Friday, June 15, 2012

How an Old Chihuahua Stole My Heart

Just this past winter our buddy Norm asked if we could feed his three cats while he and his daughter went away for 12 days. Sure, no problem, have a great time. Then the day before they left, Norm called to ask if we could also feed his “ex-wife’s dog.” Otherwise, as Norm put it, “I'll have to leave him in the garage all day with the cats." Animal abuse was the first thing that came to my mind. Cats are one thing; they’re kind of naturally independent. Whereas dogs are more like people, they can’t be fed and then left alone all day, they need human companionship too much. "Oh yeah,” Norm continued, “We also have a parrot and two fish tanks.” "Oh, okay," was my husband's kind reply. "The more the merrier!" I'm afraid my response to the situation was less gracious.
You seeI would be doing the feeding and the watering and the walking and the visiting, not my sweetie. He has a job, whereas I have become a homemaker by proxy. This makes me available for all sorts of odd tasks. It’s all good, the dog’s name is PT, he’s an ancient Chihuahua with a 2.54 centimeter black tumor in-between his eyes and foul breath. When we arrived the first morning and opened the kitchen door that led to the garage, PT sprang out rather stiffly with his feline brothers and sisters thinking we were his family. After realizing we were strangers, he showed us his yellow fangs and stood his ground near the front door. I tried talking to him sweetly but he snapped at me, twice. When he did this my husband picked him up, held him close and tugged his neck skin while saying, “Hey, PT, it’s okay,” in a kind but very alpha-male tone of voice. Just like that, PT was fine. While he was doing his "business" out back, Tony and I straightened up the garage (I forgot how rank cat boxes are!), fed the cats, the parrot and the fishes, then we let PT back in, fed him and left. Later that afternoon I was to come by to take PT for a walk, but to be honest, my first impression of him was not great.
When I opened the front door at around noon everyone greeted me: The parrot screeched like crazy, the cats meowed and swirled around my feet, even the fish splashed about at the tops of their tanks. PT, however, was sitting in the middle of the living room, looking away nervously. “Hi PT!” I chirped. He didn’t move. As I approached him I heard a guttural growl, much stronger than I ever imagined could come from such a little dog. I tried my husband’s trick – using an alpha-male tone of voice, but it came out too deep and he lunged towards me with all his might. Shocked by his response, I fell over one of the cats and landed on my butt. “PT!” I protested, but instead of keeping his distance, he came in for the kill. As I sat there holding myself up with my hands, watching to see what he’d do, I started laughing. Then he bit my finger. It wasn’t a very hard bite, but it surprised me. That’s when I pulled the bacon out of my pocket.
For lunch I’d made a BLTA sandwich and saved the bacon crumbs in a paper towel, specifically for PT. I had a feeling the lack of Tony’s presence was going to give him airs, and it did. The power of bacon never ceases to amaze me. It can awaken a snoring household from the deepest slumber, bring a smile to a hungry man’s face, and appease the most disgruntled animal. Within minutes PT was my best friend, and we were to have the greatest 12 days together.
On our first walk PT showed me all his haunts, which were many, but the best was an abandoned field about three blocks from his domicile. This field had fewer trees than the rest of the neighborhood, which gave one a birds-eye view of the Pacific Ocean and the tiny houses below. After a long pause at this spot I tried to continue our walk, but PT’s little skeletal frame fought my tug relentlessly. He must have liked the sunshine, or perhaps the view, so I sat down on the grass and put PT in my lap. Together we watched the fishing boats float past and various wild animals do their routine. All the while, the sun’s rays beat down on us and we soaked it in graciously. We were to perform this little ritual every day, unless it was raining. On those days PT didn’t really want to walk, so he’d do his “biz” out back, then we’d sit together in a heavily padded swivel chair. I would read my book or write in my laptop and he would curl up next to my hip and groom himself. That’s when I noticed how stinky he was.
Unfortunately PT’s missing several teeth, and the ones he has are on their way out, so his breath is pretty foul. Grooming himself merely spreads the funk all over this coat like butter. When Tony came home from work, I asked him to assist me in giving PT a bath. After all, I wasn’t sure how the old dude would react, but I was pretty sure soap and water were a foreign concept to him. I needed Tony to hold while I lathered. Surprisingly, PT took it well. It probably felt good! After we blow-dried him completely (Didn’t want him to catch cold), we set him down on the floor and to our surprise he danced around as if to Haircut 100’s Boy Meets Girl It was awesome.
Since Norm doesn’t live too far from us, I stopped by to visit PT and his siblings quite a bit – three, sometimes four times a day. It was kind of fun over there with all those creatures. I didn’t know the names of the cats, so I gave them my own: There was Cry Baby, a corpulent, light orange tabby with a tear duct issue. Fats, a podgy black cat with tiny eyes and a skittish nature, and Tiger, a silver tabby who ran from Tony as if from the Plague, but loved me. Every night Tiger cleverly eluded us by hiding behind one of the gigantic fish tanks, which meant he never had to sleep in the garage with the others. PT and Cry Baby were very simpatico, they rolled around together a lot, and PT would let the cat bite him rather hard on the neck. Fats didn’t like anyone, and she was always hungry (of course); she’d even eat PT’s food if I didn’t watch her. The fishes were…fishy, not a lot of personality there, and their tanks made the whole house swampy, which I think pleased the parrot.
The parrot was the only creature that drove me nuts. He was loud, he bit, and he repetitively “dominated” his wooden ladder while I was there. It was disturbing. Plus, he liked the door to his iron cage open, so he could jump down amongst the cats. That was a bit nerve-wracking, watching three felines circle him like prey, but Norm said not to worry about it, so I didn’t. Actually, I was secretly hoping they’d eat him while I was gone, but each morning he screeched at me at the top of his lungs until I fed him or sprayed him with water. He liked that.
Through it all, PT remained his same congenial self, and I honestly began looking forward to our time together each day. It was like hanging out with a seasoned, elderly man: They always make you feel welcome and the conversation is always great. When the day came for me to relinquish my duties it was with a sad heart. What started out as a burden had become a complete joy. It’s funny how attached we become to these furry little creatures, and I don’t even like Chihuahuas.
About three weeks after Norm returned from his trip, Tony stopped by his house to fix something on his motorcycle. I thought I’d tag along. Of course Tony knew that I wanted to see PT. As we walked into the open garage, and before Norm could say a word, I asked, “Where’s PT?”
“Who? Oh, Petey? Uh, he’s outside in his house I guess.” Norm said. Petey! Oops. I gave Tony a reproachful glance and he shrugged innocently – PT/Peetie, same thing. After saying hello to Norm’s daughter, I opened the back door to see the little dude. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember me, but the moment we clamped eyes on each other he did his little Boy Meets Girl dance and ran towards me. It goes to show, you can’t always trust first impressions.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sleeping With Electronics
photo courtesy of

