January 31, 2008

Muskrat Love... or something

You know that nighttime noise that often woke me on garbage night?

Last night, the night *after* garbage night, I heard it again.

Only this time, it was only 8 PM or so. And E was awake.

I brought him to the area of the house where the grinding of the gravel on the roof was loudest and he agreed.

SOMETHING was up there.

And it sounded big.

We took the mag light and ran outside to investigate.

We rushed out and surely would have seen something or someone flee, but from the sides of the house, no matter what the angle, we saw nothing.

And then, E climbed on top of the fence, shined the light and started laughing.

He laughed so hard he couldn't speak.

***laugh***It's***laugh***Racoons.***Laugh***You know...***laugh***Doing racoon business****

And then they ran away.

And then E felt very bad.

Oh... I feel sorry for him. I interrupted his night of fun...

I, of course, took the feminist side, His? His? night of fun?

uh... both of their fun. I feel bad for both of them...

And thus, another great mystery is solved. Also, I now know, which I probably could have guessed from the great raven/crow debacle, that 40 pounds on our roof, rubbing around on the tar & gravel without the muffling of any attic or insulation, sounds like well over 100 lbs.

So, no more fear. It's just animals, doing animal things. On our roof. Of course!

January 30, 2008

The Rapture of the Word

I read for pleasure in bursts. I nurse a single book for weeks, a few pages before I fall asleep a few nights a week until there's a weekend involving a plane, a beach, a lake, or any other opportunity to sit still and read, at which point, I'll race through as much text as my time allows.

This weekend, I started Friday's travel by speeding my way through the Wall Street Journal at the airport, followed by the courtesy subscriptions I receive thanks to Active.com's subscription offer at race sign up -- Namely, the quality reading material offered by the fine people at People and National Geographic Adventure Travel.

I also managed to enjoy the Economist cover-to-cover, something I rarely have enough time or focus to do. But when I do, I sincerely enjoy it. Leave it to the Brits to make snarky comments about political economies that can make me laugh out loud. And, to round out my periodical consumption, I spent some time each day perusing the Miami Herald that was delivered to our hotel, including the articles on Jose Padilla's Sentencing, which, sadly, is something educated Americans should know and think about.

But enough of the regular circulation. Let us focus on my chosen books.

First (one down!), I finished Arvay's gift-book of Martin Booth's Gweilo: A emoir of a Hong Kong Childhood. Oh my. How does someone like me even begin to discuss this book. It's everything I love: foreign lands, foreign cultures, food, common humanity, adventure, and, above all else, curiosity. I highly recommend this book for those who are looking for an educational escape to Hong Kong of the 1950s.

Then (2 out of 20 down!), I read Sabine Dardenne's I choose to live. Wow. This is why I read books. The strength of this young woman (although parts of the book include letters she wrote at the age of 12, I will not call her a child, for she gave up her childhood the second she was kidnapped and refused to be a victim.) This book was not a literary work of art. Rather, it was a work of life. A story that needed to be told: of survival, fighting, and the reality that even happy endings are often full of struggle and unhappiness -- but we must struggle and find the happiness. Because that's the whole point.

And, to mellow it out (3/20 isn't particularly memorable), I meandered through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The scary thing for me is that I've jokingly referred to myself as one of highly functional aspergers. I know it's probably true on some level, but it doesn't really affect my life -- I live in Silicon Valley. Reading this book brought home some realities about how I handle stress, how non-neuro-typical those behaviours are, and how much I can relate to a severely autistic individual. No doubt, the book was written to evoke this response from its readers. So it did a good job with me. But still. I found this book significantly more affecting than I expected. Well done Mark Haddon.

And there you have it. Back to the grind. Next time I find time for enjoyment of the word outside of work and blogs, I'll be sure to let you know.

January 29, 2008

Bienvenido a Miami

Yeah, I'm taking it back to the Fresh Prince.

