Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hidden City



Sometimes, in the evening, My Beloved and I will stroll downtown for dinner, taking Cora with us. If the restaurant we choose doesn't have an outdoor deck where she can join us, we tie her to a tree outside and she waits with amazing patience for our return. 

We never leave her unless we can see her from inside the restaurant. She is the calmest, kindest dog - I never worry about her behavior - I just have to make sure that the passing people are as kind and calm as she is, and that they treat her with sweetness. She usually gets a word and a pat from the passing strangers and, once or twice, such a covetous look that I have hurried outside to make sure they know she's mine! 

I have said it before and I'll say it again. Best.Dog.Ever.

As we amble back up the long hill to home (it's only three blocks, but on a full stomach it feels like miles), we zig and zag through the streets of our quirky little town. Each house is different and most are sweetly unpretentious. There are zany Victorians festooned with curlicues next door to sleek moderns, and many more of mixed heritage and history, houses that have grown with families, incorporating several architectural styles over the decades. There are demure little houses peeking from behind picket fences and houses painted pumpkin orange or cobalt blue that seem to shout, "Hey, look at me!"

It's not called the Hidden City for nothing - few people in the area even know it's here, and we like rather it that way. It began as a railhead (and it still is), but those boisterous days of bars and whorehouses have tamed considerably since then. Now, it's a bedroom community for San Francisco, with only three blocks of businesses arranged in a triangle and punctuated by a statue of a lone Indian. No one seems to know why the Indian, but we love him anyway.

So, here we are, strolling home replete with Chinese chow from Little China, leftovers boxed, bagged, and swinging from My Beloved's hand, when we turn a corner and find the most amusing pumpkin patch I have ever seen.



Built along a low cement retaining wall and outside the wooden fence surrounding the house was a most creative way imaginable to support growing pumpkins. A complicated chain of boards and heavy string suspended the golden orbs and kept them safe from foot traffic, tall dogs, and ground rot. They are all connected by a rope of green stem and seem to be doing very well in their whimsical aerie.

Maybe it's this that I most love about our town - it's quirkiness. One never knows what charm will pop up from day to day. In the case of this pumpkin patch, the house is painted a paler color than the pumpkins (you can see the corner of it in the first photo), but it toned beautifully with the swelling fruit. If I see the owners, I will ask if they planned it that way. For the meantime, I'll just enjoy knowing it's there and the short break it afforded from hill climbing while I took its picture.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sweet Tart


We have subscribed to Sunset magazine for, basically, ever. I discovered it when I first lived in California, 'way back in the '70s, and I kept up my subscription even when I lived in New York State, as I always enjoyed the recipes and craft ideas. I'm no longer in my Craft Stage, but I do still enjoy the ideas of great places to vacation and the recipes.

Even though there are many things I can't easily make during construction, I do look for new ideas that might translate well to two burners and two frying pans.  This one for pork chops topped with agrodolce peaches required three frying pans but could easily be done in stages, so I was game. And my peach tree had a banner year, so peaches are in abundant supply at our house just now. I have given away four bags full and the branches are still loaded with fast-ripening fruit.

I made the agrodolce peaches first, and transferred them to a serving bowl. Agrodolce means tart-sweet in Italian, and that's completely descriptive. The vinegars give it zing and the honey gives it sweetness. The fruits lend their flavors of fresh and dried, and the thyme offers that funky, earthy undertone that gives the dish complexity.

I used pork tenderloin cut into medallions rather than pork chops - they sauté up very nicely in just a few minutes, then are topped with the peaches. Nice porky flavor, no bones, and no waste.

It was luscious. I can't think of another word that adequately describes the combination of sweet, tart, herbal, and savory. Layer upon layer of flavors made My Beloved, who loves variety, very happy.

Thanks to my old friend, Sunset. I can count on you.


Friday, August 15, 2014

What (In Heaven's Name) Shall I Make For Dinner?


What do you make for dinner when you have nothing in the freezer but five very tired pita rounds and a package of lamb stew meat? You improvise, that's what. You search around in the vegetable drawer for a zucchini, an onion, some garlic, and (thank heavens!) a nice, ripe heirloom tomato.

You scrape the fuzzy mold off the top of your container of creme fraiche, you get out the jar of lemon mayonnaise, and you give a silent prayer of thanks for half of a pint of Caesar salad that came with your last pizza delivery. Looks like dinner to me.

My Beloved got busy warming the pitas while I sliced the onion, garlic, zucchini and tomato, and cut the lamb into bite-size pieces. I had two pans going, one on high to brown the meat, and one on medium to cook first the onion in olive oil with fresh thyme from the pots outside the front door, then adding the zucchini and, last, the garlic. 

