Author Archives: Sandi

Apricots with Mascarpone Cream

I am currently in that circle of hell reserved for people who blog about food but cannot eat it. I’ve had some kind of stomach virus (I think. Or it could be worms. That is exactly what I need. Worms.) since last weekend and though I hadn’t been hungry all week, I am very hungry now but the stomach is not accepting donations.

I’ve generally been feeling weird lately, and part of it I attribute to aging. I can’t remember anything anymore. I recently went away on a girls’ weekend (which, sadly, ended at some point) and the whole weekend was full of conversations like:

“So I have a friend that lives in…African country! Abject poverty! Blood diamonds!”

“The Congo?”

“Right! This is just like that game…shouting out clues! Have to guess the word! Board game!”

My friends and I, we are losin’ it. But the good news is that soon we won’t remember to care.

The other good news is that it’s apricot season. Apricots just look so…peachy to me — like a teenaged girl with good skin (I would never know what that’s like). I got a box of apricots from my CSA and made this dessert which I promise may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted (it’s  large category, that.). Seriously though it is incredibly awesome, like as awesome as if your tongue were a skating rink and Olympic skaters were winning the gold medal on it.

Some incredibly gifted person named Miki posted this on Allrecipes but I modified it a bit to add a bit of citrus and floral aromas, substituting lemon curd for apricot nectar, marmalade for apricot preserves and using a violet flavored balsamic vinegar .

APRICOTS WITH MASCARPONE CREAM adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients

  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 2 TBSP lemon curd
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 3 TBSP marmalade
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar (I used violet flavored vinegar)
  • 8 fresh apricots, pitted and halved

Preparation

  1. Beat the cream in a chilled bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar and set aside. In another bowl, whip the mascarpone cheese with an electric mixer until very soft; beat in the lemon curd, vanilla extract, and cardamom. Gently fold the mascarpone mixture into the whipped cream.
  2. Place the marmalade and honey into a microwave-safe bowl and heat in microwave oven until warm but not hot, about 30 seconds. Mix well and stir the balsamic vinegar into the honey mixture.
  3. Stuff each apricot half with a dollop of the mascarpone cream and place the filled apricot halves on a serving dish. Drizzle the fruit and plate with balsamic sauce and serve.

Serves 8 (or 1, if it’s me).

TMI Series: The Moon Cup Menstrual Cup

Alert! Alert! Turn away now if:

  • You want to read about food right this minute
  • You’re squeamish about blood and bodily functions
  • …and probably if you’re a man

I am about to venture deep into the nether regions of TMI land, and pretty far away from food, but I have experienced something so life-changing that I feel like I have to become an evangelist. Mostly so that I can stop blabbing about it to my husband to whom I believe I am giving nightmares.

***UPDATE: The good folks at Gladrags.com (makers of the Moon Cup) have offered my readers 10% off their purchase! Use code TMI10. Thank you Gladrags!***

If you’re like me, getting your monthly period is no cause for celebration, and is, in fact, and exercise in planning and preparedness. In short, it’s a huge pain, literally and figuratively. So recently when a friend asked if I’d ever tried a menstrual cup, I thought I’d research. I’d heard of them before, most recently from reading the Zero Waste book, but the author was also doing things like looking into using moss as toilet paper and sewing her own maxi pads, and I just wasn’t ready to go there. Even though I compost.

First off, for those of who you are unfamiliar with the concept, a menstrual cup is a silicone cup inserted in largely the same way as a tampon, but instead of absorbing the flow, it catches it. At first glance this sounds very, very messy, but…it’s not. And if you have a sick fascination like I do with the output of your Biore strips, I think you’ll actually enjoy it.

