Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Tart Tatin - another cooking adventure with a girl named Ham

"Mama, what day is it today?"
"Is today the day we make apple pie?"
"Tart Tatin? Yes. We are making Tart Tatin for Thanksgiving."
"Mama, that's three words that start with 'T'! Tigery is going to help us too. That makes four 'T's. Did you know, Tigery got FOUR stickers in Kindergarten and he got a prize? But that's not fair because I didn't get a prize because my teacher counted wrong."

"Well, how many apples do you see?"
"Five. One is hiding in the back."
"So, you get FIVE stickers. There is one on each apple."
"Five is more than four but I wish that numbers went 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 because then I'd be six years old, not five."

"Mama, Tigery is done peeling the apples."
"OK, now we need to measure the ingredients for the caramel."
"Yummy. Yummy. Yummy. Caramel. Caramel. Caramel."
"You need 1-1/2 cups sugar and a 1-1/2 sticks of butter."

"Now what do we do?"
"Melt the butter, pour in the sugar, and don't stop stirring."

"I love the smell of caramel in the morning."

"Ham, we still have a lot of work to do."
"Mama, why do you always call me Ham?"
"It's short for 'Hamsta'."
"Oh yeah. I remember."

"I'm so tired. Will that pie ever finish...
...ever, ever?"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Neurosis Revised at the Port of Oakland

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to revise the definition of my fear of heights during a visit to the Port of Oakland. As it turns out, I'm not afraid of ALL heights, just the ones inside, like glass elevators on the 50th floor, interior balconies, or antique, completely vertical gondolas in Switzerland.

Terry, a regular at the cafe I frequent, has worked at the Port of Oakland since 1969 and invited me and another cafe relative, Lior, for a tour of the shipping port. (Well, actually, Terry invited Lior and Lior invited me.)  I've received numerous benefits from spending thousands of dollars at Cafe Fanny over the past 18 years, but this invitation for a private tour of the Port of Oakland and its shipping cranes tops the list.

After a couple weeks of experiencing how the worst lies in anticipation, Lior and I set out on a Monday afternoon so clear and crisp you could hear crinkling when you moved through the air. We met Terry at a nearby park and he escorted us through port security to the bottom of a giant white crane. I couldn't even see the top. I knew that if I didn't fall to the ocean after having a heart attack due to my fear of heights, I would certainly fall due to my clumsiness, so death was pretty much certain. I thought, "This is definitely a good day to die and I'm glad it will be with Lior and Terry at the Port of Oakland, and I'm also glad that it will involve the ocean (or I guess technically "The Bay"), and that death will arrive on this beautiful, crinkley day."

It took all my confidence to get into the elevator at the bottom of the crane, but oddly the higher we went, the less afraid I became. I thought, "Does this mean I'm fine with dying?" And then, "Does that mean that I'm depressed? Should I call a suicide hotline? Where is my iPhone? Why am I not scared? What is wrong with me? Maybe this orange vest has powers?" I tried to keep a straight face but at a certain point I didn't need to try any more. The air, the views, the heavy metal of the cranes, everything together was really breathtaking and serene, and a little bit Bladerunner and I guess Star Wars (but I've never seen that movie somehow).

The elevator took us up about eight flights to the boom of the crane. This is where we entered the car with the spreader that the operator uses to pull containers off ships. Here I am driving the car out over the water and a shot of some buttons and switches I got to use.

After our driving lesson we climbed another eight flights above the boom.

At the top we were met with more stunning views and lots of grease and cables... well as some dizzying scenes when looking down.

Then we headed back down to sea level.

Some interesting facts about the Port of Oakland:
  • The Port of Oakland is the fourth largest port in the world.
  • 2.4 million containers go through the port each year.
  • The cranes were built in China and came to Oakland by boat.
  • Each container can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. They are pulled off the boats using a spreader which has four 2-inch think metal "hooks" to grab the container.
  • The largest ships are 13 containers wide.
  • The cranes are really, really high.
  • Terry has worked at the port for forty years and has over fifteen 6-month projects outside of work to do so, he retired last month to start getting those done. I was incredibly honored to have one of his port tours.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Switzerland Report - Summary and Arrival

The Switzerland Report
Prepared by Anne

Executive Summary
Background: Emma moved to Lucerne, Switzerland in July 2008. Not a day has gone by without someone asking me for information on Emma’s new life. It wasn’t until this year, July 2009, that I was able to investigate and write this report for her constituents in the United States and England.

Engagement Objectives:
1) Travel to Switzerland
2) Meet Emma’s Swiss family and friends
3) See how she lives
4) See what she eats
5) Take a side trip to the Riviera


The subject of this report is very forthcoming, hospitable, and gracious, so I did not need to employ any fancy methodology to retrieve my information.

Recommendations: Go to Lucerne now if you haven’t. Go again now if you have. Make sure to go to Pilatus, Eigenthal, Rotsee, the KKL, and Wissifluh. Catch a train to Liechtenstein. Meet our relatives there and don’t leave without schnapps. Don’t forget the Riviera is close by so go down there if you can.

Engagement Results:
On July 27, we arrived in Munich on a 10 hour Lufthansa flight from San Francisco. Next up, a short hop to Zurich on Augsburg Airlines. Augsburg Airlines? As a completely paranoid passenger with an equally neurotic husband (who visits daily), I travel on a few choice airlines and don’t even like those. Nor do I like being bussed out to a tiny plane on a tarmac in the middle of n-o-w-h-e-r-e. Our stewardess with eyes and nose swollen shut from collagen didn’t exactly calm my nerves but she did distract me. We made it through a turbulent, mountain thunderstorm and landed safely in Zurich. At baggage we could see the sweet faces of Ilia, Emma, and Kaleo waiting for us on the other side of a glass wall. We spent 10 minutes waving and blowing kisses while waiting for our bags to unload. We expected a wait at customs too, but instead walked to freedom through an unmanned customs station. 

The drive to Lucerne is black night punctuated by thick bolts of lightening holding their poses across the sky. It is pitch darkness at the country house where we arrive to stay, a night of thunder booms and bright flashes. We are beside the Red Lake and I am startled by the first commuter train that blows by in the night, a reminder that I am in a place where bovine rub shoulders comfortably with modern transportation.

Emma and Kaleo arranged for us all to stay in a farmhouse on Rotsee Lake and spent the previous two days moving in the necessities. What a place to land. After quesadillas and some delicious salsa Kaleo made, we tucked in for the night.

The Switzerland Report - Day 1

|| July 28 ||

Findings: Mosquito bites, Farmer's Market, Free Bin, Fountains

Food: Pretzels, Kaleo's Raclette

In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of someone scraping paint. I walked out into the hallway to determine where the noise was coming from. In the next room over I found Alek, Kaleo's eight-year-old son, rubbing his back along the rough, wood-paneled wall. He looked at me with panic and amusement and said, "Have to scratch my back. A mosquito." Alek is exceptionally strong. I expected to see large scratch marks and blood on his back, but when he turned around what I saw were five to ten absurdly large mosquito bites. Alek's expression said, "What am I supposed to do?" I made 'X's in the bites and he fell asleep.

Johanna is up early and I spirit her outside before she wakes the house. Four hours sleep in 48 hours. Today should go well. The storm has blown over and left a clear, glistening morning. From outside, the house is handsomely shabby facing the glare of the sun. Cows are out and the mountain is out. We descend the steep, momentary slope to the misty lake. This is a surface of competitive rowers (the world championships for crew were held here last year) and even at this early hour the oars are on the water. Somehow the intense, quiet training adds to the tranquility. As the morning progresses the commuter trains are more frequent--quiet blasts of air to remind you of the forward purpose of man if you've drifted off with the swans and the ducks.

At some point during the day, everyone was awake. It might have been around noon. It was Tuesday so we walked to the farmer's market to shop. Along the way we discovered that free bins exist even in Switzerland. Everyone in our group found a treasure and mine is this photo.

Lucerne is described as the "most typically Swiss" of all the Swiss cities. The area around the farmer's market explains why: old wooden footbridges, swans, castle-y shaped structures, and cute kids with red, Swiss-cross sun visors.

After the market and a delicious Bavarian pretzel snack, we walked over to the KKL art museum. The building was designed by Jean Nouvel and is topped by a gorgeous, cantilevered roof.*

*For proper architectural photos, see the image search results on google.

Emma and I went off in search of organic strawberries for our planned attempt at homemade ice cream. Johanna and Chris continued on with Kaleo, Alek, Jeanne, and Ilia and learned that there are fountains everywhere in Lucerne. You can drink from them (but only from the tap, not the pool). Fountains are perfect for cooling off.

Emma and I rejoined the group at the last fountain behind the castle wall. Later in the afternoon back at the farmhouse the kids played in a little pool in the yard and the adults monitored the situation while cooking and unpacking. Here is the view from the window above the kitchen sink.

Kaleo made us raclette, a typical Swiss meal with potatoes, cornichons, onions and most importantly a lot of melted raclette cheese. You place slices of cheese into tiny enamel ramekins and slide the ramekins into a mini-broiler, made especially for this meal. Once melted, the cheese is poured over the potatoes, cornichons, and onions. It has a wonderful combination of textures and flavors and is just right with a green salad along side.

After a game of "grab-the-person-walking-by-and-pile-on-Anne" we turned in for the night.

Day 2>>

The Switzerland Report - Day 2

|| July 29 ||

Findings: Kaleo's studio, Lido, bike trailers

: Salad with beets, never eaten roast, fennel with cheese

To get most places, we walked down the hill past our neighbors: a new calf and her protective mom.

Our first mode of transportation was usually the Rotsee ferry. This ferry is a small wooden motor boat. To call it you ring a bell. The boat operator is in a house on the other side of the lake. The scene at the dock and on the ride across the lake is idyllic: calm water, flowering lily pads, water birds, and sun-bleached wood.

On this day we were headed to Lido beach. Kaleo's studio was on the way so we stopped in for a visit.

After our visit to the studio we walked, bussed and ferried across Lake Lucerne. It was one of the hotter days of the summer so even on a Wednesday the beach and water were packed. One notable aspect of Lucerne is that public spaces are like country clubs. Another notable aspect of Lucerne is that you leave your wallet out on a towel for two hours and it's there when you return.

We ferried and biked back to the farm where Kaleo prepared another amazing dinner. We ate salad with beets and feta and fennel braised in chicken stock along with some other fresh sides.

We were all tired from a day of trekking around in the sun and the dinner was the perfect refreshment. Kaleo also cooked a roast for the next day and the aroma wafted in while we all sat at the large dining table. I couldn't wait for tomorrow.

The Switzerland Report - Day 3

|| July 30 ||

Findings: Gondola, Pilatus, Toboggan

Food: Lunch on the mountain, Alpler Magrone, Salad you don't want to share

This was one of our bigger adventures: bike to a gondola, ride the gondola to the top of Mount Pilatus, hike for two miles down the mountain, stop for lunch at a mountain restaurant, walk a half mile to a bus to take us the rest of the way down the mountain, and then bike home.

Alek left early that morning with his mom, Karin, for a long weekend at the sea. We were down to 7. We had four bikes, one for each grown-up and two of the bikes had trailers for the three girls. We took a 30-minute tour of the city which involved going up, down, and over. We parked the bikes at the Pilatus gondola and rode up. At the top of the mountain was a summer toboggan run, 1350 meters of shiny steel with steep slopes and tunnels and speed. It was so fun everyone wanted to go again and faster, but hunger was setting in so we decided to start our hike to the restaurant. The day was cooler than the previous two days, overcast, and perfect for a hike down the mountain. Ilia and Jeanne are such great hikers, especially Ilia (because she is older). Ilia loved finding berries, bugs, animals, and mushrooms on all of our hikes. She was often the first to spot items of interest and her enthusiasm still lights me up when I write this weeks later.

We stopped about half-way down for another traditional Swiss meal called Alpler Magrone. Kaleo and Emma drank apple wine and even though I built up my tolerance in preparation for our European trip, the plane ride over knocked me back onto the wagon and I couldn't get off. I drank alpine water.

The Alpler Magrone was sooooo good. It is basically macaroni and cheese but with really good cheese, waxy potatoes, and caramelized onions. It is served with homemade applesauce. I've made it 3 times in the four weeks we've been home and I haven't cooked more than 3 times in the last year. That's how much I loved it. Actually, I loved the salad even more. They must have used lettuce from a nearby garden. The dressing was some sort of buttermilk or sour cream base with chopped herbs, something like Ranch crossed with Green Goddess. Chris didn't order salad to go with the giant sausage and the Röschti that he did order, so he asked for a bite of my salad. I replied, "Fine. But you can only have one, small bite, very small." At which point, Emma started laughing and I realized she gauges if I really like something by asking me to share. Another blind spot illuminated!

We needed to hustle to catch the bus at a nearby village that would take us to the bottom of the mountain. The bike ride home at dusk was beautiful. Kaleo took us on a new route on the other side of the river. I can't remember anything more of that day except dropping into a deep sleep.