Friday, September 28, 2012

Salted caramel mocha vs. willpower

Guess who won that battle? Dang, I should not have had that mocha! It was like a zillion calories. The barista offered to make it nonfat, but I said no. In for a penny, in for a pound. Yikes, except it probably really will be a pound (on the scale, that is). But it was YUMMMMMY!

Once again I have nothing special to blog about, which is weird because I woke up at 2:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep for all the blogging I was doing in my head. As a result, I am on the grumpy side today from lack of sleep. I'm holding it together, though.

So let's get this blog thing going. How about some updates?

Last night's attempt at a steak dinner went better than the previous two. I'd give it a solid B, maybe even a B+. I managed to cook them medium-rare, woohoo! This time, I heated up the pan, poured in a little oil, swirled it around until the bottom was covered, then went to the garbage disposal and poured all the excess out. Yes, Mom, I know you're not supposed to pour oil down the disposal. But I don't have time to root around under the sink for the yucky jar filled with oil and grease, not when Katie is hanging on my leg demanding "Up! SEE!!!"

Anyway, I think I was right about too much oil ruining the steak last time. So this time it didn't have that weird boiled meat taste, thank goodness. The only thing wrong was that I don't think the pan was quite hot enough initially. I heard a little hissing when I added the meat, but not the fantastic, smoke-inducing sound that I'd hoped for. Next time, higher flame. Otherwise, it was very tasty. Anthony, as always, was appreciative, and today he got a steak sandwich to take to work! Poor guy, deli meat gets so boring after a while.

In other news, while I was buying the steak at Costco, I bumped into an old friend from my Lindy Hop days. She's a bit older than me, and has two kids who are now at UC Davis. They're incredibly happy and well-adjusted kids, not to mention good students, so I know I can trust her parenting advice. She told me about a nearby co-op preschool called Little Hands. It's a nonprofit and it's run mostly by parents. I believe they have a couple of paid teachers and administrators, but all the other work is done by the parents. We are taking a tour on Monday and I'm really excited! It sounds miles better than Gymboree, but it also sounds like a lot of work. So we'll see. I would be so happy to meet some other parents of kids Katie's age. I love staying at home with Katie, but it can be a bit isolating. It would be so neat to have some play dates - both for Katie's sake and for mine. Since Katie's birth, we've had exactly two play dates. One was with a mom I really liked but who went back to work full-time, and the other was with the infamous mom who brought her sick kid over and gave Katie the worst virus she's had to date.

More news? Let's see...the wasp nests are now gone, thanks to Donovan's Pest Control. Unfortunately, my crunchiness got in the way, and I requested that they not use a "residual" pesticide to keep killing the wasps for months on end. I didn't want any poison that lingered around Katie's play space. I just had them remove the existing nests, and since it's getting close to winter, I hoped we'd be in the clear. Well, the wasps are back, and I can see that they're busy building new nests. I've decided to do nothing. They are paper wasps, and as wasps go, they are the friendliest, least-stingy species. They've never bothered us in the least, so we're just going to live and let live. Besides, they're said to eat lots of other pests in the garden.

So that's about it! We're looking forward to 48 hours with Dada (aka The Weekend). Gotta love Fridays! :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kitchen Inspiration

I may have mentioned before that we're close friends with the family that lives across the street from Anthony's mom. Anthony has known the Gonzalezes for roughly 25 years, and over the years we've spent a ton of time over at their house. The parents, Olga & Carlos, are older than us but not as old as our parents, which makes them extra fun. Their kids are close to our age, too, so we always have a good time over there. Plus, there's always a ton of food and it's always incredibly delicious!

When I visit their house, I'm always struck by what a meticulous housekeeper Olga is. Her house is staggeringly clean, no matter when we drop by - even unannounced! Recently, my friend Emily (who happens to be Olga's daughter-in-law) revealed her secret: Olga refuses to go to sleep at night until the house is immaculate. She will stay up after guests leave, even until 3 or 4 in the morning, cleaning up. (Their parties often last into the wee hours!) My mind still boggles at this revelation. When I had parties (pre-Katie), I was way too tired to clean up the same night!

But anyway, Olga has inspired me. For years I've been battling the kitchen clutter monster. I was totally guilty of letting stuff "soak" in the sink for days on end. My sink frequently housed some pretty gross dishes. "Eww, what is that?" was a commonly asked question. And then, the ants. You remember my post about our daily invasion of ants. I finally had my "Aha!" moment, and it was a combination of Olga's spotless kitchen, my disgusting morning ant-killing ritual, and the following advice from my mentor.

