The Big 5-0

R & J008
Richard is turning 50 today. How can this be?  It’s a shocker in some ways.  He told me recently that he was more affected by my 20th birthday than he was his own.  I think I feel that way about his 50th.  I mean, What?  Then again, 50 is the new 40, or the new 30, or whatever.  Is it weird that I now look at pictures of my grandmother in her early 50s, and my parents, and think they look young?  They looked so old and mature and responsible to me then.  Now I wonder if they knew what they were doing.

I don’t question that Richard knows what he’s doing.  This is just my wandering brain.  He’s living a good life, seems to be enjoying his job, definitely enjoying being married to my wonderful sister-in-law Kathy.  I wish I lived closer, so we could share some cake and ice cream or whatever.  I’m picturing Angel Food cake, which is my idea of his favorite…no chocolate sauce, etc.

Happy Birthday, old man brother of mine.  I’m right behind you.

Happy Birthday Maya and Melissa!

Happy Happy Birthday to my wonderful sisters, Maya and Melissa, of whom I am so proud and whom I love SO much. I wish we lived closer, so I could see you and your beautiful families more often. When we do see each other, though, I enjoy that time so much. I’m very glad we were able to see each other this summer.

20 Years

Wedding002Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of Ted’s father.  We’ll be going to visit his grave and honor his memory.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years already.  Pops was born in Guyana, came to the United States for college, went to medical school and became a doctor.  He returned to Guyana for a few years, married Ted’s mom, and they moved to England so he could study ophthalmology there.  When life in Guyana got to be a little crazy (independence in the works), he got a job at a Kaiser hospital in California.  The immigration rules at the time were pretty strict, and they were unable to come right away, so they spent a couple of years living in Ontario, Canada, which is where Ted was born.  Finally in 1965, the immigration rules loosened up a bit, and the family emigrated to California in 1966.

Pops worked at Kaiser for many years, and was a successful ophthalmologist, until his retirement in the 80s following his first stroke.  I first met him in 1988, when he was retired.  He was always very kind to me, though sometimes he was a bit difficult to talk to.  He wrote a book about his life, Man From Guyana, and sometimes when I was trying to make conversation with him, I’d ask him about some period in his life.  The answer was, “It’s in my book.”  I didn’t know if that was because he wanted me to read the book, if he was having memory issues, or if he just didn’t want to talk about it. In any case, it did sort of put an end to the conversation.

Ted and I were married in 1993, and I am so glad that Pops was alive to see his youngest son get married. He was very proud of his children, and it gave him joy to see them happy. I do wish he had lived to see Maya. He was very fond of his grandchildren, Maya’s older cousins.

Today we’ll go to visit his grave, and Ted will make a dinner in his honor. Pops liked “old white people food”, like creamed corn and Sanka, so we’ll see what we end up with. He loved lemon meringue pie, but neither Ted nor I do, so I’m hoping that won’t end up on the menu.

Between seeing my Grandma and Great Aunt yesterday, my friend’s grandmother’s funeral, and now the anniversary of Pops’ death, I’m thinking a lot about aging and health and death. A weighty subject, to be sure.

Good Advice

2013-10-15 17.09.41
Many years ago, I received what I consider to be very good advice. I was talking to my boss. Ted and I had been together for 7 years…it was the anniversary of our first date, which we had always celebrated. But now we were married…so should we still celebrate our first date? So I mentioned to my boss that we had always celebrated our date-a-versary, but it felt strange now that we were married. He said something like, “Life can be hard, and sometimes is very difficult. We should celebrate life’s joys whenever we can.” I liked that advise. I still like that advise. Life is indeed sometimes very difficult. It can throw things at you that are not fair. Life is also, at the same time, wonderful and full of many happy times and moments, and these should be celebrated.

In the spirit of celebrating the joys in life, we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. Ted was born in Ontario, and his family moved to our little city when he was 1, maybe 18 months. According to Canadian Law, he is a citizen, even though he hasn’t lived there in many a decade, and relinquished his citizenship as a child.

In years past, I’ve tried making several different recipes for roast turkey breast. They were all good, but somehow, seemed just a bit dry. This year, Ted mentioned that he actually prefers dark meat, which somehow I never knew before. So I did a search, and found this recipe for stuffed turkey legs. I went to the store, where they had turkey thighs and drumsticks, but only separately, not still connected. So I bought the thighs, which the butcher said would be much better than the drumsticks. Then there’s the sausage. We don’t have boudin sausage around here (I think it’s a Louisiana thing), and the butcher at the grocery store didn’t know which of what they have might be the same. I decided to use calabrese sausage, based on the color, which was closer to white than the red of the other sausages in the case. I had read that some boudin sausage is white. Also, the butcher said he thought it was the best tasting sausage they sold, which reaffirmed my decision.

Confession, I’ve never made homemade stuffing before. There are many restrictions in the family (some vegetarian, some who don’t eat pork), which means no sausage, no bacon, etc. So we generally go with something similar to Stove Top, which is actually pretty good, though perhaps sometimes a little gloppy. This stuffing, however, is not gloppy, and is full of flavor and really delicious.

Boudin Stuffed Turkey Leg
Makes 6 to 8 servings

  • 2 boneless turkey legs
  • 10 feet butcher’s twine

Boudin Stuffing

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 cup yellow onion, cut in small dice
  • ½ cup celery, cut in small dice
  • ½ cup carrots. cut in small dice
  • ½ cup chopped toasted pecans (or candied pecans)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 pound spicy boudin, removed from casing
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 6 slices white sandwich bread, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large saucepan over medium heat with the cooking oil. Add vegetables, pecans, garlic and dry spices in the cooking oil, and cook until vegetables are just translucent. Add boudin and stir. Once boudin begins to stick to the pan, add chicken stock and bring to a simmer.When stock simmers, adjust seasoning and add diced bread. Allow to cool. (At this point, mixture can be stored up to 4 days.)

