Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Ending

My niece is here for Christmas*, and we're having a really good time.

On Monday, we went to Magic Mountain, because she decided she was ready to ride the big kid roller coasters.   Not only was she ready to ride the big kid roller coasters, she was ready to ride the no-sane-person-should-ever-subject-themselves-to-this-willingly roller coasters, like this one.

I got off and wanted to check myself into a hospital.  She got off and wanted to go again.

On Tuesday, it was her 8th birthday**. We had Angry Birds Snickerdoodles for her birthday breakfast party.

We went to the Grilled Cheese Truck for lunch.  And we saw (and loved!) the new Muppet Movie at the El Capitan Theater that night***.  Fortunately, we did not go upside down or backwards all day.

On Wednesday, there was roller skating with her dad, Christmas shopping with her cousins, and building legos with her uncle****.

On Thursday, it was my daughter's birthday. There was Monkey Bread birthday breakfast,  Sponge Bob fried rice for dinner, and a new board game to play when we got home.

The game, Wits and Wagers Family, is a riot to play.  Basically, the game gives you a statistic, and everyone tries to guess the right numerical answer.  At one point, the card said:

What percentage of American families speak a language other than English at home?

I said 45.
My sister wrote 50.
My daughter guessed 60.
My son proposed 26.
My niece very authoritatively said,

I don't think we stopped laughing for 10 minutes.

Today, we went to the movies again.  About halfway through, a large bear escaped from the zoo and was being chased by men with huge, menacing, tranquilizer guns. Amanda leaned over and whispered to me:

Her: Is this a Disney movie?
Me:  I don't think so.  Why?
Her: (looking worried) Because if it is a Disney movie, I know it will have a happy ending.

I have to say, spending time with her is like a Disney movie.  Except that it's happy all the way through.

Here's to happiness and family and un-birthday cakes and Christmas time.
And, of course, Megan.

We'll be camping out for Santa tonight.  Hope you have a wonderful Christmas Eve, too!

* My sister and brother-in-law are here, too, but they're not nearly as amusing.  I think she was excited about the trip.  She was packed the day after Thanksgiving, and had the countdown going in her room.  I had my penguin up, too.
** You read that correctly.  She was still seven years old on Monday.  She rode Scream and Goliath, too.
*** There were fart shoes! Plus, at the El Capitan there's a hokey Christmas show before the movie, and they give out free jingle bells.
**** As a follow-up act to the Space Shuttle project, they are building Frank Llyod Wright's Robie House.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Candy

A lot of Christmas candy comes from the mall, beautifully wrapped in cheerful red paper, in handy one pound boxes.
It makes a lovely present.
You can set the box out when company comes.
You pick through it and eat just the ones you like, and leave the ones you don't with tiny bites taken out of them.

Or (my personal favorite), you can re-gift it*.

The other kind of Christmas candy comes from somebody's kitchen, hand-wrapped in wax paper, lovingly bundled and tied with a ribbon or two.

It makes an awesome present.
You can hide it when company comes.
You can eat a piece now and stash the rest for later.
And (my personal mantra), you never, ever, re-gift it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Being less humble

OK, then.
Here's me, being less humble.
The dessert room was phenomenal this year.

Hmm.  It does feel kind of good to prance about it.  Maybe these reindeer and my son are onto something...

All the recipes are in the recipe box, in case you want to create a dessert room, or even a simple dessert countertop or shelf, of your own this holiday season.  Ho ho ho!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Be less humble

We were driving somewhere the other night, and somehow the conversation turned to our always-conflicted family schedule.  In the course of discussing who needed to be where, when, I said something along the lines of "Well, I can skip my thing and take him to his thing and run back and get her from her thing because my thing isn't that important anyway."

My son turned to me and said:

"Mom, you need to be less humble.  You need to be more like me."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My kind of birthday cake

When you are little (or really old), you don't have a choice.  It's a sheet cake with buttercream frosting, swirly decorations, and writing on it.

If you are a fortunate child, the cake comes from somewhere yummy, like The Baker or Hansen's, or even Costco, or if you are especially fortunate, your aunt makes you a Yo Baby Cake* by hand.

