Sacramento: City of Trees*

Say something mean and you will immediately be proven wrong. A few weeks ago, I jibed that Sacramento is not found at the top of any list—my bad. “American Forests” names Sacramento’s tree canopy as the best urban forest in the country, beating out Seattle, Boston, Amsterdam, and Paris. 

When settlers first arrived in Sacramento during the gold rush, the Central Valley was covered with grasses. It took only one summer of +90° days, I would guess, for the newcomers to plant thousands of shade trees. The city was officially smitten: in 1921, early tree-hugger Sacramento Bee editor C.K. McClatchy, regularly published front page obituaries for dead trees.

 

Sacramento’s park system flourished as urban and residential trees were planted. In 1923, in order to promote neighborhood tree planting, the city and the Boy Scouts partnered in a program that offered to plant trees for free. Boy Scouts canvassed neighborhoods urging citizens sign request cards that committed each resident to care for their tree, which the city then provided and planted. So now, pedestrians in downtown Sacramento are guaranteed protection from the summer sun. 

Until recently, downtown walkers could always find a cool spot to sit and rest, but one night last week all park benches along K Street were replaced with red “leaning rails.” Social advocacy organizations shouted “Gentrification!”, calling the move, “a stupid and mean” effort to solve a complex problem by targeting the homeless. Supporters of the removal insist that the city must respond to downtown’s renaissance and real estate boom with “urban beautification”, more space for bike racks, and a “safer, more comfortable” environment for tourists and high-rise residents. The pros and cons of urban renewal and the debate over the use of public spaces strikes again.

*Sacramento’s has long celebrated the title, “City of Trees” with a slogan painted on a water tower next to the I-5 freeway. Last year, in order to attract more travelers, the Sacramento Tourism Bureau convinced someone to repaint the old slogan with “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital”, whatever that means.

 

 

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The Sacramento Delta, “California’s Holland:” Seafood gumbo

No wonder Walt Disney chose California to be the location of his Magic Kingdom. From the north to the south, California stretches the imagination: ever-so-hip San Francisco, Yosemite—an American rock climber’s Mt. Everest, Big Sur, avocados, Lake Tahoe, In-N-Out Burgers, Hollywood, Steinbeck’s Monterey, Gidget’s surfer dudes, and 1,100 miles of man-made levees. Yes indeed, levees as in Holland and New Orleans. I was as surprised to drive along the levees above the Sacramento-San Joachin Valley River Delta as I was to see container ships packed into Houston’s wharfs and docks. I was never very good at geography. 

The levees on South River Road, a twenty-minute drive from downtown Sacramento, wind along the Sacramento River past miles of agriculture to one side and bridges, boats, and ferry crossings on the other side.

Given California’s popularity as a tourist favorite, you would think that two small towns along the Delta levees, Locke and Walnut Grove, would be bustling with families, strollers, artisan beer, and upscale restaurants, but not so much. What we found on our weekend drive was one ghost town and one quiet, picket-fenced town.

When the nation’s first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, the Chinese immigrants who built the railroad were then hired to build the levees that converted the Sacramento Delta into some of the richest farmland in the world. Chinese laborers were welcomed into the work force and settled throughout the West, building towns and establishing communities. 

When the levees were completed and the gold rush economy faltered, the Chinese were blamed for stealing jobs and depressing wages. Responding to public pressure, the federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which specifically forbade any Chinese immigration. Then came the “Driving Out” as vigilantes forced Chinese residents to flee, burning and looting their towns and businesses. Many of the Chinese found safety in Walnut Grove and Locke where they worked in the fields, renting houses from rich American landholders. 

In its heyday, Locke had restaurants, markets, a Chinese school, flour mills, slaughterhouses, and gambling halls; then the exodus began. The second generation found new futures at UC Berkeley, the State of California forced the shutdown of the gambling halls, segregation lifted, and Chinese residents left Locke and moved to the suburbs. Today, only 10 of the 80 people who live in Locke are Chinese Americans.

