Friday, June 30, 2006

Rockie Mountain High

Colorado Rockies . . .

My darling, Ander, is back home...

Being at such a high altitude for the last couple of weeks requires him to aclimate to the comforts of home. As soon as he arrived, he was in the garden tending to "the girlie-girls". He did give me a thumbs up that I maintained the garden in very good condition. I didn't kill any plants. LOL! I mentioned the hose issue only to learn that there was a new hose that was generously gifted to us by our kind neighbors, Theo and Nancy. (I wrote about them here. ) Ander just hadn't changed the hoses before he left. Thanks, Honey. It's all good. He's home now and can take over the garden chores. I won't mind "hand watering" when needed. I kind of like the "Zen" mode. But then again, I get that in my kitchen. There's nothing like chopping vegetables, stirring a pot or tossing a sauté pan and smelling the aromas of what I'm preparing that brings this gal to her element.

I love to cook. I love to create new recipes. I love canning and preserving. I love baking. I love cookbooks. I love kitchen gadgets. I love wine. I love spices. I love fresh herbs. I love fresh gathered eggs. I love farmers markets. I love to cook for family and friends. I love a banquet.

I love my Ander. Welcome home, my darling.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

got fork?

When a fork isn't handy . . . use a spoon.



3 cups grated carrots
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
3/4 cup chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting:

3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 (8 ounce) package Neufchatel cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan. In a large bowl, combine grated carrots, flour, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in eggs, oil, 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, crushed pineapple and 3/4 cup chopped pecans. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.

To Make Frosting: In a medium bowl, combine confectioners' sugar, Neufchatel cheese, 1/2 cup butter or margarine and 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla. Beat until smooth, then stir in 1 cup chopped pecans. Spread on cooled cake.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Garden Gab

Planted in the above-ground pond in front of the house. We placed this plant in the pond in honor of our nieces, K, G, S, and K2. Pretty in Pink.

Ander is expected home in the next couple of days. I am excited for my darling hubby to be home. Since he’s been gone, I’ve had to take care of the “girlie-girls”. This entails waking up at dawn, open the gates to the backyard, open the gate to the coop, throw out grain and feed for the day, gather the eggs the girls have laid that day, close the gates at dark. These days it doesn’t get dark until after 9:00PM. I have to leave a post-it on the door to remind me the last task I need to do before locking the doors and windows for the night.

"The Girlie-Girls" . . .

Over the last week and a half, I’ve gotten to get to know the girls a little better. There is one hen that greets me with a peck on the back of my hand. I call her “Pekker”. In the past, we had the habit of naming the hens as they matured from their “pullet” stage. Since we don’t have a rooster, (as mentioned in a previous post, Ander is “the Rooster”), we resort to getting new hens when they are at about 3 months old. They are separated from the older hens for 3-4 months until they get big enough to protect themselves. As there is a pecking order among this breed of fowl, the young hens must fend for themselves. “Survivor of the fittest”, truly applies here. Ander’s theory has been to purchase the same “varietal” of hens, as “Birds of a feather, stick together”. We no longer name the hens, as there are too many to identify one from the other. However, the original Araucanas, Bella, Brava and Boca have remained distinguished. They lay beautiful green-blue eggs.

Thyme on my hands...

I also have to water the summer garden of numerous vegetables, herbs, cacti and flowers. They include, 67 varied heirloom tomato plants, 12 Tromboco squash, 16 lemon cukes, over 3 dozen bean plants, 48 pepper plants (sweet, mild and chili), lettuce leaf basil, sweet basil, Oregano (Italian, Greek and Mexican – Yes, there is a difference), Sweet Marjoram, Yerba Buena (True Mint), Pineapple Mint, Thyme (English, Lemon and Silver), Sage, Italian Parsley, French Tarragon, Arugula, Cilantro, Rosemary and Bay Laurel bushes. The prizes of the garden are the Lemon Verbena Plants that have been nurtured into small trees from tiny little cuttings. They have been transplanted into fresh, nourished soil and progressively larger pots each season. (An upcoming post will explain why they are such a prized item.)

