Thursday, May 31, 2007

where the jacaranda still blooms

Those other-worldly blossoms, the jacaranda, still glow and shimmer on the trees in Ojai. Every time I see them I marvel again at their amazing color. We got to our hotel, The Blue Iguana Inn about 3 PM after a speedy trip down I-5. The Patient, aka The Pilot, decided to change our route at the very last minute. And I do mean the last minute. We were headed for I-80 west to hook up with 680 and then on to San Jose and US 101, when he decided to change lanes, take I-80 east, pick up I-5 and pick up the highway south of Castain that would take us across to Ojai. Smart move on his part, but that Pilot is a pretty smart guy. We missed all the commuter traffic heading for SF, the Bay Area and San Jose. It was a breeze.

I haven't been to Ojai for about 20 years but, except for the hideous traffic, it looks pretty much the same. The architecture downtown is a blend of Santa Barbara/Montecito/Santa Fe. There are still lots of huge ranches, most of which now seem to be devoted to growing grapes instead of oranges. You see herds of fat cattle, along with pastures of horses trotting around in the sunshine. The city fathers (and mothers) have managed to keep "signage" under control; no bill boards or flashy neon announcements in town or along Highway 150/33. I am looking forward to getting into town tomorrow to walk around and try to find some of my old Ojai favorites, like to big outdoor bookstore. I think I can find it.

Tonight we are dining in. Our apartment is comfortable and completely furnished, down to an iron! But no waffle iron so isn't it a good thing we brought our own? Again, thanks to the Pilot. We even have a little patio off the bedroom, a perfect place for reading or napping. Things I brought to read: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murikama; The Life of Pi by Yann Martel ; Death of an Expert Witness by P.D. James (is it Dalgleish I love or Roy Marsden?); and The Alteration by Kingsley Amis.

In the morning we are meeting Andrew for brunch and some quiet time together before all the other relations descend on the town and claim his attention.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

departure madness

All we are doing is going to Ojai for four days. You'd think we were departing for Cairo for a desert safari for six months! I don't know why there is such bustling and huffing, but it always seems to happen. I am packing a few tasteful items to wear to the Senior Banquet and to commencement, sandals and shorts for the beach in Santa Barbara. The Patient is packing the waffle iron, sourdough starter and all ingredients for waffles and coffee cake, boxes of cookies and crackers, good kitchen knife, bottle opener, coffee pot, iron (he didn't get his shirts done; don't you love a man who does his own ironing?) and on it goes. I didn't think there was any doubt about the Ojai-ese and the availability of food in their town, but maybe I missed that warning. And we are staying in an apartment. One would think they would have some of these amenities, wouldn't one? Of course I do travel with my own pillow . . .

Next bulletin: Ojai, 93023.

nothing to report . . .yet

I didn't get to the computer last night as the Patient was busy getting caught up on his on-line reading. I had a fabulous massage yesterday and was so relaxed and drowsy that I couldn't outlast him, gave up and was asleep by 9 PM. Much refreshed this morning, I type on.

The Patient had his CT scan yesterday but will not get any results until next Wednesday when he sees the head/neck surgeon. It's going to be a very long week. But we have much to occupy us. Tomorrow we leave for Ojai for four days for grandson Andrew's graduation from Thacher. He will have quite a cheering section. Practically everybody he's related to will be there, as it should be. I will take the trusty writing machine with me, along with the soul-catcher, and provide a full report of the activities.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Everybody into the pool

It was warm, bright, clear, quiet, and beautiful. The temperature in the water was 84º, breeze was warm and soft, so let's turn on the fountains and take a dip. Yes, very refreshing!

