Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dogs and Weddings

Wow, it has been some little while since I visited here and wrote about our doings, mainly because we've been so very busy. It has been all about dogs and weddings for months now. First, we kept our neighbor, Doreen's, dog so she could have a carefree week with her best buddies. Sandy is a scrappy little terrier mix whom we call The Sheriff - she keeps everyone in line on our little street. That's her in the photo below, on the right, with her two besties, our Cora and Riva from next door on the other side.  She wasn't happy to be left with us and it took her a few days to settle in, but eventually she decided we were better than nothing. Now, she comes right in and lies down whenever the front door is left open.

Next, we went to Delaware to the wedding of my Fairy Goddaughter - we are hugging in the photo up top. She has been special to me all of her young life, so when she found Mr. Exactly Right, we just had to be there to celebrate. I love this photo with all my wrinkles juxtaposed with her smooth, young skin - taken by their very talented wedding photographer. That time, our Cora stayed with Doreen - what goes around comes around in our world. 

While we were at that wedding, we were invited to another wedding in the same family, a sort of spur-of-the-moment wedding of two youngsters who have been together for about five years and decided to make it official on Maui. 

The following week.

Well, we never miss a chance to celebrate beautiful youngsters or to go Hawaii, so we got home, repacked our bags with bright Hawaiian attire, dropped Cora off again with Doreen, and headed west for another lovely ceremony and five days of visiting and touring on Maui.

When we got home, we noted that the very slight limp Cora had when we left had not responded to the meds and rest that the vet prescribed, so we took her back for X-rays to see if they could diagnose the problem more exactly. 

Our world was rocked when the X-rays showed a large mass in her chest and lots of fluid accumulated that was making her breathing shallow. So, we are now between the rock of wanting to keep her as long as we can and the hard place of not wanting her to suffer. 

We are grateful that we had all that joy before all this sorrow, as a buffer from the difficult choices facing us today. I'll let you know what happens. In the meantime, give your pets an extra hug from me.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hot Spring Dinner

One of the quirks of weather in northern California is that our hottest days come in the spring and the fall, rather than in the summer. In summer, the fog rolls in from the ocean, cooling and cleaning the air so we have overcast mornings that give way to bright afternoons, but the temperature doesn't have time to climb.

In the spring and fall, however, the fog retreats out to sea and we have sunshine from morning until night, raising the temperatures to the point where those who have lived here a long time start to complain of the heat. We like to call them "Dangerous UV Ray Days" to hide the fact that we love all that light. Of course, people from Hawaii or the East coast would not call this hot - 75-80 degrees F doesn't qualify as hot to most folks. But we Bay area wimps are used to very even temperatures winter to summer, so we suffer when the thermometer goes above 75.

As it did last week. The pasta dinner I had in mind was jettisoned in favor of something cooler, namely shrimp tacos. This is my new favorite dinner.

I warmed the tortillas (we use a half corn/half flour tortilla that has good flavor), chopped cherry tomatoes, avocado, lettuce, and green onion and put them on a pretty Mexican pottery platter that I got in Arizona when visiting my pals Annie and Jim. All that was left to do was take the frozen shrimp from the freezer (I used peeled and deveined), sauté it in a little butter and Mexican blend seasoning until the water from the shrimp evaporated and the butter caused the spices to stick to the shrimp, pile all that onto the tortillas and pass the Cholula hot sauce. Oh, and I put some creme fraiche on mine but My Beloved doesn't care for crema or creme fraiche or sour cream on his.

You can see the beautiful evening light slanting across those colorful tacos. Just the perfect thing for a hot spring dinner.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Harvey The Hero Dog

When I was growing up, Pheasant Under Glass was considered the highest of elegant dining. I have no idea what Pheasant Under Glass was, but whenever anyone spoke of the highest cuisine, it was mentioned. So, on my latest trip to visit my dear friends in Michigan, you can imagine I was pretty impressed to be offered some pheasant to take home. "It's a lot like chicken," our hosts assured me, "just be careful when you chew it, as there may be bird shot in the meat."


