September 30, 2014

The boy. This afternoon. Hammock. Engrossed in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. P1170928

Absent a raft in the river, I can hardly imagine ordering up a better scene.


Amazing what I can shoot, hiding behind the piano in the living room, aiming my camera (not iPhone camera) across the yard…

New Old Radio

September 29, 2014

I may be a bit hard pressed to explain exactly what this is, but I can say this much: Jim built a new radio for the kitchen and here it is:


He found the radio on eBay.. something like $60.  He gutted it, then put some other stuff in it to turn it into a Wi-Fi radio.  As best I can figure from things he’s said about it, the inside has these things:

-a couple stereo speakers

-an amplifier

-an amplifier mounting board

-an amplifier circuit board

-a volume control mechanism

-a spring plate

-some spring retainer screws

-wall warts

-power transformers

-a power cord and some kind of nylon cord

-a power switch

-base and treble controls

-and my personal favorite: an old plastic parking permit which insulates the router board from the amp board

(That is a lot of word salad to me, but it may mean something to my electronically-inclined readers.)

The last thing to know about this radio is it is set on one channel only: Capital Public Radio (NPR) and is somehow controlled by Jim’s computer. Somehow.

All I have to do is turn it on, wait about 40 seconds for something to happen, then set the volume.

COOL, huh!!

Bechamel Sauce: 1 Kari: O

September 28, 2014

Moussaka is pretty much on the short list of my favorite things to eat of all times.

We have a whole bunch of huge, black, perfect globes of eggplant from our garden (yesterday’s blog). Baking a batch of moussaka is a no brainer.

So, the recipe I finally chose–because it claimed to be a simple, authentic moussaka recipe (Craig Clairborne himself said it was the best), a standard version of the classic dish and fairly straight forward–said prep time would be an hour. Easy peasy.

The thing is… moussaka is topped with a bechamel sauce, and I hate bechamel sauces (because they freak me out and they never work for me), but the recipe had a very small paragraph dedicated to the making of this particular bechamel sauce, therefore, I decided it couldn’t be that hard. I would not fail the short-paragraph of a bechamel sauce.

However, I did fail the bechamel sauce.  Like I always do. And also, prep time was something like four hours (well, that included shopping).


But first, let me show you what did work well about the moussaka making:

Peeled and cut our beautiful eggplants and set them to sweat (by sprinkling with salt) and drain. Thirty minutes. Not an attractive process, but it worked well:


Then, browned them up in a bit of olive oil (many batches; this took awhile). (And I burned myself.)


And let them drain again:


Mixed up a concoction of red wine, cinnamon, parsley and tomato paste and set it aside:


Then browned three very oniony onions (these were from Eatwell Farms):


To which I then added ground lamb, continuing to saute until the lamb was cooked, then added the red wine mixture.


It cooked down for about an hour, until the liquid had soaked into the meat and any extra had evaporated. The smell in the kitchen at this point was insane.

Now the stupid bechamel. Melted the butter and whisked an equal amount of flour on low for about five minutes. Fine.


Then added a quart of milk, a small amount at a time. I should have heated the milk first, but I forgot. It was supposed to thicken, but it never did. I knew it wouldn’t. I went to the interwebs and read up on bechamel sauces and learned that the butter/flour to milk ratio affects the thickness (of course). I decided that perhaps, given the ratio called for in the recipe, maybe it was supposed to be thin at this point. Because I still had yet to add this stuff:


This is ricotta, egg and nutmeg.  I figured that when that got added, it would thicken up.

It did not.

I figured I had to go to the store to get more milk and ricotta and start all over. Or just bag the whole thing and go to Symposium (they make the best moussaka ever).  I was suddenly in a very foul mood.

Jim, who possibly did better in chemistry than I did, had an idea.  He just assumed I had not let the bechamel go long enough to thicken, because all the ingredients were there in the right proportions. He tested this theory on a tiny amount of the bechamel-ricotta-egg mixture by returning it to the stove and heating it up some more. It actually thickened. So we heated & stirred the mixture in small batches until we’d thickened up the whole thing. We didn’t know what we’d done to the egg in the mixture which was definitely not supposed to be cooked prior to baking it, but just in case we’d lost whatever value the egg was supposed to add, we added two egg whites to the thickened sauce.

