Birthday Wine


Back in December of 1997, I worked at a company that had our department holiday party on the Napa Valley Wine Train. I was in HR at the time, and there were 4 or 5 of us, I think, not a big crowd. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a passenger train that goes up Napa Valley for maybe an hour, and then comes back. It stops at one winery on the route, and serves pretty nice food and wine along the way. The train cars are decorated in an old fashioned way, like I imagine they might have been in the old west. You depart from a train depot in Napa, which of course has a gift shop with lots of wine stuff to be had. So that December day, just outside of the gift shop, were some crates that said, Maya. “Wow,” I thought, “Is there a Maya wine?” I went in and asked. The answer is yes, there is a Maya wine, and no, you can’t have any. Turns out it is a botique wine, very difficult to come by.

Well, if you’re at all like me, once someone tells me I can’t have something, I WANT IT MORE. Suddenly I was all about the Maya wine. I remember my BFF, Rosemary, and how when I would go to her house, there was some wine on top of the fridge that never got touched. I asked her about it, and she said her dad had bought each of the kids a bottle from the year they were born, and was saving it until they were old enough to drink it. Well, you can only imagine how wine stored on top of the fridge turned out to be (not good), but I liked the idea. And here was a wine that shared my daughter’s name! I MUST BUY SOME.

So, I started calling around. I called the vineyard, but they didn’t have any to sell. I called several small, independent wine stores, and got a resounding NO everywhere I called. One man laughed in my face (Well, in my ear, as I was on the phone). One man told me that they SOMETIMES got a case, but that the owner of the store gave or sold the bottles to his friends, and customers never got any. I had no idea there was wine that was difficult to procure. I’m a Safeway wine shopper.

Finally, I got lucky. I called a local wine store and told him my story. My daughter is Maya, and born in 1996. I want a bottle of 1996 Maya wine to toast her with on her 21st birthday. He said, “Most of the people who come in looking for that wine are posers wanting to show off for their friends. You’re the first down to earth person I’ve come across on this search. If I get any in the store, I will call you.” And he did. I don’t remember what year it was, probably 1999 at this point, but he called me and told me my wine was there. I was thrilled. I rushed to the store and bought it…the only time in my life I’ve paid that much for a bottle of wine (I think it was about $130, about 10x what I usually pay). It has been carefully stored in Ted’s brother’s wine fridge ever since, safe and sound.

Until Saturday. Saturday, we will celebrate my darling Maya’s 21st birthday with lamb curry, carrot cake, and a glass of Maya wine. I think there are 9 of us, so no one will get a lot, but we will toast to her health, and she can keep the bottle as a memento to her mother’s obsessive personality.

I hope it’s not corked.

Catching Up

It’s been a busy time, since last I stopped by here. The entire month of December is gone, and we’re a week into a New Year. So what’s going on?

I went to Portland for a long weekend in early December. It was my step-mom’s 70th birthday, and I went up to help her celebrate. Ted didn’t come with me, mostly because of his cat allergies, which means he can’t come inside (or at least not for long) most of the houses for our family. That can work fine in summer, we sleep at a hotel or house sit for neighbors, and we eat dinner in my parents’ back yard. That wouldn’t work this time, as it was snow and ice everywhere. Maya didn’t come with me, because while the party was on Dec 10th, her finals started Dec 12th, so she had to be here to study. So it was me alone. While there, I realized that I believe the only other time I’ve gone to Portland without Ted and/or Maya, it was January of 1988, when I went up to meet my sisters for the first time. They were 17 years old and in high school. I’m pretty sure that Ted came with me on my trips after that, and there were times when Maya and I went without him (cat issues, or work), or the three of us went. It was nice in a way, though I did miss them. I flew up on Thursday, and on Friday my dad and I went down the hill from the house to help get ready for the party. A neighbor, who has parties and fundraisers in her house often, offered the use of her home for the party, which was great. Dad and Julie live on a VERY steep hill, which is absolutely no fun when it is covered in ice. So to get down the hill can be tricky. We had walking poles, but it was so steep, we decided to slide down the hill on a piece of cardboard. That sounds more fun than it was. The ice was thin, and not at all smooth, and we felt every bump and rock on the way down. The cardboard shredded by the time we got to the bottom of the hill. My dad took this picture of me when I’m part way down. At this point, I’m frustrated, and thinking it would have been more fun to stay in the house with a cup of hot chocolate or something. This little puppy ran out to say hello and urge me on. It worked, the puppy was SO cute, it cheered me right up. The rest of the way to the house was still slippery, but we had our poles, and it wasn’t steep, so we were fine.
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I spent that evening with my sister and her husband, which was really great. They married in March, and we went up to celebrate in September. We’ve met her husband a couple of times, but this was the first time I got to spend time with just Melissa and Jason, and it was really nice to get to know him better. Saturday, Melissa and I did some Christmas shopping, and had lunch with Jason and some friends. Saturday night was the party, which was great, the ice had melted and everything was lovely. Then Sunday I came home. It was a fun trip.

What else…well, I caught a stupid cold. We had our annual baking day, which was fun, and I put together a box of cookies to bring to my friend Trudy. I used to deliver Meals on Wheels to her, but she went off of the route last year, when she moved from her home to an assisted living facility. I brought them to her on the Sunday before Christmas, and on Monday realized I was sick with a cold. Damn. It was a crummy head cold, which then went into my chest. I didn’t deliver Meals on Wheels that week, because I felt horrid, and also I worried about getting the clients on my route sick. I went again the Thursday after Christmas, and I asked another woman on my route, Dana, if she had heard how Trudy was doing. Trudy passed away the Tuesday after Christmas. Crap. I hope to hell I didn’t give her my cold. She was 101, and when I saw her last, she was not doing well. Not much appetite, not dressed, just taking it easy. Not really like herself. I am going to miss her, she was a real character and such a sweet woman.

