Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'm just thinking

that my daughter might need this Hanna Andersson top for Valentine's Day.

Of course she doesn't, but she certainly would look sharp in it. I love polka dots. Hmmm.

And I guess it's time to start thinking about making those Valentines, isn't it? Right after we finish the Christmas thank yous.

I've been tagged: How I met my husband

Belle in Bloom tagged me for this one. For the record, the fact that I ever got married seems something of a miracle. I was the perennial bridesmaid—lots of truly frightening dresses but lots of good times. Both of my younger siblings were married years before I was. I was the hilarious single aunt.

When I returned to California after living in Washington, DC (and the Boston area and central PA), I moved into a group house in Berkeley. I shared the house with two other men, and our landlord and his wife lived in an upstairs apartment. In spite of a twenty-year age difference S. and Landlord were good friends, and when Landlord needed some carpentry work done on his basement workshop, he hired S. So I would see S. now and again working around the house. We chatted a little and always smiled at each other as we passed. I thought he had a sweet smile and kind eyes and so was a little disappointed when I heard Landlord saying to someone "S. and his girlfriend . . . " I had thought "Isn't he just he kind of guy you'd want to marry?"

After about a year, my roomates and I were asked to move out because Landlord's aging mother-in-law needed to move in with them, and so they needed the house back. We parted on good terms, and I was added to their ever-growing party invite list. It was nearly a year later that I received an invitation to a celebration for the mother-in-law's 93rd birthday. I had just gone through a horrible breakup with someone and wasn't at all feeling up to a party, but I really liked this woman and a tiny voice in the back of my head reminded me that S. might be there as well. And I thought if I missed seeing S. at this party, I might not see him again for several years. So I put on my big girl panties and out I went.

I was a little nervous about going alone to a party where I would only know a few people, but my instincts were right—I opened the door, and there was S., who in the middle of a conversation with another friend stood up and walked over to me. We didn't speak to anyone besides each other for the rest of the party. But we weren't in the clear yet. In the course of conversation, S. moved from topic of macrame (yes, macrame) to the fact that he considered himself kind of a "floater" professionally. In spite of these revelations, I gave him my phone number owing to S.'s persistence and patience (he called and called and called), we started dating. And I was right—he was just the sort of guy you'd want to marry.

We'll celebrate our ten-year anniversary this spring. The woman whose 93rd birthday we celebrated died the next year, so it was an important party for her too. It just goes to show, you never know when or where it will happen.

And just for the record, he has settled down to a steady career and not produced a single macrame wall hanging or potholder. He's still got the pony tail (which is getting shorter all the time), but that's ok with me.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What's cooking: Really easy vegetarian lasagne

One afternoon at my NASTC ski seminar a few weeks ago lunchtime talk turned to ski house recipes, the object being dishes that were simple, hearty, and tasty. My instructor Leigh shared the basics for this one, which uses a combination of store-bought and homemade ingredients. Here is my version of the concept, but the possibilities for modification are endless.


prepackaged fresh ravioli
fresh spinach
cheese, shredded or crumbled
marinara sauce, bottled or homemade (recipe follows)


Boil fresh ravioli for about two to three minutes, less that what is recommended on the package. I used an artichoke, cheese, olive ravioli.

Make the marinara sauce. I use Cook's Illustrated recipe. In a nutshell and simplified to eliminate the fresh tomatoes during the season when none can be had, saute chopped onion in olive oil, adding garlic when onions are softened and lightly browned. Add a teaspoon each of dried oregano and basil, stirring for a minute or until fragrant.

Drain canned whole tomatoes in a colander over a bowl to separate the tomatoes from the juice.

Add the tomatoes to the onion and garlic mixture and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated from the tomatoes.

Add the reserved juice and about half a cup of red wine. Simmer until thickened slightly. Run through a blender and then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Grate or crumble cheese. I used mozzarella, parmesan, and some chevre I had left over.

Saute spinach in a little olive oil to cook it down to a more manageable quantity.

Layer ingredients as follows:

marinara sauce

Repeat layering, ending with cheese on top. Bake at 400 degrees covered with foil for half an hour. Bake uncovered for 15 mintues or until lightly browned on top.