What? It had been years (7 or so) since I'd last been to Florida, when I made a whirlwind tour with Nish. The last time, I loved the beaches, the old folks, the weather, and, well, to be honest, the Nasa space center. In fact, I distinctly remember food not playing an important role in that trip. Key food memories involved one meal at a time-share presentation buffet, another at Olive Garden in Orlando, and several others composed of cruise ship food, and not elite high-end cruise ship, think cruise ship pitching bahama-mamas at every corner which is run as a special vacation package to get you to buy a timeshare.

We didn't buy the timeshare, but I've grown as a person. In particular, I've become more food focused, as have my vacations.

So, last weekend, E and I met up in Miami with 3 of his high school buddies, two of their significant others, and one of their significant other's college roommates for an 8-person weekend of fun in South Beach.

It a blast. Sun. Fun. Food. Beautiful people. Relaxation (I didn't even bring my laptop!). A gorgeous and flat (if humdity-filled and slower than expected) half marathon.

Did I mention food? Well, good. 'Cause that was the main focus. Despite the low body fat, South beach is an eating frenzy waiting to happen.

Friday, after a 3-hour delay for takeoff and a 4.5 hour flight, we finally arrived, checked into our horrifically loud room at the aging Marseilles and then we headed out to enjoy a reunion with friends from afar over a midnight Italian thin-crust pizza and wine on Lincoln Road followed by another round at a Sushi joint and outdoor bar on Collins Ave. in the glorious 68F weather. OH! AND, I ALMOST FORGOT! WE SAW PINK-MAN! The fact that I called out to him by name and we hugged surprised my companions quite a bit. J commented, "I feel like I just stepped into a Fellini film."

Saturday, we relaxed, ate some Sushi for lunch, read on the beach and in hammacks, and at night, after a day of various independent activities, we treated ourselves to a huge Italian Feast where the 3 orders of the surf and turf taught us that P's default rule should probably be followed: Never order filet mignon at an Italian Restaurant. (I realized upon watching those that broke the rule struggle with their steaks that while I never technically knew the rule, I definitely have always followed the rule. Play to the strengths of the restaurant where you find yourelf... Duh!). To the restaurant's credit, they credited us 1/2 the price of the surf & turf for each unsatisfied turf customer (all 3) and we all left full and content. From there, we walked our way back through South Beach and toured several of the bars in the cooler hotels on Collins street.

Sunday, M and I got up at 5:30 AM EST (that's 2:30 PST for those of you keeping track!) to run the Miami half marathon. Holy mackerel! Humidity slows you down! Seriously. I finished this half marathon at 1 second under the first half of my marathon in December. But I had no energy left. As painfully slow as it was, in addition to the thrill of running in the dark in a gorgeous new city with a friend I never see, I'm glad I had this learning experience since the Nagano marathon is likely to be humid as well. I definitely have a better idea of what might be a reasonable time goal for Nagano and I'm glad I didn't set it on the basis of my performance in California.

E, S and R met M and I at the 6 mile marker to cheer us on. That's how I know E loves me. He was there, awake, dressed, wearing pants, even (!) at 7 AM EST (aka, 4 AM PST.)

After the run, Sunday turned into the glorious debauchery that you'd expect. A big brunch. Champagne. Gelato for lunch. An afternoon on the beach, reading on a chaise lounge while E hid under the umbrella and enjoying a couple of cocktails. And, of course, we capped the day with another amazing dinner with the group, this time at a super swank establishment serving meals with an amazing blend of flavors, Vix. After dinner, we enjoyed a drink at the Catalina bar (wacky decor, not the best drinks, but great ambiance and quiet enough that you could sit with a big group and talk. The pool area is *very cool*.)

Monday found us sleeping in (because after we changed rooms to a less noisy one, the Marseilles was no longer the bane of my existence), getting ready, enjoying a full lunch of gazpacho and italian pizzas, and then heading to the airport for the return. This time, no delays, only a missed approach at SFO due to a commuter jet off of our wing... scary!