Last weekend was my birthday, and it was beautiful weather, so Ted, Maya, Mulder, and I went to Pescadero, which is a little town at the coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. They have a bakery there that sells some amazing bread with artichoke hearts baked inside. So we ate delicious artichoke bread, then went to the beach to smell the salt water. It was a perfect day, and when we got home and cleaned up, we got dressed and went out for a delicious birthday dinner. Here’s Mulder at the beach.
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Now here we are, it’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. We’ve been watching the screeners that Ted gets for being part of the SAG-AFTRA Union. We’ve seen Lion, which we loved, and Fences, which was very good, and I liked it more than Ted did. We have a couple of others that we haven’t watched yet. Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, and likely one or two others that I’ve forgotten. We’re supposed to get La La Land, but it hasn’t happened yet. We’re also watching the new One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which we are really enjoying. Mostly it’s been a good winter so far, but I could have done without losing Trudy or getting sick. Next weekend we bury my Grandma’s remains, and my mom’s as well. My Grandma was cremated, and wanted to be buried in the grave with her first husband, my Grandpa Roland, who died when my mom was 5. We are going to bury my mom’s remains in with them, as well as a bit of my Uncle Forrest’s remains, and a picture of their baby Roland, who died a few weeks after birth. There’s good and bad to that. I miss my Grandma, and it’s going to be sad. I miss my mom, and that’s going to be sad, too. I miss my uncle. Blech, it all sucks. But on the other hand, 4 of the 6 cousins will be there, including my brother Richard, who I don’t see often, since he lives in Alaska. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

That’s it for now. Hoping you’re well.

Grandma Ward

Grandpa and Grandma 1941

Grandfather Roland and Grandma Ginny, 1941


This is my much loved Grandma Ward, with her first husband, Roland, back in 1941.

Grandma was born in Southern California but moved to the Central Valley near Modesto when she was a young girl. She remembered riding the bus with the high school kids when she was in Kindergarten, because her parents didn’t want her taking the bus the other Kindergarteners took, as it was on the Highway and they didn’t think that was safe. So she rode with the big kids. The step to get on the bus was too high for her to reach, so a high schooler would lift her up. Kindergarten was 1/2 day, and High School was full day, so she waited outside the school for 3 hours or so until the big kids got out. All alone. Can you imagine anything like that today? Her parents would be in jail for neglect.

She fell in love with my Grandfather Roland when she was in High School, on a date with another boy. I guess that boy was friends with Roland, and they double dated. They didn’t care a bit for the others they were with, and Roland asked her out the next day. A few months later, they eloped. They had to elope, because he was older (27 to her 18) and divorced. The older her family could have dealt with, but the divorced would have been a deal breaker. So they chartered a little airplane that flew them to Carson City, Nevada, and they got married. They came home and she went to school and didn’t tell anyone until after graduation. Her parents couldn’t do much with her, but they didn’t let her younger sister Florence out of their sight for about 2 years, and she wasn’t allowed to date, which she said was fine with her because she was too shy anyway and it gave her an excuse.

Roland worked in construction, and he and my Granmda (Ginny) lived in a little trailer that was hitched to the back of their car. They drove up and down the valley following work, and were very happy. My mom came along about a year later, and made them even happier. Ginny felt like my mom was her little doll to play with, and had a great time being a mom. They had another baby, a boy, two years later, but baby Roland was very ill, and never came home from the hospital. He lived for several months, but kept getting sick before he could be released. When he died, they were devistated. They had another baby, another boy, a couple of years later. This baby was my Uncle Forrest, and all was well, they were again very happy and loving life with the two little children. I think they had an apartment now. One day, Grandpa Roland stepped on a nail while at work. He wasn’t terribly worried because he had had a tetanus shot. But the tetanus shot turned out to be ineffective, likely expired when given to him, and he died quite suddenly. He complained of a headache at breakfast, and was dead before lunch. My Grandma was left with a high school education, a 5 year old, a baby, and a broken heart. They had no life insurance, because they had cancelled the policy because it was too expensive.

Grandma had to find work, and couldn’t keep her kids with her. So my mom went to a convent, and my uncle to a foster home. Grandma and Aunt Flo had an apartment together, and Grandma’s small wages went to pay for the convent and the foster home, plus of course food and rent and so on. This went on for a couple of years, until my Grandma met my Grandpa, who fell in love with her and her kids, and the next thing you know, they were married. My Grandpa was in sales for a large printing company, and they sent him around the country. They lived in Puerto Rico, which is where my Aunt Colleen was born. They lived in Texas and New Mexico and Colorado, and eventually back in California. My mom and Grandpa did NOT get along (he was abusive in many ways) and she left to go live with her Great Aunt Julia in Modesto, which is where she finished high school, and where she met my dad.

My grandfather lost his job at the printing company, I believe because they thought he was too old (he was in his 50s) and they moved to Stockton, where he opened his own company, taking most of his clients with him. They lived there the rest of their lives. My grandfather died in 1988, and my Great Aunt Flo moved in with my Grandma. Aunt Flo’s husband had died quite awhile before. She had taken care of her parents until they died, then helped Grandma take care of Grandpa, and now they were living together.

These last few years, Grandma has not been well. She blames it on having had four children, while Aunt Flo’s kids are step kids, so of course she was healthier. The reality is a combination of factors, including a 60+ year smoking habit, dieting every day from about the age of 12, breaking her hip at the age of 40, and scoliosis in her spine, which as she aged and her spine compressed, became very painful. Aunt Flo has been her nurse and caretaker, as well as her sister and best friend.

When we moved back to California from Alaska when I was 9, Richard and I came first, my mom and our dog (Samantha) came a couple of weeks later. Grandma and Grandpa had downsized to a mobile home park at that time, and it had a swimming pool. Grandma would take us swimming every afternoon, and we would watch cartoons on cable TV (which we hadn’t had in Alaska) before dinner. It was a lot of fun and they spoiled us. They decided that mobile home living wasn’t for them, so they bought a house, which was 2 blocks from our place. I would spend the night at their house sometimes, I spent a week there for Spring Break (called Easter Vacation back then), and my Grandpa would make me apple turnovers for breakfast. When my mom decided we were vegetarian, I would go over there for dinner and Grandma would make me pork chops. When I had swimming and karate lessons at the Y after school, my Grandma would come pick me up and bring me to her house until my mom got home. We were pen pals, which started when we lived in Alaska, and lasted until a couple of years ago when she broke her wrist, plus her eyes weren’t what they once were.

