Sunday, January 31, 2016

Aspens


I must have taken 30 pictures of aspen trees in the sunlight. In the fall, they are breathtaking with their bright yellow coins shivering in the warm wind. Around every turn on the road to Aspen, Colorado we saw slender trees decked in gold in contrast to the dark conifers around them. Stunned by their beauty, I made My Beloved stop the car a zillion times while I attempted once again to take the perfect aspen picture. I tried and tried, but never really captured the glory of sunlight through aspen leaves.



My eyes perceived the color as a much brighter and clearer yellow than my photos convey. In the pictures, the color looks golden, but in reality they capture the light as if they are literally lit from within, as bright as good butter. 



Whole dark mountainsides are streaked with glowing groves of aspens, the ones at the lower elevations finishing their color first, while the higher ones clung longer to their leaves, netting the last long rays of sunlight before winter dormancy.

We got to Aspen late in the day and enjoyed walking around the town, poking our noses into the tony shops and staying at a very nice small hotel in that chic little town, but when I think of Colorado, the picture in my mind will always be of the aspens rather than Aspen.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Morning Delight


We got tougher as our long trip unwound, but those first two or three days in the car as we drove through California, Nevada, and Utah were hard on the body.  Even as you marvel at the amazing desert landscapes and fanciful colors of the rock layers, there's only so much shifting around you can do to ease what my Mom used to call "fanny fatigue," too many hours in the car!

So, when we rolled into Glenwood Springs, Colorado, we were ready for a break. We checked into a nice hotel and, reading the literature they provided in the room, I learned that Glenwood Springs is named for a mineral spring that has been in continuous use since the 1800s. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Native Americans used it long before the 1880s, and they likely introduced the European settlers to its pleasures.

I was dying to go.

So, next morning, we packed up our swim suits and headed off to the springs. For a measly $15, you get an all-day pass to use their pools. The large one pictured above - it is easily twice the size of an Olympic pool - is at a steady 90 degrees. No coal is burned, no gas is used - this is hot water and plenty of it provided free from Mother Nature all day, every day as far back as anyone can remember.  The thermal water carries a light whiff of sulfur but I looked all around for the Devil and could only find regular folks like us soaking in the water.

Some were clearly regulars who stood about in small groups gossiping and laughing, or hailing a late comer. Some were surely foreigners; we heard several different languages. And some were like us, passers through who just stopped for the day. 

That first immersion in the silky water drew from me a sigh of pure pleasure. Not only was it wonderfully warm, but almost immediately it eased my aches. We water walked for about 45 minutes, chatting and enjoying the people watching as we got a little gentle exercise. There is an unspoken etiquette (we saw no signs about what not to do) so all the walkers veered off gently to avoid the klatches of stationary talkers. No words were spoken, just gentle smiles exchanged as we glided by.

There was an Asian family of mostly women, all clustered around a small child, a little girl of about 6 or 7 whose head was completely bald in the way that only happens during chemotherapy. The child was very ill, listless and barely moving as her family's hands supported her in the water. I can only hope that she got some benefit from the mineral water, and from her family's loving attention.

When we were ready to stop walking, we moved over into the hot side of the springs. In that pool, which is nearly as large as an Olympic swimming pool, the water is at 104 degrees, a huge, open air hot tub. Imagine a clear, blue sky above and a blood-red mountain at the far end, with trees and fresh fall air to counteract the hot water. 

Watery bliss.

Our next stop was Aspen and I was eager to see that famous town, but I have to admit I'd have been happy to stop for several days in Glenwood Springs if I could have returned daily to that delight.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Travel Is Broadening


We live in the San Francisco bay area, a bubble of four or five very liberal counties where I tend to be seen as politically middle-of-the-road. I'm okay with that - I do feel more conservative than my farthest left-leaning friends, but definitely more liberal than my most conservative friends. So, as we started our trip, I had some uneasy thoughts about where we were heading - not physically, but philosophically. They say "Travel is broadening," so I expected to have my ideas shaken up a bit.

Right out of the box in Nevada, we found evidence of what I was worried about - people who feel far differently than I do about issues such as environmental degradation.  



