Friday, November 30, 2007

A few figs

I don't know why this won't load to my header, but I'll put it here for now.

Happy weekend! We're out to buy our tree Sunday morning. It's time to get out the Christmas decoration boxes! Wait til you see the porcelain village I bought last year!! I'm sure Big S. is hoping he imagined it all, but Sophie and I are psyched to do a little urban planning.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Out with the girls: The Lori Bonn trunk sale, a drink, and dinner

But not in that order. Here's how it went down:

J., D., S., and I (we were seriously missing P.!) met at Heinhold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Jack London Square. From a website documenting dive bars, I gleaned the following:

The building was made out of timbers from an old whaling ship in 1880, used as a bunk house by men tending the nearby oyster beds, and was converted in 1883 into a saloon by Johnny Heinhold. The name, First and Last Chance was added in the 1920s when the Oakland Alameda ferry launched and departed next to the saloon. Alameda was a dry city at the time, so commuters had either their first or last drink at Heinhold's. Additionally, military personnel from both Oakland and Alameda often shipped-out after having their last drink at Heinhold's.

The floor of the bar lists downward as you walk in. The pilings underneath the saloon gave way in the 1906 earthquake leaving half of the floor space at a sharp angle.

Jack London, a notorious drinker, probably spent way too much time here, but during that time he did study and make notes for books he would later write. The bar was designated a National Literary Landmark in 1998.

Here's D. standing in front. Does she look impressed? Not one bit.

On the way out, we marveled at the squalor of the cabin London stayed in while living in the Yukon. Very thoughtful of the Port of Oakland to haul it down here.

On to the main event of the evening: the Lori Bonn trunk sale!

Although I've long admired Lori's pieces that my friends have, I'm really not much of a jewelry person, so I was really just along for the opportunity to get together with my girlfriends for drinks and dinner. But I sensed danger the minute shopping began. Upon entry, you are handed a glass of champagne and a little black velvet-lined tray (your shopping cart).

D., a serious power shopper, got right to business.
And J. was doing just fine too.
I, however, was not doing as well.

I could tell D. was disappointed in me. "I already have jewelry," I explained. I'm a total loser when it comes to accessorizing. I wear exactly the same jewelry all the time: a Swiss Army watch, my stacked wedding (plain platinum) and engagement (platinum, channel-set diamonds) bands, diamond stud earrings that Big S. bought me for our fifth wedding anniversary, and silver pendant with my daughter's picture. Sounds like plenty to me, and all except the watch have sentinental value. Again, D. was not impressed but rather than engage me in debate merely started piling items in my tray that she said I "needed."

There was lots that I truly did like here, but then I found (on my own!) something I really loved. A ring with a square cushion-cut smoky quartz stone surrounded by teensy champagne diamonds on a white gold band with white diamonds along the side. If I can figure out how to take a reasonable close-up on my digital camera, I'll show a picture soon.

But J. said "You can't buy that. It's too expensive." So I just wore it around the sale for the next hour, while I carried my tray of things I liked but did not feel compelled to buy (remember, I'm not really a jewelry person). Until. I decided that I really wanted that ring. Really. So I bought it. And yes, even though at 50% off (whoohooo—thank you, Lori!) it was expensive according to a thrifty person like myself, I spend less than any of the girls. Although they all got a whole bunch of stuff and I only got one thing. But I'm as happy as if I had a whole bunch of stuff because I really like the one thing I got. Which is shown here on me, the happy shopper.

And did I mention that Lori herself was there? And she is as lovely as the jewelry she designs.

I had a wonderful time and am looking forward to her next trunk sale, when I might buy one more thing. :)

We wrapped up the evening with dinner at Flora, a new restaurant in Oakland by Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky of Dona Tomas and Tacubaya fame. They've departed here upscale Mexican to upscale comfort food. The building was originally a flower outlet but rumor has it was more recently a medical marijuana dispensary.

The inside is very sleek and modern yet entirely comfortable.