Walnut Grove has stayed pretty much the same since 1950, with the central district relatively untouched.

Mural of Walnut Grove in the 1880s

Walnut Grove, 2013

Seafood gumbo

Authentics will insist that a gumbo must be started with a dark roux and finished with filé powder, but I usually don’t.

  • 4 oz. margarine—don’t substitute butter. Margarine has a higher heating point and will allow you to brown the spices/vegetables properly. If you don’t have margarine, use vegetable oil. 

Spice Mix:

  • 2 t. paprika
  • 1 t. Coleman’s dry mustard
  • 1/2 t. cayenne
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1⁄4 t white pepper
  • 1⁄4 t. black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t. thyme
  • 2 c. chicken or fish stock
  • 1 diced large onion
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 3 stalks celery—diced 
  • 1 diced green pepper 
  • 1 diced red pepper 
  • Tabasco (better wait and taste before adding—we may have gone over the edge already)
  • 3 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1⁄2 c. tomato sauce
  • 1 c. chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
  • Filé powder to sprinkle on at the table

Combine spices. Melt margarine in heavy pot. Add onions, celery, peppers and turn heat to medium-high. Stir in garlic and dry seasonings. Cook, stirring constantly for five minutes, constantly scraping bottom of pot.

You want the spices to stick a little to the pot. Scrape with a wooden or metal spatula and scrape constantly while temperature is hot. Reduce heat to medium, and add tomato sauce, tomatoes, Tabasco, and chicken stock.

Simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour

Once the vegetable/tomato mixture is finished, you first add firm fleshed fish—snapper, cod, catfish—then shellfish, and/or oysters. Some seafood gumbos start with making a roux which serves as a thickener. Filé powder is added just before serving for the flavor. Andouille sausage (polish sausage makes an adequate substitution) can also be added before the seafood for an even more robust taste.

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Living the life of Eloise: Breakfast-room burrito

As a young reader, I loved the Eloise books, written by Kay Thompson, about the adventures of a six-year old girl who lived on the top floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel. My life in was about as far from Eloise’s as could be. There were no hotels in Pender, Nebraska, Eloise’s mother let her have a dog, Eloise was self-confident, ordered room service, and was allowed to be impertinent. Little did I know that eventually I would lead the life of Eloise and learn a thing or two about long-term hotel stays.  

  • Is that cheap, black plastic radio flashing 12:00 in loud red numbers? Hold down the “Time” button and the “Hour” button at the same time, scroll to the correct hour, do the same for minutes. 
  • Is your room too hot? Hotel thermostats are notorious for being deceptive. You think you’re in control, but you wake up at 1:53 am, sweaty and hot because the air-conditioner isn’t working. You set it for 65, sure enough it says 65, but “THEY”, the ones actually in control, have set the building’s temperature to suit the bottom line—therefore it’s never cool enough. Try this: 1) hold down the display button 2) Press off while continuing to hold down the display button 3) Release off, but continue to hold down display, and press the up button 4) Release all buttons 5) Scroll for your desired temperature. Or, try this: hold down both the up and down arrows at the same time and a wonky “bp”, meaning by-pass, displays. Set the temp to your liking and go back to sleep. You’ll have to do it every 24 hours, but it’s a small price to pay for a cool sleep.
  • Can’t sleep because the light comes into your room through the gap in the curtains? Use a trouser hanger to clip them together.
  • Speak up if there is something broken in your room.
  • Always tip the housekeepers, the maintenance man (he’s probably the one who can Jimmie your window open), and don’t forget about the breakfast room workers. Those people are the ones who can make your stay more pleasant. 
  • Pack duck tape, a screwdriver, and a electric plug extender in your suitcase. Duck tape covers the awful LED light on the smoke alarm THEY installed right above your pillow, duck tape can be used to make an acceptable refrigerator shelf, hang a wall clock, repair a cracked coffee machine, or fix the hem of your pants; a screwdriver may open your window if the maintenance man refuses, tighten a wobbly fan, or prop up the window you forced open; and there are never enough electric sockets in a hotel room.
  • Use your empty suitcase as a laundry basket. That way, you can roll right on down to the laundry room. And don’t forget to pack a handful of dryer sheets.
  • You can make passable coffee if you add a packet of Starbuck’s Via to a hotel cup of coffee.
  • Sneak food from the breakfast room in paper coffee cups to use later—hard-boiled eggs, a few packets of cream cheese or peanut butter, yogurt, nuts, or Craisins. I made a decent dinner salad once with breakfast Canadian bacon, hard-boiled eggs, Craisins, microwaved waffle pieces, walnuts, and a bag of lettuce. And, check out the Breakfast Room Burrito below.
  • Don’t hesitate to move the furniture around. I set up a little sitting area with a chair facing the view, a side table, and the cheap radio close by so I can listen to Fresh Air and Radio Lab.
  • Check the front desk around five at night, there may be cookies. 
View from our window
Mural at the hotel entrance 
View from the parking garage
Sacramento’s ride-share “Jump” bikes
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium
 
