Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cheek By Jowl

Christmas Eve was the only day in the past week when My Beloved and I didn't have some kind of social engagement - the holiday season is like that - all feast, no famine. We love it and we wouldn't change it, but it's nice every now and then to have a quiet day with not much on the agenda.

That morning, I slept late - we had been out caroling the night before and I was tired. I'm a lousy singer who can't carry a tune in a bucket so keeping that under wraps is exhausting. I love caroling, all except for the subterfuge.

When I arose, it felt like breakfast. I had half of a strudel that my pal Cricket makes and sent to us this year - delicious with bacon (or without!). So I delved into the freezer for a package of bacon and got out my trusty frying pan.

This bacon is jowl bacon from pigs raised by Langley Ranch in Sonoma, then cured, lightly smoked and sold by Marin Sun Farms. When we bought it at the Kensington farmers market, the young woman behind the counter said that once people taste jowl bacon, they refuse to eat anything else. I'm not the adamant type, and I'm unlikely to pass up other bacon in the future, but I have to say this was great bacon and quite different from the belly kind.

For one thing, it's funkier. It's hard to describe the difference, except that jowl bacon has a deep, meaty aftertaste that belly bacon doesn't have. It's not as salty as most bacon and we liked that aspect - a little salt goes a long way with us. The rashers are smaller, perhaps four inches long, so what looks like a mess of bacon is really a pretty modest portion for two. We loved it and wolfed down all but a single piece that we saved for Cora - and she loved it, too.

Served on a plate, cheek by jowl with Cricket's strudel and a cup of Kona coffee, it's a breakfast fit for a king and, in this case, two queens.

Happy New Year! May 2012 be your best year yet, but not your best year ever.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Change Of Pace

I'm half Irish, so it goes without saying that I love potatoes. Any kind of potatoes. Fixed any way. If it's a potato, bring it on.

But every now and then even I get a little tired of potatoes to round out my dinner plate. When that happens, an infrequent occasion to be sure, I either serve another green veggie or go looking for an alternative starch. Rice is nice, beans are great, but in the winter for some reason, sweet potatoes rule.

I don't make a big fuss over them - no mixing with sugar or topping with marshmallows - I just bake them in their skins, slice them open and add salt and butter. The color perks up the dull palette of winter foods and the naturally sweet taste shines as brightly as the hue. I even eat the skin - my mother always told me that was the part with all the vitamins in it but I don't eat it for health; I eat it because it tastes so good.

Next time you have the winter blahs pick up some of these humble beauties and chase the blues with all that bright orange. It makes a good change of pace.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Big Pot Of Soup

Usually, when we finish a roasted chicken, I use the bones to make broth and freeze it for future meals. This time, I just kept going, all the way to soup.

I like soup at any time of the year but it's particularly welcome during the holidays when I'm inclined to eat too much of all the wrong things. Homemade soup grounds me and reminds me that eating healthy foods can taste really good, too. Once made, it's easy and quick to reheat, no waiting around while Christmas cookies are calling to me. It's a nice, lean meal in a season of excess.

The broth started with onions, carrots and celery bubbled for hours with the chicken carcass, so it was already flavorful and aromatic when I added cannellini beans, a handful of dried mushrooms, chopped leek, carrot, zucchini, (sad winter) tomato and fennel. A pretty serious handful of Herbes de Provence. The chicken meat from picking the bones and chopped dry salami. Cooked until the veggies were tender but still toothy. I don't use anything to thicken the broth - we like it clear and fresh.

When I ladled it into bowls, I added a sprinkle of green onion and served it, steaming, to My Beloved who just sat and inhaled the aromas before starting to eat. It's a hearty soup, rib sticking even though it's not high in calories. With a piece of toast or nice bread alongside, it's the perfect winter meal.

And it makes a lot. So, you have a big pot of soup on the stove to reheat as needed over several days. You can share some with a friend if you get tired of it but, really, what's not to like?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Naomi and Sam are in England with her parents. Lea and Whit will be back east with their families. Katie and André will be on their belated honeymoon. Sarah and Jim and our grandchildren will be in Boston with his family. Mark and Pamela will be in Michigan with their parents.

