At Alison’s Restaurant
Thursday November 01st 2018, 10:54 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life,Mango tree

After the baking binge.

They came, they saw, and to my surprise they lifted before I even finished writing an Alice’s Restaurant-style note on the door for any stragglers.

Walk right in, come around to the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track…

It was getting dark but they did it.

And then I sent Peter, James, Krys+Sterling, Eric, and Nathaniel off with a chocolate torte each plus one for Bo who really meant to come but was still busy helping a very elderly and quite handicapped woman move out of her home to go to an assisted living facility near her son down south.

Bo had definitely earned his torte.



Crisp and sweet
Wednesday October 31st 2018, 10:34 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Garden,Knit,Life

Just for this afternoon, I needed a project I didn’t have to pay attention to for the doctor’s office and I was fresh out. (Routine appointment, no worries.) Grabbed some violet merino/cashmere/silk Diamante I’d had Colourmart six-ply for me and cast on an hour beforehand and got enough done that you could tell what the pattern was going to be (and so it would be long enough that the curling bottom wouldn’t bug me–blocking will fix that later.)

I found myself sitting next to a fellow grandmother and knitter, a woman from India who loved watching my hands work as we delighted in each other. She was a treasure.

The doctor was the ENT whose love for taking care of his fruit trees had triggered my planting mine, and look where it got me now. Enthusiasm is contagious that way.

So I brought him a gift in a small Penzey’s box: one perfectly ripe, slightly funky-shaped rather small apple that had grown to fit the produce clamshell that had been squirrel-proofing it. I told him it was my final Fuji of the season.

He laughed in wonder, saying he’d picked his last Fuji in August!

Microclimates R Us, I guess.

It smelled perfect. I hope it was. There had been two, and we can tell you that the other had made it clear how good they were now.



Don’t dill-y dally
Monday October 22nd 2018, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Food

Pelmeni, it said. Russian-style dumplings filled with chicken, mushrooms, onion (so far so good) and…dill? (That last word nearly stopped me but I was curious.)

Poor little noodle. It was glorious in Italy but as it marched north its pace slowed and when France was no longer in sight its flavors jumped out the train windows in despair. A prisoner now in its Siberian surroundings, it did what it could.

And now you know the inspiration for the great Russian novels and why they’re always so mournful.

Their pasta is in a pickle. And the pasta is prologue.



Did you say chocolate?
Tuesday October 16th 2018, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

A chocolate tasting party: bring your favorite or your favorite creation out of it or just bring you.

Now that is an idea I could really get into, and it is safe to say I did. It was an excuse to get to know some women better, and what better way to do so?

I might not sleep tonight but it was worth it.



Holding onto summer
Tuesday September 25th 2018, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

It’s Catherine’s fault.

Her sister is flying into town Thursday and she mused out loud to me in a note that maybe she would be able to talk her into, rather than going home from the airport, driving south to Andy’s Orchard first in hopes they still had peaches. If she did, she’d be glad to pick me some up, too, just give her the word if I’m interested.

Hey. I don’t have kids in school and music lesson schedules to worry about anymore. She does. I saw no need for her to have to worry about how tired her sister might be–there are perks to this empty nest thing.

So I called the farmstand. I have a kid flying into town this weekend myself who loves everything about Andy’s but probably won’t have the time to go while she’s here.

Turns out this morning they picked the last of their Fairtimes for the year and there weren’t very many. The Last Chances had begun to come on, but, as the woman told me after I got there, they don’t have quite as much of that deep peachy essence like these others.

There was no one else in the little shop for awhile and she and I had time for a great chat, so much so that I thought, you know, I really ought to knit her a little something to keep her head or her neck warm on these cool mornings…

Catherine’s kids had huge grins on their faces as they opened the door to that box. They knew.

You can’t get ahead of their mom, though: she sent me home with honey from her hive in thanks for making the trip so she wouldn’t have to. Even if I was going anyway.



It’s appearant
Wednesday September 19th 2018, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Food

When you have too many red pears and they need to get eaten and yes, it turns out you do still have that apple corer you bought years ago…

A little melted butter, a little Trader Joe’s brown sugar, 35 minutes at 350. And if they still need it (these did), a little maple syrup on top.