Prickly Pear Cactus . . .

Bordering the redwood and chain link fence lines are cactus plants that no one would ever think of eating. But, don’t be alarmed; we remove the cactus needles before preparing them for consumption. Ander makes his signature “Nopal Salsa” every summer. What we don’t consume during the season, I preserve for winter use. I have been collecting various scented geraniums the last several years. It’s always on my agenda to search and find unique scents during our travels. There is a certain mystical energy when walking through the garden that stimulates the senses and demands your attention.

The start of a good thing . . .

I don’t mind the chores of having such a vast garden. I learned to water at the wake of dawn, versus dusk. My first night of “hand watering”, the mosquitoes had a wonderful “buffet de moi”. Hand water you ask? There is a “Zen-like” nature that comes over you when holding a watering can over a young seedling sprinkling it with subsistence. One can meditate or simply daydream. It provides an escape. The sound of trickling water is indeed calming. Should you have the desire to water your garden with the end of the garden hose, may I make the suggestion of avoiding a used, yard sale find, taped in various degrees in a futile attempt to plug up the countless holes throughout the length of the rubber tube. Ander’s “good enough” methods will have to be reviewed. I have found myself throwing my head back in surprise of a squirt here and there. Suffering from a herniated disk, this practice is not a good thing. I found myself soaked on the first day of watering, which was welcomed comfort considering the sweltering heat of the morning. I know what to get him for his upcoming birthday. LOL!

Ander enjoys being in the garden. When he doesn’t have a paintbrush in hand or taking photographs, he is in his zone in the garden. Another lesson I’ve learned, Ander advised, not to water in the evening as it reduces the heat absorbed by the soil during the day. The rewards of watching the growth and progress of the plants are gratifying. The harvest is bountiful and those that we openhandedly share the gifts of the garden are truly grateful. We enjoy seeing the results of what the bounty provides. Even better, we get pleasure from the delightful meals that we get to share with family and friends.

In the next few weeks, I am sure to find inspiration to write about what offerings we are to discover in this amazing haven.

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Has Made Her Mark

The LCD reader outside the bank on the corner of 4th and Farmer's Lane read a scorching 112° Fahrenheit. According to the forecast, we expect more 3 digit temps in the next few days. S-I-Z-Z-L-I-N ! ! !

I’ve been bacheloretting it since last Thursday. My Darling Hubby, Ander, gets back from the Colorado Rockies sometime next week, depending on when and where the wildflowers bloom. He’s experiencing some inclement weather and is happy to hear he’s traipsing around the Rockies at 40° F. - 50° F.

Oliver’s Market has Bing Cherries at $2.99/Lb. as an Ad special.

So what’s a lonely girl to do on a hot summer night? Make bing cherry gelato, naturally. No need for hot fudge, caramel or even whipped cream. All this gal needs is the cherry on top. As fortune would have it…she gets pure cherry bliss in every bite.

Aaaaaahhh, the rapture…wanna taste?

Sharing is caring…

Wednesday, June 21, 2006



Faux Pas Tu Café

Eye Candy, For you Daaaahhhling....

CAVEAT: The names of the innocent have been protected. If they’re reading this, they know whom they are. Through my freedom of expression, I invoke my 1st amendment rights under the US Constitution Bill of Rights.

If there’s one thing that can get my undies in a bunch is RUDENESS without cause.

It was supposed to celebrate SS’s 40th birthday, She’s a really good friend of my sister, LJ. SS is also my friend, but I didn’t get an invitation. Still waiting for it in the mail. Yeah … right.

