Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Past, Christmas Present

Christmas was my Aunt Margaret's favorite time of year.

Aunt Margaret was my mom's oldest sister, and the sibling that lived closest to us growing up.  She spoiled us more than relatives (aside from grandparents) are supposed to - all the big, fun, expensive stuff of our childhood came from Aunt Margaret and Uncle Leon.  My brothers' first Atari, and then the first Nintendo (back when they were not hand-held versions, and still needed an adult to hook up to the television).  She used to take me back to school shopping and buy me an entire wardrobe for the rest of the year, and often it was clothes my mother would never have let me wear, had her older sister not purchased it for me.

She loved Christmas.  For reasons still unknown to me, my family celebrates Christmas on the 24th, not on Christmas Day.  Growing up, Christmas Eve was always a huge party, and by huge, I mean 30+ adults, and then children on top of that.  Margaret always wrangled the adults and the food, which was usually potluck and plentiful.  In an unusual (at least to me later in life) twist for a Chinese family, there was always a pinata.

She always made the kids gather round the piano, my mother would play, and she would make us sing Christmas carols, and she would make us sing all of them.  She even passed out little booklets, so everyone knew all the words.  This was the price we happily paid for the stacks of presents that formed a ring 4 feet around the tree.

I love that it's a fake white tree behind us!

When the time came for the actual gift giving, the kids would be gathered together and Santa would make his entrance.  Santa was whichever uncle happened to have a few extra pounds that year, or whoever had gotten out of it in the last two years.  Santa would enter through the front door with his Chinese accent, carrying a black garbage bag full of toys.  When he was done distributing what was in his bag, he would give an accented ho-ho-ho and leave out the front door.  Margaret and the aunts would take over giving out the rest of the gifts, and every person's name would be called out individually, and every person would have to fight his/her way to the tree to get it.  As you can imagine, this took forever. Our Christmas Eve parties lasted well past children's bedtimes.  (That's my little bro Eric, my Dad and my Mom).

We've been without my aunt for a few years now, and this season is always when I miss her most.  While we try to keep up the big Christmas Eve party tradition, its not quite the same.  We are no longer forced to sing, although now we're lucky if someone remembers to turn on some Christmas music.  There's no pinata, although now that there are more kids, I'm starting to think maybe we should bring that tradition back.   And now its those kids who ask during appetizers, "When can we do presents???"

I wish she were here to see it.   And this one, CJ on Christmas morning.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

To F*!?-wad, What Yo Mama Apparently Didn't Teach You

Has anyone else noticed a lack of common courtesy these days?

Generally when my husband and I complain about this, it is in reference to the little things.  People don't hold doors open for each other.  A driver cuts across 4 lanes of traffic to get in front of you and you graciously let them in, only to receive not even a little wave of acknowledgement in return.  People don't say "please" and "thank you" anymore.  People don't say "good-bye" to end a phone conversation, they just hang up because they are done speaking.  A couple stops to talking in the center of a busy sidewalk instead of standing off to the side.  Common courtesy has gone out the window and rudeness is the accepted norm.  We're so busy getting what we want and going after what we want - nay, what we deserve - that we don't take a moment for basic human respect.

That's one of my pet peeves.  And I understand that there isn't really anything I can do to change any of that, but I also think that people do it unconsciously, and because they are never called out on it, never need to rethink their actions or their lack of action.

What I can't tolerate - and what I won't tolerate, is deliberate, unnecessary, and uncalled for meanness.  It is one thing to flip off the driver who cut you off on the freeway and then slammed on his brakes; an offense has occurred.  An offense singular to you has occurred.  It is quite another to be mean and rude for no purpose other than being mean and rude, and it is yet another, even greater offense to do that under the guise of being "anonymous".

I wrote a pithy little sardonic post a while back about watching paid programming while feeding my 4 month old son at ungodly hours when only paid programming is on television.  As you can see, there were two comments on the post, one wanting to know how the Magic Bullet worked out for me, and the other saying it worked really well for her.

Then today, this comment showed up:

"Anonymous said...

Ahhh, another fat, silly, dumbed-down American with too many shiny plastic cards, waiting to be spent. You and others like you are idiots. I'm sure you swallow all the ads, hook, line, and sinker. You believe in penis enlargement too, eh? That says a lot about the fat, dumb-assed americans. I guess we get what we deserve, when losers like you are bored at five in the morn."

...and fucking lit me off.
Now, I don't know which one of us he was referring to as the "silly, dumbed-down American"; probably he meant all three of us, since only the a silly, dumb American would buy a product advertised on television which happens to make perfectly good shakes, purees, marinades and baby food.  But I have the feeling that both kys and Mrs M will agree with what I'm about to say.

Which is that this comment was completely and totally unnecessary.  It was mean just to be mean and scathing.  Dude, I don't know you and you don't know me.  You don't know how much of a loser I really am or actually how fat I am, but I am quite clear now on what an asshole you are.  Not only are you an asshole, but the fact that you chose to make your oh-so-intelligent comment (that's sarcastic too, in case you couldn't tell) cloaked as "anonymous" tells me that you are not only a giant fuckwad, but that you are a coward as well.

Let me tell you this too, fuckwad, that I am a proud, intelligent American who does not believe in penis enlargement, with too many shiny plastic credit cards which I will use to purchase whatever the fuck I please.  And unlike the fact that I, in no way deserved your rude and unnecessarily cruel comments, you are totally getting what you deserve in my response, simply because you chose to be mean.  Presuming I don't actually know you (and if I do, you are even more of a chickenshit for being anonymous), I didn't ask you to read my blog.  You don't like it, you don't like my writing, you don't like me, close the window and move the fuck on.  Did your mama teach you to be this rude or is it just a trait you picked up in your non-American country?

You want to be smug, you want to be mean, you want to be rude?  Fine, that is entirely within your right.  You read the post, I opened myself up for comments and you gave me yours, I get it.  But grow a pair and quit leaving your comments as "anonymous".  My name is Karen and I stand by what I said.  Who the fuck are you?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I'm Back... sort of...

Geesh, its been so long, I don't even know where to start...

Let's start with a CJ update.  Last week we had his 6 month kidney ultrasound.  Today, we went to see the pediatric urologist to look at the results.  We didn't even bother to go into an exam room.  Our appointment was so late in the day, he just looked at the ultrasounds on his computer while we waited in the front room.  He said since no one else was coming in, he could check CJ really quick right there in his carseat in the stroller, so we unbuckled him and unbuttoned his button-up-pants-jammy-thing.  Dr Koh peeled away one side of the diaper, moved his little pee-pee from side to side and said, "Yep, looks good."  I told him I had only broken it twice ("A" broke hers 3 times!).  He kind of chuckled and moved on, I guess he knew what I meant.  Or didn't care.

Anyway, CJ's ultrasounds look good.  Dr Koh says there is only a little swelling of the left kidney, which could indicate continued reflux in that kidney, so CJ needs to stay on his daily antibiotic.  Last June at the first ultrasound, both kidneys were very swollen, so this little bit of swelling is good news.  He seems hopeful that at the 1 year mark his reflux may correct itself naturally, and  he may just grow into what I call his big-boy kidneys.  Cross your fingers, this means no surgery.  So he still gets his daily bubble gum (flavored amoxicillan) and we'll take some more pictures in June.

At Thanksgiving, we started him on solids.  Last week we finally purchased a high chair, after someone in my Saturday mommy group said it "changed the way I feed."  Here's what's changed:  instead of needing one napkin to clean him up, I now need three and a wet nap chaser.  He loves the high chair and loves to be fed in it (especially if it's apples), but is always trying to help me by grabbing the spoon as it heads into his mouth.  Or by turning his head at the last second, so I shove apple onto his cheek.  Or by taking a spoonful of apple, swallowing half, and then sticking the hand farthest from me into his mouth to mush it all up a little more.

We finally had to cut his hair.  Rather, I finally had to insist that we cut his hair.  Because it was super long all the way around, it had separated itself into three distinct areas.  There was top - our favorite - with the cowlick up front, and the cowlick in back, which poufed up like and Elvis souffle.  No matter how long the top got, it never weighed itself down.  It just kept getting higher and higher and curling like a 10'er off the North Shore.  Then there were the super long sideburns, which worked for the Asian gansta look when we put a hat on him.  Then there was the back, which started to change texture.  It became very coarse, and then because he would sleep on his back, began to knot itself like it wanted to dread.