In fact, some of them were downright hostile.

In what I would loosely define as The South, and particularly in the Southwest, we frequently found people whose ideas about national security and politics were very different from what we heard at home.

In South Carolina, our walking tour of Charleston was led by a very proud man, proud of his southern heritage (he was born in Richmond, VA and had lived in Charleston ever since college) and Charleston in particular. He gave his tour, upon request from one of our audience members, from the "Southern point of view," glossing (in my opinion) over the evils of slavery and concentrating on the economic reasons why South Carolina wanted to keep things as they were before the War Between the States. He insisted that the South felt they were within their legal rights to secede and were actually surprised when war was declared. 

He also pointed out that Charleston had had a Tea Party uprising prior to the American Revolutionary War much like the Boston Tea Party, but that theirs never made the history books because the North had control of the history after they won the Civil War (we learned that calling it the Civil War is offensive to many Southerners, too). While I disagreed with certain points in his two-hour talk, I had to admit that I had a much wider understanding of the Southern point of view after his talk.

I expected to encounter prejudice against African Americans in the south, but I was pleasantly surprised by its lack. I shed tears when I visited Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, but the others who were in tears on the sidewalk with me or leaving mementos were both black and white. In all the southern cities we visited (Virginia Beach, VA; Greensboro, NC; Asheville, NC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Nashville, TN; Memphis, TN; Little Rock, AR; Bentonville, AR; Vicksburg, MS; New Orleans, LA) never did we hear disparaging comments. I'm not saying prejudice is dead in the South (or anywhere in the United States, for that matter); just that we were happily free of its evidence.

In Nashville, Tennessee, we attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry in the Lyman Auditorium. Seated in church pews (the hall was once a very large church), we were surprised when the master of ceremonies asked all who had served in the military to stand. As My Beloved stood with many others, mostly Vietnam era veterans, they got a hearty round of applause from the audience, something that was unlikely to happen at home. Our visit happened just days after the series of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris, but still we were surprised and taken aback by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers' first song, which they had written just for the occasion, the theme of which was getting out our guns to defend our homeland from Muslims. While we certainly deplored the attacks on our beloved Paris, we felt very much out of place in an audience that applauded wildly that sentiment. We were very quiet.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, we were out for dinner with My Beloved's very congenial and friendly business pal and his girlfriend whom I had never met before, eating at a very nice, large restaurant in that pretty town. After about an hour in their company, the subject of gun control came up. They very casually allowed that both of them were armed and, in fact, that they estimated that fully 50% of the people in that room were carrying guns. I was astonished and disbelieving until he showed me his holster. I couldn't resist asking them more about the subject. The pretty blonde girlfriend's father had taught her to shoot when she was about 10 years old (she is from Texas). She said that her house in a very upscale neighborhood in the Albuquerque area is in a compound surrounded by a high adobe wall with broken glass embedded on top. She has several loaded firearms in the house and, when I asked if she could actually use them against another person, she said, "You bet!  They come into my compound and - No Mercy!" I asked if her neighborhood was particularly dangerous; she hastily reassured me that it was a very low crime area. 

On the other hand, in the Southwest we heard openly negative remarks about Mexicans that surprised our liberal ears. In Texas, Border Patrol activity is very visible, and we even passed through "checkpoints" where we were questioned about whether we had illegal aliens in our car. California has as many immigrants from south of the border as any other state, but perhaps the difference is that we need their labor so we are more tolerant of their need for services while they are with us? In New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, perhaps things are a little different; not for me to say after only getting a "snapshot" of those places.

While I'm glad I live among, for the most part, like-minded liberals, I am happy that we encountered people, especially kind and good people, who feel differently than I do about such large issues. If they had all been nasty folks, my ideas about them might have solidified rather than softened. Now, although I still vigorously disagree with some of the sentiments we encountered, I'm glad I was reminded that it is possible for people to hold opposing views to mine but still to be sensible, well-meaning people.

As they say, travel is broadening.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

We Begin


We don't have photographs of the two Native Americans we met on the first day of our eleven-week, eleven thousand six hundred mile, twenty-eight state (plus the District of Columbia, but who's counting?) See America tour. That early in our journey, I was not aware of how much I would think about them in the coming months.