S., J., and I all had prosciutto wrapped swordfish, green risotto, citrus soup, and olive oil (the last two in a puddle around the risotto and fish) and D. had pasta norma, which was bucatini, eggplant, olives, marinara, ricotta salata, and olive oil. The swordfish was a little overdone but good (they were probably cooking to where the prosciutto was crisp, which was good for the prosciutto but not so good for the fish) and the risotto was a little too chewy but a lovely vibrant green (we think the herb was chervil but became too engrossed in conversation to remember to ask our waiter). D.'s dish was truly the standout.

We finished with two desserts: warm apple galette with butterscotch ice cream and acacia honey and buttermilk panna cotta with muddled huckleberries and a shortbread cookie—both excellent, although I doubt the huckleberries were fresh, and they would have been better if they were.

That's all for now. Have a good weekend!

Fallout from questionable parenting practices

A conversation between my seven-year-old and I in the car the other day:

S: Mama! [most of our conversations start out this way] In after care yesterday, J. asked us what music group or singer we liked best.

C: And you said?

S: The Scissor Sisters, of course!

C: Excellent choice!! [How cool is it that she did NOT say Hannah Montana??? The Scissors Sisters provided the soundtrack to daughter's last birthday party activities of freeze dance and leader dance. Along with the pitchers of cosmos I provided to the other moms to prevent them from abandoning me, a rocking time was had by all.]

S: And next he asked what is our favorite song by them. But I couldn't think of any of the song names.

C: We can work on that! [Envisioning a nifty little set of flashcards I could make. It didn't work for crap with the alphabet, but that was several years ago. I'm game for another try.]

S: Well I just told him my favorite line from my favorite song.

[Oh God, I thought. My somewhat permissive style of parenting looked like it was about to swing around and smack me in the face. Her favorite song is "I Can't Decide," a catchy little diddy about someone who is conflicted about a relationship, as in "I can't decide whether you should live or die." There's one line that even I decided was not appropriate for young ears, and so when we played the cd in the car, I would zap the volume for just this one line: "Fuck and kiss you both at the same time [Smells like something I've forgotten / Curled up died and now it's rotten]." But then one time I must have been executing some complicated traffic maneuver and let the line go. By this time, of course, daughter's curiosity was through the ceiling (duh), so she was delighted to finally hear it and now often bellows it out as she sings along. And I sort of reasoned that of all the things I want to teach my daughter, censorship is not one of them. The word is in the world, and we should be able to deal with it appropriately, which is total bullshit because there are all sorts of things that I attempt to censor from her world, including the fairly large categories of television, fast food, and gum. (We're loosening up a little on the viewing: she gets videos on the weekends, and I'm going down in the gum battle.) But now I had visions of her reporting this as her favorite line to the after care supervisor and all the bright shiny faces of her schoolmates, who of course would immediately report it to the parents ("Sophie gets to use the F word! But only when she's singing! Cause it's ART!"). Goddamn.]

C: Oh God, you didn't . . . Not that one.

S: You know the one I like best! "Oh I could throw you in a lake or feed you poisoned birthday cake"! [Of course! Kids are more interested in birthday cake than fucking! I knew that!]

C: REALLY EXCELLENT CHOICE!!! [After which I breathed a huge sigh of relief, rolled down the windows, turned up the volume.] Rock on, honey.

Epilogue: The poor Scissor Sisters—how horrified do you think they would be at being indexed along with "being mom"???

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Upstairs / downstairs at the SF Opera House

The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House was built in 1932 and is one of the last Beaux-Arts structures built in the United States (or so says Wikipedia, dubious authority on all things). The outside is impressive, if not a little blocky, but it's the inside that's the real treat.


If you're a fancy person attending the opera (my daughter and I like to practice manners these days by pretending we're two fancy ladies attending the opera—do they burp loudly? do they fart?), this is what you see

But if you are really lucky regular person, like myself who rode in here on my kid's coat tails, you get to see it too. During rehearsals, parents were allowed to sit in the house and watch when we weren't needed to herd kids through the basement halls, and during performances we can watch from standing room, which is at the back of the orchestra seating (great view, but you're, of course, standing). BUT during the first run through (after the piano rehearsal and before full dress) I decided to conduct a self-guided tour of the Opera House, figuring it was a good opportunity to compare views from different seat levels (i.e., those I can afford, and those I can't). What luck—the door to Box K was open! So I sat in the best box in the house (dead center) and watched most of the second half. These seats regularly go for $275 a piece—if you can get one, and I understand there's a waiting list. While enjoying the excellent view and the comfy velvet chair under my butt, I tried to imagine who usually sits there. Gettys? Hewlitts? No—I later found out—the mayor. Gosh.


