Saturday, July 31, 2010

Beguine with Basil

You could say dinner preparation began at 4:00. Or you could say dinner began a dozen years ago in Solvang. A little red wagon filled with pairs of herbs were divided between myself and  friend, Glenda Bona. The miracle to be discovered was African Blue Basil-  a Jesus-with-fish- and- baskets kind of plant. One plant blesses multitudes with delicious abundance.

Left in the ground, the plant might or might not over-winter in this mild climate. But a bouquet of the exotic looking herb from the mamma plant sprouted roots. Since that summer- we close the season with bouquets made with the secret mission of procreating next year's crop.

For now, I carefully weave the clippers through the long wands of African Blue Basil. Careful not to anger the bees which hover about.

In the kitchen, some of the leaves are severed from the stems. The sharp edged pizza wheel will fill the air with the scent of the herb's essential oils.

Into the Baby Cuisinart goes 1/3 cup butter. Whir.
An equal part of sun dried tomato spread- Whir.
The handful of shredded basil leaves- Whir.

The spread's color is not unlike peanut butter- only the aroma.
There is nothing to suggest childhood treat. This is a dish best savored in adulthood.
Served as it is now- slathered generously across torn off chunks of a crusty multi-grained loaf of bread fresh from the oven- it would make a man afraid of commitment so weak in the knees he would get down on one to propose.

But I'm already married. So I made something I don't do often these days. Something that keeps my man remembering  why he keeps me when I can be so much trouble. Fresh pasta.

 Baby Portabella mushrooms are sliced and sizzled with black olives and pine nuts while the pasta comes to life in a quick boiling bath of water. A generous dollop of the roasted tomato butter is thinned with a touch of cream- and all tossed together. Allowing  freshly fallen grated flakes of Parmigiano-Reggiano melt onto the mound of pasta....

Elegant and rustic. Divine yet earthy. A dish of quiet elegance that speaks on every level of love.

Bon Appetite.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Philosophy 2

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

-Abraham Lincoln

How hot is the squabbling over illegal immigration and Arizona's attempt to legislate a solution? So hot it makes me feel as wilted as this Phoenix cactus.

Turning on each other is damaging our society's psyche. Do we really want to make  terrorists envious that what they could not do to us, we will do to ourselves?

 "Seek first to understand. Then to be understood."
-Steven Covey

The summer of 1985. The family spent a spectacular weekend in Mexico. Going over a bump in the road in Tijuana, the steering wheel popped off our Chevy Malibu. Down in Ensenada we played in the ocean and allowed this perfectly silly picture to be taken of us.Seated directly to my right is my nephew- Manuel Luis Chavez.

Coming back to California, immigration waved us over. Where was I born? Los Angeles. Could they see my papers? I handed over my drivers license. Was I scared even though I was a citizen. Yes. Should I have been? 


Am I alone in wishing an Ice Tea Summit could be arranged between Arizona Gov. Brewer and US President Barack Obama? Practicing lawyers would not be allowed to speak. Broadcast would be on a delay so words such as - left, right , Democrat, Republican, liberal and conservative could be treated like 4 letter words- deleted to protect the audience. Like a blind tasting. Only once the merits have been ingested- then let the money, effort  and attention be strategically aimed at solutions.

Kidnapping, murder, the inalienable right to human dignity of all people. These are facts on the ground that deserve our united efforts.

Cactus hit by lightening in Thunderstorm by Karen Pollock. 2009

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chick Flick 3- UP with grilling

Having lived my entire life in Southern California qualifies me as a Southern hostess.

What do all Southern hostesses know? Nothing says welcome like counter tops groaning under an abundance  of food.

 The Chick Flick night menu was planned and presented to show the guests how much their friendship means.
3 bottles of bubbly to split between 4 ladies, iced
iced tea

  • Seafood salad with choice of Pita Chips or Baked Crackers.

  • Summer Fruit Salad

  • Cucumber Salad

  • Seasoned Turkey Breast

  • Chili Relleno Quiche

  • Grilled Vegetables in Citrus-Rosemary Marinade

  • Cookies and Sweets Assortment

Tip. Ahead of  "event"  jot the menu on a 3x5 card. Read out loud. If you are salivating- you hold a winning ticket. Post it on the frig- notate condiments- refer to when setting out the food; this is the hostess equivalent of a "cheat sheet."
The citrus grilled vegetables are so easy- I hope no one is disappointed this aphrodisiac is fool proof. 

Ahead of time, rough chop and de-seed  2 oranges and 1 lemon, rinds and all (peel away the pith and toss if  really thick) . Whir citrus in a blender with equal part extra virgin olive oil drizzled in. Take a length of rosemary leaves- say 6 inches long- pull the needles from the stem and roll over with a good pizza wheel until all that is left are tiny bits of green. Add to the citrus-oil. 

You can wait up to 2 weeks for the next step. Maybe 3: have never had any not devoured after 2.

At least a half hour before you are ready to grill whatever lengthwise sliced vegetables you fancy- thickly coat the slices with the citrus-rosemary oil. (For Chick Flick Night we went with a trio of squashes). Sprinkle with gray salt and pepper to taste. Have the grill master turn on the heat. Serve him a glass of whatever keeps him happily hydrated while he tens and flips the veggies- which turning all those pieces can be a bit time consuming. However: let the cook taste test- this is one of those recipes which makes men giddy that they are expected to all but wear a sign, "Will Work For Food". 

 When the hosts and guests are having such a great time, there is no reason to end the evening as planned. It may seem an unlikely double-billing;  following  a Judy Dench movie with an animated feature- with 5 Academy Awards Nominations- Up  would have been my vote for Best Picture. It's a movie you will never be too old to watch for the first time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chick Flick 2- Cool Cucumbers

Love me: love my dogs. Or at least tolerate them.
Judy was a good sport about Tahoe's nose-to- nose "I am in charge here" routine. Reno has better manners with her "assume-position" lap-dog breeding.

Trisha is ignoring the commotion. You can see her delight with the gorgeous costuming in Mrs Henderson Presents. 

English designer Sandra Powell was not recognized with an Oscar for this films exquisite furs, embroidery covered silk or cut on the bias flowing gowns as she was for Shakespeare in Love The Aviator or  The Young Victoria- but, hey, a mantle can only hold so many trophies.

Ms. Powell explained her theory of successful costuming to Joe Teeman of the London Times. In a surprising twist, " 80 % of job is psychology and only 20% art."  

Her high artistic achievement is born not on  focusing on it for its own sake. Ah-ha.

Now to the Mediterranean- inspired salad of
Cucumbers in Sour Cream
Peel and cube roughly 2 cups of cucumbers into serving bowl. Top with a can drained black olives. Refrigerate.

In a mixing bowl- stir together

1 cup sour cream
1/2 small lemon, juiced
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced 
1/2 tsp Paprika
Salt and Pepper to taste ( try 1/2 tsp each to start)

The dressing can be poured on and held in the frig until serving time, but you may find you prefer to wait. Spooning  the white cream dressing  down the center of the salad; watching it melt down the unadorned cucumber cubes adds visual anticipation to the sensational contrast of textures- creamy and crisp.
Like love - dining is enhanced by anticipation.

Which is why you must wait for the grilled vegetables recipe Aphrodite would proudly put her name on.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chick Flick Night

In high school, the quad at lunch was where we met our girlfriends. We were cheap to feed because we lived on a perpetual "diet". If we skipped the beverage: stuck to water, we could save the quarter from the lunch allowance. 

Then came married with children. A time when neighbor ladies came over to nibble on danish with coffee- gossip about the charmingly annoying similarities of our spouses.  

In 2010: there is the email group. More personal than Facebook or other social network sites, we trust our schedules with thoughts with each other. Real Life, but not necessarily in real time.

We don't get up at the same time or have the same schedules. We don't live in the same state, let alone city. But as friends, we know each other's likes and dislikes from the chit chat. If anyone goes "missing"- we pick up the phone to find out what we can do to help. 

