Saturday, November 29, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
In 2004 we started professional massage training. Out of the blue, on a whim, something healthy that we could do together, and of course share with friends (and ultimately clients who'd actually pay for our skills). Our introduction to massage therapy was two Sundays at a local Junior College, where we were shown some basics in Swedish techniques. The setting was crazy - they didn't have tables, so we worked on towels on a hard, dirty-carpeted floor, in a large open classroom area. More pain than gain, by the end of the day.
But amazingly, this prompted us to look into, and subsequently sign up for the first of what would be many professional level classes at Body Therapy Center in Palo Alto. The first class we took was Fundamentals of Massage, which consisted of 125 hours of training over 3 months. We learned the basics of Swedish Massage (relaxation technique), Anatomy, Physiology, Ethics, and some Business fundamentals. And it was literally the first day of this class that we met a group of what was to become lifelong friends; one was our lead instructor, another was one of the teacher's assistants, and two were fellow students, all of whom were at the Saturday night dinner.
Following the Fundamentals class, we then took 125 hours of Advanced Massage and Bodywork. I'm told that we were the catalyst that encouraged 90% of our Fundamentals class to take the Advanced class ... something to do with study parties, end of class parties, and massage exchange parties, all of which featured lots of my cooking. Hopefully it was good, but it could just be a lot of starving massage students who appreciated a party and a meal. Who knows.
The Advanced class is what sets this particular school apart from the bulk of massage training programs. This is where you learn in-depth anatomy, kinesiology, pathology, and physiology, as well as how to "read" a body. We were told the first day of class (by one of the dinner guests ... I'll get back to the dinner, trust me) that we'd never look at a body the same way, after taking this class. We learned to watch the way people carried themselves, was something hunched or rounded more on one side than the other? Was one shoulder higher or lower? Did they lean forward or back? Swing their arms differently? And then, which muscle(s) would you work on to potentially correct this? Very interesting stuff.
Subsequent to the Advanced class, we took a 16 hour Hot Stones class, had seminars in advanced neck and shoulders and sidelying technique, chair massage, 125 hours each in Acupressure and Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Hydrotherapy (required in Oregon). I was fortunate to work as a teacher's assistant in two Advanced classes and a Chair Massage class. Our final class was a two-weekend Clinical Deep Tissue class, and our school has now moved across the Bay, making it way too difficult to attend any more classes. The jury remains "out" as to how we'll get any more training. For now, it's behind us.
Four and a half years after the first day of Fundamentals, I put on a birthday dinner for my wife, which included our original teacher from Fundamentals and Advanced and a couple of the seminars, the chair massage expert, and two of our fellow students, who we've been the best of friends with since the first day of class.
You never know when you're going to run into situations or individuals who'll make the "grade" and become very special friends. This group is the best. A couple of them (along with another friend who's since moved to Denver) actually made several trips to visit us in Oregon. And since we returned to the Bay Area, we've of course gotten to see them way more often (something about the food at our house, I'm sure). But they're all rare, very special friends, and we cherish being included in their lives.
The Birthday Dinner:
- Bay scallop ceviche
- Pasta E Fagioli soup
- Amuse bouche of mango sorbet
- Rib eye roast (boneless prime rib, essentially)
- Oricchiette with broccoli and proscuitto
- Nicole's chocolate cake
The scallop ceviche is a variation of what I've done for years, which is basically what I like to taste in a ceviche. Ingredients included fresh bay scallops (the little ones), half a red onion, cilantro, 3 medium tomatoes, celery, avocado, key lime juice, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and Tabasco sauce. Everything marinates (and the lime juice "cooks" the scallops) for about 4 hours, served with white corn tortilla chips.
The soup was a basic pasta e fagioli (bean and pasta). Again, a variation on what I like. White onion, carrots, celery, garlic, sweated in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Diced canned or fresh tomatoes, chicken stock, cannelini and kidney beans, a handful of small pasta of some sort, simmer and season to your taste. Served as the opening course with fresh parmesan.