The invite stated the usual suspects; Who,What, Where and When. Yet, there was a twist. It included a request of $55 per person (Faux Pas #1). Upon receiving the invite, my sister, LJ, phoned me to ask, “Is this common? Is this a new trend?” I donned on my Holmes helmet to ask, “Is there special entertainment? Is it at a restaurant? Private home perhaps? Formal attire?” Frankly, when an event is being hosted by someone (a relative, dear friend, parents, etc…) the financial aspect is covered. There are no requests for monies…..Alas, with a great deal of apprehension; my sister submitted the $55 bucks. BTW, it was “Girls Only”. SS’s poor Dad wasn’t invited either. Good grief, it’s a birthday celebration, the 40th anniversary of the day of birth, an occasion, surely Dad was partly responsible for, right? (Faux Pas #2)

Since LJ, a couple of mutual friends and SS’s mother, Mrs. SS, lived an hour and a half away from the selected venue, they arranged to carpool together. The four members of the guest list traveled with excitement and eagerness for a night of celebration.

The majority of the guests met at SS’s little cottage on the Island and proceeded to stroll up the street to the café. The evening continued with customary fare one would expect from a Mediterranean spread; hummus, pita, dolmades, etc. Bottled water was provided at each table. Wine and cocktails were being ordered left and right. Laughter ensued and the celebration of SS’s 40th with 50 of her female friend revealed how much she was appreciated, admired and very well liked. After all, they forked out $55 each to attend this gathering. That comes to $2,750 the hostess collected to be able to put together this affair. (Pay attention to my emphasis here. It will play an important part in upcoming section.)

The fabulous four guests, (LJ, L, C and Mrs. SS) would partake in their pre-selected dinner entrée. There was a choice of either Rack-o-Lamb or Halibut with suitable side dishes. There was quite a bit of confusion as to who ordered what, with which side, etc. An order of rice pilaf was to accompany the Halibut, but instead, the flatfish was placed on top of mashed potatoes, leaving a monochromatic display for the perplexed guest. The servers were flit floating about with such flurry, the Party’s Hostess resorted to pulling out her Excel spreadsheet detailing the guest preferences to resolve some of the disorder. Once the muddled mess was handled, the festivities carried on. More wine and cocktails were ordered. LJ, L, C and Mrs. SS did not imbibe, but rather sipped on the modest water, tea or coffee. Dessert was presented and consumed. I would assert there was a chorus of “Happy Birthday” belted out, naturally, it’s a birthday, after all. Birthday gifts opened and marveled at. The evening comes to a close and the guests prepare to depart. As SS bids farewell to her guests at the front section of the café, the fabulous four remain in the eating area with the party’s hostess to gather opened birthday presents as they prepare to return to the little cottage on the Island. They are approached by the Co-owner of the café and immediately prevented from leaving. They are barred from their exit due to the unpaid “bar bill”. More confusion arises. The party’s hostess explains everything was already arranged and that beverages were included in the prepaid arrangements. The Co-owner plays ignorant and he arrogantly states, “no one is to leave until payment is made”. (Faux pas #3) THREE STRIKES!!!This should have been handled quietly, professionally and with consideration. After all, $2,750 and then “sum” was rendered for the night. Rather than make an ugly scene worse, the Fabulous Four are obligated to help. Out came the wallets and the “FANTASTIC FOUR” comes through and shells out the extortion money. They are allowed to pass and go home. There is no acknowledgement from the party’s hostess. HOW RUDE!

The frustrating fuss did not get passed the scrutiny of the guest-of-honor. SS curiously asks about the bizarre exchange between the “Fantastic Four” and the Co-Owner. Mrs. SS steps up to the plate and tells her daughter “in-your-face” head-on what happened. For the shame…SS is truly embarrassed and is quite contrite. What a way to make a memory of a moment…

In my humble, yet self-righteous opinion, this is the ultimate Faus Pas a hostess can make. SHE failed as “hostess with the mostest” that night. She should have handled the dreadful incident solely with the café personnel. Does she plan to make reparation to the Fantastic Four? I doubt it. It’s been three weeks and no sign of concession has been offered. Not even flowers as a gesture or token of thanks. (Faux Pas #4. At this point, who's counting?)

My sister declared that in “our family and circle of friends” there is never a demand for an entrance fee to celebrate our festivities. And believe me, when we throw a party, you’ll want to see that invitation in the mail. We lay out a full banquet, that’s for sure!

