Monday, September 29, 2014

Praying For Rain

Each Wednesday evening in the summer, we watch a sailboat race series come out of the Richmond harbor, zig and zag all over the bay, then tack back in before dark. It's one of the highlights of our week as we sit down to dinner. Sometimes, the boats are dodging a giant container ship or a car hauler loaded with autos from Japan and we hear the warning wail of the horns from the ships but, most of the time, they have the channel to themselves. Our contractor is frequently crewing on one of the larger boats, too, so we are always hoping that's he's the one out in front.

Last Wednesday was the last of the series, sailing out under a threatening sky. We are hoping that storm brings us some much-needed rain to begin quenching California's thirst. In the meantime, it makes for some pretty dramatic photographs.

We will miss seeing the Wednesday boats until next spring when they start up again. We do see sailors out on the bay in all weathers, but only in summer do we enjoy seeing a whole fleet of bright sails on the bay, all tacking together this way and that like pale butterflies winging across the water.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Good And Bad Signs

On a recent run to the Goodwill store to drop off yet another box of goodies for them, My Beloved suggested a reward lunch of a burger at Phyllis's Giant Burgers, a funky little storefront on the "Miracle Mile" in San Rafael. Or is that San Anselmo?  Anyway, it's between the two towns.

I had heard about this burger joint from more than one local source, so I was curious to try it. My Beloved had been there many years ago, but was not impressed, so our expectations were cautious, but curious.

The parking lot was packed - a good sign. Just inside the door, on the wall in front of the ordering desk was a big sign advertising that they use Niman Ranch beef - another good sign. We are not fancy burger folk; he likes mushrooms and I just like mine "dressed," as we used to say - with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. We stepped right up and ordered a giant burger for MB and a "junior" for me, plus onion rings and a coffee shake to share.

While we waited for our burgers to be cooked to order, I used the rest room, a pretty scary place outside and at the end of the sidewalk, which was liberally tagged on all walls and ceiling with pretty unimaginative attempts at the art of graffiti. It was like a taggers' convention. Not a good sign.

Still, we managed to snag an outdoor, shady table and that felt good, since it was pretty stuffy inside on a warm day. It's a small place and they have a big flattop going, so it's bound to get hot in there. Our burgers were sizzling away.

The first bite convinced me that Phyllis's reputation for good burgers is well deserved. While our burgers were cooked a tad more than the rare (he) and medium rare (me) we ordered, they were still juicy and pink inside, and they grilled the buns as well as the burgers, always a good sign. The onion rings were mostly onion and very little breading, also a good sign. And the shake was strongly coffee-flavored, a bonus.

I'd happily return to Phyllis's, despite the lack of ambiance and the plethora of tagged messages. The food is just what it purports to be - nice, big, juicy burgers with all the trimmings. It doesn't need to be fancy to be good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Still Unpacking

During the destruction and construction of our remodeling project, the more impatient of my family members would fairly frequently remark, "What's taking so long?"  Now that the project is nearly finished and we are unpacking, those same family members are now asking why the unpacking is taking so long.

Here's why. This is our living and dining rooms, filled to (almost literally) the rafters with boxes and boxes of our stuff, plus furniture items everywhere. The bedroom looks pretty much the same as this, too. Yes, you're correct, we have 'way too much stuff. Obviously, we are not people who aspire to zen-like simplicity in our lives or, if we do, we are on the wrong track toward perfecting that art.

The good news is that, so far, we haven't seen a single thing that was broken, or even scratched. Our local movers did a superior job of boxing up our stuff and storing it for the past six months.

So, we are still unpacking. Thanks for asking.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sorry about that!

I've been ignoring this blog for what seems like weeks, although I guess it's really just a few days. We've been unpacking. And unpacking. And unpacking. The garage is 1/2 full of empty boxes, piled almost to the ceiling.

And curating. I have decided to de-clutter while I'm unpacking, and only to keep those things I used more or less frequently. So, we packed up eight of our unpacked boxes with things for the Goodwill, another three for the folks at the antique consignment store, and another for things we are moving along to friends.

In the middle of all the unpacking, the doorbell rang and a nice lady brought us flowers from my sister in North Carolina with a card saying "Congratulations!" She has been living vicariously with us through the remodel and was happy for us that it is over (more or less). The dishwasher still hasn't come so My Beloved is still doing dishes by hand, and one or two other small things are still on the punch list, but we are cooking in our new kitchen and loving it, so the niggledy things can wait.

The process of unpacking is something like a treasure hunt. We haven't seen these things in six months, so every piece we unwrap is a pleasant surprise. Even the things we aren't keeping are fun to see again and admire. I hope they will all find homes with people who will enjoy using them.

