Tuesday, July 31, 2012

it was a delightful getaway

La Jolla was at it's finest glory while I was there. Cool mornings followed by clear, sunny days with just the lightest breeze, then long twilights. Absolutely perfect. We walked the dogs, talked, sat in the lovely white garden, met friends and had a generally all around great time. (This is just a tiny corner of the garden so you can see the lovely white blooms.)

This is the beautiful fountain against the back wall; I could hear the soothing sounds all night. Lovely.

Phemie is an "Italiophile" (?) and thus the water feature in the garden. She spent part of her Stanford college days in Florence.

Wednesday evening we drove in to San Diego for dinner with three other classmates and the woman who was our first gym teacher! Sandy has a beautiful house, an impeccably restored Craftsman-style bungalow perched on the edge of a canyon filled with eucalyptus trees.

Dinner for six.  Good food, good conversations among good friends. The best.

Thursday we did the Girard Street stroll ~ antiques, fabrics, boutiques ~ and then went to the Timkin in Balboa Park. The speaker had written a new book on Venice and was giving a lecture.

After the lecture we wandered through the galleries of the museum where Phemie is on the board. A gorgeous collection and, get this, entrance is FREE all the time. Balboa Park was jumping. Lot of music lovers, art lovers, and theatre lovers (remember the Old Globe is there) milling around in the soft, fragrant evening.

Friday we went off to the Torrey Pines Lodge Spa for a super indulgent morning. This was followed by lunch and more talk. The evening was spent watching the NewsHour ~ I was among the like-minded sane ~ then the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. I faded early and went to bed. Phemie stayed up until after midnight. I gave up when I decided there was just too much going on and I needed a road map to figure it out. Flew home Saturday afternoon, happy and full-up on fellowship for another 6 months. We'll see these folks when we stop in La Jolla on our way to Mexico.

Meanwhile, some news from el norte. Our dear Rafa, who had been repairing our fence and has been our all-around go-to guy for the household and garden work, suffered a massive stroke on Sunday a week ago and will probably not make it. We had just seen him the day before when he came to gather up his tools and scrap wood. Life is fragile, very fragile. Likewise with Marie. I talked to her daughter on Sunday who said it will be only days now until she is gone. Tell the people you love that, indeed, you love them, you cherish them, you are happy they are in your life. They could be gone at any minute.

Monday, July 23, 2012

quick trip south

I'm leaving tomorrow for a few days of R & R in La Jolla with my boarding school classmates. It's become an annual trek and it's always great fun. Our dance card is full; dinner at Sandy's on Wednesday, lecture about Venice at the Timken Museum in Balboa Park on Thursday (that's a Rubens from the permanent collection above), spa indulgence and luncheon at the Torrey Pines Inn Spa on Friday, home on Saturday. In between, walks on the beach with my hostess's two Goldens (Molly and Maggie), a stroll on Girard to check out the galleries and antique shops, perhaps a smart dinner. And of course lots of talk and problem solving and laughing and prosecco to keep the gears oiled.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

chaos in the kitchen

It started last night. I was prepared to make some succulent lamb shanks ~ a great favorite in this household. I got out the cutting board, the carrots, little Yukon golds, onion, garlic, rosemary, broth, red wine. Then Mr. C unwrapped the shanks he bought a few days ago and put DIRECTLY into the freezer. The smell just about made me toss my cookies. Mr. C insisted they were fine and we should just go ahead and cook them. I should note here that he is the official taster (and sniffer) but he missed by a mile on this one. I was all for rewrapping them and going back to the store with the fetid things. Oh no, they'll cook up nicely. So into the pot they went and the stench was just that; not a scent, not a delicious odor of braising lamb, but a nasty, acrid stench. Half way through the cooking Mr. C finally relented and hauled the pot outside, opened up all the doors, turned on the AC and aired out the house.   Needless to say, the above photo was not our entrée. We had pizza. The shank wrapper and the second package we bought go back to the store tomorrow. If the butcher doesn't believe this story we will take the rotten things up and let him get a whiff.

Not satisfied with that effort, today I decided to make some yeast bread with fresh corn to try out my new KitchenAid® with a bread hook. I have made this recipe several times and it makes sensational toast but it's a real labor of love.  The dough is sticky and hard to knead.  I made the poolish first thing this morning, got out the machine, tossed all the ingredients in the bowl and started it up.  Now I know why it was only $100!  Some types do not have a motor arm that lifts up; it's permanently in place.  The one I bought does have the motor arm on a hinge so you can lift it up away from the mixing bowl.  There is a little sliding lock to keep the arm in place when the machine is running.  Here's where the problem showed up.  The lock doesn't seem to hold the arm in a locked position so as the bread hook does its work the motor arm jumps around.  I ended up having to hold the arm down while the machine did the work.  It's a fair trade-off, almost.  After two risings, the dough bloomed over the edge of the pans beautifully.  I put them into the oven and an hour later, out they came.

The hardest thing about baking bread is keeping Mr. C from slicing off a piece before it's cool enough. He waitied the required two hours, then brought me a piece to test. The best I've ever done on this recipe; crusty on the outside, soft, tender and fragrant with corn on the inside. Lovely soft texture.

Here's how it is in the kitchen:  Sometimes you lose, but sometimes you win.