I’m going to admit something that I’m not very proud of. For the past three nights I’ve been sleeping with my laptop, and my cellular phone.  Both items have been accompanying me to bed every night while I’m away from home and my sweet husband. I guess you can say these two electronic devices are similar to those very special friends that you don’t see very often, but when you do, you easily pick-up where you left off. Usually when I’m home my laptop sits coldly on the kitchen table, and my cell phone is dead somewhere in a long forgotten jacket. The moment I leave home however, I treat them with the utmost respect, making sure they are properly charged and sleeping snugly on the pillow next to me. Fickle woman.
My cousin loves her iPhone
possibly more than good wine,
good conversation and our
Elvis Christmas album. Could
this happen to me?
Now, perhaps if I had an iPhone, I wouldn’t be so hot and cold, but I’m terrified of getting one. I think I’m afraid I’ll become obsessed with it and turn into one of those people who are constantly taking pictures of humorous labels at the grocery store. Gasp. Still, deep down inside I know that one day I’ll cave. I did with the DVD player. Of course, it took me years to accept this electronic device, because I was happy with VHS, still am. I see very little difference in picture quality and sound, and we watch a lot of movies. A good story is a good story, no matter how you dress it up or present it on the screen. For example, I can watch The Maltese Falcon on VHS and I’m instantly enthralled. Watch it on DVD and I’m just as caught-up by the story, not the clarity. Then again, I am due to have my eyes checked. It’s been three years.
Remember those 80's mixed tapes?
Yes, I still listen to mine.
photo courtesy of
Frankly, I’m grateful to be with a man who doesn't take stock in such things as DVD's and gigantic TV's. Still, I’ll never forget my husband's face when he opened his Christmas present in 2001 – a new Sony DVD/VHS player and a Sony 19” screen TV - he was ecstatic. Little did I realize the consequences of my actions, as ever so slowly we started replacing our perfectly good VHS tapes with DVD's. Next thing we’ll be expected to replace our DVD's with BluRay, then BluRay will be replaced by something else. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t give, but takes: your time, your money and the environment by storm.

A mountain of VHS tapes.
photo courtesy of
Landfill - which once swallowed up vinyl records, then 8-track tapes, then cassette tapes - is sighing, as it swallows up VHS players, VHS tapes and CD's. And what about Don Johnson’s cell phone and the millions like it? Or Samsung phones. Landfill. Wow, I’m ranting now. What’s my point? Oh yeah, that one day I’ll cave in and get an iPhone, and truthfully? I can’t wait! Gasp.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Will Work For Butter

In my very first post (almost a year ago!) I mentioned how the transition from working girl to housewife/artist/property manager has been a strange, yet surprisingly easy one. Well, it's still a bit strange. I think perhaps it’s because the farmer's market is closed for the winter, so I'm not busy creating culinary delights for my townsfolk anymore. I miss my customers and the amazing people I worked alongside with – Julie, Sylvia, Michael, Linda, Virgil…but mostly I miss the learning. Baking for the market was a bit like attending my very own private culinary school. Days before the market, I would read and re-read complex recipes, pour over countless cookbooks, including Linda Dannenberg's fabulous book - Paris Boulangerie Patisserie - Recipes from Thirteen Outstanding French Bakeries, and plan-out my menu. 

When I was living in the city and working 9-5, I never had the time to sharpen my gastronomic skills nor the proclivity to master such delicacies as Bouchons (chocolate "corks"), Croissants aux Amandes (almond-filled croissants), Tarte Normande (apple and custart tart), Gougeres (giant gruyere cheese puffs), Sables a' l'Orange et Raisins (orange and raisin cookies), Tartes aux Framboises (raspberry tartletts with pastry cream), Coco au Miel (coconut-honey cakes), pizza dough, ham and Gruyere bread, my grandma Davis’s apple pie – or piecrust for that matter. The five months I spent working for the market has been an invaluable education that has not only opened the door to my culinary imagination, and has shown me tangible ways in which I can make a little cash; it has made me realize how very blessed I am to have such opportunities as these.

"Women Gardening" Courtesy of
Another blessing the transition from city life to rural bliss has uncovered, is the opportunity to volunteer. For a few months after the market ended, I was volunteering for my friend Linda on her farm - what a joy! I am looking forward to helping her harvest potatoes, garlic and more when spring approaches. Then, this past month and a half, I have been volunteering at St. Timothy Episcopal Church’s soup kitchen. Curiously it was my sweet, unbelieving friend Linda who told me about St. Tim's. When I asked her if she knew of ways in which the community was helping its homeless/transient population, she said that St. Timothy's was the first church (out of ~27 in town) to start a soup kitchen. Then shortly thereafter, six other churches stepped-up to the plate and started their own programs. So now the city of Brookings, OR offers one good meal every day of the week for those in need. It's a good start.

