Thursday, July 17, 2008

Joy comes unexpectedly

by Stephanie

Whether you're actively looking for them or not, life's little surprises will get you--oh, they will. Some are good and some are wrinkle-your-nose not-so-good, but the joys produced by the first kind tend to override the disappointments of the others. Good thing too--I have wallowed more than my fair share in my various clouds of melancholia. But when joy, wonder, unexpected blessings shine their way into my life, I can do nothing but gaze skyward and whisper, "Thank you thank you thank you thank you" (who says that prayers have to be complicated?)

This past weekend the family took a little trip to the Monterey Bay region. The ocean (and other related scenery) were gorgeous as always, although the food is always the star of the show. A new (to me) spot was La Bicyclette, a place where the salad/soup are family-style but you have your own entree--I had the most luscious carrot soup of my life as well as this fabulous pot of chocolate mousse (they claim it's for 2, but I'll claim that it could be for 8 and I ate at least 6.5 persons' worth...) The interior was so cute and cottage-y, and did I mention the chocolate mousse was unbelievable? Okay. I love Carmel. And I love La Bicyclette so much I didn't mind too much that we didn't go to my favorite restaurant probably in the whole world, Casanova, this time around.

Things I've attempted: choux pastry (it never rises like I want it to! Why?!), these infamous cookies which I saw featured on this blog, quite probably the biggest food blog influence in my life. Lisa's too. (We like to pretend we are on a first name basis with the author and her husband...of course we're weird!) The cookies were amazing. I will now let all my cookie dough rest at least 24 hours before baking. However, that does allow a lot more time for the dough to be eaten and not baked...

Some less-than-great surprises: a little car mishap in Berkeley that is resulting in a very large price tag, Sylvester my cactus dying, but most salient right now is this. (Before you start to narrow your eyes in disgust that I even mention the S-word of coffee on this hallowed ground, please know that not all of us grew up in places with an abundance of cafe culture. Starbucks introduced me to espresso when I was just a silly junior high kid with no concept of coffee. It also enabled me to see that there is much better out there.) But back onto the topic. I did not care a ton about 600 Starbucks stores closing, but then I took a closer look at the list and was promptly saddened. First, there is the Standiford & Tully store closing, which miffed me a little because it is spacious and happy and orange and the closest place to home. But then...the Berkeley Shattuck & Cedar store, nicknamed "the faraway Starbucks" by yours truly, the site of so many memories...I am sad to see it go. It was a place of retreat for me, where lots of hangout with friends and Jesus and even studying happened. It was also the place where Lisa found out she would be a hot 50 year old woman...dearest faraway Starbucks. I suppose this is one of those times when I just need to buck up and realize that Berkeley is not obligated to stay the same, in fact can't stay the same...but I can look back on all the very wonderful times and take joy in all of them.

update: In addition to a dead cactus, my mother and I also managed today to kill our fish. We were cleaning his water and he managed to jump out of the bowl and into the sink. I had to turn the disposal on him. Hoping there is joy somewhere to be found here...

Monday, July 7, 2008

If we dare say so ourselves

by Lisa

Really, I don't have much I want to say today except that Sarah and I made a potato salad this weekend which we quickly declared was The Best Potato Salad We've Ever Had.

Okay, maybe I have a few pictures, too. We had some burgers,

did some cartwheels (more like, As Many As We Could Possibly Do Before Feeling Ill),

tossed around a frisbee,

and laid around like kittens.

But really, the most important thing we did, honestly, was make and eat that potato salad. Okay, fine. Maybe that was second to hanging out with each other. And eating burgers. And doing cartwheels and playing frisbee. And sleeping like kittens. But still. It was darn good.

It was so good I'm tempted to go buy more potatoes right now. Even though it's July 7th. And we're not having a picnic for dinner tonight.

The Best Potato Salad We've Ever Had
adapted by Lisa and Sarah, from The Silver Palate

My favorite foods to make are those which don't depend on exact measurement, but rather require intuition and experimentation. So, as usual, please don't stick to what I've written here. Taste along the way (how could you not?) and adjust to your preference. You're bright. (You certainly will be after making and eating this baby.)

8 red potatoes, washed, peels left on
3 hard boiled eggs*, chopped

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2-4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2-1/4 red onion, diced small
1 or 2 stalks green onion, chopped thin
handful of chopped Italian parsley

splash of white wine vinegar
splash or two of olive oil
salt and lots of fresh ground pepper

Boil potatoes whole in salted water until tender but still firm. Boil eggs as instructed below. In a bowl, stir together diced vegetables with mayonnaise and the rest of the ingredients, except last three ingredients. Roughly chop eggs when they are done. When potatoes are done, slice them roughly and sprinkle still-hot potatoes with vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix into mayonnaise mixture.

