Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eat, tweet, love

I joined the Twitter revolution last week. I'd been lurking for some time, but finally decided to dive in...I think my capacity to make pithy remarks and snarky observations is reversely proportional to the number of available forums in which for me to make them. I've had exactly nothing interesting to tweet about.

But the upside is that I've decided what my next career move should be. You see, I'm following all my favorite chefs on Twitter and it seems like nearly all of them spent the weekend at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. This reminded me how much I want to go to one of the big food and wine fests, and then I realized that what I really need is a job writing about food and wine festivals! Pay my way and entrance fees and I will tweet, blog and even wax poetic about all that food and wine until the cows come home...even after they come home.

What a life that would be. Sure, sure, eventually I'd get cynical, but by then I would have befriended all of the amazing chefs that I admire and could move on to my next career, either making gourmet chocolates or ghostwriting all those chefs' memoirs.

But seriously, I am wishing I'd put a food and wine festival on my 40 by 40 list. I know it's my list, but it feels a little like cheating to change, 10 of the items left already require travel and I've only got 6 1/2 more years. However, there is a Key West Food and Wine Festival that happens to occur in January...hmmm...I sense a travel plan coming on.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Secret Autism?

I'm a few days behind on this, but I finally caught up on "Parenthood" and had to ask: Is the storyline of keeping Max's Asperger's diagnosis a secret from him rooted in any type of reality?

Look, I know that it's TV and I forgive the fact that nearly every family drama gets neatly wrapped up in a bow after two episodes (mostly because I like Lauren Graham and her kids so much), but the autism/Asperger's storyline has bugged me from the start.

I have no issue with the portrayal of Max. In fact, I think that the actor who plays him does an amazing job - so amazing, that I had to Google him to make sure he doesn't really have autism. I see bits of Owen in every one of Max's monologues and meltdowns. (Owen even has that shirt Max is wearing.)

But this idea that Max is 8 years old, goes to a school for special needs kids, has a full-time developmental aide and doesn't know that he has Asperger's...I don't get it. It doesn't make logical or even TV sense to me. Do people do that to their kids? And are there 8 year-old Aspies who haven't yet started to ask questions? It's so illogical to me that I'm wondering whether it could possibly be based on an experience that one of the producers has had, because otherwise I can't even figure out why they'd make it up.

I don't want people who aren't familiar with autism to think that it's something we hide from our kids until they accidentally overhear us fighting about it one day.

We told Owen he had autism when he was four or five. I don't know when exactly, because it doesn't stand out as a monumental occasion. We didn't stay up all night explaining it, as it appears they're going to do on "Parenthood" next week. After more than a year of seeing therapists and then starting a more intensive preschool program than his twin brother, it was obvious to him that he was different somehow.

We'd always said, "You just need extra help with some things," and then -- maybe it was around his re-evaluation, where we'd hoped to determine whether he actually had classic autism or if he was in the Asperger's category (he meets the criteria for autism, but seems more functional thana lot of kids I've seen with Asperger's, but that's another topic) -- one day we said, "The reason you need extra help sometimes is that you have autism." We've always said that it just means his brain works a little bit differently. That he's just as smart as Aidan, but he just sometimes has trouble with things that Aidan and other kids don't.

Owen is fine with it. Aidan is fine with it. We talk about it freely, particularly when Owen is having a meltdown. It helps Owen understand why he struggles and it helps Aidan understand why we don't always treat his brother's fits the same as his own.

Actually, Owen is more than fine with it. Sometimes he uses it to elevate himself to special status in comparison with his brother ("Well, I'm the one with autism.") and just a few months ago, he came home from school and announced that he had started an Autism Club with a girl in his class who has Asperger's. I think that's pretty awesome.

I can't imagine why parents would choose to treat it as something to be hidden. A secret that even the person afflicted with it shouldn't know...I just don't get it, and I'm curious if anyone out there can explain it to me? Does this really happen? And do people actually think it's a good idea?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vegas Valentine

I went to Vegas. I now want to go back to Vegas because it felt too short. Being that this was a work trip, I don't have a lot of exciting things to report, but we did have a fabulous Valentine's dinner at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

It's obvious, right? The place is gorgeous. The food is amazing. The kitchen runs like clockwork. The service is fantastic. Chef Robuchon, himself, was even expected on the premises that evening, so things were probably even more on-point than usual - or not. I have a feeling that place is always run with precision.

We were very tempted by the 9-course Seasonal Discovery menu, but chose the more sensible Club Menu, which was 4 courses, but actually 5 because we started with a crazy foie gras amuse bouche.

Because I have the most annoying stomach in the universe (it tells me I'm starving and then becomes full after 3 bites), I was ready to burst by the time the entree came. The salmon was amazing, of course, but the most memorable part was the signature Pommes Puree, which is a fancy way of saying Best Mashed Potatoes in the World. They were like velvet and whipped cream, they came in tiny casserole dishes! I wanted to climb inside the dish and swim around in the potatoes. So good.

Dessert was also lovely, as we shared the selection of tartes and housemade ice creams and even had after-dinner espressos like real adults...adults who were hoping to stay awake past 8 p.m.

All-in-all, the perfect Valentine's Day dinner. So perfect that my husband and I are ready to crown Vegas our official Valentine's Day destination going forward. Neither of us is sure why we never thought of this before...why spend money eating out here, when we could be there? Plus, it aligns with my whole "escaping Minnesota in February" mental well-being philosophy. That's right, going to Vegas is good for me.

The only downside of our dinner was the realization that there is just no way in hell I'm going to make it through Joel Robuchon's 16-course menu (#3 on my 40 by 40 list). Is there a training regimen that one should put their stomach through before undertaking such a meal? I can't just not eat for two days beforehand, as my husband suggested, because my stomach will shrink and I'll get full even faster (not to mention that I'll pass out from low blood sugar). Is it better to take just one bite of everything or just admit that you're going to have to vomit somewhere between courses 5 and 10? (Don't worry! I'll be back for dessert!)

Yes, these are the problems I have. Life is good.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

It's Practically Business School

For years now I've been preaching the necessity of taking a warm, sunny vacation in February to my fellow Minnesotans. February tends to be brutal month, as the shine of the holidays has completely worn off and you're left with dark and cold and spring is still a good 2-3 months away.

Unfortunately, I've been pretty bad at following my own advice...we went to Hawaii last New Year's, which was awesome, but it was a little bit too early in the season to properly alleviate the winter doldrums (or "the greys," as I've decided to call them).

That was all just backstory to help you understand exactly how much I'm looking forward to getting on a plane tomorrow to sunny LAS VEGAS!

I know what you're thinking: But you always look forward to Las Vegas.

And you're right -- I love Las Vegas no matter the season. But I am particularly excited about the timing of this trip because I have a serious case of the greys that I know will be washed away by just 10 minutes in the desert sun (and by the sweet, sweet sound of the slot machines).

This trip will be a little different because I'm going for work (have I mentioned that I love my job?), but my husband is coming too, and the work part doesn't start until Tuesday, which means nothing but fun between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning! And then a little more fun Tuesday night!

We're having Valentine's dinner at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, which is not to be confused with Joel Robuchon, where they have the 16-course tasting menu that's on my 40 by 40 list. (We were actually going to make this the trip where we spent nearly a mortgage payment on dinner, but we couldn't get a reservation, which I took as a sign.) I'm actually hoping that we'll make it Paris for our 10-year anniversary (!) this year and eat at the original L'Atelier, too, so you know, this is like research...very important research.

In fact, we should really think of the entire trip as educational. I will attempt a historic recreation of the Rat Pack era at the Seahorse Lounge. Anyone with suggestions on what a lady of that era would have ordered from the bar are appreciated - I always end up ordering a cosmo because the pink is so pretty against the sea blue interior.

I will once again attempt to answer the question of whether the staff at Centrifuge are bartenders-forced-to-dance or dancers-forced-to-bartend.

And, of course, there will lots of financial skills training in the form of Monopoly, Price is Right, and 99 cent margaritas.

Yes, yes and I'll also be honing my expertise on social media and organizational communication. I'll even demonstrate my knowledge by posting photos of all of the above to Facebook.

I will no doubt return from this trip as a smarter, more well-rounded person.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The eaves are dropping

Yesterday I was working from a coffee shop and there was a job interview being conducted at the table next to me. (Btw, unless I was applying for a job at Caribou, I would think it was weird if a potential employer asked me to meet them there for my interview.) The perky interviewer asked the nervous, over-dressed interviewee, "So, if money were no object, what would you be doing with your career?"

Is that a fair question for a job interview? Was he supposed to say, "THIS! I'd still want to work for YOU!" or was he supposed to spill his guts about his secret dreams of becoming a lion tamer in the Mongolian circus?

Well, I'm sad to say this his answer was probably the least impressive option: "Uh...I've never really thought about that." So maybe it was a fair question. Maybe that's exactly who this company (I don't know which company it was) is looking for...people who have never considered the possibilities.

P.S. This was the only thing I had to blog about that did not involve how cold and depressing winter is, or Las Vegas. More on both of those topics to come.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making a Pake

Back in July, my eyes were opened to the existence of something called pake. A cake with a pie inside of it! Could this mythical baked good actually exist?

Well, I couldn't think of a better time to find out than during the salute to gluttony known as Superbowl Sunday. And since there was no recipe - just a photo to work from - I knew this would be an adventure.

My first piece of advice in making a pake is to invite some friends over. This is not a feat you should attempt alone.

So, you start with a cake. Two cakes, actually. Because essentially what you're doing is using the pie as the filling in your layer cake.

Then you bake a pie. I'm going to come right out and admit that I used a frozen pie. I felt that the level of difficulty of assembling the pake was high enough that I could cut corners on the pie.

In addition to being easy, the advantage of the frozen pie was that it I could easily remove it from its pie tin (cuz you can't put the pie tin inside the cake). However, I was worried about baking the pie without the tin, so I lined the tin with parchment paper, thinking I'd be able to simply pull the pie out after it was baked...this was true, it easily came out of the tin, but I ended up with a pie sitting on parchment paper, sitting on the bottom layer of cake.

With the help of no less than three friends (we took turns handling the pake and strategizing on how to handle the pake), I managed to pull off a series of flipping maneuvers that produced a correctly compiled cake-pie-cake pattern, but it wasn't pretty.

Next comes the frosting. I used buttercream, but a lighter whipped frosting would have been a lot easier to work with...also, you need more than you think you do - especially if your pake looks anything like mine and you're hoping to cover it up its flaws.

And once it's frosted: Ta-da! It's pake!

Unless you've been practicing, the pake is probably kind of a mess, but guess what? This is not a beauty contest! The pake is all about the joy that comes from eating a pie in a cake, not from looking at one. And let me tell you, it's good.
Mine was cherry pie in a chocolate cake, but I'm already imagining the possibilities.

I'm also imagining ways to actually bake the pie inside the cake. Not sure how to make that work, but I'm definitely willing to try...after I recover from this pake.