October 27, 2009

That Poor Door-to-Door Salesman

Apparently, last Sunday, while I was off doing a long run with E2, E had to answer the door when a door-to-door carpet steam-cleaning salesman rang. I am told the exchange went something like this:

Salesman: Hi! Are your parents home?

E: Ummm... no. [Thinks: Wow. Great sales move.] This is my house.

Salesman: [Not to be deterred] Oh. Great. I see you have carpet [points to carpet], and I'm here to offer to steam clean your carpet. Is there a particularly dirty area where I can show you the benefits of our services?

E: Ahh yes, you see the carpet, but do you see that? [points to stack of hardwood boxes]. That's hardwood flooring that will be installed next week. So, we aren't too worried about how dirty the carpet is.

Salesman: ... Well, I could steam clean your couch...

E: I admire your persistence, but, as you can see, our couch is leather.

Salesman: ...

E: Have a nice day...

I know this was probably one of the worst sales calls this guy has ever done. But I just can't stop laughing at the hilarity of how it played out.

October 22, 2009

Material Adverse Change

I spend quite a bit of time listening and helping companies fight over the definition of "Material Adverse Change" or "Material Adverse Effect" that would allow them to get out of a deal they've agreed to do.

Once the definition is agreed upon, and the deal is signed, there's no room left to argue.

It would appear that the CEO of Bank of America did not understand that concept. Or, rather, he refused to listen to his lawyer when his lawyer explained that he could not call the MAC and kill the merger with Merrill Lynch.

When his lawyer explained that the losses of Merrill Lynch were insufficient reason to call the MAC -- he fired his lawyer. He then told the Feds he intended to kill the deal unless he got bailout money for Bank of America.

In my first year of law school, my property professor said something that I think is a very important rule for lawyers to remember:

If someone has to go to jail, it should be the client.

It's hard, when you are a service provider, to provide services your clients don't want. Particularly when they have to power to fire you.

At the time, Bank of America's former counsel was probably very frustrated with the conflict between doing the right thing and keeping his job. But now that there's a federal investigation, I'm guessing he is even more glad that he did the right thing.

October 21, 2009

Sisters Are Cool

My sister and her fiance are staying with us this week so sis can spend some time at the hospital get trained (and then train the family and caregivers if we need additional instruction that we missed) on how to care for bro when he gets out of the spinal cord facility.

We've had a few (very short, because we are both crazy busy) conversations about what is going on in her life right now. She has a ton to deal with and I'm struck by what an awesome person she is and how well she is balancing it all.

Also, I can't help but be amused at the odd parallels in our lives. Three years ago, I was in a very similar situation to her: I was trying to balance the unavoidable stress of planning a wedding, the medical and family stresses associated with caring for our sick father (as opposed to our injured brother), and, like her, I was also doing my best to learn what I needed to know in a demanding education program to pursue my second career. It was a very overwhelming time.

I feel very lucky to be able to discuss and share my feelings, expectations, surprises, and thoughts about what is/was going on in our lives with someone who shares similar experiences as well as many of my values. Also, she makes me laugh and she makes me proud in a special sister-pride way that no one else can make me feel.

Basically, I am very thankful to have my sister in my life.

October 18, 2009

San Luis Obispo Food

This weekend, E and I went to the central coast of California to visit my gran for her 83rd birthday.

We left the fog and clouds on Saturday morning to arrive to perfect blue skies, warm weather, and, of course, given that we were in the heart of farm and wine country, the best food and wine that California has to offer, fresh from the local farms that grow it.

Saturday birthday brunch with Gran in Morro Bay at a long-term local institution (where of course, everyone knew her by name) was delicious. Mmmmm... calamari steak...

For dinner, E and I decided to try a new restaurant, The Gardens of Avila.

The chef has amazing credentials, so we had high hopes, but you never know...

Before we headed into the restaurant, we stopped to enjoy the property and walk and relax in the labrinth and gardens -- so relaxing and tranquil. Our commitment to stop and enjoy nature rewarded us with a gorgeous sunset as we entered the restaurant:



We were, I must admit, a bit under-dressed (shocking). But the hostess paid no heed to my flip-flops, jeans, and tank top or E's 15-yr-old t-shirt. Instead, she graciously seated us without a reservation and the entire establishment proceeded to treat us to wonderful service.