Mango sorbet served on a Chinese soup spoon, with a sliver of orange rind, for an in-between courses "amuse bouche."
The rib roast was trimmed of excess fat, sprinkled with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and fresh rosemary sprigs, and wrapped in foil and refrigerated for a couple hours. I cooked it over a basic mirepoix of yellow onions, celery, and carrots, at 325 degrees. Added a can of beef stock at one hour and two hours into the process, removed it from the oven after 2 1/2 hours, when the digital instant-read thermometer read 130 degrees. Let it rest 30 minutes, and it was absolutely perfect.
The oricchiette and broccoli started with some olive oil, garlic, and some incredible proscuitto from Benton's Country Hams in Tennessee. Small family-operated farm that sells some of the best bacon, hams, and proscuitto I've ever had. The broccoli was cooked for about 5 minutes, added to the main skillet, then likewise with the pasta. Quick cooking processs, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh parmesan.
Wines were on the spicy side; Zinfandels from Quivira and Tobin James and a Cabernet from Dry Creek.
Our friend Nicole made an incredible chocolate cake. New Kitchen Aid stand mixer put to the test, and it (and SHE!) passed with flying colors. Like many cooks, I don't bake much. I do a few things pretty well, but I'm not a big "sweets" person, and tend to cook more than I bake. So having someone bake an over-the-top chocolate cake was a total treat.
Memorable dinner, lots of massage school stories, and a great way to celebrate my wife's birthday. Friends like these are rare and cherished. We thank YOU for gracing us with your presence.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Eight years ago we were under the very real spectre of a cancer scare, which begat an operation, and everything has been fine since, but it was a real anxiety producer at the time. Control over her weight gave her power and confidence. It was the single thing in her life that she had control over.
Like many people, we've lost friends and family to cancer. My wife's was a tough one to handle, but she's beyond it, and she's clearly one of the lucky ones who "beat it." We've lost friends to lung cancer who never smoked. I lost my dad to leukemia, and he was in (otherwise) great health. And we're obviously not unique. Everyone sees it, confronts it, and deals with it in their own way. I work for a company that produces cutting edge products that combat this insidious disease. The drug companies genuinely care. They're in business to make money, but they want people to get better. They truly want to cure the bad diseases, whatever it takes.
Thursday's Weight Watcher's Dinner:
Lean, baked boneless pork chops, seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon pepper, fresh taragon, and a sprinkle of olive oil. Start them in a 450 degree oven, turn it down immediately to 350 and bake for 40 minutes, or until your meat thermometer reads at least 150 degrees.
Organic whole wheat penne rigate, in a tomato, garlic, basil sauce.
The sauce began with a chopped sweet onion (it's the Oregon/Washington influence, I suppose). Sweat it for 7-8 minutes in your best extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/2 a chopped red bell pepper and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, a #2 can (the bigger one) of organic diced tomatoes with juice, and a 1/4 cup of dry vermouth. Spice and season it up with 2 tablespoons each of chopped Italian parsley and fresh basil, salt and pepper to your taste, and a sprinkle of dried red pepper flakes completes it. Simmer for 20 minutes on medium low. Garnish with a chiffonade of fresh basil and some parmesan cheese (Reggiano, if you have a choice in the matter).
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tonight's dinner had a Mexican flair to it. Risa's on a diet (and I should be), and brown rice is her starch du jour. I made my usual daily call and asked her what she wanted for dinner, and she said "I'd eat chicken." Fine.
So I have "chicken" and brown rice as a base. Thus begat: Chicken breasts Mexicano, spicy brown rice, pinto beans, and a simple salad.
One large "halved" boneless, skinless chicken breast. Tonight's was organic, but any good chicken will work.
Marinate (on both sides) with salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, cumin, dried oregano leaves
The chicken needs about 30 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees.
