Sunday, November 26, 2006

To Go

Certain members of my family, who shall remain nameless, opine getting a doggy bag – asking your server to put leftover food in a bag you can then take home – is unthinkable.

Certain other members of my family think not doing so is a waste, and waste is a capital sin. I belong in this latter waste phobic category. I believe having the ability to request a box to take home what you left on your plate is one of the many things that make this country great.

If your plate is heaped with food and you’re taught, as I was, to finish what’s on it, you eat every scrap in a frantic attempt to banish the thought of them (God forbid) throwing it out. If you know you can take it home, you relax and enjoy the meal at leisure. Twice.

And this is what happened after our memorable Thanksgiving lunch. Not only did we have a celebration worthy of an annotation in our personal history book, but also we got to be grateful again, and enjoy it again at dinner the next day. (Minus the dessert. For one thing, there was nothing left to bring home, and for another, I’m valiantly back on the no sugar wagon.)

Long live leftovers!

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Grinch that (almost) stole Thanksgiving

Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.

Ambrose Bierce

I was set on abstaining from Thanksgiving celebrations this year. Normally, it’s one of my most favorite holidays. But this time around I wanted to stay home, go on hikes and watch movies. I mean, you’re expected to eat too much – what’s the fun in that?

In addition, I’m not a fan of a lot of typical Thanksgiving fare. Stuffing. Pumpkin. Butternut squash. Turkey. So, we declined a few invitations and chose to hunker down and enjoy four glorious days of doing nothing.

Or so I thought.

Luca surprised me with reservations at Cetrella, a restaurant on Main Street we go to when we have something to celebrate.

When this was first announced, I was bewildered. Had I not been saying that I was looking forward to just hanging out at home? Had I not recently confessed to not being a fan of yams? I looked longingly at my reading nook and resentfully jumped in the shower.

I’m so glad Luca yanked me out of my pre-holiday funk. We had a HUGE lunch, to celebrate this fantastic holiday with the dignity and reverence it deserves. We started with roasted pumpkin and pear soup. Then, a mixed green salad with persimmons and blue cheese. After that, we were served slow roasted turkey (moist! yummy!) with cranberry and orange compote (the combination of cranberry and turkey is just brilliant. Brilliant.) and (“And”. Not “or”.) rosemary honey glazed smoked ham.

As side dishes, we had wood roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon and smoked bacon, roasted yams with goat cheese and toasted pecans (I finished them – yams with goat cheese and pecans rule) and brioche sage stuffing with wild rice, roasted vegetables and toasted chestnuts. (As you can see, there was a lot of roasting going on at Cetrella.)

Also, ceremoniously breaking my nearly two month abstinence from sugar in honor of Thanksgiving, we had pumpkin pie – possibly the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted, with spiced cream on top - and chocolate pot de crème for dessert.

After that, we rolled into the car and drove along the coast, to take in the perfect, cloudless, crisp fall day. We went on a couple of short hikes on the cliffs to see the Pacific Ocean (photo above.) Then we came back home and I happily partook in another honorable Thanksgiving tradition. I took a two-hour nap.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Not this time

I know. The Holidays are upon you, and you’re feeling you have more things to do than time to do them. Right? And you tell yourself that this is the opposite of the point. The point is to be on a holiday, to have time to think, take stock, carefully pick a New Year resolution.

So I told myself: not this year.

In a frenzy that began about two months ago, I made a list of Little Things That Don’t Get Done Until You Put Them Down In Writing; and then went methodically through it. We changed the outdoor sconces, replaced a couple of light bulbs, re-touched the paint in the house. We re-landscaped our overgrown, jungle-like front yard. We had the windows cleaned. We went through our closets, weeding out things we didn’t use throughout the year.

I then reviewed what I had in my pantry and bought the missing ingredients that would turn these random items into actual meals; cooked several dishes and froze them. Then, I restocked the pantry and the fridge with new things. (Yes. I do worry that all my labels face in the same direction, like the demented bad guy in “Sleeping with the Enemy.”)

I went out, bought all our holiday gifts and wrapped them. We ordered our cards, and then requested my friends send me their updated addresses and created labels, which I printed.

Last week, I suggested to Luca that we fast in Thanksgiving, in a gesture of gratefulness and self sacrifice that seems more congruous to me than giving thanks while eating too much. Luca, who until now was putting up with my maniacal obsessive behavior, drew the line. He wants turkey and chocolate coffee pecan pie, thank you very much.

So I shuffled over to my desk to scrutinize my calendar and my “to do” notebook, to figure out what else I could possibly do to get ahead of the elusive curve.