A simple green salad rounded out this meal.

Wasn't that easy? And of course it could be made easier by using store-bought bottled marinara sauce. That Leigh is pretty clever, isn't she? She's also made this recipe with a white sauce, which I think would be nice with some cheese stirred into it. And you could also substitute other seasonal vegtables for the spinach during other times of the year.

Bon appetit!

Recipe: Ski house sandwich

When we go on ski trips, I do almost everything possible to avoid eating lodge food. It's expensive, you have to wait in long lines, but most of all, it's usually horrible. This sandwich has become a staple for me, and when we ski with a large group of people, I make one large enough to serve a bunch of friends. These sandwiches combine sweet and savory and are resilient enough to survive until lunch time without getting soggy.

Slice a loaf of ciabatta bread length-wise.

Layer the following ingredients:

Cambozola cheese, a cow's milk cheese that is a combination of a French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola.

Prosciutto. No need to spring for the expensive kind. I use the Italian brand they have at Trader Joe's

Bosc pear, sliced. Use one that's not too ripe.

Arugula. I buy the bag of prewashed at Trader Joe's—not too bitter and super convenient.

Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette (see recipe from previous post).

What's great about this is that you make one big sandwich and feed about six people. I wrap individual servings in foil so I can toss them across the table at people at lunchtime.

So what else did we eat on the ski trip?

Saturday lunch: the above sandwiches.

Saturday dinner: Jim and I made spaghetti and meatballs in marinara (Jim on the meat balls using his Aunt Grace's meatball recipe and me on the sauce). YUM. I made a Caesar salad, and Vince brought a cake for dessert.

Sunday lunch: I made the Martha Stewart apricot-and-cheddar chicken melt sandwich recommended by Libby. I grill the chicken at home on our gas grill. I use the same ciabatta bread as the above sandwich and serve it closed rather than open face.

Sunday night I served chicken chili with beans that I made before coming up from the Martha Stewart recipe recommended by Adrienne. I substituted yellow and red peppers for the green bells and used white beans instead of kidneys. Toppings included sour cream, shredded cheese, and cilantro. I teamed this with hot corn bread and salad.

Sunday lunch: Sandwiches of sliced deli turkey, chevre, arugula, fresh red bell peppers, and a kalamata olive tapenade.

That's what we ate.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The husband and the economy

Office phone rings. Could it be Dad again? He's home taking care of my sick daughter and negotiating the situation following this weekend's powder adventure of having only one ski. No, it's Husband.

Me: I thought you were my dad. He's been calling a lot. He's down at California Ski right now.

Husband: I know.

Me: You do?

Husband: Yes, I do. I talked to him.

Me: He called you too?

Husband: No, not exactly.

Me: Wait a minute. You're at California Ski, aren't you??

Husband: Gotta go. Very busy!

Me: WAAAAIIIT! What are you doing there???

Husband: The president is going to give me a tax refund. And I'm spending it on skis.

To stimulate the economy, I assume. Damn thoughtful of him.

Oh goody!

I was SO DISAPPOINTED to not win the raffle of Lisagh's latest creation over at Grosgrain Garage (all fair in love, war, and knitted head wear), so I took her up on her offer to allow us losers to hire her to make us hats in custom colors. I chose robin's egg blue with a chocolate brown stripe.

She just sent me a picture. Isn't it lovely?

She asked if I wanted anything else (a pompom, a tassle, etc.) added. But why would I since it comes with a cat!!! Which we truly need. See, we had two, but one died, so now we only have one, but we really like having two. Oh, I so happy!

Ski days 9, 10, 11: In which we ski huge powder and Dad loses a ski, perhaps forever

We made it up, and we made it back, skillfully (not really) dodging the worst of the weather for our drives. But while I'm on the subject of driving in winter weather, may I just take a moment to congratulate myself on the splendid job I did? NOT running the car into a snow bank? NOT doing any highway donuts? It was really no problem because as I had to remind Husband, I did used to live in PENNSYLVANIA, where it very often SNOWS A LOT. He seems to forget that I didn't appear in the bay area directly from southern California. I know—it's very hard to imagine that I had another life before I met him.