I started investigating online and found thousands of reviews from women talking about how life-changing the cup has been for them. And after having gone through my first cycle with one, I can confirm that for me, the following claims held true:

  • I really appreciated the no-paper-trail, no-landfill-polluting nature of the cup. That is, no crinkly papers to deal with, no garbage created in your (or someone else’s) home, no worries about whether your tampon is going to clog up the plumbing. I’m usually mortified at the amount of waste I create each month, and this month — maybe just a few extra sheets of toilet paper. The cup is reusable for a number of years (the manufacturer of the Moon Cup mentioned that their customers use it for up to 10 years).
  • I found it more comfortable than a tampon, and it doesn’t “fall out” like some tampons do.
  • Because it doesn’t absorb like a tampon does, the risk of TSS goes way down, and you don’t have to worry about the uncomfortable removal of a tampon in the later days of your cycle…if you know what I mean.
  • I had less cramping with the cup. I have no idea why this is the case but other women mentioned the same thing — I’m not going to complain.
  • I had just about no leaking with the cup (and this is my first time ’round, so I was learning), and I am on the heavier side of the normal flow range, I always leak with a tampon, and I was using o.b., which I found to expand laterally better than the other brands. The cup forms a suction along the vaginal walls — so generally, no leaking.

If you’re about to embark on this adventure for the first time, there are a few things to know:

  • Cups come in different sizes and shapes. You’ll want to get an idea for how far up your cervix is before buying, because having a cup right up against your cervix can cause cramping. This tutorial shows you how.
  • This link and this one have pretty comprehensive comparisons of the measurements, shape and texture of the various cups on the market. If you’re going for bigger capacity, like what you would get with the Diva Cup, just be sure that the cup isn’t going to end up right against your cervix. I liked the idea of bigger capacity, but started with the Moon Cup (US — there is also a UK version) instead and I probably have to change it more on heavier flow days than I would with the Diva Cup, but it is completely comfortable. I also cut the stem on my Moon Cup about 3 mm and that made it perfect for me. The Diva Cup talks about a “twist” to pop it open, but my Moon Cup pretty much pops open on its own. It also comes with a cheerful yellow gingham carrying bag which seems to say “Yay period!”
  • There are also slightly different insertion and removal methods that work with each cup, but there are plenty of great videos that show you how to insert and remove a cup. Ladies, you must break the vacuum seal before pulling out the cup, or I imagine it could be quite painful.. With the Moon Cup in particular, I find that the best method is to grab the stem with toilet paper, for better grip, and then to break the seal by pressing one side of the base of the cup away from the wall, and wiggling it down side to side. When it’s low enough, I grasp the base of the cup with my thumb and forefinger, and this gives me a good handle on the cup so that there’s no messy spilling. You do have to be unafraid to get your fingers up in your business, but that wasn’t an issue for me since I was an o.b. user anyway. Just dump the flow into the toilet. I found that after a few runs I was able to do the removal with very minimal mess.
  • Ideally, you’d rinse the cup with soap and water before reinsertion, but in a public bathroom, you can wipe it down with toilet paper and reinsert until you can wash it. I’ve read about people bringing water bottles or peri-bottles with them in stalls for the rinsing, and that sounds like a good idea too. Other women said they just carried two cups, and would stick cups to be cleaned into a plastic baggie until they could get home.

On my heaviest days (for context, I would soak through an o.b. Super Plus tampon in 2 hours, and any other brand within 1.5 hours), I found that emptying the cup every 3 hours was sufficient and resulted in no leaking (if I used a Diva Cup, which has larger capacity, I might be able to go for longer — but I’m a little worried that it will hit my cervix). For the first time ever, I went without a backup pantiliner or a pad…though I would advise on heavy days using a pantiliner just in case. Now that I’ve gone all eco I think I’m going to try these reusables from Gladrags, the distributors of the Moon Cup US. On lighter days, I only needed to empty it once or twice a day, and I had no problem swimming with it on a heavy day. And overnight it was a DREAM. None of the gross issues I’ve had with overnight pads, and ZERO leaking (I emptied right away when I got up).

Now you know this has to be good if I’m as excited about this as I am about food. Feel free to ask questions below in the comments and I’ll try to get you the answer. Thanks for not fainting!

The MasterChef in My Kitchen

This post is dedicated to all of us out there who have to watch MasterChef with a drool-catching napkin in our laps.