My buddy Linda also told me about The Gospel Outreach Mission, which is where people may buy, donated clothing and small pieces of furniture - for cheap. Growing up, I remember my mom and grandma used to shop at St. Vincent de Paul’s in Oakland procuring a lamp, a couch, or end tables. Then when I was a teenager my friends and I used to hit St. Vincent’s, for vintage dresses and men's wool pants to wear with our Doc Martins. I never realized it was generational, but for the past 20 years I've been donating to St. Vincent de Paul's; then we moved to this little seaside town.

So now it’s The Mission on HWY 101 that gets all our stuff. When I dropped-off my first donation I asked the man there, Mario, if he knew about St. Timothy’s. “They have THE BEST meals.” He said, straight-faced. “How does one go about volunteering?” I had no idea how to get in the door, and couldn’t imagine they would “hire” me based on my enthusiasm. He told me to ask for Carla. The next week I did just that, my husband came with me and we scoped it out. 

What an amazing smile Carla has, it’s so big and welcoming, I knew I was on the right path. My first day volunteering I arrived at 9am sharp. I think Ron, the director of the soup kitchen, could see I was very eager to help, so he didn’t have the heart to turn me away, even though I couldn’t remember Carla’s name and I called Mario, Martin. Still, he gave me the rundown, then he gave me the task of setting up tables and chairs, “Which is normally Rich’s job.” When Rich arrived he quietly fixed what I'd done, then I got to work on the salad, “Which is normally Angell’s job.” When Angell arrived she kindly let me continue making the salad, even though I asked, “Where are the band-aids?” After I bandaged my finger as discretely as possible and put on a plastic glove for good measure, I blurted out, “You know if you want I can bake. I bake for the farmer’s market at the grange.” What was I thinking? “Oh really!” Rich said excitedly. Ron looked at me thoughtfully and said, “I would like to use-up the frozen pears and peaches that I have in the storeroom. How about you make something next week?” “Great!” Talk about exciting, my hands were itching to be covered in butter and flour once again.

When I left the soup kitchen that day I came straight home and perused my cookbooks for a good fruit crisp recipe, but only came up with pie recipes. Two days later I found one on-line that sounded good because it used freshly grated lemon and orange rind, only it served 8. I needed a recipe for 100! I’ll just multiply everything by twelve I thought, that makes sense. Ha!

The morning I was to make my crisp for the soup kitchen, I felt like I did on finals day at UC Berkeley, scared but hopeful. “Today I’m going to make the biggest dessert I’d ever attempted so, step back and say a prayer!” I told my husband. When I arrived at St. Tim’s, Ron had faithfully purchased everything I asked for, except I brought the old-fashioned oats. I wanted to make a small donation just in case it was a flop. Plus, I grated the lemon and orange rind at home to save time since I wasn't sure how long this dish was going to take from start to finish.

After I’d opened and drained ten gigantic cans of sliced peaches and thawed about ten cups of chopped pear, I realized this project was bigger than I’d imagined. Still, I kept my cool and continued working, even when Rich, John and Ira began needling me about the gargantuan mound of chopped butter I was enthusiastically trying to incorporate into the topping ingredients. “Julia would be proud!” Rich said, patting me on the back, “You should have a sign on your back - Will Work For Butter. HA HA HA!" I had to laugh; it was a ridiculous amount of animal fat. “I only use butter when baking." I informed them. "It’s easier to digest, it’s better for you than margarine, plus butter makes everything taste good!” I said, half-jokingly. Thing is, six pounds of cold butter is hard to handle, so Ron came over and helped me with the final mixing, and then I spooned the fruit into the three metal pans I was given. After sprinkling each dish with the topping, I noticed two of the pans were shallow indeed... I’m sure you can guess what happened. 

As the topping began to melt in the ovens, the pans began to overflow, and burning butter = smoke, lots and lots of smoke.  Before you could say, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," all of the kitchen staff were outside coughing and gasping for breath, and I was left virtually alone to ladle off the excess butter which floated on top of each pan, like a golden pool. When Angell arrived I told her what had happened and she miraculously fitted higher sides to the pans using tinfoil. Ingenious woman! Once the excess butter was removed and the higher sides were in place, I put the pans back into the ovens to continue baking. When I opened the oven door, I got hit in the face with so much smoke it scorched my eyeballs in their sockets; I almost dropped the pan but somehow slid it in safely. That’s when the ovens plotted their revenge against me. 

Due to high heat, the ill-fitted racks began to shrink and fall down. Each time I pulled out the pans to spoon or blot off the excess butter, I had to very gingerly place the pans back on the racks, otherwise they would fall. Talk about nerve wracking. On top of this, I had to endure a Monday morning quarterback from another soup kitchen, whose remarks were rather trying. “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? How long have you been volunteering here? You should have known better than multiplying the quantity of butter.” It went on and on. All I kept thinking was, “What would Jesus do, what would Jesus do,” so I took it on the cheek and kept working. He went away eventually, when he did Ron said something like, “Lady, you’ve got rhinoceros skin.” “I can take it,” I said feigning a smile. “My pride is completely squashed, and I just want you to know that it was really nice knowing you all, since after today you’re no longer going to want me here.” He just laughed and patted me on the shoulder.

