Monday, February 28, 2011

Look Who Came to Dinner/ Decision Time

12:05 PM a scrub jay landed on the ledge outside my study window. Not quite as shocking as last year's lunch visits by local hawk. Still, a squawking bright blue bird staring you down is an attention getter.

Decided Mr. Jay  meant for me to refill the bird feeders.  It wasn't long before an entourage of woodpeckers dropped in.

Mr Acorn Woodpecker

The Victorian feeder is generally filled with a birdseed mix laden with peanuts, safflower and sunflower seeds and sweetened with raisins. Sometimes extra nuts and dried fruit are added from the pantry. This last month I decided to experiment with stirring in the disgusting looking dried meal worms from the pet store.

The change in menu must be why the new visitors.

Tuesday, 127 Hours will be released on Blu-Ray. I am working up the nerve to watch the harrowing account of survival by hiker Aron Ralston. 

In 2005 I interviewed Aron for my Editor's column in community newspaper

Between a Rock and a Hard Place was his chronicle of how when hiking alone in a slot canyon, an accident led to Aron being trapped. He had to choose between possible life without his arm vs certain death with it.  Aided by a pocket knife- he chose to be his own surgeon.

On the face, a story with a self- amputation at its core is gruesome. But I remember Aron describing the act as being driven by wanting to be with loved ones.

172 Hours can be argued to be a true-to- life love story where no one died- while Titanic was a true tragedy (1490 people perished) yet James Cameron turned stupendous misfortune into a love story. Ironic, isn't it? 


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rainy Weekend

Rosa 'Betty Boop'

Frost lightly kissed the lawn.  Perhaps that is what made this single blossom blush forth.
I read on my oldest son's Facebook page that it is so cold in Wyoming that his cell phone stopped working. To make calls he had to warm it under his armpit.

Ceramic Frog Sunbathing
Every garden should have a touch of humor.  The frog sunbathing in the garden won't conjure any sympathy for how "cold" we think it is today on our Southern California hillside.  

Even though the heaviest rains fell in the dark of night- the psychology of a rainy weekend is that they are made for indoor pleasures. 

Variation in wood color is shown off in Celtic Knot Pen
Even though the heaviest rains fell in the dark of night- the psychology of a rainy weekend is that they are made for indoor pleasures. 

Gerry designed the Celtic Knot pen. The main wood is  Cocobolo- the rare Central American lumber favored by wood favored by firearm aficionados.  Ebony banded in holly wood inserts did not look so graceful until the curves were turned.  

Who would argue that the comfort of home comes from the kitchen?

The first fire was roaring when the perfect trio of foods was served.  Lemon roasted chicken, asparagus with pine nuts served with Cook's Illustrated Spaghetti al Limone is best described as a trinity of flavors. Each dish good on its own- the way they wrapped together- heavenly. 

It must be because Colin Firth is up for an Oscar that I am uncustomarily excited about the Oscars. Rooting for his performance feels a bit like rooting for Secretariat to cross the finish line. Firth elevates every role look with the aura that he was born in the role.  If he doesn't win for his performance- I think I shall pity whomever upsets.

At 2:30 the Red Carpet  walk begins and I am going to appreciate Fashion's Formal Super Bowl on the Big Screen. 

Dinner will look like last night's. With a little help from Williams-Sonoma's Braising Base a nice Angus chuck roast was cut into chunks and seared with a cut up onion and root vegetables into  Beef Bourguignonne par excellence.

Encircling the main dish. A tossed green salad. Crusty bread. Watching from home will be as good as being at the event because slippers are more comfortable than high heels.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday- Part 3 Food, Surprise and Design

Having a point person for a pot luck avoids allot of duplication and disappointed cooks because half the guests brought a nearly identical dish.  For my mother-in-laws birthday party, the duty fell to Billie by virtue of proximity and when it comes to juggling lots of details, she has it going on.

Billie's first round of calls was for a request to hold the date. She kept it quiet a secret from Melva that Nancy was flying in from Wyoming until the daughter was delivered to her doorstep.

A week ahead of the party, Billie called with what would be most helpful for us to bring for the party.

Loosen your belts. Billie never lets a guest go hungry.
Some of the goodies that left guests with gastronomic groaning included

Taco Soup


Chips, Guacamole
a rainbow of munchies served off plates,
out of bowls and crock pots 

THE cake

Nancy Parr and Cheryl Stevens catching up

Dips and Dippers served in vintage glass
Melva is gluten intolerant. I beat diabetes, but have to stay on top of nutritional restrictions or the word beat will be replaced with have. So I was put in charge of  appetizers for the nutritionally challenged. Vegetable dippers are a great start.

