Monday, July 30, 2012

Bon Voyage

We have some very dear friends who are leaving tomorrow for an odyssey around the world.

They are abandoning their settled life here in LA, uprooting their kids from the usual private school world of teenage angst and grade school history projects and packing it in for a year.  They'll circumnavigate the globe, a week here, two weeks there, having adventures and exploring and doing laundry in strange places and bonding in a way so foreign to my own sense of family time that I can only look on in wonder.  To me, this behavior is both utterly bizarre and completely fascinating.*  I'm less envious than morbidly curious, but I wish them well with all my heart. We'll miss the whole family, though my daughter, especially, will feel the absence of her longtime friend. Naturally, there's a blog and photos and a video chronicle to follow**, so we won't lose them entirely, but this is good-bye nonetheless.

I think we all know what that means.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Grandfather's Garden

My grandparents lived in a purple house. It was in a less-than-great neighborhood of plain row houses in the flats of San Francisco, and I remember staring out of the window of the car as we drove over there. Gray. White. Brown. Gray. Gray. White. Brown. Gray. Gray. Beige. White. Purple. 

There it was. Sticking out like a sore thumb.

The hallway was dark, and the stairs creaked on the way up. The living room furniture was heavy, with scratchy, lumpy upholstery. Faded handmade lace doilies covered the end tables, and there was stuff everywhere, gathering dust. The bathroom had dingy honeycomb tiles on the floor and a clunky cranky toilet with a chain pull that scared me.  The place smelled like old people and the dresser in the master bedroom had pill bottles everywhere.  We had the run of the place, but we spent all our time lying on their huge four poster bed, a collective of cousins watching a console TV and eating cheese nibbles while my mom and her sisters and brothers gossiped and laughed and hashed through old grievances with each other at the formica table in the kitchen.  The bed was enormous, soft, and comfortable, covered with fat pillows and hand-stitched quilts, even in the summertime.  So what if there were things under the bed that hadn't seen the light of day for years? It felt like an island of relative safety in this rickety, messy house. We kids flocked to it, lying every which way and giggling. Our grandmother seemed to vaguely disapprove of the whole thing, but she lay up in the bed with us, watching soap operas through her cat's eye glasses with her ample frame in some shapeless dress, hollering into the kitchen with a still-thick island accent every once in a while when she needed something.  

Me, in the living room of the purple house

The contrast with my other grandparents' house could not have been more stark.  There everything was immaculate and just so. My sister and I slept in matching twin beds in an attic with flowered wallpaper that was only a tiny bit musty. The delicate china dinner plates and my grandmother were equally frail, elegant and fragile. No one yelled. We never even set foot in my grandparents' bedroom, much less sprawled across the covers with our shoes on.  We could barely breathe from all the best behavior-ing we were doing.

In the quiet house, Gee Gee, as we called him, kept parakeets in an aviary in the backyard, and had a garage full of memorabilia and antiques, all neatly catalogued and indexed.  He had old cameras, binoculars and kaleidoscopes. Tools and gadgets, buttons and trinkets. Instruments and books. He was a pack rat extraordinaire, and a fastidious one at that. As little girls, we loved the birds and had no time for the rest. We hardly noticed that he had a whole world down there under the stairs, where he tinkered away happily much of the day. 

In the purple house, my grandfather had a garden. He grew sunflowers in the cold San Francisco fog that were taller than my dad, the tallest person I knew.  Corn and tomatoes, melons and beans. To us it seemed like a wild jungle, but to him it was perfectly ordered, and he could coax almost anything to grow in that plain patch of ground amid high walls and fences. He would walk down the splintery wooden stairs to his yard, with scraps from the kitchen, his felt hat on his head, and perhaps a cigar.  He stayed out there for hours, in shirtsleeves and overalls, weeding and feeding and sometimes reading the paper as the sun went down. Then he'd slowly climb back up the stairs, the newspaper wrapped around a heap of giant zucchinis and peppers, and step into the chaos, smiling.  