The rice takes about 45 minutes (brown rice always takes longer than white, and wild takes even longer). The pinto beans are a "warm-em-up" thing
Salad consisted of romaine lettuce, radishes, celery, a chopped scallion, a couple crumpled tortilla chips, sweet cherry tomatoes, a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, and (ok,ok, so I cheated) El Torito salad dressing.
To serve ... Slice the chicken into strips, spoon the rice in a corner of the plate and place the chicken in a cascade down the front of the rice. Streak your favorite salsa over the top of the chicken, down onto the plate over the rice. I used a tequila lime salsa, and it was great. Beans in a corner, salad cascading across the bottom of the plate. Garnish with cilantro and a couple strategically placed tortilla chips.
I even loved Campbell's soups when I was young. Chicken gumbo, chicken rice, and chicken noodle in particular. And always clam chowder, particularly Manhattan style (the red stuff).
But I didn't tackle soups until I was a fairly seasoned cook. They seemed to be a mystery, and something best left to an expert. I probably started off with some kind of chicken something, and maybe moved into minestrone after that. Undoubtedly, all of them were over-seasoned and had way too much "stuff" in them, but at least I was trying.
Once you get the knack, soups are generally easy, and always a crowd pleaser (for those of you who like to please crowds with your culinary wizardry). The California Culinary Academy classes certainly helped with the basics, but a lot of soup making is just experimenting. What do you like to eat? Make it! What's a worst case ... it won't be perfect the first time? Make it again, or ideally, find a recipe that you can work "from" and personalize it to your taste.
Minestrone and pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta vegetable soup) are a couple favorites, and good places to start. White clam chowder is classic, but the ingredients are ridiculously fattening. Red clam chowder seems to be a little less common, and it's great. Chicken anything, French Onion (Julia Child's recipe is the classic), coconut milk based Thai basil, and on and on.
There are undoubtedly more soup cookbooks than there are soups. New Basics and any of Julia's books of course, will probably suffice for most anything you want to tackle. If you can afford it, The Silver Spoon, which is the bible of Italian cooking. Pick up a copy in a bookstore and look through it - I dare you to try and NOT buy it.
Last night's soup:
Chicken broth: homemade stock is best, A 48 oz can of Swanson's fat free, a tablespoon of chicken broth concentrate, and 2 cups of water works fine.
- 3 ribs of celery, sliced at an angle
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced at an angle
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 1 medium leek, sliced thin
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- Large can of diced tomatoes (#2 can, as opposed to the smaller "303" can)
- 2 303 size cans of drained light kidney beans
- 2 303 size cans of cannelini beans with the juice
- 1 bay leaf
- 2-3 sprigs of chopped fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- parmesan crisps (see below)
- Sweat the onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Medium heat, cover the pot, 10 minutes
- Add the leek, celery, carrots, stir and simmer for another 10 minutes
- Add the tomatoes, increase to high heat
- Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, broth
- Bring to a boil (BTAB in culinary-ese) and reduce to a simmer (RTAS ... catching on, here?)
- Add the beans
- Simmer over medium heat for another 30 minutes, make the parmesan crisps ...
These are easy and will impress your guests. Use good cheese ... this one's easy ... read the label, make sure it says Reggiano Parmesan, and you're good to go.
Preheat the oven to 300. Line a small baking tray with parchment paper (or tin foil if that's what you have handy).
Grate about a 1/2 cup of cheese
Divide into 6 equal piles, spread them into thin 3" rounds
Bake for 6-8 minutes, watching that they don't burn
Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 10 minutes
Serve the soup with a parmesan crisp garnish, and a sprig of parsley adds to the festivity.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Chuck and Barb, my lovely wife Risa and I, and another great Friday night dinner at Baltazar's. Highly recommended semi-upscale Mexican food, on Century Drive (the road up to Mt. Bachelor). Although they serve a great Margarita, tonight seemed like a martini night, so it was Kettle One ... up with a twist, for Chuck and myself. The carne asada was tempting, and I have in fact had it a half dozen times, but I opted for the beef and chicken molcajete, which was awesome. They also do wonders with prawns and mushrooms, in several different ways. Great spot.
