Sunday, August 3, 2014

Limoncello.

It takes a really long time to make limoncello.  First you carefully zest the lemons, making sure to get only the yellow part of the peel and none of the bitter white.  And none of your knuckles.   Remember, this is Limoncello, not Bloody Mary Mix.

Then you put the zest in a jar with vodka or Everclear...and wait.  And wait.
After 40 days or so (is there an ark in this story?  and a really big rainstorm?  alas, no.)  Anyway!  where was I?  Oh yeah, after 40 days you boil sugar and water together, and add it to the boozy mixture...and wait.  And wait.  Another 40 days.

It's supposed to be strained thru a coffee filter, but I want to tell you that is soooooooo slow - one drip at a time.  I thought it was gonna take another 40 days just to filter it, so I got out the finest mesh strainer I could find, and in no time flat it was strained.  A bit cloudy, but hey, it's a home made product, so who expects perfection?  
I mean just look at the mis-matched jars - it so says home made, hand crafted.  And really, what's better?
(Um, okay mom, you might want to weigh in here on all the ceramic ash trays I made for you - by hand - when I was in school.  Obviously not the life-long treasures my teachers told me they would be, hand-made drips and lumps and all.  And I must confess it hurt my feelings a weensy bit when you gave them all back to me a few years ago, but with time and therapy I'm sure I'll get over it.  Some day.)

Now where was I?  Oh yes, on my way to therapy...and to the store to get coffee filters, because the next morning all that quick-filtered Limoncello had a thick wad of scum at the top.  Yuck.  Very unappetizing.  So out came the coffee filters, and it took all day.  But just look at the difference!  
Note:  wet the coffee filter before you pour in the Limoncello.  And use one filter per quart - that's about all they can filter before they clog up.  

So now I have a few precious bottles and jars of delicious clear pale yellow Limoncello in my pantry.  (Actually, they're in the wine cellar, but don't tell Wally.)  And I've ordered labels from My Own Labels.com.  (They are calling themselves Evermine now, but that so sounds like a sappy wedding site that I cannot bring myself to call them by their new name.)  

So if you come for dinner and it's a nice evening, check the freezer.  There just might be a bottle of pale yellow limoncello in there for us to share.  Yum.

And here is the recipe I used from Linda Stradley.  Please give her credit if it turns out well - she is an amazingly detailed writer and so clear!  (unlike my Limoncello...) 

And check out her website.

Italian Limoncello - How To Make Limoncello
This is my (Linda Stradley) personal recipe for Italian Limoncello that my husband and I make every year.
15 lemons*
2 (750 ml) bottles 100-proof vodka or 1 (750 ml) bottle of Everclear (190-proof) alcohol
4 cups granulated sugar
5 cups water (filtered tap water or distilled water)
* Choose thick-skinned lemons because they are easier to zest. The lemons must be yellow and not tinted with green.

Step One:
Wash the lemons with a vegetable brush and hot water to remove any reside of pesticides or wax; pat the lemons dry. 
Carefully zest the lemons with a zester or vegetable peeler so there is no white pith on the peel. NOTE: Use only the outer part of the rind. The pith, the white part underneath the rind, is too bitter and would spoil your limoncello. Check out my web page on How to Zest Lemons.


Step Two:
In a large glass jar (1-gallon jar with lid), add vodka or Everclean alcohol.
Add the lemon zest as it is zested. 
Cover the jar and let sit at room temperature for at least (10) ten days and up to (40) days in a cool dark place.

The longer the mixture rests, the better the end taste will be. (There is no need to stir - all you have to do is wait.) As the limoncello sits, the vodka slowly take on the flavor and rich yellow color of the lemon zest. 

Step Three:

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and water; bring to a gentle boil and let boil, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and let the syrup cool before adding it to the Limoncello mixture. 
Add cooled sugar mixture to the Limoncello mixture (from Step One). 
Cover jar and allow to rest for another 10 to 40 days. 

Step Four:
After the rest period, strain the limoncello; discarding the lemon zest. Pour strained Limoncello in bottle/bottles (of your choice) and seal tightly.

NOTE: Coffee filters or cheesecloth work great for straining the mixture. Moisten the filters before beginning the straining process. 
Keep your bottle/bottles of Limoncello in the freezer until ready to serve. Serve ice cold.

New York, New York

It looked like Cirque du Soliel, but it was the gold cleaners - or the gilders .  Who could tell at this distance?   But we could see the results...and the acrobatics.
And there were window washers suspended high above the sidewalk.   Surprising what you can see if you just look up.
Started me thinking about how many people - invisible people - it takes to support this vertical living - and office-ing.  Think about it.

