Cliffhanger year
Thursday December 31st 2020, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

There’s this phenomenon where, when you’re driving, you have a tendency to steer towards what you’re looking at whether you intend to or not.

I’m guessing with the out-of-state plates that someone was in awe of the Pacific ocean laid out at last before her…and realized a moment too late to correct. (Don’t look if it’s too hard.) But the bumper in a pocket of the cliff suggests that bounces along the way down absorbed a lot of the momentum and saved her as she landed cushioned at last by the sandy beach. The tide had deposited just a bit more specifically there, waiting for the moment.

The road was a hundred feet above her but she lived and her injuries were deemed serious rather than critical. I so feel for her and wish I could do something to help her healing, an afghan to wrap herself in to know she is cared about, whoever she is, but then those who attended to her clearly did a great job in the way that was actually needed.

I guess those pictures for me stand in for all those we’ve prayed for this year, all those we’ve worried about, and in too many cases lost and grieved. We’ll be telling Brad’s koi story forever–and in his memory we have been relentlessly careful about sheltering in place.

The vaccines are coming.

The woman’s Prius (I have an old one too) will never drive again: but it got her through it.

2020 is an utter wreck and thank heavens it’s about to be hauled away into history. But for all of us still here, somehow it saw us through.

I wrote all that out, came away thinking, y’know, that’s a bit moody, but it’s been a pretty moody kind of a year–

–and went in the kitchen. Looked at that cheerful pan that’s been waiting for me to get out of the funk I hadn’t quite been admitting to myself. Looked at what I had in the fridge and freezer–raspberries, oh even better. Grated the yellow off a newly-ripened Meyer lemon from the back yard and smelled that beautiful scent of California winters, picked the bits out into the mixing bowl by running a toothpick between the sharp ridges again and again, with the feeling, let’s do this, let’s do this, let’s do this, keep going.

One lemon raspberry creme fraiche  yarn ball cake just came out of the oven, with 65 minutes being just right. (I never have creme fraiche in the fridge. It was my one Christmas ingredient for the year.) I’ll let it finish cooling. Then I can put it in the fridge to solidify the edges enough that I can peel it out of there in great hopes of being able to show it off here–it’ll taste good but I want it pretty, too, darnit, it’s got expectations to live up to.

Turns out the little splatters on the pan turn into crunchy enticing little bits that flip right off into your hand or rubber band across the counter if you’re really into it. Hmm, I think I’d go to a half tsp salt next time. Not hugely sweet. Good.

At the turn of the year the cake should be ready and perfect for a triumphant midnight snack. Get things off to a good start.

Happy New Year!

The celebrations rolled over
Wednesday December 30th 2020, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

Last Saturday I was actually starting to feel like baking something festive, y’know, try out that new yarn ball cake pan at last (I’d been avoiding the calories), or make some caramel sauce like my mom always made this time of year and all the possibilities of what I might do with it. Mom always poured it on homemade figgy pudding, but what if I lined my new silicone mini-cupcake molds with chocolate (so they could pop right out after cooling), poured in some cooled sauce, added ganache and chilled it with a raspberry on top…

The oven mitt stockings that a friend laughed and called “The most 2020 thing yet!” came down from the mantle.

The doorbell rang. It was a Christmas present order both for me and for the sake of the local bakery that my kids remember fondly and want to have still be in business when they come back into town.

The youngest on the phone later: Was it from…? Me: Yes. Him: Oh good!

I do believe that was the owner of the bakery himself, masked and handing it to me from arm’s length. He retreated down the walkway and turned: clearly he was hoping to see the look on my face when I opened the box and saw what they’d created. He definitely got what he’d hoped for–my jaw dropped. I looked back up his way and went, Wow!! THANK you!!

He drove off with the biggest smile on his face.

When there are that many calories hanging over you you don’t go making competing ones.

The photo doesn’t quite get the height and depth of the thing. The box stretched across the fridge. It was huge–and very good.