If you are an unfortunate child, you might get something like this:

Did I mention that CakeWrecks is potentially the funniest site on the web?


As you get older (like 5), you start to have an opinion about your birthday cake:

"Can it be an ice cream cake?"

"Or cupcakes?"

"Or a coffee cake?"

"How about if we don't have cake at all?"

Well...sure. It is your birthday**!

Then, as you get even older (like 40-something***), you not only have an opinion, you have A Birthday Cake.  The cake that you have every year.  The one that that someone makes for you or buys for you or orders especially for you. Because that's the cake you like, and it wouldn't be your birthday without it.  The "Don't even think about messing around and trying any of that fancy stuff you saw in Bon Appetit magazine, Missy. Not on my birthday you don't!" cake.

For my husband, it's carrot cake.
For my dad, it's lemon cake.
For me, it'd be this cake.

Unfortunately, I'm rarely in charge of my own birthday cake.
Fortunately, there are 364 other days in the year.
Happy Not-Birthday to me!****

What's your Birthday Cake?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why there's not a good support group for my problem

Me:  Hi. I'm Sharon, and I'm a bake-aholic.
Crowd: Hi, Sharon. Ooh! Did you make the challah*?

Me:  I've started buying flour and sugar in the 10 lb. bags.  The 5 lb size just doesn't do it for me any more, you know? I go through it too fast. There are three bottles of vanilla paste in the pantry.  I'm buying it online now**, and intercepting the packages before my husband gets home.  Don't you see? I'm out of control.  Something is very wrong here!
My Sponsor:  I brought my tupperware.  Is it OK if I take a few of those little pecan things home?

My husband: All she does is make cookies and pies. She doesn't even need, like, a reason.  It's just insane. The other day, she made a tart out of leftover cranberry sauce, for God's sake.  That can't be normal.  Plus, she's dealing now.  To her friends.  I'm not kidding.  They took a holiday baking class*** from her, and then went home with sugar cookie dough.  These women have kids, man!  This is some crazy s*&!#!!  I love her. But I can't stop her. I'm afraid my wife is becoming a menace to herself and others.
The Police:  Can we be adopted and come to your house?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Finish Strong

The message of the week in my class was a simple one:
Finish strong.

Six years ago, my daughter started taking tae kwon do.

A few days ago, she earned her black belt.

I think she got the message.

* Loosely translated, that's martial arts-speak for "you go girl!"

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tropical Turkey Day, Upside Down Cake

We had a different kind of Thanksgiving this year. We ran away from home to a tropical island for a few days.  Instead of cooking up a storm, I was walking on the beach. Slicing pineapple instead of pureeing pumpkin.  Applying sunscreen instead of whipped cream.   Reading novels instead of consulting cookbooks.  Stuffing my face instead of stuffing the turkey...

You get the idea.

And yes, I do know exactly how lucky I am, thank you very much.  Licking my emotional wounds with mai tais is definitely not a bad way to go.   But as pleasant and nice as this is, it's also strange and  unsettling.  It feels quite odd to be here.

That being said, the vacation was going beautifully until it came time to have Thanksgiving dinner.  I'd booked a reservation days in advance at a posh restaurant overlooking the ocean that was known for its cuisine and impeccable service.  The website promised "a traditional Thanksgiving option" as well as selections from their regular menu. I was excited. After all, if I was going to betray an entire lifetime of days-in-the-making, completely from scratch, gather-everyone-around-the-family-table Thanksgiving tradition, I figured I might as well do it in style.

I made my husband put on long pants. I made my daughter put on her plainest black T-Shirt.  I made my son clean his shoes.  I tried my best to comb out my hair so the imprint of the baseball cap wasn't so visible.   I hustled them into the car and we headed out.

We pull up to the valet.  The people in the car ahead of us got out and walked into the restaurant.  In shorts, baseball caps and tennis shoes.

My husband:  I knew I could have kept my shorts on.
My daughter:  Are you sure this is a nice place?  I mean, they have a valet and all, but that lady looks just like you did a few minutes ago, and she's coming here.

