigs of mint.

A Day in the City

Ted and I are both fortunate enough to be able to take the week off between Christmas and New Years, and it may be my favorite week of the year. Don’t ask me about that when I take time off in the summer, because I may change my mind, but for now, let’s say this is the best. The lead up to Christmas is one of hustle and bustle, with hurrying here and there, buying gifts, going to parties, wrapping gifts, sending cards, decorating the house, making latkes (for Hanukkah, which we also celebrate, because we’re atheists and can do whatever we want), enjoying Stollen Bread on St. Nicholas Day (which we also celebrate, because we’re atheists and can do whatever we want), baking Christmas cookies, etc. etc. It’s a lot of fun, but in reality, it’s also a lot of work. The week after Christmas, however, tends to be a week when very little work gets done, people are still mostly in a good mood, you can probably get a reservation at a decent restaurant, and if you avoid the after-Christmas mayhem at the department and big-box stores, it’s pretty low key. It’s a chance to regroup and relax. I love it.

One thing we did during that week off was to go into San Francisco (aka, the City). We started off with brunch at a place we saw on Check Please, Bay Area. It’s not a fancy place by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a greasy spoon diner, the likes of which we don’t really get out here in the burbs. But the reviewers all loved it, and were doing some big talking about the Rib Eye used in the steak and eggs, so we wanted to give it a try. Ted and I actually tried to go there a month or so ago, but they’re closed on Sundays, so we ended up at another greasy spoon down the street.

Ted ordered the Steak and Eggs, which he said was better quality than the joint down the block, but somehow, he liked the meal better at the other place. How can that be? No idea. It was a good steak, though.
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Maya had the French Toast, which she really enjoyed.
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I had the French Dip, which was delicious. You could tell that it was really good quality meat. I was so excited by the stupid potato thing, though, that I forgot to take a picture. (as if anyone needs to see a picture of my French Dip sandwich. Blogging is weird.)
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The Silly Spud, if you didn’t click the video, is a potato skewered and twisted, deep fried and served hot, sort of like a cross between a french fry and a potato chip. It comes with all different kinds of flavors.
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We went for plain, wanting to try the basic potato first before trying any flavors. My review? Meh. I’d rather have either a potato chip (more crispy) or a french fry (that tender inside), but this didn’t seem to combine the best of both worlds. It was more the worst of both worlds. I wouldn’t try it again. Overall, though, I liked Manor Coffee Shop. I don’t know that I’d drive 40 minutes a 3rd time to try it, but if I were in the neighborhood and in the mood for a burger, a French Dip, or steak and eggs, I might give it another shot. Oh, and if Santa didn’t make it to your house on Christmas Eve, it’s because he fell through their roof, and was still stuck there the following Tuesday.
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After brunch, we went downtown to see the current exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, Maharaja, The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts. They didn’t allow pictures in that exhibit, though they did in other parts of the museum. It was interesting to see how colonialism seemed to bring a new level of hedonism to the royals of India. They always lived in splendor, but after the British took over, their roles became more symbolic than useful, and they seemed to deteriorate into a worthless group, mostly bent on fine living and partying. Much like the British royals of today, I expect. The Asian Art Museum moved to its current location maybe 10 years ago. It was located closer to our neighborhood, in Golden Gate Park, when we lived in SF. Now it’s in the old City Library, which is a gorgeous building. Kind of strange to walk the gallerias and remember studying there in college.
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There was another exhibit, The Maharaja and Me, by a talented artist named Sanjay Patel, that was a lot of fun. Patel is a cartoonist working at Pixar, and his paintings looked like graphic novels in their modern flair, though the writing style wasn’t graphic novel-y.

Here are a few examples.
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I really enjoyed the show. Maya really wanted this last picture in poster form for her wall. Ganesh is just so cute, right? Sadly, they only had the poster in a book of posters, and she didn’t want to spend $25 on the whole thing. Too bad he doesn’t sell just the Ganesh poster, because I’d buy it for her online if I could.

After the museum, we decided to walk across Civic Center Park to City Hall. San Francisco City Hall is beautiful, and if you’re going to get married in a City Hall somewhere, I highly recommend it. We walked around, remembering when we were there getting our license and blood tests back in ’93, and saw a lot of brides hanging around, waiting for their turn. I didn’t want to be too invasive, but I did take a couple of pictures.
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Ted says that last one is going on his book jacket, if he ever writes a book.

