Friday, March 30, 2012

Family Wedding

It was good cake. Each layer had a different flavor, so there was variety as well as beauty. It was decorated with fresh flowers, as I think wedding cakes should be - so much nicer than roses made from that Crisco icing. The culmination of a fine celebration.

Weddings have always amused and puzzled me. When I was a child, I thought marriages started at weddings but, in fact, the commitment has already been made once the wedding rolls around. So, it is really just a celebration that the two have found their other half. As the minister put it at this wedding, "They have not found the one they can live with; they have found the one they cannot live without."

Celebration, and public pronouncement. It's hard to go back on your word when everyone you know and love heard you promise. You can do it if life turns out to be otherwise unbearable, but it's difficult, as it should be. Unless you're a Kardashian. Enough said.

My Beloved and I went to Phoenix, Arizona last weekend to celebrate my nephew's wedding and for a chance to reconnect with the rest of the family, and to learn about the new branch of the family that was being grafted on. Luckily, we like them and even found some kindred spirits among them.

I got to see both of my brothers in the same room - since they are 16 years apart in age, it's fun to note the differences, and the similarities. And to see my brothers' children and even my older brother's grandchildren. It's a pleasure to get all the kids together and a miracle to see how healthy and relatively happy they all are. We recognize that our family is blessed in a very real sense.

While we were there, the issue of same-sex marriage came up. Knowing we are from liberal San Francisco, heads turned toward us when this topic arose and I didn't disappoint. I gave them my liberal views on the matter. They were polite and no one argued with me; if they held dissenting opinions, they were too well-mannered to say so.

To me, it's all about love and who gives a hoot about what people do in their bedrooms? Sex, although you wouldn't know it from the emphasis and attention it gets in our culture, takes up a relatively small part of one's day, unless one is on one's honeymoon. What's the big deal? If people are in love and the loving makes them happy, shouldn't everyone just rejoice in their union as we did for our heterosexual couple? To whom they make love seems less important to me than that they do love and support one another.

Anyway, we had a splendid time. We ate too much at too many lovely parties. We laughed and kidded each other. We drank gallons of water in that amazingly dry desert and too much champagne. We toasted two family members who couldn't make the trip. We took a zillion photographs in addition to those taken by the professional photographer, and some of them were pretty good. We'll be sharing those photos and those memories for years to come. It was a good family wedding.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Just Close Your Eyes And Eat

There are days when my concoctions don't quite work out. Despite fresh, organic, locally sourced ingredients, the resulting dinner just looks like something that Cora threw up. This dinner was like that, a total mess.

I was doing fine as I chunked my crimini mushrooms, cut up my broccoli florets, sautéed my spicy Italian sausage for tiny meatballs, and sliced my garlic. The water was madly boiling when I added my pappardelle to it and I was sailing along.

When the pappardelle was almost ready, I removed the sausage bits and sautéed the mushrooms and then the broccoli in the same pan with a driz of extra olive oil as the sausage had been lean. I added about half a cup of half-and-half to the pan with the four cloves of sliced garlic, thinking to make a really garlicky sauce for the pasta. I found an interesting bottle of herbs, too, called "Pasta Sprinkles," no doubt a hostess gift from a friend, so I added a shaking of that and some smoked paprika to the mix. Returned the sausage to the pan and then I had the bright idea to add some plain yogurt to the boiling sauce, to give it a little kick of sour flavor.

Not a good idea. The yogurt separated instantly into curds and whey, breaking the sauce and turning it a sullen shade of tan with islands of cream-colored curd. I'm not sure what I did wrong - maybe should have added the yogurt at the last minute off the heat? - but it looked disastrous.

Still, I reasoned that everything in that pan was good and tasty - it might not look like it was, but it simply must be! So, I cooked it down a bit more, added fresh black pepper and a sprinkling of salt, and slapped it onto plates. What the hell!

I instructed My Beloved to close his eyes and take a bite - and it worked! The sauce was really quite good. The yogurt did just what I hoped it would, giving a little tang of sour to the otherwise bland sauce and pointing up the other flavors. The garlic was present and accounted for but gentled by the cream, and the mushrooms added their funk to the slightly salty sausage. All in all, it was as good a meal as I have made in a month, even if it did look like road kill.

Just close your eyes and eat!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Let There Be Light

On our trip to Santa Barbara recently, we stopped in tiny Cambria overnight where they have a Cora-friendly inn and fun little weekend-getaway shops. As we were heading to dinner, My Beloved stopped dead in the middle of the sidewalk and called me back to peer through the window of a local art gallery. He does that a lot - he's much more observant than I am and he loves to point out cool stuff to me.