Also in the good news catagory, my knee held up for three days of skiing, although today I am hobbling around my office on stiff bent legs—a good position to ski in, but I seem to be stuck there today. The brace I bought at the drugstore seemed to help. I wanted to make sure if I had a big wreck my knee wouldn't completely come apart, and I'm happy to report that it's intact and even seems improved. Maybe it was all the circulation, or maybe it's just like the rest of me: generally healed by being in the beautiful Sierras.

Anywhoo, here's how things broke down:

Saturday: Homewood. It's 10 minutes from the house we rent and a great place to avoid crowds. It also had some great terrain and is a lovely mountain. It's right on the shore of Lake Tahoe, and many of the runs looks like you're about to ski off into the lake.

The snow predicted for that day did not materialize, and we skied a gorgeous California blue bird day: lovely soft snow, beautiful blue skies. We were one happy group!

I was skiing very conservatively with the intention of having a no-fall day and barely kept up with Dad, who just flies down the groomers these days. While we busy with that, Husband, Sophie, and the rest of the gang decided that this was the day to ski the Quail Face, which was closed all last season for lack of snow. It looked hairy from below, with much of the skiing in narrow, steep chutes. At one point near the top Sophie fell and lost a ski. Husband was above her and was starting to make his way down to help her when he noticed that the snow he was sticking his pole in was sort of . . . hollow . . . as in perhaps about to avalanche. He had to decide to stay back and tell her to get herself and her ski out or go down to help her. He chose the latter, moving slowly and carefully and then getting them out of there asap. Everything was ok, but I was completely unnerved when he told me that he was actually scared. Being scared is my job!! He is almost never scared, so I know if he was then it must have been pretty bad. It still makes me feel (as Sophie would say) sort of nausy to think about it.

Here's me, the well-equipped skier: Helmet—check! Radio—check! CamelBack—check! The latter wasn't much help though since temperatures were low enough to freeze the tube.

Sunday: Squaw. We woke to a winter wonderland, the snow predicted finally arriving.

We were scheduled to ski at Alpine since Dad had a private lesson scheduled with my NASTC teacher, but we bailed when we found nearly the whole mountain shut down because of high winds and electrical problems. But it was great to see Leigh again! We've reschedule Dad's lesson for two weeks from now, handily providing him with a reason to come back up for another trip.

So after many cell phone calls and radio conversations, we reheaded our group over to Squaw for a day of powder skiing. The top half of the mountain was shut down because of the winds, but there was plenty of fun to be had on the lower half. It was Dad's first day skiing powder, and I'm not particularly good at it , but we were psyched just to be out there and were skiing better by the end of the day. We skied a lot on Red Dog, while Husband and gang skiied KT-22. Sophie had woken up in the middle of the night with a cold, so she stayed back at the house with my mom. They had a cosy day of reading reading poems and working on jigsaw puzzles.

Monday: Homewood. We woke up to nearly another foot of snow on our porch rail and gusting winds.

A few phone calls convinced us that Homewood was the place to go, with the fewest wind shut downs. But not after some serious digging out of the cars. Go, Chris, go!

Sophie was feeling better enough to not miss another powder day, and we had Mom planted in the lodge for backup in case Sophie tired. Good thing, because this was the powder day of the year so far. The snow was lighter and drier than the day before at Squaw, and the silence of gliding through the morning powder was broken only by hoots and hollers as people hit their first tracks. Absolute heaven until Dad took a face plant in some very deep powder and lost a ski. Which Husband and friend Vince help him dig for for over an hour. They finally gave up, and Dad walked down to rent skis for the rest of the day. Snaps to the people in the rental department who gave him skis to use for free once they heard his story. We've got a report filed with lost and found and are hoping the ski will give us a call in the spring once the snow melts to come up and get it. Boo hoo!

All in all, a great trip. In addition to skiing, we all enjoyed each other's company and our lovely ski house, which we rent several times a year and fill up with as many people as possible (stack 'em in like wood, I say). We had all three bedrooms filled, a family on living room floor, and our friend Vince in the laundry room. It was great to have my parents up, and they got along swimmingly with our friends.

Note: Chair on sofa to keep dog off, not because we were trashing the place, although we can be sort of a messy bunch.

