Thursday, December 31, 2009

The last post of 2009

So I  ran away from the holidays to Tahoe to hole up in a friend's house in Incline and ski my butt off.

Not such a bad idea, as it turned out. We bought season tickets for Squaw last spring during an amazing promotion that priced them at less than half what they are now. Something about opening and Olympic anniversaries. Thank goodness for the naked guy I chatted up in Travertine Hot Spring on the way home from Mammoth last year. 

This is also Sophie's first year on ski team. Thank goodness for the MIL who generously funded that. And for the friend who is putting us up for the season at his significantly fabulous house overlooking the Late Tahoe in Incline. I'm trying to work it off though by doing things like fixing him rocking ski sandwiches and dinner every day, cleaning the house, and making his picky (but adorable) son Toaster Waffles.

A few highlights so far:
Husband spent the other afternoon skiing with Olympic shredboy Jonny Moseley! Really!! On scheduled days Moseley shows up at the top of the Funitel to ski with anyone who's up for it. I settled for just waving shyly as I deposited Husband into his hands. The idea is that they start off on easy stuff (of course at completely ridiculous speeds) and then progress, with the group diminishing as they go. They started off at about twenty; at the end it was Jonny and five. Husband (considerably older than Jonny, as I kept pointing out) hung in there until the end, which was a few runs down Jonny's Run, Chute 75 off KT-22. They road a few chairs together, chatted it up, and Husband picked up a few tips.

I was just happy he survived. Near the end of the afternoon, I received a transmission on my radio (some friends gave us those fancy ones like the ski patrol use for wedding presents years ago) that was NOT HUSBAND. Which is unusual because the radios have a squelch chip that minimizes most cross traffic. It was the ski patrol informing me that they had our other radio and would be skiing it down to KT-22. I waited there, and when it showed up inquired if there was a body accompanying it. There wasn't. And the body I was looking for did not answer its cell phone. It eventually showed up though, and I counted that as a little holiday miracle.

And speaking of holiday miracles . . . Husband got me a present that I totally loved! Kidding. Regular readers will recall his title of Mr. Gift. And indeed, he came through again. Realizing that I do not need any more stuff (well, not really), he gave me an afternoon of skiing with a private coach. Which I totally needed.

I skied the afternoon with the little sis of Olympic champion Julia Mancuso, Sara. Although I was sure at first that this was a terrible mistake. Instead of the gentle middle-age woman I thought I would be meeting, I was faced with a gum-snapping, smart mouthed hipster less than half my age. Who skied like a friggin rocket. But by the end of two hours, I was sold. Fact is the girl rocks. She gave me just the (actually quite gentle) butt-kicking I needed: weight forward, poles out front, shoulders downhill. All the stuff I know but do but do poorly once I get off the groomers. But what we really liked was her ass-kicking confidence. She knows she rocks too, and as the mother of a daughter, you've got to love that. Ski team is on a half day today, so after lunch, she is skiing with Sophie.

Speaking of whom . . . She is rocking her ski team, and is right in the middle of her Big Mountain Team, keeping up with all the locals and kids who have come through the Squaw Mighty Mites program since they could walk. She's out skiing her tenth day in a row (unlike me, who after getting up at 6:30 to make lunches and send them off crawled back to bed to read for three hours). She didn't get to ski with Jonny Mosely, but she did take a header down his Chute 75.

Right there down the middle. It's steeper than it looks here, and there are more rocks since it's early in the season. She hit some slippery near the top, lost it, and slid down head first sans skis and pole most of the run until a kind man reached out and caught her. Husband and our friend, usually unflappable about this sort of thing, were slightly flapped. I'm still kind of nauseous thinking about it. Sara probably has her up there right now. 

I can't figure out how to download pictures from my camera onto this laptop, but if I could I could show you the largest icicle ever hanging outside our bedroom window or the tree Husband and I lifted from Incline's tree recycling. Can you believe people up here buy these really expensive ginormous trees and then dump them the very next day?? Can you believe we think this works really well for people like us who really don't give a rip about the holiday but have a bunch of kids who do?