My sweetie enjoyed it for breakfast these past five days; I’m not a big breakfast person and couldn’t bring myself to touch all that sweetness before eleven a.m. but I sure did then. We had it for dessert a few nights. Snacking happened.

Finally, somewhat reluctantly, we watched the last morsels disappear after lunch today. It was time.

I found this recipe tonight and thought, someone was thinking like I was thinking. Maybe I should stuff those chocolate shells-to-be with whipped ricotta instead? Y’know, fewer calories?

Nah. I still want some of Mom’s caramel sauce.

Stand up or deliver
Wednesday December 30th 2020, 12:04 am
Filed under: Food,History,Life,Lupus

Ooooh, thaaaaat’s it… Maybe.

A friend sent a text a little while ago that randomly mentioned the curfew. I checked: yes, we are in the purple tier now with ambulances being turned away from most hospitals so from 10pm to 5am, she’s right, that applies to our county too now.

Meantime on the immunocompromised front, the grocery app said 7-9 pm was the only available delivery slot today. I was hoping for earlier because last time we took that the guy never showed up other than to cancel at 10.

This time they messaged at 8:15 asking about a substitution and got my okay, so clearly someone was at least checking inventory.

At 9:00 it said, “Your shopper has finished working on your order.”

It’s 11:03, we are a mile from the store, there are no groceries, no updates, and it’s past curfew.

If he/she had to drop off to too many places and ran out of time, what happens to the orders remaining? Please please tell me they don’t make the lowest-ranking guy in the system eat the cost?

(Hope he’s got fridge space for it?)


Update, just before we hit lights out for the night a half hour later: he was on his way. It came!

Quarantine month ten
Monday December 28th 2020, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Knit

I cast on for a hat and did one row. So now I have a carry-around project at the ready; it’s a start.

I can’t wait till we can be around friends and strangers again: all those people out there who need to be knitted for and they don’t even know it, sparking that spark.

It was the Monster Mash-up
Sunday December 27th 2020, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Going back to last Sunday: the Primary, ie the kids 3 to 12, put on most of the program for church via Zoom of them singing and describing Christmas to us.

One adorable little girl of about five pointed out her family’s tree decorated with lights and balls and a prominent construction-paper garland and the presents beneath and explained to us that the Wise Men had brought the Baby Jesus their treasure chest full of Frankenstein.

Someone Merry Christmased the whole city
Saturday December 26th 2020, 9:21 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,History,Life

You know those monoliths that have been popping up, starting with the metal one in the Utah desert?

Someone set one up on top of, where else could be better, Corona Heights hill in San Francisco. Made of gingerbread. (BBC link.) Frosted around the edges and gum drops for nails.

At sixteen months
Saturday December 26th 2020, 12:09 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

There’s got to be a word for the type of wide shipping box that opens like a lid and closes with flaps at the end tucking inside their slots.

Turns out that if you’re little enough, and the present is still inside the box after the lid has been opened all the way and it’s heavy enough to counterbalance you, you have an impromptu slide just your size and then you do it again because that was fun and the people on the screen are clapping and cheering you on and this box is the best present ever!

The phone is being its usual slow self re photos but meantime here’s last night’s glamour shot of our Christmas stockings before the Chocolate Cherry Fantasies and Sugar Plums from Andy’s got tucked in there.


Give them a hand
Thursday December 24th 2020, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Family,Garden,Life

With the neighbor’s trees overhanging our house gone now, the holly has berries for the first time in so many years that I’d forgotten it could.

The Christmas tree isn’t up: a few years ago we bought the widest-but-one, fullest, heaviest tree at Balsam Hill for its lack of allergens but this was just not the year for struggling with it.

Which means I didn’t go sorting through the ornament boxes in the garage to find the one with the stockings in it. I asked him his feelings on the subject and he said, apologetically, Well actually bah humbug?

Oh good. Neither one of us had to feel guilty about it, then. (The lights but one have burned out in the garage so it would be one hand on a flashlight and one hand moving and opening boxes.)