Luckily, by the time our patrons started to arrive the smoke had cleared and people began commenting, “Wow, that smells good.” Carla was sweet and said it smelled like burnt caramel, which makes sense as the ovens had just burned off enough butter and sugar to make a pound of caramels. It's amazing how something so catastrophic can turn out ok; God was merciful, my crisp was a hit. My husband, who came to see me on his day off (he got a BIG hug from me), sat with Ron for a bit, and all he heard from our patrons was, "Great dessert...The best dessert they've ever served...It's called a crisp, a crisp! Amazing." Praise indeed. A woman who works in the free clinic even asked me to e-mail her the recipe, so she could make it for her family on Christmas day. 

Can you believe that even after this drama, Ron still wants me to volunteer? Of course I get the occasional poke from my fellow kitchen staff, “Got Butter Rachel? This needs more butter, don’t you think Rachel? Don’t forget the unsalted butter!” But it's always followed-up with praise for my “amazing crisp.” I feel so blessed to be volunteering at St. Timothy's. Not only do I get to help those in need... I get to wet my culinary whistle every week, and I have found an amazing group of people who have taken me into the fold. Let's see, I've made rice pudding, herbed hard rolls, lots of salad, and this week I will be baking bread pudding, which will require the ovens so cross your fingers.

Here’s the recipe for my now infamous fruit crisp (with the correct amount of butter). Enjoy!

St. Timothy’s Peach & Pear Crisp

Serves: 8
Prep: 30 min.
Cook: 55 min.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

4 pears 
6 peaches
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tbsp sugar
2-½ tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt

1-cup minus 2 tablespoons flour
10 tbsp sugar
11 tbsp brown sugar, lightly packed
½ tsp salt
1-cup old-fashioned oats
15 tbsp cold, unsalted butter

Peel, core and cut fruit into large chunks. Place fruit in a large bowl and add zest, juices, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour into a 9x11” oval baking dish.

Combine flour, sugars, salt, oats and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 minute until the mixture is in large crumbles.

Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely. Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until top is brown and fruit is bubbly. Serve warm with fresh whipping cream.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Scotland and England and France - Oh My! Part II Flying in the Millennium

When I was a teenager I used to drive to the Oakland airport with my best friend, Mama Dog. She and I would sit in the car and watch the planes take-off for hours. It was a great escape, dreaming of all the places I would go one day and the wonderful things I would see. To this day, I still find it thrilling to go to the airport, even if it's just to pick-up a friend. Of course airports have changed considerably. I'm not sure if it's allowed to watch the planes take off from the airport anymore with all the added security risks. The last time Tony and I flew the friendly skies was in 1996, pre 9/11/01 (God rest their souls). In '96 it took less than one hour to board your international flight, and the thought of taking your shoes off at check-in was unconscionable. 

Yes, flying was much more dignified back then. It was all about YOUR comfort. I remember after being in France for two weeks we were so excited to be going home, that we arrived at the airport in Paris two hours earlier than expected. We were told the x-ray machines were not yet heated up so...they didn't bother x-raying our bags. Why make us wait? My husband was especially glad this happened since he secretly stashed a bunch of "novelty" switch blades in my luggage. "After all, they're less likely to check your bags than mine," he reasoned. 

No it was 2009 and things have changed A LOT. For one thing, I was told to pack all of my toiletries inside of my checked luggage and not my carry-on bag. "But I always wash-up before I land." I protested. I'll need my Neutrogena face soap, toner, face cream, eye cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, and then there's my hair smoothing cream. "Whatever happened to looking glamorous on the plane?" I asked. I was told to forgo all that and to be prepared to strip for security. 

The day before we left for Scotland, I nervously perused the TSA website (Transportation Security Administration) and became vaguely familiar with a confusing concept, simply named 3-1-1. In short, every (1) passenger is allowed to bring a (1) quart-size zip-top bag stuffed with containers that hold (3) ounces or less. So really it should be called 1-1-3, but that's just me. Actually, I was happy to finally use the dozens of adorable little bottles I'd saved over the years.

One aspect of air travel that I was not prepared for in the millennium was the smell of fear and foot odor. Not to mention, walking though various metal detectors barefoot is just gross. Plus, I'll admit that I slowed down the line a little when the TSA girl told me I was not allowed to bring my Cal water bottle onboard, and I'll further admit that I let out a rather audible moan escape my lips when I was told to throw it in the trash. Other than that, I breezed through the metal detector virtually unscathed. 

Tony was another story. The man is a harbinger of metal. After several failed attempts to walk through the metal detector, a serious-looking man in a red suit told him to stand still while he slowly ran a wand all over his body, and finally to his neck, where his Saint Christopher hung. Pulling the chain over his head, I could see my husband's hands shaking. My poor honey I thought and instinctually wanted to run to his side, but I was already being pushed forward by the lady with stinky feet behind me - who could care less about anyone's discomfort. 

Our view from the Old Waverley Hotel, 
Edinburgh, Scotland
Surviving check-in was nothing compared to our flight, which lasted ~26 hours. Our engine warmer failed so we were forced to change planes twice in New Jersey. Fine with me I thought, better that than plunging into the sea at 500mph. Walking around the airport at 2am was eerie, with all the concession stands closed and the lights at half power, but it was fun too. As the other passengers walked around each other in circles like zombies, Tony and I explored. We found a nice restroom where we could freshen-up, then we looked at overpriced sunglasses through brightly lit cases and laughed about our trip thus far. Re-boarding was also comical because everyone was cranky and looked a fright, except the flight attendants. They were very patient with us and treated us like kind zookeepers, giving us an extra meal and free drink tickets. Hooray! Normally, I'd rather starve than eat airplane food but on this occasion I found myself willingly eating a curious chicken dish and washing it down with Jameson. Within minutes, I was a happy little monkey. 