Breakfast-room burrito verde
  • Scrambled eggs, breakfast meat, butter pats, leftover rice, sliced or shredded cheese, flour tortillas, bottled tomatillo sauce, chopped cilantro (this may be a stretch)
  • If you have a burner, sauté breakfast meat and rice to reheat, microwave scrambled eggs
  • Lay rice/meat mix and eggs in the middle of the burrito, sprinkle with cheese and cilantro. Roll neatly as possible
  • Melt butter in sauté pan, brown all sides of burrito
  • Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes
  • Microwave tomatillo sauce, pour over burrito
 
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Bagpipes

I know it’s not my time, but I had a request for a bagpipe YouTube. 

Every September in Sacramento’s Capitol Park, the California Fire Foundation honors the firefighters who died during the past year. There was no mistaking where the ceremony would be taking place.

Just as we walked up to the right spot, we could hear the first wail of the pipe and the clickety thump of the drums as the Pipes and Drums band started their march. 

The family of each fallen firefighter was presented with a flag during the ceremony.

 I think way down deep everyone loves bagpipes—the crowd in the park certainly did. It was a solemn, moving event and a beautiful opportunity to remember Josh. 

 

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Burners and bagpipes: Sacramento

Life can pivot on a moment’s notice. The late night call from your agent offering you a part in the new HBO mini-series, Ed MacMahon appearing at your front door with a check for $6,000,000, peeing on a stick and watching it turn pink, hearing your shoulder crack as Altuve tags you at second base, sitting in front of your Doctor as she says, “Well, the tests have come back…”—the balance tips. 

Life-changing but not nearly as dramatic was the recruiter’s late night call telling the Sweetie, “You’ve been cleared to start on Tuesday.” The wait was over, the scurry to get ready began, and we were on our way to Sacramento for four weeks. I’m reluctant to leave the hummingbirds and chipmunks, our cozy living room fireplace, the trees that are flaming into autumn, and my sister, but I am certainly ready to live without the grating construction noise the cement trucks make as they build a road on our front porch.

So before you can say, “Crocker Art Museum,” here we are in Sacramento, home of the Kings, the State Capitol Building, UC Davis Medical Center, the second sunniest July in the world, the third best park system in the country—not exactly at the top of any list, but interesting none the less.

Our closest grocery store reminds me of the Jewel-Osco in Chicago—narrow dark aisles, curt customer service, shelves crammed with one of everything, occupied sleeping bags lining the sidewalk—used by just about everyone within a six-block radius.

Although I read the notice that was slipped under our door, I was startled to see a window washer outside our 11th floor window this morning. 

The Johnny Cash mural painted on the side of our hotel by Shepard Fairey for Sacramento’s recent “Wide Open Walls Festival.”

Downtown mural, “Shared Abundance,” celebrating the California rice harvest, painted by Franceska Gaméz.

Chicago is famous for its abundance of public parks, but here in Sacto we have the beautiful World Peace Rose Garden right across the street.  

