Vacation

I’ll be traveling for the next two weeks, so in the meantime, please rummage through old posts and see if there’s anything you missed!

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Pesto, pesto, pesto

From an episode of Seinfeld
[Setting: A restaurant]
(Jerry, George, and Elaine are all eating at an Italian restaurant. George hasn’t eaten anything)
ELAINE: Do you want some of mine?
JERRY: Take some of mine.
GEORGE: Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it, like I have to like it.
JERRY: Who said you have to like it?
GEORGE: Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear – pesto, pesto, pesto.
JERRY: I don’t like pesto.
GEORGE: Where was pesto 10 years ago?
JERRY: Elaine is having a “houseguest.” She’s picking him up at the airport tonight.
GEORGE: A guy?
ELAINE: (Slightly embarrassed) Yes, a guy.
JERRY: He’s from a.. Yakima, right?
ELAINE: Seattle.
JERRY: Everybody’s moving to Seattle.
GEORGE: It’s the pesto of cities.

i don’t care what anyone says, i love pesto. this year i’ve been experimenting with making lots of different pestos, mainly because i have had bumper crops of herbs in the garden. i made the classic basil pesto but with walnuts because, although they add a wonderful creaminess, the price of pine nuts is ridiculous.

a few years ago i planted one little tarragon plant that has now become the monster that took over my garden. i’ve been cutting, digging and giving it away as well as using it to flavor roasted chicken and in pickling vegetables but the damn thing never seems to get any smaller. finally, i cut about two feet off the top of the plant, which is now about five feet high, and that resulted in about 5 packed cups of tarragon. so, into a pesto it went along with some parsley, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, walnuts, olive oil and juice from a half of a lemon. when i tasted my creation soon after making it, i was a little worried because the walnut taste was quite pronounced and there seemed to be a distinct flavor of grass. but after letting it sit for about an hour the flavors came together and it was simply delicious.

c and i do not eat a lot of pasta so we are enjoying pesto on grilled chicken or fish, as a spread on bread or as a dip for various vegetables, and as a substitute for mayo on a sandwich. because of that, i use less olive oil than would normally be called for which allows the pesto to emulsify better. if i want to use this same pesto on pasta, i just add more olive oil. i also discovered that mixing one part pesto with one part softened cream cheese makes a wonderfully delicious spread. you can also mix pesto into hummus or soups or any other spread you can imagine.

since we are up on the tail end of the gardening season, i used up all the basil in the garden to make one last basil pesto. this time i used pistachios, which made for a softer flavor and a texture close to a pesto made with pine nuts. and once again, the flavor was much better after sitting for some time.

the classic way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle, of which i have many being married to a pharmacist and all… but not the right kind for making pesto. like most people, i use the food processor. so one day, i was all geared up to make one pesto and my food processor quit working. out came my trusty blender and i discovered that a blender pesto is much smoother and creamier than food processor pesto, but you have to be careful that you don’t overblend.

i don’t use recipes for pesto, just ratios and if you memorize the ratio, you can be completely creative in making pestos out of anything that sounds appealing.
pesto:
2 – 3 parts herb to 1/2 part oil, 1/4 part cheese, ¼ part nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, juice of ½ a lemon (if using herbs other than all basil) and salt.
And you can easily make pesto vegan by just leaving out the cheese (although you have to add more salt to compensate)

regardless of which device i use, here’s my process for making pesto:
roughly chop the nuts in the processor first and set aside. chop the garlic by hand. grate the cheese. process the herbs in the processor with the olive oil until halfway to the final texture. add the nuts, garlic and cheese and continue to process. add more oil if necessary to achieve the texture you want. tightly cover the mixture and set aside for an hour.

the combinations are endless.

and after the summer is long gone you can still evoke the memory of lazy summer nights and the perfumed air of a thriving garden.

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Filed under Food, gardening, summer, tips

School Daze

for the first time since 1989 c and i have no children going back to school. well, not as students at least, we do have one teacher and one high school color guard instructor.

it’s an odd feeling to be so disassociated with a large part of the population and i have to admit to feeling a bit melancholy. of course i’m nostalgic remembering the days of first day of school outfits and the smell of new backpacks and crayons, crisp notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils and brown bag lunches lined up on the kitchen counter. i’m conveniently forgetting about dragging kids out of bed, hounding them to do their homework or praying that for once they would practice their instrument without having to be nagged.

in spite of having them around 24/7 in the summer, it was a much less stressful time than during the school year. not caring what they wore, not caring as much about what they ate, not caring what time they got up, not completely monitoring their tv watching and only caring about what time they went to bed because it meant time for c and i to spend together. there were fewer free hours in the day, but summer didn’t have all the details and deadlines.

