Sunday, August 31, 2008

OLS Week 13

Wow, so it's almost the end of summer and the end of summer means my birthday extravaganza. I'm really lucky in that my birthday has a tendency to be celebrated over the course of a week and in that week I usually spend every night out to dinner meaning that I don't cook. We did manage to have one local meal, a roasted chicken and huge salad, all local ingredients picked up from the co op. I just joined and love the place. The food is of the quality of whole foods but the prices are a lot closer to wholesale. They have a policy of buying local when possible and list the farm or producer next to the products.

I decided to do OLS right after reading Michael Pollen's "Omnivore's Dilema" and had a hard time imagining how to get all of the different ingredients that I needed to make my usual pantheon of recipes. What I learned was where to find local food in my foodie friendly neighborhood, how to adapt to what I found at those stores, and how to stock up on local pantry items. I also realized how many of my friends and family shopped locally. Most of my family is in NJ and it's a state where Jersey Fresh is easy to find even at the worst grocery stores. I also began to savor those imported items so much more since they were almost always specialty items instead of just normal things that I used to buy without thinking.

Perhaps the greatest addition to my cooking repitoire is all of the different dessert recipes I figured out. I usually make chocolate desserts but I learned many new cheese-based desserts that are just as good. Next year I hope to branch out a bit more, try some pickeling and canning, and maybe do more grilling. Hopefully by next year we'll have a deck.

Thanks to Elizabeth and the folks at www.farmtophilly.com for organizing OLS. For anyone who has read along with my OLS adventure, check out farm to philly and consider doing it yourself when the season is right. Its a challenge that can be as little or as big as you would like. If you like my food blog, let me assure you that there are lots of other great ones out there.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Who?



Oh politics, how you keep sucking me back in. In the past few months I grown quite bored with politics. It just seemed so silly, so petty, so negative. I'd dug a hole and stuck my head in. I even grew weary of Obama and every time I heard Hillary or McCain talk I just wanted to move someplace else. But now, with the conventions finally upon us, I'm going to pay a little more attention. Until, of course, I get totally disgusted by the whole thing and plan my escape to Spain.

When Obama chose Biden I sort of shrugged and said "He looks old and white" and went back to the Olympics. My friend reminded me that it was Biden who said the great line "All of Rudy Guliani sentences sound exactly the same: noun+ verb+ 9/11" and I chuckled to myself and though, "well, maybe this guy isn't so bad".

I felt pretty inspired when I heard snippets of Obama's speech the other night and thought, wow, i never though we would nominate an african american person and I, like Michelle Obama, felt really proud of America.

When I heard that McCain picked Sarah Palin I thought "Really?". See, oddly enough I actually know who Sarah Palin is. I met her when I worked for the National Governors Association and she seemed really nice and wore the same clothes everytime I saw her over the course of a 5 day conference. She had kind of a rat's nest on the top of her head and her glasses were perpetually crooked on her face. She was nice but well, she didn't really seem ready for prime time. Especially compared to Tim Pawlenty or Linda Lingle.

She's been in the news this summer in relation to the Ted Steven's indictment. Oddly enough, she was kind of the hero of the story since she had run for governor against his republican machine and apparently really pissed him off. It was quickly uncovered that she too was under investigation for allegedly firing her sister's allegedly abusive exhusband, who was/is a high level official in the state police. Now, as a sister, I totally support the firing of d-bag abusive exhusbands, but well, its still not very ethical.

She also have 5 kids, the youngest is only a few months old (and may I say she looks great). She apparently was back at work, with the baby in tow, a few days after giving birth. While I suppose the process is easier after 4 kids, that seems pretty rough on the body.

So maybe I like her? She stood up to Ted Stevens and his band of merry thugs, lives by her principals (she has a child with down's syndrome and is pro-life), and seems pretty hardcore. If she really is all of those things and the Rs manage to really play up those aspects of her personality then she adds a lot to the ticket. Cause personality (and a pair of boobies) is really all she brings to the table.

I'm pretty excited that we're going to get either a black man or a woman in the white house. I'm not sure how excited I am by their significant others but it should be interesting.

DFL

CLick Here For the Original Post on www.thekitchn.com

I haven't come in last since running cross country in high school. When you came in last you got the title of "DFL" Dead F%$#ing Last and often wore it with pride. Back then I had an excuse, my knee would go, I was totally exausted after a night of cross country partying, it was hot, I was sweaty, the list is endless. But for my latest DFL, I have no real excuse.

I entered an ice cream contest hosted by www.thekitchn.com. They have a great blog associated with Apartment Therapy and most of the recipies and commentary are in line with how I like to eat. Now I make a lot of different ice cream recipies, spicy coffee, beer and chocolate, to name a few, but I wanted to make something super fancy for this because, you know, its super fancy. I entered my peach goat cheese ice cream from a few weeks ago and thought it would do pretty well stacked up against such simple flavors as "sugar plum" and blueberry basil.

I was wrong. See for yourself by clicking the link above. While most of the ice creames were solidly on the I like this/I want more end of the spectrum, mine was pretty universally hated. It is probably the lowest score by a really large margin. So what went wrong? Was it my short description? Bad recipe? Silly pictures? Who knows. My mom said that it was the goat cheese and Adam agreed.

I blame the troglodytes palets and simpleton's tastes... Honestly, the flavor was good and I encourage anyone to try the fruit/cream/balsamic combo- its very unexpected, but in a good way.

What A Year

What a year. I'm not sure I would like to relive my 30th year but it was certainly a crazy, happy, busy year. I celebrated my 30th birthday with a pool party, a great dinner at Blue Hill, and a Yankees Game. Sounds pretty familar to this year. I had not one but two serious medical things, my gross, mysterious legs and finding out and finally managing the sleep walking/narcolepsy/REM Behavior disorder. Between all of the antibiotics and the meds for the sleep stuff I don't think I've been on this much medication since I was little.

The highlight of the year was the arrival of Sonny, the most loved little kid in the world. His arrival doesn't balance out the loss of my dad but certainly brings cheer and snuggles when needed. Josh and Lisa are the best parents and I'm looking to them for clues on how to be a great parent.

Amanda and Damion got married. Kate and Vic managed to live through tax season and a double remodel and Peter and I celebrated our actual 2nd wedding anniversary, which is right before my birthday. Peter's mom is much better and is back to feeling pretty great.

We bought our first house! That was a big and expensive deal. Moved and changed jobs.

Next year: more babies, less moving, less cancer, and hopefully no more job changes. Let's hope that 31 is just a sweet, not bittersweet year in my life.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Some Pretty Pictures





Totally Silly Fun!

I'm kind of a cranky, judgmental person. Perhaps the nice way to say it is that I'm critical (come on I'm a Virgo!). I sort of don't have a heart and most of the time the first thing out of my mouth is some sort of criticism and the last thing out of my mouth will make you think I really hate it. So maybe I have a heart but it is made of shriveled puppy tears. But, you know what totally melts my heart and has me singing and dancing like a fool in love? Broadway musicals. I always pretend to hate them, and most of the time, in my little black heart, I do hate them. I hate the idea of them: the impracticality, oddly exaggerated facial expressions, the random bursting into song, the shallow characters, etc etc. But actually, I act this way because I really love them and have absolutely no talent in singing, dancing, or acting. Thus, I hate them out of jealousy.

