Sunday, December 28, 2008

Best Meals of 2008

We enjoyed a particularly culinary year in 2008, mainly contributed to by our trip to Europe in June/July. This is a summary of the more memorable ones: 1. Homemade pizza, 2/10/08: P made the whole wheat pizza dough before he left for Salem and V and I made the pizza that evening. Pesto based with cheese, mushrooms and olives. 2. Thanksgiving in Spring, 5/9/08: Our 9th Annual TIS (or Ix for the Dune fans). Somehow we overestimated the number of guests attending and had a tad too much food (we made 2 turkeys and a ham), but a wonderful celebration with delicious dishes provided by everyone. Particular standouts were Lois' cheesy potato torte and Dave's Rhubarb Raspberry pie. 3. Every meal on our travels in Germany, Switzerland and Italy: We have many great pictures of the food, and only 3 of our family together. V was pouty about (name anything - she had some attitude issues in the early part of the trip) and somehow still managed to be disapppointed when this pear and ice cream sundae arrived during our dinner in Messkirch, Germany. She warmed up to it after tasting it. At this restaurant in Barolo, the waiter didn't bring us a menu when we asked for one, but instead started bringing out various small plates of food. We ended up with about 10 different dishes, some great wine, and a memorable meal.

After our menu-less adventure in Barolo, I handled the ordering at this small side-street restaurant in La Morra the next day for lunch. We had a lovely chilled Moscato with meaty and cheese sandwiches and a buffalo mozzarella tomato salad. V enjoyed a white-chocolate and coffee popcicle for dessert. No pouting there.

We arrived in the small town of Collodi, Italy, the evening before we planned to visit Pinocchio Park and Gardoni Garden (Carlo Collodi is the author of Pinocchio). For dinner we walked from our mini-RV overnight camping location in the Pinocchio Park parking lot to a restaurant on the Piazza della Vittoria to hang with locals watching the EuroCup final between Spain and Germany. V drew on the placemat and we ordered an appetizer sampler, meat plate, cheese pizza and bruchetta. The owner gave us a bottle of Chianti to take on our travels. (see next photo) The next day, we parked the RV at our campground in Fiesole (in the hills outside Florence). After a dip in the pool, I strolled to a small market in "downtown" Fiesole to buy meat, cheese and bread to accompany the Chianti. We ate in the RV and drank wine out of coffee cups. The next day in Florence, we had another great meal at Trattoria La Casalinga. A carafe of the house red, spectacular pesto that V couldn't get enough of, ravioli and tomato salad. Fortunately V took a picture of the restaurant sign when we let her loose with the camera to keep her from complaining about being bored at the table. We met P's friend Aldo for a terrific Florentine meal with lots of wine, good conversation and a bottle of limoncello and cigars provided by the restaurant owner (or just a hook-up by Aldo - my mind started to get fuzzy around that point). In Parma, Italy we had a nice meal at Croce Di Malta, down a side-street outside an old church. We just ordered randomly from the menu and got adventurous. The dish behind the wine bottle was Vitello Tonnato (cold sliced veal with tuna sauce). Everything was wonderful.

Everywhere we went, every day (sometimes twice a day) we treated ourselves to gelato. You could hardly avoid it, especially with a 6-year old travelling with you. We were constantly being reminded of the availability of it, and of any promises that had been made regarding its purchase.

