Monday, November 30, 2009

Funny fish faucets

This time two years ago, my kitchen was undergoing a complete remodel. It got ripped out to the bare walls and baseboards and we ate microwaved food and takeout for six weeks. Did I mention the dust? Oh the dust. About half way through, I was soooooooooo done with it all - the dust, the noise, the intrusion, the inconvenience, and all that outgoing $$$$. In the end, though, my outdated rundown crowded 1957 vintage kitchen transformed to a much bigger, modern, and stylish beautiful space. Am I still paying for it? Yep (and for many years to come). Was it all worth it? Absolutely. Would I want to go through that all again anytime soon? Uh, no, not really. It's hard to forget all that damn dust.

I wouldn't know there was a recession, though, whe
n I keep hearing about people currently remodeling their homes. Is it because they don't want to sell their house with plans to upgrade because they won't make any money with their home value in the toilet? Or maybe they would rather spend all that saved money (the money they've been hoarding for over a year now because of all the dire financial news) on their own home instead of a foreclosed bank owned gutted home in the midst of a ridiculous bidding war? Perhaps they are all noble citizens doing their part contributing to the economic recovery? I think mostly they just want to improve their surroundings and find comfort in having a nice and more functional home for their family. Nesting is what I like to call it.

One of those remodeling nesters just happens to be m
y fabulous friend Emiko. While her small quaint home is warm and cozy, 1100 square feet with only one bathroom shared by four people has slowly become rather cramped and well, small. One bathroom for three girls? Uh, not so much.

And since the whole new world of shopping for tile, counter-tops, faucets, knobs, sinks, etc. etc. etc. is a foreign concept to her, she's enlisted me, Kitchen Remodel Extraordinaire, to assist with this important, often daunting and mind numbing
, journey. This time I don't have to stress about cost, or dust, or any of that. I just get to help with the pretty part. It is totally fun to help her, applying what vast knowledge, both practical and aesthetic, I learned during my own remodel adventure.
We didn't allow ourselves to get discouraged after an entire day of shopping leads to almost every item getting the nix from her contractor, all for valid reasons of course. Hey, it's all a learning experience, right? At least she still gets to buy her beloved faucets (oh don't worry, not the ones pictured above, not that there is anything wrong with a fish faucet motif if that's what you really want). Our quest ultimately takes us to the far corners of Los Angeles, granite slabs here, tile there, etc. I absolutely love how it's all coming together - almost makes me want to rip out my stuff and remodel with her beautiful picks. Ha ha ha, not! See the face on the granite slab picker-upper thingy?

In the end, I can't wait to see her completed renovations (taking more time and $$ more than expected, I'm sure). I cherish these hours/days that we get to spend together, away from the dirty dishes and the kids, laughing over lousy salespeople and tacky tile, and oohing and aaahing over gorgeous granite with fancy Italian names and dazzling chandeliers.

I love the expression that says something like "you never really know someone until you've been in their home". So, when I see Emiko's newly renovated bigger and even more beautiful home next year, it will feel extra special to see a part of me in it, too. Maybe that can be a new expression that I can say, something like "you will always be a part of a friend's heart and home when you help pick out their granite." Wait, let's try "the way to a friend's heart is to hold their hand along the tiled road." Humm, "Laugh at fish faucets together and you will laugh a lifetime as friends." I guess however you say it, it means I'm lucky we have each other.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Green Friday

Like most American's, I get a bit caught up in the hype about after Thanksgiving sales, oh, excuse me, THE Black Friday Sales. You know, the sales that some people camp out in front of a store on Wednesday for two nights, missing Thanksgiving, so they can save $100 on a laptop. The morning news weather man even said "Happy Black Friday" like it's some new national holiday.

I wonder how many unemployed on the verge of losing their home people ch
arged all kinds of stuff because omg! can't miss out on the mega deals. Me, well, I'll admit I looked online to see what my favorite stores were offering and even did the old fashioned method of looking through the hundreds of sale flyers that came bundled with Thursday's newspaper. I certainly like a good deal if I can find it, but the thought of all those crowds makes me cringe. But, hey, if some people think that it's all just fun and worthwhile and don't mind the crazy crowds, then hey, go for it. On the oppposite end, some friends write on Facebook that they are a part of a sort of anti-Black Friday movement and stay home out of protest. For me, newly unemployed with a very short list of gifts to give, chose to do my shopping another day and instead get the heck outside. Yes, OUTSIDE darnit.
Between my kids being sick one after another, then me being sick, it sure seems like I haven't had any exercise for weeks, let alone any decent nature time. Waaaaaay too long. I not only feel like a slug and restless, but hiking grounds me, makes me stop and admire the pretty, and I'm longing for that. So, instead of hiking around the mall, I chose to hike at one of my favorite hiking spots. Goodbye Black Friday and hello Green Friday. Aaah, much more my style.

