Friday, August 30, 2013

Thai-ing One On

We have been having a lot of fun with house guests this summer. Our friend Jeanne came up with her dog Johanna just after we returned from Michigan, and for the past week we've been enjoying the company of our friends Annette and Dave from Sarasota, FL. They are not only great company, but they also love to eat, so we experiment with all kinds of foods while they are here. Truth be told, we all ate too much, but we can concentrate on being able to button our pants once they are back home.

One of the meals we tried out was homemade Pad Thai. I read about it here, and it sounded good, so we went to the store for fish sauce, Pad Thai noodles, and tamarind paste, three new ingredients to us. I chopped and sautéed, soaked and steamed, and produced an interesting version of shrimp Pad Thai. 

I have to say it was a bit of a rigamarole to make - the charming video makes it look easier than it seemed in reality - and it made enough to feed an army when it said it was just enough for four (we will be eating Pad Thai long after our pals are back home), but I enjoyed the challenge and we all enjoyed the exotic flavors. I'll probably get my Pad Thai at restaurants in the future but, what the heck, it was fun.  Just like the visit from our Florida friends.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Oh, Fudge

Every time we go to Mackinac Island, we buy fudge; Mackinac is famous for its fudge. I'm not sure how all that got started but the fudge is as much fun as the motor vehicle-free island, so we always stop at Murdick's.  They will ship it to you, too, if you want some without the ferry ride to Mackinac. There are other fudge shops on Mackinac Island but, having found the best, we don't bother with the rest.

I've been to Mackinac Island at least twice now, and my memories of it are fond. Not just for the fudge, either, although that never hurts. Our friends Wendy and Ray spent their honeymoon there, and they are the ones who take us there each time we go.

Wendy's and my father were great pals, having met when both of them were Navy test pilots in Patuxent Naval Air Station, both testing the newest jets after having had illustrious wartime careers. Our mothers were fast friends, too - the story goes that the rest of the officers and their wives waited with glee to see the sparks fly between my somewhat volatile, red-headed mother and Wendy's equally sparky blonde one. However, they were doomed to disappointment, as the two women each recognized a soul sister instantly and began a lifelong friendship. They took care of each other's children, assisted in the kitchen when each was having a big dinner party, and kept in touch even after all us kids were grown and gone.

From time to time, Butch and Bobbie would visit my folks, or the four of them would take off in Butch's plane for a vacation together. One time, when my folks were visiting Michigan and we were all awaiting the birth of Wendy's first child, Butch and Dad took off in Butch's Piper Comanche for a flight to Mackinac Island to get some fudge - those two old aviators used just about any excuse to go flying together.  Butch piloted on the way up and when they landed, they were taken for movie moguls, as there was a movie being shot on Mackinac at that time.  They were vastly amused.

Fudge procured, they hopped back in the plane and took off for Detroit.  In those days, rather than leave a car at the airport, Bobbie would drive Butch there and he'd circle the house on his way home until she noticed him, switched on the outside porch light to let him know she was coming, then he would fly on the airport where she would pick him up again. Mom, Bobbie, Wendy and I were sitting in the living room when the Comanche broke altitude and solidly buzzed the house. Bobbie turned to me with a twinkle and said, "That will be your Dad flat-hatting again! Butch would never have broken altitude like that!"  Of course, she was correct.

So, this time, we had to bring home some fudge from Michigan to keep the memories alive. We are sharing it with our current house guests and telling them stories of fudges past. Sweet stories.

Monday, August 26, 2013

At Least One

Every summer, no matter what the weather, I simply must have one of these. There is no better summer sandwich on earth than a BLT. It's magic.

This one was made with bread I made myself, sliced a little thinly, and toasted lightly, tomatoes that volunteered in my garden and actually ripened, and Niman Ranch twice-smoked bacon, a new product that My Beloved found at our local market. I love it when he goes shopping because he has zero sales resistance and always brings home something new, while I just stick to my list. This time, it was the deeply smoky, thickly sliced, perfect-for-a-summer-BLT bacon. A very nice find if you like smoky, as we do.

Before summer leaves, make sure you've had at least one, to fortify you against the coming days of chilly weather and no ripe tomatoes.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Better Late, part two

Still in the meme theme, here are my answers to the rest of the questions posed by The Hungry Dog's author.

6. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I'd get people to stop trashing their planet. The scope of this problem is gigantic and universal - we even leave junk in space!  If I had a magic wand, all governments would be actively pursuing clean energy options, corporations would stop fiddling with the DNA of living things, and people would never exceed the carrying capacity of the place where they live.  There would be room for all species (except maybe mosquitos) and the interdependencies between us and other species would be understood and respected. I guess that's more than one thing, but it all stems from lived respect for the Earth.

7. What is your greatest talent?

Persistence. Everything I have achieved and am proud of came from persistence. I'm not the smartest person on earth, nor the cleverest, but I keep trying even when the odds are not in my favor.

8. What skill do you wish you had?

Leadership. I'm not a chief, I'm a brave, but there's a little part of me that would like to take charge.

9. Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Savory, definitely.

10. Have you ever lived abroad?  If so, where?

I have lived for a year each in Canada (Newfoundland), France, and Japan. I'd love to live in Ireland for a year, England for a year, France again for a year or two, Belgium for a year, and possibly Italy for a year.  Probably those choices because I speak passable French (and Italian is similar) and my ancestors are from Ireland and England. 

11. What motivates you to keep blogging?

I love the exercise of writing, of trying to find the best words to describe something and of trying to structure sentences clearly and amusingly. I also love that blogging often leads me to family memories and stories that I might otherwise have forgotten.  The blog posts that get the most audience reaction are ones when I write about my family and friends. I wonder if I never had any comments if I would keep on blogging - I think so, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

So, many thanks to The Hungry Dog for tagging me in this meme. Sorry it took so long! It was fun and thought-provoking, just like her blog.  I'd like to tag a couple of people on this meme: Cookiecrumb at I'm Mad and I Eat; Chilebrown at Mad Meat Genius; DianaLouisa at Musings; and KatieZ at Thyme for Cooking, the blog.  If you don't feel like doing it, just ignore the tag, but I'd be interested to read your answers.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Better Late

Quite some little time ago, now, I was tagged by The Hungry Dog's author in a meme. I promised her I would write it up soon but, what with one thing and another, only just found time to do it today while I'm homebound recuperating from a nasty case of bronchitis. Keep in mind that my answers may be colored by the fact that I haven't had a good night's rest in two weeks or so. Ugh. 

Still, onward!

1. Who or what has had the greatest impact on your life?

I'd have to say that a notion of romance has shaped my whole life. The good choices and the bad that I have made have all revolved around love and romance. I'm not sure if this idea came from popular culture or was inborn (I'm a Friday's Child), but I have always looked for love. Happily, mostly in all the right places, although there have definitely been a few slip-ups.

2. What is your favorite thing to cook?

This changes frequently with me. I got through stages where I cook the same thing a lot, then not again for many years. Currently, I get a kick out of making Jamie Oliver's deconstructed Caesar salad.

3. Where do you hope to travel next?

Hawaii. Always Hawaii. But, if I was going further afield, I'd like to explore Quebec and the Atlantic provinces of Canada. I've always wanted to visit Prince Edward Island ever since I read "Anne of Green Gables," and it would be fun to return to Newfoundland - haven't been there since I lived in Argentia in the late 1950s.  Also, unlike most of my friends, I have never been to Italy. That just seems wrong.

4. What is your dream job?

I had it, already. College career counselor. I loved that every appointment was different, that every student needed just a little support/guidance/cheerleading and then they were off and flying. The students were full of potential and smarts, the academic life appeals to me with its quirky people and relatively relaxed schedule, and I enjoyed the yin-yang of progressive thought with conservative traditions. 

5. Favorite book?

Wow, I could never choose just one. Everything that Barbara Kingsolver has written. Everything that Michael Pollen has written. Romance novels. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood for truly frightening possibilities. The Way by Lao Tzu. Now We Are Six by A.A.Milne. Everything that Robertson Davies has written.

I'll do the next five tomorrow. Time to go take some more meds and a big nap.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Since our grandchildren moved west, things have been BUSY. Not just with them, but we also have welcomed our friend Jeanne and her dog, Johanna, for a few days. Jeanne is great fun, up for any adventure, and far more energetic than either of us. We left the dogs to keep each other company while she accompanied us to the Bay Area Discovery Museum when we took the Grands there to get them out of the way while another garage sale was in progress; we figured the 3-2 ratio of grownups to children evened the playing field in our favor.

If you haven't found the museum, and you have charge of small children, there is no better place for them to run and play and explore and climb and investigate and splash and make music and use their imaginations in safety.  We felt free to let go of their hands and just follow along, making sure they didn't do crazy things. They loved the freedom to explore at their own pace. When Mia surged ahead on her long legs, I followed her and we kept in touch with My Beloved and Jeanne, who were overseeing Owen's slower progress, by cell phone.

