Friday, October 24, 2014

Important National Holiday

Much to the dismay of my somewhat patrician mother, I was more of a plebeian in my early tastes. Maybe it was that Irish blood, something her family dreaded when she had the good sense to marry my Dad over their objections. Whatever the reason, I just loved a bologna sandwich on gooshy white bread with iceberg lettuce and lots of mayo.

I still do.

I had my first one at a friend's house, as my mother would never buy bologna, or white bread, or iceberg lettuce.

My tastes have changed a little since those days, but I still do enjoy two slabs of pink meat between two slices of bread with a scrape of mayo and a crisp leaf of sweet iceberg to give it crunch. These days, the bread is better than the Wondrous stuff I loved back then, but the rest hasn't changed.

So, when My Beloved informed me on Monday that Friday would be National Bologna Day, I rushed out to the supermarket to buy the fixings for the grand celebration. I admit that my snooty side was tempted to purchase some of the excellent Fra Mani mortadella instead, but I remained staunchly true to the original, lowly though it may be, and bought a plastic package of the brand that the little kid used to sing about.

Happy Bologna Day, one and all!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

True Fans

Currently, Bay Area baseball fans are on a high - our team, the Giants, won the pennant with a walk-off home run by an unlikely hero, and then took the first game of the "World Serious" at the Kansas City Royals' home ball park. It's all pretty heady stuff for those who love the game.

My Beloved and I are fair-weather fans, I have to admit. We enjoy a day out at the ballpark, as much for the experience as for the game, but we don't follow baseball closely until the Giants are in the playoffs. The season always seems too long and the Giants are famous for struggling to win until they pull off a minor miracle to get themselves into the playoffs late in the season. They do this rather consistently, three times in the past five years, but it's agonizing for the true black-and-orange fans who follow them with enthusiasm. 

Last week, My Beloved drove five hours down to Bakersfield, CA to attend a sporting event that he really does care about, a nostalgia drag racing meet in that fair city.  He has a whole coterie of friends that he meets down there, people he has gained over a lifetime at the track, and they have a fine time talking about all things racing. My Beloved comes home exhausted from hours walking around the race track, hoarse from chatting with all those pals, and stiff as a post from ten hours in the car - but ecstatic and full of stories about his heroes and his buddies.

Sadly, I'm a lukewarm fan of drag racing, too. I gave it a good try early on in our love affair, wanting badly to share his passions. I went with him to the tracks, read drag racing magazines, and became knowledgeable about the various teams, but it just didn't "take" with me. I guess it's something you have to fall in love with when you are young. So, reluctantly, I decided not to be his anchor at these events, trailing around after him and wishing I was home, and instead I wave a fond goodbye in the driveway once or twice a year and resolve to enjoy a few days of quiet time with only Cora for company.

There is an up side to his trips to Bakersfield, too. He drives past Harris Ranch on Interstate 5, about halfway up from the track. It's a good stopping place for him to get some dinner, fill his car with fuel, and shop at their on-site gift shop.  Because they raise beef at Harris Ranch, the best of the offerings in their gift shop are in a refrigerator. 

Like this "baseball" steak that he brought home last time he drove down to the races. The cut really is about the size and shape of a baseball, hence the name. Steak this good doesn't need fancy preparation - a simple salting and peppering before searing is perfect. It weighed about 8 ounces, enough for both of us for dinner and, being about two inches thick, the outside caramelizes beautifully in a sizzling pan while the center stays nicely pink.

Here, at last, something of which we are both true fans.

Go, Giants!

Monday, October 20, 2014

School Orchard

Two mornings per week, I tutor second graders in reading at a local charter school that is just 10 minutes away from my house. I have talked about my students before (in fact, it's hard to get me to stop talking about them) but the last time I was there, there was a notable innovation - a small, curbside orchard.

My school is in a rather poor neighborhood and the children at the school are roughly 50/50 African-American and Hispanic. The school dictates that they wear uniforms, light blue polo shirts and navy blue pants, but the children and their parents find a million delightful ways to distinguish themselves. A pretty hair ribbon here, a pair of sparkly shoes there, or a special hairdo are all ways that the children show their individuality and, frankly, I'm a little jealous. I wish they made sparkle-toed sneakers that light up in adult sizes, too.

