Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Shakin' in My Booties

We SoCal-types are so laissez-faire when dealing with our faults (some might say too lazy or too fair). We have so many that we can’t escape barbs and jars that come our way. Almost any fault map of Southern California looks like a vein road map of our bodies – lines everywhere.

I was forty minutes into my LA Fitness routine when the most recent quake hit this morning. I felt a bit of a movement and sensed an incoming. Seconds later, the gym jolted and shook. I, and about 50 other sweaters looked up, and around, and then continued our routines. Yawn. Only one, a forty-something woman, begin walking rapidly for the exit, phone glued to her ear. The local TV stations immediately switched into 24/7 Breaking News mode, while searching for any thing breaking.

The epicenter was about 20 miles east-north-east of Anaheim Hills, and initially registered a 5.8 on the scare scale (later downsized to 5.4). Cruise ships and Amtrak rock more than that. Regardless, I cut my workout a little short (it’s nice to have excuse now and then) because it suddenly dawned on me that a year ago we had tiled half the downstairs. Arriving home, all was well – no cracks to the naked eye. A couple of artifacts had fallen over as well as one DVD floor rack.

Later, before cameras, a Los Angeles city councilman calmly blathered that experts project within the next decade a San Andreas Fault fracture measuring from 7.9 to 8.1. That was unsettling. For the uninformed, anything over a 7.0 is a MASSIVE earthquake.

I recall that during my first year in Los Angeles, after an extended stay with a certain Uncle, I was rudely welcomed to SoCal with a 6.5 quake at 6 AM on my birthday. The epicenter was 30 miles north of my studio apartment in West Los Angeles. It bounced me out of my twin bed. I crawled back in and went back to sleep, only to later be awakened by a panicked call from my betrothed, PJ, from her dorm at UCLA. She was shook up a bit more.

In another 4-5 years PJ and I will be off to our sunset years’ nest, though it won’t be the faults’ fault. Where to, we do not yet know. But our research will include fault maps.

Meanwhile, I’m ignoring The Big One’s inevitability, while hoping it holds off until we get the hell outta here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Saturday Morning Grind

If your morning java tastes are now Starbucks-educated, you have options. Go online to www.coffeeproject.com. Order a coffee roaster. I have the $75.00 Freshroast machine. $75.00? Work with me here. The Coffee Project sells over 35 varieties of green beans. Yes, coffee beans are green when harvested. I buy the organic Costa Rican La Minita. Green beans are half the price of roasted beans at any coffee cafe. If you drink a fair amount of coffee, the roaster will pay for itself in no time.

Soon you will have really fresh roasted coffee every morning. Think aromatherapy. On Saturdays I roast up enough beans to last a week and store them in an airtight ceramic container left easily accessible on my countertop. I was never much of a Starbucks fan, especially their coffees-of-the-day. After roasting my own for several years, there is no comparison.

For a finer, more consistent grind, use a burr coffee grinder rather than a standard grinder. They can be a bit pricey but you don't need the top-of-the-line. The Coffee Project offering is $149.00. I bought mine at Costco for under $50.00. Shop around. A burr has multiple grind-settings from coarse to fine. If you like the flavor of coarse sea salt, when a recipe calls for finely ground sea salt, you don't have to dash out and buy it.

If your wife comes down one morning and orders a grande, skim, decaf, triple-shot, sugar-free, almond latte, no foam, with two Splendas, and just a dash of nutmeg, tell her to get up 15 minutes earlier and stop off at a coffee cafe on the way to work. Then get very worried about what recipe requests may be coming next. You're a cook, not a barista. Since she barely makes it out the door on time anyway, those requests will cease.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Master of the House

Domestic Engineer Guys wear several new titles: Man of the Mansion, Don of the Domicile, Dean of Domesticity, and Master of the House.

The Master of the House title comes with several new benefits:

1. Time for computer solitaire.
2. Time to calculate your carbon footprint.
3. Time to watch the World Darts and Miniature Golf Championships on ESPN.
4. Time to catch up on the latest celebrity news - Tom cruises in Timbuktu, Brad pits in Patagonia, Britney spears brats in Bavaria, and Paris does the Hilton.
5. Time to balance your home's yin and yang and infuse it with cosmic dragon's breath.
6. Time to perfect your air guitar skills.
7. When assembling products made in China, you will have the house to yourself and can expand your colorful vocabulary. Just make sure you keep the windows closed.
8. Time to prattle and pontificate on that blog you've fancied yourself launching.

Like President Bush, domestically you now become "The Decider." These and other major decisions fall to you:

1. Stacking the dishwaher your way.
2. Which way the paper towels and toilet paper unroll.
3. How many clothes to cram into the washer.
4. Whether to iron from the tapered end or the squared end of the ironing board.
5. Bartlett or Bosc pears.
6. Paper, plastic, or BYOB (Bring your own bag).
7. When the bananas have turned and need to be tossed.
8. When something needs repaired or serviced, and offered a service time, you decide, morning or afternoon.
9. During the day the toilet seat stays up, though you might want to set a timer.

Don't become too smug. Your ATM gets home at 6:00, and she may have had a bad day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Green Guilt Bumps

My most recent newspaper column was entitled It’s Not Easy Being Green. I’m learning how true that is.

Those long-lasting, plastic-replacing Vons supermarket bags I bought are still off the radar screen. In Forrest Gump-speak, I forget some.

During the first twice-a-week food foraging trips, I left the abode without the bags, requiring return trips. Wasted gas. Guilt bumps. Aha, I’ve got it. I’ll permanently place the bags in the backseat.

During the second twice-a-week foraging trips, I left the bags in the backseat - - something about out of sight, out of mind. That’s being charitable. Regardless, more guilt bumps.

Solution - - put the bags in the front seat. If that doesn’t work, I may drape them around my neck. They are a bit big for head-covers.

Vons shopping strategy now operative, my next brain fart was to forget to take a Vons bag on forays to non-Vons stores. I’ll give myself a partial pass, since it seemed gauche to take one food retailer’s bag into another food retailer. Truth is, they don’t care - - no alarm goes off. Still, feeling guilt bumps, I bought two Trader Joe’s bags - - snappier design anyway.

At this rate I’m going to end up with two-dozen bags with six designs. I may give some to PJ. She can accessorize them with her outfits when she ventures out. Why do you think they call them bag ladies?

Besides owning a hybrid, I was hoping this bagging strategy would assuage the guilt bumps I get each weekend when I barbecue. The billowing smoke sets off the alarm at the local fire station.

Efforts such as mine often seem much ado about very little. If the president of the United States in his closing sayonara to the recent Japanese-hosted G-8 summit said, “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter,” how do I slow that environmental tsunami?

Makes me just burst with pride and want to hum the national anthem.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Red, White & Blueberry

I love blueberries, so much that I frequently wear them, especially when I forget my splatter guard, aka apron. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: on cereal, ice cream, blueberry sauce on ice cream, mixed with cream, yogurt, blueberry pie, cobbler, tarts, cheesecake, and by the handful.

A few years ago Time magazine put out a spiel about the top ten foods that “pack a wallop”. Blueberries made the cut. Lab tests suggest that blueberries extend the lives of rats, though it’s beyond me why anyone would want to do that. The rats also showed balance, coordination, and memory improvement (like how to get in and out of your home’s walls). I could use improvement with all three of those skills.

Improved memory helps in lots of ways. Such as:
· Exams
· High school reunions
· Anniversaries and birthdays
· Finding your car in a parking lot
· When you forgot your grocery list
· Why you went into that room
· Finding your way back home

Blueberries also have, on a fresh weight basis, the highest antioxidant capacity of all the fresh fruits and vegetables tested to date.

One of my life’s philosophies is to celebrate and savor the small victories. If all you do is keep swinging for the bleachers, you will have mostly dour days. Scoring with a new recipe is a small victory. Scoring with a blueberry recipe makes my week.

I had been searching for a tart recipe that was simple and wasn’t overwhelmed by compote, glaze, or a vanilla cream filling. (Not that I dislike any of that.) Nothing on Food Network inspired me.

A few weeks ago a Los Angeles Times piece turned me on to a blog called Chocolate and Zucchini. The blogger is Clotilde Dusoulier. There’s link on the right of this page. I should hate her because she is much too bright and worldly at the sub-prime age of 28. She writes about all things food-related in all of Paris’ arrondissements. Her recent book is Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris.

Her latest blog included this recipe. I’ve converted the grams to ounces for metric system-challenged folks like me.

Tarte aux Myrtilles

Pie Dough
6 ounces flour
3 ounces sugar
3 ounces butter
Dash of milk

10.6 ounces fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon crème fraiche
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg

· Preheat oven to 400 degrees, grease a 9-inch tart pan or line it with parchment paper.
· In a food processor, mix the sugar and butter until fluffy. (Butter should be at room temperature.) Add in the flour until the dough forms coarse crumbs. Add a dash of milk, and mix again. Pour this mixture evenly into your tart pan, and press the dough down to pack it and cover the surface of the pan, forming a little rim all around. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
· Take the pie crust out and lower the temperature to 360. Pour in the blueberries, and return to the oven for 15 minutes.
· Beat together in a small bowl the crème fraiche, sugar and egg. Take the tart out of the oven, pour the mixture evenly over the blueberries and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave it in for a final 15 minutes.
· Let cool completely, and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar just before serving.

· I increased the blueberry portion to one pound. I need all of the memory help I can get.
· If you have bonded with your oven, you know that temps can vary. I only cooked the crust initially for 15 minutes.
· I’m going to try this with raspberries.

French cooking can be complicated, but at times deliciously simple, like this tart.

This will be our 4th of July dessert, but with the addition of a single raspberry in the middle. Happy Independence Day.