We considered having lunch at Murray Circle, which would have been a fine reward for the grownups, but decided the children might not think that was much fun, so we opted for lunch at the Cantina in Mill Valley. Owen knew what he wanted without even consulting the menu - he said "rice and beans" and "milk" to the waiter and followed it up with an angelic smile. She was putty in his hands after that.

Mia decided on a quesadilla plump with cheese and a glass of lemonade. The children's drinks came in cups with lids and straws sticking out, so when one of them was tipped over, no spills occurred. Very smart. Clearly, it's a place that "gets" children.

A big basket of light, crisp, warm tortilla chips kept us all from starvation (it was a close call!) until the food arrived.

My Beloved chose beef fajitas, which were plentiful and delicious. Jeanne ordered a taco salad with shrimp; it was so plentiful, she brought the rest home for the next day. I enjoyed their shrimp tacos, which were full of at least eight plump shrimps. They come with rice and beans but it's all just too much to finish, so I focused on the delicious tacos. Jeanne showed the children some deconstruction videos she had taken with her phone to fill the time between ordering and serving, so peace reigned at our little table outdoors in the garden.

We delivered the children back to their parents in good rig, full of lunch and ready for afternoon naps. We drove home sharing little tidbits and stories of the day with each other to be greeted by two ecstatic dogs. A little walk for them and we were all ready to lie down for naps of our own.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Airplane Food

Here's my problem: I'm so old that I can remember when the stewardess on my flights (they were always pretty young women called stewardesses in those bad old days) would cook my filet mignon to order. Medium rare and sizzling, it would be delivered with a smile to my seat, and the accompanying vegetables were equally well prepared.

Was I traveling first class?  Heck, no!  This was steerage and still the food was good, prepared to order, and served with a set of actual cutlery. No plastic forks and knives back then. Of course, the flights weren't quite so smooth in those days, being much lower in altitude, so one was more likely to spill the drink or to actually need the airsick bag, and the heavy drone of the propellors did get to me after several hours.

Never mind!  

Deregulation changed all that. Now, airlines compete on the basis of price, so they have whittled away at all the costly little extras that used to make airline travel a pleasure. It is true that today's airline travel is a far cry from those halcyon days. Today, you're lucky if they will sell you for a princely sum a really, really bad tray of food or, as Michael Pollen would call it, "food-like substances." And, if they don't serve food, consider yourself fortunate if they throw a tiny bag of peanuts or mini pretzels at you with your small glass of liquid.

So, now when we travel by air, I usually pack a lunch. I make fat sandwiches at home and cut up fruit into manageable pieces. Or I take a chicken leg and a handful of almonds. Or a chunk of cheese. Or whatever is in the fridge that might go bad before we get home. I have sometimes taken a salad in a baggie with a separate container for the dressing.

During the flight, when we open our little black nylon lunch bag, inevitably the person next to us goes, "Oooooooh, look what you have!" and clearly wishes they had thought to bring real food with them, too.  This reaction is so predictable that I have taken to packing a little extra so I can offer some to my seat mates if they look particularly envious.

I'm not sure why I'm telling you all this, except perhaps to mourn the good old days, and to remind you that you, too, can be the envy of your fellow passengers. When you bring your own, airplane food can be quite delicious.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Julia

How appropriate!  We are having lobster rolls for dinner this evening. My Beloved is stopping at the Old Pork Lobster Shack in Redwood City on his way home and bringing us their wonderful naked lobster rolls (no mayo, just lobster and drawn butter if we want to add that).

One of my favorite of Julia Child's shows, her lobster show was so much fun. Hope you enjoy it.  And I hope you get some lobster soon, too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


My Beloved and I have entered a new phase of our lives; we are active grandparents. We have had grandchildren for the past 6+ years, but they have always lived across the country in Boston, and we saw them for a week or two when they were here or we were there on vacation. All that has changed. 

While we were in Michigan, the whole family flew west, picked up the car we left for them at the airport, and settled into the very house in Marin county where My Beloved's daughters grew up.

We returned home to an invitation to take our two grandchildren out for a few hours while their parents ran a garage sale of all the things in the house they don't need. We picked them up, Mia 6 and Owen 3, in the morning and took them swimming at our wonderful local pool. We strategized getting the very active Owen through the changing room without incident and  had a splendid 90 minutes horsing around with the kiddos in the warm water. Mia is fearless - Owen is more cautious, but he had a fine time playing in the shallows.