Tomorrow the Patient goes to the lab for his 5-month CT scan. Think good thoughts.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

music for the soul

This afternoon I went to the Mondavi Center to hear the Davis High School Madrigal Singers in a benefit/anniversary/reunion performance. The Madrigals (Mads) are an a capella group of about 30 students, grades 10 - 12. Last year they traveled to Wales for an international competition and won First Place for Chamber Choir. Although the Madrigal groups have been performing for many years (40 to be exact), I have never heard them before. This afternoon's performance was a reunion of all past Mads who could make it. There were probably 150 singers, past and present. What an exquisite treat to hear both the current Mads and also the entire chorus. These young people give me hope for the future. If it depends on them, it will be OK. Among their selections they sang "Oh Shenandoah." There was not a dry eye in the house, including mine. Its beautiful tune, haunting words and piercing harmonies made me think of men and women away from their homes, longing to return. As in war time.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Captain Carb's request

"More shortcake!"

So here it is.

These are the berries right out of the box. Actually, those little green plastic prisons.

Here are the berries chopped and marinating in sugar and a touch of port.

These are the little shortcakes. The recipe actually calls for four but I managed to get five. This recipe would also be splendid for scones. It's easy, fast, foolproof.

Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum.

This is The Patient's plate. He did an excellent job.

I finally finished cutting down the dead Cape Honeysuckle canes. Now the lattice is ready for new growth ~ it has already started. The pool temp is up to 82.5º so it's everybody into the water tomorrow. It is predicted to be between 87 - 90 in the Sacramento area.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Spring on our street

We have a pair of Swainson's hawks building a nest in a huge tree in the garden of the house behind us. The nest is in the topmost branches of the tree. All day the pair carries twigs and leaves and other building materials up into the leafy tops of this tree, chatting with each other as they work. At first we thought they were Red Tailed hawks but our neighbors, avid birders, said no, Swainsons. In fact, these neighbors take off tomorrow for Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea for two weeks of bird watching in a place that is rich in species.

As for last night's promise to try again with photos of leftover strawberry shortcake, there were no remainders. I still have berries so will make another batch of shortcake and snap them. By the way, that recipe would make terrific scones. Not the genuine English high tea type but a passable imitation. I am always looking for recipes I can translate to my Mexican kitchen since it is difficult to find some ingredients, such as buttermilk. I must take down dried buttermilk. It is only recently that we could get both sour cream and whipping cream.

I wish everyone a safe and sane Memorial Day weekend. We intend to stay home, work more in the garden and try to revive the plants that got so badly fried/dried during the recent winds. And to pause and reflect on the useless carnage that has engulfed the flower of our nation. Sic transit gloria.

and for dessert . . .

Our neighbor's daughter leaves on Saturday to begin post-bac study in nursing at Simmons College in Boston. Tonight is a send-off dinner party to which I volunteered to bring dessert. What could be better than Strawberry Shortcake! I am using the recipe I found at Pinch My Salt. It's great virtue is the pinch of cinnamon I added; give the shortcake a lovely little spicy taste.

In preparation for this undertaking I went to the Wednesday Farmers' Market to buy my berries. Half a flat ~ there will be 12 of us. These berries are, unfortunately, the gigantic clone-berries, so called by me because they all look exactly alike. Although they can be very dry and cotton-like these are actually quite good; firm, juicy, flavorful. And only $9! While looking over the larder for the ingredients I noticed we were out of butter and the pint of heavy cream purchased for this very purpose had been opened and about half was gone. Captain Carb (aka The Patient) had struck again! This time he had made yet another cherry clafoutis, using the custard recipe instead of the cake style. Much better.

Today is the birthday of our youngest daughter, Caitlin. She of Bozeman, MT and the Delta employee that gives us free flight privileges. She has reached that milestone of 40 years. Happy Birthday Caitlin.