So, Cora and I put aside thoughts of dinner for the moment and trudged back to see what had caught his eye.

It was this chandelier and it was love at first sight.

The gallery had a sign out front professing to be dog friendly, so we all went right in and looked up to admire it first hand. The colorful glass votives are made by a local glass artist. Apparently, he normally makes all the votives the same color; he just made this multicolored one on a whim. We were so glad for his whimsy - we wouldn't have been so taken with the other kind.

We picked it up in San Francisco a few days ago and it sat on the floor in the living room while we gathered the courage to try hanging it ourselves. Finally, last weekend, we tackled the task. We turned off the electricity to the room and, with side-by-side ladders, me holding and he attaching, we managed to get it assembled, hung and lighted without seriously damaging our regard for one another.

You can't really tell from the photo but the electrified part is stainless steel, polished to a matte finish. The globes are all different bright colors and signed by the artist. The light it casts on the dining table is soft and glowing, flattering to complexions and warmly welcoming. We are thrilled to bits; we keep turning it on, basking in the twin glows of illumination and accomplishment.

Let there be light.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Café Composition

Since I retired, I don't get into San Francisco as often as I once did. I will go in for museum trips and such, but mostly I'm content in my little suburban world. But, every now and then, I have an errand that demands a trip to the big city and, when that happens, I like to treat myself to a taste of city sophistication.

There are sights to see in the city that I would never see in the 'burbs, things that delight me even though they are not my style. One such this past trip was a wonderful pair of rain boots on a young woman, the exact green color and material of Wellington boots, but with high heels and some rather stylish and sexy white crisscross lacing up the backs. Sort of like these, only the lacing was up the back, the boots were knee-high and they were more graceful than these. I'm not sure why they tickled me so much but when I complimented the wearer, she assured me I was the eighth or so person to remark upon them that day.

Another thing I like about city visits is the chance to stop in to the Café de la Presse for lunch. My errand completed and it being just 11:30am, I popped in and found a table right away. I like the pseudo-French atmosphere and the prompt service. I had a scrumptious lobster salad that was too expensive and worth every dime, and treated myself to a café au lait for dessert while I read my latest book, a detailed and sometimes hilarious account of John Wesley Powell's expedition to explore the Grand Canyon, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, by Wallace Stegner. In a couple of places, I chuckled out loud while reading, making the woman at the next table look curiously over from her Kindle.

I drove home with a stomach full of lobster salad and a head full of Stegner's clever writing, having had a marvelous time. Each time this happens, I remind myself that I should do it more often. Next time, I hope I will listen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dual Of The Muffins

Chez nous, we are having a small disagreement over which is the better brand of English muffin, our usual gold standard, Thomas', or the challenger, Bays. My friend Wendy has always preferred the Bays; My Beloved swears by the Thomas'.

Until recently, I was in MB's camp but in the past couple of months had found the Thomas' of my youth to have changed in some subtle way to have a sort of pasty, flat flavor that I usually associate with using margarine in baked goods. I wondered if they had changed the recipe.

I happened, in the dairy section of my supermarket, upon a package of the Bays while he was out of town on business and decided to give them a whirl. Lonely wives will do desperate, disloyal things if left too long alone. I found that I liked them very much, so decided to schedule a side-by-side taste test when My Beloved returned from the business wars.

In our test, we bought the packages of muffins on the same day (we had wondered if we kept the Thomas' too long in the fridge and that resulted in the "off" flavor), toasted them in the same toaster and spread them with the same amount of unsalted butter. We each ate half of a Thomas' and half of a Bays. Truly a scientific test, no?

The Bays are pre-split, coming apart easily; the Thomas' must be coaxed apart. The Thomas' take longer in the toaster to reach the perfect level of golden brown toastiness. The taste of the first bite of the two is remarkably similar, but My Beloved likes that part of the Thomas' muffin is crunchy and part stays soft. In my view, the soft part of the Thomas' is the part that tastes "off," and I like mostly-crunchy muffins.

The off flavor is not my imagination; when I reviewed the content label on the packages, sure enough, the Bays are made with butter and the Thomas' use soy oil as a shortener. My mother used to swear she could taste the difference in baked goods made with different shorteners and I seem to have inherited that discernment from her. The soy oil is probably better for you but my taste buds still insist upon the butter.

