Soup

Our good friend Lu mentioned to Megan the other day that she was going to make “snowflake soup”. This delighted us both more than you would expect for such a simple phrase. It’s because it reminded us both of Dad, and also that Lu knew and loved Dad, too. She even wore his sweetpeas at her wedding, so he was there in a way.

Growing up in WWII London and living with rationed food from the age of 9 to the age of 23, Dad had a horror of wasting food, which he passed on to his children. It’s alive and well in us. One of his habits – and ours – was to use up vegetables and miscellaneous food in the refrigerator by making it into soup. Since the leftovers varied and two soups were ever the same, we called it “snowflake soup”. So it was fun to hear someone outside our family use that expression. As time goes by, I realize there are very few people left who remember my parents, so I really treasure it when I can share those memories.

As for me, I recently made an appropriately spring green, though non-snowflake, soup:

It’s chickpeas, spinach, shallots, garlic, and ginger whirled together with vegetable broth and garnished with a squeeze of fresh lime, a drizzle of curry oil, and a shower of fresh mint. Springtime in a bowl!

A YEAR AGO: The beginning of the end for our beloved Star. Her loss is a great one.

FIVE YEARS AGO: More news about cats and dogs.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: A clean bill of health for our cats.

Eve


The Last Evening of the Year

The last day of the year dawned rainy and misty. I am pleased to say that we have gotten around 29 inches of rain so far this season, with more to come, though we are running out of rainy months, with only the rest of January, February, and March (the secret winter month) to go.

I had the day off, and I headed to the beautiful South Coast, enjoying the winter beauty:

and the sun shining through the clouds over the ocean:

The ocean is beautiful in all its seasons and moods, just in different ways. In some ways, I think the crashing, silvery winter ocean is more beautiful than the calmer blue summer one.

It was a beautiful drive:

When I got home, I made a tourtière:

That’s supposed to be a star in the middle. I always cut designs into my pies, because that’s what my American grandmother did. As I made this pie, I realized that I was taught to cook (and to iron clothes) by two Victorians, since both of my grandmothers were born during Queen Victoria’s reign. It’s nice to think that they live on in me*, and to feel that link to history.

I watched the ball drop in Times Square, along with an attentive Dodge. Maybe it’s because I was born in New York state, but I always think that the New York New Year is the “real” one, even though I have lived in California most of my adult life. I don’t think any west coast celebrations can touch the New York one.

And so we bid farewell to the old year, and greet the new one, which so far bears a striking resemblance to the old one. We shall see what it brings. Happy New Year from me to you!

*As I write this, I am wearing my America grandmother’s gold bracelet, which is etched with her maiden name initials, EFH. It probably dates to around 1914 or so. I wear it often and think of her.

A YEAR AGO: A few plumbing issues to start the year.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Oh, Clyde! I still miss the ornament he broke.

TEN YEARS AGO: Fantasy hockey, Suzy-style. Go Leafs!

TWENTY YEARS AGO: I was less than thrilled with the rain. Well, we got more of it in those days. I note that I watched “Beautiful Girls” a couple of days ago. Still love it.

Necessity

I was planning to pick up Chinese food after the Festival of Lights, but was saddened to discover that the restaurant is closed until the end of January. I came up with a Plan B* for dinner that night (you know I always have one), and faithful readers will not be surprised to learn that this resulted in my making it my own self.

My intended menu was char siu, aka Chinese BBQ pork, lemon chicken (which I consider to be comfort food), and fried wontons. So that weekend, I set the char siu to marinating, red food coloring and all, and consulted with my long-serving friend A, who is Chinese, about producing my own lemon chicken. She sent me a simple, yet delicious recipe, which I only modified by adding lemon zest to the sauce:

Lemon Chicken

3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water

Slice the chicken breasts in half butterflied into two thinner pieces each.
To coat the chicken add the egg, salt, pepper and oil into a bowl and whisk together in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, add ½ cup corn starch and ¼ cup flour and mix well.
In a large frying pan or a wok, heat more canola oil in a wok 375 degrees (medium high heat).
Dip chicken pieces in the egg mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture.
Fry the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crisp.
Remove the chicken from the pan, then drain the oil.
Add the lemon juice, sugar, water and remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch to the pan and whisk to combine.
Cook until thickened and smooth.
Slice the chicken into thin strips then serve with lemon sauce poured over.

So I was able to successfully reproduce the meal at home. Unfortunately for my sloth-like tendencies, I’m sorry to say that it was probably better than I would have gotten in the restaurant had it been open.

Not that I’m saying that the lack of Chinese food – or at least, Chinese food made by someone other than Me – drove me to drink, but I did find myself perching on the stool at the foot of the bar near the door to the deck not too long afterwards. Megan and I had both had a trying week, and decided that we needed a drink:


Mandarin Blossom Cosmo

Or possibly two:


Cranberry Margarita

I thought the Cranberry Margarita sounded festive, and as you can see, it is about the size of a young swimming pool. It came with a spoon to aid in imbibing this adult slushie.

It was too cloudy to watch the sun set, but it was nice to be there. Megan pointed out how lucky we are to live in this beautiful place, and how lucky we are to have this beautiful, comfortable place as our local watering hole. Attitudes adjusted, we headed home, kindly chauffeured by the ever-tolerant Rob.

*Plan B was leftover penne alla vodka, which I had made myself when I learned that Luna no longer does take out. This seems to be my go-to when foiled by local restaurants, or the lack of them.

A YEAR AGO: A different kind of online dating.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A day at the beach.

