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I didn’t think she’d really make the reservations. In fact, I was pretty certain that even if she did try to pull off a dinner at the famed two-Michelin Star rated Manresa, that they’d certainly be booked and, even more certainly, we’d all wimp out of doing something so outlandish.
But last night, I found myself in one of the finest restaurants in California, in the US.
I had no business dining at Manresa. I’m a single working mom with a mortgage and a house remodel and there is no line item for a big fat dinner that was certain to cost $300. Aftearll, it’s not like it was a special occasion. Except it was.
My buddy Rita had it in her mind to dine with reckless abandon, fill an evening of grown-up talk and beautiful people. She wanted to taste food that inspired her and be surrounded by luxury and opulence — all of this a very far cry from our daily lives feeding our families nightly meals or grabbing a bite at our favorite taqueria. She wanted to taste something more than food. And so we did.
Our five-hour, 15-course meal started and ended with laughter and chatter and thinking ourselves pretty darn smug for being daring enough to be out celebrating just being alive. No birthday or anniversary, no wedding or retirement. This was a special occasion alright: the occasion was nothing. Nothing but a full moon and a beautifully warm night, a dear friend and an extraordinary food journey.
Dinner at Manresa, April 26, 2013
Mini red pepper gelle with a black olive madeline
Strawberry gazpacho with Marcona almond
Micro herbs and chilled crab with peas and foam
Panacotta of yogurt, black olive, grapefruit, candied caper
Razor clams with the most amazing morel mushrooms I have ever eaten
Garden salad with flowers, herbs and spiced dirt
Warm grouper with fresh peas, beans
Black mole with calamari
Modesto olive oil and California butter with four breads
Sweet duck in something I can’t recall
Mandarin goat’s milk ice
River rock lemon sorbet
Coco nib truffle rum balls
Strawberry gelle and chocolate madeline
Chocolate brioche to-go for breakfast
On Christmas Day, one of my dear friends gave his (skinny witch) wife a trip to Disneyland for the first time with their daughter. She cried; heck, I cried. It was strangely romantic and sweet. Immediately we went into planning mode — where to stay, what to do that’s perfect for a 3 1/2 year-old girlie girl, what time of year to go and, like all California mommies do, plan on how to conquer Disneyland without gaining an ounce. As you all know by now, food is my obsession.
Here’s our quick list of food friendly sneaks, snacks and killer meals at Disneyland for those of us who count every bite. Oh, and a hint: for fun, bring a pedometer — we averaged walking about four miles, and about 1800 calories per day.
1. Fresh food carts are your go-to. On Main Street, and in the back of the park near Dumbo, you’ll find a fresh fruit and veggie cart. Kids are so overwhelmed when they first arrive, it’s great to hit-up this cart on Main Street. Get a pineapple spear, some watermelon or fresh mango and sit on the curb to take in your first minutes. Another tip: don’t stock up on the fruits and veggies here. Instead use it as a resting opportunity. See a fresh fruit cart? Grab an apple and rest your legs. It’s a great way to keep on top of low blood sugar too…
2. Bengal Barbecue. Right outside of the Indiana Jones ride is the Bengal Barbecue. They’ve got three or four different types of skewers (chicken, beef, shrimp, veggie). This is an awesome heavier snack/late lunch. Just the protein, low fat and food that is made for being on-the-go or on in line. Pass on the pretzels, chips, etc. and just get the skewer. Save the calories for something more fun.
3. World of Color picnic. You have to think ahead for this one, but you’ll be glad you did. The picnic comes when you reserve seats for World of Color (a really good idea with small kids). Munch on your picnic while overlooking all of California Adventure. There are two great options: the European and the Vegetarian. The meals are smallish, but that’s fine, since there are always opportunities to stop and snack on something fun elsewhere.
4. Sweets are a must. I grew up on Disneyland food, and the Carnation ice cream parlor was one of my favorite memories. But my metabolism is not 10-years-old anymore. I always pass the ice cream carts and head to Toon Town where I go to Clarabelle’s frozen yogurt shop. It’s in the little food court toward the back and it’s worth the trek to the back of the park. 20+ fat grams saved — voila.
5. Breakfast is hard at Disneyland. You might have early entry or have a character breakfast booked. Hear the phrase “Character Breakfast’ and know it’s going to be hard to get a super healthy meal, and even harder to pass up Mickey pancakes. Do ones of these three solid options instead (a) Call Hearthstone restaurant at the Grand Californian and have them pack you a breakfast on the run, or stop in there early for an egg white omelete. (b) Go to LaBrea Bakery at the entrance to the parks. Get a coffee and a yogurt parfait. (c) If you’re going into California Adventure early in the morning, go to Schmoozies, a smoothie bar. They’ve got good selections and it’s a better use of time if you’re racing to get things done before the general public arrives.
6. Refuel at the hearth in the Grand Californian. We found this haven when the kids were about 2-years-old and we still do it every time we go to Disneyland. Go into the lobby of the Grand, park your stroller or your kids next to the giant hearth and tell the kids it’s quiet time. Order a glass of wine from the lovely lobby bar and ask to see the bar menu.
7. Slow down before going to the fireworks. At some point you’re going to crack and need to have a meal that is not on the side of the curb on Main Street and you’ll crave a napkin on your lap. When you do, the Napa Rose is where you’ll find your healthy peace. This is the best find for grownups at Disneyland, bar none. The menu changes seasonally, the service is rad and they are shockingly tolerant with kidlets considering the high quality environment.
Now all good trips to Disneyland have to come with a splurge. I used my big calorie ticket on the pineapple slushie outside of the Tiki Room, the carnitas burrito at Tortilla Joe’s taqueria in Downtown Disney and on the last day, a piece of fudge on Main Street. It is Disneyland, afterall.
It’s quite possible that I could be disowned for this one, but my grandmother has long passed and I’m just daring enough to give you the best holiday gift I have can offer: my fudge recipe. My only tip: timing is everything Oh, and one more: don’t forget to lick the bowl. Here you go, the one and only non-hand printed version of our family’s favorite:
Garza Girl’s Fudge
4 1/2 cups white sugar
1 can evaporated milk
36 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped rough fine
1/2 # unsalted butter, cut in chunks
10 ounces good quality marshmallows
2 Tablespoons vanilla
2 cups rough chop walnuts
Bring sugar and milk to a soft ball stage (don’t mess with it while it’s working its magic). Remove from heat. Add butter, chocolate and marshmallows and rapidly incorporate fully. Add walnuts and finish with vanilla. Place in baking sheet and cool at room temperature until set (about two hours). Cut fudge into one-inch squares.
Two years ago I started clipping coupons. In retrospect, I have no idea why. In two months I saved $2 total on anything I really cared about. Cross-referencing that against my hourly rate, I lost about $200. What a crock. It took me another year to figure out that coupons aren’t meant for girls like me. Call it coupon discrimination: there’s no coupons for my kind.
Build me a coupon system, already. I’m a paying customer with a willingness to engage with your brand and risk trying new ones if they fit into my lifestyle. Want a hint? Do this:
1. I eat organic food, I never buy crap. If you are doing any data mining of any kind, you would know this, at least by deductive reasoning. Will you, for the love of all trans-fats, please stop emailing me with photos of the Pillsbury Doughboy? That means, no “Buy three get one free on crescent rolls”, no ready-made cookie dough and no canned frosting in four raunchy flavors.
2. Find out about me. Like all women, I want to be wanted. I like unsalted almonds after a good run. I drink soy milk and tons of fresh fish. Got a deal on wild coho salmon? I’m there! I am willing to play the game, even use my time to do it, but you have to get to the ballpark. I like what I like and I’m willing to pay for it. I’ll spend more if you entice me. Speak to me about Omega-3s and I’m all yours. It’s not hard to find me. Track my purchasing habits and spit out some coupon other than Metamucil, Lunchables and canned fruit.
3. I have children, they are not in diapers. Oh, poor Enfamil, pity poor pathetic Similac, you are wasting your big-dollar samples on me?! You fools! You don’t have a database that’s smart enough to tell you that my children are 7-years-old!? You’ve been sending me diapers and formula for eight years. What freak has twin infants for eight years? Lead nurturing = fail. Upsell me, you silly self-obsessed brands. I would buy Zone bars from Abbot Nutrition, the makers of Similac, but the fools are two single-minded to figure out to to move me through the process.
4. I will not clip jack. I will not cut out little pieces of paper and stick them in my handbag only to use them to dispose of half-chewed gum. If you want me, you come and get me in my playground: the Internet. Load my Safeway card, link to my eScrip and hook me up with mobile alerts, but please, do us both a favor, don’t bother sending me mail, crazy software downloads or silly hoop-jumping junk. Make it easy for me and I’ll hook you up — loyalty included. But don’t think I’ve got one more second for coupon-clipping crap. I don’t.
5. Speak with me. If I engage you, even once, don’t make silly assumptions and target me with five more kinds of rice cereal, instead, ask me why I buy rice cereal. You speak with me — even once — and I’m more likely to engage with your brand. Survey me, use me as a beta tester, play with me in social media. You know how to do it, why aren’t you?
I picked up a prescription today and five coupons popped out. The pharmacist laughed, “Like you need these!,” she said. Boy, was she right.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup
1 large butternut squash
3 red bell peppers
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. orange juice
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 c. white wine
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Roasting the squash and red peppers is the key to the entire recipe — the yummy roasting flavor rocks. Cut and salt a whole butternut squash, put skin-up in a shallow baking pan with about an inch of water. Roast in 350 degree oven for about an hour. Slice red peppers lengthwise and roast directly on fire until blackened. Remove red peppers and place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for 20-30 minutes. When cool, remove skin and puree peppers in blender with orange juice and its zest.
While squash is cooking, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add white wine and scrape sides of pan. Add red peppers, salt and pepper. When squash is ready, peel squash and puree in blender or Cuisinart. Slowly add stock and pepper/onion mixture. Strain into stockpot. Cook on low heat and season to taste.
Serve and season with chopped fresh basil and lowfat sour cream.
You all are going to hate me. I’m going to sound cocky and rude and full of myself. And maybe it’s got nothing to do with me, but I think it might: My Kids are Rockstar Eaters. They always have been. I’ve never had to hide a vegetable. I’ve never pretended like Charlie and Lola that tomatoes were moon squishers and broccoli was magic trees. In fact, I don’t really get all the hoopla on the food issue. See, I sound like a total bitchy snob.
I never fed my kids separately from the food we were eating. Of course we chopped it up and for awhile, Thing 2 liked his food deconstructed — so Arroz con Pollo would be on his plate: asparagus separate from saffron rice separate from chicken separate from grilled onion. But they ate it. Always. I started serving salad to my kids for meals when they were about 2-years-old. They figured out the magic of salad bars by the time they were 3 and were begging for the salad bar at Whole Foods as a treat. Sushi is the family favorite, but I’ve limited their sashimi intake — not for fear of kids eating raw fish (the doctor said it was fine), but because it was costing us a fricking fortune. Those little kids can put away sushi like nobody’s business. I didn’t eat like that in the 70s!
I have a treat drawer. I’ve always had one. I didn’t really know how to tackle the sweets and treats challenge, so I just ditched the whole thing and put a drawer, nice and low and accessible with no child safety locks on it filled with candy and cookies. I’m not kidding. I told the kids they could have one treat per day from that drawer. They are 7-years-old now and still ask if they can have a treat from the treat drawer and will self-regulate (Oh! I had a cupcake today, so no treat drawer tonight!). They get whatever candy they want. But they don’t want it very often.
When the kids were 4, we started taking them to Farmer’s Market in Campbell with their own bags. They were allowed to fill it up with anything they chose — veggies, fruits of all different kinds went into their bags. That damn experiment was expensive too! But it worked. My kids eat colorful, bright veggies and fruits of all kinds — and better than that, they crave them. Don’t try to pass off a plain ‘ol apple on them; if it’s not HoneyCrisp then it’s not worth eating. Snobs.
I’ve written before that I was never really good with reading kiddie books to my kids — I always, instead, read them cookbooks. But that helped with eating too because kids wanted to cook everything I read to them. Soon they learned about meats and fish and herbs and seasonings and they were able to decipher which was which. This year, I taught them to tuck their fingers and use a real chef’s knife. Although I’m standing right there to help, I think trusting them with the knife, learning about the way food feels to cut and slice and, most of all, how to respect food, has helped them with their adventurous culinary spirits.
There are of course the days when the kids sigh at the sight of something totally foreign on their plates. We remind them of Andrew Zimmerman from the awesome show, Bizarre Foods and how Andrew says you have to try every food at least twice before saying you don’t like it. Other shows help us out too — we are huge, huge fans of Iron Chef America (Cat Cora for Thing 2, Bobby Flay for Thing 1). ICA helps my kids learn that the same food can be prepared many, many ways. That opens the door to trying foods that might be new, but with familiar ingredients. Makes things a bit less scary, I think.
We tell the kids frequently that in order to travel the world, they’ll have to appreciate foods from all cultures. This was great until the kids heard of cultures that eat bugs, spiders, fried crickets and tarantulas. They didn’t like that at all.
This post is inspired by the awesome, fun team of The Yahoo! MotherBoard.