It was a great day. I like traveling a lot, though I’m not as fond of flying as I once was. But when you live so close to such a beautiful city, why go elsewhere? There’s so much to see here, from little neighborhood restaurants, to wonderful museums, world class restaurants, and amazing views. I pink puffy heart San Francisco.

Tea Cake Sandwich Cookies


Saturday we celebrated one of my favorite holidays of the year: Baking Day. Baking Day is the day that the family all gathers together at Ted’s parents’ house, and we each pick a cookie (or other sweet treat) recipe, make it, and then we all take home an assortment of yummy goodness. I like it because it’s not a day for large meals and grand statements (like Christmas and Thanksgiving, both of which I love, but it’s really nice to have such a casual, fun day there in the middle), but instead it’s just a day to come together, bake delicious treats, and at the end of it all, counteract the rich sweetness of it all by feasting on salt and fat in the form of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yum.

When deciding what to make this year, I saw this recipe online. Bon Appetit is pretty safe for recipes, they’re generally delicious, and the picture was beautiful. I love the colors of the different jams, and buttery sugar cookies are a nice counterpoint to the rich (and delicious) brownies/fudge (Joan Lunden fudge…I can see I need to post that recipe as well…) that Ted always makes. I have to say, this recipe was a delicious success. They were buttery, flaky, tender, and sweet. The keys to yummy cookies (as if you’d listen to me, I’m not a baker at all) are fresh ingredients, cold dough, and in this case, I love the hint of lemon in the cookies and the icing. For my jams, I chose apricot, seedless raspberry, and pomegranate/blackberry. All delicious.

Tea Cake Sandwich Cookies
Ingredients

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons whole milk
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Assorted decorations (such as powdered sugar, icing, colored sugar crystals, and edible glitter)

2/3 cup preserves (such as apricot, seedless raspberry, or seedless blackberry)

test-kitchen tip
Rolling out the dough between sheets of waxed paper cuts out the need for lots of extra flour to prevent sticking.

Preparation

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl to blend well. Using electric mixer, beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in milk, lemon peel, and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat until blended. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let soften slightly before rolling out.

Roll out each dough disk between sheets of waxed paper to 14×11-inch rectangle, occasionally lifting waxed paper to smooth out wrinkles. Refrigerate dough on baking sheets, still between sheets of waxed paper, until cold and firm, about 30 minutes. Place 1 dough piece on work surface. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper. Press same waxed paper gently back onto dough. Turn dough over (still between waxed paper sheets). Peel off top sheet of waxed paper and discard. Using 2 1/4-inch scalloped round cutter and with dough still on waxed paper bottom, cut out cookies. Using 1- to 1 1/4-inch scalloped round cutter, cut out center from half of cookies. Gather dough centers and excess dough around cutouts; shape excess dough into disk and chill. Slide waxed paper with cutouts onto baking sheet and chill. Repeat with remaining dough disk, cutting out rounds, cutting centers from half of rounds to make top rings, and gathering and chilling excess dough. Roll out excess dough between sheets of waxed paper, making more cookie bottoms and top rings. Repeat rolling and cutting until all of dough is used.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Using metal spatula to lift cutouts from waxed paper, transfer cookie bottoms to 1 prepared sheet and top rings to second sheet, spacing slightly apart (cookies spread very little). Sprinkle some top rings with colored sugar crystals (or leave plain to decorate later). Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until pale golden, about 8 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks; cool completely.

Arrange cookie bottoms on work surface. Spread each with 1 teaspoon preserves. Sift powdered sugar over plain cookie rings or decorate with icing and sugar crystals or edible glitter as desired. Press 1 top ring onto each prepared cookie bottom. DO AHEAD Cookies can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight between sheets of waxed paper in refrigerator.

Icing
Ingredients

3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
Water

Preparation
Sift powdered sugar into medium bowl. Mix in lemon juice and corn syrup. Mix in enough water by teaspoonfuls to form smooth icing soft enough to pipe but firm enough to hold shape. Divide into 3 or 4 portions and tint with food coloring, if desired.

Spoon icing into pastry bag (or bags if using more than 1 color) fitted with small (1/16- to 1/8-inch) plain tip. Arrange cookies on work surface. Pipe icing onto cookies in desired patterns. Apply decorations as desired. Let cookies stand until icing is dry.