The menu was simple but elegant, and amazingly reasonably priced. Chorizo was an ingredient in more dishes than I ordinarily expect, but I considered that a plus.

The wine-by-the-glass selection was full of great local selections at reasonable prices. We both selected a glass and they were happy to bring it to us to sip while we perused the menu. I selected snapper, with mussels, shrimp, fennel (and of course chorizo). E selected duck breast flanked by duck confit spring rolls.

While we sat in our booth after ordering, multiple bus-boys and servers came to our table to re-fill our water, and everyone treated us very well despite what I sheepishly realized was the apparent disparity between our attire and the majority of the patrons. Sometimes, Silicon Valley makes you forget that most people actually *dress-up* to go to a fancy restaurant. We laughed at our mistake, and enjoyed the fact that they did not seem particularly concerned with our choice in attire (granted the property has mineral springs hot-tubs, and people outside were walking around the property in bath-robes, so that helped with our level of comfort as well).

About half-way through our glasses of wine, our server arrived with a complimentary amuse-bouche from the chef. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that he had some spare pork belly and had prepared a marinated pork-belly kimchee-inspired bite for us. It arrived with a fully complimentary glass of Cambria pinot noir for each of us as well. I'm not certain how we were selected for this gift, as I watched the other tables to see if it was the norm and determined that it was not, but we were not complaining.

The only pork dish on the menu that I recalled seeing was Kurobuta pork loin. And, I suppose, if you order pork loin for the kitchen, there could be some spare pork belly in the mix. And, if I were I chef, I'd hate something that decadent to go to waste. But man... the wonderous creation he made with it... it was more than just salvage. It was by far the best pork belly preparation that either E or I had ever had (and trust me, E is a man who has eaten more than his lifetime allocation of pork belly during the time I've known him). Spicy. Tender. Rich, but cut with soy and citrus and ginger and pickled tiny bits -- just delicious. And, the wine was a perfect pairing:


From there, we were prepared to be wowed. As a testament to how well it was prepared, we were actually more hungry *after* the lardy-goodness of the treat than before. And, our excitement was not the least bit overzealous.

My snapper seafood plate was gorgeous, light, with oh-so-fresh tomatoes in the broth, some roasted fennel and chorizo to add contrast, and, well, it was just a beautiful array of flavors and tastes:


E's duck platter was nothing short of perfection. We agreed that it was in contention for the best prepared duck-breast either of us had ever enjoyed (and the spring rolls were excellent too!) and I come from a family that exhausts their duck tags every season:


After our entrees, we were certain we were full.

But then we ordered the cheese plate (because how can you say no to cheese?) and we were amazed yet again:


The far left is a goat, sheep, cow's milk cheese called La Tur. Really? Can you go wrong with a blend of three animals' milks for cheese? I think not.

The hard cheese is a parmigiano reggiano. Simple. Classic. Always great.

The soft cheese on the right of the parmigiano is a triple cream brie. Triple. Cream. Brie.

The big surprise was the blue. We tolerate them. Occasionally, we even like them (particularly if we've had a bit much of the wine). But this one, even without too much wine, was in contention for my favorite cheese on the plate. And E loved it too. To find a blue that is tangy, delicious, rich, complex, clearly a blue, and yet not so stinky as to evoke the locker-room memories -- well, I call that success. To have it be one of the best cheeses on the plate? That's nothing short of a cheese miracle, I tell you.

So, the 4 cheeses were winners. But the side items to dress the cheese were even more amazing.

Look closely -- the one in the middle? Yes, that's a local honeycomb. How cool is that? And delicious!

The left? That's blood orange preserves without sugar. It was perfect with cheese but would be terrible as a simple preserve on its own. I don't know if I've ever enjoyed a preserve that was clearly made with the intention of being served with cheese but would be terrible with anything else--what a pleasure to enjoy the tang and avoid the extra sugar!

And on the right? The preserved local cherries? I could have eaten a pound, no problem.

