Sunday, November 11, 2018

Quiet Dynamite

It's not often these days when I post something new here, as most of my favorites have been posted long ago, and recently I just make up dinner from what I have in the fridge. But last week, I took leftovers to an all-time high and I can't resist bragging on them.

Several magic ingredients went into this dish of lemony, garlicky white beans with zucchini and yesterday's lamb. The first was the beans themselves - I learned an important trick when I had cooked in chicken broth 'way too many beans for the two of us and went online looking for more recipes. I didn't find a great recipe but I did discover that one can FREEZE the extras for another day! Oh, heaven!  So, I bundled up three two-cup packages and stuck them in the freezer, just the right amount for us two.

One of the packages came out to make this dish. I also had about 1/2 of a cup of chicken goozle (juices I saved from a previous roast chicken and defatted after refrigerating them), four small zucchinis, four fat cloves of garlic, a sprinkle of dried thyme, and a thinly sliced lemon.

I started by cooking the minced garlic briefly in a little olive oil, then adding the thyme until it smelled like heaven, then mixed in the rest of the ingredients, including the skin-on lemon slices and simmered over medium-low heat until the zucchini chunks were losing their integrity and the beans were starting to add some of their starch to the "gravy," about 20-30 minutes.

Then, there is nothing to do but divide it in two in deep bowls and top it with slices of left over lamb loin still pink and lovely from a day or two before. The beans gently warm the lamb but don't over cook it, and the strong lemon flavor really jazzes up the beans. The thyme and garlic add layers of richness. 

Quiet dynamite.

Monday, June 4, 2018

It's Not About the Scones

It's not about the scones. Even though they were studded richly with ripe Rodriguez strawberries. Even though they were made from my favorite recipe for cream scones. Even though they were presented on the pretty pale blue glass cake plate that I bought years ago at an antique fair. With all that going for them, it was still not about the scones.

It was about the day. A pure, warm, clear Northern California morning, bathed in sunshine so bright I needed sunglasses and a hat. Now, you may think, "Sheesh, she lives in California!  Isn't every day like that?" But asking that would prove to me that you are from anywhere else. The Chamber of Commerce would like to sell you that vision, but the reality is that it exists almost exclusively in the southern part of California, not up here where our famous fog makes it far more likely to have a clammy, overcast morning in spring and summer than a clear, warm one. So, when I awake to a windless morning bathed in sunshine, I have to make the most of it.

It was about the sharing. Knowing that our neighbor is particularly fond of freshly baked scones, I wanted to include her in the feast. Sharing them with her builds neighborly good will (as well as saving us from the entire calorie load of a batch of scones - ahem!) and gladdens not only her day but ours, too. Baked goods have a way of doing that. They are magic.

It was about the crowing. Our local basketball powerhouse, the Golden State Warriors, had triumphed the night before in the first game of the championship series. It's important to crow a little after a win, since the losses sometimes follow and they are much less fun. Crowing with a true fan like Doreen - truth be told, we are fair-weather fans, only really interested if the team makes the finals - makes it even better.

It's about the celebration, really, of all those things. The sun, the warmth of both air and friendship, the flavor of the strawberries ripe in the spring, the fortune of living on a funny little street where neighbors stop and chat even on the days when they can't sit down for a few minutes to eat a scone and share a gloating.

And, okay, it was also about the scones.

Cream Scones, from America's Test Kitchen

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and position the rack in the middle of the oven.

2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3 Tbs sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt (fine, not coarse like kosher salt)
5 Tbs butter, cut into 1/4" cubes
1 cup heavy cream (whipping cream) (or half-and-half if that's all you have on hand)
1/2 cup dried or fresh fruit, chopped to the size of currants
1-2 tsp turbinado (coarse) sugar, optional

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. 
Put the first four ingredients into the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade in place. Pulse 6 times. Remove cover and distribute butter cubes evenly over dry ingredients. Cover and pulse 12 times for 1 second each.

Pour into a large bowl and stir in the fruit. Stir in the heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork, just until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. (The trick with scones, as with biscuits, is not to handle the dough too much).

Transfer to countertop and knead by hand just until it comes together to form a rough, sticky ball, 5-10 seconds.

