December 27, 2008

My Desires

Things I want:

1. To edit my blog posts so that I publish writing I am proud of as opposed to off the cuff, non-literary, stream-of-semi-consciousness crap.
2. To start a local restaurant selling local treats from our Asian trip. I know it would be a success--it is my short-term back-up plan if my firm lays me off.
3. To speak Spanish fluently. Pimlseur is helping. But not fast enough. All of the Spanish speakers I encounter speak English better than I speak Spanish.
4. To do more pro-bono legal work.
5. To read more good books.
6. To work out more and to be in better shape.
7. To laugh more often and to take life less seriously because it is short and I may as well enjoy it.
8. To cook more good food.
9. To be a better friend and family member -- to be there for folks in the way that they need me, not in the way that I *want* them to need me.
10. To be a better wife.

It would appear that my New Year's Resolution should be to find a way to stretch time, since if I can do that #1-10 would be much more feasible...
Roll on You Bears

Yet another advantage of the slow economy and my lack of work this holiday season: I got to watch the Cal Bowl Game. For the first several quarters, we looked to each other and asked, "who is Emerald?" "What is Emerald?" but then, finally, a commercial explained they were the nuts company. And, well, since my papa subscribed to California Nut and Bean Grower back in the day, it felt like it was my ball game -- in my old town, SF, with my team playing, sponsored by an industry that my family was built upon. I felt very attached to this game.

So, after we enjoyed our delicious steak dinner with the family, paired with one of my new favorite wines, we headed home to enjoy the rest of the game.

The Bears did not disappoint. Both Miami and Berkeley treated us to some great football from some young teams (making young mistakes on both sides, but a ton of heart, which you just can't dispute).

It was a good contest to the end. I was happy to see Nate Longshore go out on a good note. I was more happy to see the young ones like Jahvid Best and Anthony Miller kicking butt.

Plus, we won the bowl game, which is always nice.

Next year should be a fun year to be a Cal football fan.

December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

E's family is *very* social. Every time we visit, there are parties we never expected to attend where we are always the least well dressed. Of course, everyone is so happy we came, and gracious, and welcoming, and it almost makes us want to come back next time better dressed.


The problem, of course, is that it just isn't that important to us and we are only here every 2 years. So, it falls off the list. Similarly, every year, we receive these gorgeous holiday cards from the majority of our friends, and every year, we say, "Oh! How gorgeous! Next year! Next year, we are going to do holiday cards!"

Somehow, it never happens, and the closest to a holiday card that folks get from us is an evite to BBQ season.

We have no excuse. We have all the addresses. We take pictures that would work wonderfully. And yet, for whatever reason, it never makes our top priority list.

Maybe next year...

Tonight, just like when we receive the holiday cards, we accepted the invitation to a Southern Boxing Day party and thought, "we should do that next year." I, for one, was amazed that I had never celebrated Boxing Day. What a brilliant idea! We showed up with food for the hungry to be distributed by affiliated churches *after* the holidays. You know, when they *really* need it.

Say what you will about the South. The folks I have met really do have a charitable spirit that exceeds any I have encountered in my Californian existence. I am impressed.

So,I think this set of holidays in the South will go down as the year I finally made my peace with the South. Until now, I fought it. But now, I love it here. I adopted what I love (which, in fairness, is part of the reason I fell in love with my husband), and I finally had enough courage to be my own person while here, to challenge them to love me for who I am against their grain just as I love them for who they are.

It seems to be working out.

It doesn't hurt that today, Boxing Day, the day after the traditional Southern Christmas, we slept in, which apparently, is what one is supposed to do, according to the experts (we're on it for the future!) and then, we went to lunch with a long lost friend who left the bay area -- who, in fairness, is the one who deserves credit for E's and my introduction.

This afternoon, after the required reunion lunch at Waffle House, after I ate myself silly on scattered, smothered, covered, diced, peppered hash browns, I left the boys to laugh and chat, and, much to each of their surprise did an 8 mile loop in the hills of Atlanta (despite the stories, there are enough sidewalks, and I think it could be just as pedestrian as our hometown), and from there we went to the Boxing Day party, where we ate small bits of food 'til we'd all had entirely too much.

Overall, I'm happy. The weather, coupled with my health, meant I could run 8 miles today on a whim. Tomorrow, no doubt, I'll have work, or something. But for today, it was perfect: sleep in, lunch at waffle house with a long lost friend, a medium long run through the city and cold, boxing day party, and late night at home. I got to speak to my mom, sister, and niece. They delivered messages from my brother, uncles, etc, and I was content.