We had a long drive home last night, and my little angel is still under the weather.

So she's spending a quiet day at home with my parents, which I think is good for everyone. They're playing school, and Sophie reports that Dad has finished the first essay she assigned him: Why I Really Like to Ski. Math and science will be after lunch.

But what, you ask, did we have to eat??? I know—that's very important but will have to be the subject of another post. :)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Into the eye of the storm

Why do I feel like one of those nutty storm chasers who are attracted to dangerous weather like a moth to light? Um . . . cause it's raining REALLY HARD, with nothing but major weather predicted for the next several days, and we are going to get in a car in a few hours AND DRIVE TO THE MOUNTAINS. And pray that the pass is not closed.

I asked Husband if he was worried about driving in the weather. He said "No, of course not." But when I reminded him that we'll be taking two cars and I will be driving one of them, he revised: "Yes. As a matter of fact, I am nervous about that."

I'm also not excited about packing cars in the pouring rain. Oh, well. Time to get going.

Back on Tuesday. Have a great weekend!


I've been highjacked

That is, someone has appropriated my blog name, with minor alterations. Found it yesterday. Not happy. I mean, I sat around for days thinking up Figs, Lavender, and Cheese! And I had it first.

And you know what? This person lives in LONDON, where as far as I know neither figs nor lavender grow (I have both in my yard). And then she goes on about eating locally (!) and "knocking up some brownies," which means—I suppose—she baked them, not screwed them.

This very thing happened to Lisagh over at the Garage recently. In jest she suggested several renames of her blog that riped off the names of other blogs. I told her I would be absolutely fine with her renaming her blog Figs, Lavender, and Anything She Wants, but I did not extend this offer to anyone else. Not that this brownie-knocking person ever consulted me.

As I said to Leesie, who assures me my outrage is entirely appropriate, Harumpf!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oh my

Click to enlarge. In other words, snow, snow, and more snow plus nice cold temperatures.

Continuing our quest to ski ourselves into the poor house and contribute to my daughter's deliquency, we've got a full three-day weekend on tap:

  • Saturday: Homewood. Just checked their grooming report, and despite the fact that they're getting dumped on, it looks like they're still grooming the heck out of the mountain. Good thing because with my injured knee, I'm going to be limited to groomers or at least runs that aren't too deep.

  • Sunday: Alpine. My dad will be taking a two-hour private with my NASTC instructor. This will be our first time since early last year skiing on the backside, which was closed owing to low snow volume. Runs off the Scott chair should have better coverage too.

  • Monday: Squaw. We're playing hooky from work and school. 'Nuff said about that.

  • Last I heard from them my parents were in the car somewhere near Bakersfield driving up from southern California (the Grapevine was closed for snow) and should be here in time for dinner (pot roast in crockpot—check). At this point my mother is probably wondering if my father is completely insane. But he's caught the bug—it can't be helped.

    Friends are lined up to fill the ski house we've rented. Everyone's got their food and drink assignments. Racks are the on the cars, duffle bags packed. Is there gas in the car? (Remember those Steely Dan lyrics: "Is there gas in the car? Yes, there's gas in the car"?) There will be.

    Knee is still sore but feels much better than yesterday. Range of movement much improved. I went back into the ski store yesterday to have one of my boot linings stretched and found that I can indeed buckle my own boot.

    And while we're on the subject of skiing and since I'm always on the subject of food, don't you think I need this?

    I'm absolutely sure I do.

    I stand accused . . .
    and feel totally shit upon

    I set out with the idea that my blog would document only all that is wonderful in my life (like, you know, figs, lavender, and cheese), but now that I've broken that with my revelation that I earned my scooter accident by being an evil little shit of a person by thinking uncharitable thoughts, the floodgates are open. There's more that's bad. And it just needs to come out.

    It's about Husband. He is usually a truly wonderful, kind, and generous guy, except when he is not. Behold the note he presented to me at breakfast a few weeks ago following what he termed "A Rampage of Badness" on my part:

    Allow me to explain. He often starts complaints by saying "Someone [did something, did not do something, etc.]," and someone is almost always me. This list documents the fact that on this occasion I

    1. Left the bathroom door open when I went to bed, so the heat from the electric radiator, which is on a timer, escaped, leaving the bathroom cold in the morning. We heat our house with a woodstove, so cold is a big issue around here.