The school has a little garden inside the gate and it's clear that the administration is trying to teach the children about growing healthy food - I detect Mrs. Obama's influence here - but this orchard was new. It's growing outside the school fence next to the parking lot. The children have made signs to designate which tree is which, two nectarine and two pear varieties.

I wanted to show you the signs - are these wonderful, or what? I just love my mornings at this little school, and I applaud all their efforts to bring healthy food and happy, expressive art work to the children and their community.

I think my favorite is the Flamekist nectarine sign, but they are all fun. Which do you like best?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Brotherly Love

When we threw a surprise 70th birthday party for My Beloved, he got several surprises in addition to the party, and the best one was a visit from my Hawaii brother, Whiting. My Beloved enjoyed all his guests, but this one definitely came the farthest to honor the birthday boy.

And Whiting stayed for about a week after the party, which was super fun. We wanted to make his visit a pleasure so we took him around to local restaurants and enjoyed the beautiful stretch of weather we were having by treating him to a ferry ride from Larkspur to San Francisco where we had lunch and strolled through the ferry building picking up goodies for dinner, and then riding back while Whiting quizzed the crew about the engines and capabilities of the catamaran. Whiting loves all things boat, especially if he can somehow attach a fishing pole to it.

Now that he's back in Hawaii, we are playing a version of Scrabble online and enjoying the daily contact, but I have to admit I miss having him here in person. My family is pretty far flung, so we don't see each other often and family visits always make me wish we lived closer.

So, I look frequently at this photo of the boys on the boat on the way to San Francisco with the wind in their hair and the bright blue sky above.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Enjoying Aunt Virginia

During World War II, nearly 30,000 a month passed through the Top of the Mark bar in the Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Servicemen and women would often say, "I'll meet you at the Top of the Mark" on their way to serve in the Pacific. Each squadron kept a bottle of liquor in a cabinet at the Top of the Mark for anyone in their squadron who was passing through, and the guy who used the last shot was honor bound to buy the next bottle. Needless to say, many a toast was drunk to those comrades in arms who did not make it back.

Ever since, the management of the Top of the Mark has continued to hold one seat at the bar for servicemen and women, and although the tradition of the squadron bottles lapsed for a while, it has been revived in 2009 by Lieutenant Mike Hall, USN. That's Lieutenant Hall in the picture above.  He also initiated a sort of "guest book" to be signed by any service person or veteran who wants to add a good wish or a remembrance of her or his service.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Partly to give you a tip - the Top of the Mark is a great place to have a drink and a nibble any time you are in San Francisco - but mostly because we went there last week with my Aunt Virginia and her daughter Bonnie who accompanied her on this visit. Aunt Virginia has been going to the Top of the Mark pretty much all her life, first as a Navy junior (her Dad and my Granddad was a battleship captain), then as a young married woman, and now we go with her every time she comes to town because she loves a "dirty" Martini - and because she is a veteran. Aunt Virginia served in the first class of the Waves during the second world war.

Here she is. I don't think she will mind if I tell you that she is 95 years young. She still lives alone, drives her bright red Honda Fit, volunteers at the library where she worked for many years, does chair Pilates every week, and takes all her friends to their doctors' appointments. She also drinks a Martini every evening before dinner. I want to be Aunt Virginia when I grow up.

When we got to the Top of the Mark, we realized it was Fleet Week here in San Francisco. Most Octobers, Navy ships sail into the bay, as they have many times since Aunt Virginia's father did, aboard one of Teddy Roosevelt's White Fleet in 1908. The ships are open for touring and the Blue Angels do their spectacular air shows over the waterfront. Aunt Virginia let it slip that she is a veteran and then the fun began!  First, she was offered a drink from one of the squadron bottles - her choice!  She chose the Tanqueray gin pictured above for her Dirty Martini, specifying Noilly Pratt vermouth, an olive, and just a dash of the juice from the bottle of olives. It arrived in a traditional Martini stemmed glass, the olive pierced with a stylish black toothpick.