When Ted and I got engaged and moved in together, I worried that she would be angry and scold me. She had asked me to promise never to do such a thing a few years before, when Richard was living with a girlfriend. I wrote to her and told her my news, and asked for her understanding. She wrote back that she had had so little time with my Grandpa Roland, and she thought we should all take our happiness where and when we could. She wasn’t thrilled, but she was OK with it.

Grandma was so strong. She outlived two husbands and all four of her children. She had many adventures and lived a good life.

She has always been a fierce ally, always on her grandchildren’s side, always wanting the best for us, always loving us. My grandma died last Saturday, and I am going to miss her terribly. I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore, but I will miss our trips to Red Lobster and our visits.

Failure and Success

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Tuesday was Maya’s 20th Birthday, and also Spring Break for the elementary school where she works, so she didn’t have work that day. Spring Break at her college was last week, so she did have school, but she decided to play hooky and spend the day with us, her loving parents. I love this kid. (Not a kid at 20, but still MY kid)

We recently watched the movie “Chef” on HBO. Have you seen that movie? It’s really cute, about a chef in Los Angeles who is working for a restaurant that is uninspired and doesn’t allow him to showcase his creativity, and he ends up quitting his job, flying across the country, and starting up a food truck, driving across the country selling Cuban sandwiches. Maya decided that for her birthday, she wanted to go into San Francisco and get Cuban sandwiches. So she went online and found a place that gets fabulous reviews, which is in fact a corner store that also has a little sandwich area. So off we went. When we got there, we discovered that it wasn’t a traditional Cuban sandwich like you might get in Havana, but is instead a Torta Cubana, which has ham, cheese, mayonnaise, chorizo, chicken, pickled peppers, sour cream, fried egg, milanesa, avocado, and hot dog slices. Way too much, when what we were looking for has roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread, which is buttered and grilled in a press, like a panini. Failure

So I looked on my phone, and found another restaurant, known for the Cuban version (rather than the Mexican Torta). We drove across town, and when we got there, discovered they had shut down, permanantly. Looked for another place, also shut down. Clearly, our internet research skills are lacking.Failure

Ted had to go to work that afternoon, so we found a sandwich shop near his office, and had a late lunch there. No Cubans in sight, but it was nice nonetheless. Since Maya was born in Philadelphia, I had the Philly Cheese, which was quite good. Success (at last)

After dropping Ted off at work, Maya and I went to the Legion of Honor, so we could see a lovely painting by Raphael, Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn. We do love the Legion of Honor…the views of San Francisco’s skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, the smell of the sea, the gorgeous Cypress trees, and of course the beautiful paintings and sculptures. The current exposition is a collection of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings from around the world, which we very much enjoyed. Success

The following day, I saw a recipe online that looked pretty good to me, for Rajma, or Red Kidney Bean Curry, which popped up on Facebook, since I follow Smitten Kitchen there. In her post, she mentions a spice mixture that she found at Whole Foods and loved, and eventually figured out how to make herself. I thought that perhaps I might try it, and since sometimes spices in my cabinet can get a bit old, I’d just use the mix. So I went to the spice blend website, which said it was carried at both our local Whole Foods and at another local grocery store. So I went to Whole Foods (since I was in that neighborhood), and searched for the mix. Nope. Not in the Indian food section, nor in the spice section. I asked at customer service, and they said they had never heard of the brand. Sigh. So I went to the Indian spice shop across the street, where I was also out of luck. Failure I asked the woman at the spice shop, and she said the spices for Rajma are coriander, cumin, and garam masala. I had cumin at home that was fairly fresh, so I bought some coriander and garam masala and went on my way. I made the recipe for dinner and served it with rice, and it was delicious indeed. Ted said he could eat it every week, so I suspect I’ll be making it again soon. I varied the recipe in that I added a bit of garam masala, which the recipe did NOT call for, but the woman at the spice shop said it should. Really good. Success

Another recipe I tried this week was something that I saw on America’s Test Kitchen, which was lentils and rice with crispy onions, which included cumin and cinnamon. As they are known to do, America’s Test Kitchen tries the recipe several ways and tweaks it until they feel they have it just right. The recipe was supposed to be a pilaf type recipe, with tender lentils and fluffy rice, and crispy fried onions. When I made it, however, the rice came out gloppy and disgusting, and the flavors were blah. So Maya and I had bagels for dinner, and when Ted came home from work he had leftovers. Failure

Maya, as you know, has been attending our local community college for the last two years, in order to save money. Now she’s finishing up her Sophomore year, and is getting ready to transfer. She applied to one California State University, SF State (where Ted and I met!), and perhaps 6 University of California schools. She has heard from SF State, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz, and she is accepted to all three. YAY! She likely won’t hear from the others for a few more weeks. Her first and second choices are UC Berkeley and UC Davis, so we’re hoping for those. But if they don’t work out, she has some very good options to consider. Success!

Friday Randomness

Have you seen the beautiful tribute to my first husband, David Bowie, at the BRIT awards?  This is the entire thing, I think, including a tribute by Annie Lennox, a tribute by Gary Oldmam, and a song by Lorde, backed up by performers who had worked with Bowie in the past.  I’ll confess, Lorde’s song brought me to tears.  I miss David Bowie being alive in the world.  It was a better place with him here.   Coming so soon after the Emmy awards, which included a tribute by Lady Gaga, of course invites comparison.  I’ll chime in and say that Gaga’s tribute left me feeling cold, didn’t move me at all.  Hers was an over the top performance, with her dressed to honor the glam rock Bowie from the 70s.  She did a fine job, but tried to squeeze in too many songs, and it sounded like she was trying to pitch her voice to match his.  Lorde instead did a straight up version of ‘Life on Mars?’ that was gorgeous and simple.  The video above is the whole BRIT tribute.  If you want to see just Lorde’s performance, it starts about 9 minutes in.

Speaking of Gaga, I read today that Joe Biden is going to introduce her at the Academy Awards on Sunday, where she will perform her Oscar nominated song about rape and sexual assult.  This comes in the wake of a court decision this week that Kesha, who was (allegedly) sexually assaulted by her producer, Dr. Luke, will not be released from her contract with Sony.  Kesha says she wants to break all ties with Luke, but Sony says they are unable to do so, because the contract belongs to Dr. Luke’s company, which has a deal with Sony.  What a mess.  This is just an injunction, however, and the actual trial hasn’t started yet.  So we’ll see whether she will be contractually required to create 4 more albums with her attacker.  I don’t know more about the case, but I’m glad it’s getting attention.  Sexual assult is hard to prove, and so often the blame is put on the victim.  We need to change that mentality.

How’s the weather where you are?  It’s stupidly gorgeous here, 70 degrees outside right now.  We’ve had a very dry February, though not as dry as recent years.  January was pretty wet, which was good, unless you live on a cliff in Pacifica.  But February is prime rainy season.  It’s not unheard of in an ‘el nino’ year for us to have a dry spell, so I’m hoping still for a wet March and maybe even April.  After that it pretty much dries up around here.  What we need are winter storms to drop a lot of moisture, and we’re just not getting that right now.  Ugh.

Did you watch ‘Freaks and Geeks‘ when it was on back in ’99-2000?   We did, though I think we missed it first run and watched in reruns.  The entire series (only 18 episodes) is available now on Netflix.  If you came of age in the early 80s, you should give yourself up to a good binge and watch the entire thing.  We just finished the other night, and it really held up well.

I thought the series finale of Downton Abbey was this coming Sunday, but maybe they didn’t want to go up against the Academy Awards.  It’s next week, March 6th.  We have the DVD, so we’ve watched already.  Clearly I’m not evil and I won’t spoil anything for you, but I will say I think they did a really nice job with it.

Do you like Spaghetti and Meatballs?  We do.  We’re especially fond of the recipe in my Alice Waters cookbook.  It’s fairly involved, though, and usually Ted makes the meatballs while I make the sauce and it’s a real team effort weekend type meal.  So I was happy the other day to see that Smitten Kitchen had an everyday meatball recipe.  And instead of serving it with pasta, she said maybe you might want to have it with garlic toast, as sort of an open face meatball sub.  So that’s exactly what we did, and gosh it was good.  I think I would have liked the sauce portion to be a bit more complex, maybe some onions or carrots or something in there, but for a quick sauce, it was quite good.  Happily, there are leftovers on the menu tonight.

Lastly in this rambling post, for some reason last night I was thinking about these TV dinners, Libbyland, we sometimes got when I was a kid, in Alaska.  They were made and marketed to kids, so there was a game or a puzzle or something on the box that you could occupy yourself with, there was a packet of Nestle Quick that you could mix with milk and have chocolate milk (maybe they even had strawberry milk with some meals, I’m not sure.)  TV dinners back then were cooked in the oven, and these for some reason often came with chocolate pudding, so that was hot.  Strange.  The food was definitely geared towards kids tastes, and was fairly gross.  But boy, I loved those things.  I think we would get those if my mom was going on a date, so not a nightly thing by any means.

 

Happy New Year – Friday Randomness

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Hey There Party People, what’s shakin’? December was a good combination of busy and lazy, and somehow in amongst the lazy I did not post even once. That’s pathetic.

In line with catching you up a bit, life here has been good, not crazy, not too different than it was before. We’ve had another month with dog-boy, Mulder, and he’s settling in so very well. We all adore him so much. He’s playful and loving and wonderful. He’s learning a bit of manners, learning to walk better on a leash, etc. He doesn’t jump on the furniture as much anymore. He doesn’t bark nearly as much anymore. He’s only vomited twice. He did wake us up barking Christmas Eve morning, maybe 1 A.M. Not good. But it turned out he was barking at the police officers who were here, because our neighbor’s house had been broken into. He didn’t bark during the actual burglery, but based on the layout of our houses, I doubt he even heard it. So he’s a good guard dog. And so darned darling.

Sometimes Ted and I get each other similar gifts, without knowing that would happen. One year it was cozy bathrobes. This year it was art for our walls, at least sort of. I say sort of, because while he bought me a photograph/print to frame and hang, I bought him a set of frames to hang record albums. This is big for us, because we have such different taste in art, we have a lot of trouble finding anything to hang on our walls. He likes abstract art, geometrical with contrasting colors. I like flowers and more girly type things. I have a theory that he likes the contrasting colors because he’s somewhat color blind, and I like flowers and portraits because I’m girly.  See the beautiful picture of San Francisco and the cloudy sky up there?  That’s the picture he bought me.  I love it. I think it’s contrasting enough for him and pretty enough for me, is why it works.  It was taken by a friend of his, who does great work you can find here, if you’re so inclined.

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I love Jacques Pepin and enjoy watching his cooking shows on PBS. He has a new one now, ‘Heart and Soul’ that I’m enjoying enough that Ted gave me the cookbook for Christmas. Yay! One of the recipes was this one, which is a deconstructed sushi. I decided to give it a try the other day, and it was delishious. Our favorite grocery store has a sushi counter (don’t they all?) and they sell the spicy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger, so I bought those to add. It was really good, but I think the trout roe that I bought was a bit too fishy for me, so maybe I’d save myself a bit of money and not use that next time. But overall it was good.

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What else…well, I turned 50. Ted threw me a lovely party with family and friends, and we feasted on delicious lamb curry, curried pumpkin, and roti. So so so good. My friend Marilee was in Canada and couldn’t make it to my party, but she sent me the most gorgeous bouquet of flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen orchids this way before, but aren’t they amazing? I love them. Here we are a week later, and they’re still stunning.

