Monday, March 29, 2010

Today's recipe: Ronald's Chocolate Mousse

-->Three summers ago we were fortunate enough to spend time in Provence with our extended clan. During that time, a local chef made us some exquisite meals, one of which included this chocolate mousse.

It's Kosher for Passover so I made it for tonight's seder at my folks' house. And it's easy! I left Neeracha's translation note
s in; it makes for funny reading.

Ronald's Recette Mousse au Chocolate

Dissolve with a bain-marie 250 G of dark chocolate.

Add 100 G of butter, & mix until consistency of smooth and homogeneous pomade (Uhhh...okay-strange analogy).

Mix until you have a creamy texture. Add 4 egg yolks out of fire (probably not meant to be taken literally - this is where I'm a bit confused) and mix delicately.

Mix 6 egg whites to the consistency of firm snow, while mixing in 40 G of sugar.

Gradually pour the chocolate on the egg white mixture, while stirring delicately using a small skimmer.

Draw up foam in a salad bowl or ramekins. (I'm assuming that draw up foam means that one should pour the mousse into a bowl.)

Chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A tale of two chickens.

Roasted chicken is one of our standby dinners. I've made dozens of different roasted chicken recipes over the years and the one I keep coming back to is Ina Garten's. It never fails me. However, I did see an intriguing one on Local Lemons so I gave it a shot tonight. It had the makings of a close contender: baguette, lemons and a Marcella Hazan pedigree.

What it lacked, sadly, was fat. The end result did not produce a crispy skin. And no matter how good the chicken or bread underneath, the opaque, soft layer on top left me disappointed and frankly, a little grossed out.

Yet the chicken wasn't the only cooking I did tonight. You see, Passover begins tomorrow night and we're going to two seders this year. Fortunately I was asked to bring dessert to both. I turned to the always reliable Chez-Panisse-trained-now-expat David Lebovitz for a fresh idea.

He did not disappoint.

Caramelized Matzoh Crunch with Chocolate
  • 4 to 6 sheets of matzoh
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted or salted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup (firmly-packed) light brown sugar
  • optional: fleur de sel, or coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips, or coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

Line a 11" x 17" baking sheet completely with foil (making sure it goes up the sides) and preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

Line the bottom of the sheet completely with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

In a medium-sized heavy duty saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over medium heat until the butter begins to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof utensil.

Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the syrup darkens and gets thick. (While it's baking, make sure it's not burning. If so, reduce the heat to 325F degrees.)

Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips or chunks. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread smooth with an offset spatula.

Sprinkle with a flurry of salt, then scatter the toasted almonds over the top and press them into the chocolate.

Let cool completely (you may need to chill it in the refrigerator), then break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to eat.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about breast cancer lately.

One of my colleagues has just begun her battle and a recent college grad I know is already a survivor.

Today was a very special day. It was the day my mother-in-law celebrated her life 20 years after beating her own battle with breast cancer. Almost 40 of us came together at a local country club to fete her. My MIL was wearing her V necklace, a gift from my late FIL. The V to celebrate her five year anniversary and the seven diamonds set in the V to celebrate the years up to 12. As my SIL said, I'm sure her dad is looking down on us all from above, smiling.

Breast cancer will visit one in eight of us. Most of us have been touched by it already. To that point, my MIL put teddy bears wearing t shirts with the breast cancer logo on the tables to toast the number of women there today who had fought it.

This gathering was my MIL's closest friends, her Pan and Mahjong friends, her family members, her longtime friends, the people who have walked beside her all these years. Some of them I had not seen since my FIL's funeral nine years ago.

My MIL mentioned how there are two kinds of families -- those whose immediate family has been touched by breast cancer and those that have not. My MIL is and her mom was a survivor, her mom a two-time survivor. I'm sure my SIL and Aunt Janice think about this. And I think about it for our three daughters.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's a once in a lifetime experience.

Don't say this to me. Because it's not.

I don't do once in a lifetime experiences. My passion is in their pursuit.

Yes, I've done some amazing things:
  • Take a ski trip my father and daughter.
  • Spend 6 weeks navigating Alaska's inside passage on a 28 foot Bayliner.
  • Spending a Saturday night on Beale Street with Uncle Irvin, who seemingly knows everyone in Memphis.
  • Look down at the rooftops of Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower with our children and my niece.
  • Ride a gondola with my one and only in Venice.
  • Go to a Michelin two star restaurant in France and eat only the cheese course. (That was good use of $350!)
  • Stay at Bangkok's famed Oriental Hotel.
  • Celebrate my birthday with my extended family in Zermatt.
  • Watch our kids discover the joy of playing in the ocean and sand on Maui.
If I thought I'd only do things like this once, I'd fall into a deep state of depression. With the same conviction that a child believes in the Tooth Fairy, I believe that I will continue to have once in a lifetime experiences. That's just the kind of person I am.