My Beloved and I will be home with Cora - we just couldn't face another separation and another airplane ride, so we're staying put despite multiple invitations. We bought a tree from the Bulldogs again this year and Janie, Jodie and Jack are coming for Christmas dinner. Even the crew of HMS Ocean is home for Christmas (even if you've seen that video before, be sure to click the link again - it's wonderful!).

In other words, everything is exactly as it should be. We hope you have a deliciously Merry Christmas and a great start to the New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Unlikely Cocktailian

As you probably know, I'm not a big drinker. My father, who art in heaven, used to chide me for having only one gin and tonic with him on the lanai while we had our spirited political discussions. He used to warn me, with a twinkle, "Pam, you are not protecting yourself from the Forces of Evil." Somewhat ironic as he is the same man who also cautioned me in my youth about drinking too much at parties. Parents can be so contrary!

What he perhaps didn't realize is that one drink is plenty to give me that warm-to-the-toes buzz that makes alcohol such a pleasure - and two drinks - well, you just don't want to go there with me.

But, when the opportunity presents itself, I'm not averse to a libation. Such an event happened this week when my Fairy Godson drove up from LA for a pre-Christmas visit and I happened to fill his stocking with a bunch of goofy things, including a box of green apple Fizzies. If you are of my generation, you probably remember Fizzies, the Pop Rocks of the Baby Boomer generation, except that we dissolved them in water and drank them like Kool-Aid.

My Fairy Godson leaped from the soft drink to the idea of a cocktail in no time - he's of the Millennial generation - and suggested Fizzie-tinis. We couldn't imagine green apple and gin would be any good, however, so we decided on vodka "martinis" and the mixology began.

I don't have a cocktail shaker, having ceded my father's sterling silver one to my younger brother, but I had a good-sized stainless steel water bottle, so we opted for that. Added vodka and ice and shook it briefly before pouring it into wine glasses that we had rinsed with vermouth (sadly, my cupboards don't run to martini glasses) and dropping the Fizzies tablets into the chilled vodka. They fizzed quietly, slowly turning the clear drink an improbable green, before the last bit floated to the top, signally the end of the fizzing phase.

Sip. It tasted like cough syrup, 'way too sweet and truly nasty.

So, we decided to add lime juice, and that improved it quite a bit but it wasn't until My Beloved suggested adding a splash of water that it really came together. I like my drinks really cold, so I added rocks and a little paper umbrella and happily slurped that puppy right down.

Making dinner afterwards was a challenge. Luckily, I had opted for a simple dinner of raclette, salumi and a salad, or I might have embarrassed myself.

Parenthetically, I have been having trouble sleeping lately. That night, I slept like a baby.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leave It To Jacques

A couple of months ago, I had the thrill of meeting Jacques Pépin, one of my culinary heroes, and asking him to sign my copy of his new book, a weighty tome called, "Essential Pépin." Can I admit that I bought it more out of hero worship than out of a real sense that I would use it to cook from?

Well, how wrong can a person be?

The very first recipe I looked at sounded simple and delicious - Grilled Thyme Pork Chops. Since we love pork and thyme, it looked like a winner. And only five ingredients - pork chops, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil - what could be easier?

Turns out, the magic is not in the ingredients but in the technique. Not a big surprise, coming from the guy who literally wrote the book, "La Technique." All you do is sprinkle the chops with the salt, pepper, thyme, and coat them with the olive oil, then grill them for 4 minutes a side on a hot grill (we've tried both our outdoor charcoal grill and the indoor JennAir, and even browned them in a frying pan and they all work), then let them rest in a warm (about 150 degree) oven for 5-10 minutes, where they finish cooking by their own residual heat.

Now, I've cooked my fair share of pork chops and I'm here to tell you, they try to be dry and tough. The pig's revenge is to toughen and shrivel up. Even thick ones have this uncompromising attitude toward heat. I have tried adding water and steaming toward the end of the cooking, covering them with moist sauces, and even eating them so rare that I feared trichinosis, but as often as not, they went to their fallback position - leathery and dry.

No longer. Every time we have used Jacques' recipe, they have been pale pink, juicy and perfect. One time, My Beloved, who thinks he's not much of a cook, used the recipe while I was out for the evening, and even he had a smashing success.