My grandfather (the one with the garden), holding my sister

I don't miss a lot of things about those visits.  The hushed sterility at one house, the cluttered free-for-all of the other.  But I wish I'd spent more time sorting treasure under the stairs.  And I wish I'd spent more time in my grandfather's garden.

Zucchini from my garden

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A good day at camp

When she got in the car, we asked my daughter how her day was.

Her:  I am NEVER going back to regular balsamic vinegar.  EVER!

We are all cracking up, but I am secretly thrilled.
Then, a few minutes later.

Her: Olive oil?  I just don't get it.

Baby steps.

photo credit: my daughter's phone
Note:  She is doing a teen cooking camp with Little Feet in the Kitchen.  Yesterday was a field trip to Ferrari Olive Oil Co. for a tasting lesson. Today is Iron Chef day, and tomorrow they go behind the scenes at Porto's Bakery.  Not only am I wildly jealous personally, I'm beyond impressed with what she gets the kids to eat.  This was another "is this really my child?" quote from yesterday:

Her: We made the most AMAZING risotto for lunch.  There were shallots and garlic and this mushroom broth...oh my god it was SO GOOD!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cook My Mailbox Weekend III

The nice thing about magazines?
They're portable.
As in, you can take them on planes when you fly to Seattle to eat, so you can read about food on the way.
[Note to self: Get help.]

But then, you see these* at the market.

[Note to self: You are a frigging psychic genius.]

Friday, July 20, 2012

FG Lunch Brigade - The Perfect Storm Edition

According to Wikipedia:
A "perfect storm" is an expression that describes an event where a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically. The term is also used to describe an actual phenomenon that happens to occur in such a confluence, resulting in an event of unusual magnitude.

They got that right.

FG10, our Seattle transplant, had been building an astonishing large backlog of amazing places to eat all around town, both through personal experience and by poring over local recommendations.  Normally, her forays are kept to a dull roar by having three picky kids with various food allergies, a husband with a hectic travel schedule, and a diet and exercise regimen that literally scares me.

Then I showed up*.

And it was basically a perfect storm of food**.

Loaded mac n' cheese, with Beecher's Flagship cheddar.  Genius!!!

The bounty of friends - fresh fruit and scones for brunch, cheese, crisp white wine, and almond biscotti for snack

The bounty of Ballard - Insanely good authentic Mexican pozole from La Carta de Oaxaca.  And the dessert place of my dreams***....

On the left, a take-home molten chocolate cake in a mini mason jar.  On the right, a S'mores cookie, with gooey marshmallow, chocolate chunks, and graham cracker crumble.  Not shown:  bacon oatmeal raisin cookie, my enormous butt, salted caramel roll, honey peach rosemary hand pies.

Morning at Pike Place, in all its glory. Knowing we would be having fruit and fish later, we dug into hot cheddar scallion piroshkis, croissants, baked pork bao, and blueberry brown butter cupcakes with brown sugar cream cheese icing (the mini ones, because, you know, it was a little early in the day for dessert). After stocking up on cheese, crostini and olive oil at the gourmet Italian food market, we elected to skip a sit down lunch. Not because we weren't up for it, but because we were short on time.

I had a bread class to teach. Those alder-smoked chips came in handy, and so did the berry jam we'd picked up at Pike Place earlier.

We also had a whole salmon to roast. In a very eco-conscious move, we recycled some of the finishing salts from our bread to make the fish:  chili powder - cumin - smoked salt - raw sugar - orange zest - rosemary. Totally gonna bottle that up and sell it.

On my last day in town, I had a healthy breakfast of caramelized grapefruit.

And a burger with bacon jam, creamy blue cheese, and arugula. 
But I didn't eat all the fries.

Let's just say that I need new jeans of enormous magnitude after this visit. And the next time that FG10 and I meet, someone should probably alert the national weather service. It'll be another perfect storm.

*As the expression goes, the situation was aggravated drastically.
** It was also the perfect storm in that my daughter was reunited with her long lost friends for a week. Total mania ensued.
*** Also pirates.

Although most people in Seattle are missing out. When we were talking with two life-long residents about our plans for dinner, they both looked at us like we were crazy:

Them: Ballard? You're going to Ballard just to eat? That's nowhere near here.
Me: (worried) Oh dear. How far is it?
Them: It's gonna take you at least 20 minutes. And you have to cross a bridge.

Needless to say, these two have not been asked to join the Foodie Girls Northwest just yet. Sheesh!

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Per Merriam-Webster:

: contrary to what one would intuitively expect
— coun·ter·in·tu·i·tive·ly adverb

  1. It may seem counterintuitive, but we do burn calories when we are sleeping.
Here's another example:

It's 100 degrees outside, so it is counterintuitive that I'm advising you to turn on your oven to make a salad.

In short, it ain't logical, but it works.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to do Disneyland: A tried and true survival guide for the ambivalent visitor

NOTE:  I discovered a draft of this post lying around in Blogger purgatory this weekend, and decided to unleash it, just in time for the summer amusement park season.  Due to the constantly changing wonderful world of Disney, it may be dated, but let me just say that the basic strategy outlined in this plan should still serve you well.  Or if not, at least you might get some good ideas for snacks out of it....   

There are people who loathe Disneyland. Anything with Mickey ears makes them apoplectic with rage.  If they were to run into Tinkerbell, they would squash her underfoot and brag about it*.

Seriously.  She should watch out.

On the other hand, there are people who adore Disneyland.  They plan their annual week-long vacations with glee, pay extra to dine with dwarves, and, if they live anywhere within driving distance, have their annual passes laminated when in use and framed when they expire**.

And then, there are people who enjoy Disneyland, but could happily go for many years without ever setting foot in the place again.

Me, for example.

Unfortunately, I am related to my sister.  Who emails me in July about whether I prefer to go December 20th or 21st.  And again in May to secure a place on the calendar for August***.  

Yes, that's twice a year. At Christmas and during the peak tourist travel month of the summer.  When everybody else on the planet is also visiting Disneyland.

This could be a nightmare.  At a minimum, it could be easily justify whatever the sisterly version of fratricide might be.  But instead of resentment, I'm filled with a mixture of awe and pride. Because we're not just good at going to Disneyland.

We're genius at going to Disneyland.

There are some trade offs to our method:

Add CARS to the "not gonna happen" side of this list.  It was still under construction when I first wrote this post.

This method will also not work well with toddlers, old people, autograph collectors, fairy-obsessed young girls, parade fans, or fans of the Enchanted Tiki Room.   If you have any of these in your family, give up and just check into the Disneyland Hotel and plan to stay a few days.  It's hopeless.  However, if you are unencumbered and ready for action, here's our tried and true survival guide to the Happiest Place on Earth:

1.  Get up at 6 am.  Drag kids out of bed. Buy a box of doughnuts and a large caffeinated drink.  Hit the road and enjoy a completely traffic-free drive on the empty freeways as the sun rises.  If you have done this right, you will arrive at the park with at least 30 minutes to spare before opening time, and will get rock star parking.

Unretouched photo of parking lot on our arrival.  This is from several years ago, but it pretty much works every time.

2.  Purchase a one day park hopper ticket.  This is expensive, but worth it.  Note that ticket agent is chipper and cheerful because you are among the first people she's seen today.

3.  Upon entering the park, take exactly one (1) character photo with Mickey, then proceed directly to Tomorrowland.   I would say skip the photo, but honestly, it's cruel to make kids walk by a giant stuffed mouse who wants a hug.   This is also probably the only time all day the guy will be actually looking for company.

I did not photoshop out the crowds. 

4.  FIRST WARNING! DO NOT BE PULLED INTO THE VORTEX OF NEMO!!!***** Go directly to Space Mountain.   Cackle with glee and high five each other as you walk straight into the space port.  By the time you emerge, wait time will be twice what it was when you entered.    Get used to this feeling.

5.  Your next stop will be Star Tours, which may have a wait, but is worth it because the new Star Wars adventure is super cool.   Proceed from there to Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, where you will once again stroll onto the ride in under 15 minutes.   NEXT WARNING!  DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO RIDE THE ROCKETS!  This line is deceptively short looking but will absolutely kill the momentum you have built up at this point.   If all goes well, you will have been in Disneyland for approximately one hour and will be on your way out of Tomorrowland with three of the best rides in the park under your belt.  If your children ask to do Autopia, offer to let them drive on the way home instead. There is potential for a Pixie Hollow derailment here as well.  Be alert, and you should be OK.

6. If they are running, now is the time for the Matterhorn Bobsleds.  If not, it's on to Adventureland and New Orleans Square!  Indiana Jones awaits, but you do not, as you are well ahead of the crowds surging toward the rides you just left.  If the wait is any longer than 20 minutes, use the fabulous "single rider" method for this one******.  

7.  As a Disney purist, you will of course want to do Pirates and the Haunted Mansion.  Go for it!  There's no wait for either right now. Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!

8. Snack Break! Treat your group to a six pack of piping hot, made to order, Mickey-shaped beignets, covered in powdered sugar, from the Mint Julep Bar.  They also have lattes.  Just sayin', this place is a FIND. Or, if you are a healthier sort, pick up some fresh pineapple spears from the stand across from the Jungle Cruise.  Absolutely fabulous on a hot day.

9.  Splash Mountain is right down the road, and the wait to be soaked should be just long enough for you to finish your snack.  Pooh and friends are nestled into this area, too.  You can usually go around twice on the Winnie the Pooh ride here without much trouble, and take a photo with Eyeore to try and cheer him up. NOTE:  This is your Fantasyland substitute stop!  Get it out of your system now!

Note dripping hair and tell-tale water marks on my shirt .  BTW, don't buy the cookies at this general store.  They look good, but are not worth the calories.

10.  The lines are now getting a little longer, but that is OK.  You will be leaving soon!  Stop by the Jungle Cruise and Big Thunder Mountain, then visit the world's cleanest petting zoo*******.  It's nearly noon, and you have one final stop to make.

11. MAJOR WARNING! You will now be entering Fantasyland, the ultimate VORTEX OF DOOM.  DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!  Dumbo alone could cost you an entire afternoon and your sanity, and don't get me started on the ridiculous cult of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.  Honestly, I just don't get it.   Think of this entire area like Jail in Monopoly.  You are only passing through, JUST VISITING.  Eyes front, kids leashed and bribed, for God's sake, just keep moving!

12.  Finish up your time at Disneyland with It's a Small World.  It's vintage, it's relaxing, it's infectious, and it's got incredible throughput, so even if there is a line it will move quickly. The clock should be striking noon as you leave so enjoy that, and move out.   Singing aloud and laughing, exit the park, getting a hand stamp if you like.

This is one ride that's extra great at Christmas time

13.  Cross the plaza and enter California Adventure.  The place is a zoo right now with the opening of the new Carsland, which was not yet open on our last trip.  My bet is that this is another Nemo situation (run away! run away! Brave Sir Robin ran away!).   Gone is the Mission Tortilla Factory tour, with the hot free samples at the end, and the incredible milkshakes from the San Andreas stand.  Foodies of the world, a moment of silence for what has been lost.   Fortunately for you, the sourdough bread tour is still in full swing, and Corn Dog Castle is open for business.   Not only is the meal here one of the better deals in the park ($5.99 for a corn dog and chips or apple slices), but the corn dogs are THE BEST!   On your way from the park entrance to lunch, pick up your first Fast Passes of the day, for Grizzly River Run.

14.  On the Boardwalk! After your corn dog fest, head over to California Screamin'.  The wait time may be 25-30 minutes, but you have your Single Rider option.  NOTE: If you have young kids with you, use "child swap" (another fantastic invention!)  Your whole party goes through the line, then tell the attendant you are doing a child swap.  One adult stays with the young child while the others ride.  Then, when the ride comes back, the adult who waited gets to go right away!  This works on ANY RIDE.   You may be tempted by the crowds and excitement over by Midway Mania.  DON'T GIVE IN. Keep moving.  Hopefully your Fast Pass time slot for Grizzly River Run is just about now, so this may give you cover with the group to skip it.  The rest of the rides in this area are all optional in our book, especially that giant Mickey ferris wheel.  You will be sick if you get in one of the cars that flips around.  Just sayin'.  The swings are fun, though, and the Ariel ride is worth doing if the line is less than 20 minutes, which it should be for you.