We've all heard that it takes 21-28 days to form a new habit. I've tried forming new habits before, but they've seldom stuck. I think I finally figured out what was wrong. My mentor explained that our brains form an identity that includes our personal habits, and when that identity is threatened, our brains rebel. That's why it is so hard to break an old habit - your brain says "Hey! Eating junk food is who you are!" or "Being a smoker is who you are!" or in my case, "Having a messy kitchen is who you are!" Your brain recognizes the old habit and pressures you to keep doing it. It takes 21-28 days for your brain to recognize a new pattern and quit pressuring you to stay in the old one. The "aha" part is that I used to put a time limit on my new habit. I thought since it takes 28 days, I just had to get through 28 days and then my new habit would be formed. I was forming the habit "This is who I am for 28 days" instead of "This is who I am."

So now, every night (and indeed, throughout the day) I remind myself that I am The Woman with the Spotless Kitchen. I'm not cleaning the kitchen for 28 days. I'm forming a new identity. I know this probably just sounds like semantics, but it's working! I'm on day 18 (I had to check the calendar, I'm not actually counting) and my kitchen looks amazing! Actually, there are a couple of Katie's bowls in the sink and I am itching to go and put them in the dishwasher. Why? Because I'm The Woman with the Spotless Kitchen and bowls in the sink bother me! LOL!! (Seriously, this is such a 180 from before, I just have to laugh!)

Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?  ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More cooking adventures

Grr. I am super annoyed by how last night's dinner turned out. As you probably already know, I'm a reluctant cook. But, since I am the homemaker in this family, I've been dutifully trying new recipes, hoping to hit the jackpot. I thought Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Dinners might be the answer. I have never liked Sara's show on TV, but my friend Emily thinks she's great. I decided to give her cookbook a try. So far I'm 0 for 1 - not an impressive start.

We had some steaks in the freezer left over from Labor Day Weekend. I defrosted them for last night's dinner. (Which takes an eternity, by the way...we must have the world's coldest fridge.) I didn't feel confident enough to try using Anthony's grill, so I decided to pan-fry them. This is, apparently, the way the "real" chefs do it - and the results proved resoundingly that I am not a real chef.

I have a few bones to pick with Sara for her instructions. Firstly, she says to preheat the pan and then add oil, but to wait to add the meat until the oil is almost smoking. Hello? How on earth do I know when it's *almost* smoking? To my untrained eye, and the eyes of anyone who would need to read the section entitled "How to Cook Steak," it's either smoking or it isn't!

Secondly, she admonishes the reader not to turn the steak with a fork or precious juices will be lost. Okay, that's reasonable, but it would have been really nice if she had suggested what to use instead of a fork! Fortunately I've watched enough Food Network to know that tongs are a good idea here, but again, for someone who's inexperienced enough to need to read "How to Cook Steak," give us a break!

Finally, she instructs the reader to season the steak on both sides, put it in the "almost smoking" pan, and not to touch the steak again until a crust has formed underneath. How can I tell if there's a crust UNDERNEATH unless I pick the darned thing up and look? <wheeze wheeze>

The upshot is, I believe my steak steamed instead of searing, and I thought it tasted pretty awful. At least this time I didn't overcook it (remember the Father's Day Steak Fail?) Anthony, of course, ate it anyway and liked it. If there was ever a silver lining to this cooking debacle, it's having a husband with understanding taste buds.

I am not giving up on steak, though. I am itching to try again, but it upsets me to ruin those beautiful pieces of meat. Oh well, the only way to learn is to keep trying. Onward!!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Are you ready for some football?

OK, I admit it.

This post is just filler; the real reason I'm posting is to show the world this adorable picture of Katie and Dada, chillin' on the couch watching the 49ers. (And no, the skirt really isn't that short, it's just hiked up a little funny because she slid down the couch. It's a modest length.)

Anthony and I decided to start Katie's football education early. Part of the reason is the abundance of trance-inducingly adorable 49ers cheerleader outfits. They really are trance-inducing; that's the only way they can get you to pay their ridiculous prices. And it works - we're on our second outfit!