Leave it to Jacques to figure out how to keep pork chops juicy while making the preparation simple and easy. You even get some light goozle in the bottom of the pan to drizzle over your absolutely perfect chops.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Miracle

Sometimes after my Masters swimming coach has worked us especially hard, I take myself out to one of the two Chinese restaurants in our little town and let someone else make my lunch.

This last time, my dessert fortune cookie said, "You will soon witness a miracle." I've never before had such a lovely message from a fortune cookie. Made me wish they all said that, so everyone who eats Chinese would feel the sense of delicious anticipation that I felt.

All week, I waited for my miracle. Was it the spectacular sunset that very same evening? It certainly seemed otherworldly in its fiery splendor. Was it the simple sound of My Beloved's car pulling into the carport after a long business trip? Maybe it was watching the progress on my neighbor's water heater - he has a serious illness and a friend of his gave three days of struggling to help him put in a new one. As lovely as those things were, nothing seemed quite to rise to the level of "miracle," but I was out there looking.

Wednesday rolled around, as it does every week; in my little world, that means tutoring in the early morning. I struggle out of bed and, rather than don my bathrobe and fuzzy flipflops, I actually hit the shower and get dressed as if I was still going to my job. Feed the dog and walk her quickly around the block, hoping for a little extra time to stop for a to-go cup of coffee before heading over to the school.

This week, I had little presents for my students to mark their progress and the holidays. A funny little bookmark for Maria - I'm a reading tutor, after all. A cute little stuffed hamster with a Santa hat for Yadira - she loves animals. And a small foam ball that is printed like a globe for Jay - boys are hard to buy for if you are looking for something non-violent. I gave them each the choice of opening the present right away or saving it for Christmas; unanimously, they chose immediacy. Bright wrappings gave way to smiles - a small triumph for me since I do not have children of my own and have to guess what second graders might like.

Jay has not been as open a child as either Maria or Yadira who, when they aren't reading, are chattering away about their lives and their families. Jay is polite and sweet and earnest, but there is a reserve about him that I haven't melted in nearly five months. After Jay's turn at reading, I offered him his present. When he opened his globe ball, he smiled his shy smile and said, wonderingly, "It's the world!" meeting my eyes and twinkling, turning the colorful globe this way and that, and bouncing it experimentally on the floor. He gave me his brief, stiff little hug and went back to his desk still examining his present.

Maria was next and halfway through her lesson, Jay came running back, so excited that he interrupted us to say, "Ms Pam! Ms Pam! I found Sweden!" pointing proudly to the bright yellow country on the blue background.

And there was my miracle, shining out of his dark eyes - his sharing of that discovery with me, barriers broken down for that instant, getting to witness that spark of the pleasure of discovery in his young face.

I'm saving that little slip of fortune cookie paper carefully, taping it into the spiral bound notebook where I keep important quotes and ideas. Who knows what other miracles I may witness in the future?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Something I'd Hate To Lose

Whenever we go to the Kensington farmer's market, we look for Scott at the Fifth Quarter booth - he always has something wonderful to try. If it's not smoked tongue, it's wonderful pancetta or mouthwatering salumi.

This time, he urged me to try his Toulouse sausage. It's a pork sausage, like sweet Italian sausage except for the flavorings, which are completely different and which stopped My Beloved in mid-bite to moan with pleasure.

The label states that Toulouse sausage is made with heritage pork, white wine, organic garlic, organic herbs, spices and sea salt. Scott said that the herbs include thyme, which has to be my all-time favorite herb, so I was sold.

Rather than serve them simply as sausages, I decided to squeeze out bibbits of the meat into a hot frying pan to make meatballs for a simple pasta dish. Once the meatballs were richly browned, I removed them to a plate, poured off the extra fat and, in turn, sautéed onion, garlic, mushrooms, celery and broccoli in the same pan.

When the veggies were mostly done, I added a couple of small ladlefuls of the pasta water to the pan, stirring it around to collect the caramelized gold off the bottom of the pan, and added just a splash of cream (half and half) to the pan to make a brownish sauce. That's why my pasta looks like whole wheat when it was really just plain white.

