Friday, April 29, 2011

Food Porn - California style

Traveling with an almost-twelve-year-old has many advantages when it comes to dining, or should I say, eating.  For instance, breakfast is really easy - bagels for him and yogurt, fruit and granola for me.  Simple, easy to find and substantial enough to hold us over until later in the day.  Another great thing about traveling with a kid is that they're more than happy to substitute ice cream for either lunch or dinner, something we did perhaps three of our vacation days.  And, with pride, I have to acknowledge that my pre-teen is really starting to branch out in what he orders when we're at a restaurant.  Gone forever are the days of chicken fingers and meat products always sold as "bacon" in an attempt to entice him to eat.  There's still some work to be done, believe me, like why ordering a NY Strip Steak at TGIFs at the Atlanta airport is not a good idea, but he is coming along.  Here's a sampling of a few of our favorite things...
Griffin's new favorite - fried ice cream

Roberta's matzoh ball soup

Amazing ceviche - Mariscos Chente, L.A.

Fish tacos - Mariscos Chente

Peking duck - Ocean Seafood, Chinatown, L.A.

Chinese feast - duck and Chinese broccoli
The BEST cinnamon roll - Rick's, Palm Springs


My first In-n-Out Burger

Potent margarita

Roll with softshell crab, crabmeat and tuna from Fugu's - La Jolla

Mole and fish tacos Alfonso's of La Jolla

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pass(ing it) Over

While on vacation in Palm Springs, I participated in my first Seder. What a wonderful experience! It was everything I'd ever imagined - filled with ritual, food based, and slightly chaotic. The perfect religious and special meal. The opportunity to enjoy a Seder dinner arose when Griffin and I visited an old friend of mine. The last time my friend, Roberta, and I had spent time together was nearly 25 years ago and it had been a bit of a disaster. If I had to sum up that 3 week visit (I know, a ridiculous length of time, but I had lived with them in the past as their nanny/project) in 10 words, it would look something like this: Joshua Tree, tequila, tears, Corona, turquoise bikini, fake i.d., regret. Yep, that's what it was, in 110 degrees of dry heat.

This brief Passover stop over was as sweet as Kosher wine. We talked, we laughed, we told stories to Griffin, and when Griffin finally surrendered to sleep, we talked about exciting things offered by the future...lovely. I took Griffin to some places I had been introduced to a quarter of a century earlier (dramatic, huh?) and we ate the best cinnamon bun ever. As I shared these experiences with my boy, an entirely other thing was going on as Roberta and I talked about her and her daughter, the child I had been a nanny to so many years ago. The child who now had a daughter of her own, who looked remarkably the same as her mother had during the years we all lived in the same village in Orange County, N.Y. There was an incredible exchange of memories and impressions and reminiscences as we shared the impact we had each made upon each others' lives. 

Roberta was the first person who truly forced me to accept ownership of my life and where I wanted to be.  She taught me how to make quiche and to put some distance between myself and the steering wheel when driving, and she broke me of my annoying habit of using the word "goes" in place of "says."  You know: then she goes blah blah blah.  There are pieces of her that now reside within me and that is an amazing gift for someone to have given of themselves.  Her daughter, Leah, was less than two when I began taking care of her all those years ago.  At that time in my life I was very involved in gymnastics - practicing back handsprings and side aerials for hours in a friend's basement.  I started teaching Leah how to do backbends and cartwheels and she totally fell in love with the sport.  The two previous trips I had made to the desert decades ago, included time spent shuttling Leah 90 minutes each way to the gym where she trained and competed.  She now owns a gymnastics gym in Palm Springs and our trip coincided with Leah's daughter's, 7 year-old Rachel, very first meet as a gymnast.  Wow - talk about being significant in someones life!  As a teacher I've often said that it is a true privilege to work with kids and I am blown away by the role I played in Leah's (and subsequently Rachel's) life. 

Although there was a lot of looking backwards in the desert visit, there was an equal amount of looking forward.  The uninitiated may imagine the desert as an infertile place lacking in hospitality, seemingly barren.  Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth, for me.  My soul was absolutely bathed in love, support and reminders of how some connections remain intact despite time and distance.  The recognition of the impact created when one passes on wisdom and tradition  to people one loves, paired beautifully with the Passover holiday.  Unforgettable.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Travel as education

I love to travel. I thoroughly enjoy visiting new places and hope that I am able to impart my enthusiasm and respect for different locations to my children. Experiencing how people beyond your own community live is a terrific way to grow, I think, and can help one understand the lives others may lead. After 4 days with an 11 year old as my sole companion, I've come to some conclusions, both about our little trip and the longer journey my boys are personally taking through life. Please indulge me as I share some thoughts...

