Saturday, May 31, 2008

Opera: The end of the rehearsals

Sometimes I think I like opera rehearsals more than the actual performances. I find the backstage stuff fascinating but now that rehearsals for Das Rheingold, in which Sophie is starring participating as a supernumerary, have moved over to the opera house stage, I'm enjoying watching from the house.

About half way back in the orchestra section is a long table behind which are seated the director, the stage manager, and various other staff. Many of them have sound systems strapped around their waists and mikes on their head. There's nearly a dozen laptop computers showing god only knows what. It reminds me of the Houston command center in the movie Apollo Thirteen. My favorite part is when someone yells at the people on stage "Thank you! Thank you." In the land of opera, that means STOP. I'm going to start using it around the house. Sort of a positive discipline tactic, you know.

I've particularly enjoyed watching the director Francesca Zambello work with the kids. I have no problem at all with someone else kicking my kid's butt when they do it with the clarity and consistency of Director Zambello. I think it's good for them. And her butt kicking is absolutely appropriate in the context. This is not, after all, a Gymboree class. And as with Sophie's experience in SF Opera's Macbeth, all the hard work pays off when those kids are able to take the stage with complete confidence because they have been so well rehearsed. Although I can't say the same for the parents, at Macbeth, I don't think there was a single child who was nervous or anxious. They knew their stuff and were ready. I know the opera's objective is not to create a positive stage experience for the kids, but it's certainly a nice benefit from our perspective.

Director Zambello further ingratiated herself the other evening when she came down to where a group of the parents were sitting and told us how well she thought the kids were doing and thanked us for our hard work in getting them to rehearsals. A little while later, she brought David Gockley, the opera's general director, over so he could say a few words of appreciation. It was a lovely gesture.

Sophie had rehearsals every evening from Tuesday to Friday this week. They've had a rehearsal with costume and makeup but no orchestra and several without costumes or makeup but full orchestra, and tonight it all comes together for the full dress rehearsal. Passes are given out, and the house is nearly full. So I knew the other night that it was probably my last time to indulge in one of my favorite rehearsal activities: watching from a box seat. Not that I'm dissatisfied with the orchestra seats: they're some of the best in the house, and we can sit as close up as we want. But the view from the box shows the entire orchestra, and it's easier to read the subtitles. And I love the idea of my ordinary butt in these fancy seats without donating thousands of dollars to the opera.

From the orchestra seats, you can see if any of the boxes are unlocked by turning around and looking for light shining through the curtains.

The other night there was one, so up I went.

Indeed, an unlocked box.

Each box has a little anteroom, with a curtain dividing this area from the seats. No pictures once I go through that curtain. I worry that my camera would betray me and flash even when I've turned off that function, and at any rate, I don't think it's appropriate to photograph the performers or staff while they're rehearsing and working.

I'm glad to have seen much of the production albeit in pieces since tonight I'll be chaperoning in the girls' dressing room. My presence will fulfill some mysterious legal requirement, and I'll help herd children to and from hair and makeup, on and off the stage wings, and wherever else they need to go. We're in great suspense over whether they will "wig" Sophie tonight. For the dress rehearsal they merely smeared colored gel in her hair to darken it, but they said they might put her in a wig for performances. She's not too happy about this (she says "All the girls think the wigs look dreadful!"), but it will make my job easier since she'll be able to go to bed without washing her hair at the end of a long night. Stay tuned!

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

(Mis)adventures in sewing

So I promised one of my favorite bloggers Lisagh (Sophie calls her Crafty MacDafty) that I would sign up for a beginning sewing class. And although the thought of it threw me into a panic (I am terrified of our sewing machine; I am an idiot the minute I step out of the kitchen), I signed up. The class promised to familiarize me with sewing machine operation and basics. At the end of the class I would produce a pillow.

Off I went, all puffed up from the sewing experience I had logged over the weekend. I was particularly pleased to have along the pin cushion Lisagh sent me. My teacher was immediately impressed. "My friend made that," I explained. "She makes all kinds of amazing things" (as if this were some reflection on my own creative abilities).

The teacher explained that sewing machines are sort of like cars (good, I'm thinking, because I absolutely can drive). They all have a steering wheel, a gas pedal, an ignition, etc., but things like the lights and windshield wiper switches may be different. When you get in a car you have not driven before, you can always drive it, but it may take a minute to orient yourself.

So we watched, threaded, adjusted, lined up, and practiced on some scraps of cloth. I thought I was doing amazingly well. It was finally time to start on those pillows—two hours and fifteen minutes after class began and at the end of a long day at work. My energy was flagging, and if I had been home I would have been in bed with a book. And I had decided I did not like the fabric I had picked out. Whereas I had thought it looked sort of sweet and vintage-like, it now looked dowdy compared to the zippy selections of my classmates (granted, one woman was an interior designer and another an artist, which gave them a distinct advantage over me, who looks at black words on a white page or screen all day long).

But the main problem is that I did not measure properly. (I was tired, remember.) And so my pillow case fit too tightly, making my pillow look sort of lumpy.

And the back envelope enclosure did not quite close.

My teacher was so nice about it. "It looks just fine!" But I'm no dummy: IT DID NOT LOOK JUST FINE. The teacher suggested a little snap to hold it closed, but I'm going to huck it start again. With new fabric. On my own machine, about which I'm a little skeptical. The teacher was talking with several other students about what machines to consider buying, and noted that Bernina and Janomes are like the BMWs or Mercedes of machines, with others being the Volvos and the Hondas. She observed about the Singer, "Well, you wouldn't really go out and buy a Chevrolet, would you?" I was too embarrassed to tell her that I was already the humble owner of a Simplicity Demin Star, a brand she did not even mention because it is probably the Ford Pinto of sewing machines. 

So you can see why I cried a little bit as I rode home on my scooter. I had such high hopes of a fabulous new hobby, only to find out that when I'm the least bit tired my feeble attention wanders and I can't even operate a ruler.

But I will not give up because Sophie is watching, and I need to demonstrate resilience and perseverance. And besides, she told me my pillow was "really terrific," and I think she actually meant it.

Why I love Joan Collins

Doesn't everybody? But I probably love her more. In her one person, she embodied everything that was memorable about the eighties. Aside from news, weather, and the occasional Masterpiece Theatre, I no longer watch television, but I have fond memories of Alexis in her fierce shoulder pads and peplum suit trying to drown the insipid Krystal in a fountain, and one of my favorite pieces of television dialog was Alexis asking with complete astonishment "What??!! You've never heard of the Dex-Alex Company??" Because, you know, she had formed a company with Dex Dexter, and how could anyone be unaware of that? Those were the days.

And so I regret that I'm late in saluting her on her SEVENTY-FIFTH birthday (it was last Friday). But I'm not too late offer this evidence to my blog pal Impoverished Preppy, who over the weekend could not bring her famished self to indulge in barbecued chicken and ribs while dressed in celebratory garb.

It can be done, but it ain't easy. And I suppose she does have the advantage over the rest of us of being Joan. There's only one.

Bring on the chicken and ribs.

A rainy weekend: Lots of work, some play

Yup—it was rainy.

And cold, especially since the Forest Service condemned the dining hall fire place and it is yet to be rebuilt. 

All we had was this, which was small comfort in a dining hall now lined in screens rather than windows for the coming season. Usually the breeze blowing in across the river is a welcome relief. This weekend it merely served to blow patterns around and cause our fingers to get stiff and numb as we pinned, cut, and sewed.

That's right. I said SEWED. Me. Using machines—not one but TWO.

This one is like a freakin' computer. It probably cost more than my car, but you can monogram things and embroider little pictures. My car does not do those things. It's probably a good thing I don't have one of these because I would surely go completely nuts and start monogramming everything: napkins, shirts, bed linens, underwear . . . would that really be so bad???

This one is a surger, and what a crazy little thing it is. It zips a sort of blanket stitch around the edge of the fabric and trims it off with a little knife. Brilliant.

The woman who sews costumes for each summer's staff show was good enough to take me under her wing for a second year, giving me a lovely reprieve from scrubbing bathrooms and mopping floors. Last year I just cut and pinned for her, but this year she gave me a promotion and moved me up to machines. In spite of the less-than-optimal conditions under which we worked, I was thrilled to have what amounted to a day and a half of private sewing lessons. Her patience was astonishing. She reckoned I'd be a pro when I marched into my sewing class the day after we got home. Not quite, but more on that tomorrow.

So while we missed one of my favorite parts of camp, sitting in the green chairs to chat and have a glass of wine while waiting for the dinner bell,

we enjoyed some time with our good friends David and Jeanette. Husband and I met through David, whom Husband has known since he was a young man, and we now make wine together with them. In their retirement they've traveled the world, not just as ordinary tourists but to do things like trail maintenance with work groups, interview indigenous weavers, and of course chase down flavors of the world. When they return they always have a big party featuring vacation slides and food from the region they visited. And while David and I are probably happier dangling our feet in the river and paging through the most recent copy of Cooks Illustrated, we were all happy to share meals and pass across the table a great bottle of pinot that Husband struggled to keep warm enough inside his jacket. 

Of course one person had not a single complaint about the weekend. She was in the mountains, is impervious to cold, and was given free reign to get as dirty as possible.

And we obviously eased up on the table manners.

Tomorrow's post about last night's sewing class will feature
  • good sewing versus bad sewing
  • what my daughter said about the pillow I made
  • why I cried a little bit riding home on my scooter

Friday, May 23, 2008

Add to packing list: Rain boots, umbrellas

Isn't Memorial Day supposed to be the start of the summer season? You know—white shoes, straw handbags, CAMPING??? We've spend the past few Memorial Day holidays at a work weekend to help open Berkeley Tuolumne Camp for the season.

It's one of those places we never would have thought to go had we not had a child. After all, it's not even real camping. You stay in a tent cabin and eat in a dining hall. And there are activities. I hate activities. But my kid loves them. And while enthusiastic young teenagers and young adults entertain my kid I can sleep a lot, go for a run between breakfast and lunch, and spend the afternoon alongside the river with my feet in the water and my face in a book. I leave the ping pong, lanyards, archery, and tie dye (oh god, how I hate tie dye) to others. We go up with a crowd of people, and our kids roam unsupervised through camp while we relax by the river  and engage in elaborate happy hours. It's really quite excellent. 

But Memorial Day weekend is different. The camp puts you up and feeds you for free on the assumption that you will work your tail off doing things like removing storm windows, painting, carpentry, clearing brush, mopping, and scrubbing grime. Not everyone thinks this sounds as appealing as we do, so camp is relatively quite, which we enjoy. And we like seeing it in a different season. The dogwoods are blooming, and the river is usually high. The days are often mild and the nights pretty cold. But this year we might be in for something completely different. I woke this morning to Husband putting his swim trunks in his duffel. He likes to make a big point that no matter how cold the river is (and it's really cold this time of year), he will go in at least once (and usually toss Sophie in as well). But I'm going home to add a few things to our packing list: rain boots, umbrellas, foul weather gear, all the down quilts in the house. Because I do not think there will be any of this going on:

Have I mentioned I like cold weather? Yesiree, I do. So long as I'm prepared. Which I will be. Sometimes it's nice to have weather that makes you appreciate a good hot flash.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's cooking: Some spring side dishes

New produce is appearing in the markets and in my weekly produce box. And once again, the wheels in my head that turn out recipes and menus have been kicked into gear. This last week it was radishes and fava beans, out of which came these two spring sides:


Coarsely grate radishes using box grater or food processor with shredding attachment.

Add chopped fresh mint.

Drizzle with sesame oil.

Salt to taste.

Wasn't that easy? It adds a nice bit of color too. Alright, on to the next one.


Boil in salted water, drain, and cool about half a pound of orzo pasta

Soak sun dried tomatoes in hot water for about five minutes. Chop coursely and add to pasta. When good tomatoes are available in the summer, I use fresh ones of as many different colors. Cherry or small pear ones work best because they contain less water.

Shell fava beans. 

Prepare a bowl of ice water. Add  fava beans to boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes (time will depend on the size of the beans). Drain into a colander, and set the colander in the ice water to stop the cooking and cool the beans.

Remove the skin on each bean by nicking the end with your nail and squeezing gently.
Add to pasta. 

Then add the following to taste: 
  • garlic (I used fresh green garlic, but regular is fine too)
  • grated cheese (I used asiago, but any type of parmesan will do)
  • fresh oregano, chopped (I use basil later in the year)
  • olive oil
  • fresh lemon juice
  • salt (I used black flaked, which adds another color and a little crunch)
Are fava beans really worth all the trouble? Yep. Aside from their lovely color, they taste like a little bite of springtime. And while they require some labor, it's not exactly brain surgery. You can do many other useful things while shelling and peeling. I shelled sitting in the yard listening to Husband go on about something (I was in bean-shelling zen state, so I didn't really hear him) and peeled supervising violin practice. But sometimes I try to let go of the multitasking and just enjoy shelling and peeling. And try not to think of Hannibal Lecter enjoying them with someone's liver and a nice chianti.

Both of these sides are great with roasted chicken (what isn't?) and are a welcome change after winter sides of potatoes, squash, greens, greens, and more greens.  And both are nicer to take on a picnic than mashed potatoes. 

Happy spring eating. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Holy crap: Why you should clean
your steam iron right now

You know how some bloggers have little "challenges"? Like "eliminate all paper clutter!" And "throw away all plastic containers that have no lids!" Both good ideas, but I always figure who the hell has that kind of time? I have bigger fish to fry. And so maybe that's why I haven't cleaned my steam iron a single time since I bought it . . . oh, um . . . say, five years ago? And we would probably be going on six years had evil little brown spots not been appearing on some of my favorite spring clothes as I ironed. Not that I iron much. Clothes at least. I do iron the cloth dinner napkins we use. So I look like a big frump, but my table looks nice.

Anywhoo, I finally downloaded the instructions for using the self-clean function (because I lost the ones that came with the iron) and got down to business. You put in water, heat it up to a bazillion degrees, hold it over the sink, and press the self-clean button. Steam and ghastly noises emit with great force.

Check out the crap that came out:

Nasty! What is this stuff??? Determined to have a clean iron, I repeated the process. Again and again and again.

Alrighty then. We're good again. It's back home on the little shelf Husband built it in the laundry room right next to the rocking fold-out ironing board he bought me. And if you can't believe I'm blogging about my steam iron, well neither can I.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's cooking: Brown
sugar ginger shortbread

It doesn't look particularly spectacular, but trust me, it's good. And it earned rave reviews at this weekend's opera rehearsal. At one of the breaks I heard someone from the stage shouting down "Sophie's mom! Where is Sophie's mom?!" I thought "Oh, no. What now?" [From time to time parents are called up to discuss their children's suboptimal behavior. Could it be our turn?] But the stage manager merely held up the piece of shortbread Sophie had taken up to the staff and said "Very good. Very good!!" It's also super easy and can be doubled to feed a crowd. I'm all about bar cookies when I'm baking for a crowd.


2 cups flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 to 1 cup crystallized ginger, chopped*
turbino sugar (optional)

Spray a 9x9-inch pan with canola spray and line with parchment or wax paper, leaving some paper hanging over the edges of the pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together dry ingredients.

Cream butter and sugar.

Add in dry ingredients.

Fold in crystallized ginger. Sprinkle with turbino sugar if using (it gives a nice sparkle)

Press into a 9x9 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

When it has cooled a little, lift the shortbread out of the pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares with a sharp knife.