We did have a great time of a Christmas Eve, though, wishing Maddy a happy sixth birthday, talking to Mom, and later Zooming with her and my aunt and a whole bunch of cousins–one of whom I hadn’t seen since her wedding in the early 80’s. Aunt Joyce has always thrown a Christmas Eve party for whoever in the family could come and now we all could from wherever we were.

Emily played The Holly and the Ivy on the piano and it was all I could do not to burst into unexpected tears: with her fingertips gone, there were missed notes–but there was so much feeling, so much living, so much rejoicing in those notes, so much forever the musician no matter what and it was a privilege to be able to witness.

Writing that just now led me to Alison Kraus and Yo-Yo Ma’s beautiful Wexford Carol rendition–I have that album. But my CD player did the 2020 thing and repairs have to wait till after the pandemic and yes of course computers and all that but I’ve simply gotten out of the habit.

It hit me that I have needed more music. It has been missing, and a bit of me with it.

As for the stockings: I had to have something, because I’d bought some great treats at Andy’s Orchard to put in them and whatever with the garage, they refused to be denied.

I was standing in the kitchen…

When in Romaine do as the Romaineians.

It’s awfully handy of oven mitts to come with a loop for hanging them. A few long paper/wire twisties that the vegetable crisper doesn’t need anymore, the long thick wire under the mantle we always hang the stockings from waiting for the new set-up, and there you go. No Santa that doesn’t mean your cookies are in the oven and you have to take them out yourself but thank you for offering to help.

I was leaning over the chair taking a picture of the mitts and smashed the back of the rocker into the underside of my nose because 2020 is into slapstick comedy like that.

Next year will be all about the grandkids. As it should be. I can’t wait.

Superballs (boing!)
Wednesday December 23rd 2020, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Food

Wait, what?

Two dozen Costco hard boiled eggs: shelled, so at least there’s that.

It was supposed to be liquid egg whites so I could more easily experiment with cake recipe amounts for my yarn-ball Silikomart mold. Going to be just a bit hard to whip those.

(This one’s a buche de noel for weavers. Just linking to it because, clicking on that yellow cake to embiggen the picture, wow. Hey, I could pour some homemade chocolate into that in a big flat bar, I have lots of friends who weave.)

Two two-packs later we still have twenty freaking bouncy hard-boiled eggs in that fridge. I wondered if you could freeze them and googled: turns out the whites become super rubbery and at the same time super hard. Which is exactly what we already have.

What does one DO with such things? Other than, y’know, throwing an Easter egg roll for all the raccoons and skunks and possums. Cuisinart them into an egg loaf? That just…doesn’t… yow. Those whites do not want to be chopped, not by your knife, not by your fork, not by your teeth.

I did my best to mash them with some Durkee’s and sharp cheddar on toast and settled for, frankly, more like strips.

Texture, the texture of those whites in this, it was a little like… Like…(I really don’t know if I should say this…) my sister’s description of her brother-in-law’s wedding where the caterer served escargots but forgot to cook them first.

The little weirdnesses of all this
Tuesday December 22nd 2020, 11:19 pm
Filed under: Life

A random question to throw out there: does anyone else find that all the sewn masks, no matter how perfectly symmetrical, just aren’t once they’re on?

I always figured one ear was a little higher than the other because opticians are always going, huh, and straightening out the sides of the glasses ever so carefully as they tilt their arms. But it never occurred to me that one might be further forward than the other.

The masks that arc upwards at your nose?

They favor one nostril. All of them do.

Anyone else?

A concrete example of a good Christmas card
Monday December 21st 2020, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Family

The other thing that happened yesterday.

With socially-distanced love from our niece, who texted us afterwards to tell us what she’d done to make sure we would see it before the next rain. Surprise!

Happy Birthsday!
Sunday December 20th 2020, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit,Life

Today my mom is 90 and our oldest grandson is 10.

Parker got a promise of one toy on the way that had gone late in the package crush out there, and one copy of Sibley’s new What It’s Like To Be A Bird. He plunked down with it and was reading it and showing us things from it by Zoom.

I asked him about loons, just so his daddy could tease me later, and he eagerly looked them up and showed me the large, detailed picture.