Despite their best intentions, children are apparently unable to understand consequences on a theoretical level - they need real situations with real outcomes. I can actually see my son's eyes glaze over as I talk to him about what might have happened because of his actions. Either it happened or it didn't, that's all he can grasp at this point in his development. When I got on his case today about being aware of the impact of his actions, (in this instance he was walking a curb tightrope until he faltered and landed flatly on someone's carefully planted garden with his big skater boy sneaker), he was more annoyed with me than he was sorry for his misstep, which, of course, irritated me. I hammered him until he admitted that it was a bad idea to precariously walk so near to someone else's garden, but I could tell he still didn't get it because nothing "bad" really happened. Making a child understand the sanctity of another's space or possessions is really hard! Later in the afternoon, when I was frantically searching for the car keys so I could drive to a class at the local Y, car keys he had last been in possession of, he saw the ramifications of his carelessness. It was pretty clear that HE had been thoughtless and because of his lack of care, I was now unable to do something I wanted, I mean needed, to do. Which, in turn meant I was going to be less than happy and might mean we wouldn't be going to the movies and could cause me to be so pissed as to cancel his surfing lesson. Cause and effect, right?

The things I want most for my children aren't possessions - they are experiences. I've joked for many years that I have no intention of paying for the boys to go to college. I'll help, but I don't think it is my job as a parent to automatically sponsor their college education. For me, it is more important that I provide them with exposure to the world at large. So, I take them to as many places as I can - concerts, shows, museums, cities... Any place they have an interest in, and I have the means to get them there, is fair game. College? There are loans and part time jobs and scholarships for that, figure it out. I think the years leading up to college can, and should, be just as eye opening as four years on campus. Plus, it's way more fun to learn when there aren't papers to write or books to buy, right? Got to go - someone has a surfing lesson this afternoon!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

California impressions - part 2

There are a lot of bicyclists, which is a good thing since many of them do not wear helmets. I imagine there must be a high number of cyclists that do not survive accidents.

Speaking of high, 420 seems to be a way of life here. On Venice Beach they even offered medical evaluations to obtain a prescription for marijuana. What do you think? A couple of cancers, loss of weight...I think I could have been a contender.

Universal Studios was a little lame, but perfect for a 5 or 6 hour day. There really isn't a lot of ground to cover and there aren't too many rides or attractions. I think we hit just about everything, including the backlot tour which was kind of cool. What was decidedly not cool was paying $20 (in addition to the $148 for 2 admission tickets) to park.

Freeway driving isn't as scary as I imagined. Maybe if I didn't have my NYC girl background I would have been more overwhelmed, but I did fine. And I love the carpool lane.

The people here are polite and smile a lot. It must be the sunshine. Or the marijuana.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Random Cali impressions...

The weather is way better than we expected. Why did I even pack long pants?

The driving has also been less scary than anticipated. We do have a wicked cool (this is an East coast expression, isn't it? Sorry!) navigation device that has proven very helpful. I particularly like that I can request "least freeway route."

L.A. is basically indecipherable to me. I never seem to know which direction I'm traveling in, which is fine, I guess.

There aren't just beautiful people here. Believe me.

Gas and groceries are expensive. For the first time ever, I prepaid for a tank of gas from the rental car company because it was a bargain at $3.87 a gallon. Every gas station we've passed has been way over $4.00. As far as groceries go, maybe it is just my own ignorance about shopping, but 6 bagels, some fresh pineapple and strawberries, a hunk of butter and a quart of Greek yogurt doesn't cost $16.00+ in N.Y., does it?

Venice Beach was really seedy. Or maybe, gasp(!), I'm just getting old.

Homestyle Mexican food is everywhere. That is a most definite plus. I had the best ceviche of my life last night.

There are a lot of homeless people here. I suppose this is a good place to be homeless, but still...

I think I like it here more than I thought I would. I'd definitely like to come back again someday to check things out with another grownup.

I've been to California 5 times and still feel as if I haven't scratched the surface.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hey - Peeps!

ridiculous deliciousness from krause's
Nearly six months after purchasing our tickets, (good thing I bought them way back when - they would cost much more than $425 each right now), Griffin and I are heading to Cali this afternoon.  We're both looking forward to seeing new sights like Venice Beach and La Jolla, but, in all honesty, I'm most anticipating spending some one-on-one time with my middle guy.  The timing of the trip is perfect and I expect to have some heart-to-heart talks with the boy I birthed who most is most sensitive to changes in his world.