To stuff the legs: Lay the de-boned leg quarters out flat, skin side down. Divide the boudin stuffing into two portions, and spread the portions evenly onto each leg. Roll the meat up jelly-roll style, keeping as much stuffing inside as possible.

Cut the butchers twine into 12-inch pieces. Tie the pieces of twine around the stuffed turkey legs every few inches to keep them rolled tight. Once the turkey legs have been tied, season them with salt and coarse black pepper.

Roast the legs in a pre-heated 375-degree oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

The result? I think this is the best Canadian Thanksgiving yet. The sausage was delicious, the turkey moist and flavorful. Really, really good.

Lemon Laws

Lemon Laws
I saw this story the other day, about a man in Germany so fed up with his lemon of a BMW (a $160,000 lemon, btw) that he had been trying, unsuccessfully, for 5 years to get fixed, that he took it to the Frankfurt Motor Show and smashed it with a sledgehammer.

Happily I’ve never been in this situation, but the story reminded me of my grandfather, who was well known in Stockton back in the day, as he was a local businessman and on the city council as well. Grandpa used to buy a new car every year or two, and he paid with cash. In my mind, he bought Cadillacs, though that may not be the case. One year, he was unhappy with the car he had bought, as it had problem after problem that he didn’t think a brand new car should have. Perhaps we didn’t have lemon laws back then, so Grandpa took matters into his own hands. He went to the dealership and told them they needed to take the car back. They refused, and said it was his car now. He said, “Well then, I guess I’m going to go get a paint job then”, and they said, “What do you mean, Mr. Ward?” He said, “I’m going to get a big lemon painted on the side, and park it in front of your dealership every day. Whenever anyone asks, I’ll tell them exactly why, and who sold the damn thing to me.”

They took the car back.

Quinoa Salad with Oranges


When we were in Portland last month, my step-mom Julie made a wonderful dinner for the family on the night before the party. She had lemon chicken, green salad, pasta salad, quinoa salad, and a lot of patience. I say that because as she was cooking, family kept coming in and telling her things they didn’t like that were included in the recipes she was making. If I were trying to get chicken and three salads on the table, as well as drinks, bread, and so on, for 10 or so people, this would have bugged the crap out of me. She is perhaps used to it, though, as it didn’t seem to phase her a bit. Thankfully, the issues were mainly the green salad, so she was able to handle it by putting avocados and whatever else was offensive on the side. Picky people.

We’re not big quinoa eaters around here, though I think that’s habit more than anything else. Every time I do make it, everyone really enjoys it. I should probably make it more often. This recipe was a surprise to me, because it contains raisins, which Ted hates (though we didn’t chime in on the pickyness and have them omitted, because we’re saintly. Obviously.) But he not only gobbled up his serving of the quinoa, he had seconds, AND he told me that he thought the recipe really needed the raisins. They kind of made it good. Wow. Now I really do enjoy raisins. I like them in raisin bran, I like them in bagels, I like them in rice dishes, I like them in salads. I also like dried cranberries and dried apricots, which are not popular around my house. I live with weird people, don’t I? Good thing they’re so good looking and funny, or I might have to find some dried-fruit living people with whom to spend my time.

Julie photocopied the recipe for me from her cookbook. I don’t know what cookbook it was, or who to credit, aside from my very patient step-mom. I hope you’ll try this recipe, and that you enjoy it. It’s good warm, as it would be if you made it for or with dinner. It’s good room temperature, as if you left it out at a potluck while people were having a glass of iced tea. It’s good cold from the fridge, as if you had some leftover, and decided to eat it for lunch. Delicious.

Quinoa Salad with Oranges

Quinoa Mixture

  • 1/2 cup almonds, slivered or sliced
  • 2 cups stock, or water
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 2 oranges, peeled, sliced, and chopped
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 Tblsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tblsp cilantro
  • 1 Tblsp grated orange zest
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 Tblsp olive oil


  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3 Tblsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper

Toast almonds 4 to 5 minutes in dry skillet, stirring often.

Bring 2 cups stock or water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add quinoa and salt, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes or until tender and almost all liquid is absorbed. Transfer to large bowl. Toss with raisins and oranges.

In a small bowl, mix orange juice, shallots, parsley, cilantro, orange zest, cumin, and coriander. Whisk in oil. Add to the quinoa.**

For dressing: whisk all the ingredients in a bowl, adding the black pepper last.
Pour dressing over the quinoa mixture and toss to coat. Garnish with toasted almonds.

* I’ve made this recipe twice since we were in Portland. The first time it was soupy, so I quickly cooked up another 1/2 cup of quinoa and mixed it in with the recipe. The second time I was making it for a party, so I doubled the Quinoa Mixture portion, but did not double the amount of dressing. That seemed like the perfect amount, but turned out to be dry. So now I’m thinking, if you double the recipe, double the dressing, put in about 1.5 times the regular amount, and then see what happens next.

** This is kind of confusing to me. These are liquid ingredients, and appear to be a dressing on their own. Which you toss with the quinoa and oranges, and then, add a second dressing. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just incorporate these ingredients in with the dressing ingredients and toss them all together. But I didn’t ask questions and followed instructions. I’d make a good Nazi.