I rolled the meatballs back into the pan along with the juices that had collected, stirred that all in and covered it briefly just to finish steaming the veggies and warming the meatballs. Drain the pasta and throw it in with the rest for another toss with all that goodness and plate. What could be simpler?

This is one of those dishes that will go into frequent rotation at our house. Anything that makes my man stop, close his big blue eyes and groan with pleasure is my kind of meal, one that I'd hate to lose.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

T'is The Season(ing)

When we visit Hawaii, we always bring back a little something for our neighbors who kindly accept packages for us and generally keep an eye on our house while we are away. It's also the holiday season, a traditional time for gift giving. So, in grocery stores or shops in Hawaii, I'm always on the lookout for something fun to pique their interest.

This time, I found several different rubs from a new-to-me company, Aloha Spice Company in Hanapepe on the island of Kaua'i.

The ingredients on the label of Pele's Smokey Coffee Rub, the first one I tried, are organic herbs and spices, Kaua'i coffee, Hawaiian 'Alaea sea Salt, organic sugar and natural smoke flavor. Some of the spice is clearly from peppers - it has a little of Pele's heat in it.

The package recommended it for use on steaks, chicken or pork and we had a small chicken from Marin Sun Farms in the freezer, so that was our choice. We rubbed it lightly on the chicken and, laying the chicken on a square of foil to deflect the heat of the coals, grilled it for about 40 minutes on the Weber. The coffee flavor was pronounced, the heat was light and sneaky, the salt was more of an undertone than a strong presence, just the way we like it.

Clearly, this is a product we will be happy to share with our good neighbors. It was great on the chicken but I can imagine it on grilled pineapple and even roasted potatoes. I'll try that one day soon and let you know what I think.

A certain couple I know is considering going vegan for a while, and this might make that effort even more interesting, as all the ingredients are organic and vegetable or mineral based.

If you'd like to learn about the company or order some of their products, here's the website:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eggs That Dr. Seuss Would Have Loved

Since I run the circus,
at least in my kitchen,
I cook as I like,
Don't listen to no bitchin'.

If I feel like poaching eggs
In the same water as veggies
We all have to eat them,
Even pale green and edgy.

The mushrooms were browned
And the broccoli quite green
The toast was all toasty,
Our appetites were keen.

Don't worry too much about the strange hue,
Green eggs or white eggs,
Both are fabu!

(With apologies to the late, great Dr. Seuss)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Groovy Tongue

When I was a newlywed the first time, my then-husband revealed a dirty little secret he didn't tell me before we took the vows - he loved tongue.

Boiling tongue, even if you like it, is not a job for the faint of heart. And when your new hubby is a grad student on a serious budget, you don't go to the deli to get it - you cook it yourself, at home.

Now, I like a nice tongue sandwich, but I'm really not sure I'd have married him had I known that beforehand.

First, you have to get past the size of the darn thing - who knew tongues, even tongues from cows, could possibly be that big. It's hard to find a pot roomy enough to fit it in.

Then there's the texture, as rough as a cat's tongue and, being a cat lover as I am, the comparisons with beloved pets leap horribly to mind.

Then you boil the thing forever (otherwise, it's tough as old boots) and, after it cools, you have to skin it. The skin peels off pretty easily - pallid, rubbery and leathery.

Are you ready for dinner yet? I certainly wasn't. I'd feed my young hus the same night but I could never face tongue without an intervening day or so while my brain suppressed all the revolting steps of preparation.

So, you can imagine my delight when I found thinly-sliced, already-smoked tongue from the Fifth Quarter at the Kensington farmers' market last Sunday! Huzzah! Scott Brennan had done all the icky bits himself, including the smoking, and saved me the trauma. If that isn't a groovy find, I don't know what is.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Variations On A Theme

Now that I know how easy it is to make pot pie, it seems I'm making one nearly every time I roast a chicken, or have leftover lamb. Sometimes, I top the lamb ones with mashed potatoes, magically transforming them into shepherd's pie, but mostly I just use the Star Dough that I have learned to love and rely on.

