Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!


When we toured our house seventeen years ago before buying it, we noticed that the walls in the main living spaces were, well, purple. Gray in some lights but, actually, light purple in most lights. My first thought was, "We will have to paint."

In my family, when we paint walls, we paint them off-white. Ceilings can be bright white but walls are always creamy. So, I imagined us teetering on tall ladders, spreading drippy, soft white paint over walls 20 feet high. It was not a pleasant thought.

Happily, we are great procrastinators. We procrastinated so remarkably well that it was 17 years before we decided to repaint. It's a quirky house, anyway, so why not have purple walls? Right? We actually grew quite fond of the purple walls and even chose furniture to complement them - the color wheel came in handy for that exercise! 

With all the new construction, however, and the availability of workers willing to stand on 20-foot ladders, we decided that at last it was time to repaint. So, here's a picture of a corner where Lupe has painted the left side of the corner but the right side is still our old light purple.  The new paint is a warm, light taupe color that is gray in some lights, a nice, warm gray. 

I can already imagine our art work, lovingly collected over those seventeen years, gracing the new walls. Changes are happening daily, now. Things are starting to look more and more like a real house again. 

So heartening, these changes!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Not Fig Newtons


Look what's growing in my neighborhood!

I had never seen figs with stripes before moving here; in fact, before moving to California my entire knowledge of figs was encompassed by the term "fig newtons." Now, I like the blue-black mission figs (by the way, Sari made us a divine dessert of roasted mission figs with caramel sauce and ice cream - OMG!) and I wondered if these little beauties, which remind me of miniature hot air balloons about to take off, would be good to eat, too.

So, I looked them up on the interwebs and found that they are called Tiger Stripe or Candy Stripe figs and that they are, indeed, good to eat.

Alas, they are not growing in my garden. 

Guess I need to get up the nerve to ask the owners if they plan to eat them (last year, the fruit just fell to the ground) and, if not, may I have some? 

If I do get brave, I'll let you know how they turned out.  

If not, just make Sari's dessert - the halved mission figs take only 10 minutes to roast in a 450 degree F oven, she zapped a bottled caramel sauce in the microwave for a few seconds, then drizzled it over the figs, and scooped the salted caramel ice cream. Nothing could be easier, nor more delicious. 

And, don't forget the Moscato d'Asti!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Italian Accents


Just recently, we have enjoyed a spate of Italian food. We met GuyRene at Poggio last Monday for a catchup date and superior food. My Beloved literally moaned with pleasure over their version of linguini and clams.

The other morning after swimming, as I stopped in to Little Louie's to get morning coffee for My Beloved and the worker bees, I decided to order some biscotti to go along with the coffee, it being a Friday and meriting something a little special. As I ordered, the guy behind me in line corrected my pronunciation - "Not bis-cah-ti!," he said, "Bis-coh-ti!" He had just returned from a trip to Italy and was high on the experience. I stand corrected.

Our pal Sari cooked a splendid dinner for us of Mediterranean lamb, a killer concoction of simmered sweet tomatoes and onions slathered over a beautifully cooked lamb roast. It just sang of Italy and warmth. To go with her dessert of roasted figs with caramel sauce, we stopped into Kermit Lynch to buy a bottle of Moscato d'Asti, another Italian name to get my tongue around. It was well worth the trouble - my new favorite dessert wine!

And we met Cousin Jan in Petaluma at Sugo; "sugo" in Italian means juice or sauce. They have an appetizer of bruschetta that would easily be lunch if you didn't share it three ways as we did. From about eight possible choices, we chose these: smoked salmon with red onion and capers, Brie cheese and Granny Smith apple with sliced almonds, and traditional with fresh tomatoes, basil pesto and Parmesan cheese. My Italian pronunciation was corrected gently on the menu, where they explained that they are not "brush-etta," they are "broo-sketta." 

My Italian accent may not be authentic but my appreciation for Italian foods and wines is second to none!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Eating Out


When I was a kid, (back when God was a child), eating out was only for very special occasions. Mom and Dad would go out together sometimes, just to have some elegant and quiet adult time, but we kids usually stayed home with the much-anticipated TV dinner. Funny to look back at the things we loved as kids - I probably would turn my nose up at one today, but in those days they had the dual appeal of novelty and lack of parental manners supervision.

Every now and then, however, we'd put on our restaurant manners and be taken to the "O Club" (officer's club) on whichever base we were living on or near, or out to a restaurant. If memory serves, we mostly went out to eat when we went to New York to see shows. My parents both loved musical theatre and they introduced us early and often to Broadway shows. I grew up listening to Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza singing "South Pacific" and one of my enduring memories is of seeing "My Fair Lady" on the stage with Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins. 

Dad loved to take us to Sardi's when we were in New York; we had fun figuring out who each of the caricatures that lined the walls were, and I'd always ask Dad if I could have anything I wanted off the menu. He'd always say "yes," but it was important to ask. 

And we usually visited Mom's Uncle Maynard at the New York Yacht Club, who lived there as a bachelor after his wife's death. Before dinner, we'd walk around the cases of ship and boat models, marveling at the intricate construction. After dinner in their dining room, which is shaped with curving walls as if one was dining in a galleon, we would all file up to admire the America's Cup in its purpose-built round room.

As we grew older and more civilized, we would often accompany them to the "O club" for a Sunday night dinner - I'm pretty sure this was so Mom could have a night off from cooking. Mom always dressed up for these events in her best dresses with serious jewelry and perfume. I don't remember the menus as much as I remember her perfume.

These days, eating out is an everyday affair, not so much for us before the remodeling began but more and more frequently as it drags on. We usually ankle down to our little town and choose one of the thirteen or fourteen restaurants there (proximity to the sprawling Chevron research center fuels all these eateries). Sometimes, we go further afield, over to Marin if we want standard fare, or to Berkeley or Oakland if we are feeling more adventurous.

Probably our favorite is Little Louie's 4 to 9 wine bar. It is open only on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. They convert their space from a very casual breakfast-and-lunch place to a rather elegant evening space with just a few imaginative touches - votive candles, silk curtains,  cloth napkins, and pretty china and flatware. The food is solidly good and the prices are reasonable. Because we see these same owners when we go in for coffee or breakfast in the morning, our welcome is always warm in the evening, too - we have gotten to be good friends.

The steak dinner above is a good example - fresh and seasonal veggies, a nice and well-cooked steak, and a little scoop of real spuds. It's comforting and familiar and very well made. When you eat out as often as we do now, that is sometimes exactly what we are looking for, a sense of home while our own home is all torn up.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Progress To Report!


After all this time, I finally have some serious progress to report!  Things were happening before and progress was being made, but raw drywall or exposed wires don't make for a very appealing photograph. Now that we have actually decided on some materials, it's getting to be a lot more fun.

The first photo is of our choices for the kitchen and living/dining room. The gray wood floor will be laid throughout. The dark gray/black (that's a shadow across it, not two colors) with shiny and coffee-with-cream speckles is the working countertops, an engineered quartz stone that should stand up to many years of use. We will also add a complementary natural stone countertop for accent - its colors are the same as the working countertops but the reverse - it's gonna be snazzy! 

The blond alder is for our kitchen. I had to insist to get mitered corners on the cabinets (everyone else thought another kind of construction would be easier but I didn't want easy, I wanted beautiful) and I'm glad I was firm - they look just as I had hoped. They should arrive at the end of next week.

And the gray paint for the walls looks different in the picture on my monitor than it is in real life - it's actually toning toward the taupe, a nice warm color to complement the rest and to tone with the browns in the wood floor. Were aiming for a "refined but natural" look, and I think we scored!

Needless to say, I'm super excited! Not only for the progress but also because I love the choices we made.


My Beloved took this second shot of the back of his car when he went to the paint store to pick up the paint for living/dining/kitchen and the glass blocks that will form one wall of our shower stall. Each day, we either go out to survey choices or bring back things we have chosen, a joy when all the invisible work has been done and the fun choices we will live with for years start to show up. This is an amazingly involving process.

So, now you are up to date!  We expect the whole project to come together around mid-August and I'm already looking forward to showering in our splendid new bathroom and cooking in my fabu new kitchen, not to mention sleeping in my own bed when our furniture comes back from storage.

So exciting when there is real progress to report!



Friday, July 18, 2014

Baby Food


Even before Chilebrown reminded me that one can use a Weber grill as an oven, I had decided to try roasting more than a chicken in mine. Chilebrown is my teacher for all things Weber, and he is truly an oracle - he knows Webers! 

I wanted to make kabocha squash soup for new mother Katie and her support team who are helping her and new father Andre through the first weeks of parenthood. Happily, they have a long list of female family members, experienced hands who are happy to come and assist for the reward of a smile from Katie and a cuddle with young Miles. Not having been born with the mothering gene, I can at least cook for them, right?

Armed with my biggest knife, the junior machete my Hawaii brother gave me, I halved my squash, then placed the two halves cut side down on a square of doubled up aluminum foil, and placed those, not over the coals but off to the side of my Weber grill. It got pretty hot in there with the lid down - my thermometer registered 450 degrees F at one point, so the squash was done in about half an hour. I tested it with a sharp knife that slid right in.

Then, I loaded up a wicker basket with the squash, an onion, some thyme, organic chicken broth, a bottle of olive oil, two white nectarines, and salt and pepper. No, not a picnic; rather, a trip next door to borrow a big kettle and some flame from my neighbor's wonderful Wolf stove. Doreen doesn't mind if I mess up her kitchen for a good cause - and she has wonderful cooking vessels!  Her stove is a dream - I'm hoping mine will be as wonderful once it arrives!

While I softened the onion and nectarines (skin and all) in olive oil with the thyme, Doreen and her tiny mother Doris regaled me with stories of movies they had recently seen and a fashion show of the clothes they had just bought for Doris. Then I added the soft squash and the chicken broth, a little s&p, and let it all simmer together for about 20 minutes before zizzing it smooth with Doreen's stick blender. 

We each tasted the resulting soup; Doreen liked it so much that when I offered her some, she had her storage container out in record time. It was a bright golden yellow with little flecks of dark nectarine skin and pepper - very pretty! The rest went into the fridge until I was able to deliver it to the new parents the next day.

I like the idea that I made baby food. From me, into Katie and, thus, into little Miles. I may not be the ideal caregiver for a baby but I'm glad I could contribute second hand.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Movie Night Chefs


We are not big movie goers, usually preferring to hunker down at home after a long day, but last Friday My Beloved said, on the spur of the moment, "How about a hot dog and a movie?"

He knows his audience; the promise of a hot dog will always get me up and out.

So, we scrolled through the movie listings and found one, "Chef," that seemed to have a light appeal (we are movie wimps - no violence, no drama, no unhappy endings, please!) so we jumped into our jeans and went. Fun movie - two thumbs up if you're looking for light, fun fare.

After the flick, we decided to grab a burger (no hot dogs on the menu, so I get a rain check on that) at Marin Joe's, an institution in Corte Madera. They have booths and tables but they are always busy so we grabbed two stools at the counter and found that they were the best seats in the house. 

While we waited for our dinners, we watched meats and fish, including our burgers, being grilled by the most amazing grill cook I have ever seen. Talk about a chef! The grill is a real charcoal grill at Joe's, with glowing coals under the grates - the heat even reached our seats so I was surprised at how cool and unflappable the chef was. The photo I took is of his receipts of the evening, showing how many perfect dinners he had turned out, so many that they overflowed his cup and spilled out onto the counter.

Every move he made was efficient, choreographed, and leisurely, and yet he turned out at least a dozen meals just while we were watching, and still found time to josh lightly with the waiters, take a break during the cooking, timing his return exactly. As we watched, he watched each burger, brochette, steak, butterflied trout, and filet of salmon to perfection. He never touched them - no poking to decide if they were done - he just looked and could tell. Given the heat of that grill, I was sure our burgers, which were on for fully 15 minutes, would be well done even though we had asked for rare and medium rare. When they arrived, however, they were each perfect.

They were also enormous and served on French rolls with a side of nicely crisp French fries with soft, almost custardy centers, just the way we like them. He even gave us a wink as he slid the plates across the counter - I think he knew I was worried and his wink was his gentle way of saying, "Honey, I've been doing this a long time and I know what I know."

The prices at Marin Joe's are assertive, but I have never left there feeling I didn't get my money's worth. And next time I will choose to sit at the counter again, to enjoy watching a real chef do his thing.


Monday, July 14, 2014

More Celebrations

Amongst the many trips to the paint store looking for exactly the right shade for living/dining room, and multiple outings in search of glass blocks, we have managed to slip in quite a lot of celebrating recently.  

For example, last Thursday we took at least two and possibly three passes into the Benjamin Moore paint store, purchasing different shades that all ended up being close to what we envision but not quite, and definitely not ones we could live with for the next many years. Choosing the colors to try isn't a problem but standing around while they mix the paints is a pain.

However, while waiting, we discovered that the world of house painting has come up with some rather clever little helpers. One that we have used a good deal is a square of white cardboard primed so you can paint a piece roughly the size of an 8"x10" sheet of paper; much easier to evaluate a color when it is larger than the 1"x1" sample strip they give you. They also have diminutive, single-use, 2" foam rollers that come in a blister pack in which the plastic "blister" becomes the roller pan!  Very helpful!  We have about 10 different boards all in shades of gray, none of which was perfect. 

However, coming home deeply discouraged one day after a trip to yet another paint store, lo! and behold! one of our samples had dried to a beautiful soft, warm gray color!  Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!

It was also our 15th wedding anniversary, so My Beloved already had a celebration planned, but it was doubly joyous with the idea that we are finished with paint stores for the foreseeable future!

We drove about an hour out to Forestville, CA to a new-to-us restaurant called Farmhouse Inn.  The setting is lovely and the dining room very nicely appointed. They lost our reservation but were able to seat us anyway, big relief!

We were a little amused by the preciousness of the menu descriptions of such things as "parched summer vegetables," "broken tomatoes," and "sunflower seed strewn farro," but when our choices arrived, we forgave the chef any pretention, as the food was fantabulous!  For my appetizer, I chose the squash blossom stuffed with crab that was the perfect size, a single blossom filled with a rich crab mixture that was mostly, happily, crab. My Beloved had the roasted quail appetizer and, when he was finished, all that was left were some very tiny bones lined up neatly along the edge of his plate - he loved it!

For a main course, I had a heritage breed pork chop that was simply amazing, brined and cooked to palest pink perfection and served with smoked ricotta gnocchi that were light as the long summer evening and braised Swiss chard to cut some of the richness. Easily, hands-down, the best pork chop of my long and happy life.

My Beloved chose their signature dish, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, poor old Bugs prepared three ways - bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack, and confit leg - all with wonderful accompanying mustard sauce. He gave me a bite of bunny, my first taste of rabbit, and it was really lovely.

The service was good, friendly without being familiar, and the only flaws in the whole experience were the ringing cell phone at the next table, which played loudly the first several bars of  Pharrell Williams's "Happy" before the embarrassed owner could fish it out of her purse and silence it, and the overly loud woman at a facing table who had to be very discreetly "shushed" by the maitre-d.

Since it was a fancy date, we also sprang for the wine pairings, so the sommelier brought us each special wines chosen to complement our various dishes. She was very knowledgeable, telling us a bit about each wine as she served it and explaining why she had chosen each one. It was a fun experience for two who like wine but are not particularly savvy about it.

That we got all the way to dessert before I remembered to photograph for Zoomie Station should give you some idea of how focused we were on the tastes on our plates. We decided to share the cheese plate and the fruit and berry tart. The cheeses were carefully selected and very good but the "market tart," as they call it, was truly spectacular. The thinnest, crispest imaginable crust on the bottom was topped with a tangy "cheesecake" custard, then covered with ripe fresh fruits, each at the peak of flavor. My grainy cellphone photo does it no justice. The edible flowers made the whole thing so festive and lovely that I wished there was room for another one but, alas!, we were filled to the brim.

We marvel that fifteen years could have gone by so quickly and that we feel we are still somewhat in that giddy honeymoon stage of married life, trips to the paint stores notwithstanding. In a way, they have been like the feast we enjoyed at the Farmhouse Inn - unexpectedly delightful and very, very satisfying.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Celebrating New Life


When our first two grands were born, we celebrated with champagne - I think almost any good news deserves champagne - so when Miles came safely into the world, we did the same, this time in a restaurant since our "kitchen" is no fun to cook in and they make better food at Rivoli in Berkeley than I do, even in a good kitchen.

We called on the spur of the moment and found that we could get in early, our favorite dining time, anyway. Win-win!  As we sat enjoying our drinks and the view of the lovely garden outside the windows, the place filled up table by table until it was humming with conversation and good spirits. Not only is Rivoli decorated for calm enjoyment, the tables are well spaced so each party can have their own private conversations.

We started with a pink champagne (or I suppose more properly a prosecco) from Italy, sipping it all through the meal. It was round and fizzy and comfortable, just right with our dinners. When she heard we were celebrating a new grandchild, the waitress brought some little shiny balloon confetti to sprinkle on the table to enhance the celebratory atmosphere.

I started with Dungeness crab bisque, a velvety smooth and richly flavorful soup redolent of the sea. It had a marbling of creme fraiche on top of the coral-colored bisque that complemented the crabby richness with just a hint of a tang. Delicious!



Because I can't slow roast anything in my current kitchen, I was tempted by the pork loin that had been hours in the oven. Sometimes (and almost always when I attempt this at home), the pork is tender enough but very dry. Not at Rivoli. The slices of pork were nothing to look at but, man, were they ever delicious with a goozle in the bottom of the plate that was like pure, clear essence of pig and lots of rosemary for added zest. The meat required only a gentle pressure from my fork to fall apart into bite-sized pieces. To give the dish a little extra texture, the chef had added little chunks of crisp pork crackling to the plate. There were roasted Italian broad beans and a wonderfully light and fluffy sort of corn pudding/soufflé to accompany. While the plate didn't look overly full, I had to take half of it home, so rich and satisfying it was.



The waitress (and by the way, the wait staff there is excellent, always pleasant and present when you need them but never obtrusive) asked if we wanted dessert and the answer was an emphatic "yes!" but we were too full, so we asked for their berry pudding to go, and ate it later that evening. It tasted as if the berries had been concentrated in some magical way so that it was a fresh as a newly-picked berry but even better. Not very sweet, it still had a tang and a little bite, but loads of ripe berry flavor.

If you have new life to celebrate, or just want a reason to feel celebratory, I can recommend Rivoli, where every visit feels like a quiet party to me. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Miles


Grandparenthood, for me, has been an unexpected pleasure. Everyone said it would be fun, but I was doubtful. You see, I'm not a normal woman; I don't just adore babies as most women do. I don't generally gush and coo whenever I see a baby, even a particularly cute one. They are fine in their way but pretty self-centered, if you ask me. They are demanding of time, attention, caution, sleeplessness, and caring. It's all about them. And, almost inevitably, they cry when I pick them up.

I ascribe this indifference to babies to the fact that I was given too much responsibility at an early age for my younger brother who was born eight years after me. My sister Nancy and I were fascinated by him and she was an excellent caregiver at age 10, but I had a series of mishaps that taught me early on how delicate babies can be. For example, the bathwater that seemed just right to my leathery, eight-year-old, Hawaiian-tanned hide was too hot for a small fry - he screamed his indignation, bringing my mother and sister to the bathroom on the run. It only takes a few incidents like that to convince a little girl that baby care is best left to others.

Oh, I have loved certain babies. My sister's son Rob was one of the few babies I actively enjoyed, and I was almost immediately smitten by my friend Wendy's two children (my Fairy Godchildren), but as a general rule, I'm content to leave babies in their mothers' arms and admire them from afar. And, never having had children of my own (don't feel sad, it was a choice I contentedly made), I had no reason to get over my baby aversions.

So, you can imagine what a surprise it has been to so enjoy My Beloved's grandchildren, Mia and Owen, the children of his older daughter, Sarah. They are beautiful kiddos - always a bonus - but they are nice kids, too. Mia is as loving and sweet as a child can be, but with a dash of spirit and stubbornness that I find endearing. She is a snuggler and is never happier than when sitting on someone's lap. Owen is bold and mischievous, with a rebellious spirit that baffles us one moment and a smile like the dawning of the sun that charms us the next. He loves books about garbage trucks and runs to the fence in the back yard to wave every time he hears the fire engines. He is into ice hockey, even though he's too small to play - he knows all the players on his favorite team (the Boston Bruins) and most of the ones on the opposing teams, too.

And, now, just a few days ago, we have Miles, a beautiful son born to My Beloved's younger daughter, Katie. It remains to be seen what Miles will be like but, for now, he's a pretty mellow fellow. He even let me hold him for ten whole minutes without crying - a lifetime record for me.

Grandparenthood is perfect for me - lots of joy without much responsibility for the well-being of these little guys. I can recommend it.