Thursday, December 31, 2009


Tahoe and Reno enjoy their last snuggle in front of the evening fire. Our home may have been more visually perfect before we allowed dogs to romp in the house. But how they open our hearts to joy, more than makes up for rumpled throws and tipped over pillows.
Trevor, our oldest son, shows off his skills which earn him the title of Designated Turkey Carver. The beauty with which he lays the meat on the platter makes me want to serve the bird at home.
As much as I enjoy dining out, there are rituals like this which spawn deep feelings that simply can't be replicated in public. Not at any cost.

The guys at Orchard's Fresh Market in Whittier get a huge shout out. I never thought I would be able to buy a smoked turkey as good as mine: what they did with the hickory pellets- with only 24 hours notice... the meat was juicy, tender...the smokey goodness lightly rising from the fork with each bite...mmmm... I just might dismantle my dishwasher every year so I have an excuse to pick up this holiday tradition instead of fretting for 12 hours over my own smoker.

The elegant glass stands are a gift from Kenny and Shannon. Don't you love how tempting the gleaming glass domes make Sheryl Steven's English Toffee and the fudge and baklava look?
When the dishwasher went out, I thought there would be no baklava- but the good folks at Claro's Italian Market were open special on a Wednesday to help their customers out.

The New Years Holidays are at the intersection of Yin and Yang. On the Eve, we look back. Prayers are said for gone missing from our lives. Any regrets are silently scribbled on scraps of paper and burned in the fireplace to burden us no more. In the morn, the only thing left in the ashes are the lessons of mistakes. The squares of the calender are tattooed with the numerals of the New Year . All the blank pages are eager to be filled with the elixir of youth-anticipation.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

If Only

"If only I can pull over fast enough, I can take a shot of the spun sugar clouds and pink icing snow dripping down the mountaintop. "
In less than two minutes the view of Mt Baldy faded from breathtaking to whatever.
That opportunity was gone. But I turned around and saw the sky on fire.
The sky wasn't the same- but it was just as breathtaking.

Tonight the family comes in to honor the niece who flew in from Portland. Not the best time for the dishwasher to fail. But it did. To spend a moment in disappointment is a waste of time.

A day and a half of research and one day of shopping, the new dishwasher is ordered. It will be here in January, too late for the massive cleaning needed for Plan A dinner.

So then menu was pulled out and a Plan B puts me on the road this afternoon to pick up what will be made for, more than made, by me

Waldorf salad from Albertson's

Pasta Sardinia tossed with toasted pine nuts, mozzarella shreds and shaved Pecorino Parmesan cheese (already on hand from Claro's ItalianMarket).

Flame Roasted Artichoke platter from Lucille's BBQ Restaurant

Smoked Turkey- Orchard's Fresh Market will pop the fresh bird they were holding for us in their smoker.

Baklava from Claro's

Fudge and English Toffee (already made)

Rocky Road and Pralines and Cream Ice Cream from Baskin- Robbins.

One pot. One skillet. A little bit of driving. I suspect no one is going to miss that I did not spend 2 days running between the market, the kitchen and our smoker. The food will be abundant and good. The family will all be here. I might even clear the china and crystal off the table and switch to paper plates.

In the coming year, promise yourself to spend less time on "If only." That little phrase is debilitating. It will keep you from appreciating what, "What is."

Upper photo- Diamond Bar Blvd at Grand, unretouched.

Lower photo- Danny does some sidewalk advertising for Orchard's Fresh on the Blvd in Whittier before Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wrapping Up For Holidays

Just about everything which can be wrapped or topped with a ribbon: is.

Time to stop decorating and ready the feast which will move for most of the week between the branches of the family. In-laws and out-laws. Near and far.

Planning is easy once people and place are determined. Likes, dislikes and medical restrictions of guests are too cheerful a task to call a chore.

Menus for each of the major meals were submitted for input and approval by my husband. When last seen, he was salivating.

Now comes gathering ingredients. Meat properly aged but never frozen yields the best flavor and taste. At Orchard's Fresh Market in Whittier, Danny has two orders logged. One for pick-up before Christmas. The other for after. Do you have a butcher who will do that for you?

This is what is planned for Christmas Day Dinner

French Onion Soup
Baby White Corn
Braised Yukon Potatoes
Horseradish- Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Crème Brulee and Assorted Cookies with hot beverages

At their annual Holiday Party, Matt and Debbie Rezvani introduced us to a delightful Merlot from Napa Valley by Michael Pozzan. Graced with notes of rich berries wrapped in a satiny smooth finish, its peppery bite is both light and distinctive. That punch of flavor is interesting enough to hold up to the tenderloin without being too aggressive.

