Archive for November, 2017

Nov 30 2017

Let the Holidays Begin!

Published by under House,Special Occasions

Christmas came early to stately Suzy Manor this year. The mental malaise I have been battling lately made me long for lights and sparkliness. Of course Dr. Suzy’s prescription for almost anything is glitter.

But it’s not just Me, you know. Apparently Science agrees with Dr. Suzy for once, saying that putting up your ornaments earlier may make you happier.

I put away the Halloween/Thanksgiving pumpkins, and added a wreath to the front door:

and some LED snowflake lights:

That was the easy part. Putting lights on the banister was surprisingly difficult this year. I tested a string of colored lights by plugging them into an outlet downstairs, where they lit obediently. After I wound them around the banister and fought my way past the ficus, plugging them into the extension cord, they refused to light. They also refused to light when plugged directly into an outlet upstairs.

Back to the box of decorations for another string of lights. This time, I tried them in the extension cord upstairs and they appeared to light. I started from the top and when I reached the bottom, I discovered that maybe a third of the lights were on, around the middle of the string.


I undid it yet again and selected a new set of lights. These finally worked:

Here’s another view:

and yes, they did make me happy.

Rob came by to help me with my ancient Charlie Brown tree, drilling a couple of extra holes and helping me to distribute the fake limbs as best we could.

This is always the first ornament on the tree:

followed by the mercury glass bells and the glittery mushrooms. Here’s how it looked when I was finished that evening:

and in daylight:

Let the holidays begin!

A YEAR AGO: The crushing disappointment of the Gilmore Girls reboot. May the new Will & Grace not follow in these horrible footsteps.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Jarrett adopted Archimedes, aka Archi, aka the World’s Cutest Puppy. And their lives changed (for the better) forever.

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Nov 27 2017


Published by under Cooking,Family

As you know, I hate dealing with the post Thanksgiving turkey carcass. It’s unwieldy, icky, and makes it impossible for me to escape the unpleasant fact that I ate a formerly live creature as I dismember its bones. In my typical hypocritical way, however, this does not stop me from cooking and eating it in the first place. At least we buy free range, organic birds.

So I was delighted when Jonathan took the avian remains off my hands the day after Thanksgiving. He made it into soup and invited us over for dinner that night at Rio’s compound, where we had turkey soup with garlic bread and followed up Thanksgiving II with leftover cherry and huckleberry pies.

While the garlic bread was baking, Rio and Jonathan showed us the progress they had made with restoring the Christmas Village. Rio’s father was a famous artist who made record album covers, Time magazine covers, and posters for Broadway plays. To amuse Rio as a child, he made a little Victorian village of painted cardboard. Over the years, some of it disappeared and some of it deteriorated seriously, but after Rio bought the compound, she thought it would be fun to restore the Village.

It currently resides in the studio part of the studio/garage combo where we made the cider. Now that Jonathan is involved, a train track with trains that really run has been added:

They have also added some historical figures, like Winston Churchill and Charles Dickens, and various cows for the fields. Some of the houses have little chandeliers and paintings inside. It’s quite something, and it’s not even finished yet.

Back in the house, we had dinner by the light of this amazing Swedish contraption, also from Rio’s childhood:

It’s a wooden carousel with a wooden propeller at the top and candles at the sides. The heat from the candles makes the propeller spin the carousel around. The top layer seems to be angels, the middle a shepherd and his flock and the lowest level is Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the three wise men, one of whom is inexplicably black while everyone else is white. Go figure.

It is a charming and delightful object, and I also liked the patterns it made on the ceiling:

After dinner, we watched The Avengers on the 1959 Predicta. It is a pretty weird show. To my mind, it seemed quite surreal. Coincidentally, it also featured trains, though there was no Christmas Village. It was a lovely evening, like another little Thanksgiving together.

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Nov 26 2017


It was a quieter than usual Thanksgiving at stately Suzy Manor. I had the house ready well before noon:

and the outdoor livingroom was ready as well:

Rob brought some firewood over, but we didn’t need it. It has been oddly warm all week. I have even been sleeping with the balcony door open.

