Entropy

For a dyed-in-the-wool control freak, the absolute worst thing you can do to them is to introduce mass chaos into their environment for which there is no solution but time. Welcome to my kitchen remodel.

The notion of this remodel has been some time coming, and after much deliberation and fiscal jiggling we signed papers in July with a contracting company. A dear friend warned me that contractors never, ever, ever come in on time and on budget, and so far we are finding that pretty much true. While the budget creeps are of our own choosing (Let’s do this light over that light! This countertop over that countertop!) the time overruns are not. My cabinets are in Canada somewhere and there they will stay until December, so we’re going with an alternate vendor. The cabinets being stuck meant the countertop can’t get cut according to schedule. The drywall guy has come and gone but can’t finish until the cabinets are in, and the floor finish can’t be sped-up. And so we wait for cabinets.

Meanwhile, seven large boxes of kitchen gear, and two sets of curtains and assorted wall decor, are stacked in the small available space of the study. Another box, a kitchen aid, and stacks of cookbooks impede on the library. Pots, pans, glassware, an end table, a wine rack, and a stack of coats take up the spare space in the bedroom. Dishes are done in a large blue plastic tub in my son’s bathtub. My current kitchen is the male person’s workbench plus a fridge, in the garage.

After I got over my initial meltdown (yes, I had one, get over it) I tried to look at it for the charm. It’s kind of like camping but with electricity, right? I get to really test my recipe mettle. At least it’s not the dead of winter and the garage is a comfortable 60 degrees. The boys can play radio control cars on the unfinished floors. Above all, this chaos forces us to be more organized , more cognizant of where we put things and how we use them.

Yet the change keeps coming. In my head I had a due date of 11/4 — on that date, I had a kitchen again. I had a dining room. My study and library would be cleared and I could get to my sewing machine. Then came the news that after you get your floors finished you must wait 30 days before putting furniture on it.  And so now I’m hopeful that by my son’s birthday we have furniture in place.

Which is not to say that there hasn’t been a bit of change in other areas as well. A recent re-org at work, while ostensibly relatively minor, puts into question overall vision and goals which of course trickles down to those of us “unaffected”. As the holiday season approaches I am reminded as well of all of the dire warnings from friends who had worked in the Retail sector before. At Expedia, things are relatively slow business-wise in November and December, the time is used to plan for the new year. At Sur La Table, the push and craziness starts mid-September and I’ve heard it ends sometime around January.

Layer The Rest Of Life onto this and I’m looking forward to a potential power outage or some other unseen force that will allow us all to take a little break.

AFTER I have my kitchen back.

Kitchen Witchin’

About three weeks back I showed up at the Sur La Table in Kirkland, bright and ready, for my cooking class at 10am.

Only to discover I am, in fact, a total dork and I had signed up for the 1:30pm class. (Disclosure: I work for SLT, which was only part of the reason I was there.)  The instructor for my class happened to be there and knew, without checking a list, that I was in the class. She also knew the names of my friends in the class. As well as the other 6 participants.

That’s pretty impressive.

After going home and puttering a bit, I returned for my class: “Everything on the Grill”. The class was $69 and included about 2 hours of instruction, as well as the food itself (you get to eat what you have cooked when you are finished), and a printed copy of the recipes (no note-taking required).

We arrived and sat down, where we were handed aprons, name tags (with our names already on them), the printed recipes, and a discount card for any purchase we made that week. And then our instructor, Nicole, started talking. (Nicole was flanked by two kitchen assistants, whose very job it seemed was to make sure we didn’t have to do anything so “icky” as wash something, or fetch our own coffee. They also had tons of tips to hand out.)

Nicole walked us through how the class would proceed, and then started in on the first recipe. (Recipes included grilled kale and nectarine salad, a grilled asparagus-onion-tomato-corn salad, and marinated pork chops. Dessert was grilled lemon poppy seed pound cake with berries. No I’m not sharing the recipes unless you come to my house).  My teammates were actually my former boss and my former skip-level, and, having been conditioned on how best to work with me, were full of verbal praise. (I’m actually pretty mercenary, but verbal praise works best between review periods).  It did get a bit embarrassing though and I had to ask them to knock it off. I felt like “that” kid, if you get my drift.

