Wednesday, August 26, 2009

lovely bikes

Madsen Cycles Cargo Bikes

Lots of you, please click on that so I can win one of these!

Monday, August 24, 2009


This weekend, I was one of a select few who managed to obtain tickets to, and attend, the mecca of all things Nerd: Blizzcon 2009. For those of you who are blissfully unaware of the gaming world, Blizzcon is THE gaming convention and is put on by Blizzard, the company responsible for creating World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo.

I actually do not play any of these. Once upon a time, many moons ago, I played on a guest pass and leveled my Knight Elf Druid, Morgaene, to a whopping level 3. This is the extent of my forays into the gaming universe, though after this weekend, it probably won't be my last. In the meantime, nursing school and life in general are my first priority so my alter ego as a Blood Elf will have to wait (yes, Blood Elf, because I've been informed that most adults and real gamers play Horde..).

I really had no idea what to expect upon arrival to the Anaheim Convention Center. Jason had to work Friday so we were only able to make the second day of the event. (As a side note, driving in LA is quite possibly the most miserable activity I've been a part of in my adult life. It trumps cleaning up after a C. Diff patient, hands down.). When we finally arrived at our hotel Friday night, there was no question we were in the right place: the lobby was a sea of black t-shirts, thick-rimmed glasses and intense discussion about continents, races and lore that exist only in that ethereal otherworld known as the internet. As we were waiting for the elevator, the door opened and they were crammed in like sardines: nerds, bags of swag and cases of mountain dew and chips. We smiled to each other, knowing that the next morning would produce hundreds of dark circled eyes and caffeine sales after an entire night of raiding.

As expected, we emerged the next morning to a huge line already forming outside the convention center. Thousands of unshowered, groggy-eyed, Starbucks wielding heroes rallied to take on another day of their pilgrimage. Jason and I joined them and were soon squeezed in between pockets of slightly stale smelling guilds. I mentally grimaced at the thought of being stuck there for two hours until the doors opened, but as I began observing and listening, my perception of this fascinating crowd and the pastime that unites them all began to change.

Let me take a few moments to pan out from Blizzcon and discuss some other events taking place concurrently at the hotels and convention center that day. The Center is conveniently located at the end of a short street in Anaheim that is lined with huge hotels. Our hotel was hosting the National Little Miss pageant on Friday and Saturday and the one directly across the street was hosting some sort of Christian conference for young people (high school through college aged, it appeared). The juxtaposition of these three groups was rather intriguing: the gamers seemed blissfully unaware of either of the other two, while the Christians didn't quite know what to make of the hordes of slightly unkempt looking nerds. The gaggles of overly painted mothers and tiny tots competing for hot pink trophies seemed painfully angsty and interested in nothing more than beating the other tiny tots rather apathetically sitting in piles of satin and tulle along the walls.

My observations began focussing on the reactions the Christian crowd had to the gamers and I was really quite disturbed and disgusted by what I saw. Each time the groups merged, which was unavoidable given the proximity of the meeting places, the perfectly coifed Bible toting cliques pressed a little closer together, eyeing the other group with disdain and dissolving into fits of laughter tinged with harsh comments concerning the types of people they must be. To be truthful, I wanted to slap the mouths right off their faces.

As the day progressed, we stood in lines in an attempt to finish a quest, played twenty minutes of the new WoW expansion, bought some swag and enjoyed the artistic talent of several Upper Deck Artists. I continued listening and watching and noticed several things:
  • This group doesn't give a crap about what they or anyone else looks like.
  • I didn't hear one person say anything gossipy, mean or rude about anyone else. The only division was the fairly friendly Horde v. Alliance rivalry, but even that was carried out in good fun.
  • New friends were made instantly over something as simple as a common server, and they then spent the rest of the day together hanging out
Possibly the most fascinating observation I made was that there were a number of disabled folks at the convention. I noted several wheelchair-bound people whose mobility was limited to their hands and arms. One man appeared to be paralyzed from the waist down. One was a dwarf, several wore hearing aids and still more had various and sundry ailments that impaired some form of function or another. I mentioned this to Jason and he summed it up quite brilliantly: The world of online gaming is an equal playing field for them. They can log on, kick some butt and make friends with people who a) can't see that they're disabled and b) don't care if they are or not.

The more I thought about this, the more it perturbed me that the thousands of young people across the street who were supposedly convening in the name of Christ were incapable of this sort of love and acceptance. Conversely, they overtly made fun of those who weren't as in style and clean and who chose different forms of entertainment from them.

Jason and I finished our day at the Charity Auction where we attempted to procure an original painting that one of the Upper Deck artists had created live throughout the convention. I fell into conversation with one of our rival bidders who, along with his wife, decided to pull out of the bidding so Jason and I could have the painting. Another guy came in and raised the bid above our cap so the nice man jumped in and won it for a steal. In an unbelievable display of generosity, he chased us down outside the booth and offered to let us have it but we declined. We're still just blown away by how completely cool of him that was.

Later that night we joined the other thousands of Blizzard devotees for the closing ceremony. After a hilarious opening act by the band Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain (comprised of some of the top artists and designers working for Blizzard), Ozzy Osbourne graced the hall with a deafening performance. Aside from his obtuse use of the F word (and drugs), he seems like he's probably a pretty cool guy. He looked slightly less stoned than he usually does and put on a great show. We left early because I couldn't take the noise, but at least we can say we've seen the Prince of Darkness live (is that something to be proud of...?)

The weekend came and went, the nerds are all probably happily logged back into their accounts, saving the World of Warcraft from the powers of the Lich King and doing whatever else they do online, and I'm incredibly glad I got to go. Thank you, nerds of the world, for letting me be a part of your universe for a day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Un repas

This evening's fare consisted of fresh eggs procured at the farmer's market last night, paired with fragrant rosemary-infused figs wrapped with prosciutto.

Jason prefers his eggs
scrambled with nothing fancy. I, on the other hand, like mine in omelette form, flipped in the pan and served with herbs and cheese (tonight's had fresh snipped rosemary with a bit of ricotta and prosciutto folded into the center).

The figs were wrapped in the prosciutto, threaded onto rosemary skewers and sort of pan roasted until they were tender and warm through (they're supposed to be grilled but this was easier). The finishing touch is a warm sauce consisting of 1/2 cup of red wine, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of champagne vinegar (or balsamic), 1 teaspoon of freshly minced rosemary and a cup of raspberries (I just let all this simmer until it is warm and the berries are tender).

Applesauce from last night finished the spread which, according to the main man, was extremely successful.

Duck Tacos with Nectarine Salsa

nectarines, 1 lb
lime, 1
red onion, 3 tablespoons finely chopped
jalepeno chile, 1, seeded and minced
honey, 1 tablespoon
kosher salt
boneless duck breast halves, 2
chili powder, 2 teaspoons
romaine lettuce, 2 large leaves, finely shredded
corn tortillas, 8 warmed

Halve and pit the nectarines, and then cut them into 3/4 inch pieces. Finely grate the zest from the lime, and then squeeze 1 tablespoon lime juice. In a nonreactive bowl, combine the nectarines, lime zest and juice, onion, chile and honey and mix gently. Season to taste with salt. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Using a sharp, thin-bladed knife, score the skin of each duck breast half in a crosshatch pattern. In a small bowl, stir together the chili powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Season the duck breasts with the chili powder mixture. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Place the duck breasts, skin side down, in a large frying pan. Place the frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the skin is golden brown and the duck has rendered a good amount of fat, about 7 minutes. Transfer the duck to a plate and pour off the fat from the pan. Return the pan to medium-high heat, and then return the duck breasts, skin side up, to the pan. Cook until the undersides are nicely browned, about 7 minutes more for medium rare.

Transfer the duck to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut each duck breast half across the grain into slices about 1/2 inch thick and transfer to a warmed platter. Serve right away with the salsa, shredded lettuce, and tortillas. Invite each guest to fill tortillas with sliced duck, some lettuce and spoonfulls of salsa.
New Flavors for Chicken, Williams-Sonoma

Overall, I loved this recipe. I was a total duck novice, having never eaten or cooked it before, so I was a little shocked at how greasy the meat is. It has an amazing flavor though, especially the crispy, chili seasoned edges. I might try chicken next time just to cut down on the fat and cost but the duck paired incredibly well with the fruit salsa. The salsa is divine and I imagine it would go nicely with a really great goat gouda. I got major props from the husband which is all that really matters in my kitchen :).

Steak with Raspberries, Figs and Blue Cheese

1 cup red raspberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
8 large or 16 small figs, quartered
2 ounces ham, chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon garam masala (Whole Foods carries this)
Freshly ground black pepper
8 boneless rib-eye or beef tenderloin steaks (about 2.5 lbs total)
6 ounces of blue cheese, crumbled

Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill on high, or preheat a broiler. Lightly oil the grill rack or broiler pan.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the raspberries, sugar, and vinegar. Simmer for 10 miutes, or until reduced by half. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Add the figs, ham, rosemary, garam masala, and 1/2 tsp of pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the figs are very soft. Set aside and keep warm.

Season the steaks generously with salt and pepper. Grill for 12 minutes, turning once or until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 145 degrees F for medium-rare.

Place each steak on a plate. Top with an equal amount of cheese and cover with some of the fig mixture. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the raspberry sauce over all. Serve the remaining fig mixture on the side.
Simply Organic, Jesse Ziff Cool

Culinary Explorations

I should note that, as I write, I'm eating an Asian pear that I picked up from the Pacific Grove Farmer's Market yesterday afternoon. I'm not sure I've had a pear like this in a long time if ever: crisp, bright, delicate floral and honeyed's really fairly magical.

I've been going slightly crazy in the kitchen lately, due mostly to the fact that I actually have time now and also to the unbelievable produce available in the central coast of California. Figs the size of my hand, gorgeous avocados, strawberries, raspberries that melt under the tongue, and the list goes on. I have to limit myself each time I go lest I end up with more than we can possibly eat!

My mother in law gave me a fantastic cookbook for our wedding and I'm going to share a few recipes in the following posts from it and another that I picked up. I usually just throw whatever I feel like cooking together but these recipes meld flavors that I would never think to combine.

Tastes of the Idyllic Life

Despite the fact that I visit here every couple of months for a few weeks at a time, I'm still not convinced that Pacific Grove, CA is real. The weather is always in the sixties, the houses are bedecked in gingerbread and surrounded by picket fence-enclosed gardens of wildflowers, people walk to the market where they are greeted like old friends and one can see the ocean from just about any elevated point in town. (Please take this moment to ignore the fact that, as I'm writing this, Santa Cruz is burning to a crisp and scattering its ashes on post...)

Two days ago, I discovered that the PG library is where it's all happening. The librarians call you by name from the minute you apply for your card and they most likely know just about everything about everyone living here. The children eagerly discuss the events of their days with these women as they scan their piles of books and the kindly librarians ask, in turn, about their pets or their parents or how their grandmother is doing. Tucked into quiet carrels and bent over stacks of reference are the snow-headed saints of a generation I know far too little about. Who knows what they're researching? I wish I did.

On the corner of a block just two streets from my house is a delightful knitting and quilting shop that is run by a sweater clad motherly woman with a twinkle in her eye, a young tattooed twenty-something with a gentle smile and two very soft dogs who know exactly when it's 1:00 in the afternoon. Skeins of handspun wools and tiny balls of perfectly balled silks cover every available space. I think it's impossible to leave the place without some bit of wool or cotton tucked in a bag and a tip or two on how to better your purl or knit stitch.

Coming off of nearly three months of absolute insanity, it's a bit jarring to enter into this world where people hang signs in their business window that say "be back later" and the only establishments that stay open past 6 are the local chocolatier and a handful of restaurants. I'm having to re-learn what it means to sit back and take life in. I'm relishing the hours in the afternoon that I can spend trying new recipes, teaching myself to knit, sitting down on the rocks by the ocean reading and the obvious hilight of my day: getting to be there when Jason gets off work and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening hanging out.

I wish I knew when this country decided it was such a good idea to speed life up, wake up earlier, work later, eat fast food instead of carefully thought out meals, forego relationships for the ease of online connectivity...the list goes on. While I realize life will never be Pacific Grove all the time, I think this town teaches me something every time I'm here about how things really should be.

And with that, I'm off to check my fruit soup that is currently chilling in the fridge. Recipe and pictures to follow :).