Catching Up

I’m a bit behind here.  Somehow I think when I have time off from work, I’ll have more time to write here, and to read your blogs as well.  Instead, I find myself doing other things, away from the computer.  I guess that’s a good thing, living my life and all, but still, I’m thinking of spending a bit of time this morning poking around blogs.  But first, I’ll fill you in on what I’ve been up to.

As you know, we went to Portland last weekend for my father’s birthday party.  We flew up on Friday and home on Tuesday, and we saw family every day while we were there, which was really, really nice.  Friday we went to Dad and (my step-mom) Julie’s house for dinner, along with Julie’s (twin) sisters and their spouses.  (See, Julie and I are both named Julie, and we both have sisters who are twins…it can get a bit confusing, esp when my sister Maya and my daughter Maya are there as well….we figure it out.)  Julie made a very yummy dinner, including a quinoa with oranges and raisins that was fabulous.  She gave me the recipe, so once I make it here, I’ll share with you.

Family 2013Here we are all dressed up for the party

Saturday was the party, which turned out to be really nice. About 50 people, all there to celebrate my Dad and his wonderfulness. There was delicious food and lovely conversation. Then people started making speeches about my dad’s political past, his work over the last 45 years for the counter culture, going on freedom marches, avoiding the draft, running alternative newspapers, on and on and on. My dad said, “they make me out to be this great guy, but I didn’t do these things for a cause…I was having adventures!” Which is true, and he had many adventures indeed, all while supporting the causes that he cares for most. My sister, Maya, is planning to do some interviews with my dad, so we can get some of these things written down.

Dad and GirlsDad and his Girls

Sunday was another party, this one just for family. We ate delicious leftovers from the big party, relaxed, and enjoyed family stories. Monday, Ted and Maya went to a movie, and my dad and I went to see my Grandma in the care facility. She didn’t speak, I don’t think she had any idea who I was, but she was VERY glad to see us, enjoyed it when I hugged her, and really enjoyed sitting in the sunshine and eating chocolates that we brought. Monday evening was a dinner party at my sister Maya’s house, which was Jambalaya. Maya’s wonderful husband, Herb, is from New Orleans, and he cooked us a really delicious meal.

Maya and I took long walks in Forest Park. I had one on one time (no kids, rare when they’re young) with my sister Melissa, part of which was a quick trip to Powells Books, where I picked up Little Bee, and almost bought Zealot but didn’t because it was expensive. Then Ted and Maya went to Powells a day or two later, and he bought Zealot with a gift card he had in his wallet. Yay! Rare to find a book that all three of us are interested in reading. Nice.

While there, we were staying at Maya and Melissa’s mom and step-dad’s house, which is a HUGE (maybe 4,000 square feet) modern townhome. It was very luxurious, and lovely and relaxing as well. It was located close to 23rd Street, which is a trendy little neighborhood. We had dinner Sunday night at a place I wanted to try, Southland Whiskey Kitchen. Ted loves whiskey, and I love fried chicken, so it seemed like a good place to try. The fried chicken was delicious, as was the biscuit. The horseradish slaw was a bit too horseradishy for me, but if you like that kind of thing, I’m sure it would be great. Their whiskey list was extensive, and Ted tried a couple of local Portland bourbons, which he really enjoyed. If we lived closer, I’d want to give their smoked meats a try…esp some baby back ribs. Yum.

Tuesday was home again, which can feel a little jarring after the relaxation of being on vacation. We did have a good nights sleep in our own bed, which was nice after trying to adjust (unsuccessfully) to their Tempurpedic bed. Wednesday I ran a bunch of errands, registered Maya for school (expensive for Senior year), that kind of thing. Thursday I gave blood and took a nap.

All in all it’s been a nice 10 days off from work. I’ll be ready to start up again on Monday, I guess. For now, two more days of weekend to enjoy, starting with reading a few blogs before I get started…


photobombTed and me, photobombing Maya, Chloe, and Justin after the cable car ride.

This was a lovely week in our humble abode.  My sister, Maya, and her two children came and stayed with us for 4 days.  They live in Portland, and decided to fly down and play tourist in the Bay Area, and spend some quality time with us.  YAY!

998671_10201345927031477_1308020258_nOne of the attractions at the Musee Mecanique, which is always good for some morbid fun.

They were interested in riding cable cars, going to Fisherman’s Wharf, and walking the Golden Gate Bridge.  All of that is West of us, in my favorite city, San Francisco.  We had thought perhaps we’d fit it all into one day, but as anyone who has, or remembers having, small children (they’re 5 and 8), there comes a time in the day when it’s best to just go home, have dinner, and get ready for bed.   Wednesday we went into the city, rode the Cable Car down to the wharf, had a fancy lunch, visited the Musee Mecanique, then the Jeremiah O’Brien, finally meandering our way over to Pier 39 and the Aquarium of the Bay.  It was an action packed day, and all plans of the GG Bridge, coming home and cooking something celebratory, etc. went out the window. We came home and ordered pizza. Maya et al. don’t have TV at home, so they found our Netflix kids shows to be just the ticket…they watched Aristocats twice, part of Fox and the Hound (before it got too scary), and several episodes of Magic School Bus.  Between the Netflix and the swimming pool, I think they were pretty easy to please.