Transfer to parchment paper, pat into a round about 1-1/2 inches thick and cut into 8 sections, spreading the sections gently apart to give them room to rise. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until light brown*. Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Mine took about 5 minutes longer. And, yes, I like using the turbinado sugar.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tribute Beans

You know that feeling when you are digging around in the freezer and come up with a frozen gem you had forgotten because it was there for 'way too long?  A mixture of puzzlement (what is that? when did I put it in there?) and triumph (wow, cool thing for dinner!). That's just how I felt when I unearthed a smoked turkey thigh that I bought 'way back in 2017 and forgot. I couldn't even remember where I purchased it until I read the label - El Cerrito Natural Grocery!

I also had some pinto beans from Rancho Gordo that were a gift from Ferrari-Carano vineyards last Christmas when we attended their holiday celebration with Cousin Jan. So, I put the beans to soak and the turkey to thaw, dreaming of dinner the next day.

And the day after that. And the day after that! I forgot that what looks like a small package of beans makes a boatload once soaked, so I had plenty for us and for our neighbor Doreen, who was suffering from bronchitis. 

I used as my template a recipe that came with the beans, a recipe dear to the heart of Don Carano, the founder of the winery who passed away last year. I like the idea of giving beans as a tribute to Don, don't you?

I did change up the recipe. Don't I always?

Smoked Turkey and Pinto Beans

2 cups dried pinto beans
2 cups water, or 2 cups of chicken broth, enough to cover (I used water)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 pound lean bacon or salt pork (I used lardons)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 fresh sage leaves or 1/4 tsp dried (I'm not a big sage fan, so I omitted this)
1 small hot red pepper, dried, with seeds removed (didn't have so I did a generous shaking of Cholula hot sauce instead)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce (didn't have, so used soy sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

*1 smoked turkey thigh, cubed off the bone (not Don's idea)

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain and rinse. In a medium pot, sauté bacon, onion, and garlic, Add beans and cover with water or chicken broth. Add 2 chicken bouillon cubes if using water. Add sage, red pepper, chili powder, sugar, salt and pepper. (*Here, I added my smoked turkey meat to cook along with the beans. It was already cooked, but I wanted it to share its goodness with the beans). Cover and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes or until beans are tender. Add Worcestershire sauce and adjust seasonings. Serve with Italian sweet sausages, French bread, and Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel.

 So good, so deeply smoky and satisfying, so sustaining and warming were these beans and turkey that we ate them for a week and still weren't tired of them by the time we got to the bottom of the pot. The sauce that formed around them was perhaps the best part - I literally scraped the bottom of the bowl to get every drop. Goozle heaven!

Next time, I'll make half the recipe but, all in all, I think Don would have been pleased with his tribute beans.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Back home from Hawaii and enjoying the first really drenching rain of the season, I decided to do some laundry and to change out our holiday napkins and placemats for something cheerful and bright. Digging down through the drawer that holds our table linens, I came across these, a gift from My Beloved's daughter Sarah's semester abroad in France. To me, they speak of the bright skies and sunflowers that Van Gogh found when he moved south to Arles.

Sarah was a International Studies student at the University of Oregon in 1997 when she elected to spend a semester during her Junior year in Provence. I admit to a teensy flash of raw envy when she would email her accounts of the wine tasting class she was taking and the relaxed and sunny time she reported having in Aix-en-Provence. Not a bad location for foreign study, huh?

Sarah started college a year before her parents divorced, and both she and Katie were kind to me but understandably a bit aloof when I came into his life around the same time. We had what I'd call a cordial relationship from the get-go, but a year later when Sarah brought us these beautiful placemats, I took them as an overture of true friendship; she knows how much I love setting a pretty table.

After she graduated and moved to Boston, she started her career, met Mr. Right, married, had two beautiful children, lost her mother to cancer, and moved back to the Bay Area, all in what seems in retrospect like a whirlwind, but really was about 10 years. Through all that time, whenever we used her placemats, I got a warm feeling as I decorated the table with their bright patterns. The edges are a little frayed these days but I won't give them up until they are so thin and threadbare that they no longer protect the table. They have meaning for me.

Thank you, Sarah.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

One Paddle, Two Paddle, Three Paddle, for to take me home...

There’s nothing like a visit to one’s childhood home to evoke a zillion memories. Hawaii is that place for me. I spent only two years there as a child back when Hawaii was a Territory rather than a State, ages six to eight, but it was the first place in our vagabond Navy life that really felt like home. Later, I spent six years there as a young adult. It is still, almost fifty years later, my heart’s home.