Erica and Jessica could not join us for Thanksgiving after all. Megan said it was the first time in Jessica’s life that she wasn’t with our family at Thanksgiving. We really missed them. Without them, it was more like an elaborate family dinner than anything else, though there’s nothing wrong with that!

Everything turned out well, from the turkey, roasted Nana-style:

to the maple and harissa roasted carrots, potatoes expertly whipped by Jonathan, who also made a wonderful gravy, and the stuffing/dressing, which as usual I forgot about, but which happened to be perfectly done when I did remember. Jonathan and Rio brought a wild huckleberry pie (in a pie dish made by Rob), and a pie from the cherries we grew. It was quite a spread:

Jonathan brought some of last year’s cider, and we toasted Thanksgiving and the many things we are grateful for with the cider in Nana’s wine glasses.

A YEAR AGO: A much busier Thanksgiving.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A fun and festive Thanksgiving.

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Nov 23 2017

Getting Ready

Published by under Cooking,Country Life

Well, today was Thanksgiving Eve for us. Despite an unwise consumption of adult beverages the night before, while listening to music and watching “The Partridge Family” in honor of my childhood crush, the spectacular David Cassidy, I managed to wake up before the 6 am alarm call.

Why so early on the Eve, you ask? Erica texted me saying that she was ill and may not be able to grace us with her presence, Jessica’s, and the many dishes she was planning to bring. I conferred with Megan, who opined that the best thing to do was for her to stop by the store on her way home from work and pick up the ingredients we would need to make up for the possibly missing dishes.

I wanted to be caffeinated and ready before Meg texted me at 6:30, and I was ready. She got two different kinds of bread, some apples, and some pecans for stuffing/dressing (I couldn’t deal with chestnuts this year, much as I love them), and some mixed greens for salad. She dropped them off on her way home from night shift three out of four, the last one of the week being tonight.

I put the Jack Daniel’s on to simmer with tangerine zest, sugar, and shallots while I started chopping up bread to stalenize during the day and overnight. I tossed in some chopped up pecans and then made salad dressing with honey, shallots, olive oil, and cider vinegar. By then, it was time to put the cranberries into the simmering sauce and unearth potatoes from their buckets of sand:


Everything from the garden always seems extra dirty*. I also had a bucket of rainbow carrots to scrub and prep for maple and harissa roasted carrots:

They are resting comfortably in my American grandmother’s glass platter which reads “In Remembrance”, ready for tomorrow. After that, I decanted the cranberries into my English grandmother’s star dish:

I wish I knew what happened to the little dishes that matched it. They are lost in the mists of time.

Rio stopped by with the turkey, a relatively modest 14 pounds compared to last year’s monster. She had started defrosting it on Monday, which we had actually feared was too early, but it was still partly frozen. I may have to just cook it a little longer.

After Rio left, I cleaned up the house and then settled down on the couch with the cats to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which I had thoughtfully taped so I could fast forward through the boring parts and enjoy the delights of the Rockettes, the giant balloons, and the floats, along with the appearance of Santa and memories of being in New York for Thanksgiving years ago.

*I was telling one of my co-workers that we were going to have carrots and potatoes we had grown ourselves. She said, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just grab it off the grocery store shelves?” I said, “Yes. Yes, it would.” I didn’t add that it would probably be cheaper too.

A YEAR AGO: It was Thanksgiving Eve.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Getting ready for T-Day!

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Nov 21 2017

Cars & Turkeys

Published by under Bullshit,Car,Special Occasions

Unlike most people this time of year, I am more preoccupied with things automotive than things culinary. Outsourcing most of the T Day operations helps in this regard, a secret I learned long ago.

I’m afraid Erica and Jessica got the holiday shaft this year, committed to bringing a truffle-rich pie made of delicata squash; fennel and orange salad; and some kind of stuffing/dressing (call it what you will) which includes chestnuts (not peeled by Me) and I think Erica might have mentioned wild boar sausage. There may also be shrub. Jonathan is making a pie from the cherries we grew and there has been talk of a wild huckleberry pie, which may push us into pie-a-palooza territory at three pies.

