Monday, November 24, 2008

So, Back To Cooking . . .

I did some ambitious cooking over the weekend. Or at least I think bagels are ambitious. They're so easily bought and can be really good when bought, so what's the point, right, but the LA Times did a big spread last week on bagels that included a recipe and tips, and I wanted to give it a shot even though they take two days to make. Here's the hook for me though: The more things I make from scratch, which is really a lot as of late, the more hearth-like I feel; like gather 'round my loving and modest yet inventive kitchen where I'll make you a pot of perfection from two beans and a carrot. I feel pioneering, resourceful, like a magician of sorts; a master nurturer, a creator -- it always comes back to some sort of Goddess Theory for me. Every time I put a good meal on the table that I created from the ground up, I feel like I'm saving the world, kinda. How the entire world and her ailments are connected to a few quinoa dishes and pie, I'm not sure. I'm only going off of raw feeling, like I usually do.

So the bagels. . . they took finesse. But every time I cook or bake I say that. I mean, what skill shines without finesse really? The bagels were close to perfect, though I think I know how I can make them perfect truly; perfect enough for Husband to eat at least. His heart is pure Cali now, but his palette remains true to New York. He said the bagels were a bit doughy, but the taste was there. I took this as a compliment even though he only had a bite. The girls, however, gobbled them up in a day. I had a couple myself. Doughy schmoughy.


Sunday morning, I made a mushroom Tofu Scramble and baked blueberry muffins. Mina woke first and when she came out of her room she said, "It smells funny in here," which wasn't really what I had hoped to hear. I had just added nutritionals yeast to the pan and it did smell a little funky. She is an extremely picky eater though I have to say that lately every home cooked meal has been a hit with her. She has requested seconds and asked that leftovers go into her lunch. Maya and I have almost the same exact taste in food so it's a thrill to cook for such an eager recipient. But with Mina I just hope for the best. I love that she has liked most everything in the great From Scratch Experiment. But when she said, "It's smell funny," I thought, Feh I can't win them all. When breakfast was on the table, I gave her much less tofu than I did Maya. I said, "Mina, the tofu tastes a little like soy sauce." Mina has tried to drink soy sauce straight from the bottle she likes it so much. She said, "Are you just trying to get me to try the tofu?" I said, "Pretty much." After the first bite, she yelled out, "Why does Maya have so much more than me!?" I said, "I didn't know if you'd like it. You said it smelled funny." She said, "Just because it smells funny doesn't mean it doesn't taste good." She demanded more. However, she wouldn't touch the homemade blueberry muffins. "You know I don't like blueberries," she said. "Uh, since when?" And Maya said, "Shoot, good, more for me," as she practically shoved muffins in her PJ pockets.

Steaming plate of scrambled mushroom tofu and muffins. If I didn't like blueberries, I might've still eaten these. Did I tell you that I took a raw food day-long class back in August? Back when I was pumped on transitioning more to raw foods? The class was given by the owner of Leaf Cuisine, who was intriguingly aloof and sharp-witted. He seemed a bit over it all in a weathered way. It seemed, with no obvious indication, that he internally struggled with the compassion and patience he projected and the fire of whirling insults and eye-rolling that possibly came instictually yet he suppressed. I loved this. He was handsome with greying blond surfer hair that was cut and swept back in a mature way. In between processing dates and chopping lemons and half-heartedly walking us through the menu hand outs, he'd casually drop snippets of his life in relation to the food. "Did you know that falafels were originally a raw dehydrated food, centuries ago? I learned this from the nomads of Egypt when I had that scuba diving business on the Red Sea." Huh? Later, I looked up his story and it was a doozy. He was basically run out of the town he lived in on the Red Sea with the end of a broken bottle by unsympathetic business partners who took over his business and any possessions with what he couldn't flee. He tried to fight these partners in the Egyptian courts, defending himself in Arabic.

So we learned how to make his kale salad. And raw mushroom soup. Oh and he lived in Paris in his early 20's, studying fine cuisine, then lived with a grandmother in Rome.