When the children's lips turned blue and they began to shiver, we decided it was time for lunch. Now, those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I don't have children of my own, and I know zero about what they like to eat. So, I did a little research and was told by several sources that this particular brand of mac and cheese would delight their little palates. So, dutifully, I boiled and mixed, cooled and served. And, of course, tasted along the way.

Right off the bat, let me say that this bears no resemblance whatsoever to real macaroni and cheese. Cheese powder? There's just no way that it could. However, having said that, it wasn't disgusting, just lightly cheesy and salty. Mild. And it was easy, which is probably the key to why busy young mothers with full time jobs and hungry children love it.  The kiddos enjoyed it, too, and were clearly relieved to see something familiar for lunch.

Owen fell asleep in his car seat on the way home and Sarah reports that both children slept like rocks that night, so we consider this first day as active grandparents to be a big success. No one drowned, no one cried, and everyone (including My Beloved and I) slept well that night.

Monday, August 12, 2013

At Last

When we left on vacation, my volunteer tomato plant had produced fruit, but they were hard and green, sullenly refusing to ripen in our sparse sunshine this summer. I knew how it felt - I was wearing socks under my flipflops and sweaters over my tshirts and wondering when summer was going to arrive.

While we were away, however, something magical happened. We returned to one of my favorite times of year - ripe tomato time!

First, we went up to retrieve Cora from the dog ranch where she spends time running around with other doggie pals, and stopped in to have brunch with cousin Jan while we were in the neighborhood. Petaluma gets more sun than we do, so Jan's tomato plants are at least 3x larger than mine and she gave us two tomatoes so ripe they were downright sweet. That's one of hers at the top of the picture, a deeper shade of scarlet than mine.

When we got home, I went out to check on the garden and, lo and behold!, I had red tomatoes, too!  Cue Etta James.

Now, how to use these first few?  We ate one of Jan's in a simple salad, and it was sublime - so sweet and juicy that I was reminded it's not a vegetable, it's a fruit. I have some tomato sandwiches in mind, of course, and a caprese salad, and probably one of these. I hope the rest of them ripen fast, because I have big plans now that summer has arrived - at last!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Mighty Fisherman

Guess where we've been?  We just returned from a week in Michigan, mostly spent "Up North" on Manistee Lake with our good friends, Wendy and Ray. We had a fine time catching up with them, visiting with my Fairy Goddaughter (their daughter), and meeting her beau for the first time.  We went up to Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw) to buy the famous local fudge and enjoy the freedom from motor vehicles - everyone there either uses horses or bicycles - no cars allowed. 

Pam and Matt (yes, she is named for me) rented a tandem bike and pedaled all the way around the island while we older folks strolled around enjoying the colorful gardens and quaint architecture.  Wendy and I are horse lovers, so we enjoyed the passing carriage parade and marveled to see that even the trash truck on Mackinac Island is horse-drawn. The driver was so skilled that he backed this enormous wagon down an incline just by talking to his team of Belgian draft horses.

Another day, Ray arranged a fishing charter on Lake Michigan for the adventuresome. The Great Lakes are amazing, holding one fifth of all the fresh water in the world, and so large that when you stand on the shore, it looks like the ocean. They went out in pretty choppy water, with about 4 foot waves, and they actually caught three big fish, two lake trout and a big Chinook salmon.  Here they are at 0400, ready to go fishing! Wendy wisely stayed in bed, but I got up to take their picture as they headed off.

When they returned with their catch, the Youth cooked both kinds of fish on cedar planks on the grill, and served them complete with grill-roasted corn and peppers, and green beans cooked in foil on the grill. A feast!

The salmon, confined as they are to fresh water in the Great Lakes, taste completely different from our west coast salmon, even though they are the same species. Less rich, less "fishy," more bland. The lake trout tasted more as one expects trout to taste, smoked from the plank and still moist inside.  There was too much fish for us to eat, so Ray took some over to the neighbors, too.

We explored the towns of Charlevoix, Kalkaska and Traverse City, too, where Mario Batali spends his summers when he's not cooking up a storm in New York. But, happily, we spent a good amount of time in their lake cabin, looking out at the water, taking long morning walks, and enjoying the contact with one of my oldest friends. 

We also toured their impressive precision manufacturing business near Detroit, Master Pneumatic, learning about processes and plans, machinery and raw materials, and being introduced first hand to the vicissitudes and satisfactions of doing business in a tough economy. The business was started by Wendy's grandfather, whom we all called Grandpa Bob, and continued by Wendy's Dad. Wendy's husband, Ray, took the tiller for several years before retiring. Now, Wendy is in charge and their son-in-law has the reins day-to-day. To say it's a family business is an understatement.