I decided to whip up something more sophisticated than the ubiquitous Ranch dip. However, I didn't want the taste to overwhelm children's taste buds. Equal parts  NapaStyle Parmesan Dip, Best Foods Mayonnaise and sour cream can be stamped with the Goldilocks's seal of approved- as in just right.

Italian Eggs on Generously-sized Egg Platter from Pottery Barn.

The gluten free dill pickles on the market don't cut it for deviled eggs. But there is something about a spring time gathering that calls for an egg tray. So continuing the Italian stylistic taste, the cooked egg yolks were whipped with a good measure of Best Foods Mayonnaise, Basil Pesto and diced pimientos. A light hand on the salt, white pepper and Italian seasoning shakers- and a new twist on an old classic debuted for the first time away from my table. It was a hit.

My husband presented his mom with a table. But not a table like you will find in a store.

Its life with us began when my mother-in-law rescued it from a dumpster. It had good lines, but not much else to recommend it. Our son, Trevor recommended she send it to his Dad for refinishing.

What Gerry did is a bit more than refinishing. That story can be saved for another day. For now, see how it looks a couple coats of finish shy from being furniture reborn.

A bottom shelf was added for stability, then inlaid with leaf pattern

The birds on branch inlay insert proved a challenge.
NapaStyle and the Pottery Barn are just steps apart from each other at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday- Part 2- Sense of Place

If you have never lived in the hills. There is nothing quite like it.

The beauty. The sense of space and serenity.

The danger. The upkeep.

The splendor is addictive- or why else would we commit to so much work?  Melva is wise to keep her garden simple. The back patio's foreground is very simple.  Ivy-Leaved Geraniums – Pelargonium peltatum and airplane plants (Chlorophytum comosum)  cascade out of pots.
Ivy-Leaved geranium bloom year round in our temperate climate

This last image gives you a good idea of the drop just past the rail on my mother in law's patio.

Succulent 'Red Apple'

Planted in  the staple of inland gardens, the succulent red apple-Aptenia cordifolia ,the emerald green ground cover steadies the hill from downpours in the winter. One hot August day, the water retentive succulent slowed the rush of wildfire long enough for the firemen to rush in with the helicopter to put out the roar of hell's heat that roared up through the chaparral.

My images from the fire were lost in a computer crash. The images were amazing. Barren blackened hillside right up to where the red apple took over the terrain. The planted hillside was the same lovely green as if in Ireland.

If all of this is not enough to entice you to give red apple a go in difficult planting situations- honey bees love the blossoms.

Melva's kitchen looks out over the Cleveland National Forest

With a panoramic setting painted by both man and nature, decorations were minimal. The guest list was simple. Sunday is the easiest day to get the family together. Phone calls to immediate family and closest friends are quite acceptable in lieu of written invitation for a casual celebration. 

Come back soon- the next post is about food and memorable touches.

The south end of Corona where Melva lives is like Diamond Bar, the Extreme Version. When Diamond Bar is hot, Corona is hotter. When we are cold- Corona is nippier. Where we have snakes vist- theirs are more musical- as in they come with rattles way more often than here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday - Part 1

I'm most proud of the longevity of my marriage, my kids, and my grandchildren. If you don't have that, you really don't have very much.
Bob Newhart


Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.
- Maurice Chevalier

Earlier this month my mother in law, Melva Plunk turned 80. She was born in a tent on a stormy night on an Indian Reservation in Arizona. The things this woman has seen. It has been a privilege to be a part of this family. Please enjoy a few quotes and remembrances in her honor.  

Melva with her children- Gerald, Nancy and Eric.
From our birthday, until we die,
Is but the winking of an eye.
- William Butler Yeats

Kenny with Shannon 'soon-to-be- Plunk'  Morris
 We turn not older with years, but newer every day.
- Emily Dickinson

Abigail is 16. Modeling agencies- my niece is 5'9" and her braces are off. This girl is a natural in front of a camera.

When Kenny was in kindergarten, Eric was just married and a New York Yankee. On one of those thick- as-pea-soup foggy mornings he made it to the kids' school fundraiser. How he managed to be on time from Long Beach is something only God knows. It was a walk-a-thon. Setting up the cones in the morning- I couldn't see half way across the track when he showed up like an angel before daylight to help out his nephews' school. Eric signed autographs for every child at Maple Hill Elementary School.

The world would be a better place if every child had an Uncle Eric.

Aunt Billie- aka Mrs Eric Plunk was the driving force behind the potluck birthday party for our mother in law. Originally from Painstville, KY, our Billie knows a thing or two about Southern hospitality. From full out affairs to simple teas- an afternoon with her is an event.