PS: I would have pictures of the dessert effort except as I was preparing all of the ingredients the camera's battery went blank. I'll see what I can resurrect tomorrow from the left-overs.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Roy De Forest

I read the news last night that Roy DeForest, artist and professor emeritus at UC Davis, had died at age 77. He was one of the young Turks brought to the Davis campus by Chancellor Jim Meyer. DeForest, along with Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri, Wayne Thiebaud, William Wiley, and Roland Peterson put the Davis art department on the map and made it one of the hottest undergraduate and graduate tickets for budding artists. Several years ago I attended a silent auction hosted by the Pence Gallery in Davis. One of DeForest's paintings was up for bid. It was soon clear that two of us were vying for this piece; every time I submitted a bit another hopeful was right there to submit a higher offer. I finally bowed out when the bid amount had too many zeros. Now I wish I had hung in.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Mexican traditions right here

For the first twelve days of December, Mexicans celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I think I've mentioned this earlier in these pages. Yesterday, after strolliing the aisles of El Superior Supermercado, at a great fabric store I found some fabulous yardage printed with images of the Virgin. Twelve Virgins per yard. What a bonanza! I bought the one piece that was left and will turn this into pillows for my Cuyután couch. I know a very talented seamstress who does the most beautiful work I've ever seen. I simply can't see well enough to do this sort of handiwork anymore. So I shop, BC sews, everyone is happy!

We have had terrible winds here for the last couple of days. Everything we planted has been blown apart, dried out and otherwise ruined. Now we have to decide if we want to start all over again.

Monday, May 21, 2007

a little bit of Cuyutlán in Woodland

This afternoon I drove over to Woodland to do some errands. Among the chores was to stop at the new Mexican supermarket, El Superior, that opened up a few months ago to check out how authentic this place might be. My opinion? Very authentic. It carries some of my Mexico-only favorites: Fabulosa (a tile floor cleaner), Ariel (detergent with a wonderful scent), Herdez Salsa Casera (a really good salsa in a can), jicama, gorgeous Manila mangoes at an affordable price, many kinds of peppers, both hot and mild that I love to use in all sorts of dishes, Mexican limes (10 for $1), also known as Key Limes (for you Key Lime Pie buffs), all sorts of good Mexican beer, except no Indio. There are some I have never heard of but am eager to try. They sell tres leches cakes that you buy not by the piece or the half but the whole thing, bins of dried peppers, and a big bin of jamaica, dried Hibiscus petals that make the most delicious hot tea or iced drink. I will definitely go back there to shop. When I am there, I think about the things I can only get here. Now that I am here I am searching out things I can only get there. Do you think I should see someone about this condition?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A boy and his carbohydrates

Have you noticed that The Patient is concentrating on his carbs? When he decides that something seems appealing, what is it? Something with lots of sugar, cream, eggs and butter. Or something sourdough. Tapioca pudding, chocolate pudding, ice cream, pasta, coffee cake. We went to CostCo today and while I filled the cart with greens and peppers and stir-fry veggies, what did he wanted? Biscotti. Thinking about dinner, what did he want? Tamales. But none of these fat carbs seem to be sticking to his ribs. Perhaps he hasn't had enough.

On that note, remember Fenton's Creamery, that Bay Area destination for ice cream? It has now opened up in Vacaville in something called the Nut Tree Market. Remember the old Nut Tree, on I-80, half way between San Francisco and the slopes of Tahoe? It's where weary and hungry skiers used to stop and eat, get gas, relax. The Nut Tree is no more. It closed several years ago and its fate was argued over for years. It's across the freeway from the outlets. Its original site is now filled with big box stores and this trendy "market" scene. The original Fenton's, on Piedmont Avenue, was one of our favorite places to go for treats. The Patient read about this new one and nothing would do but we must pack up the ice chest and head for Vacaville. They still carry our two favorite flavors, Peppermint and Swiss Milk Chocolate, and they will have their divine Peach in July. Unfortunately no Lemon Curd. We bought one pint of each, paid the ransom they demanded, and are eagerly looking forward to a trip down memory lane.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

nature, raw and cooked

Today being Saturday that means Farmers' Market. Not quite the tiangues, but busy, bustling and loaded with goodies nonetheless. I was hoping for Japanese eggplant; too early. Instead, gorgeous chard from Phillips' Farms. There were also lovely flowers, yummy onions and potatoes, potted plants ~ veggies and flowers ~ and the usual popcorn vendor, political tables, apple juice, potters, the Panama Hat lady (pix next week!), Mario with tables of everything including fava beans (I wish I new how to cook them properly).

