Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bringing the mountain

My friend has white mulberries in her garden, and huge peach trees she has raised from seed.  Lemons and kumquats, figs and pomegranates, a glasshouse full of seedlings ready to plant out.  And a motorized scooter to get around her garden.  She used to come walk around my garden, but no more. When I go for tea her house is full of lilacs or roses, lilies or iris, and she always asks me "How is your garden?"  How do you answer that? A garden is never just one way.  But this spring my garden is the best it has ever been.

So last week I took my garden to her.  I brought her a small bouquet of what's blooming now, and my laptop with photos of my garden.

The spanish bluebells came from my friend Sylvia - her garden is a sheet of blue in spring.  Mine are more numerous each year, and I finally have enough to share.
The columbines came from Carol.   I can feel her gentle presence when they bloom.  I miss her.
I don't remember who first told me they got their name from the ring of doves kissing.  Remember your Latin? 

Rhododendrons light up the shade, and caress me with a faint spiciness as I brush past.  They will be sticky and brown soon, and the stickiness will coat my fingers as I snap off the endless spent flowers, but they're worth it.
I showed her the old apple tree just budding,
and the forget-me-nots that stick to your socks.  My mom says when that happens the best thing to do is plant your socks.  She's right, the seeds never come off.
There are bright bergenias with leaves like glossy cabbage.  A granny plant, very out of fashion.  Too bad. I love it.
The first roses of the year are opening outside the bathroom window among the spent peach blossoms, where it is sunniest.  When she saw this she said "Climbing Peace!  That is my favorite rose!"  When a few more have opened I will take her armfuls.
If you can't bring your friend to your garden, get out your camera and your laptop, and bring your garden to visit your friend.  And don't forget the bouquet, for no matter how small, a bouquet gathered by your hand from your garden will always speak of love.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Cooking Lessons

My friend Maryam called and said "I have your dinner - come by and get it."

As she is a fabulous cook and a commanding presence, I hopped in my car and zoomed over.  She was standing by the stove, with a huge pile of rice and a thick round-bottomed saucepan next to her.  

"I have Cioppino for you, but you must have it with garlic bread..." check.  "...and Persian rice.  Nobody ever makes this right, so I have started it for you." Okay.  My favorite recipes have been handed down hands-on.  

"I melted about two tablespoons of butter in this pan, and I added two tablespoons of olive oil and a pinch of saffron.  Use really good saffron, the best you can find.

"Now you put in the rice" and she scooped about four cups of cooked rice on top of the melted butter and oil.

"Then you add dried Persian cranberries.  You have to get them at the Persian store, you can't use those American ones."  I tasted one - they were tiny, like dried pomegranate seeds, and quite tart.

"You just mix them into the top of the rice, you don't want to disturb the part that is in the butter and oil.  When you cook it, put it over high heat until it starts to sizzle, then turn the heat down to medium-low, add a tablespoon of water and another tablespoon of butter, just put them on top of the rice.  Then put three paper towels over the top of the pan, put the lid on, and cook it for 45 minutes.  When it's done take off the lid, put a plate upside-down over the top of the pan and flip it over onto the plate."

I did as she said. I must confess I folded the edges of the paper towel in a bit so they wouldn't hang over and catch fire - I once nearly set my friend Cathy's kitchen ablaze. As it was cooking the most wonderful nutty smell filled the kitchen.

When we cut into it, it was crispy and creamy, sweet and crunchy where the rice had crisped, and tart where the cranberries were lurking.

The next day I took her this photo...
...and she laughed with delight.  "You did it perfectly!" she said.  "Even my grand-daughter has to call when she's making it!"  She did of course start it for me, so I suppose that's cheating.  But I'm making it again, and soon. With chicken, with salmon, with  shrimp in garlic butter...come for dinner!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Loyal For Life

On St. Patrick's Day we had been out to dinner with some friends.  They have recently lost their dog of nearly two decades, the senior statesman and welcome wagon of the neighborhood.  It's hit the whole family hard, and since I think everyone should have at least one dog,  Smiley Dog Rescue seemed the place to start.  On my new Macbook Air of course.  And if you have a friend who isn't familiar with Pinterest of course you have to show them your boards...