Happy New Year. I fully subscribe to that holiday as long as I don't have to get out of my yoga pants and go to a fancy party. And it's a good time to give thanks to my blog community. It has been a great year, and you have all made it richer. Thank you. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Serving kittens

Our new Ocicat kittens have thin coats and get cold easily. At night they sleep in our bed, under the covers. There's no better feeling that falling asleep with a warm purring kitten against your stomach. In the daytime, though, while we are at work, they get cold. We've given them a small electric blanket on the platform of their climbing structure, but it's clearly not warm enough.

The other evening, I came home to find Lily, the brains of the kitten operation around here, in a cast-iron skillet I had left on the stove to dry. Our antique O'Keefe-Merritt stove has pilot lights that keep the stove top warm even when it's not on.

I thought it was a brilliant idea, and so I helped them out a little. The next day I left out two skillets and lined them each with a soft towel.

It was a hit. But Husband had this silly idea that one of the towels would come in contact with the pilot and burn down the house.

So he went out the next day and bought them what we have dubbed The Apartment. He has installed heating in the downstairs, and sun hits the lanai (the middle) nicely in late morning.

But still, sometimes there's no keeping a good idea down. I came home yesterday to this:

Don't tell Husband, but when we leave for the mountains tomorrow, I'm going to leave out two skillets (without towels, probably). Because our kittens like to be served.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Merry Christmas to me

So happy to be headed to Tahoe on Monday for two weeks of general mountain bliss, skiing, and curling up with this stack.

I'll talk on the lifts and while I'm cooking dinner; otherwise . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Off to a little gathering,
cranberry tart in hand

Because I hate to show up empty handed. And I never show up to a gathering of my book group without a dessert.

Our book group is getting worse every meeting about reading and discussing books, but we never have a problem with the food, drink, and party aspect of it all. Last night we invited all the spouses so they can more or less confirm that the whole book group concept is really a ruse designed to give a group of old friends a night out.

This time of year I'm always looking for a new dessert idea. The wonderful summer fruits are gone, my Meyer lemon tree is a few months off from delivering, and I've had enough of chocolate. A co-worker pointed me to this recipe, reprinted last year in The New York Times. I'll give it to you hear since I did a few things to simplify and reorganize it. I hate when a recipe has you use part of an ingredient in one part of the recipe, and then in the next part tells you to use "the rest." Damn it—don't make me go back to the ingredient list! Give me the amount!!


1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground zest of 1 lemon
1 stick of unsalted butter, diced
1 egg
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place flour, polenta, 1 cup sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a food processor and blend. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand. In a small bowl, whisk egg, olive oil, and vanilla. Add liquid ingredients to food processor and pulse until dough forms into a ball. Form dough in a ball and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least one hour (or 20 minutes in the freezer if you're in a hurry). Dough can be made the night before.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough to a 12-inch circle and press into a 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan. Trim edges.

3 cups (12-ounce bag) fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
In a 3-quart sauce pan, combine cranberries, sugar, and corn syrup. Stir over medium heat until cranberries release juices, about 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool for about 20 minutes (or place pan in a bowl of ice and water for about 10 minutes).

In a small bowl, whisk together creams and flour until smooth. Whisk in egg yolks, vanilla, and salt. Pour over cranberries and fold together.

Place tart shell in pan on rimmed baking sheet. Using slotted spoon, add cranberries to tart shell. Pour as much remaining liquid as will fit on top of cranberries into shell. Bake about 40 minutes, until filling bubbles but is not yet firm and crust begins to brown. Cool to room temperature before serving.

I took a wrapped book for our book-themed Yankee swap (we've advanced so much from the days where someone would bring a really lame gift and pin a joint or a $20 bill to it to sweeten the pot). I also brought some homemade quince paste and some manchego cheese and some candied rosemary to garnish the tart.

I'm slowly moving into the holiday spirit. Sophie and I are off to the city today to see A.C.T.'s A Christmas Carol. Ghosts in chains! Dancing onions! And of course that grumpy old man.

If the show's not doing it for me, I can always sit and watch my daughter's happy shining face.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pomegranate jelly: The cheater version

Last weekend at Sophie's school's winter art fair, the main attraction our table were these excellent gift tags that Sophie made featuring little characters made from fingerprints.

Figuring that one can always use gift tags, I was prepared to secretly buy some of her stock if they didn't sell (I'm not proud), but half way through the fair, I turned around and they were gone. Oh, well. I enlisted her assistance to help me sell my wares.

I had some some quince paste (really good—I infuse it with rose geranium from my garden, giving it an even more pronounced floral note), and I still have most of it. Most people fall into one of two categories: They do not know what quince paste is and have never heard of manchego cheese or they have heard of quince paste and make it themselves. I'm not complaining. I have a couple of hostesses who will appreciate this as a gift.

I also sold pepper jelly, which people enjoyed sampling while Sophie explained that it is very good on baguette slice with a little goat cheese.

But the item that sold out most quickly was my pomegranate jelly. No surprise—it's a lovely color, and anyone who has had pomegranate jelly appreciates its tangy yet sweet taste.

My version is the ultimate cheater one. The first time I made it was before pomegranate juice became all the antioxidant rage, and I juiced about twenty pomegranates in our giant Acme juicer. The kitchen looked like a crime scene: Red splatters everywhere. A big mess and quite time consuming. AND the juice I ended up with had a slightly bitter taste, probably because it includes some juice from the membranes. Bottled juice (conveniently available at Trader Joe's) makes this a quick, easy recipe.

4 cups of pomegranate juice
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
5 cups white sugar

6 to 7 eight-ounce canning jars

Combine pomegranate and lemon juice in a 6-quart pan. Stir in pectin and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reach a full boil that cannot be stirred down and add sugar. Boil hard for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for a minute or two.

Fill jars to 1/2 inch of top, wipe rims clean, and screw on lids. Refrigerate until use or process in hot water for 5 minutes.
I make my own labels by printing a nice font (this one is Blackadder) on cream colored paper (I use our old office stationery from before our rebranding), stamping with gold ink, cutting to size, and attaching with a glue stick. My pal Trevor used the Courier font, and I think it looks nice too. The labels wash off easily too, should someone be presumptuous enough wash and return a glass thinking they might receive more (they probably would).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What's new around here

This has really got me scratching my head because what's new is . . . not much. 
Which presents sort of a blogging problem. Who wants to hear about the same things I blogged about last year? I certain don't want to write about them again, but maybe a little roundup would be alright.

We woke up to snow in the Berkeley hills yesterday, but we did that last year too. And besides, I did not have my camera with me. It was fun though, and I even let my carpool kids out for a quick snowball fight on the way to school. At least two of these three kids will spend a good part of the winter skiing in the Sierras on hopefully many feet of snow, but you cannot believe how delighted they were with a couple of inches in their own yards. 

Last night was our first hard frost of the winter (we don't have many), so Husband went outside to string lights in our citrus trees to protect them from frost damage, just like we did last year.

Inside, I made one of our favorite cold-weather meals, spicy Thai beef, which I served with coconut rice and wok-charred broccoli. I know: big whoop.

Well, the hot buttered rum I served a chilled Husband was a big whoop but, again, hardly anything new.

I  know! We roasted chestnuts on our woodstove! In my chestnut pan! We do this all the time, but I don't think I've showed anyone my pan. I wait patiently for the Italian ones to show up at our produce market (much better than the pale California or Korean ones). They're about double the price but worth every penny.

What is really new though is who likes them best.

The spotted devils
They make us do the peeling though. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

In my husband's stocking

Remember my fig vodka experiment? That's ok. You can read about it here and here.

Fast forward a few months, and we are here:

I feel like a scientist! I love cheesecloth almost as much as waxed paper—a lot.

I think my magic potion looks delicious, and it has a wonderful earthy aroma. We will keep it in the freezer and sip it over ice.

Once Husband notices that there is something in his stocking. As if the fact that I did not buy anything at the Lori Bonn jewelry sale last night were not enough. It must be the season.

Like I said . . .

Last night my girlfriends and I set out on our annual holiday trek to the Lori Bonn friend and family sale followed by dinner. 

As in previous years, I tagged along mostly for the fun, company, and food, claiming to be "not much of a jewelry person." (I'm also not much of a make-up, hair style, or clothing person either, which goes a long ways to explain the mess I usually am.)

