You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2008.

Or at least something like that … I’m hoping it will be at least 30 degrees warmer on the West Coast.

I’ve mowed my leg hairs for the first time since September, and I’m ready to show off my pasty whites.

I’m not planning to touch a computer until Tuesday night, but I’ll take lots of pictures. Can’t wait to see the ocean and spend time with my girls.

jes-and-ed-c.jpg

Our honeymoon, which seems like a lifetime ago, was easily the best week of my life. We left for Puerto Vallarta two days after our wedding, in the middle of July.

Mexico? In the summer? Yep.

It was hot, humid and rained every day. But the rain was usually over by noon, and we were busy waking up slow and drinking our coffee until around then, anyway.

We spent afternoons on walks or horseback rides through the jungle. Early evenings were for margaritas, consumed at the swim-up bar. (It was on this trip that Pepe, the caretaker of the family villa, taught me how to get my friends stinking drunk on a concoction that deceptively tastes like it contains very little alcohol. I warn them, I always warn them, but they suck down the first one and beg for more. I’m a good hostess. I comply. I’m called evil the next day.)

Because Ed’s parents paid for our groceries and our lodging was free, we decided that when we ate out, we were going to eat fabulously. And we did. One of our favorite meals was at La Palapa, in the romantic district.

I don’t remember my entree because the soup overshadowed everything. It was my virgin tortilla soup voyage, so I had no idea that they can be heavy, overspiced affairs. This one was light, refreshing and vegetarian.

When I got home, I spent hours scouring the Internet for a recipe close to what we’d tasted. Turns out, it was the most simple one I found, with just a few ingredients, that brought me to that place, that humid, breezy hut that smelled of seawater and chili peppers.

In the summer, I like it just the way La Palapa serves it, with a light vegetable broth and without meat. But this weekend, being that it’s still cold in this godforsaken tundra, I used chicken stock and some shredded chicken to make it a little more hearty. Tortilla soup must be served with plenty of accoutrements, like sliced ripe avocados, chopped cilantro and crema or sour cream. And of course, crispy tortilla strips. I bake them, which admittedly isn’t that authentic, but it’s easier than spattering oil all over my kitchen and more healthful. And I think they add the required crunch to the soup.

One more thing — you MUST make your own stock or broth for this soup to work. It’s just not worth it to use the canned variety, no matter how high-quality it is.

tortilla soup

Kick-Ass Tortilla Soup

6 – 6 inch corn tortillas
2-3 tsp chili powder (I prefer Ancho, but to each their own. Just please use pure powder.)
1 large poblano chili
1 tsp cumin
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups vegetable broth (or chicken stock if you’re making chicken version)
2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken (optional)
1 can diced tomatoes
juice of one lime

For garnishing:
Tortilla strips you make below; sliced ripe avocado; sour cream or mexican crema; chopped cilantro; cotija cheese. (Use whichever ones you like — it’s a customizeable thing.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 4 tortillas into matchstick-size strips. Arrange on baking pan and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with chili powder and salt; toss. Bake 15 minutes, or until crisp.

Char poblano over gas stovetop or under broiler until black. Put that beautiful little sucker in a plastic bag for about 10 minutes. Take it out and peel. Seed and chop it into 1/2 inch pieces.

Cut 4 tortillas into 1 inch pieces. Heat oil. DO NOT SKIMP ON OIL. Cook tortillas until crips and golden, stirring occassionally, about 15 minutes. Add poblano, onion and garlic, saute 2 minutes, or until onions are soft. Add cumin and remaining chili powder to taste. Sautee another minute. Add broth and tomatoes. Bring just to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add chicken, if using, and lime juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.

Stare into the eyes of your dining companion, certain that you’ve found true love.

Clare (who had just stripped off her shirt): Daddy, daddy come see my show!

Ed: Why’d you take your shirt off? 

Clare: It’s a show where girls don’t wear their shirts!!!

I don’t know if it’s watching my kids with my parents or just a late winter reflective period, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents. (My dad’s parents, mostly. I didn’t know my mom’s parents very well, and they died when I was pretty young.)

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when I was a preschooler. We lived in the same city then, and they often served as babysitters for my young parents. I have lots of warm memories of sitting on grandma’s lap watching Lawrence Welk or the evening news. Usually eating Triscuits, peanuts and sliced cheddar cheese from a pink plastic bowl. (I think those bowls reside at the family cabin now.)

I remember watching the circus that is making a Thanksgiving feast. I’d sit at the kitchen table, out of their way, listening to them bicker about how long the turkey should cook or how much meat to put in the stuffing. I was transfixed as grandma mixed flour and water in a jar and whisked it into the turkey drippings to make gravy so good I’ve never tasted its equal.