Our evenings at the Opera usually start here, at the North Stage Door. We enter, wave at security, and kids go to sign themselves in.

We then proceed to this door, which leads to Dressing Room 8, which houses all the girl supers for this production. Note cardboard star on the, a nice touch from the girls' dressers. On dress rehearsal night, I led my husband—who was woofing down the sandwich I packed him during intermission—through the basement labyrinth to this door. He didn't hear me say "And this is the dressing room" and so followed me in. Dressers, wranglers, and various others in authority here swooped down on him "This is a GIRLS room!!! And there is no food allowed in dressing rooms EVER!!! OUT OUT OUT!!!!!" He was mortified and blamed it all on me. I said to someone else later that evening "It probably wouldn't have been as bad if he barged in waving a gun," and they agreed "A sandwich is definitely worse." My bad.

In the dressing room, each girl had her place at the mirror, with her name and costume list tapped up. The dressers also added a little touch for opening night. I can't believe how wonderful everyone has been with the kids. They've made such an effort to make this a special experience for kids. We all really appreciate it especially because this is Big Art, and we know in the larger scale of things, it's not all about them. The kids know this too, and I think it's been a good experience for them to be part of something so important and larger than themselves.

Once girls get their costume undergarments on, it's across the hall to the hair shop. This is where other members of the cast also go for wigs. It seems nearly the only people in the production who are in their own hair are the children. Wigs are a very big deal in the opera: They're very expensive, made of human hair, and no one except the wig people are allowed to handle them (probably union rules).

When a call comes over the basement loud speaker for the kids, they line up in the hall. They usually then have quite a while to wait for their call to report to the stage. At first the facts that they cannot sit in their costumes and that the costumes are very delicate was a small problem, but they developed an impressive repertoire of hand games, including the classic Rock, Scissor, Paper; some sort of speed patty cake; and a counting game called Chopsticks. Here's Sophie teaching one of the dressers to play Chopsticks.

And she's ready to go!

Once the kids are taken to backstage to line up for their entrance, I'm free to continue my basement tour. The halls are like a maze, with pipes carrying the steam heat throughout the building running across the ceiling. I sort of felt like I was in the bowels of the Titanic.

There's all sort of interesting things down there.

Costume trunks

Boxes of legs (I learned that legs are the narrow curtains that frame the sides of the stage—gosh, I was worried about that!)

An on-site laundry

For performers who are onstage barefoot, there are flipflops for backstage wear.

And where might these stairs go?

Into the basement of the basement, evidently, where they store lights and the boiler is located:

You get the feeling some people spend a significant part of their lives in this basement, and there's lots of signs of personalizing space.

Alas, our locker—where we keep a supply of colored pencils ( no pens!) and a paper flower kit (no glue required), a supply of snacks, and a portable chess board—is more temporary. But we're thrilled to be here now. And we truly thank everyone who has been part of it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ode to my travel toothbrush

So since I have recently returned from a trip, my travel toothbrush is on my mind (read: my cosmetic case is still on my bathroom counter, with contents widely spread). At home I'm an electric brush gal (can't be bothered to move my wrist enough for a good brush), but on the road there's nothing better than this:

What is so great is that not only does it come in a profusion of designs (I have the insect one) but it's a damn fine toothbrush. Although I've had mine for over six months, the bristles are still intact and standing at attention, and I'm pretty hard on toothbrushes—even though the hygienists tells me not to, I really saw away. And they come in a perfect little clear tube with a screw top, so they don't collect hair and cookie crumbs in the bottom of your purse or overnight bag.