Posting may be a little scarce around here until all the boxes are unpacked and the paintings are hung and we are more settled, but I'll be back and I sincerely hope you will still be here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


My Beloved makes a big deal out of birthdays. I never know if he's planning a surprise, or taking me out for dinner, or sometimes even away for a whole weekend. Yes, I'm pretty spoiled. But, he doesn't just do it for me, he also does it for his daughters and sons-in-law.

Last fall, he was the main mover behind a wonderful birthday weekend to celebrate the three main guys in his life, s-i-ls Jim and Andre, and grandson Owen. He rented a big house for us all to share and we had a splendid weekend together, walking the beaches of Point Reyes, playing games in the paved courtyard, and sitting down to family meals together.

Most recently, he invited his daughter Sarah and her husband to join us for her birthday celebration at Boulevard, a wonderful San Francisco restaurant decorated in Art Nouveau style that none of us had tried before. Despite having been in business for more than 20 years, a reservation at Boulevard is still hard to get. Between Sarah's busy schedule as a working mother and Boulevard's popularity, we only just got around to this celebration of her July birthday last weekend!

It was worth the wait. We all ordered different meals and each was perfect in its way - salads inventive and delicious with unusual ingredients, meats cooked exactly to order and imaginatively dressed, fish cooked perfectly and plated beautifully. 

The service was personable and prompt without ever rushing us. Our server was knowledgable about the menu and helped us with wine choices as well. He was also charming and welcoming and very, very San Francisco. And we enjoyed the ambiance of the exposed brick ceiling and the Art Nouveau touches of the decor.

For dessert, we all shared the intensely flavorful berry crisp with sugared hazelnuts and both plates came with a lighted candle and a birthday wish. After dinner, we strolled over to the Embarcadero to watch the Bay Bridge light show, pleasantly full and happily grateful to My Beloved for yet another memorable birthday celebration.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


My Dad frequently quoted Bob Hope's line from an advertisement, "Now, you're cooking with gas!" It meant, "Now, you're on the right track," or "Now, we're making progress."  I thought of him when I fired up my brand new Viking stove for the first time because, literally, now I was cooking with gas!

When I turned on the oven to roast its first chicken, it went from cold to 400 degrees F in about five minutes flat - it uses the broiler, which is like a mini-inferno - to preheat. This in contrast to my old oven, which might or might not be ready to roast in about 30 minutes.

The burners on top melt butter right now, and boiling water for pasta is immediate rather than eventual.

The racks glide like skates on ice and the light inside really lights!  

Needless to say, I'm in love.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


This is the little, two-burner electric, countertop stove I've been using for the past six months. It's about to be replaced, come Thursday, by a four-burner gas stove that will be slid into the empty space to the right in this picture. After Thursday, I can say "goodbye" to this little beast.

It has not lived up to its billing. It promised to be fast and efficient, and it is neither. It takes at least ten minutes to heat a skim of water to boiling and, if you want to boil pasta in a big pot, you have time to read a chapter in a weighty book before it will come to the boil. And I actually spent the extra $10 to get the high-performance model!  I can't imagine what the cheaper one would have been like.

I thought about offering this little gem to the workers who have been helping us through our project, but I decided that would be doing them no favors.  I think it will end up being recycled.

And I expect I will be burning a few dishes before I get used to the instant, intense heat in my new stove. No more wandering away to do little chores or check Facebook while I wait for the pan to heat up - it's going to be "all hands on deck" from the get-go!

Now that the end is near, am I feeling just a little nostalgic for my trusty little hot plate? 

No. Not at all.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Almost There

Yesterday, we passed inspection from the company that comes to install the appliances. It's a different arm of the company from which we purchased the appliances, and coordinating with them has been a real challenge. The actual appliances won't arrive until next week. *sigh*

But we are almost there.

This is a photo of what we are calling the "transition" area, between the working kitchen and the dining area. Lots of storage, as you can see, and good lighting. (The extra piece of wood on the counter shouldn't be there - I just forgot to move it when I took the picture) All the doors and drawers are on "soft close" hinges, so they whisper shut, and the two appliance "garages" on either end of the counter have plugs inside them for coffee pot, toaster, etc. The left one is open. The very top cabinets have glass doors for display. I can't decide which things to display, or if I should put some art work in those. It's exciting to have the decision to make - or maybe I'll change them seasonally!  

This picture is of the other side, and with a long view into the kitchen. You can see the spaces where the stove and fridge will go, should the company ever deign to deliver them. The colors are off a bit in this photo, as the wood panel that separates the working kitchen from the "transition" area matches exactly the alder wood of the drawers in that storage cabinet.