That’s when it hit me.

I’m getting ready for tragedy to strike. It did on January 15, 2006, when Luca had a heart attack, and I was caught completely unprepared. I never want to be that naïve again. It was like being shot in the back.

Is it at all possible to have a plan for whatever life has in store for us? Can we ever truly be ready? Can seven hundred lists make one hoot of a difference?


Well, at least if something unexpected happens, maybe our Holiday cards will be delivered by then. And if you drop in for a surprise visit, there is fantastic Minestrone in the freezer.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

At peace, with you

The word "homesick" does not exist in Spanish. You can say "I miss my home" or that you are feeling "nostalgia", even "melancholy", but it's not a handy, right on the mark, single word like it is in English. Which is odd, since Mexicans are world known to miss their beloved Mexico when they're away. (And is, furthermore, proof that you can indeed feel what you don't have a word for.)

What exactly is "home"? When you leave your country of origin to go to another, when does the place you go to become home, if ever? Are immigrants destined to feel forever incomplete, harboring a vague sense of loss, of not belonging, a disorientation that lingers for years? Do these people dream of one day returning only to realize that ten, twenty years have gone by, that their lives have been accidentally built elsewhere, that what they knew as "home" no longer exists?

Many years ago, when I was living in Paris, I called my father on the eve of September 16th (Mexican Independence day) wailing for my family, Mariachis and Mexican food. Aside from that single sleep deprived dramatic exception, my personal experience is that I tend to make home wherever I am. I don't mean that I have no roots, but rather that I grow them quickly. Personal space is important to me, so I swiftly create and inhabit it. I seldom suffer from homesickness (unless I'm traveling on business, in which case all I want is to return and walk around the house touching my things, doing laundry and making soup.)

In a recent family reunion in Mexico, the subject of "homesickness" came up, as Kathia, my brother's wife, seems to be afflicted by it. In the middle of the conversation, my father turned to me and said with finality "you are never coming back to Mexico". It was an unmistakable statement, but I wondered if he hid a question in the folds of its certainty. I shook my head. "While I don't think it's impossible" I responded "I think it's unlikely. Home is California". This is incredible to me, as I grew up feeling for my country almost the same way I felt about my parents. It has happened, though: I'm homesick for California when I am in Mexico. (I tell myself that California used to be Mexican territory. Can I be blamed for circumstancial political geography? Am I not, strictly speaking, on Mexican soil?)

I must make a reference to two songs here - an Italian one, where Jovanotti raps "Voglio andare a casa - e la casa dov'e’? La casa e’ dove posso stare in pace con te" (I want to go home! And where is home? Home is where I can be at peace with you.")

And a Mariachi song that I can't help but cry to:

Mexico Lindo y Querido (Sweet Mexico Dear)
Si muero lejos de ti (If I should die far from you)
Que digan que estoy dormido (Have them say that I am only sleeping)
Y que me traigan a ti (And have them bring me back to you)

When I die, I'd like my ashes strewn across Montara Mountain, which I know in my heart to be Mexican territory, with its dry brown earth and grassy patches that overlook the Pacific Ocean. In the meantime it's home - casa, dove posso stare in pace con te.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

I am not alone

My Godmother used to order raisin bread and then pluck out all the raisins, piling them high on the farthest possible corner of her breakfast plate. When people asked why she didn’t just order ordinary bread, she'd just smile and shake her head.

If a dish involves more than a single ingredient, my friend Andy won't eat it unless everything is evenly chopped into very small pieces.

Sam doesn't like "crunchy and soft". Chocolate chip cookies, for example, need to be nut free.

I have never, ever heard my mom order something right off the menu. She needs to make complex adjustments to every dish. Her husband, Tomas, orders fish al ajillo (meaning “with garlic and chile guajillo”) without the garlic – comparable to ordering a ham and cheese sandwich without the ham (which, much like my Godmother’s raisin bread, would beg the question – why don’t you just order a cheese sandwich?)

With the possible exception of my angel-like husband, who is annoyingly close to perfection, we all have our quirks (and, yes. Some of us are quirkier than others. For proof, feel free to read “Stuck with me”.) Don’t even get me started on my ultra idiosyncratic father, whom I suspect to be the root of possibly more than 50% of my own higher-than-average peculiarity.

Do you have an endearing (or annoying, depending on who you ask) food related eccentricity? Does your significant other have one? Come on. Do tell. I know a certain someone who organizes her spice rack in alphabetical order… you know who you are. Come on out and celebrate what makes you be exactly who you are!