• Sunday, December 31, 2006

    Reflections & ruminations

    • Scott Baio and Paul Begala;
    • George Clooney and Ann Coulter;
    • Lady Diana and The Edge;
    • Enya and Melissa Etheridge;
    • Laurence Fishburne and Woody Harrelson;
    • Boy George and James Gandolfini;
    • Martin Gore and George Foreman;
    • Tawny Kitaen and kd lang;
    • Isaac Mizrahi and Barak Obama;
    • Ralph Reed and Dennis Rodman;
    • Amy Sedaris and Heather Locklear;
    • Forest Whitaker and Leif Garret

    Give up? All these assorted characters were born the same year as moi!

    Interesting food for thought, eh? What do we learn by mulling over this list?

    My observations: Entertaining, well-accessorized, inspirational, independent, provocative, great with eye-liner...if I have achieved any of this in my 45 years on this planet, it's not bad. Hopefully, I've done as much and more and I vow to continue my "What About Bob?" baby steps progress toward a better me in the second half of my life.

    At least I started my day with a chocolate & gelato breakfast, watched gorgeous snow fall, had a champagne lunch, spent it in jammies with my boys on the couch and the Grinch on the tube. Ended with a divinely decadent dinner, chocolate souffle dessert and port. (I'll worry about the cholesterol tomorrow.)

    And remember, I'm not 4o-something, I'm "double-legal" - sounds more fun, doesn't it? Thanks Catherine!

    And many thanks to everyone who made this day, and this year, so wonderful. I am humbled and enriched by all the amazing people in my life.

    Peace to everyone in my, oops I mean, the new year!

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    Friday, December 22, 2006

    SoCal sojourn & the growing family table

    The meals out
    The frenzy of pre-holiday trip planning is heightened by the decisions about the number of restaurant stops we must make and the ordering of them...do we do In-N-Out (double-double, animal style) first or fish tacos? If it's tacos, do we go to Rubio's or Wahoo's? Scott's near the South Coast mall is a must-do each trip. It's the first place I had shishito peppers after just hearing about them in the LATimes. They serve perfect steaks, martinis made by and for grown-ups, and the tastiest miso-marinated Chilean Sea Bass I've ever had.

    The meals in
    Then there are the family meals. Which ones on which days, the parents' anniversary dinner or lunch etc. This year our new niece is old enough that we can't just plan to eat while she sleeps. And boy, can this kid eat! She and her Auntie are going to get along just fine...

    What could be more fun than a toddler at Christmas? First, we went "shopping" with a great mini version of a shopping cart Po-Po (Grandma) had hidden away for the right age. Among the groceries is a can of tuna - I noted with interest that it carried the "Dolphin Safe" label.

    At just 19 months little Enna loves to help in the kitchen. She was delighted (dancing and giggling) to receive her own mini whisk and whipped up the egg wash for her Uncle's favorite Gai le Go (chicken curry dumplings.) Next we made the salad with "Mo-Mo" (that's me in her version of Cantonese "Daicomo" or Aunt on Mother's side). Tearing lettuce and spinning it in the salad spinner was fine and a few of the carrots actually made it to the dinner table (rather than her mouth). I was amazed at her resolve. Imagine tearing a lettuce leaf the size of say, a king size pillow, while sitting at a table that comes up to your chin; getting sprayed in the face with water splashing off, but cheerfully carrying on. You can forget how big a lettuce leaf is to a little person until you watch her hold it up to tear it.

    There are certain meal traditions that we maintain, year after year: a constant and cherished thread. The Aunties and Uncles, Mom, Dad, Sister and Brother-in-law, all delight in re-visiting these special meals each holiday. Tonight, I have decided not to make lasagna again, as it will obviously never live up to Uncle King's. And though I love Shabu Shabu, and am pretty resourceful around the kitchen, there are at least a couple of good reasons not to attempt that meal at home. First, Auntie Anne's is so good, I would never come close. Second, we have a decent restaurant that serves hot pot not far from home. Finally, the special meals that this extended family makes or shares with us each holiday represent unique ways that the people who loved my husband before I did (but not more) show their affection for him.

    Sharing great food, along with lots of laughs, telling stories about our lives since the last visit, always seem easier around a meal. The ups and downs can be recounted with more sympathy, encouragement, astonishment, whatever - when it's around a good meal.

    The expanding family traditions
    I'm so lucky to get folded into these warm family celebrations. I can't wait to recount them for my niece one day, explaining about all of our evolving food stories and traditions.

    Maybe she'll tease me someday like her Daddy does, when we go to Mexicali (really good, authentic Mexican, largely unavailable in Boston). I will once again say - swooning with a mouthful of guacamole - "You just can't get avocados like this in Boston!" (A Californian who has never tasted a New England Avocado will never understand me.)

    I'll recount for Enna the way we made our first salad together. I'll tell her how she danced when I gave her her very own whisk. I'll remind her how she literally danced with it, recognizing immediately that it was her size and belonged to her. We'll pass on our reverence for food and family and the unique ways we weave them together. And we'll see what the next generation brings to the table. I'm hungry again, for all of it.