I signed up for the more advanced class that would be given in October. I was jazzed about learning more complicated stuff. As the weeks rolled on between courses, my raw food interest waned though I tried quite a few things. I found the amount of nuts in recipes upset my stomach a bit. Fruits and vegetables are obviously still by best friends, but I faltered with consistently experimenting with raw recipes. I gave in to the comfort of vegan cooking and baking, though I don't bake any where near as much as I used to. But when the second class came around, I was still intrigued to get more advanced raw instruction. When I showed up on the last Saturday of October for class, the kitchen of the rented synagogue was closed. No one else was there. I waited, and felt foolish after ten minutes. I called the restaurant and they said, "Oh yea, that was cancelled because only two people registered." Sigh. Thanks for telling me. I guess I won't be hearing any more swashbuckling raw chef stories.

Alright, I'm out. The dill rice is almost done.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bike, Cooking, Bike, Cooking

My flow is shot. My words have run dry, but I'll work through it, choppily, if you let me.

* I hardly drive my car anymore, but I drove to the Co-op at lunch break because Maya had to use my bike yesterday. While driving I felt I was in the middle of swirling, heavy, metallic chaos that is barely contained by lines and rules. It's nutz out there! I never feel this way on a bike, which is ironic, considering the metallic chaos could f up my world in a heartbeat. But no, no such feelings when riding.

* While driving, I saw a bicyclist on the corner waiting for the light to change. He looked like a sales guy who I had hired to work for my company a lifetime ago. I laughed out loud remembering some of his stories like when he came in on Halloween dressed in a bike helmet, short button-down white shirt, skinny black tie, slacks and a pegged pant cuff. He was a Mormon, but the best part was that he had his 11 year old son wear the same exact thing and that's how they went around together trick o' treating. Or the time he got so drunk while at a party with his wife that he passed out when they got home, naked in the shower after turning on the water. He went down in a way where his left face cheek was covering the drain and water was starting fill the shower unable to go down the drain. His wife couldn't lift him because of drunk-guy-dead-weight syndrome and plus is face was suctioned to the drain. Firefighters had to come and unsuck his face before he drowned.

* I've been working a lot lately. Enough where I feel like a robot, a work robot, and it's kind of deaden my brain. I've taken on more work at the job, and after I took it on, I wondered why. It doesn't promise more money, certainly not more praise. The driving force was that I knew I could do it. I knew I could help straighten out the account I primarily work on, and I was tired of it getting so screwed up. But the price has been higher than I thought. I feel numb, like a machine. I wake in the morning and do five million things until I lay my head back down at night. I'm not sure what to feel about this. Because my brain is dead. RIP, brain.

* Husband came home the other night and Maya, Mina and I were all sitting on the same chair. Not a love seat or sofa and though it's a big chair, it's still a chair. More funny was that the pugs were trying to squeeze up with us too. Dog-pile on Mami (I won't say literally.)

* The thing is, is that I feel isolated lately. Lonely even. My husband has been working very long, hard hours -- hard as in slippery slope hard; as in he fights hard to win battles that are not beatable kind of hard; hard in that he wonders why the majority of people are lazy and he has to work to make up for it kind of hard. But he's carving out his mark in the world and where we're from, in our psyche, this is the only way to get any where. After work, Husband then plays hard. An understandable and necessary outlet, but I haven't seen him much in the last couple months. I miss him and sometimes I'm mad at him.

* But part of the isolation also has to do with the fact that most all of my friends are long distance or virtual. I am a work machine, a home machine. My children must share the same chair as me. The dogs too. But lately I feel a little adultless and lonely in all of that.

* Embarrassingly, all I can think to talk about any more is biking, my bike or cooking. I struggle to think of anything else. I feel my brain is stuck. I love those things, really, truly, obviously, but I think I'm boring people to tears.

* I went to a 4th Grade Parent Meet Up last night where only the parents of Mina's class got together to get to know each other. A lot of us already know each other from past years, but I met a new mom last night, new to the school. She's a scientist at UCLA where she teaches geology and researches cool stuff like planets under pressure. Then I realized I know three scientists that work at UCLA, two of them women, which gave me an instant pang of pride, oddly. So the cool scientist and I talked about earthquakes and minerals (a little) and then cooking. I'm proud to say I restrained from bringing up my bike. In my mind, I was thinking, Don't do it. Don't talk about biking; don't, goddamn it. But SHE brought up Top Chef so, cool.

* I want you to know that of all the people in the world -- grown or not grown --, I would most like to share my chair with the girls.