Megan bought a 14 pound turkey and stashed it at Rio’s house. Rio has not only begun the defrosting process (per my Nana’s rule of 1 day for every 4 pounds), but has promised to deliver it on Thursday, which is Thanksgiving for the rest of you, but merely Thanksgiving Eve for us, due to Megan’s crazy work schedule*. As for me, I will be making cranberry-bourbon relish; garlic mashed potatoes from garlic and potatoes we grew; and maple-roasted harissa carrots using carrots we grew; and roasting the turkey.

Since we eat at a civilized hour, I won’t have to put it in the ovenette until noon or later. And though I have tried many fancy things over the years, dry brining and brining and so on, I do not think that any of them were any better than the way Nana did it: rub the turkey with butter, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sage, and roast, basting occasionally. I am planning to let Erica and/or Jonathan make the gravy.

So all I really have to do around the house is tidy up, get the silver out of its velvet-lined chest, check the weather forecast and get some wood ready for the outdoor fire if it doesn’t rain. It’s been a rainy week so far and 128, the road to the city, is already closed, so I am hoping that the chance of rain forecast for Friday is so slight as to barely exist. I have more than a dozen bottles of wine on hand, always the most important part of any dinner menu.

So I’m not all that worried about the great day itself, though it is hampering the lengthy repair process. Of course I get car problems right before Thanksgiving, just like I needed a crownright before the 4th of July.

Jonathan located the part we need. The good news is that it is at the lower, $200 end of the scale, and that Jonathan can install it. The bad news is that it will take 4-5 business days to reach us, and adding in the Thursday holiday and the possible Friday holiday, that could possibly mean “not until late next week”.

The car keys have to be programmed to match the car’s new brain, or new brain module, or it will refuse to go in the belief that it is being stolen. Wednesday is a very paranoid individual, what with that and the auto lock feature which I have been unable to disable. I had thought that I could Fed Ex the car keys to the brain trust and have them program the keys to match Wednesday’s shiny new intellect, but they do not provide that service. So far, I have been not been able to find anyone locally who does. The place that *may* be able to do it is closed until Monday. The holiday strikes again! If they can’t do it, I’m not sure where that leaves me, other than permanently in Park.

*Made even crazier this week by an 8 hour advanced cardio-vascular life support class on Sunday and again on Monday. After the 8 hour class on Monday, she stopped in at the clinic to work for a couple of hours before that night’s 12 hour shift, which would be followed by three more. She will wake up sometime on Friday afternoon after working 48 hours and taking 16 hours of classes in one week. She is my hero, though she may in fact be insane.

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Nov 19 2017

Not Great

Published by under Bullshit,Car

Well, it’s been a less than stellar week in SuzyLand. An unlovely combination of work bullshit and car problems have combined forces to make my outlook bleaker than ever.

I was partway to work when the wrench light came on. I made it to work, where I texted my brother, knowing that he would be heading home from work that morning and could take a look at it. He did, and couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it, but recommended that Wednesday be swapped out for the back up beater, which we did.

Of course, the back up car failed to start for me. There was no sound, other than the seatbelt light and its nagging bell, so I knew that the battery wasn’t at fault and getting a jump start wouldn’t help.

I called my brother, and he suggested that I put it in gear and back into park a couple of times. I did this without much hope a couple of times, but just when I had given up, it started. Jonathan told me to take it straight to his house and not to turn it off. All my things were still in the office, so I ran back, grabbed them, and texted my boss that I was leaving for the day.

I made it to Jonathan’s place, where Megan picked me up. She also lent me her car the next day, making me get to work late and leave early. The dream employee! My brother checked out both cars and test drove them. Much as your tooth stops hurting in the dentist’s waiting room, there appeared to be nothing wrong with the cars. The wrench light failed to light, Jonathan drove it at 70 on the highway and said it is the closest thing to a sports car our family has.