Imagine the delight of a six year old child who moves by car, Pullman train, and steamship from Washington, DC to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Greeted with flower leis. No more closed shoes. Warm rain in which to paddle. No more jackets. Open air classrooms. The swimming pool not two blocks away. No restrictions on where I could go in our little neighborhood, protected as it was by snappy Marine guards. So many kinds of freedom!

And the new flavors!  In those days, pineapples came right out of the fields, deftly peeled and sectioned with the same wickedly sharp machetes that lopped them off the plant, and dripping so much sweet juice that I have never again tasted such good ones.

Teriyaki sticks were made of thinly sliced ribbons of beef, slalomed onto bamboo skewers, marinated in a salty, tangy shoyu/ginger sauce that was looser and less sweet than today’s, then grilled on an hibachi. I need to experiment to reproduce that flavor!

Li Hing Mui dried fruits puckered our lips while sending sweet messages to the brain, a compelling whipsaw for the tastebuds. My sister Nancy loved Li Hing flavors, although she claims not to remember them now.

A beach day out at Makaha meant a long drive in our Oldsmobile, a picnic lunch packed meticulously by our mother, a soak in the sun for my already brown body, a swim in water of uncountable shades of blue and green, and the long, sleepy ride home. Sandy, salty and hungry as we always were, the usual stop at Tastee Freez for a cone was enough to have us all asleep in the back seat of our two-tone gray Olds sedan. I imagine that was blessed relief for the parents up front.

These and many more memories flood me when I visit these Islands, especially Oahu. Today, I visited my parents’ grave in Punchbowl, remembering all the years we were lucky enough to have them around. Dad has been gone almost twenty years and Mom nearly thirty. Tomorrow, we fly back to California where we live now, leaving behind this magical place that still means freedom and “ohana” (family) to me.

One of our last nights, we had dinner in Honolulu's Chinatown where there was a live Hawaiian singer, complete with guitar and muumuu. She had a clear, vigorous voice, and was asking for requests. I asked for an old favorite, Kui Lee's "One Paddle, Two Paddle" and she had me in tears with her sweet, sad version.

"One Paddle, Two Paddle" by Kui Lee.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle, for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei. 
I went away a long time, such a long time, a long time ago. Seen enough cities to last a lifetime, goin' away no more.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei. 
I want to smell the flowers, sweet sweet flowers.
Where the trade winds blow. Seen enough fences to last a lifetime, goin' away no more.
One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left. Take me to Hawaii nei.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Bread and Safety Pins

My Facebook feed is full of angst these days - all my progressive friends are filled with justifiable fear for the future under Donald Trump, and all the conservatives I know are scornful in their tone regarding the progressives. Both sides seem surprised by the outcome of the election - the progressives stunned and the conservatives gleeful.

As usual, I'm somewhere in between. I always feared that Hillary's long history in this country would overcome her obviously superior qualifications. I am aware that, despite great progress in women's equality during my lifetime, many Americans are not ready for a woman president yet, and that idea was borne out. So, I was not as surprised as some, although I was deeply disappointed and honestly baffled that anyone would vote for a man whose campaign rhetoric was uniformly negative, scornful of norms of polite discourse, and openly misogynistic, hateful, and frightening. I'm sad to say that white privilege and male privilege are safe in this country for the foreseeable future.

And I am in mourning for the upcoming loss of the best President of my lifetime. President Obama and his family have been so superior, have shown us how true gentlemen and ladies behave, have been so human and so lovely - I will miss them very, very much. As Mrs. Obama said, "When they go low, we go high." That philosophy has pertained to international as well as domestic affairs, and I have admired them during what had to be a very tough eight years of their lives. 

Like so many of my friends, I'm trying to decide what to do. I'm not one to take to the streets with protests - I'll leave that to those who lean in that direction. My protests will be quieter, and will probably take the form of sending donations to fight the ugliness I see coming, calling my congresspeople to let them know how I feel on various issues as they come up, wearing a safety pin when I go out to signal that I am a safe haven for anyone who needs one, and trying in some small way to understand the anger that ushered Trump into office.

When I'm in need of comfort and reassurance, I turn to things I know I do well. I make soup, usually hearty soup that warms from the inside out. I make dates to get together with friends who understand how I feel, people I can trust and with whom I can explore my ideas, people who will gently set me straight if my thinking is faulty. And, I will bake bread. I fall back on baking bread, good, sturdy bread such as the one I ate as a child. 