And my bike.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Close to the Vest & Potato Jackets

Twenty years ago, a writer friend told me that she never talked about a story she was working on; not a hint of the story line, characters, nothing. It dissipates it, she said. It's a piece of advice that I most vividly remember adopting immediately. An idea is a ball of energy, right, that floats between your mind, your heart, your pen, or however you express it. And to talk about it pin pricks the ball. It slowly deflates. The energy escapes.

And sometimes I feel that way about the blog. Like, when I get all excited to, let's say, sew aprons for a living, I feel sometimes I prematurely barf it up on the blog and the energy of what seemed like such a good idea in my mind dissipates and slips passed my determination and drive. But maybe I just want to do too many things, maybe I'm "desirous of everything at the same time" as my new favorite quote goes, and my ideas blow in and out like seasonal winds.

Sigh.

In any event, I'm holding my ball of energy close right now. I'm rolling it around in my hands close to the vest, stoking it, keeping it mainly to myself, and when it erupts then I'll think to share. It's not anything big, really. This is more of an experiment if anything. It's the ol' Do-Don't-Tell technique. I'm new to this.

In the meantime -- because I miss you -- here are some pictures from Molly's 2nd Annual Potato Jacket Night. She came up with the brilliant idea to bake a good number of potatoes, make a good variety of toppings, lay them all out and let friends and neighbors create their own potato master piece. Very fun and super yummy.

Baked potatoes and shredded rice cheese.Toppings, salad and sweet potato pie.Molly makes toppings.I made sweet potato pie. The nut topping made of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts was outrageous.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Thank You Active Citizens

When I watched President Elect Obama make his speech last night, I felt it was just him and me. He was talking to us individually, wasn't he? I've never really felt that way about a leader before. I appreciate the restoration of patriotism. Maybe it's newly found.

Neighbors were over last night and I made rice and beans and we fist-pumped every announcement of a freshly-anointed blue state. When red states were called I secretly thought, Oh no, even though we were far ahead the whole night. It was hard to trust anything. Even when the screen switched to the words "Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States," I shook it off. I was on the phone with Betsy. I told her and she said, "Really? Already?" We both switched to other channels and the internet. Really? Really.

My girls were hugely involved in this election. We had many discussions about propositions and the candidates, and they campaigned enthusiastically for Prop 2 & Obama. Prop 2 passed by a landslide here in Cali (whoohoo!) and I told the girls this morning, "The hard work that you guys did for Prop 2 will now help ease the suffering of 20 million animals. That's amazing. You guys should be so proud of yourselves." They blushed and smiled. The impact was great; the realization that with action and a voice they could accomplish something. Most people I know haven't felt that before, or hadn't before last night.

Maya volunteered two separate times at the Obama call center. The center was packed with middle school students every single day. Some days it was so crowded the center said there were no more phones and the kids would have to make calls on their own cell phones. And they did. It was ingenious to recruit the youngens of liberal parents. They were knowledgeable for the most part, easily given permission from us, and they were uninhibited to make phone call after phone call to strangers in Montana. "Hi, can we count on your support for Senator Obama this Tuesday? Yes? Oh cool!" Or "You're voting for McCain? Oh ok, bye." Or "Oh yea, sorry we'll take you off the list. Sorry 'bout that."

Both Maya and Mina were able to vote at school. At Maya's middle school they held a more detailed election where they voted for the presidency and on the major propositions. At Mina's elementary school, they got to go into mock booths set up in the cafeteria and cast their vote for president. And again I was thrilled to see their voice reaffirmed. They believe their vote matters. They haven't been shown or told any differently.

And to you my friends and to the country in general, thank you so much for your involvement and action during this election. We all made a difference. I found the spirit of democracy infectious and inspiring. I feel alive and hopeful.

I leave you with this year's school pictures.