When grandpa could still drink (heart problems — the doc made him quit later in life), he’d pour himself a beer in this funny glass chalis he had and crack a raw egg into it. Then he’d sprinkle salt and pepper on the beer. It would float there like flecks of dust and stick to his upper lip when he took a gulp. He was always sure to call me in before he drank the egg at the bottom of the glass. He loved to hear me squeal in horror as the viscous protein slid down his gullet. Sunny-side up eggs still remind me of this.

Grandma had a tin bucket full of buttons. Buttons she’d collected from decades of worn-out shirts and outgrown coats. They were my favorite playthings. I knew where to find the pink container in the closet outside her bedroom and would pull out one of the built-in drawers beneath to climb up and get it. Funny, I don’t remember doing anything in particular with them. I’d just run my hands through them, relishing the way the different textures of plastic felt as they slid over my fingers. And I’d pick through them, one by one (even though I’d probably examined each a hundred times before) and inspect each little disc. My mom has the bucket now, and I’ve been too afraid of what it would feel like to touch them again to ask to see them.

Grandpa used to fall asleep sitting up in his chair. He’d be bolt upright, snoring like a buzzsaw. He and my dad are the only people I have ever known who have this talent. But grandpa would always wake up if you turned the TV channel off his beloved golf game.

Their little white story and a half house was alarmingly clean. There was never a dirty dish in the sink for longer than a few minutes. Grandma swept the kitchen floor after every meal. I never remember seeing even the most minute speck of dust anywhere. My dad and his siblings say it was like that when they were growing up, too. She had four kids. And a steel constitution, apparently.

Grandma had diabetes. She was meticulous about her diet and never had to take insulin. She’d make herself her own apple pie in a pot-pie tin — without the sugar. I loved those little pies so much that she started making me one in a pot-pie tin, too. So she’d make a big pie for everyone else and one little one for me and one for her.

Their grass was a thick, green carpet. I remember rolling in the most lush patch, just beside the garage and thinking it was the best smell in the world. They had a white picnic table that grandma used to cover with a plastic red-and-white checked tablecloth. To keep the dirt away from our food. Even though they probably painted the thing every year and she’d wash it down with a bucket and sponge before every outdoor meal — cooked on the bright yellow Weber I still get choked up to see at the cabin.

Grandma wore bright red lipstick called Million-Dollar Red. I’d reach into her medicine cabinet and carefully remove the little gold cylinder to inspect it, never daring to smear any of it on my own lips. It smelled like baby powder.

When Grandpa died, I was 19. He had gone into the hospital to have surgery on his knees. So he could play golf again. He was in his late 60s. I remember taking the call from my mom that his organs had failed in surgery. I heard the words like the phone receiver was underwater. I hung up and started packing my clothes, not even knowing how I’d make the six-hour trip home. I was numb and the tears sat like salty puddles, clouding my vision, not daring to drip onto my cheeks.

I was still an arrogant, snotty teenager, and I’d been shunning my family regularly since I was 14. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have time to ask my grandpa more about what it was like to live through the depression. Or about serving in the Korean war. Or about how he met my grandmother. Frankly, at the time, it never occurred to me that I’d ever want to know those things.

They asked me to give his eulogy. I was a writer, they said. I went the entire weekend before the funeral without writing a word. I told them I couldn’t do it. My aunt told me they’d record it for my grandmother, who was too sick to be at the service. I retreated into their den and stared at the fabric of their tweed sleeper sofa. I cried. I swore. Finally, I wrote and later spoke about magic and how my grandpa was the luckiest person I knew. How he taught me card tricks and how to win at cribbage. How he was always amazing us with a slight of hand.

Too bad that magic didn’t work enough to keep him here for a little while longer.

Grandma’s cancer came back not long after grandpa died, and I was too far away to spend much time with her, but at least I got to say goodbye. And she got to meet Ed. She called him Eddy at Thanksgiving dinner, and we all laughed.

She’d have loved him if she got to know him.

When I started this blog, I had grand ambitions of posting a soup recipe a few times a month. Well, since October, the closest I’ve gotten was to post a conversation about how gassy a certain cauliflower soup was. Blog-worthy, but not exactly what I’d had in mind.

But today, dear reader, while my kids break stuff trying to get my attention because I’m typing, I bring you the soup we made, hmmm, about two weeks ago. The leftovers have long been snarfed.

I have a love-hate relationship with lentils. While they are tasty little devils, they also cause the geek and I some gastrointestinal distress. Meaning that in the morning when our kids come into the bedroom to wake us up, they’re covering their noses with their forearms, muttering, “What’s that SMELL?”

So you’ve been warned. I also think I’ll kick up the heat a little bit next time.

Soup!

Thai-style lentil and coconut soup (adapted from The Ultimate Soup Bible)

INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp. sunflower oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
1 Thai chile, partially seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch piece lemongrass, outer layers removed and inside finely chopped
1 ½ cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 ½ tsp ground coriander
1 ½ tsp paprika
14 fluid ounces coconut milk
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 scallions, chopped
scant cup chopped cilantro, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions, chile, garlic and lemongrass. Cook for 5 minutes or until the onions have softened but not browned, stirring occasionally.

Add the lentils and spices. Pour in the coconut milk and 4 ½ cups of water. Stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 40-45 minutes, until lentils are soft.

Add lime juice, soy sauce and sugar. Add the scallions and cilantro, reserving a little of each for garnish.

Ladle into bowls, garnish, and enjoy!

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How better to celebrate than watching this awesome video made for Jimmy Kimmel by his sweetheart, Sarah Silverman. (Warning — don’t watch around the kiddies.)

Not me, Myles.

I’m pretty squarely agnostic, and I’m OK with that. Ed and I had been talking about how to at least offer the kids something to accept or reject, but we hadn’t come to a conclusion.

I kind of wanted to check out UCC because it’s so liberal you don’t even have to believe in God at all to be a member, from what I’ve heard. Which is exactly what I need. Because Catholicism scarred me. Which is precisely why I can’t abide any child of mine being strong-armed into thinking he or she is a dirty, unworthy person. It took me years to unlearn that shit, and I won’t soil the minds of my perfectly innocent little angels.

Anyway, lately, Myles has been asking about God. Not just asking, but insisting that he wants to go to church. I guess his friend goes to services and Sunday school and keeps telling him how great it is. I recoil instinctively. I can’t help it. I’m trying not to show it.

I knew this moment in my parenting life was going to come to pass. I wanted to pretend it wasn’t. Part of me did pretend. Part of me wishes I could just blindly accept the religion thing and take my kids to church every Sunday without getting a pit in my stomach.

We talked last night about just letting him go to his friend’s church, which happens to be a Lutheran church, which is OK, I guess. They are pretty liberal and have lots of outreach programs. I can’t guarantee that I’m not going to have panic attacks during a church service, but I suppose I have to hold my nose and give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, maybe I can take him volunteering with the other Godly people and his dad can cover the church service part. Because helping people? I’m all for that. Brainwashing them or offering my brain up for the washing? Not so much.

First, it’s official: They’re GONE!!!

I didn’t quite realize how stressed I had been until it was over. I can stand outside my house without nervously glancing next door every few seconds. I don’t feel like I have to walk Myles to his friend’s house two doors down. I don’t come home to thumping music and raised voices emanating from a source two feet from my driveway.

That said, I can’t help feel bad for Juan. He spent most of the day there Saturday, hauling bags of trash out of the house and garage. He filled his conversion van once, and I think he can fill it a hundred times more. The shed and garage are still stuffed full of garbage and discarded furnishings, and I think the house is probably as bad.

He told Ed he had called the police to see if they could force the thugs to come back and get their stuff. Of course, the cops told him he was out of luck.

Ed could also see into the kitchen area when he was talking to Juan, and he saw that not only are the walls we could see upstairs covered with gang graffiti, it appears that much of the house has been similarly defaced.

I know this is partially Juan’s fault for his lack of discretion in choosing renters. He also should have known he could have kicked them out after two months of not paying rent.

I still feel horrible when I’m watching him hoist bag after bag of garbage into his van.

But not horrible enough to get out there and help him in below-zero weather.

I like to think of myself as a tough girl.

But when a fuzzy little demon with beady eyes bolted through our kitchen today, I did everything but jump up on a retro diner chair. The squealing? Check. The hiding behind my husband? Check. The sweating? Check.

By the way, why do I have a husband and two cats if it’s not to get rid of undesirable furry critters? The husband “tried” to catch it. The cats were nowhere to be found. Actually, I found the fattest feline taking a nap an hour later when the cleaning people cornered the thing in the foyer.

I’m pretty sure the mouse is a visitor from next door. I’m hoping it doesn’t find our place hospitable enough to stick around, and we got some traps and such today to try and thwart that possibility.

I think Juan was over there today — I’m pretty sure it was his van parked in the driveway. I’m sure he got a hell of a shock when he walked in there. I haven’t seen anyone else around there in a few days, but the yard is still trashed, and I’m guessing the rest of the house is, too.

I’m hoping he cleans it up quickly and sells the house. I certainly wouldn’t take a chance with renting after seeing what happened over there.