Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Places

One of the best things about My Beloved is that he is always up for trying something new. He's game for just about anything, even breakfast out. I say "even" because he usually heads directly for the kitchen upon arising and makes himself breakfast even before he gets dressed. For me, who doesn't get hungry until around 10am, that seems like a serious excess of energy for so early in the day.

So, by the time my appetite awakens, he's full of breakfast and not yet thinking of lunch, so we usually stay home and I rummage around in the fridge for my own brunch. 

But, every now and then, I'm ready early and he's up for something new, so we go out to breakfast. This time, he was eager to introduce me to the Lighthouse Cafe in Corte Madera, a place our son-in-law recommends for Huevos Rancheros and My Beloved has enjoyed for a burger at lunch time. 

We got a kick out of the black and white checked theme of the restaurant, inspired, we think by the tiles outside and carried through inside. It gives a homey feel to the place with a little a hint of sophistication.

I ordered scrambled eggs with home fries and chicken apple sausage; you'd be amazed at how differently each place makes this standard dish. At the Lighthouse, they use peppers with the onion in the home fries, put a serious sear on the sausage, and make moist, fluffy scrambled eggs. A little wedge of orange is a nice touch on the edge of the plate, and the portion was so generous that I was unable to finish it all.

My Beloved was more adventuresome than I - he ordered the San Francisco Benedict - two poached eggs on English muffins with a thick bed of Dungeness crab/lobster and a topping of bright Hollandaise sauce. It came with hash browns, too, and a side of fresh fruit.

Now I know why our s-i-l recommends this place. The wait staff is friendly and prompt with the coffee pot, the atmosphere is homey and welcoming, and the food is quite good. We'll happily add this new place to our list of favorites.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brunch Special

When pal Sari suggested getting together with her and Jeff, My Beloved and I jumped at the chance to catch up with their news, to hear all about their trip to Croatia, and to show off our new kitchen. How about brunch?

Jeff was openly envious of my wonderful new stove and Sari was pleasingly impressed with our luxurious new bathroom, so we felt happily smug about the improvements. Truth be told, we are so pleased with them, ourselves, that we don't really need others to praise, but it does feel nice, worth all the trouble we went to.

And both of them enjoyed my brunch casserole. I found the basic idea on, but changed everything except the cheese, so it turned out quite differently. This version had lots of baby bella mushrooms, spicy Italian sausage, and extra sharp cheddar cheese and, if I do say so myself, I think it was a nice improvement. Each bite had the funk of mushrooms, the heat of spice, and the richness of eggs, plus a little herbal lift from the herby Acme herb slab bread that I used for the foundation.

It baked up beautifully, puffed and glorious, and was perfect alongside a plain salad of butter lettuce leaves with a balsamic vinaigrette. Best of all, it could be made the day ahead so we had time to show off the house as well as catch up with their news.

Doctored Brunch Casserole

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1 pound of spicy Italian sausage, either bulk or links, but crumbled, cooked, and drained of extra fat.
8 slices of herb slab bread (or other white bread - or any bread you like), cut into cubes
10 eggs
About a dozen baby bella mushrooms, sliced and sautéed.
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups milk (do not use low fat or nonfat)
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt

Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish. Place bread in prepared dish. Top with cooked sausage, shredded cheese and sautéed mushrooms.  Beat together eggs, milk, mustard, and salt. Season with pepper, then pour egg mixture over the sausage, mushrooms, cheese, and bread.

Bake until casserole is puffed and golden, and the center is set, about 50 minutes. Cut into serving size pieces and serve with a green salad.

Can be made the day ahead, refrigerated, then baked for a few minutes longer if baked cold.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Important National Holiday

Much to the dismay of my somewhat patrician mother, I was more of a plebeian in my early tastes. Maybe it was that Irish blood, something her family dreaded when she had the good sense to marry my Dad over their objections. Whatever the reason, I just loved a bologna sandwich on gooshy white bread with iceberg lettuce and lots of mayo.

I still do.

I had my first one at a friend's house, as my mother would never buy bologna, or white bread, or iceberg lettuce.

My tastes have changed a little since those days, but I still do enjoy two slabs of pink meat between two slices of bread with a scrape of mayo and a crisp leaf of sweet iceberg to give it crunch. These days, the bread is better than the Wondrous stuff I loved back then, but the rest hasn't changed.

So, when My Beloved informed me on Monday that Friday would be National Bologna Day, I rushed out to the supermarket to buy the fixings for the grand celebration. I admit that my snooty side was tempted to purchase some of the excellent Fra Mani mortadella instead, but I remained staunchly true to the original, lowly though it may be, and bought a plastic package of the brand that the little kid used to sing about.

Happy Bologna Day, one and all!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

True Fans

Currently, Bay Area baseball fans are on a high - our team, the Giants, won the pennant with a walk-off home run by an unlikely hero, and then took the first game of the "World Serious" at the Kansas City Royals' home ball park. It's all pretty heady stuff for those who love the game.