Thursday, we decided to go East rather than West, and drove out to Brentwood to pick nectarines and apricots. We picked fruit, had a picnic, came back to Walnut Creek for ice cream, and then had tacos for dinner out by the pool. It was a relaxing end to another busy day. One thing I forget, as the parent of a 17 year old, is how much ENERGY little ones have, and how they get cranky when they’re tired, and how much FUN they are to watch and enjoy, but how tired you can be by the time they go to bed.  Even a simple day of fruit picking and ice cream, and I was worn out.  Dinner was tacos out by the pool, which felt like a vacation in its own way.

J&MWait a minute, does this mean Maya is TALLER than me?
Not sure I knew this…will have to investigate later this summer.

Friday we started slowly, packing up their things for the trip home, then lunch downtown (I had a really yummy grilled cheese sandwich, with mozzarella, Swiss, and blue cheeses. DELICIOUS.) We then drove into San Francisco and out to the Golden Gate Bridge, which was VERY windy. Then the sad and a tiny bit frazzled drive to the airport, as we hit the beginnings of the evening commute, but in the end we made it there in time. Whew.

5996_10201345938871773_1456839459_nMaya, keeping Chloe in step with the rest of us.
I was so proud of how she took care of her little cousins.

On Ted’s side of the family, Maya is generally the youngest cousin, with the ones she sees the most often being 5 and 6 years older than she is.  On my side of the family, she is the oldest cousin, with her oldest being almost 8 years younger than her, and the youngest being 11 1/2 years younger.  I think she really enjoyed spending time with her younger cousins, and it was REALLY helpful to have her holding Chloe’s hand on the busy streets of San Francisco. Chloe is similar to me as a child, as I was often curious about things around me, and often was somewhat lost in my head, and would fail to notice that my mom was 1/2 block ahead of me, usually trying to get Richard to slow down (as he was 1/2 block ahead of her), and me to speed up.  So with her little brother, Justin, speeding along, it was great to have Maya to help Chloe keep with the group.  We haven’t spent as much time with these cousins as we would like to…Ted’s family lives here, and my family lives in Portland and Juneau. So spending time, and getting to know my little niece and nephew a bit more…and of course spending quality time with my wonderful sister…it was fabulous.  I’m SO glad they came to visit, and glad that we’ll see them again in August when we go up to Portland for my dad’s 70th birthday party. 🙂


There’s something about grandchildren, where they exact revenge upon the parents, and the grandparents sit back and laugh.  When I was young, I did this or that or the other thing to my mom, which surely drove her crazy.  She survived whatever it was, but then, when Maya came along and did to those same things to me, and drove me nuts, HA!  My mom was so happy.  Grandchildren are the best revenge, right?

What I didn’t know before, was that children can also be some kind of revenge exacted upon your grandparents as well.  (See how I skipped an entire generation there?  Crazy, huh?)  Way back when I was 29 or 30, pregnant with Maya, we were living in Philadelphia.  Ted was attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, and I was working in the Sociology department there on campus.  Walking around, pregnant, 29 or 30, I was in an entirely different head space from the undergraduates.  They seemed so YOUNG, which of course they were.  Walking around with their cell phones, thigh high tights, and dripping with money and youth.  Every once in awhile, I got a glimpse of a girl with her belly button pierced, and I thought that was pretty darned cool and sexy and daring, and yet….kind of hidden.  So that winter, we came home to California for Christmas, and my dad, my step-mom, and my sisters all came down to see us.  We met up at my Grandma’s house in Modesto.  I remember going out to dinner somewhere, and in the car on the way back to Grandma’s house, we passed by a piercing/tattoo parlor, and I flippantly mentioned that, were I younger, and not pregnant, I might perhaps get my belly button pierced, because I liked that look.   Everyone was quiet for a bit, and then conversation went on again.

Of course, when we got back to Grandma’s house, she took me aside (though in full ear shot of the family) and told me she hoped I would raise my child better than that, that I would set a good example and live a moral life for her.  I felt a bit stunned, but let it go.  My sisters and father all talked to me after, telling me they were sorry, that they had all been in these kind of conversations with Grandma, so they had learned to just shut down, let Grandma talk, and move on with their lives.  I had certainly gotten off easily, not knowing my Grandma growing up, I missed a lot of good, but also sometimes I missed some of the lectures and out of left field criticism as well.

Anyway, this weekend, Maya provided me the opportunity to exact a bit of revenge on my Grandma.  She has wanted to get her belly button pierced for awhile now, but Ted and I thought that was something too sexy and rebellious for a young girl, but perhaps when she was 17, that would be old enough.   Well, she turned 17 a couple of weeks ago, and amongst all of these milestones (driving, Prom, SAT, birthday) she decided it was time.  So on Sunday I took her to get her piercing, and I’ll admit, part of me thought, “Take that, Grandma!”

Small Victories & Occasional Randomness

I went to the store the other day, in need of a new pair of jeans.  I have a certain brand and cut that I like, and alas, they are phasing that cut out.  No big pile with four washes from which to choose, which is how it was the last time I went to the store.   So I looked all over, dug through pile after pile, and the only pair I found was 7 sizes too big.  Rats.  Every other pair in the store was a stupid low rise cut, meaning I can’t bend over without people knowing what kind of underwear I have on.  I don’t like that, and I doubt anyone who would be forced to see my crack would like it, either.  I’m not a plumber.  When I came home, I tried the online store, and look, they still have them!  Plus, a coupon for 30% off!  So I get my jeans, and save money.  I hope I don’t regret only buying one pair.  Perhaps I should have bought two.  But since they’re going away, I kind of think it might be a good idea to look around and see what else is out there.