Last night my mom came in and took me to dinner and a show. I haven't been to a musical in ages and had almost forgotten their somewhat magical powers. We saw Wicked and loved every minute of it. A good musical is just so wonderfully silly and fun and transports you to another world. What I liked most about the show was that it would transfer so well to a small theater company with just a piano and a few really good singers. Despite the over the top performance (and perhaps overuse of the fog machine) the show could be carried with its great dialogue and fun songs. So, I confess, if I had any talent, I mean any talent at all in the singing/dancing/oddly exaggerated facial expressions, I would be working in a Vegas strip lounge, sitting on top of a piano belting out show tunes and knowing, in my heart of hearts, that I was moving one step closer to the great white way. For now though, in my current state of "zero talent", I am happy to sing in the shower. In a few weeks, when I've forgotten last night and have reverted back to crankdom, remind me of this post and I'll happy demonstrate my lack of talent and lack of shame.

Thanks Mom for a great evening!

Garden Update


New Mums


Fire Escape Bursting with Plants


Tomato Plant lashed to its supports for dear life- its windy up there!

The tomato plant with a bad case of the spider mites

Orange = hot

Status Quo with a little bit of a yellow tint. The garden is doing pretty good. As with any garden, somethings are going gangbusters while others are struggling. We haven't had rain here in a while and its been very hot so I'm having to water twice a day (which is good practice for when I'm finally allowed to have a puppy). Because most things need to be watered twice a day, they look really bad when I don't water them. When I got home from work/birthday celebration last night I found the watering pot in the sink, filled with water, waiting for a window box and knew that I had forgotten to water something. Luckily, it appeared that I forgot to water the drought resistant box.

One box, the odd geranium super hot pepper box, is very drought resistant. I've written before about how each box has its own weather conditions and this one is full sun all day, lots of wind, and never gets any rain because of the roof over hang. I planted different types of geraniums and these super hot (I mean the plant tags are actually warning labels) peppers and they seem to do better when I forget to water them. I have to learn about how to transplant the geraniums for next season. The problem now is that I have a bunch of hot peppers but they're too hot for normal cooking. What's a girl to do?

My herb box is totally gone to flower. Both basil plants have beautiful little white or purple blooms and attract tons of different pollinators. They literally buzz when you open the window. After the great green/yellow/black catepillar parsley invasion of early August, the parsley, that appeared dead, is starting to send out little tufts again. I hope it makes it since fresh parsley is a nice addition to any meal.

The veggie box has 7 regular peppers, 1 almost done eggplant, and the tomato plant has new little tomatoes all over it. These three plants all started to turn a sallow yellow color a few weeks ago. Now, I'm a science person by training, but I don't apply science to my hobbies. I don't test pH, have no idea what is in the soil, and don't follow directions on the plant food. I just dump some in when things look, well hungry. The plant food (only the organic best for my babies) has perked up just about everything except for the tomatoes, they still have branches that are turning yellow though two of them are still flowering and putting out new fruit. The herbs in this box are going great (and make great herb butter) and believe it or not, there are still flowering pansies. They look like freakishly bolted, super leggy pansies, but there they are.

The balcony is in fits and starts. Can we talk about the string beans? I have 5 string bean plants coming out of the same pot and they all tresseled and climb very well, but they keep just sending out new creepers with no flowers or fruit. I suppose science could help me figure this out (there is probably some book out there that says "to get your green beans to settle down just do X, Y and Z) but I just kind of let them go. My mom, who gave me the magic bean seeds, hadn't had any either. Well, this week, in both gardens, there were flowers! So maybe these guys are just late bloomers? If the plants do start to produce green beans, we'll be up to our ears in them, the vines have totally taken over the giant dead honeysuckle bush.

Finally, I addressed the shame of the garden. Well, two shames of the garden. The first is perhaps more like blight than shame. Our block has a very active block association that tries to win the greenest block of the year award. Apparently its a big deal among the Park Slope Block associations and our new president has made it her mission to win. So, I put out a few potted plants in the beginning of the summer. I didn't know what would do well at street level and didn't want to spend a lot of money (there are lots of kids in the 12-15 range around here) so I put in some petunias, geraniums, and some pretty little things who name I shall never know. Well, those pots in that location put a lot of pressure on the plants and some immediately flourished while other immediately died. The geraniums took over one pot and filled in quite nicely. Everything died in the other pot and had just sat there, the blight of the neighborhood, for a few weeks, maybe months. Well, after staring at this sad little pot, with its dead plants hanging around its rim, I ran down to the giant big box hardware store and bought some mums.

On a side note, I've been buying my plants at the small, local, women run nursery in Red Hook. They are totally organic and when I bring them home, all the bugs, fungus, and ook jumps off the new plants and runs onto my plants. They also don't have mums or anything pretty, so I went to Lowes where they probably have illegal immigrants dumping DDT, napalm, and tortured puppy tears on the plants and bought some pretty mums. I'm not going to eat the mums (I don't think the recession is that bad yet) so I figured I would be a bad person just this one time.

The other shame was one of my front boxes, again, again very visible from the street. I had some raspberries in there which were immediately killed by the grass that was in the pot (thanks gowanus nursery!). Once the grass took over, I stopped watering it and after two months, it finally died. Leaving, you guessed it, a big mops of dead grass hanging out of the box. I'm sure the block association was furious. So, out went the dead grass (which of course was still alive underground) and in went the toxic mums. But they're so pretty!

Finally (no really this time), my poor tomato that was besieged by spider mites. The good news is that I seems to have killed the spider mites though regular sprays with soapy water and just pulling off the webs and mites with my hands (yuck). The bad news is that I think I'm too late. The plant looks really sad, though it did just manage to ripen three of the tomatoes that had been sitting there for a while. The plant is still in time out but I'm not sure its going to make it.

My mom has had a horrible critter year. Everything seems to be eating out of her garden except her. Oddly enough, even on the fourth floor of a Brooklyn apartment, we are besieged by critters (and peanut shells WTF?) as well. The moral of the story, if there's food, someone wants to eat it.

No really...

So I put up a potentially emotional entry yesterday and I guess I didn't give enough warning that there would be something like that on my gardening blog. I wanted to reassure everyone that I'm doing okay and didn't have some sort of emotional breakdown. Writing and talking is very cathartic for me and anyone that has had to spend time with me over the past few months will know that I talk a lot about what happened to my dad and our family. For me, it works, for others it might not.

so: WARNING THE NEXT POST IS REALLY REALLY EMOTIONAL AND MAY MAKE YOU SAD.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Girl's Guide To Death and Dying, Cancer Style

I don't mean to be crass, and I certainly don't mean to be disrespectful, but a lot of people have been asking me about my experiences with my father's illness and death and I wanted to try and summarize my experience, mostly for myself, but maybe to help others. I have absolutely no qualifications as a mental health worker and make no claims that my experiences can be generalized beyond myself.

There are four stages to death and dying from cancer from a daughter's point of view. Diagnosis/misdiagnosis/no diagnosis, illness, numbness, and grief. I have experiences the first three and are still working through the last.

The first is perhaps the most difficult. If it's your first time let me warn you that this may be the toughest. In Western culture, we have the sense that medicine has figured out most of what ails us. We take magical pills, clone other mammals, and if we're lucky, only deal with intensive medical treatment occasionally and most of the time we walk away from it. With cancer, it is almost more magical process because our exposure to cancers are often the treatable type that people wear a wrist band, walk or run to cure, or generally survive, maybe missing some body parts or after a few months of chemohell, but for many, it is a life changing and life affirming event. As an observer, cancer was was akin to running a marathon. You worked really hard, suffered tremendously, and in the end, would never choose to do it again.