Usually there's enough chicken left for two pies, one for us and one for my neighbor, who is having a very busy time right now. If I'm not in the mood for pot pie right after having had the chicken, I freeze it for later - they freeze beautifully.

This variation included sautéed crimini mushrooms and triangles of Star Dough instead of a full crust - otherwise, I made it just like this one. They are all variations on a theme, but the theme is so delicious, My Beloved who generally loves variety doesn't seem to mind.

In fact, his first bite of the one with mushrooms made him close his eyes, all the more to savor the flavors. That's always a good sign around here.

Friday, December 9, 2011


This year, Thanksgiving fell on a Tuesday.

We had spent the traditional Thanksgiving day on the Big Island, then flew to Oahu to my brother's house. That Tuesday, we all gathered around their big teak dining table and enjoyed a real family Thanksgiving, complete with ham and squash, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Cousin Jan was with us (she's in the bright blue shirt) and, of course, Litheia, who has been our friend for more than 40 years, plus my brother and his family, me and My Beloved.

I learned many years ago from my pal Wendy that Thanksgiving doesn't necessarily happen on the fourth Thursday of November - it happens whenever your people get together and celebrate the good things in life. Good health, good food, good spirits, good friends. It doesn't matter if the china matches or if you get out the good silverware. All that matters is that you join hands around the table and thank whatever deity you choose for all the pleasures of the year.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hawaiian Seduction

Whenever I visit my family in Hawaii, I try to eat mostly foods that I can only find in Hawaii - malasadas, fresh fish, plate lunch and truly ripe pineapples. Of course, that doesn't restrict one to poi and pulled pork from the imu these days - all the other cultures that have flavored Hawaii have brought their own favorites with them.

Like this one. Spam™ musubi (pronounced moo-soo-bee with the accent on the bee). The sticky rice, the nori (seaweed wrapper) and the name are all obviously Japanese in origin, but the Spam™ is pure "coast haole" food, transplanted to Hawaii from some Mainland factory. I suppose Spam™ became popular in the Islands because the can keeps it fresh on the long ocean voyage, because it keeps in the pantry virtually forever - and because it is simply delicious. Call it a guilty pleasure if you will, but when I'm in Hawaii, I am actively on the hunt for Spam™musubi.

You can get "Hawaiian food" on the Mainland but it's never the same. The fish is never as fresh, the rice is never as sticky, the pineapple is never as sweet. There is something about eating in the open air with a soft, warm breeze teasing your hair and a flower tucked behind one ear that makes the whole meal special.

We found this hearty musubi, made from a slab of Spam™ cut the long way from the loaf, up by the volcano where we stopped for a lunch. Cousin Jan, who graced us with her company on this trip, was initially skeptical about taking a bite, but we cajoled and urged until she caved and tried it. "Not horrible," was her comment; I'm convinced that with repetition she will grow to love it. Everyone does, sooner or later.

Spam@musubi is like Hawaii - seductive.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Big Island Baby

While in Hawaii last week, we went to the Big Island where we had one of the better dinners it has been my distinct pleasure to consume. We ate at Monette's in the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

If you've never been the the Big Island, or never visited the Mauna Kea, I can certainly recommend both. The Big Island really is big, as big in area as the state of Connecticut and very diverse as to climate and landscape. There can be snow on the top of Mauna Kea when it's 85 degrees in Kailua Kona and 60 degrees and raining at the steaming vents of the volcano. The newly formed land looks like a moonscape but the older parts are as lushly green and tropical as the travel posters of Hawaii always promise. We enjoy the diversity of landscape on the Big Island, and the change of weather from place to place.

And the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a wonderful place. It's down on the coast, where it's warm and mostly always sunny. It is one of the few large hotels that is designed to give you that true, open air Hawaiian experience. All the public rooms are open to the breeze and all have stunning views. The beach is lovely, fine white sand. A friend of mine who lived in Hawaii for many years remarked that the Mauna Kea "is the way God would have done a resort if He had had the money." I'm inclined to agree. We can't afford to stay there but we have enjoyed meals in their restaurants and watching the sunset from their lanai with a drink and a plate of pupus to hand.

