Ugly Food, Autumn Days, &tc.

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Oh, yes, turkeys. On a trip into town the other day, we saw these loudmouthed beasties. Along with the mobs of Canadian geese which are strutting through the elementary school field, we’re inundated with huge birds. We’re pretty sure they’re following us.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“We miss your food blogging,” people say from time to time, and we give them that patient, blank smile that has beneath it Many Thoughts.

Thing is, one, our lives have refocused from food and our slower lifestyle, which gave us time to do more cooking, has changed. We do assembly line types of things on the weekends, like so many people do. We’re both trying to shove more work into the days — D is burning his candle possibly at three points, for three different companies, all while covering three positions in his main, non-consultant job, while T is trying to finish a novel in ten weeks (a self-determined deadline she might actually make), before the madness of another Cybils Book Award cycle begins. Life has gotten busy — and while it’s not that we’re not looking or photographing food – because somehow we have that ridiculous tendency, despite not being Actual Millenials (TM), sometimes, we don’t post those pictures anywhere in particular, or share the recipes… because the food is… ugly.

Yes, okay. We’re not supposed to say that, we’re told. If we didn’t point it out, no one would notice, we’re told. Um… yeah. Right.

Quinoa Lentil Salad

A couple weeks ago we made an amazing salad of quinoa, brown lentils, fresh-from-the-cob white corn and juicy cherry tomatoes. We added chopped cilanto and a dressing made of …leftover guacamole, blended together with a little oil and vinegar. It was delicious; unctuous and rich and spicy — and if you’re looking for a non-dairy base for a salad dressing, you won’t do worse than mashed ‘cado. That aside, comfort foods, such as brown lentils, and the little squiggly tails of quinoa do not photograph well. Add to that a dressing that oxidizes into the color of things one would rather not discuss when found on or near an infant? So not pretty. To the point: T took a picture of it, and D deleted it from Flickr, saying it looked “like ugly mush.” She was most amused. “But, I took it that way on purpose,” she protested. “That’s what it looks like.” He claimed he’d return the photograph to the line up. He finally did, but not without Much Furrowing Of Brows.

Ugly food. Ugly words. Ugly actions. Ugly world. Nothing that would make the Instagram cut. Life lately has more than its share of things which do not bear scrutiny, and we are, these days, scraped raw and bruised. The things we need to do – and to eat – to keep body and soul together, to keep spirits nourished – often don’t photograph attractively. But we do them anyway. We walk and rage and donate and weep. We try not to eat our feelings. To fail to do so is to fail to thrive in this love-grown-cold world, and we all need to do the best we can to be ready when it’s time for us to play the parts we’re called to play. And we do have a part to play. Walk together, children. Don’t you get weary.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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Nighttime temps dropping abruptly into the forties after another bump into the nineties during the daytime has left our fig tree confused. It is still heavily laden with fruit, so much so that we have daily discussions with Sid, the 5 o’clock Squirrel and the sweet little black phoebe which has taken up residence nearby. Sid is not convinced that he should stay out of the figs, but he’s made it his life’s work lately to keep other squirrels out. And so The Wars Continue.

The geese continue to warn sharply of autumn’s arrival — sometimes it seems like they’re following us. The other night, on the way in to chamber rehearsal, a flight of them arrowed over our heads, flying low enough for us to see the sunset glinting off of belly feathers. We really are enjoying the variety of wildlife here; everyone has Canadian geese, but we never have lived in close enough proximity to egrets to know that they, too, make sounds… mainly a harsh croaking noise that just echoes up and down the tidal marsh corridor, when they’re het up about something (one wonders what — an especially good frog? An annoying egret landing nearby? A boyfriend? WE WILL NEVER KNOW). Sleeping with the windows open isn’t working out anymore, which has its good and bad points – we’re not being wakened at the crack-of-smack anymore by the avian world, and the wind isn’t rattling down the hallway, either — but the smell of green swamp is not nearly as much fun as the smell of closed up house. Ah, well.