Matt works for the Visitors Bureau in Fallon, Nevada. Early in the morning, he was arranging the Visitors Center for a later meeting when we met him. Very open and welcoming, he offered us a cup of the coffee he was brewing and a glimpse into his heritage when we fell into conversation. His tribal connections are Shoshone and Paiute; his wife is Paiute, as well. 

He gave us a good tip on petroglyphs to see along the route at Grimes Point, and then launched into a fun story that he got from his grandfather about his Shoshone band’s reaction to the coming of American soldiers.  

The band saw the soldiers coming from far away, not hard to imagine in that vast landscape, and went out in warpaint on horseback to chase them away but when they got close, they could see that the soldiers were as pale as dead people; they believed the soldiers to be ghosts. Then, just as they were nerving themselves for attack, one of the soldiers cracked a bullwhip and, because the Indians had never heard anything break the sound barrier before, they were terrified and scattered in all directions, abandoning their intention to fight. Matt told this little story with affectionate understanding for his forebears, welcoming us with twinkling eyes into his tale.

When we mentioned that we had been abruptly turned away from the Top Gun base in Fallon by three gate guards barely old enough to shave but carrying serious weapons, he told us that the local people rely on the base for income but are dismayed by the pollution the base represents. The desert around Fallon is strewn with expended bullets and shells from the practice runs of the jets, and some of it is live and dangerous. Matt's young son goes into the desert and brings back these kinds of artifacts frequently. The constant roar and exhaust from the jets pollutes the clear desert air, as well.

On our way out of town, we read in the literature Matt had given us about another Native American who has an art gallery, so we went to see what that was about. His name is Fortunate Eagle and he introduced himself as a Chippewa.  He lives down a dirt road in a modest house next to his art gallery. He is tall and straight despite his 80+ years, with graying hair pulled back into a pony tail, and has been married to his wife for 66 years. They have a couple of grown children. He is a sculptor and showed us several of his works.  He is also a published author of four books some of which, he admits with a twinkle, are true. His wife paints, does beadwork, and decorates deerskin dresses that she makes herself. I wish we could have met her, too. 

Fortunate Eagle told us that he is the man who organized, back in the 1970s, the peaceful occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay as a protest against the threat at that time of revoking the Indian reservations, a move he clearly saw as just another land grab by the U.S. Government. The Indians received help from the liberals in the Bay area who brought food and supplies to the island, and were able to stay on Alcatraz for many months.  The protest was successful; President Nixon stopped trying to abolish the reservations.

Fortunate Eagle also told us about his trip to Italy where, on Columbus Day, he planted his spear in Italian soil to claim all of Europe for the First Nation as a protest against the loss of his people's land to European invaders. There is a photograph on the wall of his gallery showing him being greeted one-to-one by Pope John Paul II.


While he is understandably suspicious and bitter about the US Government, he retains a sense of pride and dignity with his current life, and his ability to laugh. We were honored to meet him and bought two of his books. 

He and Matt remain in my memory as a true highlight of a wonderful trip. They heightened my awareness of native peoples and, all along our route, we learned about and thought about different native tribes. While I have known for a long time of the shameful treatment of native people by the Europeans and Americans historically, these two men reminded me that native people are alive and contributing to the richness of our country every day. They are not relics of a forgotten age - they living their lives in today's world surrounded by family and with some of the same problems that any American faces today. It may seem obvious but to me it was a true awakening. I feel honored to have met them, however briefly, and to have heard their stories.



Monday, October 5, 2015

Tagine


Well, this is just such a bonus, I had to break radio silence to tell you about it. Because My Beloved and I will be spending weeks and weeks in our little station wagon, we thought it made sense after more than 100,000 miles to have it detailed so our home away from home would at least start out looking new and shiny, inside and out.

Detailing, it turns out, takes several hours, even with an eager crew of five or six swarming over it. So, we went to the local mall to kill some time, buying odds and ends for the trip and browsing through the local cooking store. So high on a shelf that I almost didn't see it was a small (inexpensive) glazed pottery tagine next to some really large (and expensive) ones.