The other thing that's hard to see is that the black quartz counter tops have flecks of the same golden tan as the wood and little bits of what looks like mica to me, so they sparkle gently.

And, lastly but importantly, this strip of tiger-colored accent stone separates the two areas and pulls together all the colors. Once we have the brushed steel appliances in place, it will all come together and even the gray wood floor will make sense. I can see it all in my mind's eye - if only I could see it in reality!

Patience has never been my strong suit.

But, God willing and the creek don't rise, by this time next week it will be finished and I can begin to move all my dishes and pots and pans into place and actually cook a meal in my splendid new kitchen.

It has been a long, long, slow process but, people, we are almost there!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dinner Anticipation

As you know, we've been eating out a lot since the remodel began. Most meals have been fine and we have enjoyed sampling all kinds of places around our area and in our little town. It's fun to walk along the sidewalk reading menus until you find one that sounds appealing for that day, then fill the wait for your selection with anticipation. 

If you go before 6 or 6:30pm, you usually don't need a reservation, even in relatively fancy places. You're welcome.

One or two have been rather disappointing, as was the one where I snapped this picture of their subdued table setting. The ambiance was better than my dinner in this Tiburon restaurant, which has been in that spot forever. I won't name it, as you might find you liked it, and people's livelihood depends on it, so I never rat out my least favorites in this blog. Instead, I just talk about the ones I enjoyed. The anticipation of this meal was better than the reality, but that's okay. What's one sad meal in a lifetime of good ones?

But, I like the simplicity of the photo I took before dinner even arrived, so I'll share that with you instead of my possibly mistaken opinions. And I'll look forward to the next one.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Popcorn Ramble

I have loved popcorn all my life - it's one of the best foods on earth. Tender kernels freshly popped with a little snap of crispness, coated, if you wish, with buttery goodness. What's not to like? Even in France, where corn is pretty much reserved as animal feed and food trends from other countries are viewed with a certain amount of suspicion, popcorn rules.

When I was a girl of 16, I was dropped into a girls' boarding school in Cannes, France for a year while my mother, older sister, and brother swanned around the Mediterranean following my Dad's fleet to exotic places like Capri, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Athens, viewing great works of art, eating in amazing restaurants, and absorbing marvelous cultures. I was homesick and miserable for about a week, but then I made friends and had a fabulous time despite being envious of their experience. 

The school was regimented and strict, but there was room for fun, too. We ate very well four times daily, including Gouté, afternoon tea with dark chocolate melted in our cups and smeared on slices of baguette. There were art lessons, French lessons, and the usual subjects, plus a few I had never encountered before such as Rédaction and Dictée. I was very good at Rédaction and Dictée, although now I can hardly remember what those terms meant. I even learned geometry in French. Hypotenuse is the same word in both English and French, thank heavens!

Rarely, we boarding girls would escape the school as guests of the day students. Being Navy Juniors, we had access to the PX in Villefranche where we could get all kinds of American things that we had missed. One of the things I bought was a bag of popcorn.

Stepping into my Wayback Machine, I should explain that in the olden days when I was a girl, we didn't have popcorn in convenient little bags already loaded with flavorings that you just pop into the microwave for a few minutes. In fact, microwave ovens hadn't even been invented - maybe even microwaves themselves hadn't been discovered - 'way back then. Instead, one poured a thin layer of oil in the bottom of a saucepan, added a measure of kernels, and heated it on the stove until the kernels popped open, finely coated with oil, ready for salt and munching.

I carried my prize back to school before I realized that, while the school had a kitchen, I didn't. So, I approached Madame Palet, the ancient, wizened mother of the school's headmistress, for permission to use the kitchen for making "le popcorn." We had to describe popcorn to her - she had literally never heard of such a thing and, being French, scoffed at the idea of eating corn - "Corn is for farm animals!" - but we begged and she reluctantly agreed, watching the whole process with bright, skeptical eyes. 

Of course, we offered her a taste and she did try it, with some hesitation. Her eyes went round with surprise and she smiled. She ate more of our popcorn than we did and, as a bonus, whenever she wanted popcorn after that, she would invite us to watch the school's only television with her - if we would make "le popcorn" again!

So, you can see that I'm a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to popcorn. I have my favorite microwaveable brand but I still love it when I see a machine like the one above, one that still makes popcorn with hot oil. We found this one in a tiny movie theatre (and what's a movie without popcorn? Hardly worth going!) in Tiburon, CA where they have cushy seats, reasonable prices (!), and delicious, fresh, real popcorn. I hadn't had popcorn that good in many years so, like Madame Palet, my eyes popped open with delighted surprise.

I could ramble on for a bit longer on the subject of popcorn but wouldn't we all rather I stopped so we could go and pop our own?  Bon Appetit!