Sunday, August 30, 2009

When it's hot

I returned Saturday afternoon with Sophie from a quick trip behind the Orange Curtain (Newport Beach, where I grew up and my parents still live) thinking I was fleeing a heat wave for the generally cool climate of northern California. Wrong. It was blistering when I left and blistering when I landed. I consoled myself by planning a menu for Sunday dinner that involved a minimum of cooking. Saturday night the fog rolled in and coated us in a cool drippy mist, and Sunday evolved into a sunny but cool day, just the way I like it. Too late. This recipe for chilled melon soup was already lodged in my brain.

You're supposed to simmer half a cup of fresh mint along with lime zest in sugar and water. I didn't have quite that much mint in my garden, but the recipe was fine with less.

My melon was particularly sweet, so I decreased the amount of sugar a little.

And since I had used all the mint in the soup, I had to make due with a nasturtium garnish.


1 lime
1 cup water
1/2 cup packed mint leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 cantaloupe, about 2 1/2 pounds
3/4 cup Gewurztraminer or Riesling

With a vegetable peeler, remove zest from lime. In a small saucepan, simmer water, lime zest, mint, and sugar, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let mixture steep for another 15 minutes. Pour mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl. Discard solids. Cool syrup to room temperature.

Halve and seed cantaloupe. Working in two batches, scoop flesh into food processor and puree until smooth. Add to bowl containing syrup. Stir in wine. Chill, covered, until cold—at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Skim any foam from top and serve, garnished with mint.
I served this before chicken breasts wrapped in prosciutto, green beans in a sherry vinaigrette, and rice pilaf with fresh basil.

Our weather is still unseasonably cool (no complaints here), but it's probably warm at your house. This is a great use for those super-sweet end-of-summer melons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Can someone please tell me how

We went from this

a year ago to

THIS? Please? WTF!!

My mother took Sophie to apparently her favorite place in southern California, the MALL. She is really excited about going to Disneyland, but she was REALLY excited about going to the mall with Grandma. God help me. When this picture was emailed to me, I wanted to know if the attitude came with the outfit or was sold separately. And furthermore, where in this picture is MY DAUGHTER? You know, the one who wears whatever I order from the Hanna Andersson catalog for her?

We spoke on the phone briefly (she is very busy down there). Sophie wants to wear this on the first day of school. I pointed out that she is going to FOURTH GRADE, not a rock concert. She needs an OUTFIT, not a costume. We're working toward a compromise of the gloves possibly staying at home.

It's just the beginning, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The names!

Of course! How could I post about the kittens and not mention their names?? Well, possibly because we still call them "The Kittens" much of the time. This sort of works given that they're rarely more that two feet apart.

SO. We decided that Sophie and I would name the little girl. I voted for Lila, not telling anyone that I had in mind Lila Quartermaine from General Hospital. I was more of a Edge of Night watcher, but I was sucked into the Port Charles vortex during Laura and Scotty's wedding, which everyone in my dorm skipped classes to watch in the our main lounge. Was Lila Quartermaine the best or what? No matter how horrible everyone was around her, she was lovely, kind, and gracious. I loved it when the Quartermaines lost all their money (momentarily, thank goodness—poor people are not nearly as interesting on television), and Lila and her maid kept the family going by marketing their homemade relish: Piccalila. Brilliant.

Sophie thought the name was . . . ok. She preferred a modification, Lily, which I agreed to because I think it is also a lovely name and because I am such a reasonable person.

Husband, preferring mythological names (his late was cat named Zeus), selected the name Loki, the Norse god of fire, known for trickery and shape-shifting.

Not bad for a little cat who is fast as greased lightening, but I cannot remove from my mind Wagner's character Loge (the German version of Loki) in Das Rheingold

Loge gives advice to Wotan, the ruler of the god—usually very bad advice, at least for Wotan. Loge is the ultimate consultant. But Sophie, who was a supernumerary in the San Francisco Opera's production of Das Rheingold, correctly remembers Loge as one of the best characters, and Stefan Margita portrayed him with an absolutely amazing tenor voice that I will always remember. And while a little Wagnarian character running around my house is not what I had in mind (if it were I could have named the little girl Freia, goddess of youth and beauty), I've kept this also to myself because I am, as I have noted, a very reasonable person. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

The inmates are running the asylum

And I mean RUNNING!

It is hard to get a picture of our new inmates, two Ocicat kittens, that is in focus. They do not stop their running of races and general destruction of our home.

They are just like all toddlers—into everything. What were we thinking??

But every once in a while they stop in for a cuddle.

Or sometimes a cup of coffee. We've decided being in control is definitely overrated.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What we did before

Sophie left on Saturday for my parents house in southern California. I'll join her Wednesday evening, and we'll fly home together.

