Maya’s Senior Ball

2014-05-18 15.26.24Last night was the Senior Ball for Maya and her classmates. The ball was held in San Francisco, at the new Exploratorium (which Ted and I have not yet seen). They started out with pictures in a local park, then moved on to dinner, then a limo ride into San Francisco for the dance. Home again, then to an after party/sleepover at a friend’s house. She drug herself in at about 6:30 this morning, and as of this writing, is still asleep.

I remember my Senior Prom well, what a good time I had, and how nostalgic I started feeling for my classmates, and how we were on the verge of going on into the world and our many separate ways.

I mentioned something about the dance to the checker at Safeway, because I was getting cash back for her share of the limo ride. The checker said that when she tallied up the price of her daughter’s senior ball, it was about $1,000. I was horrified. And very thankful for my daughter, who wore her cousin’s dress, shoes from last year, carried her aunt’s clutch. She did her own makeup, and I did her hair. So we paid for limo, restaurant, earrings, the ball, and a manicure/pedicure. They didn’t do official photos, as they all gather at the park for photos. I’m not sure exactly how much the total would come up to, but it was definitely around $200.

Her date is an aspiring photographer, and actually took her senior photos for her last summer. He had a fabulous camera set up. I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures he took of the group.

Ted put together a slideshow of photos from his phone. Go check it out on his blog.  Gorgeous!

Doing Your Part

(Jesus the Homeless, by Timothy Schmalz)

Last Saturday morning found Maya and me (and her friend) in San Francisco, handing out meals to homeless people. We had done this once before, when she was in 7th or 8th grade. In that instance, it was for a class, Teens Around the World, in which they learned about kids in other cultures. A group of 10 or 15 kids, the teacher, and several parents went into the city and handed out bag lunches, which the student had assembled the day before in class. It was kind of an amazing experience, and I think it helped Maya to overcome her fear of homeless people.

Back when she was 5 or so, we were in the city for the day, and walking around Union Square. There was a very angry, confused, smelly, and LOUD homeless man, who was yelling profanities at people as they passed by. He was scary. From then on, Maya said she didn’t like San Francisco and didn’t want to go into the city. As time went on, she amended that to say she didn’t like downtown, but the park and some of the outer neighborhoods were OK. Finally, as she got older and had more good experiences in the city, she finally overcame her dislike of downtown, though it took engagement and interaction with homeless people in 7th grade to cure her of her fear. It helped her to humanize them and realize that they are people, just like everyone else.

So for her senior project in English class, she had to write a paper, work with a mentor, have a practical aspect, and give a presentation.  For the paper, she worked with her mentor, who is a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle who focuses on homelessness. The practical part was giving away sandwiches.  So she recruited some students from her Human Rights Club at school to assemble lunches, and then she and one other girl went to Civic Center and started handing them out. Again, it was really a rewarding experience.  Taking the time to stop and look at, talk to, the homeless amongst us not only reminded us of their humanity, but of course of our own as well.  Similar to volunteering at a soup kitchen or delivering Meals on Wheels, I think that when you do these things, do just a little bit to lighten the load of someone in need, you get more than you give.  Maya told me that not many of the kids in the club could come that day, but they were inspired by assembling the meals, and they may try to organize a bigger group and go in again.  I hope they do.

Birthday Girl

Mayas Cake
Isn’t this a pretty cake? Gah, it’s sideways. I’ve decided to ignore that for now. I love the little brown branches, and the cherry blossoms. I’m afraid to say that the butter cream frosting was just too sweet. Should have tried for a cream cheese frosting, I think. The cake itself was chocolate with a fudge chocolate filling. It was very nice, except perhaps for the too sweet frosting.
Maya and her Cake
Maya and her cake. My darling BFF sent her a tiara for her birthday, an appropriate gift indeed. She wore it all day.

It’s hard to believe that my baby is 18 already. Our little row in the condo complex is full of young couples with young children, and when I see them, it takes me back to when Maya was so little and young. Of course, there’s something about a child’s birthday that takes one back to when your baby was born. I remember when Maya was a toddler, or a pre-schooler, doing all of the cute things that our neighbors’ children are doing. I did love that time. One of the wonderful things about children, though, is that (contrary to popular culture), every age is wonderful if you’re lucky. Maya has been a joy from the moment she was born (aside from those many horrid hours of colic when she was a baby), and we’ve enjoyed every stage she’s gone through since then.

Happy (belated) birthday, my darling girl. You are my dream come true.

Friday Randomness

I’ve been off almost all week. Tuesday I thought it was Wednesday, Wednesday I thought it was Thursday, and Thursday I thought it was Friday. But finally, Friday is here. Yay Friday! This will be a busy weekend for us, because…

Tomorrow is Maya’s birthday! She turns 18, which is INSANE. I cannot believe my baby will legally be an adult. She can gamble, see R rated movies, whatever she wants to do. Every year I find myself reminiscing about those early days…so 18 years ago today, I was going into the hospital. I spent the night, and was induced in the morning. Gross, but effective. OK, gross is not the right word. The right word is pain inducing, which is, I guess, the entire point. So 18 years ago, the whole thing was starting to hit me, that I was going to have to go through this, that I was going to have to get my baby safely out of my body. Terrifying.

So tonight is her birthday party with her school friends. They’re going to dinner without an adult to accompany them. Symbolic I guess. I hope they have a great time.

Tomorrow will be the family party. Maya loves Ted’s lamb curry, so we’re having lamb curry, chickpea curry, curried pumpkin, roti (aka, naan), rice, and appetizers. It will be a lot of fun, as always.

Yesterday was Meals-on-Wheels. One of the couples on my route has a big bush out front, with lovely birds of paradise. They let me cut some blooms to decorate the house for Maya’s birthday party. I love the vibrant orange, with the hint of purple. I was thinking I would buy some irises to put with it, and how that might look nice. Guess what? Maya came home from school with a bouquet of irises. She has NEVER come home with flowers for no reason before. Synchronicity! They’re lovely.

Before the flowers, yesterday was kind of a crummy day. I can’t point to anything specific…just kind of work wasn’t going great, I was tired, I don’t know. But then Ted’s mom called and said, “I have some crab for you, still alive it’s so fresh”, and she appeared with crab. YUM. We had delicious crab with ciabatta bread, chardonnay, and salad for dinner. I got flowers from my MoW folks, and then from Maya. I had two things I wanted to get done for work before the end of the day, things that have been hanging over me and bugging me. I am taking next week off from work, and I wanted to get things done before going. Happily enough, it worked, I got the chores done, and now they are off of my plate before my week off. Right when I was getting ready to put dinner together (very quick, as I had already cooked and chilled the crab), Maya said she was going to go for a walk. After she left, I considered sitting down and having a glass of wine and reading my book. Then I thought, “No, I’m going for a walk too.” So I did, which felt good and took away that tired feeling. So the day started out kind of bleh, and came out really nice.

What else…well, Maya has been accepted into 4 good colleges. She didn’t get into one (very competitive) school, and is wait listed at another. I’m SO proud of her. She has worked so hard on all of this, with her AP classes and volunteer work and so on, and now it has paid off. The frustrating part is that, so far, there isn’t enough financial aid coming in, so she may end up going to a community college for the first two years. I was fine with that for me, and Ted was fine with that for him, but neither of us were so focused or hard working as she is. We SO wish that we could afford to send her to a 4-year right out the door. There’s still a chance…she has applied for a couple of scholarships, we haven’t gotten financial aid offers from 2 schools, what if she lives at home, etc. Chances are it will be community college, and if that’s the case, she will do well there. But we’re holding out hope still for a 4-year to work out in the next month.

I took next week off, because I haven’t really had any time off since December, and I like to take a couple off weeks off every year. OK, more than a couple. A few. This will be spring break for Maya. She is taking an art class, and one thing they have to do is to go to either a museum or a gallery, and report on a work of art. The SF Legion of Honor has an exhibit starting today, Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art. It’s stupid expensive, but I’d like to see it anyway. The first Tuesday of the month is free (not for this exhibit, but at least the general museum admission), so I’d like to go do this on Tuesday. I’m not sure what else we’ll do…maybe go to the ocean, though it’s colder now than it was in February. Not cold, but colder. It’s been raining off and on over the last week, which is delicious and lovely. Not really enough to end the drought, by any means, but every bit helps.

