Friday, October 30, 2009

Penelope Trunk is a freak.

But her blog is an interesting read and she occasionally has a nugget.

For example, she blogged on how to write a blog post people love. You can read it here.

Ms. Trunk writes on the intersection of work and life. One of the things I like about her is that she freely admits that she has limited social skills.

She has an editor for her tweets and blog posts and still they are out there. Here are some examples of her bizarre posts.

High Income Women Get More Oral Sex Maybe

Miscarriage is a Workplace Event

Why Men Should Give Women Flowers

This last post reminds me of my friend Bobby, who once told me that during stressful times at work he wishes he'd made a career of arranging flowers. He'd go to work every day and be surrounded by beautiful things. And then he'll take them, make them even more beautiful and they will go to people and make them happy, too. I think about this from time to time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

They make me happy.

Cherokee Purple. Stupice. Green Zebra. Yes, heirloom tomatoes. Our neighbors bought them in local farming community today and delivered some to our doorstep. They made me silly happy. Silly happy because it's the end of October and silly happy because they taste so damn good. I made a special run to the artisan cheese shop this afternoon to get fresh mozzarella to pair with them. Stand back, sisters and brothers. I'm not inclined to share.

Two weekends ago I made dinner at my parents house. My mom is a phenomenal cook. I may have said this before but it deserves repeating. I never knew how good my brother and I had it growing up until I went away to college and started going home with my roommates.

The funny thing is, I never clued in to how different our kitchens were until that weekend. I have a gas cooktop. Hers is electric, the kind that's flat and easy to wipe clean. It was her choice; she remodeled her kitchen perhaps five years ago. She has two kinds of salt: table and Kosher. I have seven. I have four sets of dry measuring cups. She has a single set of wet ones. (No idea why I have so many -- one was a gift and they are very cute.) She has McCormick Schilling Vanilla. I have Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Mexican Vanilla.

Our generation has been taught that the best food comes from the best ingredients, thank you Alice Waters. Yet, my mom can outcook me any day of the week blindfolded. I can cook. Fairly well. But cookbooks were made for me. I don't deviate. I follow the recipes step by step and come out with the expected results. Timed correctly with the other courses if I'm lucky.

Can someone explain this to me? Is love the secret ingredient or are some people just born with the gene?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top 100

Have I mentioned lately how much I LOVE to travel?

Each year Conde Nast Traveler comes out with its Top 100 list of Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. Dave and I go through the list religiously and see how many we've been to. I think Neeracha does this, too.

This year I've stayed at 12 of the top resorts. For the record, The Four Seasons Chiang Mai was the best of them. It was like staying in a manicured jungle and we spent a few hours on the pavilion attached to our room each day when Eldest Daughter, then three, napped. The Oriental Bangkok, however, was a close second because of the gold embossed stationery with our names on it and the bathroom the same size as our bedroom at home.

I've stayed at 10 of the top hotels. For the record, I do not think that the Hyatt Regency Reston, where I spent three months of my life, is deserving of this honor. I do, however, think that the Westin Excelsior Florence was. I clearly recall the view of the Arno from our terrace and also that we used Westin points to pay for our stay, which made it all the sweeter. The picture at right was taken on the boat at the Westin Excelsior Venice, where we went to celebrate our 10th anniversary. It made the list, too.

Full disclosure: there are more than 200 properties on the list; they are sliced and diced a few ways.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ooops I did it again.

I'm a glutton for punishment. If you've been reading my blog for a while you know that I work myself up into a complete frenzy over class auction projects. The only creative thing I do well is quilt so that's my weapon of choice.

No one volunteered to do Thing 2's class auction project this year so of course I took it on. If you translated the number of mental hours I've already put into it into my consulting bill rate you'd be as sick as my husband is.

I'm doing a Halloween-themed quilt with the children's hand prints. It's going to be cute, not as elaborate as last year's masterpiece but sweet none-the-less. I love Halloween and hope everyone else does, too.

Our house has a tall, curved stairwell and it's been bare since we moved into this house seven years ago. I've long wanted to hang a quilt there in four parts so it fills the space. But it will easily take me a year to create it so I want to be sure it's something I love and that the kids will love to inherit. So on my continued quest for the perfect design, my mom and I hauled The Pinks to the Pacific International Quilt Show in Santa Clara this weekend. It's the biggest quilt show I've ever been to, and I've been to quite a few. It also had the best quilts I've ever seen. Fabric art, really. Quilts that were essentially paintings made of fabric. The gallery was from artisans worldwide and the range of techniques was just mindblowing. It was truly inspirational and I shot enough pictures to keep me quilting for the next decade.