The next day, I put the car on to warm up while I gave the cats farewell treats, noting that the wrench light did not come on. By the time I got back in the car to go to work, the engine light was on. I turned it off and got into the Honda, which thankfully got me to work.

Jonathan took another look at the misbehaving Wednesday, and from my limited automative understanding, it appears that something is wrong with the computer brain that runs everything,. The dayI had trouble getting Wednesday up to speed it was apparently in “limp mode”. So is my bank account, since the part needed will cost something between $250-500. If I’m lucky, Jonathan can install it. If I’m not, I will have to pay a mechanic $80 an hour to do it. I still need to buy the brake pads, which Jonathan can install, another $100. And I just paid $200 for propane (still better than the $300 they were trying to get out of me).

Happy Thanksgiving?

A YEAR AGO: Regrets. I’ve had a few.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A new puppy for Jarrett and a new kitty for Jonathan!

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Nov 15 2017


Published by under Bullshit,Country Life,Weather

I seem to be reluctant to accept the inevitable advent of the winter/rainy season, even though it is spectacularly muddy at my house*, the Ridge is adorned with giant puddles and a whole new crop of potholes, and I saw my first robins and whales this week, always signs of winter. All we need is the chirp of frogs and the buzz of chainsaws to complete the hibernal symphony.

I also had the propane tank filled, and as usual the bill was wrong, necessitating a lengthy and annoying conversation with the propane purveyors as per usual. They overcharged me by about 50%, so the bill was a million billion dollars instead of just a billion dollars. As I alternately waited on hold and argued with them, I alternately thought of the long ago days in San Francisco when gas was the least part of my PG&E bill (maybe $10 a month) and the fact that I agreed to get my brake pads changed this week (maybe $200).

All these winter preparations are pricy. Yet I can’t seem to bring myself to do the free prep, which is filling buckets with water against the inevitable power outages. We already had one at work last week** – people differ on the cause of it, but it appears that a transformer blew, possibly because a bird flew into it – and we are slated to get a storm today with heavy rains and gusts of wind up to 50 miles an hour. There is a wind advisory for the entire county, which might as well be a power outage advisory.

Usually the bucket filling is the first thing I do. It’s so simple! But I seem to be suffering from some kind of psychic malaise that makes it impossible for me to deal with winter, the endless darkness, the horrors of the annual fundraiser and holiday party with my usual equanimity. A wise friend thinks it can all be traced back to the darkness which descended upon us a year ago and battle fatigue from getting through the past year, with a long road ahead. He could be right.

A YEAR AGO: My place of work includes some culinary surprises.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Some additions to the garden.

*Yep, the trench project has ground to a halt yet again. The extra muddiness makes my daily greeting by Mark’s herd of dogs extra messy. Kovu, the puppy, while adorable, likes to jump up on me and my formerly clean work clothes. He has recently expanded his repertoire to jumping inside the car to muddy up the seats. It’s a good thing he is so cute.

**You know how the shortest measurable amount of time is not, as you might think, between a light turning green and someone honking their horn, but the time between the power going out and Mark firing up his generator? At work, it’s between the power going out and people asking me if they can go home.

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Nov 11 2017


Published by under Bullshit,Memories,San Francisco

It’s hard not to retain a certain amount of interest in the past, though sometimes it’s better not to look back, since you might not like what you see. A case in point is my old apartment in San Francisco, which is now unrecognizable.

For starters, someone decided that it would be a great idea to turn the kitchen into a bedroom, making it the first room you see as you enter. The new bedroom presumably uses the small, shallow former pantry space as a closet and has a door and window overlooking the back stairs, allowing its occupant to hear and see their fellow residents throwing their trash down the chute, not to mention the 5 am pick up by the enormous and enormously loud garbage truck.

The hand-made Italian tiles are gone, along with the charming ironing board cupboard in the wall where I stored spices, and, worst of all, the magnificent vintage Wedgewood stove and the quarter-sawn white oak countertops my brother made by hand. Here’s how it used to look:

Here’s how it looks now:

The same geniuses decided to put a generic new kitchen in the former dining room, sacrificing both space and style. It looks like every kitchen everywhere:

They also decided that painting long, windowless walls dark and depressing colors was a great idea:

whereas I painted it them a light color to reflect back the light from the bay windows at the end of the room.

I notice they kept the recessed lighting I put in, though. And they kept the most of the fixtures I put in the bathroom, including the vintage crystal doorknobs, though they painted the walls black and the antique, cast iron clawfoot tub that I had to charm workmen to drag up two flights of stairs black. Because why not make a room whose only natural light comes from an airshaft as dark and dismal as possible?

Here’s how it looked before:

And how it looks now:

It appears that they also closed off the door which led to the walk in closet in the bedroom, which was a wonderful convenience. It was very nice to be able to walk straight from the bathroom into the closet to dress, and vice versa.

I’m sure that adding the so-called bedroom added to the considerable value. Even though there is an apartment above and one below, so you get noise from both, and no parking space*, it is on the market for $1.25 million. We paid $190,000.

To me, what they did to my formerly charming former abode is symptomatic of what is wrong with San Francisco now. They made the place as generic as possible and added an additional “bedroom” to jack up the price and to appeal to the soulless wealthy who now inhabit this once-wonderful city. The beauty and charm of my apartment have vanished along with the charm and character of the city. Now it’s nothing but rich people and expensive stores that could be (and are) found in any city anywhere, instead of each neighborhood having its own special character and delights.

When I lived there, John’s barber brought his dog to work in the shop he owned with his father. The people who owned the grocery store where we shopped would ask you to watch the cash while they cut a watermelon in two for you in the back, and would joke with John about buying sandwiches while I was in England visiting Dad (“Bachin’ it again, eh?”) with a wink and a smile. An older Italian couple owned two neighboring businesses. He repaired shoes and she was a tailor. At lunch time, they would pull two chairs and a little table out to the sidewalk and have lunch together, greeting passersby as they ate. They are long gone, replaced by Starbucks and things of that nature. At least I still have the memories. And I won’t look back anymore.

*The difficulty in parking in that neighborhood, even 20 years ago and even with a permit, is why I ended up selling my beautiful, silver-blue Mustang, Josephine. I’m sure the parking situation has not improved.

A YEAR AGO: I hit a dog with the car. Fortunately, he is as good as new and I am meeting his owners for lunch in a couple of weeks.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Beautiful Day of the Dead art and other fun things.

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Nov 07 2017

Pressing Issues

Published by under Country Life

Sunday dawned clear and cold. A glance at the propane heater in the living room told me that it was 46 degrees inside the house, and the thermometer outside was just at the freezing point of 32. I fed the cats, turned on the heater, and took my coffee back to bed, where the cats eventually joined me. Really, is there anything cozier looking than a sleeping cat? Especially with a paw over the eyes to shield them from the early morning light.

Being the first day of the time change, it was actually light-ish out when I got up at 6:30. It’s been nice dispensing with high beams on the way to work, and being able to exchange waves with Megan when our cars pass each other in the morning, she on her way home and me on my way to work. Today was a particularly lovely morning, with the pink sky glowing through waving plumes of pampas grass and a couple of whales playing in the slate blue ocean.

I still wish they would just pick a time and go with it, though. I don’t care which one it is. I just don’t want to have to change back and forth twice a year.

Eventually I did grudgingly get out of bed on Sunday to join my siblings in cider making prep at Rio’s compound. It took much less time than it did last year, despite having fewer helpers. We hardly had any apples this year, and what we had would not have won any beauty contests. An informal survey of fellow coastal residents revealed that this was the common experience this year: no apples at all in many cases, or just a few. It seems that the deluge of rain we got last year knocked off many of the blossoms.

Since it was a chilly morning, we moved the prep inside Rio’s house, where a fire was merrily burning. While there were not as many apples to chop, I did spend quite a lot of time chopping off rotten bits, which I did not have to do last year. Sometimes what appeared to just be a bad spot was revealed to be an entire bad neighborhood, but I salvaged whatever I could since the apples were in such short supply.

While I emptied the rejected apples and excised bits into the compost, swept up the leaves and other debris that fell to the floor, and washed the bowls that held the cut up apples, the others started milling the cider through the hand-cranked old press. We ended up with a scant 10 gallons, as opposed to last year’s 30. There’s always next year.

A YEAR AGO: A fun and scary Halloween.


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Nov 03 2017


Jessica has not yet aged out of trick or treating with her auntourage. I have to say I am surprised that we have not yet become embarrassing, I would have thought that once the double digits raised their ugly head that our auntourage days would be numbered in single digits, but as always, Jessica surprised me. She has yet to turn into a surly teenager. Maybe she will skip those unlovely phases and segue straight into lovely young womanhood. So far, so good.

Megan and I met up with Erica, Julie, and Darius at the Gro, where the new owners have apparently taken over. Erica was delighted to learn that they are Punjabi and that we can expect Punjabi delicacies in the near future. Jessica and her BFF Bella were decanted into Megan’s car, while their elegantly costumed parents returned to the Hagmobile from whence they came to go and have a civilized dinner together.

I was unable to recognize what the girls’ costumes represented:

Jessica (left) is Bill Cipher from the TV show Gravity Falls. In my defense, I have never seen it, it’s a Disney show, and on researching the matter later I discovered that he is essentially a villainous yellow triangle with a penchant for top hats. Bella (right) is Quicksilver, apparently an X Men or something. Jessica may not have aged out of Halloween, but her auntourage has aged out of understanding the costumes.

We headed to the haunted house first. Bella and I decided that it was too scary for us (perhaps it is not a coincidence that Bella and I also find everything to be too spicy for us) and waited outside for the intrepid Megan and Jessica. The haunted house has both security staff outside and actors who scare the waiting hordes. Since we were early, there was no line to speak of and one of the security guards made the mistake of telling Bella that her goggles were steampunk instead of New Wave, rashly opining that Bella did not know the difference.

She was in the midst of setting the misguided security guard straight when the scarer attempted to scare her. Without even looking at him, she said, “Go away, I’m talking” in such an authoritative tone that he did. He didn’t give up on the scaring attempts, but Bella ended up scaring him by suddenly looming up from behind a pillar, making him jump a mile. He sheepishly admitted that she had gotten him and gave up after that.

Our brave adventurers enjoyed the haunted house, and we all piled into Megan’s car to start the trick or treating portion of the evening. Megan and I had asked around for the best trick or treating locales in the Big Town, and armed with that knowledge, we set out for the most desirable areas first.

Police cars closed off the street, which was awash in trick or treaters and their escorts. I loved these ghost lights (strings of little Caspers!):

and this creative use of a garage basketball hoop:

One of the houses had their own little haunted house to go through to get the candy. When the girls emerged, I asked them if it was scary. Jessica said that the owners had clearly seen “It”, and that there were clowns. I asked, “What could be scarier than clowns?” and Bella replied matter-of-factly, “Crippling debt,” before scampering off to get more candy. She is 12, right?

This town being as small as it is, we naturally came across Jonathan and Rio handing out candy. I think we were more surprised than they were!

The drawbacks of the popular spot was that there were crowds of people, and the kids had to line up at some houses to get the candy. There was also no opportunity for Jessica to show off her signature police knock until we ventured off the beaten path. It still makes me laugh to hear it, especially combined with her girlish and dainty, “Thank you! Happy Halloween!”

Eventually the bags got so heavy that the girls began to complain about toting their weight around the darkened streets, so we headed back to the Village to return our charges to their rightful owners. A good time was had by all.

A YEAR AGO: a trip to the South Coast to see a play and pick up a few delicacies.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Trick or treating with Jessica when she was truly a kidlet.

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