Have you ever watched MasterChef Junior? It’s like The Hunger Games and The Food Network put together minus the killing. Anyway, I can’t get through a MasterChef Junior episode without weeping — I just get so sad when those kids cry! Which is why I was glad that we moved on to MasterChef Season 4. And why my kids talk like Gordon Ramsay at dinner every night. I think we watched the whole season within a couple of weeks.

Several of the contestants on Season 4 were from San Diego. One day, when I was driving on the highway, I could have sworn I saw Lynn — one of the top 10 contenders — in his car. When I got home I told the kids and they squealed like little girls (ok, they are little girls) and peppered me with questions about the encounter (which, I remind you, was just me thinking I saw someone who was maybe potentially him on the highway, for which “encounter” is a strong word).

My older girl’s birthday was coming up, and I didn’t have any good ideas on what to do. She’s always been really easy and low-maintenance, and I wanted to do something special for her. So I had an idea…if she was so excited about me maybe possibly seeing Lynn on the highway, what if he showed up at our door? He always seemed super nice and level-headed on the show, and also, I wanted to eat his plates.

Leveraging the internet as the superb stalking tool it is meant to be, I found his contact information and emailed him my unusual request. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks and figured he put me in the Scary folder of his Inbox, but one day he did respond — and he said he would do it! I emailed him pictures of the girls and we arranged for him to show up at our house for my daughter’s birthday to teach her and her sister to cook a few dishes.

A few weeks later, while we were on our spring break staycation, we went to D Bar in Hillcrest for dessert.

I had this Poco Coco Loco, which was a panna cotta topped with a layer of tapioca, with a passion fruit compote, a passion fruit cloud and a macaroon. I might have shed a joyful tear in between bites.

Now, I knew from my online (let’s call them “research”) skills that Lynn had taken some of the photos on the D Bar website, and since he was due to show up to our house in a few weeks and since it had been some time since we had finished watching Season 4, I wanted to be sure the girls remembered him when he came over. So I asked, “Do you know who took the photos for the D Bar website?…Lynn! From MasterChef!”

The girls started whispering and giggling and then my younger one said, “And he’s right over there!!!”

And he was.

Which made me look like the ultimate stalker.

After a few false starts my older daughter finally got up the guts to go talk to him, and he recognized her from the photos and said, “Oh hiiiiii….”. He turned to me and said, “Sandi, right?” at which point I could only wave like a girl on a parade float awkwardly trying to figure out how to keep this all a surprise for a few weeks later.

“Mom, do you know him?!?” daughter #2 asked, at which point I said, “No! Of course not!”

“Oooooh, I get it,” she said, “He recognizes you from the car!”

Ri-i-i-i-i-ght, I said, from the car! Because how could you not remember me if I maybe possibly saw you on the highway, right?

As it turns out, Lynn was with Shaun, another MasterChef contestant, who also happens to be a magician (and was in town for a magic convention)! So I guess you could say it was quite a magical evening as we were regaled with wizardry and sleight of hand. Lynn was delightful and answered all our incessant questions about his MasterChef experience and gave us tips on how to make macaroons.

The next day, of course, was spent watching MasterChef Season 4 episodes all over again.

Fast forward a few weeks to the birthday weekend. 2 PM, the doorbell rings, and we ask the birthday girl to open the door.

Lynn was perfectly charming with the kids and brought some amazing ingredients from Specialty Produce, like these beautiful basil flowers:

He got them started on prepping parsnips and taught them some proper knife skills.

They made a vinaigrette:

and learned the best way to juice a lemon to prevent the seeds from falling in:

They tasted as they went along:

and plated:

Here’s what they cooked up: first, a lovely heirloom tomato salad with red onion, basil and basil flower:

A side of roasted cauliflower:

And a rack of lamb, which was seared…

…then baked and served atop a parsnip puree, garnished with chive flower, alongside the colorful cauliflower and purple carrot medley:

And let me tell you, that lamb. I would fight you for that lamb.

Dessert was a mascarpone sorbet with raspberry coulis and coconut flakes:

I’m sorry it’s not totally in focus. I was concentrating on not eating it long enough to take the picture. Can you say so creamy that you want to die (in a good way)?

And as I licked the sorbet bowl clean while nobody was looking, Lynn packed up his knives and was off to his next gig…something involving sous-vide and a beer pairing for 50 people. Like a short rib-bearing Santa Claus. Thanks Lynn!

{Travel} Palm Desert and Anza-Borrego State Park, California

A native of the east coast, my impression of the desert has always been as follows:

  • You are always crawling through it on your knees.
  • Saying “agua”.
  • Then you see an oasis. But you collapse before you get there.

Since I’ve lived in California, though, the desert has become a restorative place for me. Nowhere is the sky bigger, the vista larger, the hues more serene. The desert has a majestic quiet about it, coupled with a resolute sense of determination. The desert lives on through the harshest conditions, and surprises us with its resilience.

I’ve been in the desert a couple of times in the past few months. In February, my parents, my brother’s family and mine spent a week in the Palm Desert area.

While we were there, my parents celebrated their 45th anniversary.

I posted this cute picture of them on Facebook and got a bunch of comments from relatives in Taiwan. Embarrassingly illiterate, I had to rely on Google Translate:

灑恩愛,很有版面,值得讚許,願您們在世的日子牽手共度嘉年華。

Sprinkle loving, very layout laudable, you would like to spend their days on the earth in hand carnival.

你們在溫暖中享受鴛鴦划水,我們在冰箱中成為蚯蚓了

You enjoy duck paddling in the warm, we became the earthworms in the refrigerator

I’m a little worried about what I wrote in response, but Google Translate would never lead me astray, right?

We did spend a good amount of time floating around in a pool:

…but we also found time to enjoy the vistas at the top of Mt Jacinto, via the aerial tramway:

The girls had a great time playing with their baby cousin:

It was a fantastic, relaxing vacation and I left restored.

Until a week later.

Back in the full swing of life and work and acquisitions and activities, I was tired again. It was time for a weekend getaway, this time a camping trip to the Anza-Borrego State Park.

This was our first time camping in the desert, and we were excited. Not the least of which because we had finally invested in a tent that actually fit 4 people — not the 4 person tent we had before which entailed my husband sleeping diagonally across the legs of the children.

This was the view from our campsite:

I love those two palms. At night, they look like a frizzy-haired couple watching the moon together.

This was the first time that the kids were able to do some pretty serious hikes. I’d say there were only 3 wpm (whines per minute) as opposed to the 45 or so that we’re used to. And they made it to the top! Of what I don’t know, but it was definitely the top of the trail.

 

One of my favorite new plants we encountered is called the ocotillo:

I just love its vibrant red flowers and its weeping yet sturdy form.

We also did a 3-mile hike to an oasis — this involved a bit of climbing, and it did get pretty hot along the way, so maybe it wasn’t so far off from the desert I had in mind originally. But eventually, we did get to the oasis. Sound advice for the desert: bring lots of water. You’ll need it before you get to the oasis.

On the hike back, we ran into a rattlesnake. I was too chicken to get close enough to take a picture, but then we ran into this guy later on:

We also came upon a group of people with binoculars who had spotted some big horn sheep in the distance. I’d like to think that I saw them too — I just couldn’t tell which part of the brown they were.

But what I did see was the utter vastness of the desert. The open expanse of big sky and mountain ranges as far as the eye can see…I love this feeling of being diminished, of feeling that I’m but a small part of something so much bigger. For an anxious person like me, it takes the pressure off. It’s a nice reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
– Mary Oliver

Gluten-free Chocolate Quinoa Cake

The world is awash today with images of hearts and chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. I know what you’re thinking. Chocolate, hearts, berries…but what’s Valentine’s Day without quinoa? I hear you, ye tired, hungry and gluten-free. Because having quinoa in your cake is like having dinner together with dessert. It’s just more efficient.