As for fruits, beautiful apricots, early Babcock peaches, berries and cherries. The Patient decided he wanted some cherries to make clafoutis. So he did. It was absolutely yummy. First he baked the cherries in port wine, lemon juice, sugar and water to get the juice out. He didn't remove the pits before cooking; much easier to get them out after the fruit is soft. Then he drained the cherries and reserved all the juices to use as a sauce. I use this recipe for plum clafoutis but he was inspired to use cherries after seeing a recipe in the William Sonoma catalog. It was a hit, but we both think the plum version is better. This one has a very cake-y appearance; the other is more of a custard. Somehow we'll manage to choke it down.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Inadvertent Gardener

I received the URL to the above site in answer to my plea yesterday for a place to go for gardening inspiration, if not advice. Nicole, the cook at Pinch My Salt responded with the information. The writer lives in Iowa and has discovered that her "black thumb" has turned green. Delightful (and inspiring) reading. Along this line, I received my copy of Sunset's Western Garden today. My old paperback copy, probably 30 years old, somehow disappeared. Loaned, lost or given away, although that's hard to believe. I invested in the new and improved edition, in hardback to reward myself for all the hard work I've been doing in the garden. In the valley we are gardening-challenged on several counts: red hot summers that will fry almost everything you plant unless it is specifically engineered to withstand the heat; semi-drought so the plants have to be able to exist with minimal irrigation; and caretaker sloth, almost impossible to combat. We always have good intentions. Surely that counts for something.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

my aching everything

We spent the day working in the garden, digging, pruning, planting, bending and stretching and using muscles with which we have not been in touch for ages. What hurts? Gluts. But the place looks quite lovely. With a combination of Home Depot, OHS, Smith & Hawkins, Ace Hardware, garage sales and friends' gardens, it's all coming together. The Patient has sanded and oiled all the teak furniture -- table, bench, chairs -- and we bought new cushions to ease the fact that we have both lost too much weight. Today we had out first lunch outdoors, poolside, in the lovely May weather. Rafa stopped by this afternoon to check on things. He will be back on Saturday to pull out a couple of stumps of shrubs that have died for lack of sunlight. This will give us a bit of room for some shade-loving plants.

I have two new delicious food blog sites to recommend: one is called Pinch My Salt, written by an American woman living in Sicily. The other is In The Kitchen With written by Karen Hursh Graber. She is a promoter of Mexican cuisine. What I need now is a blog written by a gardener, as in In The Garden With. I'm sure there are plenty of them out there. If you know of one, tell me.

Speaking of the kitchen, The Patient decided he wanted to whip up sourdough cornbread for dinner tonight. Oh my! It was delicious. The crust is crunchy and buttery, the inside moist and "corn-y". Combined with grilled lamb chops and steamed asparagus, this made for a lovely Spring dinner. These tasty treats were accompanied by my new favorite light wine, Snoqualmie Vinyards Sauvignon Blanc from the Columbia Valley. I am well aware that I should have either a light Zin or perhaps a not too-robust Sirah with lamb, but I am a white wine lover. And I am loving this particular bottling. Santé!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

feast your eyes, blow your mind

If you have kept up with us you will know that we are planning to retile our Mexican kitchen. Toward that end I purchased "Mexicocina" by Betsy McNair and Melba Levick. WOW! That's all I can say! WOW!

This title is nestled alongside my two other Mexican décor books, "Mexicolor" and "Mexican Tiles." Mexican culture is madly in love with color, design and crafts, and these three books show off all three to their best advantage. I am going to have a very fine time designing my new kitchen! The imaginative use of color, pattern, paint and tile is truly amazing. I'm not sure I would be brave enough to live in some of those spaces. But it's great to dream!

