Thursday, February 26, 2009

The show goes on, and I see a rainbow

Hurray!! A resolution to a recent conflict involving my high school. THE KIDS GET THEIR SHOW. Although I still think she's lying about her original position, the principal has agreed to  support the drama department's spring production of RENT.

Think public opinion had anything to do with this? I don't think there's a chance in hell this show would have gone on without substantial pressure from students, parents, and alumni and national media attention. Thank you New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Huff Po (which quoted me—thanks, Ryan!), and Facebook, where for many of us it all began.

I'm confident the teachers and students will use this production and the surrounding controversy to continue a dialogue toward not only tolerance but acceptance of all people regardless of their differences. I hope they take away the lesson that they should never back down when they know they are right. Although there's much work to be done, things have come a long ways since my high school days when gay people were largely invisible in their sexuality. How awesome that now they can be out there and know that they are supported and loved. It's good for everyone. 

In the meantime, I cannot stop smiling. And I'm seeing rainbows everywhere.

Anyone have any good ideas of what to do with the leftover ribs from rainbow chard? If I had enough of them I could make this gratin from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. But since I only have this much I put them in the freezer to take out when I reach gratin critical mass or when I next make stock. In the meantime, aren't they pretty? [Smiling.] 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A slow weekend with the Figs

We've got a ski cabin in the Sierras for the next two weekends, and I got a good fix on Friday, so Sophie and I have been happy to spend this weekend puttering around the house. A big rain storm was predicted for today, so we took advantage of cool but dry weather yesterday to do a little gardening. Nothing big and no trips to our favorite nursery.

I pruned our camellias and snipped away at other plants that have been long neglected. Cutting back the rose geranium is always fun because we can bring it's wonderful perfume in the house to enjoy on a rainy day like today.

I've got little bits of it in vases all over the house.

There even a few things blooming:


And of course the heartiest, most drought and deer resistant plant ever, rosemary.

When Husband gets around to replacing our front fence (it's currently held up by some vines and a few strings of tiny white Christmas lights, I've going to replace the present hedge and with all rosemary.

Sophie's class works in their school garden every Friday, and now she's all fired up over her own garden at home.

She spent over an hour weeding and turning her soil and then planted seeds for onions, carrots, radishes, and fava beans.

It started raining last night and has not stopped for a minute all day. We've read in front of the fire; worked on a school report; washed hair; made lasagna (for tonight), chili (for next weekend), cookies (for right now); and bottled homemade limoncello. Taxes? No. Why ruin such a lovely weekend?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Keyboard activism or cauliflower gratin? BOTH!

Christalmighty—can I come and hide on my own blog? Even though a blog is by definition a public place, this little chunk of cyberspace seems like a peaceful haven compared to where I've been spending much of my time the past few days. Drama! Email! Bloggers!, Comments! Huff Po! The principal of my high school and the Los Angeles Times on my telephone! Not at the same time! Did I mention drama? So much drama. I am exhausted.

A Facebook friend of mine linked to a post on the gay issues site The spring production of RENT had been cancelled at my high school allegedly because the school administration opposes the depiction of openly gay characters. We should take action, he urged. I picked up the phone and within a few minutes had the principal on the phone. There's something a little gratifying about being able to pick up the phone and demand answers from someone who once would have been a source of such authority. She denied it all. Said the drama teacher, not she, cancelled the production and that if I wanted an explanation, I should ask him. Said she had no problem with gay characters and that it's important to support gay students. She even, she confided, has gay faculty. I suppressed the urge to say "No shit, lady," politely thanked her for her time, and tapped out an email to the drama teacher. That was the beginning. He wrote back. I wrote back. So did others. I contacted the media. So did others. The media contacted me. I think the story is now off and running with enough momentum of its own that homophobia and discrimination at this school will be a topic of open discussion whether the administration wants it or not. Huzzah for the power of the keyboard and for the internet for giving us the vehicle to advocate for change. The kids may have their play yet.

These events eclipsed most else that is important in my life and worth discussing: food and skiing. But I'll take a much-needed break from the drama about drama to discuss the very important topic of cauliflower gratin. Cauliflower gratin is more or less a mac and cheese recipe with cauliflower substituted for the pasta. Save the fat; lose the carbs! Not that I'm against carbs, mind you. Everything (almost) in moderation. But this dish let me combine my serious need for a little comfort with vegetable consumption. A win-win, right?

The cauliflower is blanched briefly in boiling salted water and then baked with a mornay sauce topped with buttered bread crumbs. Orange cauliflower saves this dish from being entirely colorless, not that there's anything wrong with that. Could you imagine it with purple cauliflower? Neither could I.