I saw and tried on lots of pretty things and admired the pieces the girls picked out, but I just did not see anything that I felt would significantly improve my life. It was a lovely event though, and if I ever need jewelry I will buy it from Lori Bonn. They are the nicest people ever. When I arrived, one of the Lovely Lori Bonn Ladies greeted me, remembering my blog posts about them from past years and immediately pouring me a glass of prosecco.  When I left empty handed, she graciously noted that they consider it a compliment that I wear a single piece of Lori Bonn jewelry since I am "not much of a jewelry person." Nice that she remembers that. And even nicer that she seemed to think that was ok. 

For dinner, we too advantage of the fact that Oakland is becoming quite the mecca for dining (a recent local magazine declared Berkeley and San Francisco "done") and repaired to a new place at Jack London Square.

Bocanova is billed as pan-American grill, and like other restaurants in the area has retooled an old industrial space. This building used to be an ice house. 

I love that they've taken a complete U-turn from the ice idea and decorated in warm tones with soft lighting.

Liked: The food.

The menu is all small plates—perfect for the indecisive. The halibut ceviche was particularly good. I'm fussy about fish or meat I perceive to be raw or rare, and even I liked it. I'm also fussy about scallops if they're the least bit chewy or gritty, and I thought these were perfect. The curry sauce was nicely balanced, not overpowering the way curries can be.

Endive, hearts of palm, avocado with a sherry vinaigrette

Dungeness crab deviled eggs with chipotle aioli

Sea of Cortez scallops with Brazilian curry sauce

Tasty, generous portions for a small-plates menu. We liked.

Not so much: The service.

Since the wine list is composed of mostly obscure Spanish and Portuguese wines, they thoughtfully sent over a man who identified himself as "the wine buyer" and then proceeded to interview us on our wine tastes. I refrained from explaining I like almost anything that is not really awful. But seriously, we had not even looked at the menu, so what we more or less told him was that we needed a wine that would go with anything and wasn't too anything (fruity, large, etc.). So much for pairing. I can't remember what we allowed him to bring us, but it was fine. 

Things went downhill in my mind with the waitress, who introduced herself as being there to "take care of us." God, I hate this. She is there to take our order and bring us our food. If she wants to take care of me, she can start with figuring out how to pay for my kid's braces, how to work in three physical therapy appointments a week and still get to the gym, and how to deal with my mother and the Christmas holidays. She claimed to be there to help us. I do not need help ordering food from a menu. After we insisted on being allowed to look at the menu for a few minutes by ourselves, she popped back asking if we had any ideas and reported that she yet put in an order. Of course not given that we had not yet ordered anything.  It was also annoying that she thought it necessary to explain the small-plates concept as if we had not eaten out in the past five years. Small plates are different but hardly unique, and we are not stupid.

But as much as we enjoyed the ambiance and food, I was particularly thrilled with the high-velocity hand dryer in the restroom. It blew air so hard that it rippled your skin so it looked like melting plastic. Cool! If I had had a video camera, you would be watching a YouTube video of this. My girlfriend Janine tells me there is one at Brower Center in Berkeley where you put your hand between rays of light. I've got to check that out. Call me easily amused. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I am well taken care of

Husband got me all tucked in this morning and then even came home from work to have lunch with me. Well really, he ate his lunch while I nodded off on the couch. But before he left, he laid a fire for me in the woodstove, so all I have to do is strike a match.

And he left me my medicine in a little cup, which is so much nicer than getting it myself out of a bottle.

He also stationed a small spotted kitten to supervise the resting.

But the very best was the note Sophie left me. We've come a long ways from when I would awake from post-surgical rest to find her staring at me in her Fisher-Price doctor costume, waiting patiently to "doctor me up." These days she can get herself ready for school, help Husband with the animals, and fix breakfast all so quietly that I don't wake up at all.

Last night when she gave me this bell she said "If you call me in the night and I am awake, I will come right away. If I am asleep, you can ring this bell and wake me up. If you ring the bell and I do not wake up, then I am sorry!"

I am sore and sleepy from the pain medication but am making a good recovery. Thanks for all the good wishes and thoughts!