But after experiencing it, I realize how much the casual observer is misled by the wristbands and walks. Perhaps it starts with a routine test and a detection. Perhaps you're lucky enough to have a diagnosis after one or two tests. For others, a nagging pain or a few months of not feeling "quite right" can be a sign of aging or a sign of something more serious. This first period is one of complete, eyes wide open/eyes wide shut holy shit anxiety that flutters between "its nothing" and "its something". For me, all I wanted to do was scream, cry, dance, throw stuff, and generally cuddle anything. For reference we were told that my dad's symptoms were nothing but a problem with his spleen, he was scheduled for surgery, and modern medicine would take care of the rest. I popped a few bottles of champagne and celebrated with friends. The doctors were still worried though they didn't tell us.

When we finally got a diagnosis we shifted into problem solving mode. We had a problem, an enemy, and we were going to solve/slay the problem with our hard work, courage, and modern medicine. This was a period of doing, frantic doing. For me, this was almost the easiest part of the process because we were constantly pushed to the edge of our selves, grabbing snippets of sleep, having free reign to boss people around, and we could hover around my dad. I don't remember much of this only that is was the hardest month of my life. I read other people's experiences and can't imagine doing what we did for more than a month. I still think hold that once it becomes obvious that an illness is leading towards death, a swift decline with minimal pain may be the easiest.

I look back on this time, the month from diagnosis to death, and second guess everything I did and said. I feel guilty for any second that I wasn't with my dad or helping my family, and feel bad for those few comments that I made that were meant to be light hearted by came out all wrong. While I doubted everything that I was, I know now that I did everything right, or right for the time, place, and situation. There is no greater truism for this time than "we do the best we can".

Once word started leaking to friends and family, people started calling, writing, and emailing. I only called a few people, people who had know from the beginning, who didn't require background or context, but had followed along since the beginning. I found that initial contact was the hardest but once the tearful "I'm so sorry" and "yeah, he's really that sick" were over, the conversation flowed totally normally between friends and family. If you don't know what to say to someone a simple, "I'm so sorry to hear about your dad, is there anything I can do" is the best thing to hear. A deluge of "how are you", "I love you", and "I'm taking you out for dinner" was always welcome. Email was by far the easiest way to communicate and could be done on my own time, carefully, without having to guess when I would be home, emotionally stable, and in the mood to reach out to someone.

I actually haven't told some of my friends, the ones that I know through work or who have no connection to my family. When I see them I like to pretend that nothing happened and that things are exactly the same as they were on May 26th. Truth be told, its a little creepy but its like taking a little break from everything.

Given that most people know someone who has battled cancer, saying "my aunt had lymphoma" actually gives me something to work with and relieves the pressure of having to explain how and why cancer is so difficult.

In the later stages of illness, people begin to change. They start to lose themselves. I guess some people may be aware of this and others are not. Either way, it is incredibly frustrating to lose all control, not be able to go to the bathroom, and be forced to eat jello/pudding. I imagine you long for your life back. I imagine that we weren't the only family who's loved one lashed out, got really angry, didn't act like himself.

It slowly dawns on you that you're losing this person, like they are spending part of their time in a different place, in their mind perhaps, but definitely not in the world that you're standing in. As a sleepwalker who often has dreams that breakthrough into consciousness I actually totally understand this, its a bit like being in England, speaking english, but everyone around you is speaking mandarin. It should make sense, it should work, but there is not way to communicate through the barrier.

For me, this part totally broke me. I'm a caring machine, I can establish order in chaos, I can stay up through the night and still communicate what needs to happen, I can hover protectively and anticipate needs. All of these things made me a terrible care giver at this last stage. I couldn't understand who this new person was, where was my dad?

People talk about patients achieving a sort of peaceful acceptance of death but for us, it was a struggle. There was no acceptance, there was no peace, there was a primal struggle between life and death and it was clear that even my dad, the strongest, bravest, most positive man in the world stood no chance. He required heavy doses of medications to keep him calm and tried many times to get out of bed and go home. In his moments of lucidity he told us that he wasn't in pain and wanted to be there but as his mind separated from itself, there was clearly some sort of monumental struggle going on.

I knew he was gone when, all alone, I opened his eyes and stared into them and no one stared back. He might have been physically alive but he was mentally gone and I believe we are truly nothing in this state. Once he died, we all went home and slept for what felt like both days and minutes.

I was numb for about two months, actually I'm just coming out of it. I took a few days off, delivered the eulogy, caught up with some people and was generally functional. I didn't think about it and I didn't think about much other than picking up the pieces, grocery shopping, car maintenance, a bit of travel, work, work, and work. People came out of the woodwork to support me and I think I talked a lot about my experiences and how my personal, non experiential philosophy was right all along. For most of the time, there is still a lot of stuff to do, and its horrible painful stuff but you do it. You run on empty and feel somewhat brave for doing it. Having good friends around who see or talk to you often is really good because they can tell you when you mood has shifted and nicely recommend that you don't have another drink/go home/stop yelling at random people. At this point, I kept repeating myself, creating mantras to reassure myself that I was okay with what happened "Some people have it much worse", "He lived a good life", "We're born, we live our life, and we die" all of this makes thing feel better but in a moment, if you ask a question like, why does idea make you feel better, the house of cards falls, makes a mess, and needs to be picked up. But most of the time the mantra works.

Now, the final stage. Life after death. Well, so far, its been lonely and bittersweet. I am slowly thinking less about the illness part and now happy memories of my dad are crowding out the bad ones. That's all I can say right now. Perhaps for friends, this is the hardest part. All those other stages take a really beating on a friend but somehow they're still there when you need them but I imagine that I still sound like a robotic healing machine who only cries, repeats, and talks only about herself. Sorry. I'll go back to working on my listening skills in a little bit.

In a Nutshell
- You can't judge anyone. This is a very hard part, especially for control freaks like me. See number 2.
- Trust yourself. Most people don't have a lot of experience with this so just do the best you can when you can.
- Friends: You should try to stay in touch. If someone doesn't want to talk right now, it feels really good to know that there is someone out there to talk to.

No, seriously...

The world of science education reform is often a black hole. Commission after commission have released reports screaming for help and attention and claiming that if we don't pour more money into science (and math, technology, and engineering but make sure science is first) then we will find ourselves catapoulted back into the middle ages with Russia and France. It is actually pervasive enough that I made a little game of it:

Multiple Choice: Which of the Following Is a Fake Report Title:
a) A Nation At Risk
B)Rising Above the Gathering Storm
c)Does America Care?
d)Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening?

I thought it was funny and after almost two hours of listening to me talk about the history of STEM education reform everyone else thought it was funny too. Give up? Well, they're all real report titles and the last one, who's full title is "Americans Speak Out-- Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening" was just released by Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa (some fancy society). Basically the report says that american's get the connection between competitiveness and education and they really don't want to be shuffled back to the middle ages. I bet seeing the technology at the olympic opening ceremonies might even have scared them a little bit.

Politicians get that normal everydays folks, NASCAR dads and Soccer Moms, get this concept and that's why they do bullshit things like pass the America COMPETES Act but don't put any money towards it. And this seems to satisfy most people. Those of us who work on these issues continue to pound our heads against our desks when we stare into the cavernous effeciency gap that is American politics. Okay, so we can't legislate, mandate, or cajole our way into a better, more funded science system. Maybe good old supply and demand will help?