We are at an impasse on this one - MB still likes Thomas' better and I'm a convert to Bays. Luckily, we can both be happy - on the rare occasions that we indulge in English muffins, I'll get one package of each.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Corned Beef And Cabbage(s)

We had our St. Patrick's Day dinner a day early. It wasn't any sort of Irish rebellion, it just happened that way.

I have tried cooking cabbage in the corned beef water for enough years to realize I just don't like boiled cabbage. It's okay, just not inspiring. So, this year, I went out on one of those other branches of the prolific Brassica family tree and served steamed Brussels sprouts, in effect, mini-cabbages, instead. They certainly adhered to the idea of the wearin' of the green.

In fact, they were perhaps a little too green - pretty, but a little too chewy for our taste. Should have sautéed them in butter to finish them, then they'd have been perfect.

Still for a simple meal, it wasn't half bad.

I think I was about 12 years old when I learned that I am half Irish. My mother came from a prominent New England family, Mayflower material with a President or two thrown in, so as kids we heard a lot about her line. We used to ask Dad about his lineage and he'd always laugh and say, "After they hung all the horse thieves and murderers, we've been a very pure line ever since." I'm not sure if he was embarrassed about his "lace curtain Irish" ancestors or if he really just didn't give a hoot, but it took my Irish grandmother coming to live with us before I learned about my heritage.

I was thrilled. I had fallen in love with Sean Connery while watching "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," so I loved dreaming that I might find a guy like him in my future. Of course, later I learned that he's actually Scottish, but for a few years I had some wonderful fantasies. A few years later, John Kennedy was running for President and once again I was glad of a shared heritage.

One of these days, I want to do what so many Irish Americans have done and visit Ireland. We know the towns from whence issued my four great-grandparents on that side, three in the south and one in Northern Ireland, and I'd like to see them all. One of my great-grandfathers went to Trinity College in Dublin, too, so I'd like to stop in there in his honor.

In the meantime, I enjoy wearing green each St. Patrick's Day and eating Irish-inspired goodies. Corned beef and cabbage(s) is a treat at least once a year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Café Conversations

I'm taking an online photography course, a really fun one called "Slice of Life." It was recommended by Tea of Tea and Cookies last Christmas, so treated myself to the six-week course that began in February. It's very supportive and easygoing, everyone leaves encouraging comments when we post pictures to the Flickr site, and I'm learning a lot.

I am finding that several years of food photography has sharpened my eye for framing and taught me a bit about my camera, but still I'm learning from this course, all very interesting.

One of the basic lessons is to look for the light - where it comes from and its quality - as evidenced in this mosaic. Light is everything in photography. I'm also learning computer-related things, even though they are not strictly a part of the lessons - how to post pictures to Flickr, how to edit photos using editing tools, and how to make mosaics. So, I made this one using Picasa, something else I learned this week, editing some of the photos before making them into the collage.

I took this series of snapshots at Della Fattoria in Petaluma, where friend Bonnie, cousin Jan and I rested and feasted after a morning of taking bird pictures at a nearby refuge. The food was, as always, fresh, locally sourced and beautifully prepared. While I was eating, I was taking surreptitious pictures of the conversations going on around us. They made a fun collage of the experience.

Another bonus of the course is the chance to see hundreds and hundreds of other people's photos and how they interpret the six weeks of lessons. We get two lessons per week, so there are lots of pictures to examine, analyze and comment upon. All this for a mere $99.00 and a time commitment.

The instructor is Darrah Parker, a charming young Seattleite who has her own photography business. The students sign on from all over the world. It's startling to see pictures of winter in other countries when it's coming on for spring here; the mix of cultures is clear in the photographs as well. So, too, is the mixture of cultures right here in the US.

Slice of Life is a very personal photographic journey, teaching us the technical lessons through appreciation of our own lives and surroundings. I have enjoyed learning about the technical aspects but also beginning to see and appreciate my own world more clearly. It would be a great birthday gift for a pal, or even for yourself. It's like a café conversation with a friend - engaging, interesting and satisfying.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Japanese Art

Ever since I lived in Japan as a teenager, I have loved Japanese art. Its refinement, its sensitivity to nature, its exquisite craftsmanship all stop me in my tracks to stare, open-mouthed in appreciation. I took a short course in sumi-e painting when I lived in Japan and, although I was never any good at it, it gave me a more in-depth appreciation for the work I saw others making.