After the lights dimmed and the same movie came on for the third time, my husband, who has been trained to sleep standing, was snoring while I gabbed with the lady across the isle. She was on her way home and gladly told me where to go and what to see in Scotland. She even drew me a map! We were to encounter this several times in the Land of Tartan. The Scotch are very helpful, friendly people. Later, I was to discover they also had one of the most generous breakfasts in the world: eggs, gigantic pieces of bacon, a variety of freshly made breads to make toast, steel-cut oats, coffees, teas, orange juice and of course haggis - something I had to try but ended up avoiding like the plague. Every hotel in both Scotland and England offered an amazing spread. This was especially appreciated by me since I wake up so hungry, I can eat a wagon wheel!

They say life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. Even thought this trip was to be an unplanned extravaganza, I was so glad I made reservations for our first night in Edinburgh. I didn't want to roam around the city looking like Día de Muertos trying to find a place to rest my frizzy head. When we arrived in Scotland's capital and at the Old Waverley Hotel we wanted to sleep so badly, but we'd learned our lesson years ago to adapt to the new time zone at all cost. So, after showering we tripped around the Royal Mile, where I saw my first Red Telephone Booth. Maybe I was delirious from lack of sleep, but it was thrilling. 

After a full day exploring Edinburgh on foot we finally collapsed in our hotel room and slept soundly, until around midnight. Sometimes jet-lag isn't all that bad...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Something Borrowed

I've mentioned my cousin Vanessa before, the one who loves April Fools jokes. Well, she's getting married this year on April Fools Day. She swears it's no joke, but something deep down inside me thinks she's secretly planning her revenge on the world. It may sound crazy, but she has just the temperament to pull it off. Is this really going to be her blessed wedding day or the best party in the world? We shall see. 

One inducement that makes me believe she may be telling the truth about her coming nuptial, is the fact that she's going to wear my wedding dress and veil. Yes, the very dress I wore on the happiest day of my life to the sweetest, sexiest man alive. How did this come about?!

We'll have to go way back to 1987, when I was a sixteen year old New Waver and she a wicked slip of a girl nine years my junior. I can still see her on a particular New Year's Eve at Aunt Pam's house on Baker Street in San Francisco. She was wearing an oversized men's t-shirt with a wide belt, slightly pushed down and to the right, no shoes and wild hair. Her eyes were everywhere. I thought she was the closest thing to an elf or an Irish Fairy. Elusive, laughing all the time, surviving her childhood best she could. I used to try to hold her, like I did all my cousins, nieces and nephews but she'd always squirm her way out of my arms and run away screaming and laughing. 

Little did I know as the years passed, she sort of looked up to me. She would secretly go into my bedroom, look through my things, put on my perfume, steal my favorite sweater...all without a trace that she'd ever been there. At one point she lived with us and I had the little sister I'd always wanted, but she remained evasive.  

It was years - a near death car accident, the birth of her son and believe-it-or-not Facebook, before she and I became friends. I'd just been laid-off from UC Berkeley due to budget cuts, when she invited me to the premier of New Moon and on a road trip to Forks, WA right after the movie - a real bonafide TwiHard Adventure. How could I resist? 

On that trip, while her buddy slept in the backseat, she and I talked about our lives and how we'd got to the point where we could forgive our pasts, and more important, how our faith in God has been our saving grace. It was so nice to catch up with her after years of brief encounters at baby showers, bridal showers and weddings. As I listened to her talk about her mom and becoming a mother herself I realized that she was all grown up, and more. I was the one who admired her now. 

Not only has she survived her childhood, she is the most amazing mother I've ever known. I remember as a girl she loved babies. She always wanted to hold them, feed them, speak tenderly to them. A real natural. Her son, Joshua Tiger, has special needs and he's the happiest boy I've ever seen. A big part of this is due to Vanessa's loving care, hard work and selfless dedication. She's amazing. I'm always singing her praises to my friends and family. In truth, Vanessa inspires me to be a better person. 

So, while she was here for Christmas with her fiance, JV, I had an epiphany. She still didn't have a real wedding dress, barely four months before her wedding, so why not offer mine? It took her a long time to believe I really meant it, but as she stood there in my bedroom, with the entire ensemble on, she positively glowed. It was one of the most precious moments in my life.

When I got married my cousin was only sixteen years-old. It has always made me sad, she and her mom, as well as our grandma wasn't there. Now Vanessa is thirty-two and she's getting married. Her mother, and our grandma have since passed away...but I'll be there. I am a part of Vanessa and she is a part of me. Our bond started long ago...

I can't wait to watch her sweep down the isle on Tony's arm and towards her future life. That is if this isn't all an elaborate hoax. April Fools!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Well-Traveled Man and a Woman Who Can Pull Her Own Weigh, Scotland and England and France - Oh My! Part I

Two years ago my sweet husband and I decided to save our dough and take a big trip. I'm talking huge. Unlike the time we flew out of SFO (San Francisco) to Charles de Gaulle (France), then CDG back to SFO; I wanted a real planes, trains and automobiles vacation. So we decided to fly into charming Edinburgh, Scotland and out of the most romantic city in the world, Paris. Everything in between would be an adventure, no plans whatsoever. A tall order indeed, but we had almost three weeks to roam and the money to do it this time.

The last time we went to Europe it was 1996 - two crazy kids flitting around Paris, France for their 1 year wedding anniversary. Even thought the exchange rate was 5 francs to the dollar, as newlyweds, we didn't have two nickels to rub together and ended up running out of money half way through our trip. A big chunk went towards the Corsair charter, so upon arrival, we were shocked to discover that we had roughly 400 francs a day to live on - 80 bucks american. After finding a cheap hotel at 250f a night we survived solely on crepes, baguettes, spaghetti bolognese at Don Vito's and love.

