Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Seattle

Pike Place

Beecher's -- they're making curds!

Once I was in London for three days and I spent a large portion of time looking for crumpets. I had heard about them before and was beginning to think that maybe they only existed in fairy tales. At the very very end of the trip, I finally found some crumpets on the bottom shelf of a 7-Eleven-esque shop. I had pictured people fighting in the aisles over packs of the muffins, but there they were, a whole shelf of them, and no one even looking twice. Who knew that in Seattle there would a whole shop devoted to the making and consuming of delicious, toasty crumpets at The Crumpet Shop.

Kitchen cozy

Christmas tree

Monday, December 28, 2009

Aspirations

While on our trip in the Pacific Northwest last week, Alan and I paid a visit to a childhood friend family he had grown up with, most of whom are now living in Seattle. On Christmas Eve, at around 5pm, we got hungry. The plan was to get pizza somewhere, a Seattle favorite perhaps, but once there, we found that everything was closed. As we sat in the car musing over the unlit restaurant with the chairs stacked neatly on top of the tables, we realized, as luck would have it, that it was Christmas Eve and on Christmas Eve things tend to close early. Disappointed, we drove to another restaurant, this one, Alan and I are told, with pizza not as good as the first, and observed that it, too, was closed. Because it was cold outside, and because we could not handle the heartbreak of discovering one more closed restaurant, our host called his eldest sister Anne.

Words were exchanged, something about the cold and the shrinking of our stomachs, and so it was agreed that we would go over to her house for dinner where it was warmer and where the kitchen was not closed. Up a hill we drove and parked in front of a beautifully decorated, stately home. It was the kind of home with stairs and doorways and sinks akin to the kind one might find in a five star hotel. And I was eating it up. Now, if there is anything I love more than being warm and being fed, it is rubbing elbows with the well to do and pretending, if even for a moment, that I am a part of the upper crust.

There are the well to do who flaunt their wealth in poor taste and those who wear it well, effortlessly. Anne and her family wear it as though it's a favorite sweatshirt worn thin from the years of use, the one they wear on weekends before going outside to throw around a baseball. My favorite part of the night was when we all sat down at the table to enjoy dinner. In our bowls were short ribs braised in red wine and spices and perfectly cooked pasta with mushrooms. As we dug in, the flavors of the various mushrooms were discussed, and I had the pleasure of tasting my first ever morel, a mushroom so fancy that I was just then learning of its existence.

A small, delicate porcelain jar was passed around the table, and from where I sat, it appeared as though each person removed the jar's tiny lid and then dipped their index finger and thumb in for a pinch of red chili flakes. As a woman who likes a bit of heat on her pasta, I waited for the jar to make its way over to me before following suit for some peppers. As I lifted the lid, I was surprised to find that instead of a jar full of pepper flakes, the jar contained dainty dried red peppers in the whole. Before anyone could notice my confusion, I recovered quickly, plucked a single pepper out and gently tore it open, spilling its seeds over my bowl's contents.

The red pepper added dimensions of heat to the dish, a spiciness so unique, so delectable that I chose to give up my guise of a regular morel-eating, wine cooking, Le Creuset-owning sophisticate. I asked Anne where the peppers were from, and hoped they wouldn't cost an arm and a leg at some posh grocery store. Do you know where the peppers were from? (And this is my favorite part). She picked them up herself from Italy, on one of the many trips her family takes there. She regularly stocks up on spices and peppers whenever she travels there. As someone who has never been to that country, I relished the taste of the Italian sun that had dried these peppers and in that moment, I swore to myself that someday I, too, would have a tiny jar on my kitchen table with only the best Italian red peppers.

I wondered if I might show Anne and her family my own drawer of red peppers if they were to ever visit the duplex.

"And here is our red pepper collection," I'd say, pulling open the silverware drawer to expose the many individual packets of red peppers and parmesan cheese that we have accumulated from Round Table, Pizza Hut -- all brands of pizza, they are there.

"My! What exquisite and adventurous tastes you have in your selection of pizza makers!" they would exclaim.

And then I would nod modestly, and we would enjoy our Le Creuset dinner.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vacation at the Bed and Breakfast

Over the years, I have come to call the period of time around the holidays that I take off from work to spend with my family in Oregon as the time that I "go home." In a way, it's sort of a misnomer as I've never really lived in Oregon, save for the few weeks here and there each year that I come to visit. This year I decided to make the most of my blessed 9 nine days off and in anticipation of it, began referring to it as "the vacation."