There were vendors there selling every kind of sewing and quilting item imaginable. I bought a few yards of fabric and let The Pinks pick out some fat quarters of batik flannel. (A fat quarter is a quarter yard cut in a square instead of a long rectangle.) Since we've been home they've been hacking at them and pinning. I can't wait to see what the end result is!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Leslie Loves Lemons

I've been cooking quite a bit lately. I seem to be a receptacle for chocolate chip cookie recipes but more on that another time.

This recipe is my current favorite. I've been a lemon junkie for a long time. My in-laws had a big Eureka lemon tree at their house and my parents have an out-of-control Meyer. When lemons are in season I juice several dozen and freeze the byproduct in ice cube trays. Dave cannot believe we devote an entire shelf in our freezer to lemon ice cubs but we always run out before the tree produces again. And nothing kills me more than paying for lemons! I do not understand why everyone does not adore lemons the way I do. They are simply the greatest food ever after milk chocolate.

I am almost to the end of my jar of Moroccan Preserved Lemons. I will make more as soon as the Meyer lemon tree produces another crop. I add them to roasted potatoes, pasta, chicken, ice cubes, soup.
  • Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.
  • Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there's a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you've incised the lemon with an X shape.
  • Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don't be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.
  • Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (Or a combination of any of them.)
  • Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.
  • The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren't too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until they're submerged.
  • After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they're ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they'll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.
To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.

Photo and recipe credit to David Lebovitz

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Come one, come all!

I just love Thanksgiving!

It's the perfect holiday: food, football, a fire in the fireplace, friends and family. It's my holiday. The one we host just about every year. It's the holiday our children will remember in our home.

I love assembling an eclectic group of friends and family, reading cooking magazines, testing recipes, pulling out multiple sets of china and silver, and eating my Mom's apple pie. I love the smell of roasting turkey. I love our family tradition of going to the park to celebrate what we're thankful for.

The more diverse the group, the better. We've had Japanese cowboys and American cowgirls, former clients, close family and weird relatives. Dave had a Chinese roommate at one time and his family always served Peking Duck on Thanksgiving. We like Peking Duck so we do that, too.

Caryl and I took a Thanksgiving cooking class at the California Culinary Academy before we both had kids. Then we did Thanksgiving together. We hollowed out tiny gourds and put tea lights in them. We made the simplest turkey recipe, which is still my favorite although I've tried at least a dozen recipes since. We used the chef's technique to carve the turkey, and the CCA's recipe for cranberry sauce, which no one prefers to canned.

Edible centerpieces are one of my trademarks. I've done cookie bouquets and Joseph Schmidt sculpted chocolates, among other things. (Hershey bought Schmidt and closed it down this year -- a true foodie travesty.)

Dave took one business trip the entire time I was on bedrest, pregnant with the twins; it was to Sydney over Thanksgiving. Eldest Daughter and I went to my parents house, where a family friend dropped off dinner because my mother was tending to me, her 3-year-old granddaughter and my father, who was recovering from broken ribs and a broken collarbone courtesy of a horse who is much better trained now.

Last year we spent Thanksgiving at the beach and, while it was a great trip, it felt wrong not to spend Thanksgiving cooking up a storm in my own kitchen.

The family picture here is from 2003, when The Pinks were two and six. I am struck by how young Dave looks. And how much I miss that sofa. It was the most comfortable piece of furniture I have ever owned.

If you don't yet have solid plans for Thanksgiving and want to join our gathering of the pygmies, come! Bring your favorite traditional dish to share. You can even RSVP in the Comments section below.

Monday, October 12, 2009

We went for the wrong reason.

Our favorite babysitter, Rachel, is on Pom at the local high school. We've long wanted to see her pom and Friday night was the night. Little did I know that it was the biggest football game of the season, and also homecoming.

The opponent: De La Salle, which holds the national record of 151 consecutive football wins. Joe Montana's sons have gone to school there, and Tom Brady's uncle is currently the principal. To say it has an extraordinary football tradition just doesn't do it service.

Dave was in the city all weekend, volunteering at the President's Cup, so it was just me and the kids. Surprise 1: We had to park almost a mile away. Surprise 2: There were a lot of community supporters there, families without high-school-aged children! It was quite the social event.

Rachel's parents are about as nice as they come and I was happy to have more time with her mom, especially. We sat with them and her brother, who is also seven. Sat is not exactly accurate. Eldest Daughter found her peers immediately and ditched us, texting me periodically to let me know where she was. The little kids played on the hillside next to the bleachers. It was an absolute zoo there -- and I know a thing or two about chaos and football, having gone to a Big 10 college and some Raiders games.

For those of you who care about football, it was an exciting game. Our team held its own fairly well until the third quarter. And then De La Salle kicked into gear and scored one more touchdown, which would lead them to the final victory.