Speaking of which, I described the crummy showers we’re taking, right? It has paid off. Governor Brown asked that everyone cut their water use by 20%. We already have low flow toilets and a high efficiency front load washing machine, and we don’t have a lawn or any trees, so that’s kind of all we can do. We received our first bill since cutting back the other day, and our water use has been cut by 21%. Yay us!

I’ve been reading about this drought, and how difficult it is going to be on farmers. California has really taken advantage of the demand for almonds, and a lot of fields that used to grow other produce now have almond orchards and grape vines. All very well and good when there’s enough water, but one thing about orchards and vineyards is that you can’t leave the fields fallow in dry years. The trees take years to grow and become productive. With tomatoes or lettuce or whatever, you can leave the field fallow and not grow anything during a drought. But with trees and vines, they need water, no matter what. So look for your California products to get pricey this summer and so on. Careers are falling apart, people are losing their farms, trees are dying, cattle are dying. It’s ugly. So yeah, I’m enjoying the rain, and I wish that it could somehow be enough to solve a few problems.

Lastly, on a lighter note, did anyone watch ‘True Detectives’ on HBO? We binge watched after the season ended. I really liked it a lot. Ted was a little disappointed by the finale, but I liked it. Really interesting storytelling, really good acting, all of that.

Merry Christmas to All!

It’s morning on Christmas Eve.  I was watching Tim Minchin sing “white wine in the sun”, my favorite secular Christmas song by far, so I thought I’d share it with you.   Gifts have been purchased, delivered, and wrapped. Cards and packages were mailed early last week. Cookies have been baked. The house is decorated. Our traditional Christmas morning breakfast of Cinnamon rolls (from a tube) is in the fridge, as well as the ingredients for our contributions to Christmas dinner. Ted is at work, and Maya is still sleeping. I’m not sure I can face the grocery store today, and I didn’t plan a Christmas Eve dinner, so it’s looking more like Chinese take out tonight. Sounds good to me.

I know I have other things I could be telling you, but for the life of me I cannot right now remember what they are.

Oh, I know! How about Utah??? Perhaps it is wrong of me, but I love that Same Sex Marriage is now (at least for the moment) legal in Utah. The Mormon Church there got all involved in California’s ban (since declared null and void) a few years ago, and I’ve always resented them for it.   And how awesome is this picture?
Boy scouts delivering pizza to county workers, workers who are working through lunch breaks in order to serve the thousands of people rushing to get married. In Utah. It’s a Christmas miracle, I tell you.

Also, Ted’s job requires that he join the SAG-AFTRA union, which means that he becomes a voting member for the SAG Awards, and we get to watch a bunch of nominated films for free in the comfort of our own home. Sweet, huh? So far we’ve watched a couple of depressing movies…1st was ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, and next was ’12 Years a Slave’. Both really well done, but not exactly your feel good films of the year. It’s interesting to me how they are delivered…’Dallas Buyers Club’ arrived as a DVD in the mail, while ’12 Years a Slave’ and several others are delivered via iTunes, which I don’t like as much, because we don’t have Apple TV, which means we have to watch it on the computer rather than the TV. Oh well. It’s still fun. I guess I know what we’ll be doing this winter break…watching movies.

I’m currently hooked on the ‘Divergent’ books. I finished the second one last night. The first (Divergent) I got from the library, but the waiting list for the second was months long, so I ordered it for my Kindle, which was actually really nice. I don’t have a lot of experience with the electronic reading, but I liked it. Now I want the 3rd book….I hope Santa’s listening.

I just made an appointment for Thursday to donate blood. Blech. I’m dedicated enough that I do it once in awhile, but I’m not dedicated enough that I do it whenever I’m eligible. Far, far from it. You can donate maybe 6 times a year, but I only muster up the courage once or twice.