"8 more days 'til the vacation!" I would sing to Alan as he rolled his eyes.

Now that we are here, I also like to think that we are staying in a sort of bed and breakfast. It's quaint here, and our room just off of the kitchen is nothing but cozy and warm, filled primarily by the air mattress my parents the lady and man of the house bought for us. When we are not busy trying to stay warm, the B&B is like a real-life 24-hour Food Network marathon, except there is no Bobby Flay throw down and no Paula Deen. Instead the lady and man of the house host all the shows and cook (almost) every meal from scratch. It is amazing to witness almost as much as it is to eat it all. I mean have you ever known anyone to make their own soybean milk???

Begin with soybeans.

Throw them in a blender. (You can really throw them right in. They aren't delicate at all, just in case you were worried about that.)

Blend until smooth.

Strain the pulpy mixture.

Strain again through a cheese cloth. Then boil, add vanilla and sugar to taste, chill and voila! Fresh made soybean milk.

My mom's triple-washed veggies...

...go great in her rendition of the cold-weather favorite pho.

Mmm-mmm. We liked it so much we requested it for breakfast and dinner.

It didn't rain today! We walked around the Pearl district and the sun even shone on us for a bit. Then I went in to get my hair cut.

Where is everyone else going on vacation?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Process of Leaving the House

Today I got home from work, gave Alan a kiss and changed out of my slacks. We had to go to the small, slightly depressing specialty medical supply store which closed at 6. It was 5:20. We had been putting it off for 2 weeks now, and now it could be put off no longer. The last time we went, Alan could not go in. And so I went in alone and it was a strange shop, oddly organized with random shelves containing few items. Most of the store's contents seemed to be kept in the back. As I asked the shopkeeper for the things I needed, I wondered why everything wasn't displayed in neat rows on shelves like at commercial pharmacies and medical supply stores like Walgreen's. Who was going to come in and steal these things? Was that a problem? The stealing of the specialty medical supplies? I pictured the elderly coming in and swiping stuff off the shelves while out on their afternoon walks and had trouble fully imagining it. When the lady rung me up at the counter, I first noticed her nails, long, acrylic, rounded tips with bright blue glitter splashes across the middle finger nails. Then I noticed a small bowl of wrapped candy next to a "thank you" sign. If not actually from the 70s, it at least looked like the kind of candy people might have eaten back then.

At 5:25 I asked him if he was ready to go.

Me: Are you ready to go to the store?
He: Yea, right after this episode of Scrubs.
Me: OK, but the store closes at 6.
He: Oh ok.

He turned the TV off. Things were looking good. Individually, together -- all the time -- we were hopelessly late. But here we were, with our heads on, with our shoes tied, with our phones --

"Where's my phone?" Alan disappeared back into the bedroom.
"On the bed, I saw it on the bed," I said.

--our wallets

"My wallet," he snapped his fingers, remembering that he needed his wallet, and instinctively patted his butt. He was surprised to find that his wallet was not in his back pocket, but in his front pocket. Then he remembered his pants didn't normally have front pockets.

He turned to me.

"Why are my pants on backwards??"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Stalker Status

In high school I once memorized the license plate number of a Volvo that belonged to my crush of the week. It wasn't hard to do, especially since he parked it in the same general vicinity which I passed by on my way to 5th period every day. It also just so happens that license plates contain 7 characters, just the number of items that most people can remember most easily.

I don't know why I did it, maybe for the same reason that I decided to take notice of him: it/he seemed interesting. He went to church, I never heard him swear and I'm pretty sure he got along with his mom and his sister. A boy so good and shiny from the outside must surely have deep, dark, intense thoughts. Perhaps I thought he was a little bit bad and that, at the time, seemed only appropriate for someone like me, someone who spent extra time on her extra credit assignments for French class and who quit the swim team after two weeks for fear of drowning (however irrational).

I envisioned the kinds of thought-provoking conversations we might have, so edgy and raw and real that our peers would soon resent us, unable to keep up. Perhaps we could discuss the bean and cheese burritos served at lunch. Their satiating effect, their affordability.