There has been a constant drip drip drip coming from our bathroom vanity, and our water bill went up this last time.  Neither Ted nor I are plumbers (as I mentioned above), nor do we play one on TV, but at the same time, a drippy faucet seems like it should be solvable without calling a plumber and paying $75.  Friday was my day off, and Ted replaced our bathroom shower head a few months ago, so I felt like, perhaps, if he can do it, I might be able to do it, too.  I looked online, and saw a video that showed how to remove the faucet, but blurred through the complicated inner workings.  Mostly it said, take it apart, take the parts with you to the hardware store to match them correctly, then come home and put them back in where you found them, and voila, problem solved.  Well, that’s a mighty optimistic telling of how it could go, isn’t it?  I was able to get it pulled partially apart, but not completely.  I wasn’t sure whether to fight it and break it, or if maybe I needed a tool.  So I took some pictures and went to the hardware store.  There, they told me that it was difficult to disassemble because of hard water deposits, and I should just yank on it.  OK.  Back home, and now Ted’s here (he was out giving Maya a driving lesson on the freeways, which I am happy enough to miss…they make me nervous), so he just gives the darned thing one yank, and off it comes.  Yay for big man strength!  Back to the hardware store I go, with the spigot or whatever it’s called, but I didn’t bring the washer.  So they sell me what they think might fit, and back home I go.  I put it back together, with Ted’s help, though again, neither of us are plumbers.  Get everything put back together, turn the water on, and out it comes…even though the spigot is turned off.  Not working at all.  Drats.  Turn it off.  Take it apart.  Look at the washer, which has a hole that is slightly bigger than the hole in the original washer.  I wonder if that matters.  I don’t know.  Back to the hardware store I go, this time with my worn out parts, where they dig around and find yet another kit, with a washer that looks much more like mine than the first one.  Back home. Put it together.  Run water.  No better.  What’s wrong?  Could it be that I have the spring/washer combination put together backwards?  Ted pulls apart the other side of the sink to see, and yes, it does indeed appear that way.  So we try it again.  YAYYY!! This time, it worked.  No more dripping faucet.  No more wondering how much it’s costing me to have it drip, and thinking about the dry January we’ve had, and thus far, dry February as well, so the guilt of wasted water.  And it only cost me $3, four hours, and 3 trips to the hardware store.

Lots of construction around here, jackhammering apart our swimming pool. That was fun. Working from home has its benefits, but listening to someone jackhammer your pool for 5 continuous hours is not one of them. After they tore it apart, thankfully, they put it back together, re-tiled, re-plastered, and filled it with water. Then, walking by the other day, there’s this new sign. WTF? The thing is, even though we live in a condo complex, which is sort of private property, it is not one person’s property. So the pool is subject to all kind of county regulations. Like when they made us add new tiles a year or two ago, to add ‘ft’ to the ‘4’ and ‘6’ on the sides of the pool. Homeowner money had to go to adding signs to tell us that it was feet, not meters, even though diving isn’t allowed anyway. Frustrating. Anyway, I’m assuming that the sign is a county regulation, so we have no choice but to put it up, no matter how disgusting it is to walk past every day.

Awhile ago I mentioned that I have an avocado tree that needs a bigger pot.  I had contemplated going and asking some people down the street if they’d be interested in selling me their lovely blue glazed planters, and I actually did knock on their door once, but they didn’t answer.  I’ve noticed more often lately that even when people are home, they sometimes just don’t answer the door.  That’s their right, I suppose, but I find it a bit odd.  Anyway, I considered leaving them a note with my phone number, but after knocking, I went and played a bit with the planters, and GOSH they were heavy.  I tried to imagine them with a small tree inside, and I lost my will.  So on the first of my three trips to the hardware store yesterday, I picked up a huge plastic planter and a bag of potting soil, and after we finished fixing the faucet, I re-potted the avocado.  My fantasy is that someday we’ll get fruit off of it, but I’m not getting my hopes up too high.

Valentine’s Day can be a busy, horrid day to eat in a restaurant. There are three days that I do NOT like going to restaurants in a year, and they are: 1. Valentine’s Day 2. Mother’s Day 3. New Year’s Eve. Too crowded; special, expensive menus; harried service; grumpy customers, due to the first three items, plus you probably had a reservation and still had to wait 45 minutes for a table. We don’t go out to eat on any of these days. But we do celebrate, which means some kind of yummy feast. February is mid to late winter, which is prime crab season in NorCal, so we decided to have one of our favorite meals…cracked crab roasted with garlic, butter, more garlic, and more butter, and noodles, with garlic, butter, olive oil, and a few more things. Gah, it was good. Ted had his beloved bok choy, and Maya and I had salad, as we do not belove bok choy. Then, to top it all off, Ted made an amazing apple cake that I think we’ll be having for Thanksgiving this year, because it was SO delicious. Really, really good.  If you behave, perhaps I’ll post the recipe for you.

Today I’m off to give blood.  Back in November when my grandma fell and broke herself up, she had to have some blood, and I’ve been meaning to do it since then.  Other weekend plans, holidays, and sore throats have foiled my best laid plans, but today I’m all clear.  Eat a big breakfast so I don’t pass out, go give blood, and then come home and maybe have a nap, which is usually just what I want after giving blood.  I’d like to see a movie this weekend, but I still have two more days, so no rush, right?  Nice.   OH, I forgot to tell you, my Grandma is home!  She’s healed well enough that she is now home again, no longer on the schedule of the nursing home, taking their pills and doing exercises, all of that.  I hope she keeps up some of the exercises…stronger muscles make for a less wobbly Grandma, one who is less likely to fall down and break anything.  What a relief!  Yay Grandma!