I happened upon this recipe at the Week of Menus blog. She must cook during the day because she has way better lighting than I do, and is reflecting on how to be a better mother while I am just thinking about my hair and thinking about how I can make dinner into a dessert. (I cut my hair. After a couple of weeks of awkward silences and people averting my gaze trying not to comment on it while I was figuring out how to work with it, I have finally found a way to make it look effortlessly tousled which requires way more time than if I tried to make it look like I made a concerted effort. But such is the price of beachy.)

Week of Menus has done a good job laying out the recipe, so I’ll just link to it below, but the basic gist is that you mix the quinoa in a blender with a bunch of stuff and end up with a batter that looks like this:

Bake it like she tells you to. I’m sorry, but making my hair look effortlessly tousled has drained me of my will to share detail. You’ll end up with a cake.

Then you can cut a heart out of wax paper, snowflake-style:

Place it over the cake and dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar:

End up with this:

So follow the recipe. Eat it. Enjoy.

Vegan Coconut Chana Saag

I’m about as vegan as Fox News is liberal (I recently purchased a vegan leather jacket, because, how often do you find a jacket made of vegans?), but when I was killing time one day while my kids were at their riding lesson when I started reading a vegan cookbook. And it was fascinating. It was like cooking within a completely different universe. The fundamentals were different. It was like learning another language. Switching from PC to Mac. Learning to write with your navel. I’ll come up with the right analogy eventually.

And you know what? The dishes are beautiful. And flavorful. And most surprisingly (I always envisioned vegans as starving), filling.

This is the first recipe I tried. It was really quick, easy, and so flavorful. My carnivorous family loved it.

All you do is brown some onions in coconut oil:

And then add in everything else (spices, tomatoes and chickpeas). Cook it for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the kale and cook for another 5 minutes, and squeeze in some lime juice. Let it sit for 10 minutes and make sure you serve it with something like rice or flatbread to mop up all the vegan deliciousness of the sauce. Enjoy!

COCONUT CHANA SAAG from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Isa Does It

Ingredients

  • 2 TBSP refined coconut oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP minced fresh ginger
  • 2 TBSP mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp anise seeds or crushed fennel seeds)
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 24 oz can whole tomatoes
  • 2 15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 8 oz kale, chopped
  • 1 14 oz can regular or lite coconut milk
  • 2 TBSP fresh lime juice

Preparation

Preheat a 4 qt pot over medium heat and add the coconut oil. Saute the onion in teh oil for 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned.

Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the curry powder, salt, pepper, anise seeds, garam masala, cumin, and cayenne and toss to coat the onions, letting the spices toast a bit (for a minute or so).

Add the tomato juice from the can, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze, simply hold the tomatoes and let the juice strain through your fingers. Now add the tomatoes from the can, squishing them with your fingers as you put them in the pot, to mash them up. Add the chickpeas and mix well.

Cover the pan and bring the heat up a bit. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the kale and stir until wilted, then let simmer for 5 more minutes, uncovered, to cook it down even further.

Add the coconut milk adn heat through. Add the lime juice, then taste for seasoning. It tastes best if you let it sit for 10 minutes or so.

Serve over basmati rice with a little mango chutney and cilantro on top.

On Tree Stalking

 

This is not my garden. It belongs to a guy called Monet.

When we first moved here, I didn’t know much about west coast plants so was pretty much flying blind when we planted the first time. So just before Thanksgiving, we redid our garden. My vision was that it was going to be a Garden of Eden type setup (minus the snakes and except that we would wear loincloths since our homeowners association forbids public nudity) wherein, when hungry, we would just venture outside and pluck food off of a tree for just-in-time consumption. Good-bye, grocery stores!

Aside from a walkway lined with camellias, we installed loquats, figs, grapefruit and avocado. But to have a really well-rounded diet, you need to add persimmon and pomegranate too. But alas! Persimmon and pomegranate were out of season. I could not have them! I had to wait until they were available in bare root form, sometime in the winter. Winter!!! I can be a little impatient and obsessive sometimes (shocked hush falls upon the world).

This camellia actually is from my newly planted garden.