Luckily, Tony's dad (my new father-in-love) was kind enough to pay for our stay at Hotel Studia, a great find on 51 Boulevard Saint-Germain. Without his help it would have been another kind of trip indeed! Now we were able to afford the Metro, a day at the Louvre Museum, Monet's Gardens in Genevieve and the extravagant train ride to Rouen in northern France, where Tony spent lonely summers as a boy. What a life changing trip that was for me, not to mention my first experience outside of Les États-Unis.

My husband on the other hand is well traveled. As a young lad he'd go visit his father on summer holidays. He was just seven years old when he first took a plane, all by himself, to see his dad in Santa Barbara. By the time he was fourteen he was taking trips to Rouen, France making eyes at the stewardesses, getting free pens and peanuts.

Being a man of the world at a young age has lasting effects. One thing I have always admired about my husband is his confidence. He is truly comfortable in his own skin. We can be anywhere, from the shadiest barbecue joint in Oakland to the swankiest restaurant in France, and he blends. While I'm awkwardly figuring out which fork to use for my salad, Tony is sitting with his back to the wall, gazing around taking it all in. Then he'll flash me a look and say something that melts my backbone, putting me at complete ease. The best is when a waitperson tries to intimidate us, jaded from waiting on too many rude or snobby patrons. He completely disarms them with small, polite acknowledgements so that by the end of the meal our server is all smiles and warm eyes. For a woman, this is a highly desirable trait and makes going out that much more enjoyable, and romantic.

Two months before our big trip, Tony and I and my best friend Evelyn went out to dinner. Over pizza and beer she announced that she too was going to Paris and wanted to know if we could meet up with her before we flew home. She'd just ended an eleven year relationship with a man I never really liked, except he had good taste in music and was a good dancer. I warned her that our plans were not set in stone, but of course we would meet her! It was thrilling to think of the three of us in Paris even if it was for only one or two nights.

Sometimes when you plan a big trip it all seems so far away and dream-like. With Ev's announcement, things were starting to become exciting and REAL. One month before leaving, Tony and I had a serious discussion about luggage. In the softest, most democratic way he told me his one fear - that he'd be left to carry the bags, or all of MY bags. Normally, I take three: my purse, a duffle bag for my clothes and a backpack for our arsenal of toiletries. Since we were planning to jump on and off trains, possibly travel by car through England, then take the Eurail from London to Paris, we needed to strategize. He opted for a long, OD green Army duffle bag. I on the other hand strategically chose a red roller that had secret zippers on the sides, so when unzipped, my bag resembled a pregnant ladybug. C'est parfait!

The night before we left Alameda for Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bur-ah) I spent two hours packing and unpacking to no avail. I was new at putting everything in one bag! I called Ev; she came over and showed me how to roll everything up. By the end my suitcase looked like I was smuggling tortillas from Ramiro's, but everything fit. "Won't the inspection people just undo our rolls and throw everything back?" I was proud of our pack job and yet resented the amount of time it took. "Who cares?" Ev said, "You're going to Europe!" "See you in Paris!" I said, then we both screamed like 12 year old girls.

Right before we hit the hay Tony and I made a practice run; he with his bag and me with mine. I must admit it was difficult. After clumsily rolling my ladybug down 50 stairs, out to the car, then swinging her into the trunk without any assistance from Tony, I was sweating bricks. It was time to lighten the load. I went back inside and removed 5 sweaters 5 pants 2 jackets 4 skirts 9 shirts and one pair of boots.

As I drifted off to sleep I remembered how I almost froze to death in France, in October circa 1996. "Maybe it won't be so...cold...this time in October." I whispered. "No matter...we're going to have a great adventure...together." Tony whispered back. Boy was he right.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Where Have You Been?!

Over the past four months my husband and a few faithful readers have asked, "Why did you stop writing?" Truthfully, I'm touched that anyone would even notice! I haven't been on sabbatical or "busy living life," I just haven't been able to write. It's similar to writer's block - all of my creative juices dried up, the words stopped coming. I also stopped making GFMG bags after they all sold.

I think it stems from loosing Sailor. Perhaps it's because we don't have any children of our own. Sailor came into our lives around the time a young married couple seriously decide on having offspring. Instead of being blessed with a human child, we had a puppy. Well, we bought a puppy, with Tony's Pixar bonus. Upon arrival, friends and family came to see Sailor, just as if he were a newborn, it was sweet.

We took him everywhere with us: family functions, the grocery store, on road trips - our first was to Port Townsend, WA, where Sailor first discovered snow and ran in circles like a madman, completely unaware of the gigantic deer that was watching him - still as a statue.

Sailor was so small Tony bought a dog carrier on that trip, so we could bring him into shops while vacationing in Seattle for New Years. Once, while I was trying on clothes at J.Crew, all of the saleswomen gathered around the sexy man and his Boston Terrier puppy tucked into his carrier, which hung on Tony's front - just like a Baby Bjorn. That's one way to pick-up on chicks, I thought.

I could write a book on our adventures with Sailor Bubs Basso, one day I will, but right now I'm working on looking at pictures of him without sobbing. It's getting easier or I should say it's getting...different, which is better.

That said, I'm going to attempt to write more often. I need this creative outlet too much to let it go. So, God willing, I'll continue documenting this Girl Friday's adventures. Like the one I had this past Tuesday at St. Timothy's soup kitchen - when I smoked out the entire kitchen staff, thanks to using too much butter!

Culinary disaster story coming soon...