I tried both the icing and the powdered sugar, as you can see. The powdered sugar was far easier than the icing, which oozed out of the top of the pastry bag and made a mess (did I mention, I don’t bake?), but the icing, with the hint of lemon from the juice, was delicious as hell. Totally yum.

Friday Randomness ~ 11/11/11

First off, let’s take a moment to thank all of the Veterans this Veterans’ Day, for their patriotism and service.  There is a sad, lovely poem written during the First World War, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and surgeon, after he witnessed the death of a friend.  Lieutenant Colonel McCrae died of pneumonia during the war, in 1918.

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

The picture is my Great Grandfather, Percy Herndon, in his WWI uniform.  This is before he married my Great-Grandmother, and the woman in the picture is his sister, my Great Aunt Julia, for whom I was named.  Aunt Julia died before I was born, but she was a large and important presence in my mother’s life.  My Great-Grandfather served in Russia, and came home safely.  He married my great grandmother, and they had 5 children, 3 of whom lived to adulthood, and all 3 of whom are still alive today.  (My Grandma and Great Aunt, who live together in Stockton, and my other Great Aunt, who lives a bit north of Sacramento.) I didn’t know him growing up, as he died right after we moved back to California from Alaska. But I know him through stories, and I wish I had known him better.

Next is Happy Birthday to Little One, my friend Chrissy’s daughter, who is 3 years old today.  Little One was born 3 months premature, and her first few months outside of her mommy were harrowing indeed.   But now she’s a gorgeous, healthy, strong, opinionated, sweet little girl.   I hope you’re having a great celebration, Chrissy, John, and Little One!

Now I wonder if any of you have any tips for getting a stubborn old dog to take her medicine?  Poor Gen is on so many pills now, and she hates them.  HATES them.  Two days this week, she took them easily, just wrapped in salami.  I felt like I had won the lottery, it was so easy.  Seriously, I should have gone and bought a ticket.  Yesterday she refused, and I had to shove them down her throat, which I’ve done with cats before, but Gen is bigger and stronger than a cat.  It worked in the morning, but when it came time for her evening pill, she clamped her jaw shut on my finger.  She’s been bragging about how fierce she is, that she bit Medium Boss, but really, she was just trying to not take her pill, and she didn’t even draw blood.  Not as fierce as she likes to pretend.  So Maya and I figured out that if we packed the pill in grated cheese, and gave her a treat RIGHT AFTER, she would eat the pill and not spit it out.  That worked last night, and again this morning, but our experience thus far has been that she’ll take the pills well once or twice, and then get a taste of one (one particularly is VERY bitter), and refuse that method from then on.  So I’ve tried mixing the powdered pill into sugar water, which she liked a little bit but not enough.  Peanut butter, cream cheese, salami, all worked for a little while, but not consistently.   Any sure fire tips out there?

Tomorrow I’m going to get my hair done.  Always an adventure, since I go to a beauty school to save money.  They do a decent job, but sometimes my hair comes home a different color than I intended.  That’s happened at the expensive salon too, come to think of it, so whatever.

The whole Penn State scandal got me pretty riled up.  I think everyone involved should have been fired, and I cannot for the life of me understand the reaction of the students who rioted in protest.  These men think they’re above the law, and that their football team and department are more important than the lives of disadvantaged boys.  It’s disgusting.  And how much more damage have they done to the department and school than if they had called the police when they first learned of the crimes?  Ugh.  It makes me sick.  Some people need a lesson in ethics.

Thanks to Nance for the link to this article, explaining the anger of Occupy Wall Street.  The problem isn’t that the poor and middle class hate the rich, or are envious.  The problem is that we’re pissed off at the fact that the Wall Street folks gamed the system, they cheated, and they don’t think there’s a darn thing wrong with that.  They think they were smart to think of it, and they’re busy planning how to do it again. And again.  And as long as people make money at it, if their 401(k) goes up and the value of their house rises, they don’t care that it’s not sustainable.  That’s the problem, and it’s not just Wall Street.  Some of it is Main Street as well.  We need to get angry and stop trusting these a-holes.  That’s what the Occupy movement is about.

I guess that’s it.  I could start in on what an idiot I think Herman Cain is, and how I wish he’s just go away, and that I think he’s a lech and he still thinks he can get away with it, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Who Put the Labor in Labor Day?

We did, that’s who.