Chocolate Cake for a 90th Birthday Party

My lovely Grandma turned 90 last week, and on Sunday we celebrated with her in the care facility where she is recovering from the fall she took on Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, the x-ray she takes later this week will show that she is recovered enough so that she can go home.
For the party, I volunteered to bring the cake.  Grandma says her favorite cakes are fruit cake and chocolate cake.  I don’t know many people who like fruit cake, and I have no idea how to make it, so I opted for chocolate on chocolate love.  Then came the question, to make the cake from scratch, or use a box.  I vacillated on this one quite a bit.  The chocolate cake I made for Maya’s birthday last year turned out pretty well, but for some reason I just felt safer using a box mix.  I believe I’ve said before how much baking makes me nervous.  SO precise.  SO easy to end up with a dry, blah cake.  I didn’t want to risk that.  In the end, I decided to make a doctored up mix cake.  I remember my old roommate, Troy, used to add extra oil and an extra egg to cake mix, with moist, delicious results.  Here’s the recipe I used.

Darn Good Chocolate Cake (Cake Mix Cake)


  • 1 box devil’s food cake mix
  • 1 (4 oz) box instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • chocolate frosting

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans*. Dust with flour and tap out excess. Set pans aside.

In a large mixing bowl, blend all ingredients except the frosting on low for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat for 2 – 3 more minutes on medium low. The batter will be very thick and should look well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans and smooth it out.

Bake for 27 to 32 minutes. Mine was ready in 29 minutes**.

Cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

*America’s Test Kitchen made a cake the other day, and they said to put some parchment paper in the bottom of your cake pan, and it comes out more cleanly. I did this, and the cake came out VERY Easily. However, I didn’t butter and flour the parchment paper, so it stuck to the cake. Oh well.

**A toothpick through the center of the cake came back with just a little gooey batter. I don’t like to wait until it’s completely clean, because the cake continues to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven, and it can turn out dry.

Aunt Flo, Grandma’s younger sister (by 16 months), Me, my cousin, Carey, and the Birthday Girl

Next came the frosting question.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to use canned frosting, doctor up some canned frosting, or make frosting from scratch.  I’ve read that adding a bit of vanilla to canned frosting can take it from blah to delicious quite easily, but I decided to go for scratch, as frosting is pretty easy to make.  Maybe.  At first I was going to make this recipe, which was the one recommended in the cake recipe.  But I don’t like to whisk in my cooking pots, as it scratches the non-stick surface of the pot, and the whole “DO NOT BOIL” warning made me nervous, and the ice bath thing seemed too worky for me.  So I abandoned that idea, and went instead for an America’s Test Kitchen frosting that you can make in the food processor.  I like that, because I don’t have a stand mixer.  I had to find the America’s Test Kitchen recipe elsewhere, because they require you to pay a subscription to access their older recipes.  The recipe says to use milk chocolate, but I had already bought semi-sweet, because that’s what the original recipe I was planning to use called for.  So I went with that.

Foolproof Chocolate Frosting

  • 20 tablespoons (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened.
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • Pinch table salt
  • ¾ cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces milk chocolate , melted and cooled slightly (see note)

In food processor, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and pulse until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Frosting can be used immediately or held (see note).

Makes 3 cups to frost one 9-inch 2-layer cake

NOTE from ATK: This frosting may be made with milk, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate. For our Fluffy Yellow Layer Cake, we prefer a frosting made with milk chocolate. Cool the chocolate to between 85 and 100 degrees before adding it to the butter mixture. The frosting can be made 3 hours in advance. For longer storage, refrigerate the frosting, covered, and let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

I thought the frosting was perhaps too bitter, so I added a little bit more sugar. Grandma likes dark chocolate more than milk chocolate, though, so I hoped that the frosting wouldn’t taste too bitter on the cake. You know what? It didn’t. There was a lot of frosting, too, so I was able to cut the layers in half, and make four layer cake, which means more frosting. Have to remember that for Maya’s birthday, since she LOVES frosting.  One thing though, I might try a frosting recipe next time without the cocoa powder.  There’s something about that cocoa flavor that’s so distinctive, and if you don’t love it, it can really come on through.  It kind of did in the frosting.

What a yummy cake, what a lovely party, and what a wonderful Grandma. Happy Birthday Grandma, SO glad that we were able to celebrate with you. I hope you’re home in your house again, drinking the coffee YOU like, sitting in your favorite chair, smoking your favorite cigarettes, and watching your favorite TV shows, all on your own schedule, not the schedule of a facility where they tell you when to get up, when to bathe, when to eat, all of that.

(Maya looks gorgeous in this pic. That’s my handsome Uncle Forrest, my mom’s younger brother, in the background)

Grandma Weekend

This is my Grandma and my cousin’s daughter, Julia, last year

Thanksgiving Day was a lovely day of fun, family, and wonderful food, as it should be. It also brought the disquieting news that my Grandma, my mom’s mom, had fallen pretty hard and broken her wrist, and was in the hospital. Blech.

So Friday I drove to Stockton to see her, to verify with my own eyes that she was OK, to try to find out what was going on. The news was not good. And sitting in a hospital is rarely fun. You wait and wait and wait all day for someone to come and tell you what is going on. I’m pushy enough in these situations, that I go out into the hallway and find the proper nurse, ask her my questions, and see if I can hurry things along. Friday, for most of the 8 hours I was there, she was queasy and really just wanting a cup of coffee. They wouldn’t let her have any until they were sure that she wouldn’t have surgery. Finally, towards the end of my visit, it was determined that no surgery would happen until Saturday, so she got some coffee and food. It was determined that surgery was the option she wanted on Saturday. It was discovered that there was something on some test or another that the doctors didn’t like, and made them think perhaps there was bone cancer somewhere. So we tried to get a CT Scan, but something went wrong (perhaps that she threw up the icky drink she had to take before hand, I don’t know). That was Friday.