And now? Well, now I'm back home. Relaxed. 3 books into the new year's 20-book challenge. Frustrated with work (already?). And ready for my next vacation.

Hope all is well with you and yours.

January 22, 2008

Marathon, the third, on deck

Well, it's official. I registered for my third marathon -- and this time, it's international. Assuming all goes well, I'll be running the Nagano Marathon in April.

First, for pacing, I've got a half marathon this coming weekend, and based on my performance, I'll be setting my pace goals for the marathon. It should be interesting, since I've been sick, sick, sick-amundo for about two weeks and running like crap, if at all.

I expected to take a serious hit on my time this last weekend, and went out for my first long run after deep chest cough recovery to find that I was *faster* than I had been 2 weeks prior. As in, much faster. As in I ran 9 miles at the fastest consecutive pace I'd run since during the last marathon. Wow! It was such an enjoyable, fast, light, speedy run. I hadn't had a non-race run like that in more than 6 months. It was so fun -- I found myself grinning, even as rain pelted me and wind sang in my ears because I should have waited 'til the storm passed. I guess the speed training on the treadmill once or twice a week was actually paying off, despite the illness.

So, stay tuned. In addition to blathering on about the boring 2nd year associate legal life that I lead and the food-obsessed breaks that I take, I'll now go back to my old habit of annoying all of you non-runners, with 3 consecutive months of marathon training posts.

Oh, and if you were wondering, I finally managed to get just barely back within my 10-lb healthy weight range after the holidays. Just in time for this weekend's race (and bathing suit weather!). I suspect at least some of the newfound and very joyful increased speed is allocable to that change... but who am I to resist?


January 21, 2008

It's the season

I have gotten back in contact with several friends recently and have come to learn that big changes are afoot.

Law firms are merging. Companies are going out of business. People are getting engaged. People are quitting their jobs for different opportunities.

I guess it's the new year.

Me. I'm still plugging along with my resolution: to roll with the punches and be more relaxed.

The latest internal revelation? In coding, they say, "write one to throw away." In literature, they say, "Just write. The craft is in the editing. And re-editing. And re-re-editing."

But in contracts? Well, the clients don't really want to hear that you wrote this one to throw away. Or that you just wrote. In that way, writing a first draft contract is actually harder than coding or writing: there is a small, but very real chance that the other side might just sign it.

You know, 'cause it's the season for change, and people are doing things to make things happen and all...

Is it really almost February of 2008? Crazy.

January 18, 2008

Roasted Winter Vegetables

I have been working too much. But learning quite a bit. And, really, what do you do when you are presented with an opportunity to work too much and learn quite a bit other than work and hope for respite.

So, here I am.

But damn. If you need a delicious, ridiculously healthy winter recipe, I recommend the following.


-1 carrot, halved lenthwise, and then quartered
-2 leeks, heavy green ends removed, and then quartered, parallel to the long axis
-1 bunch fennel, root end removed, and then sliced into 1/8 portions
-1 delicata squash, cut into quarters, seeds removed with a spoon
- 4 red radishes, slices into 1/8 inch slices with the root end removed
-1/2 stick butter
-3 leaves fresh sage

1. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Prep vegetables. Arrange them in a pan in a visually pretty arrangement, place in the oven for 10 minutes.
2. Melt butter over medium heat, add sage in torn leaves for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add a dusting of salt and mix evenly. Open oven and pour over vegetables.
3. Take the butter pan and coat with 2-3 times around the pan with olive oil. Add 2 T of balsamic vinegar. Mix the blend in the pan 'til evenly mixed and aromatic over medium heat. Open oven and pour over vegetables.
4. Roast vegetables for a total of almost 1 hour. Just below. Enjoy after 5 minutes cooling. Delicious!!!