Early in the morning in Parma, we took a free tour of a parmesano-reggiano factory. The tour was fantastic, starting with the arrival of the morning milk and walking us through every step of the process while it was taking place. Plus free cheese and a bag of goodies at the conclusion, and a spin through their onsite store. This was one of my personal goals and highlights of the trip. We arrived at our guesthouse in Afens, Italy just having missed the dinner service. They recommended we walk down the narrow two-lane road to the next Gasthaus to see about a meal. We arrived in a darkened front entrance, but soon the kitchen was fired up and serving P's favorite beer and the best schnitzel I had. In Bad Tolz, Germany I told P I wanted a sausage of some sort for dinner at this brewery. Due to a temporary lapse in menu translation, I ended up with this super-tasty slab of roasted pork. In Munich on the last day of our trip, I finally got my sausage. This weiss wurst in an outdoor biergarten is the stuff of my dreams. Unfortunately after I got back home I realized that I not only ate it at the wrong time of day (this wurst is generally eaten in the morning and we were there just after noon), but I didn't peel it in the traditional fashion. Anyway, it was delicious. The next morning in the Luftahnsa terminal we received a voucher for food since our flight was delayed. My euros went for more weiss wurst, and I was at least eating it at the correct time (approx 7 am!).
4. Duck breast salad, 7/15/08: This salad turned out so attractive and delicious, I'm glad we took a picture of it. Duck breast wrapped in prosciutto on a bed of baby greens with sliced red bell pepper, an orange vinaigrette and fried wonton strips. 5. Birthday breakfast at Chow, Bend, Oregon; 7/26/08: Banana stuffed french toast and eggs benedict. 6. Job's Daughter's Corn Dogs at Nevada County Fair, Grass Valley, California; August 2008: These corn dogs are an annual tradition, just like the NC Fair, in our family. Crispy on the outside and a thick layer of cornmeal with a hot juicy dog in the center. I can't eat a corn dog anywhere else. 7. Hydration at the Nevada County Fair, August 2008: This barely passes as a meal, except that it is vital to my husband's existence, just like my cooking. First picture is Bitney Springs near Rough and Ready, California. This spring has been flowing as long as I can remember (30+ years since my family first moved there) and was bequeathed by the Bitney family to the local residents. It's a "drink at your own risk" type of place but has always treated us well. We fill up all the water bottles on the way to Grass Valley. Second photo is the method used to enjoy a beer (root or otherwise) at the Nevada County Fair without breaking the bank. Park near the entrance under the shade of the pines, stock an ice chest in the trunk of your car and exit/re-enter the fair as desired. 8. Christmas morning breakfast, 12/25/08: Another family Christmas tradition of fruit, crackers, lunchmeat, fig cake, and gourmet cheese from Newport Market. Also a late harvest Gewurtzaminer from Hauer of the Dauen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Diplomatic Mission

This year V finally decided she wanted to be Princess Leia for Halloween. For a while she wanted to be a vampire, then a werewolf. I began encouraging the Princess Leia idea (she *is* one of the stronger princesses, after all) when I noticed the noise supression headphones on the workbench in the garage and it all came together. We started with a dress from Goodwill for $6.99. Plus some white pleather and silver metallic looking fabric for the belt, and some brown fuzzy material for the "hair" (another $6). I ripped off the purple and silver sequin stuff from the dress, disassembled the chest area, and took off the sleeves. Then I sewed pleats into the neckline to give it a gathered appearance, because this dress material wasn't as billowy as the real dress in the movie. I slimmed down the sleeves and re-attached them. Then cut about 8 inches off the length and hemmed it up. The belt was cardboard covered with white pleather hot-glued on. The "medallions" were also cardboard covered with metallic fabric. We had a problem after hot-gluing the medallions to the pleather, as they had a tendency to pop off with the slightest tug. I ended up Krazy-gluing them on as they fell off.

I made circles of the brown fabric and sewed elastic around the edge to slip them over the headphones, then made a fabric sleeve for the top of the headphones.

V wore a white turtleneck underneath to complete the look, and she was ready to go!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Al Phillips Mirror Pond - 3 Strikes