These dreams were dashed when one day I found out that he had begun spreading a rumor about me. The story he told was that one day, he was sitting in his kitchen eating fruit snacks (I don't really remember what he was eating), when all of a sudden he looked up to see me peeping in at him through the kitchen window. I mean, just really absurd stuff. Now, a license plate memorizing crusher I might have been, but a stalker I was not. And if I were a stalker, I definitely would do it much more tastefully, would make it more casual, like I would plan to run into him at the grocery store, not stand and stare at him eating his fruit snacks right outside his kitchen window.

These days however, I realized that I have become a bit of a stalker. But it's not the golden boy on the soccer team that's caught my eye. Let's just say that if this necklace had a kitchen window, I'd be standing outside of it every day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tacky Sweater Party

Preethi: So I got my ugly sweater for the tacky sweater party tomorrow.
Me: Yeah?
Preethi: Yeah, it's green and has these reindeer on the front with bells.
Me: Oh, that's --
Preethi: It's really bad, my mom said I'd totally win tackiest sweater.
Me (quietly): That's the sweater I have... But I wasn't sure if I should wear it because I didn't think it was that tacky.
Preethi (seriously): It has bells on it, Sobrina.

Today was a holly jolly day in the City which started out with homemade peppermint hot chocolate.

Here is Preethi, a woman who makes homemade whipped cream every time I have ever had whipped cream at her house. I hope someday she adopts me.



Their kitchen smelled like warm butter, sugar and flour. The almond shortbread and tea cookies they made tasted like the most wonderful time of the year.


Tacky sweaters are in high demand this year. Pearl said she went to 8 different stores, including Sears, and could not find anything with a bell, puff paint or sequins.



Preethi and Pearl <3

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday Cheer in the City

Yesterday we went up to the City to help Tanu trim her tree. Okay, don't tell her, but we really went up there just for the cookies.

I mean, look at them -- as delicious as they were cute.

Then we stopped by to check out Preethi's new(ish) apartment. She made us hot chocolate with fresh peppermint whipped cream! Mmmm.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Like The Guy in Memento

An interesting side effect of chemotherapy that my dad warned me about is forgetfulness. He had noticed this with my mom when she was going through chemo for breast cancer a few years back. I can only imagine that it must have been shocking for him.

To call my mom's memory simply her "memory" would be an injustice. She has a memory that can compete with the CIA's most impressive, most classified computerized databases -- every detail, every time you didn't clean your room, every time you didn't finish every bit off your plate and therefore deprived some poor child in Cambodia from eating -- she remembered. And it would come back to haunt you years later in a twisted turn of fate. You might remark, "Look at this nice necklace. I think I might buy it." And then she would shut you down with a reminder, "Remember all those necklaces you had strewn carelessly all over your room and never wore when you were 14? Including that pink beaded one with the feathers that I told you not to get, but you didn't listen?"

Alan's memory was never anything close to my mom's, (but then there are few people with memories like hers, and even then, when these rare people are discovered, they are usually captured and held for scientific study). Still though, I have noticed his memory is becoming shorter and shorter as his chemotherapy cycles go on. It's gotten to the point where I've begun to consider writing short notes and clipping them onto his shirt. I think I saw this in a movie once and it worked quite well for the protagonist, unless I'm thinking of the movie Memento, but then again those were tattoos...

At the beginning of chemo, I noticed small things. I would find bottles of Palmolive in the fridge sitting next to the milk. That was a blunder almost anyone could make, what with Palmolive's tall shapely bottle resembling that of maple syrup's. But now, if I deviate from our regular schedule, I will need to alert him to the upcoming change a few times the day before and maybe once again the morning of. On Sunday, I told him I'd be working late Monday on the signing orchestration of the company's holiday cards. Later that night, as we arranged the blankets on the bed, I reminded him again that I'd be home late. He asked me where I would be and what I might be doing, as if he had just heard this news for the first time.

Sometimes his short memory is fun. It sure takes the pressure off of having to be interesting and entertaining all the time. Normally, I try to come home with a couple of good stories to share everyday. Now I just come home with one really good one and repeat it every other day or so, and everytime he laughs as though he's just heard it.