Saturday was pack up the truck day, which my back has been reminding me of for the past several days. But we finished in time to go to a dinner party in our honor, and see lots of our favorite people. Chris made a great coconut milk-based Thai basil soup, Barb did a simple but tasty salad, and individual chocolate desserts that were awesome. John and Cathy did some great braised ribs for an appetizer, and of course martinis and wines were flowing.
We miss Bend, our friends, the seasons, the beautiful Deschutes River across the street from our house, the fly fishing (like there's another kind of fishing, right?), Sisters the town, and Sisters the mountains, the quaint downtown, and just the low key feeling that abounds. But it's a tough place to make a living ... and then there's the winters. We read of four "mild" seasons. The mild winters generally produce the first snow in early November, and it snowed on Mother's Day last year and Memorial Day the year before (which put a huge damper on my 10th annual Meatfest BBQ!). That's not mild for someone raised in California. But it's tolerable, and you learn to live with it. Bottom line is that we miss our home in Bend. Haven't decided what to do with it yet ... I'm assuming the housing market will dictate accordingly.
The ride back was beautiful. Long, but for some reason I really enjoy it. I've found that breaking it up in "chunks" of landscape tends to make it go by quicker, and much more pleasurably.
Heading south out of Bend, the first "chunk" is the ride to Klamath Falls. A slight climb over Lava Butte, past the vacation community of Sunriver, through the booming communities of LaPine, Crescent, Gilchrist, and Chemult. There are several turnoffs to the West, which takes you through some beautiful mountainous (and snowy) country, past Crater Lake, and into either Eugene or Medford. South of Chemult is about the only "bend" in the otherwise straight road ... a couple curves that take you past the logging museum, and some beautiful river scenery on the left. I always seem to forget to have my fly rod with me when driving through here. I have to find the time to "stop" and do some fishing, as opposed to just looking at the river while flying through here!
At 100 miles south of Bend (on the nose, curiously), you see the first glance of Mt. Shasta, which at this point is usually no more than a shadow behind the closer Cascade peaks. But it's a cool peek at a spectacular peak. And then it's out of view for another 25 miles, emerging in all its majesty as a sight to behold. Snow covered to about half way up its steel slope at this time of year, but soon to be a giant white cone. You really don't get the full effect from a can of Shasta Cola, by the way.
Klamath Lake is interesting. I'm finally embracing it and appreciating it under a variety of conditions, but for the first several trips it struck me as being moody at the very least, and almost eerie sometimes. It's shallow, I've read. If you see a boat on this vast lake, it's small, and very close to the shore. No water skiing or even larger cruising / fishing boats on the lake, ever. And when traveling around the lake on a pitch dark moonless night when it's also snowing, you tend to question your sanity. One side of the road is a very steep incline with frequent slides (signs reading "rocks" appear on the roadside, and it's quite evident why they're placed there). The "lake" side of the road is literally right off the lake, with only a railroad track separating the tired wary driver from a dip in what surely is a very chilly (but on the plus side, shallow!) lake. On one particularly icy trip south, we watched a truck that was pulling a little trailer spin several times, directly in front of us. Miraculously, it avoided the afore-mentioned icy dip in the pool.
Klamath Falls, or "K-Falls" as the Oregonians call it, is easy to overlook. I'm sure there are interesting parts of town, but haven't investigated it thorougly enough. I'm usually in a hurry to get to Bend or back to the Bay Area, and only have time for lunch, at best. One spot that I can definitely recommend is a truck stop / restaurant called Mollie's. Dive-like from the outside, it's actually a friendly restaurant with a tasty menu, and provides a welcome relief from several hours of driving from either the north or south. Breakfasts are huge, the burgers and sandwiches are great (the "smothered" burger with sauteed mushrooms is awesome). Try it if you're in the area. Safe, quick, reasonable food.
Next "chunk" is the long stretch from K-Falls to Weed. Huge, flat expanses of shallow wetlands, narrow irrigation waterways, and to our collective delight ... eagles. Hawks are guaranteed, and it seems that every three or four electric poles sports a proud bird surveying the surroundings for its dinner. But the eagles, although rare, live here too. And wow, what a sight. I've been into birds all my life (inherited from my aunt Ivy no doubt, who co-authored an early edition of "Field Guide to Western Birds"), but you just never get over seeing an eagle. Sitting on an electric pole, or a fence, or flying with the grace of an angel, they're simply incredible. My favorite bird has always been the Great Blue Heron (could be the next tattoo, as a matter of fact), but there's nothing more majestic than an eagle.
In addition to the hawks and eagles, this little chunk of real estate also features some major speed traps and Oregon troopers with nothing better to do than tag you for exceeding the ridiculously low 55 MPH that's imposed everywhere in Central Oregon. But alas, just prior to the (once again) booming metropolis of Dorris, CA ... the land of 65 MPH returns. Ah ... sanity. Cruise through Dorris slowly, be nice to the people at the agricultural check station, and it's on to Weed.
This little chunk (Dorris to Weed) is one of the prettiest parts of the trip. Still high desert, but the terrain is simply gorgeous. Sparse trees, awesome distant peaks, Shasta looming on the left, and a landscape that looks like the pictures sent back by the Mars Rover. Stop at the vista point, or you'll always wish you had done so. There's no better view of Shasta unless you own a Cessna.
The little town of Weed is the turnoff point to Highway 5, which is the main artery through the center of the Golden State.
This is the latest step in our return to the Bay Area. Winter's coming (this happens very early in Central Oregon, we discovered), and we needed to bring some crucial household items down, so we watched the weather and waited for an "ok" weekend, which was this past one. The drive began on Thursday, after work. As is usually the case, getting out of the Bay Area was the slowest part of the trip. As we were heading out at the peak of rush hour (a term they don't understand in Bend), we decided to stop for dinner at Joe's of Westlake. Unfortunately, the restaurant I've been frequenting for over 40 years was packed, and an hour+ wait just wasn't in the cards. So we opted for a quick meal at the new Boulevard Cafe, which previously was a Lyon's Restaurant and another spot I frequented a few hundred times, as I grew up about a mile from there.
Thursday night was spent at LaQuinta in Redding, then onward to Bend on Friday morning. I've grown to genuinely like the ride to Bend (and back), unless it's snowing, which it does consistently from November through May, and sometimes longer. The Siskiyou's in the snow, and Central Oregon in the ice, are two of my least favorite driving conditions. If I don't have to do it ... I won't. Hence, the "timing" of a good weather forecast and the trip on this particular weekend.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I love to cook, and have done pretty much all of it for the 19 years I've been with my wife. We do a lot of entertaining, and love to have people over for dinner parties, BBQ's, etc. I do an annual BBQ that I call "Meatfest" which generally means feeding 50-75 of our closest friends. This year will be Meatfest 11 (I'll explain the name at some juncture). Two summers ago I was honored to be asked to cater a wedding for a friend's daughter. Came off very well, and there were about 100 very happy guests!
I'm pretty much a self-taught cook, with the exception of a 6 weekend Professional Cooking series, and a 3 week Butchery class at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco (now owned by Le Cordon Bleu). Like anything else, learning the basic skills is imperative, but you just have to keep cooking to improve your skills.
I've played drums and surfed since I was 12, which was MANY years ago, so you'll undoubtedly see articles on music and the ocean from time to time too.
We have a house in Bend, Oregon as well as our current abode in the Bay Area. Oregon will also be a frequent topic, as we love it there and have made some incredible friends. Tough place to make a living, unfortunately!