Japanese food is an art form, too, albeit a temporary one. At its best, it is refined, sensitive to nature and beautifully crafted, just like the other arts of Japan. I remember going to a banquet in Japan and being served, as one of about a dozen courses, a whole Dungeness crab on a platter. It was exquisite, all bright orange on a bed of seaweed, but I stared at it in social trepidation, thinking "Jeez, how are we going to eat that with chop sticks?" My Japanese dinner companions showed me that the shell had been sliced and so cunningly reassembled that it looked whole but was actually in perfect pieces for picking up daintily with chopsticks. We had little language in common but we all enjoyed the delicate perfection of that beautiful crab.

My Dad was less appreciative of Japanese food than my Mom and I were; in a Japanese restaurant, he always ordered tempura, saying with a twinkle that the rest of the menu was "bait." Mom and I just ignored him and scarfed down our sashimi.

Last week, some of the women on our little alley treated our friend Doreen to a sushi lunch in Berkeley. My expectation was for pretty good food, but presentation with those little plastic, serrated leaves and perhaps sectioned black faux lacquer boxes with red insides. You know the kind I mean. I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful decor and the attractive place settings. When this plate was served to one of my companions, I knew we were in for a treat.

We each ordered and ate separate things, and I won't go in to detail about each dish, but suffice it to say that even the usually-humble miso soup drew appreciative ooohs and the edamame was spectacular. I love edamame in any form, but when it comes cooked to bright green perfection with golden garlic, cilantro and other delicious mysteries, it is something very special.

Then this white plate showed up. I can unequivocally state that this is the best sushi I have ever tasted. Everything was fresh and beautifully prepared, with lovely little touches like flowers made of ginger and tiny tobiko that popped crisply between the teeth. The presentation of each dish was as beautiful as this one, a feast for the eye as well as the tongue. We all sat around taking bites from each others' dishes and nodding with mouths full and eyes rolling.

If you like sushi, and even if you think you don't, go try Sushi29 on Solano in Berkeley. The food is a work of art.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Heating Things Up

On a recent trip to Mississippi to visit his Mom, Jim Sartain bought this box of potentially hellish instant pork rinds and brought it back to share. He doled out some to different pals, including several packages in the original box for me.

Okay, is this where I admit I had never tasted a pork rind before in my life? Never mind a hot n' (sic) spicy one. Never mind a microwaved one. I'm all for new culinary adventures but I admit to a certain skepticism at the outset.

Here's the deal: you take out one of the little clear plastic packages; redistribute evenly in the bag the future rinds, which look and feel like pieces of hard plastic about 1/2" square and dusted with deeply suspicious, reddish-brown spices; place the bag in the microwave oven; blast on full whack for about 4-5 minutes; remove carefully, as the bag is now hot as a firecracker; the rinds have puffed up to roughly 20x their original size; cut open the bag and eat.

Some kind of wacky miracle has happened in that few minutes. The rinds are now as puffed as a down jacket and crisp, full of porky bubbles, as light as a feather. They are a tiny bit greasy, but not unpleasantly so. And they are SPICY! For me, on the threshold of hell, but then we all know I'm a spice wimp. Still, they were so good that I kept eating them and, oddly, savoring the burn. This must be how masochists feel on a good day. It seems a contradiction but, à chacun son gout, n'est-ce pas?

Whatever. I enjoyed the heck out of these little blasts from the Deep South. How Deep South is it? Well, to hear tell, when asked for a breakfast English muffin in a restaurant down there, the response was "We don't have foreign foods."

They may not know about English muffins yet, but they surely do know their pork rinds and I, for one, am happy to heat things up here in sunny California.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blog Crush

I can't recall how I stumbled upon "A Cup of Jo," my latest blog crush, but I'm enjoying it very much. Jo is a young, thirty-something woman who lives in NYC with a handsome huz and a sweet baby boy. Now, if you could draw a polar opposite to me in every way except gender, it would probably be Jo.

Jo is young, slender, lively, fashion conscious, interested in "The Bachelor" series on TV, has a son, lives happily in a huge city, and hardly cooks at all. Still, I get a kick out of reading about peeptoe wedges and dark chocolate ice cream on her blog even though I wouldn't be found dead in the former and I found the latter to be 'way too intense. Jo has a way of making killing your feet and your waistline sound like fun.

Jo is on a mission to learn how to cook a few "classics" like mac and cheese and scrambled eggs. Isn't that cute? She posted recently about making a breakfast sandwich, one of my favorite foods, so I decided to try her way and see if I liked it.