The same rainy day we cut his hair, he caught his first cold.  He became congested and snotty and then screamy since he couldn't suck on his pacifier and breathe at the same time.  And he loves the suction bulb, let me tell you.  You'd think I was cutting his arms off instead of trying to get a few boogers out.  The best part about the whole thing - aside from the continued snottiness and screaming - is that he managed to give his cold to Daddy, and now Daddy has spent 3 days hacking it up and running a fever. You know why I'm not sick?  Someone needs to drive the bus.

So that's where we are.  I'm driving the bus.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Menu - What's Yours?

Lets face it, we all eat the same thing every Thanksgiving, right?  I don't mean 3 million people have turkey on a given Thursday, whether they like it or not.  I mean, if you are at all like me, you have the exact same menu every year.  You use the same recipes and make the same things and have the same Thanksgiving.

No matter how many cooking mags I flip through (and I get all of them) or how many pages I dog-ear, I always go back to the standbys, too.  When I tried to change the main course one year for Christmas Eve dinner from prime rib to something like a crown pork roast, I got several protests, so now all I change up is the appetizers and sides.  

Thanksgiving is harder.  There are set things you are supposed to have, otherwise someone says, "No mashed potatoes?" when you have served sweet potatoes in their place.  Its not Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce and gravy, so there are two musts that have to be made and kept in the fridge.  There must be at least two pies, because one pumpkin seems too boring (btw family, we're only have one pumpkin pie this year.  Deal with it).   Maybe its because the pilgrims were starving or the Indians hadn't yet met Mr. Trader Joe, but Thanksgiving has the tendency to be the starchiest meal ever served to man.  To try to balance it, I always want to serve a salad, which means we now have a 16-course meal for 8 people.  Its not the tryptophan that makes you sleepy but the 4 pounds of corn, stuffing, potatoes, yams and pie you have eaten.

In my house, Thanksgiving is always a deep-fried turkey.  My husband won't have it any other way, which I think belies the underlying sentiment that I have long suspected is lurking underneath the Thanksgiving traditions... I'm not sure we all really like turkey.  But this is the first Thanksgiving with the Bug, so we'll hold to traditions a little while longer, even though I think someday, a juicy pork loin might be nice.

Here's our traditional Thanksgiving Menu.  Feel free to email me for recipes, if you want, and let me know - what are your traditions?

The Chang-Ambrose Thanksgiving includes...

Crudite Plate or Roasted Eggplant Dip (btw, you want this Eggplant Dip, seriously)
Deep Fried Turkey with Gravy (purchased from Williams Sonoma, hey, deep-fried = no drippings)
Orange Cranberry Sauce
Chestnut Stuffing  
Green Bean Casserole (a GOOD recipe with fresh beans and mushrooms, not from the back of a can, with canned goods)
Mashed Sweet Potatoes w/Brown Sugar & Pecans
Green Salad (sometimes with blue cheese and pears, sometimes with pomegranates and persimmons)
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Tart (I always wind up feeling bad that there is only one dessert.  Then the puff pastry and apples get whipped out)

What do you eat for the national day of food coma?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


CJ is starting daycare on Friday.

I think I'm supposed to be more apprehensive about this than I actually am.  I think I'm supposed to feel horribly guilty that I have to have others - strangers! - watch my child, especially when right now, its not a necessity to do this.  I think I'm supposed to sit outside the daycare for an hour and then go back and get him (btw, I'm fully aware that I might actually be compelled to do this).

I'm not going back to work yet.  He is on the waiting list for a full-time spot in January, which is when I had originally anticipated going back to work (that's not looking likely right now either).  When the school said they had two half-day spots open during the week, we decided to take them, figuring this will give us at least 6 weeks of transition time, for both him and me.  It will likely take a few weeks to adjust, but I want him to get used to other people and other children.  I want him to realize he is only King of the World at home, and I want someone else to teach him that lesson.  I want him to play with other toys and have other experiences he cannot have with me at home, singing him the same songs over and over.  I want him to get some new germs and build up a little immunity.  I want him to give me that big smile and open up his arms because he is so happy to see me again after only 4 hours.

Here's the other thing I had to come to terms with:  I want to do things while he is gone.  I want to wash dishes and empty the dishwasher without being concerned about how much noise I'm making.  I want to water the vegetable garden leisurely, without worrying that he may be crying in his crib.  I want to do laundry and run the vacuum and mop the floors, and clean the house, and go to the grocery store and work on being Martha Stewart (without the nasty divorce and people not liking me part).  I want to sit in front of my computer and have a coherent thought or two, and research and write my weekly newsletter so I'm not up until midnight on Wednesday nights.  I want to be able to run 4 errands in a row, without worrying about getting him in and out of the car and whether I should try to wear him, or if he will be difficult getting back into the car seat.  On occasion, I would even like to go to the gym or pilates or yoga, or maybe even take a nap.  I want to have a little me time so I can be... me.

I think I'm not supposed to want this yet.  I think I'm supposed to want my child to be glued to my chest for the next 5, 10, 18 years, and if I have the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom, I'm supposed to embrace that ability like a junkie on a needle.  I'm not supposed to be okay with leaving my child with others, but as a friend pointed out, the full-time Mommy gig is not for everyone, and that's okay.  We have been really blessed that I've been able to stay home for these first 6 months, and I love staying home with my kid.  But I can't just stay home and be the 24-hour CJ Channel.  That's not good for me, or for him.  And we need life to be both.

So I'm not going to try to feel some guilt others may want to impose on me.  I'm not going to feel bad that I'm ready for this and I think my kid is too.  I'm going to embrace this transition as another big step, and realize that it is not only okay, but important that I take time for myself, for my kid, for my husband. I'm not going to feel bad if I drop him off and don't pick him up again until noon, and I'm not going to feel bad if next week I decide not to drop him off at all.  In my Mommydom, sometimes each of us needs a little day care.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Magic Review

Okay, I know many of you secretly (or not so secretly) thought I was crazy for my newfound infatuation with paid programming.  I couldn't resist, I had to find out, it was eating at me day and night, so I did it.  I bought a Magic Bullet (the blender ladies, the blender).

I opened it and immediately did not have high hopes.  I don't know why, maybe it was just the aura that poofed out of the box but I somehow instinctively knew I was beginning an un-returnable experiment.

It came with lots of crap - the two blades, one flat for grinding and whipping, and one pointed for chopping and blending.  It also came with a small cup, a large "blender/smoothie" type cup, and four of those stupid mugs with the handles and colorful screw-on rings (so the drunk-asses can tell which mug is theirs).

I immediately put it to the test, since I needed 2 cups of chopped onion for Chicken Adobo for dinner.  I wasted 1/2 an onion in it, and then just to be sure, wasted 2 cloves of garlic.  Since the cups are tall and the blades are small, it works like a blender and shoots food upwards, as opposed to a food processor, which is wide and has long, flat spread blades, so food flies to the side and back into the blades.  What you wind up with is puree on the bottom and huge pieces of uncut garlic or onion or finger or whatever your chopping on top.  The more you try to shake it and cut the large pieces, the more puree you have.  Not helpful.

Thinking it seemed to really like to blend, I tried a chocolate milkshake.  This was better, but really, it's hard to screw up ice cream and milk.  This is also not helpful if you are trying to lose the last 5 lbs of baby weight.

Already knowing the results but undeterred nonetheless, I attempted the Magic Bullet guacamole.  I threw in some scooped out avocado, half a small tomato, half a clove of garlic, a squeeze of lime juice and a little hot sauce.  I pulsed.  I whirled.  I pulsed some more.

I got pink avocado hot sauce puree on the bottom and big chunks of uncut avocado on top.  Gross.
(I took a picture of this, but I'm not going to subject you to it).

The last try was to see if it would do what I actually sort of need it to do in the next few weeks, which is puree baby food.  I steamed a zucchini cut into rounds and threw it into the cup.  Since a lot of nutrients leech into the steaming water, I put a spoonful of the cooking water in with the rounds and turned it on.  After a few seconds, it began to suck from the sides just like a blender, and in another few seconds, I had very nice, quick, fresh, organic baby food.  And since there were only two pieces that were dirty, clean up was easy.

I was going to use the flat blade to see if it would really whip cream, but I just don't think I have the energy. I think I've butchered/wasted enough food with this thing.

Bottom line.... it mostly sucks, people.  I'm glad that it will at least make baby food for the next few months, and maybe if I drank margaritas I would try that, but I don't.  I used the last of my Magic Bullet energy to send them a message that their product sucked, didn't do all that it claimed, and to tell them that I was going to tell everyone on my website and blog not to waste their hard earned money on their crappy product.

Mission accomplished.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Paid Programming

I may be succumbing to paid programming.