After a short wait, we are shown to our table, with a full view of the starlit sky and the glow of the lit tiki torches below.  There are many well dressed people around us.  I feel vindicated and content.  Two musicians are playing Hawaiian-ized pop music on native instruments near the bar, which is crowded with patrons waiting for tables. The sounds mingle and drift our way, creating a relaxing background to the conversation. The restaurant has no walls, so the ocean breeze is wafting over us as the hostess hands out menus.  As I'm reading, I'm filled with a growing sense of dread.

My son:  What is WRONG with these people?  This is the most unhelpful menu I have ever seen.  Who writes this way in real life?

He reads aloud in a highly sarcastic voice:

Grilled Maui Cattle Grass Fed Filet. Kula Creamed Corn. House Whipped Potatoes.  Local Beet-Tomato-Onion Chutney.

Me:  If you don't like something, just have it on the side.
Him:  It's not the things I don't like, it's the menu! I have NO idea from what they wrote there if I like the things or not. What's up with this!  Can't they just say steak and mashed potatoes like normal people?

My daughter pipes up.

Her:  Whoever heard of a Caesar Salad with croutons made out of fried green tomatoes?  Croutons means bread. Tomatoes are red. This place is messed up.
My husband:  Guys, Mom really wants to have a nice evening.  Let's all try to find something we can eat here.
My son:  OK, Dad.  I'll do that.  If you can tell me what cavatelli pasta is and why the asparagus has a first name, I will totally shut up.
Me:  How about the fish and chips?
My daughter:  Mom!  It says "fish and chips" in [making the marks in the air for emphasis] quotation marks.   It's actually fish and eggplant.  Eggplant!  And who puts corn in tartar sauce?  The same people who think tomatoes are croutons, that's who.

The waiter arrives.  My husband asks if he can recommend anything for not-so-adventurous eaters.  He mentions the Harvest Plate* and gets nothing, then points out a mild fresh ono with macadamia nut crust.  The stares are withering.  He starts to look a little nervous.

My son (through gritted teeth):  I''ll have the filet, please.
My daughter (falsely cheerful):  I'll have the same.  Well done.  Like burnt.
Me:  (still trying to salvage something here):  I'll have the scallops.

My husband lets out a huge "hrrumph" and dramatically opens up his menu again.

Me:  Oh gosh!  Did you want the scallops?  I thought you would be getting the rib eye! I'm so sorry!
Him: (sighing pointedly)  Well, yes I did want the scallops, but I guess I'll be having the rib eye.
Me:  (clapping a little with delight)  Oh good!  I wanted to try that.

The kids roll their eyes. My husband glares at me, then looks meaningfully at my daughter.

Him:  And a Caesar salad to start.
The waiter:  And how did you want that rib-eye cooked, sir?
Me: (without looking up from the menu)  Medium.

There's a hush around the table, then everyone, including the waiter, bursts out laughing.  I'm blinking in confusion for a minute, then I start giggling, too.

The tension we all felt at being far from home, in a place that feels not just odd but downright alien, particularly on this night, is gone.  We talk and we bicker and we eat and we laugh some more.  We tease each other and do trivia questions and split the scallops and the rib eye.  We toast the occasion and plan our outing for tomorrow.

No one eats the beet stuff.

And we agree I will make a real Thanksgiving dinner when we get home. This whole thing is just a little too upside down for our taste.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


A few days before Thanksgiving last year, my phone rang.  It was Mom.  In a scared voice, she told me she'd just fallen down in her apartment and was too weak to move.  She called the paramedics, I got in my car.  

Death, for her, became a nice option to consider.  
Life, for me, became a blur. 
Family descended.
It was all wrong.
I found ways to be grateful.
But Thanksgiving was bad.   
And after was worse.
With small moments of OK in between.

A few days before Thanksgiving this year. this arrived in the mail.

It was addressed to Mom.  In the last few years, she'd taken to doing much of her Christmas shopping from this catalog. Petit Fours for Auntie Agnes. Chocolate turtles for Chris.  Cashews for Clarence. All ordered sometime in October, because she was worried about the mail taking a while during the the holidays.  My box of toffee arrived just days after she went into hospice, cheerfully wrapped with a tasteful note:

Happy Holidays
Love, Mom

The irony was so bitter it hurt, just like everything else.
Weeks later, she wrote the check in a shaky hand:

Pay to the order of Swiss Colony - $28.11

She crossed it off her list of "December bills" with satisfaction.
I remember getting really irritated by that check.
I remember saying that nobody wanted chocolates from her.  That we wanted her to get well instead.
She ignored me.
I mailed the envelope.