In short, we had one of the best meals we've had all year, the dining room was *extremely* well run, the service was polite, unpretentious, and attentive, and the total price was so pleasant that we were disappointed we couldn't come back the next night. We agreed -- this is the best bang for the buck meal we'd eaten since dining in rural Italy in 2001.

So, quick, we beseech you, plan a trip to the central coast of California and hit up the Gardens of Avila.

October 13, 2009

The Hot and Cold of It

So, this storm we've got now, is crazy.

On our way back into the house after dinner and movies with bro at the hospital last night, E and I looked up at the orange-grey sky, listened to the hissing and howling wind, and locked eyes before quickly hustling inside. The primal instinct for shelter is strong, even out here in Northern California, where if you live too long, you'll be soft (or so the saying goes).

Last night, our heater did its job. Loudly. Intermittently. But it kept us warm and we felt grateful.

This morning, despite the muffled sounds of the gas flame going on and off and the fan pushing the wonderful hot air through our ducts, I woke before my alarm to the crashing sound of the extremely strong pounding rain. And after examining the alarm clock, I admitted that I should just rise, because the extra 30 minutes trying to go back to sleep would do me no good.

So, I sat in traffic on the freeway in rain that was harder than rain I'd seen in a long time, and in October no less.

E informed me that our laundry-room flooded. He had to climb to the roof and unplug the downspout in the pouring (seriously, like a pitcher) rain. Thankfully, it worked.

Finally, this afternoon, it calmed.

And Northern California, as a whole, is probably better off than it would be had the storm not come. Yes, there were floods, and deaths, and destruction. But water is a source of life, and we were quite low on it up here...

To celebrate, I made salsa verde (because I am a canning maniac...):


Also, in case you were wondering, you can buy 2 lbs of tomatillos at Safeway for $2/lb. Or, you could do what we did this year and grow 0.5 lbs of tomatillos and aunt molly's husk tomatoes including 4 months of work and fertilizer and automatic watering and staking. Yeah... there will be no husk tomatoes in our garden next year. The salsa verde was delicious, but it was 80% purchased tomatillos.

Not to mention, despite the cold outside, the heat of the boiled sauce exploded through the top of our non-air/liquid-tight blender and scalded my left hand. Not a little bit, to be honest. It still hurts an hour later, it's still red, I iced, and I've got it in a towel dipped in cold water but it still feels hot...so, now I've got a constant throbbing heat to contrast with the cold of the storm outside...


In short. We are living with many different temperatures these days. Heat of burns and boiling and canning. Cold of rain and the hail I heard hit my office today. Crazy October weather -- sometimes, Indian Summer, and sometimes, this...

Our lives are not our own...

October 11, 2009

Remnants of the Summer Garden

Early this week, I had a cold. So, quite reasonably, brother banned me from visiting. Instead, once I felt better but still had the sniffles, I started to transition the summer garden to the winter garden (while sneezing -- have I mentioned I'm allergic to dust? Yeah... gardening makes perfect sense...).

Due to the end of the tomato plants, we have green tomatoes that didn't quite ripen. We selected 2 pounds of the biggest firmest beauties for deep fried slices sometime this week. So, now, we're just trying to figure out what to do with the rest. We are evaluating between Arvay's Chow-Chow, or our friend S's aunt's pickled green tomatoes, or dilled green tomatoes, but we certainly have enough:


Tonight, after a day at the hospital with bro, I let off some steam (literally) by canning okra pickles, green tomato pickles, cucumber pickles (3 different styles), eggplant pickles, tomato sauce, and just good old-fashioned skinned tomatoes (sorted by color). So far, we are pleased with the results:


And finally, in "oh-happy-day" news, we have lots of sprouts in our flat from the winter gardening class at Love Apple Farm:


Other than that, I must admit, there is very little to report.