We had a splendid dinner but what was really memorable was a fresh, ripe, local tomato salad in late November. Red all the way to the center and dressed simply with a tad of goat cheese, some nippy little greens and a light vinaigrette, they were richly, ripely delicious. And they were grown less than 10 miles away.

They are growing lots of local produce on the Big Island now and Waimea tomatoes are some of the best. We visited a couple of farmer's markets in Kamuela and found lettuce so beautiful that it could have been used ornamentally in a garden, local fresh fruits and vegetables, poi, Hawaiian plate lunches, local fresh fish and even malasadas hot from the oil and crinkling with sugar. Less and less is being imported from the Mainland as Hawaiians take full advantage of their climate to grow fresh veggies right there.

The Big Island has always been ranching country, home to one of the largest privately owned ranches in the United States, the Parker Ranch. The beef is wonderful and we saw many sheep as we drove along. The Big Island is shaping up to be a foodie heaven.

We always enjoy our trips to the Big Island of Hawaii and look forward to the next one each time we leave. I could easily become a Big Island baby - just give me the chance!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shave Ice

It had beans in the bottom.

Yes, beans.

Guess where we went.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

New All-Time Low


I thought air travel had gotten about as bad as it was possible to be. I've been flying so long that I can actually remember when the stewardess (as flight attendants were called in antediluvian times) would cook your filet mignon to order - yes, on a commercial airline. Back then, the airlines competed with service, trying to lure passengers by being the most friendly, delicious, accommodating, helpful.

Along came deregulation, and airlines began competing on price alone, and the services, one by one, were dropped. No more helpful reservations people who would even book you for a connecting flight on a different airline if their own flight wasn't convenient. Now, we all go to discount websites and look for the cheapest flights. Even as a frequent flyer, those open seats became very hard to schedule and required more and more miles before eligibility.

Luggage, something that was once included in your ticket price as long as you didn't exceed two enormously heavy bags, has also changed. Now, they charge (except for Southwest, bless their hearts!) for even the first bag - and it's a hefty charge. Overweight bags are even more. The result has been that everyone tries to cram their entire wardrobe into a roll-aboard bag that is really too big to fit in the overhead compartments, but they try to stuff them in regardless. Since many passengers haven't the upper body strength or the height to hoist that weight over their heads and into a bin, the risk to already-seated passengers is real and immediate. More than once, I have had to duck falling luggage. The flight attendants, who didn't sign up to be baggage handlers, must hate this, too.

Long lines. I frankly don't believe that the safety screenings at airports will deter a determined terrorist - in my view, it's a colossal waste of money and time. However, I'm willing to undergo the invasive screenings and the long lines if it helps other people feel safe. But, when the long lines form at understaffed ticket counters where they have inadequate staff to teach the average bozo how to print out his own boarding pass, that truly honks me off. Lines to check your luggage, lines to go through security, lines to board the aircraft, lines to pick up your luggage (surprisingly, the number of lost bags seems to have declined over the years - a small triumph for airline travel) - if there was any real alternative, I'd avoid all these #*&#%* lines and never fly again.

Food quality dropped along with the prices, too. No more macadamia nuts; now, you're lucky to get peanuts instead of some random pretzel thingie - if you get anything at all for free - even on cross-country flights. Now most airlines will sell you an overpriced "snack box" of stuff that Michael Pollan aptly labeled "food-like substances." Only soft drinks are still free, and I'm pretty sure beancounters at the airlines will soon clamor to charge for those, too.

I thought air travel had gotten about as bad as it was possible to be. I was wrong. It has reached a new all-time low.

On a recent flight to visit family, I was offered a cup of coffee. Sure, why not?

This is what came - instant coffee in a packet and a cup of warm water to dissolve it in. Holy crap! What is this world coming to when even coffee, that staple drink of pilots, isn't brewed on board any more? I don't expect 100% Kona coffee, but couldn't it at least be brewed? All the cutesy slogans printed on the paper napkins won't make up for the lousy service, the long lines, the narrow seats, the crummy food and the all-around discomfort of flying.

United lost my 40-year loyalty on this last trip, even though the flights themselves were on time and the pilots did a good job of landing those giant airplanes, kissing down on the runway like a butterfly both times. The hassle just isn't worth it.