De-peches moi
Saturday September 15th 2018, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

I knew I wouldn’t have the car Monday, I knew it was the end of the season, and after calling, I knew that today, anyway, they still had some. Whereas this time last year they did not.

So on the spur of the moment and with some egging-on from my other half I drove to Andy’s and got more peaches, these enormous Fairtimes. Because we’ll be going through perfect-fruit withdrawal soon enough.

Afterward, I delivered two of the last from the previous batch to a friend; they’d kept really well in the fridge at their peak, helped by the layers of soft towel to keep down any bruising, of which there was none.

There would be no more Cal Reds until next year. For the person I took those two to, I could share.

We had a great time swapping stories and catching up on each other’s kids.

And I learned something new.

Thankfully, her husband likes a good ripe peach.



Twist my arm
Friday September 07th 2018, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

So after two weeks of cabin fever and after a one-mile test run to Trader Joe’s last night, I decided today was the day to set myself free.

Or maybe not–after all, by this time last year they were all gone. But this has been a longer, cooler season.

Andy’s, on the phone: Sure, we’ve got lots!

And so I drove down to Morgan Hill and bought a case of Cal Reds for me and one for my friend Catherine. I got a bag of Fairtimes and one of Rio Oso, I think the other one was? They were so big that only two peaches fit in each.

I dropped the bag of Fairtimes. At least it wasn’t the cases and at least I didn’t drop them till I was already home and it was an easy problem to fix. What you can’t see in that picture is the juice that’s already puddling on that small plate, reminding me of James Beard’s description of how to eat a good mango: in private and in a bathtub.

It would not wait until I could share it. Despite its size, it demanded to be devoured alone.

So be that way. 



Les fraises
Sunday September 02nd 2018, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

 

We were going to make sorbet but found a small Rubbermaid in the back of the freezer with the last of the strawberry from last year. Done.



Mutari!
Saturday September 01st 2018, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

There’s a new chocolate shop in Santa Cruz and we wanted to check it out. How would it compare to our old favorite? We had to go to both on the same day to know, right?

What better way to celebrate having our daughter in town?

Given that seven million people live in the San Francisco Bay area and that there are only three routes over the mountains between San Francisco and well south of San Jose and two of those are two-lane roads and what beach traffic on a holiday is like, we hit the road before nine, and only had to do a little stop-and-go. We knew it would mean we’d have time to kill when we got there, but spending that time parked on the freeway vs walking around in our favorite beach town, hey.

Downtown parking before ten, no problem.

We bought books at Bookshop Santa Cruz in thanks for their being open for us. I tried to remember exactly what it looked like before the ’89 quake destroyed the original; there’s a plaque on the building saying they’d reused the iron balconies from the old on the new to try to keep some of the history of the place. I remembered an upstairs restaurant, I think in that building, long gone….

The doors were open on the sock store across the street, too. They had a pair that pictured cats playing on stacks of books: for $8, I’d found the one thing that most describes my friend Constance. Hey. That’s a splurge I could do.

We ate an early lunch at our old favorite, which is a restaurant as well.

They did not know the competition they were in, and turns out they were definitely not having their best day. The service was good but the food and the chocolate both were surprisingly off. Sipping chocolate as grainy pudding? Michelle’s no-dairy version was problematical, too. We felt bad for them.

The second chocolate place had had a note on the door apologizing that they would have to open late today, or we would have eaten there first. Dessert and life being uncertain and all that.

That’s okay. Mutari was definitely worth the wait.

The address listed on a news article someone had linked to that had clued us in to their existence turned out to be old and wrong but we found their new place via our phones.

Having just had that other sipping chocolate, one small spoonful of Mutari’s and I gasped, Oh WOW! Wow. What chocolate! What a difference. This is seriously the best.

We tried their fruit confection. It was hard not to buy a whole lot more on the spot.

We tried their truffles.

We agreed that there was no place but this place that we would go to for chocolate in Santa Cruz from now on. These guys truly know what they’re creating.

The proprietor asked if we wanted to sample their bars, too?

We were stuffed but we weren’t going to turn that down. Curiosity had been the point of the whole expedition. Sure!

She brought out four jars of broken bits with the names of each on top and a board with matching rows of the same laid out, one of each for each of us.