The internet was soooooo slow, and as we were waiting for a page, any page to load, I reached for my Irish coffee.  And poured it across the keyboard of my adored two week old Macbook Air.

The whiskey and whipped cream went into the keyboard and drained out the trackpad.  Sticky streaks marked the screen as I tried to wipe off some of the mess.  I tipped it up and more coffee and stickiness dripped out the bottom.

"Rice!" Leeann exclaimed.  "My iPhone got soaked, I put it in rice, and it's been fine." So into a big bag of rice went my Macbook Air, tipped on its side so it could drain.

I thought it would be a good idea to wiggle the hinge to try to get more liquid out before it dried and got totally gummed up.  Bad idea.  When I took it out of the rice the next morning there were rice grains stuck in the hinge, and I could hear more rice rattling around inside the computer.  Oops.

In tears we made an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar.  I had a sleepless night chastising myself.  I don't make a lot of mistakes, but this one was a doozy, and being a Lutheran...well, let's just say forgiving yourself is not part of the Protestant ethic as I learned it.

We thought about not telling them what had happened...for about one second.   It's the Lutheran thing, remember?  I imagine I felt a bit like a naughty Catholic at confession waiting to hear what could be done...I felt trepidation, guilt, remorse...

The young man who listened to our tale of woe said "At least it was Irish coffee.  On St. Patrick's Day.  You get points for that" and went off to see what could be done.  We sat in silence, surrounded by the happy din of the Apple store, and watched glumly as excited customers clutching their new toys grinned and threaded their way through the crowd and out the door.

When the young man came back, he said "I have some bad news.  Is there anything on this computer you can't replace?  Anything you haven't backed up?"  Nope, thanks to Wally's quick mind and his external keyboard (the one on the Airbook was frozen) we'd just backed everything up.

"Good!" he said.  "Here's a new Macbook Air.  You'll have to reload all your stuff, but since you backed it up, it won't be a problem, and you owe us zero dollars and zero cents."

We left the store grinning, me clutching my new computer to my chest.  I am writing this on my new toy, no coffee or tea in sight.

Only at Apple. Loyal for life.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back in the saddle again

Conventional wisdom says that if you fall off a horse, get right back on.  Quickly, before the fear sets in, before you have time to think.  Great advice, but when I got knocked out on the ski slopes a few weeks ago there was no question of getting back on my skis.  The paramedics took them away from me, and the doctor (and Wally) threatened dire consequences if I didn't rest.  A lot.  So I rested, and I stewed.  

I thought about not skiing until next year, but I didn't want to go through the whole summer wondering if I'd lost my nerve, wondering if I'd be too scared to ski.  So last week we went skiing.  

At first I was like a little old lady crossing a slippery street on a windy day.  Cautious doesn't begin to cover it.  But I'd rented some hot new skis, and if I wasn't paying attention and driving, I was flat on my rear.  So I skied.  And skied.  And skied.  And I came home with a shiny new pair of skis: 
Volkl RTM in case you care.  Rated best by everyone this year, including me. 

Happy to have the trauma over, happy to have the mystery solved (as in will I ski again, not as in who did the hit and run) and happy to have had some time in the beautiful mountains.
And Wally is happy too. 
So nice to ski together. Fast. Here's to many more years.  

Worth it?