Last and most certainly least, I was walking the other day and saw a big beautiful lemon tree in a neighborhood yard. I asked if it would be OK if I were to pick a couple of lemons, and they graciously said yes. While looking for one to shove in the cavity of the chicken that was that night’s dinner, I came across this mutant lemon, and I had to pick it and bring it home so I could show you. The tiny lemons are actually normal sized. Then there’s the one that’s about the size of a grapefruit. And then there’s mutant. Ted thinks it looks kind of like a bird, but I say it looks like it’s giving us the bird, so to speak.
2013-12-20 17.19.59

Merry Christmas to All, and to all a Good Night.

Happy Birthday Maya and Melissa!

Happy Happy Birthday to my wonderful sisters, Maya and Melissa, of whom I am so proud and whom I love SO much. I wish we lived closer, so I could see you and your beautiful families more often. When we do see each other, though, I enjoy that time so much. I’m very glad we were able to see each other this summer.

Good Advice

2013-10-15 17.09.41
Many years ago, I received what I consider to be very good advice. I was talking to my boss. Ted and I had been together for 7 years…it was the anniversary of our first date, which we had always celebrated. But now we were married…so should we still celebrate our first date? So I mentioned to my boss that we had always celebrated our date-a-versary, but it felt strange now that we were married. He said something like, “Life can be hard, and sometimes is very difficult. We should celebrate life’s joys whenever we can.” I liked that advise. I still like that advise. Life is indeed sometimes very difficult. It can throw things at you that are not fair. Life is also, at the same time, wonderful and full of many happy times and moments, and these should be celebrated.

In the spirit of celebrating the joys in life, we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. Ted was born in Ontario, and his family moved to our little city when he was 1, maybe 18 months. According to Canadian Law, he is a citizen, even though he hasn’t lived there in many a decade, and relinquished his citizenship as a child.

In years past, I’ve tried making several different recipes for roast turkey breast. They were all good, but somehow, seemed just a bit dry. This year, Ted mentioned that he actually prefers dark meat, which somehow I never knew before. So I did a search, and found this recipe for stuffed turkey legs. I went to the store, where they had turkey thighs and drumsticks, but only separately, not still connected. So I bought the thighs, which the butcher said would be much better than the drumsticks. Then there’s the sausage. We don’t have boudin sausage around here (I think it’s a Louisiana thing), and the butcher at the grocery store didn’t know which of what they have might be the same. I decided to use calabrese sausage, based on the color, which was closer to white than the red of the other sausages in the case. I had read that some boudin sausage is white. Also, the butcher said he thought it was the best tasting sausage they sold, which reaffirmed my decision.

Confession, I’ve never made homemade stuffing before. There are many restrictions in the family (some vegetarian, some who don’t eat pork), which means no sausage, no bacon, etc. So we generally go with something similar to Stove Top, which is actually pretty good, though perhaps sometimes a little gloppy. This stuffing, however, is not gloppy, and is full of flavor and really delicious.

Boudin Stuffed Turkey Leg
Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 2 boneless turkey legs
  • 10 feet butcher’s twine

Boudin Stuffing

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 cup yellow onion, cut in small dice
  • ½ cup celery, cut in small dice
  • ½ cup carrots. cut in small dice
  • ½ cup chopped toasted pecans (or candied pecans)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 pound spicy boudin, removed from casing
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 6 slices white sandwich bread, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large saucepan over medium heat with the cooking oil. Add vegetables, pecans, garlic and dry spices in the cooking oil, and cook until vegetables are just translucent. Add boudin and stir. Once boudin begins to stick to the pan, add chicken stock and bring to a simmer.When stock simmers, adjust seasoning and add diced bread. Allow to cool. (At this point, mixture can be stored up to 4 days.)

To stuff the legs: Lay the de-boned leg quarters out flat, skin side down. Divide the boudin stuffing into two portions, and spread the portions evenly onto each leg. Roll the meat up jelly-roll style, keeping as much stuffing inside as possible.

Cut the butchers twine into 12-inch pieces. Tie the pieces of twine around the stuffed turkey legs every few inches to keep them rolled tight. Once the turkey legs have been tied, season them with salt and coarse black pepper.

Roast the legs in a pre-heated 375-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

The result? I think this is the best Canadian Thanksgiving yet. The sausage was delicious, the turkey moist and flavorful. Really, really good.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Dad and Me again

Today is my Dad’s 70th birthday, and this is us back in 1988, when he was a few years younger than I am now. Crazy. I met my dad for the first time in 1987, when I was 21, and then in January of ’88, I flew up to Portland to visit him and meet my sisters, who are twins. The story of why we didn’t meet before, and how we did end up finally meeting, is a long one, and if you’re so inclined, you can find it here.

My dad is a wonderful man, a great person, and a fabulous father. He’s been involved in the counter culture movement since the 1960s, going into the south to register voters, working for alternative newspapers, and working to help secure grant funding for non-profit organizations. He talks the talk, and he walks the walk, always backing up his beliefs, and is a truly genuine person. What you see is what you get with my dad, and that is definitely a GOOD thing.

I can thank him for inspiring me to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, and for always doing his best to work for justice in the world, and for always being on my side. No matter what happens, I know he’s got my back, that he loves me unconditionally, and that he’s there for me. I wish we lived closer than almost 600 miles.

This weekend we are flying up to Portland to help him celebrate his birthday in style. I’m looking forward to spending some time with him, with my beloved step-mom, Julie, with my sisters and their kids and significant others. It’s going to be relaxing and wonderful, I hope. 🙂 Happy Birthday, Dad, I love you absolutely.

20 Years!

First Dance003

Wow….20 years ago today, Ted and I were married. I used to say it didn’t feel that long, but I guess I’m feeling older now, and the details sometimes fade a bit. Funny how that happens. What I do remember is that it was a very hot day, that we were surrounded by family and friends wishing us well, and that it was a lot of fun. I remember at the end of the ceremony, wanting to do it all over again! Then there was the reception, which was a LOT of fun, and I’ve not been to another wedding with so much dancing, or such a lovely view.

The other day I told my coworker that we were celebrating our 20th, and he asked me, “Are you ready for the next 20 years?” Interesting question, isn’t it? I’m not the type to renew my vows, because I kind of think if you did it right the first time, why do it again? Then again, that WAS a pretty awesome party…that might be fun to do again. But what he was getting at was a more basic question, and my answer is an enthusiastic YES. I’m so glad that we’re on this trip together, and I’d do it all again.

Here’s our first song from our reception…what a fun evening that was.

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.

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!

Girl with a Pearl Earring

One of the benefits of membership to our local PBS station is that they sometimes have a ‘free member day’ at local museums. Several years ago, that took us to the SF MOMA to see a Picasso exhibit, and Maya and I spent a lovely day in San Francisco together.

This time the ‘free member day’ was for the de Young Museum, one of two fine art museums in San Francisco. They have several exhibits, but the current Special Exhibit is a collection of paintings from the Mauritshuis in Holland, which is a museum that is being expanded and is under renovation until mid-2014. While they’re tearing up the place, they sent some of their paintings on tour, the most famous of which was the Vermeer painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring. I read the novel several years ago, and was excited to see the painting for free, so those of us who were willing to get up early and be there 1/2 hour before doors opened (I remembered how crowded the Picasso exhibit was, and that was on a weekday) hopped in the car and went. That means Ted and I. Maya is at that teen age when it takes something more important and exciting than a once in a lifetime chance to see a famous painting in person to rouse her out of bed and be out the door by 8am on a Saturday. We got there at 9, doors open at 9:30. As sometimes happens in a long line, we struck up a couple of conversations with those around us. I was actually pretty impressed that people will make such an effort to see art. The couple ahead of us had driven up from Cambria, spent the night in a fancy hotel, and were spending the day. They were also members of PBS. Then there was a guy behind us, who had flown down from Portland to see another exhibit, on famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, which is leaving in a few days. I was thinking about that, and about how people with certain interests and a certain income level are willing to spend a certain amount of money for such high minded things. If you don’t have the income level to see the exhibit ($25 per person), or to donate to your local PBS station, but you do still have the interest in art, many museums have free days, when you can see the exhibits for free, one day a month, though that won’t get you in to see the Girl and her fancy earring…that’s extra.