And how precious the sweet parks are among the towers:
No matter how tiny or hemmed in by buildings.
When Eric lived here he complained that he never saw the horizon.  I think he did, it just wasn't what he expected.  No trees.  Or dirt.  
The horizon is man made - the tops and edges of buildings, some older and ornate, some spare and modern.  Dramatic but unfamiliar.  At least to children of the suburbs.

There was a time in NY you could build an extra-big building if you provided some public space on the ground.  

San Francisco is trying it now - you can go taller and wider if the ground floors are open and public.  We'll see...I don't think NY does this any more.  I love that we in SF are just now trying something NY abandoned years ago - It's part of our charm.

Le Corbusier tried it under a huge apartment building in Europe (and if I could remember the country I'd have put it here).  His vision was apartments raised off the ground, public space underneath.   It was not the stunning success he envisioned, the space under the building remained empty and sterile, and it didn't catch on.  Thank goodness.  

I prefer the elegant lobbies, apartments and offices.  I love the doormen, the beautifully dressed ladies rushing in and out just knowing they never have to worry about the door.  I love the office workers in the tall spare office lobbies skittering across the marble floors, all of them on their iphones.  I love that you can tell the worker bees from the masters of the universe by the way they walk.  I love watching people - can you tell?
And I love Central Park, that magic oasis in the middle of chaos that stretches from businesses to co-ops to Harlem. 
 To mangle a quote: "New York without Central Park would be Cleveland."  With apologies to Cleveland.  And to Paris, the subject of the original quote.  And to New York, even without the park it would be exhilarating.  No place like it on earth.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's The Pits

I opened what I thought would be a dishwasher full of sparkling clean dishes to find a steamy swamp smelling of burned cherry pits - they were resting on the heating element, the thingie that does the drying and were black and smoking - and enough water in the bottom to almost cover the heating element.  

I tried my usual remedies:  check the trap, clean the filter screens (I know, I know -  I should do this before the symptoms become so drastic) try turning on the pump again: nope.

Called Dunn Wright.  It's not our first rodeo with these guys. Usually appliance repair stories are horror stories.  Not with Dunn Wright.  They came to fix our washer a few years ago and actually had the replacement part - a pump (!) in the car.  They thought that might be the problem, they brought the part just in case.

The dishwasher guy called that day, was there the very next day, gave me a real appointment time not an 8 hour window, and had things all fixed in a trice.  
Apparently I'm not the first person to block things up with cherry pits (and stems) and pumpkin seeds.  So I've learned some things:

Clean the filter before it's a crisis. 

I really use our two dishwashers a lot, and each for different things.

I love my Asko dishwasher.  Beats the pants off my Miele.   

And most important:  there is a limit to what even these modern dishwashers can digest.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Farmers' Market

The Danville Farmers' Market can be brutal, especially if you're trying to get to the the peaches or the tomatoes in high season.  The corn, thank goodness, has a more-or-less organized line, courtesy of the corn farmers whom, I suspect, got tired of witnessing the suburban brutality.  

And crowded.  I've tried waiting patiently for my turn, and been elbowed out by sweet looking grannies with murderous looks in their eyes.  By daddies who think they're still linebackers and we are the opposing team, by aggressive moms swinging a baby from one hip and a huge purse from the other.  And the throng doesn't clear out until only shriveled bits of fruit remain.  The vultures have nothing on the folks at the Farmers' Market.

So I've learned to just wade in and take my chances.  And one morning, reaching for a ripe heirloom tomato, having just taken yet another elbow in the stomach - oof - I heard a familiar voice.

"Oh. My. God!  What are you doing here?  Your parole officer was just looking for you!  And girlfriend, how did you get that ankle bracelet off?!?"

All of a sudden I had the tomatoes to myself.  Which would have been great if I hadn't been laughing so hard I was doubled over.  Hard to grab a tomato when you're holding on to your sides.

It was my friend.  My adorable, hysterically funny, take-no-prisoners friend.  

I suspect the watching crowds thought she was brave to hug an obvious fugitive from justice.  We laughed, we talked, we told stories.  She showed me her favorite farmers - not the obvious crowded ones, but the lavender lady in the corner and the shy man with just a few apricots, so flavorful with each bite the juice ran down your chin, and memories from childhood came flooding back.