Its got me.  At 5:30am, when I'm in the armchair feeding CJ for the first time and bored with the morning news, I'm surfing the endless channels of paid programming.  I mostly pass on the weight loss infomercials and the financial help, but really...

My Cuisinart blender/mini-processor combo is broken.  I might need a Magic Bullet.  I have baby food to make (in another month, but its still coming), and with the limited counter space in my kitchen, it really won't take up much space.  Have you seen all the food I could make in 4 seconds with a Magic Bullet and a microwave??  This could replace the mini-chopper I was thinking of buying, since apparently I can "slap all my troubles away."  How can you not be convinced by the Slap Chop Rap?  Its the best worst car wreck I've seen in a long time.

Then again, the question is do I really need a Magic Bullet, or should I just attempt to replace all my appliances with the Bullet Express?  Apparently I will never need to touch a knife again, as this gadget will chop all my vegetables for me, and will also make dough and work as a large processor.  I can kiss my tangerine orange Kitchenaid standing mixer that I coveted for years good-bye.  Same with my Cuisinart 11-quart processor.  I can get meals going in 8 minutes!!

Then I can take all the food I have successfully chopped and prepped sans knife and cutting board, and cook it in the NuWave Oven, which will cook all my food in half the time in one machine, using a combination of direct heat, convection heat, and infrared heat.  I can see my meat cooking with night vision goggles.   No more searing steak in a cast iron pan to finish off in the oven, and roasting green beans separately in the oven, or boiling potatoes to mash on the stove - why dirty so many dishes?

Then I'd be able to save hundreds of dollars a year once I pick up the Foodsaver machine, so I can vacuum seal all my food, both cooked and raw.  I can buy in bulk and freeze, or I can cook full meals and vacuum seal them so I no longer have to nuke a Lean Cuisine when I come home from yoga.  I can nuke the steak, beans and potatoes I made in the NuWave two days or two months ago.

Of course, now that I have all these new gadgets and I'm saving so much money storing my food, I'm going to have to find a way to organize it all.  The label maker simply won't do, nor will a sharpie on one of those plastic food bags.  I know, I could get a Cricut Expression!  Then not only could I make cool, bright, creative labels for all the food I've saved and bagged, I could make custom recipe cards to give away for the holidays!  I could scrapbook pictures of all the food I saved with my Seen On TV gadgets to prove they really do work!

With all the time and money I'd save, I'm sure I'd have more time to do things like raise my son and check my favorite blogs.  And here I thought I was just trying to make baby food.

*NOTE:  I actually did succumb and purchase a Magic Bullet today (the blender ladies, the blender).  I'll let you know how it works out.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Story, aka My Possession Experience

We are not really Halloween people.

We lit those pumpkins for all of 5 minutes, while we attempted to get some pictures.  It's really hard to get a good picture of an Elvis who looks like he might be wearing the same jumpsuit at Evel Knievel when he can't stand up.  Then we blew the candles out, packed the Bug in the car and went to dinner.  By the time we came home, we had missed all the trick or treaters.

I'm not a scary movie person, either.  When W and I were living in sin and he had to go to Baltimore for 3 weeks on location, I locked every door and window, and at night even shut the dog door so Blu had to wait until morning to be let out (hey, I lived in LA through Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker).  One night "The Ring" was on tv, and I not only did I have to skip over it fast, I had to force myself not to think about it at night, home alone, in the dark.  For 3 weeks.

In my last year of college, my college bestie and I were living in a 2 bedroom condo in Albany.  One random night - nothing special about it, I hadn't been drinking, I hadn't eaten anything funny, there had been no smokey-smokey - I went to bed like any other night. I was lying on my left side, when I woke up to feel something sitting on top of me.  It wasn't just sitting on me - it was super heavy, and I felt it from head to toe, not just in one spot.  And it wasn't just sitting, it was pushing down on me from head to toe - like something was trying to get inside me.  I was completely unable to move, roll over, anything.  Too terrified to open my eyes, I began frantically praying.  After what felt like forever, I felt it slowly lift off and dissipate.

I thought I was crazy.  I thought it was a bad dream.  I rolled to my right side and fell back asleep, only to awaken again with the same sensation.  Same head to toe pressure, same inability to move.  I was sure if I opened my eyes, the devil embodied in some scaly, evil green reptilian form would be lying on top of me.  I desperately prayed again, until the sensation went away.

Ok, this is stupid, I know, but I thought it was me again, and rolled onto my back and fell asleep one more time.  Same thing, head to toe pushing, unable to move, yada yada yada.  I still refused to open my eyes, but at least this time the praying was calmer.  After a period of time, I felt the thing again lift off me, only this time, I felt it lift off me and move to the foot of the bed.  It then came around the right side of the bed and sat down next to me, and when it did this, I had the distinct impression that it was female and she had long, curly hair.

The Chinese believe in something called a sitting ghost, literally, a ghost that likes to come sit on you while you are sleeping and paralyze you.  Many people have told me that's what this was, but to my knowledge, no sitting ghost as ever tried to get inside a body, and no sitting ghost has ever sat down next to a body instead of on top of them.   Oh, and by the way, did I mention?  I don't believe in sitting ghosts?  

I'm a self confessed scardy-cat who's still afraid of the dark.  Something tried to possess me, for G's sake.  Of course we're not really Halloween people.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


A few days ago, I bought a sugar pumpkin.

I had been intrigued by an article in The Daily Green about what you could do to use every inch of your carved Halloween pumpkin.  Everyone toasts the seeds, but no one actually uses the pumpkin flesh.  Most of our pumpkin eating experience falls next month and has to do with the dark orange stuff in the can.  This article had recipes for what to do with actual, raw, pumpkin flesh, and I was sufficiently curious enough to think maybe it would make a good article for the newsletter.

Let's start with the type of pumpkin: if you're going to eat it, you don't want one of the huge ones you're going to carve and leave on your front stoop.  This is the first problem with using every inch of your carved pumpkin - you don't actually want to eat the big ones you want to carve, because the flesh is usually not as sweet.

So I started by cutting the top of the sugar pumpkin like I was going to carve it.  I was, I actually like the look of a bunch of little carved pumpkins as opposed to the big ones.  Here I came to the 2nd problem:  after removing the seeds and the strings, the pumpkin was perfect for carving, not too thick, and the skin of the sugar pumpkin is not nearly as tough and thick as the bigger ones.  Unfortunately, this meant I wasn't really going to be able to get any of the flesh out and still leave enough flesh in to maintain the integrity of the pumpkin for carving.

I was going to stop here and tell you all to just carve your pumpkins as usual and forget about trying to use it all, just throw it in the compost pile and your eco-karma is still good.  But as the hollowed out pumpkin sat on the counter, I thought make I should try the pumpkin bisque soup recipe, so at least I had something pumpkin-y to share.  After all, I had purchased an eating pumpkin, I supposed the least I could do was attempt to eat it.

So here's the soup recipe.  A few notes, though, namely that the soup is simple to make, but you really must use fresh pumpkin.  Don't try to substitute the canned stuff, although I guess I can't really say that since I didn't try it.  Fresh pumpkin is not nearly as sweet as the stuff in the can - its actually more squash like, which makes the soup pretty light.  I thought the addition of so much cider might make the soup too sweet, but I was wrong, it balances out the lack of sweetness in the pumpkin.  Give it a whirl, you can always freeze the leftover pureed pumpkin as baby food (which is exactly what I'm doing, if anyone wants any).

Pumpkin Cider Bisque
Makes 4 servings
Based on a recipe from The Daily Green

Peel a sugar pumpkin (the medium/small ones) and cut flesh into 1" cubes.  Steam until soft and a knife easily pierces the flesh.  Puree the pumpkin until smooth.

In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 2 tablespoons flour.  Whisk to smooth out any lumps, cooking for about a minute or two.  Do not allow to brown, you don't want to make a roux.  Add 2 cups whole milk and stir over medium heat until slightly thickened.  Add 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree and heat through.  Slowly add 2 cups apple cider.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add (2) pinches ground nutmeg, (1) pinch ground ginger and white pepper to taste.  Serve hot, maybe with apple slices as a garnish.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just Say She's Cute and Move the F On

As I've said before, my mommydom involves make-up and the goal of showering everyday.  I'm not saying as a new mom that this is easy, or that it happens everyday.  It's just a goal, and like all others, some days I score, and some days the ball hits the goal post and bounces out.