The mixture was thick enough to spread, which is what was supposed to happen. My foul mood softened; maybe this would turn out after all. So, into the casserole went alternating layers of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, eggplant slices, lamb, and finished with thick-enough-to-spread bechamel-ricotta-egg. It looked like this going in.


An hour later, it looked like this…


A little burned in spots, but fine. And actually, surprise… it tasted just about perfect. I am not kidding.

Moussaka, rice, zucchini, proseco (instead of retsina), baklava and mint gelato for dessert.  Peter had ham and eggs on toast (given we had a few egg yolks sitting around). (Though he admitted the moussaka smelled good.)


And enough moussaka for another few dinners. Makes me incredibly happy.

Today’s Harvest…

September 27, 2014

…. tomorrow’s moussaka.


(Just the eggplant.. not the chiles.) Will report tomorrow.

Watching TV is incredibly hard these days. Not because there’s nothing to watch, but because it’s become too complicated.  Especially if you’ve decided, as we have, that the greedy, unethical cable companies have screwed the consumer just one time too many and you’re never, ever giving them another penny.

It’s probably good that it’s so hard. God knows, I love great TV and would watch more than I’d really want to were it easier.

So… Netflix, Roku and over-the-air broadcast are our media sources of choice.  And we live with that.

We subscribe to MLB TV, which, while they also suck and can’t seem to do anything right, we can still get some games some of the time.  Most of the times we can’t… but we were able to see Derek Jeter’s last game in Yankee Stadium. Might be his last game, unless he decides to play the Yankees’ last road games. Who knows… don’t follow it that closely.

Jeter’s retirement and the mania surrounding it, like all overhyped media events, has jumped the shark, but the guy’s still a class act, a great role model, a great player and deserves a whole lot of the attention he’s getting right now.

Here’s how we watched the last few innings of last night’s kinda epic swan song (if it wasn’t a totally scripted set-up… which it may have been..we may never know). “Come into my office you guys, pull up a workout bench and watch my computer with me!” Even ate [too many] salted cashews and drank a nut brown ale.

That’s sports viewing, man.


A close up the star himself:


ICYMI (as they say): The Yankees were ahead 5-2 going into the final inning. The Orioles, who’ve already secured a spot in the playoffs and didn’t really need a win here, hit two home runs in the top of the inning, one with a runner on, and tied the game, forcing a bottom inning.  The Yankee lead-off batter got on, the second guy bunted him into scoring position and then Jeter was up. He’s trying not to cry, the stadium is deafening, the announcers have wet their pants a million times already, it’s all so perfect. He swings at the first pitch (a slow one right down the middle… I mean… really?) and hits a grounder into right. The runner on second just beats the throw to home and scores, giving the Yankees a 6-5 lead, ending the game. Jeter’s last at-bat at home is a walk-off single.  Pretty storybook. Tears all around, man hugs everywhere, dozens of jumping up and down guys, and Gatorade, ice-bucket style. Kah-razy.

Lots of fun, and we’re not even Yankee fans.

So Much to Love…

September 25, 2014

…about a rainy day.  (YES, a rainy day!!)

First, there’s a walk in the redwoods:


Then, there are these fine creatures.. not creatures at all, but mounds of Berkeley Sedge, or more botanically correct: carex divulsa.  I love these so much, we planted tons of them on the center mound in our backyard, now devoted to a dozen or more different grasses. They look particularly charming in the dampy darkness of the redwood grove just after a rain.


And finally, this lavender wonderfulness. Not sure what it is but it’s really really pretty:


Composted Like a Boss

September 24, 2014

My new favorite part of gardening day: sitting on the second floor deck of the soon-to-be garden shed, admiring our work.




Not that I didn’t love moving compost piles from one place to another and re-layering them for maximum decomposition. That was totally fun. Uh huh.

This is Frances working the piles:


Basically, we’re moving the piles from one place to another, then wetting them and rebuilding them, mixing dry upper layers with wetter bottom layers (and trying to avoid creepy crawlers). We collected a respectable amount of the ripe and ready mulch, “black humus,” and spread it around areas of the garden that seemed needy.. like this spot where a fruit tree will be planted next January or so:



Also, harvested a whole bunch of those mini pumpkins from the volunteer mini-pumpkin plant (thank you seed-dropping birds of seasons past) and now have a fall-appropriate table centerpiece at the ready; deep watered the newly planted Meyer lemon; transplanted and sheered a very large chrysanthemum; and did a spot of weeding.

Totally earned some time on the deck.


September 23, 2014

Minding my own biz

When a dry and brittle leaf

Falls upon my head.



September 22, 2014

I’m a fan of moments in time, of ascribing meaning and significance to them, of arriving–with thoughtful intention–to jumping off points. Knowing what we’re leaving behind, and what we’re moving into.

Like, today… first day of Fall (not to be confused with first day of school, which, of course, is its own moment in time, its own jumping off point). Today was a major seasonal transition.

So long summer. Seasonally speaking, we’re leaving the freedom and ease of barefoot days; of standing at the counter eating sweet, freshly cut, ripe fruit; of wearing light dresses and swinging in the hammock; of breezes blowing through the house. (Though in Davis, we still have another month and a half of lovely weather.)

I’ve written about exactly these things, I know. But, it’s hard to let them go, especially this year. Part of the immense pleasure of this summer was just being in such a wonderful state of mind to enjoy it.  I’ve been focusing on simplifying my life, decluttering on so many levels (including physical spaces), prioritizing, making room for just those few things that matter. That’s been the plan, and WOW, it’s really working. Stress and busy-ness are their own structural elements, they give our days shape and fullness, and the absence of stress and busy-ness is a little disorienting.. but I’m adjusting. Joyfully.

A friend asked me today (via email), “How are you?” meaning, HOW am I really?  I said this:

just great. in a place of ample space, settledness and readiness to be challenged. i’m looking at writing. have been doing a lot of reading (which feels like part of the writing process) feel open, peaceful (the word is apt) and optimistic. digging it. 

So yeah, the start of a new season is a great jumping off point. I love the luxury and space for reflection and assessment. I love a good start on the next phase. (Which, let me admit: part of that is truly, mindfully spiritual, and part of that is OCD.)

Anyway… I took these photos last night. Had lain in the hammock until I couldn’t see to read anymore, then approached a lighted house from a darkened yard. Sort of transition photos…right? Kind of reminds me of moving inward– transitioning from the season of outside to the season of inside. You know… if I had to get all symbolic about it.

IMG_2511 IMG_2512 IMG_2513



September 21, 2014

Whoever’s in charge of these things–probably Hallmark–decided that one’s eighteenth wedding anniversary would be materially memorialized with porcelain. Porcelain gifts? I suppose.

Jim’s been the more consistent traditionalist in this regard… and has fashioned trinkets out of, for example, wood (5th), cooper (7th), crystal (15th), furniture (17th) and this year..


…. converted a porcelain drawer pull: etched and inscribed it, then mounted it on a sanded piece of branch from Peter’s sycamore (the one planted in his first year, fertilized with his placenta… sure I’ve written about that mostly undisclosed bit of family lore).

Jim is definitely the cleverer spouse.

I made a chocolate cake that came out looking like a giant doughnut.  Sought chocolate cake recipe ideas from the Facebook universe this morning and got a lot of very excellent possibilities. Used the first suggestion, a recipe adapted by the NY Times from the Silver Palate Cookbook. It was really good and not too complicated.


In the porcelain gift category, I went practical with a ceramic-bladed knife (super sharp, will almost never require sharpening, though it’s a little fussy… we’ll see how it works) and found what I thought was a rather perfect card for the porcelain occasion:

knife and card

I’m clever in a less crafty way, perhaps.

Jim cooked dinner, a dish built around a bunch of plantains we found on the street in front of our house yesterday. No kidding. They must have dropped off somebody’s bike and they seemed fair game and in good enough shape. He sauteed them with a selection of CSA-box vegetables and added coconut for a sort of Caribbean flavor. It worked. Peter opted for some leftover steak.

My guys:


And the requisite, if goofy, shot of the celebrants: