Monday, June 30, 2008

Good things in a goodbye

Sunday night was the closing the San Francisco Opera's Das Rheingold. It was time for a little cake
and a few goodbyes to people Sophie had grown very fond of, her stage managers.

And while I've grown weary of driving over the bridge and late nights with a young child, Sophie and I both left the opera house basement with a sense of regret. We like that place. We hope she'll be cast again but know it might not be for a while. Children are not featured in many operas for obvious reasons. The next production with a large cast of children is The Bonesetter's Daughter, based on Amy Tan's book. The call went out a while ago . . . for Asian children. Maybe next time.

But the fact that we take a piece of our experience with us was obvious as we left. Sophie stopped at the stage door, looked up at the monitor, which was still broadcasting the continuing performance, and insisted "We have to wait! This is my favorite part!" She bounced back and forth on her toes and hummed a few bars of the music that plays when the bridge comes down and the gods depart. I didn't even know she knew it.

Driving home through the city, tired but happy, we saw that the columns on the front of the Opera House were lit up in rainbow colors for the Gay Pride weekend, always an important event but this year even more so following the California Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage. Could it really be true that marriage will be about love not ideology based on ignorance, hate, and fear? That we are finally moving from intolerance to tolerance and finally to acceptance? Who knows, if this is possible, maybe we will soon have a president who wages peace instead of war and helps heal wounds and divisions. And in spite of all the bad news, I felt a gentle optimism as I watched my child moved by art and a city moved by love.

What the Figs eat when they camp

I like to think I married an intelligent man, but sometimes Husband makes that challenging. For example, I am planning the food for our upcoming camping trip. We will be driving up through the Grand Tetons (Big Tits in French—George Carlin would like that) and Yellowstone and then meeting my family in Montana for a week at a guest ranch to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. Once we get to the ranch, we're fed, entertained (taken fishing, placed on horseback, floated on rafts, and hiked up and down various peaks), so no need to plan for that, but for the roughly nine days before we get there, we're eating at my camp kitchen.

To make this more of a family project, I asked Sophie and Husband to suggest meals they might like. Husband even went to far as to add his suggestions to a list of items and tasks he was typing out. He suggested barbecued chicken (good) and . . . casserole. WTF???
HUSBAND: Yes, casserole. I like your casseroles.
ME: And just what did you have in mind? Lasagna??
HUSBAND: That. And I thought maybe your moussaka. You could make it beforehand [a great idea because we know I have nothing else to do].
ME: Did you notice that I usually warm something like this up in an OVEN? Are we now bringing an OVEN? Or maybe I should use my MAGIC COOKING WAND.
HUSBAND: So maybe not casseroles then.

Here's what we're going to have (not necessarily in this order):

1. chili*
shredded cheese
skillet corn bread, butter and honey

2. barbecued chicken w/herb and garlic rub
orzo with pesto*

3. hamburgers stuffed w/ basil and fresh mozzarella*
baked beans

4. tacos: carne asada, Mexican cheese, onion, cilantro, salsa
cabbage slaw

5. grilled marinated chicken breasts
sauteed greens

6. tacos: carnitas*, Mexican cheese, onion, cilantro, salsa
cabbage slaw

7. pasta puttanesca
sauteed zucchini

8. grilled pizza: mozzarella, asiago, chevre, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, prosciutto

9. leftovers

And we usually have a green salad with all dinners.

* These items I have prepared and frozen.




dinner leftovers
tuna sandwiches
ski house pannini sandwiches (cambazola, prosciutto, pear, arugula)

We'll take two coolers: the fridge and the freezer, the latter of which will be packed with dry ice. Honestly, I'm not trying to make things more complicated than they need to be, but I want to spend my vacation relaxing, hiking, etc., not grocery shopping. But I haven't done my final shop yet, and I'm open to suggestions. Any good camping menus out there?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My husband is absolutely
positively going on vacation

My husband works with a bunch or workaholics who are a little shaky on the concept of recreation. They work late; they work weekends; they rarely go anywhere. They don't have young children, do volunteer work, or do much of anything besides go to work.

We're about to leave on a two and a half week vacation. He's been telling them this for ages, but I'm not totally sure they believe him.

We're hoping this addition to his vehicle for the next week will help.

Also, it's so damned heavy, I don't want to have to help him hoist it up there one more time than I absolutely have to. Here is my contribution to the trip:

Wheels for the battleship.

I will return them with the canoe to a friend who has assured me I will henceforth be granted canoe loans for life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Advice sought: Jr. foot funk

Most days Sophie wears these cute and lovely L.L. Bean shoes to school or camp. They look smart, are comfortable, stay on when she runs, and hold up to wading in and out of the creek that runs through the school property (their main piece of playground equipment in warmer weather).

The problem: THE SMELL. Worse than a pair of stinky Tevas. After a few days of wear without socks (best for creek wading), we can hardly keep them in the house any longer. It smells like something died. The other day she took them off in the car, and I almost drove off the road. And it seems to be getting worse. . . .

What to do? They go through the wash well, and the problem is solved for a short time. What I'm wondering is is there is any way to extend the period before which they start to reek again. Can I spray Lysol in them? Febreeze? I'm not excited about either of those substances against her skin. Can I dump baking soda in them? Do they make children's Odor Eaters?? I'm worried about our upcoming camping trip where we will be without a washing machine for two weeks.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

In which we go to an opera cast party
and some old bag is rude to my child

The other day when Sophie reported to her opera performance (never, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd be shrieking at my daughter "You need to go to bed NOW!! You have OPERA tomorrow!!!"), I was handed this pretty card. "Lovely," I thought. "The American Ring . . . Half Dome. Very nice. We'll add it to the opera folder."

However, my fellow stage mom pointed out that it was an invitation.

Heaven help us: The child supernumeraries and their parents were invited to a cast party following Saturday's matinee performance. The party would take place in the Opera Cafe, just off the basement of the Opera House. Fine, but I was worried by the small print:

The cast party is an exclusive benefit for donors at the Principal Patron and above giving levels.

If you're a mom, does that set off warning bells or what? But my friend insisted "Our children are well behaved! And they wouldn't have given us an invitation if they didn't want the children to come." I still wasn't convince this wasn't someone's idea of a sick joke, but I agreed any way.

But it was mostly fine. The children enjoyed trying to recognize the principals out of costume and makeup and ask them to autograph programs.

Here is Sophie chatting up Donald Runnicles, the opera's music director and the conductor of this program ("the maestro!!" she keeps reminding me).

I enjoyed touring the cafe and finding a photograph of my fantasy husband, the truly-fabulous-in-every-way Thomas Hampson.

After a while, we settled down with our cheese cubes, strawberries, and glasses of wine (such were the refreshments) to hear Donald Runnicles and several members of the cast say a few words. It was here that the fine print came into play. Whereas the remarks were clearly aimed at the donors (thank you thank you for giving us buckets of money), not a single one of whom looked under seventy-five, there was apparently some confusion on the part of the woman seated behind us.

No, she's not in this photo. This is just to give an idea of the demographic.

She seemed to have focused on the word exclusive and mistakenly thought that the event was exclusively for her and her ilk. The daggers shooting out of her eyes in the direction of our table clearly indicated that she did not believe that children belonged at this event. Had she dozed off in the production and failed to notice that there were children in the production and that this was a cast party?

The children didn't notice the glares, but even they could not ignore her ridiculously loud shushing whenever they made the slightest noise such as moving a chair. She in fact made more noise than they did. And what was really a shame is that the kids were truly on their best behavior. We had coached them to wait until a grownup was finished with a conversation before asking for an autograph, to take only three cubes of cheese and two strawberries, to be respectful of the privilege of being at such a fancy adult event.

What was up with this woman? Was it just because she was old and cranky? Suffering from a serious case of over-entitlement? Probably a combination. I restrained myself from having a word with her, reasoning that she had probably just donated six million dollars to the opera and would have my child barred from any future performances if I told her what an ass she was being. I just turned around, looked directly at her to let her know I was aware of the disturbance she was creating, and smiled pleasantly.

But what I would still really like to say to her, hoping sensitive readers and the good people at BlogHerAds will forgive me, is


Goodness, I feel positively refreshed. So good to get that out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vin de Peche: Something to make

One of my favorite food books is this one by Georgeanne Brennan. She lives half the year in Provence and half the year on a small farm in northern California and is the author of the classic The Glass Pantry: Preserving Seasonal Flavors.

I was lucky enough to take a class from her at Sur la Table on preserving seasonal flavors. I had been pickling and preserving for years, but what she really turned me on to was making infused wines using seasonal ingredients. My Vin d'Orange—made from orange peels roasted until caramelized and then soaked in a mixture of red wine, vodka, sugar, and vanilla bean— has been a hit in our house for years, but I had yet to try any of her springtime recipes.

Her Vin de Peche, made with young peach leaves, sounded divine. Finding said leaves proved difficult. A call to my co-workers turned up an address for a tree near my house, only to find from the owners of the house that it was an apricot tree. I was in an experimental mode and unsure of whether I would find peach leaves, so I decided to use the apricot leaves in the Vin de Peche recipe. I used a dry Riesling, adding vodka, a vanilla bean, and a cinnamon stick. It will be ready to strain and bottle when we return from our Montana trip in late July.

In the meantime, my co-worker (extremely apologetic for missteering me) located what he was sure this time was a peach tree. Sophie and I retrieved leaves this afternoon, and they are now soaking in a Sauvignon Blanc. This batch will be ready for bottling in August.

Here are the two batches, running about a month apart. It will be fun to taste them side by side at the end of summer. And it will be even more fun to open a bottle in the middle of winter to savor a taste of summer past.

If you have a peach tree with fruit not yet ripened, give it a try. Here's the recipe.

6 cups young peach leaves, picked in early summer before any fruit has ripened, carefully rinsed and dried

5 bottles dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or a French-style rose

1/2 quart vodka

2 cups granulated sugar

Combine all ingredients in a clean, dry glass jar. Cover and store in a cool, dark place for 45 days, stirring every day for the first week to ten days or until the sugar has dissolved. At the end of the 45 days, strain using a fine-mesh sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Discard the leaves. Bottle and seal. [I like to use sparkling lemonade bottles with a ceramic caged top.]

Store bottles in a cool, dark place. The wine is ready to drink immediately but will keep for a year.

Serve slightly chilled or with ice cubes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sophie has a new hair cut

Swimming every day at summer camp had fried the ends of her hair to a crisp. It was not a good look. And I was tired of battling her every morning over combing out the tangles.

This will be better for swimming, better for camping. She can brush it herself. And I think it looks nice with the new glasses she made at camp.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cody's closes its doors, and a bit of Berkeley is gone

Does it ever seem like you blink and you miss something really important? Last week I did. I had a doctor appointment on Friday and so didn't go to the gym at lunch. And didn't walk past Cody's, a bookstore that has been a Berkeley institution for over fifty years, weathering the tear gas of the free speech movement, surviving being fire bombed for carrying Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, and providing the unique service and service that only a local independent bookstore can.

Cody's is in the background of this shot of the National Guard marching on People's Park during the 1969 riots.

And so I didn't know that on Friday Cody's closed their last store for the last time.

When I read of Cody's demise in the weekend San Francisco Chronicle, I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I had bought a book there last month (The Little Prince for Sophie), and I had planned a spree to stock up on books for my upcoming vacation. I had a list, but I was too late.

The corny Tony Bennett song tells of leaving one's heart in San Francisco, but I left mine in Berkeley, over a decade ago when I lived in Washington, D.C. and took a trip down the California coast with a girlfriend from college and her husband. I spent my first evening in Berkeley at Cody's listening to Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest; thrower of parties that provided literary inspiration for Allen Ginsburg and Hunter S. Thompson; and the leader of the Merry Pranksters, whose cross country bus trip Tom Wolfe memorialized in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kesey was reading from his book Sailor Song, slugging what was rumored to be peppermint schnapps from a thermos. He was absolutely lit an hour into the reading. And while I'm not one to extol the virtues of substance abuse, it was impossible not to notice that the creative juices were roiling. This was clearly a man on the path of his own destruction, but what a time he was having on the way. He finished his selection from the book (which no one really wanted to hear anyway) and quickly departed to stories of the Pranksters, the bus, old friends, and old times (which everyone wanted to hear). I was just discovering the Beat writers, having spent an afternoon in the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco and leaving with a stack of titles including Ginsberg's Howl, Kerouac's On the Road, and a biography of Neal Cassady. Seeing one of their gang in the flesh was an amazing cap. I came back to pick up my heart several months later after securing the job I had interviewed for the day of that reading and then driving myself across the country to settle in a place I could finally call home.

In the first years I lived in Berkeley, a boyfriend and I would spend an evening wandering down Telegraph Avenue from bookstore to bookstore: Cody's, Moe's, Shakespeare. We would stop for a latte and later a taco and consider it a perfect evening. Over the years, my book buying habits changed. I was no longer willing to battle for parking, step over the homeless, and hold my breath through a cloud of patchouli to shop at the Telegraph Avenue location. I patronized their store on the posh, upscale Fourth Street, where I could park next to the building and combine a trip with stops at Benefits to buy fancy cosmetics and the gourmet shop to pick up my favorite black flaked salt and expensive cheese.

The death march was slow: First the Telegraph flagship store, then the Fourth Street store, and finally the much-reduced and only briefly existing Shattuck Avenue store. There are still independent bookstores with selections chosen by an actual person rather than a corporate office and staff who can recommend books and talk with you about them rather than an indifferent teenager who knows only how to work a cash register, but there are fewer all the time. And with the Big Kahuna of our area gone, how long will the others last?

Over the years, everyone who was anyone read at Cody's. The portraits exhibited of authors who passed through included all the greats. Where do those voices go when the independent bookstores are all gone? There are quotes and reviews on, but there are no voices of writers reading their works, just the clacking of keys and click of the mouse as people navigate through screens in isolation. That direct connection between writers and readers is gone. Berkeley has gained another empty storefront, with only echoes of those voices that a decade ago read to crowds pushed up against the walls and spilling into the street. With chain retailers and internet sites like we've gained cheaper books and free shipping, but look what we've lost.

Thank you Fred Cody, Andy Ross, and Hiroshi Kagawa for fifty-two good years.

What were those seven words?
RIP, George Carlin

When I heard George Carlin had died, I wracked my brain trying to remember the list. I knew them once, but after all, those of us who remember George Carlin are getting old too.

Do you remember them? Do you remember him?

Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits

Ah, yes. I had most of them but not in the right order. And I completely forgot Tits.

What I didn't remember was the rest of the piece, which is a fine meditation on the power of words and the folly of man.
I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They're my work, they're my play, they're my passion. Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought and we're stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal, it is a matter of how you pick them.

There are some people that are not into all the words. There are some that would have you not use certain words. There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7 of them you can't say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They'd have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you 7, Bad Words. That's what they told us they were, remember? "That's a bad word!" No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions, and words. You know the 7, don't you, that you can't say on television? "Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits" Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that'll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.

I don't think anyone ever wins a war any more, but if we could stop having them, I'd clean up my language. In the meantime, I love me a bad word. They're words, and I can use them if I want to.

Thanks, George.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Figs and Fabric: Bad news

I really love table linens (they're sort of related to food, you know) and have thought that by learning to sew I could make some things like napkins. I was particularly inspired by the woman who organized the staff appreciation luncheon at Sophie's school. We set up this event down in the redwood grove next to the school and really do it up with china, silver, fresh flowers, and beautiful table linens. The organizer has the most amazing collection of table linens that she brings for us to use. What I really like about her settings is that there is no matchy-matchy. She mixes it all up and achieves the most perfect looks.

This was one of my favorites.

So I finally bought a table runner I've been eying for ages at this amazing store but resisting since buying the matching napkins would be prohibitively expensive. Since I have this (admittedly delusional) idea that I can sew, I figured I could make napkins that would look nice with the runner.

Here's my new runner (look, figs!) and the fabric I picked out for napkins.

But I thought I should log a little more practice on mitered corners before I lit into my lovely new fabric. I had some scraps left over from my (successful!) pillow project and figured I could make some beverage coasters. Following my instructions, I realized this is more of a measuring and ironing project. Great. I also bought a right-angle measuring device and have a totally kick-ass steam iron.

I loaded a new bobbin, threaded my machine, and sewed up the seams. They weren't as straight as I would have liked, but I cut myself a break since I am practicing on something smaller and with thicker fabric that likes to unweave itself. I also decided I didn't like the fact that the mitered corners weren't sewn inside, so I'm going to change this on the napkins.

But then I turned it over.

WTF??!! I picked out the seam and sewed it again. SAME PROBLEM. I sewed some seams on more scrap fabric: fine. Back on my coaster: Fucked up again. WHAT IS GOING ON???
Anyone? Anyone??
Maybe I should stay in the kitchen.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Is it hot at your house?

It is hot at my house. And there is only one good thing about that.

Oh, and also our outdoor shower. Nothing beats showering beneath the moon and the redwoods, even on a night like this.

Grilling over at the Figs

Yes—Husband did make Sophie chicken soup from scratch the other night when I was sick. Because she asked for it and because he says it's important she know he can make things other than really good popcorn in the wok.
Here it is.
And while I would have peeled the potatoes and I like a little finer dice to my vegetables, my verdict is . . . not bad at all. In fact, with a little salt, quite good. Hurray for Husband!
In the meantime, temperatures have heated up, and it is decidedly not soup weather. I cannot turn on the oven; I must grill. This is one of the easiest ways to grill a chicken breast. The marinade gives just the right amount of flavor and moistness to this piece of poultry that can easily dry out and lose flavor.


Whisk together equal parts

fresh squeezed lime juice
low-sodium soy sauce
canola oil

Add minced garlic.
Marinate chicken for an hour. Grill.
See? I said it was easy.
I served it with this recipe, which I modified from a recipe for a shrimp and white bean salad. With grilled shrimp, it's a great entree; without, it's a nice side. Notee this: The stove does not come on.


2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain fat-free yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoon fresh chopped dill
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped fennel bulb
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion or scallions
2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
Cool, creamy, and not ridiculously fattening.

I also served this, which we eat all summer long: fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozarella, balsamic vineagrette, and my favorite flaked black salt.

And of course dinner is not dinner at the Fig house without this:

Enjoy and stay cool.

What my child is learning at summer camp

Um . . . I'm not quite sure. Ebonics, maybe? I thought everyone agreed this was a bad idea that benefited no one. Apparently not everyone received the memo. Or if they did, they ignored it. 

Yesterday I dropped Sophie off her summer camp, run by enthusiastic and well-trained teenagers on the local university campus. They start each morning by assembling with their group for the week (e.g., Cubs group 5) under the appropriate sign on the tennis courts. It's a delightful scene: parents mill about greeting each other, music plays, and children often gather in the middle for a run through of the Cha Cha Slide. Then one of the counselors gets on the microphone, wishes everyone a good morning, and goes over what excellent things are in store for the day. Yesterday's counselor pointed out that Friday would be something like official Fun Day but noted that they would keep the fun and the learnation going strong throughout the present day.

Yes, you read that right: LEARNATION, meaning—I can only assume—she is going to LEARN something. So my child is going to camp to get some learnerating. If she goes back to school in the fall and calls her teacher a learnerator, I am just going to die. 

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hand me that Mother of the Year award RIGHT FRIGGIN' NOW, please

Some of my readers have said the nicest things about my parenting, but really the truth is I just have a great kid (most of the time). As I parent, I am unbelievably inadequate in many ways. To give a few examples: I have a mercurial temper, I swear like a sailor, I do not have a universal love of children (I like many of them once I get to know them, but as a group? Eh.), I hate going to the park, and I refuse to sign up my daughter for soccer (the season conflicts with my our skiing. Plus, those soccer games? Booo-ring.

But yesterday I really pulled it out. I almost died for my kid. Here's what happened.

I woke up feeling just dandy (per usual) but by midmorning decided I was feeling very undandy and went home to climb into bed. I had some kind of stomach bug. I broke our family ban on soda by consuming a glass of ginger ale (hid away for circumstances such as this), which I promptly barfed up. Sorry if that's too much information, but we're talking about illness here. Anywhoo, I was "enjoying" an afternoon of lying in bed repeating the cycle of read, sleep, barf, repeat when I realized I had told Sophie I would pick her up at summer camp early to take her to her violin lesson. The second to last lesson before her recital, so an important one (recall that I whore her out to the SF Opera so I can see free opera, so I've become a bit of a stage mom). Plus I had told her to be ready to go early, and unlike me, she never forgets anything, so she would be waiting and worry if I did not show.

So I peeled myself out of bed and staggered to the car— armed with a handful of plastic produce bags. The cycle was now drive, pull over, barf into bag, recline in seat for a minute, repeat. I pulled up to the camp office and had to spend 15 minutes negotiating the track-down of my kid. (She's up at swimming! No—she's over at soccer now!) "Fine," I told them, "I am sick and absolutely cannot get out of this car. I need some assistance here. You need to send someone to get her down here." I could tell by the looks on their faces they were scared. For all they knew I could be going through heroin withdrawal.

I finally got Sophie in the car and drove her to her lesson. Usually I sit right beside her so I can help micromanage her lesson (really, it's so I can ride her ass when she practices at home), but I sent her in by herself and pulled the car around to a shady spot so I could barf in peace. After the longest two hours in history, I got home and crawled back in bed, with the feeling that for once I had really nailed the mom thing. For once.

Sophie got me all set up in bed: water with a bendy straw, a bell to ring for service, and a thermometer. My 101 degree fever broke later that night, and by morning my stomach was mostly settled. Thanks goodness because I am absolutely convinced that Husband could not get Sophie's backpack and lunch adequately packed for camp. She could probably do it herself in a pinch, but him? No way. Although he did make chicken soup from scratch for dinner last night. Or so he says. I'll give my verdict when I taste it tonight. At any rate, Sophie proclaimed it "delicious!" Did I mention that he served it at 9:00 at night? I had to ring my bell furiously to admonish Sophie to hurry up, eat, and get to bed—immediately (probably her first five-syllable word).

I'm back at work but still a little queasy. The food post I have on deck will remain there until I'm feeling a little better. Preview: chicken marinade for dummies and white bean salad that is so good you won't care if it gives you gas.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My birthday: What I had to eat

It's sort of an obsession of mine: Whenever someone has an event or occasion, I want to know "What did you have to eat?" I worry about this a little and wonder in amazement that I'm not the size of a house, so I was glad that a friend who sent birthday wishes asked "What did you have to eat?" It's good to know I'm not alone.

Here's the Peking duck I had at my birthday dinner Friday night hosted by the MIL at Great China. Determined not suffer another meal at a restaurant the MIL thought was "nice," I stamped my foot a little to insist on being taken here. She agreed the food was excellent. In my book, that's all that really matters.

Hiding beneath that perfectly crisped duck skin is an enormous pile of tender, lean duck meat. Sophie gave everyone at the table a demonstration of how to assemble and eat this dish.

Last night at home, I celebrated my actual birthday by doing what I like most: messing around in the kitchen. Several months ago I had taken a run at petit fours, or fairy cakes, as Sophie likes to call them. I had actually taken a class on petit fours, but in the class we made only a chocolate poured coating. We were sent home with a recipe for a poured fondant coating that the teacher assured us would work just as well. NOT. Something went dreadfully wrong, and I ended up with a big gloppy mess that tasted like crap. I was so discouraged, I wrapped up the rest of my cake (delicious: layered with marzipan, buttercream, and raspberry preserves) and threw it in the freezer. I decided to take it out last night and try again but this time with the help of blog pal Jen over at use real butter. She made a poured fondant that was just the look I wanted, and I trusted her not to lead me astray.

I followed instructions carefully. So far, so good.

The addition of both vanilla and almond extracts improves the flavor, but Jen's right that the vanilla gives it a grey tint. A drop of red food coloring turns it a lovely pink and solves the problem.

I messed with the consistency by adding a little more water and fussed with the temperature until I got something that was smooth and pourable. No glops! But I still wasn't getting quite the coverage I wanted. Next time I'll make my cake not quite as tall, which will help, but in the meantime, loading the fondant into a squeeze bottle helped.

OK, so they don't look nearly as lovely as Jen's, but I'm on a roll. Sophie and even Husband were delighted with them, and Sophie and I are pretty sure she'll be the only child at summer camp today with a petit four in her lunch.

For dinner I made a lemon pizza, modified from a recipe my friend Matt snagged off the Food Network website. Matt makes his on a grill, but since I didn't have any of the nonstick foil he recommended and it wasn't too hot, so I made mine in the oven. I started with Matt's excellent dough and slightly modified the Food Network's recipe for toppings.



2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn meal
2 teaspoons salt
1 packet dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water
pinch of sugar or honey to activate yeast

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix with a fork. Turn out on floured board and knead briefly. Place in bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until nearly doubled. I can never get dough to rise in my kitchen without putting it in the oven. My gas pilot light gives just the right temperature.

When dough is finished rising, roll out very thin. Place on pizza pan or baking sheet that has been coated with a thin layer of olive oil and corn meal.


2 tablespoon of heavy cream (I used half and half)
fresh mozzarella
sweet onion, thinly sliced
lemon, half juiced, half sliced
parmesan, shredded or grated
fresh mint, chopped

Brush crust with cream and then layer mozzarella, prosciutto, onion, lemon slices, and parmesan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

Bake at 500 degree for about 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped mint.
This went nicely with a green salad. And did I mention I started off with a glass of Prosecco? It was nice on its own, but I'm looking forward to pairing it up with the white peaches that are just hitting the market for one of my favorite summertime bevs., the Bellini. Stay tuned. 

Monday, June 16, 2008

Trader Joe's helps celebrate my birthday

Trader Joe's is an excellent establishment. They have lots of crackers, cheese, cereal, inexpensive prosciutto that is entirely adequate for many uses, reasonably priced organic meats, kosher chicken, my favorite lavender bath salt scrub, and lots of booze. The checkers are quick and courteous, rarely failing to ask whether I found everything I was looking for. But yesterday they really outdid themselves. THEY CARDED ME. As in asked for my identification to determine that I was old enough to buy alcohol. THE DAY BEFORE MY 46TH BIRTHDAY (which is thus today). I couldn't decide whether to burst into tears or do a line of cartwheel through the frozen foods, so I just thanked the lad . . . several times. Who knows, maybe they've upped the limit at which they are instructed to card people to anyone who looks under 45. Or maybe he thought I looked a little tired and could use a lift. I didn't ask. At my age, you've got to take it where you can. 

And about that age. The downhill side to 50.  I'll tell you, it's not all hilarious. The wrinkles you catch in the mirror out of the side of your eye. The hands that look like they belong to someone else. The weight you can simply not run or spin off. But I'll take it. Four years ago when I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I asked my doctor "Will I be ok???" His answer was a brutally honest "You know I can't give you an answer to that." It turned out further biopsies, dissections, etc. proved his prediction concerning the nature of my cancer wrong. Turns out you can have a very large tumor that is not invasive. I lost a breast but kept my hair. He now tells me chances are very good that I am going to be just fine and live a long time. But I spent a couple of months around this very time of year between tests not knowing. And I remember so clearly that birthday where the only thing I wanted was more birthdays. So bring them on. Happy birthday to me. 

p.s.—Please do your monthly self-exam. Right now would be fine.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sophie flys away

Friday was Sophie's last day of second grade. The end of a school year is always a remarkable time, but this year is different for all of us. She has been in a K-1-2 class with the same beloved teacher. At the end of this year, she said goodbye to him as a student for the last time. She'll see him lots next year, but her time in the room of childhood magic is done. She'll move on to many wonderful opportunities and challenges, but she'll leave behind the Imagination Center, the number gnomes, the story of the week each Monday, and the Thanksgiving feast. Hardest of all, she'll leave behind a teacher she admires, respects, and truly loves.

I'll be forever in his debt for talking me off the wall last year when Sophie still wasn't reading very well, telling me that when a child reads is no indication of how smart they are. They read when they are developmentally ready; Sophie's time had not yet come, but it would come soon, and the best thing I could do was relax and enjoy what she was doing well and let the reading come on it's own. It came earlier this year in a big burst, and it's been something in which she takes great joy. And I've fostered plenty behavior improvement by asking "Would you say that to Jim??" or "What do you think Jim would have to say about that??"

Jim is a big one for rituals, so of course the year closed with one that helped us look both back and forward with appreciation. He and the children dressed in white and gathered down in an area just beyond their playground called The Grove, inside a ring of redwoods.

The children sit in a circle, and Jim leads them in each sharing things like what they learned, what they liked most, and what they're looking forward to in the summer.

The special guests at the ceremony are three homing pigeons, who Jim says will show the children how to fly. He introduces each bird and passes it around for the children to gently touch and wish well and then tosses it to the sky.

When all three birds are gone, it's time for the children to fly away for the summer, one by one.

There were lots of goodbyes, and Sophie and I stayed for much of the afternoon while I helped with the staff appreciation luncheon. At the end of the day, it was just the two of us, and we started a ritual of our own. I'm out at school quite a lot and always admire the creek that runs through the campus, but I always seem to busy to do anything other than that. On this last day I asked Sophie to take me down to the creek (the kids know all the paths down the banks since this is where they do much of their play). The two us us say down there and did what I've wanted to do all year: Cool our feet in the gently flowing water.

We sat for a while in silence, something pretty rare at an elementary school. We talked a little about what a great year it was and how proud I am of her. And concluded with an agreement: See you right here next year.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mixing Memes

I love being tagged for memes (evidence that someone's reading, right?), but I've been absolutely lame about holding up my end of the deal lately. In the past week I've been tagged by two of my favorite bloggers, Monica and Katie, and I'm only just now getting around to things. What's more, I'm combining their memes. Is that legal?? Not that that's ever stopped me before.

Here we go:

What were you doing ten years ago?
I was honeymooning on Maui (I know—how unoriginal to honeymoon in Hawaii, but I had never been before, and Husband had fun showing me all the place he had traveled to in his former life as a Windsurf Bum).

What are five non-work things on your to-do list for today?
1. Take the cat the vet (he's having his teeth cleaned)
2. Pick up wine for the teacher appreciation lunch at Sophie's school
3. Leave work early to help set up the lunch
4. Take the principal's six-year-old daughter to lunch with Sophie and I so he can enjoy his lunch (she's here on a visit from out of town)
5. Pick up birthday gift for my sister-in-law
Oh, snap—we're out of items, and I haven't even picked up the cat yet!

What snacks do you enjoy?
1. almonds
2. fruit
3. breakfast cereal
4. olives
5. cheese

Who emails you regularly?
1. My lovely authors, some of them ALL THE TIME
2. Various typesetting vendors and freelance editors
3. My P.T.A. veep and pal
4. A friend who is convinced that the financial markets are collapsing and that he must keep all his friends up-to-date on his theory (he's retired)

What four things do you do almost every day without fail?
1. Cook
2. Read
3. Blog
4. Plan (I am nothing if not usually prepared)

Four places you'd rather be?
1. Skiing in Chile
2. Eating in Istanbul
3. Snoozing in the Greek Islands
4. Hiking in the mountains

What would you do if you were a billionaire?
1. Start giving it away. It can't be healthy to have that much. But I'd leave enough to 
2. Finish work on my house
3. Buy a house in Tahoe
4. Ski constantly
5. Have Husband retire so he can spend his time making wine, keeping bees, growing roses, and driving Sophie all over the place.
Wait! Do I still have money left to buy a farm??

Where have you lived?
1. Newport Beach, CA
2. Somerville, MA
3. State College, PA
4. Washington, DC
5. Berkeley, CA

What jobs have you had?
1. Taco girl (I prepared and sold tacos out a window to summer tourists)
2. Sales person (I sold preppy clothing to tourists who had probably just finished a taco)
3. Admin. assistant (what I learned there has come in very handy)
4. Graduate assistant (not a great time in my life but I acquired the skills to land me in the job I have today)
5. Editor (if we weren't on such a tight nonprofit budget, I would have an assistant—that feels nice)

So that's it. Wait! A posts without a picture? No possible. Here's what's been on my mind lately:

One of the most lovely areas of our state is burning, and friends of ours live right in the middle of it. We knew from looking at a map that they were evacuated, but as of yesterday, no one up here had heard from them. Another friend of ours finally got a phone call later yesterday saying that they are ok and that they sneaked back in to their property (so typical of these guys) and found that their house is still standing. Here's hoping humidity levels rise, winds don't shift, and luck holds for them. 

While my mind has been consumed with worry for them, in the back has lurked the thought "If we were evacuated and had a short amount of time to collect belongings, what would we take?" Really, I should think about this more often. We live right on the edge of a regional park, and a fire coming through the canyon would be hard to stop. Every summer when the hills dry out and the winds come up, I wonder "Will this be the year I lose me house?" I need to work on that packing list. What would you take?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I do the cooking around here

Last night I was off to attend a school board meeting (I sit in on most of them as a representative of our P.T.A.-like group—that way they can't complain about us, at least not at the meeting). Usually these nights I race home and cook most of dinner for Husband and Sophie, leaving little PostIts around the kitchen on pot lids and covered plates that read things like " Steam these," "Grill this" and on the counter with instructions to "See stove for side dish." But last night we had to meet right before I had to leave at Sophie's modern dance class for their final presentation of their work. So I instructed Husband to take Sophie to the market, where they could decide together what they wanted to prepare for dinner. I think it's important that she realize we are both capable of putting a meal on the table. 

Here are the leftovers from said dinner:

Anything missing here? How about some COLOR? We have grilled trout, grilled scallops, boiled potatoes (served with butter), and steamed turnips (served with olive oil). They finished with a salad, which I'm assuming was green, but the dinner plate? I always think a little color is nice.

On of my favorite things green this time of year is roasted zucchini. This method prevents the zucs from turning soft and mushy as they are roasted by leeching out extra water beforehand.


Preheat oven the 450 degrees.

You can cut up the zucchini any way you want, but I always like a roll cut.

Place the cut up zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with a liberal amount of salt. Place colander in the sink and leave for about 15 to 20 minutes. 

Without rinsing, wrap zucchini in a dish towel and press to squeeze out as much water as possible.

Place zucchini in a large bowl and toss with olive oil and chopped garlic. Spread zucchini on a rimmed baking sheet.

Roast for about 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

I like to serve with fresh lime and perhaps a little of my favorite flaked black salt (you don't need much since it was already salted to draw off the water). I also sometimes add some fresh oregano if I have it.

I know the thought of cranking up the oven like this sounds unappealing on a hot day. You could also use the salting technique, skewer them, and roast on a grill. And because the zucchini retain their firmness, they're good cold the next day with a tzatziki. 

I'm relieved that we've seen the last of winter greens for a while and mourning the end of the asparagus season, reflecting that it really sucks that the vegetable I prefer the least has a season that goes on forever and the one I love the most is here and gone in a flash. But I love zucchini somewhere in the middle and appreciate that there's so much you can do with it, so I'm not cross with it for hanging around. If you have enough space and heat to grow silly amounts in your yard, don't complain to me.