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Another funny little autumn thing is happening — in our old house, we often noticed ladybugs in our bedroom throughout the fall and winter. We thought that was over, when we moved miles away… um, not so much. The Ashy Gray Lady Beetle – ladybug 2.0, in other words – has found us again, and is trying to overwinter in our master bedroom… again. The more things change, the more they remain the same, etc. etc.

With so much busyness taking over, we haven’t had time to do much roaming, but are batting around the idea of visiting the Dark Sky Park in Death Valley – when it gets a bit more bearable there, temperature-wise. We haven’t had much chance to photograph really good stars since Iceland, and Death Valley is much, much closer. We’re still hoping to make it to the UK again someday, but our trip to Oaxaca is going to be put on hold for a long while, we’re afraid. We are still very much enjoying our Chamber group — more information to come on that — and had forgotten the little ins-and-outs of belonging to an organization which requires evening wear and fundraising, on top of memorizing tricky German vowel sounds for the Abendlied, but we are keeping heads above water there (though it’s a challenge – a good one, but still!).

Life moves on, and it’s lovely to hear that you are living, surviving, thriving. It’s been nice to hear from many of you. And to the rest – Hello! Be well! We miss you.

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Really?

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The funny thing about living here is that we’re cooking … differently. We’re doing more prep ahead, making casseroles for the week (and freezing 3 when we make 4), we’re having protein smoothies in the morning, and we’re not really cooking as much. We know this not just because we see what we’re doing but because we encounter things like these onions. Left to their own devices, they decided it was time to sprout, even though they’re in a cool, dark cabinet.

-D

The Drum Roll of Autumn

Peachtree 32Last Monday evening, we had a foretaste of autumn that whetted our appetites and encouraged us through the relentlessly sticky humidity here. Though it was nearly five, it was still 81°F with humidity in the 80% range, and the sky was all Heart of Darkness. We had to run errands after work hours, so dodged the odd sprinkle, and watched cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes on the way home. As we prepped dinner, the flurry of sprinkles turned on and off, and we heard grumbles of thunder that got closer and closer. Still didn’t think anything of it, though as a precaution brought our canvas chairs in from the yard. And then suddenly, while relaxing after supper – reading in front of a fan, with all the windows opened – we were blinded by a flash and the hair on our arms lifted. The supersonic BOOM chased a gust of cold wind through the house, and then the rain came just sluicing down. We stared at each other for a brief moment – T attempting to film the scene on her camera (which cheerfully began filming after she set it down) then said, “WINDOWS!” Yes. In a house without air conditioning, all of the windows in the house are generally open to catch any errant breeze… which wasn’t a problem on the front of the house, as the wind was coming form the other direction, but the back of the house gets the wind off the bay, and so we had water running through very dirty screens, bringing muddy spatters to light-colored wood flooring and white tile.

And may we just say that damp wool rugs smell a great deal like wet dog?

The rain, which lasted on and off for a couple of hours, with massive cloudbursts, finally broke the worst of the heat. Though the humidity lingered briefly, cooler winds prevailed, and ungainly egrets darted and flapped over the slough in seeming celebration (joining the REALLY LOUD GEESE, whose favorite time of day to practice flying in formation is the predawn hours, for some reason. The neighborhoods here are so, so quiet… and then there are the ducks. And the geese. And the rock doves. At least the egrets and herons, so far, are quiet. SO FAR). The National Weather Service reported Tuesday morning that 1,200 cloud-to-ground strikes and 5,800 in-cloud strikes hit the Bay Area Monday night, so that was a bit of excitement, as we got to see LOTS of them. We do wish our video had turned out, but T has since gotten a brief tutorial so subsequent videos should actually show scenes one wants to see, instead of a close-up of bedspreads and the floor. Le sigh.

Another harbinger of fall is the return of the chorale, and the vigorous humming of carols while showering, well before their time (but not, sadly, before some wrong-headed little drugstore has a Christmas tree display up in a back corner. People: can we get through school starting first? K, thanks). Last summer, T was invited to join a group of professional singers as their ringer soprano, but she declined – mostly because the chorus was made up of professionals – actors, singers, music professors, theater people – and she felt she’d be in over her head. After hearing of a chamber group holding auditions three miles from the house, she looked up the director… and discovered that he was one of the tenors in the group she’d been invited to join. She is much happier to meet him as an anonymous choir member, though the three-week audition period (!!!) is a bit nerve-wracking. Several chamber members sweetly refer to it as “letting us get comfortable before he turns the screws.”