Now, recognize that she started with a slice of American cheese, that ghastly bright orange kind that comes individually wrapped in plastic. Like peeptoe wedges, that's something that is simply never going to happen in my house. But, otherwise, it seemed like a nice, simple way to turn an egg and a piece of cheese into breakfast. So, I made one myself, subbing in a slice of Swiss and some nutty wheatberry toast. I also added a slice of Canadian bacon for flavor; I briefly sauteéd it in the pan to warm it, then removed it to the waiting toast before pouring in the egg, placing the cheese on top, cooking briefly, and folding it into an eggy envelope.

The result was divinely oozy and unctuous, tender egg and warm cheese counterpointed by the light smoke of the bacon and the crunch of the toast. Even while I was wolfing it down, I was thinking of tweaks to this basic recipe, herbs to add and different cheeses, mentally making lots of different breakfasts.

So, Jo and I live on opposite coasts, have different lives, and don't share much in the way of preferences, but I find her to be a delight. Go see if you agree.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pork Pépin

I have talked about Jacques Pépin's book, "Essential Pépin" so often that you are going to think I'm getting kickbacks from the author.

Nothing could be further from the truth; I worship the great man from afar and the numbers who read my blog are vanishingly small; no publicist has come around with tempting offers.

So you know my praise is genuine, untainted by filthy lucre. And it is praise, indeed. This time, we were having pork tenderloin for dinner and I had cut it into medallions to brown and serve - the quickest and best use of a pork tenderloin in my view.

For one thing, you can cut as many or as few as you need. My Beloved and I are not dieting, exactly, but we are trying to watch portion sizes, our besetting sin. So, instead of serving three or four as I might easily have done before, I cut a modest two each. I also like that each piece is nicely caramelized in the cooking. I had the idea to consult with Chef Pépin and dinner was on.

Jacques calls this recipe "Pork Loin Tournedos with Cream and Calvados." I didn't have pork loin or Calvados, but I did have pork tenderloin and Armagnac - close enough! I also didn't have prunes, so I subbed in raisins.

This is one of those recipes where you brown the meat in a pan, remove it to a warm oven to continue cooking, then deglaze and make a sauce right in the same pan, so no flavor is lost. I added sliced shallots to the pan juices and sautéed briefly while the meat rested in the oven, then deglazed with the Armagnac. The recipe for the sauce calls for heavy cream but I usually sub in half and half, since we don't normally have heavy cream in the house. After cooking the sauce to reduce it a bit, I added the raisins, a small handful and, when the pork emerged beautifully cooked to pale pink perfection, I added the collected juices to the sauce, stirred them in and poured it over the tenderloins.

This is a meal at which My Beloved eats with silent, devoted intention - the food is gone in a twinkling. Then, he looks up, blue eyes misty with pleasure and says, "Oh, that was good."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

An Embarrassment Of Richness

Chocolate. Who doesn't like chocolate? I have heard of some sad individuals who are allergic to the stuff, and they have my deepest sympathy. Chocolate is a major food group for most Americans. I'm more of a coffee fan, myself; heavy duty chocolate can give me a headache.

But when I read on the blog "A Cup of Jo" about rich, smooth chocolate ice cream I can make without an ice cream freezer, I do sit up and read it again.

The recipe is so simple that most ingredients I had already at home. After reading the recipe, I made a dash to the store for the rest of the supplies and set to work.

What emerged the next day, after giving it time to freeze hard, was the richest, most decadent, most amazing chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted. In fact, it was a little too rich and decadent, if you can believe such a thing.

The bowl you are looking at is about two inches across and that spoon is a demitasse spoon. It was still too much ice cream. My Beloved called it "cold brownies." He has a way with words; it is the chocolatest chocolate ice cream in the world, bar none.

So if you've got a world-class chocolate yen on, I can recommend this ice cream. Otherwise, Häagen-Dazs will suffice.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I'm inordinately fond of carousels and I have reached the age where I am no longer self conscious about riding on them, as I was in my thirties and forties. I'm so glad I got over that silly restriction, as there is little in this world so much pure fun as the bounding rush of a carousel ride. I don't even need to take a child to make me legit.

In fact, I think carousels are wasted on the smallest children. They often seem afraid of all that height, noise and motion, sometimes clinging to their mothers and actually crying, the little wimps. Once they have ridden, however, and nothing bad has happened to them, they seem to seize the fun and will beg for ride after ride, shouting and waving to their parents with one hand while clinging to the brass pole with the other. Sadly, they now provide seat belts on the plunging horses for children under a certain age; I can only shake my head at that development. Who ever heard of anyone getting hurt on a merry-go-round?