Like many good things, it starts with a roux. Just looking at those little bubbles makes the tension drain away. . . .

Tomorrow I'll be playing hooky for a day of skiing with two of my best gals. I'll be unplugged and unreachable, which is sort of what I need right now.

In the meantime, an update from one of my new favorite bloggers!. If he were here, I would spoon a bite of cauliflower gratin into him.


1 3-pound head of cauliflower, cut into thick slices or large florets
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup grated Gruyere, divided
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375. Boil the cauliflower in a pot of salted water until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauce pan, then stir in flour. Cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring often. Add the hot milk gradually, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, 1/2 cup of each cheese, and nutmeg. Stir well.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce into an 8 x11-inch baking dish, then add cauliflower pieces. cover with remaining sauce and top with a mixture of bread crumbs and remaining Gruyere. Melt the two remaining tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the top. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
But wait!. Another update: A link on the freakin' first page of the on line New York Times!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Less is often more

Sophie and I are home from a weekend at my parents'. Someone needed to deliver my dad's car that was stranded at my house when he broke his leg skiing with us at Alta and I flew him straight home instead of back to my house. And since the car was at my house and it was my ski trip that did him in . . . But we're not complaining. It was a great excuse to check up on him (he's fine), and Sophie and I enjoyed a girls' road trip and a visit with my sister and her kids.

Now that we're back, it's all business. The rough draft of Sophie's report for African American History Month is due tomorrow. Her topic is Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railway. Sophie is new at report writing, and so I've given her the advice I wish someone had given some of the authors I work with: Less is more; one of the most important things is deciding what not to include. Harriet Tubman had ten brothers and sisters. Who cares?? In those days lots of people had big families. Tell me something about Harriet Tubman that was not true about [hardly] anyone else. She didn't have a recorded birthdate? Hmmm . . . why not? No one throwing her a lot of birthday parties? Alright then . . . we may be onto something.

At any rate, I thought something nice to eat would help, and given the temperature of my house, I was game for anything that involved turning on the oven.

Last year when I was making petit fours (way too much food in that post, don't you think?), we discovered that Sophie absolutely loves marzipan. These simple almond cakes, which beautifully illustrate the less-is-more principle, incorporate marzipan into that timeless combination of butter, sugar, and flour. Marzipan freezes well, so we almost always have some around—just the thing when a quick treat is needed.


3 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, plus 1/2 tablespoon melted
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting molds
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons marzipan
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Place oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Brush mini muffin pan cups with melted butter and lightly dust with flour, knocking off extra flour.

Beat together softened butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in marzipan and vanilla until combined well. Then beat in egg until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Divide batter among cups, spreading evenly over tops.

Bake cakes until just firm and edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Run a thin knife blade around each cake to loosen. Let cool slightly and turn upside-down to release. Dust tops with confectioners' sugar.

Did you know Harriet Tubman lived to be 93 years old? Or something around there. At least they recorded that.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Facebook: What's up with that?

It started innocently enough. I set up an account ages ago and promptly forgot about it until an acquaintance from high school (a good friend of my sister's) sent me a friend request. I accepted, and we chatted back and forth and admired pictures of each other's kids. She was adorable then and even more so now. She warned it could be addictive. Fiddlesticks, I thought. I am a blogger. But of course she was right. I now "do" both (I've resisted Twitter for fear of overexposure). 

And ever since I've been noodling over the difference between the two. Is Facebook just an abbreviated form of blogging? In Facebook updates one gives a one or two sentence description of what they're up to or what they're thinking. Easier than writing an illustrated essay, I guess, and not as nearly as revealing. Maybe Facebook is the blog for people with commitment issues. Or time issues. 

But although there's certainly overlap, for me there's mostly different audiences. Blogging has mainly been a way to connect to people I do not know "in real life" (IRL—I'm becoming slowly hip to these internet abbreviations). What initially sounded like a weird and unnatural thing has turned out to be a wonderful thing: People connect over shared interests through writing, with those interests often spanning boundaries not only geographical but political and personal. And every once in a while it spills into another level: an email, a phone call, lunch.

For me Facebook has been more about connecting with people I used to know—and some of them hardly at all. There's been a virtual explosion on Facebook of alumni from my high school, and I've also reconnected with people from past jobs and graduate school. Who knew that conversations began thirty years ago, some of which we seemed unable to finish at the time, can be picked up so easily? Questions answered, ambiguities cleared, new connections found. Over the holidays, a few classmates and I did a Facebook fundraiser to raise money to send a former classmate fighting stage-4 cancer and his eight children to Disneyland (yes, they're Mormon; and, no for just that moment their prop. 8 stance did not seem to matter). Would people wire money to people they had not seen in almost thirty years? Amazingly, they did. Many of us now watch this friend's progress, happy that we solved a small problem but checked by the knowledge this family has much in front of them that we cannot take away.