What else…We’re enjoying Downton Abbey, and I’m looking forward to getting the DVD in a couple of weeks so we can forge ahead and binge watch. It’s how I started watching D.A., and really my preferred method.

We’ll see if I end up posting here more than I did last year. I certainly HOPE that I do, but I’m not going to make it a resolution or anything like that. Happy New Year, everyone.

Giving Thanks for Cranberry Sauce

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I’ve spoken here before about Thanksgiving, about how as a child, it was my least favorite holiday of the year.  (I should clarify that I am only talking about the years when I was in California…I don’t remember much about Thanksgiving in Alaska, but I’m sure it was lovely and fine.)  My entire family (on my mom’s side) is obsessed with weight.  My grandmother decided at a young age that she was NOT going to be fat like her parents and aunts, and pretty much has been on a diet ever since.  To the point where now, at age 92 and weighing in at about 88 lbs, she will still make comments like, “Well, since I ate that brownie, I’ll have to starve myself tomorrow.”  It’s digusting.  She raised her kids to be obsessed with weight as well, putting my mom on a diet when she was about 10.  It backfired, and the combination of her obsession and family genetics put all of her children into the overweight/obese category, though my aunt Colleen was much thinner than my mom or my uncle.

As might be expected, the conversation at family gatherings was often about dieting, about what one should and should not eat, what works and what doesn’t, on and on and on.  And all the while, of course, there’s turkey and stuffing and potatoes and candied yams and gravy and pie and fruit salad and cranberry sauce and rolls.  Please eat, enjoy…with an undertone of, you wouldn’t be so big if you didn’t enjoy quite so much.  Ugh.  Add to that the chain smoking by both of my grandparents, and throw in a big helping of my grandpa’s acid tongue and sarchasm, and you get the idea.  No family gatherings were particularly wonderful or happy, but Thanksgiving seemed to me to be about food food food, and with this family, that was not a good thing.  Plus most of the food wasn’t good.  Turkey was dried out, mashed potatoes from a box, brown gravy from a packet, cranberry sauce from a can, yams from a can.  Almost nothing was fresh.

I did always like the fruit salad and the cranberry sauce, canned though it was.  Actually, I liked the mashed potatoes and gravy from a box/packet, if truth be told.  It wasn’t until I was older and tried these things made from scratch that I realized that my grandparents’ cooking was like living in Plato’s cave, eating shadow versions of dishes, and there was a real world out there with delicious versionis of these same foods.

I remember the first time I tried cranberry sauce that wasn’t canned.  It was 1993, and Ted and I were newly married.  My mom had moved to Alaska that summer, though Richard and his wife had not moved up there yet, and were still in California.  Richard and Kathy were married the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and my mom had flown down for the wedding.  Generally we have Thanksgiving at Ted’s parents house, but we decided that year to have Thanksgiving at our apartment in San Francisco.  Kathy asked what she could bring, and I don’t remember if she brought pie or something else, but I do remember that she brought cranberry sauce.  It was a revelation. SO good.  Not overly sweet.  Fresh tasting.  I begged her for her recipe, and she looked at me, stunned.  “It’s on the back of the bag”, she said.  “1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, cranberries….cook over medium heat until the cranberries pop.  Chill.  That’s it.”   I think she felt that day about the same as she did when she told Richard they were going to make mashed potatoes, and he grabbed the box of powdered potatoes, while she grabbed fresh potatoes from the produce aisle.

Ever since that year, I’ve made this version of cranberry sauce, with a few exceptions.  One year I tried a savory version, which I did not care for.  One year I added a pinch of salt, which was fine but not really any different.  This year, for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, I tried a new recipe.  I don’t know what motivated me to do so, but I did.  It’s very similar to the one on the cranberry bag, but has less liquid.  You start out over low heat with the sugar, cranberries, and only 2 tblsp of water instead of a cup.  When the sugar dissolves, you have plenty of liquid, so then you turn up the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.  I found the recipe on Food Network, and they added a strip of orange peel, which I don’t fancy.  Some commenters used 2 tblsp OJ instead of water.  Result?  A lovely cranberry sauce!  Not adding as much water gives you more concentrated cranberry flavor.  Also, I used a bit less than a cup of sugar.  Maybe more than 3/4 of a cup, I’m not exactly sure.  Delicious. So this is the cranberry sauce recipe that I’m making for today’s Thanksgiving feast.

I’ll be thinking of Kathy, and thanking her for introducing me to fresh cranberry sauce.  I’ll be thinking of my mom and all of the years when she would come to California for a month, and Thanksgiving was during that time and she would spend a week with us.  I wish we were able to do that this year.  I’ll be thinking of my grandma and how much I love her, even if a visit with her means coming home smelling like cigarettes.  I’ll be thinking of my grandpa and how much I loved him, even if he was a mean old man.  I’ll be enjoying a lovely day of delicious, freshly made food, laughter, music, wine, and fun with our new dog, at Ted’s parents house.  I do have a lot to be thankful for.  (I considered changing that to the more gramattically correct, “I do have much for which to be thankful” but I don’t like it, so I didn’t.)

I’m also making my Grandma’s fruit salad, sweet potato pudding, and as an appetizer, shrimp cocktail.

If you’ve not tried fresh cranberry sauce, or if you have only tried the version with 1 whole cup of water, give this one a try.  It’s delicious.

Cranberry Sauce
Ingredients:

12 0z cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tblsp water or orange juice
1 strip orange or lemon zest, optional

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.

A Day in the City

Kouign-amann

Kouign-amann

Yesterday found the three of us going into the City. For Ted, it was a work day, so we dropped him off a few blocks from his office, and then we went to have some fun. We met up with our friends, Marilee and Paul. Marilee is my dear friend, whom I met in Latin class while studying at San Francisco State back in the early 90s. Paul is her wonderful husband, who she met on an archilogical dig in Greece. We went to b. Patisserie on California Street, and enjoyed kouign-amann, the lovely pastry that you see above. I had never heard of kouign-amann, but it is similar to a croissant, though sweeter and a bit crisper. Delicious. The picture above I took from the Wikipedia page on kouign-amann, though it was taken at this same little restaurant. We spent a lovely hour or so there, catching up and enjoying our coffee and sweets. It was perfect.