* The crystallized ginger can be a little tricky. If it is fairly dry, it will go through a food processor well. If it is a little moist, it can gum up the blades and form into a big ball. Adding a few spoon of flour along with the ginger to the food processor before turning it on will help with this. Else, you can just resort to using a knife.

As are all shortbreads, this is pretty rich, and a small square pairs nicely with fresh fruit.I served this at the opera rehearsal and for Sunday dinner dessert with watermelon slices. It is, however, moister and less crumbly than a traditional shortbread. No complaints about that!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Opera rehearsal: The kid stays in the show

Today we head off to San Francisco for Sophie's fifth rehearsal for her part as a supernumerary in SF Opera's Das Rheingold. These early rehearsals are held at the Zellerbach Rehearsal Stage, just around the corner from the opera house.

Forty children are cast as the Nibelungs, slaves who toil beneath the earth mining gold for the tyrant Alberich. This staging of the Ring cycle sets the story in early America, using imagery from the Gold Rush and the Roaring Twenties. The children mime pulling gold from the walls and ground and then load bags of gold into mining cars, cowering from Alberich and his whip all the while. At the first rehearsal the staff directing the children explain the story and where the children's role fits into it. They explain lots of other good things to know: why the opera is in German, what's so important about gold, and what the kids can expect from the rehearsal schedule. And they make it very clear that the actor playing Alberich is really a very nice man who likes children very much and would never actually hurt them. And the parents are all assuming he has considerable practice using a leather bullwhip and would never accidentally hit a kid.

Sorry these pictures aren't better. I have to shoot from a platform over on the side or a catwalk across the pit and up the wall, without a flash. Yes, I asked permission and was unofficially granted it so long as no one noticed. I haven't taken many pictures at later rehearsals because I assume it would not be ok to photograph the principals as they rehearse with the kids.

The rehearsals are much like I imagine a drama class would be. They start off with stretching, breathing, and other activities to transition the kids from their ordinary day and help them focus on the task at hand. But unlike a children's' drama class, I'm not paying hundreds of dollars (Sophie receives a small stipend that doesn't ever my gas and bridge tolls but that she thinks is enormous). And although I'm sure many high-level drama classes include professional actors, there's something unique about the kids working with people who are actually working. In the interest of encouraging professional behavior, Sophie and I have talked a lot about how for the adults she works with are not there just for fun. These are their jobs, and when they're at rehearsal or performing, they're working. I also remind her that this is not about her, it's about something much larger—the production, the art. I suppose it's just a characteristic of childhood that this is a foreign concept.

The early rehearsals focused mostly on who goes where and basic action.

Sophie was thrilled to be chosen as one of the "ladder kids." She's at the bottom of the second ladder from the right. This will be very handy for picking her out in the performances, when the the kids will be virtually indistinguishable in their identical costumes and makeup.

Later rehearsals have focused more on the "acting" the kids need to do. Since they are enslaved and downtrodden, they walk hunched over on bent legs. They do not smile. This is hard for kids who are thrilled about being on stage. And perhaps most difficult, the bags that are supposed to hold gold really hold pillows. They are veeerrrrrrryyyyy heavy, and it takes two kids to lug each one. They need to be hoisted into the mining cars, not flipped over the shoulder like . . . a pillow. When Alberich cracks his whip, the kids fall to the ground, try to get up, and fall again with each crack of the whip.

At Wednesday's rehearsal, the problem with the smiles was resolved. The director showed up. The fun and games were over; this was the real deal. The kids had been warned that the director had high expectations and would dismiss (permanently) any child who did not pay attention and could not stay in character. This is not a woman who suffers a fool or a rambunctious child. At the beginning she asked "How many fifth graders do we have? [show of hands] Fourth graders? [etc.]" When the answer to "Do we have any kindergartners?" was no, she replied "GOOD!"

At another point she instructed the pianist and others to mark their scores at certain point, noting "Obviously we're going to have to rehearse this with the kids about ten thousand times."