My mom joins us for the hike and we all couldn't be any happier. The kids laugh, run, throw rocks in the water, look for walking sticks, analyze scat (animal poop), climb fallen trees, make guesses about animal homes, and get dirty, all while me and my mom follow behind and talk about all kinds of stuff and admire the beautiful Fall day.
We even come across a friendly snake, garter I think? A total treat indeed because I've never seen a snake in this area. Very cool!
After a picnic lunch of turkey sandwiches (love leftovers!) and mandarin oranges (from my overflowing tree), we head back to the car refreshed and smiling. This might just be the start of a new post-Thanksgiving tradition.
The rest of the day I feel rejuvenated and full of calm energy. I even convince my man, well, I maybe sort of coach the cute kids to convince their daddy that they love so so soooo much pretty please to take out the Christmas decoration boxes and put up the outside lights. I totally feel ready for the holidays. Bring it! And it's not because the major stores convinced me that shopping and spending money gives you holiday cheer, but because I did it my way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Timing is everything

People are asking me how I'm doing after my first week of being unemployed. I'd like to say I miss my work, but honestly, I'm reveling in the new found freedom. Really, it's quite glorious. It certainly helps that I was busy all week with lots of fun stuff and the time flew by in a flash. No sitting around all day eating bon bons and feeling sorry for myself - not gonna happen. The timing is perfect, what with the upcoming busy holidays, a major fund-raising event for school that I'm co-chairing, a friend undergoing a huge remodel that calls for a willing shopping companion to help with tough decisions (spending other people's money is so much fun!), and all those closets and projects screaming for reorganization. I still need to figure out regular gym days and hiking outings and guitar lessons, etc., etc., etc. So, ya, I'm adjusting to unemployment quite well, thank you very much.

On top of it all, the fine folks over at Safeway sent me a $25 gift card so I can experience shopping at their store. Lucky me! It's kind of like someone giving me a box of fine chocolates to taste or a shoulder massage - basically a no-brainer. The only hard part is deciding how to spend it. I can buy snacks for my kid's classroom, food for a local food bank, chocolate!!, or some basic practical items. However, today is Friday. FRIDAY! Whoo hooo! Not only is it our customary Pancake Friday but it's also Wine and Whine day with my lovely lady friends from school. It's all about sharing food, wine, stories, tears, laughs, opinions, and letting it all out from the week. And, with all the changes in my life, it's one of the things that I can count on for feeding my soul. Ah ha, I think I found my perfect reason for filling up my shopping cart at my local Vons.

I peruse their website for a recipe and easily decide on a shrimp and pasta dish. It fits all the criteria - everyone loves shrimp, everyone loves pasta, it's decadent, and I think it will definitely fit within my $25 limit. Calculator in hand, I add up each item as I put it in the cart, and I notice that everything is on sale except for the garlic and parsley. I even throw in a fresh baked French loaf of bread (a must have with pasta, of course) and I can still afford to buy a bottle of white wine for the recipe. And, since I'm there, I go a bit naughty and buy and extra bottle of nice Shiraz (on sale for 1/2 price). Hey, it's WINE and Whine after all!

The pasta turns out excellent, if I do say so myself. I feel proud to share it with my wonderful friends and our hungry bunch of playful happy-it's-Friday children. While it's noble to give back to our outside community, here I'm a part of my own special community. As women, we juggle responsibilities, emotions, raising children, relationships, and on and on to no end. We owe it to our hardworking selves to eat, drink, and be merry. And, when we are good to ourselves, we are better at giving back to others. As much as life seems uncertain right now, it's one thing I know to be tried and true. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hold the lizard

As a newly (happily) unemployed woman, I find myself compelled to clean, organize, and purge. Out with the old and in the with new. Perfectly healthy, right? However, talk to me in a few weeks when every closet, drawer, and clutter space is totally neat and I may be completely losing my mind with nothing to do. In that case, please honestly tell me "Daria you have lost your mind" and promise to be firm but kind...and do not laugh! And send wine. Or chocolate.

For example, this weekend I vigorously cut down a huge jasmine vine plant that grew wildly out of control. I drag the huge plant onto the grass, leaving it for the gardeners to put in the green bin later that day. Of course, the little kid "helpers" find a great opportunity to play in and around the vines, pulling them out and whipping them around. I love how they can still find fun with the simplest of things.

I go inside the house to get some water and suddenly I hear this VERY LOUD squealing. And laughing. I look out the window and I see Quinn holding something by the tail. He sees me and screams "I got a HUGE lizard and I don't know if it's alive or dead but it's HUGE!!!" and more squeals. I grab my camera hoping to snap a shot of my boy holding a wild lizard, but by the time I make it out there to more squealing, he said it whipped up to his fingers and he dropped it back in the pile of vines. Darnit!
I easily spy the lizard and it's a big one. Ah, the typical friendly alligator lizard we often see in our backyard (they eat crickets and bugs...yea!). It's motionless with that expression of "if I don't move then they won't see me!". After I snap a few pictures, I reach down and see if it will let me grab it. Yep, it does alright. So, here I am, this wild and crazy woman holding this really cool big lizard like it's no big deal. Now that we are on a first name basis we call it "Lenny", and he's really really neat looking. We all stroke it for a little while, until it leaps out of my hands and runs for the bushes. That was SOOOOO COOL!!!

