Saturday, October 31, 2009

Heavy Stuff

Last night was interesting. I decided to take what I had learned from this week's cooking class, and apply it in a real life situation. Here is what we cooked in this week's class:

Potage Parmentier (Leek
and Potato Soup)
Tournedo Henry IV (beef filets with artichoke bottoms and bernaise sauce)
Pointes D'Asperges Au beurre (asparagus tips sauteed in butter)
Clafouti Aux Poires

Bottom line? The French love butter. Henry IV was a fat ass and Parisian cooking involves a lot of suffering for aesthetic purposes only. I don't think I will ever peel a small waxy potato and then use a melon baller to make small rounds of potatoes again. Or trim the little baby leaves off an asparagus tip. Seriously.

But? The artichoke cups filled with bernaise sauce placed on top of a filet that has been seasoned and encased in bacon? Crikey, it was good. And when I paired that with some plain roasted asparagus and roasted potatoes? Good stuff. I even found an easier recipe for pear clafouti (thank you Ina Garten).

We had a small, but interesting group from my husband's work. A nurse that he works with, that is married to a game warden, and another doctor that specializes in helping people die (can't remember the Latin name) that is married to an Economics professor. I spent most of my time talking to the Death Doctor.

I had never heard of her specialty before, but it makes perfect sense. After a person is given a terminal sentence, she assists with their pain management, works with hospice and ironically, spends a good amount of time convincing the patient's original doctor to let them go gracefully. She said she gets a lot of satisfaction out of comforting families, and helping folks live out their last days with dignity and peace. Surprisingly, she said most of her job frustration is from working with the other doctors. They have a hard time letting go- of accepting defeat and letting their patient die. It goes against everything they have trained for, worked towards. She chastised my husband last night for giving a family hope, when she felt there was none to be had. He vehemently disagreed with her, and at one point, I thought someone was going to take a bath in bernaise sauce. (not really, but it makes for a tasty visual).

She is comfortable with death. She's not jaded. She loves the interactions she has with patients and their families, and really feels like she is bettering a situation. That day, hours before she hightailed it over to our house for a cholesterol-laden meal, she was helping a 37 year old that had been diagnosed with cancer and had 2 weeks left to live. She has 2 young kids.

Heavy. Heavy meal, heavy discussion.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Last night, I was headed to a cooking class.
A class I have looked forward to for months.
French cooking.
Which means butter. Lots and lots of butter.
I love butter.
But when I went to get in my car?
It wouldn't start.
I panicked, called my husband and took his instead.

This morning, when the guy came to jump start my beloved minivan?
He found a fried rat in the engine.

Someone please come hold me.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Haute Cuisine

The smell is gone. Either I've tricked myself into believing that, or Mother Nature took pity on me. On Monday, I've got exterminators coming to help me better seal the house. Gah.

On to brighter things....
My baby turns four on Tuesday. Last night, we gathered local family for her annual "birthday dinner party." She loves this event. It's her time to be fawned on by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, and best of all? She gets to pick the menu.

Lucy's 4th Dinner Party Extravaganza:
spinach artichoke parmesan dip from Costco.
Chick Fil-A chicken nuggets platter
Pioneer Woman's baked beans (these are insanely good)
butter lettuce salad with blue cheese, dried cherries, almonds
Texas sheet cake w/ pink writing

Last year, we also served the nuggets. I sheepishly explained to everyone that this is what happens when your kid plans the menu- but was astonished at the rapid rate the nuggets were eaten. Folks secretly love the nuggets. My Mom even asked me if I'd make the baked beans. I love my family. They know how to party like a 4 year old.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


My stellar week continues!!
So, apparently, my dog ate the couch because there was a rat in the wall. (located behind the couch).

The rat has now kicked the bucket, and the stench is unbelievable. Although my neighbors are consoling me with their own tales (pardon the pun) involving these beloved tree rats, (they love the fruit trees)- I'd love your opinion.

Do I tear holes in my wall searching for this pleasant surprise? Or just let nature run its course?

Inquiring minds (in a God awful smelly den of deceased varmin stench) would like to know.

Cocktail, Anyone?

Last week, my dog ate my couch.

Today, my computer imploded.
The service light came on in my car.
The first case of swine flu was diagnosed in my daughter's class.
So was a raging case of head lice.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Girl Vs. Food

Lunch in the countryside of China. Not something I'll forget anytime soon. After wondering if they had defibrillators installed on the Great Wall of China, our local guide escorted us to a random shack in the country for a casual lunch.

I have to mention that autumn had just started to hit China the week I was there. At first, it was startling- because I stupidly think autumn is a franchise of New England, and that they own a monopoly on leaves turning, and pumpkins and such. Not so, ignorant travelers! You CAN see pumpkins and eat kung pao. (My husband and I continually joked about this after first arriving- "Look! The sun shines the same in China! Look! Ikea looks the same in China!" You get the idea).

Our friend had never been to this strip of countryside restaurants before, but as our van careened down the dirt road, folks would start frantically waving at us- hoping to entice us to stop at their rustic place for a bit of grub.