It is (unfortunately) true that when you are pregnant, everyone you encounter seems to have turned off the sensor button that lies in the frontal region of the brain and connects directly to the voice box.  Now, if you are Chinese - especially if you are not an ABC (that's American Born Chinese for all you non-Asians) - this phenomenon is really just a state of how you are, that button is like a blinking exit sign.  It flickers constantly and usually turns off just when you need it the most.  It is not a personal thing that every waitperson at a Chinese restaurant seems rude to the western populous - they are rude, they just don't consider it such.  You can't take it personally.

I love hearing the horrifying hysterical mommy stories.  Inspired by my friend The Crazy Baby Mama and her post today (love it!), here are my own personal favorites.

About a year before I got pregnant, when W and I were just "working on it", I had lunch with my mom and grandmother and some distant aunts, not related by blood (not that it matters, they're still Chinese).  Now, these are aunts of my cousin's, and they are notorious for having no filters whatsoever.  As we all stood in the parking garage saying our good-byes, one of them turned to me, gestured at my stomach and asked,

"Are you pregnant, or just gaining?"

Struck with disbelief, I grimaced/smiled and said, "No, just gaining!"

My grandmother turned 100 this year.  To celebrate, our family threw an 11-course Chinese banquet for 200 people at Empress Harbor Seafood Restaurant (all celebratory Chinese banquets that are anything in LA are thrown here).  CJ was exactly 4 weeks old, and as we walked through the doors of the restaurant, W carrying CJ in his car seat, we ran into my Aunt N, standing with her two grown sons.  She exclaimed and cooed at the baby, then turned to me and said, "Oh!  You're working on a second one already!"

I grimaced/smiled again and said, "No, just hanging onto stuff from the first!"  4 WEEKS PEOPLE!!  PAY ATTENTION!!

But my favorite story is not mine, it is my friend G's, and I hope she forgives me for sharing it here with the blogosphere.  G is not someone who ever thought she wanted to have a child, much less be pregnant in her early 40's.  She will tell you upfront that before her daughter, it was all about the G Show.

After 12 hours of labor and the excruciating back and forth of epidural-pitosin-epidural-pitosin, Baby Z came into the world and G was exhausted.  Two days later, on their final walk out of the hospital, Baby-Daddy B was carrying Baby Z in the car seat as they stepped into the elevator with a young, 20-something Barbie blonde with a 12" waist.

As G said, you could tell the baby was fresh.  They were leaving the hospital, Baby Z was bundled with her eyes closed, probably still looking a little purple and tired from her recent expulsion into the world of light and noise.  The stunningly brilliant Barbie blonde smiled at the baby and said,

"Oh look!  A little one and another on the way!"

G bit down until she bled and didn't say what she wanted (really, a first for G).  She also claims she would have kicked some Barbie ass in the elevator, if her own wasn't still throbbing.  What she wanted to say is what all we past, current, and future momma's want to say, and its not hormones talking here.  And I say this with a smile because I love this story, but seriously people!

Just say she's cute and move the fuck on.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Show Me You're Nuts Too, Please?

Its 11:15pm on Saturday night.  My head is ringing with a headache, little teeny pulses just above and to the right of my right eye.  I'm tying typing with my eyes closed.  I wanna go to bed.

But no. I'm waiting on... laundry.  That's right, the bitching in my last post has led to 24-hour karma turnaround.  When W went to wash some whites (I'm a bad wife, he had no clean socks) he found the dog bed in the washer.  From 2 days ago.  In his words, it now smelled like wet ass, and not the clean, good, ooh-gimme-a-spanking kind.  So after washing his whites, I'm now waiting for the wet ass dog bed to rewash.  I'm just hoping I don't have to do it a second time.

My mother has recently gotten into making her own cards (hang on, I'll tie all this together in a minute).  She took a workshop at her church, and was so excited she started stealing ad postcards from stores that had pictures she liked on them (not just one, the stack of them).  I took her to a holiday card making class last week at the Paper Source in Pasadena.  I really hadn't stepped foot in there since I OD'ed on them while planning my wedding.  We made 7 super cute holiday cards that I'm sure she will never give away, and she has called me twice about what specialty crafting supplies she wants to pick up so she can attempt to make more before the holidays.

So this is why I'm nuts (hang on, the tie in is coming).  It's 11:25pm and I'm waiting on a f-ing wet dog bed.  I still have whites to fold, but I'm going to stay in denial a little longer.  I just launched a weekly newsletter which now definitely has to be weekly, because I told everyone on my mailing list that I would.  Talk about committment, now I have to be witty and pithy every Thursday.  I still have to build a website to go along with this newsletter - hey, who's that over there?  Oh, right, that's my web designer and my blank web template, waiting for me to give him/it direction.  What's this on my desk?  Right, blank, white, directionless paper...

There's a sugar pumpkin on the counter that I'm supposed to be carving.  I'm then supposed to scrape out the pulp and steam it and try to make a soup with it, because it's an article I want to include in the newsletter, but I won't until I try the soup myself.  There is frozen white peach pulp in the freezer, which I have been procrastinating turning into actual white peach jam.  And my ass has got to board that train, because pomegranate season is upon us, and in no time my friend A will be leaving bags of them on my porch and scampering away.  Then I will have bags of pomegranates, waiting to be mushed up with berries for jam, not as easy or as quick as it sounds.

And tonight, for some reason, I decided that even though I wasn't going to make my own holiday cards this year (you know, due to time constraints), I could find time to make gift tags, little mini versions of the cards I learned to make last week.  So I hauled out the paper cutter and the icicle punches and now there's a little stack of half-finished (of course they're half-finished!) gift tags sitting on the dining table.  I would take a picture of them (they are super cute, even half-finished), except the battery in my camera died.  The tags are sitting on the dining table, where my husband dined on hot dogs and I ate a frozen pizza tonight because I was simply too tired to cook.

This is why I'm nuts.  Am I the only one? What sane person does this to themselves?  What has splintered in my psyche that causes me to self-flagellate in this way?  And I have a 18 week old son whom I swear, is not neglected.  He's in his crib, sleeping on his tummy right now....

Doh!  Oh well, that's a topic for another Bad Mommy Blog later.  Right now I have whites to fold.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Your Washer Running...?

I have had a million things run through my head that I meant to write about in the last week.  When I finally sat down to write last night, nothing inspired came.  Just boring drivel I didn't even want to read myself.  Delete delete delete delete....

As I write this, my husband is on the playmat with CJ, making the plastic doggie sing while the baby tries desperately to gnaw on a round teether.  He has been drooling so much he hates that he has to wear a bib and the smell of formula bib makes me want to gag.  Last week, after he threw up on me twice and went through two bibs, I put his last clean bib on him and told him in no uncertain terms he had to keep that one clean, at least until we got to Target and bought some more.  That, of course, prompted him to throw up one last time, almost immediately.  And smile.  Cheeky monkey.  Cut to exterior car, racing to Target...

About three months before the baby was born, while we were in the middle of a remodel of the cabana that started out at $4,000 (it certainly didn't end there), our washer broke.  Which is of course, just what you need when you are shuffling through credit cards wondering when the remodel will end.  The washer and dryer had come with the house - all the appliances had, as the sellers were relocating for work and moving to temporary housing and didn't want to take anything with them.  We were glad, as we didn't want to buy all these things, but they were/are all... in a word... JANK.  At least they were all energy efficient in their JANKNESS.

Well, one night as we were watching tv, the jank washer started its spin cycle.  Now, we live in a small house.  The laundry room is on the other side of the kitchen, essentially on the other side of the house, so its not like its next to the living room or in a nearby hallway (ok, we only have  1100 sqft  so everything is pretty close).  We knew the washer was going the way of the dodo because every time the spin cycle started, we had to turn the tv volume up to 40 and were often shouting at each other, "Huh?  I can't hear you!" while we sat next to each other.

So this night, as we cranked the volume up to 45 it began to sound worse.  While it used to sound like a Cessna taking off, tonight it sounded like a passenger jet.  I would not have been surprised if the back of the house started to vibrate and Dorothy ran in shouting, "Auntie Em, Auntie Em!"  I swear a breeze started to blow through the house and I heard the theme music for the Wicked Witch of the West.  That was the last time we used the washer, we were too terrified to try it again.

So that weekend, credit card in hand, we were at Sears, looking at washers and dryers prettier than my car.  We wound up with a lovely sapphire blue LG combo (after all, you can't buy only one).  Luckily for us, the top of the line model happened to be on sale and cheaper than the next step down.  Unluckily for us, this total still exceeded our Sears credit line.

You know how people say, "Oh, you'll do SO MUCH MORE LAUNDRY ONCE THE BABY'S HERE!"?  I never understood that until last week.  Don't get me wrong, we loved the new washer and dryer.  I especially loved that I could do all W's work pants in one load, as well as the water saving features, and the fact that now we could hear each other speak in the laundry room as well as other parts of the house.  Until last week, my laundry load had been about the same, maybe 3 loads a week, humming along, the nice little tinkling jingle W programmed the machines to make when they're done.