TEN YEARS AGO: Shock and awe at the incredibly beautiful lunar eclipse, shot through with a single shooting star. I later learned that my beloved former father-in-law left us at about the same moment. I like to think the star was him, saying goodbye. Love you and miss you, dear Ed.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Walking to work in San Francisco, despite teh temptations of cable cars.

Dinner


Cheers to Thanksgiving!

Making Thanksgiving dinner is a fair amount of work, even when you don’t have company. This year, I didn’t bother with Grammie’s ivory-handled silver or Wedgwood or Nana’s wineglasses. I used the 1940s Ringware bowls I got from Monica’s store for the cranberry-bourbon relish:

and the orange-ginger glazed carrots:

Here you can see the bowls a bit better:

I really enjoy using them.

This year, I roasted the turkey Nana-style, rubbing it with butter and sage and sprinkling it with Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper. I have tried fancier and more time-consuming methods, brining and all that, but the fancy methods were not notably better than my American farm girl grandmother’s simple method, so back to the basics I went. And the turkey turned out perfect:

Even the leftovers were moist. I made gravy from the pan juices, and this year, I got a package of pre-roasted and pre-peeled chestnuts for the stuffing/dressing, thus relieving me of the worst Thanksgiving chore of all. It was a real process improvement.

So that was my simple dinner, along with the pink méthode champenoise seen above in my rhinestone-studded glass, by the light of the deliciously scented Hearth candle. I have so much to be thankful for: my family, my friends, my cats, my health, my job, all the love that surrounds me.

A YEAR AGO: It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

TEN YEARS AGO: Decorating for the holidays.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Remembering the past.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Things were sad inside and out.

Thanksgiving

I woke up to the sun peeking coyly through the redwoods outside my bedroom window on Thanksgiving morning, the sunlight missing its usual PJs of fog and mist. I love waking up when it’s light out, instead of in night-like darkness, as I do for the majority of the year.

I don’t love being woken by Clyde walking all over me and patting my face with his paw, though. Like many of us, Clyde seems to be under the illusion that he is much smaller and lighter than he actually is, though fortunately for him, he is even more beautiful and adorable than he thinks. He is not, however, a tiny kitten.

I accepted the inevitable and got up, enjoying the feel of bare feet on the smooth wood floors and the soft rug in the bathroom. I reminded myself that I was lucky that all three of my cats are happy and healthy, and that one day, I would be missing them and wish they were here, waking me up and annoying me. My boss lost her beloved kitten Peanut a couple of weeks ago, to something horrible called FIP, which I had never heard of before and wish I never had. Peanut was only 10 months old, and she was devastated to lose him so young. It reminded me to be thankful for having three cats, ages 14, 11, and 5, all safe and healthy.

After feeding and caring for the cats, which is the first thing I do every day – before coffee, my friends – I went downstairs to make coffee and text my siblings, who are working, to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. I hope we can have dinner soon.

While I waited for the coffee to be ready in the stainless steel – Suzy proof! – French press, I tossed the stalenizing bread for stuffing, or dressing, as my Southern friends call it, which I cut up after work on Tuesday to start it drying out. Even when you aren’t having company, there’s a certain amount of labor involved in a Thanksgiving dinner.

I had ordered a turkey breast two weeks earlier, in preparation for my modest celebration, and went to pick it up after work on Thanksgiving Eve. Imagine my surprise when none of the three Susans on the list at the butcher counter were this particular Susan. Fortunately, the kindly butcher was able to find a turkey breast for this great-granddaughter of a butcher, and dinner was saved.

A YEAR AGO: My alter ego?

FIVE YEARS AGO: Thanksgiving aftermath.

TEN YEARS AGO: Thanksgiving wrap up.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Some chaos in my life.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Picking up my repaired diamond watch. I still love it. I still have the raw opal studs and I still wear them.

Glue


The Bathmat Boys

Here you see Clyde (left) and Dodge, watching me get ready to go to work. Not pictured: Audrey sitting on the windowsill, giving the Bathmat Boys the Laser Glare of Death, which they are calmly ignoring. I think Audrey dreams of a boy-free life.

Later that morning, with the cats fed and treated and my faux adult armor dutifully applied, I set off on the long drive to work. It’s like driving through a horror movie, and it seems pretty long these days. I am driving more slowly than my speedy nature enjoys on the dark, foggy roads, fearing the appearance of unexpected deer in the headlights. I managed to avoid hitting two of them on this particular morning, and I was also completely charmed by the sight of a frog leaping gracefully across the Ridge in the pool of light from my high beams. This time of year, the frogs are singing joyfully to welcome the annual rains. I love sitting in my bed on a weekend morning and listening to their song. It’s like the winter version of summer crickets.

My plans for weekend cooking went awry, and I am blaming Amazon for it.

I wanted to make more har gao and chive dumplings, so I ordered the necessary starches from Amazon. They were due to arrive on Friday, and I had them sent to the house instead of the post office box, so I could get cooking on Saturday morning. The box was waiting when I got home from work on Friday night, and I thought all cooking systems were go.

Imagine my surprise when I opened up the box and discovered…a tube of epoxy glue.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Even inexperienced cooks can see that glue is not an effective substitute for wheat starch or tapioca starch, or any kind of starch, really. Nor is glue a helpful ingredient in dim sum. I took a dim view of this.

I ventured to the Village the next day to see if I could locate the necessary ingredients, without much hope, and in this, I was sorry for once to be right. I couldn’t find them anywhere, so I reordered from Amazon after getting a refund for the original order. I tried to shop local!