Out to dinner with my at-least-once-a-month-I-don't-gotta-cook group. Il Fornaio in Sacramento. Spaghetti alla Tonino for me. Thin spaghetti with shrimp, scallops, baby octopus, cherry tomatoes, capers and oregano. Delicious.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

sourdough pinch-offs

Yes, I know, I have been remiss in keeping up this line of chatter. We have been home a week now and I have neglected to chart our daily progress in settling in and in healing. Let me just say we are settling in and continuing to heal.

The Patient decided yesterday he wanted some sourdough pinch-offs. These are scrumptious little biscuits made with sourdough starter. He bought some starter, set it up, aged it in the bulb-warmed lighted oven, and tonight I put it all together and baked these little golden beauties. Even though it takes days to prepare the dough they are well worth it. His idea is to take more starter down to the beach in November and bake up a storm. He's thinking waffles, pancakes, pinch-offs, bread. We don't make those things with regular dough. I don't know why he thinks we'll do it with sourdough.

My biggest surprise since returning has been "aisle shock" at the market. How can grocers live with themselves when charging such outrageous prices for their goods? I was astonished! It's one of the things I must remember when the folk in our village begin to get all romantic about "life in El Norte" as they imagine it. This is absolutely crazy. Even the gas prices are now higher in the US. Gas at Pemex, the government-owned gas company, comes out to $2.37 pesos per gallon for regular and $2.89 for high-test. The first time we went to Mexico, gas in the US was probably about $1.10 a gallon. But this year we paid $3.20 for regular in Arizona. That's why we tanked up in Nogales before crossing the border.

The Patient is very happy to be home. We have been working diligently in the garden trying to salvage what we can of the plants and shrubs that were so devastated by the freeze in January and February. New plants have been purchased and installed, some new lighting, some new cushions on the chairs. The pool is still a bit chilly; today it was 78º, too cold. But we are hoping that by the weekend we can jump in.

Medical appointments are coming up in the next two weeks. After the Patient has a couple of scans and sees his various doctors we will be able to make plans for the coming year. It all depends on what the tests show and the advice they give. I am very optimistic, based on his recovery. But who knows what lurks beneath.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Bidding farewell to a scholar

We have just returned from a wonderful evening of toasts and remembrances for our dear friend Louis Grivetti who is retiring from the University of California after a stellar and celebrated career as a teacher, researcher and scholar. Google him and you get ten pages of references. This evening's dinner was hosted by Mars candy with whom he has a million dollar plus grant to study the history of chocolate. He is the one who urged us to go to the chocolate museum in Barcelona when we wered there in 2004-5. We did, and what a delightful revelation that was.

Louis is retiring after 30+ years of teaching. I don't know what he is going to do; probably travel. His wife is one of the greatest Greek cooks alive; she can whip up the most delicious dishes. They have been our neighbors and friends for 25 years. Good luck, Louis!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

home again, home again

I am exhausted. All I want to do is go to bed, which I plan to do as soon as I press the "Send" button. We tore home from Long Beach in a record-setting 6.5 hours, averaging 68 MPH. It took one hour to get from Alex's to about 1/4 way up the Grapevine; 72 miles in 60 minutes. Don't tell Officer Frederico. For now, let me just say that although the garden is a mess and will take weeks to restore, the house is as neat as I left it and I am very happy to be home. There are two huge bins of mail to go through, but it will still bed there tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Greetings from Long Beach

We have just returned to Alex's from a wonderful dinner at Caffe La Strada, a local Italian joint that serves THE best scampi in the western hemisphere. The Patient did his Fettucini Alfredo justice, but both of us have left-overs for the trip home tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting back, sleeping in my own bed, examining my garden for the extent of the frost damage we had back in January to see what needs to be replanted, pulled out, started anew.

We will leave early tomorrow morning so we can get through the wretched LA traffic by 6:30 AM and be home by about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We have been gone for 70 days. It will be good to be home.

Monday, May 07, 2007

at my sister's house

Another safe, fast, boring trip from Gila Bend to San Diego. We got here about noon after a 75-mile an hour race up I-8. I calculate that between the San Diego County line and my sister's house we saw more car traffic than we had between Cuyutlán and San Diego. These California freeways are crazy! But we made it without any trouble and that's what's important. We will be here tonight and then off to Long Beach and an overnight with Alex. Weather absolutely gorgeous; warm, clear, bright. Just like San Diego ought to be, traffic or no.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

a quickie from Gila Bend

The trip so far has been completely uneventful. Easy, fast, safe. What more can you ask. Crossed the border this morning at about 11 AM, arrived at our favorite motel in Gila Bend about 2:45. This place has everything: WiFi, a fridge, a satellite TV that gets about 200 channels. Where to begin! I have taken pix along the way and will put them up later.

On the road outside of Hermasillo, a chap in a small pick-up truck with his horse standing up in the back, sun warming his shiny rump, mane and tail flowing in the wind, ears back, head up, eyes closed, lips parted in a smile. I can only hope he was on his way to/from some stud duties, not bound for the glue factory.

Do horses smile? I did.

Tomorrow to San Diego.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

our revels now are ended

It makes me sad to say it but we are all packed up, the furniture is draped (a la Brideshead, although not quite as grand), so I guess that means we're leaving. The car is all washed -- no more salt and dust -- the tank is full to get us as far as Tepic. I said good-bye to friends at dominoes last night; the Patient is making his farewell rounds as I write this. Fernando came this morning and helped the Patient move the heavy stuff down from the third floor, got his gardening chores straightened out (of all the things he is, a gardener is not one of them). I expect him back shortly with his tall ladder and we will go around the corner to the Nelson's and disconnect the WiFi set. It's tucked way up under the eaves of his palapa. I have to take pictues of the set-up so I can recreate it next season when I return. Then I'll come back here and undo our set-up, also tucked up into our palapa. As of then I will be an untethered traveler until I reach San Diego next Monday. The phone bill arrived by motorcycle this morning and it has been paid. I've taken my last swim, had my last luncheon avocado and beer, and this will be my last blog filing. The last things are to close up all the windows, lock the doors, and we're gone.

There is no way I can estimate the beneficial effects these two months have brought to the Patient. Everything -- sleep, wakefulness, color, spirit, energy, appetite, appearance (including curly hair) has been vastly improved. He naps only occasionally, and that's a given while we're here. He is down to one or two cans of supplement a day from five or six. We even had a bit of a social life with a couple of out-to-dinners, a sit-down party and one very special puesta del sol evening out in the colonia. All in all it has been "just what the doctor ordered". It has been everything I had hoped it would be and has brought the healing he so badly needed. The next round of appointments and tests should tell the final story. More candles, more good vibes, more prayers, please.

Adios amigos y hasta San Diego!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

a swim, a salad and a beer

After cleaning, washing, drying, folding, stowing, scrubbing, tossing, purging, packing and bagging up, I went to Jack's and took a swim. Then it was time for lunch, about 2 PM. How does a salad and beer on the upstairs terrazzo overlooking the pool and out to the sea sound? It doesn't get much better than that.

One of many amazing sights seen from our balconies has been the flights of brown pelicans, long strings of them heading south. We think they're going to Boca de Pasquales, the popular surfing beach down the coast. Fishing is probably better there! They pass right by Cuyutlán; perhaps we're fished out. Seeing these beautiful birds, in either a "V" formation or in single file, put me in mind of a funny, clever and delightful book, An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton. So is it a covey of pelicans? A flock? A pod (no,that's whales)?

I'm going to post early today. Dominoes tonight and I am leaving the computer here. Hasta manaña and Happy May Day.