She skipped onto the plane without looking back. I watched the empty doorway for a few minutes and then went around to watch the plane as it loaded. As a parent of an Unaccompanied Minor you're supposed stay there until the plane leaves in case they need to unload. Or in case they decide to sit on the runway for six hours in which case I would run out and try to hand up bagels and juice through the pilots window (I know they can open it—I saw them do) for someone to take to Sophie or try to convince them to squeeze her back to me through the window (she's skinny).

But the plane finally did taxi down the runway, followed by me walking quickly through the terminal along side it. Never mind I was at quite a distance: We were moving along, still together in a way. The plane was eventually a little dot in the sky, and I was alone. Wondering what to do.

In anticipation of this moment I asked a friend a few days ago "What did we do before we had kids?" She and I were friends long before husbands and kids, and I know we had great lives. So great, in fact, that I saw having a child as an optional activity. I would have married someone who didn't want kids and been fine with it. Some of the best marriages I know by absolutely no coincidence do not involve children.

So what did we do in those great lives? My friend recalled that we worked out all the time. That's true, and we although we didn't realize it at the time, we looked great. We went to Point Reyes to hike in the light of the full moon. Stuff like that. I recalled that I had a subscription to The New Yorker. And I read piles of books. Now I read smaller piles of books and The New Yorker only in waiting rooms and here and there online. The minute Sophie leaves for college, I'm renewing.

But. I ski more. I laugh harder. I cook better. I shop less. And I have this love that is bigger than I ever could have imagined. This life is great too. It will be even better at 7:45 p.m. this Wednesday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Call me Helen

I think Helen Roper on Three's Company was one of the best Helens ever. Remember that show? I'm old enough to remember adults being really scandalized by it—young men and women living together and reference to someone being gay (of course no one actually was gay, and I swear I don't think they ever used the word "gay"). It was truly one of the lamest shows ever. Husband's uncle played a character named Maurice, the French guy who lived upstairs, in an episode titled "Lee Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother." Jack's brother Lee comes to town, hits on Chrissie, Jack gets jealous but can't do anything about it because remember he's supposed to be gay, hahahahahaha.

The Ropers even got their own show, which probably sucked almost as much as the original one. Thank goodness Helen Roper is remembered most for her fabulous floating caftans.
Which I am clearly trying to channel with my latest purchases from the Boden sale. Yes, I had to buy them in crazy big sizes, but that's ok because they're caftans. I'm wearing the purple one today with a pair of lime green flipflops. I think they'll be great with jeans or white capris too.

A little diversion from back-to-school shopping for Sophie. At least I fessed up.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An important announcement regarding summer cocktails

I confess: I've been holding out. I'm on to a great new blog, and I haven't told anyone about it. Sometimes I'm selfish that way.

I've caught up with an old friend from high school on CrackFacebook, and we've had an excellent time catching up but an even better time connecting over our current passions of food and entertaining. And cocktails.

In fact, this weekend we had sort of a cocktail mind meld. He had posted a picture of a watermelon martini on Facebook (we both have folders called "I made it"). For Sunday dinner with the MIL, I made shrimp and cotija enchiladas with salsa verde and browned butter and lime with fresh corn.

For appetizers, I served seared queso fresco with cilantro mojo

and these wonderful miniature peppers sauteed in a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt.

Pondering cocktails and spying a large seedless watermelon on my counter, I remembered my friend's martini picture on FB. I went to his FB album and announced that I needed that watermelon martini recipe. He replied back "Just posted it on the blog." Alright then.

I got right to work. The watermelon chunks took a quick trip through the food processor and then a wire strainer. The juice, along with fresh squeezed lime juice and simple syrup, could chill the afternoon in the fridge until cocktail time.

Delicious! And a perfect alternative with a Mexican menu to the traditional margarita. For the exact recipe and a picture that does not look like it was taken by someone who had too many of these, visit my friend here. And tell him hi.

Friday, August 14, 2009

About a cake

Right next to my local produce market and my subscriptions to Bon Appetit and Cook's Illustrated, bloggers often provide me with what I occasionally run out of in the kitchen . . . inspiration. My book group was meeting at the home of someone who particularly likes cake. I needed help.

I've made hundreds of cakes in my day and have shelves of cookbooks, but sometimes I'm reduced to total stupidity by a simple situation: "I dunno. A cake. I need to make a cake." The last cake I made was chocolate. I wanted to make something different. Summery. Maybe lemon.

Thank you, Jen at for this: Triple Layer Lemon Cake. Because she is so fancy, she made individual cakes in little plastic tubes, but the recipe was easily converted to a regular-sized triple layer cake. What I love is that she takes parts of the recipe—cake, lemon curd, and frosting—from three sources to give you the best of each. She has a super smart recipe index, with pictures of each dish. She never fails to remind me that food can be delicious, beautiful, and fun.

Someone in my house had eaten too many eggs, and I did not have enough to make my own lemon curd. I used store-bought, and it was fine. However, I'm now stocked with eggs and lemons, so I'll be trying the curd soon.

