Tag Archives: Happiness is…

Happiness Is… Fresh Buns

I’m picnicking on my bed after my one year post-surgery checkup, icing my ankle and having an impromptu supper of fresh buns and tea.

Happiness is…. a giant sourdough bun as big as my hand can hold, cracklingly crisp on the outside and moist and cool on the inside, smeared with raspberry jam.

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There are about 2 tablespoons of jam left in my jampot and I am making the most of them, dolloping it onto hunks then swiping the inside with shreds of soft bread.

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Crumbs dot the inside of my magazine. My pants are dusted with flour and so is my chin and I just don’t care at the moment. Each chewy and sweet bite is heaven, pure happiness.

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These buns are from a loaf called a Magdalene, balls of sourdough are beautifully formed into pull-apart buns baked today at a Bay Bread on Pine, now taken over by La Boulange.

Grasping one bun firmly I pull and twist and then split it open a bit to smell the sweet tang of the sourdough center.

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All too soon only a bite is left, then none. I sip my tea and feel so grateful and nourished by my simple supper.

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Happiness Is…

….breakfast….

Took me forever, but I cooked up some local eggs, sausages and bread.

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With marmalade from Valerie of Suburban Bites (@DomesticValerie)

20110409-124316.jpg(whoa, so delicious, my favorite!!)

Yorkshire tips tea and the sweet beaker was a gift from mOm:

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Took me ages to make, and I had to use my fingers to eat (!) but oh so good…

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No, no, cat, it’s all mine…

Happiness Is…..

….a sunny Sunday afternoon….

On a whim I propose a visit to the farmer’s market to a friend with brunch afterward of huevos rancheros. This simple excursion turned into a full day of beautiful sights and flavors.

I hopped on the N to check out the farmer’s market in the Inner Sunset in the tiny parking lot across Arizmendi Bakery and next to my favorite shoe store. The first thing I noticed was the Valet Barking, where you can park your doggie while you shop. The gal running it was doing a snappy business and everyone was playing together nicely, which is a testament to her dog-whispering abilities.

I strolled slowly through the tiny market, sampling peaches at every opportunity, and treated myself to a basket each of red and golden raspberries. Waiting for my friend to arrive I purchased a large cup of Earl Grey tea and several croissant, some with chocolate and some with frangipani inside, and plopped down on a curb opposite from the dogs and had myself a very relaxing nosh.

Surprisingly the golden raspberries were stronger and more defined in flavor than the standard ones, they were richer and had more of an acidic edge, they were also enormous and exceedingly fragile. I made a raspberry hat for my pinky.

It was the first time I ever ate an entire basket of berries by myself. The sun was warming my shoulders, the tea was perfect on my throat and the croissant was buttery with just enough almond succulence inside. Suddenly, I felt so at peace and just fine with everything within myself. I have been feeling like a worn out dishrag of emotions lately but at this moment, this moment was fine and pleasant and all mine although I was surrounded by the frenetic hum of the City.

A__ arrived and pulled up a pew, and joined me in breakfast for a moment, then we headed out to shop. My quest was for tomatoes, and herbage to make Green Goddess dressing to accompany a chicken roasted with quince. Instead, the quest for the best peach began and we settled on the last six O’Henry peaches in the market. Perfectly ripe and almost honey like they were the best peach I have ever had. For another dollar the farmer threw in some plums that were just about ready to turn themselves into jam on the spot.

After A___ snagged the last six eggs at one stall we lingered at Pamela’s Soaps with her amusing husband Dirk. Pamela’s lemongrass shae butter soap had to come home with me and Dirk put a lanyard through it, instant soap on a rope! While A__ chatted with Pamela and made her selections, I decided upon a bar of shaving soap, infused with lime oil, shae butter, lavender and some spice, Pamela said it is creamy and soothing, perfect for summer sleek bare legs at work, with my long stems I could use some pampering! Her hand-poured flower shaped pots of lip gloss also appealed and I picked one up as a gift for my sis. Pamela’s flowers from the garden were stunning, a perfect capture of summer. Even the bees agreed.