    2. Loaded wood into said woodstove from the top instead of from the front door and placed wood too close to the front of the stove, so that when he opened the front door, hot embers fell out.

    3. Did something wrong concerning batteries for the digital camera. I can't even remember what my offense was here, but whatever it was, I'm sure I did it.

    4. Came in late from my book group and woke him up. The underlying issue is that he was cross I was out so late.

    OK, very funny, right? Except for the fact that he was not at all kidding. These were serious offenses he wanted to discuss with me, an "I'm sorry, I'll try not to do that again" being insufficient.

    But here's the kicker: When I objected to this discussion (read: his rant), he replied, "But if I can't point these things out to you, how can you improve?" IMPROVE??? He wants me to improve. As if I am not the most kick-ass wife he could ever hope for. Seriously. This man does no grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, or carpool driving. He is served a home cooked meal (with enough for his lunch leftovers) made from organic! fresh! locally grown! ingredients almost every godamned night. With freshly ironed cloth napkins! And dirty clothes mysteriously disappear and reappear clean in his closet and drawers. Parties, entertaining, holidays? That's me too. All I require is that he show up. And is he impressed with or supportive of the fact that I work my butt off as the president of my daughter's school's P.T.A.-like organization? He is not. He would rather I remain at home perfecting my homemaking skills with military precision. Well, I have news for him. THIS IS AS GOOD IT'S GOING TO GET. In fact, over the years it may well become worse. I would love to improve, but I am too damned tired and too damned old. And I have other things to do.

    Even thought this happened a couple of weeks ago, the subject arose again because the other night as I lie in bed in excruciating pain following my accident, he lit into me for violating (again! for the second time!) item #2. What do you think? I think he needs to improve. RIGHT NOW.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008

    Post crash update and karma questions

    So here's the funny thing: I can walk just fine (maybe ski?), but I can't put on my sock without ridiculous pain (maybe help buckling in the boots?). We're slated to ski Saturday (Homewood), Sunday (Alpine Meadows), and Monday (Squaw), so I have three days to get this fixed.

    I'm attacking the situation from both directions:

    Homeopathic: I've got the cream and these funny little tablets you dissolve under your tongue. This stuff contains arnica and lots of other stuff that's supposed to be good for treating (according to their list on the box) muscular pain (yep), inflammation (yep), sports injuries (don't know that commuting is considered a sport), and bruising (absolutely).

    The good old traditional Vitamin I. I'm taking probably completely unreasonable amounts of this, but it does help. Or maybe that's the other stuff working. Who cares?? I want RESULTS. Right now.

    In the meantime, it has not gone unnoticed that this all seems an eerie coincidence with a fall my mother-in-law took at our house on Sunday before dinner. She shuffles rather than walks and tripped on the runner in our front hallway. One minute she was walking into the kitchen, the next she was flat on her back in the hall (people her age tend not to break their falls with a leg or arm but rather go down like a ton of bricks). Getting her back on her feet was an ordeal. She didn't break anything either, but her KNEE is swollen and bruised. And whereas I felt badly about the rug (should have secured it better to the floor) and want to help keep her healthy as long as possible, the next day I was grousing that if she's not going to pick up her feet, she should at least watch where she's going. But of course she's walking around in sort of a fog through no fault of her own, making this an extremely uncharitable thought on my part. I have also been known to be frustrated with her going on constantly about this pain, that pain, focusing endlessly on her health. But of course when you're in pain, it's really hard to think about anything else, especially when there's not a whole lot going on in your life aside from managing that pain.

    SO, my question is . . . is this a karmic injury, designed to bring to my attention that I should be more patient with and understanding of my MIL? I'm calling uncle on this one.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    What's cooking at FLC:
    Cranberry soy chicken

    A coworker of mine was remarking today that not only is she tired when she arrives home after a long day but she's sick of everything she's been making lately. I told her to come and visit me at Figs, Lavender, and Cheese to see what we're having. It might not be better, but at least it's different! And on weeknights, I focus on the quick and the easy.