    Check my Easy Open House - Rules for the Entertaining and for Life for more on the theme.
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    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Back from Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Fiasco - I mean, Show

    The Toronto Gourmet Food & Wine Show was no doubt one of the worst managed trade shows I've ever attended. Sometimes I mince words, let me be really clear here. I believe the organizers might have been on crack or perhaps they were a doing a group project for their 7th grade Home Economics or Business class.

    Why the harsh words, you ask? Let's see, I'm back a week now and I still haven't received my "advance packet" from the press contact...but that's just a start. How about the fact that her excuse for the delay was that she was "waiting for an email with (your) address."

    Of course, I have no less than five email confirmations that she had received and read those emails. Not to mention they have my online registration and confirmation with my address, telehpone, etc. Really, I couldn't make this shite up.

    Follow me, won't you as we take a quick spin through trade show hell...

    1. North or South? Toronto has a HUGE Convention Center - NO indication which side to enter on in my online confirmation. The taxi driver is a kindly, older Indian man who says "I am sorry Miss, there is only one word for the person that does not tell you which side of this Convention Center to enter on: Incompetence!"
    2. First set of Booths - no signage for Media or Samples or tickets.
    3. After standing in line, I find that, in fact, the Media and VIPs line is downstairs.
    4. All of us who pre-registered “media and VIPs” are now standing in a second line which is half the length of the exhibition hall, holding our electronic confirmation printouts, complete with a bar code to be scanned for admission.
    5. But no one with the show has a bar code reader. So we wait. And we wonder: what exactly is the point of pre-registration with scannable admission confirmation…?
    6. After I’m finally at the front of the line, I learn my tutored tasting ticket (singular, I guess we don’t want to let too many people who might actually write about and promote your wines into these sessions, even if there are available seats…) is not with my media pass. Oh no. I have to go queue up again, in another long line, back upstairs.
    7. Next, I'm told I must go back “to the 700 level to the info booth with the huge information sign”. I explain I was just there and saw no sign. “It’s huge.” Is the curt response from walkie-talkie girl.
    8. Except there is nothing on the 700 level, except empty rooms. One more floor up, I’m back to the original booth and original line from which I was directed downstairs for the media pass. No "huge information booth" sign is in evidence, either. At this point I'm not surprised.
    9. Back in the now-longer line for sample tickets enabling me to sample the vendors' gourmet food products and wines. We're told that if we have our exhibition hall pass, we can enter and we will find the lines inside “much shorter.”
    10. Except that they are not. And we are not surprised.
    11. Sample tickets in hand, I’m now looking for specific vendors, according to my numbered layout in the guide.
    12. Except that there are no markers to indicate aisles or locations of booths but for two sides of the hall pillars. Only at the tops of the pillars, and only on only two sides. Round numbers such as 700 or 500. But if you’re looking for booth 525, you’ll have to go find the side of the pillar numbered 500, and walk up and down the aisle counting, as individual booths did not even have numbers displayed.

    Booth Bimbos - and I mean that in a gender-non-specific way.
    Let me just share one aspect of the show, which I is the one flaw not resting squarely on the shoulders of the show planners: the booth bimbos. Presumably, this rests on the shoulders of the various vendors. For the life of me, I cannot imagine why they would:
    • rent space at the show;
    • ship product and marketing materials, and then;
    • leave the education and promotion of their product to someone who doesn’t know a thing about it, and doesn’t care?

    You think I’m kidding?
    - When I ask the guy (whom I had assumed was with the producer or the distributor) to tell me something about about his Pouilly-Vinzelles wine he says: “It's a white burgundy." (This I could tell from the shape of the bottle and the color of the wine.) I ask if it’s from the same area as say, Pouilly-Fuissé or Pouilly-Fumé? He replies, “Yes.” And I ask, “the difference then is…?” and he basically mumbles unintelligibly. I say, “Would it be terroir?” “Yeah, that’s it.”

    - I ask the chocolate truffle gal about her “cocoa nib truffle” that I was encouraged to try by another vendor. She has no idea what a "nib" is. She also has no idea what "cacao" is, I was foolishly trying both variants and had actually begun to explain to her how chocolate truffles are made…fool that I am. Blank stare. Blink, blink. Poor dear probably thinks they grow on trees in perfectly formed little balls.

    - When I go to the official store to buy wines I sampled which are not available elsewhere, everything rings up at $99.99, no matter what the clerk rings in. This includes my little $2.50 pamplemousse spritzer which I’m encouraged to try and which is only available at the show. Fun.

    Those are just a few of the highlights. I was assured that value would be received for the cost of my time and travel. Interestingly, this was primarily outside the show. Organizer gal and her boss seem to have taken off after the show, no materials, answers or apologies have arrived. Not that I expected them.

    Check my Suite101 column soon for the real standout product (perfect for holiday gift-giving and entertaining!) and one more customer service nightmare.

    In the meantime, I'm running a series on Gourmet Gifts for 2006, covering everything from "sky's the limit" (how about a primal of heritage beef or a cooking tour of France?) to great gifts under $20. Click here to check it out: 2006 Gourmet Gift Guide.

    I also cover gifts you can make and a special opportunity to give a terrific gift that's both delicious AND helps homeless families with job training, education, child care and housing.

    See, I may be cranky, but I'm no Grinch.

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