i was sometimes a full-time working mom and sometimes a stay-at-home mom during all those years and i can tell you that either way, starting up with school again is a stressful endeavor. just getting past the excruciatingly detailed supply lists and attempting to get three kids with very distinct personalities to do something as simple as choosing a backpack (let alone a pair of shoes) was a job in and of itself. to no one’s surprise a new study just came out which showed that women felt less stress at work than at home.

the years we had one child in elementary school, one in middle school and one in high school were hectic beyond description. each school had a different start and end time and only the elementary school had transportation. c drove the first one when he left for work, i drove the second one and the third one got dragged along for the ride because he was too little to be left home alone. after that, the third one got walked to the bus stop or to school. i had a giant whiteboard calendar that showed all the various school requirements and activities for three kids in three schools and every inch of it was filled with notes.

just taking a stab at attending all three back-to-school nights was a challenge. one year a school board member spoke at the middle school back-to-school night and kind of lectured parents about being involved with their kid’s education and getting to know the kid’s teachers and assignments, etc. sounds like a reasonable thing to say and i daresay that c and i were appropriately involved in our kid’s schooling (meaning: we were not helicopter parents).

either that school board member only had one child or never had the experience of three kids in three separate district schools, but either way, i wanted to let him know how daunting the task could be. i wrote him an email and politely let him know that i agreed with him in principle, but asked how we were supposed to get to know about all of kid’s classes and teachers when there were about 20 classes 28 teachers. yep, three kids had a total of 28 different teachers. add in coaches and instrumental teachers and your head might just explode.

so why am i nostalgic about all that? because in spite of it all, raising kids was still one of the best parts of my life and there are times when i miss it.

happy back-to-school kids and parents! hope you have a wonderful year.

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Stop it! Just stop it!

i’m not a first adopter and i’m not a trend setter. or perhaps i should say that neither of those are a goal of mine but sometimes i accidentally become the first at something.

but these days everything goes viral and every other day there’s another new meme to keep up with and/or add to and it’s even difficult to be on the cutting edge if you’re trying. (well, except maybe if you’re a kardashian…)

here’s the thing about memes: most often lunacy takes over and someone has to declare that it has to stop (not you ann counter).

so now i’m declaring that some things have to stop.

can we just talk about the grilled salad? okay, so maybe this concept would work if we were talking about grilling vegetables that make sense to grill like peppers, onions, eggplant or even corn. i might even be able to get on board with grilled tomatoes (although i’m not sure why a glorious, fresh august tomato needs to be embellished.) i subscribe to a couple of cooking magazines and a couple of other magazines that routinely include recipes and this idea of a grilled salad has been making the rounds.

so let me get this straight: i’m supposed to take a perfectly wonderful item like romaine lettuce — which by the way i eat because it’s crunchy and usually cold– and burn it on the grill. and i’m not even sure why. i have had this burned lettuce and i don’t get the appeal. is it just because it completely flies in the face of logic?

grilling salad either began and an act of clumsiness or a drunken meme and now it’s evolved into a party trick. i guess that we have just plain run out of ideas. that must be it. there are just so many cooking shows and cooking segments and cooking magazines that we have to make up insane things just to fill air time or pages. but when you run out ideas stupidity prevails. like grilling lettuce.

and speaking of grilling, can we just talk about grilling summer fruit and/or perfectly good pound cake? i’m especially baffled by the proliferation of recipes calling for grilled watermelon. i’ve had grilled fruits (peaches, nectarines and pineapple) and they’re good enough, but grilled watermelon is ridiculous. it does not make it taste any better, in fact one thing watermelon is not enhanced by is being eaten at anything other than icy cold temperature. isn’t the reason we eat watermelon to be refreshed on a hot summer day. how is a wilted, burned, limp slab of watermelon refreshing?

btw, if you notice almost all of these grilled fruit recipes call for ice cream or whipped cream to complete the flavor profile, which leads me to believe that the real flavor everyone is raving about is sweet ice cream or liquor flavored whipped cream.

we need to cease with the compulsion to “do” anything more to some of the glorious bounty this time of year than just enjoy it. we also need to stifle the impulse to follow along with every harebrained idea that gets printed in a magazine or posted on-line.

chris rock said it best: “just because you can doesn’t mean it’s to be done.”