    This is one of the recipes I often turn to when I can't see or think straight (my scooter crash this morning was particularly taxing and has left me feeling sort of rubber-headed). And I think it's one of the best things that can be done with boneless, skinless chicken breasts that doesn't involve adding a lot of fat (like olive oil) so they aren't dry and tasteless.


    1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce

    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (hurray for my Meyer lemon tree in the back yard!)

    2 teaspoons minced garlic

    1 can whole cranberries (I use homemade cranberry preserves using the recipe from Cook's Illustrated and canning them in a hot water bath—really easy and nice to have on the shelf. I always make a few batches when fresh cranberries appear in the stores.)

    3 tablespoons butter (I've used less)

    Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste

    3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts


    Preheat oven to 425°. In a saucepan, bring the soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, cranberries, and butter to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer for 5 minutes until well combined. Season to taste.

    While sauce is simmering, cut chicken into strips about 1/2-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper, and arrange layer in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Pour sauce over strips, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Serve over rice with extra sauce.

    Serves 4 (dinner plus lunch leftovers for Husband in our house)
    I served this with steamed white rice (we're trying to eat more whole grains, but damn it, I like white rice), sauteed greens, and butternut squash (left over from a panade the other night—that's another recipe post) cooked in browned butter with sage.

    Quick, easy, nutritious, and Sophie liked it.

    Thanks to all who offered their good wishes following my scooter crash. I'm feeling better, and ice plus a steady dose of ibuprofen should have me in skiing shape by the weekend.

    Yesterday I fall down, go poof
    Today I fall down, go boom

    Because yesterday we enjoyed an excellent powder day at Sugarbowl. Although only snow showers were predicted, it snowed steadily the entire day. We had a great—although long—day, with the drive home being pretty slow because of the weather (snowing all the way down to 3,500 feet). Thanks to those who worried about us getting home safely!

    But the time to worry was really this morning. I drove carpool, then swung by the house to change vehicles from my Honda CRV to my Piaggio scooter. It was sprinkling, so I donned my snappy rain gear and hopped on my bike. It's a great bike on wet streets, with good tire traction and brakes, but it doesn't do so well when it hits a patch of oil. Which it did as I braked coming downhill for a stop sign. The wheels went right out from under me, and I took a header down the hill. Nothing broken and the bike's fine, but I'm a little banged up. I smashed my right knee pretty well (it's now iced), scraped up my chin, bit into my top lip, and bloodied my nose a little. Several cars stopped—thank goodness, because I was lying face down in the road for a while before I felt able to get up—and a very nice couple helped me get my bike over to the side of the road and me onto the curb. I eventually was able to get back on the bike and ride to work, which by that time was only a few blocks away. But now my knee is swelling (causing me panic about the three-day ski trip we've got planned for next weekend), my chin is starting to swell (I think I'm going to look like Jay Leno), and my stomach is feeling quesy. So I'm going to close my office door, lie down on my nap mat, and see how I feel in a bit. Back later. :(

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Sunday dinner: Barbecued rack of lamb

    My mother-in-law has had a tough week, suffering what we think are a few TIAs (small strokes), followed by multiple doctor appointments. She always loves joining us for Sunday dinner, but she especially loves this menu:

  • Barbecued frenched rack of lamb (I am rarely a fan of preseasoned meats—why not just season my own?—but Trader Joe's has a really exceptional rack of lamb, seasoned just perfectly.)
  • Greek lemon roasted potatoes (thank you, Martha)
  • buttered baby green peas
  • homemade mint apple jelly
  • green salad with balsamic vinaigrette
  • a wonderful bottle of pinot noir made by husband's wine group—a great pairing with the lamb

  • Tomorrow is the MLK Jr. birthday weekend. Husband has to work, but Sophie and I are off, so we're headed to the mountains for what we call a "single day assault" on Sugarbowl.

    We'll leave at 5:45 a.m., arriving at the parking lot at 9:00, just in time for opening of the lifts. It's a long day, to be sure, but it should be a good one given that there's four to six inches of snow predicted up there for tonight, with snow showers for tomorrow. It's also predicted to be cold, which we're hoping will scare a few people off the mountain. Report on Day 8 of our ski season forthcoming!