Cheryl Stevens with Alden Plunk and Cheryl's future daughter in law enjoy a bite to eat.

More to follow...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Gospel in Flowers

God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and flowers and clouds and stars." 
- Martin Luther
Freesia by Gene Sasse

Freesia are said to symbolize innocence and friendship. Or, when given in honor of a 7th anniversary, they represent trust and faithfulness.

To a gardener, Freesia represent maximum impact for minimum of effort. A small potful brought home from the local garden center to scent a room this month, as its beauty fades, the plants will be transferred to a sunny spot in the garden. There they will fade away- until after next year's rains, their blossoms will rise from the ground to nod "hello" again.

Named in honor of  the German physician/ botanist  Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese (c 1795-1876), the delicate scent which rises delicately on wiry stems from the corm with a South African heritage is said to have been a favorite of the Russian philosopher Helena Ivanovna Roerich. 

Helena Ivanovna Roerich

She was an influential 20th century practitioner in the school of Living Ethics- a belief system whereby all things have an energy force that interconnects with all others. Ms Roerich linked the scent of freesia with the divine in earthly life.

As a Christian, I can't say I disagree.

As most women in our role as home-keepers, I am tugged at in two directions.

I came programmed by the Lord, my maker, into this life equipped to celebrate with a full range of sensual delights. Certain scents sent wafting about the home courtesy of burning candles has always held a romantic mystique.

However, I also recognize that He means us to be responsible in our enjoyment. Burning fragrant candles is an expensive luxury. Not to mention the risk. A niece once fell asleep reading by candlelight. She woke up to a room in flames.

Which is why, when deciding between candles or flowers for scent- seriously consider flowers over flame.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Eye of A Storm

Last night an angry sky howled*.   In the darkness nature's tantrum was revealed in thuds and thunks.

One of those inexpensive freestanding solar lights was turned round and round by the wind, causing the beam to reach out like a lighthouse for fairly sized creatures.
It was a good night to stay inside for a movie.

If you haven't seen The Social Network: Do. Even if you aren't on Facebook, you know people who are.

Like it or hate it, our world is ever-changing. Understanding the vehicles and drivers makes handling the road safer.

No journey is ever fully safe. So many of my friends are looking over a cliff of some type. Personal, professional; financial or faith- crisis doesn't always follow. Sometimes it leaps out in front to stare at us like a grizzly bear after spring thaw.
The state mammal, The Grizzly Bear has only lived in California on its flag since 1922
  So often in life it is on the "day of reckoning" that God's grace comes through.Greg Laurie has a wonderful parable on the subject - When Bad Things Lead to Good.

Sheila N. Kee authored this indispensable guide
This morning the first thing site to greet me in the garden was a hummingbird. Flipping open the cover of Backyard Birds of the Inland Valley it was easily identified as a Black-chinned hummingbird. If  it can make it through such a storm in good cheer, so should we.

The scene quickly turned from a solo hove-a-round into what the 60's was called a happening. Birds of every size shape and color are partying.

Think birds now have their own Facebook page and invited their friends here?????

Even in our protected canyon sustained winds over 20mph were pushed about by frequent gusts up to 65mph. This afternoon we will check the roof for any damaged tiles.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Values and Common Sense.

Tonight's Moon by Gene Sasse
It is a blessing to live in this place and time- to live in peace and freedom under a moonlit sky. To hold in one's hands a transcription of the  notes James A Baker, III prepared for his delivery of  "The Life and Legacy of Ronald Wilson Reagan" at the Centennial Celebration of President Reagan's Birthday at his namesake presidential library and museum.

History judges speeches not so much for how words are strung together or the style of delivery. History rates timelessness on actual content. These are a few remembrances of James Baker that I believe hit the mark in setting the tone of the times and wisdom. These thoughts are as true today as when Reagan was President.

"Gloom at home was matched by humiliation abroad... Into that storm marched an humble Illinois native with a background a diverse as the country he loved....Through dynamic policy, sound wisdom and inspirational words, he launched the Reagan Revolution and showed us how to be the very best Americans we could be- citizens defined by optimism, determination and self-reliance. At the same time, he defended American exceptionalism..."

"...Ronald Reagan confronted tyranny. And he did it by "speaking the truth to power".

"He reminded us how to work together, While he held convictions as firmly as anyone I've ever known, he was also a pragmatist who saw the world as it is."

"And perhaps most importantly, like Ronald Reagan we must re-learn that as citizens of a democracy, it is OK to voice our disagreements. But at the end of the day, we must come together to solve problems rather than cynically rely on them for partisan advantage."

