Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Eating my way through California

Yesterday evening we returned from five nights and five days in the Bay Area, and it was one of the best trips we've ever taken out there. I've got plenty of photographic evidence, but what I'm thinking about today is the sheer diversity and deliciousness of the food we consumed during our trip.

In order:

Egg tarts (a Chinese baked good), Thai food, egg tarts, a brownie, half a veggies/cheese Croque Monsieur from Tartine Bakery, half a Mission burrito (with pollo asado and the works), a caesar salad (self-made), chocolate-covered pretzel chips (my new favorite Trader Joe's product), oatmeal, Berkeley Bowl sushi, homemade guac, homemade burrito bar, Mexican wedding cookies and sister-made lemon squares, oatmeal, 1/2 masala dosa and 1 veggie-filled samosa with cholla from Vik's, pizza and fresh greens at Jupiter, yogurt and whole-wheat sourdough toast, sushi from Manpuku in Berkeley, gelato, a teriyaki chicken sandwich with sauteed mushrooms and some sweet potato fries and onion rings from Pearl's, champagne via Leah and Simon and a few bites of tiramisu, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a hardboiled egg, half of a turkey sub from Subway, and a Specialty's semisweet chocolate chip cookie.

In that five days/nights, I ate out 10 times if you count the gelato and the Berkeley Bowl sushi. In comparison, we usually eat out on average around once every six to eight weeks. It's hard not to go hog-wild when we go to California, where we have so many restaurants we love and access to so much amazing food. I love that nearly all of our food is homemade, and that we eat so healthily most of the time, but that, every once in a while, we splurge for a few days on spectacular food that we only eat a few times a year. It's too bad it all must be crammed in to such a short period of time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This morning's commute

Click on any photo to embiggen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Joining the 21st century

I'm not one for what you might call technological innovation. I resisted getting a cell phone until I moved to Denver in 2003 and discovered that a basic cell phone plan (including free long distance) was the same price as a land line. I've never done much with any cell phone other than make phone calls; I send and receive so few texts that we don't even have texting on our phone plan and pay for them piecemeal.I know my current phone has a camera, and I've used it twice (once to take a background photo of Loki and once to snap something in a store) and have no idea how to get the photo off my phone and onto someplace more useful. I didn't get a digital camera until Dan gave me one for Christmas in 2004 (?) For someone on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y, I'm startlingly old-school when it comes to gadgets and gizmos and The Latest Thing. We'd probably still have the same old non-HD, non-flatscreen TV had we not gotten a fancy TV as a wedding gift.

As with technological devices, so too am I often behind the curve when it comes to web-related stuff. I never programmed my own website or learned HTML. I have Friendster, Tribe, and MySpace accounts primarily because for some time or another they were the only way to communicate with certain of my friends. I joined Facebook, finally, about a month after we got married, since it seemed everyone I knew had migrated there from previous social networking sites. And for the past couple of years I've been reading people's individual twitter feeds from their blogs or on twitter directly.

It occurred to me, the other day, that there was a lot I was missing out on by not having everything in one place. And so, internet, you can now find me and my inane drivel at Twitter, username pantalonesfuego. I have finally submitted to the dark side of the force internets.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Food on Friday: Macaroni and Cheese, fancified

I was given a challenge.

My challenge was to create my own version of a comfort food. I was assigned Macaroni and Cheese, which, yum!

The only problem was that I'd never before made macaroni and cheese other than out of a box. I know, I know. But it's the kind of food that's so BAD for you, the kind of thing we almost never eat, that even when we do make it from a box we put all kinds of veggies and stuff in it. I was tasked with making REAL macaroni and cheese. It was an interesting challenge.

I thought about my options for a while. I considered trying to make it into a dessert dish, kind of like a noodle kugel. I knew I'd be up against people making all sorts of fancy gourmet versions of their given foods, and people doing very traditional versions. I wanted to come up with something that would both stand out and be satisfying to those for whom macaroni and cheese, the real kind, is the ultimate in comfort food. Plus, I had to consider our tastes, knowing that we'd be eating the dish I made.

I thought about it, and I thought about it, and I came up with an idea in my head. Like many of the things I've cooked over the years, I didn't really have the final plan until I was already in the middle of it. So you'll see a few ingredients in the first photo that I didn't ultimately end up using. And, because it was something I'd never made before, it took a heck of a lot longer than I expected it to. But the result was so, so worth it.

Cast of characters: Macaroni, chevre (goat cheese), scallions, shallots, nonfat milk, onion, flour, turkey bacon, pepper, salt, chipotle powder, parmesan, nonfat greek yogurt, butter, olive oil, extra sharp cheddar cheese, panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), bottle of yummy red wine

Step 0: Pour yourself a glass of tasty red wine. Pour one for your photographer as well.

Step one: Finely chop one small onion. Put it in a skillet with a tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat, stirring infrequently. You want the onion to get good and brown, without getting crispy. If it's taking forever, like it did for me, add a splash of olive oil. When the onions have carmelized nicely, turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

Step 1.5: Turn on oven to 375F.

Step two: In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter until bubbly. Turn down heat. Add about 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, stirring constantly. It will get thick and pasty. Slowly add milk, continuing to stir, until mixture thins out and gets saucy.

Step 2.5: Put on a pot of water to boil. Add a bit of salt if you like. Don't forget to drink some of your wine!

Step three: Grate 8 oz of extra sharp cheddar cheese, which will turn out to be about 2 cups grated. Slowly stir 1/2 the cheese (that's one cup grated) into the milk/butter/flour sauce. Add about 1/4 cup of nonfat greek yogurt, salt and pepper to taste, and about 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder.

Step 4: Mince 1 shallot and add it to the sauce. Continue to stir the sauce frequently so it doesn't develop a skin on the top. When water boils, add about 1.5 dry cups of elbow macaroni to the water.

Step 5: Grate about 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and mix it with about 1/2 cup panko crumbs. Set aside.

Step 6: Open package of chevre. Tear about 1/2 cup of it into dime-sized pieces with your fingers and put on a plate. Set aside. Wash your hands.

Step 6.5: Cook 3 pieces of turkey bacon, drain. When cooled, chop into bits.

Step 7. When pasta is still firmly al dente, drain it and then add it to the cheese sauce, which you have not forgotten, right? Add the carmelized onions.

Step 8. Pour about 1/3 of the pasta/sauce into an 8x8 baking dish. Dot with 1/2 the goat cheese and 1/3 cup of the remaining grated cheddar. Top with pasta/sauce, repeat the goat cheese and cheddar. Add the bacon bits. Add the last of the pasta, top with the last 1/3 cup cheddar, and then over all add the panko/parmesan.

Step 9. Put it in the oven and bake until the top looks a bit browned and crispy, 20-30 minutes. While mac and cheese is baking, prepare anything else you plan to make. I sauteed some fresh asparagus in the carmelized onion pan with some seasonings and rice wine vinegar. Optional: Chop 2 scallions and sprinkle individual servings with the scallions.

Makes about 4-6 servings, depending on how much you like macaroni and cheese. Don't forget to drink the rest of the wine!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And then we brought it home in a cardboard box

I think I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I'm prone to dreaming. And I don't mean dreaming like normal people dream. I mean that I have crazy, off-the-wall, way more memorable than most people dreams. There have been periods in my life when I dreaded going to bed because I knew that I would have so many dreams that the quality of my sleep would be affected; meaning, I think during those times I do not get enough non-REM sleep.

The types of dreams I have also go through phases. Sometimes I have more normal-type dreams, like I have to pee and can't find a useable toilet. Sometimes I have emotion dreams, in which I'm extremely angry or extremely sad. And sometimes I have prophetic-type dreams that seem to come true, hours or years later (it's where my sense of deja-vu comes from; sometimes I'm someplace or doing something and I get deja vu and then I remember, oh yeah, I had a dream about this x time ago).