The value of the wine is shockingly superb. Michael Pozzan Merlot Spec Reserve '06 (750 ML) tastes every bit as good as many a $30 - $40 bottle. However, at BevMo, this measurably fine wine is regularly priced at $16.99- but today, the store was willing to part with it for just $9.99.

Orchard's Fresh Food's Motto is "The way Things Used to Be." Try them. You will think it is the way things should be. Clean, friendly, delicious. Check 'em out at

For BevMo info on Pozzan wine- click on-

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Food Chain

Outside, my orchids are starting to send up flower stalks. The garden is begging me to learn to make escargot, but in the food chain of life, I would rather feed the snails than eat them.

Mice, I might rather eat, if they look like this:

Niece Alden made this adorable mouse with my mother in-law. A chocolate kiss head, almond slivered ears and a maraschino cherry dipped in chocolate for the body compose the start of an infestation of the most delightful kind.

Merry Christmas! May the holiday- whatever name it goes by in your home, be magic!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seasoned Greetings

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Many Blessings of whatever holiday brings you joy.

Yesterday's home agenda was marked to decorate outside. But God had better plans. He opened the heavens, the angels throwing .94 inches of loving wet kisses to all which blooms here.

We rarely get frost, let alone snow- but our summer heat often turns fuchsias to mulch. This Fuchsia 'fulgens' blooms right outside my study window. It came packed in a suitcase from my pilgrimage to Annie's Annuals. Over a year: it has proven not be as delicate as it appears. Omnipresent sepals call in hummingbirds for a spot of nectar year 'round.

Fuchsia 'fulgens' isn't in stock at Annie's at the moment- but you can wish list them: Annie's never forgets to contact you.

This year, a smaller rosemary tree was chosen to hold the gingerbread and candy ornaments in the kitchen. Because it leaves more of my meager counter space clear, this leaner tree has proven useful in setting up food courses to help ourselves from at dinnertime as the counter isn't so overwhelmed .

Does cool weather entice you to the kitchen? It does me.

This morning, the oven hissed a little as it warmed the cast iron skillet, until they were both 350 degrees.

Baking potatoes were bathed and dried and poked a bit before the microwave performed a bit of culinary foreplay.

Not quite cooked, the spuds were willingly sliced in to not raw, yet still firm, 1/2" rounds. These were anointed in EVOO then spread on the skillet hot from the oven.

Salt from the sea and a bit of Lawry's Seasoned Pepper were sprinkled with a light touch.

I would love to say the discovery of the seasoned pepper was intentional. Alas, I was in a hurry and not wearing glasses at the grocery store.

What a happy accident this discovery has been. It is just the right grind, with just enough oomph, to make one of those slight, but definite improvements that which leaves tasters wondering "What's your secret?"

I digress. The potatoes go onto the skillet in a single layer, into the oven. The door is closed and you can do whatever you wish until the buzzer goes off- 10 or 15 minutes for a small batch.

When you peek, look for the upside to be photogenically browned. Flip the potatoes, sprinkle with a bit more salt and seasoned pepper and set the buzzer again for 10 to 15 minutes: from how long the first side took, it will be slightly less that half that length of time. When the top is nicely browned, get ready to serve right away.

Eat these hot and it will be love at first bite. The outsides, crisp: the inside fluffy.

From my house to yours- Merry Christmas and Seasoned Greetings.

Sign up for Annie's wish list at

The seasoned pepper is regularly stocked at our little Albertson's market on Diamond Bar Blvd at Grand Ave.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Chrismas Tree

Once upon a time, my family thought perhaps I wished to make Martha Stewart look like a slacker. But perfection is neither my goal nor authentic to my personality.

Part of my passion for Christmas decorating is rebellion. Growing up, my father always chose a tree so embarrassingly scraggly, it would have shamed Charlie Brown to be seen with it. If such things were held, it could have easily won the contest for worst tree in the city. In today's dollars, dad probably paid $1.99 for the whole thing.

In contrast, his brother, Uncle Frank, was totally impractical about the Christmas Tree. He not only bought an extravagant tree- tall enough to reach the ceiling and flocked. One year, after the holiday, the men went outside with their shotguns and shot off all the ornaments. I envied Frank's family.

However, I didn't wish to start anew each holiday. For me, a Christmas tree should be hung with memories.

It is a gift to have a husband who understood my primal desire to decorate tree. Even though he doesn't quite understand the obsession.