Earlier in the week, I reported in on a delightful Judi Dench movie, "Mrs. Henderson Presents".  Trisha asked where to find it. Still catalogued on our DVR. Chick Flick night was born.

One of the privileges of being married is not having to read instructions. Here, the "girls" - we are all well past the age where that term is deemed pejorative- are raising our glasses of the bubbly to Gerry- who is effortlessly competent when it comes to remotes related to  our entertainment center.

More on our evening next post. Nothing fancy: but prepare to drool.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Philosophy 1

•any personal belief about how to live or how to deal with a situation *
"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."
Philippians 4:8 

When I am lost. Discouraged. Angry. Confused. These words are my true north. Reading them is like listening to Bridge Over Troubled Water. Healing. Comforting. Calming. Inspiring.

Please share some aspect of what aims you. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cookbook Collector

"The artichoke is a sexy beast. Thorns to cut you, leaves to peel, lighter and lighter as you strip away the outer layers until you reach the soft heart's core." 

From The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman

Velvety peaches, juicy blackberries, an image of a wasp so real it looks like it could fly away: the cover of Allegra Goodman's novel looks like a food book. Yet the pages are filled with something more tasty: human nature. Sweet, salty; pure and adulterated. The flavors of life are gathered in a book you won't want to put down: you won't want it to end.   

Artichoke photo by Gene Sasse. Used with permission

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


We interrupt your regularly programmed whatever- for a stroll through the garden.

The summer garden is radiant as a pregnant woman about to give birth. Full of life, she restores balance to lives too easily rushed through.

The garden blushes with promise of what might be. She teaches to be careful: guard against disappointment when "things" don't go our way. She teaches that we should remain in a state of gratitude. The grapes- even if the birds pick away the sweetest fruit- the leaves can be used to display cheeses on- or perhaps to feast on by stuffing with lamb.

Society garlic- Delight diners with an unexpected presentation. The blossoms make the loveliest garlic toast. Just mince the blossoms instead of the usual cloves and broil as usual.

Yesterday, the first tomato was ready to pick. Thanks partly to Mr. Cooper Hawk's daylight surveillance and the coyotes nightly vigil against critters scurrying in the night, this year we tasted this bounty before any bunnies.

Yesterday is done. Tomorrow, I cannot control. But I can welcome whatever it brings, for it will begin in my garden.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer Love

There he sits, my summer infatuation. The one my husband doesn't mind that he brings out my inner stalker.

"My" Cooper Hawk drops in at brunch. Relaxes on my patio bench with his come-hither stare.

I have never had a bird of prey so patiently pose.

Some day he'll do what summer loves do. He'll leave.

Until then, I am enamored that this sweetheart is fearless at my approach. I dream he'll let me stroke his back before he goes away with some other girl who is more his type. And size. And everything else which goes with compatibility.

Happy hour finds him in the tree.

When he tires of this place, I know. I will miss him. But unlike my first summer love, at least I have photos in remembrance of just how handsome he was.

When life consists of incidents of inconvenience tumbling with real tragedy, I yearn to climb under my desk and just stay there. Then just a glance at what glory I am surrounded by, and in an instance depression lifts and I am filled with gratitude to live in such glory.

Acquaintances think I made this garden. But really, this garden made me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Have you noticed some of the most beautiful skies come with the most beastly temperatures?

Summer finally arrived in Southern California. Yesterday the mercury madly smacked up to the lower triple digits and clung there. Thunder and lightening briefly got the puppies attention before they snuggled on the sofa with dreams of their favorite channel- Animal Planet.

When it is this hot and humid- what matters the actual number? They all translate to beastly conditions- but beautiful skies.

Diamond Bar was more fortunate than "up the hill" - the local euphemism for the high desert communities. No lightening hits here. In Lancaster the storm knocked out power. 1.000 homes are expected to be without air conditioning through Sunday.

The good life is not spared glitches. Today, part of Diamond Bar is on scheduled power-outage for system maintenance. To be planned without electricity during dragon-breath season: I wonder if that section of town lost some kind of lottery.

