Memorial Day


Today is Memorial Day, a day when we honor fallen soldiers.  My immediate family has been fortunate in that we don’t have a lot of soldiers who have died in service to their country.  My father was vehemently against the Vietnam war, and refused to go to war, though he did alternate service.  My step-mom’s first husband died in Vietnam, however, so certainly the family is not unscathed.  How is one supposed to feel in such a case?  If he had lived, she would not have married my father.  On the other hand, I cannot be glad that he died.  My father-in-law served in Vietnam, though thankfully he came home safely so that he could fall in love with my Mother-in-Law.

For WWII, my grandfather (my mom’s step dad) was in his 40s, and only had half of his stomach following surgery, so was not wanted by the military.  My grandfather (my mom’s father) had flat feet perhaps and bad hearing, so he did not serve in the military.  He did work at the ship yards in Oakland and Alameda, working on ships that were going to war.  His brother, my mom’s uncle Leland, did serve, and came home safely.

My great-grandfather served in World War I, and thankfully came home safely, because otherwise none of my more immediate family would be here.  He didn’t marry until he came home from the war.  He served in Russia, and there is a photo on my Grandma’s wall of him, with a letter signed by President Ford.

Before that we go to the Civil War, and my 3rd great grandfather, John Nevins Mace.  He was born and raised in New Hampshire, near the Massachusetts border.  He married Sarah Angelina Parkhurst (known as Angie), and within a few months he went to battle.  He died from typhoid fever before even learning that Angie was pregnant, in Washington D.C.  He served in the same regiment as Angie’s brother, Charles Nevins Parkhurst, who also died from Typhoid before seeing battle.  I know that his death left a horrible emptiness in the family he left behind.  Angie worked trying to support their daughter, Etta Louise (my Grandmother’s Grandma), and died when Etta was only 7.  Etta was raised by aunt and uncles and her grandmother and great-grandmother, a woman born during the Revolutionary War.  She was raised in a family of love, but certainly would have loved to be raised by her living parents.  My Grandma always says that because of that, every generation was raised more conservatively than it should have been, raised perhaps a generation behind their cohort.  Don’t worry, my mom’s generation caught them all up, and whatever they missed, my generation filled in.

Thank you to all of our fallen soldiers, and their families who miss them horribly.  The holes that are left in the lives of their families are horrible and tragic, and should not be ignored or forgotten in the rush to barbeque and celebrate summer.

Small Victories & Occasional Randomness

I went to the store the other day, in need of a new pair of jeans.  I have a certain brand and cut that I like, and alas, they are phasing that cut out.  No big pile with four washes from which to choose, which is how it was the last time I went to the store.   So I looked all over, dug through pile after pile, and the only pair I found was 7 sizes too big.  Rats.  Every other pair in the store was a stupid low rise cut, meaning I can’t bend over without people knowing what kind of underwear I have on.  I don’t like that, and I doubt anyone who would be forced to see my crack would like it, either.  I’m not a plumber.  When I came home, I tried the online store, and look, they still have them!  Plus, a coupon for 30% off!  So I get my jeans, and save money.  I hope I don’t regret only buying one pair.  Perhaps I should have bought two.  But since they’re going away, I kind of think it might be a good idea to look around and see what else is out there.