I picked up a pizza for dinner instead, and hopefully I will be making deferred dim sum next weekend.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Food is love, even at work.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Have a seat.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Selecting Beaujolais Nouveau for Thanksgiving.

Updates

Cooking:

I did follow my plan of making har gao, chive and pork dumplings, and lumpia Shanghai. They turned out amazing. These are the pork and chive dumplings (triangle) and har gao (little bundles):

Here are the lumpia Shanghai:

When I sent these pictures to A, she responded, “Totally impressed by your dim sum spread. Suzy’s Dim Sum Palace.” I love thinking of my house as Suzy’s Dim Sum Palace.

I have already had to order more of the tapioca flour and wheat starch so I can make them again. They were definitely a big success. The pork and chive dumplings are easier to shape than the har gao, and they are both delicious. Cooking win!

Crime:

I am pleased to announce that Redbeard has finally been caught! I am less pleased to announce that he was caught in the environs of the family estate, which is the first driveway after the “doughnut shop” referred to in the press. For fans of Krispy Kremes and Dunkin’ Donuts, don’t get too excited. Rather than a pastry emporium, the Doughnut Shop in Hooterville is actually a big pull out where kids do doughnuts in their cars. It’s also a favored place for miscreants to deposit their heavily-used RVs and furniture, instead of taking said objects to the dump*. So maybe it makes sense that he was caught at or near such a hotbed of local crime. I’m just glad that he was not caught on the family property itself, and that no one was hurt. I hope we can go back to our sleepy, low-to-no-crime existence again.

*Speaking of the dump, the guy who works there posts some hilarious stuff about his job there on Facebook. You’re welcome.

A YEAR AGO: Heater problems. Appliances hate me. I am pleased to announce that the heater is still working. So far.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A happy Halloween with Jessica. I miss those days, and I miss her.

TEN YEARS AGO: A country Saturday.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: City scenes.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: I have never been a fan of this twice yearly time change nonsense.

Cooking

Whether the power is off or on – and it has been staying on since the last weekend outage* – it’s been good cooking weather lately.

My current kitchen is much more functional than the one in the old house, which had maybe three feet of counter space. Yet I managed to make some memorable feasts in that teeny kitchenette. And even though my “new” house is so beautiful and much more reasonable than the old house, I still retain a nostalgia for the old house in all its craziness. I realize this makes no sense, but although I am many things, sensible is not one of them.

The new house has a big window in the kitchen, so I can watch the passing wildlife and birds while I cook. I especially enjoy looking out the window while doing things like making bagels or rolling the dough for har gao.

Speaking of har gao (as one often does), I might be making more this weekend. My good friend A recently sent me a recipe for pork and chive dumplings, using the same dough as har gao. She mentioned that she had a fair bit of filling left over. So my tentative plan for this weekend is to make half the pork filling and use the batch of dough to make some har gao and some pork and chive dumplings. I’ll use the rest of the ground pork to make lumpia Shanghai. This may seem like a less appealing prospect when Saturday actually rolls around.

Suzy’s Asian Kitchen has been open for business lately. I made a great batch of faux pho:

Instead of beef, I used chicken, and I poached it in Campbell’s broth with a bunch of spices. I strained it, took out the chicken and sliced it up, and served the soup with garlic-chili-sesame oil, bean sprouts, cilantro, green onions, and lime.

On the whole, I think Asian or Asian-ish food might be my favorite. It’s certainly been my default lately.

Last weekend, I made a Porchetta style pork roast. You make a paste of lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, fennel seeds, sage, and rosemary, score the skin of the pork roast, and then rub the paste in. Let it sit overnight and then roast it at high heat for half an hour and then at low heat for a couple of hours more, and it comes out like this:

I had it with mashed potatoes and a salad dressed with home-made maple balsamic vinaigrette, and it was delicious if I do say so myself.

As the great Jacques Pépin would say, “Happy cooking”!

*When power outages happen on the weekend, I always feel like some of my valuable time off got stolen.

A YEAR AGO: Haha! The power was off and I was project cooking then, too. ‘Tis the season?

FIVE YEARS AGO: The joys of Thai food and ballet.

TEN YEARS AGO: A beautiful Fall.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: The unforgettable Hotel Hell in Detroit. ~Shudder~

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Feeling sleepy.

Dumplings


Cheers to the long weekend!

I celebrated the long weekend with a new cooking adventure: making har gao. They are my favorite dim sum, and after my success making char siu, I was emboldened to try my hand at har gao, especially since the closest place to get them is Santa Rosa, and even I draw the line at driving 5 hours round-trip to get dim sum. I’m willing to drive over 2 hours round-trip for Thai food, but even my extreme takeout has its limits.

Fortunately, I had acquired a very nice bamboo steamer and silicone mat inserts during my trip to Santa Rosa, and I had frozen shrimp on hand, so all I had to get was wheat starch (not flour) and tapioca starch.

I was bemused by the recipes I saw that included bamboo shoots and other things that I considered to be extraneous and unnecessary. The point of har gao, I thought, was to let the shrimp shine. I consulted A, who in addition to being an excellent cook and amateur food critic, was also born and partly raised in China. She agreed with me that all it really needed for a filling was shrimp, white pepper, and a bit of salt. Maybe a dash of sesame oil.

So that’s what I did. I chopped the shrimp roughly, added about a spoonful of sesame oil, dusted it with flaky Maldon salt and white pepper, and mixed it up. I was both surprised and pleased by how easy the dough was to work with. I rolled it into a log, cut it in golf ball sized pieces, and then rolled out each piece and filled them.