Last weekend one of my Facebook friends died. Rollan Kim was one of the bright stars of our high school—not necessarily one of the popular crowd but someone everyone liked. In all my memories of him, he is laughing. He went to Harvard, then Wall Street, then business school, finally landing in Silicon Valley after fitting in some good world travel and a gig as a bike messenger. I loved reading his status postings: Rollan is doing the foxtrot, making his kids homemade mac and cheese, thermaling with hawks. He died Sunday in a paragliding accident, his body found tangled in his gear floating off the San Mateo coast. His Facebook page is still there, with a link to a page memorializing his life. Of the memories and pictures people have shared, this is my favorite:

Who wouldn't want this man playing the ukulele at their wedding? I'm so sad he's gone (especially for the three children he leaves behind) but so glad I got to see what a bright and sparkling life he had.

To friend, or not to friend—that's what everyone is talking about. I read a comment posted by someone from high school who lamented to to a friend "So-and-so is really trolling. I hear he just got divorced and is friending everyone! How gross!!" It made me sad that someone would say something so unkind and juvenile, I hope not realizing that the person to whom she referred was friends with the owner of the page where the comment appeared and so could have seen that comment. I don't recall that he said two words to me in high school either, but we're not in high school any longer. I say cast the net wide and friend them all. You might be surprised by who someone is now and by what you have in common. You can always delete them later. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Edible sunshine: Romesco sauce

When the weather is chilly and wet I always crave—in addition to homemade soup, fleece, and ski plans—something RED. I think what I'm missing is tomatoes, which I almost never eat out of season because they are usually so bad. In the summer I eat tomatoes nearly every day—in salads, on sandwiches, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt—so there's a significant hole in my diet this time of year.

One thing that helps fill it is romesco sauce: bright red, zingy taste, made from items almost always in my cupboard.

And it's the most ridiculously versatile condiment. It's delicious to spread on bread. The other night I added it to pannini sandwiches that included grilled eggplant (left over from the eggplant parmesan adaptation from the previous night), fontina cheese, and prosciutto.

A few nights later, off it went to a P.T.A. meeting as a dip for cold shrimp. Last night I was spreading it on bread again and stirring it into my lentil soup. It's not bad with just a spoon either.

2 tablespoon almonds
1 thin slice bread (4 x 3 x 1/4")
1 large garlic clove
1 7-oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

If almonds are not already roasted, place them in a small skillet to toast. Add bread slice and toast lightly.

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and combine until smooth.
If you think of anything else to do with romesco sauce, let me know. In the meantime, stay warm and dry.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What we toasted

on ski weekend with no husbands and no kids:
Some great snow.

No snoring.

A delicious meal.

A beautiful cabin and a gracious host.

A little girl we all miss terribly who will never grow up to be a woman sitting around a table with other women laughing, taking inventory, telling stories.
It was a grounding weekend, although the fact that I have not spent a weekend at home in three weeks is taking its toll. I am behind in almost everything: work, home life, blog reading (anyone have any babies??), blog writing. But in one area I feel I've moved forward: This weekend I actually had more fun skiing the crud and off piste than I did the groomers. Me / bored / groomers—three concepts that have never before been linked. It only took me—what?—ten years and several pairs of successively better skis. A trip to Alta helped too.

So I raise a cup of tea to myself for chipping away at my comfort zone and to the women this weekend who knew that there was business to take care of on that mountain.

Tomorrow let's make some romesco sauce, ok?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I make the best pork chops in the world

Not to boast, but it's true. And I'm quite the critic when it comes to this cut of meat. Let's face it, most pork chops suck. Dry, tough, bad. Husband, on the other hand, loves a pork chop and considers it a go-to meat. I gave up calling him in the middle of the day to ask what he would like for dinner because he always answered "Well, how about pork chops?" But I finally gave in and set to mastering the chop.

In my mind, a pork chop is not worth eating unless it is brined. Thankfully brining a chop is much easier than brining, say, an entire turkey.

The mixture here goes into a zip-lock bag and into the fridge. I usually start this before I go out the door in the morning, and the chops are ready to rinse and grill when I get home from work.

For seasoning, I use a combination of fresh rosemary (one of the best deer-resistant flowering plants there is, so I have a large bush in my front yard), garlic, and capers.

I served this the other night with quinoa steamed in chicken broth and tossed with romanito tomatoes (you wouldn't think this was a good tomato in summer, but it's the best available this time of year) a little diced fontina and some sauteed spinach.