October 6, 2009

Indian-inspired Eggplant and Okra

-1/2 lb okra, washed and sliced into 1 cm or thinner rounds
-4 small japanese eggplants, sliced into 1 cm rounds and quartered (or chopped)
-1 white onion, chopped
-2-3 sliced jalapenos
-1 t cumin seeds
-1 T ground turmeric
-1 t ground cumin
-1 t habanero garlic powder (feel free to sub chili powder plus garlic powder, or better yet, a couple cloves of garlic minced and added to be sauteed with the onions, I was just lazy)
-1 t ground coriander
-1 t ground curry powder
-2 T vegetable oil
-1 T dark sesame oil
-2 T slow-roasted tomatoes oil (aka, pre-cooked olive oil with spices of choice and tomato drippings... if not available use olive oil or whatever strikes your fancy)
-3 small tomatoes, chopped (feel free to sub a can of stewed tomatoes, I'm sure it would be fine)
-2 T sea salt

1. Heat vegetable oil and sesame oil over medium-high heat and add onions. Sautee briefly and then mix in all dry spices. Cook onions 'til almost translucent and enjoy the aromatic blend.

2. Add okra, sliced jalapenos, and sea salt, stir and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add eggplant. Stir and continue to cook 'til okra is tender and breaks with a spoon. Lower heat to medium/low.

3. Add tomatoes the tomato oil and continue stirring (or, if missing, the can of stewed tomatoes and/or olive oil until the appropriate level of moisture is reached).

4. Stir and continue to cook on medium low until eggplant can be easily pierced in half with a spoon.

5. Turn off and remove from heat. Continue to stir and serve shortly thereafter. Enjoy!
The Big Things

I came home to receive an email where a very close friend let me know that a very close loved one of theirs died today.

So sad. So okay to do whatever it is that humans need to do in the face of such pain.

Similarly, I have several friends who are in the middle of tried-for pregnancies that are going as healthily as could be expected.

So joyous. So understandable why the world is so happy and wonderful for them at this time.

There is life, and there is death. And, in the middle, do we really have any problems? Perhaps the middle is really nothing more than balancing the celebration of life against the fear and hope that we can stave off death, either for ourselves or for our loved ones. But problems? Is this struggle really a problem?

Who knows?

October 4, 2009

Oh, Happy Day of Rest

Sunday is the day that brother gets to rest at the spinal cord rehabilitation facility. He's on a 6-day a week rehab plan. Apparently, they are much more strict than the other two facilities where he's been up until now, and while he's grumpy at their strictness, he's also doing much better.

The day of rest means his friends, family (including his daughter -- yay niece-time!) can come to visit and hang out without him being exhausted from medical treatments and physical therapy. Since he isn't exhausted, unlike most nights when I arrive and have to wake him, he gets to be alert and spend the day hanging out and showing off.

Today, the amount of improvement he displayed since last Sunday is so dramatic that I almost can't believe it -- it's such a large change to have him moved from the Skilled Nursing Facility (basically the ICU) to the rehab floor -- they really work him down there. I was so impressed, that I can't wait to see what next Sunday's show-off skills might be!

Saturday, while brother was in therapy all morning, sister took me to my birthday present: the winter gardening class at Love Apple Farm. It was awesome. I spent the whole morning grinning about the classroom and listening to lectures and demonstrations at the farm while my sister was right there with me. We kept hearing and seeing things that made us happy and looking at each other with huge grins. I took 10 pages of notes, and we each sowed a flat of winter vegetables (which I can't wait to watch germinate!!!). I followed the class with a trip to the nursery with E2 to buy transplants of the winter vegetables I want to plant where it's too late to start 'em from seed. Next weekend, I'll be pulling out more of the garden and putting in the transplants. What a great present!

Also, Cynthia informed me that I should harvest my winter squash now. So I did:


That would be the ridiculous fruits from one butternut squash plant grown from seed that took over our patio and fence, two acorn squash plants grown from seed that never really took off, and two orange kabocha transplants that Cynthia donated to our garden at the Tomato Masters Class that were planted fairly late in the season.

I think we've got enough winter squash to get fairly far into the spring, don't you?

In other news, the summer harvests are truly starting to die down now:


After tonight, assuming the process goes as planned, we will have saved all the tomato seeds we should need for next year (coupled with the new arrivals scheduled to come with Knapp's paste tomato mix pack).

My day of rest?