Okay, if you read all that, thanks for letting me get it off my chest. If you didn't, I can hardly blame you, so I hope you'll come back tomorrow, when things will be more cheerful around here.


Friday, December 2, 2011

15 Things I'd Miss

A few days ago, I happened across David Leibovitz's article entitled "15 Things I'd Miss About Paris If I Moved Away." It inspired me to think about what I would miss about the Bay area if I moved away.

1. The Bridges. Many people here think of the bridges across the bay as a nuisance to be avoided if possible. I don't. I love crossing them, admiring them, photographing them. Even the Erector Set ™ of the Richmond bridge is stunning in certain lights.

2. The Beauty. It staggers me every day. The land, the hills juxtaposed against the always-changing water. Never boring and always inspirational.

3. The Bay. The water, the opportunities for recreation, the light reflected from it. In it, on it, whatever.

4. My Beloved - he might not move. He LOVES this area and even becomes slightly defensive if anyone criticizes it.

5. The Produce - I can get good meats anywhere, and seafood in many places, but the veggies...

6. My Neighbors - I figure my friends would visit me, but maybe not my neighbors. They are an important part of life here and I would miss knowing their day-to-days.

7. Mount Tam. Visible from my kitchen window, it seems almost sacred to me. I'm not at all religious, but there are places in nature that touch the spiritual side of my nature. Mount Tamalpais is one of those.

8. Diversity. One of the first and best things I noticed about the bay area is the wonderful diversity here. In Rochester, "diversity" meant either black or white, with a sprinkling of Asian. Here, it means every possible color, creed, food and culture, all living in relative harmony and mutual tolerance and reading quietly on the BART. I love the variety.

9. Openmindedness/Acceptance of difference. I have seen people being panhandled in San Francisco and looking annoyed, until a policeman started hassling the panhandler, whereupon the panhandlee started defending the beggar. "He's not hurting anyone. Let him be." It's a small example but a powerful one to me of how accepting people here are of individual lifestyle choices. Laissez-faire is the watchword here, and I enjoy that.

10. Dungeness Crab. I have enjoyed Alaska's king crabs and the east coast's blue crabs but none can compare with Dungeness crab. And it's crab season again! Hooray!

11. The Hills. Walking the hills of this area has strengthened my legs and my wind. I also like that they lift me up high enough to get lovely vistas to enjoy after all that exercise. And, from the hills themselves are beautiful. I have learned to drive competently on hills here, another small triumph. I'm a fan of hills.

12. The Absence of Bugs and Humidity. Even living as we do close to the water, the humidity level is rarely oppressive. It can be hot in the sun but as soon as you reach shade, it's cool again. Lovely. No one except perhaps an entomologist loves insects and even entomologists don't necessarily want to live with them. We only have screens on our bedroom windows - for the most part, the few insects that fly in to the rest of the house just fly back out after they have spent a little time circling.

13. The Plunge. Our municipal swimming pool is as close to ideal as it's possible to have. Solar heated and saline cleaned, it's warm, huge and inviting. Those folks in the early 1920s really knew how to build a community resource and I'm proud that my generation paid to have it renovated and improved.

14. The San Francisco Chronicle. For all it's quirky reporting (the headline often implies the opposite of what the body of the article says), I love the green and pink sections, the goofy stories they find, the columnists and editorials. It may not be world class but it's homey and it's ours. I love hearing the early morning thump that signals its arrival on our doorstep, unfolding the big pages, reading the comics and Dear Abby first, then tackling the hard news of the day. The Chronicle is struggling now, like so much of print journalism - I hope it survives.


One of the good things about moving every two years in the Navy was the realization that each place has its pluses and minuses - and no place is perfect. Newfoundland, for example, has a rugged, grudging climate, but also breathcatching natural beauty. Japan's ancient culture is as amazing and refined as its benjo ditches are smelly. Hawaii's beauty is unsurpassed in the world, but it is insect heaven.

Thinking about this gave me a fine appreciation for the everyday pleasures of living here. It's an interesting exercise to do wherever you live, and whether or not you actually like the place where you are living.

15. I'll leave the 15th open for you to tell me what you'd miss most about California (or your current location) if you moved away.