They steamed for 6 minutes, and they came out great:

They were delicious, and the filling was exactly the way I wanted it. I also made another batch of char siu:

This time, I cut the pork more evenly, so it had better contact with the marinade.

I also made fried won tons. They were great, though next time I will be careful not to brown them quite so much:

I also made Thai chicken soup for the first time, though I neglected to take a picture of it. It came out really well. I loved the combination of lemongrass, coconut milk, ginger, and lime. I wonder what my next adventure should be?

A YEAR AGO: What would I do without Rob? I hope I never find out.

FIVE YEARS AGO A delightful BBQ at the family estate.

TEN YEARS AGO Garden improvements.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Walking Miss Rita.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Suzy’s guide to surviving air travel.

Recipe

Flush with my success in making canelés de Bordeaux, I decided to try my hand at char siu, or Chinese BBQ pork. It’s one of my favorites, and always order it when I get Chinese food. Much like I learned to read at the age of three so I could get stories when Dad wasn’t around to read them to me, I decided I would see if I could make my own char siu so I could have it without going to a Chinese restaurant near (25 miles) or far (2 ½ hours’ drive) away.

First, I had to procure a couple of things, like a roasting pan with a rack in it. The rack has also come in handy for things like cooling off canelés de Bordeaux while maintaining their crispy shell. I also got some five spice powder, red food dye, and molasses. I had pretty much everything else on hand.

I wavered over the red food dye for a while. At first I thought, It’s carcinogenic! And then I thought, It was almost certainly in every other order of char siu I have ever eaten, and it will make it look more authentic, so I decided to just go for it. You only use a little bit, anyway.

Here’s the recipe I used. I have to say it turned out very well:

And it was utterly delicious. Even my best friend A was impressed, and she is Chinese. She immediately wanted the recipe.

I made egg rolls to go with the char siu, though I failed to take photos of the egg rolls. I enjoyed rolling them as I watched the deer and butterflies go past the kitchen window. I had ponzu dipping sauce imported from the Asian grocery in Santa Rosa for the egg rolls, and I also made salad from cucumbers my sister gave me, tossing them with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and rice vinegar. All in all, a successful foray in cooking.

A YEAR AGO: Rearranging the kitchen.

FIVE YEARS AGO A visit from our beloved Ben. I am pleased to announce he is set to get married next year and is expecting a baby for Christmas with his fiancee Erica.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: A visit with Dad, circa 1991. Even back then, those were the day.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: I was heading home to San Francisco after my father’s funeral in London.

Canelés

I love canelés de Bordeaux. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy them at the French bakery on Polk Street, a charming place with little green metal tables on the sidewalk under a striped awning and delicious delicacies inside. Of course, this delightful place is long gone, along with the French lingerie shop, Polk-Vallejo Market, and the combination shoe repair and tailoring establishment run by an elderly Italian couple who used to have lunch together at a table on the sidewalk every day, complete with a glass of wine and their dog napping peacefully at their feet. They are part of the San Francisco I loved, now lost to time and encroaching soullessness. I feel lucky that I lived in the City when the neighborhoods had distinct characters and it wasn’t all rich people and Starbucks.

Here in distant Hooterville, the closest place to get a canelé fix is at Franny’s Cup & Saucer, an hour’s drive from Chez Suzy, and they don’t always have them. I did pick some up on my way to Bodega Bay recently, and as I enjoyed its distinctive crust and creamy interior, I began to wonder if I could make them myself.

Locating a recipe on the ever-helpful interwebs, it didn’t look very difficult, though special equipment was required, including the pan and food-grade beeswax, which is apparently essential for getting the dark, crispy outer shell. Once I obtained these items, I ventured on my first batch ever of canelés.

I used my prettiest kitchen equipment to inspire me:

The trophy measuring cups were actually useful as well as pretty, especially since I used the smallest one to pour the batter into the molds. Before long, the house was filled with the distinctive scent of canelés. As I took them out of the oven, I thought, “They look pretty convincing”:

The recipe said to unmold them while they were hot to keep the crust crisp. If you leave them in the molds while they cool, they will sort of steam and become soft. They unmolded easily:

When I was ready to test one, I was pleased to see that the inside was appropriately custardy, while the outside was crispy and caramelized:

The hardest part was dealing with the beeswax and butter mixture, which is used to brush the molds before pouring in the batter. You have to do it quickly, before it hardens, and then cleaning the pan you melted it in, the pastry brush, and eventually, the pan you baked the canelés in is not easy. Getting buttery wax off dishes is challenging. But it was all worth it.

A YEAR AGO: Things were rocking and rolling in the family garden.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Another look at the local message boards.

TEN YEARS AGO: My attempts at gardening.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: It’s here. The official Month of Death.

Baking


Voilà!

I have been spectacularly demotivated in the kitchen lately. I have not lost my enthusiasm for trading recipes with my BFF Alice and reading them in the missives from the New York Times Cooking editors, but there seems to be a long way between interest and execution these days.

I have been meaning to make my own falafel (how hard can it be?) and tabouli*. I went so far as to get dried chickpeas for the falafel – apparently, using canned chickpeas is the Number One reason that home-made falafel fails – and bulgar wheat for the tabouli, but they continue to languish in the Closet of Doom, alone and unloved. Tidying up the Closet of Doom is another project that I have failed to complete and which remains on my ever-cluttered radar.