While I was in the rose garden, smelling the roses, I heard the unmistakeable sound of bagpipes. You might remember I love bagpipes, so I followed the sound down the path and there they were: the California Firefighters Pipe and Drum Band practicing for the 2018 Memorial Ceremony honoring fallen firefighters. 

Sacramento performance artist, David Garibaldi, painted this as he was having lunch at the “Cafeteria” across from our hotel.

As we’re back to one burner and a microwave, there won’t be a recipe. Stay tuned though, I am working on 15 ways to “upgrade” instant ramen.

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Harvest: Tomato jam, Plum Chutney, Plum Streusel Tart

“Want some plums?”—the brief text from my sister was music to my ears. An abundance of plums (or “plummage” as she so aptly put it) meant plum chutney, plum jam, roasted plums, dried plums, or if I’m feeling flush with time and energy—a plum tart. 

Italian prune plums are those egg-shaped, purple plums that droop the branches every other year, lay on the ground covered with wasps in September, require little preparation, and cook down into dark fuchsia goodness.

If all the hard work in spring and summer pays off, a gardener is rewarded with almost too much of a good thing. However, we are seldom burdened with an excess of tomatoes, green beans, Rainier cherries, raspberries, or eggplant. When we lived on Vashon, we had an old, scrubby apple orchard that produced tons, (I’m not exaggerating) of warty, knobby, apples every September. What the deer and squirrels didn’t eat, were juiced, sauced, pied, tarted, crisped, dried, smoothied, and eventually raked into the garden for compost. 

By the first of October, I winced at the sound of a full bushel basket thumping down on the back porch. Ginny and Ron had an old, hand-cranked, apple press that they trundled out of the shed every Fall, and set up…under the apple tree…for their friends and family to use. The Sweetie and I would shovel the excess apples from our yard into the back of our beat-up, orange pickup, hose them off, drive along Quartermaster Drive and Tramp Harbor to their house, and squeeze apple juice into recycled milk jugs. There is nothing like drinking fresh-squeezed apple juice as it pours down the chute into your cupped hands, picking out the stems and worms as you go. We were blissfully unaware of the dangers of unpasteurized raw juice and, aside from an occasional case of the “runs”, suffered no lasting harmful side effects. 

On Eld Inlet, Nancy faces their grape surplus by making juice and jelly and uses the over abundance of Romas by making superb tomato jam. In California, where backyard produce is impossibly brilliant, a gardener’s bounty is likely to be lemons, oranges, grapefruits, almonds avocados, or figs. My friend Karen, used her lemon crop to fill the garage refrigerator with lemon curd, lemon panna cotta, lemon juice, and lemon zest—I want her harvest. 

Nancy and Tom’s Concord grapes

Can you see the handsome man in the swing?

But for now, I peek frequently into the pantry to admire the top shelf lined with shining jars of chutney, jam, and applesauce and thank my gardening friends for the apricot cherry jam, Red Kuri squash, and lots of plums.

Tomato jam

  • 1 ½ pounds Roma tomatoes peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup fine diced sweet onions
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated or minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or to taste

Combine all ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan, Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often.

Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture has consistency of thick jam, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then cool and refrigerate until ready to use; this will keep at least a week.

Plum Chutney

  • 10# Italian plums (preferably free from a friend)
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 2 c. rice wine vinegar (cider works too)
  • ½ c. fresh chopped ginger
  • 3 T. chopped garlic
  • 2 t. nutmeg
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1 t. allspice
  • 2 t. salt
  • 1 t. cayenne pepper

Combine all and cook one to two hours until thickened. Process in water bath or freeze.

Plum Streusel Tart (an old City Restaurant dessert— steppy, but worth the trouble)

Paté Sucre:

  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick unsalted butter), softened
  • 1 cup + 6 Tbs. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 3⁄4 cup flour

In an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and salt, and beat until combined. Add flour, all at once, and slowly mix until flour is evenly moistened. (Don’t overmix).