Then came the day I changed the baby's clothes 3 times, changed my own shirt twice and ran out of bibs.

As my mother used to say about shoes, spend the money on the quality.  Its worth it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scrub A Dub Dub

I hate it when my secret favorites get out.

In today's LA Times, they outed my secret little Korean Day Spa.  I guess its really not too much of a secret, but in these tough economic times, their services are even more of a steal than normal.  For a little over $100 you can get their Marine Style Treatment or their Asian Secret Treatment, both of which involve 90 minutes of goodies like body scrubs, facial packs and oil massages.

As the LA Times points out, this is not your Burke Williams experience.  This is not the hush-hush-walk-softly-treatments-in-progress, everyone's covered up, cushy plush robes, slippers and cucumber water spa.  In fact, that's what I love about it.  My first time at the spa (alone, I always go alone) I was struck by the three B's - boobs, belly and bush.  There's a lot of it, and it's all out there; this is not a spa for the naked-shy, and sorry ladies, its not all pretty.  But what I really noticed was the community of the spa.  That night nearly all the patrons were Korean, and they ranged from 10-year old little girls to 80 year-old grandmothers.  They all carried those little plastic bins with handles you can get at Target, for taking your toiletries to the bathroom on the floor of your college dorm, filled with their own personal soaps and scrubs and tinctures.  Old women and mothers were relaxing, some applying lotion to each others backs, while children moved from the spa tubs to the various types of hot saunas and back out to the showers.  No one was shy, everyone was comfortable and respectful.  It wasn't to noisy, but conversations were taking place and the atmosphere was relaxed.

The spa itself is dimly lit and a large open space.  There are three soaking tubs: one cool, one moderate temperature, and the hot one, that looks like a hot tub of tea (because it pretty much is).  The treatment area is out in the open, separated from the rest of the spa by a low wall.  Six tables are lined up a few feet from each other, middle-aged Korean women in lacy undergarments pummel and knead you right there, and yes, they will talk to each other over your prone bodies.  Don't expect new age music and lavender aromatherapy,  but once you close your eyes you won't notice they're there.

When I say pummel, I'm not really exaggerating.  When they say "body scrub" they mean scrub in quite the vigorous sense, and every part of you will be scrubbed (this is not for those with sensitive skin) until you feel a bit red and raw.  This may be the only time my armpits are touched when I am not ticklish, probably because I am distracted by the ferociousness of the scrubbing.  It might sound awful, but really, its quite lovely if you like it a little rough, and your skin is smoother than a sweet baby's butt when they are done.

So there it is, the Century Day Spa, where you can spend $100 steamed, soaked and scrubbed up.  I suppose its good all the way around - the economy is still depressing and everyone could use a little inexpensive indulgence, and the spa will certainly welcome the business.

Just don't ask me about my sushi bar.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Restaurant Review: Arroyo Chop House

Don't bother.

Seriously.  Unless you wish to lose 3 hours of your life you will never get back in exchange for some dry chicken and worse than poor service, stay away.

I don't want to say these things.  I want to give every restaurant I go to a winning review, I want to love the food everywhere and not care what it cost me.  I want carnitas from the random taco cart for lunch and $35 lobster mac 'n cheese from Maestro's for dinner (that's a side dish at Maestros, btw).  I want leftover beef wellington for breakfast and a homemade ham and cheese omelet with home fries for dinner.

What I don't want is to go to a nice steakhouse and be seated next to a loud, drunk, obnoxious party of 12 office workers who need lives outside of their cubicles (all of which we could hear about, with all the yelling).  What I don't want is to wait 30 minutes between my drinks arriving and the waiter coming back to take my order.  What I don't want is to wait another 40 minutes for my entrees to arrive.  I also don't want to be moved to another table in order to get away from the party of 12, pounding their fists on their dining table, only to be set behind the kitchen and completely forgotten.  When you do find me, I certainly don't want overcooked, dry chicken.  I don't want to eat my meal simply because after two hours of waiting, I'm starving, and I certainly don't want to ask for my lovely Grand Marnier and Chocolate Souffles to be packed to go because I've now been here for 2 1/2 hours and my child at home would like to be fed.  I don't want to be ignored for another 10 minutes after asking for he check and desserts to go, and believe it or not, I don't want to walk out of your establishment (sans souffles) without paying my check.

But I did.

After almost three hours of the jerk around, the best service we received all night was the complimentary valet, who brought our three cars up in less than 2 minutes.  They were tipped well.

Our experience was probably the exception, but I'm not looking to relive it.  Like I said, stay away.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Its Time to Sow

I just got notification that my garlic has shipped.

I'm sitting in the feeding chair, attempting to draft my first newsletter for this website idea I'm working on.  I'm struggling and not really getting anywhere; my words are stiff and blase and trite and all I can think is "STUCK STUCK STUCK!!!  I SUCK SUCK SUCK!!!"

I have been procrastinating doing all kinds of things.  My email box is full of newsletters and articles and notification of things I've been tracking and researching for this website.  All of them for the last week are unread.  I was compiling a list of articles I wanted to reference in my first newsletter, local happenings I thought parents would be interested in checking out, and now I have procrastinated so long that some of them have already come and gone.  Three weeks ago I looked at website templates until my eyes crossed and they all looked the same and I could no longer imagine what my website might look like.  There are 3 ripe strawberries on the vines that will be bad by tomorrow afternoon, yet I haven't plucked them.  The basil is big and bushy and begging to be eaten, and yet it sits, a feast for the bugs.  CJ is on the cusp of rolling over, and I just keep thinking, a little more tummy time, maybe tomorrow, a little more tummy time... I used the last of CJ's can of formula tonight and thought, oh, I'll just get more tomorrow morning, I have back-up in the diaper bag...

But the garlic, the garlic shipping today, well... that somehow puts things in perspective.  My garden has been lackluster this year, and since the baby I have barely had the presence of mind to water, much less grow too much more than the crabgrass that is taking over the side yard.  We took a class on growing garlic and ordered several varieties that should grow well in our area.  Garlic is the one thing we are planting this fall, the one thing we think we have the time and energy for, one thing we have never tried before.  A successful garlic planting this year means not having to buy garlic next year and the year after that, it means gifts of stinking roses for friends, it means scapes to try in stir-fries,  it means we can put something into the ground that we can nurture and propagate that will continue to bear fruit for seasons to come.

The garlic shipping means things can no longer wait.  Its time to dig in.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soft Serve Solves Woman's Madness

Soft serve can fix almost anything.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it.  Today is the first day in three that I have not felt the need for the soothing calm of a soft serve cone.  If it didn't involve putting the baby back in the car, I'd go back out for one right now.  I don't think it would survive the ride up the hill, otherwise I'd have W stop and get me one on his way home.

See, I've been a bit out of sorts for the last week.  Hence no witty and pithy posts.  I just didn't feel like it.  I still kinda don't feel like it.  I have a whole list of things I need to do and just don't feel like doing.  I think it started last week, after Ladies Night.  Two pineapple martinis and some wine, and at 3am I found myself standing over CJ's crib, fumbling a bink back into his mouth.  Ten minutes later, I was lying on the bathroom floor and thinking how cool the tile was, and that I should get another one of these bathmats.  It was soft.

Ever since then, I have felt a lethargy that has led me to the rut I'm in.  I check the other blogs I follow, write my comments and think I'm inspired to climb out of my ditch and do the top 5 things on my list.  Then "Bones" or "NCIS" comes on and that's that.

I find the soft serve helps.  I was driving home from my friend A's house when I rediscovered it.  I passed a Foster's Freeze on the corner and had to turn around.  I thought about that chocolate dipped cone for 2 days before I realized that McDonalds has soft serve, and that's a lot closer than driving over to A's everyday.  Yes, McDonalds.  Its not pretty, I know, but its working.

See, just two days ago I almost had a meltdown in the parking lot of the Mexican grocery store.  When scouting a grocery store for a parking space, I'm not looking for the space closest to the door, I'm looking for the space closest to the cart rack, so I can easily get a cart to put the baby in without lugging him halfway across a sunny parking lot that is lit like we're standing on the sun.  I found an empty space to the left of a silver compact, and was a quarter pulled into the space when a little man and his cart full of plastic bags stepped into the space in front of me, and brought the cart up to the silver compact.  I assumed he would do the human thing - bring the cart to the rear of the compact to unload, thereby allowing me to pull the rest of the way in.  But no, he pulled the cart perpendicular to the back door and stood there, taking his time to load his groceries into the back seat.