The place we stopped had two people waving instead of one, so we decided to reward their extra effort by giving Mr. Lee a much needed rest from his job of chauffering/murdering us.

The walls were cinderblock. The floor was dirt in some places, crusty linoleum in others. We were taken to a small back room, and seated at a large round table. Truthfully, we all looked a little nervous. Our friend, and Mr. Lee started to converse with the waitress, and local beers and room-temperature bottled Cokes were quickly served.

Then the dishes started to arrive. First, there was chicken soup. Literally, soup with a chicken in it. Lucky for me, I was seated right next to our local friend. My husband was on my other side, and he frantically grabbed his beer and quietly muttered that he would be passing on the first course.

I couldn't. First, I didn't want to offend my friend. He was eagerly looking for my reaction, and the amount of kindness and generosity he had shown us that day was seriously remarkable. I didn't want to disappoint my new friend, or Mr. Lee (we still had a long drive home). Second, when am I going to get this chance again? To eat such a meal in such a setting? So I grinned, tried not to look at the floating chicken head in my bowl (with one eye and a bit of brain floating around) and took a bite.

Spicy. Savory. Seriously Delicious. The group eyed me with apprehension, and Matt whispered quietly, "Holy shit. You're like my own Andrew Zimmerman."

After that, the game was on. I ate from an entire fish (caught that day from a nearby lake), pumpkin, an unidentifiable filled dumpling, bok choy and a myriad of other dishes that boggled my mind. I drank my coke from a bottle and prayed I wouldn't have to discover the bathroom facilities. (This place had no running water, and yes, my husband took pictures of their restroom. I will NOT be posting these). My friend was pleased that I was so enthusiastic, and kept placing bits and morsels on my plate for me to taste.

Then, my new friend from China said something to the waitress, and she nodded her head. My friend then escorted me to their kitchen, where I could see them cook. It was a small room, probably no bigger than 8 feet by 8 feet. There was one small window. No sink. A piece of wood propped up on bricks in the center of the room that served as their prepping station and dirty dish repository. An old woman held the biggest chef's knife I have ever seen (more akin to a cleaver, really) and smiled a toothless grin before she went back to work hacking a chicken.

It was definitely a meal I will remember, and an experience I will treasure. Chicken head soup- who knew?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Someone's In The Dog House

So yeah, I want to continue musing on my trip to China, but reality has other plans.

My dog destroyed my couch today.

Ruined. Beyond repair. His ball went behind the couch, and he figured the fastest way to retrieve it was to go through the couch. Literally. There is a huge, gaping hole about the size of a tennis ball through the back of the couch, and for good measure, a pawful of rips and tears scattered throughout. I was home when this happened- in the garage trying to figure out how a drill bit works (don't ask). The kids were apparently sitting on either side of the dog, and all they asked was "Mommy? Why is there snow inside of our couch?"

Because sometimes I feel like there must be a studio audience and a laugh track hiding somewhere--- I just so happened to order a new sofa for my empty living room last Friday. It took me a year to do---- to decide what to get, to save up the money. I second guessed myself a thousand times- and almost chickened out when I went to the showroom to place the order.

Now I've got to start all over again. Looking at the bright side, I really needed new family room furniture. Our current stuff is 11 years old, and has been peed on (potty training wars), sat on and moved across the country twice. It looks its age. Unfortunately, it's not something we've got budgeted right now. So if you happen to come over? No Sanford and Son jokes folks- or I'll move the couch out to my front porch and sick my dog on you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Great Wall

My husband has a friend that works in Beijing. Our friend hired a driver for the day, picked up a group of us from our hotel and took us to spend the day in the countryside.

First stop? The Great Wall of China. Before I can tell you how magnificent, and surreal, and life changing it was- I need to describe the drive there. Our driver's name was Mr. Lee. He was young- probably mid-30's, and a really nice guy. But Mr. Lee cannot drive. Nor can anyone else I met in my short stint in Beijing- including every cab driver I unfortunately came across. Every time I got into a moving vehicle, I took a deep breath, clutched my husband's arm and tried not to dig my nails in as we zoomed through intersections, made right turns from left lanes and cut off every rickshaw in the joint.

Mr. Lee took us about an hour outside Beijing. The smog lifted, and the skies were sunny and gorgeous. Groves upon groves of persimmon trees (some over 500 years old) were dripping with fruit, and before I could take a picture, Mr. Lee decided to play chicken with some oncoming semi-trucks on a 2 lane highway.

We got to Badaling, one of the more popular parts of the Great Wall around 10:00. We were surrounded by rocky hills, sunny skies and cooler air. We set off on our climb- and it was really and truly, absolutely fantastic. Each part of the Wall is separated by towers, and you weave your way through the hills and get higher... and higher... and higher...

I was pretty peppy to begin with. I kept making Ghengis Khan jokes, and pretended to hide from some Mongols in a tunnel in one of the towers. For the first 20 minutes- you are absolutely amazed with where you are. What you are doing. Where you're walking. What you're seeing.