But when I need him to remember that I'm really just at work and that I haven't gotten crushed by a monster truck on my drive home, his memory is not so useful. Yesterday, half an hour after I usually get home, Alan called to ask me where I was and what I might be doing? He mentioned that he was waiting for me so that we could eat dinner together, and that he was really hungry and where was I and what might I be doing?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Weekend

This weekend Alan started his last cycle of chemotherapy. Per the usual drill, he will be swallowing pills twice a day for the next two weeks. In the meantime, there will be lots of praying that his cancer will disappear completely, so that by March, when he goes in for a check up, everything will look good. This is important that everything look good because he needs to be cancer-free so that they can do one last surgery. And then, after that, everything can go back to normal and we can devote our lives to chasing our dreams with a vengeance, instead of talking about "The Bag." And this will be a sweet, sweet time in our lives, perhaps we will even give it a new name, The Dream Era we will call it.

This weekend, I also helped Denise throw a pizza party for the Cambodian school at the Tully library and then I helped her pack up her life with Justin from the past three years into neat and tidy boxes so that they could begin a new chapter in their lives in their first house!

When Denise asked me if I could help her with the pizza party, I completely stopped listening after the words "pizza party" because that just happens to be one of my all-time favorite types of parties ever.

Cute kids. Even though the one on the right looks rather upset.

Fact: many Cambodians like eating spicy foods. I didn't like spicy foods until college. But apparently the affinity for spice is happening younger and younger.

If you squint, underneath the red chili flakes, you can sort of see a slice of cheese pizza.

Denise and Nancy behind the many boxes we packed.
Denise and Justin's new home!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An Early Holiday Date

Last night, my favorite marketing team and I went up to the City for a holiday treat. First we had a scrumptious dinner at Waterbar on Embarcadero. Upon entering, our coats were taken from us, and I thanked my lucky stars that I had decided to put on a shirt that morning after all. There were 20 different oysters available for the slurping, about 20 creative cocktails to choose from and huge fish tanks in the dining area creating a serene under the sea ambiance. The waiter was spot on with his recommendations, and my water glass was refilled before it ever reached halfway empty. But the biggest surprise of all was when I returned to the table after having visited the ladies room. The waiter had taken the time to re-fold my napkin that I had carefully crumpled into a small ball and replaced it on the table. Now that's service.

Afterwards we went and saw Ovo, a new Cirque du Soleil show, and while it was thrilling and awe inspiring, I found myself thinking the whole time, I really ought to stretch more... and maybe do some more pushups.

It's really amazing seeing what the actors could do with their bodies, and everytime they would do something that we could not, the audience would applaud. (I presume because it would be rude to shout "Way to go!" in the middle of their performance). In the beginning I was hesitant to join in on the clapping. I mean, here is a buffer-than-average woman/smaller man holding up her/his entire body on one hand on the tip of a very tall pole. You would think that would require lots of concentration.

I hope that the performance is not as stressful for the actors as it is for the audience because I know for a fact that it wasn't just me holding my breath everytime an acrobat would swing through the air doing a double back flip while trying to time it perfectly so as to be able to grab hold of the hands of the other swinging acrobat hanging from his knees across the stage. But I suppose it is this stress that makes every juggled ball caught, every flying acrobat who correctly lands his jump and and every rope swinging couple who fly seamlessly through the air so... magical.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Telephone Game

When I was a kid, I remember playing the Telephone Game. The one where we sat in a circle while the teacher thought of a silly statement to whisper into little Johnny's ear. Something silly but always a little off, a little unsettling. The teacher might whisper, "The pony is planning for a picnic." Johnny would then repeat this, or whatever he thought he heard, to the person sitting next to him. She would then repeat in a whisper what she thought she heard to the person next to her, and so on and so on until the very last person in the circle would break the whispering and say the distorted message he heard out loud: "Jack and Jill fell into a pail of water, but the little engine that could did not." It might just seem like fun and games, but this past weekend it occurred to me that this game might have been trying to teach us all a lesson.

The lesson is when you hear something weird or that just doesn't sound right, don't hold it in. Disperse it, lighten the load, tell someone else. Each time you tell someone your uncomfortable story, that person will have to process it and prescribe meaning to it, so that you no longer have to be the sole person thinking about it. If you tell enough people, you could even afford to stop thinking about it all together, which is useful, especially if the stories you have to share are grim.

And these are just the types of stories my sister likes to tell best.