Oprah even lists these under "25$ and under" in her holiday gift recommendations! Says they make perfect stocking stuffers. I just don't see Oprah giving Gail a toothbrush for Christmas, but I'd be happy if she sent me one.

Here's some of the other design available:

The manufacturer has some cute stuff at Creations by Alan Stewart, but the toothbrushes are by far the best in my opinion.

My Mother-of-the-Year Award at serious risk

So in moments that can probably be described as completely delusional, I look at a snapshot of my life (such as is documented in this blog so far) and think "Do I have a handle on it or what?" In general I run a pretty tight ship. I get shit done. I maintain my relationships. I'm a good mom. The last one is, of course, the most important. And I think much of the time I get it right. My daughter is happy, confident, outgoing, resilient, and wise. But I'm beginning to think this is because she's on to the fact that her mom isan ill-tempered potty-mouthed nutjob.

Witness a moment from last night when the wheels just totally came off. After finally getting her settled in bed and QUIET ("please please please JUST STOP TALKING!!!"), I leave her and go into the other room to fold laundry. About twenty minutes later she tiptoes in and announces that her tummy is rumbly and she thinks that is why she cannot sleep. And I just freak out, shrieking probably loud enough for Child Protective Services to hear me, "Well, if you had EATEN you GODDAMN DINNER instead of fiddling around and TALKING, then you probably wouldn't be hungry right now. It is already 45 minutes PAST your bedtime, and you have OPERA tomorrow night!!! I will give you something to eat this time, but the next time this happens, YOU WILL GO HUNGRY!!" To which she said in a small voice "Maybe a fried egg, Mama?" "NOOO!!!! The kitchen is CLOSED!!! Here is a bowl of cold cereal [slams bowl on table]. You will eat this and GO BACK TO BED!!!" "Oh, thank you very much, Mama."

Five minutes later she was snoring softly in bed. And the funny thing is I woke up in the middle of night, tummy rumbling but heart hurting too. I went and had a little bowl of cereal out of the bowl she left on the table, but sitting on the side of her bed and listening to her breathe is probably what helped me get back to sleep.

This morning I apologized for shouting at her. She just smiled, kissed me gently, and said "That's ok, Mama!" Inside she was probably thinking "Poor Mama. She's so whacked."

In other news, I made a batch of eggnog cookies to take to opera tonight. For the excellent recipe, visit Adrienne at d.c. diaries. Thanks, Adrienne! I now have a quart of eggnog minus what the recipe called for and I don't particularly like eggnog to drink (sort of like cheesecake: not bad but not worth the calories), so I'm noodling other uses for it. This weekend I'm going to enter my Pancake Lab and see what I can concoct. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I was Enchanted

by Enchanted, which a large group of us went to see Friday afternoon. What better way to burn off some calories, right?

It was hilarious, but the sight of my husband groaning and then sinking further into his seat when yet another musical number would begin was almost as funny ("Too much singing!!" which is also what he said at the opera). I thought the concept of a real person spouting Disney Princessisms was priceless. It reminded me of several years ago when my daughter and I were driving somewhere and got lost. I of course started to swear a blue streak, and my daughter calmly pointed out that if I just followed my dreams, everything would be fine.

What's cooking? A quick dinner aided by Trader Joe's

After an eight-hour drive home yesterday from Grant's Pass, where we spent the night, I was pretty pooped but happy to be home and back in my own kitchen. Because we had been gone several day and needed some groceries, I thought I'd dash out to Trader Joe's. So did everyone else, evidently. I guess everyone had finished their turkey leftovers and needed to stock up on more grub. Given how long it took me to buy ingredients for dinner, I didn't have much time to cook.

I started marinating a couple of lamb leg steaks in Meyer lemon juice, olive oil, pressed garlic, and a little seasoned salt.

Onward. I've been trying to incorporate more whole grains into our diet, but I'm not crazy about whole wheat pasta and only lukewarm on brown rice. Whole wheat couscous, however, is just fine. I really don't even notice the difference. Score one for Trader Joe's.