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As the summer wanes, things are still unsettled at D’s job, but as audits come and their reverberations trickle down through the company, he soldiers on, getting fingerprinted and checked out so the CDC can decide he’s an asset to lab/manufacturing areas, hiring contractors, and enjoying getting to know folks with the weekly free lunch-and-socialize times. T is past the halfway point on a summer book project that started out as “just an idea,” which took on a life of its own, and is bracing herself for the onslaught of reading to come as a book award judge. Things in the house are nearly settled now, with the screens finally in place, rugs and towels coordinating, and – soon! – the last pictures hung or stored. The challenge of living with constant humidity is reminding us, oddly, of Glasgow, where we required a dehumidifier for the closet. The linen closet has wire racks, so there’s sufficient air circulation; however, the clothes closet is its own little walk-in room, and depending on how the rains go this year, we may find we have a little problem. Still, it will never be as exciting as finding all of our clothes mildewed together in the closet like they did in Glasgow …At least we hope it’ll not get that exciting…!

Enjoy the last sweet summer fruit – the times, they are a-changing at long last, to the favorite season of all. Bring out those decorative gourds, people.

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The summer was immense.
Lay your long shadows on the sundials,
and on the meadows let the winds go free.

Command the last fruits to be full;
give them just two more southern days,
urge them on to completion and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who has no house now, will never build one.
Who is alone now, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly up and down
the tree-lines streets, when the leaves are drifting.

– Rainier Maria Rilke, translated by E. Snow,

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Kimchi

We quite enjoy fermenting our own kimchi and D. has had a request from a coworker for some made particularly spicy. So, below is what we ended up with after visiting the farmers’ market to pick up daikon and Thai bird peppers.

Kimchi 1 Kimchi 2
Kimchi 3 Kimchi 4

The ingredients for this dish are:

  • 3 heads of Nappa / Chinese cabbage, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, halved, quartered, and sliced
  • 1 daikon radish, halved and sliced
  • 3 sheets of roasted nori (seaweed sheets), cut to strips
  • maybe 15 Thai bird peppers, split open
  • 3/4 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
  • 1 cup kosher salt (not shown)

And the preparation is:

  1. Salt the cabbage, massage a bit, and let it sit for an hour.
  2. Rinse the cabbage well, drain, and mix with everything else.
  3. Cram everything into your fermentation crock.
  4. Cover with the appropriate weights.
  5. Top up with filtered water (removing the chlorine here, really).
  6. Wait several weeks.

D’s coworker is off on holiday for several weeks, at which point this should be nice and fermented.

-D & T

Shortbread Shopping

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As the world goes up in flames, we carry on. This week’s hyperfocus on minutiae had us contemplating the grocery store…

One of the joys (?) of moving is finding all new everything – dentist, chiropractor, doctor, community… and it’s never an easy transition. We’ve been flailing, trying to find a decent place for groceries. We love the Farmer’s Market, but skipped during last weekend’s Journey to the Center of the Volcano, in no mood to brave the bowels of hell just for fresh peaches. One good thing is that we have great options for produce here – those peaches are a regular feature this summer at the market, and there’s usually decent produce at most stores, including the big box like Costco. However, Costco here is ridiculous – we were spoiled, living where we had access to one in Vallejo, one in Vacaville, and one in Fairfield, within close proximity. Now, we’re down to one SUPER busy one, and unless you like to play Cart Derby, it’s a lot to ask. We had known the staff of our local Raley’s since before we moved to Scotland and had our house in Benicia, and knowing the staff by name (hello, Bernadette at the pharmacy) made everything easier. The Raley’s here, though is downtown, which means that it’s busier, has a city-type population, and our first day there including a clerk dragging a homeless man out of the store, castigating him loudly for shoplifting. Um. Maybe not.