The highlights of the exhibit, for me, were Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was so much more lovely in real life than online, and Rachel Ruysch’s Vase of Flowers.

We toyed with buying framed prints of these two paintings to display in our home, but decided that it might seem sort of weird. So I bought some magnets instead. Our fridge is getting arty.

We also saw the exhibit called Rembrandt’s Century, which was comprised of a few paintings and a lot of etchings, both by Rembrandt, and by his 17th century contemporaries. I was glad that I overheard the gentleman behind us saying he had flown down from Portland specifically to see the Nureyev exhibit, because it was well worth seeing, and I don’t know if I would have known about it otherwise. There were photographs and videos of Nureyev dancing, but the most spectacular parts of the exhibit were the costumes, which were dazzling.

There were tutus and costumes from many famous ballets…Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadere, and Giselle, among others. They were sumptuous and so detailed. Just beautiful. I would go and see them again, if they weren’t leaving this week. So glad I got to see them.

After our museum visit, we decided to go out for Chinese food. Just in time for Lunar New Year! Our first thought was to dine in our old neighborhood, Clement Street. The parking gods were not with us, however, and we left, discouraged. Not to be thwarted, we decided to drive a bit further out into the avenues, and get Dim Sum. When we lived just off of Clement, there was a tasty and reliable Chinese restaurant near us, Ton Kiang. They have a sister restaurant further out, that has good Dim Sum, so that’s where we went. We were able to park pretty quickly, and only 2 or 3 blocks from the restaurant, which any big city dweller will tell you is fine parking indeed. The good thing about Dim Sum is that, if you’re hungry, there’s no dilly dallying around with a menu and waiting for your food to be prepared. You sit down, and waiters start coming by with trays of food. You take what you want, and not what you don’t. We ate a bit more than we should have, because we were quite hungry and there was a lot of dumpling and starch involved, so we were pretty full by the time we left. I’m not sure of what all we had, but I do know we had bbq pork buns, shrimp dumplings, eggplant stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms stuffed with shrimp and chilies, asparagus, spinach, little riblets, shrimp and rice noodles, and maybe something else. If I could do it over, I’d swap out the ribs and get the salt and pepper calamari instead, but by the time that came around, we were far too full. That’s the down side of Dim Sum. You shouldn’t be greedy and eat the first things that they bring (like we did), and instead, bide your time a bit. Next time perhaps.

Now I’ll finish off this long winded post by telling you that when we got home, I had the overwhelming urge to re-read Tracy Chevalier’s novel, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring‘, which is a completely fictional story, supposing that the girl in the famous painting is a maid in Vermeer’s household, and what her life might be like. Luckily, my copy survived the loathsome book purge of 2007, so I curled up on the sofa and devoured it. I finished before bed, which pointed out to me the difference between a book that completely draws me in, like this one, and one that fails to do so, like ‘Lincoln’, by Gore Vidal, which is sadly not holding my interest. Now I kind of want to see the film version. I think I saw it when it came out in theaters, but I’m not positive, and that would have been about 10 years ago. Maybe time to make a stop at our local video store.

Overall it was a lovely day. It would have been nice if Maya had come into the city with us, but on the other hand, it was quite lovely to have a date with my handsome husband in our favorite city, doing things we love together, just the two of us. I’ll call that a success and not complain a bit.