When the catalog came, I went to the fridge in the garage, and looked at the box of toffee still sitting there on the shelf.

I left the box where it was. I kept the catalog, too. 

Thanksgiving will never be what it was before.
But in the midst of the emotional chaos this day now generates, I have a new and profound connection to idea of giving thanks.

Things I hold dear are perishable.
I'm beyond fortunate to have them in my life.

And I'll be holding onto them for as long as I can.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nemesis - Definition 2

We were driving home from dinner the other night, my husband in his car, and the kids and I in mine, just behind him.  We reached the corner of our street.  The light was red, but my husband made the right turn quickly.  I watched helplessly as a big pick-up truck came through the intersection and nearly hit him.   The truck clearly had the right of way, and I began babbling out loud in relief at the near miss.

Me:  Oh, no! Daddy wasn't looking and that truck almost ran into him!  Did you see that? Oh my god. What was he thinking? Holy cow.
My daughter:  I HATE pick-up trucks!  They are always doing bad things.  I HATE THEM!!!
Me:  Honey, it wasn't the truck's fault.  Daddy turned without looking first.
My daughter:  Pick-up trucks are EVIL! If you only knew what I know about pick-up trucks.
My son:  Mom, can I get a pick-up truck?
My daughter:  I saw an accident with a drunk driver and he hit a street light and KILLED people.  I will NEVER, EVER ride in a pick-up truck!!
My son:  Please?

Sibling = Nemesis

[Definition 2:  An opponent or rival one cannot best or overcome.]

Nemesis - Definition 1

According to, the definition of nemesis is as follows:

nem·e·sis [nem-uh-sis]
noun, plural -ses  [-seez]
1. something that a person cannot conquer, achieve, etc.: The performance test proved to be my nemesis.
2. an opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
3. (initial capital letter) Classical Mythology . the goddess of divine retribution.
4. an agent or act of retribution or punishment.

Nemesis is also the name of a (not very good, in my opinion) Phillip Roth novel.  Per Amazon:

In the "stifling heat of equatorial Newark," a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability, and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.

That's right.
Maiming. Paralysis.
The corrupting influence of fear.
Jewish guilt and loss of faith.
The war.
Lots of death.

Subject matter that could have been the nemesis...
[Definition 1: something that a person cannot conquer or overcome]
...of an eager first time book club hostess*.

But I was not afraid.
I made comforting food.
Jewish-ish food.
Lots of food.
I conquered.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?

It's widely known that Los Angeles has more donut shops per capita than anywhere else in the country*.  There's practically one on every corner.  In fact, there is one on our corner.

So this clearly qualifies as superfluous, right?

I've never made donuts before.  Why would I, when I can get a delicious glazed old fashioned for 75 cents anytime** without having to break out a vat of boiling oil?

Here's why.  When you make them at home, your son will take one bite and say, "I think this is the happiest moment of my life right here!  Mom, you are the BEST!"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

One sign you are working at an early stage company

You get emails like this:

To: All
RE: Visitors in the office

Everything looks good.  Thanks for pitching in.
BTW, do not use the microwave during the demo.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Dim sum and then some

Is it just our family, or does the equation:

Eating out with relatives = Going for dim sum

apply to everyone?

Father in law comes to town.
Dim sum.

Aunt's 62nd birthday.
Dim sum.

Holiday lunch with a whole bunch of cousins.
Dim sum.

It doesn't even matter whose relatives they are. My family. His family. Vastly different groups of people who otherwise have literally nothing in common (except being related by marriage to one of us).

They all love dim sum.

They will patiently wait quite a long time* for dim sum.   They collectively ooh and ah over the har gow and the bao, the shu mai and the rice noodles.  Dip the dumplings in the hot chili paste and mustard, pour tea, and send one of the cuter little kids to chase down the potsticker cart.  That's always the crowd favorite, and seems to be perpetually on the other side of the football field-sized dining hall. After eating themselves silly, they even get takeout dim sum for later**. Yep, everybody is all about the dim sum***.