Saturday was a day on hold. Started out with another (this time successful) CT Scan, then off to surgery, which didn’t happen, due to an irregular heartbeat. She has mitral valve prolape (which seems to run in the family, as her sister and my cousin both have it as well). I guess that threw off the anesthesiologist, who wanted to wait to hear from the cardiologist before he was willing to put her under.

Sunday, they carted her off early for surgery, having gotten the OK from the cardiologist. Thankfully, the surgery went well. They put a metal plate in her wrist to help hold it together. The CT Scan showed NO SIGNS of cancer. Whew. That’s a huge relief. Grandma has had health problems for the last few years, and I doubt that she has the strength to power through cancer treatment. She has always been tiny and thin, but now she’s lost weight and is probably 95 lbs dripping wet.

I drove to Stockton on Sunday, and made it back to her room before she did. It was so nice to see her, and to spend the afternoon making her life miserable by being loud and laughing with my relieved cousins. I asked her several times if she wanted us to leave for a bit so she could get a nap, and she said no, it was really nice to listen to us, her granddaughters, all together. We are so rarely all together.

So now I’m home, and she’s going to be discharged soon to go to the convalescent home. I’m not thrilled with those places, but this is a pretty good one, and she went there a few years ago when she broke her leg and had surgery. The people there are kind and supportive, and she likes them. It is 5 minutes (with traffic) from her house, and 5 minutes from my uncle’s house, so it’s very convenient for my Great Aunt (who lives with my Grandma) and my uncle and aunt. I think having them there as much as possible is a great help in her recovery, so I’m all for it.

You know, after all of this, I’m kind of ready for the weekend to be over, and to go back to work. But I’m really relieved that she’s OK.

Día de los Muertos

Today is The Day of the Dead, otherwise known as Día de los Muertos.  It is a day to remember and pray for beloved family and friends who have died.  I thought maybe I’d slow down and reflect on some loved ones who are gone.

First, of course, is my mom.  It’s been 4 1/2 years since she died, and of course, I still miss her every day.  I miss our long conversations, and I wish she were still here.  I don’t miss her being sick, and all of the stress that that gave me.  Mostly, I think about all of the things that she’s missing by not being here.  Pomegranates and persimmons are in season right now, and she loved them both.  Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and for several years, she worked for Catholic Community Services in Juneau, working to help people keep their children, when they were at risk of losing them due to child abuse.  She would train them in better ways of managing stress and anger, and give them parenting skills.  It was a job that she loved, but which was SO exhausting and often depressing for her.  While at that job, she had a lot of vacation time, and she would take off a month this time of year and come to California.  She would spend a week with my Grandma and Great Aunt, a week with me, a week with her friend Kate, and then another week with my Grandma and Great Aunt.  It seems strange to me for it to be Autumn, with the days shortening, and not have her visit to look forward to.  Gosh, I wish she could see how popular ‘The Big Bang Theory” has gotten.  She <i>loved</i> that show from the very beginning.  I miss you, mom.  If you were wrong, and there is a life after death, I hope you’re happy and healthy and well.  If you were right, and there isn’t, then at least I’m glad you’re not sick and suffering any more, and you live forever in my heart.  Sigh.

Next is my Grandpa.  He died in the spring of ’88, and I still miss him quite often.  He was a difficult man to like, but sometimes easy to love.  He used to make me chocolate cake, and we’d watch horse races together.

Then there’s Ted’s father, Pops.  He died in November of ’93, which is SO long ago now, but it feels like yesterday.  Ted and I were newlyweds, and that was the first big deal thing we had to deal with as a couple.  He was ill for a while before he died…not bedridden by any means, but he was slowing down mightily.  It was very difficult for him, because he was a man who loved to be busy.  Ted and I were talking about him yesterday, and how he loved his job, loved working, so much, that when he finally retired (after having a stroke left him unable to perform surgery), he had about 2 YEARS worth of vacation time banked.  So he basically went on vacation for 2 years, and THEN retired.  Crazy, huh?  I have a fond memory of him teaching me to calypso dance, and the many parties that we had at his house.

My Great-Grandma, my Mom’s Grandmother, was the first big loss I suffered.  She was such a loving and sweet woman.  She died in November of ’87, just after her 88th birthday.  I remember going to visit her and my Great Aunt (Aunt Flo, who now lives with my Grandma) in Modesto as a kid.  She was always busy with crocheting.  Actually, not crochet, but some kind of needlework that I don’t remember, where you pull the yarn through a pattern, and make a pretty wall hanging or maybe rug.  I’m not a crafty person, never have been, but I always admired her dedication and her love of the craft.

My other Grandfather, who I never met.  I met my father when I was 21, my sisters when I was 22, and my father was going to take me to meet my grandparents soon, when my Grandfather died.  I met my Grandmother for the first time at her husband’s funeral.  My dad had told them about me, though, and I was welcomed into the family with open arms.  I do wish I had been able to meet him…he seemed like a great guy.  I wish my only memory of him weren’t him in his coffin.