When I think of labor day, my mind first thinks of the end of summer…the crisp fall weather on the horizon, the cool weather clothes, school starting up again, the return of the good TV shows…

Then there are the Labor Day celebrations…one last bbq of summer, maybe a trip to the beach, the lake, or the shore…

For some people it is a chance to get caught up with some chores around the house, to enjoy a 3-day weekend by sleeping in one extra day, maybe see some friends.

I agree with all of these things. Not a thing wrong with any of them. But at the same time, it’s a good time to remember what the heck Labor Day is…unlike our other holidays, like Veterans Day or Memorial Day, it doesn’t commemorate war or those who fought for our freedoms. Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and Easter, it doesn’t commemorate any religious significance. Unlike Thanksgiving, it doesn’t commemorate a coming together or the fall harvest, or the brief friendship between the pilgrims and the Native Americans.

Instead, Labor Day commemorates us…it commemorates the worker. People who get up every day and go to work, jobs that we love as well as jobs that we hate. Jobs that we do so that we can gain fulfillment, to make the world a better place, to provide a needed service, to simply pay the bills.

Labor day was created by the labor movement, and is dedicated to you and me, American workers. I know that many people have issues with the labor movement, do not like unions and what they represent. They claim that unions are corrupt and do very little to benefit workers, or that they make doing business too expensive for the employer. I would beg you to dig a little deeper, and look at what labor unions have given our country:

  • Eight-Hour Work Day
  • Five-Day Workweek
  • Health Insurance
  • Good Pensions
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Fair Treatment for Women, People of Color and Workers with Disabilities
  • Higher Wages
  • Overtime Pay
  • Job Safety
  • Paid Holidays
  • Job Security
  • Severance Pay
  • Paid Vacations
  • Family and Medical Leave

So even if you have never belonged to a union in your life (I haven’t), let’s please stop for a moment this weekend, and thank the unions for what they have given to our country. Also, take a moment to recognize the strength and character of the American worker, upon whose back our economy and democracy rests.

And if, looking at that list, you see some items that don’t apply to you, like a 40-hour work week, a pension, or fair treatment, remember that the labor movement is made up of people who have fought for these things, things that don’t come easily, things that can easily be taken away from us. Fight for these things. Fight for what you believe in, and to make our country stronger.

Happy Labor Day, everyone!

*Repeat…originally posted on my blog September 2, 2006, reposted in September of 2008.

Mother’s Day

Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel
Like you’re less than, less than perfect
Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you are perfect to me*

I don’t even like this song. Sorry Pink. Nothing personal. But the other day I was in the car, and it came on, and I found myself wondering if Maya knows that this is how I feel about her. I know, I nag. Pick up your clothes. Do your homework. Make your bed. Finish your girl scout award commitment. But none of that means I think any less of her. It means I know she’s a teen, and sometimes needs a little nudge and reminder to get things done. Really, I wouldn’t change anything about her, because all of the aspects that come together, including the need to be nudged sometimes to get things done, they make her Maya. She’s going to move out someday, and she’ll have to nag herself, with lists, whatever. I still have to nag myself sometimes. And I know, I’m far from perfect.

Except, perhaps, to my mom. There was nothing I could do wrong in this world that she didn’t see my side of it, didn’t empathize, didn’t forgive me completely. Thinking of that, realizing it, was like a slap in the face. It woke me up. It made me cry. Because who else will love you so unconditionally, so forgiving and completely, as a parent does? It made me miss my mom so very much. And it made me thankful to still have my dad. But mostly, because she’s gone, and because every single day I wish she weren’t, it made me miss my mom.

Mother’s Day is hard. I wonder if it always will be? Ted and Maya spoiled me with gifts and meals and cards and love. I love being a mother. I love being a wife, and the mother to Ted’s child. These are the best things I’ve done with my life. But I really liked being my mom’s daughter, too. I miss you, mom. You’re perfect to me.

*I’m not sure if there is a radio version where these are the lyrics or not, but this is how I hear them, without the censored F word. You know me, I don’t have a problem with the F word. But I like this song better without.

Playing Hooky


Last weekend, Maya asked if she could miss school on her birthday. My first reaction was, No, go to school. Then I thought about it and realized, who cares if she misses a day of school to celebrate her birthday? I mean, if a teacher is absent, they just show a movie in class, so if they can waste her time (once in awhile…not ragging on her school…it’s a good school, with very dedicated teachers), then so can I. Anyway, it seemed like SUCH a good idea, that Ted and I decided to take the day off as well. So we took a vacation day from work, and went into San Francisco for the day. What a good idea that was!