Next up, the kitchen pantry, linen closet, kid's closets, and guitar lessons. Not exactly climbing Mount Everest or establishing my million dollar business plan, but it's wonderfully cathartic and exactly perfect right now. All that other stuff will come in time, but clean closets and less clutter and the occasional lizard is good enough for now. In fact, I'm loving it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More pudding, please.

There's my girl, about to enjoy the biggest bowl of chocolate pudding you've seen in your life. It came with her already humongous lunch at the local deli and I figured what the heck, let her indulge. Well, indulge she did, and twenty minutes later at home she was a total spazz, wait, make that a total happy spazz dancing all around and giggling and entertaining us. Who needs tv when you have a six year old on a sugar high?

We are constantly bombarded by all of the latest health news - eat this and this and this and this and this and you will combat yucky awful deadly wrinkly this and that evil things that will make you fat or KILL YOU. Partially hydrogenated fats - noooooooooooooo!!! They will make you OBESE! Non-organic apples? Only if you want to flood your body with harmful chemicals that will KILL YOU! White bread! How dare you! Only 78 whole grain bread will do. Urrrrghhhh! I'm so sick of it!

Sometimes I just want to time-warp back to the days where you just did and ate what you enjoyed without a care in the world. Bring on the bacon fat cooked eggs and martini with lunch. Oh ya, butter. Butter rocks! I don't want forty different options of "buttery spreads" at the grocery store. I just want BUTTER and don't make me feel guilty for it!

It's no coincidence that I seem to be writing a lot about food lately. I have to say, it's been a lousy few months, what with death, serious family illness, and job loss...on top of depressing worldwide news. Food is a great source of comfort and I feel no shame admitting that. And, especially homemade meals. When I cook, I tend to use the healthier ingredients, like whole wheat flour and olive oil and honey. When my son was horribly sick last week with some gnarly fever flu thingy, he asked for fruit for his snack because he "needed the vitamins". I get it. I talk about it. They get it. Healthy is good. Unhealthy is bad. But, you know what, sometimes it's even healthier to throw all reason away and just splurge on decadent delicious fattening sugary yummy goodness without any guilt or regrets. The big happy smiles are worth it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Slice of confidence pie

This is the cool jack-o-lantern face my creative and talented husband carved into our Halloween pumpkin. Neat, huh? I love how he can just sit down and create that after looking at a few ideas online. When I "oooh" and "aaaah" and then ask him how it felt to do it, he calmly replies "actually, it was very cathartic".

Humm, I never expected that, but I guess it's true about the whole pumpkin experience if I really think about it. We go to a neat local farm, walk up and down rows and rows of pumpkins, proudly bring it home, cut it open, scoop out the slimy gooey cool seed pulp and smoosh it between our fingers all while sitting on the kitchen floor listening to fun music. What a treat to do once a year!

The day after Halloween, I take the pumpkin from the front porch and bring it into my kitchen. I know from previous years, any longer than that and it turns moldy. My plan for the pumpkin? Pumpkin pie, of course! After a quick text to my man getting permission to slice and dice his masterpiece, I cut it into chunks, steam them, then puree the soft pumpkin. With a bowl full of pulp (the other half saved for Thansgiving), I squint to picture what goes into pumpkin pie. Eggs? Yep, toss in a few of those. Evaporated milk, yes, almost all of the can. About a cup sugar kind of looks right. A little salt for balance. Spices? Throw in some cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla - the more the better. Oh, and the crust? I remember the 3/2/1 proportions - that would be about 1 cup flour, then 1/2 cup butter, then 1/4 cup water. I get some help from the eager little hands with mixing and rolling. Yep, just about right. Then cook for a while until set. Yummmm, once I smell the spices I know it's ready. Perfecto!

So, here is the weird part: I always bake strictly from a recipe. Always. That's why I like baking - a precise flow of steps and measurements. I read the recipe, gather the ingredients, time it all out, re-read the instructions several times as I go, and rarely veer away, at most omitting nuts or adding chocolate chips - nothing major. Never any big chances. Safe.

So, back to this pie. I didn't follow a recipe! I totally guessed! I simply felt this weird and wonderful confidence that it would turn out great. And, you know what? It turned out amazing!! One of the best damn pumpkin pies I've ever
had! I've only dreamed about that kind of cooking confidence and I finally did it! Where did that come from? Who is the wild baking lady?? And, you know, I think I should try that again someday, soon, knowing full well the next time whatever I try might totally suck, but that doesn't matter. What counts is that not for one second did I worry about "failing"...I just did it. After all these years of baking it finally happened! I was in the zone. Like my husband and his cathartic carving experience, I got that, too (baking always makes me mellow and happy), but this was downright euphoric. And, yes, it's only a silly pie. For me it not only makes for a house full of happy tummies, but also symbolizes an exciting taste of what's to come - many more experiments in the kitchen, with a big scoop of confidence, a dash of fun, and, of course, balanced with extra trips to the gym.