But I did have lots of blueberries, which I piled on top of the frosting before it dried (so they stick on) and topped with some lemon zest.

And then before I left the house, I remembered that it was the birthday of an old friend I've caught up with on Facebook. I stuck in a candle, lit it, sang Happy Birthday, took a snap and posted it on his wall. Much better than sending a cartoon bouquet of flowers or drink, don't you think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

So I went on a little vacation

to some big places. Thanks to my friend Matt for sharing the snaps.

First up, Tuolemne Meadows, the high country of Yosemite.

Let's break it down.

We learned a few things about group camp sites and adopted two bootleg seniors.

Did you know you can avoid the knife-fight required for no-reservation sites? And the reservation system where a computer decides what site would best suit you? It's called the group site reservation! Which you can make on line! Choosing you own site! I don't mind sharing the secret because I'll be making my reservation for next summer this fall.

On our second night we noticed a pair of seniors slip in between group sites and put down a couple of bags. They quietly ate their dinner and went to sleep. Bootleggers! The next morning they were up bright and early to wait in the same-day site line but returned a few hours later with no site. They were placed on the waiting list and told to come back at 2:00. I couldn't stand to have them waste their day and so invited them to join our group site. Husband was sort of cross with me, but how often do you get a chance to do a good deed with no skin off your nose? I hope when I'm their age I'm throwing down a bag under the stars and bootlegging a site.

Sophie, Husband, and I went on a short little toot of a hike to Elizabeth Lake. The next day, with more of our group who had arrived in the meantime, we hiked the kids the nature center and then to a junior ranger program over near Lambert Dome.

Later that night the full moon provided enough light for kids to fish down by the river.

Our best hike was to Budd Lake, located in a high bowl just across from Cathedral Peak.

The rangers were fairly cagey about the route, emphasizing that the trail is "not maintained." We headed a ways up the Cathedral Peak trail and traveled most the rest of the way off trail, which was exciting for the kids.

Lunch in a spongy patch of grass that we dubbed The Zen Garden revived everyone on the way up.

We passed Cathedral Peak on the way, amazed at the climbers braving the wind and pretty cold temperatures. It made me nervous just to watch them. The spire over to the left is Eichorn Pinnacle, named after our friend David Eichorn's dad, Jules Eichorn, a major mountaineer in his day and bagger of many first ascents in the Sierras. When we met up with David later in our trip and he saw Husband was reading a biography of Ansel Adams, he remarked "Oh, I met Ansel several times" and proceeded to tell us stories of his father, who was a music student of Adams' before Adams took him on his first trip to the Sierras to help schlep camera equipment. The story goes that once in the mountains, Jules disappeared for the rest of the trip. He had apparently found his crack, and Adams must have found someone else to carry the gear. For once I thought to myself "Who needs a book?"

We overshot our lake but finally found it, tucked into a little bowl at nearly 10,000 feet.

Husband was happy to have the new fly rod Sophie and I bought him for Fathers' Day,

but it was a kid who hooked the only fish of the day.

The weather got colder as the afternoon wore on, and it felt good to descend to a warmer temperature and less wind. By the time we got back to our camp, other campers said the rangers had been coming around warning people of colder temperatures expected that night, down to the 30s that night and 20s the next night.

I don't think it got that cold (we were fine), but the next morning we enjoyed several dumps of hale as we packed up camp.

After three nights (way too short) in Tuolemne Meadows, we headed down to Berkeley Tuolemne Camp for another three days. An organized camp crowded with people was a tough transition for me. Clearly I'm getting older and grumpier, but as camping and hiking with Sophie becomes easier, the lure of cooked meals and activities for my kid isn't quite as attractive as it once was.

August is usually steaming hot at camp, but temperatures were mild. The swimming hole was quiet, but my routine of breakfast-power hike-lunch-nap-reading by the river-happy hour on Lower Beach-dinner-ping pong-evening activity-bed was undisturbed.

But wherever I am, I'm always happy to hang with my gang, the Usual Suspects. Good times, good people. Next year we'll head up to Tuolemne Meadows before camp but with David Eichorn in tow. Actually, he'll probably be towing us. Nothing like a 70-something to flog you up a mountain

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We might be hillbillies

What with Husband deciding to take his own bear box up to Tuolemne Meadows and all.

But seriously—he has a point. The ones the campgrounds have never have enough room. And who wants to put anything smelling remotely of civilization in your car when bears up there know what the good stuff looks like and are perfectly willing to rip out a window to get at it.

But still . . .

Anywhoo, we're be occupying a group site in Tuolemne Meadows (cleverly avoiding the knife fight required to land nonreservation sites) and trying to convince curious rangers that we really do have thirteen people. Shouldn't be too hard—when are our kids ever in one place long enough count?