My dreams have been even more off-the-wall than usual lately, though I don't feel as though my sleep is being affected currently (thank goodness). And many of my dreams lately are running along a similar theme: babies. Also, cats. I'm given birth to or breastfed a cat about six times in the last couple of months. But last night, oh, last night. Last night I had a dream that I swear must have lasted hours. I dreamed that I was full-term pregnant and going into labor; that nobody in my family knew about it, and that I was in a weird hippie commune-type place. Several other women in labor were there as well. A birth guru guy had the power to tell us which of us would have our babies first, and decreed the order in which it would happen. Labor didn't hurt as much as I expected it to, though it lasted for more than a day, and one of the women who had her baby on the first day gave birth to one that was stillborn, so she took it to some sort of sacrificial area. My labor continued while a party with lots of tasty food and drink was going on all around me. Finally, it was time for me to climb into the birthing pod to be alone while I focused, hard, on pushing out the baby. My water broke in a splash, and I felt every last second of the process as I called Dan to open the pod so he could catch the baby.

The baby looked just like I did as a baby, though it was significantly smaller. I didn't even know for sure whether it was a boy or a girl as I delivered the placenta into the pod, which looked like an alien. Finally, my work was finished, and I climbed out to be informed that it was a boy. He was about six inches long; a perfect newborn in miniature. About two hours later, we left the hippie commune and headed home, with the baby in a cardboard box on the back seat.

Dear brain: I know you want babies. Please, please do me a favor and dial back on the reality bit while I'm sleeping, would you? Thanks ever so.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In which I quit with the whining, already

So here's why my birthday weekend was awesome.

On Friday afternoon, I came home to find that a friend in the UK had sent me a surprise birthday package, complete with chocolate and tea. Dan made some bbq chicken pizza with a black bean sauce while I napped a raging headache away. His pizza crust recipe makes two crusts, so for breakfast on Saturday we had this breakfast pizza, which was totally amazing. It was a gorgeous sunny day, azure sky, and it felt like spring. We went shoe shopping (though didn't buy any shoes) and to Target and to Sunflower and to King Soopers, and then we went home and had guacamole and chips for lunch. In the afternoon, we went for ice cream at Lik's for the first time since September, I think, and met up with Kate, who recently outed herself as a blog reader who lives in my neighborhood, and her daughter. We had a lovely time and were going to have beers as well but realized all the nearby pubs were full of drunken green-clad revelers, so we called a rain check.

Saturday evening, I made up a recipe out of my head for macaroni and cheese, something I've never made before. It turned out so amazingly good. I will post a full recipe and tutorial later this week once I get all the photos off the fancy camera. This took hours longer than it usually takes me to cook a dinner, which I guess is because I'd never made this before and I was making it up as I went along? Anyhow, there was sauteed asparagus to go with, and we fell asleep completely satiated.

Sunday I got chocolate chip pancakes and turkey bacon for breakfast, big ploofy snow, a trip to the gym, walk in the snain (by the time we left the snow had turned into snain), and a hot shower. Lunch was whole grain bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and half a pomelo. I got calls from my mom and a few of my friends, two of whom even sung to me (thanks, Simon and Oldest Friend!), and I looked through old photos to find images of past birthdays. Dan went out of his way to be nice to me, knowing I was feeling raw, and he made me birthday pie (chocolate mousse pie!), and the exact dinner I wanted: oven-fried chicken, oven fries, and a salad with homemade dressing.

Today I'm feeling better. I'm going to own 31. 31 is my bitch. Watch out, world. I'm 31 years old and I'm not afraid of it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Twenty eleven

My third birthday, of which I remember some vague images and feelings, was at a local Chuck E Cheese. My mom made a cake in the shape of a butterfly, and a few friends (and their parents) were in attendance. Here you can see me with my mom (pregnant with my sister, born 4 months later) and dad.

My mom made me a new pink skirt with suspenders and two matching hair barrettes. I loved them. It was my fifth birthday, and we went roller skating. 3 out of the 5 people in this photo are still in my life - Scarlett, Oldest Friend, and Brian Foster, all of whom (like me) still look like they did in this photo. Brian's hair is a little darker. Also pictured are Kristina and Megan, preschool friends of mine.