Brine the pork chops by dissolving 1/2 cup each Kosher salt and sugar in hot water in a large bowl. Add pork chops, a bay leaf, and a few allspice berries. Fill bowl the rest of the way with cold water. Pour mixture into a zip-lock bag and refrigerate for as long as eight hours.

When finished brining, rinse chops at least twice under cold water and pat dry. Discard the brining solution.

Next, mince fresh rosemary, garlic, and capers. Combine with olive oil to form a paste. Smear on the paste and let sit at room temperature for one hour.

Grill over high heat, turning to avoid flare ups. Time for grilling will vary with thickness of chops, but brined meats do cook quicker.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Skiing? Us? Why, yes.

So as promised to my fellow ski whore Jen, here is the report of the recent Fig family ski adventures.

My dad provides a useful synopsis at his blog. (How many 73-year-olds have their own blog? Probably about as many 70-year-olds decide it's time to learn to ski.) If you like looking at x-rays, you can't miss this. Give him a shout while you're there, ok?

One thing he fails to mention is that this tower of luggage took the first (but not last) biff of the trip. As Husband (in the rear) took it through the door of baggage claim, the entire thing went over in spectacular slow-mo. Thank goodness no small children were standing nearby. We laughed until we nearly peed.

In a nutshell, we LOVED Alta. What an amazing mountain. Some things we particularly liked:
  • Insane snow. After a January in the Sierras that looked more like April (light cover, melting in the day and freezing at night to give a not lovely combination of ice and slush), we were stoked (haven't had reason to use that word in several decades) to find a healthy dump of fresh powder. The real stuff that you can actually ski through. What was really amazing is that it had not snowed in the Wasatch range in over two weeks before we arrived. It snowed the night we came in and the next two days. Both Husband and I had out the fat skis, and Husband got to officially launch his new Mother Ships.

I didn't ski down this (High Rustler), but Sophie and Husband did many times. Husband liked that Alta does not have lifts to all runs: You have to hike to some stuff. Whatever.
  • No snowboarders. Alta is one of the nation's last holdouts on this, and God bless them for that (when an atheist makes that statement, it really means something). No cringing in fear when you hear that scrap in your blind spot. No stupid teenagers blocking the lift line while they text on their phones. No boarders who can't carve a turn shoving the snow down the mountain as they slide, leaving a scrubbed icy surface.
  • A great lodge. Husband and I have been dreaming of staying at a ski in/ski out lodge for years. It was as wonderful as I always thought it would be. At the end of every day, I paused for a moment to gaze out over the parking lot and thought "How awesome is it that I am not getting in a car?" Very awesome. Goldminer's Daughter is not a fancy place. I knew we had found our place when I found a review that read "Many regular customers show up to breakfast and dinner in their pajamas. We found this quite offensive." Yeah! If I was running an on-mountain lodge I would require all guest to attend breakfast in their ski long undies and dinner in their jammies. Things were a little less casual at Goldminer's, but we were happy to be in a lodge where skiing was the focus. We didn't even mind that when our waiter listed "ice cream" as among the desserts he replied to our query of "what kind?" with "I dunno."
  • Sandwich makings. We were shocked and amazed by the amount of money we saved by making sammies in our lodge room.
What more does one need?

A good medical clinic, it turns out. Thank goodness there was one located in the same building as our lodge. Our third day was a very cold (below zero) sunny day with a perfect layer of fluff on the groomers. My dad was riping one right on my tail when he thinks his binding released on a turn and his leg slammed into the snow. He fractured his tibia, with damage into the knee socket. His orthopedist say regardless of how hideous it looks, it is fixable. He's scheduled for surgery Wednesday if the swelling has gone down enough. We expect him back on the slopes next year. On some new powder skis.

Amazingly enough, we all flew home on Wednesday as planned—although my parents and I from the hospital in Salt Lake and the rest from the mountain, with my parents flying home to southern California and Husband, Sophie, some friends, and I flying back to the bay area. After a quick few loads of laundry and a Trader Joe's shop, it was back up to Tahoe for Sophie's NASTC kids' ski camp.

She had a great three days with her instructor, Kemp Dowdy, an amazing young man with astounding kid knowledge, an irrepressible enthusiasm, and hair that stands up three inches on his head.
Sophie was the only kid in the class of six without a season pass or family ski house and with (as she noted) a homemade lunch, but it was a nice group of kids and she kept right up. They ripped up the entire mountain, forwards and backwards.

She's clearly lost me, and now even Husband is worried. At least they'll both come back to me for lunch.

BTW, several people have told me that bloglines has deleted me and is no longer sending notifications of my earth shattering blog posts. Any idea what to do about this? Is someone trying to tell me something??