Reading back through the list makes me seem spoiled, privileged. Everyone makes choices and my choice has been to work really hard to be able to do these things. I choose to place experiences over stuff, as is evidenced by our lack of living room furniture until 14 years into our marriage.

Friday, March 19, 2010

This stuff is hard.

Paris went to sleep away camp last summer. It was her third year and she referred to this camp as "the best part of my summer." Dave and I were thrilled she'd found a Jewish home away from home.

Sadly, last year's summer camp experience was not good. I blame the camp primarily for this. Two girls, who get along like oil and water, ended up in her cabin, in spite of the fact that their parents always write letters asking for them to be separated. This error divided the cabin into two warring factions.

I don't know exactly what happened because I wasn't there. What I heard was second-hand. But eight months later I'm still bothered by it, primarily because Paris was saddened by one of her friends turning into a Part Time Friend (this is a Girls' Leadership term) during this experience, and the friend's mother and I have been close for more than 30 years.

My friend and I had lunch yesterday. Before GLI I would never have brought this up. But this still felt like an elephant in the room to me. And now I had some tools to deal with it.

I started by saying: I should have brought this up sooner. I really should have brought it up sooner but I didn't know what to say and yesterday I still didn't know what to say except that it bothered me. My friend is a smart girl and we talked through it. Our daughters may never be close friends again but we will.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Can you drive a five speed?

I drove one from ages 16 to 34. I learned to drive on the blind curves and hills of Orinda and then on the frozen tundra of Alaska. Not much phases me driving -- parallel parking on hills with an approaching Cable Car? No big deal. Snow and ice in the dark? Been there, done that. Foreign countries with poorly labeled roads? Give me time and I can figure it out.

My theory is that if you are 35 or under then you probably cannot drive a manual transmission. Fess up.

I bought my first car when I was 24 and taught many people to drive it, including the friend I roadtripped with right after I got the keys. She told me she knew how to drive a stick. That didn't mean she could actually do it -- she just knew how it was done.

My girls' trip is just over a month away. A friend and I are traveling together, which means we fly in and then drive two hours, meeting up with the rest of our entourage at our non urban destination. I texted her:

Me: Can you drive a stick?

Her: Of course.

Me: I'm going to rent us a five speed. You can really drive one? Because we're going to share the driving on this trip.

Her: Yes, I can really drive one.

The only people I know with manual transmissions these days drive Porsches. I'm not sure The Pinks will ever learn to drive a stick. Will they need to?

I posed this question on Facebook. There have been 14 responses thus far. Twelve respondents are over 35 and can drive a stick. One respondent is over 35 and cannot. Friend's sister is under 35 and responded back: Not well.

I think I'm on to something here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Wall

I've been looking at The Wall for eight years now. It is curved and runs along the set of stairs that connect the first and second floors of our home. It's been bare all these years. As time passes, it bothers me more and more.

I've created 35 quilts. I've designed dozens more in my head. The years-of-mothering-babies-and-toddlers-and-preschoolers don't allow for quilting. It's both the time and the danger factor associated with leaving a sewing machine, iron and a rotary cutter within reach of curious hands.

Finally I've begun sewing the triptych quilts that will hang on The Wall. Triptych because in the end there will be a quilt for each daughter. It's a big project -- 72 blocks. But every day I do a little sewing and it's both my meditation and guarantee that someday the quilts will hang and The Wall will cease its nudity.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Grandma's House

Not my mom's house. Nor my mother-in-law's house.

Grandma's House is a tiny place at Squaw. It's not on any map. In fact, every spot on the mountain has a name. It's like the hidden menu at Jamba Juice or In-N-Out. You have to be in the know. And when your child skis on team they know all this stuff. If you're lucky, they show you. Which is how I ended up skiing through the trees and to Grandma's House on Sunday.