Well, the demand is there. Its actually standing there, dressed as a drag queen, smoking sweet clove cigarettes, and banging on pickle cans to get your attention. Undergrad program in the physical science, math, and engineering salivate over any kid in 8th grade who scores a 4 on their math exam. They are basically guaranteeing a high school through grad school trip to kids with talent. Yet, kids don't make it and parents don't push.

Our policy makers and people in power scratch their heads at this. I kindly remind them to think back to their own high school math or chemistry class and then they get it, chemisty itself may be interesting but the study of chemistry kind of sucks.

I found this quote while doing some research the other day. “Yet, if women, underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities were represented in the U.S. science, engineering, and technology (SET) workforce in parity with their percentages in the total workforce population, the shortage could largely be ameliorated." It reminded me that education isn't rocket science and that we do a really good job educating certain kids from specific backgrounds. The kicker is educating all kids, or reaching all kids with talent, and supporting them through chemistry, calculus, etc that sucks a bit less.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Garden Update

Here are some pictures of the garden from the street level.
The window boxes often look like they are going to spill their wares out onto the street. The geraniums (which truly love no water and lots of sun) and booming, the hot peppers are currently pepperless as I try to figure out what to do with the 4 flourescent (which means HOT!!!) peppers I currently have,and the thai and regular basil have both gone to flower.

I thought this was a cool shadow. Most of what was in the big box on the balcony is dead but everything that I planted is flourishing. Everything is also lashed down with pantyhose so it looks a bit like a Leggs fashion show up there. On a side note, I know that there is a massive and catastrophic population crash of bees in this country and I know the problem is serious. I also know that its the commercial hives of a few species that are in trouble. I have tons of pollinators and they sting!

Front of the building with flower boxes.

I had one box that brought me great shame. I planted raspberries in it but they were overtaken by some grass that sprouted up. The grass quickly took over the raspberries and killed the plant. I then stopped watering the grass and it died leaving a big mop of dead grass hanging out of the box. I replaced it today with some beautiful copper mums.

See! A few pansies hanging out with the veggies.

Going Back To School


I've been toying around with the idea of going back to teach. I'm certified in NJ and have always taught in NJ. My friends who work in NYC constantly complain about the NYCDOE bureaucracy and high jinx. In the past these reports have been enough to keep me at bay but lately I've been thinking it might be nice to work in NYC, all of those reforms must have led to something right?

So I put my resume in for a winter start date and get a call back from NYCDOE saying that I am missing pieces. I check and I'm not but I try to return the call anyway. The number given on Monday led to a "this number no longer takes messages" message on Tuesday. When I asked for the person who called me I was transferred to what can only be called a mobius strip of voice mail systems.

So do I really want to go back to teaching. Probably. Do I really want to put up with NYC's shenanigans? Probably not. This type of small, unprofessional BS is exactly what, over time, keeps people out of the classroom. Maybe there's something in Hoboken?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hey There Blue Eyes



Aunt Sal, Josh, and Wriggly Baby






Guitar Hero?


The Patricks


Just before he went nuts over the grass and not in a good way


It's official, Santino is the cutest baby in the world (and incredibly photogenic). It is always a joy to spend time with him. Tonight we celebrated my birthday in grand feast style and no one could get enough of the little bugger. We may have done some permanent damage given our goading to try and get him to go on the grass but I'm sure it may only lead to a life long fear of picnics.

It was hard to choose which to post but fear not, I'll order paper copies for everyone!

OLS Week 12


Eek! Where did the summer go? I always get a bit blue when the end of August rolls around. It's always no more lazy afternoons reading in the shade or sailing at the beach and for many years it meant the dreaded back to school terror. As an adult, it means another birthday and a few weeks of peace and quiet at work while everyone is away. This year, with OLS, it means tons of tomatoes, corn, and peaches! I've never been as away of the seasonality of food as I am this summer.

This week I had a lot of local meals ranging from dinner at my best friend's place to my birthday feast. Dinner at my friends was one of the simplest most delicious meals I've ever had. Zucchini salad, corn, peach cobbler, and some spicy chicken sausage. I had a delicious lunch of yogurt "crack cakes" pancakes that I adapted from another OLS participant. Last night we had a nice dinner straight from the farmer's market of salad, spicy turkey sausage and roasted beets.

Tonight is the first of my birthday dinners. I say dinners because I have never liked parties and everyone seems to compensate by taking me out for meals for an entire week. It's not a bad compromise. Tonight we're having dinner at my step-mom's with all of the kids (and my nephew!!! and maybe the dog!!!) and I insisted on bringing as much of the fresh produce as possible. I wanted to ensure that the ingredients were local and the best we could find. My step-mom thought I was a bit weird but gave in since it's my birthday. Oddly enough, she shops almost exclusively at farm stands that sell the best produce around. So, my insistence to have a local meal probably meant that our food traveled more miles that necessary. Such is life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Abby's Zucchini Salad

I had a lovely dinner with my friend the other night and wanted to post her very easy zucchini recipe to give everyone one more thing to do with their surplus.

Abby's Zucchini Salad
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Serves 2

2 large zucchini, sliced and quartered
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup feta
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice and quarter you zucchini and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat your oil in a medium saute pan and add your zucchini. Cook until soft and pour into serving bowl. Rip up your mint leaves and add mint, feta, and almonds to your serving bowl. Mix and serve warm.

Music Stuff

Link to the Sound Check Story with links to all of the music

I know very little about music and even more about "cool" or "popular" music. I had a very embarrassing experience in 8th grade when I boy I liked asked me my favorite CD and I said "the big chill" (even though it was Tracy Chapman). He never talked to me again since he was very cool and I was no longer cool. I have a nice selection of music that I occasionally add to and my husband loves to find new music so I don't want to suggest that nothing penetrates my skull, but its pretty rare.

My tastes run solidly through the guy/girl with guitar land with a streak of anything that I can sing along to in the car which includes a lot of 80's music. So basically I still play my CDs from high school and my husband picks stuff for me to listen to on his iPod.

But, just as I was thinking I needed some new music, Sound Check, a music show on NPR, did a whole show on emerging artists in the indie pop/alt rock vein. Some of them are known to me (Bon Iver), others are multiplatnium in other countries, and others are well known to anyone who knows anything about music and doesn't live in a musical hermitage like me.

The link above should bring you to the sound check episode and within that there is a link to the magazine where the story came from. You can hear snippets of songs from each of the artists. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hudson Valley Wine Fest

Link to the Information Page

Oh, this looks tempting. The Hudson Valley has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world AND they're having a wine and food fesitival. The problem with these things is that someone has to drive though maybe we can convince one of our pregnant friends that they want to go...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

September 9th Local Food Celebration

Link to the article on the event

On September 9th there will be a NYC event honoring local food. Some great chefs are in the lineup and I'm sure it will be a great chance to meet other local foodies. I would love to go but am always a bit hesitant to go to these things alone especially since there is a political element (They are honoring Chris Quinn). I loathe networking and would hate to show up and have to pimp my work. On the other hand, local food by top chefs may just be worth it. See the link above for details.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cafe Mingala on the UES

It was very refreshing to have a great meal after hating everything (books, food, movies, etc) for a lifetime. I ate at Cafe Mingala on the UES (2nd Ave between 72nd and 73rd). I had never eaten Burmese but was assured that it was the best that Thai and Indian food had to offer.