Happy Boxing Day to all.

December 25, 2008


Regardless of whether this is your holiday (and, for reference, I spent much of the Christmas dinner being told by a practicing Zen Buddhist that I, as a reading but not sitting Zen buddhist, really should join the local sitting group in town, which, of course, is true, but not what one thinks of as traditional Christmas dinner conversation), I hope you had a lovely day.

Daddy, in his hilarious wisdom ("Life's not fair kid, get used to it." and "Never get too good at something you don't like.") always said to celebrate the good things, no matter what.

So, if Christmas isn't your day, celebrate the day off work. Celebrate the general holiday spirit. Just celebrate. Because at the end of the day, I think Daddy's right. Celebration, as often as possible, is a good thing.

And, in that vein, while there are things that suck about the economy, the relative lack of work and pressure over the last few days and today were nice changes that both E and I have been trying to enjoy and even celebrate this holiday. I made it to a local yoga studio for a class (which I haven't done in at least a year) and purchased a 10-day pass, so ideally I'll be going back. Additionally, I've fit in multiple runs, visits to E's extended family, long lunches with family, and just general free time.

I even had to take vacation PTO yesterday because there was no work to do. Had there been work, I would have done it and saved the vacation. But there was none to do. This seemed strange, given my whole 2 years of previous holiday experience as a lawyer. But, as dad instructed, I'll assume it was a blessing and enjoy it.

Today, we started the celebration by sleeping in.

Then, we ate entirely too much breakfast of pannetone french toast (so rich!) and, of course, bacon.

Then, presents. Less than last time, with more time for creativity (E's sister created cards for all of us from, the elf on the front page -- yeah, my gift came with that with my face.) Less presents is good for E and me. That way, our relative lack of commitment to presents looks less lame. We had covered E's family, but then we realized that going around the circle meant that everyone else had gotten each other presents and we hadn't gotten each other anything (our NYE trip, food on vacation, etc. tend to be our gifts to one another).

So, we made a quick run to Target for a Queen sized aerobed Eddie Bauer inflatable bed (so we could sleep together like the married couple we are while staying in E's childhood room with 2 twin beds) and each picked out our favorite teas, some lip gloss for me and some barbeque tools for E.

We wrapped the small gifts yesterday and unwrapped them today while E's parents unwrapped their gifts to each other. Present balance was maintained.

After presents, I fit in a quick 3 mile run, which felt awesome even if it did draw me some strange looks from E's family and later arriving guests.

And then, there was the shower of ridiculously wonderful water pressure due to the super-old house, followed by the dress-up and the huge traditional southern, sit-down, multi-course Christmas meal with 2 other families. It's the same families for Christmas every year and many of them join for Thanksgiving and/or weddings or other events.

We alternate years and holidays, so I'm slowly getting to know and love these folks as I become more intertwined with E's family and culture. They were happy to see E and me, we were happy to see them, and, as one should on a holiday, we all ate well, drank well, and caught up.

In the midst of the socializing, I got to run out of the room when my phone rang to speak with my sister, brother, niece, and arvay. I traded voicemails with my mom and aunt (who promised to deliver hellos and hugs to the extended family). I even traded text messages with bear, a good friend from college.

After the guests left, we changed into comfortable clothes and watched PBS's documentary on Truman. What an amazing, underappreciated man! He made me proud.

All in all, it was a great holiday, and I hope that your day was equally wonderful.

December 24, 2008

The White Tiger

D gave me The White Tiger as a gift because he claimed that after reading the first 3 pages he knew I would love it.

He was right.

This book won this year's Man Booker Prize for fiction, and I can see why. The tale is told as an autobiographical letter, composed in the evenings, from a self-made, self-educated, "half-baked" Indian entrepreneur to the Premier of the People's Republic of China.

Many of the reviews compared it favorably to other Indian literature and noted with pleasure its lack of swirling saris and scents of saffron. They celebrated its setting in the grainy underbelly of the day-to-day India of the lower castes. I could not compare the setting, as I'd never read anything set in India before, but I can say that it is an enthralling and fast read.

Before you know it, you are swept up into the competitive world of Balram, a servant-driver who eventually becomes a successful business owner.

