Friday, May 30, 2014

The Perfect Things

When one is renovating a house to keep (which, by the way, is much more complicated than building afresh and far more involving than I expected), one wants The Perfect Things. If we were renovating to flip this house, choices would be a lot easier, but because we plan to live here until they take us out in a box, we want everything to be Just Right.

Light fixtures are a pain in the bum. Usually, they are cheaply made and come with a gasp-inducing price tag that bears no resemblance to the quality of the piece. Also, they generally either offer enough light by which to do surgery, or so little light that they are not useful except as night lights. I hate shopping for light fixtures. I hate shopping for light fixtures more than I hate shopping for clothes, and that's saying something!

So, when it came time to shop for light fixtures for our renovated bathroom, My Beloved had to promise me lunch first at a favorite restaurant to get the heavy pout off my face. We headed off for Berkeley where we knew there was a lighting shop near the restaurant. 

First, the lunch. We stopped at Cafe Rouge on Fourth Street in Berkeley, a place where we have enjoyed lunches before. My Beloved ordered the hot dog (I got a bite - primo!) and an amazing appetizer of prosciutto and asparagus topped with a perfectly poached egg. I wasn't starving, so I just ordered the soup, a corn and new potato chowder with diced ham and bits of bacon. It had shreds of either kale or Swiss chard, which gave it additional texture and a sense of smugness at having eaten something healthy for the day. The best part was that the chef added just a little spicy heat, very subtle, that sneaked up on my taste buds at the very end of each bite after the creaminess had diminished. Easily the best corn chowder I've eaten, and it's one of my favorite soups.

Then, off to the lighting store, fortified with a splendid lunch. And, lo and behold!, we found just the right fixture!  Our tile will be so pale a green that it's nearly white, and the countertops will be swirly pale green and white granite, so when we saw this fixture, we exclaimed simultaneously, "That's the ONE!"

Finally, I have something to show you other than pipes and wires; here are our light fixtures for the bathroom.

These will be on either side of the mirror, one curling left and the other curling right. Of course, they do have the heart-stopping price tags - what else is new? - but at least we can both agree that they will be The Perfect Thing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


On certain sunny weekend mornings, we like to purchase rather than prepare breakfast. We dress and head for the door - Cora already knows she's in for a treat so she's there with her nose to the crack. We stroll arm in arm down to the end of our little street before snapping the leash on her collar - she likes to greet the other dogs on the street and do some pmail (or is that pee-mail?) as we go. We usually cross to the sunny side of the street, a delightful benefit, then slide down the hill to town, stopping for Cora to "read" and reply every few feet.

We always head for Little Louie's, partly because it's one of the few places in town to serve breakfast but mainly because we love the family that owns it and their French toast. They also make a killer breakfast sandwich, big enough for two to share, and the best coffee in town but their French toast is truly da bomb. They use challah bread and soak it well, so the finished plate is brown and gorgeous, but still moist inside. Topped with strawberries and maple syrup, it's about as good as French toast ever gets, which is really saying something!

We link Cora's leash around a conveniently placed tree and go in; for the life of me, I will never understand why dogs are not allowed in restaurants in this country. We always sit where we can see her to make sure all contacts with her are friendly, and she lies patiently on the sidewalk, assured of her future benefits.

After breakfast, we take a little bite of bacon out to Cora; even if we don't order bacon with our meal, we buy for a slice for her. If we do order bacon, they add half a slice to our order for Cora, another benefit of our long association. When she sees us coming, she stands and wags and nips the bacon delicately from our fingers, before we unhook the leash and begin the leisurely stroll home.  

Full of French toast, we usually opt to zigzag our way up the streets rather than charge straight up the hill. It takes longer, but it is easier on a full stomach and we enjoy the sun and the stroll. As we turn back into our street, we unsnap the leash and amble the rest of the way home.

Although I always miss Hawaii when I leave there, there are benefits to being home. The breakfast stroll is only one.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

As if we didn't get enough fresh fish in Hawaii, when I saw this nice, big piece of swordfish in the market as we stocked the fridge upon our return, I just had to have it. I haven't eaten swordfish in probably 20+ years, as it was being so overfished that only small ones were being caught. When I was a kid, it was always my choice on the few occasions when we went out to restaurant to eat, but I couldn't in all conscience buy it for lo these many years.