He must have read my lips, which may have said something that resembled the phrase, "Are you fucking kidding me, you rubber ducker?!?!  You asshole!" (we are attempting to replace certain phrases, so the kid learns his swearing where he should- from other kids at school, not from his parents at home.  Ok, we're not very successful yet).  I abruptly threw the car into reverse and pulled out, having just seen another empty space on the opposite side, closest to the front door of the store, but perhaps it seemed like an angry gesture.  Perhaps it offended his slow sensibilities in some way, because when I pulled into the space on the other side of the row and got out of my car, he had unloaded his cart but was standing at the hood of his car looking at me.   Almost mad-dogging me, but not quite.  Looking like he wanted to mad-dog me, but slightly afraid.

As he should have been.  I was on the phone with W at the time, and I think my half of the conversation went something like this -

"Uh huh... uh huh... wait, honey, hang on... oh no.  Oh no, you are NOT waiting for me.  Seriously?!?!  You have something to say?!?  Then you'd better get your fucking ass over here and say it to my fucking face, you dumb rubber ducker.... honey?  I'm going to have to call you right back.  I'm about to cut a bitch in the parking lot."

Well, clearly, I did no such thing.  I'm bad at confrontation, but that's a topic for another post.  What I DID do was look back at him clearly as if to say, "Oh yeah?  Come on, you got something to say?"  And he looked away.  But when I got CJ out of the back seat, I looked up again and he was still there.  I glared at him some more, and he still did nothing.  I locked the car and carried the car seat across the parking lot lane and he was still looking at me.  One more glare, and since he obviously wasn't going to come tell me off for calling him a rubber ducker, I went into the store.

I decided it was God's will that soft serve soothe my soul, since directly kitty corner to the Mexican grocery store is a McDonalds.  It did make me feel better as I crunched my cone on the way home, but perhaps I should find a better outlet for my energy.  Then again, the cone has few calories than my Yoplait Whipped Yogurt.

Stay tuned, more ranting is sure to ensue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Mommydom

When I found out I was pregnant and we began planning the baby's room, I knew I wanted something clean, simple, and definitely not blue. We didn't want stark modern, but we are not cluttery people. At least we try not to be (this usually results in throwing a lot of shit out every 3 months in the attempt not to be cluttery people). I did not want a house full of baby toys and baby stuff that baby wasn't ever going to use (by the way, that picture above IS NOT my house).

Ah, the plans of the ignorant.

I also planned to be the cool, slim, super chic mom. My pregnancy wasn't an excuse to gain 50 lbs or eat everything I ever wanted, any time I wanted to. What I found (not) amusing was how every one wanted to tell me my pregnancy was the excuse to simply live in excess for 9 months - eat what you want! Sleep the day away, don't keep the house clean or do errands or keep up any semblance of order or hygiene, you're pregnant! Oh no, I was not going to be that pregnant lady or that mom. After the baby was born, I planned to do the unthinkable: get a shower everyday (that included washing my hair), put on make-up when dealing with the outside world, lose the baby weight, keep my house clean, check email and most importantly - leave my house.

I managed to do most of that. I made a Target run (sans bebe) 3 days after we came home from the hospital. I lost the baby weight in 3 weeks (kudos to the gestational diabetes), even though the remaining weight seems to have, um... redistributed itself differently. I learned to shower super quick when he went down for his morning nap, and then at 15 weeks I learned that he was not going to die if I could hear him crying in his crib when I shut the shower water off. I took him out into the world 3 weeks after he was born and we both survived.

What I did not manage to do was keep out the invading baby stuff. I guess I should have known, when we had a dog it had 3 dog beds in the house, two in the living room and one in the bedroom. I was thinking about this today as I brought home and put together one of those Play and Lay mats (or whatever they're called, I threw the box out), one with the arch and the dangly things. Its cheesy but I was looking for something that would amuse him while he is on his back and looking up, and hopefully something that would encourage him to start to roll over (this one has fabric sides with pictures of animals). He has a Boppy frog play mat, but when on his back, the only thing to look at is me, and I think he is getting tired of that. So now my living room consists of 2 play mats, a rocker chair (with vibration and sound), and a swing chair (also with mobile and sound) in case, you know, he wants different movement. In his room is the foam mat on the floor to also encourage tummy time and rolling over, in addition to the Bumbo chair we got from a friend (what? he doesn't know its pink) so he can learn to sit up. Oh, and of course, there is the pack n play in our bedroom (aka the baby cage), which he no longer sleeps in, but which we have yet to pack up or play in.

You see, much as I miss my old uncluttered living room, the truth is, I need someplace to put this child when I simply can't hold him anymore. When he doesn't want to be held by me anymore, which contrary to all to mommy websites, happens. All those people who say, "Oh, your baby will never get tired of you holding him!" can bite me. In our house, it happens at least twice a day. There comes a point when he is fussing and half screaming/crying, when I know what he is saying is, "For God's sake put me down! Stop touching me!" He wants you to play with him, but while you sit across from him, not while he sweats in your arms and drools on your shoulder. But there is now a point of fussing when I sit in the usual chair, or the usual spot on the sofa, or when I sit him on my lap in front of the computer while I try to check my email or blog or Facebook or research for my future website. This is fussing that knows it has been here before and is tired of it. And these days, it happens faster and faster, so more and more during the day I play shuffle the baby. And live with the stuff.

We made a trip to Macy's this morning with the pretext of returning some clothes that were gifts (football/sports is SO not our style). The truth is, we had cabin fever and Mommy needed to distract baby somehow, so we were going to Macy's and then we were going to have lunch in an actual sit-down restaurant by ourselves. I will admit, I'm proud when we go out. I'm quick and efficient with the stroller and I'm working on being quicker and smoother with the Baby Bjorn. I wear heels and do my hair and put on a little natural make-up. I just need a little half-caf latte in the stroller cup holder and I'm the LA mom with her newest accessory, a cute baby.

At least that's what I thought. I passed two other LA moms pushing strollers, more chic than mine, with children who could sit up and hold up their own heads. They wore tight jeans and tank tops and tans and perky boobs, their long hair held back by designer sunglasses. Meanwhile, my hair was pinned to the side by a barrette like a 10-year old, I was wearing flip flops, and my kid started to cry.

Sigh. Maybe more make-up tomorrow.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Less Meat

Last week, W said something to me I never thought I would hear.

"Honey, let's get away from so much red meat."

He said this as he pushed a perfectly cooked, yet still strangely dry and tough New York strip steak around on his plate. My husband loves meat. When I first met him, he was subsisting on one huge Carl's Jr burger per day (ok, he was broke then too). The only salad he would eat was a Cheesecake Factory Cobb, laden with bacon and blue cheese and drowning in their balsamic dressing (extra on the side, please). Up until last week, his go-to meal when on the run, or even just at work was always a cheeseburger.

I was happy to hear the "less meat" request. If I wasn't cooking for him, truth be known, most of my meals would be meatless, or would contain small amounts of the red/white stuff. When we met, I was broke too and really careful with my money. I ate a lot of pasta and fresh tomatoes and vegetables. Cooking for myself was always easy. I'm Chinese, I believe in 1) leftovers, morning, noon and night; and 2) meat in small quantities. Big steaks are for Texans and special occasions. I also believe that dinner can be breakfast, and that a big wedge of leftover strawberry birthday cake is a perfectly acceptable meal to give you child before shuttling her off to school, but those are all different topics.

Turkey burgers are always notoriously dry and tasteless. Let's be honest, the turkey is a boring-ass bird. We only eat it at Thanksgiving because we are supposed to, and even then, in my house we won't eat it any other way than deep fried (more on this in another month!). I wouldn't eat it at all for Thanksgiving if family didn't want it. My ass would be giving thanks for something else.

Here then, is a recipe for the best non-dry turkey burger you will ever have. It gets veggies in there as well, and has a ton of flavor. You don't need anything else, but bonus points if you can serve a salad with it. If it passes muster with my husband, it will with yours, too.

Adapted from a Rachel Ray recipe; her original was still a little tasteless!
4 servings (I actually got 5 burgers out of this)

1 lb ground turkey (you can use chicken if you want, but I no wanna)
Salt & pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
A handful or so of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
One 10-oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
Slices of beefsteak tomato
One jar marinated artichoke hearts
Sliced provolone cheese
Hamburger Buns

Preheat a grill, grill pan or large nonstick skillet to medium-high.