Chocolate Cake for a 90th Birthday Party

My lovely Grandma turned 90 last week, and on Sunday we celebrated with her in the care facility where she is recovering from the fall she took on Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, the x-ray she takes later this week will show that she is recovered enough so that she can go home.
For the party, I volunteered to bring the cake.  Grandma says her favorite cakes are fruit cake and chocolate cake.  I don’t know many people who like fruit cake, and I have no idea how to make it, so I opted for chocolate on chocolate love.  Then came the question, to make the cake from scratch, or use a box.  I vacillated on this one quite a bit.  The chocolate cake I made for Maya’s birthday last year turned out pretty well, but for some reason I just felt safer using a box mix.  I believe I’ve said before how much baking makes me nervous.  SO precise.  SO easy to end up with a dry, blah cake.  I didn’t want to risk that.  In the end, I decided to make a doctored up mix cake.  I remember my old roommate, Troy, used to add extra oil and an extra egg to cake mix, with moist, delicious results.  Here’s the recipe I used.

Darn Good Chocolate Cake (Cake Mix Cake)


  • 1 box devil’s food cake mix
  • 1 (4 oz) box instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • chocolate frosting

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans*. Dust with flour and tap out excess. Set pans aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend all ingredients except the frosting on low for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 2 – 3 more minutes on medium low. The batter will be very thick and should look well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans and smooth it out.

Bake for 27 to 32 minutes. Mine was ready in 29 minutes**.

Cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

*America’s Test Kitchen made a cake the other day, and they said to put some parchment paper in the bottom of your cake pan, and it comes out more cleanly. I did this, and the cake came out VERY Easily. However, I didn’t butter and flour the parchment paper, so it stuck to the cake. Oh well.

**A toothpick through the center of the cake came back with just a little gooey batter. I don’t like to wait until it’s completely clean, because the cake continues to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven, and it can turn out dry.

Aunt Flo, Grandma’s younger sister (by 16 months), Me, my cousin, Carey, and the Birthday Girl

Next came the frosting question.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use canned frosting, doctor up some canned frosting, or make frosting from scratch.  I’ve read that adding a bit of vanilla to canned frosting can take it from blah to delicious quite easily, but I decided to go for scratch, as frosting is pretty easy to make.  Maybe.  At first I was going to make this recipe, which was the one recommended in the cake recipe.  But I don’t like to whisk in my cooking pots, as it scratches the non-stick surface of the pot, and the whole “DO NOT BOIL” warning made me nervous, and the ice bath thing seemed too worky for me.  So I abandoned that idea, and went instead for an America’s Test Kitchen frosting that you can make in the food processor.  I like that, because I don’t have a stand mixer.  I had to find the America’s Test Kitchen recipe elsewhere, because they require you to pay a subscription to access their older recipes.  The recipe says to use milk chocolate, but I had already bought semi-sweet, because that’s what the original recipe I was planning to use called for.  So I went with that.

Foolproof Chocolate Frosting

  • 20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened.
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • Pinch table salt
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces milk chocolate , melted and cooled slightly (see note)

In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately or held (see note).

Makes 3 cups to frost one 9-inch 2-layer cake

NOTE from ATK: This frosting may be made with milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate. For our Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake, we prefer a frosting made with milk chocolate. Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the butter mixture. The frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

I thought the frosting was perhaps too bitter, so I added a little bit more sugar. Grandma likes dark chocolate more than milk chocolate, though, so I hoped that the frosting wouldn’t taste too bitter on the cake. You know what? It didn’t. There was a lot of frosting, too, so I was able to cut the layers in half, and make four layer cake, which means more frosting. Have to remember that for Maya’s birthday, since she LOVES frosting.  One thing though, I might try a frosting recipe next time without the cocoa powder.  There’s something about that cocoa flavor that’s so distinctive, and if you don’t love it, it can really come on through.  It kind of did in the frosting.

What a yummy cake, what a lovely party, and what a wonderful Grandma. Happy Birthday Grandma, SO glad that we were able to celebrate with you. I hope you’re home in your house again, drinking the coffee YOU like, sitting in your favorite chair, smoking your favorite cigarettes, and watching your favorite TV shows, all on your own schedule, not the schedule of a facility where they tell you when to get up, when to bathe, when to eat, all of that.

(Maya looks gorgeous in this pic. That’s my handsome Uncle Forrest, my mom’s younger brother, in the background)