This time, however, it had a green label at my market's fish counter!  Huzzah!  I hope that means the stocks have recovered.

We have limited cooking options while we are in construction mode, but we do have a charcoal grill and the weather was fine enough so I lighted it off and waited impatiently for the coals to be ready. 

The trick with fish is not to overcook - even a wonderful fish like ono becomes a dry, chewy chunk when cooked too long. So, I laid our beautiful swordfish steak on the grill close to the coals but not over them, flipped it often, and checked it for doneness frequently. If I do say so myself, it was perfect, firm and white but still juicy and moist.

After dinner, we wandered around the construction zone noting the changes that have happened since we were away. Still nothing to show a picture of but we were happy to see vents installed and switches that weren't there before. Content with our dinner and our progress, it was good to be home again.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


As I return to reality, there are a few observations I'd like to make about food in Hawaii. First, it's all good. No clinkers at all. We ate in places high and low on both Hawaii and Oahu, and everywhere we found great chow. From the Pueo's Osteria in orderly Waikoloa to Hank's Haute Dogs in the industrial section of Honolulu, we ate wonderfully well.

But a few meals really stood out for me, so here they are. Up top, the observation that adding fresh, ripe pineapple and toasted macadamia nuts elevates simple cole slaw to a level just short of heaven. I hope all my future cole slaws will be made this way.

Second, there is almost nothing better on earth than fresh fish. Grilled, sautéed, or raw, it shines as long as it is just-out-of-the-water fresh. Ahi, ono, mahimahi, swordfish - they were all just sublime. I happen to love sashimi so I ordered it more than once. Sadly, shredded daikon radish is no longer served for the "salad" part - everyone has gone to cabbage - but the ginger, the shoyu, the wasabi, and the silky fish are still the ticket to transport me.

My younger brother is an avid fisherman who loves nothing more than a day on the water trying to outwit the wily denizens of the deep. He caught an ono and a mahimahi the day before we arrived and he grilled it on his Big Green Egg so we feasted on his catch at dinner the first night.

Third, happily, people in Hawaii have retained their sense of humor, as witnessed by the menu description of the Champagne Cheeseburger and the Wine Cheeseburger at the Kona Inn in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island that we found with cousins Jan and Sherry.

And, for sheer delight, I can recommend a barbecue on Kailua Beach on Oahu as the sun slides behind the mountain. Hamburgers lovingly cooked on the grill by my brother and eaten with him and his family are "ono" (the best).

Re-entry has been difficult for me.  My Beloved is relieved to be back home where it's cool (we missed the heat wave that was here while we were in the Islands) but I'm bundled up in shoes and socks, long sleeves and a sweater, waiting to re-acclimate after two weeks of slippahs and shorts. Still, there is warmer weather in the forecast and we missed our Cora, so we are glad to be home with her again. And filled with wonderful Hawaiian memories.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fifth Hawaii Story

I have worn flip-flops (or slippahs in Hawaiian parlance, or go-aheads - whatever you call them) ever since our family moved to Hawaii when I was about 7 years old. They are summertime shoes to me, and I never slip my toes around the thong without a feeling of contentment and comfort. I even wear them in the winter - if it's really cold, I augment with tabi socks, but usually I don't need them. My feet are made for Hawaii.

In Hawaii, whenever we go to the beach, we take off our slippahs and park them under a bush somewhere to walk barefoot in the water. There are always other pairs of slippahs there, as everyone does the same thing. No one would dream of taking someone else's slippahs, even if they are nicer ones. It's an unwritten rule in a place where taking one's shoes off happens multiple times a day.

I have even seen slippahs left to hold one's place in line, while the wearers go sit down somewhere comfortable. When the line is about to move, everyone dons their own slippahs and resumes their place in line. 

Hawaiian homes always have several pairs of the family's slippahs outside the door and, when guests arrive, they always remove their slippahs before entering the house. It's a sign of respect for the one who must sweep out the sand or the red Hawaiian soil not to track more in on one's shoes.