Gerry loves the scent of a fresh tree. Pine makes me sneeze and sent the vacuum annually to the repair shop to recover from the holidays. Until the year Gerry came home from a business trip to find standing in the living room a lavishly pre-lit fresh cut Christmas tree from Roger's Gardens. 1,000 white lights is an elegant start.

But I am more cheery than elegant. Woven up and down each arm of the tree, 900 colored mini bulbs additionally adorn the boughs with the magic of color.

Our first Christmas together, I bought beriboned pine cones to hang on the tree. My new husband had difficulty comprehending his bride would pay for what could be found on the ground. I couldn't believe that he thought anything which would look so natural hanging on a tree was anything but smart.

Every year since, a few ornaments have been added.

Some are homemade. The hanging ornament Gerry made is precious even though it was fashioned from scrap.

The pickle ornament sparks competitive joy. There is a special gift for the family member who spots it when we exchange family gifts. Even though the gift might be just extra candy as a reward doesn't make the ritual less fun.

A ship in the bottle- so fragile- so imaginative- what could be more romantic?

Santa as a fisherman, bears kissing, snowflakes falling- every decoration has meaning profoundly personal. Which makes the tree decidedly romantic. A perfect symbol of my favorite type of Christmas.

Please share about your Christmas tree. In your fantasies, how would you decorate it? What would you like visitors to learn about you from the Christmas tree of your dreams?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To Mama on Her 87th Birthday

When I was in high school, she was told to get her affairs in order. I tease her because she never had even one " affair" to put in order.

My mother is my hero because she lived my one rule. Do what is right.

Her own mother died in childbirth. Her earliest memory is of her aunties getting her all dressed up- taking her to the orphanage- and even the home for unwanted children didn't want her.

The aunt with 10 children- my mother thought, how much more trouble would be 2 more? Evidently enough, that my mother and her barely older brother were left in the care of the spinster Aunt.

Mama was offered a post-graduate scholarship. But in those days, it wasn't proper for the little sister to accept such an advantage unless the older child was also so accommodated.

My mother wanted to be a physical therapist. So the petite Latina flew from Puerto Rico to the land of English as the only language. She enlisted as a Navy Wave. Working as a vocational therapist, she met the tall, dark haired and handsome George Lent after his arm was broken by an ethnic gang which jumped him.

They married. Nine months and two weeks later- their first child was born.

This week my mother turned 87. She received her favorite gifts: a grandchild sang to her, some company and flowers.

Happy Birthday, Mama. We never expected you to be around so long. We are blessed beyond words that you did.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What We Really Want for Christmas

" Like a shop laden with merchandise, she brings home food from far off."

- Proverbs 31: 14

When we married Gerry was sort of the Brawny paper towel guy who worked as a mild mannered engineer. This Thanksgiving, he made a simple request this Christmas. He wanted to have the guys from work over for a lunch. The next week.

Some women would kill a husband for suggesting she "put on the dog" on such short notice. Not me. This kind of request is grade A prime excuse to decorate and shop. To be a one woman economic stimulus plan requiring no taxpayer dollars. To bring good cheer to many a merchant. Our guests. My husband. Of course, not necessarily in that particular order...

5 nights later, Weather woman Jackie Johnson is predicting good fortune. Our December weather the next day will be typical Southern California. Perfect for barbecuing and eating on the patio. Gerry insisted I stop preparing. "Guys do not care if you wash the floor under the refrigerator or hang a new wreath in the kitchen."

When the guys arrived. The halls were decked. None of the men knew that six days of obsessive decorating had not yet emptied all the boxes in the attic of balls and ribbons and lights. They did notice was that with all his guy gadgets: Gerry must have a a very understanding wife.

And they noticed the food.

The Menu

Baked cheese balls stuffed with green olive Green olive and pimiento stuffed cheese balls.
Deviled eggs & vegetable platter

Salad of butter lettuce and baby spinach, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, glazed walnuts and bits of feta cheese. Served with Italian style vinaigrette.

Potatoes scalloped in sour cream sauce with chives
Crab cakes with tartar sauce
Prime rib eye steaks, marinated and grilled.

Bristol Farms makes the best crab cakes. So my husband tells me (I don't eat seafood- but I buy it for the "brownie points" I get). Their fresh tartar sauce is better than what the local grocery stores pawns in glass jars. The butcher at their Newport counter almost made me forget I don't like seafood with his mouth watering description of crab legs- but I distracted him by letting him pick out finely marbled rib eye steaks with an eye as practiced as a jeweler's.