Undaunted, when I got home, I opened one of the packages and went looking on the interwebs for recipes I might be able to make. The first night, I made a risotto with mushrooms, roast asparagus, and pheasant. It was good but not great - that one needs some work and I'd rather wait and tell you about it when it's wonderful than now when it's just sort of "meh." What went wrong?  Well, it wasn't the pheasant, which was tender, moist, and mild - it was the rest of the recipe. First, I'd use bacon fat in lieu of the butter next time, and lemon juice instead of wine for the astringent part - both would have offered more flavor and enhanced the delicate meat. I'd also use brown rather than button mushrooms for a more woodsy flavor. Stand by for that recipe one of these days.

The next day, I used the rest of the package to make a salad for lunch, slicing the cold, sautéed breasts as the protein in a kitchen-sink salad. Delish! And, by the way, there was no bird shot in this particular package, although I reminded My Beloved before each meal to chew with caution.

And what was the source of all this elegant poultry?  It was Harvey, the Wonder Dog. Harvey is our friends' shiny black lab, a complete couch potato (that's him in his favorite chair) until the guns come out. When Ray puts on his hunting clothes and pulls out the shotguns, Harvey becomes a whole other dog, eager and excited and rarin' to go.  The day the guys went out to hunt, Harvey flushed up at least 60 pheasants for the men to shoot (they came home with about 40 - not bad!). Harvey caught four or five of them himself! The pheasant who thinks it will avoid the guns by running along the ground doesn't understand that Harvey will simply chase it down, give it a quick shake to kill it instantly, and bring it back to place it gently in Ray's hand. Harvey was the hero of the day.

Pip, the rat terrier, stayed home snuggled in his blanket. 

Meanwhile, the ladies had a lovely wedding shower for my Fairy Goddaughter that was planned jointly by her mother and her sister. We had lunch and oohed and aahed over her shower gifts, played a few silly games, and had a fine time catching up with her Michigan friends. 

On my last day in Michigan, I was blessed with a late spring snow, the kind of quiet snow that falls with no wind whatsoever, so it sticks beautifully to every tree and surface in a silent blanket of white. The maple tree outside the window has raised red buds, ready at any moment to open with maple flowers, so the snow made a lovely contrast against the swelling buds. While I can't say I miss winter in the midwest, I was thrilled by the beauty of the snowfall.

People in California are always a little surprised that I love Michigan so much. Little do they know that the landscape is like home to me, one of the few places in my ever-changing Navy life that was constant, and the friends there are lifelong friends, literally met in the playpen and kept all these years later. One reads a good deal about how tough times are in Michigan right now - and they are - but the midwestern ethic will pull them through and there will always be peaceful snows to gladden the heart and big, goofy black dogs to bring pheasants to the table.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cultural Exchange

I spent the Easter weekend thinking about family traditions, my own and others. Growing up, our Easters began Mass first to celebrate the Resurrection after the long season of Lent, followed by what seemed to me (small heathen that I was) to be the real celebration, my father's Easter basket hunt with rhyming clues and much hilarity. He wrote the most awful doggerel into his clues ("Roses are red, violets are blue, go and look, in Daddy's left shoe") and we loved reading them and running to each new place around the house and garden to find the next folded paper with his distinctive handwriting and whimsical poetry on it. Until, finally, we would find our Easter baskets (when young) at the end or a big box of Whitman's candy for the whole family once we were older. I don't know if our tradition was followed in my Dad's family, or if it was his invention, but I have kept it alive with my Fairy Godchildren and plan to do it for our grandchildren, too.

This year, My Beloved and I were invited to experience our first Passover Seder dinner, complete with traditional foods and prayers. Our hosts provided everything for the dinner so, after consulting with my other best Jewish pal, Janie, about an appropriate gift, we brought flowers for the party.

And what a party it was!  Our hosts explained all the items on the Seder plate, each with its story and meaning, carefully prepared and placed in the center of the table. We opened the Haggadahs that Jeff's mother had brought along with her perky little dog who spent the dinner tucked behind her in the dining chair. The little dog may not have been part of the tradition, but she was a welcome addition. We recited traditional prayers and responses, beautiful words that called for peace, for sympathy with the currently enslaved, and for action to help whenever possible.

During the recitation of the story of the Jews' release from slavery and their wandering in the desert for forty years before finding their promised land, I was struck by the analogy to our two hosts, who each spent the early years of their lives alone before finding a sort of "land of milk and honey" in each other.