Jan bid on it at a charity auction - a thousand daffodils planted by the best looking and most entertaining firemen in the firehouse. How could she resist?  On a beautiful fall day the ladies lounged in the garden while the firemen dug and sweated and teased each other and planted daffodils.  They marked the one drip line they cut...unfortunately it's not always obvious when you cut the soft drip tubing.  So the first time John turned on the irrigation, it looked like Versailles on a day when all the fountains are running.  Oops.  
Still, I think it was worth it...don't you? 

p.s. Wally has been complaining about the small type - it seems to have gotten smaller lately - anyone else notice this?  Maybe it's just my eyes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gas Prices

A neighbor posted this on Facebook (I know, I know...) and its' too good not to share. And because I know some of you don't do Facebook (hi Aileen!) here it is. Feel free to pass it along. If you can't figure out how to do that, call me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wish I'd said that...

He’s deeply shallow, Michael said as he steered me past the fiction table toward the back of the store.  I had to laugh - words are his business (he owns Rakestraw Books) and my passion and delight (I am a published author and noted big mouth), and that phrase is especially delicious.  And it got me thinking about other clever turns of phrase.  

How many times have you thought of just the right comeback...the day after the event?  Or thought of the perfect comeback and held your tongue, only to wish later you’d let it rip?  Of course there is always the famous “She needs a speed-bump installed between her mouth and her brain.” We all know people like that. You need to say the serious stuff with care and respect.  But for those other moments, and there are so many of those other moments, here are some inspirations:
Groucho Marx said "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." Go Groucho.
Forrest Tucker: "He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." I bet you've dated this guy.
Oscar Wilde: "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." And yet somehow they linger and linger...
And for that argumentative yet clueless person: "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." Andrew Lang 
When Eric was visiting a few weeks ago he read us our horoscopes in the morning, and we decided to do horror-scopes and mis-fortune cookies.  Now remember this is all in fun, and try not to get your panties in a bunch. 

1. You are the conversational equivalent of spam. 
2. Work on your social skills - or is it is possible to work on something you don’t have?
3. Your cat is cheating on you.
4. That shirt? with those pants? Is your taste really all in your mouth? 
5. They lied. It is you.
6. I love what you’re trying to do with your hair.
7. Focus your energies on becoming a more positive person - even your therapist is sick of listening to you whine.
8. Your search for old friends and long lost loves isn’t going to work out - they’re all busy changing their email and Facebook accounts to avoid you.
9. If you’ve changed your Facebook status more than three times, your real status is unstable.
And just in case we still need a reminder:
10. Being on Facebook is not a real life.  

Coveting Curtains

Wouldn't this be a great place to start the day? The cheery yellow, the crisp blue and white, the lemon trees, the clever mix of patterns...and I love the window.  I don't think you can call them curtains, or drapes.  I guess this is why the term window treatment got invented.
I have an unfortunate bathroom. Not far from the front door, near the kitchen, around the corner from the dining room. You see it as you walk between rooms, and the commode is in plain sight.

Friends have suggested "Close the door".  But that makes the hall dark and gloomy.
"Reverse the door".   Then you'd have to shimmy into the bathroom, and you couldn't get to the sink.  It's a small bathroom, really.

"Hang a curtain from the ceiling. Between the commode and the sink. You can tie it back, you can gather it, you can have fun with it."  Brilliant.  Thank you Cathy.  Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to the Scalamandre website to see about getting yards and yards of this fabric.  I think I'll do the window, too while I'm at it.  

And what are your rainy day dreams?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


It's a good year for lemons:
our trees droop under the weight of the fruit.
And blood oranges:
They are not especially sweet; we are beyond the edge of orange-dom.  But they are better than the regular oranges which are so sour they are unpalatable, even as juice.

Our friend Jane gave is this juicer on one of her treasured visits (Note to Jane - it's time to come back! we miss you)
She is the queen of gift giving, she always nails it (more about that in a later blog) and we have been toasting her with blood orange juice in the morning. 
Delicious, beautiful, healthy...

And as our neighbor Maddy pointed out, they also make great martinis. Ice, vodka, and a splash of Canton Ginger Liqueur for sweetness. Wonderful with chicken. And I have a new favorite chicken. If you've been paying attention you know I loved the fried chicken from last month's Bon Appetit. I'd link it for you but Safari has decided to hide the URL - any suggestions gratefully accepted.