I guess the concept of not tracking dirt into the house is a universal one, but I've never seen this custom anywhere else, except in Japan where there are fussy little cubbyholes for your outdoor shoes. Only in Hawaii do you simply kick them off or slide them on and go. Have you seen it anywhere else?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fourth Hawaii Story

In Kailua, over the mountains from Honolulu, there is a wonderful little store on the beach called the Kalapawai Market. They sell sandwiches, coffee, wine, snacks, and souvenirs in that little place - and it does a land office business seven days a week. My Beloved and I buy a cup of coffee there every morning before our walk on the beach, so we can walk along with our ankles in the warm water and fragrant coffee in our cups.

Last time I was there, there was a cranky tourist, clearly from New York City by his accent and his attitude, who was very rudely questioning the change he had received from one of the friendly checkers. His voice was loud and angry, and his tone was disdainful of the young man behind the counter. He demanded more money back.

The young man calmly pointed out the mistake the customer had made in addition and then, with a broad grin, quipped "But, hey, nice try, bruddah."  His quip and his smile diffused the tension immediately and everyone in line chuckled a little. The rude man left, a little sheepish but relaxed and smiling.

Only in Hawaii?  I have never witnessed that anywhere else.  Have you?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Third Hawaii Story

"No Pilikia, sistah!"

("No problem, dearie")

How many people would say that to you after you nearly ran them over?

Years ago, driving in Honolulu, I stopped at a stop sign and looked left for oncoming traffic. Not seeing any, I began turning right and nearly hit a Hawaiian lady in the crosswalk. She was a magnificent lady with flowing, wavy hair and a long, bright cotton muumuu, walking with stately grace across the street until I made her jump aside.

I apologized profusely and repeatedly, to which she smiled and waved away my guilt with a languid hand saying, "No pilikia, sistah," and continued on her way.

Only in Hawaii? I have never seen such graciousness anywhere else.  Have you?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Second Hawaii Story

While I'm talking about the wonderful folks in Hawaii, I want to share another little vignette. For several years in the '80s, I was a runner, jogging 3 miles every morning. It was a good time of day when I could be quiet and contemplative as I jogged around my neighborhood rain or shine. For me, jogging was similar to meditation, or prayer.

Of course, sometimes my thoughts were interrupted by a charging dog who objected to my invasion of his territory, or by a little kid who scoffed at my exercise plan or, once, by a flasher who jumped out of the bushes to show me his woodie. But, most of the time, it was just me and the sound of my footfalls and my breathing.

One of the best things about jogging is that you can do it anywhere. All you really need are comfortable running shoes. I always took my shoes to Hawaii with me and jogged around my parents' neighborhood. The reason for sticking to the sidewalks rather than running on the beach was a little sign on one of the gardens that I loved to visit.

Across the grass from the house ran a hose with a bib on the end and a little, hand-lettered sign that said, "Water for Joggers."  The people in the house actually rigged a water station for strangers who jogged by. I would stop every day and open the bib and drink a little of that sweet Hawaiian water, the purest in the world, and thank them silently for their generosity. I never met them and never needed to - it was enough to know of their kindness.

Only in Hawaii? I have never seen it anywhere else. Have you?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

First Hawaii Story

I could make you jealous with photos of glorious, warm, multicolored water and blue skies. Or pictures of soaring green mountains wreathed in cloud. Or bright images of pastel shave ice in a paper cone. Instead, here's one that says "Hawaii" to me as clearly as any of those travel poster pictures - flip-flops (or "slippers" as they are called locally) at the door and sand that has been brushed off after a day at the beach.

We are headed to Hawaii for 10 days, first to the Big Island to share time with our cousins who recently purchased a condo there, then to Oahu to visit my brother and his family. It will be great to spend time with them all, and to escape the hammering, drilling, and banging that accompanies each day here at home.

I may or may not have time to post while I'm away, so I will leave you with some stories that I love about Hawaii. I have a whole raft of memories that I think of as "only in Hawaii," little vignettes that could happen in other places, but never do. Hawaii isn't special only for its staggering beauty, warm seas, and great food - it's also wonderful for the people who live there.

Years ago, when my parents lived in Honolulu, we frequented a supermarket that was close by. Whenever I went there, I looked for a certain checker, who always lifted my day. She was a Hawaiian lady of a certain age who decorated her cash register every day with hibiscus flowers from her garden placed all the way around the big machine. Hibiscus flowers only last one day, so I knew she brought fresh ones every day. 

