Adventures in the Kitchen #1

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Somewhere along the line I convinced myself that I cannot cook. When someone would ask why, I’d always mutter something about not enjoying it, or not being interested in learning. These weren’t lies exactly, but what it really boils down to is that I simply lacked confidence in my own abilities. I worry so much about the end result that I have trouble just relaxing and experimenting in the kitchen. Everything my mom cooks turns out beautifully, I would put so much pressure on myself to compare to her. I just never really tried. But I’ve changed in many ways over the past year. Having people to care for and nourish with healthy, strengthening meals helped me to push through this block I’d created within myself. So I’ve begun with simple recipes – soups, basic chicken and beef dishes. Then I branched out into baking. I made Robert’s mother’s banana cream pie, then a chocolate and fruit tart. And each time I’ve felt my confidence grow. Though I’m still a beginner, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun now. And so, every so often, I’ll share one of my adventures here.

When I woke up this morning I envisioned a steaming bowl of albondiga soup. And I couldn’t get it out of my head. My mom still hasn’t given me her recipe, but I did have a youtube link up my sleeve. Amelia Ceja, President and owner of Ceja Vineyards, posts video recipes for many of her favorite dishes online, and I’d been saving this one for over a year. Albondiga Stew with Amelia Ceja:

The recipe is quite simple and the ingredients are fairly inexpensive. I didn’t follow her recipe exactly – I left out the mint in the albondigas; in the soup I added a few dried basil leaves, substituted a can of El Pato sauce for the tomatoes, whole garlic and serrano chilies and omitted the corn (the only fresh corn at the grocery store was just too expensive).

Caldo de Albondigas

The end result: my test subjects loved it, and each had seconds. My craving sated, I sat back and enjoyed another glass of wine while the guys cleared the table. Success! I hope you give the recipe a shot – if you do, please let me know how it went. Salud!

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…

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me: “I’m going to start decorating for Christmas. I won’t put the tree up yet, but this place could use some color and cheer, damn it.”

the BF: “I don’t like it. What happened to your whole ‘No Christmas ’til after Thanksgiving’ rule?”

me: “Yeah, I know. I’m over that. I realized that I love the holidays, it’s my favorite time of year. So why limit it to a month? Why not enjoy it as long as possible?”

the BF: “You’re nuts.”

me: “Irrelevant. And I’m not the one humming ‘The Christmas Song,’ am I?”

Red and Gold

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My loyalty to the San Francisco 49ers has as much to do with memories of my fathers as with love for the “home team.”

I’ve been a Niner fan since I was old enough to actually pay attention to and understand the game (except for a brief period when I called the Chicago Bears my team because bears are awesome). Being raised by a single mother who didn’t care for sports, when I was very young the only time I got to watch football was when I visited my biological father. He was and continues to be a diehard 49ers fan.  I became emotionally invested in the team for that reason – and because it was fun to hang out with my father and brothers and watch football during Winter break.

When I was nine, my mom met the man who would become my stepfather. And sports were brought into my everyday life. My dad  – okay, I’d better clear something up. It’s funny, decades passed before I called him “dad” directly, but I’ve always referred to him as “my dad” when speaking about him. Which confuses people who know my biological father to no end. So, father = biological; dad = my amazing stepfather. So, my dad was a Los Angeles Rams fan when he came into our lives. But he eventually came to root for the Niners as well. However, after they won the Super Bowl in 1989, he decided that they “won too often” and wanted to root for a different team. He kills me. So he started rooting for any team that played against my Niners, and we had fun giving each other crap. Those were good times.

By the time I left home, I was a solid 49ers fan in my own right. And even through all these years of team turmoil and strife, I’ve never wavered in my faithfulness to the 49ers. I’ve watched on my own, with friends and family, with boyfriends, with the BF. I’ve cheered and hollered, bragged and moped, made lots of memories both at Candlestick and at home. And every time I sit down to watch a game, I feel a little surge of love for my two fathers.

Music on my mind

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I’ve been in a wistful, nostalgic, slightly melancholic place these past weeks. I think it’s best expressed in song.

I’ve been listening to the same handful of Freddy Fender songs over and over for the past few days. Though I’m not a country or tex-mex fan, his voice and music evoke a feeling from my childhood, memories I can’t quite make out. My mind goes back to family parties in St. Helena, the grownups laughing and dancing. Right now I’m particularly enjoying his version of Volver, Volver with Flaco Jimenez:

The first time I heard of Mariachi El Bronx was when they were listed as the opening act for Primus’ LA shows at Club Nokia last October. A punk band playing mariachi music? Unsure of what to expect, I braced myself for the worst – a bunch of guys making fun of a musical form that is a part of my soul. They stepped out on stage and started playing – I was immediately a fan. This is Revolution Girls from their latest album, Mariachi El Bronx (II):

I woke up one morning with thoughts of Syndea and this song filling my head. Drown is one of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs, but Today was the song that Syndea always said reminded her of her time with us in Napa. Somehow, my mind has chosen Drown as my song for her, and this is a great live version:

Someone tweeted a link to a cover of this last song. It was a beautiful version, but the original is one of those songs that got me through the most difficult bits of my childhood. This song called to a heartache that was bigger than I had words for at the time. Though I was too young to comprehend the lyrics, I knew the meaning down in my bones. Simply Red’s Holding Back the Years:

The Fishwives’ Book Club

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From Wikipedia: “A fishwife is a woman who sells fish. In this context, the word wife means woman rather than married woman.This usage stems from Old English wif (woman) and is akin to the German weib, also meaning “woman”. This sense of the word is still used in Modern English in constructions such as midwife and old wives’ tale. Fish women were notoriously loud and foul-mouthed as in the expression, To swear like a fishwife.”

What better name for our book club? We three neighbors, and now friends, have formed a club based on proximity, mutual affection for reading, and most importantly, a love for wine and colorfully candid discussions about our lives. And we manage to get a little book conversation in, too. Smart, down-to-earth women, we curse and laugh and gossip and it’s a damn good time. I cannot take credit for the idea, that’s all Shauna, but I can’t think of a better name for our club. Now we just have to design our club patch and choose a motto.

Seriously, I feel so lucky to have met my fellow fishwives. Speaking of, I’d better get going. It’s Friday night and I’ve got wine and gossip awaiting me just a few doors down!