Choosing your horse is important; its soul must match your own. While the previous riders are circling, I closely examine all the horses to find just the right one. Sometimes I'm in the mood for the wildly charging ones; other times, a collected and gentle one will do. Dapple grays, colorful pintos, dashing blacks, golden palominos - so many jewel-like choices! I never sit in the swan boats, as lovely as some of them are, and I don't choose to ride the other animals, if the carousel has lions or giraffes. It must be a steed; only a steed will do.

The best merry-go-rounds have painted ceilings as well as lights, mirrors and painted outsides. The one in Rochester, New York is the best I have ever seen for painted ceilings - it is a marvel. And the best carousels still have a brass ring dispenser, like the one at the Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk. They have to buy tens of thousands of new rings each year, as most people keep them as souvenirs rather than trying to throw them into the clown's mouth to get a free ride. My Beloved caught the brass ring last time we rode that one together.

The music must come from a band organ, one that oompahs as well as tinkles a happy tune. A silent carousel would be like a silent bird, too sad to contemplate. Just hearing that music brings a smile and draws me in to take another ride.

Next time you see one of these whirling delights, pay your very small admission charge and channel your inner child. Mounting a carousel horse will take years off your years and, whether you catch the brass ring or not, you'll be transported to another, simpler time where the lights are glowing, the music is playing, the horses are surging, and life is sweet.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I was raised Catholic in the bad old days, so confession is deeply ingrained in my psyche. I'm not a Catholic any longer but I still find that acknowledging my shortcomings out loud helps me to recognize and, sometimes, to start fixing them. It's like an apology, only to yourself, with a sincere wish to do better in the future.

There is one weakness, however, that I have no intention of overcoming. I confess that I love Diet Coke™. It's not that I'm on a perpetual diet; it's that I like the taste better than regular Coke.

I like it very cold. It's best when the cola has been refrigerated and then poured into a glass so full of ice that there's barely room for the bubbles. At home, I pour them just as I like but in restaurants it's hard to convince the servers that I mean LOTS of ice.

There is nothing on earth so delicious as a Diet Coke with Indian-style curry. Don't ask me why but those flavors love each other - it's hard for me to consider one without the other.

I have thought about giving up Diet Coke for Lent (another Catholic practice that I haven't quite discarded yet) but each time I think about it, I hastily decide there must be something else - anything else! - that I could do to build my character and strengthen my resolve. This year, I have decided to read only Improving Literature during Lent. I can give up potboilers for Lent but forty days without a Diet Coke is simply unthinkable.

I drank this particular Diet Coke on Mardi Gras, the day before Lent begins, and did my annual battle with my sybaritic self before confessing that next year would be a better year in which to give it up.

Friday, March 2, 2012


You can lead a horse to water - and if he's thirsty, he will wrinkle his nose delicately as he lowers his head to drink.

Spotted outside the Mission Santa Barbara on our recent trip down there. Cora was momentarily awestruck by the horses, but then hurled bellicose challenges at them. Happily, the horses couldn't have cared less.

I like the California missions, despite their sometimes decrepit state and despite their despotic history of enslaving the native peoples, for their simplicity and their beautiful gardens. I hope to see them all before I go to heaven.

At Mission San Luis Obispo once, we witnessed a bride arriving in a horse-drawn carriage, her wayward veil lighted by the sun and rising on a warm wind. There is a sweet little park in front of that mission with a stream that runs through town and a delightful statue of a bear on which children love to clamber.

At Mission Santa Ynez, we witnessed the First Communion class emerging from the church, the girls as decorous as miniature brides and the boys dressed in purest white with scarlet sashes. Their mothers must have had a time keeping them clean until after church. The party afterward in the lovely garden was wonderful - we eavesdropped on mostly Hispanic families taking group pictures to mark the day. We even took a few for them, so their whole families could be in the photo.

It doesn't belong on a food blog at all, except for the horse cookie I fed to the patient bay with the rider aboard; the rider had baked horse cookies that morning and shared some with me. The bay was gentle and mannerly, his whiskers tickling my palm as he lipped his treat; my hand came away a little moist from his breath and smelling horsey the way it always did when I owned my own sweet mare.

All these thoughts and memories came while the chestnut drank his fill from the fountain.