Sophie's head was nearly removed for asking when the next break was (she was hungry—again). She said "Sophie, if you ask questions like that again, I'm going to get really mad." I advised Sophie to consider before she ever asks another question whether she really needs to know the answer right now. The answer to that question will most likely be no, in which case she just needs to ZIP IT. I explained "Do not mess with this woman. In a conflict with her, you will go down."

No kids were dismissed, and the director came around before yesterday's rehearsal and introduced herself to parents and kids individually, which relieved everyone's anxiety. She even told Sophie that she is doing a really great job.

Although we've got a crazy rehearsal and performance schedule for the next several weeks, I'm breathing easier. Sophie has not been dismissed, something I worried about when she was in Macbeth and this time as well. After all, it's not about the children. But I think we've reached that tipping point where we're far enough in rehearsals that to replace her would be more difficult than keeping her. But really, she is doing a great job and has come a long way since the start.

So now we can relax a bit and wonder things like who will wear these shoes?

And will they tip over and hurt themselves? Crazy things, these operas.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What's your weather?

It's raining a lot, the wind is blowing really hard, your house is being blown to bits, and a big wave may be heading your way. 

SO, is it a hurricane, a typhoon, or a cyclone?  Am I the only one who has been wondering this?

Assuming I'm not, I'll tell you the answer, which I just found: Depends on your location. Who knew? Here's the deal.

If you're in the North Atlantic Ocean or thereabouts, it's a hurricane. Right. So when I moved to the Boston area in 1985, we all had to stay home from work to watch Hurricane Gloria on t.v. Really, what we watched was news reports of people storming Star Market to buy milk and toilet paper because that's what people always seem to stock up on in such emergencies. Gloria never really made it to Boston, but  it was very exciting taping up all our windows. 

If you're in the Pacific Ocean area, you've got a typhoon. I really was in one of these. On a ship in the ocean on my way to Japan. Just horrible. Our ship tried to dodge it, but it changed course, and we ran directly into it. My roommate celebrated her 21st birthday the night it struck at Monte Carlo night, and the ship being tossed around like a cork and the shots everyone bought her conspired to cause her to barf all over our room. And I mean ALL OVER. I evacuated to another room down the hall. 

If you're in the Indian Ocean area, you've got a cyclone. And if you've deforested all your mangrove swamps to farm fish and shrimp, you've really got a problem. And I'm kind of concerned I've been contributing to this by eating imported frozen shrimp. Seems when we're paying a little, some people are paying a lot.

You can read more about it here.

In the meantime, it doesn't have to be the end of responsible shrimp eating. Freshwater shrimp farming is less environmentally damaging in part because these shrimp are raised in ponds rather than the saline water of mangrove forests. So check your labels or ask at your fish counter.

All right, I'm descending my soap box. Next post will document Sophie's opera rehearsals, where we'll take you backstage at Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And we have a winner!!!

But let's draw this out as long as we can, alright?

The minute we got home from Sophie's violin lesson, she cut up the the entries (I made a new batch at work today).

Then she decided that they really should go in this lucky pot that she made in her ceramics class. She was right.

In spite of offers of bribes (very tempting), drawing of the winner was completely fair.

Hurray! It's . . .

[moving in for the close-up]

the lovely e! Congratulations to that Lady in the Desert! Email me your address, and your prize will be in the mail! Remember that you're now obligated to host a give away on your blog.

This has been so much fun, and my only regret is that I don't get to interview my most mysterious commenter, mixinmike. But mike, if you're up for it anyway, email me. It would be fun.

Thanks for playing everyone!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Big Fig Limoncello Give Away Update

It's getting close!

There's nothing like a give away to flush out a few lurkers, is there? Thanks to everyone who has entered so far! Sophie will draw the winner tomorrow afternoon, so there's still time to enter.

We're so excited! We can't wait! We want everyone to win!

(Yeah—that's not your limoncello I'm drinking, but I probably do need to get on the stick and make some more.)