We started out with lunch at a sentimental favorite of Ted’s. He remembers going to Alioto’s (on the wharf) with his father, and really liking their crab spaghetti. Turns out that a Tuesday at 11:30 in March is a great time to visit Fisherman’s Wharf. When we lived in the City, we pretty much avoided the Wharf like a plague. Far too touristy, far too crowded, everything mediocre and over priced. But on the first really gorgeous day of spring, playing hooky from work and school, it’s actually a pretty nice place to be. The restaurant doesn’t have crab spaghetti anymore, but they did have a ‘fruits de mer’ pasta that filled in just fine for him. Maya and I had a big pancake breakfast, so we weren’t as hungry. I opted for a crab cake appetizer, which was lovely and just the right amount of food. The sauce was really good, as was the sourdough bread, so I pretty much licked the platter clean. Maya had the very SF dish, clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Mmmm. San Francisco sourdough is the best, bar none.

Anyway, after lunch, we walked over to Pier 33 and boarded a ferry to Alcatraz. I’ve lived in California for most of my life, spent several years as a concierge in San Francisco, and I had never been before. Again, too touristy for the natives. But I found that if I thought of it as California history, instead of a tourist attraction, it didn’t feel so cheesy. And did I mention that it was a GORGEOUS day? San Francisco is such a beautiful city, and on a bright sunny day following week after week of gray rain and clouds, it sparkles like a jewel from the vantage point of a ferry boat. The Rock itself was a mixture of interesting history, a sad reflection of what cruelty humans are capable of, and again, beautiful views. I learned a few things, such as that the lighthouse on Alcatraz island was the first on the west coast, constructed in 1854, at the height of the gold rush and California’s boom period. It later became a military fortification, then a military prison, then the Federal prison for which it became famous. It was retired in 1963, and has operated since then as a national park.

Ted has been before, probably most recently in the late 80s, and back then you were guided through the prison by a park ranger. Nowadays they start you off with a lecture about the decaying buildings and the importance of staying out of areas that are sectioned off (and yeah, you could fall to your death if you’re being stupid), then you go inside and watch a brief Discovery Channel video about the history of the U.S. occupation of the island. Then you pick up some headphones and begin an audio tour, narrated by former guards and prisoners. It’s depressing to see what people can be reduced to, life in a tiny cage like that. But while it made me sad to think of life on The Rock, the beauty of the outside surroundings, and the fact that I wasn’t cooped up at work made it much more palatable.

Overall, it was a truly lovely day. And kind of like a field trip more than skipping class. I think we should maybe play hooky for Ted’s birthday next month. Hmmmm.

Happy Pi Day!

Pie for Pi Day
picture found here, along with the story of how Pi Day came to be celebrated)
Today is Pi Day, 3/14. (Which reminds me that I totally forgot to do anything for National Grammar Day! Drat.) To celebrate, you can talk about the properties of pi, you can listen to a musical representation of the number pi, you can watch a rap music video about pi, and of course, you can eat pie. A few years ago I decided that we would have turkey pot pie for dinner for pi day, and I bought some from the freezer section of the grocery store, and overall, I was VERY unimpressed. So this year, I’ve decided to trust Ina, and make a Barefoot Contessa version. We’re having it for dinner tonight, so I’ll have to let you know how it turns out. But in the interest of being timely and topical, and in case you’re motivated to do something similar, here’s the recipe. I’ll be cheating and making one big pie rather than individual pies, and using a store bought pie crust. Homemade pie crust intimidates me. The recipe says it makes 4 individual pot pies, but I’m thinking they’d be huge, and you could probably feed 8 with this. I’m going to halve the recipe for the three of us. The recipe also says cook time 55 minutes, but that is clearly a lie, as you cook the chicken for 40, then assemble the pies, then bake for another hour. Someone at FoodNetwork.com isn’t paying attention.

Chicken Pot Pie
Ingredients

  • 3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups medium-diced carrots, blanched for 2 minutes
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas (2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

For the pastry:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions and parsley. Mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Oh, and it’s also Albert Einstein’s birthday! Get your inner math geek on, folks!