Tiramisu. This Italian classic is Gerry's favorite dessert. Pizzaioli just over the border in Chino Hills makes an exceptional version every morning with delicate lady fingers soaked in espresso coffee, rum, and Frangelico layered with mascarpone cheese whipped with Kahlua then presented with a dusting of finest ground dark chocolate.

At the end of the day, our guests gone: my feet are up, my body pooped but my mind is relaxed. I understand that day I already have what I most want for Christmas. A happy husband.

Bristol Farms homepage

Pizzaioli homepage

The salad recipe is my own, but if you need inspriation, please hop over to where I borrowed the fruit photo from at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Merry Christmas Everyone!

The winter social season actually kicked off a few weeks ago with the Diamond Bar Community Foundation Gala. The photo above is of our sons, Kenny and Trevor Plunk, with their dates, the lovely Shannon R Morris and the enchanting Amy Lamping.

I planned to write more sooner,

but life has been a whirlwind.

However, I cannot let the season go one more minute without mentioning this wonderful event where the community acknowledges individuals and corporations who give of themselves, willingly and generously.

Past honorees have included:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. A man who proves politicians can have backbone and heart.

Matt Rezvani and BP America- who exemplify corporate honesty and willing responsibility.

This year's honoree is Majestic Real Estate. Here's my New Year's Resolution. In the New Year, I promise to write why I have come to admire this firm. It will be a story not about corporate greed, but about corporate generosity.

In the mean time- If it is your faith- Say Merry Christmas wherever you go. Share the joy!

"Family" photo courtesy of Trisha Bowler.

Tornado photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Love Stories

With this kiss, the dashing Kevin Bowler sealed his wedding to teacher Debbie Zaldivar. Adorned in her lavish lace dress suitable for Zorro's bride, the evening was as magic as the gown.

The ritual diving their love shone like the center diamond in a ring surrounded by other stories of love.

At the reception, the tables were marked by placards that the couple chose to make a donation to the American Cancer Society in the bride's late father's name in lieu of favors to the guests.

The groom's parents glow in approval of the new pairing. They should know a thing or two about what it takes for a successful marriage. Since photo's don't lie- they have been married 47 years- John II was 5 and Trisha was 3 when they "tied" the knot.

I hope the young couple enjoys the gift my husband and I sent as much as I enjoyed wrapping it.
It is always awkward for the receiver when a gift cannot be matched the the giver. To help the couple out, our card is therefore inside the wrapping- my business card is inside the main gift.

The reception table centerpieces were perfect. The colors of the flowers matched colors which burst with autumn joy.
The bouquet cascaded with abundance from artful iron perches, high enough for the table guests to speak comfortably to each other.

I was fortunate to be seated with Art and Carol Herrera. Their son Randy will be home from Europe in February for a wedding of his own.

Art and Carol and Trisha and John go way back. As newlyweds with apartments in Whittier and both husbands in law enforcement, this is the type of couple every newly married should have. Someone to be with you through thick and thin. Who will know your secrets, but never spread them. Someone to laugh with you. Cry with you. Pray for you.

Also at my table were Judy Duvall and Edda Gahm.
As they wave goodbye, I would like to thank the young couple for allowing us to share this moment of your joy.
You did this right. We pray for your continued happiness as you grow old together.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Random Thoughts from Stone Manor

In a former life as a film director, Lance Lindsay noticed that on every set, there was always a red light glowing somewhere.

Artists in every medium are a curious lot. When he asked the lighting director why, the answer was, " It makes everything look richer."

Aime points out the element of enchantment is added when the light source is subtle and artistic, as when it illuminates through bent stained glass petals.

In designing the property which inspired Stone Manor Lighting, the Lindsay's heightened the romance of the place by replicating nature.

A front garden may tell the world what you wish to project- it is the backyard- where you go and what you do while no one is looking, which says who you really are.

If expanding romance is not reason enough... if you need practical reasons to add these whimsical flowers to your garden- link to the Lindsay's thoughts at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stone Manor

This is a story which won't be rushed. It all started back in the mid 1800's with a beautiful window.

One century and a couple of buildings later, it was discovered by filmmaker Lance Lindsay.
The son of a prominent architect, when his father died, he left Lance twenty doors of rare Philippine teak.

Lance found this L- shaped acreage nestled in the rolling hills on the north side of Malibu with an incredible view overlooking the Pacific.

Lance left the film industry and put all of his creative passion into designing and building Stone Manor for he and his wife, Aime.

Lance says he is not an architect. But his passion and creativity more than compensated to change the vacant lovers lane into the most romantic Stone Manor.