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Then Maya and I drove to Grace Cathedral, which is actually only 2 blocks from Marilee and Paul’s house, and they walked back from the restaurant, but the arthritis in my feet would not have allowed such a journey. It’s almost 2 miles (from the restaurant to GC), which my feet can do, but I would have suffered the rest of the day for it, which did not interest me. Also, pretty steep hills. Anyway, Maya is taking a class in Art History that she is really enjoying, and one of her assignments was to go to Grace Cathedral, it being the closest Gothic Cathedral to us. Paris would have been better perhaps, but much more expensive.

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I’ve been to Grace Cathedral once before. Another dear friend of mine, Janet, was married in one of the chapels there, way back when Maya was a baby. I did notice how grand and beautiful it was at that time, but I was also busy being a bridesmaid and doing bridesmaid things, so this time I had more time to look around. The architecture, the pointed arches, the art on the walls, the gloreous stained glass. It was wonderful. We spent about an hour and a half there, really trying to get a good feel of the place. If I were religious, and if I lived in the neighborhood, I think I’d stop by from time to time. Heck, even if I just lived in the neighborhood. Really beautiful.

Fresco depicting the fire destroying the old Grace Cathedral, Grace Cathedral. San Francisco, California, USA

Fresco depicting the fire destroying the old Grace Cathedral, Grace Cathedral. San Francisco, California, USA

We were intrigued by the frescos on the walls, which depicted the history of California and of the Church. This one depicts the fire of 1906 that destroyed the old Grace Church, the predecessor to the current Cathedral. After the earthquake and fire, the Crocker family, which had had a mansion at this location which burned to the ground, they donated the land so the Cathedral could be built.

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I considered the labyrinth inside the Cathedral, and started to walk it, but found my mind wasn’t in the right place for it. Perhaps it was the $2.75 per 15 minutes I was paying to park at the garage across the street, perhaps it was the beautiful architecture and art surrounding me, that seemed a better use of such expensive time. It is supposed to be very calming, and to help one spiritually. You can read more about it, if you’re interested.

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We took a moment to stop in the Interfaith Aids Memorial chapel of the church, to remember the friends I had who died from Aids, back before the current medicines that are allowing people to live so much longer with the disease. Two of my coworkers from my hotel days, Damon and Shelby, both died horrible deaths. Ugh. It was a long time ago, and it was nice to reflect on their lives.

From there, we drove over to Nordstrom, so Maya could get her leather boots shined. She had been playing soccer in them with some kids at her work (She works in the after school care at her old elemtary school), and the boots were pretty dirty. That task accomplished, we shopped a bit, then voila, Ted’s work day was over. So we went to pick him up, and then we went to dinner.

We went to the Clement Street Bar and Grill, a sentimental favorite. My friend Janet first took me there, I think, or at least suggested it to me when I first moved to SF in 1987, I don’t remember which. It’s where I had dinner with my parents that same fall, the first day I had ever met my dad. It’s where Ted and I, with some friends, celebrated our graduation from college in 1990. It’s basic California cuisine. I don’t think the menu has changed much over the years, but that’s OK. Ted had a delicious steak, I had lovely crab cakes, and Maya had a goat cheese salad.

It was a lovely day, but by the time we got home at a little after 9, we were tuckered out, and ready for bed.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday!  This is the last year of my 40s, and next year I’ll be 50, which seems so much older than I feel.  Then again, with the arthritis that’s been plaguing me, I am feeling a lot older than I did 6 months ago.  Oh well, I’m treating myself to a prednisone, which should help somewhat and allow me to have energy for the things I want to do today.  Which include:

  • Going to breakfast with Ted and Maya.  We’re going to a place in Pleasanton that is known for its omelets.  I love eggs, so this seems like a great idea to me.
  • Going to San Francisco, to the Yerba Buena Center for the arts.  I thought of going to the Legion of Honor or the DeYoung, but neither of them have exhibits I really want to see right now, and we’ve been so many times…so we’ll go somewhere new for a change.  Fun!
  • Shoe shopping!  A DSW opened in our neighborhood a few months ago, and we’ve not yet gone.  I’m not sure what I’ll find, but hopefully there will be something interesting or comfy or pretty (or all three, how would that be?)
  • Nice dinner.  Ted’s making duck, per my request.  We’ve never cooked duck at home, so this will be a treat and an adventure.
  • We may or may not stay up until midnight to ring in the New Year.  It’s rarely my favorite thing to do…I generally like sleep more, but who knows?  Could happen.

I’m looking forward to my birthday gifts, which are mainly in the form of delayed gratification this year.  My brother got me Season 5 of Downton Abbey on DVD (can’t wait!), but that isn’t released until near the end of January.  Ted got me the annotated biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is on back order and I’m not sure when it will come.   My parents sent me money, which I am going to use to go to the hair salon.  That won’t be as long of a wait, I just need to make an appointment.   I got a gift certificate for a massage for Christmas, which I haven’t used yet.  I haven’t decided WHEN I want to use it, yet.  Maybe on a warmish day, as the spa is connected to a gym, and they have a nice outdoor pool.  The shoes, should I find them, the breakfast, the day with my family, the duck, those are all no-wait treats, and I know that I’ll enjoy them mightily.  One nice thing about a New Year’s Eve birthday is that I always (at least since I left hotel work) have the next day off.  So that will be nice.  Oh, and Maya has a job now, which means that she has spending money, and bought me very nice Christmas gifts, and there’s something under the tree from her for my birthday, which I look forward to opening.  (A birthday near Christmas often means birthday gifts under the Christmas tree!)