So I started calling. I called every nursery within 50 miles of me, and scoured the ones online too. They were saying January. February. I wept. And after a day of rabid stalking research, the nice man at Home Depot told me he expected them to come in mid-December. This was better news. This was hope. And then a little desperation kicked in because I started calling him every day to check on the trees because what if they came in early? And then I started get a little embarrassed because he clearly recognized me so I started using different accents but the same voice. Hindsight is always 20/20.

These are also from my garden. Oh wait, not mine. They’re from the Queen of England’s garden. Nevermind.

Finally, on the day I used my Alabama accent on the phone, he told me that they were in! They hadn’t been unpacked yet, but they were in! I dropped everything. I sped off to Home Depot. And there they were, a huddle of bare root trees, tied together on the ground like a bunch of people kidnapped for ransom but with sticks for bodies.

Since they were bound together I had to have an employee cut them apart. But…I cleverly avoided the male employee in the department since I feared he would recognize me, and went up to the female employee. She said she didn’t have a knife and walked over to the male employee. He asked me which types of trees I was looking for and I meekly answered him. He looked at me and asked, “Did you call?” to which I replied, “I called yesterday.” which was technically true.

At last. I’ve found you.

I took them home, followed the instructions on the package, and after watching a billion videos on how to prune a bare root fruit tree, pruned them. This stick in the ground is the persimmon:

and this one the pomegranate:

You just have to trust that these are going to produce enough food for a family of four in a few months, people. It’s called faith.

 

Get 10% off grow light when you shop at www.AccessHydro.com. Valid until February 2014.

Duck with Lavender Honey

It’s a (relatively) chilly December day, bright and sunny with just a bit of bite in the air — the So-Cal way of announcing winter. Though I don’t miss the long, cold winters in the east and midwest, in a place that gets nearly year-round summer, chill is a a bit of a novelty. It’s also the perfect weather for duck.

Crispy-skinned, savory and fatty, o how I love thee duck. What do I make for Thanksgiving? Duck. Christmas? Duck. Easter? You guessed it. Duck is the new black, people!

What I love about this recipe is that it requires very little hands-on time, which leaves more time for fun things like tabletop decor.

Don’t judge my wrinkled tablecloth. It’s too big and unwieldy to iron properly. I just dim the lights and serve wine which seems to take care of most of the wrinkles. And most other things in life, come to think of it.

I’ve been making this duck for about 13 years and I never tire of it. Hope you’ll love it as much as I do!

DUCK WITH LAVENDER HONEY adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Savoring France

Ingredients

  • 4 tsp fresh lavender blossoms or 2 tsp dried blossoms
  • 4 tsp herbes de provence
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 duck, about 5.5 lb
  • 4 TBSP lavender, acacia or other strong-flavored honey
  • 3 TBSP red wine

The day before:  Mix the spices and herbs together in a small bowl. Remove the giblets from the duck cavity, rinse the duck and pat it dry. Using a sharp knife, cut crisscrosses through the fat — but not into the meat — of the breast. Rub the duck inside and out with the herb mixture. Discard the neck. Let marinate overnight, or at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roast for 2 hours. Remove form the oven and pour off all but 1 TBSP of the collected fat from the pan (I reserve the fat and make french fries with it, but that is admittedly over the top!). Spread the duck breast with 2 TBSP of honey and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Baste with pan juices, and roast another 10 minutes. Remove duck again and spread with the remaining 2 TBSP honey, and sprinkle with half the lavender blossoms. Roast for 10 minutes longer, then baste again with pan juices. Cook for another 5 minutes and remove form the oven.

Move the duck to a platter, cover the it loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce.

Put the roasting pan over medium heat and add the remaining lavender blossoms and the red wine. Deglaze the pan, stirring with a wodden spoon to remove any browned bits from the pan bottom. Cook until well blended and slightly reduced, 3-4 minutes. Keep warm.

Carve the duck, place on a platter, drizzle with sauce and serve immediately.

Serves 2-4.