When I moved to Bend in 1999, I thought Al Phillips Dry Cleaners was a great place. Bright and clean, right downtown, good customer service, *and* free Tootsie rolls! Since that time, they have wronged me three times, with the third time being today. Each time I say I'm never going back there again. This time I (likely) mean it. The first strike was in 2000 after my wedding. I had a long ivory-colored satin and velvet wrap that got blue paint on it while I was trying to clean off my car post-reception. (Some jokers decided to deface my newly-detailed car with silly string, glow-in-the-dark stars and paint.) Al Phillips attempted to clean it, and used some sort of solvent that not only did not remove the paint, but stained the wrap with huge rust-colored splotches. A couple years later, they lost a pair of my pants. Today, I picked up 10 of my husband's button-down dress shirts, which I had taken in last week with a 5 for $5.99 coupon. The total was $30 for the 10 shirts. I was told that I could not use the coupon because the shirts were *not* dress shirts because they have *french-cuffs*. I was never aware that french-cuff shirts cost any more to launder, but they were firm in their denial of my coupon although nowhere on the coupon does it say anything about french-cuffs. I should mention that we have always used that same coupon in the past for french-cuffs with no problem, and one of the shirts required dry-cleaning ($5.95) rather than laundering because of the type of design on the fabric, hence the $30 total. I still found their rejection of the coupon unreasonable and I am going to try to locate another provider of this service. Barring that, I'm going to start laundering, ironing and starching them myself.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

BendFilm: ReelKids Reel-y Inappropriate

First, I'll say that I am a big fan of BendFilm and independent film in general. The film festival in general has always been a highlight of my year. I take in at least 5 films at each festival, and every year I take my daughter to see the kids' program. It was previously called "IndieKids" but this year it was called "ReelKids". That should have been a signal to me, in retrospect. The ReelKids program today was completely inappropriate for my 6-year old daughter. I have taken her the last 3 years and have always been comfortable with the content of the program. It has included a variety of live-action and animated films from the US and other countries; some with dialogue, some without; all made *for* kids, some made *by* kids. This year there were multiple times I felt totally uncomfortable. In the first 4 films, characters were smoking cigarettes. In one animated film a young boy is flipping channels on a television and sees a mostly naked skeletal drug addict, a "girls gone wild"-type censored scene, and other death/destruction type material which causes him to run out of the house and jump off a cliff. The only redeeming thing is that he "somehow" lands on the moon and sails off into the universe. Another film portrayed a domineering wife demanding her husband fire a penguin from their bird zoo because his act doesn't bring in enough money. Multiple times throughout the movie she torments her husband by telling him he's not "man enough" if he can't tell the penguin he's fired, and promises him special "favors" if he obeys her. Later in the film the manipulative wife is being humiliated in front of a crowd of onlookers and they all laugh at her. The entry that frightened the kids the most was about a ghost that haunts a historic Spanish house where a young boy's parents want to open a Mexican restaurant. This film also included the words "crap" and "stupid" multiple times. And the final insult was the last film. A teenage boy is walking down the sidewalk and sees a plastic grocery bag and *puts it over his head* and falls down on the sidewalk suffocating. Another teenage boy emerges from a house across the street, sees "bag boy" and investigates. Bag Boy jumps up and chases him back into his house, with the bag still on his head, until he corners him in the bathroom. The scared boy pulls the bag off the head of Bag Boy, and he is suddenly "free" and happy and runs out of the house. I can't even tell you what the message was of this film, but I don't need to be walking out of a theater reminding my 6-year old that you don't ever put plastic bags over your head...ever. And that's just the inappropriate stuff I recall from this morning. I will be writing letter to BendFilm organizers explaining my position. I recommend any other parent that attended this showing with their child(ren) and was equally uncomfortable do the same. Let's not have a program like this shown again next year.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cooking Challenges

I'm not an Iron Chef by any means, but I love cooking, and I love cooking even more when I have an ingredient I must use, or a theme I must adhere to. Subscribing to the Groundwork Organics veggie box in the Summer motivates me to make recipes that I wouldn't normally discover. "What can I make with red chard and cherry tomatoes?" "What am I going to do with fennel, red onion and mini lettuce leaves?" Cooking under the pressure of vegetables spending their precious shelf life in my refrigerator is what gets me going. Right now it's artichokes, rainbow chard, yellow and orange bell peppers and spinach. A co-worker of mine and his wife have started hosting Monday Night Football each week. The best part (besides the company, their cool pets, and the fun my daughter has with his daughter) is that each week has a theme. For chicken wing week, I made a Hoisin-5 Spice variety. For last week's bratwurst theme I made German Potato Salad. For tomorrow's nacho theme, I'm planning some sort of refried pinto bean dish. Time to research recipes!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

September Update (what happened to August?)