With a much greater Asian and South Asian population, there are tons of Indian groceries in the area, as well as a Ranch 99, which was pretty neat but probably only for occasional shopping, as it was super crowded and full of what we term “field trip” food, as in we buy it just because we want to try it. This past weekend we tried Trader Joe’s which was kind of a relief, as it always seems to be the same store, no matter its location. We laughed that they both stocked Walkers Shortbread – both Ranch 99 and Trader Joe’s. Just in case, you know, you felt the need for imported Scottish Shortbread with your bitter melon or two-buck-chuck.

We’ve been bemused by Sprouts (with their “vegan sugar” and bizarre layout), amused by Whole Paycheck which, now that it’s owned by Amazon, we’re not sure it’s going to be any better than it’s always been, and spooked and stunned by the Safeway which is OK but came with an overly inquisitive checker who wanted to know a.)if we were married, b.)how long we’d been married, c.) if we lived at home (?!) and d.) to tell us that her son had married a colored girl… Y’know, if it wasn’t a total lazy cop-out and basically unnecessary, we’d get groceries delivered.

The world continues strange. How are you?

-D & T

Planning Ahead

When you have a deep-freeze, you can plan ahead. For us, that means we can make up four casseroles and about four loaves of bread (one pan is double-length and is really for making angel-food-cake, but who does that?).

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Three of the casseroles went into the deep freeze, where they’ll stay until we’re not feeling like cooking dinner. The fourth was baked immediately after the bread came out of the oven. The bread will, likewise, mostly be put into the deep freeze, where it will stay until we’re in dire need of raisin bread

We’re really enjoying that there’s a tortilla factory about a mile down the road from us, and have been experimenting with making “enchilada casseroles.” This batch contains several layers of crookneck squash, as well as beans, cheese, TVP, corn tortillas, and green or red enchilada sauce.

The raisin bread contains a heap of raisins and currants, plus our spice blend, some whole rye-berries (steamed), and a few whole fennel seeds to add that random element of surprise to things.

Now that we’ve figured out that the oven needs to be preheated for about 30 minutes, we’re happy to be able to plan ahead for the week (and beyond).

-D & T

Living Life

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We have survived the heat wave, despite not having air conditioning. We’ve been in this house now for six weeks or so and are feeling more settled. Tomorrow we audition for a local choir – the first choir we’ve thought would at all compare to the choir in Glasgow… which means that it’s been over five years since we’ve been on a regular rehearsal schedule!

Today is a day to relax before the week – to put together casseroles, to make a batch of raisin bread, to read. Now that the heat has gone, it’s a day to sit with the door open and listen to the hummingbirds complain about the world. In awhile we’ll maybe sit out in our lounge chairs and listen to the fountain splash.

Enjoy your week and find time to listen to the ducks, geese, and other wild things!

-D & T

Crown Shyness & Intersections

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So, there’s this thing, this inexplicable phenomenon in trees called ‘crown shyness.’ It’s where, for reasons of either reluctance to spread organisms or compete too much for light, trees grow up…and spread their canopy only so far, so that their leaves don’t overlap with the trees next door. Looking up at these canopies from below is striking; those trees really are like, nu-uh, no thank you, stay in your lane. The spaces between the leaves are small, but distinct, and the whole thing is a little mind-boggling.

This phenomenon put us in mind of a few things — mainly how weird it is sometimes when one’s cultures and communities overlap. Or don’t.

Over the past weeks, we’ve seen blogger friends grapple with many Big Questions on their blogging platforms. Some of the big questions have had to do with what they ate this week, or what to make for dinner; others have tackled current events.

There’s never any requirement, per se, from our blogging communities to Say Something About Things, but there’s a certain feeling of… expectation(?) that we will have an opinion, in other circles. That we are happy to speak, if asked. That we will Have Some Wisdom To Share. And then there are the friends who definitely, definitively do NOT want us to say anything. They arrive with a Statement: Everything is Awful Right Now, And We Hate It, and then, they hold their out a hand, a visual time-out; signaling Stop… as if they have the right to tone police, word police, corral or contravene what we might have had to say.

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So, all that is… interesting.

There are deeply complex and complicated feelings surrounding one’s right or responsibility to speak or not speak. Especially right now, when we are a biracial couple with acquaintances of various races, eager for our countersignature on their opinions.

And yet, what is there to say? That everything is awful, and we hate it? Noted.

It’s easy to gasp and clutch pearls, but this is history on repeat… You’ll pardon us if we seem cynical about the reactions of the eternally surprised, who say “this is not us, our country isn’t like this!” It is easy to be impatient with the lachrymose, and allow ourselves and our feelings about things to be centered in a narrative that is not entirely about us, and yet, this is about us, about too many things, past, present, and ongoing, to disentangle. Where we are living, truly, where we always live is in history, though capital ‘h’ History is something we don’t always recognize. Yet, here it is: a messy and painful and real time… but for many people, there have been many, many times which are painful, messy, and real. As mentioned: history, on repeat.

Because of that, maybe this is a time for reading, thinking, and listening… and for thoughtful conversation. Perhaps this is not a time to command performance; not from your friends of color, especially. Perhaps the time is less for performative reaction or virtue signaling, and more for quiet decisions about how one will act when those Certain Topics come up, when Certain Situations are witnessed. Maybe now is the time to decide how you will move forward. How each person does this, what words and actions feel right is …as personal as speaking about religion and/or politics used to be.

Meanwhile, History is a daily event, as your conversations and communities intersect, or don’t. Looking up through the canopy of your friendships, you may see spaces between your communities and cultures. As the wind blows, however, those crown shy trees may end up touching anyway. How we deal with that feels like something it’s important to think about before it happens.

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Nearly Settled

Another week! Another pile of collapsed boxes! As of today, all we have left to unpack are the art supplies and to hang what mirrors and paintings are going to go up. Everything else is unpacked and has a permanent home and/or is sorted into donation boxes, awaiting pickup on Wednesday. Less clutter = more peace, and that’s really helpful to T getting creative work done. This is a very quiet neighborhood (except when someone gets the odd urge to mow something, or the train blows its whistle), even on the weekends, and the wind whistling through the house works as natural white noise. It makes for good napping conditions – and we are still exhausted enough to take advantage of them. Well, we think about it, anyway…

On D’s work front, his first week at the new job was immensely enjoyable – so much so that he neglected to come home until after seven, occasionally. There’s much to be done, and much chaos to organize, and he’s enjoying the challenge (or the chaos, one or the other. Not clear which just yet).

To those who’ve complained we’ve gone radio silent and feel as far away as we did when we lived in Scotland: apologies! You’ve asked what the house looks like. Here’s part of downstairs. A glimpse of upstairs to come next time.

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Above is what we’ll call “the den,” simply because the living room / dining room is the next space over. As you can see, we’re still sorting a few things, organizing the kitchen space, using a folding table. That table will get tucked away until holidays or some other need, soon.

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If you’re in the den, you’re looking into the kitchen. Yes, those are sticky notes on the cupboards – we had to decide what went where, and haven’t quite gotten it down to memory yet. Things are still shifting around (the flour moved all the way across the kitchen, just last night, to find a home in a cabinet next to the sink, rather than next to the fridge). We’re still trying to get the cupboard space to work well, which is odd, since they’re so narrow and some of them are so deep. As large as the ones next to the fridge are, they’re still too narrow for our largest mixing bowls, so those have had to relocate to the closet next to the garage door.

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We have done our first proper baking here, though, 10 days after moving in (the quiche last weekend doesn’t count, really). A gas oven is miles off from an electric, and there’s an adjustment of all the senses, especially sound (that whoomp as the pilot lights), and smell (that little whiff of gas). Touch is the one sense that doesn’t fare quite as well here… because the oven thermostat is so far off, we had to order an external thermometer. It takes about 45 minutes to get up to close to full heat (set it at 390°F and it’ll get to 350°F in that time), and then gradually slides even hotter, so you have to adjust the temperature down when you put your baking in. We notified the invisible property management people, who report that the owner insists that this is what an oven is supposed to do, and we’re just going to live with it until it falls over.

We are not amused.

At least the bread turned out superbly.

Onward into the new week, with its goals of placing the last mirrors, rugs, and artwork, figuring out the irrigation system and finding a home for the last odds & ends. Until next time,

-D & T