She is a fabulous story teller.  Get her to tell you about picking lemons in Israel.   In a Lily Pulitzer dress.  Priceless.  The story, not the dress.   She is the friend I call when I'm having a great day - she will laugh with me.  She is the friend I call when I am melting into tears and the world seems mean.

Everyone needs a friend like this in their life.  I am privileged to have the original.  Lucky me.

I Might As Well Be Here As Where I Am...

My mom learned this from a teacher or preacher or adult friend when she was just a child in the Big Horn Valley in Montana a very long time ago.  I finally memorized it - not easy for me.  I am better with things that make sense - at least to me.  But every life needs a little nonsense, right?

It is woven in my childhood memories.  I hope it makes you smile too.

I didn't come here 
So I'm not gonna stay.
I might as well be here 
As where I am,
So I guess I'll just sit down
And wait 'til I come back.

Anyone know who first said this?


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pithy

And no, pithy is not someone with a lisp and a bad attitude. 

My friends are storytellers.  Word people.  Thoughtful, thinking. Witty. One of my favorite people in the world, when I asked about her housekeeper's health, said: "Oh, Lupe is going in for an autopsy next week."  And on the other end of the phone I could hear Lupe yell from the next room: "I Am Not!!!!"  Biopsy, autopsy, so few letters; such a big difference.

Someone else was asking the same friend about her early life, and when my friend said she had come to America on a ship during the war, she was asked: "Oh, was that the crusades?" Yeah.  Old but not that old, thank you.  And don't they teach history any more?

I love the unexpected.  Like "We're in the 18th year of a five year lease." Or  "Tim has a troubled relationship with salmon." Now I know what not to serve.   

"She has a black belt in passive aggressive behavior." We all know one or two of those.  May we never be alone in a room with them.

"I found it on the inter tube."  Youtube, internet.  So confusing.

A very witty fellow I know was being a bit snarky about a friend who's gone off the rails, and he said "She used to do interesting things with great enthusiasm..." Unstated but very well understood is the "But alas, that is no longer the case."  

This same friend gave me a favorite quote and cocktail recipe:  "A jigger of anger in a tall glass of resentment, with a dash of bitterness".

Husbands and wives can be wickedly funny too.  “I think I’ll write a book today,” the writer Georges Simenon was said to tell his wife at breakfast. “Fine,” she would reply, “but what will you do in the afternoon?”

And my favorite tale - a friend's parents had grown old in their house.  When the mother died, the dad stopped driving.  And repairing anything around the house.  By the time his dad died, the vines sagged off the eaves and covered the garage door.  You could not even back the car out unless you had a chain saw.

The son asked a childhood friend who's in real estate to come look at the house.  As they carefully climbed the sagging front steps, with clouds of swarming termites rising around them, Alex said "Really, the best thing you can do for this house is tear it down."

His friend said "I can't do that!  My dad just put a new roof on the house!"

And Alex replied " If you used that logic when your mother died, you wouldn't have buried her, because she had a new set of dentures."

He tore down the house.  And yes, he had buried his mother.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Day At The Beach

When we left New York it was hot and sticky  That night in East Hampton the rain woke us in the middle of the night.  At first it was just some soft pattering sounds on the roof.  Then it began to bucket down, and we jumped up to crank closed the windows.  We laid in bed and listened to the sharp ticking of the rain against the glass.

It was the tail end of Hurricane Andre, trailing its long arm over Long Island.  Exciting for us: the wind wasn’t howling and we weren’t out nailing up plywood.  We have lots of earthquakes in the west, and the odd fire but hurricanes - not.   At least not yet.

All day it poured.  Where we live we are in the throes of a nasty drought, so this was heavenly.  
We read, we laid around and stared out the windows, glorying in a whole day with nothing to do...and all that wonderful water coming from the sky.  
We watched the tennis matches at Wimbledon while the rain streamed down the windows.   That day, the good guy won.  Alas, he lost in the final.
It was the perfect house for a rainstorm - high ceilings, tall windows, big airy rooms.  Lots of bedrooms, lots of places to curl up with a book, and a big overhanging porch so we could leave the tall glass doors open and listen to the surf sounding in every room but the kitchen, snug on the lee side of the house.
The next morning you’d never know it had rained…except for the pumps bailing the water out of the sand traps on the golf course.  And the puddles in the gravel lane.  
The lawn was a an incandescent shade of green. And the waves were huge, angry, thundering and booming against the sand.  
We watched some surfers fight to paddle out, and finally give up, exhausted.   
It was a perfect day at the beach.