My mother always bought Pepperidge Farm bread - not the mushy nonsense that goes under that name today, but a firm, solid loaf that was so dense it could be sliced in half lengthwise, making a sandwich from a single slice of bread. It came wrapped in a thick, white waxed paper with the name and logo printed in red; this was well before plastic bags came on the scene.

When I was a young newlywed, one of my wedding presents was Margaret Rudkin's wonderful Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. Illustrated with colorful drawings and packed with homey recipes, it is still a favorite of mine nearly fifty years later.  Her recipe for standard white bread is that exact loaf that I recall from my childhood and, to my mind, it can't be improved upon.

So, today for the first time in a long time, I got out my flour canister, searched through my kitchen drawers for packets of yeast, and heated my oven. These days, I have a warming drawer, so proofing the bread is no longer an exercise in dodging drafts; I just slide the bowls into the drawer, cover them with my favorite dish towel like a baby being put to bed, and pull the dough out an hour later, plump and high and already smelling of comfort.

Punch it down, knead it again, shape it into loaves, and back into the warming drawer. My loaf pans are dark mahogany brown from all the years of use and they almost don't need lubrication any more, as they have a rich patina from all the loaves that went before. I have six pans so I could make six loaves at a time and freeze some. Today, I only had yeast for four. So be it.

I will wrap them snugly and freeze most of them for the days ahead when I need that solid reassurance of well made bread, full of old fashioned goodness. In the meantime, I'll keep one out to slice and toast and spread with the richness of butter. In times like these we look for the comfort of safety pins on people's collars and homemade bread to fuel our protests.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Can't Call It Carbonara

Last night, I made a delicious new (to me) dish that I can't call carbonara, because it's not, but it's a close cousin. 

Speaking of cousins, I have a few. Some are close in space or heart, like Jan and Sherry, Ted and Linda. Others are more distant, both in space and in heart, but probably just because circumstance has precluded our getting together much to build our friendship. Close cousins are the next best thing to siblings; they know you, your history, and your preferences well, but they are less likely to tease than actual siblings. Cousins are cool.

My very favorite cousin, of course, is My Beloved. I had always admired him, even when the three years of age difference between us as kids seemed an insurmountable barrier to friendship. He was one of the "big kids" for a long time. But, in our college years, that barrier melted away and we grew close even before we fell headlong in love.

Our love affair took a 25 year hiatus, thanks to parental disapproval and genetic fears back in the bad old days before we knew much about such things - all we knew was that the kings and queens of Europe that married their cousins often lived to regret it, or their offspring did. So, with many tears and a three-year mourning period, we separated for the childbearing years.

There is good news in this story, too. We both found spouses to love and admire, and had long marriages to them, although ultimately those relationships faded. My Beloved and his wife raised two terrific daughters, the mothers of our three delightful grandchildren. My first husband and I didn't have children, but we were a good uncle-and-aunt combo.

After those relationships had run their course, odd circumstance brought My Beloved and me back together and the result was as electric as when we were young. The rest is delightful history: when it's right, it's right.

But, I was talking about pasta, not partners, when I got distracted. My Carbonara Cousin did have pasta, egg yolk, and lots of pepper, but it diverged from the carbonara canon when I substituted flat noodles for spaghetti, Swiss chard for peas, and added mushrooms and (gasp!) cream. 

We loved the richness of the egg yolk, cream and bacon paired with the slightly astringent Swiss chard, plus garlic, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese to give it funkitude. It was a match made in heaven, just like mine with my own sweet cousin.

Can't Call It Carbonara

4 strips thick cut bacon, preferably Nueske's, cooked and coarsely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
6-8 mushrooms, quartered
Black pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
1 bunch (about 8 leaves) Swiss chard, ribs removed and coarsely chopped
1/2 package of wide, flat noodles
1 egg yolk, whisked with a fork

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated.

In a big pot, heat salted water to boiling and cook the pasta according to pasta directions. While that is proceeding,

In a wide frying pan, cook the bacon over medium heat, but don't crisp it. Removed to paper towels to drain. In the same pan, pour off some of the bacon fat, but keep about 1 Tablespoon.

Sauté the onion and mushrooms in the bacon fat until the onions are translucent (about two or three minutes), add the garlic and cook, stirring for a few extra minutes. Grind in lots of black pepper to taste - be daring! Return the bacon to the pan.

Add the Swiss chard and cook together, stirring occasionally, until it wilts and gives up a little moisture to the pan (mine were red chard, so the juices became pink). Add the half-and-half and mix thoroughly, then remove from the heat. Count to twenty before adding the egg yolk and stir immediately to blend with the pan sauces.  (If you don't wait, you may scramble the yolk instead of lending its silkiness to the sauce).

Drain the pasta and stir it directly into the pan, mixing until it is evenly coated. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese to grate over the top.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Kind Of Art

I got a little carried away by the all the colors in our latest tagine attempt - all those oranges and purples and pinks! I'm getting a big kick out of combining different ingredients in the tagine to find out which work best. It's almost like composing an artwork when the colors are so bright. Having zero artistic talent, myself, I need to rely on vegetables for my fun.

I tried a few new things this time - cooking the rice right along with the meat; adding a new mix of spices; adding radishes to my usual carrots; pairing the sweetness of carrots and shallots with the tingly tartness of Meyer lemon, rind and all. So each time I assemble one of these, all kinds of possibilities are bouncing around in my mind.

What emerged from the tagine after 90 minutes, the last 30 of which were filled with intoxicating scents wafting out of the pot, was a huge success. If I do say so myself. Which I do.

The shallots became sublimely sweet and slippery-tender. The chicken hidden underneath was funky with spices. The radish retained some of its color and added a little hint of that indefinable radishness. The carrots were mellow but not mushy. And the rice!  Oh, heavens, people, I could have made a meal of just the rice and still have wanted to spread it on my body. Orgasmic rice! No kidding.

So, here's what I did - I'll be interested to hear your ideas on what else would go well into the magic tagine.

Sunburst Chicken Tagine

4-6 chicken thighs (bone in or not - this time, mine were skinless and boneless)
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin, ground ginger, sweet paprika, and allspice (this may seem like too much spice; it's not! Load it up!)
salt, pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-3 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 4" chunks
1 onion, chopped coarsely
1 cup rice (I used brown jasmine rice)
2 cups chicken stock
4 large shallots, peeled but left whole
l or 2 large watermelon radishes (or regular radishes, a handful)
l Meyer lemon, sliced into 8 wedges (you could use a regular lemon, I'm sure)

Green beans (optional)
A handful of mushrooms, washed and left whole (optional) (I used brown ones)
Pistachios or cashews (optional)

Start the tagine on low flame (only for ones that are rated for stovetop use), and pour in 1 Tablespoon of the oil. Add the spices and s&p, whisking them together to make a slurry. Dredge the chicken pieces in the slurry, turning to coat, then set them aside. 

Add the other tablespoon of oil and soften the onions before adding the rice. Toss the rice in the slurry until grains are coated, then add the chicken stock and stir. 

Add the chicken pieces back in and place all the vegetables and the lemon wedges, except the mushrooms, green beans, and nuts, on top of the chicken. 

Cover and simmer for about 90 minutes. When the tagine starts to smell as if it dropped straight from heaven, add the mushrooms and green beans to cook for the last 20 minutes or so, until the beans are still bright green but tender.

Fill the plates with a little of each of the ingredients (especially that killer rice!) and sprinkle with the nuts for texture.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ramping Up

We had such fun with our demure little tagine that when we saw a splendid big one in a super fancy kitchen store, we swallowed hard at the price but shelled out the shekels for this lovely big rust red one. I had dreams of cooking once to eat twice - always a bonus! - and of using larger cuts and vegetables. We are ramping up!

There were, serendipitously, lamb shanks at my local market, conveniently cut in two. What could be nicer? I loaded the tagine with all kinds of things that lamb loves (thyme, garlic, lemon), put on the lid, and set it on top of the stove; this new tagine works either on the stovetop or in the oven.

What emerged 90 minutes later was really tasty, but I must admit that it was even better the second day. The artichokes all but fell apart, the olives were as wrinkled as a little old man, and I didn't even have to peel the butternut squash - the skin yielded to "low and slow". And the leeks!  People, those leeks were worth it all by themselves. They were soft and sweet and limply heavenly.

