Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Racing to somewhere

Tahoe powder? Financial ruin? Some of both?

Last weekend we headed to the mountains (again) for Sophie's first race as part of our favorite ski resort's developmental race team.

Leaving Friday morning (at a reasonable hour for once) to get her there for the pre-race afternoon practice gave a leisurely drive where I could marvel at all the new snow instead of trying to catch a few winks. Up on the mountain many of the trees were bare because the snow had come with high winds. But heading up the pass, everything had a thick frozen coat. I love the exposed granite of the Sierras, but nothing beats this. Well, maybe removing all the SUVs in front of us . . .

And sadly, this was the last picture we took over the weekend where you could see anything. The race was in snowy conditions with flat light, making outside shots indeciperable. The lodge chaos with hundreds of race-suit clad kids swarming to register and find coaches would have been a good subject, but we were busy swarming to register and find coaches. It's all new, confusing, and exciting to us. Next time—promise.

We grabbed some race skis (season rentals, thank goodness) on the way up and a new race suit (on sale, thank goodness) on the way down. Remember when the main character from Tom Wolf's laments he is hemorrhaging cash? That feeling. Are we living in our van and shooting squirrels? Not yet, but the possibility is certainly in our minds.

And so too is the quesiness about the competitive aspect of this all. Aside from the face that children's competitive sports deprive many families of ever eating dinner together, I am uneasy with the winner/loser distinction. I know good teams work to emphasize being both a good winner and a good loser, but let's face it: The winners and the losers are each often the same people. For example, throughout my entire elementary, middle school, and high school career, Marcie Wurts was a winner. With obvious talent and hard work, she excelled at nearly every sport offered. She got lots of practice at winning and I'm sure became a gracious and good winner. I, in stark contrast, was a vastly experienced loser. Did being a loser time and again make me a better loser? No—it merely deepened the humiliation and hammered into me my loser status. I overcame it, but it took years. It seems to me the character building of competition vastly favors the winners. I know so much of the world outside of sports is about competition, winning, and losing, but whereas it may be the reality, I think it may also be the problem in many instances.

Sophie finished both of her runs with respectable times. She was far from the top and not too close to the bottom, which I think is great, especially considering she joined the race team late and this was her first race. She was pleased with her times posted on the board (she improved in her second race), and I haven't shown her the website where they rank all the kids in each division. She was nervous to start, relieved to finish, happy with her new group of friends, finding her feet in the new skis, and looking forward to the next race. She was a little concerned that she was one of the only kids without a race suit and said she would really like to have one if that were possible. Done. I told her jokingly that I do not want to see any more wide gate roundings; she has the padding, and I expect her to be smacking those gates.

Maybe some day she'll be on a podium doing this. (She pointed out "You've got to show the audience what kind of skis you have!") But for right now, she's plenty happy where she is. And I'm happy too, although while I was freezing my butt off watching races, I was sort of wondering if those soccer moms and their folding chairs and sunshine weren't on to something. Nah.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My daughter switches teams,
I have anxiety, and I make a very easy
and delicious shrimp dish

No, not switching teams like that, although it would be fine with me. Over the weekend Sophie switched from the Squaw Valley Big Mountain Team to the Tahoe League race team. My genius husband made a few phone calls and got the ok for her to ski with them for a weekend. I thought she would do it for a day or so and then go back. Wrong. She loved it. Loved the kids, loved the coaches, loved the racing. Not that she had a problem with the other team at all. But her mind was made up.

Thanks, Husband. So in addition to driving up nearly every weekend and the team fee we (really, the MIL) have already paid, we are now on the hook for race fees, traveling to and skiing at other resorts where we do not have season passes, and (I can hardly bear to type this) RACE SKIS. Because apparently the high-performance season rentals we have for her are INAPPROPRIATE. And of course most ski shops do not rent race skis, because why would anyone do that when they have parents who have been told they must BUY them? So we are trying to find a used pair or wait until after the big trade show when our local shop might be able to find us a good sale pair. God, we're so hosed. It's kind of like being a soccer mom on steroids. At least I'm out there working on my bumps instead of sitting in a foldable lawn chair.

In the past few weeks, I've spent so much time driving, packing, unpacking, repacking that I hardly know if I'm coming or going. And not that I'm complaining about operating two kitchens, one at home and another in the mountains, but I'm starting to get confused about what ingredients I have where. And I'm just plain tired. This meal is an answer to those problems. For the most part, it's an off-the-shelf deal. I almost always have a bag of frozen shrimp on hand (I think Trader Joe's does a better job at deveining than the other brands), and aside from feta cheese, the rest of the ingredients are standard kitchen stock.

1 1/2 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
pinch cayenne
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup green olives stuffed with pimento, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Rinse shrimp and press dry in a kitchen towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add shrimp and saute, stirring until just pink, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon to a shallow baking dish that has been sprayed with olive oil.