This Thanksgiving, I heard all about the crazies and the zanies and the truly disturbed, and many of them were stories she had heard on the 11 o'clock news. While eating slices of turkey and mashed potatoes, I nearly choked when she told me about the guy who jumped out from behind a clothing rack in her local Target and ejaculated in front of a woman pushing a baby stroller. I thought about asking her to resume telling the story after I had finished my gravy, but then I couldn't wait to know -- what did she do???

Then there was the third cousin of her best friend's boyfriend who was a pharmacist and who was held up at gunpoint for $4,000 worth of Oxycodone just the other week. And the weird part, get this, was that he was walking around the store shopping and reading Us Weekly in a full on ski mask with gloves and a terrible red plaid shirt (not the cool kind either, but the scary anti-social unabomber kind) for a full half hour and no one thought to say anything to him, like, "I wouldn't believe everything you read in those magazines." No, no one did anything of the sort, they just let him read the magazines and proceed to hold up a very considerate (so I hear) pharmacist.

There are the truly gruesome stories, like the one about the pregnant woman from the city two cities away from hers who went to meet someone off of Craig's List out of an interest for a used car seat for sale. When the pregnant lady arrived, the seller killed her, cut open her womb and took the baby as her own. These are the stories that get to me, that leave terrible red images in my head, ones that I cannot leave alone. I will try, in vain, to tell Alan in order to get rid of some of the terribleness, but he cannot stand for any story which involves the slightest brutality to women or children, so to tell him a story involving both would mean he would lock himself in the bathroom. So I must quietly suffer until there is someone new to tell, someone who has not been sitting next to my sister and the pumpkin pie.

On Sunday, as we drove home at 3 AM along the dark, quiet, eerie freeway, she decided to tell me about the recent evil spirit that had taken hold of so and so's mother-in-law, and when she tells me I can feel my arm hairs raise. I think about how frightening it would be if she were to all of a sudden become possessed herself, and what I would do if she did, all while stuck in a car on a dark, quiet, eerie freeway alone with her. And in the the most serious way I could, I looked at her and demanded, "Why did you have to tell me that?"

Smells Like Christmas Spirit

Do you remember these?? These 25 paper rings, often made of construction paper of the green and red variety by elementary school children? Do kids still make things like this? Or do they create really complex Christmas countdown chains on the computer now?

I haven't seen one of these since the early nineties when I would make them myself, and surprisingly, tonight the Christmas Grinch Alan suggested we make one.

Where should I put this in my cube? Perhaps I could just drape it around my neck, removing one ring every morning as I fix myself a bowl of cereal?

Giving Thanks 2009

Being back at work after a 4 day weekend wouldn't be so hard if Thanksgiving was actually a restful holiday. But with my family in town from Oregon, things were a bit hectic. Overall, though, it was fun and delicious, so I think we can safely say: mission accomplished.

The night before Thankgiving, Nathalie whipped up a mean red velvet.

Eric mixed martinis and looked suave.
I oversaw the preparation of the mashed potatoes (a.k.a. making sure that Joseph and L.B. peeled the potatoes correctly, Scott grated enough cheese and that Eric made it to the store for the bacon and parmesan cheese).

My parents chowing down after their 11 hour drive!

Grandpa and 1/20 of his grand kids.

Before Nathalie arrived on Thanksgiving, someone had beat her to the punch of assembling her cake... From the look of it, it may very well have been the Cookie Monster, or someone else with big furry hands.

But it was still super moist and delicious.

Sophie and Stan -- my parents are big fans of the letter S

Digesting

Pictionary - boys against girls

Aunt Sisine and Alan

The best part about getting through Thanksgiving is that now it doesn't feel quite so wrong to be enjoying Christmas trees, lights and decorations now that we've all had our fair share of turkey.

Saturday night Sophie and I walked around ogling beautiful things before we took a break to eat some cupcakes. Earlier that day, when we first left the house, I slipped on my shoes and walked outside. She followed me out, and as soon as she did, she stopped and said, "Wow, this is like... summer vacation!" I looked up to see what she was talking about and noticed the clear blue sky and the streaming rays of sun. Ah, she was right. It did almost feel like that. But then I felt the nippy 68 degree chill on my face and wrapped my scarf around me tighter. Meanwhile, Sophie took off her jacket and went back inside to put on some flip flops.


<3
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