There was some surprise in my voice as I said, “That’s beautiful!”

For Mom, all her generations were invited to a family reunion by Zoom where we talked about our favorite memories of her.

I talked about studying her hands as a kid, fervently wishing mine could do what hers did as she knit an aran sweater for my older sister. Of her teaching me how to knit at ten on a car trip around the country and all my dropped stitches going back and forth between me in the far back of the station wagon and her in the front seat for help, and then at 16 when I picked something out of her knitting magazine and asked her to make it for me, she told me, “It’s not your turn. Go make it yourself!”

I was a teenager. I was not about to admit I didn’t remember how.

I did admit I couldn’t remember how to cast on, because there was no getting past that deficit, but after that I went in my room and tried to remember how her hands did it–surely I should know! I used to do this!–and fiddled around till I got it.

Having no idea I’d invented my own way that was completely different from hers–but that would serve my hands much better later in life in terms of arthritis and repetitive motions: I grab and drop the yarn with my right hand every single stitch. Open and close thumb and forefinger lightly, no wrist-twisting and less motioning.

If you’ve ever watched Stephanie Pearl-McPhee knit you know that any claim of my way being just as fast as anybody else’s is absolutely laughable–but against most knitters, I do a definitely respectable pace. But whatever, it’s what works for me to be able to keep going so I’m glad I didn’t ask for help way back when. I could never have known that then.

Mom never gave the slightest hint that I was doing it wrong or even that I was doing it differently because clearly it worked just fine.

Mom didn’t just teach me to knit.

She taught me to see a ball of plain string as all the things it could become–and then to narrow the choices to one, to put in the time and work to make that vision into a real thing and then to use the outcome to bless others.

She taught me that creativity requires perseverance to live up to its potential. That it both teaches and demands ever more learning. That it is worth ripping back to get it right and even that how easy that is depends on what you’re working with.

I’m thinking of her description of buying two sweaters’ worth of pure plucked angora yarn in postwar France, having no idea what that would have cost her back in the States, starting to knit my sister a sweater in the round, finding the yarn felting just from running through her hands and rustling around in her knitting bag–and then finding out she was knitting an inadvertent mobius strip. The world’s softest most incorrigible mobius strip. But she did it, she frogged it. It took her awhile. You see the little moth-eaten yellow ball at the top of this blog and the three scarves I knit out of its leftovers after boiling them in dye to kill the little monsters? That was the last of that angora, decades later. Turns out one of my sisters was allergic to her sweater.

I remember the January in high school when the school district decided to save money by turning off the heat. I had glommed onto Marian’s regretfully handed down (she loved it, she just couldn’t wear it) green angora sweater and walking around in a cloud puff of fur, marveling at how warm it was while everyone around me shivered.

Mom stormed the gates at district headquarters by phone and demanded they turn the heat back on in those schools–and they did!

To this day when joining stitches in the round, be it hat or sweater, I think, no rabbit-hair mobius strips, okay?

Mom looked around at all those gathered around their screens, her children (except one who was out of cellphone range), most of her grandchildren, some great grandchildren–Mathias waved hi uncertainly at all the strange faces and Lillian with cheerful certainty and charmed the socks off everyone for their few moments onscreen–and Mom marveled at how nice we all are. To her, to each other, to everyone. Nice, nice people.

Of course, Mom. You knit our lives together with love. You never said an unkind word about anyone. We’re still all hoping to be like you when we grow up. Happy Birthday!

And Happy Birthday, Parker! You can play some loony tunes on the piano next time we get to get together.

Well what would you call them?
Saturday December 19th 2020, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

People who live in glass houses (floor to ceiling along one and a half walls of this room, but at least it’s double-paned)…

Him in his standard daily year-round boring blue oxford shirt this morning (white on Sundays), surprised: You’re wearing two sweaters!

Me, surprised back, guffawing: I always do. I’ve been wearing two sweaters every day for what, six weeks now? It’s cold.