There has been a constant drip drip drip coming from our bathroom vanity, and our water bill went up this last time.  Neither Ted nor I are plumbers (as I mentioned above), nor do we play one on TV, but at the same time, a drippy faucet seems like it should be solvable without calling a plumber and paying $75.  Friday was my day off, and Ted replaced our bathroom shower head a few months ago, so I felt like, perhaps, if he can do it, I might be able to do it, too.  I looked online, and saw a video that showed how to remove the faucet, but blurred through the complicated inner workings.  Mostly it said, take it apart, take the parts with you to the hardware store to match them correctly, then come home and put them back in where you found them, and voila, problem solved.  Well, that’s a mighty optimistic telling of how it could go, isn’t it?  I was able to get it pulled partially apart, but not completely.  I wasn’t sure whether to fight it and break it, or if maybe I needed a tool.  So I took some pictures and went to the hardware store.  There, they told me that it was difficult to disassemble because of hard water deposits, and I should just yank on it.  OK.  Back home, and now Ted’s here (he was out giving Maya a driving lesson on the freeways, which I am happy enough to miss…they make me nervous), so he just gives the darned thing one yank, and off it comes.  Yay for big man strength!  Back to the hardware store I go, with the spigot or whatever it’s called, but I didn’t bring the washer.  So they sell me what they think might fit, and back home I go.  I put it back together, with Ted’s help, though again, neither of us are plumbers.  Get everything put back together, turn the water on, and out it comes…even though the spigot is turned off.  Not working at all.  Drats.  Turn it off.  Take it apart.  Look at the washer, which has a hole that is slightly bigger than the hole in the original washer.  I wonder if that matters.  I don’t know.  Back to the hardware store I go, this time with my worn out parts, where they dig around and find yet another kit, with a washer that looks much more like mine than the first one.  Back home. Put it together.  Run water.  No better.  What’s wrong?  Could it be that I have the spring/washer combination put together backwards?  Ted pulls apart the other side of the sink to see, and yes, it does indeed appear that way.  So we try it again.  YAYYY!! This time, it worked.  No more dripping faucet.  No more wondering how much it’s costing me to have it drip, and thinking about the dry January we’ve had, and thus far, dry February as well, so the guilt of wasted water.  And it only cost me $3, four hours, and 3 trips to the hardware store.


Lots of construction around here, jackhammering apart our swimming pool. That was fun. Working from home has its benefits, but listening to someone jackhammer your pool for 5 continuous hours is not one of them. After they tore it apart, thankfully, they put it back together, re-tiled, re-plastered, and filled it with water. Then, walking by the other day, there’s this new sign. WTF? The thing is, even though we live in a condo complex, which is sort of private property, it is not one person’s property. So the pool is subject to all kind of county regulations. Like when they made us add new tiles a year or two ago, to add ‘ft’ to the ‘4’ and ‘6’ on the sides of the pool. Homeowner money had to go to adding signs to tell us that it was feet, not meters, even though diving isn’t allowed anyway. Frustrating. Anyway, I’m assuming that the sign is a county regulation, so we have no choice but to put it up, no matter how disgusting it is to walk past every day.

Awhile ago I mentioned that I have an avocado tree that needs a bigger pot.  I had contemplated going and asking some people down the street if they’d be interested in selling me their lovely blue glazed planters, and I actually did knock on their door once, but they didn’t answer.  I’ve noticed more often lately that even when people are home, they sometimes just don’t answer the door.  That’s their right, I suppose, but I find it a bit odd.  Anyway, I considered leaving them a note with my phone number, but after knocking, I went and played a bit with the planters, and GOSH they were heavy.  I tried to imagine them with a small tree inside, and I lost my will.  So on the first of my three trips to the hardware store yesterday, I picked up a huge plastic planter and a bag of potting soil, and after we finished fixing the faucet, I re-potted the avocado.  My fantasy is that someday we’ll get fruit off of it, but I’m not getting my hopes up too high.

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Valentine’s Day can be a busy, horrid day to eat in a restaurant. There are three days that I do NOT like going to restaurants in a year, and they are: 1. Valentine’s Day 2. Mother’s Day 3. New Year’s Eve. Too crowded; special, expensive menus; harried service; grumpy customers, due to the first three items, plus you probably had a reservation and still had to wait 45 minutes for a table. We don’t go out to eat on any of these days. But we do celebrate, which means some kind of yummy feast. February is mid to late winter, which is prime crab season in NorCal, so we decided to have one of our favorite meals…cracked crab roasted with garlic, butter, more garlic, and more butter, and noodles, with garlic, butter, olive oil, and a few more things. Gah, it was good. Ted had his beloved bok choy, and Maya and I had salad, as we do not belove bok choy. Then, to top it all off, Ted made an amazing apple cake that I think we’ll be having for Thanksgiving this year, because it was SO delicious. Really, really good.  If you behave, perhaps I’ll post the recipe for you.

