Thursday, September 27, 2012

Twenty One

That's the number of mosquito bites I have on my left leg below the knee. I am good eats if you are a hungry mosquito!

Neeracha and I are just back from four days at Canyon Ranch. We'd been to Miraval, another destination spa also in Tucson, a few times and wanted to try something new. Why there are mosquitos in the desert I have no idea.

Together we hiked, danced and ate. Separately I did gyrotonics, Pilates and golf while she biked and did knead yoga and Zumba. The teachers had big personalities and I enjoyed that. They worked hard to be entertaining. I liked the belly dancing class the best. And after that the hike. The topography of Arizona is beautiful, much different than that of Northern California and gorgeous in its own way. My golf lesson was so basic that I didn't even see a ball. Yup, I spent an entire hour on grip and stance. But hey, I got a video to take home to wow the kids.

We tried to watch movies at night but didn't stay awake long enough to actually get through one. Our room was beautiful -- fluffy beds, indoor and outdoor seating areas, two dressing areas and two closets, two flat panel TVs.

Southern Arizona has highs above 100F in September so our outdoor activities were done by 10am. Here we are on a 5 mile hike into Lower Bear Canyon the last day of the trip.

We had lunch in the demo kitchen on our last day there and sat with a woman who lives in Boca Raton and grew up in St. Louis. She mentioned she was Jewish and I gave Neeracha a lesson in Jewish Geography. It only took four names for me and Boca Woman to find a connection.

I used to think that Miraval and Canyon Ranch competed. But after visiting Canyon Ranch I see how different they are. At Miraval we met people who'd been to Canyon Ranch. At Canyon Ranch few people even knew what Miraval was, so loyal were they to the ranch.

  • If Miraval is a svelte, hip yoga teacher then Canyon Ranch is an Ironwoman-now-Jazzercise instructor. 
  • Miraval is newer, more innovative, a new age experience. Canyon Ranch is older, quieter, with a broader range of food and activity offerings.
  • People who go to Miraval are looking for a vacation. People who go to Canyon Ranch are looking to change their lives. 
  • At Miraval one signs up for the Equine experience to balance their mind, body and spirit. At Canyon Ranch one signs up for the Life Enhancement Program to learn how to live a healthy life and navigate a transition or meet a personal challenge.
  • People visit Miraval for a long weekend or a week. The first people I met at Canyon Ranch spend three months a year there -- six weeks on each end of their Toronto to Miami snowbird trip.
  • Guests at Miraval are in their 30s to 50s. Guests at Canyon Ranch are in their 40s to 70s. And they go back every year like clockwork.
  • There are some hardcore fitness options at Miraval. There are many more super hardcore fitness options at Canyon Ranch.
  • The quiet spaces, the pool, the meditation rooms are better designed at Miraval. The gym is better designed at Canyon Ranch.
  • The food is great at Miraval. The food is good at Canyon Ranch.
It's hard to say which one I liked better; they are simply different. Miraval did not have hungry mosquitos.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tomato Derivatives

My parents filled in their pool a few years ago. Replacing the diving board and cool oasis my kids loved so much is an expansive vegetable garden. My mom is really into her garden. She's so into gardening that she emails me and my brother gardening tips she finds online.

Don't get me wrong -- we like it and we benefit from it. There's something gratifying about planting seeds, caring for them, watching them grow and then pulling your accomplishments from the dirt and consuming them. We have such a temperate climate here in California that we can grow a huge variety of edibles.

My parents are away all month and left the garden's bounty to me and my brother. I'm not sure what prompted my mom to plant as much as she did knowing they'd be away.

On Saturday, after two soccer games and a big lunch, the youngest Pinks and I did some harvesting.

Here's what we picked in an hour. And we barely touched the cherry tomatoes. I'll go back next weekend and then do a drop off at the local food bank. Not even two tomato-loving families can eat so many tomatoes.

I roasted a big pan of San Marzano's in olive oil and Kosher salt and inhaled them for dinner. The way I make them turns them into tomato chips. I like them blackened because all the crispy bits turn sweet.

Then Sunday morning we headed to a friend's for a sauce and salsa making session. My friend has canning equipment and I enjoyed learning how it is used. She also has a food strainer, which takes far less time than my score, boil, ice bath, peel and blend method of turning whole tomatoes into puree for sauce.

Liberty really likes cooking so she was a huge help in that area. All that chopping is tedious. I'd never roasted chiles on the stovetop before so that was an adventure. It's a lot of work charring those babies then scraping the burnt bits off, the seeds out and then dicing, all the while wearing gloves.

It's shocking how little 30 lbs of tomatoes reduced down to. But we'll enjoy those tomatoes long into the winter. And so will my parents, whose pantry and freezer I am slowly filling with mason jarred tomato products.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


My friend's father passed away this week after a long illness.

Today I took the youngest Pinks to our friends' house to make a shiva call. Shiva is the formal, seven-day mourning period in Judaism, one that first-degree family members observe. The word shiva comes from the Hebrew shi-VAH, which means seven. During this time the family members receive visitors. It is traditional and expected that these visitors bring food. We baked cookies this morning.

My friend's family are Israeli emigres. His wife's family are Russian emigres. The two met at an American law school. Their home is a mix of Jewish artifacts and antiques.

Today's conversation was in many tongues and the mourning traditions from many cultures were tied together by Judaism. Russians, for example, don't leave keys on a table. Immediate family wears a keriah, or torn outer-layer-garment during shiva. Sometimes this is a tie. Sometimes this is a ribbon.

I did not know my friend's father but was glad to support the family and to teach The Pinks this part of our religion. It gave us an opportunity to talk about what you say to someone when they're grieving. "I'm sorry." "I'm sorry for your loss." Tori, our animal lover, insisted on paying special attention to the family dog as "he must be upset, too."

Shiva is not gloom and doom; it's story telling and laughter and memories in addition to tears. The Pinks played outside with the family's daughters, who they know from Religious School. And I ate some piroshki, Russian puff pastries filled with apples. Divine.