Eat. Enjoy. Rinse. Repeat.

*Tried and true method: Add cold water to pot with eggs, bring to boil, covered. With pot still covered, turn off heat and set timer for 5-7 minutes (depending on how cooked you like them). Drain, and run cold water over them until to stop cooking and cool eggs. Also, older eggs (i.e., purchased a week ago or so) peel more easily, so plan ahead if you can.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

There is no theme to this post

by Stephanie

It seems that I haven't posted in over 2 months. Thanks, Lisa, for picking up my pathetic slack. Hmm, let's see, the excuses for the absence: I graduated from college (note the ceremonial leis), moved back home, am currently working on raising support to go overseas next year...not good enough reasons. (I actually misplaced my USB cable, which prevents photo uploading to computer. And you think, Steph--how lame do you get?) What have I been doing, food-wise and etc-wise, exactly? No easy answer, so here are some highlights that were chosen because I have accompanying photographic evidence.

First, a little surprise outing for some Very Special Little Sisters to Lovejoy's Tea Room in San Francisco, lovingly planned by Teresa and me. They thought we were kidding when we told them to bring blindfolds. Dressing up for little feminine jaunts like this is just one of the many things I'll miss about being in a sorority. The people, of course, I'll miss most (here: Natalie, on the beautiful, beautiful little sis and Steph, my honorary little because we are the same person, waiting outside the place, which induced many giggles from passers-by.)

I'm in Modesto (my hometown) for the summer. It is an ever-growing town (or city?) with over 200,000 residents and continuing. But its roots reside in agriculture, and this is never more prominent than in the summer, when fruit stands are at their best as their proud displays burst with splashes of color--plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots, pluots. And cherries. OH the cherries. I've been chomping through bags and bags of them since I returned home in late May. My favorite is called Fidel's, and every time I go the lady who works there smiles warmly at me and playfully chastises me if I take only one bag because inevitably I will be back the same day for more.

Here's something I've actually done: individual chocolate souffles with a 9.7 oz Scharffen Berger home baking bar (70% bittersweet, of course, acquired from the delicious Scharffen Berger factory tour) for my friends Heather and Kristen from Oklahoma who visited for a couple weeks back in June. They were a little dense. I had a hard time deciding when to take them out of the oven because my ramekins are different sizes and how high are they supposed to rise anyway and I wanted them to be perfect...but we managed though, and everything tasted a little sweeter with some homemade whipped cream.

Does anyone know why my pictures are turning out all blurry? Is it the lighting, the fact that I can't hold my arm steady when I take a picture, or that my camera is 4 years old and I've more or less thrown it around rather roughly for those 4 years and it wants to quit?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A win-win situation

by Lisa

Navigating life in a period of transition comes with its challenges. In just a few weeks I'm packing my bags (more like, my bag) for the Windy City, leaving (at least physically) many dear friends from college (the most growing period of my life) as well as the part of the country in which I've spent most of my life.

When it first sunk in that I was leaving, I wondered about how I should invest in relationships. Did I need to taper off times with old friends, or just the opposite? And I also faced decisions about new acquaintances. Do I ask somebody to lunch and just as soon as they let me into their life wave goodbye? (They'll probably just as soon be thinking, "I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello..." Or maybe only Annie would think that.)

I had the same dilemma two days ago, when I re-found the seed packets some good friends had given me for Christmas. I don't know why I had put off planting them (or making a sourdough starter or writing that thank you card or anything else on The List, for that matter). Ah, procrastination. I guess it took Realizing There Isn't Much Time Left to just go ahead and try planting them. Pretty soon after, this thought flew into my head: "I'm going to be so upset if they actually grow (because I'll kick myself for not having planted them earlier)." Then I (just as) quickly realized the stupidity of that thought - of course I wouldn't be upset! It is almost a truth universally acknowledged that much sadness can be swept away by parsley pesto or a bowl of fresh arugula with goat cheese and vinaigrette.

It was a win-win situation. If I had herbs before I left, I would be joyful. And if I didn't - well, it didn't matter that I hadn't tried earlier!

I labeled the pots with question marks at the end. Who knew if they would contain parsley, chives, or arugula? So I labeled them "parsley?", "chives?", and "arugula?".

Today after getting up from a little nap, I checked the plants to see if they needed water. I couldn't believe my eyes - was I still dreaming? - when I saw tiny little shoots in the arugula pot! It hadn't even been two full day since I had planted them!

So I'm hopeful. Like the arugula, some new friendships of the past few months I'd mentally labeled "friendship?" have similarly started to sprout up. And instead of having regret that we didn't start this earlier, I'm grateful for what they are now.

And so I'm going to water them and care for them for the next 55 days and see what happens.