Friday, June 24, 2005

A few decisions made

I've decided to leave the Joan Silber and Lily Tuck behind and bring Carol Shields' Larry's Party with me on vacation. That's the low risk decision since I would read anything Shields ever wrote, including her shopping Annie, shall we start our reading engines?

And I'm bringing the sock to knit. The argument of saving a little room in order to buy more yarn while I'm out there was a persuasive one, especially after Ingrid told me about a place that looks drop dead amazing called Artfibers.
Here is how they describe themselves:

The ARTFIBERS STORE is located in downtown San Francisco at 124 Sutter St. (second floor), between Montgomery and Kearney. Our neighborhood blends work and pleasure -- the Financial District, Union Square, Chinatown, North Beach, the Museum of Modern Art, and many other cultural destinations are only a brief walk away. Several things about the ARTFIBERS store are unique:
>This is a factory outlet for yarns produced by ARTFIBERS.
>Custom knitting patterns are provided for free when you buy the yarn for the project.
>A comfortable lounge area includes samples of all the yarns in the store, and you can knit them for free at your leisure.

Now look at these yarns and weep:
I'm sorely tempted by this rustic silk yarn called Siam, or the handpainted version called Chai, the wool/cotton blend called Schooner, then there are the gorgeous colors of the baby alpaca called Sage, and while I'm not a fluffy sweater kind of gal, this brushed silk, Gypsy, appeals to me. I can already feel my brain swelling in the attempt to take it all in. The only hitch is I'm going to have to find a way to get Brian to take the kids off of my hands for, oh, say a few hours so I can hang out there, get to know all the yarns and make up my mind. (Maybe I can trade off with Brian--if he kid wrangles while I yarn shop, I'll forego the pleasures of the Anchor Brewery so he can spend a few hours there...) The promise of a custom knitting pattern is too tempting to pass up--but what do I want to make? I should probably have some idea before I go or I'll just go into a stunned sort of coma...

One thing I haven't decided yet, or even let myself think too much about is the amazing food I'll be eating in the next 10 days.

I'll have to have a Mission Burrito, and visit the palace of insanely wonderful food (aka Ferry Plaza Farmers Market). And in the east bay there is the Monterey Market (I know, it's not as big as the Berkeley Bowl, but still my favorite place for produce) and Picante and Acme Bread and, and, and...Oh dear. Better pack that Gluttony Belt. And an extra memory card for the camera since Brian will probably want to take some photos of the kids, our friends, or the places we go, rather than just the food we eat.

Today I need to do about 5 loads of laundry and pack our (enormous) bags. I finally realized why we need to pack so much stuff--the kids trash whatever they are wearing every day and I'm damned if I'm going to spend my vacation in a Laundromat. I may be able to pack one pair of jeans for myself, but for a 10 day vacation, these goofballs need at least 10 changes of clothes.

We leave at some atrociously early hour tomorrow morning and it looks like I'll be wearing Ian like a shawl flung over my shoulders since he is so not a morning kind of guy and will probably go all cute and want to be carried. I think he grew another two inches in the last week so his legs may drag on the ground, but I'll haul my (big) baby anywhere. Especially if he's being nice to me.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Crema removal technique

I need some advice from you espresso pros out there (you know who you are): How do you get the crema out of the espresso cup and into the latte?
Here is a photo of my soon to be combined coffee beverage this morning:

God, I love my Saeko espresso classico...
And here it is after I dumped the espresso shots in.

I have a BIG problem with leaving all that luscious crema in the cup, but other than spraying the cup with non-stick cooking oil (eeeewwww) I can't figure out a way to get it out.

Techniques I have employed that are not satisfying or socially acceptable:

1. Dunk the espresso cup in the warm milk and swish it around a little and dump the resulting crema milk mix back in the cup. Works ok with steamed milk, but not when I froth because then the foam just gets stuck on top of the crema in the espresso cup.

2. Use an appendage to scrape the crema out--a finger if I'm feeling delicate, and when I'm too greedy for that, I just lick it out. Obviously this isn't a technique I can employ when making coffee for a friend. I can't even engage in the licking mode in front of the two year old since she already has a tendency to over do it in the physical confrontation with food and I don't want to encourage her.

Ideas? Techniques? Sneaky way to get the good stuff out?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Advice needed: what to read and knit on vacation

I'm trying to decide what book(s) to read next and what book is worthy of being taken on vacation and I could use a little advice. We are heading out to the Bay Area on Saturday for a long overdue visit with dear friends (they haven't even met Fiona yet!) My major selfish fear is that I'll be on vacation without the right book to read--I'll bring one that I don't like or that is completely depressing and ruins the mood of the vacation. My friend Lynne is on vacation right now and I felt a surge of envy when I read on her blog that she brought along one of my favorite books to read, Everything is Illuminated. Realistically, am I going to have any time to read while traveling with the two entropy makers? Probably very little.

Here are the details of my book predicament: I finished Shields' Unless (and recorded my impressions here). I have started last year's National Book Award Winner The News From Paraguay by Lily Tuck but so far I am underwhelmed. The library just emailed me to tell me that Shields' Larry's Party is being held for me. Annie and I planned to read this one together and I'm not sure if I should take it with me if I'm going to have spotty access to the internet while in CA--the point of a read-along is to be in regular communication with each other rather than the usual reading in isolation experience, yes?

And being the greedy gal that I am, I also have checked out of the library three of the other NBA finalists: Florida by Christine Schutt, Madeline is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber. Of these, the last one tempts me the most, but again, it was going to be a read-along with Mary Jean.