The format of the class is very hands-on. You chop your own stuff, you juice your own fruit, you place your own food on the grill, you take it off, you test for done-ness, and you eat it. I learned a new way to hold my knife (and chop onions faster), a quick trick how to slide cherry tomatoes en-masse (actual quote from my friend Sharon: “this is worth the price of the class ALONE!”), how to tell when asparagus are grilled just enough, and that you oil the food and not the grill.

And then? Then I tested it out on friends. And their relatives. In my house.

They did not die. Despite his disinclination to tomatoes (and kale), the male person ate heartily. Doubles were had on dessert (which I modified to be angel food cake, and that grills up just fine). And I was informed that the pork marinade should be put into the “regular rotation”. All in all, a success.

Still, I can’t help doing what I tend to do with recipes. After I made it at home, I reviewed some parts and decided I’d change this-and-that, tweak it here-and-there. But that really is part of the joy of cooking.

Pig Foot

“Do you like food?”

The question was put to me, last night after work, over a glass of wine. Sebastien, bless his Teutonic sensitivity, was concerned that I hadn’t made Official Dinner Plans in Montreal. This is apparently a sin of some sort. Add to that, it was Friday, and well, he was concerned.

“What did you have for lunch?” he enquired. I answered — smoked salmon over a bed of lettuce with capers, onions, and two small blinis. “That seems awfully healthy,” he observed pityingly, “Not like Quebec at all.”

When he asked me, shortly after this, about whether or not I liked food, I laughed out loud — I am not anorexic, it’s pretty obvious I like food — but it was such a pitying, concerned way he asked it that I found it funny. I assured him I liked food — really, really liked food. And I had one real night in Montreal (the other one I had arrived into my room, straight from the airport, at midnight. Everything was closed.)

Sebastien had two recommendations: Chasse et Peche, and Aud Pied de Cochon. The first translates roughly as “Hunting and Fishing” and is a super-fancy restaurant for surf and turf. The second translates literally as the Foot of the Pig.  When we found that Chasse was sold out for the night and Sebastien just barely managed to get me room at the bar at Pied (“You can go at 7pm but you have to be out of there by 9:30, okay?”), he proceeded to sell me on it.

They serve poutine (gravy fries) with foie gras on them. “Because,” Sebastien said, “they can. It’s schweinemast.”  “Ah,” I said knowingly, “like Emeril Legasse. Pork fat rules, and all that.” “Exactly, exactly,” he said.

I did not have poutine with foie gras (the lady next to me did, and we discussed it in-depth). I did have duck tartare (and had a private little moment at the bar over it) and then had Plogue A Champlain, which is basically duck bits with foie gras over a pancake and syrup and hey, don’t judge if you haven’t tried it. This is what comes from listening to Sebastien over a glass of wine and then putting yourself utterly in the hands of the nice waiter person at the bar.

Yes I had dessert.

Yes I promptly went for a run this morning to try to ameliorate the caloric destruction of last night. Old Montreal is great for a run if you don’t mind a. taking your life in your hands at every cross walk and b. can find your way as quickly as possible to the waterfront where there are a few k’s of unbroken (or only moderately broken) running/biking paths. Montreal is a lot like the newer bits of Paris in terms of architecture (buildings 300 years old!), tons of little cafes here and there, and friendly people.

You read that. Go read it again. Friendly. People.

I had heard about Quebec — some of the kinder phrases said things like “all of the attitude of France with none of the scenery” — having been to France I can verify that the attitude was there (for I found France friendly), and it had its share of scenery. The only crappy bits were the tourists at my hotel during the manager’s reception (I went for a drink and left before having it — when you have 200 odd guests getting “free” drinks and only 3 servers and 2 barkeeps to attend, it’s a nightmare and people suck).  Even the airport was a pleasant surprise — a 2pm departure on a Saturday usually means get there 3 hours early to fight your way through security– which took all of five minutes.

And so here I sit in Cleveland — stop 1 of 2 stops on the way home (ooh, Philly is next!) having only marginal guilt about last night’s excess (it makes the not-eating of airport food easier to go by). Airports really are the least glamorous part of travel.

Burn, baby, Burn

As per usual, I find myself horribly sunburnt. As per usual, my son is a light tan color. 

This time we stayed at the Hyatt Grand Cypress, which is gorgeous and had more amenities than we could possibly use (climbing wall, full gym, golf,  bikes, shuttle to the major parks). It had the Orlando-typical waterfall pools (complete with waterslide), great pool service (THANK YOU VONDA AND EDWARD!), and wonderful restaurants. (Note: when the chef comes out of the kitchen and hands your son a chef’s hat that he can keep and then talks cooking with you for like 15 minutes, you feel pretty awesome).

We spent three days at Magic Kingdom, including obligatory Pirate Adventure Makeup and 3 back-to-back turns on Space Mountain, and one day Harry Pottering at Universal. Note: I don’t care how bad you feel about whatever may be going on at work or in your personal  life, it’s hard to not grin like an idiot after 3 rides on Space Mountain.

It was hard coming back home. It was very hard getting on the scale. :p

Frankly France

My boss is French. My skip-level is French. And I think I’m becoming a closet francophile, but NOT because of them. We had an offsite.

In Lyon, France.

For those not in the know — which, until about a week ago, included yours truly — Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. I was there for 4 days and gained approximately 1 pound per day, and so we can all acknowledge that this was due to the fantastic food. I ate everything and then some, and in a country where bread is served at every meal (and contains only the classic ingredients — none of this corn syrup business or dough conditioners, thank you very much), this was no small feat. Oh, and the wine.

The Wine!

As I stated, my bosses (plural) are french. And so when it came time for wine to be decided, the menu was handed to them, and after a studied reflection of the menu and nonverbal cues between them, they’d summon the wait staff and give them the cursory order. In French. In other words, I couldn’t understand a bit, and so I can’t repeat what they ordered, but everything tasted wonderful. (In the states I eschewed French wines as “dusty” — not a speck of it in France. Not sure what is up with that!)

I see I’m babbling. Let me go at it chronologically:

After a day of travelling — Seattle to Heathrow, Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle, CDG to Lyon via train — I checked into my hotel (the Radisson Blu, which has unparalleled views in Lyon and quite the nice breakfast!). It was 10pm at this time, and the short walk from the train station allowed me to see the perfect pinks and oranges of the sun as it set. Bracing myself for “French disdain of the American”, I asked the concierge downstairs for restaurant recommendations.

I was presented in a charming and friendly manner with a map, highlighted directions, and two options: did Madame want something “safe”, or did Madame want something traditionally Lyonnaise? Madam indicated Lyonnaise, because I am not about to let a little jet lag in the way of Madame’s sense of adventure. A right from the hotel, and then the next right, and then a left, down two blocks: I found myself at a not-very-distinguishable bistro on a cobblestoned lane.

I was one of 3 tables at that time: a french couple having a romantic dinner, a set of Americans doing their best to keep all sorts of boisterous clichés in place, and then, well, me. The waiter switched to nearly-flawless English (and not in a disdaining way) when he discovered my French was non. He did want to make sure I understood what I was ordering as I was picking it out of a French menu but fortunately French is a Latin-based language and I can understand it just fine, I can’t speak it. Anyway, chicken with mushrooms and a side of ratatouille, and an okay bordeaux was dinner. It was beautiful (hey Kevin — the ratatouille was WAY better than that one we did, so we may need to revisit that at one of the HP get togethers), and then there was dessert.

Oh yes I did. I’m sorry, but my weight loss programme does not extend beyond the borders of the US, and so tarte tatin it was, and it was AMAZING. That, and coffee in a little demitasse cup.

Sated, I went back to my room… and woke up promptly at 5am. With the local gym not open until 8am, and no power converter (the three that I had brought with me did not work, and the person in charge of adapters at the hotel was not in until 9), I went for a run. Lyon is an excellent place to run — the walkways are wide, it’s mostly flat, and you cannot help but look at amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, and it’s cool in the morning even on a summer day. I only did about 4km — the knee is messed up again (that is another post for another time). However, it helped me feel better about the caloric intake of the night before.

I will say nothing of the meetings in Lyon that I was there for because they are proprietary to my company, with the exception that they were incredibly productive and useful. I was surprised because usually these sorts of things are endless power point decks and stifled yawns, but by day 3 we were still active and passionate about what we were doing, and had come to a better understanding of how each wheel works in this little clock of ours. I came home with 7 pages of notes.

At any rate, each day had breakfast in the hotel — oh, the cheese! — and a prearranged luncheon. Dinners were out on the town with the bosses, and that was where the careful wine menu scrutiny/ordering took place. Dinner conversation was equally as pleasantly a surprise as the meetings themselves: our party included two from Hong Kong, one from Amsterdam, two from London, the aforementioned two French, a few Americans, an Italian Australian, an Italian Italian, a Swede, and three from India (originally). I discovered many things, including that restaurant service and gratuity expectation/practice varies widely globally, that personal space in social situations does as well, and that the US is sorely behind in languages for its children. Case in point: my colleague from Amsterdam had mandatory Dutch and English until she was 10. Then French was added in. Two years later, so was German. She took Latin and Greek for fun.

(If you’re counting that as six languages, let’s take note that she knew a handful of words in other languages including Spanish and Italian).

At any rate: Lyon was pretty, with a variety of architectural styles but mostly consisting of the beige stucco/stonework and reddish-tan roofing, most buildings not exceeding 4 or 5 stories. We visited the local cathedrals (the two biggies, anyway), if I can get them off of my iPhone I will post pictures.

In short: Lyon is a 2-hour train from Paris and worth it.

As to Paris: I spent half of one day there (by the time I got the train and metro sorted out). In that half of a day I saw the Arc de Triomphe (larger than expected, and there were people at the top, which I hadn’t realized was possible), walked down the Champs-Elysees (endless shopping possibilities, but I’m not a shopper and people were thick — in both senses of the word), walked around the Louvre (not in it, I’m afraid, time being what it was), and down to Notre Dame (did walk in, it is GORGEOUS).  If you’ve ever seen the TV Miniseries The Pillars of the Earth, you will learn how they figured out how to make the heavy stone archways (and not have them pulled down by gravity and killing people, for example) or the architectural purpose of flying buttresses; and this makes the Notre Dame all the more impressive. That, and the realization that all of that lovely colored glass was done without chemicals — or not the way we think of them. For example, did you know that in order to get RED glass you need gold?

I didn’t make it to the Eiffel Tower, as I dawdled (dawdled??) in my walking — the architecture in Paris is AMAZING. You can tell the difference in building ages just by their accoutrements — who has gargoyles, who has scrollwork, what kind of columns were in fashion. Some buildings are relatively new — say, mid-1900’s– and about twenty feet wide, having been risen between two older buildings that formerly may have had garden space between the two. Cobblestone streets abound, and the smell of everything is in the air. I don’t know a better way to describe it, but I’m in love, I truly am.

My only dinner in Paris I had close to my hotel (Hotel Ampere, 17th arrondissement, absolutely beautiful in and out) and was a fixed-price with some choices. I sat outside, so as to watch the people walking by — I love people watching — and had a very leisurely dinner. The service was very friendly and attentive, I had to ask the people to my left — four older French people, two older couples — if tipping was okay or would elicit offense. I had to do this in Spanish as it was the only common language we had, their English being only fractionally better than my French. (I am not dissing them at all — at least they spoke another language! Never mind two. America, we need to catch up!) After some discussion, they agreed that the service was very good, and that leaving service (propina in spanish) was okay — in this instance. Of course she would not be offended, I just needed to realize this was only done when it was *really good*, not as a matter of course.

Morning came on my last day, with enough time for a quick breakfast and then 4 Metro lines (kinda like our subway system) to the RER train, back to my flight. In all, travel on my last day took 22 hours. I was very happy to see my bed.

I will be seeing France again though. I politely informed the male person this morning we are going back and spending some real-time there. He took it rather well.

Lo Fidelity

I weigh X-3. In order for me to be healthy, I need to weigh X-22. (I was at X two weeks ago).

Having lost 22 pounds (or more) on several occasions — 5 major ones that I can think of, none of them pregnancy related — I know exactly how to do this. The problem is, however, that when I try to lose 22 pounds at 37 years of age, it is significantly different from when I lost 22 pounds at 18. Or 23. Or 27. My body does not react the way it used to.

At 18, I came back from Australia (6 month student exchange) and weighed 37 more pounds than what I had when I left for it. (I had actually just got done losing 15 pounds BEFORE I left). It took about six months, going to the gym maybe twice a week, taking the occasional walk, and eating smaller portions. That was it. Done.

At 23, I was a newlywed looking at my wedding photos, and particularly the rehearsal dinner ones. I had gained about 23 pounds. I remember crying on the floor of my Oceanside apartment, my then husband helplessly watching. I started walking 4 times per week, cut back on the food, and it was off in about 4 months.

At 27, we had just moved up to Washington. That 23 pounds came back. (Do you see a pattern here? Big change = big eating). I joined a gym and ate Slim Fast for breakfast, Lean Cuisine for lunch, and frankly whatever I damn well wanted for dinner. In about 5 months it was gone.

At 32 I was charged with losing 30 pounds, by my doctor. I was in Grad School, my son was a very active toddler and then preschooler, I rarely saw my then husband (he worked nights, I was working full-time and in the aforementioned school). We had friends staying with us who knew cooking and wine, and so I ate and ate. When I got to the doctor she diagnosed me as pre-diabetic, and told me to knock it off. She handed me a 1320 calorie diet, and I had to weigh everything. I also had to work out at least 4 times per week, for at least 30 minutes, and I had to break a sweat. In about six months the weight was off.

Then I got divorced.

Interestingly, the weight didn’t pile on with the divorce. Therefore, it isn’t necessarily negative things that drive my weight gain, but it is big change. Here I sit, with a couple of more Big Changes coming my way (nope, not yet, only 2 more months and then I can talk about it) and I’ve known about the Big Changes for about four months now. Four months of Big Change eating = I am now back to where I oughtn’t be.

I’m currently using an iPhone App called “Myfitnesspal“, which has an online counterpart, and is free. I log everything I eat and it tells me where I’m at during the course of the day not only calorically, but nutritionally. For example: I have learned that one (1) Rainbow Sprinkle Top Pot Doughnut is 2/5 of an entire day’s caloric intake. I have learned that 4 cups of salad (which gets me full) is about 1/12th of a day’s caloric intake. I have learned that white wine is calorically “cheaper” than red, and that on days where I’m “good” the scale will not necessarily be kind to me the next day, but on days where I’m “bad” it will not necessarily be mean, either. (A recent evening that included steak and wine resulted in the scale telling me I had lost a pound. A recent evening that included all of 4 cups of lettuce and some vinaigrette resulted in the scale telling me I added a half pound. It’s vexing.)

I also have fitness requirements, having learned that I need to be committed to an event in order to keep me honest. The difficulty in this lay in my schedule: I have an active boy child, who participates in Karate, Boy Scouts, and Baseball. Somehow the stars have aligned so that Saturday rides now conflict with Saturday games, and Tuesday spin conflicts with Tuesday games. I’ll still do the STP, though. I may do it slowly and I may hurt like hell the next day, but I’m on for it.

It would be really, truly fantastic to just take it off and leave it off.

Heads Will Roll

Today was my first day back at work (officially, technically I was working from home and through most of the weekend and yes I have spreadsheets and powerpoints to prove it) since The Incident. On Thursday I had taken lunch with me to work, only to have totally forgotten that I had a lunch date. Ergo, lunch was saved to the fridge. After all, we have nice fridges at work, and my lunch was in nice Tupperware, and it was in SMALL Tupperware, stashed in the back. I would eat my mixed veggies and gnocchi on Friday.

Well, I wasn’t in the office on Friday, or Monday, but still, as an accompaniment to the Large Salad of Dieting I was to eat today, leftover gnocchi was sounding pretty darned good.

Yeah too bad.

Twice a month, the Fridge Elves clean out the fridge. To my mind that means they clean out anything obviously dead or growing mold. But apparently it includes 3 day old gnocchi, for the gnocchi was nowhere to be seen.

I am now at work, having eaten my Large Salad of Dieting, and according to myfitnesspal that means I’ve consumed all of 86 calories. It is totally not my fault, then, that I am headed down to Cafe Ladro and will eat an entire cheesecake.

You’ve been warned.