And then it gets kind of rough. The Great Wall is steep. Some parts have stairs, some are just rubbly steep inclines that put any stairmaster to shame. It quickly degenerated into a game of survival. Of trying to put on a happy face to the rest of the folks in my group who were also quietly suffering and try not to look too winded. It amazed me to see folks huff and puff up to a tower, and then light a ciggy before taking the next leg.

One guy brought a Flat Stanley for his niece's classroom project, and I did notice that he spent quite a bit of time arranging Stanley for a photo opp. I really think he was buying time to catch his breath.

I did get some amazing pictures- and will post them once I get them off my husband's hard drive. You will see my red, sweaty face, my gleeful smile and the panic in my husband's eyes when he realized how we were going to get down.

We didn't walk down. We took a tram. Suspended on wires, Badaling has little cars that careen down the mountain at an alarming pace. They had a sign in English that said "Please keep bodies inside." And another one that said "Don't scratch the cabin." That struck me as funny until we started, and I realized some folks must turn into rabid stray cats and claw the doors for safety.

My husband screamed like a little girl, but you didn't hear that from me.

Next up? My lunch in the countryside. Life changing. And yes, chicken heads are involved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

More Cankles, Concubines & "Cheese"

Our first day in Beijing was adventure from start to finish. Folks that were well versed in visiting China encouraged us to take full advantage of the extensive breakfast buffet at our hotel. I had packed power bars, dried fruit and nuts to slip into our pockets while we were exploring the city (along with travel toilet paper, but we'll save that for another time) - but brunch? Brunch was ridiculous.

You had your traditional brunch stuff- pancakes, french toast, hash browns, omelette station. For the Europeans, they had charcuterie, and Muesli and for random folks that like this sort of thing- a big pot of baked beans. (?)

Then there were the dumplings. In the more traditional sense- they set up a noodle station- where they would create a bowl of noodle soup for you. Next to the soup was an enormous lazy susan of steam pots containing every kind of dumpling imaginable. Steamed shrimp dumplings. Pan fried pork dumplings. Lots of random dumplings that I have no idea what was in them, but tasted mighty fine. And there were little dipping bowls of chili sauce, soy sauce, vinegars etc. It was awesome.

It was also salty. Given this newfound breakfast of champions, it didn't look like my cankles were going to disappear anytime soon. By day 3, my rings hardly fit. I may swell like a puffer fish, but I like me some dumplings.

My husband was so concerned about where his next meal may come from, that he, (how shall I say this nicely?) completely over-did at our first breakfast. He ate more at one sitting than I've ever seen him eat. Seriously. I think the Chinese chefs became afraid that Homer Simpson had checked in, and I think I overheard them placing an emergency order of dumplings.

We decided to work off our extensive brunch that had manifested itself into lunch/dinner & potentially breakfast for the next day by visiting the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is the original court of the Emperor. Built in 1406, it's a vast series of buildings that make up the inner and outer court of imperial China. It is, without a doubt, the coolest thing I've ever seen.

We splurged and got the audio tour- since most of the historical signs were in Chinese. Roger Moore, Mr. James Bond, happened to be the narrator, and he really got into it. Anytime he mentioned the word "concubine" or "eunuch" James Bond would try to not giggle, and since Imperial China had a thing for concubines and castration, there was a lot of repressed laughing.

We spent hours looking at the architecture, taking pictures and people watching. Not a lot of Westerners were there that day. Since we were visiting so closely to the 60th anniversary of Communism, a lot of Chinese folks made the trek to Beijing to celebrate. Since I had gotten my highlights touched up in anticipation of the trip, yours truly stood out quite a bit. I didn't really notice anything until we left the last gate of the Forbidden City. Now standing directly in front of Tiananmen Square, I noticed a few local folks staring at me.

At first, I wondered if someone had told them how many dumplings we had consumed that morning. Then I slyly checked my fly. I looked behind me to see if they were potentially staring at something else. Nope. Just me. Finally, a young man in a black suit with a grey mock turtleneck (I hate mock turtlenecks- why mock one? Just wear a real one if you like turtles) approached me and in halting English asked if he could take a picture. I thought he wanted me to take a picture of him, so I smiled and nodded and reached for his camera.

He giggled (I promise! I did not say concubine!) and shook his head. He stood next to me and held the camera to his friend. I put my arm around his shoulder (not realizing that most local folk do not touch each other when taking a picture) and gave my best smile. I was about to offer him an autograph but we got caught up in a marching band of Communist soldiers that were heading across the square. My husband was wary at first- wondering the guy's intention and not appreciating it when I told him that clearly, the folks of Beijing understand real beauty. That clearly, the most literate society on Earth has a deep abiding affinity for swollen ankles. It made perfect sense.

Then, five minutes later, a group of 20 year old girls stopped and gestured that they would also like to take a picture with me. Without using language, we were somehow able to compliment each other on our shoes, discuss the plot line for the next "Sex In The City movie",swap makeup advice and extoll the virtues of eating a good dumpling breakfast. By the time we took the picture, we were fast friends...

to be continued...