15. After getting thoroughly wet and laughing your head off on Grizzly River  Run (one of the highlights of the day, especially if it's hot), go right across the way to the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.  Chip N Dale will probably be hanging out in front, and the trail is awesome.  Towers to climb, rope bridges, and some cool zip lines for younger kids in the back.   Given how much of the day is spent waiting and riding and waiting, having the chance to run around, jump, and play here is just the thing.  While the crew is letting off steam, send one person over to pick up Fast Passes for Soaring Over California.  That'll be your final ride of the day.

16.  Hug Chip N' Dale, then make your way to the Hollywood Back Lot.  Do MuppetVison3D, and Monsters, Inc. (Both highly recommended), then get ready for the ultimate thrill ride, Hollywood Tower of Terror.  THE BEST!  Suitable for brave kids 7 and up, and you can use child swap if you have someone who doesn't want to go.  Single Rider your way to the top, and enjoy!  It should now be just before dinner time, so treat the group to a cold drink and give yourselves a high five.  You are almost there!

17.  Trot on through the Fast Pass line at Soaring Over California. Relax as you sail over the ocean, feel  and smell the slightly stale fake breeze on your cheeks, and let the stress of the day fall away under Patrick Walburton's soothing narration.  Exit, and don't bother with a hand stamp.  You're done!!

18. On your way to the trams, steel yourself to avoid the final pitfall of the day:  THE DISNEY STORE. You do not need ANYTHING to take home. (Except perhaps some kettle corn from the vendor by the trams.  That stuff is good.)  It is a pit of frustration and horror that will bring new meaning to the words, "Harsh my buzz".  Even we, the professionals, have had many excellent days ruined by the gift shop********, so I know what I am talking about.   Instead, as the sun sets, pity the masses of people just arriving at the park, step on and sigh with relief.

Under no circumstances should you enter here, even if the Mickey potholders are super cute.

19. Your crew will be hungry for dinner, so drive through the In N' Out burger on Harbor Blvd. in Fullerton, 3 miles up the 5.

Note that prices start with the digit, "1".  Feed the whole car for the price of a crappy burger meal at the park.

20. Arrive home.  Pour the adults in the group a large cocktail, and give a toast to the Happiest Place on Earth!

How do you do Disneyland?
Since, you know, we'll probably be going again soon.

* I feel a little sorry for these people, because they will be burning in Hell.  A Hell filled with smiling dolls from many nations singing cheerfully as they burn.
** There are also people whose obsession with Disneyland is clearly freakish and unnatural (Grown up pin-traders, I am talking to you), but these are outliers and won't be discussed here.
*** To be fair, it's not just Disneyland.  She's like this about pretty much everything.  The woman gets up in the morning and makes a detailed plan.  Then she emails people about the plan, gives them several options, outlines pros and cons of various alternatives, cites relevant source material, and requests a response so she can firm up her schedule as soon as possible.
**** I could charge you seven dollars for this information. But I won't. I may be able to get you through the place in one piece, but I can't do a thing about the price tag.
*****You could watch the movie twice in the time it will take you to get through this ride.  This is the first of many traps must be avoided at all costs.
****** Have each member of your party ask the attendant for a single rider pass, and be directed straight onto the ride.  Chances are you will still go together, or pretty close to it.   Little known fact:  Almost any ride that has FastPass also has the single rider shortcut.  No dispensing machines, no time slots, no waiting!
******* Did you know there was a petting zoo at Disneyland?  There is.  With the happiest goats on earth.  And at Christmas time, reindeer!
******** My sister's fault.  She falls for it every time!