UPDATE: DELICIOUS! If you’re any kind of fan of pot pies, this is a keeper. Also, I made a chicken pot pie awhile ago from the New Basics Cookbook that wasn’t nearly as good, but called for homemade chicken bouillon cubes (as if!), so I went and found this amazing demi glace, which is a wonderful, rich addition to a recipe when calling for bouillon or just a rich gravy or sauce. I used the demi glace in place of the bouillon in this recipe. Yummy yummy yummy. For the pastry, I just went to see the little puffy guy in the Pillsbury area of the fridge section, and found a delicious and easily rolled out product. Thanks again, Ina, and to the rest of you, next time you’re in the mood for chicken pot pie, this recipe isn’t difficult, esp if you don’t make your own chicken stock and pie crust.

Christmas thoughts…

Maya's Gingerbread House

For years, Maya wanted to make a gingerbread house. She would ask, and I would think about the mess, the candy, my lack of crafty skills, the mess, and the what-does-one-do-with-it-after aspect, and say, hmmm….maybe. But never get around to it. A local supermarket has gingerbread house parties, where you can come and pay to make one there, which seemed a perfect solution to me, but I could never seem to get there and sign her up in time. By the time I found out about the party, it was either fully booked or fully over. So I would think, maybe next year, and feel a twinge guilty for not being the type of mom to bake the components and put it all together for her, or at least buy one of those kits with pre-made gingerbread parts, where you just glue them together and decorate. I’m just not crafty. I don’t know why.

So this year, in her Freshman year of High School, Maya was invited to her friend’s house for a cookie exchange/gingerbread house decorating party. She made fudge (no nuts) to share, and went and had a great time, and came home with a beautiful gingerbread house. And I had a thought, which is that we cannot and should not try to be all things to our child, that we should not have as our goal to make every magical memory for them. It’s exhausting, and sometimes they will get to have those magical memories outside of our sphere, with friends or family or someone who isn’t us. And that’s a good thing.

Which got me to thinking about gifts. I was remembering a couple I used to know, how when they had finished all of their shopping, gotten their children the things on their list plus a few others, decided that there was no ‘WOW’ gift for them under the tree, nothing to make the day truly magical and wonderful, and so they went out and spent a couple of hundred dollars on a pool table. I don’t know if the kids enjoyed the pool table or not, but the reasoning behind the purchase always struck me. When did Christmas get to be so focused on making our children’s every wish come true, and then some? It seems like we are confused as to what we want from our kids. We want children who are happy with the simple things, like Laura Ingalls when Mr. Edwards walked from town 14 miles away (40 miles in the book, and you can read about the discrepancy here, and gosh, I’ve never even walked 14 miles in one day, so I’m still mighty impressed) to bring them a penny, a tin cup, and a piece of candy. But we also want kids to be blown away by the overwhelming awesomeness of our gift, like these kids are. And perhaps these aren’t different desires, to be able to give our children something that they will enjoy and be grateful for on Christmas, whether it’s a game console or a tin cup. But somehow, I think seeking that ‘WOW’ factor is a part of where the after Christmas let down that so many people feel comes from. So much anticipation, that probably nothing we might give them can measure up, and there they stand in a pile of gifts and shredded wrapping paper with a look on their face that seems to say, “that’s it?”. Perhaps we need to find a way to make the focus of the holiday about something other than gift giving. If you’re religious, you can make it about Church and Jesus, and if you’re secular, you can make it about family and love. You can make it about charity and caring, like Scrooge learned from his 3 ghosts.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m trying to say here. Merry Christmas to all of my bloggy friends, and I hope that your holiday is everything you wish for.

Pete and repeat are in a boat…

santa 096

Pete falls out, who’s left?  Repeat!  OK, so for a repeat performance, here’s a picture of Maya on Santa’s lap circa 1996, when she was 9 months old.  If the picture looks familiar, I posted it about 3 years ago on this very blog. 

Chrissy and Glinda both reminded me of this photo…Chrissy when she posted a picture of her poor baby freaking out on Santa’s lap, here, and Glinda when she asked about the cuteness of Santa photos, here.

In this picture, Santa is a family friend dressed up, not a guy at the mall, which is probably why she’s not screaming. Also, she’s young. Had she sat in a stranger’s lap a year later, she would have lost her mind. We never did the Santa thing, really, so this was her only chance.  We weren’t big Disney people, either, and look at the dress she’s wearing.  A Disney dress.  Sometimes family hears that you don’t want to do something, like Santa or Disney, and they do what they can to make sure you do it anyway.  And guess what?  All these years later, I’m glad that we have the Santa photo.  The Disney dress?  Still not a fan.  But it’s OK.