It had a spice rub, and since oven baked chicken is a staple here (think cobb salad, chicken salad, chicken enchiladas) I tried a spice rub on the oven baked version.  I've made it twice in three days. So here's the recipe with thanks to Bon Appetit for the inspiration.

Oven Baked Chicken

Preheat the oven to 350 fahrenheit.

For the rub:
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 boneless skin-on chicken breasts - organic and free range if you can.

3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons olive oil (or 1 tablespoon olive oil and one tablespoon butter)

Mix all the rub ingredients in a small bowl - sprinkle over chicken. There will be a generous coating of spices - don't be shy.

Mix the flour with the cornstarch in a small bowl, and sprinkle over spice-coated chicken. Press it in with your fingers to make sure as much as possible sticks.

Pour about a tablespoon of real olive oil (read Extra Virginity for the real scoop) in an oven-proof pan. Put the chicken pieces in skin-side down and rub them in the oil to coat the skin. Use the second tablespoon if you need it - I did. Turn the chicken skin-side up and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer  reads 160. (thank you Ann- using the thermometer has saved many a chicken from overcooking) 

Mine didn't get brown enough this time so I ran them under the broiler - 
and burned them in spots. Thankfully my husband didn't mind. And they made a great Cobb Salad. So now I have a new favorite week-day chicken recipe - to go with the fabulous fried chicken I blogged about in Fear if Frying. Again, until I figure out the link thing again (don't you hate upgrades?) you'll have to go to and search the blog. 

As Julia would have said, "Bon Appetit!"And she was right.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Rousing Round of Croquet

If you've never played croquet at Meadowood you're in for a treat. Our second time in two weeks.
An hour with the pro so you learn to be ruthless,
and an hour on your own.  They cheated, we lost fair and square.
The croquet pitch may look level, but it's not - we are standing on the moral high ground.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fear of Frying

When a recipe calls for frying in oil - and using a thermometer  - I usually turn the page. Same with caramelizing sugar. But I have a note on my spice cupboard that says "Do one thing you're afraid of every day" and so in spite of my fear of frying I made the Fried Chicken from the current issue of Bon Appetit - you know, the recipe that's on the cover? Go buy a copy. Now.
It's Valentine's Day and fried chicken is Wally's favorite. If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know I made the Ad Hoc fried chicken for his birthday (a long time ago) and it took three of us all afternoon - after two days of prep.

So this one is simpler, and more bullet-proof. How? Well, I forgot to rub the spices on last night, so I did it this morning. Didn't seem to matter. Plenty spicy.

I also forgot to photograph almost everything until I was halfway done. In fairness it's hard to fry and photograph at the same time.

This recipe is less messy, only one dip in the buttermilk and one in the flour.  I used tongs to dip and flour the chicken instead of my hands - it worked fine.
And I used a rack to drain the chicken after it was cooked. Skin side up so the oil can get out. 

And even tho I read the recipe several times I screwed up the temperature - I fried the first batch at 350. You're supposed to put the chicken in to the oil at 350 and fry at 325. There was a big warning about the coating burning while the chicken stayed raw. Didn't happen.

And the verdict? We liked the 350 chicken better. It was crispier - the 325 was juicier and you could taste the spices better, so I'll probably fry at 325 next time...but oh that crispy crust.

And of course I forgot to photograph the finished chicken until it was almost gone.
I will make this again, and soon. For a picnic, for a summer party in the garden. For a dinner by the fire when it's raining. For a birthday, for a friend. I have not lost my fear of frying but some things are worth being scared.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

it's raining, it's pouring

We used to drive mommy and daddy crazy chanting that song over and over from the back seat of the car. Even now the words bring vivid pictures of the Santa Cruz mountains in the rain, and the musty cardboard smell of my dad's old green Chevrolet.