There is an upside to this weather my husband is fonder of than I. What Chicago winters does for Illinois residents- these days of Mercury Rising does for us. In little gestures, like ice in the dog dish and welcoming our neighbors over to share our air conditioning for the afternoon- we are nicer people for the inconvenience.

Now to pick blueberries before it gets to hot to care if the birds don't want to share with us...

Images by Gene Sasse. Used with permission.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Salad

I hadn't planned on writing this afternoon. But the visitor (on the right) in the garage convinced me I really rather be here in the house. Just in case there are more of him from whereever he came from.

I haven't shared yet the fabulous summer salad Gene Sasse recently whipped up for us.

Gene being a photographer, you can count on any presentation he makes being beautiful. But the taste- Wow! No need for a fancy recipe. Just think of it as a rule breaking bounty of the garden creation.

On a bed of Mixed greens, Gene layered on
chopped Tomatoes and Feta cheese, crumbled
fresh Peaches, cubed
Mushrooms, sliced
Raisins and Dry Roasted Peanuts
When we were seated, Ranch Dressing was drizzled, the salad tossed. Then came the sign of a truly good course. At the first bites-the talkers went immediately mute. Mmm and swallows were the only sounds which breached the silence. Soon the quiet was broken by free-flowing compliments.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Whole Beauty

"It is the always the accumulation of little details. the small steps. that cumulatively make a big difference in our lives."

Alexandra Stoddard

Holidays punctuate the seasons. We stop: dote on details. Enjoying honored rituals, the whole beauty of individual decisions brightens in clear focus.

Our backyard began with not much more than a lawn the previous owners outlined in big-box store roses. From the start, avian insect-connoisseurs have been happy.

Popular with builders at the time our house was christened , a pine tree feeds seeds to scrub jays and gives dove a place to coo from.

The first water feature was crafted from an exposed segment of irrigation drainage: lined in concrete and cast-off stone. Relatively deep and at ground level, large avian through carnivores belly-up to this always- open watering hole.

Over time, other water features were added. Our flying friends may now choose to quench between still or bubbling waters.

Back in the beginning, a seedling silk floss tree was slipped into a small hole. Since then, its splayed arms have opened broadly into a sturdy welcoming gesture. Finches flirt within fern-like foliage fanned by cooling breezes . In summertime, the blooming puffs entice flocks of hummingbirds.

To the side, stations of bird feeders are set to to please every culinary desire of the most discerning songbirds.

A Coopers Hawk has taken notice.

The first time it swooped down to find a Tweety to gorge on- the natural urge to be squeamish squeezed screams from onlookers. It took awhile to accept this part of the natural order.

As the late season iris salutes sends up its final salue for the season, from my garden to yours, may your Fourth of July be happy and blessed in abundance.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chinese Proverb


-Chinese Proverb

Doug Green is a writer's writer. He articulates clearly and provocatively. The current oil disaster in the gulf led him to pose the question: Just how do employees of companies, like British Petroleum, sleep?

I committed to posterity, thoughts which I expect can make me something writers hate to be: really unpopular. But they are that thing which is the Holy Grail of writers: The Truth.

I sent a warning to my morning E-mail group- Don't stand too close in case the politically correct lynch mob comes after me. To friends I exasperate with my independent streak I confessed. I am beyond tired of the cartoonish simplicity this tragedy has been exploited for political points- for viewer and reader ratings.

The lone male, "Gator" popped in with words which deserve to be repeated:

"BP, instead of being castigated at every turn, should be commended as they immediately stepped up and owned up and have stated that they will do anything and everything to cleanup the disaster. Most any other company would wait to give money until the trial was over ! Too bad the Administration has yet to get a grip on the ball."

What does it feel like to say something you feel in your bones is right, but for which you expect to be horrendously unpopular for admitting?

Like the child who cried, "The Emperor has no clothes."

Like a festering boil was lanced and the poison let out.

Like I can now get back to the garden. I have done my duty as a writer.

Let British Petroleum and the crew of individuals, states and nations get to the work they want and need to do. The men who lost their lives out there deserve nothing less than the acknowledgement that we are in this tragedy together.

You can read the actual question and responses at: