Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dream a little dream of dream me

It’s a well known fact, internet, that I do not like to miss a good time.  Ever.  And by good time, I mean meal.  Despite a…sinus infection?  Head cold? Allergies?  The croup? Pneumonia?   The consumption? Whatever.  Despite something mysteriously hideous lingering in my noggin for the last 67497392 days that I cannot shake, I sure managed to eat a lot of cheese and spend some time with good pals this weekend.  It’s a gorgeous January here--sunny and beautiful days, mild and cooler nights—and I like to take every opportunity to break bread al fresco, if you know what I mean.
Mini-pals: fondid double dip.
Both weekend nights brought my favorite kind of YUM: long, luxurious eves outdoors that start while the sun is high in the sky and continue well past the beautiful moon making its grand entrance, with friends and lots of different nibbles.  I’m a food sharer, you guys.  It doesn’t matter how strategic I am in my ordering or plate piling, I will almost always covet what the guy next to me has.  I’m one of those people at a restaurant that is always peeping over a stranger’s shoulder to eyeball what they've ordered.  Annoying, right?  I should mind my own beeswax, but I don’t.   I like options.  I like to eat a little bit of a lot of things.  Smorgasbords excite me!  I like a meandering fork and will meander mine over to your plate without a second thought.  Don’t try to stop me, either, because I will happily stab you with it if you get in my way.  (I’m serious.)  Bacibug=such a fun dining companion!  With such impeccable table manners!  This is why my dear friendship with my gal pal Chris works so well*…we have a focused, well-established mealtime understanding whenever we’re out together, and have perfected this food dance of sharing.  And not stealing the other person’s perfect bite.  You know how it is.
Anyhow, Friday kicked off with a backyard noshfest:  Cocktails and bubbles and salami and cheeses and marinated garlic cloves (KISS ME, INTERNET!) and goat cheese pesto sundried tomato dips and hummuses (hummi?) and fig jam and a cracker extravaganza as far as the eye could see.  Heaven!  On a plate!  We didn’t even barbeque the chicken as planned because the nibbles hit the sweet spot just so.  And then I almost set everyone on fire with my chocolate fondue.  (Sterno flames!  Everywhere!  Fun for the whole family!)  My salted caramel fondue stayed warm and dippy but the chocolate one was 14 seconds away from getting snuffed out by the fire extinguisher.  This didn’t appear to stop the pile of rug rats from double dipping (DIRTY!) strawberries and brownie bites and pretzel rods and chocolate chip biscotti, but I’m pretty sure all of their arm hair is singed off.  Look at me with the delightful party tricks for kids and adults alike!
And then Saturday’s “one quick glass of wine at sunset on the patio at Bono’s!” morphed in to 4 bottles, tuna towers, filet, farfalle, Maytag blue cheese, bacon, asparagus and the most perfect iceberg wedge you ever did see.  Those are my favorite nights…the ones that start out one way and get Pied Pipered somewhere else all together.  We ended the night with Port, dark chocolate and solving all of the world’s problems by firelight while being pinned down and love-mauled by a huge, sweet-faced pooch**. 
What happened after gives me slight cause for concern, however.  In trying to kick this bug and not wake myself up hacking and coughing every single hour of the night, I have been culling numerous and sundry cure-alls.   This night’s strategy was Tylenol PM with a cough syrup chaser.  Smart, right?***  I think the combination of the pretty wine and the delicious food and my knock-out concoction equaled dreams of Kafka proportions.  In one, my house was on fire  (Fire: the reoccurring theme of my weekend!) and Dream Me was moseying around WITH THE ROOM ABLAZE gathering extra panties(?), my phone charger(??), my college diploma(???) and then—here’s a good one!—instead of just grabbing my special jewelry box and getting the eff out of dodge, Dream Me stopped to untangle my necklace and cross from everything else.  Like for a thousand years in this dream, the flames licking up the walls around me, I stood there fighting off dream-smoke inhalation and kept trying to untangle this heirloom from whatever it dream-tangled itself up in.  I was practically whistling while I dream-worked.  No hurry!  Way to have an emergency exit strategy!
Obviously, Dream Me is kind of stupid and has zero survival skills.  Swell!

*She also shares her husband with me.  I basically get the perks of a sister-wife without the, uh, conjugal responsibility.  Works for me!
**You guys remember Sophie the cookie eater, right?  Not poisoned!  Hurray!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Girl, you is fine(d)!

Brace yourselves for a Nerd Alert*, everyone…
I love the library!  LOVE LOVE LOVE.
Now, to be fair, it’s true that I also love me a bookstore.  I can spend hours and hours meandering, perusing and caffeining in any book store, big or small, and have exactly zero qualms about copping a squat and flick-flick-flicking through pretty pages of stacks and stacks of books.  Do I care if the Barnes & Noble people give me the stink eye?  No, I do not.
My love affair with books started early, as did my love affair with the library.  I remember my Mom taking me to Atwater Village Library in kindergarten to see Officer Bird (“Say Nope to Dope and Ugh to Drugs!”) and get my very first library card which I was able to keep in my plastic Charlie’s Angels wallet.  (Can you even handle the sass, you guys?  I DIDN’T THINK SO!)  I loved having that card!  Then, at Holy Trinity, they used to walk all of us over to that library all decked out in our plaids once a month or so and let us get books.  When I wasn’t trying to finagle a way** to order various Judy Blume books or that badass “Just Hang in There!” cat poster from Scholastic (you know you wanted it, too.  DO NOT EVEN LIE.), I was focused and systematic in stockpiling the books nobody would buy for little old me from the library.  I knew we could take 4 out at a time and usually had a running list ready.  What still amazes me is how I got out of there with half of the books I did.  There were the basics, naturally…I would have my Quimby girls or SuperFudge, sure.  But peppered in there, always, was one that I knew I shouldn’t even be allowed to pick up.  Should a third grader be able to check out and read Go Ask Alice?  The answer is no.  But I sure did.  And nary a nun or a librarian or MY MOTHER noticed that I was basically reading my way through any smutty books with provocative covers that promised French kissing, people doing IT, drugs and the eff word.  WAY TO LOOK ALIVE, YOU GUYS!  
Anyway, me and the library system?  We broke up for a long, long time.  Aside from donating books during my annual literature purge, I didn’t set foot in to one.  I spent years happily buying any and every book my little heart desired,  and it seemed that every week I’d get either a box of books or a case of wine delivered to my office.  (Ah, the good old pre-recession days…how I miss thee!)  But it got so I just didn’t have room for my book obsession.  And, to be honest, it was sort of frivolous.  So a few years ago, I traipsed over to my adorable local library on the bay and got me a new card.  And can you even believe now with all of this new fangled technology*** all you have to do is go online and you can reserve almost any book you want and the library people will send it to your local library and send you an email and then you can get it?  Well, believe it!
So the problem here is that I am a madwoman with the reserving.  Totally kookoopants.  I'm a word addict and I read anything I can get my hands on.  I read a review or see something on TV and I immediately log in all frantic because I like to be one of the first people to get my grubby mitts on the fresh words as soon as they’re available.  I’m totally competitive and crazy:
bacibug: “ ‘Request confirmed’, it says!  ‘Number two on the list for one of the five copies’! Hell yeah, bitches!  Jealous?!!!!!”
empty house: “……..”
And also?  You can check out up to 25 books at one time.  25, America!  I’m like a fiend.  I go bonkers reserving the books and then they all come in at the same time so I skip and tra la la the two blocks to my library and haul all of my loot home.  And then I can’t get through it all.  And the pretty piles? They start to stress me out.  This week, the library got mad at me because I kept Franzen’s Freedom (PS: that guys sure does like to write about poo.  Hey, how about about you lay off the scat talk in your next novel, sir.  Take a break from the gross.)  for wayyyyyy too long and there was a waiting list for it. I finally returned it yesterday and had to pay them**** $5.60. Dang!  I also have an enabler.  I get to constantly scheme with one of my best sister-friends, Beth, about which books are next on our respective (she's lucky she's in Murrietta. I don't need the "reserve list" competition out here.  Obviously.) library acquisition.  You know how it is, internet...nerds of a feather, etc.
I totally judge a book by it's cover.
I also love borrowing the brand new cookbooks to devour!  I reserve those suckers as soon as I can.  I have a pretty severe cookbook obsession and love to pour over them, so this is ideal for me.  I think I’m whittled down to about 50 in my personal collection, I use about 6 consistently, and adore bringing home the new releases as an excuse to knock around in the kitchen.  Right now I’m obsessed with Hesser’s new updated The Essential New York Times Cookbook*****.   This thing is dead serious and almost 950 pages.  It’s a compilation of all sorts of crazy timelines from recipes published in the days of yore, loads of old school dishes modernized and tons of tried and true recent recipes.  It’s like a textbook (not very many shiny pictures…wah wah wah waaaahhhhhh.) and it’s totally one for the collection.  
The hardest part is deciding what to cook first.  It's looking like the short ribs!  Or the Croque Monsieur!  Either way, I better step on it already before the Bayshore Library comes after me.