We started with the Peah Thee Thoke, a steamed string bean salad with peanuts, crispy onion, lemons and what they describe as "burmese spices". We added a spicy sesame and roasted hot pepper sauce on top to make a perfect crunchy, sweet, spicy and salty salad. I could have eaten this all night. The crispy onion were the best part and I wish I could eat them on everything (but alas, they make Dr. Sensitive a bit sick). These were totally new flavor combinations for me and it certainly left me wanting to try more.

Our main course weren't as excellent as the salad but still pretty darn good. We had the Ginger Phet- Htoke, a pork and seafood dumpling, with a mild ginger and basil sauce with steamed veggies. The dumplings inexplicably came with rice. I'm so used to soup dumplings that these seemed a bit dry but in reality that were pretty good dumplings with a light and bright sauce.

Finally we had the Mingala Noodles with Shan Style Red Sauce which is described as rice noodles topped with a northern burma sliced shan style chicken, with spiced tomatoes, ground peanuts, and a corriander sauce. There was an episode of Top Chef (Season 4) where someone made a peanut and tomato sauce and all of the judges freaked out because it was an unheard of combination. Well, its not and here is an example. It was in no way an offensive combination but it wasn't very flavorful.

So, if you're looking for a good exotic place for dinner on the UES I would recommend this place. If I were there on my own I would have asked the waiter to recommend a few dishes to try.

Oh, beer is your best bet as it washes down the spicy and compliments the flavors.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Facebook

So one of the nice ladies in my office scolded me the other day for not being on Facebook. In an effort to make friends I created a page on facebook and have been addicted ever since. The spell is slowly being lifted and I find myself wondering a few thing:

1) Why do some people have so many damn friends. There is one guy, who I guess was friendly during high school, who is friends with everyone and turns up everywhere.
2) Is it okay to send a friend request to someone who didn't want to be your friend in real life?
3) Should you send friend requests to people who you don't want to see in real life, like you're just trying to be polite.
4) What is the best way to answer the age old question of "MEG!!!WHAT's UP!?!?!?
5) Will the people who stalked me in real life stalk me on line? Well, maybe they're already familar with my fabo blog...
6) Is it wrong to be mad because the girl I always disliked married my first crush?
7) Are there other types of profile pictures beyond 1) I'm still a slut 2) I still do cool rad things 3) I am now my children 4) I'm a bit of a crank (mine) 5) I took my picture with the webcam 5) I'm in the performing arts 6) I'm moody and too cool for you 7) I'M MARRIED!!!? The ones where people still look slutty are my favorites 'cuse gosh, things never change do they?
8) Seriously, who are some of these people? They know the same people that I know but I have no idea who they are. Is it rude to ask?

Alright, maybe if I observe some more whitty things I'll post them.
Love,
Captain Obvious

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barrio in Park Slope

The other day my book group pointed out that I hated everything. Tonight though, no one would have liked the meal we had at Barrio. Let me start by saying the place is a bit charmless. Its right on a somewhat busy corner with a relatively small sidewalk between the tables and the street. They play occasionally obnoxious music and our waiter obviously had a grudge against us:)

I had heard good things about the menu and liked the owners' other restaurant, Calle Ocho, so we headed down there to get away from the Olympics. The watermelon mint margaritas tasted like curdled liquid cotton candy, the guacamole tasted like wall paste with diced jalapenos on top, and my ceviche had the strangest taste like BBQ Sauce. Peter deemed his enchiladas "good" and my salad, the Barrio Salad, was lettuce, kidney beans, carrots, and a dressing that tasted a bit like when you sweat after you've eaten too much garlic.

I actually walked out of the place feeling a bit nauseous. So, we probably won't be going back there.

Five Guys in Park Slope

I was out to get some more books and stopped by Five Guys on 7th Ave. I fondly remember their burgers from all of my business trips out of National Airport in DC. They have a branch at the airport and it was the only thing that was always open. Regardless of whether I had a 9 am or a 9 pm flight, I always grabbed a Little Burger before hopping on a flight (cause god knows what they'll serve you on a Air Pringles Can flight to a regional airport in Ohio).

This Five Guys opened a few months ago and I've been meaning to stop by. First the place was packed at 4:30 on a Sunday. Second, in accordance to a new NYC law, they had all of the calories posted next to the price. I skipped the small fries at 680 calories a pop. I got a regular soda and Little Burger for about $6.

Its a good burger but I keep running into hard chewy bits. I'm not sure what they are but they are gross and there are a lot of them. Bone, gristle, plastic who- has, I don't want them. So next time, I'll skip the burger.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

OLS- Week 11 Feast!



I believe a bet was made between Adam and Kate. We don't want you to move Ad, but we'll come and visit!



My lovely sister and me



We were treated to an incredibly sunset. My husband looks very melodramatic here. This is east towards Prospect Park



Vic and Peter talk shop while watching the sunset over the Hudson and the Statue of Liberty.



This evening was what life is all about: the best of friends and family, incredible food, and a ton of shared laughter over a few bottles of wine. In some ways we really need nights like this especially after my father's death. Its been really difficult on my sister and I and equally tough on our significant others and close friends. There is nothing easy about losing a much loved parent.

This particular meal was for me, one of the most important in my life, because it meant, for just a few hours, that we could get back to normal and eat, drink and laugh, and it felt just like that, normal. I should also say that this is one of the funniest groups of people around and at one point I was very concerned that the neighbors would come upstairs and ask us to stop laughing.

I set out my menu the other day with the intent of showing everyone a simply, delicious local meal that was in line with the unique challenges of this group. I didn't know how many people would show up, didn't know what I would find at the market, some people prefer a low-carb meal, and I, of course, don' eat tomatoes, dairy, and onions. I, to my detriment totally ignored my own restrictions. I also wanted a menu that would be easy and could allow people to help out if needed and could be done mostly in advance. I paired my meal (with the help of the guys at Big Nose Full Body) with some nice wines. I should also say that the farmers market this weekend was incredible with more choices than I could have imagined. I shopped for almost all of my ingredients there, though I did have to buy organic eggs from PA from the deli across the street. So here is my menu:



To Start:
Kate's Homemade Hummus (I'll have to ask her for her recipe)
Red Pepper Slices (Farmers Market)
Green Peppers (From our garden)

Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil Salad
Mozzarella from Russo's across the street
Tomatoes from the Farmers Market and our garden
Basil Salad from our garden



Main:
Ricotta, Bacon, and Kale Fritata
Serves 8
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 35-40 Minutes

Original Recipe from epicurious.com here

1 lb Kale
1 package Bacon
1 large onion
.5 lbs Ricotta
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbs Olive Oil
14 large eggs
Salt, pepper, Tabasco, nutmeg, dried basil all to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Heat the olive oil in a small saute pan. Dice the onion and tear the kale into 1 inch pieces. Saute the onion and kale until tender. Cook the bacon until extra crispy and when cool, break into small 1 inch pieces.

Add the eggs, bacon, kale, ricotta, parmesan and spices to a large mixing bowl and mix until smooth.

Spray your pan with non-stick cooking spray. I used my cast iron buffet casserole dish but any round dish with 3-4" sides will do nicely. I transfer the fritata straight to the table so I keep presentation in mind. Pour your egg mixture in the dish and set on the stove. Set the stove to medium high heat and cook it until the edges firm up. Transfer to the over and cook it for approximately 30 more minutes or until the middle stops jiggling.

Remove from the oven, cool, and serve in slices.