Take a few of the marinated artichokes and rinse them, removing a lot of the oily marinade. Carefully chop into small pieces, they can still be slippery. Place the ground turkey in a medium bowl and season with S & P. Add the lemon zest, Parmigianno-Reggiano, chopped garlic, spinach, thyme and chopped artichoke hearts. The mixture will be loose. Give it a little drizzle of olive oil, and then add a teaspoon or so of the artichoke marinade from the jar. Mix all ingredients well, adding a little more artichoke marinade as necessary to moisten the mixture and get it to hold together. Form into 4 (or 5) patties and cook the burgers until firm and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Remove the rest of the marinated artichokes from the jar and pat dry on paper towels. Flatten a little with your hand, if any of the hearts seem too large, thinly slice, or halve the heart part horizontally.

In the last 2 minutes of the burgers cooking, time, divide the marinated artichokes evenly among the top of the burgers, then cover each with a slice (or 2 if you want) of provolone. If cooking on the grill, drop the lid to melt the cheese, or tent your grill pan or skillet with aluminum foil. Lightly grill your buns if you like, and place a burger on top of each tomato slice. Serve immediately, coagulated cheese is no fun.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Fish Story

I am all tuna-ed out.

My brother E went on a 2-day fishing trip out of San Diego on Monday and hit the motherlode. He caught 12 yellowfin tuna, 2 yellowtail and 2 dorado (mahi mahi), coming home with 72 lbs of fish. Before he even went home to shower or sleep, he was driving around LA, delivering beautiful, vacuum sealed bags of fresh fish to friends and family who would in turn rush to their local sushi bars with it. As he left my house at 2pm, he was on his way from Pasadena to El Segundo, to deliver a load to my mother so she could share with her friends at work. We made every kind of tuna sushi possible last night - nigiri, sashimi, in hand rolls, spicy tuna cut rolls, even spicy tuna on crispy rice (take that Katsuya, I can do it myself!). We are a tekka maki away from mercury poisoning.

He brought over the mahi mahi tonight and we made fish tacos, trying to consume all the fish we can as close to its freshest peak possible. This leads me to one of my all time favorite stories about my mother, which I found I really wanted to share.

E has always loved fishing. In high school, his reward for any major accomplishment was usually a 2 or 3 day fishing trip, often by himself. If he wasn't going on a longer trip, he would often take the 3/4 day boats out of San Pedro alone, working the deck or the galley or cleaning the boat after to avoid paying the boat fees.

He would always bring the entire catch home himself, as a 16-year-old high school student with no part-time job, he wasn't going to pay someone else to clean and fillet his catch. Because he would often clean the boat, we would usually hear E come in the door around 2am, clanging his poles as quietly as he could in the backyard.

When this happened, he would come into the house and whisper to my semi-sleeping mother that he was home and he would tell her what he had caught. It would be 3am and my mother would get out of bed, slide on her shoes and accompany E out to the backyard, where together, by the light of the moon and the back patio, they would clean, descale and fillet E's catch.

Here is the best part: once the fish was cleaned and cut and they were back in the house, E would wash up and mom would cut the raw fish into slices and make a little wasabi. Then they would wake the rest of us, and at 3:00 in the morning, bleary-eyed and barely awake, we would stand at the kitchen counter and eat sashimi.

Keep in mind that this was 1990, not a lot of people in high school were eating sashimi, and certainly none were doing it standing up in their kitchens at 3am, like cows in a pasture, mindlessly chewing their cud. We would finish our sashimi and stumble back to bed, bellies full, and mom would clean up and eventually go back to sleep herself.

Her philosophy was this: that fish was at its peak at 3am, freshly caught and just cleaned, the smell of the ocean still clinging faintly to it. She wanted us to have the best of that fish and it simply would not be the same two hours, four hours, six hours later. We had to eat it right then, whether we remembered it or enjoyed it or not.

People think I'm crazy when I tell this story. They think my mother is crazy and can't imagine that you will notice the difference if you wait until 6am to have sashimi (oh, but you will!). But I love this story. It exemplifies one of the good ways my mother is wacky (we all know there is good wacky, and then there is just plain wack), and I hope that I carry that little bit of wackiness around myself. She wanted us to have the best of everything, and even if she took the sashimi situation to an extreme, I hope that someday my son has a story like this to tell about me. I hope that someday he finds that a silly memory of me is just another example of things we will unthinkingly do to bring the best to those we love.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bring on the Ologists

Last week, after the danger of the Station Fire had passed and we had managed to have our living room repaired and painted, while spending the day locked in the cabana with the AC on, while also managing not to kill each other, we took Caleb to see another "-ologist."

Lucy, let me 'splain. After Caleb's 10-day stint in the hospital in June, we left Huntington with "-ologists." It started innocently enough when we picked up the first one, the pediatric ur-OLOGIST to keep an eye on his big-boy kidney condition. A few weeks later, when his regular pediatrician Dr. P thought he heard a murmur in his heart, we went to pick up our second, which was now our pediatric cardi-OLOGIST. Around this time, we began to collect ultrasounds too. He had the kidney ultrasound from the hospital in the bag, and then came his first heart sonogram, to locate the murmur. Which turned out not to be an actual murmur, but like bunnies, they seem to just multiply, as we will have to repeat both the kidney and heart ultrasound in December.

At his 3 month appointment last week, in addition to the indignity of having his thighs wrapped in Saran Wrap like picnic chicken (to hold the topical lidocaine in place for his shots), we talked to Dr P about the flat spot on the back of his head. My kid likes to sleep on his back, in full on naked-sunbather-froggy-position, and truth be known, it's not a flat spot. Its a flat head. And just because, as Dr P put it, "this kid has already had everything" he wanted us to go see Sean S, the head-OLOGIST.

Okay, that's not really his title, but that's what I'm calling him, because Prosthetics and Orthotics sounds so.... boring. Sean S made my son a do-rag and then put him in what I like to call the "magic box." The Magic Box is a black box with purple and gold writing on the outside, like you see when magicians cut people in half and then roll the two pieces of box away.

The magic box took a scan of his noggin, and surprise, he does indeed have a flat head (brachycephaly)! For those of you without children in this generation, incidents of flat heads are a recent phenomenon, largely due to the current medical advice that your child sleep on his back and not his stomach, to reduce the chance of SIDS. So more kids live, but more of them have flat heads. The head-ologist has kindly suggested a helmet to help re-contour his head, but we have chosen to pass and attempt other methods before subjecting our little Bug to a head helmet. Did you know that children who have to wear helmets usually have to wear them for 3 months? And that they need to wear them 23 hours a day?!?! And along with the fact that your little one is trying to figure out why he's wearing a plastic helmet all the time and it's harder for mommy to snuggle and kiss his fat cheeks, will come the oh-so pleasant SMELL of a sweaty head, trapped in a plastic hot box, not to mention the probability of rashes and blisters! Oh, and Blue Shield will likely not cover this because they don't deem it "medically necessary" (brachycephaly does not affect brain development or CNS function- its a looks thing), so you get to pay $3300 to torture yourself and your child for 3 months! YEA HELMET! No, we don't think so.

So this is the end of Bug's back sleeping. We have probably increased his chance of SIDS, since we now put him on his side to sleep. In order to keep him there, we have to wedge him in on all sides, so he sleeps with a bolster in front of him, and 2 rolled up towels behind him, to try to keep him from rolling onto his back. I personally think the back of his head feels rounder already, but that could be wishful thinking. All I know is we can't subject our son to a helmet unless it is absolutely necessary. After everything he has already been through, I can't have the helmet head kid with the big-boy kidneys and the big-boy ureters, who will probably need glasses on top of it all. I just can't do that to him. Bring on the ologists - this kid is staying helmet and smelly head free.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Working the System at 3am

It's 3:30am, a scant 210 minutes after the Labor Day Holiday, and I am up. I am up, attempting to cram a blog entry, some coffee , some Cinnamon Toast Crunch and maybe a baby feeding in before I leave the house in 20 minutes for... WORK.

Ok, it's sort of work. What began as an attempt to work the system and get "laid off", led me to go to sleep at 9pm last night an get up 45 minutes ago (my disability and Paid Family Leave Act have run out, and if I get laid off, I can file for unemployment for the rest of my "maternity leave"). One of my closest girlfriends is an extras casting coordinator and I had asked that she consider hiring me (and laying me off) if she ever needed help on one of her movies on days when they had a lot of background actors coming in. I said that on a Saturday - the following Saturday, I was up at 3:30am in order to help her check in 110 extras at 5am. While I wouldn't really consider hanging out with ME (those are her initials, not a capitalized "me") for 5 hours and standing on set chatting with co-workers I hadn't seen in months/years work, she did pay me and lay me off, thereby enabling the all important unemployment claim. The kicker came when she said, "What are you doing on Tuesday? I could really use some help with these 225 extras I have to check in..."

So here I am again at 3:40am, having laid my unemployment claim aside, to go do this thing called "work." Later, when I come home, I guess I will once again do the thing called "mama" with the thing called "baby" and continue to try to research my next project, which is by necessity a part-time thing called "thinking about starting a website". Maybe I can get to that after a nap. Or two.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Can't Breathe Inside, Can't Breathe Outside

So while the Station Fire doesn't appear to be coming any close to my home any longer, this morning we woke up to larger ash. Floating in the air, floating in the pool, everywhere. We are on day 6 of lockdown with the AC on.

When I started this post yesterday (hey man, things get interrupted with a 3 month old and a husband who is home), we were also on day 4 of what was supposed to be a "little" remodeling in the living room. When we bought the house 5 years ago, there was a faux fireplace in the wall and a huge yellow and white faux mantle that looked like it was made of paper mache. The mantle was huge, moveable, and the story was that the gay couple who had owned the home years ago had gotten it from the Chateau Marmont. Two years ago we disposed of the paper-mache mantle, and since then the faux fireplace has been through a few transformations until last year, when it just became an ugly, gaping, patched with putty around the edges, 3'x3' hole in the wall. I would post a picture but it would upset my husband, hence why we have also not had any of you over for the last year or so.

We originally wanted to put an actual working fireplace in, but put the kibbosh on that one after our contractor said it would probably run us about $14k to turn the gaping hole into an actual working fireplace. Oh, something about putting a gas fireplace into a wood wall and concrete framing and constructing a flue and inspectors and permits. Oh, and I believe his exact words were, "Hey guys, I would love to charge you $14,000 to put in a fireplace but seriously.... its not worth it. To you, I mean." So we decided to patch up said ugly hole, and redirect our money into ceiling fans, additional recessed lighting in the living room, patching the ceiling, repainting and some electrical work around the house. Like putting in electrical outlets under the eaves so this year we can actually hang lights for Baby's First Christmas (yes, I know he doesn't know and won't care. I do and will). Oh, and actually wiring in the tankless water heater we had installed a year and half ago. We were powering it with an extension cord running halfway around the house. I think you're not supposed to be doing that, no?

As a result of the construction and the fires though, we couldn't breathe inside or outside. Yesterday was the worst, as the painters/patchers sanded the new ceiling and all the patching and it looked like the winter wonderland from hell in the living room. We spent the day trapped up in the cabana, peeking down every now and then to check on their progress. Plaster dust is still everywhere, no matter how well they cleaned up after themselves or tried to seal off the doors and hallways to other rooms. I feel constantly gritty. My cleaning gal was supposed to come today and to much to my dismay, did not. We are attributing Caleb's 30 minute screaming fit this afternoon to a paint fume headache. The house still smells like paint, but really, it's choosing the worst of two evils. We can suck paint fumes or I can open the windows and doors and run the fans and we can suck the "particulate matter" floating in from the fires. I think I'm going to have to stick with the paint fumes. Maybe Caleb will grow gills.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Home Fires are Burning

I can now see the glow of the Station Fire from the ridgeline behind my house.

Ironically enough, the evacuation area on Starlight Crest Drive in La Canada, where the Station Fire began, is where I grew up. We used to live on the eastern edge of Starlight Crest, down the hill from the country club and golf course. When we bought this house in Altadena, I used to joke that if I got on the roof, I could probably see my old house in La Canada. Now, if I get up on the roof, I can see the fire line extending from my old house to my current.

Rather than sit here and anxiously wait, last night we decided to go to a party at ME's house for an hour or so, to see friends and tucker out the baby. When we left, we could see spot fires on our side of the hill. We took the 210 through La Canada and could see the way it was spreading west towards La Crescenta and Big Tujunga, that's the picture above. 90 minutes later, on the way home, the smoke driving through LC was almost like driving through dark grey fog, and the smell permeated the car so strongly it was cloying in my nose. What were spot fires on our hill were now connected into what looked like one solid fire line on the hill to the west of my house. This morning, like I said, I can see glow through the trees behind me. We have spent the last two days with the doors and windows shut and the AC on, but this morning the smell of smoke has permeated my house.

We have the essentials packed in case we are told or advised to evacuate. W has made it clear that CJ and I should go to my mother's, he will follow when the pool is boiling. Until then, he's going to stay behind with a camera and a hose. I should clarify, I've packed a bag for baby and a box of necessary documents, but I can't bring myself to pack my own clothes and necessities, mostly because I groan at the thought of having to unpack all of this when we're not evacuated. Dumb, I know.

In all my years of living in LA, of living in the San Gabriel mountain area, I have never seen the fires this close. I have friends and family who still live in La Canada, who are packing and evacuating and waiting anxiously to see what will happen in our sleepy little town. The air quality here is bad and W wants me to take the baby to my mother's, but I really don't want to leave my house without an evacuation order, it feels like conceding. In the meantime, I think I will try to continue to pack. That seems like a good compromise.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Personal Cheesiness

Bite size baklava is so good. Except when you drop a sweet, sticky, flaky piece on the floor and you can't vacuum it up for fear of waking the sleeping baby.

As a new mom with a baby who only likes to sleep in 20 minute intervals during the day, I'm always looking for recipes for dinner which don't require a prolonged or carefully timed prep. You never know if he will sleep for 15 minutes or 3 hours, or if he will amuse himself while you cook, or if he will begin screaming halfway through your chanterelle truffle risotto. We had some small corn tortillas left over from taco night and some enchilada sauce in the freezer from the last time we made arroz con pollo. I decided to try quick chicken enchiladas, since I also had some shredded cheese, and really, what more do you need?

True to form, I scoured my books for chicken enchilada recipes and then turned to the internet. Every recipe wanted me to make the enchilada sauce from scratch, or wanted to include ingredients I didn't have. I understand being a purist - I don't believe in bottled garlic, fat free sour cream, or pre-chopped onions (and neither should you!) - but seriously, I just wanted something I could pass off as dinner. I didn't even care how "authentic" these chicken enchiladas were, I was aiming for edible. I thought I would make a salad and then I could pass the whole thing off as "balanced."

So I was pleasantly surprised again when we loved them. Again, why the dish is half eaten by the time I take the picture, I just wasn't expecting it to be that good. But when you make them yourself and can control the cheesiness (and therefore the oiliness) and everything else about them, well, I figured I had to share. It's not the traditional way of making them (this involves frying the tortillas in a little oil to soften them), but it is quick and convenient and if you have adventurous kids, is not too spicy or exotic. Store bought rotisserie chicken makes it quick and guarantees a moist chicken. For those who are exacting, I apologize, the measurements should be taken as general guidelines, as I threw this together by sense, but I'll try to approximate. The avocado salsa is optional, but lends a nice cooling contrast to the dish.


About 3 cups finely shredded chicken from a store bought rotisserie chicken
1 can (the big one, 28 oz? whatever is bigger than 14 oz) red enchilada sauce
1 sm can diced green chiles
8 small corn tortillas (we prefer white)
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (or to taste)
1 or 2 fresh tomatoes
1 diced avocado
3 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 - 2 tbsp lime juice

Place the shredded chicken in a medium size bowl. Lightly drain the green chiles, some remaining liquid is okay. Add chiles to the chicken along with a handful of shredded cheese, more if you want your enchiladas cheesier. Add enchilada sauce by the spoonful until mixture is moist but not too wet.

Ladle enough enchilada sauce into the bottom of a baking pan to generously cover. My pan was approximately 8x10 and held 8 rolled enchiladas. Heat 8 tortillas on a plate in the microwave for 30 seconds, to warm and make them more pliable. Lay 1/4 - 1/2 cup of the filling in the center of each tortilla, rolling up and placing in the dish seam side down. When all enchiladas are tucked together, ladle more enchilada sauce over to cover. Don't be afraid of it seeming like a lot of sauce - the tortillas will absorb a lot of it. Be sure to cover any exposed edges of the tortillas well, unless you like the edges a little dry and cracked. Finally, sprinkle another handful or two of cheese over according to desired personal cheesiness. Bake, uncovered in a 350F oven for 15 minutes.

While the enchiladas bake, dice the tomato and combine with the diced avocado, chopped onion and chopped cilantro. Add lime juice to taste and mix well, coating the avocado with the lime juice to prevent (or at least slow) browning. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve enchiladas with avocado salsa.

We enjoyed them so much I forgot about making a salad.