The other reason is that Anthony and I are very much at odds when it comes to baseball. When you think of baseball rivalries, you probably think of Red Sox/Yankees first. Well, here on the West Coast, we have a little rivalry of our own, known as Dodgers/Giants. It goes back probably 100 years, when the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and the Giants were in Manhattan. And it's ugly. And baseball is my favorite sport, and I grew up in L.A., steeped in Dodger Blue.

And I now live in the Bay Area, married to a Bay Area native. We knew before Katie was born that there was NO WAY either of us would let her root for the other one's team. So we decided she'd have to be a Mets fan. The Mets were an expansion team that took up some of the slack when the Dodgers and Giants moved west. Their colors are blue, for the Dodgers, and orange, for the Giants. It's perfect, except...the Mets haven't been good in quite a number of years. Poor Katie. Whenever we hear the scores from around the league, we invariably end up saying, "Sorry, sweetheart, your Mets lost!"

But football we agree on. I wasn't a football fan at all until college (Go Bears!), so I had no allegiance to either of the teams that were in L.A. when I was growing up. Now, of course, L.A. doesn't have a team at all, so that makes it a no-brainer. I'm a 49ers fan, and that means Katie can be too!

Although the first pre-season football game is a horribly depressing harbinger of the end of the baseball season, I'm happy to have a sport Anthony and I can agree on. And Katie too!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Hooray, we have wasps! :(

Over Labor Day weekend, Anthony and I decided to transplant one of our rose bushes from the back yard to the front. Doesn't that sound like a nice, easy weekend project? Our back yard is tiny, and there isn't much room for Katie to play. The previous owner stuffed every square inch with rose bushes and tanbark. We have neither the time nor the expertise to tend roses, which is why they're all scraggly and overgrown and nearly bending over with the weight of all the rose hips we haven't pruned. I love roses, but really, twenty-one rose bushes is more than enough.

We also happen to have a big gap in the foliage in front of our house, which the HOA has left mysteriously unplanted since we moved in nearly three years ago. We thought, hey, let's stick one of the roses out there and see if they notice! Technically, we aren't allowed to make any changes to the landscaping out there, but I've adopted a "don't ask, just go ahead and do it" policy when it comes to dealing with the HOA. I called them once to ask if we could replace our chimney cap, and they told me it was $250 just to file the paperwork to ask that question. Needless to say, we said "Never mind!" but went ahead and did it anyway. Oooh, we are such rebels!!!!

So as soon as Katie went down for her nap on Sunday, we headed out to the front yard with shovels in hand. The big bare spot faces the street, so I was careful to act casual every time a car drove by. Anthony laughed at me for being ridiculous, but he's the one who suggested Labor Day weekend so that everyone would be out of town! I suppose for secrecy's sake, we should have dug the hole in the dead of night, but that would have looked a lot more suspicious!

We got the hole dug fairly quickly. Our instructions said to dig it twice as big as you think it needs to be. I told Anthony this when it was about a foot in diameter, and he said, "It's already twice as big as I think it needs to be!" But we persevered, and widened it to about 2 feet. That was the easy part. Then we went into the back yard, into the hot September sun, to dig up the rose.

The soil in the front yard was sandy and damp. The rose, on the other hand, seemed like it must have been planted in concrete. We tried a hoe, a spade, and finally a pickaxe. We'd been given instructions to preserve as many of the roots as possible, to keep everything damp while working, to wrap all the roots and dirt in burlap and to plant the whole thing immediately. We threw those instructions out the window, one by one, as we struggled and sweated to get this stupid rose out of the ground. I went and got the lopper and started lopping through roots so Anthony could get his pickaxe through the soil. It was a nightmare. Finally, the only way to get that rose dug up was to break up all the soil around the roots and yank it out of the ground. I'm sure stripping it down to its bare roots is not the best thing for a rose bush...but oh well, at least it's out of the back yard. As soon as we'd placed it in its new hole with some special plant food and lots of water, I started to hear Katie on the baby monitor. Anthony quickly filled both holes and we were done! Yay.

We were so sore the next day! (We still are today, actually.) But we both had a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Unfortunately, as we stood in our back yard, admiring the new space, we noticed a new wasp nest! Hoo-freakin-ray. Normally, I would leave them be, as they're supposed to be natural predators of other yucky things, but they're just too close to Katie's play area for my comfort. Sorry, wasps! Tomorrow we're getting an estimate from an exterminator, so your days are numbered.

Oh - and the other 9,999 rose bushes? We're going to hire someone to remove those suckers!