Balram's letter is an exercise in character development. We learn more about Balram, his wants, desires, and disappointments than we do about anything else. However, because his tale is set first in a poor Indian village in the "Darkness," later in a rich suburb of New Dehli, and finally in Bangalore, his story is woven through the binds that his family, his country, his culture, his employer, and his poverty place upon him. In describing these struggles, he paints a fascinating picture of the modern Indian man, and how India "works" through multi-layered competition and corruption.

I highly recommend it.

December 23, 2008

Southern Cultural Observations

On Running

Today, I went for a 6.5 mile run around noon in the more rural parts of Atlanta. Despite perfect running weather (clear, 45F, no wind) a few miles on some major thoroughfares and a loop around the trail at Atlanta Memorial Park, I saw only one other runner.

In my home town under similar conditions, I would have encountered at least a dozen, and likely two dozen, because it is so close to the holidays.

Upon arriving home, I heard my husband explain to someone that I had gone running because I was, "crazy." My friend, S, who also lives in Atlanta and runs regularly, is also "crazy" by local standards.

On Manners

Yesterday, I went to Bliss Spa to buy a gift certificate for my sister-in-law's present. E waited in the car.

As I entered, I explained why I was there and one of the bellmen (it's in the W hotel) opened the door for me and walked me down 1 flight of stairs to open the door to the spa. The woman at the counter, was, predictably, charming, chatty, and slower on the customer service than I am used to (but I didn't mind because I'm on semi-vacation and just being in a spa feels decadently relaxing).

When I left the building, another bellman said, "Good Afternoon, Ma'am." I smiled and replied in kind and briskly walked to the car (because it was cold). When he realized I was headed for the car, he ran ahead of me and opened the passenger car door for me.

Last night at dinner, E pulled out my chair. At home, he always waits to sit until I do, which I adore, but the chair is just an example of how much *more* polite the South is than California.

December 22, 2008

It's Bacon Christmas Again

E and I are back in the South. We arrived to a house that smelled of bacon because E's mom prepped for our arrival by cooking 5 pounds of bacon.

5 Pounds!

This AM, rather than go for a solo run, I joined E's mom and his sister at the gym for a personal training session. I haven't lifted a weight since mid-2006. After an hour of weights and calisthenics selected by a very perky and perfectly fit woman named "Yogi," I remembered why.

Now, all of my muscles feel swollen. Strong, but bulky. Tomorrow, no doubt, I will have trouble moving.

Just the thing to go with the bacon Christmas!

December 18, 2008

Lemon Grass Lay-Off Venison

In keeping with the theme we've been following, I present yet another variation on learning how to cook southeast asian food from books combined with venison from brother. This one, apparently, is a very popular Vietnamese beef recipe.

Grilled Lemongrass beef.

But, you know, modified based on what was in our kitchen. So, it ends up being grilled lemongrass venison in a sauce that only has dried red pepper flakes instead of fresh chiles. It was delicious!

So first, you make a paste. If you are hard-core, you do it with a mortar and pestle and then stir in some additional liquids. I am not hard core -- I put all the paste ingredients (garlic, lemon grass, shallots, chiles) and the liquids (fish sauce, lime juice, water) in the blender to make a paste/soup of a marinade. I followed the instructions and let the marinade sit on the venison for 1 hour, covered. Then I put it on skewers, topped it with sesame seeds and prepped it for 4-6 minutes under the broiler. Here is how it looked pre-broiling:


Now, this brings me to an important point -- the sauce on this meat is pink! I am constantly surprised by the instructions in Hot, Salty, Sour, Sweet. Everything is foreign. I do what they tell me to do and end up with things that have weird colors, smells, textures and tastes. It is such a wonderful exploration. Take this recipe -- things I would do very quickly are given much time. Things I would do leisurely are rushed. Spices I would not combine are mixed.

This book has been an amazing education for me, and, as I start preparing the recipes, I have no doubt I will learn more in the process.

Anyways, the result was a success. E and I enjoyed the pleasure of rolling and eating 6 spring rolls each of soaked tapioca papers, leafy lettuce, arugula and other greens from the garden, and broiled venison according to the recipe in HSSS for grilled lemon grass beef, all dipped in nuoc cham ("vietnamese must-have table sauce" according to HSSS -- I made it with red pepper flakes instead of fresh peppers and it was amazing. It probably made the meal.)

In other news, a good friend of mine was recently laid off from her job (not at a law firm). Many local law firms are doing lay-offs, both stealth and vocal (personally, I think vocal is much better for all involved). We, like most folks in our market had one. I couldn't help but think that if I hadn't been spared I might be embarking upon some food-inspired 5th career.