If I did this again, I'd likely swap out the butternut squash for kabocha, as it is firmer and sweeter, but the squash improved the second day when we ate it, bite for bite, with some of the lemon peel. And the crisp nuts gave the whole dish texture and salty interest.

Everything was infused with the garlic and Meyer lemon that I added as perfume, plus the herbal/spicy notes that wafted up from the bottom. Oh, baby.

I'm pretty sure you could do this without the tagine, if you don't have one, but if I were you, I'd hurry out to get one. 

Lamb Tagine

2 lamb shanks - ask the butcher to cut them in half crossways.
2 leeks, carefully washed and toughest leaves removed
1 large artichoke, quartered and fuzz removed
1 small squash, sliced about 2" think and seeds removed (I used butternut but I think I'd try kabocho next time)
A handful of olives (I used calvestrano)
1 Meyer (or regular) lemon - squeeze the juice in, then cut the lemon into slices and add those to the pot, peel and all.
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed (or to taste - I'd add more next time)
Dried thyme to taste
Salt, pepper
About 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

A handful of salted cashews or shelled salted pistachios.

You could brown the lamb shanks before hand (and I think that would be an improvement), but I didn't this time and the meat was still tender and tasty.

In the bottom of the tagine, add the olive oil and heat over low heat. Add the garlic and thyme. Salt and pepper the lamb shanks and add them to the bottom. Pile the other ingredients on top, positioning the things that take longest to cook at the bottom and layering the rest in order of cooking time, ending with the things that take the shortest time. Pour in a little water.

Put on the lid. Over very low heat, cook for about 90 minutes. 

Sprinkle with the nuts to add texture to the dish. Serve with the goozle that forms in the bottom of the tagine, plain or with rice or couscous. The artichokes are great dipped in the goozle.

Friday, April 1, 2016


My next door neighbor and I have been trading food all winter - I'd give her the rest of a stew or soup, and she'd refill my bowl with something she made when she returned it. That way, neither of us gets tired of our "creations," and we get each other's opinions on the dishes. She is cooking for her elderly mother who has a tiny appetite to go with her tiny frame, and I am cooking for a "variety guy" who, while he is generally easy to please and hugely lovable, doesn't enjoy leftovers very much. Nice for us both to have a friendly way to pass along the extras.

Hard to believe this is the same neighbor we so resented when they first built the house next door about 10 years ago. I had wished I had the money to buy the vacant lot myself, to preserve the hill full of wildflowers, to keep the line of weedy trees that reached up to the window behind my desk where I could watch little birds flitting through at eye level while working at my computer, to retain the steep hillside where the neighborhood children slid down on flattened cardboard "sleds," screaming with exhilaration.

Instead, we got months of dirt and noise from the building site and a wall that rose up higher than our house not ten feet from our windows. No wonder we were resentful! It bugged me so much that finally I had to put my anger aside or let it eat me up. I went next door and asked for a tour of the house, so I could learn to love it.

I have to admit that I didn't learn to love it right then, nor for several years afterwards, but I did come to a place of acceptance. It improved when our neighbors added some screening vegetation on their decks and assented to preserving our view of Mt. Tamalpais by repositioning a trellis on their side. 

Slowly, over the years, small gestures of friendship were made, first by them, returned by us. When Peter was diagnosed with cancer, we reached out to help with drives to treatment and securing a place on the Peninsula when Peter had to stay down there for a month of serious chemotherapy. Peter passed away about five years ago.

But, maybe some good came out of all that, as we grew closer to his widow, Doreen, during and after that time. And, again, very slowly, we became better neighbors and, finally, good friends, taking care of each other's dogs or picking up packages when we were on vacation.

This week, Doreen gifted us with a hearty minestrone that she clearly put a lot of work into. The broth was rich with tomatoes, and the legumes and vegetables gave it interest and texture. And, it was doubly welcome because our furnace blower died this week and we were bundled up with socks and extra sweaters while we awaited the correct part arriving from the furnace guy.

Now, one can't really complain too much when a blown blower means only that the temperature in the house plunges all the way down to 60 - where I used to live in western New York state, this would have been a much more serious situation in early April. But, we are California wimps, and proud of it, so we have to kvetch at least a little.

Doreen said, when delivering the soup, "It's just okay," but we thought it was much better than "okay," especially when we grated a little fresh Parmesan over it and spooned up the resulting garden ambrosia. I'll happily accept her friendsoup any old day, even now that the furnace is happily humming again.