Merry Christmas Everybody and God Bless You All!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The New Year Cometh

It's December and it's sunny. What happened to the rain?! It's not that I'm complaining, alright, I'm complaining. A big part of us moved to the PNW (Pacific Northwest) for the rain, and yet this winter has been approaching on tip-toe. Where are the terrifying thunder storms that would wake-up me and Tony from a sound sleep - hearts pounding with dread and excitement? I want to open my blinds in the early morning and watch heavy laden clouds slowly roll by, pour, then creep off into the distant hills.

Rain is romantic, rain is fun. Rain makes it necessary to wear my Burberry raincoat. I have yet to kiss my sweet husband in the rain, yet to run to and from the post office screaming, wet and happy. Did I mention I have yet to wear my Burberry raincoat? *Sigh*

On the up-side, we are having family over this year for Christmas. Last year it was just me, T, Sailor and Micky, which was wonderful, but coming from a big family and having Christmas or Christmas Eve with said family EVERY SINGLE YEAR for the past 40 years, it was quite a change. Plus, Tony had to work a double, so I was mostly alone with the dogs and my Elvis Christmas album - which was on repeat. By the time Tony did come home, I was having a very blue, Blue Christmas. Music affects me deeply, so what did Tony do? He put on The Pogues' Fairytale of New York, quite possibly the best Christmas song in the world, and just like that we were smiling together, gazing at our little tree and thanking God for our blessings.

My nephew...and HIS cookie.
This year we have the honor of welcoming my big sister, her husband and my nephew over for Christmas. It's their very first visit since we've moved to the PNW 1.5 years ago, so that's exciting. My favorite cousin is also coming up with her fiance, which is a wonderful surprise, since she was here visiting less than a month ago. The biggest joy for me, I think, is having my nephew here for Christmas. I'm afraid he's going to be terribly spoiled by me and T and from what I hear he has a bit of Only Child Syndrome. Plus, he's not too keen on dogs, and we have two. It should be interesting to see how that turns out - I think it'll be fun!

My buddy Linda and her husband will also be joining us. She and I have been working together on her farm, which has been such a blessing to me. I've learned so much about gardening and I love Linda. Together we've planted garlic, potatoes, dug up onions, harvested salads, beets, carrots and we broke down the upper part of a greenhouse that fell during our only rainstorm of the season. We did all this while jabbering incessantly, it has been so much fun. Working on her farm hasn't only been a joy - it has helped me heal emotionally....

Sailor, Christmas 2010
This is our first Christmas without Sailor. The first in nine years. Gosh I miss him. He made everything okay, just his presence was a comfort, and those eyes, those little monkey eyes. He'd look at you and I swear he SPOKE. He will always be my special boy...always be with me in spirit. I think he and Olive would have hit if off beautifully. They both love to play and run - they're both sun worshipers.

I am SO grateful to Mick for sticking around after his brother passed away - and he looks great! He has lost the required poundage Dr. Tribble asked him to lose and he regularly initiates play with his new sister now, it's great to watch.

In the human world, we're staying busy. The farmer's market is over for the winter. I miss it already, especially my customers, and all the glorious baking I did, and the left-overs. Then again, it's nice to do other things, like volunteer for St. Timothy's Soup Kitchen! What an amazing place - the people are incredible, the food is delectable and the experience is very humbling. Next Tuesday, I will be baking a peach and pear crisp to go with the full turkey dinner the director has planned. Let me clarify, I will be making a cobbler for 100 people. It's a bit daunting, I've never made anything so large, but I'm psyched to do it.

Transit of Venus, 2004
Unlike 2011, where I had nothing planned, other than living by the seat of my pants, I plan on working the St. T's Soup Kitchen every Tuesday in 2012. I'll be glad when it's 2012. 2011 has been such a drastic conglomerate of good and bad, amazing and sad. But that's life, right? I'll just say, 2011 has been a year of...adapting.

I'm going to be very typical and say I think 2012 is going to be awesome. Let's see, 2012 (MMXII) will be a leap year, so Happy Birthday to those of you who haven't had a birthday for the past four years. Then on January 31, (six days after my mom's birthday) we'll have the second-largest Near Earth Object on record pass Earth at 0.1790 astronomical units (16,640,000 mi). On May 20th, we'll have an Annular solar eclipse, then on June 6th, (my did will love this) we will have the second and last solar transit of Venus of the century. So if you missed it in 2004, you'll get a chance to see the plant Venus pass directly between the sun and the earth, which is to say Venus can be seen from Earth as a small black disk moving across the face of the Sun. It should last ~6 hours and won't happen again for another 243 years.

Exciting's to the unknown 2012 will bring!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

While the Husbands Away the Wife Will Play

It's not what you think. I haven't been out drinking at the Pine Cone with the locals until 2am. While Tony has been on a much needed 2-day moto ride, I've been staying up until one in the morning widening my culinary horizons, or facing my fears if you like. You see, for many years I've had a terrible fear of making pie crust. I know many a woman intimidated by the thought of making their own pie dough from scratch, but I think my insecurity stems from way back when I was newly married and learning how to cook, long before my sweet sister gave me The Joy of Cooking.

It was Thanksgiving season and my office was having a potluck - I was to make the pumpkin pie.  I grew up eating the very best pumpkin pie and watched my mom make her crust and filling with confident ease. Watch mind you, which is not the same as doing. Now I was 25 years old and I'd never even attempted pie crust. So, after I obtained my mom's pumpkin pie recipe I got to work with borrowed confidence. Of course the dough kept falling apart, therefore I simply added more water and patted it in place, but when I rolled it out the crust stuck to the counter, so I added more flour then rolled it out again and again until it was a perfect 9" round. As many of you know, all this water and flour and manhandling merely made the crust as hard as cement, which I discovered at the potluck. When I ate my first bite I nearly cracked a tooth. Plus, the filling was a bit runny. Sigh. It was not my finest culinary moment. To their credit my bosses and colleagues never complained, but I noticed many of them left uneaten pie on their plates. All except Dr. Watanabe, who sweetly ate two pieces when he saw my face as I tossed the plates away. "No, Rachel it's very good." He said, smiling in that kind way that always made me feel special.