Next, the management brought over that wonderful book of salutes and memories for us to page through. Reading those will bring tears to your eyes. Then, Aunt Virginia was invited to sign her own name and add her own memories to the new book that they have started since the old one is completely filled. 

Aunt Virginia relished her Martini as My Beloved and I enjoyed a glass of champagne while the Blue Angels roared overhead in practice. 

I can't imagine a more memorable visit to the Top of the Mark. We are all looking forward to her next visit so we can do it all again.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Birthday Boy

Part of the reason I've been absent from my blog for a while is that I've had a busy couple of weeks. You see, My Beloved was turning the Big 7-0 and his daughters and I decided long ago to throw him a surprise party. Katie made up the world's cutest e-vite, Sarah organized all the who's-bringing-what in a spreadsheet, I rented that lovely big house out in Inverness, the sons-in-law did double duty by keeping the Birthday Boy busy while we prepped for the party and by cooking the salmon and beef during the party, and we all did some running around to make the event a success.

And it was, indeed, a big success!  The guests came to honor him from as far away as Hawaii and as close as just down the road, My Beloved was completely surprised, the food was delicious, the children were angelic, and everyone had a fine time. My Beloved was hoarse by the end of the party, always a sign that he got to chat with everyone and laughed a lot.

There were presents, too. He's still writing thank you notes for all the presents. They were fun - as varied as a play station that weighs a ton and was clearly really intended for our newest grandson, to a wonderful set of four CDs of Top 40 songs from the year My Beloved was born up to the present, to this impressive spatula for the barbecue, complete with a super-sized black apron to wear when wielding it.

The spatula has to be eight or ten inches across - that's an entire, two-pound tri-tip roast next to it in the picture - and has a deliciously smooth wooden handle. One can scoop up two or three hamburgers at a time or, as we did, the whole tri-tip on its generous blade.

My Hawaii brother stayed for a week after the party, too, so we got in a nice, long visit with him. He helped us so much with moving furniture (yes, we are still moving in), unpacking, fixing the barbecue (the starter had stopped starting, so he took it all apart, checked all the components, and got it working again), and generally assisting two people who have few practical skills. Working to the tunes on the music CDs, we made good progress around the house.

We also took time out to ride the ferry from Larkspur to San Francisco to admire the passing landscape from the deck of a catamaran, to poke around the Ferry Building, and to have lunch; we enjoyed salads and sandwiches from Il Cane Rosso. We bought dinner from the various vendors - cheese for hors d'oeuvres from Cowgirl Creamery, "Tasty Salted Pig Parts" from Boccalone Salumeria, and killer brined pork chops from Prather Ranch Meat Company. Then, back on the ferry for the ride back on the warmest day this year.

All in all, it has been a fine birthday week for My Beloved, and we are basking in the glow. A special thanks to his daughters and his friends for making the party so memorable.

My Aunt Virginia and her daughter, Bonnie, plus Bonnie's daughter and son, arrive tomorrow, so I may be somewhat neglectful of the blog again this week. I hope you will hang in there with me as I look forward to telling you all about that visit next time.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Praying For Rain

Each Wednesday evening in the summer, we watch a sailboat race series come out of the Richmond harbor, zig and zag all over the bay, then tack back in before dark. It's one of the highlights of our week as we sit down to dinner. Sometimes, the boats are dodging a giant container ship or a car hauler loaded with autos from Japan and we hear the warning wail of the horns from the ships but, most of the time, they have the channel to themselves. Our contractor is frequently crewing on one of the larger boats, too, so we are always hoping that's he's the one out in front.

Last Wednesday was the last of the series, sailing out under a threatening sky. We are hoping that storm brings us some much-needed rain to begin quenching California's thirst. In the meantime, it makes for some pretty dramatic photographs.

We will miss seeing the Wednesday boats until next spring when they start up again. We do see sailors out on the bay in all weathers, but only in summer do we enjoy seeing a whole fleet of bright sails on the bay, all tacking together this way and that like pale butterflies winging across the water.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Good And Bad Signs

On a recent run to the Goodwill store to drop off yet another box of goodies for them, My Beloved suggested a reward lunch of a burger at Phyllis's Giant Burgers, a funky little storefront on the "Miracle Mile" in San Rafael. Or is that San Anselmo?  Anyway, it's between the two towns.

I had heard about this burger joint from more than one local source, so I was curious to try it. My Beloved had been there many years ago, but was not impressed, so our expectations were cautious, but curious.

The parking lot was packed - a good sign. Just inside the door, on the wall in front of the ordering desk was a big sign advertising that they use Niman Ranch beef - another good sign. We are not fancy burger folk; he likes mushrooms and I just like mine "dressed," as we used to say - with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. We stepped right up and ordered a giant burger for MB and a "junior" for me, plus onion rings and a coffee shake to share.

While we waited for our burgers to be cooked to order, I used the rest room, a pretty scary place outside and at the end of the sidewalk, which was liberally tagged on all walls and ceiling with pretty unimaginative attempts at the art of graffiti. It was like a taggers' convention. Not a good sign.

Still, we managed to snag an outdoor, shady table and that felt good, since it was pretty stuffy inside on a warm day. It's a small place and they have a big flattop going, so it's bound to get hot in there. Our burgers were sizzling away.

The first bite convinced me that Phyllis's reputation for good burgers is well deserved. While our burgers were cooked a tad more than the rare (he) and medium rare (me) we ordered, they were still juicy and pink inside, and they grilled the buns as well as the burgers, always a good sign. The onion rings were mostly onion and very little breading, also a good sign. And the shake was strongly coffee-flavored, a bonus.

I'd happily return to Phyllis's, despite the lack of ambiance and the plethora of tagged messages. The food is just what it purports to be - nice, big, juicy burgers with all the trimmings. It doesn't need to be fancy to be good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Still Unpacking

During the destruction and construction of our remodeling project, the more impatient of my family members would fairly frequently remark, "What's taking so long?"  Now that the project is nearly finished and we are unpacking, those same family members are now asking why the unpacking is taking so long.

Here's why. This is our living and dining rooms, filled to (almost literally) the rafters with boxes and boxes of our stuff, plus furniture items everywhere. The bedroom looks pretty much the same as this, too. Yes, you're correct, we have 'way too much stuff. Obviously, we are not people who aspire to zen-like simplicity in our lives or, if we do, we are on the wrong track toward perfecting that art.

The good news is that, so far, we haven't seen a single thing that was broken, or even scratched. Our local movers did a superior job of boxing up our stuff and storing it for the past six months.

So, we are still unpacking. Thanks for asking.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sorry about that!

I've been ignoring this blog for what seems like weeks, although I guess it's really just a few days. We've been unpacking. And unpacking. And unpacking. The garage is 1/2 full of empty boxes, piled almost to the ceiling.

And curating. I have decided to de-clutter while I'm unpacking, and only to keep those things I used more or less frequently. So, we packed up eight of our unpacked boxes with things for the Goodwill, another three for the folks at the antique consignment store, and another for things we are moving along to friends.

In the middle of all the unpacking, the doorbell rang and a nice lady brought us flowers from my sister in North Carolina with a card saying "Congratulations!" She has been living vicariously with us through the remodel and was happy for us that it is over (more or less). The dishwasher still hasn't come so My Beloved is still doing dishes by hand, and one or two other small things are still on the punch list, but we are cooking in our new kitchen and loving it, so the niggledy things can wait.

The process of unpacking is something like a treasure hunt. We haven't seen these things in six months, so every piece we unwrap is a pleasant surprise. Even the things we aren't keeping are fun to see again and admire. I hope they will all find homes with people who will enjoy using them.

Posting may be a little scarce around here until all the boxes are unpacked and the paintings are hung and we are more settled, but I'll be back and I sincerely hope you will still be here.