One thing I am certain, the café has lost a customer in me and hopefully, through this forum any future potential customers. This clamor call is to WARN any and all who plan to venture out to this establishment. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Make sure you know that customer satisfaction is not part of their practice. Clearly, the Co-owner only had the intent to fill his pocket with margin. The name of the café translates to “Not You”. Hmmm…Go figure.

What is the lesson here? What is common practice in restaurant business? Do we chalk this up to one of life’s experiences and let it go? What would you do? This subject has become heavy on the hearts of the friends that only wanted to celebrate a friendship and recognize a milestone.


Pas.tu Café
Mediterranean cuisine
216-1/2 Marine Avenue
Balboa Island, CA 92662

Overall Rating: VERY POOR

Here’s one for LJ.

Tanta’s Tart


¾ cup butter, softened
½ cup confectioners' sugar
1 ½ cups flour
(10 ounce) package white chocolate chips or vanilla chips
¼ cup whipping cream
(8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
assorted fruit - raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, etc.


Heat oven to 300°F. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in flour.
Press the mixture onto the bottom and up the side of a fluted tart pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just lightly brown. Cool completely.

Carefully melt the vanilla or white chocolate chips and the cream either carefully on the stove on very low, stirring constantly. Beat in the cream cheese.

When crust is cool, pour on the melted chocolate/cheese mixture, spreading evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve--at least 3 hours. Slice the fruit of your choice and place on the tart in an attractive manner.

This is best eaten the same day it's made.

Happy Belated 40th Birthday, SS! Welcome "over the hill". It's cruisin' from here.

I love you, Tanta! Have a slice of life’s banquet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Apricot Season - Organic or Non-Organic ???

Early Harvest - Blenheim Variety
Can you tell which are organic? Look at them blush . . .

When Ander and I relocated to Northern California, we knew we were in the heart of God's country. The first spring season, we drove out to a U-Pick farm that had apricot trees galore. We spent the day sitting up in the trees, eating the delicious stone fruit. Eating...more than picking. It was $.35/Lb. Imagine! We brought home 50 Lbs. Some to eat fresh, some to share with new neighbors and the remaining my attempt to make apricot jam.

Our friends K and J, encouraged our relocation. They moved to God's country shortly after they were married. We learned from them what the country-life was like, until we discovered our own spirit of "being country-fied". I've learned how to preserve the fruit we harvest. At its peak, the pantry is full of jams, chutneys, pickles, cordials, etc....What we don't keep, we gift and share with those that appreciate the products of Maison Kase.

Organic: $5.99/Lb.

Non-Organic: $4.99/Lb.

I was disappointed to discover that regardless of the price points, neither organic nor non-organic, had the flavor of the fresh picked, right off the branch profile. They were blah-zay. Not exciting. Since Ander is friendly with the produce guys at the corner market, they took the fruit back an gave me a refund as a gesture of good faith towards a loyal customer. The biggest bummer, the farm was bulldozed several years ago to put in a phase of home developments. Too bad, we're losing sustainable farms due to the overwhelming growth of commuters and their bedroom communities...

I did learn different ways to preserve the fruit. Other than the usual, canned fruit, I also dried them in a commercial dehydrator. I learned from an elderly woman how, as a child, they would dry the fruit by the heat of the sun. She also mentioned how they would make "sun preserved fruit".

Sun Preserved Apricot Spread

5 Lbs. stoned and cut apricots
5 Lbs. fine sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Place all ingredients in a non-reactive container. Mix all well in container and cover with fine screen, layers of cheesecloth or muslin. (Something to keep out bugs, leaves, etc....) Expose the container to the high heat of the sun. Mix ocassionally through the process. In the evening, bring the container indoors to protect it from "night raiders" and return back to the heat of the sun next morning. Allow the juices to excrete and blend with sugar. This will take approximately three days, depending on how high the sun's heat radiates through the fruit mixture. Since only a small amount of pectin is naturally occurring, the preserve will be a bit loose. But it's worth the effort.

Break out the scones, toast or bagels. Bring on the Carbs!