There’s something about birthdays that tends to make one reflect a bit, and a birthday on the last day of the year likely enforces this proclivity.  So I’m reflecting today on all of the things I am thankful for…my beloved husband and daughter, my family, my friends, my home, my job, my health. I feel so fortunate to have so much.

I miss my mom every day.  I miss her on Mother’s Day, her birthday, and the anniversary of her death (which sometimes falls on Father’s Day), more than ordinary days.  But the day I miss her most is my birthday.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps because of everyone on Earth, she knew me the longest.  We were together before I was born.  She knew me for all of my childhood, my ups and downs, successes and failures.  I’ve lived with Ted now longer than I lived with my mom, which is a crazy thought.  So likely he knows me more than she did, or at least, the adult me.  But there’s something about that mother/child relationship that is unique.  I miss her uniquely.

Happy Thanksgiving!

tableHappy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends! Our Friends to the North celebrate Thanksgiving in much the same way we in the U.S. do. Get together with family, eat some turkey, stuffing, sides, maybe a pumpkin pie. Very nice. My loyal readers will remember that my darling husband, Ted, was born in Canada, and has citizenship there, though he’s not claimed it in any way at this point. Because we are a family that enjoys celebrating life when we can, we like to have a Thanksgiving feast in October, just us, and then again in November, with Ted’s family (my parents came to California last year and joined in, which was wonderful). So I spent the day cleaning and shopping and cooking. Set the table with our wedding china, crystal, and silver. I vowed years ago to start using it more often, but when I said those words, I lied them.  (My little homage to Dr. Seuss there…anyone know which story?) So we haven’t broken out the good stuff all together in years. You know what? It was really nice. The table looked beautiful, the food was delicious (even if I do use Stove Top stuffing rather than making my own), and we had a really nice evening.
Here’s the menu:

We had flowers and candles and wine. It was lovely. Generally, we have Canadian Thanksgiving dinner on Monday evening, but this year it made sense to do it on Sunday, which appears to be more authentic anyway. So yay us! It was a little strange, though, as it got up to be almost 90 today, and the talk is about the Giants and their World Series dreams.

It’s Sunday evening as I write this. The Giants just lost game 2, but it’s best 4 out of 7, and it’s currently 1 game each, so don’t give up yet. (I pretend to care, when one of our local teams get this far. Truly, of course, why would I care? The players don’t know me or care about my victories and losses, so whatever.) Ted’s celebrating Thanksgiving by watching “The Walking Dead”. Ugh. I think I’ll read my book, this is far too gory for me.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

* The formatting here is bugging the crap out of me. I’ve fixed this list 3 times, and it keeps getting wonky. I’m going to have to ask you to just ignore how wrong the spacing is on the bullets here, if indeed they are rendering strangely on your screen. For me it’s fine once, then a mess again.

** I had a bit of trouble with my cranberry sauce.  It’s early in the year for fresh cranberries, but I found frozen.  I didn’t have time to thaw them before boiling with sugar and water.  I don’t know if I didn’t boil them long enough or what, but after a couple of hours, they still hadn’t jelled.  I read online to add a little pectin, which I didn’t have.  I remember reading that apples have pectin, and I’ve made strawberry jam with strawberries, sugar, and apples, so I diced up about 1/3 of a Granny Smith apple and threw that in, cooked for maybe 8 minutes, and then let it cool.  I had to put it in the freezer to get it cool in time for dinner, but it worked.   Whew.  Thanksgiving is NOT Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce.

Give All to Love

First Dance003

21 years ago today, I married the love of my life, my best friend, my partner in crime. As with any marriage, we’ve had times that were good and times that were more difficult, but never once have I regretted the choice we made, to marry our fortunes together.

21 years. Our marriage is now old enough to drink. I keep telling people that, and no one thinks it’s funny but me. Oh well.

Our coffee table has a glass top, and drawers inside that can display treasures. We have books in both drawers. One side is Jefferson’s Letters, and is open to a piece titled, Bastille Day. We have a fondness for Bastille Day, as we were in Paris on our honeymoon on Bastille Day in 1993. The other side is Essays, Poems, Addresses, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The book is open to this poem, Give All to Love. The book shares the drawer with a single rose from my wedding bouquet.

Give All To Love

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good fame,
Plans, credit, and the muse;
Nothing refuse.

‘Tis a brave master,
Let it have scope,
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope;
High and more high,
It dives into noon,
With wing unspent,
Untold intent;
But ’tis a god,
Knows its own path,
And the outlets of the sky.
‘Tis not for the mean,
It requireth courage stout,
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending;
Such ’twill reward,
They shall return
More than they were,
And ever ascending.

Leave all for love;—
Yet, hear me, yet,
One word more thy heart behoved,
One pulse more of firm endeavor,
Keep thee to-day,
To-morrow, for ever,
Free as an Arab
Of thy beloved.
Cling with life to the maid;
But when the surprise,
Vague shadow of surmise,
Flits across her bosom young
Of a joy apart from thee,
Free be she, fancy-free,
Do not thou detain a hem,
Nor the palest rose she flung
From her summer diadem.

Though thou loved her as thyself,
As a self of purer clay,
Tho’ her parting dims the day,
Stealing grace from all alive,
Heartily know,
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.

Proud Mama


The other night was awards night at Maya’s high school, where the Seniors with awards of one kind or another are recognized before their families and their peers. The kids who are members of CSF (California Scholarship Federation), the kids who have received special honors from the school or district, the kids who have received outside scholarships, the kids with athletic honors. All are honored. We knew what some of Maya’s honors would be, but there was one (The Walnut Creek Women’s Scholarship) that we did not know about ahead of time. We knew she had applied…it was the scholarship I mentioned in an earlier post. So we’re sitting there, listening to all of the scholarship awards, and they came to this one. They said something like (I got excited, so I don’t remember exact words), “This award, we received many applicants. But when it came time to choose, we were unanimous. The winner has been a girl scout for 10 years. She has an accomplished GPA and academic record. She has volunteered for…and then she went on to list the many volunteer activities in which she has been involved. I imagine it’s kind of like being at the Oscars with your child, when they win an award. We were SO happy, so excited, and then they called her name! (of course they mispronounced it. She is Maya, but we pronounce it “May-Uh”, not “My-Uh” Who knows that? No one but friends and family.