It started, in truth, with my birthday present on Saturday. After the nursery diversion, we went to E2 & J's where they served us a delicious dinner of pork chops in a mustard-bacon sauce over collard greens:


Then, I took the luxury of going to bed at 10:15 PM (I was proud to make it to the double digits) and I slept all night -- an amazing luxury I hadn't had in at least 10 days, I woke early without a computer or access to my email, and did light easy yoga, drank coffee, went for a walk, and eventually sped up to a gloriously beautiful 8 mile run on the cliffs of Santa Cruz and Capitola with E2, then a late morning shower, a huge brunch at a Santa Cruz institution, and a trip to the hospital to do the day of rest afternoon on the sunny patio with brother, his friends, E, sister, and my neice.

From there, as a bonus, sister and I got to go look at wedding dresses for her in the late afternoon. EVERYTHING looks amazing on her. EVERYTHING! I have no idea how she will choose, but it will be gorgeous.

And now, finally, I'm home. Relaxed. I did the harvest. I took out 1/4 of the plants that need to come out for the winter garden. I'm keeping the transplants alive and the seedlings to germinate moist. I'm hiding from the week of work that is looming ahead.

In short, I had a wonderfully pleasant day of rest that was full of good news and celebration. And I am thankful. If Monday morning's approach could slow, I would not complain.

October 2, 2009

In which we get our kitchen back

We celebrated the return of the kitchen with a night of preparing not only minestrone (see previous post), but also more tomato sauce, and slow roasted tomatoes.


We know we will appreciate the effort when we thaw the sauce or the leftover soup this winter (and we're already enjoying the slow-roasted tomatoes). Plus, we were loathe to let one of the last harvests we'll see this year go to waste:


I've posted several pictures of the *before* of E preparing his mother's slow-roasted tomatoes recipe, because it's so pretty. But, I haven't yet posted pictures of the (almost) final product. It ain't pretty, but damn is it tasty. We're supposed to toss them with pastas, use them as garnish, etc. but often we just eat them as snacks before they can make it into a proper meal:


As for the tomato sauce, my European friend, V, emailed to let me know that the Italians she knows always put a tablespoon of sugar in their sauce. And since our first attempt was too acidic, I thought it might be a good thing to try:


We now have 3 different batches of tomato sauce in the freezer. We shall not want for fresh tomato flavor this winter!
The Pig is a Magical Mythical Animal

Last weekend, we went to a German restaurant with D&K. After a light appetizer of baked brie covered in butter (mmmm....), and a complimentary cup of potato-based chowder followed by a salad, our main courses arrived. In particular, E's order of Schweinehaxen arrived at the table with a deep thud.

As a German acquaintance commented when E spoke of what he had ordered later, "That is quite a piece of meat." E made a valiant effort, but there was much meat and skin left on the bone when he called the battle. So, I promised to take the leftovers and make minestrone.


I hadn't made a proper minestrone since I lived in Italy, actually. And now I can't imagine why I waited so long. It was delicious. It keeps well for leftovers, and I made so much that we were able to freeze half of it for delicious mid-winter thawing!

Spicy Early Fall Minestrone

-1 white onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-4 pieces of bacon, chopped
-1/2 schweinehaxen
-1 can kidney beans
-3 pimiento d'espellette peppers from the garden (which are getting stronger in the late season, and now taste like medium strength jalapenos), sliced into thin rounds
-1 lb small yellow and green summer squash (the tail end of the harvest for the year), washed and chopped into rounds
-1 lb carrots, washed and chopped into rounds
-4 cans chicken broth, 4 cups or more water
-1 lb macaroni noodles
-1 small can tomato paste
-rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil from the garden to taste
-grated hard cheese (optional)

1. Brown bacon
2. Add onions and garlic and cook a few minutes
3. Add broth, beans, schweinehaxen, and herbs and enough water to cover, cook for 10 minutes
4. Add carrots, peppers, and tomato paste cook for 10 minutes, add more water if necessary to keep everything covered
5. Remove the bone and chop the meat and remove the skin/fat before returning the meat chunks to the pot.
6. Add macaroni and more water if necessary, cook 'til noodles are almost done, stirring regularly.
7. Add summer squash, cook for 5 minutes.
8. Remove from heat, serve immediately and top with grated hard cheese (pecorino was fabulous) if you like.