BLT Salad
Serves 8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes

3 heads of lettuce (I use different types)
6-8 tomatoes (again, different colors and types)
1 large cucumber
2 small yellow cucumbers
6-8 strips of bacon

Vinegrette
1.5 cups good balsamic vinegar
3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
3 tbs dijon mustard
5 small basil leaves
Salt, pepper, Tabsasco, dried basil, dried garlic, nutmeg to taste

If you get your lettuce from the farmers market it is likely going to come home with a lot of mud on it. I chop the lettuce and throw it into a cleaned sink filled with cold water and let it sit. Swirl it around occasionally. All of the dirt falls to the bottom. Remove the lettuce from the water and let drip dry in collender. However you do it, clean and dry your lettuce.

Clean the tomatoes and cut them into slices. Peel your cucumber and cut it into 1/8" slices and then cut in half to make halfmoon shapes. I found some small, round cucumbers at the market and threw them in. I think they were lemon cucumbers and they were one of the best tasting things I have ever had. You can prep the salad a few hours in advance but don't dress it until it is about to go out on the table.

Make your bacon extra crispy and chop it into 1" sections. I served this on the side so that it would stay crispy.

Vinegrette

Chiffonade the basil and add everything to a sealable container. Shake well to blend and then dress the salad right before it is going out on the table.

Herb Bread
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves 8

1 stick butter
1 baguette
1 large garlic head or 3 small ones
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cups total fresh basil, thyme, parsely, mint, and sage

Preheat the over 375F.

Trim the roots off the garlic and lay it on a small sheet of tin foil (enough to wrap it up in). Generously drizzle the olive oil on the heads and wrap it up in the foil. Place the tinfoil and garlic in a heat proof dish and roast in the over until the heads are easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes.

Soften the butter. Dice the herbs and place in the softened butter. Add the cooled garlic and mash everything together with a fork.

Slice the baguette into 3/4" pieces and lay onto tin foil. This can get messy and drip so the tinfoil helps.

Use a spoon to slather the butter onto the bread on both sides. Wrap in the tinfoil and place in the over for 15 minutes.



Roasted Green and Wax Beans
I written about this recipe before but for 8 people you will need about 2 lbs of beans.



Dessert
I have wanted to try this one for a while and finally got to it:

Peach Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Roasted, Salted Pistacios Drizzled with a Balsamic and Bay Leaf Reduction
Adapted from David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop"

Serves 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Freeze Time: 30 minutes and 30 minutes and 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup unshelled pistachios (not local)
1 1/5 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
7 oz. fresh goat cheese
1 oz. fresh ricotta
6 large egg yolks
2 large peaches
Pinch of Salt
1 tsp salt

Reduction
2 cups high quality balsamic vinegar (not local)
2 bay leaves (not local)
1/8 tsp fresh ground nutmeg (not local)

Preheat the over to 350F.

Place the pistachios on a small cookie sheet and roast for 10-15 minutes.

Puree the peaches. Add the pureed peaches, goat, and ricotta cheese into a large mixing bowl. Place a small strainer over the bowl.

Remove the pistachios from the over and cool them. Crush them in a food processor with the teaspoon of salt. Add to the cheese and peaches bowl.

Add the egg yolks and pinch of salt to a small mixing bowl.

Add the milk and sugar to a small saute pan (I prefer my 8" cast iron saucier) and heat until small bubbles form at the edge of the pan. Pour the milk and sugar mixture into the small mixing bowl with the yolks, stirring constantly. I almost always have someone help me with this but when alone I use a lighter saucier. Mix throughly.

Add the milk, sugar, and egg mixture back into the saucier and turn on a medium low flame. If you've never made a custard before it's a bit daunting. If you're not up for the custard making you could do this recipe as a frozen yogurt very easily. See my recipe for peach pie with a balsamic stripe. Ok, back to the egg, sugar, and milk mixture. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and thickly coats the back of a spoon. Turn the heat off and pour the mixture over the peaches and cheese bowl and mix throughly.

Cool the mixture in the refridgerator for 30 minutes. Make according to your ice cream maker's directions.

Balsamic Bay Leaf Reduction

Add the ingredients to a small saucier. Stir over medium high heat until it reduces by half or until it coats the back of a spoon. Remove the bay leaves and pour over the ice cream.

Drinks:
We started with mojitos (we now call the mint plant a mojito plant), had a dry rose with dinner, and finished dessert with a nice cava.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bruce Springsteen's NJ Hall of Fame Speech

I just found this and kind of fell in love with Bruce Springsteen. He made it seem like being from NJ isn't too bad. I kid, we all know that there is nothing I hold more dear than the great state of Jersey, even if that means that my kids will actually be 4-toed sloths.

When I first got the letter I was to be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame I was a little suspicious. New Jersey Hall of Fame? Does New York have a hall of fame? Does Connecticut have a hall of fame? I mean, maybe they don't think they need one.
But then I ran through the list of names: Albert Einstein, Bruce Springsteen... my mother's going to like that. She's here tonight. It's her birthday and it's the only time she's going to hear those two names mentioned in the same sentence, so I'm going to enjoy it.

When I was recording my first album, the record company spent a lot of money taking pictures of me in New York City. But...something didn't feel quite right. So I was walking down the boardwalk one day, stopped at a souvenir stand and bought a postcard that said "Greetings from Asbury Park." I remember thinking, "yeah, that's me."
With the exception of a few half years in California, my family and I have raised our kids here. We have a big Italian-Irish family. I found my own Jersey girl right here in Asbury Park. I've always found it deeply resonant holding the hands of my kids on the same streets where my mom held my hand, swimming in the same ocean and taking them to visit the same beaches I did as a child. It was also a place that really protected me. It's been very nurturing. I could take my kids down to Freehold, throw them up on my shoulders and walk along the street with thousands of other people on Kruise Night with everybody just going, "hey Bruce...." That was something that meant a lot to me, the ability to just go about my life. I really appreciated that.

You get a little older and when one of those crisp fall days come along in September and October, my friends and I slip into the cool water of the Atlantic Ocean. We take note that there are a few less of us as each year passes. But the thing about being in one place your whole life is that they're all still around you in the water. I look towards the shore and I see my two sons and my daughter pushing their way through the waves. And on the beach there's a whole batch of new little kids running away from the crashing surf like time itself.

That's what New Jersey is for me. It's a repository of my time on earth. My memory, the music I've made, my friendships, my life... it's all buried here in a box somewhere in the sand down along the Central Jersey coast. I can't imagine having it any other way.
So let me finish with a Garden State benediction.

Rise up my fellow New Jerseyans, for we are all members of a confused but noble race. We, of the state that will never get any respect. We, who bear the coolness of the forever uncool. The chip on our shoulders of those with forever something to prove. And even with this wonderful Hall of Fame, we know that there's another bad Jersey joke coming just around the corner.
But fear not. This is not our curse. It is our blessing. For this is what imbues us with our fighting spirit. That we may salute the world forever with the Jersey state bird, and that the fumes from our great northern industrial area to the ocean breezes of Cape May fill us with the raw hunger, the naked ambition and the desire not just to do our best, but to stick it in your face. Theory of relativity anybody? How about some electric light with your day? Or maybe a spin to the moon and back? And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know, when the announcer says "and now in this corner, from New Jersey...." they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we're coming out swinging.

God Bless the Garden State.

Planning My Menu

I'll be making dinner for between 4 to 8 people on Satuday and I need to think about my menu. My limitations are:
- One guest likes to eat low-carb
- It's my local meal for the week
- I don't know how many people will show up
- I want to have them help me prep
- I don't want to spend the whole time cooking

Appetizers:
Mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil
My sister's homemade hummos with veggies

Main Course:
BLT Salad
Roasted Veggies
Bacon, green, ricotta fritata

Dessert:
Peach Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Salted Pistacios
Spicy Coffee Ice Cream Sandwiches

Drinks:
Mijitos
Cinnamon and Peach Margaritas

What else?

Spider Mites?

So they're no "furry guy" but I think one of my tomato plants has spider mites. I had noticed a very fine web with tiny white specks around some of the leaves and does it with soapy water. Apparently, these guys love soapy water because they had basically taken over the plant when I checked after a few days.

How on earth did my indoor tomato plant get spider mites? So far I've had red, green, and black aphids, spider mites, those caterpillars that ate my parsley, a deranged bee, and I keep finding peanut shells in my plants. Its had being a plant on the 4th story in Brooklyn.

On a side note, this week's haul: 4 tomatoes, 2 eggplants, 1 green pepper, 2 hot peppers, some basil, and I'll undoubtedly pull in some mint tomorrow night.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

And Its Only Getting Darker


It seems like we've had quite a few "end of the world" storms this summer. It was raining when I left work and I emerged in Brooklyn in this dark, crackely, cold mess. This is a view to the east while the view to the west is mostly sunny.

I Don't Know Either...



Its always fun just to find pictures on your camera. I guess the Olympics weren't entertaining enough for someone?

You Mean They Have To Know Stuff?

Ed Week Article

I just read an article in Education Week on state exit exams. Exit exams should be familar to anyone who is from New York and had to take the regents. While each state is a little different, an exit exam is some sort of assessment that you must pass in order to graduate. Some times they are in individual subjects, sometimes they are taken at the end of each course, and sometimes they are a comprehensive test that kids take at the end of high school.

I actually don't know if NJ had this sort of test. It wouldn't have registered for me or my classmates because they wouldn't have been difficult for us. But for other less resourced schools, they become a huge deal worthy of months of cramming, a curriculum that focuses on them, and a big celebration when and if they are passed. The movie "Lean On Me", a film about the district that I used to teach in, turns "the test" into a motivational exercise instead of just a boring day filling out bubbles in the caf.

The reason exit exams are becoming politically unpopular is that they highlight was a bad job we do of educating certain groups of kids. These tests don't just mean something for the collective district, they mean something for the individual. Its easy to pass kids through to graduation when we grade them on what is called "seat time". Seat time is a system based upon simply showing up. Sure you have do to the bare minimum but most schools are willing to give you credit for trying. When someone has to demonstrate that they've learned something and not just sat through it, it is hard to pass them on when they fail your test.

Is the solution to scrap exit exams? Is it to make better exit exams? Is it better to rubber stamp kids through the system because they must not want an education?

The flip side of exit exams is probably a little more revolutionary than just revealing the system's failure. If you need to pass an exam to move to the next grade or course, does that mean that you should be able to take the exam at any point in time and move to the next level? If my (imaginary) kid can pass the 8th grade exit exam when they're in 7th, meaning that they know the material, can they just move on to the next course? What if they actually could do that, say they are home schooled or take their courses on line? That would change things pretty quickly.

So, maybe politicians are better off scraping exit exams. They not only make politicians and the school system look bad, they make people feel bad about the quality of education they have recieved. Plus, do you really want to change this great system that we have going? It worked so well for me...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

When the Cat's Away...


Peter is working late tonight so I decided to settle in for some olympics, beer, and yogurt pancakes that I saw on OLS. So I've settled and am waiting for more Olympic action and enjoying my yogurt pancakes.


My husband often wants pancakes on the weekend and I am never really that excited about them. To me they are all carb and have no staying power and are therefore totally useless food. Given that I'm Ms. Sensitive to Everything (that's Dr. Sensitive to you), I can eat and enjoy a stack of pancakes, fall asleep, and wake up a half an hour bloated and hungry. So, well, I'm usually a bit unenthused about making them. These on the other hand seem a touch more healthy with a little bit more protein and more taste.

I found the recipe after reading this week's One Local Summer entries for Week 10. OLS is a group of people who have decided to make one local meal a week. There are regional coordinators who colate everyone's posts and then post them on www.farmtophllly.com. It is a great way to read about people's local food shed and to dream about owning a farm with some nice chickens, goats, dogs, and all the DIY projects you could dream about. So here are Melinda's Yogert Pancakes, that are so addictive to young children, they are affectionately referred to as "crackcakes".

PS- I made some extra Peter, they'll be in the freezer.

Melinda's Yogurt "Crackcakes"
Original Recipe Here
Makes 8 large pancakes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes

1/2 Cup All- Purpose Flour (King Arthur's in VT)
1.5 T Sugar
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
2 Large Eggs (Fairway Organic from Lancaster PA)
1 cup low-fat yogurt (Bonnybrook Farms, NY)
1/2 cup water
1 t vanilla (if you're going to import, get the good stuff)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground ginger
1 t honey (farmers' market)
Butter for the pan (Bonnybrook Farms NY)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients in small bowl. Combine and whisk until blended. I added the water as needed to get the right consistency. I heated the non-stick to medium and added a bit of butter before each pancake went in.

I also ate a peach and lettuce salad with my homemade vinnegrette from Saturday's meal. If I had any peaches left I probably would have made a peach pie filling and a balsamic reduction to go on top. The salad was damn good though.

One note on the Olympics: is it wrong to find beach volleyball so.freaking.boring?

Scary New Lens





We've been playing around with my dad's lenses and in the past few days we've been taking a lot of pictures with an older Nikon 500mm Reflex. These are a few of the pictures that I took tonight from the room. Most of the images are a few miles away.

Eh, sorry about the direction of the pictures. One of my cameras will load the pictures with the right orientation and apparently this one doesn't.

John 1 Furry Guy 0

An update on "the furry guy"

Meg...John just called...In the "Have a Heart Trap"...he got one
Furry Guys....he put anchovies in with various other foods...
the boyfriend is very working hard to get rid of the "Furry Gang"

That will teach them to fool around with our "local crops" here in NJ.

to be continued......

The Furry Guy...



I just recieved this from my mom and posted it because I thought it was so funny! At first I thought that the "furry guy" was the much maligned Diego, my sister's cat that lives with my mom, terrorizes her boyfriend, and causes neighbors to screen in their porch. The "furry guy" is actually a woodchuck-type critter that is terrorizing her garden. Its probably gotten almost all of the edibles out of the garden so far, and it looks like he got most of her tomatoes!


Meg...be happy you live and garden on the top floor...

Sunday, we get home from VT...I look out the kitchen window and I see the tomatoes moving...I cannot believe
my eyes...(it was starting to get windy) then i said...its him...the furry guy...I run outside (he waited till we got home so it seemed) he had pulled 5 tomatoes down half eaten having a party all by him self...

I then ran to the garage, got the chicken wire and put it around the tomatoes...like a concentration camp...
this seems to silly...all this effort for a 19" furry four legged animal...

I have to admit...I was very upset...the tomatoes are just starting to turn red, big and very full...last night John brought in 3 more ...he jumped up and over the chicken wire and ate half again of the biggest ones we had...
so if anyone you know....knows how to deal with this please give me a hint.

Our prize right now is the corn about 8 ears...but I am worried about the furry guy...he is still on the loose.
We have a "have a heart trap"...we got 3 squirrels and 2 chipmunks.