*As if anyone would be surprised.  I also had like 54728 pen pals.  NERRRRR-HUUUUURRRD!
**=Crying hysterically.
***Yes, I’m aware that there is even newer fandangled technology, ok?  I’m just not ready for a Kindle.
****I get mad when I have to pay for certain things: parking, library book fines and new tires.  I know it makes no sense…it just is what it is.
*****I’m sure I’m the first person to have checked it out, which I find totally exciting!  See above: nerd.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This girl's figs

I spend my time waxing poetic about lots of things, which I’m sure comes as zero surprise to any of you.  I’m the kind of person who holds on to memories with both hands, and will rehash, debrief and narrate them to you ad finitum or until you beg me for mercy.  Sorry, Charlies…I’m a keeper of memories* and I hope that never, ever changes**. 
Anyway, there’s a little place I love in Sonoma…the kind of place that you just know you’re going to always think of wistfully right after you first step foot in it.  I’d read about it a few years ago and when one of my BFFs and I planned a girls weekend wine drinking adventure a couple of months later, I made sure to put it on our to-do list.  We were lucky enough that it was a short block away from our hotel because we had dinner there the first night, and then went back the next two.  (Culinary stalkers!)  The weekend we were there it was cold and rainy, and Lew and I spent hours and hours at the bar eating delicious food we both still fantasize about (beet lasagna!  We had it twice! And the pork chop!  And their burger!), availing their poor bartender into food-pairing and plying us with the pretty, pretty wine, while having long, important discussions about life, love and purpose.   We added lots of good memories to our 20+ year friendship trove that trip (I’ll save the “memory” about how I was almost MURDERED on the streets of beautiful Sonoma because someone [Cathy.  It was Cathy, you guys.] had some sort of Carneros-induced road rage episode causing my life to flash before me against the glorious vines of the California wine country, for another time.  It’s a sweet story.  Of sheer terror.)  But honestly, I can't think of this place without automatically thinking about Lew.  (Well, and the martinis at the El Dorado Hotel, to be fair.)  I’ve since been back several times with different groups of pals and have never, ever been disappointed.  This place and a gorgeous spring night’s dinner with my adorable wine angels Chris and Vicki Lynn is the reason I think all beef tartar should be accompanied by caper berries, rosé and a perfect Sonoma sunset.  I LOVE CAPER BERRIES! AND YIPPITY YAPPITY DINNERS WITH TWO OF MY FAVORITE GALS!

Pucker up, Buttercup!

So I feel nostalgic and excited (exstalgic!) to be involved in recipe testing for their newest cookbook.  Fun, right?!  They send me recipes that are pending inclusion (I think?) in to their newest tome--which is sure to be fancy to look at--and I have to prepare them, review them and make a bunch of suckers  eat them.  It’s like my dream come true!   The one thing I’ve learned so far is that I?  Am a horrifying food photographer.  I think food looks its best in natural light, but that’s hard to come by at 8pm in my kitchen, so the majority of the snaps look like I’m serving it all up in some penitentiary.  Bon appetit, Cell Block C!  I need to figure something out.
The recipe I did this week (I’m not sure how much I can divulge…so top secret, you guys!) involved red snapper, fennel, butter, butter, butter, butter, shallots and Meyer lemons.  I chopped! I julienned! I crushed!  I blanched, seared, whisked, marinated and festooned.  Ta da! 
Flashlight dance off with ya pants off!
And, really…it was delicious.  Well—honestly--for the people over 5 years old, it was delicious…two of my miniature guinea pigs opted for quesadillas, cookies and a flashlight dance party.  In their underwear.  I like it.  
Here’s hoping I get to test that dang beet lasagna, you guys.  For real!

*Mine and other people’s…possibly yours.  It’s kind of creepy the things I remember.
**That’s why I play Scrabble and do word puzzles…to keep my brain sharp, internet!  Or at least only slightly dulled.  But don’t try to get me to do that damn Sudoku nonsense again.   Blech!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sweet sugared sunshine

It’s no secret, you guys, that I do a lot of baking.  A lot.  I love it all: tarts, scones, biscotti, bread, cookies.  Loads and loads of cookies.  It all started when I was a(n adorably precocious!) kid and home alone in the summers.  I baked my way through Betty Crocker’s original cookbook by the time I was out of elementary school and nobody was safe from my taste testing.  I’m most proud of the mocha cake I once made…I didn’t know there was any difference in coffee, so thought I was a downright GENIUS for using instant Folgers in the cake.  And in the frosting.  And not dissolving it, which means it was crunchy.  I remember pulverizing those freeze dried granules like a mad scientist and then watching with such culinary pride as my family and all of the neighbors I’d pied-pipered in to eating this 3 layer nightmare on a plate stood around the kitchen silently chewing and nodding.  Do you want to be the a-hole that tells a 9 year old budding gourmand her mocha cake tasted like burned coffee grounds and regret?  Nope!  They ate it all, you guys.  Good times!  Even now, if you’ve spent any time with me in the last few years, there’s no doubt that I’ve tried to cram at least one chocolate chip delicacy in to your gaping maw at some point, whether you were interested or not.  And then proceeded to browbeat you into submission until you told me how much you like them.  See how fun I am?!  Annoying! 
So I’ve been super busy with my cookie making projects, especially during the holidays.  People seem to love the chocolate chip, the peanut butter chocolate chip and the molasses spice the most.  The chocolate chip are truly a thing of beauty.  In my opinion, the most perfect cookie.  I did a special double chocolate brownie peppermint one for a few weeks and those were fun and festive, but for a real chocolate fix there’s no denying that the basics always hit the spot.  The peanut butter chocolate chip are big and peanut buttery and a whole lot of yum.  And the molasses spice, for which I will forever be indebted to my good pal Shelly for introducing to me and sharing her recipe, taste like the cozy comfort of fall.  Her husband likes to take them straight out of the oven when she makes them, draping their sweet, molten goodness over his fingers until they’re just cool enough to eat.  They make a killer vanilla ice cream sandwich, in case you wanted to know.
My current obsession is with shortbread.  Shortbread!  I’m not a huge fan of your basic sugar cookie, ok?  Booooooring.  I like my sweet treat with some nuance and heft in the crumb which I think shortbread consistently has, so I’m always excited to try different shortbread cookies.  About 4 years ago I did these hazelnut shortbread strawberry jam cookies for a little baby shower I hosted and have used that recipe as my springboard ever since.  (ALERT! Hazelnuts will always and forever be my favorite nut!  I love a damn filbert, you guys.  Make sure you remember that in case we’re ever on a game show together.)  I made tons of almond shortbreads and sugared shortbreads and lemon shortbreads the past few months.  I took shortbread hearts to New Year's mini-vacay in Mammoth because they’re so good with tea.  (And road trips!  And champagne!)  Last week I had a request to bake cookies with one of my cutiepie 5 year old pals, Ella.  So off I went with my shortbread and my fluted heart shaped cutters and my red sanding sugar and my good intentions.  And me and Ella, we rolled out those cookies and, of course, she picked the smallest cutter known to man and we proceeded to cut and sprinkle and bake 627 frillion miniature heart shaped lemon shortbread cookies.  And then we cut out her name and baked those letters, too.  And then I let her and her baby brother eat half of the 627 frillion cookies because, as you know, Auntie Susie is ALL ABOUT FUN and BUYING AFFECTION WITH CONFECTION! And when I was convinced that they were adequately sugar-drunk, I took the rest of those cookies (so, so many cookies, you guys!) and pushed them out of reach of little arms.  Apparently the little arms weren’t what I should have been concerned with. 
When I strolled back in to the kitchen to get more water (ok, fine!  It was wine!) there were only two teensy cookies left on the plate.  Which hadn’t moved.  Huh? And then I spied the culprit.  So demure.  So innocent.  So looking like she was half a minute away from having the number twos all over the place.

Prime suspect!*
bacibug: “Sophie!  Did you eat all of those cookies?!”
Ella: “Sophie!  You shouldn’t eat cookies!!!”
Ella’s Baby Brother: “WHAT?! Motorcycle! And more cookies!  Cookies!”
Sophie: ….*blink blink*….*burp*
bacibug: “Dang!”
Anyway, I told Sophie’s humans what was what and then got the hell out of dodge.  Praise Jesus that these shortbreads weren’t chocolate dipped or chocolate chip, right?  But I wasn’t sure if cookies in general are poisonous to the sweet canine and I’ll tell you what: I wasn’t going to hang around and find out, ok?  I have checked on sweet Soph every day since Cookiegate 2011 and everyone says she’s perfectly fine.  Phew!

And I’m pretty sure she thought they were delicious, so there’s that.  

*No adorable, sweet-natured domestic animals were harmed in the writing of this entry...I don't think.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reason for the season

Oh, you guys.   I thought that I’d be ready to stare down 2011 with the vim and vigor of the rejuvenated, but I’ll tell you what: No.  I am not.  Usually I love the first week of a new year with all of its shiny promise and glittering gusto, but I have the post-holiday blues something awful this January!  Take note: some sort of wonky sinus situation + standard post-holiday wahs + usual end of mini-vacay getaway melancholy  = me right now.  Cute, right?  Not really.

I mean, anyone who knows me knows that I generally hate the end of anything I really love: a song, a dinner party, a bottle of bubbles, a book I wish I’d written, vacation, visits and pizza.  Really, it’s juvenile…I start to get all Eeyore about the inevitable end ¾ of the way through anything good and then spend the last ¼ of it mourning what a great time we were just having.  Ah, the memories!  From 20 minutes ago!  Those sure were the days!  Cue the video montage! Then I start to fret about what’s next.  Which is usually just reality.  Which we all know I over analyze as I get older.  Which we all know is a dumb waste of time because, really?  It’s REALITY.  Look at me!  Chasing my emotional tail!  
Bubbles + hibiscus flower...captivating!
 Anyhow, December sure was a fun month for me.  As usual!  I got to spend time with some of my most favorite people.  It rained a whole lot.  There were parades and parties and prime rib and potatoes!  Floating trees and Christmas lights.  Spotted: Mary and Joseph nabbed from their nativity scene and found in a Barbie Jeep.  There was snow and salted- caramel cocoa and s’mores.  I read lots of books.  Snuggled lots of babies.  Won a prize for the lowest bowling score in a three game series. (Bowling thumb, you guys!  Shut up!)  Saw Mickey and Minnie ice dancing.  Sat in a blanket fort with a couple of princesses.  Drank lots of peppermint-laced coffee.  Fell in love with horseradish white cheddar cheese.  And there was wine.   So very much wine.  Most of this in celebration of the big day in December everyone always looks forward to.    A time to be together and raise a glass in appreciation of good fortune and love.   A time to spread good tidings and joy.   The reason for the season…
My birthday!
Yessiree…#37 sure was heralded in just the way I like it: with people close to my heart eating too much cheese and getting pickled (thank you, District Wine!) on various and sundry holiday libations.  I feel so lucky that despite the hustle and bustle of the season, my people take the time to always organize such perfectly fun festivities, slow down, and celebrate with little old me.  It’s so close to you-know-Who’s birthday (thunder stealer!) that some of my out-of-towners are already here for the holiday and ready to fa la la.  There is usually a fun surprise attendee.  And I spend my time downright marinating in the warm and fuzzy, which means I traipse around the room squeezing everyone until they can pry themselves out of my vice-like love grip.  Fun, right?!
See? Cannot escape my love tentacles. Poor Megs!
So I’m sure you can understand, dear reader, how all of that excitement and over-stimulation has left me a smidge humdrum this first week of 2011, what with the decorations put away and holiday spirit fizzled.  I’ll shake it off because there is a whole lot to be excited about: spiritual enlightenment, new and exciting business opportunities, croissants.  I hope that your New Year is off to the most stupendous start and that you?  Are kicking 2011 right where it counts!  Make it a GREAT and GLORIOUS YEAR, Tootsiepops!