When both pans were ready, we brought them to the table, smeared the inside of the pita pockets with lemon mayo and a tad of creme fraiche (I didn't have feta cheese or Greek yogurt), then piled in the meat, veggies, and fresh tomato slices. The meat juices melded with the mayo and tomato water to make a nifty little sauce. It was messy as all get out and nearly as good. The juices ran over our hands and dripped down onto our plates. We each needed several napkins. The thyme gave that extra herbal push that most dishes need and our hunger did the rest. The salad was really just a sop to our consciences, but it did provide a little crisp counterpoint.

Next time you are faced with Empty Fridge Syndrome, remind yourself that you really do have a full meal in there - it's just not immediately obvious.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Don't Eat This


Don't eat this. It's bad for you. 

In fact, it's so bad for you that it should carry a warning label. "Too much fat," it should say, and "Too much salt." Or, in flashing lights, it should read, "Too much guilt!"

SPAM is an amazing product, any way you look at it. It keeps forever, it tastes vaguely of ham with a soupçon of lining-of-the-can-it-comes-in, and it is an enduring pleasure in Hawaii. Hawaiians use it in all kinds of dishes from SPAM musubi to SPAM omelets to grilled SPAM brochettes alternating with chunks of fresh, ripe pineapple. I have always assumed it was popular in Hawaii because it kept well in the tropical heat, unlike any fresh meat would. But, who really knows?

I learned to love it when I lived in Hawaii, both as a child and as an adult. Last time we were in Hawaii, back in May (which gives you an idea of how well it keeps), we found these single serving packets of SPAM, an irresistible innovation. They were in the super market in an aisle that contained at least 10 different varieties of SPAM and SPAM-related products. You gotta love a company that moves with the times, right?  Low fat, low salt - even turkey SPAM!  I snapped up a couple single-serving packets as a gift for my buddy Irene, who loves SPAM almost as much as I do. I kept one for myself.

I browned mine in a frying pan before scrambling in some eggs, which you will be glad to know I shared with My Beloved so I didn't get all that salt and fat for myself. It's a simple preparation, but one of my faves. It was good in all the ways that are bad for you.

The warning label should also read: "Seriously addictive."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Meanwhile, In The Bathroom...


My Beloved has a thing about glass blocks. Don't ask me why, but he just loves the way they look. Ever since we have been together, going on 20 years now, he will point out windows, walls, or shower stalls that use glass blocks and remark about how cool they are. So, when we were surfing the web for materials to use in our refurbed master bath, he at last got the chance to use glass blocks. He was thrilled.

Actually finding glass blocks, however, turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Even a favorite tile store that has an enormous wall of glass blocks said they couldn't get them any more. Huh? We see them everywhere!  There must be a source!

Well, we finally found one and ordered a shower wall's worth of the blocks after making sure that our tile guy knows how to install them. The source didn't make it easy, however, as the style we liked best was no longer available, they mistakenly ordered the wrong end pieces, and they only sell the top curving end piece in sets of four. Four pretty expensive pieces, that is. 

But, compared to My Beloved's delight in our new shower, a mere pittance!

I am proud of my idea to use the other three end pieces, turned sideways and mortared in, as shelves in the shower. I'm nothing if not frugal, and they look cool, too.

Sorry about the crooked cell phone picture, but of all the pictures I took, this one represents the color of the shower best. We used glass tiles with a matte finish and the color is just dreamy. It accepts the light in wonderful ways, glowing around the window and casting a pale, bluish-green light on the glass blocks.

There will be a vanity and those wonderful sconces that we ordered many months ago, and we have yet to choose a toilet but we are working on finding the right one. I know, I know!  It's crazy to be obsessing about how a toilet will look, but welcome to my world. 

I'll take another picture when it all comes together but, meanwhile, we spend a lot of time just admiring the bathroom tiles.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Progress Report


When off-loaded from the truck, the new kitchen cabinets almost filled the living/dining room! I knew we were doing a serious upgrade, but I don't think I realized that what was on the plans translated to all this stuff!

The crew set to work right away to install as many as they could before our contractor went on a well-deserved week's vacation. One of the things they discovered is that our house is not level - so they built a low base for these cabinets to level the counter top.



 There was a lot of noise from drills and hammers; when we emerged again from our downstairs hideaway, most of the cabinets were up!



The new stove will go in the place on the left beyond the divider and the fridge will go in the hole straight ahead. There will be a matching alder wood panel to cover the "pony wall" that divides the working kitchen from the storage area.

You can see the skylight they installed in the kitchen ceiling. Best part of all, that beautiful wood-and-beam ceiling used to be covered up by a really, really ugly drop ceiling of plastic tiles.

And just look at how beautifully made the cabinetry is!



I had to insist to get my mitered corners, and I'm so glad I did - they look just as I had hoped. The open cabinet to the left has pull-out "tongues" for storage, as it's in a corner that would otherwise be wasted space.

The next task is to find knobs and pulls for the drawers and cabinets. Stand by for another progress report, one of these days.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mostly Martha

I had been seeing this recipe on the interwebs in more than one place, so I decided to try it for myself. It's a pasta dish you make all in a single pot using fresh ingredients that are only very lightly prepped. Since my makeshift kitchen doesn't include many amenities, I thought if this worked, it would be a fine recipe to have on hand.

But, I must admit I was skeptical. For one thing, it didn't call for much water for all that pasta.  And, wouldn't the onions taste harsh if not softened first?  And wouldn't the garlic be too "hot?" 

However, nothing ventured, as they say... I used Martha Stewart's recipe simply because it came up first in my Google search, but I have seen others on different sites.

So, I sliced the onion and garlic thinly, sliced the cherry tomatoes in half, and tore up the basil. Those are literally all the preparations called for. How sweet is that?

I poured the water in first, then added the rest of the ingredients, and turned on the high heat. Within 10 minutes after coming to a boil, it was ready to serve. No kidding! The pasta lends starch to the sauce to thicken it, and the rest of the ingredients are sweet and soft by the time the pasta is cooked. 

I took this photo before sprinkling the dish with Parmesan cheese - couldn't resist the colorful show with our jazzy paper plates - and we sat down to eat. I did add about half a cup of roasted chicken pieces to each plate since My Beloved is a confirmed carnivore, but it would have been quite tasty even without them. The tomatoes are sweet and fresh, the pasta just al dente, and the alliums add another layer of flavor. You get an interesting layer of mild heat from the red pepper flakes. And, because you cook the pasta with the other ingredients, it had more flavor, too. Win-win!

Buon Appetito!

Martha Stewart's One-Pan Pasta, serves 4*

12 ounces linguine
12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish (Martha didn't ask for chopped leaves in the cooking pot, but next time I'd do that to distribute the flavor more evenly)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4-1/2 cups water
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large, straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs (*Important step or your linguine will fuse together), until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with olive oil and Parmesan.

*This is a generous serving for four and, another time, I'd only make enough for however many people are eating, as it does not reheat well. It tastes fine, but the pasta gets soggy after a night in the fridge.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Details


Finding ourselves once again in Marin county, this time looking at knobs and pulls for our beautiful new cabinets, we stopped for lunch in San Rafael at the Best L'il Porkhouse, a hole in the wall that serves wonderful barbecue. They rather relish their folksy "redneck" aura, offering paper towels still on the roll as napkins and using cheese whiz instead of real cheese. As it turns out, there is no better wiper for slippery fingers than paper towels and, while I'd rather have real cheese melted over my nachos, I have to admit there's a certain casual appeal to the bright orange of the liquid kind.

Knobs and pulls. Did you know that there are at least 10 gazillion different styles of knobs and pulls currently on the market?  We found ones from at least 15 different vendors at a single store, and each vendor offered a zillion possible choices. Hard to believe that many foundries could make money selling slight variations of the same darn thing! No wonder we needed feeding up once we emerged from the store with all that swimming around in our heads!

The nachos at the Porkhouse are unique. Rather than copy the usual Mexican theme, they use pulled pork on top of the tortilla chips, as well as baked beans, cheese whiz, barbecue sauce, and honest-to-goodness bacon bits to add flavor. This is not healthy eating - I probably shortened my life expectancy by nearly finishing these - but, man! were they ever good! And, thank heavens I ordered the small portion!

We did make some progress on the knob selection front - we have ordered a few samples to see how they look in place. The choice is surprisingly important - not just the look, but the feel and the functionality of the details is something we will see and use every day. We had better like them! So, we will be going back to that bewildering store until we find just the right ones. Good to know that the Porkhouse is just around the corner.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fast Food


There are some serious highlights to the construction process and here are three of them:

A hot dog bought at the Kensington farmer's market for my lunch. Gotta love the virulent green of that relish and the Rastafarian colors of the mustard, relish, and catsup. I do love my tube steak!

And this:



Our kitchen and bathroom cabinets arriving Monday morning from Washington state, where they were made.

And this:


Cora guarding the coffee and cookies brought by the cabinetmaker to help the crew get through the unloading process. How many folks do you know who would think to get coffee for the crew?  Obviously, we have a great guy in Tyler Wollin!

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!