Do you know what this means? It means that between the two scholarships she has received, her first year of college is paid for. That, my friends, is an amazing feeling. In this day and age, when costs have gone up SO MUCH, and we have saved so little. And it was so wonderful to see her receive the award, to go in not knowing, and then to come out knowing. Wonderful. I’m so proud of my hard working daughter.

And no, we have no pictures. We were pretty far back, and pictures we took came out blurry. There were official pictures taken later, which I’m sure we will have the opportunity to purchase later. We’ll see how that comes out.

Next week is graduation. I’m so looking forward to that. I know it’s a boring evening, until you hear your own loved one’s name called. But when it is your own loved one, your child, it’s suddenly not so boring to hear the speeches and the other kids’ names. At least I hope that’s the case.

Friday Randomness (belated…)

Graduation Invitation
Isn’t that a cute Graduation Invite, for a proud parent to send out to invite her friends and family to show off her daughter, and celebrate said daughter’s accomplishment in school? Yes, it is. See how cute, the picture of her Kindergarten graduation? Her official Senior photo (in my great aunt’s pearls), her other, casual Senior photos? Sigh. The thing is, Maya doesn’t want a graduation party. She doesn’t want to hang out with a bunch of Ted and my friends, feeling self-conscious because everyone is looking at her. She and her friends will have been partying at the ‘All Knighter’ (They’re the Knights), and she’d rather go from party to party at her friend’s houses. I don’t blame her. But still, I’m a little disappointed. I have attended parties for several of my friends’ kids, and I enjoyed them. I enjoyed admiring the graduating senior, hearing about their plans going forward, all of that. I want my friends to enjoy that coming to see my child. So here I am, letting it go. LETTING IT GO. It’s her graduation, not mine. I’ll have a party later in the summer with my friends, and we will have a lovely time. They will admire my child, not because it is her graduation, but because they love her, and they love me. So there.

Friday afternoon, our front door lock broke. Always on a Friday, right? Of a holiday weekend? That’s when the kid comes down with a fever (though generally they wait until the doctor’s office is closed), the stove/air conditioner/hot water heater goes out, that kind of thing. All things you want fixed NOW, and you will have to wait until Monday. I’ve heard that what duct tape doesn’t fix, WD-40 will, I tried oiling the dead bolt. No help. (The issue was that the dead bolt would only come out about 1/5 of the way, not the full extended way.) So I took the door knob thing apart (two little screws were all that was needed), figured out what was wrong, then went to look in my ‘fix everything around the house’ book that my Grandmother gave us years ago. No help at all. None. So I took the pieces to my local Ace hardware store, hoping that they could either tell me how to fix it, or sell me a replacement. Nope. However, at 4:40 in the afternoon, they gave me a recommendation to a local locksmith. Across town. So I called them and asked them if they could maybe stay open until I got there. They helpfully said yes. Across town I sped, thankfully against the afternoon traffic. I got there at 4:55, before they even had to stay late. The locksmith took one look and said, “Nope, can’t fix it. The part that’s broken, they don’t sell just that part.” So we looked at the several options. One was $15, but very temporary. One was $300, and required us installing the new door stuff ourselves. The fact that I call it ‘door stuff’ should inform you about how good I am at this stuff. Ted is better at it than I am, but he’s not a handyman, he’s an academic. The third option was to pick a different brand of hardware (aka, door stuff), which would be cheaper on the parts, but would mean drilling and painting our stupid door. Blech. So here I am, it’s 5:05 on Friday of a three-day weekend, and I’m frustrated. Finally, the locksmith said, “There’s another option. I can remove the broken part, which isn’t necessary. The broken part, being broken, is getting in the way of the rest of the mechanism. It will certainly get you through the weekend, and it may even work long term.” OK, I’m in. Why couldn’t he have suggested this to begin with, I wondered. However, all I said was, “How much?” Free. I love that price. I said no, he should be paid for his time and expertise, and he said no. So he took out the broken part (which required some expertise to do), and I took it home and put it back together. The door knob is looser, doesn’t fit just the same anymore, but it works. It works well, locks properly, and was free. So I went on FB and yelp and gave full props to the locksmith, hoping maybe I could pay them back in some way. If the solution falls apart and it turns out that we need something more, they’ve earned my business and I’ll go back to get a long term solution.

This morning, Maya had a job working for one of her teachers (who has a successful side business, Pinot Days, very wine related), so while she went and took care of that, Ted and I went and ran errands. We went and picked up the badges earned by Maya’s Girl Scout troop, then to breakfast at a place we haven’t been to before. It was tasty. It was a little expensive for a semi-fast food breakfast place, but the quality of the food was good. We liked it. Then we went to the farmers’ market and got the essentials…strawberries, nectarines, and eggs. We ran a few more errands, then came home, and I took a delicious nap. Saturdays can be lovely indeed.

The other day I went to the video store…we still have a video store we love to try to keep open. I picked up a DVD, ‘Labor Day’, with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. For some reason, I knew nothing about the film, and thought it might be a romantic comedy. It wasn’t. It was closer to a love story. Josh Brolin is an escaped convict, convicted of murdering his wife and child, who forces his way into the home of Kate Winslet and her young teen son. He’s camping out for a few days. The pace is slow, the acting superb, the story not quite as dramatic as you might want, but at the same time, because of that, it seems more real. We really liked it a lot.

I’m reading the new ‘David Sedaris’ book, borrowed from our library. I like it a lot, though I can’t plow through it as quickly as needed for the online rental. We’ll see how I do, if I finish in time.

In other news, I tried a new quinoa recipe. YUM. So good. I’ll post it here soon. It had pickled onions, nectarines, and arugula. Really good.

Enjoy your weekend.