Just behind us as we tasted was a long row of 50 Kg bags of cacao beans stacked on each other, the origin of each stenciled on the burlap. As they said in the store, sometimes there’s a different flavor at the top of a hill than the bottom of the hill of the same variety of cacao and they make micro batches that let you try them individually.

Some of those definitely were coming home with us.

The woman was such a delight that had the cowl project in my purse been done I would have cast off and handed it to her on the spot.

Mutari. If you can go there, go there.



The fouls of the air
Monday August 20th 2018, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Lupus,Wildlife

The bright white birdnetting over the little fig tree was rocking it out as if Aretha Franklin herself were the soundtrack. There was no way to see what was underneath from there.

2:00 pm, whose health matters, the lupus patient’s or the critter’s?

Yeah you know what I did. Grabbed the hat. Maybe all that smoke in the air will deflect the UV.

It was a mockingbird, caught between the layers of netting–I’d added backup after the scrub jay had done this. How on earth did it get *in* there?!

I opened one side, but of course it wasn’t going to come near me. I went to open the other side and the first fell back down to the ground. The bird snagged a wing exactly where the jay had; I considered the size of its beak and the fervor of its fear while reaching to pull the stuff away from it but that was enough to motivate it to extricate–and it resnagged over to the right, over by the bird spikes (supposedly) protecting a fig.

It was screeching fowl language at the top of its lungs all the while.

Then suddenly all was still and silent as I peered through the reflective white coating–where did it go? How did it get out? When did it get out? The answer was, it didn’t, and suddenly we were in round two.

After several minutes of this it found that one good spot I’d had waiting for it and escaped.

So what I wonder now is, is it dumb enough to try that again? Go eat a cherry tomato, fer cryin’ out loud.

I weighed down the bottom of the netting with flowerpots.

I found myself unable to just sit and knit after that and checked out the bathroom window at the far end of the house (the only one you can see the tree from at that funky angle) again and again to make sure that was that.

So far, as far as I can tell, so good.

All I want is a half dozen palm-size fully ripe Black Jack figs picked first thing in the morning for full flavor, filled with a little Brie and roasted. Or straight off the tree: fig tartare.

If you see any at your Costco let me know.



Halfsies?
Tuesday August 14th 2018, 9:36 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden,Wildlife

I got my first fig two days ago, and it was just about a breakfast unto itself. I’d almost forgotten how enormous Black Jacks get.

There were two more that would have been perfectly ripe today and I was quite looking forward to them. Halve them, put some Brie in the center and put in the oven to roast… Just one more day’s heat to make them perfect.

Yeah well and early this morning one was snapped right off and this was the other, quite hollowed out and nearly all gone–I was going to have to work harder than that.

So I did. (I also chucked this and washed my hands a good one after the photo–who needs raccoon spit contamination?)

I happened to look out the back window this afternoon to find a squirrel twirling away on a branch. But they don’t even like figs! Well maybe now they do. How did it… I scared it away, but by the time I grabbed a hat and a sun jacket and came around the outside of the house to reset that netting it was back at it again.

So I worked a little harder on covering the survivors up. That had worked up till then and I wanted it to keep working.

I at least got better netting this year: it’s heavier and it doesn’t glom on and tear things as if it had been glued to the leaves.

I sprinkled chili flakes liberally. More stabby acanthus stalks. Then I got some of the older stickier netting and pulled it over any gaps.

And that was that. No more sign of squirrels. Success.

Till I walked out this evening to see if everything had gone as well as I’d thought.

Somehow the scrub jay hadn’t gotten the memo that the bird netting had been reinforced. It had managed to get in there between the two layers but it couldn’t find its way back out in its sudden emergency and it really really wanted to as I approached. Its blue wing appeared to snag on I couldn’t see what while the rest of it fought furiously to get free, with me two feet away and the netting between us. It felt just like my finches had the moment before it had stabbed them to death, awkwardly and too slowly because it’s not good at being a predator.

Neither am I. I gave it a verbal what-for just to reinforce whose figs those were and at last it found that one open-enough spot, burst out of there and zoomed up into a tree. Okay, good, you didn’t damage yourself.

More acanthus stalks. Spiky spiky spiky. Although that’s more a mammal thing. (Picking a splinter out.)