We tasted all the different flavors, new to us - the sweet wine, the bitter herbs, the salt water to dip the parsley in, the gefilte fish, the matzo ball soup, the chopped liver, the Charoset made with apples and nuts, the roasted brisket, all the flavors I had heard about but never experienced. Our favorites were the matzo ball soup that Sari made (the matzo balls were light and lovely and the broth rich with chicken flavor), the Charoset of apples and nuts that Mrs. Heyman made, and the brisket that Jeff made, but perhaps the true highlight of the meal were the macaroons Jeff baked from scratch for the dessert. Made with almonds, walnuts, sugar, and eggs, they were a sweet ending to a lovely tradition. We even got to bring some home. Shalom, and thank you, Heyman family!

The next day, Easter Sunday, we were invited to join My Beloved's family for a non-traditional Easter, but very Californian, dinner of ribs lovingly smoked by our s-i-l, André, and the very traditional Easter egg hunt for the children in the back yard. We were pleasantly surprised by a quick visit before dinner from the girls' cousin, Brandon and his daughter June and his Dad, down from Seattle and out from New York city. While the children played, we enjoyed catching up with their doings. So fitting to have far-flung family around on Easter!

I had made hot cross buns for the dinner and granddaughter Mia helped me to decorate them with icing. We got a little creative with the "crosses," so we dubbed them "star buns" or "octopus buns" instead. They were lovely, a Martha Stewart recipe to which I added some allspice, richly spiced, dotted generously with currants, and only lightly sweet. That's a tradition I think we will keep, year after year.

My own Easter tradition is to tell the following riddle in honor of my father who art in heaven. He loved corny jokes, and so do I. This one always rolls out on Easter in my house.

Q. What do you get when you pour steaming water down a rabbit hole?

A. Hot, cross, bunnies! (I know - groan!)

What are your Easter/Passover traditions? Whatever they are, be sure to keep them going - they are the stuff of family joy.

Saturday, March 28, 2015


This may not seem as super exciting to you as it is to me, but I wanted to share that the heart seeds I received for my birthday from My Beloved's daughters and their families..... drum roll.... are sprouting!  

Ever since I covered them up and watered them gently, there has been no action in the pots. I checked them almost daily, practically willing them to come up, but to no avail. I was afraid they were duds, and was already practicing what I would say to soften the disappointment to My Beloved's family. 

Then, we had a downpour, a real gully washer that lasted only about half an hour but that filled our rain gauge with about half an inch of water - and, magically, the next day there were tiny green sprouts in all the pots!  I guess they were just waiting for the rain to get their tiny butts in gear.

I can't wait to see what kinds of flowers I get, once they are up and blooming; it's clear already that there is more than one sort. Stand by for a full report once they reveal their identities.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Full (Ramen) Monty

Having tried instant noodles a few weeks ago and liked them, when I came across the real deal of instant ramen, Top Ramen chicken flavor, I couldn't resist trying it. Top Ramen is downright famous, or infamous, depending on one's point of view. My Beloved was game for this experiment, so we boiled some water this noon, et voilà!, we had lunch.

Being the inveterate tinkerer that I am, I couldn't resist a few changes to the basic "recipe." I chopped some fresh green onion and cilantro, cubed some leftover chicken, and added them to the bowls before pouring in the noodles and broth. A quick stir, and Bob's your uncle!

Easy to see why this is a staple for college students and starving artists. It takes no time at all, it's warming in that wonderful chicken soupy way, and it tastes good. The noodles are fun and curly, easy to pick up but impossible to get into the mouth gracefully - and that's half the fun. The broth is salty and deeply chickenish, even when you know it came out as powder from that funny foil pack.

I do think my embellishments helped make it special but I wouldn't turn my nose up on a plain bowl of this, either, especially when My Beloved is away and I'm not feeling up to serious cooking.

Comparing the two I've tried, I really think I enjoyed the Top Ramen more than the Annie Chun's, but either makes a quick and warming meal. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tradition Vs. Innovation

There is something fun about tradition - the passing along of ideas, recipes, or experiences that make up family memories - but I can also get pretty jazzed about shaking it up a bit. Take our St. Patrick's Day dinner; corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage is about as traditional as it gets for St. Paddy's Day here in America but, this year, I did a couple of new-to-me things.

First, I used my crockpot to cook the dinner. I'm sure you've been doing it this way for years and you are sitting there in front of your screen shaking your head me.  You are thinking, "Where has she been all these years? BFD!"  Well, it is a big deal to me when I can figure out something that makes a tedious meal easier.

You see, boiling the corned beef has always been a bit of a trial for me.  Oh, I get it going fine, then reduce to a simmer, but I always had to check it to make sure it was still simmering and I'm the kind of gal who forgets stuff like that when I have my nose buried in a good book (like, for example, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood - just sayin'), or when Cora is lobbying for a walk, or I feel a nap coming on. Either it was boiling too fast and all the water boiled away, or it was going too slowly and dinner wasn't ready for hours after we got hungry, or it simmered so long that the meat was nearly mush. Ugh.

So, when I read on the interwebs that I could just peel the carrots, throw in the potatoes, wedge the onions, add the meat, and cover the whole shebang with water before plugging in the crockpot, well, sister, now you're talking!

Six hours later on low, I had traditional dinner ready to roll. I'm not fond of boiled cabbage, even when it is steeped in the cooking liquid with the meat, so the second non-traditional thing I did was I braised it instead, and assembled a lovely plate for our St. Paddy's Day dinner. 

The perfect combination of traditional culture and modern day innovation. Huzzah!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day

My Dad was Irish. He loved limericks and happy music. He was more of a martini than a green beer drinker, but he did love to raise a glass. And, every St. Patrick's Day, he followed the tradition of the wearing of the green. He had the most ridiculous shiny green plastic derby that he donned while singing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" at the top of his lungs.

So I wear green each St. Patrick's Day in his memory - and because I'm at least half Irish! - and I always sing "Irish Eyes" in honor of him. He has been in Heaven nearly 20 years now, but I still miss that sweet man.

This year, if you are in the mood, sing a chorus or two with me:

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure 'tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy, all the world seems bright and gay,
And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.

He certainly had smiling eyes!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Burying Hearts

One of the best things I received for my birthday was a little packet of seeds embedded in paper hearts dyed pink, red, and white. My birthday falls on Valentine's Day, so I often get heart-shaped goodies. It's a good birthday to have; one gets lots of positive attention.

These are flower seeds of some mysterious kind - the packet didn't even give me a hint of what to expect. I keep pots in the corner of my deck and need to refresh them every year or so, so I thought to do it this year with my new Valentine seeds.

I yanked out the old, dried stalks of last year's annuals and troweled the earth, adding some more potting soil and mixing it in with the old. As I dug around in my yellow pot, I found a bulb of some kind - possibly dahlia - and reburied that, hoping for another nice surprise.

I sprinkled the hearts over the soil and added more dirt on top, firming the soil gently and sticking in the low-flow waterer. After sweeping the spot, I arranged them into the corner and flanked them with my Buddha face and my little spirit house where I like to think my garden sprite lives. 

I flooded the pots for this first watering - after this, they will have to make it with minimal water as we are still in a drought.

The packet gave me no information about how long germination would take so I'll be going out daily to look for sprouts. And, really, isn't that the perfect thing to be doing as spring approaches? First, you bury your heart deep in that soil, filled with hope and fertilizer. Then, you check eagerly for sprouts.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Boy Is UP!

Well, no, he's not back into race cars yet, but he is UP!  

After months of pain and lying flat, he finally had an MRI that showed the problem (stenosis of the hole in the spine that the sciatic nerve passes through on its way down the left leg) and a magic shot (epidural delivering lidocaine and steroid medication to the affected area) that has taken away most of the pain! His shin still tingles a bit and occasionally twinges, but he has regained his ease of movement and is joyously walking and driving again!  The whole procedure was done outpatient, and it only took about 15 minutes. He thought they were still numbing the area when the doc said, "Okay, all finished!"

Upon inspection at home, he had a bandaid over the needle hole and a big "Yes!" written with a flourish on his back, but nothing more to show for it. He can't swim for three days but he can shower, so all is right with his world.

His stamina is not what it was, but starting next week we will work on that. We figure we'll do water walking at the local pool for a week or so, then he will resume his water aerobics twice weekly and I will start swimming laps again.

He had the magic shot last Tuesday but I've been almost superstitious about reporting success too early.  Happily, I can now let my breath out and shout out, "The Boy is UP!"