Ever since that one failed attempt and all these years I have been skirting around making pie crusts, sneakily purchasing them in the freezer section at the local supermarket and filling them with my own concoctions. When I noticed many store bought pie crusts were made with the dreaded partially-hydrogenated oil, something Tony and I have vowed to cut from our diets, I switched to phyllo dough, but it can't compare to a tender, crunchy, buttery pie crust.

In truth, it was Julia Child who changed my opinion of making pie crust. I'm fortunate to have grown up watching J.C. on TV - her curly red bob, happy eyes and big teeth - that voice, and I remember feeling sad when she passed away in 2004 at 91. But I'd honestly never fully realized how important she was or how COOL she was, until I saw the film Julie and Julia. Something about that movie brought back fond childhood memories and filled me with the desire to make Sole Dore, much to my husband's delight, Gruyere cheese puffs for my fellow UCB workers, and I mastered french chocolate mouse (made with Scharffen Berger chocolate, of course) as well as french crepes.

Two years ago, my husband gave me Julia Child's cookbook - Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my 39th birthday, but it's not until this past Spring, when I started volunteering my time at the farmer's market, that I really began using her recipes: Pate Sablee (Sugar Crust) for my Lemony Pots of Gold, Pate Brisee (Pie Crust) for my Apple Pie and Pate Brise Sucree (Sweet Short Paste) for my English Tea Cookies. It was her technique for blending the butter and flour with my fingers, NOT my $40 pastry blending tool from Williams-Sonoma, that enlightened me. This hands-on approach along with the fraisage - or final blending of the butter and flour at the end - has made my last seven pie crust experiences a complete JOY. After letting the dough chill overnight and then allowing it to sit at room temperature for a bit, I pound it with my rolling pin then roll- spin, roll-spin (which eliminates sticking), then I gently fold and lay it into the lovely blue Le Creuset pie dish Mom Paoli gifted me. Et voila!

I am so grateful to Julia for her advice: "A pastry blender may be used if you wish, but a necessary part of learning how to cook is to get the feel of the dough in your fingers. Il faut mettre la main a la pate!" Thanks to J.C. I swiftly make pie crusts with genuine confidence and ease, leaving time to do other things...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Cheerleader

Last Wednesday's Chetco Grange Farmer's Market was great. Not only was the weather perfect but we had a good amount of people showing their support. I worked alongside Rich again from Otter Bee's. He was selling an inexhaustible assortment of wild mushroom along with colorful bags of dried fruits. I'm aching to try his dried peaches. To my immediate right was Julie from Ocean Air Farms, who had the most amazing variety of organic veggies and creamy goat milk soap. Her farm was recently featured in the Curry Coastal Pilot and The Triplicate newspapers. Julie is a young, beautiful, rugged farmer - the real deal. She and her boyfriend along with family, friends and interns work their land all-year-round, bringing the fruits of their labor to farmer's markets all over the area. I cannot begin to tell you how much I admire people like Julie.

Organic farmers have chosen a lifestyle that's not for the weak hearted. They work incredibly hard to make ends meet and gross very little. Not to mention the fact that they give their bodies to the earth and thereby to us, so we can have the very best produce possible without using chemicals - which would make their jobs so much easier for them.

Now, I'm not a farmer, in fact I've only tried my hand at herbs and flowers, but one day I hope to grow my own tomatoes, zucchinis, onions and bell peppers. I guess I've never really "needed" to grow my own so I never did. Coming from the big city, you'd think it would be difficult to find organic produce - but it's not. In fact, organic produce in Alameda is more readily accessible than it is here. Moreover, Berkeley Bowl, Alameda Natural Grocers, Encinal Market and of course Whole Foods carries organic produce all year-round.

Sadly, before I discovered the Chetco Grange Farmer's Market, I was either perusing the "organics" isle at Safeway and Freddy Meyer's or driving like a madwoman two hours to the North-Coast Co-Op, just for an organic tomato and some green beans. Then last Spring I stumble upon the Grange. When I sank my teeth into one of Sylvia's organic Roma tomatoes I almost wept. As the seasons changed I faithfully went to the Grange every Wednesday. The farmers there sell in the great outdoors for as long as they can, because when the rains come and everyone moves inside they don't sell as well. If people don't see you set-up outside they think it's over. Out of sight out mind I guess.

I am so proud to be volunteering my time once a week at the farmer's market this year. I may not be a farmer, on the contrary I make hand crocheted bags and organic baked goods, but I stand alongside heroes of farming. People who proudly sport dirt under their nails and wild hair. In the morning while we're all setting-up our Quick Shades and tables, I watch the farmers proudly display their finery and sometimes I get a lump in my throat. I want to yell from the top of my lungs, "THANK YOU for planting, cultivating and sharing the fruits and vegetables we need, for being at the Grange rain or shine every Wednesday, and for saving me a trip to Eureka!" I guess you can say I'm their cheerleader.

Ocean Air Farms intern, Sarah stands ready to take your order.
Check them out at:
Sylvia, sprucing up her lovely produce.
One of my favorite farmer's market supporters, Miriam!
Michael's idea...
A fan of Micky's Organic Kale Biscuits.
Virgil sings all day with amazing depth.
I love his rendition of "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" by Johnny Cash.