January 15, 2008

No more favors

If you ask me to send you a draft of an agreement before you said you'd need it, and I oblige you with an early draft and a note that section 10 is still subject to review, sending me an email that berates me for some typos in section 10 and copying your colleagues will not make me very happy.

Especially when I am sick.

Your work is now my last priority.

January 14, 2008

One of those days

I woke with a worse chest cough than I went to bed with. (The grammar of the previous sentence alone should give you an idea of where the day was headed.) Tired, grumpy, achey. You know, sick.

But, I had a big day of work ahead of me, so I went in early and busted out a 12-hour day.

Around noon I realized I'd left my wallet at home. Awesome. Not that I would want to buy sodas when my throat is sore or anything...

A few minutes later, I found myself at Starbucks with my closest girlfriend from work and she explained why she had given her notice that day. It was for a much better opportunity, and I'm happy for her. But still, I'm really gonna miss her. She's one of the few people at work who will go with me when I *really* need to take an hour or two break.

I stayed late at work to bust through as much as I could and also because I needed access to partners who were very busy all day and sometimes, you just have to wait 'til they have time for you. This waiting was partially to walk through an agreement with a partner where he pointed out all of the things I missed, that I shouldn't have missed, but I did, because I don't have enough time to do as good of a job as I would like to do. Basically, I did some fairly shabby work. And we both knew it.

Thankfully, I coughed my way through the review of the agreement, so he felt sorry for me and probably blamed a little bit of the lackluster performance on my health (when in reality, it's time pressure, life balance, and subconsciously choosing not to spend the time to do a perfect job when I know a partner is going to check my work).

Tonight was supposed to be healthy night -- yoga, vegetarian food, and no alcomohal. But, instead, when I got home, I asked if we could reschedule. E, sweet husband that he is, obliged me (he hates yoga anyways) and went to the store to buy wine and pre-made soup.

Here's to hoping tomorrow is a little bit better.

January 13, 2008

My Sister

Fell, bouldering in Tahoe without a top-rope and broke her foot before landing in the freezing water almost 6 months ago.

Watched her boyfriend offer to drive her stick shift civic due to the foot that was broken and didn't stop him from crashing it into his parents' cabin, despite the gunning of the motor and the uncertainty between the clutch and brake because, he said he knew how to drive stick.

Is beautiful, beyond belief.

Was non-weight-bearing on her broken foot for 16 weeks.

At one point, became so frustrated that her 3rd cast just "fell off." Okay, so she took it off with a flathead screwdriver 12 hours after it was casted, but that's what she told the doctor...

Sings happy things as songs, just like me, like the song she left on my voicemail, after 6 months of rehab and casts.....

I, have, 2, *good* fee-eeet!.

Congrats to my sister, whom I love beyond my ability to express! Yay for happy feet!

January 10, 2008

2007: My Year in Books

I didn't challenge myself to 25 books for 2007, and good thing, since I didn't get near 2006's 24 books.

But, I did finish a healthy 18, which, given the whole first-year lawyer thing and the two marathons in one year makes me think I must really enjoy reading, and, that despite my fears, I am semi-balanced (if a wee-bit over-extended).