Last, of course, I have to remember my sweet dogs, Genevieve and Samantha.  Genevieve, I miss her so much every day.  I still cry quite often, thinking of her.  She was such a sweet funny girl, and we often talk about funny things she did, and how she made our lives richer by being here.   Going for long walks with me, spinning and digging and laughing when she was excited.  How delicate and pretty she looked after being groomed.  How ruffian and scruffy she looked after sleeping in the mud.  How bad her breath smelled sometimes.  How she would follow me from room to room, even after she went blind.  How she unplugged my computer from the monitor, causing me to think maybe I was going blind as well.  Samantha, who was my childhood dog.  I got her when she was just a puppy, and had her until she was 16.  She grew up with me, moved to California with me, kept me company when we would move YET AGAIN and I would have to go out and make new friends.  Easier done with a faithful dog by your side.  She died in 1988, the same spring that my Grandfathers both died.  It was a difficult time.

I’m thinking of all of you today, remembering good times that we had together.  I miss you terribly, but as long as I live, you will always be in my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Humid Day in Philly = Cranky Baby

Here we are on Mother’s Day, Philadelphia, 1996. It was a humid day, and Maya didn’t like humidity. Good thing we moved back to California, huh? I look so young. That was 16 years ago, so I was 30. Look how dark my hair is! That’s the color of my dad’s hair, actually…his was blonde when he was a boy, and got darker as he got older, just like me. Unlike me, he didn’t care, and let it stay dark. I didn’t want to dye my hair whilst pregnant, so I had it colored my natural color before I got pregnant. Or close. But then I went red for maybe a year, and then blonde again.

That’s a lot of dribble about hair, but what I really want to say is how much I love being a mom. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there. You don’t have to tell your kids how much you love it, if you’d rather make them feel guilty for all of the sacrifice. “Oh, I never sleep.” “No, you take the last cinnamon roll dear. I don’t want it.” “Oh, I’d love a new pair of shoes or a new purse or a trip to Europe, but you know, kids are so expensive“. Go for it. These things may all be true, but really, it’s the best job ever.

Super Moist Cake

Happy Birthday Lura cake

Today is my lovely Sister-in-Law Lura’s birthday. Happy Birthday Lura! I hope you’re having a wonderful day today.

This last weekend was her birthday party. Almost all of our family get togethers are a group effort, so that no one has to do all of the cooking. I decided that I wanted to try to bake a cake. The thing is, I’m not much of a baker. Too precise, too worky. I prefer cooking, where there’s more room for mistake and enough grace to fix things if you can. Nonetheless, for some reason, I wanted to make a cake. Partly because Lura loves cake, and partly because I received a tiny bottle of Fiori di Sicilia for Christmas, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to try it. It’s an Italian flavoring, with dominant flavors of orange and vanilla. The instructions say that people don’t really know what they’re tasting, just that your recipe tastes better than when they make it. Who wouldn’t want to try something like that? So, for a cake with a hint of orange and vanilla, I decided on a yellow cake with strawberry puree between the layers, and a buttercream frosting. And I did NOT want a dry cake. I hate dry cake, and it’s so damn common. So I looked online, and got some advice from my Facebook friend (who I know in real life, but haven’t seen in about 20 years), who spent several years as a pastry chef. The online advice was to add fat, and I remember my roommate back in the day used to add an extra egg and some extra oil to his cakes, and they were always delicious and never dry. So I bought a box of yellow cake mix, increased the eggs from 3 to 4, added 1/2 tsp of Fiori di Sicilia, lowered the temp from 325 to 300 (supposed to reduce the dome effect and give you a more even cake), and took it out of the oven the very second that a toothpick came out clean.

Then I left for a few hours, and watched Girl Scouts sell cookies in front of a grocery store. My Girl Scout was home sick, but I’m the ‘cookie mom’ of the troop, so I went anyway. When I came home, my FB friend had given the following excellent advice:

Let the layers cool. Wrap in plastic and put in the fridge. Cool cake is easier to cut. Make a simple syrup (usually one to one water and sugar, but feel free to throw in some vanilla extract, booze, etc.) when you cut the layers, use a pastry brush and soak the cake as you go: layer of cake, brush on the soak, filling, layer of cake, soak, filling…chill after each layer to help set if your filling is soft. For the out side, chill the cake, put on a thin crumb cost of frosting, then put on a thicker layer. Chill each time to help keep the thing solid. Take your time, a decent chianti makes things move along a bit quicker.

(here I asked, should I frost tonight, or in the morning? We’re going to a brunch…)

Frost it tonight to the crumb coat on the outside. Cover in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. In the morning, pull it out and do the final coat, finish it on your platter. It should still be cold enough inside to travel without sliding apart, but be up to room temp when you eat it. Cold cake sucks. You can frost the whole thing if you have a big enough plastic case to keep it in, you also need a ton of room for the override cake box in your fridge. Do you have a cardboard round to put it on to get started? The cardboard makes it easier to move it around as you build, then put a little sticky tape on the bottom when you drop it on the serving platter, it will help to keep it from sliding off. Have fun.

I followed this advice, and it was a delicious, really moist, yummy cake. As a matter of fact, it was SO moist, that the bottom of the cake box was a little wet. I think the bottom layer of the cake was too thin, and the simple syrup soak soaked right through. Also, the strawberry puree I made was very thin. The buttercream frosting was a tiny bit too sweet for me, but I’m not sure how you would fix that, as it’s just butter, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Maybe I needed a bit more milk? It’ll probably be awhile before I make another cake (though Maya’s birthday is later this month, so never say never), so I’ll probably forget all of this advice by then. Good thing I have a blog to remind me, no?