I had been dreaming of tagine cooking ever since our pal Sari, My Beloved, and I had a similar dish in Paris years ago. On a cold, misty March afternoon, we stumbled into a North African restaurant around the corner from the Musée Cluny (now called the Musée du Moyen Age) and had a memorable meal, complete with steaming mint tea poured from on high into glass cups. Most tagines are too big for just the two of us and I didn't anticipate making meals for a crowd, so I always hesitated to buy one. Now I'm glad I waited, as this little one is perfect for two.

There were two chicken thighs left over from a previous meal and one artichoke that My Beloved brought home last weekend when he drove through Watsonville on his way to a race. I wasn't sure that was enough to make a meal, but what the heck!  As we are about to embark on a long trip, I needed to use up all the fresh things in the fridge.

Really, all I did was make a slurry of olive oil and spices in the bottom of the tagine, dredge the chicken in that flavorful oil, add some aromatics with the quartered artichoke, pop on the lid, and set it in a cold oven. Because it is made of pottery, it's not a good idea to place it directly into a hot oven. I set the oven to 200F, then raised it to 250F when the light blinked off, then again to 325F and let it go for about 90 minutes.

The lid keeps all the moisture in and funnels it back down over the food, so all the flavors are intensified and melded. What emerged from the tagine was a wonderfully moist and flavorful one-pot meal, complete with goozle on the bottom. I didn't have the traditional couscous on hand so instead I made do with some sourdough bread left over from the day before - it made a fine sponge for soaking up all that lovely juice.

By the time you read this, we will be on our way! Exciting as our trip will be, I'm already looking forward to getting home and making more tagine meals. It's always good to go, and always good to get back home, isn't it?


Tagine Chicken with Artichokes and Green Olives. Serves 2

2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each ground coriander, ground ginger, sweet paprika, cumin powder
Pepper to taste
8 whole green olives (I used Castelvetrano olives since I had them on hand)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, plus 4 thin slivers of the rind
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thickly
2 chicken thighs
1 artichoke, trimmed, quartered and cleaned of the fuzzies and smallest leaves. (Scoop them out with a teaspoon)
1/2 onion, cut into four spears through the root end
A splash of tea (you could use chicken broth, but I didn't have any on hand, and we decided we liked the extra body the sauce got from the tea)

A handful of shelled, salted pistachios for garnish
A few fresh cilantro leaves for garnish

Couscous

In the bottom of the tagine, pour in the oil and mix in the spices to make a loose paste. Turn the chicken pieces in the paste to coat on all sides. Squeeze the half lemon over the chicken, pepper it, and add the garlic, olives, onion, artichoke, lemon slices, and tea. Put the lid on the tagine and place it in a cold oven. 

*My oven uses a "hellfire" broiler to pre-heat, so I placed the tagine in the bottom of the oven away from the flames. Sudden heat is not good for pottery pieces.

Turn the oven on to 200F and let it preheat with the tagine inside. When it reaches that temperature (just a few minutes, really), raise the temperature to 250F, then to 325F when 250F is reached. Bake for about 90 minutes and serve over couscous, garnished with the pistachios and the cilantro.



Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Adventuring


This is us on our wedding day seventeen years ago, hand in hand, headed for life's adventures. We are starting another adventure in a few days, a motoring trip to celebrate My Beloved's retirement that we are calling the "See America" tour. 

We are excited to visit lots of places in the United States, and maybe even venture in to Canada and Mexico if the spirit moves us. We plan to be gone several weeks and I have no idea if I will be able to post along the way, so this blog may be on hiatus for a while.

I wish you all well and happy until we meet again.




Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sausages


While we were in Old Oakland to have lunch at Cosecha, we were charmed by the renovations they have made to those wonderful Victorian streets. Tucked in amongst the warehouses of an industrial district are shops, office space, and restaurants that draw a stylish crowd of mostly young hipsters. 

You may scoff, but I enjoy seeing young people dressing up a bit these days, and taking care with their appearance. The young women wore floaty summer dresses and the guys sported "office casual". Makes a nice change from  enormous tee shirts, drooping pants and backwards baseball caps. These "kids," were well dressed and enjoying a lovely day.

With extra time on the meter, we walked around for a few minutes, peering into shops and reading menus for future reference. Drawn into the interior of one of the buildings by a sign hanging from the ceiling, we happened upon a marvelous butcher's counter. Taylor's Sausage sells more than sausages, but most of the case was filled with pork in one form or another. Being a pork-loving girl, I was enchanted.

Taylor's is one of those butcher shops that give you confidence. Their products are obviously fresh and the place is as clean as the proverbial whistle. The French call window shopping "licking the windows" and, in this case, it was almost embarrassingly true. Everything looked so good that, even filled with Cosecha's excellent tacos, my mouth was watering.


After a few minutes of enjoyable dithering, we settled on two kinds of sausage to try - garlic beef and Swedish potato. The helpful butcher explained that there is, indeed, meat in the potato sausage, just less of it than in the others. The beef is offered in spicy and less spicy, so we chose less, wimps that we are. I was eager to try.

I prepared them very simply, sautéing over a low flame in a wide frying pan, flipping them to brown as much as would touch the pan. 

Oh. My. Heavens.

The beef and garlic was rich and substantial, full of flavor and full of juice. The spice level was fine for us, even a little surprising in the first two or three bites, but entirely pleasurable. The Swedish potato was even richer, oddly, and so swoon-worthy that we both closed our eyes in pleasure at the first bite.

Needless to say, we will be back. And so should you, if you love sausages.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hangin' With My Sweetie

Just hanging out with My Beloved the other night, and we decided to watch "Check Please Bay Area." We had heard that our local Hotel Mac will be reviewed one day soon, so we wanted to see it.

Of course, that night, no Hotel Mac.  But, they did review, and all the guests LOVED, a Mexican restaurant in Old Oakland called Cosheca. So, the next day, when we had an errand that took us to Oakland, we slid into a parking space near the building that Cosecha calls home.

The whole building is a conglomeration of small restaurants and food vendors, each with a different theme. They all seem to feature local, sustainable, etc etc, so it was like a giant, high-end, food court. Usually, courts are roughly as appetizing as airline food, but I was game to try Cosecha based on those three rave reviews.

One orders at the register, receives a number on a silvery stand, and searches for an open table. The table can be a bit of a challenge, as Cosecha is very popular. We were there closer to 1pm than to Noon, and still it was very lively. We found a table outside in the shade and away from the brouhaha caused by lots of conversation and too-loud music.

We ordered guacamole and chips to start, and each ordered two tacos for lunch with iced tea to drink. The guac was nicely chunky and tangy. The chips were hand cut and home made - fresh, substantial scoopers for the thick guacamole. I could have asked for a few more chips, as we ended up with more guac than chips, but by then our tacos had arrived, so we dug in.

All four tacos - chicken, crisp fish, braised pork, and pork belly - were absolutely delicious. The tortillas were soft and flavorful, and double-layered. The sauces were lively without being truly spicy, and complemented wonderfully the meats. The pickles were perfect and the fresh cilantro showed that someone had given some thought to how they would look as well as taste. 

They were so good, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway through my lunch. That brilliantly red sauce is all that was left of my braised pork; the remaining taco is the pork belly. This was my first taste of pork belly - I expected bacon flavor but it was not smoked, just crisped and eye-rolling good. There was a similar silence from My Beloved across the table as he enjoyed his fish and chicken.

Next time you are hangin' with your sweetie in Oakland, don't miss Cosecha. We may be at the next table.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Making Waves


We live in a place where it is rarely hot. Very rarely. September and October, oddly, are the months when we are likely to get really hot days. When most of the country is sighing with relief after a long, sweaty summer and pulling out their fleeces and long pants, we are looking worriedly out to sea, willing the fog to come in and cool us off. 

Last week was like that, a string of four or five days of high 80s and even mid-90s. When you live in a normal temperature range that varies only 10-20 degrees all year 'round, you become intolerant of wide temperature differences. 

Because this weather only lasts a few days, we don't have air conditioning - it's usually not needed. We get out the fan and close up the house in the early morning, and it stays cool until late afternoon, when we open everything up again and pray for a breeze. Telling ourselves that it's a dry heat didn't help - we were dying. 

I have a secret weapon stashed for just such an emergency. 

Cached under the deck is the wading pool I bought for our dear departed canine, Cora, a few years ago when we had a similar heat wave. She, of course, would have nothing to do with it, so I tucked it under the deck, knowing there would be the need again one of these days.

Since we are in a water emergency, I couldn't justify filling it to the top, but even a few inches of cold water makes all the difference. We brought our books out to the deck and blissfully dangled our bare feet. Heaven!  We made cooling waves for three days straight. And, being the good citizen that I am, I scooped the "gray water" out to water my garden.

Days like this require cool foods, as well. When I was a kid, my mother made wonderful cold soups - velvety vichyssoise; cold, smooth borscht with a dollop of sour cream in the middle;  and even jellied chicken soup. If you've never had jellied chicken soup, don't scoff until you've tried it - it's wonderful on a hot day, so clean and cool! We frequently lived in warm places - Washington, DC in the summer, or Hawaii year 'round - so she had lots of good cold soup recipes.

I don't remember her making gazpacho, however - I got my first taste of that from my s-i-l, Ann, who is a marvelous cook. She lives near Washington, DC, too, so her hot weather menus are numerous, and wonderful. My Beloved had wonderful gazpacho at our last dinner at Rivoli and it inspired me to try gazpacho at home.


I looked around online to find a recipe that sounded good, and came up with this one for watermelon gazpacho. I liked the idea of mixing in summer's coolest fruit with summer's most luscious produce, fresh tomatoes. Because it was the first time I've ever made gazpacho, I mostly followed the recipe, only leaving out the bell pepper because I like bell peppers but they don't like me.

We really enjoyed the different textures from the smooth purée of the base to the finely chopped veggies and fruit in the soup to the interesting chunky pieces and crunchy croutons that I added as an homage to Rivoli's gazpacho. 

Our beloved fog has returned now but the forecast is for several more hot days later this week, so I'm planning another batch of gazpacho for the very near future. If Indian Summer graces you, have some watermelon and late summer tomatoes on hand. 

And a wading pool for making waves.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fancypants Pork Sauce

It all started with this little jar of simple syrup that I made for the granita and saved the rest in the fridge. My mother's training is with me still - it pains me to throw away any little thing. But, what to do with a few tablespoons of spiced simple syrup?

I had thawed a pork tenderloin to fix for our dinner - I almost always do it as Jacques Pépin recommends, sprinkling the medallions with salt, pepper, and thyme before browning in butter on one side, flipping and inserting the pan into a 350 degree F oven for about five minutes. Because this preparation is so common to us, I wanted to jazz it up just a little.

I had two very ripe nectarines on the counter, too, so ripe they were attracting fruit flies and looking like they were ready to spoil, so I thought to make some kind of fruity topping for the tenderloin as a change from good old applesauce. And the word "gastrique" popped into my mind like a champagne bubble. *Bink!* 

Maybe a little fancypants, but I was willing to try.

Off to the interwebs, where I perused several recipes before choosing this one as my template. I followed the recipe almost exactly, but I did use garlic instead of shallot, I chose the cognac instead of the wine, and added my little jar of simple syrup instead of the sugar in the recipe. My choice for vinegar was white wine vinegar.

It was easy to make, just a quick sauté for the garlic in the butter, then add all the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. I was tempted to leave it all chunky but the recipe said it should be smooth, so I let it cool in the pot before zizzing it with an immersion blender. 

Sometimes, I'm a little chicken about trying new tastes; I was suspicious of the flavors, even though a quick finger dipping did taste good, so I served it in a little bowl alongside the meat. Next time, I'd just pour it on!  It was wonderfully sweet-tart-salty without being at all aggressive, a great little wake-up call for the taste buds that complemented the mild pork without drowning out the meat's flavor. I loved the combination with the thyme on the pork - turns out nectarines and thyme are a dynamite duo.

Best of all, it keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge, so I'm going to try it with roast chicken next. It wasn't fancypants at all - it was just plain delicious.