I like to spread the preserves over cornish game hens and roast them in the oven for 40-50 minutes (depending if stuffed or not). I also brush pork chops with the preserves and place them on the grill. Summer treats are abound!

Enjoy! Here's to a blissful banquet!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Waterlilies, Oil on Paper, ©ander

I have been remiss of late in posting, but traveling the last few weeks have kept me away and being such kind blogmates, I know you will forgive my absence.

My sojourn in Southern California brought me to question, why did I leave for Northern California? Rather than open a debate on the pros and cons, I go where my heart leads, and in this particular case, it was My Darling Hubby.

He is a very talented artist and living in the country was always his destiny. Considering his greatest influences are the French Impressionists, he follows the example of Monet, Renoir and Pissaro. Monet, of course, had his beloved Giverny and spent his most affluent years creating and improving the gardens that has made his paintings so famous. Check out Ander’s work here: artistlifeforme.

I had the pleasure of spending time with my little niece and God-daughter, Sydney. She is the daughter of my youngest sister. They surprised me and took me to the “happiest place on earth”… Yes, DISNEYLAND!

It had been almost 20 years since my last visit. I did not recognize the place. Once you get off “the 5”, you are faced with an immense parking structure. After being guided into a parking stall, you head down the people movers to the shuttle area. The shuttle then transfers you to the Entry gates of either, Disneyland (Fee required), California Adventure (Fee required) or Downtown Disney(No entrance fee required). Good grief the sacrifices the families must make to get into the park! Fees range from $59 (Child) to $79 (Adult) per person! That’s just to get into ONE park. Although the rides are included in the fee, food is another hand in the pocket. Since we ate lunch before heading for the park, we just snacked. We had chips, cotton-candy, ice cream, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, fudge, cookies, caramel-covered apples and some sort of blue beverage. My favorite ride has remained the same. “It’s a Small World.” It was nice to transport myself to the past and become that little girl riding in the gondola, looking up at all the pretty little dolls dressed up in national costumes. I did have to tolerate the loud squeals and yelling from the young girls seated behind me. They could not help themselves and starting playing with the water on the side of the boat. I got hit with a heavy sprinkling of water. One direct stern look from me and they knew to knock it off. (I learned that from my Mom.)

We watched the Disney Parade in all its splendor. I enjoyed seeing the familiar characters. My sister spotted me dancing to the music and clapping with great delight. Smiles beaming everywhere. After all, IT IS the “happiest place on earth…”

I did learn something that day. As we waited in line at Minnie’s Townhouse, I noticed the close proximity of the Japanese tourist standing directly behind me. Initially, I was okay, considering the amount of kids and parents standing in the same line, waiting to take a photo with Minnie. Several times I would feel the brush of his shoulder on my back and I would move forward. It appeared that as I moved forward, he would move simultaneously with me. It was as if he was morphing into an appendage. I threatened to pass some gas to “create” a wall of separation of some degree, but alas, I had no ammunition. I mumbled under my breath, “if he got any closer, he’d be standing in front of me…Why is he soooooo close? My sister, understanding my frustration, gestured for me to stand on the other side of her. She stated, “I have the answer.” Once I came around and made her my barrier, she proceeded to educate me on a facet of Japanese culture. “They [the Japanese people] have no concept of boundaries, in their country.”, she began. “They live in an environment of “no space”, a crowded country. Therefore, standing in line, shoulder to shoulder, among the multitudes, it’s what they’re accustomed to.” I learned something that day, indeed.

Now, I know why I relocated to Northern California; Open space in the countryside, an organic garden, 14 laying hens –“girlie-girls”, county fairs, art shows, quality of life…

MDH and I frequent a wonderful Japanese sushi bar that serves up fabulous morsels of seafood and the likes. Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to go. They serve up a list of sushi at ½ price, all day, all you can eat at a reasonable cost. This is the kind of crowd I like to be in.

Sushi Platter . . . Unagi, Rock 'n Roll, Hamachi, Sake, Tai . . .

Tempura . . . Eggplant, Sweet Potato, Shrimp . . .