She also wore her gleaming black hair pulled tightly into a French twist, and always, always had showy, colorful, tropical flowers along the crease of the twist. With a gentle smile for each customer, she made everyone's day.

I still marvel at a woman who, given one of the world's most boring jobs, brought such a beautiful spirit to work with her. 

Only in Hawaii?  Maybe not, but I have never seen it anywhere else. Have you?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Gimping Along

I have had a bad back for the past two weeks, and on and off for the past month or so. It is characterized by breath-catching pain when I lift, lean forward, twist, or sometimes do nothing. I finally broke down and went to the doc, but it was nothing exotic as I had feared (spinal collapse? osteoporosis? something deadly and undiagnosed?), it is simply a pinched nerve. It should go away with exercise, icing, and pain killers in about six weeks. If not, the doc will order an X-ray, but he assured me that most of the time it goes away before he has to get out the big guns.  He gave me a prescription for the world's largest horse pills of ibuprofen and sent me on my way.

When I got home, I ran into my next door neighbor, Doreen, who had canceled a flight to see her family due to a pinched nerve higher up in her spinal column than mine was in mine. She was feeling just about as chipper as I was, a couple of gimpy gals. So, we decided to cook dinner together and watch the baseball game on TV as we cheered each other up.

My Beloved, always the Good Guy, ordered some guacamole and chips from Las Camelias in San Rafael and drove across the bridge to San Rafael to fetch it. Guacamole is a cure-all, and the stuff from Las Camelias has been known to work miracles. If I were still a Catholic, I might nominate it for sainthood. 

As we munched and chatted in Doreen's gorgeous kitchen with the game on dueling TVs so she wouldn't have to turn her stiff neck to follow the action, I put together a simple spring risotto. Arborio rice, chicken broth, fresh asparagus, yellow sweet pepper, fresh dill, fresh parsley and frozen shrimp - easy one-hand. I didn't even have to take the tails off the shrimp. I forgot the Parmesan cheese (airhead!) but it was still delicious and a single cup of rice with embellishments fed all three of us with some left over for Doreen's lunch the next day.

Agonizing over the game (although the right team prevailed in the end) took our minds off our ills, and sharing a meal brought a neighborly glow. We hugged when it was time for me to rest my stabbing back and parted at the kitchen door, comforted to have shared our miseries and our meal.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Family Weekend

This past weekend, we were back out in Inverness for another of those great family weekends in the big rented house. This time, the family was even bigger, as My Beloved's brother and his wife were in town to see their granddaughter and both couples plus the baby came down to join in the fun. Then, we invited our newlywed cousin Sherry and her partner Kathy, and the fun swelled even further. We used every chair in the dining room - yes, all twelve - and part of the group was out on the deck as well. 

After the kids all went back to work and school, My Beloved and I had another night there to enjoy, then drove home to meet brother Ted and wife Kim at our house so they could survey the kitchen and bath plans and view the construction/destruction for themselves. In the afternoon, we took them into the city to a lovely little park for a stroll, and to Greens for an early dinner before pointing them in the direction of the airport for their flight home to Cape Cod.

In case you are ever in San Francisco, I can recommend a trip to Greens. It's a vegetarian restaurant but even I, who is a dedicated carnivore, never feel deprived when I go there. The dishes are creative, delicious, and worth making a special trip. This time, I had a cheese tasting plate as an opener and an asparagus pizza for my main dish. The cheeses were all delicious and quite different than the usual - Andante Dairy Picolo, Cowgirl Creamery St. Pat, and Bellwether Farms pepato - and was served with sweet pickled vegetables and a nice pile of baguette slices.

The pizza boasted some of the nicest crust it has ever been my pleasure to bite into - very thin and crisp but not dry, and was topped with spring onion, green garlic, pea pesto, pine nuts, goat cheese, and grana padano. 

Best Pizza Ever. 

Absolutely killer combination of fresh spring tastes and textures. It was too big to finish so I took the rest home and found to my delight that it warmed beautifully in a dry, open frying pan for lunch the next day. Win-win.

It is always good to have time with family, time to sip a glass of wine and catch up on their doings. And that meal was the perfect ending to a special family weekend.