The last high school football game I went to was when I was at Miramonte. Although we had a football team in Anchorage (it produced Mark Schlereth, who went on to play for the Redskins and Broncos), hockey was the much bigger sport.

The jury is still out whether Friday night's game made me feel very young or very old.

Friday, October 9, 2009

SOS - Save our School

Our elementary school is not going to close. But class size may go up again and we may lose music, the full-time librarian I have issue with and PE if we don't solve our budget issue. How a school that feeds into a high school where 98% of graduates go on to four-year-colleges faces these issues is beyond me. Still, it's the talk of the town.

Our wonderful principal, who sadly came to our school two years ago just when the going got rough, sent out an email asking if people had fundraising ideas. Being wacko an out-of-the-box thinker, I suggested the following:
  • A $10K donation allows the parent to choose their child's teacher the following year.
  • A $250 donation allows the parent to request that a child not have a specific teacher the following year. $250 also buys the right to have your child not in a class with another child you predetermine.
  • $100 buys you out of an unexcused absence. You don't have to lie and say Little Bobby is under the weather when truly he's under a cabana on Kaanapali Beach.
  • $100 and Little Bobby can bring in sweets on his birthday, something that is now against district policy.
  • $1K and Little Bobby can announce the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom.
  • $250 buys Little Bobby the right to pull the week's ABC cards.
  • $250 and Little Bobby can skip the semi-annual timed mile run.
We'll see if they take any of my suggestions. Do you think I should give up my day job?!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mean Girls? Find another zip code.

In 1984, the bedroom town of Orinda, California made headline news when 16-year-old Bernadette Protti murdered 15-year-old Kirsten Costas by repeatedly stabbing her with a kitchen knife. The girls were acquaintances, both students at Miramonte High School, and the act was motivated by jealousy. My family had moved from Orinda to Anchorage the previous year, however, this really shook me up. It shook everyone up. Things like this just didn't happen in Orinda.

Our daughters face challenges growing up to be emotionally intelligent, authentic, assertive adults. Girls bullying girls is real. And if you read my previous post on this topic you'll know that I am on a mission to help our community get through this. Why get your panties in a bunch when you can do something about it?!

I am pleased, over-the-moon happy, dancing around the house giddy, to let you know that I have arranged for Rachel Simmons' Girls Leadership Workshops to come to our community. The workshops are for 2nd and 3rd graders, and for 4th, 5th and 6th graders. They cover topics such as Responding to Mean Girls, the Double Sorry, Steps to Healthy Conflict, Emotional Intelligence and Relational Aggression.

Just so you know, it's possible to be petrified while on Cloud 9. Based on conversations I've had with parents on the soccer field, at Back to School Nights and at Trader Joe's, I think this program will be well-received. Our elementary school principal was more than happy to endorse it and have it on our campus. If no one signs up then I look like an idiot, an overbearing mother. If the program takes off then our girls will develop valuable coping skills and suburban parents such as ourselves will have to self medicate less to get through these years.

Many of you are located in other geographies. You, too, can bring this program to your area! More information about Girls Leadership Institute can be found here. More information on Rachel Simmons and her books can be found here.

I look forward to sharing our lessons learned.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Soccer Saturday, Soccer Sunday

Thing 2 had soccer games both days this weekend. That, coupled with Soccer Pictures and a trip to the grocery to shop for Soccer Snacks, which it was our turn to bring, pretty much summed up our weekend. Fortunately the Fall weather has stayed so it was gorgeous out both days, sunny with highs in the upper sixties.

The seven-year-olds have really stepped up their game. They no longer play "cluster ball" and instead pass to each other (sometimes well, sometimes not so) and occasionally score. They know which goal is theirs without frequent reminders and they no longer raise their hands, classroom style, to be selected to throw the ball in. At right is Thing 2 scoring.

Our coach understands the nuances of girls now and when he's assigning positions for the upcoming quarter he tells those sitting out, "You're the cheerleaders this time." I don't expect boys hear the same thing.

Thing 2 does not generally go for frou frou hair. But there's something about soccer and she lets me do her hair in pig tails or braids. Today she chose to have it flat ironed. The other thing I just love is how she apologizes to people she inadvertently trips or slams into. Now if only she'd be as kind to her sisters on a regular basis ...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sleepless in the Suburbs. Again.

One of The Pinks woke up in the middle of the night with growing pains. I had these so I understand and am sympathetic.

However, she had forgotten our conversation about when we used up the last of our liquid Motrin, we'd be transitioning to children's chewables. This reminder was not well received at 4:30a when I discovered that the last of the liquid was gone.

She opted not to take the two different flavors of chewables we had in the house and to instead, suffer. This is when I ran out of sympathy and woke Dave to take over.

We're all pretty tired today.