More hopes of getting the best-tasting figs in the world, ie picked fully ripe at the break of day. I’ve waited a year for this.

If nothing else there are still some very green ones to give me time to plot my next move.



Simple pleasures
Saturday August 11th 2018, 10:34 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends

I’d been really wanting more of that berry cobbler all week but given that I like to add two tablespoons more butter than the New York Times version, I really needed to have people around to help the two of us eat it. Four+ cups of fruit only excuses the indulgence so far.

This evening was our friend Phyl’s annual last-Saturday-before-school-starts pool party so I had my excuse.

I used unsweetened Kefir (a type of pourable yogurt) this time instead of whole milk.

The cobbler came out less crunchy on top than the first time but the sour better balanced out the sweet.

Any chance at leftovers disappeared pretty fast.



The better Angelus of our nature
Friday August 10th 2018, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

My sister-in-law’s been dividing her time between various northern Californian loved ones and we got to have her again today. She’d been to the ocean with our aunt and uncle, so I took her for chocolate at Timothy Adams.

She happened to mention that her husband, having grown up in Arizona, has loved real Mexican food all his life, and so does she: but living in Texas, there was only Tex-Mex where they are and it was not the same thing at all.

Hey.

And so we took her out to dinner at Estrellita. It was what she’d been missing.

We came home to Andy’s peaches for dessert. I cut a few, served them up, and Jennifer took her first bite, I’m sure wondering if they would live up to my hype.

Her eyes flew wide open and she took it in for a moment–swallowed, then pronounced, I. have. never. in. my. life. eaten. a peach. like. this.

Then she said to me, Did you have any yet?! Take a bite take a bite!

I grinned. I knew what those were like.

She was off to see our niece next and then her childhood friend north of San Francisco, who’s had early-onset Alzheimer’s probably since her 40s and could definitely use a connection like that to how good life is despite all the things she can’t do anymore. And whose incredible angel of a husband could use some of his own good coming back to him, too.

Are you sure? as I urged her to take enough of the Angelus peaches for all.

I can get more a lot more easily than they can, I told her.

I couldn’t wait for her to get to see their eyes like I got to see hers.



Pound plus per
Wednesday August 08th 2018, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Life

Andy’s was open for business, said a sidewalk sign put right there just for that, but the flag man said no as the two-story truck and the smaller soccer-cleated truck behind it chugged and beeped. (The grandsons would have known their names.)

Now I understood why Catherine had raved over the kindness of the woman who’d offered to meet her with her peaches two weeks ago: that woman hadn’t just been willing to walk out to the road carrying everything but down to the next block across the length of the orchard.

Go back out to the main road and then right on Peach, the flag man told me, nodding yes over the noise when I repeated it back to him to be sure.

Can I get in that way?

Yes you can.

Peet, actually, it turned out. Coffee not fruit.

There was another orchard turning into housing. Beautifully landscaped like the others around there but it still broke my heart.

Down near the end, Peet too had a Road Closed sign across my lane. I considered briefly, thought, well he told me to and there’s nobody there to tell me not to so I can. I’m going.

The road curved towards Andy’s.

I waited for the men driving those trucks in front of his orchard to at least notice me so they wouldn’t back up over my car, then scooted down his driveway.

Where his guy retrieved a case of Angeluses from the back for me and raised an eyebrow at my request for a second. (I know they try to make sure they have some for every customer who makes the trek out there so that nobody comes away disappointed.)

I explained that I was buying for two; I’d been commissioned by a friend who was a regular, too. (Ever since I’d told her about the place, and now she’s joined the Rare Fruit Growers Association that Andy is so much a part of and talked to him herself. I didn’t say all that.)

Alright, then. And he let me have another for her.

I was just about to hit publish right there when my doorbell rang. At 9:30 at night? I flipped the outside lights on.

Andy! (Or rather, Other Andy.) Catherine’s husband, and not only did he pay for the peaches I’d dropped off (you should have seen the look in their teenage son’s eyes at the sight of them this afternoon) but he was bringing us some honey from his hives in thanks for making that trip after they’d run out.

He let me send him home with two more of the biggest peaches I had in thanks. But only two.

Some friends just never let you keep up. And that is a wonderful thing.