Today I’m off to give blood.  Back in November when my grandma fell and broke herself up, she had to have some blood, and I’ve been meaning to do it since then.  Other weekend plans, holidays, and sore throats have foiled my best laid plans, but today I’m all clear.  Eat a big breakfast so I don’t pass out, go give blood, and then come home and maybe have a nap, which is usually just what I want after giving blood.  I’d like to see a movie this weekend, but I still have two more days, so no rush, right?  Nice.   OH, I forgot to tell you, my Grandma is home!  She’s healed well enough that she is now home again, no longer on the schedule of the nursing home, taking their pills and doing exercises, all of that.  I hope she keeps up some of the exercises…stronger muscles make for a less wobbly Grandma, one who is less likely to fall down and break anything.  What a relief!  Yay Grandma!

Happy Thanksgiving


(image found on a Facebook page dedicated to Thanksgiving, here)

It’s Wednesday morning as I write this. I’m trying to motivate myself to get dressed and go for a walk, because I’m going to meet my lovely MIL for a movie date in a couple of hours, and then I’m going to spend the afternoon baking assorted yummies for tomorrow. But I do want to stop and contemplate the holiday, and what it means to me. When I was a child, Thanksgiving was a crummy holiday, which you can read about here and here, if you’re so inclined. Now, it’s a lovely holiday, perhaps my favorite of the year, though I also love Christmas and baking day. I like the very idea of Thanksgiving, of stopping to consider that which you have been given, and being thankful for it. Some things I’ve been given, which I’ll quote from last year’s post:

And, of course, stop to think about what I’m thankful for. That is a long list, as we are very fortunate. First of course, I’m very thankful for my family. Ted, Maya, Genevieve….my in-laws, with whom we will sit down and enjoy a harvest feast tomorrow….my Dad and Step-Mom…my brother and his wife…my sisters and their husbands and my beautiful nieces and nephews….my Grandma and Great Aunt…my cousins and their families. So many blessings.

I’m thankful for my friends.  Friends are the people that you choose to surround yourself with, people who support you in times of trouble, and cheer you on when things are going well.  I have made some wonderful friends in my lifetime, and I’m grateful for every one of them.

I’m also thankful to have a job.  And not just any job.  A job that is very flexible and allows me to work from home.  That is a great blessing right now.  And of course, I’m thankful for Ted having a job.  And I’m thankful for the health insurance that we have through Ted’s job. (2012 update, Ted is no longer at that job, but we still have insurance, and he’s working as an independent contractor, so I’m thankful)

I’m thankful for our health. Because it’s the most important thing a person can have, aside from love and family.

And at the most basic level, in a time when so many people are hungry, homeless, or on the verge of one or both, I am thankful for our home, for the food on our table, for the safety and love that we share. For the bounty and generosity that surround us and enfold us.

And I’m also thankful for my blog, and for you, my internet friends. Have a very happy Thanksgiving, one filled with love and laughter, and perhaps some pie as well.

After lunch with MAS the other day, sophisticated city dweller that she is, I would add that I am thankful for the luxury of a washer and dryer in my home.  I do not miss the days of living in the city, and sharing a coin operated machine with the other tenants.  Or my first apartment, where we had to use the laundromat.  Blech.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a Thanksgiving prayer, that I read in Dear Abby this morning. I know, I’m an atheist, what’s with the prayer? Whatever. It’s a lovely sentiment.

We thank Thee for food and remember the hungry.
We thank Thee for health and remember the sick.
We thank Thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
That Thy gifts to us may be used for others.
~ Pauline Phillips, aka Dear Abby

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.