We’ve both been here all day every day thank you pandemic and it wasn’t like I was sneaking them past him. Men are so funny. I’ve been randomly chuckling all day. I think this particular combination is going to go down as Two Sweaters, linked forevermore.

There are good ones at Stanford
Friday December 18th 2020, 11:10 pm
Filed under: History,Life,Politics

A dear friend is an attending physician at Stanford and was just offered the Pfizer vaccine.

He has talked about its jaw-dropping success.

He turned it down. Oh yes he absolutely wants it as much as anybody and to protect his wife and kids and he thinks the FDA should have approved those first two vaccines sooner.

But there is such a thing as ethics. He is not on the front lines dealing with covid patients. He’s dealing with a lack of beds for his patients, sure, but he is not directly exposed day in day out one-on-one to a monstrous rush of ferociously infectious people needing so much care and the constant extra shifts and the pressure and the intense grief and lack of sleep and even more exposure.

The residents, the interns, the nurses and the janitorial staff in those areas are, and as headlines all over the country pointed out today, some pointy-haired boss allotted all of 17 shots for those thousands of front liners and saved the rest of their first shipment for People Who Matter More Than You. People who were not working with covid patients at all. Some telecommuting only. People who were as safe as any of us can be right now.

When called on it they blamed it on the computer.

Yeah no. Not his turn. Give his to someone who’s putting their life on the line for their patients and then comes back the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next, to do it all over again.

Clafoutis for all that ails you
Friday December 18th 2020, 12:14 am
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Family,Food,Friends,Recipes

At 9:55 this morning there was one customer being helped and three clerks, the easiest December post office run ever. I told Anne her apricots were on their way and she told me those are the best she’s ever had, she can’t wait. She made my day.

That was just the start.

This afternoon I got a text from a friend: he’d heard Richard was sick; how was he doing?

Definitely getting better, thanks.

Next thing you know there was a second text saying he’d dropped off a little something for us.

I opened the door. He was already gone–which makes sense, because, exposure. There was a bag with eggs, veggies, grits, butter, juice, milk, just because he could. Wow! I was gobsmacked, and so was Richard.

His stomach’s still a bit tender, eggs are easy on it, we were running low, and now we aren’t.

A little history: years ago I got sent to Urgent Care with what was clearly the start of a Crohn’s flare. It’s not like I didn’t know what that was at that point.

To my great surprise the doctor who saw me was dismissive of anything I had to say about that; all he wanted to know was, had I eaten raspberries.

A day or two ago…

He insisted I had salmonella poisoning from Mexican raspberries (who says they weren’t US grown? There was no recall nor mention in the press in either case) and he sent me home without doing anything about the Crohn’s, which is indeed what it was. My GI doctor rolled his eyes with a bit of suppressed indignation at that when I ended up in his office, which made me want to say oh thank you thank you.

So. I found myself thinking, well, you know, though. My husband does not have Crohn’s and he did eat a lot of raspberries when I didn’t.

We had more of them. I wasn’t taking any chances–I baked them into a clafoutis, with some blueberries to get it up to four cups of fruit. Cook’em. They’re probably innocent but this way I wouldn’t have to worry about it.

The recipe calls for whole milk. I substituted the last of some cream 50/50 with the 1% that’s always around and was surprised at how much of a difference it made–it definitely improved it over my usual low-fat ones.

And it’s a good way to get fruit and protein down a whiny stomach.

Thanks to our friend, if Richard wants more, and he’s quite fond of it, I have whole milk in my fridge now and I can make it come out that way again tomorrow.

Clafoutis recipe: butter a 9″ deep-dish pan, not smaller, whip three eggs a goodly while, add 1/2 c sugar, beat, then 1 c whole milk, still beating, a small pinch salt, 1 tsp vanilla, a tbl melted butter, still beating, and then at the last beat in 1/2 c flour. Pour it in the pan quickly, put the fruit on top, bake about 40 minutes, 45-50 in my ceramic pan or till a knife in the center comes out clean. (Ed. to add: oven at 350.)

And then try to wait till it cools, but I won’t blame you if you don’t.