I had to read someone else's blog on mentioning they hadn't picked up their own mail in days to realize I hadn't either. For some reason not having my own vehicle accessible affects the flow of my life to an inappropriate degree. It's not a hardship by any means, but I just don't do the things I would freely do otherwise. Like visit a grocery store to buy a chicken so I can make chicken stock before the carrots and celery in my fridge self-compost. Today was the first day the school bus stopped right at the intersection to our cul-de-sac. And V's 2nd time riding the bus. This new bus stop makes it much more convenient for the 14 or so kids in this neighborhood. V came home from school with a story to tell me during bathtime. Her class had a substitute teacher today that attended St. Francis Catholic School (before it was a McMenamins) and one day during recess he and a friend saw a cat on the playground, took it to music class, and hid the cat in the piano. When he confessed to it, the nun gave him 2 raps on each hand with a ruler. V must have been enthralled with the story to remember the details. I figured P would enjoy that story, having attended Catholic school for 12 years, so I had her call him to share it. Currently reading: Three Cups of Tea Cooking adventures in the last three weeks: Smoked salmon stuffed anaheim peppers; Bruschetta with peppers, onions and pesto; Leek and fennel chowder with smoked salmon; Tandoori chicken bites with cucumber dip; Babaghanouj; 2 batches of popcorn (stovetop); 2 batches of yogurt; Hoisin 5-Spice chicken wings; Lentil salad with tomatoes and dill; Braised cabbage with apple; Banana maple ice cream with candied walnuts; Char-grilled beef tenderloin with 3-herb chimmichurri; and Beet Risotto.

Monday, July 28, 2008

July Update

The family trip to Europe earlier this Summer was terrific. Hopefully I will post about that sometime in the future. After our return, P hooked up our Digital Converter boxes to the 2 televisions (Don't tell me I'm living in the dark ages). I had no idea the number of channels we receive would triple, and also be crystal clear! The best part are the 5, count'em 5, OPB channels. One is called Create, and is non-stop cooking and arts/crafts shows. Recent borrows from the public library include: Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season, American Psycho, Rock Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and The Greatest Show On Earth. Books I'm currently reading: Under the Tuscan Sun, and The Agony and the Ecstasy. Books V is currently reading: The Narnia Chronicles (I think she's on book 3 now?) Coming up next week: Our annual trip to the Nevada County Fair in Grass Valley, California.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Garage Sale Day

And by "Garage Sale Day" I don't mean that I attended them - that is a far more regular occurrence - I mean that I held one, along with many of my neighbors. Even though I felt that I didn't have that much stuff (once it was all spread out), I still cleared $130.35, which is the lowest of the three years since I've tracked it, but still respectable. After we all cleared our sales, the neighbors convened in the cul-de-sac for a potluck BBQ reminiscent of our July 4 tradition. My contribution to the potluck was a combination of items I had handy in the house - mandarin oranges, sour cream, pineapple, coconut, and mini-marshmallows. It wasn't my mom's ambrosia recipe, but edible nonetheless. Meanwhile, the neighbor kids experimented with a magnifying glass and dry pine needles on the sidewalk, eventually creating a small fire ringed by rocks, which they somewhat successfully toasted marshmallows on. At first I thought this whole project was not a good idea, but there was adequate supervision, water on hand, and after watching them fumble with bamboo skewers and mini-marshmallows, I ended up supplying them with metal skewers and large mallers. The fire was out and cleaned up shortly thereafter, and now I can relax with that dry warm feeling of being in the sun all day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Snow in Retrospect

Now that the bulk of the commute-hindering snow is melting away to nothingness, I can look back at it and appreciate its beauty more fully. Here are a few pics: Shoes added for scale: My shoveling helper: My shoveling helper turns six years old tomorrow. She sleepily mumbled yesterday morning that "people will still think I'm seven".