Friday, July 20, 2012

good fences = good neighbors

I'm not really sure I agree with that old adage, at least not in our case.  We have wonderful neighbors, fence or no fence (or perhaps because of the fence!).  Our front fence was in very bad shape so Mr. C decided it was time to do something.  Or to have Rafa do it.   He's been talking about this for three years but this year he he got serious.  On Wednesday morning Rafa arrived with Wilson the Wonder Dog, his lively yellow Lab, and started tearing out parts of the fence for replacement.  Wilson, on the other hand, was investigating the gardens and the pool; I was waiting for him to jump in but he apparently thought better of it.  On the fence issue, the more Rafa tore out, the more he found that needed replacement.  He's been at it for three days now and it has ended up to be almost half the fence, both on the terrace side and the street side.  The next chore is to paint, not Rafa's favorite part of the job, so perhaps all three of us will do it together. 

He started by taking off the fence by the front door.  This is the portion that gets the strongest sun and was in the worst shape.

 You can also see the frame above the door which he sanded down and it's now ready to be repainted.

This section is at the far east end of the fence on the street side where vines grew all over it and basically rotted it out.

This portion has been repaired and is ready for primer and paint.

Tomorrow Rafa will come back and haul away all the old fence pieces and other debris that has collected while this project progressed.

Home ownership.  It's not for sissies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

new on the home front

The painters finished up last Thursday afternoon, leaving behind rooms with fresh paint and a light and airy feel. We still have not been able to replace the books ~ the shelves need to "cure" for 5 days ~ but we put the guest quarters back together over the weekend. It looks much, much better. Here's the before.

And here it is after.

Much prettier and more welcoming. 

The other thing that's new around here is a gift to the kitchen that I have coveted for many years. I am, among other things, a bread baker. I recently came upon a new recipe for whole wheat that is the best I've ever made, but it takes both a long time and a whole lot of stamina. The process starts with a biga that is refrigerated overnight, then incorporated into a sponge that has fermented overnight. The first time I made it my forearms ached for several days. Trying to incorporate the cold, hard biga into the soft, warm sponge was a killer operation. I asked my neighbor if she, by chance, had a KitchenAid with a bread hook. Indeed she did ~ I knew she would if anyone did. The next batch was a complete breeze. Just toss it all in the bowl, turn it on and in 10 minutes you have perfectly kneaded dough ready for the first rise. That sealed it! I went on to Craig's List and found a seller just down the road from me, contacted her, and on Monday morning I drove over to Woodland, handed over $100 cash and am now the eager owner of this piece of machinery.

When I asked the seller why she was offloading it she said that she had another one, bigger and fancier. Good fortune for me. This has spurred me on to gathering all of my best bread recipes together for a serious season of bread making. I can also whip up some mighty fine egg whites in a flash. Now I have to find somewhere to stow it.

The weather has cooled down for awhile. Good for the garden. But it's expected to heat up again over the weekend into the 100's. Good for the crepe myrtles. Their little florets pop open in the heat and we are blessed with such outrageously hued trees. High summer in the valley.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

another Woody Allen travelogue

I went to see this movie last evening and, if you believe the reviews, I am the only person who didn't like it. I thought it was, in fact, a mess.   Choppy, poorly edited, basically silly and not in a good way, either.  This is the third in his recent series of "place" movies, or the fourth if you count Manhattan made in 1979. First we had Vicky Christine Barcelona, which I thought thoroughly delightful. Next we visited Midnight in Paris, my favorite. And now To Rome with Love which I found boring except for the glorious shots of the city. Woody Allen, now in his late 70s, is no longer funny as the obsessive neurotic character like he was about 20 years ago.  Critics thought it was terrific; I must have seen a different cut.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

sunday afternoon matinee

I sniffled my way through this lush, sentimental movie this afternoon, staying indoors to keep cool. I'm a sucker for horse movies and this is a goodie. A Three Tissue award.

I have started a new S. J. Rozan mystery, On the Line. Although her plotting may get a little thin from time to time, Rozan writes some of the best "he said" then "she snapped back" dialogue on the market. Her two PIs are Lydia Chin, a smart and sassy Chinese woman and Bill Smith, another smartie but less sassy. Her repartée between the two is almost as good as that between Nick and Nora Charles, dishing at each other over martinis at the breakfast table.

Speaking of Nora, a very nice remembrance of Nora Ephron by David Remnick in this week's New Yorker. She was responsible for some pretty snappy dialogue herself. Just ask Harry and Sally.

Friday, July 6, 2012

dark reading

I have just finished this book, the second by the author. My friend MAS over at No More Commas Period (over there on the left) recommended Ms. Flynn as a fine author and accomplished plotter. I would agree, although I also found the characters distinctly weird, vicious, uncivilized, and mostly unlikable.  I found the same to be true with her first book, Sharp Objects.  Those folks I really didn't like.  But the stories are fascinating and superbly well put together.  She has a new novel, Girl Gone that isn't yet available at the LOC recorded books.  Despite all of the above, I'll probably get it when I can.  Some readers just never learn, do they?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

getting ready for the painters

We are having our guest bedroom and den/library/TV locale painted after 20+ years. I am changing the wall color from a taupe-y shade that changes as the light changes in the room ~ to a pale buttery yellow. The guest room is very dark due to foliage that has grown up in the neighbor's side yard and I think this light, warm color will do wonders. We'll see. But before Max the Painter arrives next Monday we have to completely dismantle the den.

There are about 700 books in the shelves that must be taken out, cleaned, thumbed through for crucial notes left over the years, and then stacked up in our bedroom to await (a) replacement in the freshly painted shelves or (b) relegation to a "take to the library" box.   We talk a good game about weeding out our book shelves but what happens is books just get re-shelved somewhere else in the house. If we ever got rid of our books I think the roof would fall in.

If you happen to remember the post I put up about the "three twins" I would see on my morning walk, look at them now!  This picture was snapped by my neighbor and fellow walker when she saw them in the market.  They are three years old now and as cute as ever.