Mothers' Day: No brunch,
great opera, bad dinner

Oh, and a great kid who made me a lovely card. I guess that's the most important part, right?

Careful readers will remember that wheels were turning in my head concerning a brunch menu weeks ago. It was to be fabulous: Smoked Salmon Beggar's Purse, Roasted Asparagus, Baked Meringues topped with fresh strawberries glazed with my homemade rose geranium jelly, . . . I was just getting going when the MIL announced that she wanted to take Sophie with her to church that morning for a special Mothers' Day service (really, the MIL think every service is special, so I'm not sure what this meant). I caved since Sophie was to spend the night with her Saturday so Husband and I could celebrate our anniversary at one of our favorite restaurants. Sophie assured me she'd call in the morning to wish me a happy Mothers' Day.

So that morning I sat and stared at the phone. Which did not ring. Several hours later I finally caved in (I know, pathetic) and called over there. No answer. They had left for church and forgotten about me. I know the MIL has been a mother longer than I have, but STILL. And I know I could have gone to church with them, except (a) I am not a supporter of organized religion, (b) church bores the crap out of me, and (c) I was not invited on what clearly seemed to be their outing.

Anywhoo, after a (too) quiet morning, I picked up Sophie and whisked her off for something more to my taste: San Francisco Opera and Cal Performance's production of the The Little Prince at Zellerbach Hall on the Berkeley campus. I bought the tickets month ago when Sophie was in SF Opera's Macbeth, thinking it would be nice for her to see an opera from the audience rather than the stage and enjoy something more suited for children. I didn't realize that the performance was on Mothers' Day, but it was the perfect afternoon activity to enjoy with my girl. She sat still and payed attention throughout, although she quickly moved into my lap so I could whisper the libretto in her ear when she was unable to understand the text of some of the singing. It was a beautiful performance, and I was happy we could enjoy it together.

Warning: Long culinary rant here.

Unfortunately, things went downhill after that. The MIL decided that what she wanted for Mothers' Day was for her sons to take her out to dinner, mistakenly thinking that Sophie and I were going into the city for an evening performance. When it was realized we were in Berkeley for an afternoon performance, we were invited to the dinner. At a restaurant of the MIL's choice, The Cape Cod. (Friends we ran in to at the opera when told of our plans mouthed in silent horror "The Cape Cod???") Yes, The Cape Cod. Which an astute reviewer noted "looks and feels like a rec room and has the musty smell of your basement." Very low cottage cheese decked ceiling round out the experience. What it really reminded me of is eating in the dining room of a nursing home. Many customers shuffle in on their walkers and eat with napkins tucked in like bibs. The fish is fairly fresh (although anything tastes good swimming in the amount of butter they use), but what they do to produce should be illegal. The salad was romaine (not quite iceberg, but close) with shredded carrot, sliced cucumber, and what had to be bottled dressing. Vegetables on the side were a mix of (clearly frozen and then steamed) carrots, cabbage, and broccoli. You can just imagine them opening the bag back in the kitchen. Of course every plate features a large frill of curly parsley. And did I mention the salt? No, but I don't need to, do I? But really, the food was not the worst part. The service was so slow that it took us almost two and a half hours to get out. Not good with a small kids who needs to get home to bed (no time for a bath!). But not everything was the restaurant's fault: Why why why does that family have to order fried calamari every time we go out? The MIL always remarks "Everyone likes that!" Has no one notice that I do not like it? Have never eaten it? On the rare occasion I treat myself to fried food I want it to be something other a substance with the texture of an eraser.

Maybe I'm so bitter because I still haven't forgiven the MIL for her choice of Mothers' Day restaurants two years ago when she carted us to a little breakfast cafe she deemed "charming, just delightful." There was only one entree that did not feature eggs (I do not eat eggs), pancakes. Which were served with fake "maple" syrup and MARGARINE. Yes, margarine. I had to scrape it off.