While it’s still spring and rhubarb is still in season, I intend to try a recipe for roasted rhubarb cobbler. At least I have not bought the rhubarb for it, since it would likely end up in the compost, where it would probably not delight the ravens and foxes. One of these days/weekends/maybe never…

But for some reason, on Sunday, I decided it was time to make the tourtière that has been under consideration all year. I originally planned to make it for New Year’s, but that resolution faded before the year began, quite possibly a personal best (or worst?) for not keeping a resolution. That sunny Sunday morning seemed like the perfect time.

I used a new to me recipe for the crust, which includes a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and I think that makes it extra flaky. I pulsed everything in the food processor, which makes it easier.

While I was rolling out the crust, I heard a thud. I went over to the sliding glass doors next to the kitchen counter and saw that a very small, very bright yellow-green bird was lying on the deck, having flown into the glass doors. My heart sank, and I thought, That’s a bad sign. It made me sad to see that poor little guy out there. Clyde and Dodge were both fascinated, and for a fleeting moment, I considered letting them out there to put the injured bird out of his misery. I hated to think of him dying slowly out there.

I went back to the pie making, and after a while, checked on the bird. He had moved to a different part of the deck, so I began to hope. After I put the pie in the oven, I looked again, and he was gone! He had recovered enough to fly off! It made me really happy. I’m glad he’s out there somewhere, singing.

*I learned how to make this from another high school friend when we were still in high school. Her father was from Beirut. He used to grow carnations, and when I went to her house, he would always cut some and give them to me, saying, “For you. Very beautiful.” I never knew if he meant me or the carnations.

A YEAR AGO: Celebrating Dodge’s birthday.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A busy, but delightful, weekend.

TEN YEARS AGO: Some yard sale scores.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Dreaming about Mom.

TWENTY YEARS AGO: Oh, the things you see in San Francisco when you are out and about when night meets day!

2020

Looking back on the year with 2020 vision…or 2020 hindsight.

I made a decision to keep this space free of politics and other unpleasantness. As usual, with any decision I have ever made, I am not sure I made the right one. I work at a medical clinic and could have written about what it was/is like to work in a medical clinic during a pandemic, but I don’t want to write about work and I am too frivolous for such serious topics. Also, I like keeping everything ugly at bay. This is my safe (and sparkly) space, for better or for worse, for shallower or shallower.

Despite enjoying escapist fare such as children’s books (the wonderful E.L. Konigsberg and E. Nesbit) and Agatha Christies, as well as re-reading classics like The Catcher in the Rye and the works of the divine Jane when there was no library access, the total of books read by the local library chairperson was a paltry 86, not much of an improvement over the embarrassing 82 recorded in 2019. I greatly enjoyed Elton John’s memoir, Peter Swanson’s Eight Perfect Murders, Ruth Ware’s One by One, Connie Schultz’s The Daughters of Erietown, and Alex North’s The Whisper Man. As usual, Stephen King with If It Bleeds and Michael Connelly with Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence did not disappoint.

In addition to comfort viewing (The Rockford Files and Columbo), there were some amazing TV shows brightening my screen on these dark days: City on a Hill, Succession, Escape at Dannemora, Russian Doll, Unbelievable, Perry Mason (the new one; not the classic, which is also wonderful, but very different), The Morning Show, Dead to Me, Dash & Lily, Ozark, Bad Blood, Little Fires Everywhere, Better Call Saul, Emily in Paris, and Get Shorty. If you haven’t seen any of these, check them out. You’ll thank me later.

Other than that, here’s all the news I saw fit to print:

January: A quiet beginning to the new year, with no hangover and no particular plans. My beautiful commute. It still amazes me and reveals new joys. A seemingly endless supply of meetings.

February: The gift of a new cell phone from my sister, who was tired of not being able to text me at home. It took three visits to the Verizon Store to sort of get my data transferred. The nightmare of the kitties. A long story which was entirely my fault, and you know how much I love that. The kitchen sink was full of sewage again, and the power was out. Good times. Sunny days outside and pretty inside. A lovely day. And a lovely dinner.

March: An update on my bosses, the cats. Ignoring the ignominious time change with a look around the family garden. Close encounters with wildlife. In my case, the hare (thankfully) won the race. Remembering my beloved father on his birthday. A night in town. Of tires and take-out. Michelin-starred, no less. the take-out, not the tires (though they could have been Michelins). I was shocked and saddened to hear of my former brother-in-law Mike’s death, but thankful it was a peaceful one at home. Rest in peace, dear Mike. You were a wonderful man and will always be loved and remembered with joy.

April: Michelin starred take-out 2.0. Is it conceited that I prefer my own cooking? Maybe the starriness doesn’t translate well to the take-out genre. Mom? Is that you? The tale of the grandfather clock, more than 250 years and counting (the hours and minutes). Beauty is all around me. My blog turned 19! The differences between my weekday and weekend routines. Adventures in cooking.

May: Welcoming spring. I really enjoyed spring this year. It was so beautiful. The beauty of the season was darkened by the sudden and shocking death of a dear and long-time friend. Randy, I will never forget you or your smile that lit up a room. Some reflections on Mother’s Day from someone who will never be one and who had a complicated relationship with her own. There may be a connection here. Celebrating Dodge’s fourth (or so) birthday. He is such a beautiful, affectionate little guy. Never a dull moment for Megan, at work in the ER. The month ended with the end of the Beautiful Harriet, Megan and Rob’s much-loved 19 year old cat, just two days after Megan’s birthday. Harriet (then called Olivia) made her first appearance on my blog in December, 2001. She was part of our family for a long time and will always be missed.

June: Things were flourishing in the family garden. Of haircuts and hardware stores. A happy birthday for me…and for my beloved Clyde, who turned 10. A nice addition to the bedroom. Remembering the unforgettable Ginger, our childhood dog.

July: Celebrating the Fourth of July and both sides of my heritage. Also Megan and Rob’s 29th anniversary. Here’s to the next 29! Things were shady over at the family estate. Adjusting to a Kindle. I’m still a paper book girl at heart. Rob’s beautiful garden art. A delightful breakfast at the delightful Queenie’s. Some kitty adventures.

August: Things were rocking and rolling in the family garden. I think I did a better job of using produce this year. An unexpected operation for Stella. I’m glad to report she is fine. A lot of sadness in a short period of time in our little town. Time to start cooking with all that produce. The Evil Eighteenth rolled around for the nineteenth time. I was angry this year. I will never get over losing Dad like that. A heatwave, and remembering past summers. Trying to cool down with some icy adult beverages beside the ocean. Hello, darkness, my old enemy.

September: Rearranging the kitchen after my microwave gave up the ghost, as my appliances tend to do. Audrey being Audrey. Rob: always there to make my life better. Happy birthday to my amazing brother, Jonathan. The horror of wildfires. Getting my MacBook fixed, with all the fun that entails. And getting Wednesday repaired. Attacking the Closet of Doom, with Rob’s help.

October: Rob was working hard on the Closet of Doom. It’s still a work in progress. Summer seemed to be endless. A delightful visit with a friend. I hope we can do that again soon. Yet another crown for our princess. My ex John adopted a pregnant stray cat. Meet Willow, Peach, and Daisy (I named Daisy)! Doing some project cooking.

November: A road trip to beautiful Anderson Valley. Problems with the heater. Megan started an exciting new side gig at prestigious Stanford University! An update on Willow and her kittens. Getting my third crown was about as fun as you’d expect. I hope it’s the last one, but fear it won’t be. What would I be like if I had a different name? Trying to find the right blanket was harder than you’d expect.

December: The Christmas tree went up a little early this year. And the kitchen sink needed a minor procedure. Some lights in the darkness. Best friends. Memories of Christmas past. A quiet Christmas.

Thank you for coming along with me on this journey for another year, or staying with me for another year. Here’s to a brighter New Year for all of us!

Christmas

It was a quiet Christmas this year.

On Christmas Eve, I headed out to Navarro Beach, passing the mill superintendent’s house and Captain Fletcher’s Inn, remembering what a great time Megan and I had at Navarro by the Sea Day a couple of years ago.

Arriving at the beach, I was surprised to find it was much warmer than I expected, and I did not need my hat and coat at all. I wandered the beach:

and enjoyed watching and hearing the waves. I can’t imagine living where it’s landlocked. Watching the ocean brings me peace. When I lived in the City, I walked to the waterfront when I was sad or worried and watched the waves in the Bay. It was always soothing.

I enjoyed the breeze, the cormorants sitting placidly in the water, the gulls shrieking, and the ravens surfing the thermals above the crashing waves. I thought about Dad and how much he loved the ocean, and the astonishing fact that next year marks twenty years without him.

Back home, I did some dinner prep for Christmas Day itself. It was a stripped-down version of our usual feast. I was a bit worried about the ham. Jonathan always takes care of it, and I have no ham experience. Also, both Megan and my good friend A had Christmas ham disasters this year, so I was somewhat concerned that I would follow in their culinary footsteps.

A had suggested a hack for my world-famous cheese biscuits: using the food processor. I whizzed the dry ingredients in it, pulsed in the butter, and poured it into a bowl. I then used the food processor to grate the cheeses, instead of doing it by hand. I tossed the cheese into the dry ingredients with my hands and used a spoon to stir in the milk. They were literally the best cheese biscuits I have ever made, and I will do them this way from now on.

I need not have worried about the ham. It came out perfectly, and was quite small, so I wasn’t inundated with leftovers. Also, no bone to deal with.

To accompany all this, I had our traditional Christmas salad of bitter greens with roasted pears and fresh pomegranate seeds, topped with a shallot dressing:

After dinner, I had sparkling pink wine and opened my presents, which were quite wonderful, ranging from a gift certificate for getting my hair done to a pair of beautiful slate blue gloves from Edinburgh. I watched the Grinch and Charlie Brown and felt like a pretty lucky girl.

A YEAR AGO: A happy holiday.

FIVE YEARS AGO: A festive Christmas.

TEN YEARS AGO: A happy Christmas. Jessica was so little!

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Things were eventful during the holiday season.

Sparkly

I usually put up the Christmas tree the first Saturday in December, and take it down on Twelfth Night, aka the Saddest Day of the Year. One’s house looks so sad and empty once the holiday cheer has been removed, in the midst of the midwinter darkness, to (snow/rain) boot. I do this because it’s the way my parents did it, so I guess that makes it family tradition, even if I am the only one in our rapidly declining family to maintain the tradition.

This year, there was no Thanksgiving*, and the lack of company caused a lack of enthusiasm on my part for cooking anything Thanksgiving-like, even while feeling obligated to do so. I decided to make it minimal, just getting a turkey breast and making a couple of sides. I was unable to locate a turkey breast, other than a boneless frozen one. I had my suspicions, but went ahead with it anyway. It cooked from frozen in a bag and was as delicious as you would expect. In my usual capacity as an Awful Warning, I will tell you all to run like the wind if you ever see a Frankenturkey like that. Get a real turkey, or forget the whole thing. At least my mashed potatoes and glazed carrots were fabulous. I didn’t bother with the traditional cranberry bourbon relish, just making plain cranberries with a dash of orange zest.

Much as I never want to eat Thanksgiving dinner after cooking it – the fun for me is seeing everyone else enjoy it – I didn’t bother making it until the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I didn’t eat any of it until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

My lack of enthusiasm for the Thanksgiving that wasn’t didn’t dampen my desire for Christmas sparkle, though, and on the Saturday morning after what should have been Thanksgiving, I found myself eagerly hauling out the little tree my coworker gave me last year, twining it with lights and adding the snowflakes and glass icicles, as well as the beautiful mercury glass ornament from my friend Erin, my favorite adornment:

It makes me smile to look at it.

I also planted a couple of amaryllis bulbs:

which will hopefully give me some much-needed color in the winter darkness. We shall see.

I’m thinking about getting a wreath for the front door, though it’s hard to hang one up when your front door is glass. Maybe I will find some way to put up lights on the front porch, too. The more sparkle, the better, I always say.

*I really shouldn’t complain, even though it IS one of my super powers. Megan of course worked the Thanksgiving night shift in the ER, which she described as a “shitshow”. Apparently Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are the worst ER shifts for alcohol and stupidity related incidents.

A YEAR AGO: A happy, if belated, Thanksgiving.

FIVE YEARS AGO: The fabulous Festival of Lights.

TEN YEARS AGO: Dinner with the family.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Christmas in the City.

Off

There’s finally a nip in the air, and I no longer have the fan on in the bedroom at night. In fact, there was a frost warning for the coast and a hard freeze warning inland overnight. The warnings didn’t stop there. Our frenemies at PG&E once again announced that they were planning to cut off power again, just like they did around this time last year.

This time, just like the last time, there wasn’t a breath of wind on the coast and it was chilly, despite the forecast “wind event” and “extremely high temperatures”. At least this time, they only shut off some of the high risk inland areas instead of plunging our entire county into darkness. Even though we only have about 90,000 people, our county is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, a large area. And the inland part is very different from the coast in weather and terrain. Fire risk is much higher inland, with its routine triple digit temperatures in the summer versus the coast’s typical 60-65 degrees.

With power at my disposal* over the weekend, I did some project cooking, which was like a little armchair (or ovenside) trip to distant and cosmopolitan Montreal. I made a tourti?re, using a recipe our beloved Ben (born and raised in Montreal) sent me:

And a batch of Montreal-style bagels. They look pretty convincing to me, despite hailing from 3,000 miles away, the wrong country, and not having a wood-fired brick oven:

My boss loves them, so it was nice to bring her some when I headed back to work.

I had originally planned to take a mini trip to Anderson Valley since the weather had finally cooled off, but when the time came, I found I really just wanted to enjoy the small pleasures at home, like sleeping in until it’s light out, drinking coffee in bed with all three cats, and doing some cooking. It was so fun that I’m planning to take this Friday off, too.

*Although it’s a gas oven, powered by platinum propane, it needs electricity to start. The same goes for the only source of heat for the house. See a theme (and a problem) here, in a place where it’s “when” not “if” the power will go out?

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Food Fairy stopped by, bearing a wide array of canned goods.

TEN YEARS AGO: Cold and rainy.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Interesting times in the building I lived in back then, a suitably seasonal Victorian coffin factory.

Bounty

I think I say this every year, but the Naked Ladies, those harbingers of fall, seem to have arrived early this year:

It’s the canning and preserving time of year, the season that follows the watering and weeding season in the family garden. As usual, I am the work-free beneficiary of my siblings’ labors. Recently, I was gifted with still-warm jars of peach jam:

and pickled onions:

as well as my annual ration of peaches for my yearly peach pie:

Every year, I wish had just a few more to really fill the pie crust, but I can’t complain about free peaches. Oh, wait: I just did. The pie came out great. This time, I used a new recipe for crust from the trusty New York Times. Secret ingredient: Vitamin V (aka vodka)! This is my go-to crust from now on.

The filling was my American grandmother Nana’s style. Like me, she was a “pinch of this, pinch of that” cook. It’s hard to share recipes, since I don’t measure very often and just add ingredients until they look about right to me. For the pie filling, I peeled the eight peaches, cut the fruit off the pits over a bowl, and squeezed some lemon juice into it. In a separate bowl, I mixed together two tablespoons of sugar, a tablespoon of flour, some nutmeg and cinnamon, and then sprinkled it over the fruit and tossed it together. I like to think that my grandmothers and my father live on in the way I cook.

Last weekend, I had a text from my landlord Danielle, asking if I’d like some basil. I said yes, and she appeared with a huge bag of it, fresh from her garden. We chatted for a while, which was nice. I hadn’t seen her since the “inspection” a few months ago, and it was good to feel like our relationship (or coexistence, anyway) is in a good and positive place. I don’t think there is any weirdness left between us, and she did not mention the cats, which was kind of a relief.

After she left, I spread the basil out to dry on my state of Maine tea towel:

That’s summer, right there.

A YEAR AGO: Trying to survive a marathon of work and obligations.

Breakfast

Sometimes you just want someone else to cook for you. And more importantly, clean up after both the cooking and the eating. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather cook three meals than clean up after one. This may have something to do with the fact that the only dishwasher I have ever had was Me.

When John and I were selling our apartment in San Francisco, the girl who ended up buying it complained bitterly that there was no dishwasher. I seem to remember she also complained that the height of the 1920s-era counters were not high enough to install one, either*.

When I was a kid, dishwashing also included drying and putting away, in addition to wiping off counters, putting away placemats and napkins, and wiping the table. Now, I tend to leave the dishes in the drainer, though I do all the other things, despite telling myself that when I grew up, I would do none of those things. My childhood self might also be appalled and annoyed to learn that I still make my bed before going to work and lay out my clothes the night before, since I also decided I would not do that when I was (allegedly) a grown up and could (allegedly) do whatever I wanted.

Little did child Suzy know…

But one thing the present day Suzy could do was go to Queenie’s for a breakfast made by, and fit for, a queen. Not to mention cleaned up by the queen’s courtiers. I sat outside on the wooden deck and enjoyed the view:

while breakfast was being made. It was worth the wait:

That’s freshly-squeezed orange juice, a waffle, real maple syrup (accept no substitutes!) and chicken-apple sausage from Roundman’s Smokehouse. It was so nice to have breakfast across the street from the ocean, sitting in the sunshine.

And no dishes to do afterwards.

*She solved this “problem” by making the kitchen into a second bedroom and part of the living/dining room into a boring stainless steel kitchen. Undoubtedly, there is a dishwasher in my old living room now.

A YEAR AGO: Vanquishing the mess from the move. Things look pretty much the same, though I did get a bigger area rug. I still love this house and can still hardly believe I live here.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Kalli’s birthday camping party. So fun!

TEN YEARS AGO: Marilyn’s house was up for sale.

Baking

I don’t really think of myself as a baker. I can’t remember the last time I made a cake. I don’t even have cake pans, which probably makes it unlikely that I will be doing so any time soon. I am no Erica! She can make anything. I always joke with her that Jessica is the logical conclusion to her ultra craftiness. “I’m going to make a human being! And she’s going to be awesome!” And she is.

I am good at making Montreal* style bagels, somewhat surprising since I do not have a wood-fired oven and have never lived in Montreal or have any Quebec background at all. Also because it is a lengthy process, and you know how patient I am not. I have streamlined the process as much as possible, having learned a few things along the way, like proper shaping technique. I am pleased to say that they almost never come apart during the boiling process. And there’s something meditative about rolling them in my hands while looking out of the kitchen window at the mighty redwoods and passing wildlife. Here is the most recent batch:

Recently, I tried my hand at lumpia Shanghai, a kind of Filipino egg roll. I was a little intimidated by the rolling technique, but it was easier than I thought. I did not deep fry them as the recipe said, just lightly fried them. They were not at all greasy, and the filling was a wonderful, savory combination of juicy ground pork and crunchy water chestnuts and celery:

I also skipped the suggested accompaniment of banana ketchup, which just sounds weird to me. I made a dipping sauce of sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, a few sesame seeds, and a dash of brown sugar and called it good. And it was.

Another new baking endeavor was cinnamon rolls, made from a friend’s father’s recipe. They turned out well, though the recipe was somewhat vague in places. It didn’t say what thickness the dough should be before rolling, or how much sugar and cinnamon to mix together for the filling (it just says, “A mixture of sugar and a generous amount of cinnamon”). It called for a mixture of Crisco and margarine, which horrified me, so I substituted butter. Despite all this, they were great:

It’s a little late in the year for resolutions, but it’s good to work on being a more confident baker. Who knows, maybe I’ll get around to making a cake before my next birthday!

*Lately I’ve been watching a TV show filmed in Montreal called “Bad Blood”, starring Kim Coates. I have loved him since he was a bad guy (he is pretty much always a bad guy) in the late ‘80s-early 90s “Street Legal”, a TV show I would like to revisit. “Bad Blood” is a fictional riff on a real Montreal mob empire, and very entertaining.

A YEAR AGO: The cats were enjoying their new home. I note that now Audrey is upstairs all the time and the boys are downstairs or on the bed. The dishes and litter box are upstairs now, too.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Remembering a long-ago trip to Paris.

TEN YEARS AGO: Road work and attempted laundry.

Cooking

I tend to do my cooking for the week on Saturday, making dishes I can heat up after work during the week. About the last thing I want to do after driving, working, and arriving home to take care of cats and removing faux adult armor so painstakingly applied that morning is slicing and dicing. I have a limited supply of patience and niceness, and it’s running on empty by the end of the work day. Basically, I just want to heat something up, watch a little TV, and go to bed and read.

Sometimes I do special projects on the weekends, like making Montreal-style bagels. I have actually gotten pretty good at making these, though they are a time consuming and messy process. I live 3,000 miles from the nearest commercially available Montreal bagels, so if I want them (and I do), I have to make them myself.

Recently, I tried my hand at strawberry granola, from a recipe in the New York Times. It came out perfect the first time, and I wouldn’t change a thing:

While I was combining the dried strawberries with the cooled granola mixture, I noticed several deer wandering down the driveway, outside the kitchen window. They were completely unafraid, nibbling here and there. They had a couple of young ones with them, at the stage where they were shedding their spots. the biggest deer peeked in the window at me, and for a moment, my little green eyes met his huge, liquid brown ones. Then he and his family headed off into the woods. A little moment of magic.

Another success was a first-time attempt at making Carolina-style ribs. I like the tangy style of barbecue sauce rather than the thick, sweet, sticky one. I made a rub and applied it the night before, letting it marinate overnight, and then baking the ribs for a few hours the next night. They turned out great, and I will not change a thing the next time I make them, and there will be a next time. It’s fun to try new recipes along with the tried and true.

FIVE YEARS AGO: Farewell to Marco, the gentle giant. We still miss you, sweet boy.

TEN YEARS AGO: Well, this is still true. Between a writing project and writing social media posts fro work, my blog has been neglected lately. Seems two posts a week is about all I can do these days.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO: Again, all these things are still true. A girl can dream…