My Beloved and I are fair-weather fans, I have to admit. We enjoy a day out at the ballpark, as much for the experience as for the game, but we don't follow baseball closely until the Giants are in the playoffs. The season always seems too long and the Giants are famous for struggling to win until they pull off a minor miracle to get themselves into the playoffs late in the season. They do this rather consistently, three times in the past five years, but it's agonizing for the true black-and-orange fans who follow them with enthusiasm. 

Last week, My Beloved drove five hours down to Bakersfield, CA to attend a sporting event that he really does care about, a nostalgia drag racing meet in that fair city.  He has a whole coterie of friends that he meets down there, people he has gained over a lifetime at the track, and they have a fine time talking about all things racing. My Beloved comes home exhausted from hours walking around the race track, hoarse from chatting with all those pals, and stiff as a post from ten hours in the car - but ecstatic and full of stories about his heroes and his buddies.

Sadly, I'm a lukewarm fan of drag racing, too. I gave it a good try early on in our love affair, wanting badly to share his passions. I went with him to the tracks, read drag racing magazines, and became knowledgeable about the various teams, but it just didn't "take" with me. I guess it's something you have to fall in love with when you are young. So, reluctantly, I decided not to be his anchor at these events, trailing around after him and wishing I was home, and instead I wave a fond goodbye in the driveway once or twice a year and resolve to enjoy a few days of quiet time with only Cora for company.

There is an up side to his trips to Bakersfield, too. He drives past Harris Ranch on Interstate 5, about halfway up from the track. It's a good stopping place for him to get some dinner, fill his car with fuel, and shop at their on-site gift shop.  Because they raise beef at Harris Ranch, the best of the offerings in their gift shop are in a refrigerator. 

Like this "baseball" steak that he brought home last time he drove down to the races. The cut really is about the size and shape of a baseball, hence the name. Steak this good doesn't need fancy preparation - a simple salting and peppering before searing is perfect. It weighed about 8 ounces, enough for both of us for dinner and, being about two inches thick, the outside caramelizes beautifully in a sizzling pan while the center stays nicely pink.

Here, at last, something of which we are both true fans.

Go, Giants!

Monday, October 20, 2014

School Orchard

Two mornings per week, I tutor second graders in reading at a local charter school that is just 10 minutes away from my house. I have talked about my students before (in fact, it's hard to get me to stop talking about them) but the last time I was there, there was a notable innovation - a small, curbside orchard.

My school is in a rather poor neighborhood and the children at the school are roughly 50/50 African-American and Hispanic. The school dictates that they wear uniforms, light blue polo shirts and navy blue pants, but the children and their parents find a million delightful ways to distinguish themselves. A pretty hair ribbon here, a pair of sparkly shoes there, or a special hairdo are all ways that the children show their individuality and, frankly, I'm a little jealous. I wish they made sparkle-toed sneakers that light up in adult sizes, too.

The school has a little garden inside the gate and it's clear that the administration is trying to teach the children about growing healthy food - I detect Mrs. Obama's influence here - but this orchard was new. It's growing outside the school fence next to the parking lot. The children have made signs to designate which tree is which, two nectarine and two pear varieties.

I wanted to show you the signs - are these wonderful, or what? I just love my mornings at this little school, and I applaud all their efforts to bring healthy food and happy, expressive art work to the children and their community.

I think my favorite is the Flamekist nectarine sign, but they are all fun. Which do you like best?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Brotherly Love

When we threw a surprise 70th birthday party for My Beloved, he got several surprises in addition to the party, and the best one was a visit from my Hawaii brother, Whiting. My Beloved enjoyed all his guests, but this one definitely came the farthest to honor the birthday boy.

And Whiting stayed for about a week after the party, which was super fun. We wanted to make his visit a pleasure so we took him around to local restaurants and enjoyed the beautiful stretch of weather we were having by treating him to a ferry ride from Larkspur to San Francisco where we had lunch and strolled through the ferry building picking up goodies for dinner, and then riding back while Whiting quizzed the crew about the engines and capabilities of the catamaran. Whiting loves all things boat, especially if he can somehow attach a fishing pole to it.

Now that he's back in Hawaii, we are playing a version of Scrabble online and enjoying the daily contact, but I have to admit I miss having him here in person. My family is pretty far flung, so we don't see each other often and family visits always make me wish we lived closer.

So, I look frequently at this photo of the boys on the boat on the way to San Francisco with the wind in their hair and the bright blue sky above.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Enjoying Aunt Virginia

During World War II, nearly 30,000 a month passed through the Top of the Mark bar in the Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Servicemen and women would often say, "I'll meet you at the Top of the Mark" on their way to serve in the Pacific. Each squadron kept a bottle of liquor in a cabinet at the Top of the Mark for anyone in their squadron who was passing through, and the guy who used the last shot was honor bound to buy the next bottle. Needless to say, many a toast was drunk to those comrades in arms who did not make it back.