It has also occurred to me that vacation may be the perfect excuse for a little splurge and I should leave all the above books at home and go buy myself a copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer's newest book) which is only in hardback.

Any ideas what I should bring with me so I don't pack an entire library in my carry-on?

The second similar problem is what knitting to bring with me. I have the second sock that I'm still working on, and it is nice and portable. But right now I'm more interested in the Ribby cardigan. Last week I was reading the pattern and realized that the way it is written with the back, front panels and sleeves all knit separately would end up requiring a hell of a lot of seaming. I don't mind a little seaming, mind you, but when it comes to raglan sleeves where the seams really need to be tidy and not lumpy to look good, I start to recoil.

So I ripped out the 4 inches of the back that I had knit and am taking a bit of a plunge by rewriting the pattern to be knit without seams: the front panels and back are all being knit together on one long needle up to the sleeve insets (my birthday present to myself--since one must always protect one's Princess-self against gift disappointment by buying whatever one really wants oneself--was a set of Denise interchangeable needles. They rock.) Then I'll knit the two sleeves in the round up 'till they start shaping for the raglan and then I'll attach it all together on one huge round needle and knit the raglan decreases all together. It should work out that there are no seams and the raglan comes together (even with the separate sleeve color which will require juggling numerous attached balls of yarn) if I got all the numbers right. That's kind of a big "if"--it physically hurt my brain to do so much math. (I can't believe I used to think of myself as good at math. Talk about use it or lose it.)

I probably should have rewritten the pattern to be knit from the top down rather than the bottom up. But too late now!

So, should I take the Ribby that is a bit bigger but I'm having fun working on, or should I take the sock which is very portable and easy?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Another gluttony belt needed...

Saturday was my birthday and in celebration Brian took me out to a restaurant that I've been wanting to try for ages: the Five Lakes Grill in Milford. I'd heard it was one of the best restaurants between Toronto and Chicago. The owner and chef, Brian Polcyn, was featured in Michael Ruhlman's book, The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection.

I'll cut to the chase--we had a fantastic dinner. If you want to look at the current menu, it is posted on their site. I took photos, of course (without flash, forgive the grainy quality).

We started with the Farmer's charcuterie plate--Polcyn is known for his house-cured charcuterie and for a good reason.

Clockwise from top: a soppresatta-style salami, liver pate with pickled ramps and a ham-studded potato salad, crouton with lardo, a smoked dry salami, and Westphalian ham with baby basil leaves.
A more affordable way to sample his sausage making talent (which I plan to avail myself of) is the purchase of his wonderful fresh sausages to take home--they have two varieties available every Thursday at $7 per pound. Brian works in Milford so some Thursday this summer he will be sent with a sausage request and we'll have a big barbecue with friends.

After the charcuterie, Brian had a potato soup with carmelized onions and frizzled leeks. It sounded basic on the menu but what was delivered to our table was the silky smoothest potato soup I've ever tasted. Not a hint of the grainy quality that can sometimes afflict potato soup.

I call it, Bliss in a Bowl
Then we had our salad courses. Brian had a traditional caprese salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. It was pretty and tasted fine, but was the only thing we had that didn't blow me away.

I had the utterly retro wedge of lettuce with house-made Roquefort dressing, cherry tomatoes and hard boiled egg. I know, it doesn't sound like gourmet fare, but it was fabulous. And anyone who has been back-country camping with me knows that one of my favorite "junk foods" to eat when I get back to civilization is a large quantity of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing. This convinced me that I need to make my own blue-cheese dressing more often--it's ridiculously easy, just requires making the effort.

Then came the entrees. Here is what I had:

with duck confit, wilted frisse, caramelized onions, bacon and roasted yellow beets
And here is Brian's entree:

with a saute of Chanterelle mushrooms, corn, and spinach with a roasted red pepper sauce
Both entrees were fabulous. My duck was rare and sweet and the smoky confit and bitter frisse set it off well. It was insanely rich, which I suppose is to be expected with duck since it is so fatty (and fatty in a good way). Brian's scallops were a special of the evening, our server said they have a scallop special most weekends. The scallops were huge (Brian described them as burger-sized to give you a better idea). I got a bite of scallop with a piece of chanterelle and it was such a fabulous combination--the musty richness of the fungus set off scallops sweet, pure flavor. The only thing we thought was superfluous was the roasted red pepper puree--it looked pretty, but didn't add much or meld with the other flavors.

I know some people will be shocked, but we didn't have dessert. None of the desserts sounded particularly interesting to me--just sort of standard (a molten chocolate cake, a lemon tart with raspberries, homemade vanilla ice cream, a creme brulee and a cheesecake to choose from) and by then we were so stuffed with richness that putting any more butter-fat in our mouths sounded kind of nauseating. So we each had a glass of desert wine (mine a black Muscat, Brian a framboise).

With dinner we polished off a nice pinot noir and the wine list was good and the prices were not outrageous. I had steeled myself to be paying through the nose and was relieved to find a few acceptable offerings in the $27-35 range.

We won't be able to afford to go back whenever we have a whim for a good meal, but we do now have a favorite special occasion restaurant. Also, on Tuesdays, the chef leads a special 5 wines with 5 appetizers tasting for $20 which could be a good way to have a little week-night treat. It would be a lot of fun to meet up there with some friends for the tasting and afterwards go for a walk or canoe paddle at the nearby Kensington Metro Park.