It is, finally, raining.  And while it is freezing in Europe (great photos at NYTimes) it is green here.
And blooming. Spring is early this year. Daphne pours citrusy sweetness on the air. A branch by my bedside soothes me when I wake at night. It's an all's-well-with-the-world smell. I remember when the plants were so tiny snipping a twig to bring in the house seemed an affront. Now there are three massive bushes, enough to cut and to share.

Hellebores hang masses of bells - from green-tinged white:
 to shocking pink:
to almost black. 
Remember when all black gardens were the rage? Me neither.

This daphne relative, Edgeworthia chrysanthea, looks (and sounds) like something from Fred Flintstone's garden.
Bright Icelandic poppies, planted in September, nod over blue violas. Planting in September really does make a difference; a neighbor (no, not you) has tiny green tufts with sparse flowers from recently planted poppies. 
Summer snowflakes (yes I know they're confused - do you want to tell them?) are blooming on short stems this year.
Clumps of daffodils brighten the slope under the ancient oak, its branches sweeping down to meet them. 
And all this just after the last iris just quit. 
Victoria Falls bloomed at Thanksgiving, at Christmas, and was still blooming two weeks into the New Year. A swirling wind finally wrenched off the last stalk, and I am iris-less for a few months. Last year they bloomed with the Ice Follies daffodils. This year the Ice Follies are starting to bloom now, and the sensible iris have decided to wait for warmer, more settled weather.

Me too.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A loss of faith

It's not how I wanted to start - or end - my ski week. And I'm trying to get past the anger.
Who leaves the person they've just smashed into from behind and knocked out unconscious and convulsing on the ski slope? But it happened, and it happened to me.  I woke up twenty feet to the left (not downhill) from where I'd been stopped, strapped to a board, my helmet skis and gloves off. I'm not sure who was more surprised, the ski patrol that I was awake or me that I'd been passed out for fifteen minutes.

All will be well. Crashing headaches but no permanent physical damage. But my faith in the human race has been bent beyond repair.

Oh, and I need a new helmet; mine is caved in. If you ski with a helmet, good for you. If you don't, get one. It could save your life. It just saved mine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Picnic with the Pinks

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had a school holiday, and we spent the day together. It was the first time they'd been to the top of the mountain...
...where it was still freezing - literally. So we had our picnic halfway down. There are not many things both Things like to eat, so I got up at dawn to roast a chicken (cold chicken isn't one of the things they eat) and it was a huge hit. Then we played Spot Your House.
They did. 

Thing 2 wanted to build stuff, and when it got too cold outside we made bath salts for sore muscles.
Epsom salts, essential oils, food coloring.
I may sleep for a week, but I haven't had so much fun since I was a kid. I think there's a lesson in there - if you want to have as much fun as you did when you were a kid, get a kid to be your guide. Thank you Pinks.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rain Dance

It hasn't rained here in over a month. Maybe two. It is so dry my hair crackles, and my skin itches. Still we managed to have an almost 24 hour power outage.  Wind. Trees. Don't ask. 

At first it was charming, going to bed by candlelight and giggling as we snuggled under the covers. 
And then came the morning. Who knew the stove wouldn't light, even with a match? I knew about the electric ignition, but there must be a safety thingie in there somewhere to keep us caffeine-deprived sleep-addled people from blowing ourselves to kingdom come. Thank goodness there's a Starbucks on every corner.

We could see our breath lying in bed in the morning. We could have gone to my mom's to sleep - she had power. But we have down comforters and hats and jackets, and a very warm furry dog. 
So we had an adventure. 

And it has been beautiful, so many clear mornings with fog flowing along the bottoms of the valleys like cream. When Ally and I walk up the mountain I stop to gaze. She stops to do other things. 
It's a spectacularly beautiful place to live, but if it doesn't rain soon things could get ugly. My daffodils are dry, the trees look crisp, the vineyard soil is cracked. The grass that sprouted in October when the rains began has not grown an inch since, and the hills, normally screaming green by now are just brushed with green. If you know a rain dance, now would be the time.