Thursday, April 30, 2009

Noticable Impression

I have begun compiling a list of feats that seem almost guaranteed to impress people. Here is what I have so far:

1. Taking up the flying trapeze
2. Changing from a Republican Senator to a Democratic Senator
3. Escaping from Somali pirates
4. Making risotto

Unfortunately, I can only give you step-by-step guidance on #4, although #2 seems fairly self-explanatory.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Inch by Inch

The wisdom of the week today at kickboxing was "Inch by inch, it's a cinch; by the yard is really hard." Tell yourself you're going to sit down and write a novel, and it may never happen. Put down a few words at a time, and you may find you have a chapter, or two. Lose 20 pounds in a week? How about a pound here and there for a while? Try to start high jumping with the bar at 6 feet? Right. But raise that bar a quarter of an inch at a time, and who knows? At a minimum, it's a lot less likely that you'll give up, and a lot more likely that you'll be farther along than you thought next time you look.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I am Good at Math

Q. You are having a BBQ for 30 guests. 1/2 of the guests are adults. 60% of the adults are talking a lot, 30% are talking too little, and 10% are late and should have called but didn't. 100% of the kids are running around screaming. It is 75 degrees outside, and everyone drove at least 2 miles but no more than 10 miles to get to your house. One family brought 4 desserts, one family brought 500 pretzels, and one family brought 2 extra children. 3 people will unexpectedly leave early, and 1 person is a vegetarian. Solve this problem. Show your work.

A. Formula for Killer Margs

1 part orange liqueur, like Grand Marnier
2 parts pretty good tequila*
3-4 parts sweet & sour mix**
1/2 part fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 part simple syrup***
Lime slices or wedges, for garnish

Mix everything up with lots of ice, and serve on the rocks immediately. You can rim glasses with salt for those who like that sort of thing. A "part" is as much as you need to make enough drinks. For the problem above, a part was 1 cup.

* Never use the cheap stuff, but since a margarita is mostly about the lime, you don't have to pull out the really expensive Patron unless these are special friends of yours, or you're drinking alone.
** You should invest in a good mix here. I like Trader Joes, or Bone Daddy's. Use 3 parts for very strong drinks, 4 parts for regular strength drinks.
*** Simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water, boiled together for several minutes to make a liquid sweetener. You can make your own and store it in the fridge, or buy it at Trader Joes.

For advanced math students, check out Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. It's a cool little book that has every cooking formula on the planet in it. Kind of like having the teacher's edition of your kitchen.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Passive-Aggressive Crock Pot

Many people know and love my mother dearly, so I am wary of saying a word against her. I am only hazarding it here because I am fairly certain that she is not going to suddenly become independently web-savvy and find this blog. (Although now that Oprah is twittering, anything is possible.) I may be overly sensitive, misinterpreting innocent concern and generosity for something deeper, darker and masterfully manipulative.

Mom: I bought you a Crock Pot
Me: [Why?]
Me, aloud: Thanks!

Mom: I saw this great thing on Good Morning America where they used a Crock Pot to make dinner for a week for $5.
Me: [Don't watch that show anymore.]
Me, aloud: That's great.

Mom: Vons has a special this week on pork roast. It would be great in the Crock Pot. I'll leave you a coupon.
Me: [We are OK financially, really.]
Me, aloud: Wow, that is a deal. If I get to Vons, I'll definitely check it out.

Mom: What's really great about the Crock Pot is that you just put the stuff in, and dinner is ready when you come home. You have such busy days, it would be so nice not to have to scramble to make dinner at the last minute.
Me: [I like working hard. It's what I do. ]
Me, aloud: I'm not really a morning person, but it sounds like something a morning person would just love.

Mom: Surprise! I bought you some beef, an onion, a slow cooker cookbook, and some broccoli. Then I arranged them artfully in your Crock Pot! It's just like on Chopped!
Me: [What the ???]
Me, aloud: I think on Chopped they only have 30 minutes. I've never seen the 10 hour show, but this will sure be great practice.
Note: My daughter felt the challenge was too easy, and added a jar of mayonnaise to the items in the Crock Pot. I froze the beef, put the mayo back in the fridge, and used the broccoli and onion in a stir fry after my mom went home.

Mom: I think the kids would love dinner from the Crock Pot. They would probably even eat the vegetables.
Me: [I know they are nutritionally deprived, but I don't think stewed carrots are the answer.]
Husband, aloud: Grandma, there's no way they'd eat that.
Mom: I don't think he's a Crock Pot person. Never mind. Let's forget it.
Me: [How does he do that so easily?]
Me, aloud: Are you kidding, Mom? They'll love it. I'll make something tomorrow.
Me: [@%/*&!#]

You want to know the worst thing? She was right. That Crock Pot is a miracle worker. But the beef she bought me is still in the freezer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

If it's shiny, watch your hiney

Despite being desperately uninvited by my daughter, I have just returned, wiser and thoroughly wiped out, from chaperoning her class overnight trip. Nothing like spending 36 hours with a bunch of fourth and fifth graders to show me just how much I don't know. Some things I learned were in fact about the mission, the native tribes, the rancho period, and the science of archaeology.

But the really important stuff?
It's what you get by being a fly on the wall:

The leader explained that the Spanish made the native people give up their religion, change their name, and work exclusively for the mission.
10 year old: "Oh, so they were slaves, then?"
Leader: "No, not really. They received medicine, education, and food. They were taken care of."
10 year old: "But they didn't have a choice, right? That's not slavery?"
Leader: Silence.

10 minutes is definitely not enough time to construct a house for 20 out of sticks.

How to tell poison oak:
Leaves of three, let it be
If it's hairy, it's a berry
If it's shiny, watch your hiney

The first millionaire in California was the guy who sold everybody else the shovels and tin pans in 1849.

The code word for rattlesnake is "chicken". There was a "chicken" in the camp.

If there is one child who gets spooked in the middle of the night, it will be your daughter.

Toilet paper was invented after the automobile.

There's nothing more interesting or memorable to a group of pre-teen girls than two bugs mating in the bathroom.

Tortillas you make yourself taste really good, especially after you grind corn with a rock.

They would taste even better with guacamole. So that's the first thing I made when we got home.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Admit One

Have you ever been jealous of someone you just met? Irrationally so? I'm in the throes of said envy at the moment, having just returned from an event welcoming the newly admitted Stanford class of 2013. They walked in: anxious, beaming, overdressed, pimply, adorable, grinning, gangly, coiffed, jaunty, shining, eager, beautiful. I extended greetings, shook hands, congratulated parents, answered questions, had lemonade, digested the ridiculous statistics (7.1% admission rate, 30K+ applicants, $54K annual cost), hated the alumni speaker (pretentious jerk). So far, I'm completely fine, if a bit long in the tooth. But then the faculty speaker began to talk, and suddenly I was filled with this longing to learn again, to be 17 and walk into a classroom for the first time. I wanted it so badly I literally could not breathe for a moment. They have no idea what's coming, but I do.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stew on This

You may not be fully aware of this, but it was actually winter here in LA recently (as in this morning and yesterday, but not Monday, which was nice, or this afternoon, which was also fantastic.) For those few frigid hours, as the icy, 60 degree weather sent us burrowing into our Ugg boots and huddling under blankets, a vision of comfort food overwhelmed me, and I decided to make stew for the first time ever. Not everyone was on board with this decision.

"Mom, what's in the pot?"
"Really yummy stew."
"When's Dad coming home?"

"Hey, babe. I'm on my way home. What's for dinner?"
"Really yummy stew."
"I'm right by the store. Do you need me to pick something up?"

Maybe they were a little bit right to be concerned. Starting way later than I should have, I rushed through the recipe, barely hitting the recommended time in the oven and jettisoning the side dish from the book. ( "Grits?! Dad...DO something!") When we sat down to eat, there was polite silence, and a massive run on the buttered pasta.

Chastened, I put the pot back in the oven and went on with my night, forgetting all about it until a rich, tantalizing aroma made me look up from my laptop and race for the oven mitt. Unbelievable the difference that hour made. It was like the stew fairy had come to the house. Or a convention of them. This stuff was "crack-a-lackin" as the zebra says. I hummed a victory song to myself, and went to bed.

Cut to the next night.

"Mom, what's for dinner?"
"Leftover stew for me. You guys can have grilled cheese."
"We love you, Mom!"

"Honey, what's cookin' tonight?"
"Leftover stew, or you can pick something up for yourself on the way home."
"I'll swing by the Chicken Cafe. Thanks, babe!"

I quietly stirred my pot of grits. Lovingly sprinkled in the two kinds of cheese, the big pat of butter, and put my stewpot on the stove to reheat. Heads began to turn, away from American Idol, no less. I hummed my victory song (partially to drown out American Idol), and got out a plate. I spooned out my gloriously creamy cheesy grits, then added a generous portion of melt-in-your mouth meat and dark, satiny, wine-laden sauce, made even better overnight by the stew fairy convention. I sat myself down and savored every last bite while the entire room looked on in envy. Comfort food, indeed.

A Taxing Day

OK, I admit it. I'm one of those procrastinators who spent the day with my pile of paperwork, a bottle of Advil, and a case of Diet Coke.

Me (hoping for a few extra moments of quiet): "Kids, have you done your homework?"
Them (snickering and high fiving): "Yeah, mom, did you? "

Fine, be that way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I wish I could be, too.

"Quality is hyper-efficient..."
Comment from Ian Rogers at a gathering of local VC's this morning.

The topic was ostensibly the current state of the music business, and the specific context was marketing options for artists trying to connect with fans. But isn't this true about everything? In-N-Out vs. McDonald's? No contest.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof

When I started winding down my frenzied work life a while ago, all I could think was, "I'm a mess." As in, I'm a big old blob of stress. At the same time, my newly liberated self came up for air enough to notice how great my friend was looking. "How?" I begged. I had to know. Miracle drug? Botox? New husband? What? I'll do anything! (Not the new husband, but I was game for everything else.) Her secret was...kickboxing. Huh. Wasn't expecting that. But she looked really, really good. So I tried it.

It works. Something about the combination of the intense physical workout, the mental concentration, and the ability to hurl all the stress of the day into a mean right cross. Still old, but much less blob and much less stress. Better than botox any day.

This is a long-winded intro to the message of the week, which we all get at the end of class. I'm not normally a "self help affirmation" type of gal, but for a few minutes at least, I keep an open mind.

Here's today's: Be ten feet tall and bulletproof. Physically impossible, but it's an attitude thing. If you're above the roar of the crowd, you've got a great view of what lies ahead, and perspective on how to handle it. And the bulletproof part? Just think of it as "I am rubber, you are glue" for grown ups.

The salad I can't stop making

I am on the board of Planned Parenthood LA, which I find rewarding in many, many ways, but a major perk is the annual Food Fair event, held about a month ago. It's basically a huge room full of amazing things to eat, drink, and buy, from some of the best restaurants and caterers in town, and we just graze our way through with the mantra "it's for a great cause, it's for a great cause" running through our minds as we reach for another chocolate truffle or sashimi tower. But, after all the duck skewers and smoky salsas, tuna tartare and toffee brittle, at the end of the night, the bite that stayed with me was a simple arugula salad. It was the best thing I had eaten in days. I can't even remember which caterer was making it, so I can't give them credit here. I came home and tried to recreate the magic, knowing I would never be able to; there must be some catering club secret involved that would stymie my efforts and leave me scanning the minuscule type of the vendor list trying to find out where to send any amount of money to get another taste.

I was wrong. It was so simple, and the magic could be duplicated at will!!! I have since been making this salad with every meal, for lunch most days, and have been officially told by my family to stop already. I've created variations I love even better, but they're firm. No more salad.

But you guys are under no such constraints.

How to make Cheesy Pennies

Its insidious, really. How you start off customizing your homepage on google, adding a widget here, a gadget there, getting headlines, jokes, cartoons, weather, quotes, tarot readings, rants from the Huffington Post, alerts on the free fall of stocks you are embarrassed to still own when all rational creatures have been holding cash for months, a pond full of fish you can know the drill. Then someone invites you to be a friend on facebook, and you find yourself not only saying yes, but then spending way too much groping for a way to make the ordinary moment seem intriguing, wry, yet casual and spontaneously witty. Not to mention the ridiculous number of quizzes and numbered lists that seem to be involved. And yet, it seems manageable, fun even. Then you notice the number of blog feeds you've subscribed to, and the clogging of your bookmarks with glorious photos of dishes you will never make, links you have no time to follow, a world out there that others are busily annotating, analyzing and posting. The madness then takes over, and you are struck by the seeming ease of the thing, the nearness of your camera, your facility with typing as well as the next guy, and the fact that its all FREE with your google ID, and suddenly, you're making Cheesy Pennies.

That's all there is to it. At least in my case.
Here's another option, which requires no typing, and a lot less commitment.