Crazy. Non?

December 11, 2008

Peruvian-style Venison Noodle Stew

In terms of return on effort, this Stew rocks. Maybe 30 minutes, max, and in return, filling happy deliciousness.

I had marked a Peruvian Beef and Noodle Stew recipe from Food & Wine in November of 2005. Last night, I modified it to work with what we had in the house, namely, Venison shoulder steaks from brother, a package of chinese bird's nest noodles, a full red bell pepper instead of half, and olive oil.

-4 T olive oil
-1 or 1.5 lbs venison, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes. I used shoulder steak.
-1 large yellow onion, diced.
-1 large red bell pepper, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-2 cans beef broth
-1 large russet potato, scrubbed, cut into 1/2 in pieces, skin left on
-1 T ground cumin
-1 t crushed bay leaf (or 1 full bay leaf)
-3 birds' nests

1. In a soup pot, heat 1/2 the olive oil on high heat. Sautee the meat until browned on the outside (2 minutes?) and transfer to a plate.

2. Heat the remaining oil in the pot and sautee the onion, bell pepper and garlic 'til softened (4-5 minutes?).

3. Add the stock, potato, cumin and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, lower to medium heat and cook for 10 minutes.

4. Add the noodles and simmer until al dente, approx 5 minutes or so. They will break apart when done.

5. Add the meat and any juices on the plate to the pot and cook for 1 minute.

6. Discard bay leaf if whole. Serve into bowls and season with salt and pepper to taste.


December 8, 2008

Winter Harvest Comfort Food

Tonight, we feasted on the first to ripen of our broccoli and cauliflower. Have I mentioned how much I love the winter garden?

Broccoli-Cauliflower Cheesy Casserole

First, preheat the oven to 400F.

-cut 1 head broccoli, soak it briefly in vinegar water to get the slugs to escape, then rinse, and chopp into florets, which you rinse again
-1 head cauliflower, treated exactly like the broccoli
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1.5 rounds of bread left over from middle eastern dinner, chopped into crouton size chunks

Layer all of the above ingredients in a 9X13 inch baking dish. Bake at 400F, while you do the next steps:

-melt 2 T butter in a saucepan over medium heat
-add 1/2 C milk, bring to a simmer
-add 1 C cheddar cheese chunks, stir and melt
-add 2-3 T flour, stir briskly, remove from heat, add additional milk and stir briskly if necessary until a nice creamy consistency

Open the oven, pull out the casserole dish, which smells of heavenly roasted garlic and the nutty smell of cooked cauliflower. Pour the cheese sauce over the casserole dish and return to the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool. Serve immediately on 2 plates, topped with black pepper.

Mmmmmm... it's childlike in its flavorful simplicity and deliciousness. Fresh roasted vegetables. Croutons. Cheese sauce. What's not to like?

December 5, 2008

An Education

There is nothing like the fast click-click-click-click of handcuffs behind someone you love. I would try to describe it, but I cannot. I just hurts. I suspect each of us experiences that moment just as severely, but in unique ways.

Supposedly, I have an education in the law.

And yet, I was more or less useless. Perhaps, my last minute plea to the judge got the bail to be decreased. But not enough.

All I know is that after taking 3/4 of a day off work to be at a criminal arraignment for someone I care about -- holy shit -- did I learn quite a bit.

I think I learned more about the reality of law in this country in that 6 hour session than I had in at least the last month of my practice. Perhaps the last 3 or even 6 months. I guess it depends on how important you think contract law is vis-a-vis criminal law.

Sitting there, watching the freedom of various actors be bartered and traded at a breakneck pace -- it seemed that criminal law was much more important.

Sure, most of what I learned wasn't actually law, it was norms: How to plea; How to ask for an offer; How to extend this date or that. But regardless, for me, who never sets foot in a courtroom, it was a world of difference.

Also, I realized how much privilege comes with the bar card. When push came to shove and the person I was there to support did not state their own good points at the bail setting and the Public Defender had not had time to learn them, I ran up, announced myself as a member of the bar and spoke. The judge gave me a nod of approval, as if to say, "good for you for being a supportive advocate." And then, he had me spell my name, repeat my points and referenced them as countervailing considerations in setting bail.

I think I helped, but I shook in my boots. Literally. (I was wearing boots with my suit.)

It was my first appearance in court as a member of the bar, my heart was racing and I have to assume my voice shook too.

I'm excited to return to a life of IP transactions.