My Aerogarden

A couple of years ago my friend, Suella, got me an aerogarden for Christmas. I always wanted one. They allow you to grow fresh herbs right in your kitchen. I've had basil, mint, thyme, parsley, dill. You name it. It's usually been very manageable.  You place the little pods into the rack, fill it up with water, add nutrients and watch it grow. It takes it's time, but you alway have a nice little garden with a variety of things to choose from. It's very neat and orderly. I keep it trimmed and when I need to I plant new seeds. Always the same ones, but new nonetheless. My aerogarden became a part of my life and very predictable. I loved my little garden and saw no reason to change it. It provided me with just the herbs I needed and I knew exactly what to do with them. I had mastered my aerogarden.

My life and been just like that. I carefully select and plant my little seeds and watch them grow and for the most part I have an orderly little life. I am always in control of what is going on and I liked it that way. I take very good care of this life garden of mine and I make sure everything is neatly selected and tended to. Sometimes things become a little overgrown, but I clip them back and when and when necessary I would plant some new seeds. Usually the same ones, but new seeds nonetheless. My life, like my garden is very predictable. I like it that way. Why wouldn't I? I love my apartment, with all my treasures and the light that streams in each day. My birds greet me each morning with the same love and excitement each day no matter what. My friends are wonderful and give me more love than I could hope for. Even my job has become a safe place that I enjoy going to each day. And, of course, there is Joey. The brightest flower in my life.  My life is perfect and I see no reason to change it. I know just what to do and how to do it. I had my routine down and I felt I had mastered my life.

About a month ago I got a new set of seeds for my aerogarden and this time they were different. They made a mistake in my order and this time I got some lemon basil.  I had never really heard of it, but it was basil, so what the heck. It's not what I ordered, but there is was so I planted it along with all my little seed pods and watched them grow expecting things to be just as always. Except this time they weren't. That little lemon basil plant was a force. It grew with reckless abandon. Suddenly my neat little garden as a bit out of control. What was I going to do? I suddenly had this new herb that was screaming for me to use it. To tell the truth it was special. It had a flavor I had never tasted and I like it. I needed special treatment so with this lemon basil I tried something new - Lemon Basil Sorbet. It was good. Really good! My cooking life changed and to keep up with my new little garden I was trying things I had never tried before. How fun! How unexpected. How exciting. I love my lemon basil and I can't imagine not having it.

My life right now is not unlike my garden. There has been a new seed added to the mix and it's growing with reckless abandon. Suddenly the routine I have tended to for so long is in the midst of change. At first this scared me. A lot. I have worked hard on this garden I call my life and I liked it. As predictable as it was, for me that was comforting. I had no need for change. Nope, not me. Then I thought of my little lemon basil plant. Maybe it was teaching me something.

Life is not always going to go as planned. Now and then the Universe is going to plant a seed and you might just not know what to do with it. You can try to cut it back, ignore it, maybe even pretend not to water it, but it's there and it's not going anywhere. I did all those things but yesterday it dawned on me. The Universe has given me my own little life version of lemon basil. I have no idea exactly what to do with this new thing put before me, but instead of fighting it, I am going to embrace it. I am going to nurture it, water it and love it. Before long I will know just what to do with it and it will be just as sweet as that lemon basil ice cream.

I am not giving up anything in my life with all these changes. I just have some new ingredients. I am cooking up a new recipe for life. Of course my favorite ingredients will all still be there. The sun will still stream in. My birds will still great me with joy. My friends will still be just as loving. My job still a safe place. And, of course Joey is till the brightest flower in my life. The only thing is now we have a new ingredient to spice up life. I can't wait to see what we cook up.

Making Lemonade

When life gives you lemons you make lemonade, or so the saying goes. Really, that's pretty easy. You squeeze your lemons, add water, then add enough sugar to make it sweet. You end up with a delightful little drink and are proud of your efforts. What happens though when life hands you a list of ingredients you have no idea what to do with?

If I were in the kitchen I could just ask my friend Sabrina from The Tomato Tart. She is an expert at exotic ingredients and would surely have an answer. If it were a cooking technique that I was unfamiliar with I could call Chef Joe from The Culinary Salon and he would certainly be able to give me techniques on how to prepare them. With their advice I would head off to my kitchen and most likely come up with something wonderful. If not, no harm done. I could try again and I would eventually get it right. The problem is, I am not in my kitchen. The ingredients life has thrown my way are not things I can experiment with and hope to get it right. This time I need to get it perfect because I only have one shot.

Joey and I have led a pretty charmed life. We have skillfully balanced what we have together along with our responsibilities to our families and so far it's worked. To be honest I have taken a fairly hands off approach to all of the family stuff. I took care of my mother from a distance and when she needed something I just sent it to her or hired someone to do it. She was far away; and, while she was with us, that seemed to work. The same goes for Joey's mom. He balanced time between her place and ours and it never really effected me. I guess you can say I had the best of both worlds. Joey and I had our little oasis in Castro and it was my job to keep our oasis flourishing. In all honesty, I had the easy part. It's been a joy to take care of the birds, cook meals and make sure that things ran smoothly here. I was the one that never left the oasis. It was Joey that came and went and dealt with reality. It's not that I didn't want to help, but my help came in making the occasional meal for his mom or maybe sending her cupcakes. All I really needed to do was make lemonade and everything seemed sweet.

Suddenly that has changed. Joey's mom went into the hospital and it quickly become apparent that we could no longer continue life as we had. It's not going be enough for me to make chicken adobo, cupcakes or even lemonade and send them along to Joey to give his mom. It's also not enough for me to sit in this oasis and think that everything will take care of itself. Joey needs my help and so does his mom.

So what do I do? Life has handed me a box of ingredients and I have no clue what they are or what do to with. If I were on the Food Network I would be chopped. I really don't know what to make of all this. What do I know about taking care of an elderly parent, let alone one I have kept distance from? Do I really want to redesign the current life that I have grown so comfortable with? Am I ready to give it up for the unknown? Do I really want to take on this responsibility when I just learned how to navigate my own life? The answer is yes. All I need to do is look at Joey to know that no matter what comes our way I want to be there with him. There is nothing too big that we can't take on together and there is nothing, I mean NOTHING, that is bigger than our love.

Life is not all that different than a kitchen. I got a box of ingredients I have no idea what do to with, but I still have people that will help me.  I called my friend Cheryl from AgingPro.com and she is an expert at this. She guided me to just the right person to help us navigate the whole thing. For preparation I called Karolyn who always knows just how to give me the just techniques and support I always need. Both of them are there to help me put this all together and whip up something that is going to be wonderful. And it's not just them. We have a huge family of friends that are there and will happily support us.

I would be lying if I said that all this change was easy for me - for us. But you know what? Life would be pretty boring if all I made was lemonade. I need to make something different and it doesn't need to be perfect. All I need to do is my best because that is what life is all about. Life never gives you ingredients you can't deal with and it will all turn out in the end and as long as you try and it was be just as wonderful. So I guess it's true, you can always make lemonade.

Karolyn's Baby Shower


Last month Gregory, Joey and I threw Karolyn a baby shower. We honestly had no idea what we were doing. None of us had ever been to a baby shower, let alone planned one. To be honest, Baby Showers don't have the reputation of being fun, so I was a little worried. But, this was for Karolyn so it had to be special.

The first thing we did to get us motivated was get the decorations. Oh my goodness, Joey and Sean at the party store should be illegal. Once we found the baby shower items and saw they came in sets we went nuts. We got every single item available in the duckie theme. That actually got us pretty excited, but a shower is more than just decorations there are games, too. Blech. I was not interested in playing poopy diaper or measuring Karolyn's tummy. Besides, I know how big her boobs are and at that time her belly and boobs were about the same so no fun there. We decided to skip the games and plan the food.

Now this is an area where we always overdo it.  ALWAYS. Every time we have a party we end up with enough food for the entire neighborhood, so this time we planned carefully. Joey offered to make all three of his now famous baked goods - Chocolate Chip Cookies, Russian Tea Cookies and Raspberry Bars. (Yes, DG, we are still baking - even better than a five year old.) He did a beautiful display for the living room and they were delicious. We wanted some savory appetizers, too, so we went with the standard Spinach Dip and I also made a Bake Brie. I love this recipe because you can assemble it in advance, wrap it, then bake it later. You can also decorate it any way you like, so I did a little baby block thing. Tasty as well as cute! We also had some very easy meatballs to round things out.

Okay, so we had the appetizers down, now for the lunch. (Yes, we are still avoiding games.) Gregory is an amazing chef and he made barbecued flank streak and a delicious asparagus salad. He also made Spanakopita. Yumm!! I don't have the recipes, yet, but will post them once I do. I made my usual Sweet Corn Tomalito, which is always a favorite. It's also a great pot luck or party food because you can make it the day before and just reheat it at 350 the day of the party. I also made Brazilian Cheese Rolls and made the batter in the morning. Another tasty timesaver!

Finally, as if we needed anything else, Joey got a cake from Red Ribbon. Don't you think it's beautiful? It tasted as good as it looked so I highly recommend this bakery!

So, the games? Yes, we played them and they were actually fun. For the first game we had everyone fill out advice cards when they arrived, but didn't tell them that they would be read aloud by Karolyn while everyone guessed who said what. That was a complete last minute thing and it was actually fun and funny.  We also had a jar of safety pins and people had to guess how many. It was cute.  Our big game was Decorate the Onesie. We gave each person a onesie pinned on a board. Them we had them pick events out of a hat. The events were "firsts" in a persons life. First date, first day of school, first Folsom Street Fair - things like that. Everyone was given fabric markers and had to decorate their onesie to represent that event. Once all the onesies were decorated, we hung them on a clothes line and had everyone guess the events. While everyone got almost all of them correct, it was still really fun and we enjoyed ourselves.

So, the shower was a big success and we had a good time. Most importantly, we got to give our girl one last party before she becomes a mommy! I made a photo album below. Just flip through the pages. The next time I write about Karolyn it's going to be to announce Peanut's arrival!

Lemon Basil Buttermilk Sorbet


What do you get when you have an overgrowing Aerogarden and an ice cream maker? Well, you get a creative new sorbet, that's what.

I have had my Aerogarden for about a year and a half and this past month was the first time that I actually got some great herbs out of it. In the past I usually got one herb that took over the entire thing and a lot of feeble little herbs struggling to hold on.  This time they are all thriving and I happen to have three kinds of basil - one being lemon basil.

I have never used lemon basil before, but it tastes pretty much like it's name. It's very mild and lemony. I found a recipe on Weight Watchers for basil and lime sorbet, so I adapted it using lemon basil and lemons instead. Not only is this tasty and figure friendly, it's really easy, too. This recipe can be whipped up quickly so if you have an ice cream maker just waiting to be used, this would be a great excuse to pull it out.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, granulated, divided   
  • 2/3 cups water   
  • 1 cup lemon basil, fresh, cut into ribbons, chiffonade   
  • 4 cups buttermilk   
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice   
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
Instructions
  1. Make basil syrup by combining 2/3 cup sugar with 2/3 cup of water in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. 
  3. Reduce heat to low, add basil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Set aside to cool.
  5. In a large bowl, combine remaining 2/3 cup sugar with buttermilk, lemon juice and zest.
  6. Mix until sugar dissolves. 
  7. Place cooled basil syrup in food process or blender and blend until smooth. (You can also use an immersion mixer.)
  8. Add cooled basil syrup to buttermilk mixture and mix thoroughly.
  9. Run sorbet mixture through an ice cream maker according to its directions. 
  10. Transfer sorbet to a container and freeze for 12 to 24 hours before serving. 

Happy 4th Everyone!

July's Menu - Cleaning Out Clutter

For a long time I have been working on personal growth. Trying to change things I thought needed changing and enhance things about myself I wanted to keep. In the past I didn't do this in a very focused way. I just kind of winged it as I went along. A little smattering of this and that, here and there, and whatever else came to mind. While that made for some interesting discoveries about myself, it wasn't really getting me on the road I needed, or should I say, wanted to be on. My journey seemed a little bit slow.

A couple of months ago I decided to take a more focused approach to this whole personal growth thing; and, for me it seems to be a much more successful. I joined Health Month to get my daily tasks in line, started 750Days.com to get my writing going, and joined Weight Watchers. To some this seemed a bit like an over achiever, but trust me, I am anything but that. The time just felt right and I went with it. I trusted my intuition and things are swimming along successfully.

The other day in the car it came to me that now would be an excellent time to do something I have long known I needed to do, but have really been putting off - clearing out the clutter in my life. When I say, "clutter" I mean all clutter. Clutter in my kitchen, clutter in my closet, clutter in my head. There is all kinds clutter around me and I can organize my tasks, track my weight and go to therapy all I want, but there is not going to be any room for the new things I want in my life until I clear out some of this clutter taking up valuable space and just getting in the way.

This is not going to be an easy task. I like my clutter. It's familiar. I am used to it. And, my God, what if I need it someday?! You know what they say - as soon as you throw something away you are going to need it. Well, it's probably time for me to take that saying and get rid of it with the rest of the clutter I don't need.

I have to admit I am also kind of afraid to start going through my clutter so I am going to start with something easy - the kitchen. Things in the kitchen conveniently have expiration dates so there really isn't much debate on what I should keep and what I should throw away. I keep thinking how great it would be if everything had an expiration date. Well, I guess some things do. Some of my clothes definitely have expired and their date is just screaming out to me. It's highly doubtful I will have occasion to wear lime green velvet pants any time soon. (Don't even ask.) And, the days of tight little shirts are far gone. I guess for a lot of tangible clutter it will be rather easy to figure out what stays and what goes, but what about all that clutter in my head?

Wouldn't it be great if hurt, anger, resentment and all those other bummer feelings had expiration dates, too? None of them are really necessary, most are stale,  and they all just clutter up my life. If I could only say, "Oh, I don't need to be angry at that ex-boyfriend anymore. That anger expired in 2006. Time to throw it out."  Or even better, "Sean, you don't need to still be embarrassed about that thing you did in high school. That expired with Hall & Oats."

You know what? Maybe feelings can have expiration dates. I certainly can tell which ones serve me and which ones don't. Why not just decide which ones have expired and make a game of it? In any case, I do get to choose whether or not to hold on to them and when to let them go. So along with that can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup, that John Kerry t-shirt, and that Netscape for Dummies book I think I will toss out those feelings that clutter up my mind and bog me down.

So, July's menu is all about cleaning out clutter. I need to make space for some new ingredients in my life.

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About Sean & Joey

Joey and I are just a couple of guys living in San Francisco. I love cooking and we both like trying new things. Planning our meals is one of our "together" things. I hope you enjoy our blog! - Sean

Dedication

This blog is dedicated to the two most important people in my life - my mom, Ernee Jean O'Brien, and my partner Joey Concepcion. They both have showered me with unconditional support and love and have always encouraged me to be myself. I will always miss my mom and I don't know what I would do without Joey.

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