I know that some of you DelSo folks have walked this divorce path before and invite you to share any tips you may have for positive transitions.  It seems fitting that so many changes are happening in my life, and my children's lives, during a  time of the year devoted to rebirth and sweet treats.  I plan to fully experience and savor both of those spring occurrences and trust that I can help my children to do the same. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Owning it

image from
Part of being an adult, or even a mature teenager, is taking on life's responsibilities and managing them in a reliable fashion.   Often it seems as if obligations become absorbed by us with little or no conscious awareness.  You know, like when you no longer had a babysitter when your parents went out or you were permitted to walk independently to Stewart's or somewhere else previously not allowed  Other rites of passage come with more obvious recognition; receiving your driver's license, a credit card or checking account, and/or ownership of property like a car or home.  Each of these milestones involves approval from someone not a member of your family, as well as a bevy of paperwork in which you personally commit to abide by a series of conditions.  The seriousness of the contract you're entering into is frequently indicated by the number of times you must sign your name on official documents, a condition which probably isn't a bad idea. Maybe there could be a rubric which clearly denotes that the cumulative number of signatures is equal to the seriousness of the responsibility or commitment. Which do you think should require more signatures:
  • buying a house
  • getting married
  • conceiving a child
  • getting divorced
I think the answer to the above question is a personal one which probably evolves and changes as we move through life and all  of its chapters.  I'll let you know my answer after I've experienced each of the options.

I have an appointment coming up to close on a mortgage which will make me the sole owner of the home I have lived in for the past 15 years.  In all honesty, I'm a little scared.  Being a property owner with negligible maintenance skills is a bit overwhelming - what if (or rather when) something goes wrong?  There are so many potential disasters that if I let my mind take over, as I did in yoga class recently, I almost have a panic attack.  Or something like I imagine a panic attack to be. 

I know I've made some mistakes and choices which have impacted people negatively.  I apologize for hurting people who have done their best to care for me over the years, but I can't say I'm unhappy to be in the place I now find myself to be.  Yeah, I'll own it.  All of it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

She's a little runaway

image from
Perspective is an interesting thing, don't you think?  I mean, I'm talking way beyond the half-full vs. half empty thing.  I'm thinking instead about how one's viewpoint on a given situation, when shared, can provide a new understanding of the state of affairs (ha!) another is experiencing.  Case in point: the other night while enjoying dinner with the girls one of my friends mentioned the frenzied rate of speed at which I've been living my life of late.  I am in complete agreement that the pace of my life has been more than a little manic in the past 6 months or so, but I hadn't really invested much time or thought considering what prompted the acceleration.   On the infrequent occasions that I did speculate why I was suddenly inclined  to leave town far more often than in the past, I chalked it up to  new found opportunities which had appeared since I left my Saturday night job after 8 years of devoted attendance.  Maybe, though, that isn't the complete story,  at least not as far as my insightful friend is concerned.  Without hesitation, she asserted that the real reason I had been such a girl-on-the-go was because I was in effect running away from home.  Hmmmm...interesting...I hadn't really thought of it that way before. 

Although I don't consider myself to be a confrontational person, I'm not afraid to go toe-to-toe with someone when circumstances require.  The only time I've ever run away from home was as a pre-teen looking for attention.  I remember hiding in the backseat of my mother's car with a book, for hours, waiting for someone to notice my absence.  I believe I eventually, rather sheepishly, snuck out of the car as unnoticed as when I had entered the car hours earlier.  As I compare my childhood experiment of running away with my more recent attempts to get away, the contrast between the experiences seems glaring.  While my original attempt at running away was clearly a cry for someone to aknowledge my existence, my more recent foray was clearly an escape from the life I found myself living.  I wanted needed to get away.

There are enormous changes taking place in my home and I am looking around with clear eyes and optimism about what the future may hold.  I have some ideas about aspects I'd like to transform, items with which I will easily part, and some things which will leave an absence duly noted.  All of these evolving conditions require me to be present - and I'm looking forward to the process.  The runaway has come home.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lark Street on a sunny day

What a gorgeous weekend, huh?  For a change, I had nothing going on other than a series of mini-dates with friends.  I got outside a bit, visited with my neighbors, and attended to some tasks involving seasonal wardrobe changes for myself and the boys. All in all a productive and relaxing couple of days.  