"Were he here today... he would remind us that each generation of Americans must rediscover its values and its common sense."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

After the storm

"After the Storm" by Gene Sasse

The wine on Valentines Day was like the sunset image Gene sent over after the rain passed through. Dark with a sparkle within which lifts brooding beauty to perfection.

The wine with the inky-purple soul was a 2007 Michael Pozzan Merlot.  Light from the chandelier pushed the color through the crystal bowl, lighting up the faceted knobs of the stem to sparkle like faceted rubies.

Before a single sip- we are enchanted with this love-child of fourth generation wine maker whose roots in the craft go back 3 more generations, to Italy.

How to describe this Napa Valley appellation? It tasted like the chess scene in the original 
Thomas Crown Affair. The one with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. Stylishly romantic. The question in the scene was how far would they go. Would they go too far?

No. Despite the ripeness of berries rich with anticipation, this wine is grounded in terra firma. It tastes of  a horseback ride up limestone and red rock canyon. It took us right to the plateau of  tannins and dryness, then stopped right at the view where any flaws were overlooked.
Lovers aren't much as lovers if they focus on flaws. Such people, no matter how intimate then- they are but critics.

Michael Pozzan Merlot. This is a wine for lovers. You should be able to find it for well under $20 a bottle. It is a excellent wine to have on hand for just when the "right moment" arrives.

Of which, I wish you, dear readers, many.

The sun is out today,, so I am off to the garden.

Out my study window I see where to start. A weeping rose has a limb hooking up in an unfortunate cowlick. Off to bend it down with  a fishing weight.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Compost of Life

The lady in the blue dress might be remembered as the first feminist/writer.

Paula Panich wrote lovingly in her blog At Play in the Fields of L.A. about how in 2011 a woman writer working in the wee hours of her 1921 writing cottage in LA relates to Christine de Pizan in 1405 France. 

The monastic dress reminded me of my own exploration of fashion.

In 2011 Susan Maxwell erased the ex-boyfriend and dropped in scenery

In 1972, when other girls bought new dresses off the racks for every event, I took my sketches to a dressmaker in Hacienda Heights. The influence of Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film classic Romeo and Juliette is clear the satin lined midnight blue velvet trimmed in handmade German lace formal gown.

The lady-tailor measured and sent me away with fabric requirements. On a cost per dress- it was far and away the most expensive dress when it premiered at the Monte Vista High School winter formal held at the Diamond Bar Country Club. However, I've never been one to be caught in the must- have- new -dress- for- every- event culture. The cost pro-rated over the number of events a young lady with concerts and dates attended in her junior and senior years, it turned out to not just be an  signature look: over the time it fit- it saved money. My own.

It is hard to believe that it is 39 years since I fell in love with the idea that is Diamond Bar at a dance.

Two days ago under the brightest of blue sky the bright white beacons of bacopa blossom and thick tendrils of donkey tail sedum dripped over the side of the terra cotta planter beneath the kumquat tree. This morning we awoke to the sound of the 40% chance of rain tap dancing on the patio roof.

Ara Sustaita
I leave you with the Pasadena Fiction Writer's Group approval of the lightness of freshly squeezed tangerine juice swirled with Proseco.  And a thought.

Nothing goes to waste in a life well lived. It is all compost in the garden of our time on earth.

Even if the old boyfriend turns out not to be Cary Grant. That can be fixed.

Thank you to Susan Maxwell for her help in "fixing" history with her photo shop wizardry.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Garden Blooming Blog Day February 2011

A basket of bulbs did not get formally planted.

The freeia bulbs from appear carefree. They are ignorant that I ran out of steam before I ran out of bulbs. They are freely blooming in a bag of soil opened inside a spare crate. Amazingly- they are blooming way ahead of the bulbs in the ground, ensuring a long season. 

This tangerine tree would have expired of "old age" a decade ago if it weren't for the compost bin set just to its side. The roots must suck the nourishment right up to the fruit. If I get organized in time for my next writers group, I'm thinking to bring a big bag full of its fruit, a juicer and a bit of Proseco to try over ice):-

The service side yard the tangerine serves as gateway to has filled in with a colorful wildness that is abuzz with activity. There is no missing the bees darting for a taste of the African Blue Basil.

The 'Pink Home Run' rose by Weeks Roses is as healthy as an athlete and as pretty as a movie star. She and the blooming basil are wrestling for prominence in the narrow corridor.

Against the house two 'Sunshine Blue' blueberries hold the blossoms just out of reach of a stretching bunny rabbit's taste. I hope. Not that I blame them. They are so much sweeter than the supermarket variety. If the bunnies would leave the fruit on the bush for us, I would leave a pint of grocery berries in exchange.

There is much more in the garden. There is a wine to tell you about. Photos of the dessert which was marvelous. So please come back.