Transfer to a plastic bag and form dough into a 6” log. Seal bag, pressing out any air, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Divide log in half for one tart. To roll, soften dough by pressing it with your hands until soft and malleable. Form a 4” round disk. On a lightly floured board, roll from center out, lifting dough, turning slightly, to prevent sticking. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness.

Fold dough in half, and lift into tart pan. Unfold and press gently into bottom and up the sides. Clhill 1⁄2 hour before baking.

Almond Cream:

  • 1⁄2 cup + 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 cup almonds (I’ve used both blanched and unblanched)
  • 9 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Process sugar and almonds in a food processor until fine. Add butter, one Tbs. at a time, pulsing after each addition until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Streusel:

  • 1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 7 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbs. flour

Cream together sugar and butter until smooth. Add cinnamon and salt and mix until blended. Add flour. Mix with your fingers just until crumbly.

To assemble tart:

Roll Paté Sucre and use to line a 10” tart pan with removable bottom. Preheat oven to 350 ̊. Bake empty tart shell for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and spread almond cream in hot tart shell. Bake another 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

Cut 8-10 plums in half and remove pits. Arrange plums, cut side down, over baked almond cream; sprinkle with streusel and bake 20-30 minutes, until plums are soft and crust is golden brown.

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Celebrate friends: Roasted Red Kuri squash soup

We zipped home from Claire and Vinny’s wedding through Northern California, days ahead of the forest fires that shut down the I-5 around Redding. Expecting heavy Labor Day traffic and fearing Burning Man overflow, we instead found empty roads and light traffic. Hairpin curves blended into straight freeway lanes and pine forests turned into fur. An overnight with Patty and Jim and into our driveway in time to drop off our bags an hour before the annual Summer Harvest Celebration dinner. 

The water in Eld Inlet sparkled under an August-blue sky, Food and Wine-worthy weather. We sharpened our appetites sitting on the front yard next to the Sound, eating toasts with fresh figs and Nancy’s superb tomato jam and everyone’s favorite—blackberry riblets.

 

Due to our move last year, we’ve recently been tasked with meeting new neighbors and making new friends. Maybe it was easy when we were younger, maybe it was never easy. First there’s the initial chatting up someone new, trying to remember their name, getting the drift of their general vibe, finding out if they love or hate the Yankees, if they talk incessantly about their pets and grandchildren, and whether they are talkers or listeners. Next there’s the awkward first few dates—your place, our place, or neutral territory. Then there’s the time, effort, and planning it takes to create a history with someone. 

Our old friends have passed all those tests, met the challenges, overlooked our faults, hired us, welcomed us into their homes for extended periods of time, are familiar with our ups and downs, remember our parents, knew us “when”, were there with ice cream when we needed it, grew old with us, stayed married to each other, and showed up on time for the past forty years. Who needs new friends? Although, we have found it so easy to settle in with our new next door neighbors that maybe there’s hope.

Friends.jpg  Friends.jpg 

   

  

Friends.jpg  

  

Friends.jpg   

  

Anyways, walking into Tom and Nancy’s house was like coming home. We knew everyone’s name, we knew their kids, and we easily picked up where we left off. We’re well past the stage of putting on a good face—they all know and accept our regular, old faces. This comfort allows for in-depth conversations about getting a tattoo, skiing, the pros and cons of pickle ball, the upcoming primaries, the mixed bag that is traveling, the pitfalls of airbnbs, working vs. retiring, the health insurance maze, bad and good TV, growing old, death and dying, real estate values, the horrors of finding a good contractor and the joys of raising a child who wants to be a physicist.

                              1989

                                    1996 

                                  2003

 

                                               2011

                                  2012

 

                                  2016

The soup was exceptional, the chicken and roasted peaches tender, tart, and tasty, and I left with a bag of green beans, a bar of good Italian chocolate, and a jar of apricot cherry jam. The days may be dwindling down, but we’ll always have Succotash.

Red kuri is a hard-skinned, winter squash that looks like a pumpkin and has a mellow, nutty flavor. Nancy grew a wagonful this year and gave me one—we’ll have soup for dinner soon.

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup from The Cook’s Atelier, Beaunne, France

  • 3 lb. red kuri squash
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbs honey
  • 4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • Grated nutmeg for garnish
  • Minced chives for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds. Brush both sides with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Scoop flesh into bowl, reserve.
 
Sauté vegetables in heated olive oil until tender, add garlic, salt, and pepper—cook 3 minutes. Add honey or agave. Tie herb sprigs in bundle. 
 
Add herbs and stock to cooked vegetables. Bring to simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Add roasted squash, simmer 30 more minutes. 
 
Remove pot from heat, discard herb sprigs. Blend soup, with countertop or wand blender. Pass mixture through a sieve. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. 
 
To serve: brown butter, stirring frequently until butter is golden. Top soup with browned butter, dollop of crème fraîche, grated nutmeg, and chives. 
Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Claire and Vinny Till Infinity

The sun rose on a sunny, August morning, as a vague bluish haze settled over the Sierra Nevadas—a perfect day for a wedding. The bridal couple dressed separately, each tended to by close friends and family. Claire perched patiently on a stool, wedding face emerging as the makeup artist brushed and patted. (“When did she get to be a beauty?”) The bridesmaids, dressed in matching flannel robes, lounged on the bed nearby. Riva, black Lab of the bride, sat at Claire’s feet waiting for attention.

In Vinny’s quarters, Laureen, mother-of-the-groom, steam-pressed his pleated white shirt and blue tuxedo pants. (“When did he grow to be so tall?”) The men got down to work, ironing, fastening buttons and studs—the groomsmen manipulating bow ties, the fathers adjusting the knots and length of grown-up ties. “Do you know how to work this iron?” “Did anyone bring aspirin?” “Do I really have to wear shoes without socks?” 

Using a knitting needle, Ginny, mother-of-the-bride, carefully fastened the long row of covered buttons running down the back of Claire’s lacey white dress. In a nearby bathroom, an emergency alteration was in progress as a passerby stitched a bridesmaid into her dress. “Anybody have some duck tape?”  “Did you see my shoes?” “Who’s got the dog?” Music and the murmur of wedding guests filtered into the dressing rooms, adding to the anticipation. 

The ceremony was held outdoors with North Lake Tahoe as the backdrop. The bride arrived in a speed boat, the wedding officials (“with power vested in us by the internet”) were friends of the couple, the flower girl rolled down the aisle in a Radio Flyer wagon, both Ron and Ginny walked Claire down the aisle, a dark storm cloud threatened to disrupt proceedings but thought better of it, and after heartfelt promises were exchanged, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  

Claire.jpg

 

Once we dried our tears, we moved over to the Gar Woods Grill & Pier for wedding food. Passed appetizers included mini-shrimp tacos, poke won tons, and mozzarella/roasted-vegetable skewers, with entree choices of salmon, filet mignon, or roasted chicken. Ron, father of the bride and expert wine maker, created a blend of Vashon and Napa-grown grapes for a special wedding wine, the “Cuvine Wedding Blend”, which was given to each guest in a mini-bottle with commemorative label.

After dinner, there was dancing, toasting, storytelling, singing, hugging, and an all around good time. True warriors celebrated til midnight and beyond; wimps, like the Sweetie and I, left for bed while visions of wedded bliss danced in our head.

I flipped through my mental calendar pages, remembering: a smudged-face toddler wandering barefoot through Ginny’s garden; three-year old Anna and Claire playing Barbies on a blanket in Muth’s yard, a nine-year old, pink-nosed bunny at my front door in her Halloween costume, a twelve-year old soccer star rocketing down the soccer pitch, a jubilant young woman in a green Vashon graduation gown, an intelligent, professional helping me decide how to fix my wrist pain. (“Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”)

Claire.jpg

And while I remember, Claire and Vinny anticipate—their return home as a married couple, a honeymoon in Italy, their first, twelfth, twentieth, etc. anniversaries, holding hands in the dark, morning coffee, Christmas dinners, summer vacations, private jokes, the compromises, the joys of a long history together, being a family, and building a life—“one season following an other, laden with happiness and tears.”

 

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Summertime comfort food : Loobia and Peach Pie

Before

After

Although Mt. Rainier is a looming presence in Puget Sound, it is a shy giant and sometimes hides under a blanket of clouds. Summertime brings out its social side and it towers over the landscape on sunny, blue days. The last two weeks, however, the mountain has been hidden from view due to the fires raging to the North in British Columbia, to the South in Oregon and California, and to the East in Yakima County. Our usually clean, cool air has become a smokey, orange/brown, haze of tangible particulants. 

Last week the Sweetie and I decided to drive to Yakima, through the Cascades, looking for relief and peaches. We found fresh air on White Pass and wildflowers on Chinook Pass, along with light traffic and beautiful views. We lost all four as we drove into Yakima, but hit the peach jackpot at Fruit City, a family-owned produce stand in business since 1966. As one of “the boys” (all the locals call owners JR and Lynn “the boys”) told me, “I get to work with my best friend and brother, plus every day is bring your dog to work day.”

Lynne and JR

We loaded up on ripe peaches and real tomatoes, bought a few pork tamales for the road, took home some barbecue dry rub, bagged five pounds of Walla Walla sweets, and headed home. Our vacay ended as soon as we got to Bonney Lake. Three hours later, after nightmare traffic and bad air, we pulled into our driveway, all traces of vacation bliss gone. But…what remained was the unmistakeable late-August urge to make loobia and peach pie. Luckily Ginny had given me a bag full of her garden-fresh, green beans and Nancy contributed a big, red, tomato from her garden, so loobia and a golden-brown peach pie were on the supper table the next night.

Don’t discount loobia because of the strange, unfamiliar name. It is comfort food at its best—here’s the Lebanese version Pop taught me. 

Loobia (Green bean stew)

  • 2# small cubed or ground beef or lamb
  • 1 onion chopped fine
  • 2 T. minced garlic
  • 1⁄2+ t. cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 t. cumin
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1⁄2 t. black pepper
  • 2# green beans
  • 2 c. diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • 1⁄2 c. tomato sauce

Sauté onion, garlic, and spices in 1 tablespoon butter until onion are soft. Add meat and stir to break it up until the meat loses its pinkish color. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and green beans. Simmer until beans are tender.

Serve with Uncle Ben’s Rice and yogurt.

Loobia is also good without the meat.

Peach pie

Pie dough:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Yolk of 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water, from 3/4 cup ice water
  • White of 1 egg, beaten
  • Pinch granulated sugar

Pie filling:

  • 6 or 7 ripe peaches, peeled and sliced, approximately 5 cups
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Make the pie dough. Using your fingertips or the pulse function of a food processor, blend together the flour, butter and salt until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. There should be pebbles of butter throughout the mixture.

Add egg yolk and vinegar to 1/4 cup ice water, and stir to combine. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of this mixture over the dough, and gently stir or pulse to combine. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gather together into a rough ball. Divide the ball in half with a knife or a pastry scraper, then, using the heel of your hand, flatten each portion of dough once or twice to expand the pebbles of butter, then gather each portion together again into a ball.

Flatten each ball into a 5- or 6-inch disc, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap the discs in plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator for at least 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425. 

Make the pie filling: Combine sliced peaches, lemon juice, sugar and flour in a large bowl, and gently mix to combine. Set aside.

Take the larger of the pastry discs out of the refrigerator, roll it out on a lightly floured surface and place in a 9-inch pie plate. Add the peaches. Sprinkle them with the ground nutmeg.

Roll out second disc of pastry. Place on top of filling. Wet edges of the bottom pastry disc with some cold water. Trim pastry, pinch bottom and top edges together and cut a few slits to allow steam to escape from the pie. Brush the egg white on the top, particularly around the edges, and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425°, then reduce heat to 375. Cook until peaches bubble (usually that means as soon as the floor of the oven is a big mess) and the pie crust is golden, approximately 45 more minutes.

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 1 Comment

Living the good life: Lemon Panna Cotta

The Sweetie walks along Pacific Beach, I sit above on the palisades—our old Sunday morning routine. Cliffs crowded at 10:00, I join a French-speaking couple on their concrete banquette under a spiky patch of palm-tree shade. 

Below on the white sand a stocky man in a Minnesota Twins T-shirt, radiating with unfamiliar sunburn, smears lotion on a naked toddler—mom stretched out nearby on a towel under a red umbrella. Toddler, with Dad at the ready, runs into the surf, is promptly smacked down by a wave, jumps up, and runs back to Mom’s open arms. 

A little girl in a neon orange life vest, bright blue wetsuit, and yellow surfboard falls off once, falls off twice, falls off seven times—on number eight, she rises warily to her feet, arms thrust forward, finally surfing, “Woo hoo.” French couple cheers and claps, “Bien joué, Emmie !”

A four-year old boy, being led unwillingly into the foam, clutches his Dad’s arm and shrieks, “No, no! I don’t wanna’ go out there! Get Mom!!”

Behind me on yoga mats, three travelers trade stories. A black-bearded man in a Red Sox baseball cap and his pleasant wife, on vacation from Boston, talk to a handsome thirty-year old with a prosthetic leg. 

Bearded man to handsome man, “So, how’d ja lose your leg?”

“My Harley ran into his Prius, I lost that matchup and my leg.”

Bearded man, “Add that to my list of why I hate Prius. Well you know the old saying, ‘Always ask a one-legged man the quickest way to get somewhere.’”

Silence from handsome man with one leg.

Beautiful girl in black bikini, “I got so much sand up my pants I may have to stop by Urgent Care.”

Surfer dude, “And miss Sunday beach yoga? No way!”

Emmie finds the French-speaking couple, they leave, and a fit, fortyish man, wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and a bodysuit of tattoos, introduces himself and asks if he could join me. We sit in silence watching the paragliders drift by.

Steve removes his shirt and asks, “Would it be all right if I stand on our bench?” “Sure,” I reply. He hops up, turns around and announces, “Welcome to San Diego Sunday Beach Yoga. “Shift gears, turn your mind inward, and relax. Let’s start with cleansing breaths—balance your inhales and exhales—then go right into downward dog. Inhale!”

I turn around and along the palisades I see at least two hundred butts in the air.

 

Back home on Candlelight Drive, The Sweetie has yogurt and fruit, I have lemon panna cotta smeared with lemon curd and a thick slice of cinnamon-raisin toast.

 

Karen met this year’s bumper crop of lemons head on: a garage-refrigerator shelf of small, white, ceramic ovals filled with lemon panna cotta, little glass jars with lemon curd, Zip lock bags bulging with lemon juice ice cubes, bottles of lemonade, crocks of preserved lemon peel, and packets of frozen zest. Now that’s prosperity.

Lemon Panna Cotta

  • 1 cup whole milk 
  • 2¾ teaspoons gelatin 
  • 3 cups heavy cream 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice from 1-2 medium lemons
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch salt

Pour milk into medium saucepan. Sprinkle surface evenly with gelatin. Let stand 10 minutes to hydrate gelatin

Measure cream into large measuring cup or pitcher. Add vanilla to cream. Add lemon peel, and set mixture aside.

Set eight 4-ounce ramekins on baking sheet.

Heat milk and gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until gelatin is dissolved, about 1½ minutes. Move the saucepan off heat, add sugar and salt; stir until dissolved, about 1 minute.

Stirring constantly, slowly pour cream mixture into saucepan containing milk. Strain mixture into large measuring cup or pitcher, stir in lemon juice, then distribute evenly among wine glasses or ramekins.

Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap

Refrigerate until just set (mixture should wobble when shaken gently), 4 hours.

Posted in Family and friends, Restaurants, Travel | 2 Comments