Lark Street was buzzing on Saturday with families walking to and from the Washington Avenue Armory where the 7th Annual Northeast Family Chocolate Festival was being held.  While I was tempted to check it out, the weather was too beautiful for me to seriously consider going indoors.  Fortunately, Lark Street offers some food options which completely filled the void.  I started at Kinnaree on the corner of Lark and Spring.  I've gotten take out from there in the past and am mildly obsessed with their fresh spring rolls ($5.95 for 2), which is what I went with again because I was looking for something light and delicious.  I don't know how great of a recipe this is, but, if you're not familiar with these lovely rice paper wrapped rolls, check it out to see what I'm talking about.  Sorry for the lack of photo, but I basically inhaled these before meeting my friend.  I wasn't sharing.

al fresco sweet treat

Crisan offered the perfect sweet treat to follow my lunch and Chrissy and I both went with the Porcelain Cake which was the perfect size to feel indulgent with overdoing it.  It was delicious - not too sweet, and loaded with coconut.  Perfect with a well made cappuccino. 

awesome ad by Ken Ragsdale at Capital Wine and Spirits

Lark Street was charming this weekend - there really seem to be some cool options for noshing your way between Washington and Madison Avenues, particularly on the north end of the street.  Imagine if some of these wishes were granted?  Personally, I've been fantasizing about a satellite of the Honest Weight Co-op on Lark for a very long time.  How about you?  What do you think would be a positive addition to Lark Street?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Girls' Night Dinner

Although it may seem that I'm constantly on the go, I think that phase of my life may be drawing to a close.  As spring progresses, I am very much looking forward to spending more time at home, with the boys, a few projects and some friends.  The other night  Lisa and Yas were over and I made, if I might say so myself, an inspired spring dinner which would have  rivaled anything available in a restaurant.  Yeah, I said it - it was that damn good.
chicken skewers, grilled mango, grilled asparagus
Price Chopper was doing their 40% of chicken sale last week and a big package of boneless chicken thighs found its way to my refrigerator.   I'm never sure whether this "sale" is the real deal or if it just means that the rest of the time the chicken is just overpriced, but chicken was definitely the star of this week's menu.  For this dinner I cut 3 or 4 thighs into chunks and marinated them in a combination of red curry paste, soy sauce and kecap manis.   I prepped the asparagus by tossing them with some olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper and then cut a fresh mango into cubes and threaded it onto skewers.
orange mustard sauce

I fired up the grill, got the skewers loaded up with tasty chicken and laid them on the medium high grill.  While they cooked, I decided that a dipping sauce would complete the meal and poked around the refrigerator to gather a couple of things. I went with orange marmalade, honey mustard and a touch of orange juice, which I simply stirred together into a sweet and mildly spicy orange taste sensation.  The dipping sauce ended up being the perfect sweet component to offset the spiciness of the chicken - I tend to have a heavy hand with curry paste.  Midway through cooking the chicken, I placed the asparagus and mango on the fire and grilled these to a beautiful state of doneness.  This meal didn't take more than a dozen ingredients, much effort or chopping, nor was it time consuming.  What it was though, was delicious, cohesive in terms of flavors, and, I imagine, fairly nutritious.  Coupled with a bottle of Samsara Syrah, and an evening of simple pleasures and good friends transcended the individual components and became a special night. Nights at home are looking like a very good option.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The ABCs of Surgery

image from
With reluctance, I've become rather expert in being a surgical patient.  Although I consider myself the picture of health (hello, I'm a triathlete!), in the past 10 months I've "gone under the knife" on three occasions - and not a single operation was cosmetic.  Allow me to share some information I've gleaned from my experiences.

  • A is for Anaesthesia - I don't know how you feel or respond to pharmaceutical medicines, but they just don't agree with me.  I generally get incredibly nauseous, usually vomit and take hours to recover my faculties after being put under with general anaesthesia.  Each time I encounter a well intentioned anaesthesiologist, I indulge them as they describe their remarkable ability to "give me something for that" when I explain my body's aversion to narcotics.  During my surgical adventures in these past months, I've learned that advocating for myself using the words "local anaesthesia, please" works wonders, and I have dramatically decreased my discomfort level following a surgical procedure.  It may not work for everyone, but I am huge fan of less being more when it comes to (pharmaceutical) drugs.
  • B is for Benign - This is absolutely the news you want to hear when you receive the results of your biopsy.  While only (only? really?) 2 of my 3 surgeries this year involved having tissue removed from my body and being tested to determine cellular composition, I am very pleased to share that last week's neck dissection resulted, for the first time ever, with a benign finding.  I honestly believe that the third time was the charm and my "necklace" of scars is now complete.
  • C is for Cancer - Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is frightening.  Actually it is incredibly frightening - who am I kidding?  I have a dear friend who was unable to even use the word cancer when I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer about 10 years ago, insisting instead on calling it the "C word."  Ok, we all know what the "C word" really is, and I always felt that whispering cancer  instead of speaking about it in a normal tone, gave far too much power to some renegade (potentially Palin-esque) cells.  No, thanks, I'd prefer a discussion to denial any day of the week.  C can also be for conversation.  The worst thing by far, in my experience, is the discomfort friends and acquaintances have demonstrated with regards to talking about my health challenges.  I understand that everyone is unique in the way they experience trials, but I much prefer dialogue to dismissal.  Which I suppose would be letter D, but since I'm officially (says me) done with cancer, let's just finish with the fact C is also for conclusion and cease and culmination and closure and completion and .....

Monday, April 4, 2011

Perfect Spring Lunch

So the girls came up Saturday to reassure themselves that I was in fact fine, post-op.  We had a wonderful visit and a lovely light lunch consisting of steamed artichokes with hollandaise. home baked bread with fresh rosemary and spectacular macaroons made my DelSo neighbor, Lori.  As you can see, Lori's artistry exceeds mere graphic design.
Steam artichokes in a couple of inches of water with some fresh lemon squeezed in.  This Hollandaise was made from 4 egg yolks, about 2/3 a stick of butter, a generous squeeze of lemon and a touch of water, salt and pepper.

I used the basic No-Knead Bread recipe and then added between and 1/8 and a 1/4 cup of rosemary from my nearly dead rosemary plant.  During the second rise, when the bread is wrapped in a cotton cloth for 2 hours, I used coarse corn meal, a bit of sea salt and an additional 1/8 cup of rosemary.  Delicious!

I have no clue what kind of magic Lori used to make these beauties, but I can assure you I never expected  to find anything more welcome in my milk box than my Meadowbrook Farms delivery.  I was wrong.

Two dear friends + one fabulous neighbor = an ideal afternoon.  How could a girl feel anything but fabulous with so many blessings in her life?  Life is sweet, people, enjoy it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pink Party

photo from Albert J Gnidica
You know how I always seem to have something fun to do immediately after surgery?  Well, I had a little "procedure" on Thursday and naturally had an event on my calendar for the very next evening.  Fortunately, the surgery went really well and I was in fine form to attend Matt Baumgartner and Chris Pratt's Pink Party.  This annual event is a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and $75 got attendees an open bar, some food and opportunity to live la vida Baumgartner, if only for 3 hours.  Matt's place was decorated festively, the bartenders worked their asses off and my only (small) complaint was that there was an overzealous worker who took my nearly full beer from the table behind me - twice.  It's hard to catch a buzz when two or three sips in, someone steals your beer.  And, in case you're wondering why I was drinking beer instead of wine, allow me to illustrate what prompted my decision:

Wine snob, I'm not, but maybe next year (if I make the guest list again, of course), I can help Matt select a pretty pink dry Rose' instead of that "sweet red."  

There were beautiful people galore and women so bodacious to cause me to doubt my own femininity, but I was more than happy to pull out my pink dress and insert myself into the mix.  I say "my pink dress" because I only have one and since I've already used it as a costume I needed to change it up a bit.  It is amazing what a couple of safety pins and black accessories can do to change the appearance of a dress, and I think it looked great ruched up and made into an above the knee look.  Of course, what I wore wasn't really that important - the important part was $9000. was raised for a worthy organization.  

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Foolishness

image from:
  • Grown men who use the diminutive form of their name
  • Those silly stickers people place on the back of their vehicles showing the composition of their family.
  • Medical facilities charging the uninsured more than they charge those with negotiated insurance rates.
  • The incidence of double-parking in Albany, especially when there is a nearby legit space.
  • The potholes all over town which are threatening to swallow my family wagon.
  • The price for the delivery of utilities.  It isn't as if picking up my electricity or natural gas is an option.
  • Viruses on Facebook which litter my virtual wall.
  • Folks who fail to acknowledge crosswalks
  • Glasses of wine that cost more than $12
  • Extra airline charges for luggage when flying.

I'm sure you can add something to this list...