Lance and Aime love to entertain.
But they could not find light fixtures appropriate and fitting the romantic setting.

So Lance set about designing lighting so enchanting that demand required he and Aime form Stone Manor Lighting.

Sunday the couple opened the grounds to a joint meeting of the Region VI chapter of the Garden Writer's Association and the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

Consider this post an appetizer.

More shall be served soon...

Info on Stone Manor Lighting can be found at

Friday, November 6, 2009


On November 8th, 1975, my last name changed from Lent to Plunk.
It was the year of the crock pot: we were gifted with five.
We forgot to tell the minister that we changed the time. Fortunately he read the program and arranged for a stand in. It was the Reverend Randall Foos' first wedding and he did a great job.

What has 34 years of married life taught me?

Commitment pays dividends better than anything the bank has to offer.

The two most motivating words are “Thank you.”

I have learned that anyone can make it through the good times. The team player who will stand by your side through sickness, hardship and loss: you can’t force another person to be that for you- but you can insist on being that for them.

The most important person in a marriage isn’t who you see in the mirror- it is one’s spouse.

Good will is an invaluable commodity not to be taken for granted in the most intimate human bond.

Because the future is unpredictable is no excuse to drift through it. It is important to have goals with an action plan.

Whatever life brings, it is useful.

The best advice is to seek God’s guidance and strength.

Hope begets optimism which multiplies happiness. Try to be happy- it is much more rewarding than being right.

The only thought as valuable as love is respect. Lose one and the other leaves. Both are easier to keep than to earn back.

Love is a living emotion. It changes so much over the years it isn’t always easy to recognize, but it is eternal.

Every day- laugh, learn, create- ever thankful for blessings great and small.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brush Fire skirting Diamond Bar

It is a crisp, clear southern California morning. I left to cast my vote at the library. When I went back to my car to check my list of errands- there was smoke slightly to the northeast of the center of town.

The top photo, taken by Gene Sasse in Alta Loma, shows the multiple ignition points on the fires along the 60/ 57 freeway interchange. The widest plume appears to be what is in my images.

The flames are on the other side of the ridge- but the smoke smells like danger.

Before Diamond Bar became a city, brush clearance was not rigorously enforced. On a windy afternoon way back then, in less than an hour, a half dozen homes in my neighborhood were reduced to charcoal and ash.

Add Image

Let's pray this time we are spared the worst of fire's fury.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Peak at Paradise

"To create a garden is to search for a better world. In our effort to improve on nature, we are guided by a vision of paradise." - Marina Schinz

Gardens aren't maintenance free. Like any meaningful relationship, they require interaction.

Unlike between lovers, hands on attention can be hired with no harm. But unless you are either seriously rich or handicapped, this simple beauty is easily attainable by anyone on their own.

If your vision of paradise is springtime at the Poppy Reserve in the Antelope Valley- then the most cheerful flower in the world sends you this recipe for joy.

First- choose a sunny spot barren of pretty plants, where big weeds rule. Yank the monster predator plants by the roots and banish to the landfill.

Spice up a bucket full of seed topping mix with handful of California Poppy Seeds. A handful at a time, toss the seeded topping mix like it were feed for a hungry lot of chickens.

When the bucket is empty, follow behind with the rest of the seed topper to give the seeds some advantage in nature's game of hide 'n' seek with the local birds.

Once ground has been seeded - other than watering the infant seeds lightly until nature is ready to take over- about the only duty is patience.

Photo by Gene Sasse. Used with Permission.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath Revisted

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes
a touch of genius- and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction."
--- Albert Einstein

Topsoil barren, blows away in winds. Their living in agriculture destroyed, a half million Americans are displaced. For his chronicling of the human toll of this avoidable tragedy caused by the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's in The Grapes of Wrath, author John Steinbeck earned the Pulitzer and the Nobel.

What happened in the 1930's should not be recurring. But it is. In a twist of irony, to where American refugees fled ecological disaster earlier this century: California. This photo was taken yesterday by Sue Maxwell between Sacramento and Los Angeles. Whipped by winds, the topsoil of some of the most fertile crop land in the world turned to dirty dust and choked the sky.

What clouds the air should be nourishing crops to feed and clothe people. If it blows away because we have allowed the political establishment to not put first things first, then fruit trees will continue to die, more families will lose their homes, more people will lose their dignity. The state will have less revenue, need to provide more welfare and import food we once grew ourselves.

Why? Because many intelligent fools in courts and legislatures have forgotten what can be accomplished when goals are simple, targeted and focused. Gratitude for, "Where water flows crop grows," needs to be rekindled.