In the same pan, warm remaining two tablespoons oil. Add onion and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add garlic, cayenne, and oregano and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes longer. Stir in tomatoes with juice and olives. Cook over medium heat until slightly reduced, about 20 minutes. Add wine and simmer a minute or two longer.

Pour tomato mixture over shrimp. Top with feta. Bake until feta starts to brown, about 10 minutes.

Serve over rice.
Come to think of it, I think I have these ingredients in the other kitchen also. If you're in the Tahoe region next weekend, give me a call if you'd like to come over for dinner. You can make the green salad.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's a WHISK! So let's make some gravy

Who knew?

My blog pal and friend in real life (we went to our high school homecoming dance together!) Trevor sent this to me for Christmas. It's a Scandinavian (yes, he's all kind of blond fabulousness) birch twig whisk that you can read all about here (plus much other craziness: one minute he's quite unnecessarily on The Zone diet, the next he's making homemade mac and cheese—you find the sense in that).

These whisks are supposed to excellent at producing a smooth gravy by doing a particularly effective job of combining the flour or whatever thickening agent you use.

I was just taking a beer can roasted chicken out of the oven the other day and so decided to give my whisk a whirl.

Everyone who cooks probably has their own way of making gravy. My mom taught me hers, and I hardly ever serve this gravy without receiving a compliment. Here's how we do it.


Whisk pan drippings (which will include grease from the bird and whatever liquid you have used for basting, e.g., white wine or, in this case, beer) in the pan to release baked-on bits.

Pour drippings through a mesh sieve into a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Discard solids in sieve. Spoon off and discard fat that settles as the top layer in the cup. 

Pour liquid into a small pan, keeping off heat. Mix in a small bowl about 3 tablespoons of flour with 1/4 cup of water, pressing with the back of a spoon to form a smooth paste (fine if a few lumps remain—it's going through the sieve again). Whisk paste into liquid in pan. Simmer over gentle heat while whisking until thickened. (Whisking in the thickener before heating helps reduce lumping.)

Continue to cook until reduced and thickened to the consistency you want. Season to taste, which may involve salt if you have not used a kosher bird and perhaps some dry white wine. to assure a velvety smooth gravy, send it through a sieve again on its way to your serving piece. 

And while we're here, here's the chicken recipe. What great about it is that you can roast the chicken at a fairly high heat, thereby reducing roasting time, but still end up with a tender and moist bird. The chicken steams from the inside and roasts from the outside. Pretty simple, just a few tricks.

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Pull open chicken cavity to make sure chicken will fit over beer can.

Spray can of beer with cooking spray. Open can and pour about about a third of the beer (or drink if you can stand canned beer). Place can in roaster pan. Cram chicken over beer can. Use the end of a sharp knife to cut tiny slits in chicken skin all over bird. 

Roast in 450 degree oven for about an hour and a half, until leg joint is loose and juice from it runs clear. 

Let chicken rest for about 15 minutes and then remove from beer can with a pair of large tongs. Discard can and beer (don't be tempted to add the beer to the pan drippings—you'll have as much beer taste as you want already).

Thank you, Trevor, for the whisk and for the inspiration to head back to the kitchen after my holiday wake/ski/cook/crash/repeat marathon. I'm looking forward to another year of exchanging recipes and tips. And I'm just going to ignore that Zone business.  xo

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let's stick a fork in it

So we can finally call the holiday season done, here's a few off-the-slopes snaps of significant holiday going-ons for us.

We had already had a tree at home and were more or less over the whole business, but the person's whose house we were staying in went back home to retrieve his son and have a turn at custodial parent the day after Christmas. What better way to welcome him than with a stolen tree!

There were so many that it was hard to choose.

This one looked good, but we figured why stop at a single tree

when were able to fit three in the truck? We stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the house, and I hoped that people thought we were going to the recycling center instead of from. They were probably impressed by how much money they thought we spent on trees. God, we crack ourselves up.

Later, in a spasm of irrationality, I decided Christmas cookies would be a good idea. They rolled, cut, and baked one day and frosted another, thereby spreading the mess over two days instead of one. I know: brilliant.

And you know what happens to sugar cookie dough when you roll it out, cut something, change your mind, wad it up, and do it all again? And again? Right. But they looked pretty.

I did have some peace and quiet in the kitchen though when my peeps went outside to build an igloo. It ended up looking more like a snow beehive, but it was completely functional. It will be fun to see how long it lasts throughout the season.

Finally, look what was waiting for me in the mail when I arrived home! What do you think it is? Go ahead and guess! It's about twelve inches long, so it's too small to use as a witch's broom, although I can imagine why you might think that an appropriate gift. 

And so ends what my girlfriend calls the Holiday Death March, kicking off with Halloween and collapsing in a heap on New Year's. We're thankful to have survived it and grateful for peace in the months ahead.