Mina, 9, 4th grade. Awaiting her photo is always a surprise. Like, surprise! I'm wearing something completely different than what I left the house in on picture day. Or surprise! I decided to water down my bangs at recess and go for this look. Oh Mina, I love you so much. Maya, 13, 8th grade. A true beauty inside and out. I love you so much too, Maya. My little citizens are steady on their pace to become world-changers, if they aren't doing it already.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dreams & Halloween

Last night I dreamed that I was at a film documentary premier about a group of men who herded marlins in the ocean with chainsaws. The marlins had been attacking boats near a particular harbor and the group was hired to steer them clear of the boats, not in a general way, but just as they were attacking the boats. We watched footage of a great-sized marlin trying to overtake a small boat and then suddenly a wild-looking man was along side the huge fish with an arm over it, forcefully guiding it away with the buzz of the chainsaw. Most remarkably was that the man was nearly the size of the marlin. I was horrified at first because I thought they carved into the fish with the saw, but then I learned that it was just the sound and vibration of the chainsaw that did the trick. In the dream, I then had no opinion about it whatsoever. I went to the theater lobby to get refreshments. Husband had told me to buy five espressos. In the lobby, there was a model of a chainsaw that the herding crew used and I held it, noting that there was no handle; the men could only grip the thing from underneath. At the concession stand, Barack Obama was working behind the counter. We knew who he was. We were humbled and nervous about asking him for service. We did know though that he was a skilled barista; we knew he was known for whipping up a mean coffee. People ahead of me in line would say things like, "I hope this is the last time I'll ask you for a soda." "After this weekend, we never want to see you working at this stand again!" And I was thinking the same things. He would smile, but not acknowledge any talk of the pending presidency. He was only concentrating and working hard at the task at hand. As we stood in line, we ogled him with such reverence, praying we'd never seem working anything but as a president after this. When it was my turn, I said self consciously, "Five espressos, please." He brightened up, "Ah, yes, great choice." He asked me what great espresso I had had before. And I said, "I had some with an Italian family I know. And I have Turkish friends." It was a lie because I didn't want to disappoint him. And then he went about brewing up a special batch for my five espressos. He gave me the drinks and said, "Have a great weekend." And I said in a you-know-what-I-mean way, "No, YOU please have a great weekend."

So, now that I've met him, kind of, I'll feel that much more devastated if he doesn't win. But I'll believe what Rebel Girl says: He WILL win. We WILL celebrate, Tuesday and beyond.

Just one more thing about Barack and them . . .on Halloween night, our cool downstairs neighbors Travis & Nikki had a party. Halloween is Travis' birthday, which how cool is that? I baked some Dia del los Muertos treats -- you'll see below -- but for his birthday, I made these cupcakes we can believe in, cupcakes for change. I was channeling some democratic spirit carving out the fondant tops. It was trance-like.
Here was the tiny-skulled apple pie. What I don't reveal in the photos is that when I was taking the pie out of the oven, I scraped part of the upper crust on the top rack as I pulled it out. My kitchen is so small that my oven door doesn't open all the way and I have to angle the baking pan up and out to free the pie and I miscalculated the space this time. It crushed me. For a second. Then I was over it, kinda. What am I gonna do? It was still delicious and the scrape hardly went noticed, though you know I was eyeballing that shit at the party most of the night. Until a slice with the scrape was eaten, and the evidence was gone. Here's this year's Picado Pumpkin Pie. This is always fun to make.Maya's BD and Sanne drove in from Vegas to join us for trick o' treating. It's now almost a tradition that they come every other year. This is the second time and it was lots of fun. It's great having them around and Maya & Mina love to fawn over the two baby girls, RaeRae who is three and the new addition Gabriella, three months.

Here they are as a 90's dead prom couple.
Goth Fairy Maya and Dead Daddy.
Here's BD and his new lil monkey, Gabriella.
Trick o' Treaters, Witch Mina & Princess RaeRae. They're as close as any sisters.
Trick o' Treaters, Grandma Annie & Goth Maya. When a camera was around Maya was never out of character. It was awesome.
Papi and Witch Mina.After Trick O' Treating, we went down to Travis' party and had a blast, all of us. The kids and the adults, we held it down. We took over the dance floor, laughed hard. We tried on other people's wigs and hats.

I was the Mama Witch and here's Molly the Martian. Great paint job! At the end of the night the wig/hat came off and Husband was wearing Travis' meathead hat. This was taken just after someone had handed me a shot of Jagermeister (jesus) and I had flung the liquid over my shoulder into the outside patio as everyone watched while chanting drink, drink, drink. Funk that. I say Hell No to shots. I don't succumb to pressure on that tip.
Happy Halloween, my friends. It was a fun one.