1. How to Work a Room by Susan Roanne: 20% useful, 80% drither. Not recommended. Left it on a plane as a non-gift to the next passenger.
2. Cosmic Banditos: A.C. Weisbecker. A hilariously whole-circle story of: travel, drug use, quantum mechanics, piracy, bananas and banditos.
3. The Rain of Gold: Victor Villasenor Amazing.
4. The People's Guide to Mexico by Carl Franz & Lorena Havens: Very Good.
5. The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach: a bit too detailed for the length. More like an admonishment to take on a more serious study of Tibetan budhism. But, many great lessons and suggestions for being balanced in the work world.
6. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom: Cheesy and trite but true. Sad and beautiful. A perfect cross-country plane read if you enjoy sappy emotional books that make you cry and grateful for your life.
7. Little White Lies: A Novel of Love and Good Intentions by Gemma Townley: Brit Chick Lit. Guilty pleasure, all the way. A very fast read. Recommended only for women and men who like fashion and love-story dramas.
8. The Lives of John Lennon by Albert Goldman: Great story of a fascinatingly troubled man. Excellent pop history education.
9. The Tomato Festival Cookbook by Lawrence Davis-Hollander: 150 recipes. Tips on growing. History. A great reference book but not the cover-to-cover all inclusive Tomato book I was hoping for.
10. You Suck: A love Story by Christopher Moore: Brain Candy. Irreverant. Fast. Enjoyable. Fluff. San Francisco.
11. For One More Day by Mitch Albom: my review.
12. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie: Very educational on Chinese re-education.
13. A dirty Job by Christopher Moore: My review and this review, which is much better.
14. The Average American Male by Chad Kultgen.
15. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult: a good graphic novel, with great artwork.
16. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
17. Founders At Work by Jessica Livingston
18. Everyday Zen: love and work by Charlotte Joko Beck: Life, as it is, is perfect. How annoying is that? And yet… how beautiful. I probably read this book every year. I just read one vignette every week or so. I've been doing that for years and I never stop learning from it. In fact... if I count it for 2006 then I just barely met my 25-book challenge.

As for 2008. Well, I'm at 0.5 for the moment. But, I only have 1 marathon planned instead of two. So perhaps I should shoot for 20 books? I think it's ambitious, but what the hell.

January 5, 2008

A Great Storm

You might have heard about the California storm that we've been experiencing. Torrential downpours. Winds so severe they closed the bay area bridges to avoid additional big-rigs from blowing over. A landslide on highway 17.

When I arrived home around 7:30 PM, the last few blocks of my drive were from another place and time. Instead of my pseudo-urban, busy, well-lit subdivision full of Christmas lights and blow-up decorations, I found myself driving in the country at night, unable to see anything except what my headlights illuminated. In addition to the blackness, when I got out of the car, it was beautifully silent (except for our neighbor's generator, but they have a newborn baby, so I was glad they were prepared). I wonder if that's what our neighborhood was like when it was first built.

Given the all-electric kitchen, we drove downtown, where they have power, and went out to a simple Italianesque dinner at a restaurant that used to be a regular in our rotation but somehow fell out. We remembered why we used to like it -- the food is good and there are simple options, the service is great, the specials were delicious, the owners are quirky (the head chef often sings opera while strolling through the restaurant), and the wine list is short, but well-selected and reasonably priced. We enjoyed a delicious, light Ventana Pinot Noir that they sell for around $38, which is very impressive given the retail price of $28.

After the big night on the town, we came home and lit candles to brighten the house and tone down the eerie glow of our flourescent lantern. We have a few decorative candles, but that's it, they are just decorative. The wicks are primarily unburnt. Until last night. Thanks to the storm, I realized that candles are nice, they give a soft glow to the room, and they smell good. They just feel relaxing.

And they make a nice relaxing side to a resounding round of scrabble that goes 'til midnight. (I lost. By one point. Apparently, Slavak is not a word.)

This storm was an excellent opportunity for me to work on my New Year's Resolution:

to be more calm and roll with the punches.

My sister and mother were *supposed* to visit this weekend (no travel due to the storm). Last night, I was *supposed* to come home and run on my treadmill (which requires power).

But hey, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the dark neighborhood, the candles, or scrabble if things had gone as they were *supposed* to.

Now I just have to figure out how to roll with today's planned long run of 11 miles and the predicted thundershowers and I'll be in great shape.

January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

I hope you spent the last bits of 2007 and the first bits of 2008 with those you love, or doing something you enjoy (or, ideally, both). E and I spent New Years Eve at G's house with friends, making and enjoying a 4-course meal that spanned two years.