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Filed under Food, gardening, laughs, seasons, summer, tips

Freedom and Simple Pleasures


i did something this weekend that i haven’t done since i was a kid: i walked around in a bathing suit when i wasn’t on the beach. okay so it was just to a little deli to get lunch takeout and walk back to the motel pool to sit and eat, but it was kind of huge for me.

some of you probably think, “what’s the big deal?” and others are thinking about how much you want people without beach bodies to cover up already. let me clarify that my bathing suit is a tankini with a skirted bottom so i’m not talking about a tiny bathing suit here. even though i’ve worked hard to wear a size or two smaller than the “average” american woman, i’m still a big person. and i’ve always been self-conscious, especially about my heavy arms (my mother used to say that we are descended from good, peasant stock).

but i had a revelation.

near us on the beach was a muslim family enjoying the perfect beach day and i found myself staring at them, or trying hard not to stare at them. the father wore knee length bathing trunks and no shirt, but the two women with him where wearing long pants, a long tunic and black head covers. they were happily walking on the shoreline with their children while the water soaked the bottoms of their long pants and i thought how uncomfortable that wet fabric must feel against their skin. later, the women were swimming and playing in the ocean, up to their necks in the water, still completely covered. they could only feel the cool ocean water directly on the uncovered skin of their faces, hands and feet.

a few things occurred to me: 1. how glad i was that they were not restricted from enjoying the ocean and 2. how sad i felt that they would never feel the cool water or the ocean breeze or even the hot sun directly on their skin and 3. here i was with the freedom to enjoy all of those sensations and had spent years choosing not to.

whatever self-consciousness those women may have felt at being on the beach and in the water fully clothed did not seem to matter to them. they frolicked, tossed around a football, giggled with their children and generally enjoyed a refreshing and fun day at the beach.

last year i decided that too many years had passed since my self-consciousness deprived me of a swim in the ocean and waded in. okay, so i was slammed into the sand moments later because i have no wave skills, still i headed out toward c and the two of us had a nice time. this year, i was prepared to enjoy the ocean again but made sure i had a cover-up for when we walked to and from the motel.

seeing those women made me think.

i can tell you that it’s a lot cooler to be out in the hot sun in a wet bathing suit and no cover up, but i can also tell you that i got very sunburned. i can also tell you that later that evening as c and i were leaving for dinner, we took a selfie in which i was wearing a strapless dress without my usual cover-up and someone posted a snotty and hurtful remark – a person who often complains about other’s insensitivity.

my first instinct was to change my dress after that remark. my second instinct was to put on the cover-up even though it was a little too warm to wear it.

in the end, i didn’t change my dress. i took the wrap with me and i only put it on because i was cold.

freedom sometimes takes a bit of time.

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Three Decades

C and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this week.

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806 – 1861

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

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Which America?

The US economy is back! Well, maybe. The stock market is surging, though that’s not really a good sign of an altogether healthy economy.

Since I work in the financial sector, what I see is mostly anecdotal evidence that the economy is working well… for some.

High net-worth individuals are walking into our office with five and six digit bonuses, clients who are trust fund baby report that they’re jetting off to the far ends of the earth with their every increasing yields and our everyday investors are calling and expecting their returns to be double digits. The corporations they work for (or own) are sitting on piles of cash and just about everyone is upsizing their home or buying a second one.

There’s more evidence in the local news.

A couple of stay-at-home moms recently started a small business called I Hate Camp Laundry , which does pretty much what you guess it does – picks up and cleans your kid’s camp laundry so you don’t have to do it when they get home. Their tagline is: “For just about 1% of the cost of camp, all your cleaning is done!” That 1% equals $169, so you can do the math from there.

I also just read a review of a new restaurant in Philadelphia that seems to indicate a return to the “roaring” economy of the past. Not only do you have to buy “tickets” to the restaurant in advance, once there you are in for 15 courses and four hours of your time, all of which can be had for about $250 per person. And prices are going up this fall. (Interesting aside: the space where the restaurant is located was partially funded with public (state) funds). Some of us are doing well enough to consider, in the words of reviewer Craig LeBan, “… a mortgage payment” on a single dinner for two but how many of us?

Hopefully we’re all benefitting from the first America, but let’s not forget about the other America.

There is still an increasing need for food banks in the area and kids who participate in the school lunch program during the school year sometimes go hungry over the summer.

More people might be employed now that at the height of The Great Recession, but they’re working at lower paying jobs. There’s a persistent notion that raising wages will tank a fragile economy in spite of evidence to the contrary.

So government policies protecting the wealthy and corporate profits have worked and the model of floating monies to the top in the hope that it will trickle down hasn’t worked.

There’s increasing evidence of two Americas. I’m not as militant as Randy Moas

But I think that Nick Hanauer might have a point.

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