So here's what we're doing next year: I will wake up AND STAY IN BED. Sophie will bring me breakfast. When I am finished, she will remove dishes, placing them all in the dishwasher. We will then move to the foot massage. Maybe when we get up, we'll go to a performance like we did this year. And then come home again. And eat there. The MIL is welcome to join us, of course.

I hope everyone else had a good Mothers' Day!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Big Fig Limoncello Give Away

I've been experimenting with lemon drop recipes ever since the MIL discovered this beverage and declared it her favorite cocktail. I've come up with some reasonable versions but hit upon the perfect one the last weekend using my newly bottled homemade limoncello. Not too sweet, not too boozy—just right.

And now this beverage can be yours. You can follow my recipe (given in two parts, here and here) or you can win a bottle of my homemade limoncello, two stainless steel camping martini glasses (just because you're camping doesn't mean you should do without some comforts of home), Meyer lemons from my tree, and a lemon drop martini recipe.

Entering is easy! Leave a comment to this post, and you're in. A comment introducing yourself if you're a new commenter would be nice but is not required. Winners will be drawn Wednesday after Sophie comes home from violin.

The terms of winning include the obligation to host your own give away. If you do not have your own blog but would still like to enter, you may do so with the agreement that if you win, I post an interview with you on my blog. I'll then host your give away here at Figs.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My fridge has been tagged

This is almost as bad as the tag to post a picture of oneself first thing in the morning (sans makeup, hair brushing, etc.). The Mrs. got me on this one.

But it's not because my fridge looks so bad. I think it's quite nice, both outside

and in. A quick tour of the highlights (that's part of the tag). Top compartment of the door: That's where the cheese lives. Three bottom drawers: These house the veggies. The shelves contain lots of jars of homemade preserves, sauces, dressings, etc., among other things. And you can't see it, but there's a carton of organic skim milk. After wine, that's my favorite beverage.

The freezer could use a little organization, but I don't think there's anything in there over five years old.

There's lots of good stuff to eat in there, and I'm happy to report that we never suffer from having nothing to fix for dinner.

What's embarrassing is that there is more. As in more fridges (yep—plural). Stay with me here. There's the one in the garage.

Husband is in the construction business, and back when he was more in the building than the management side of things he often "acquired" major appliances from homeowners who were getting new ones and simply wanted the old one "gone." They assumed their old appliances were going to the dump; Husband quietly hauled them home to our house (sometimes easily confused with the dump, I'll grant). This fridge is officially "the beverage fridge." It's great for storing beer, white wine, fizzy water, and the sodas we occasionally offer guests (we don't drink them) but no one ever accepts (there's usually a better, alcoholic option that most people prefer). Other items such as produce box overflow end up here as well. And, no, I didn't buy strawberries in one of those evil plastic boxes. Someone brought them over, and here they still are. 

But wait, there's more. And it's much worse. Behold, the front yard freezer.

Seriously. But before you panic, allow me to point out that our house has a reversed layout: the yard part is in the front, with a redwood fence around it. In the back is a brick patio, behind which is a steep drop-off down to the next street (great for privacy but not particularly usable space). My point is that the fridge is not visible from the street. I think this is important. This appliance Husband hauled from right across the street when the house there was being sold and the owners wanted the freezer gone. I know it's lavish in terms of energy usage, but it really is a beautiful thing for me. In it is currently two several gallon tubs of spaghetti sauce left over from a school event (we combined meat and marinara; it will get served next month at open house), tubs of homemade chicken stock, loaves of focaccia (also left over from a school event; I should probably huck these), coffee left over from a school event (there's a pattern here, no?), and various meat and poultry, among other handy food items. And yeah, I know it needs to be defrosted. We're waiting until after open house when the spag. sauce clears out. 

OK, so there you have it. 

Coming up after I return from Sophie's class camp out (tomorrow and part of Friday morning) will be the Big Fig Giveaway. Since I was the winner of Trish's giveaway, I am now to host a giveaway of my own. And what have I been waiting for? The bottling of my homemade limoncello. Stay tuned.