I guess if this is my only problem...I am doing great...
hope you are having a good day...love you
mom

Monday, August 11, 2008

In the Nook


San Francisco is the town of nooks, so I took some shots of reading nooks as I walked around the Nob And Russian Hill areas.

I just finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I don't really know how I feel about the book. The writing is beautiful, the kind that just rolls off the page but the story was weird and I think it was good weird. I guess I'm still not sure what the book is about or who the book is about. Both Edgar and the dogs are the main characters and are treated so similarily by the author. Edgar is mute but the family and the dogs learn his sign language. He has an active relationship with a number of ghosts/spirits and there is a lot of hand wringing over what the dogs mean but neither of those two large plot details are really ever explained. When I finished the book I wasn't really sure what happened.

To be sure its a unique book and the writing alone is worth reading it. The characters, especially the mother, are written with a few descriptive strokes and for the most part I understood them only in relation to the dogs and the place, especially the barn. There are a few disturbing scenes that are not for the squeemish and a constant anxiety over the fate of Edgar, the dogs, his mom, and the sense of lineage for all of them.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

OLS Week 10




The nice thing about being in California is that there is a tremendous amount of food produced locally. Being the birthplace of the slow/local food movement you will find many restaurants in that style. Our friend's wedding was in fact, catered in that style. So for the first half of the week, we ate locally in San Francisco and Calistoga. We certainly drank locally! While I appreciate New York wine, the Napa Valley just blows it away and we enjoyed it probably more than we should have.

While we had bits and pieces of local meals, our main OLS meal was tequilla lime pork chops, a peach/tomato, pistacio, and goat cheese salad, and a pear, blueberry and cinnemon margarita. Almost all of the ingredients (except the tequila, lime, pistacios, oil, salt, and pepper) are local and everything fresh came from the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza.

I hardly cook pork because it is so easy to turn it into hockey pucks. I found some nice bone-in chops though and wanted to do something "summery" with them. The tequilla and limes are obviously not local. I know a very similar red wine reduction that could easily take its place.

Tequila Lime Pork Chops
Original Recipe Adapted from Recipezaar.com
Serves 2
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Pork Chops
2 bone-in pork chops about 1.5 inches thick, patted dry
Ground cumin seed
Coarse salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil

Sauce
1 cup tequila
The Juice of a lime
1/2 cup chicken broth

Trim off any fat from the pork and pat the chops dry. Sprinkle a layer of the cumin, salt, and pepper and rub it into the chops. Combine the ingredients of the sauce in a bowl. Heat a large (large enough to fit both your chops) skillet and add some butter and olive oil. I always add a bit of olive oil to butter when I am trying to get a nice sear on something. Since the pan is hot it will help to prevent the butter from burning. Sear both sides of the pork for about 3 minutes a side.

Turn the heat off. Add the sauce ingredients. Turn the heat back on to medium hight. Anytime you are cooking with alcohol you want to turn the flames off. Alcohol burns with a clear/bluish flame and it is much better to be safe than sorry (this is how I lost some hair on my arms a few weeks ago). Simmer the sauce and the chops until the meat in the center of the chop is slightly pink. I use a thermometer and cook it to 160F.

Remove the chops, add the remaining butter, and continue to reduce the sauce to the consistancy you desire, I made it pretty creamy like turkey gravy.

I have found supermarket pork to be a grey color and white when cooked. Fresh, locally grown pork is a medium pink color that should be slightly light pink in the center. Even over cooked (I don't think I've even done it exactly right) it should be juicy and pink.

The salad is a riff of what I had at the All Seasons Bistro in Calistoga. The flavors go really well together so I think peach goat cheese ice cream topped with pistacios is on its way from the ice cream machine. Peter is allergic to peaches so I made his with beautiful cherokee purple tomatoes I found at the market. Both the tomato and peach look beautiful on the plate. I also made this salad for my step-mom the other day and we both remarked that it would be great for breakfast!

Peach/Tomato, Pistacio, Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes

Salad
3 cups romaine lettuce
1 peach (or 1/2 large tomato), sliced for each salad
2 tbs goat cheese
1 tbs salted, crushed pistacios (last night they were unsalted, whole and not very good)

Dressing
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbs freshly chopped cilantro
Dash of salt, pepper, cumin, tabasco
1/8 tsp honey

I made the dressing and dressed the salad separately from the rest of the ingredients and then nicely arranged the peaches, goat cheese, and pistacios on top of the leaves. Salted and roasted pistacios act like bacon in the salad, adding a nice salty, savory taste to the creamy goat cheese and sweet peaches.

I wanted a nice tequila drink to go with my dinner and wanted to play around with the fresh fruit that I had in the house. The cinemon idea came from the cinnemon margarita we had at Lobo on Sackett and 5th a few weeks ago. The tequila, sugar, limes, and ginger are not local but the fresh fruit is. I also figured out how to "juice" the fruit but putting it through my garlic press. It was messy but fun.

Peach Blue Berry Cinnemon Margarita
Serves 1

Juice of one lime
1 shot good tequila
1 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 peach (squeeze through garlic press)
Juice of 1/2 cup blueberries (squeeze through garlic press)
1 tsp cinnemon
1 dash dried, powered ginger

Add the cinnmon first and then add the liquid to it. Mix well in a cocktail shaker, strain through a fine strainer, and pour over ice.

Finally, last week I was very excited that I grew one pound of food out of my window boxes. That seemed a bit silly, just one pound. This week I wanted to figure out exactly what my acreage is and list how much food I pulled out of my "garden". These unit conversion activities are usually a really tedius lesson in any science class but by giving students difficult real life ones they might not find it fun but will probably find it less tedius.

So, doing the math, I have .00028 acres in my window boxes and pots that grow food. This week I pulled out three tomatoes and 12 (12!) cups of basil. I turned those 12 cups of basil into 5 servings of pesto. This is to go along with the 4 servings I already have in my freezer. I've grown enough basil that I'm going to have to start giving it away!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

San Francisco Day 4




We woke up, once again to hammering, in Calistoga without much of a plan. They delivered a lite breakfast and we sat out on the porch reading and eating. After consulting the owner, a bit of a harmless kook, we headed out and stopped at 3 vineyards. We tasted at Barnett Lane, Summers, and Twoney.

After our tastings we headed back to Calistoga Inn and Spa for mud baths, massages, and more time in the pool. We ate dinner at the Wappo Grill, which had a very strange menu that ranged from thai to mexican to italian. Both our dinners (a corn risotto with truffle oil and a chicken tangeine) were excellent and we headed home for a much deserved rest.

The next morning (with the aid of the hammering) we drove back to SF and had an uneventful flight home!

Last Dance







When my dad died he wanted me to have all of his camera equipment. While we shared a love of photography I hadn't made the switch to digital and he buried himself in it. He always had a camera covering half his face and became an exceptional photographer over the past few years.

As I unpacked the equipment (it filled the trunk of my car and then some) I knew that I would eventually have to face up to the pictures that remained in the camera he purchased last November. As I downloaded them I felt like a bit of a voyeur since some many of his shots were of everyday life at his house. The deer, cats, flower, lots of turkeys, and pictures of the family. His love of us somehow comes out in the pictures and while we always got annoyed at the constant flashbulb, we have total documentation of our lives.

Oddly enough, these are some of his worst pictures. His newness with the camera is apparent as he experimented with the settings while taking the same shot and you can see his lack of control over the lighting and tones.

The last photos of him, taken Mother's Day, reveal how sick he was even before his diagnosis. And his last shot, of my step-mom with the baby, give a little glimpse our future.