 

 

 

 

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How Boston Restored My Sanity

 

Last month, which shall heretofore be known as The Month in Which I Lacked the Mental Fortitude to Post, I shrieked “I QUIT!!!” to my car, which accepted my resignation with stoic silence. My husband was on business in Boston, my calendar looked like a rainbow had puked, I was sick, my kids were over-scheduled and I was supposed to take them to Boston that weekend for a family wedding (did I mention that we’d be flying on Halloween when they’d be all jacked up on candy?). I was feeling a little resentful about my dishpan hands and the lack of having a house filled with cooks and servants a la Downton Abbey, and that’s how I went into the month of Thanksgiving.

There’s nothing like a getaway and a wedding to fix a grinchy attitude.

I used to live in Boston, long ago. I found my apartment on a quick weekend trip, in the paper (back when people read those): $900 a month for a 2-bedroom, Harbor view, close to the T. Went to check it out, and sure enough, it was right on the Harbor and a steal with a parking spot too, and just a 10 minute walk to the JFK / UMass stop on the Red Line. The rental agent told me it was a diverse community, which I took to mean that it included doctors and dentists.

My first night there I was wondering why there were fireworks. I also thought it was weird that every morning I’d hear on the radio that someone was murdered in my neighborhood.

Yup. My apartment was in the projects.

It was fine, actually. I was a consultant at the time and mostly out of town, and when I was in town I would just walk as if I knew kung-fu and everyone pretty much left me alone. Except for the story of the Chinese girl (me) and the hubcaps…but that’s for another time.

One of my early Boston clients was near Faneuil Hall, so I’d grab dinner there frequently. I dragged my family there and we got lobster rolls. Good start to the weekend. I have simple needs.

Next, we hopped on a double-decker tour bus with open-air windows, at which point it started to pour with rain and howl with wind. There are no pictures of that since we were soaked to the point that we feared we might drown. This made me thankful for California.

The weather cleared up later in the day and we hopped over to Cambridge to visit a small liberal arts college near MIT (sorry, that’s a friendly jab at my cousin). We saw fall colors!

I look forward to our family weddings because our family, though huge (my mom has eight siblings), doesn’t seem to have the stamina to plan a family reunion so we rely on life events to bring the cousins together. Here are some of our kids. We only make girls:

The wedding was lovely and there were a few hours between the ceremony and the reception, so we walked around downtown and ran into Terry and Cornelia in the midst of their photo shoot.

The reception was at the Boston Marriott Long Wharf hotel, which happens to be where I lived for about 6 months on my very first consulting project. I used to get a cranberry-orange muffin at the bottom of the escalator from the Dunkin Donuts cart every morning, which is the only time I’ve been recognized as a “regular” in my life (and even then, only as the cranberry-orange muffin girl). It’s been completely redone and Dunkin Donuts has been replaced by Starbucks, so though I had anticipated flashbacks it looked like a completely different hotel.

The food was fantastic and everyone was happy. That’s what I like about weddings — they’re so happy! I’d forgotten by this time that I had no servants at home.

Now, you see that girl in the red dress on the right hand side?

It’s Jennifer Che from Tiny Urban Kitchen!!! How do I write this in a way that makes me appear not to be a stalker — she’s kind of a big deal. Look at all the award badges she has on her site. Then look at all none of them on mine. People actually invite her to eat their food and blog about it. I have to pay people to let me eat their food, and probably to get them to eat my food too.

My favorite thing about Jen’s blog are the authentic Asian recipes she has on there — specifically, the Chinese / Taiwanese dishes that I grew up with but never bothered learning how to make. After we got home the kids and I were inspired to try making her hand-pulled noodles, which I’ll dedicate a post to later. Suffice it to say that she makes it look easy while we made it look like larvae.

I was really excited to meet Jen, who was super nice and incredibly skinny for someone who seems to eat all the time. I discovered that she sings and plays a bunch of instruments too in addition to being able to pull perfect noodles out of a mound of dough.

Of all the cities I’ve lived in, Boston was never my favorite — probably because with my consulting lifestyle, I wasn’t around much. But it is one of the places where I’ve gotten some of my best stories (see “projects” reference above) and where I did a lot of growing up. And this time — thanks, Boston, for getting me back on track.