Except, of course, our children.

My daughter:  I'll have plain white rice**** and a coke.
My son:  (texting and not looking up) I brought my own grapes.  Just a coke.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Want to see something really scary?

No, it's not Dan Ackroyd*.
It's the candy bowl on the day after Halloween.

The ultimate parent trap**.

Sure, you can donate the candy to the local children's hospital.  Or bring the candy to the single people in the office.  Or, hide the candy way up high in the cupboard and pretend to forget all about it until about 4:30 in the afternoon when you just need a little something sweet to tide you over until dinner and then stuff the wrappers deep in the trash so no one knows the candy is still somewhere in the house.

But what's fun about that?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Channeling my inner Johnny

If I were going to dress up as someone for Halloween tonight, I would be Johnny, from Airplane! He's my favorite character.*

I could then re-enact a pivotal scene from the movie:

Llyod Bridges: What can you make out of this?**

Me:  I can't make a brooch, or a pterodactyl.
But I can make biscuits!

And pancakes!

If you listen carefully to the DVD commentary, it turns out that this is the reason that Leon is getting larger.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Like a Dying Panda

My voice is shot. Not sure if I have bronchitis, laryngitis, a cold, or whether I just talked and screamed too much at my college reunion this weekend. What sounds I do produce are weak, deep and raspy, like Lauren Bacall if she'd inhaled a pack of mentholated cigarettes, had a belt of cheap whiskey, and started speaking through a wool coat.  I like to think of it as sexy and alluring. I am, apparently, in the minority.

The scene is our favorite neighborhood Italian place. The whole family is together, after the return of my son from a school trip, and a long afternoon of soccer practice for my daughter.  I am in a great mood.  The pizza is delicious. My husband makes an offhand remark that starts me giggling, and then I'm laughing out loud, practically shaking with mirth. Everyone drops their food.

My son:  Mom! Stop! Jeez! 
My husband:  Don't, honey. Please. You'll hurt yourself.

We all turn to stare at her.

My husband: How on earth do you know what a dying panda sounds like?

She stares defiantly back at us.  Then she shrugs.

Her:  YouTube*.

I can't help it.  I'm howling again**.  

Elena's Cure for Coughs
Without my mom here to make a fuss when I'm sick, our housekeeper, Elena, has stepped right into her shoes. She looks at me, bundled up in my sweatshirt and fuzzy socks, shakes her head, clucks a little, then writes down a shopping list and issues instructions in Spanish. Unlike most of the advice I got from my mother, I immediately do exactly as she says. But just like my mother, she knows what she's talking about.  This stuff works! It's both soothing and spicy, and seems to magically calm your throat and reduce coughing almost immediately.  

1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
about 1/2 c. honey
juice of one lemon
about 1/2 c. of very hot water
1 teabag, preferably something citrus-y and spicy, like the Good Earth blend

Place the onion pieces in a medium-sized glass jar. Pour in the honey, enough to cover the onions, then add the lemon juice and enough hot water to fill the jar up to within an inch or so of the top. Put the lid on the jar, and close tightly.

Shake the jar gently for a couple of minutes to allow the honey, juice and water to combine. Open the jar and drop in the teabag, making sure it's submerged, then close it up again, but loosely this time.

Place the jar into a large saucepan.  Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the jar.  Heat over medium high heat until the water is boiling rapidly, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 minutes.  Open the jar (careful, it's hot!) and then strain the mixture into another jar or container, and discard the onions.

This keeps well in the fridge for several days. Rewarm in the microwave before using.

Take several spoonfuls, warm, a few times per day, especially before you go to bed and when you first wake up.

Click to Print this Recipe!

* We may have mis-heard her.  I did sound a little like this climbing panda:

** OK, wheezing and crying again.  To make things worse, on the drive home, the kids' annoying top 40 station starts playing an infectious Maroon 5 song. Turning left, I join in on the chorus, bleating (pathetically) at the top of my lungs, "I've got the moo-oo-oo-OO-OO-oo-OO-oo-ves like Jagger!"

The reaction is instantaneous.