Thursday, February 28, 2013

Welcome Home

Doesn't this care package just shout, "CALIFORNIA!" to you?

A day or two after I returned from North Carolina, this package arrived from our friend Jeanne in SOCA. Her mother has a huge Fuerte avocado tree and she herself has oranges, Meyer lemons and limes in her yard - and they all produce 'way too much for two ladies, so they sometimes box up the extras and send them via USPS to us.

I can't think of a better way to be welcomed back to California. Well, maybe that's not quite true - Cora's wagging tail and My Beloved's kisses come higher on the list of delightful welcomes, but this comes in a very close third.

I supremed one of the oranges to make a citrus-and-avocado salad the first night it arrived. Very similar to grapefruit-and-avocado, only a little sweeter. I drizzled both with a little balsamic vinaigrette and that's all that was needed. Ingredients so fresh and beautiful don't need a lot of fussing.

It was a little disorienting to leave cold and light snow in the morning and be back in 50 degree weather by evening, to say nothing of the jet lag. But, as soon as I opened this box, I knew I was truly home.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mouse Hunt

There is a very funny movie called The Mouse Hunt, in which Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are outsmarted by some very crafty mice into destroying the house they hope to sell for a lot of money. I was reminded forcibly of that movie when my sister and I tried to catch one small mouse that had invaded her house in North Carolina.

He was actually a very pretty little field mouse with a grayish-brown back, shiny black eyes, and a white tummy, but my sister was not enamored of his mousey charms. Every time he scampered across her floor, she jumped and gave a little screech. Clearly, he needed to be ousted.

We tried catching him in a little cardboard box to relocate him to the Great Outdoors, but he was resistant. At first, he wouldn't go in.  Then, he went in but scooted right back out before I could close the box. When we modified the box and baited it with an almond, the little bugger ate the almond while we weren't looking and refused further sorties into the box.

Finally, we decided that only an old fashioned trap would do. We went to the hardware store and, sadly, they were out of live traps, so we purchased an old fashioned snap trap. Deadly, but at least it promised a quick end. 

I baited it with peanut butter and put it behind the sofa, the mouse's favorite hiding place. I lay awake that night for an hour, awaiting the sound of the trap snapping in the dark, but finally drifted off without hearing a sound. The reason became clear in the morning - Mousie had delicately licked off all the peanut butter without setting off the trap!  

Baited again with cheese this time, we had the same result - both cheese and Mousie were gone and the trap was not tripped.  Grrrr!  And, to add injury to insult, I snapped the damned trap on my thumb while trying to reset it.

The final time, we were successful. The peanut butter lured him in and the trap did its work - we found his stiff little body in the morning of the third day. We took his sad little corpse outside and donated it to the Universe, hoping some wild creature would get a meal or his body would return to the soil.  Triumphant, still we were saddened.

A day or two later, a Facebook friend linked to this video on YouTube. Maybe he's in Mouse Heaven doing this:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Small Satisfaction

One of the pleasant little surprises of spending time in North Carolina was getting to try Duke's mayonnaise. Somewhere among my blogging friends, I had read about Duke's but never tried it as it is hard to find on the Left Coast. So I was tickled to open my sister's pantry and find a jar of it there - my chance to try it!

You might say "mayo is mayo, who cares?" but to me mayonnaise is an important ingredient. I like Best Foods (called Hellman's in the east) for it's little fillip of lemon flavor. And don't get me started on Miracle Whip or similar "spreads" - sickly sweet and cloying, they don't deserve the label of "mayonnaise." They are something else entirely, and they are evil.

The Duke's was surprisingly different than Best Foods - not better, or worse, just different. To me, it tastes more like homemade mayo, the kind you make with olive oil. The label didn't boast any olive oil; it was made with soybean oil. 

If pressed, I'd have to admit that I'm a creature of habit and Best Foods/Hellman's would still be my choice, but I'm pleased to have had the chance to taste and compare. There's an old saying, "Curiosity killed the cat," and a corollary, "but satisfaction brought him back." Like the cat, I'm glad to have had my curiosity satisfied.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Southern Style

Well, here I am again, back home from three weeks of caring for my sister in North Carolina. She was pretty ill, but she's on the road to recovery now, thanks for asking.

Each time I visit North Carolina, I am happy to sample Southern dishes. Not having any Southern roots, myself, it's as foreign a cuisine to me as one from a different country. North Carolina has recently been swept by a foodie craze, too, so there are all kinds of variations on traditional dishes and North Carolinian cooks are coming up with new twists all the time.

On a day trip to Salisbury, NC to check out retirement communities for my sister, I stopped in at the Sweet Meadow Cafe for lunch. It's a funny, funky little place with friendly, slightly wacky servers and good food. When I said I wanted a table for one, the server patted me firmly on the back and stated loudly, "Good for you! No need to tolerate inane conversation when you have a good book to read!"  Later in the meal, the other server asked about my book on dog intelligence and crooned, "Oh, dogs! I love dogs! We don't give them nearly enough credit for how smart they are!" Of course, she is correct, we don't.

I chose from their daily specials a plate of red beans and rice. While this dish originated in Louisiana, it has migrated north. My plate had bright yellow rice, but was not very spicy - they may have used saffron to color the rice rather than cumin or turmeric. In any case, it was a good accompaniment for the red beans in a spicy sauce, topped with slices of smoked sausage and drizzled with a creamy sauce with basil in it to gentle the heat. On a spiciness scale of 1-10, my server said this was a 6. I thought it was exactly right, assertive enough to get my attention without searing my internal plumbing.

The sausage was rich and slightly salty, a very nice accompaniment to the rice and beans. I may try to replicate this dish as home. I don't think it would be too difficult and it would remind me of time spent with my sister.

My sister and I are just two years apart in age, but we have never been good friends. As children, she was a bit of a bully and I was a whining, pesky little sister - not a good combination. As we grew older, she was the "good sister" that the nuns always praised and asked me "Why can't you be more like Nancy? - she's so diligent and kind." I can't think of anything that would have made me resent her more than to be compared unfavorably to her saintliness. And, as if that weren't bad enough, the very same nuns would chide Nancy for not being as friendly and outgoing as I was. Sheesh!  No one presses my buttons as fast as Nancy and no one drives her crazier than I.

So, you might think that three weeks of enforced closeness in the same small house would have been a recipe for disaster. Oddly, it was not. While we didn't always see eye-to-eye and sometimes even had spats, overall we got along surprisingly well, reminiscing and giggling together over silly things. Some days, she did my laundry; other times, I walked her little dog. I went with her to doctors' appointments and she introduced me to her favorite restaurants. In retrospect, it was overall a good time. I guess we aren't destined to be best pals, but we did have fun together and I feel good about how our family rallied to help her, each in our own way.

And that's even more satisfying than red beans and yellow rice.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Away For A While

Dear Friends,

I'm going to be away for a while. Not sure how long. I'll be back to explain when I can. Thanks for coming, thanks for reading, thanks for your comments.

Here's a pretty picture to enjoy for now. Moonset over Mt. Tamalpais.