I follow the instructions on the box (add couscous to boiling water 1:1), except I don't add butter or oil to the water before it boils. It's quick (very important): boil water, add couscous, cover, turn off heat, let sit for about 10 minutes. Then I dump it out on a rimmed baking pan and let it cool a bit. When it's cool enough to handle I sprinkle a little olive oil over the top and rub it between my fingers to separate the grains and sort of fluff it up. Like this:

Then because it's not the most exciting side dish, I add halved cherry tomatoes, canned garbanzo beans, and crumbled feta cheese. And with some greens tossed in and a little vinaigrette, the leftovers make a nice lunch.

Next up, some more assistance from Trader Joe's. I normally do not buy produce there since it's comparatively expensive, overly packaged, and not local. I made an exception this evening for this:

It had all sorts of things: yams, squash, and turnips. Quick: into the steamer . . .

. . . into the food mill or processor with a little apricot preserves and then some butter and a little salt and

Lamb steaks on the grill (gas of course since we're in a hurry here). Bagged organic greens from Trader Joe's tossed with some homemade balsamic vinagrette, a jar of which always resides in my fridge, and we're good to go!

One last thing: a jar of my homemade mint jelly (notice that it's not a lurid green color?). Recipe to come. Good to have on hand if you like lamb and makes a great gift.

No picture of the final dinner, cause--as I said--we were in a hurry.

Around the Table with Santa

Big S's Cousin L works at a wonderful restaurant in Camas, WA (right next to Vancouver) called Around the Table. It's much more than a restaurant though and covers just about everything I love about food. The subtitle of their logo reads, "Celebrating Food and Community" and captures the spirit behind all that they do, which includes a lunch cafe, Friday and Saturday gatherings where a fixed price meal is served family-style at communal tables, catering, cooking classes for children and adults, take-home meals, holiday appetizers to take home and freeze, and renting their kitchen to local culinary entrepenuers.

We were there Saturday morning for their Breakfast with Santa. In addition to a delicious breakfast buffet, kids got to have a nice chat with Santa—not just the 30 second version they get at the mall.

And the man in this picture may or may not be my husband. Don't tell him, ok?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Up Hwy 5 and past Mount Shasta

to Aunt Nancy's house we went. Several families of Big S's cousin's met at his Aunt Nancy's for Thanksgiving—the family's first since Nancy's husband Bill passes away last summer. At first I wasn't sure having a house full of people was what Nancy would want, but once we were all there, it was clear being surrounded by family was the best medicine for all. Big S's family is everything anyone could want from family: a wonderful, warm, funny bunch that is almost too good to be true. Aunt Nancy lives in Salem, OR, in this lovely house:

It reminds me of houses in New England: a good-sized house but with small rooms, which leaves space to gather together around a fire, catch a football game on TV, hang out in the kitchen, or play with the kids.One thing that's nice about this family (there are many things!) is that there seems always the option to visit with others or curl up with a book by oneself.

When we arrived, Nancy had already set a beautiful table (a woman after my own heart—I always like to set the table the night before when there's no rush and I can fuss over dishes, stemware, and details. Nancy's table included hand-embroidered linen table linens that my mother-in-law's Italian in-laws brought her from Venice. The table cloth is the longest I've ever seen, but it was needed with the crowd we had and looked perfect with Aunt Nancy's china.

And Nancy was ever gracious enough to allow my daughter to add her homemade candles to the table.

And of course we had lots of wonderful food too. Here's Nancy's turkey, which we all agreed looks like it was the product of a food stylist. She covered the turkey with cheesecloth that she "cooked" in white wine and butter, basting the turkey throughout and then removing the cheesecloth when the bird was browned. It honestly tasted as good as it looked! I can't wait to try this method on my make-up turkey dinner!

We also had a little bit of butter to go with our potatoes:

THEN, the next morning, as if the Thanksgiving wasn't enough of a feast, Nancy made homemade cinnamon rolls for brunch. Check these out:

They obviously deserve a close-up:
Calories be damned. They were just amazing. Did I mention she served BACON with them? God help me.

I hope everyone else had as wonderful a Thanksgiving! Back tomorrow with a report of Saturday'sBreakfast with Santa at Around the Table in Camas, WA, where Big S's Cousin L works.