Tori also took me down Broken Arrow. Which is on the trail map. She showed me BR. Big Rock. Sunday was just a great day for skiing. I get pickier and pickier about the conditions as I get older. If there's wind, forget it. Light snow is fine but the wind just makes me cold. And scared on the chairlifts. And by the way I hate putting on my boots. And walking to the Funitel. Which is such a horrible thing to admit when you are lucky to get to ski in the first place. Back to Sunday. Dave, Tori and I skied in the morning. I'm not sure where all the skiers were; it was an atypical Sunday. The sun was out and we skied with our jackets unzipped. And then in the afternoon Liberty and I ice skated. It's harder than it looks.

Friends of ours just closed on a place at Northstar so we feted them Saturday night at the 50 50 Brewpub in Truckee. It was good. For Tahoe.

I missed the neighborhood Academy Award viewing party but it was worth it to have a pristine day of winter sports with the kids and Dave. And as a bonus, I have The Hurt Locker here on DVD. Dave was savvy enough to get it from Netflix before won best picture.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jill & Wally

Down the street live Jill and Wally. On Sunday Jill came over with a huge basket of oranges and an electric juicer. We made and drank fresh-squeezed orange juice all afternoon. I even made citrus chicken for dinner.

There is just something about this duo: they're interesting, thoughtful people with a zest for life. They travel often and, when I mentioned my upcoming girls' trip to Jill, she disappeared to her office and returned with a business card from an antiques shop in the teeny tiny town I am going to, and with a picture book of the same town. Jill and Wally got married at the French Laundry. In their dining room are framed menus from places they have eaten. It's very charming.

They seem to like the young kids in the neighborhood. I'm sure their grandson and nephew get the same treatment. The Pinks have been over there to bake, make gift tags, and garden. Tori once came home with pots of what she called Sarcastics. When they finally bloomed we realized that they were narcissus. They've learned about composting because Jill and Wally have a composter nearly the size of a Smart Car. Last fall, Tori went with Jill to her mom's and raked leaves. Fortunately Jill told her she was too young to use the leaf blower. They brought five large garbage bags back to our house, dumped them on the front lawn, and the kids played in the leaves for a few days until we hauled them down to Jill's for their garden.

Wally and Dave bike downtown and have lunch from time to time. This took Dave some getting used to as Dave sees biking as exercise and was not used to stopping halfway through his workout to eat.

If you look at my Facebook profile you'll see that my favorite restaurant is not a restaurant at all: it's Jill and Wally's house. Sometimes we have dinner there. I often borrow from their library -- travel and cooking. I think they had four Christmas trees this year, the one in the kitchen was decked out with cookware-themed ornaments. It must take them days to decorate for the holidays. Dead serious.

Liberty took these pictures. We walked down to Jill and Wally's and noticed the tulips pictured above. I sent her back with a camera to capture the rest.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Six reasons I had a happy birthday.

Quality time with my man. Dave and I went for Thai massages and to lunch at Ferry Plaza.

The family gave me something I really wanted for my birthday - hugs and kisses.

The family gave me something else I really wanted - an Aeron Chair.

Lots of people called and/or posted on my Facebook wall. Thank you. This made me smile. Especially when I was stuck in traffic and was reading Facebook on my iPhone.

I ate chocolate.

My brother reminded me that he's still on board with me being his younger sister. I just love when he's creative with math. I swear this creativity does not impact his ability to manage investments.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Year of the Tiger

Tori's friend phoned Saturday morning to invite her to the Chinese New Year's Parade. It hadn't even occurred to me that the parade was this weekend. I have wanted to go for the longest time and we've always been at Tahoe.

I thanked the friend's father for the invitation and invited us to go along. As it turned out, the wife had to work all afternoon so we picked up their daughter and headed into the city. We never did meet up with them, sadly, but we had a blast! Thanks for the great idea, Kim and Cliff Edmundson!

You know how you go to great extremes to plan something? You work out every last detail and then the event turns out to be just okay? This was an impromptu outing where the stars just aligned. The rain stopped. We got a good viewing spot on the parade route. Liberty, who does not care for crowds and chaos, just loved it. We watched 3/4 of it then had dinner in Chinatown. Walking back to the train afterwards we saw the last few entrants, one of which was the spectacular Golden Dragon, more than 200 feet long and carried by 100 people. It was proceeded by the loudest firecrackers I have ever heard, set off by earplug-wearing San Francisco Firefighters. The last time I saw the firefighters en masse was half naked, handing out Tiffany necklaces at the end of the Nike Women's Marathon.

Incidentally, this parade and festival are the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia and the parade first came to San Francisco in the 1860s. Yes, nearly 150 years. The Chinese play a very prominent role in San Francisco history.

There were happy people everywhere, celebrating the holiday, and it just reminded me how lucky I am to live here.