I had a big party for my 16th birthday, and, in going through the photos I have, I found quite a few of all my friends and hardly any of me. Which was just as well, because my face looked like a pizza. I had a great time, though. The shorts in this photo were a size 2, and I sewed the blouse myself. Also pictured are my friend Julia with a mouthful of cake and Laurel, who was about 8. I think I'd just opened a gift, which was a necklace from one of my friends that tragically broke after only a few wearings, but I liked it so much I saved the beads.

Here's Joey with me on my 21st birthday. I had a big party for the first time since my 16th, and I had an amazing time. I think it was potluck; people brought or made all kinds of food and drinks, and my college ex made my chocolate-raspberry birthday cake. I only have a few photos from the evening, and this one was the best of them. So many of the people I was closest to came to help me celebrate, and I couldn't have asked for a better 21st. (Also: Holy shit was I skinny.)

Today is my 31st birthday. It was both good and bad: good, because I went to the gym and had a tasty breakfast and a tasty lunch and expect to have a tasty dinner. I've found a new drink I enjoy (whiskey sour!) and I have 2 kitties. And Dan's making me a birthday pie. Bad, because I'm so far away from most of my friends and family, and I'm so far from where I want to be in life. I think I'm hardest on myself during times when I reflect on how much potential I once had. I was 3, and 5, and 16, and 21. Now it's 10 years later than the last photo, and the only difference between then and now is where I live and who I live with. Sometimes I feel like my relationship with Dan is the only thing I have going for me. I don't own a house, or a graduate degree; I've not gone on nearly as many trips as I expected and I want to be something completely different in my career and I'm still practicing my parenting skills on small felines.

Here's hoping that, sometime during this next year, the things I want to help move my life forward happen. And that I somehow contract the serenity I need to look back at 3-year-old me and 5-year-old me and 16-year-old me and 21-year-old me and realize that where I am at age 31 really isn't so bad.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Pity, party

I think I've documented before on this site how this time of the year always gets me down. It's still winter and kinda gross outside; I am going to have yet another birthday soon.

It's been a rough winter. We lost Petra, and have lived through a gloomy and depressing January and February. We'd intended to go on a trip someplace warm but all that money got eaten up by Petra's vet bills. We're not where we want to be and both of us are having a hard time with that. And I'm getting old.

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to have a birthday party here in Denver, something I haven't attempted since 2003. We have a decent-sized group of friends for the first time in forever, and so I thought, hey, why not invite everyone over for a party? I sent out an invite, and within the first few days got a ton of "No"s and no "Yes"es other than Dan and myself.

Well, after I waited a few more days and my closest friends in Denver told me (in other words, but I understood the underlying meaning) that they'd rather go skiing YET AGAIN than come to a party to celebrate my birthday, even though I do lots of nice things for them on their birthdays (like make cakes from scratch), I decided to cancel the party.

It was a rough week for a variety of reasons. Finally, on Wednesday, I decided to do something about my terrible mood and self-pity. I looked at plane tickets to California and decided to cash in the $200 voucher* I got from being booted off a Frontier flight last year. I thought we could perhaps go out the last weekend of March, in honor of our 2-year anniversary, and as a belated birthday present to myself, and maybe we'd figure out how to have some sort of a party.

That very evening, my friend Brian offered the use of his house and yard for StrykerFest 2010 without any provocation, and my day was made. I may not be having a birthday party this year, but I am going to get to see friends and family, spend time in my favorite place, and not even think about people who would rather go skiing for the umpteenth weekend in a row than celebrate something fun.

We'll be in the Bay Area March 25-30 and I couldn't be more excited. Even if only 5 people show up to the shindig, we still plan to have a good time.

*story forthcoming

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Dear people of the world:

Tights are not pants. Leggings are not pants. Leggings that you bought 25 years ago the LAST time they were in fashion, so they're all threadbare and see-through, and you're wearing over white granny panties are DEFINITELY not pants. They make you look like you are wearing a diaper.