Our parents were friends and we grew up together, first in the Navy, then with multiple Michigan trips when they returned to civilian life and settled there. When we were stationed somewhere interesting, they would come for visits. When we had boring postings, they would welcome us to Michigan. We share a lifetime of memories. I am Fairy Godmother to Wendy's children, and they are as dear to me as if they were my own.

So, I will remember the chance to catch up with the family in person as one of the very best events of the year - right up there with My Beloved, the Mighty Fisherman, catching us a trout for dinner.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Simple Summer Pleasures

All year long, I wait for summer sandwiches. I dream of my favorite, ripe avocado and ripe tomato on toasted whole wheat English muffins. Or like these that I made last week - a stack of thin-sliced bread and veggies.

The best summer sandwiches are simple. You don't need more than a thick slice of really ripe tomato (the ones in my garden are still green, but nice ripe ones have been showing up in the farmer's markets recently) or thin slices of cucumber to makes a deliriously good summer sandwich.

Because I have had my homemade unsliced loaves, I can carve the bread super-thin for the best sandwiches. A swab of mayo, pile on the veggies, and you're home free. Fill a glass with iced cubes, pour over some iced tea or coffee, take your lunch out into the sunshine, and enjoy summer while it's here.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Credit Where Its Due

Lunch has become an awful lot of fun lately. Usually, meals around here are independent things - he has breakfast, I don't. He likes lots of protein for lunch - I prefer less.  So, when we are home together, breakfast and lunch are free form - we each make what tickles our fancy from whatever provisions are in the fridge on any given day.

But, lately, we've been making soft tacos for lunch and that's easier when we are both in the kitchen, one warming the tortillas and the other chopping up the ingredients. We have a pretty good kitchen ballet going, rarely bumping into each other or dodging hot pans or knives. When we do bump butts, it's intentional and friendly.

Last week, we wanted a change of pace, so we made quesadillas. I got some organic Monterey Jack cheese at the market and we had a little corn salad left from our Roli Roti chicken run so we decided to combine those and see what we thought.

The corn salad is sold on the Roli Roti truck and My Beloved brought home a container two weeks ago and we declared it to be a winner. It's made with fresh corn kernels, minced red onion, cilantro, avocado, and jalapeño. It's mildly spicy and really quite delicious. I'm sure it would be easy to make at home but it's even easier to buy it when we get our weekly chicken.

To make the quesadillas, we laid tortillas in a wide pan over medium heat, topped them with slices of cheese and topped those with a sprinkling of the corn salad and a hearty dash of hot sauce. Cover until the cheese begins to melt and run - just a few minutes - then slide onto a plate as you would an omelet, folding the tortilla in half as it hits the plate. I used the bottom of the skillet to gently smash the quesadilla until the cheese ran out the sides.

My Beloved complimented me on the lunch and I had to give credit where it's due. When I told him that Cookiecrumb gave me the idea for this combination a week or two ago, he exclaimed, "Thank you, Cookiecrumb!" and took another big bite.

Friday, August 2, 2013

You Have No Events Scheduled Today

I have embraced the digital age. I blog, I get most of my mail electronically, I occasionally tweet, I have a flickr and a snapfish account, I love my iPad for looking up arcane facts, I have a cell phone and mostly now remember to carry it with me. I'm not hooked up to the same level as My Beloved is - he can actually make the TV remote do what he wants - but I'm firmly attached to my various electronic devices.  Even my calendar is online now, and it sends me daily reminders of what is on my schedule.

But, every now and then, it says, "You have no events scheduled today."

That's a day out of time, a day to lie in bed and read paperback potboilers, or to walk with the dog and not take my cell phone or even my digital camera, or to sit outside and just breathe in the blue sky peppered with birds. That's a day to telephone a distant friend or an elderly relative and talk for so long that my ear aches when I put down the phone. That's a day to stroll down the street to check in on the college kids who are making their own beer, and to hear about my neighbors' trip to the mountains. That's a day to grub around in the garden, tying up the volunteer tomato plants and pulling a few weeds. 

Some days, it just feels good to ignore the bad news and to shirk my civic responsibility, to unplug and to let the world take a few turns without me. So, since I have no events scheduled today, this seems like a good time to start. I'll rejoin the rat race soon enough, but for now I'm offline.