Ever since, the management of the Top of the Mark has continued to hold one seat at the bar for servicemen and women, and although the tradition of the squadron bottles lapsed for a while, it has been revived in 2009 by Lieutenant Mike Hall, USN. That's Lieutenant Hall in the picture above.  He also initiated a sort of "guest book" to be signed by any service person or veteran who wants to add a good wish or a remembrance of her or his service.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Partly to give you a tip - the Top of the Mark is a great place to have a drink and a nibble any time you are in San Francisco - but mostly because we went there last week with my Aunt Virginia and her daughter Bonnie who accompanied her on this visit. Aunt Virginia has been going to the Top of the Mark pretty much all her life, first as a Navy junior (her Dad and my Granddad was a battleship captain), then as a young married woman, and now we go with her every time she comes to town because she loves a "dirty" Martini - and because she is a veteran. Aunt Virginia served in the first class of the Waves during the second world war.

Here she is. I don't think she will mind if I tell you that she is 95 years young. She still lives alone, drives her bright red Honda Fit, volunteers at the library where she worked for many years, does chair Pilates every week, and takes all her friends to their doctors' appointments. She also drinks a Martini every evening before dinner. I want to be Aunt Virginia when I grow up.

When we got to the Top of the Mark, we realized it was Fleet Week here in San Francisco. Most Octobers, Navy ships sail into the bay, as they have many times since Aunt Virginia's father did, aboard one of Teddy Roosevelt's White Fleet in 1908. The ships are open for touring and the Blue Angels do their spectacular air shows over the waterfront. Aunt Virginia let it slip that she is a veteran and then the fun began!  First, she was offered a drink from one of the squadron bottles - her choice!  She chose the Tanqueray gin pictured above for her Dirty Martini, specifying Noilly Pratt vermouth, an olive, and just a dash of the juice from the bottle of olives. It arrived in a traditional Martini stemmed glass, the olive pierced with a stylish black toothpick.

Next, the management brought over that wonderful book of salutes and memories for us to page through. Reading those will bring tears to your eyes. Then, Aunt Virginia was invited to sign her own name and add her own memories to the new book that they have started since the old one is completely filled. 

Aunt Virginia relished her Martini as My Beloved and I enjoyed a glass of champagne while the Blue Angels roared overhead in practice. 

I can't imagine a more memorable visit to the Top of the Mark. We are all looking forward to her next visit so we can do it all again.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Birthday Boy

Part of the reason I've been absent from my blog for a while is that I've had a busy couple of weeks. You see, My Beloved was turning the Big 7-0 and his daughters and I decided long ago to throw him a surprise party. Katie made up the world's cutest e-vite, Sarah organized all the who's-bringing-what in a spreadsheet, I rented that lovely big house out in Inverness, the sons-in-law did double duty by keeping the Birthday Boy busy while we prepped for the party and by cooking the salmon and beef during the party, and we all did some running around to make the event a success.

And it was, indeed, a big success!  The guests came to honor him from as far away as Hawaii and as close as just down the road, My Beloved was completely surprised, the food was delicious, the children were angelic, and everyone had a fine time. My Beloved was hoarse by the end of the party, always a sign that he got to chat with everyone and laughed a lot.

There were presents, too. He's still writing thank you notes for all the presents. They were fun - as varied as a play station that weighs a ton and was clearly really intended for our newest grandson, to a wonderful set of four CDs of Top 40 songs from the year My Beloved was born up to the present, to this impressive spatula for the barbecue, complete with a super-sized black apron to wear when wielding it.

The spatula has to be eight or ten inches across - that's an entire, two-pound tri-tip roast next to it in the picture - and has a deliciously smooth wooden handle. One can scoop up two or three hamburgers at a time or, as we did, the whole tri-tip on its generous blade.

My Hawaii brother stayed for a week after the party, too, so we got in a nice, long visit with him. He helped us so much with moving furniture (yes, we are still moving in), unpacking, fixing the barbecue (the starter had stopped starting, so he took it all apart, checked all the components, and got it working again), and generally assisting two people who have few practical skills. Working to the tunes on the music CDs, we made good progress around the house.

We also took time out to ride the ferry from Larkspur to San Francisco to admire the passing landscape from the deck of a catamaran, to poke around the Ferry Building, and to have lunch; we enjoyed salads and sandwiches from Il Cane Rosso. We bought dinner from the various vendors - cheese for hors d'oeuvres from Cowgirl Creamery, "Tasty Salted Pig Parts" from Boccalone Salumeria, and killer brined pork chops from Prather Ranch Meat Company. Then, back on the ferry for the ride back on the warmest day this year.

All in all, it has been a fine birthday week for My Beloved, and we are basking in the glow. A special thanks to his daughters and his friends for making the party so memorable.

My Aunt Virginia and her daughter, Bonnie, plus Bonnie's daughter and son, arrive tomorrow, so I may be somewhat neglectful of the blog again this week. I hope you will hang in there with me as I look forward to telling you all about that visit next time.