Shirts are not dresses. Even if you wear them with leggings or tights (see above). Dresses must be long enough to cover your buttcheeks. If I can see the cheek fold when you are walking in front of me, it is NOT a dress. The only acceptable time people can wear shirts that short as dresses is when they are babies in diapers.

Pick one animal print to wear at a time. Zebra, leopard, and snake may look great in a Noah's Ark painting or at the zoo, but they do NOT look good all being worn at the same time on your person.

5-inch stiletto red beadazzled plastic stripper shoes are perhaps not the best choice of footwear when it's less than 20 degrees F outside and you're walking through an icy parking lot.

Sagged, skintight emo pants make you look like you have a load in your pants. There are no exceptions to this rule for men or women. A correlary: Skinny jeans should not be worn by men. They look good on SOME girls/women, but not many, and they do not look good on men, period.

And what the hell is up with that hairstyle that's bleached blond on the top and black or very dark brown underneath?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Start to finish

On October 9, 2009, my friend Deborah gave birth (on her birthday!) to her first kid.

This was the first baby I'd seen from start to finish. And I'd really SEEN it, since Deb taught the classes I took ever Monday and Wednesday evening at the gym. I started taking her classes in the fall of 2007, and continued to take them through 2008. It was the Wednesday class where I tore my right calf muscle, and I had to skip class for a couple of months in order for my leg to heal. But as soon as it was better, I went right back.

I got to know quite a few people over the years in Deb's classes. There was a core group of regulars, and we each knew each other by name. There were engagements, weddings, grandbabies, and IVF attempts. It felt a little bit like Cheers, except instead of drinking beer we flailed around on steps and lifted dumbbells.

I noticed that Deb, typically lithe and wee, started changing shape sometime around late February last year. I didn't think much of it, because I knew she and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for quite some time, and considering she taught an average of 3 exercise classes a day, 7 days a week, I knew it wasn't a plethora of cheeseburgers. When she finally couldn't hold in her belly anymore, she told us all that she was pregnant and due October 15.

Over the months, I watched her body grow and change. By September she had the typical basketball-under-the-shirt, only-pregnant-from-the-front/side look of a thin, athletic woman, and she still managed to teach all of her regular classes for the duration of the pregnancy, even in the hottest parts of the summer. Looking at her was my motivation for continuing to push myself, even when I didn't feel like it, because if Deb could do it at x months' pregnant, knowing she'd already taught 2 classes that day, I could do it. It wasn't until a week or two before she stopped teaching that Deb started looking run-down and tired, and she stopped doing everything full out in her classes. She was totally superwoman.

I knitted a blanket and a jester-style hat for the baby, and Dan and I went to the shower, a few days after Deb taught her last class. Baby P was born a week early, the best birthday present she could have gotten.

The person who teaches Deb's classes now teaches in a style that I don't really like, so I have stopped going to them. I miss the cameraderie of the group, but the new teacher annoys me so much that I just can't bring myself to go very frequently. I've kept in touch with Deb via facebook, and on Friday she brought 4.5 month-old P on his first trip downtown. She parked outside my building, and together we walked down the mall to have lunch together. I spent my time wisely, holding P, nomming on his face and neck, watching him smile, all the while picking Deb's brain about her experience as a new first-time mom and hearing her birth story. Everything is going well - he's a natural eater, and her boobs work so well he's currently 18 pounds of deliciousness. He looks just like his daddy, aside from Deb's red hair. She made a person, and I got to see the process twice a week for the entire 9 months.

After lunch, we walked around outside for a while, P snoozing in the stroller, and I marveled at how much she'd changed, and at the same time how much she was still very much herself. I felt honored to be able to spend that time with her and with her new little one, very much his own person outside of her body, and Deb mostly feeling like herself again. I'm sure becoming a parent changes people in deep and fundamental ways, but it's nice to see friends who go through that change come out pretty much the same on the other side.