We ended 2007 with an extremely labor intensive mushroom and ricotta stuffed pasta (a BT-invention of sorts), which, predictably, like all invented from scratch BT recipes, went a little wrong and needs to be done again, properly.

This time, the mistake I made was that I stacked all of the pasta pockets on the same plate in the hot steamy kitchen. They stuck together and the dough ripped when BC, who volunteered to help, started trying to boil them. I had to feed 8, so what else could I do, but admit failure and roll about half of them into mushroom pasta balls, which surprised me by maintaining their structural integrity when boiled.

My advice to you is to keep the pasta separated from each other at a minimum and ideally in the fridge or freezer until they are boiled, and remember that good ingredients will taste excellent even with structural failure. Also, for efficiency, remember to buy and use a pasta cutter to avoid hand-folding the pockets on all sides, and if you forget the pasta cutter, settle for knife-edge pasta. Finally, melted butter with chopped sage and porcini broth makes an excellent mushroom-stuffed pasta and mushroom-pasta-ball sauce, which gets even better when you top it with shaved parmigiano and truffle oil.

After course 1, we briefly left the table to toast the new year with each other and via Skype with our sister-party of G's siblings.

We started 2008 with a wonderful winter vegetable soup from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which, when O announced where she found the recipe, all of the current and former vegetarians at the table chimed in to say it was their favorite cookbook. Carrots, potatoes, parsnips, onions, leaks, milk and more -- hearty and delicious. I may have to add the Deborah Madison cookbook to my wishlist, although, truth be told, I already have more recipes in my kitchen than I could cook in a lifetime.

What surprised me, however, was that the third course of fontina-basil-prosciutto-stuffed chicken seemed to beat out the pasta with the majority of the crowd. It's a favorite of E's that I hadn't made in years, that came to mind because O doesn't eat red meat and it can be easily modified for non-red meat eaters. I figured it would be good, but not as good as the mushroom decadence. Given everyone's delight with this offering, and the fact that it's relatively healthy and not very difficult, I think the best way to start the new year is to share it with you.

Fontina, basil, and prosciutto stuffed chicken

-1 chicken breast per person (I bought the fresh, pre-skinned, de-boned, free-range expensive chicken breasts and suspect that may explain why this was such a hit -- they were moist and flavorful)
-1 slice of proscuitto per 2 persons
-1 small slice of fontina per person (1.5 inch X 0.5 inch is fine)
-1/4 basket of cherry tomatoes per person, stemmed, rinsed, and halved
-1/4 shallot per person, minced
-2 basil leaves per person, chopped
-dash of chicken broth per person
-olive oil
-balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Clean the breasts and pat dry. With a knife, on the wider side of the breast, slice a pocket into the breast ensuring that at least one side of the pocket (the bottom) stays intact.

2. Salt and pepper the inside of the pocket. Layer chopped basil, prosciutto, and fontina in the pocket and close so that nothing is showing (feel free to wrap the lower, thinner end of the breast up towards the top if the end of the pocket isn't sealed.

3. Salt and pepper the outside of the breast and lightly pound to flatten (but don't let the pocket contents peak out).

4. Place breast in the olive-oiled baking dish. Repeat steps 1-4 for each breast

5. Place dish in the oven and bake until done but not dry (no one likes dry chicken!), which will depend on the size of the breasts, but you can cut them open and check without anyone knowing because they will be topped with the sauce. Small breasts take about 15-20 minutes and larger ones, if stacked together, side-by-side in a pan will take about 22-25 minutes.

6. While the breasts are baking, sautee your minced shallot in olive oil. Add all leftover chopped basil and tomatoes and simmer for a minute or two. Add a douse of balsamic vinegar (once around the pan, quickly for 8 breasts) and a dash of chicken broth and cook for another few minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove the sauce from heat.

7. When the breasts are done, place them on a plate and top with the cherry tomatoes and sauce.

Serve immediately. Enjoy!