I was fascinated by a book they had on display, an old Organic Chemistry book that they labeled as boring, but it was really clever and not at all dry. Dirk offered to give it to me, which was very kind, and maybe next time I visit the market I will take him up on his offer.

After loading up on soapy goodness, we visited a jam vendor and tasted his heavenly Blenheim apricot preserves and two different plum jams. Not being much for plums really, they remind me of that horrible motorboat accident when I was a kid when I broke my nose, but after tasting his Mariposa plum jam I bought a jar. It was fresh and bright tasting and I had visions of a tart with the plum jam as a base and the fresh peaches and plums baked on top. Suddenly we were motivated to return to the beach house!

A few stalls down I found cilantro, green onions, bell and jalapeños for salsa and winter savory for the roast chicken. I also found a huge amount of beefsteak tomatoes at a reasonable price, the first inexpensive tomatoes of the year. I planned to slow roast them and freeze some for later. A___ found a huge bouquet of chard destined for her wok, and chives and parsley for salad. Then, a fruit vendor was trying to close up and offered us huge honeydew and other melons for a dollar each! Our bags were full but one monster fit into my backpack, barely, it was already full of my work clothes, bacon, tortillas, quince and knitting. I cradled one in my arms as a counterweight and we tottered through the last few stalls. The last booth had beautiful eggs and zucchini, and next time we will shop here for these beauties.

Finally we made it to the car, after a brief (well, not so brief) visit to the shoe store. Let’s get some shoes! Let’s party!

But on the way, we made a remarkable discovery! It doesn’t look like much, an ordinary storm drain gate, right?

Upon closer examination we saw that there was a plant growing inside. And, can you tell what it is?

For Pete’s sake it’s a tomato plant! Imagine that, the unstoppable power of Mother Nature reigning forth by producing a healthy volunteer tomato shrub in the most unlikely of places.

Once at the beach house, after an enthusiastic greeting by doggies, I set to frying bacon and making my huevos rancheros. I heated up a can of drained (organic) black beans with garlic and onion granules and some spices, and a few spoonfuls of bacon fat, mashed a little. The bacon was crisped perfectly under A___’s ministrations and the tortillas were fried in the bacon fat (and carefully blotted, I might add). Given that we both have tennis elbow for varying reasons, I employed the Cuisinart for a quick salsa of heirloom tomatoes, garlic, red onion, yellow bell pepper, Anaheim chile and jalapeño, cilantro, limes and cumin – so quick to prepare and to die for. The eggs from the market were quickly fried up and I assembled our “brunch”. A__ plunked down a bottle of bubbly and we feasted (at 3:00 pm!!).

(naughty but nice)

Look at that beautiful bacon, a birthday treat from my dear friend and reigning Bacon Queen S___. This was maplewood smoked bacon, so thick and well seasoned with the tang of woodsmoke and a touch of maple.

Always on the job, A___ went back to work while I relaxed in the back yard with the dogs post-shower, the sunshine and breeze from the ocean drying my hair, while I knitted a bit on my new shawl.

As the sun started dipping below the eaves of the neighbor’s house A__ returned and did some gardening, then we took a break from these pleasantries to polish off the rest of the champagne (out of the bottle so as not to risk the Waterford flutes on the patio with swishing dog tails like rapiers). Every Sunday afternoon should be like this.

I repaired upstairs to play with the chicken and preheat the oven. A__ brought me a handful of lemon thyme from the herb bed and I minced that up with the winter savory to sprinkle over the chicken. First, I made a base of red onion, left over from the salsa preparations, and peeled, cored and sliced quince layered in a vintage Copco gratin dish A__ found at a yard sale. I juiced a few lemons for the salad dressing and stuffed the chicken with the hulls and the tops of the green onions.

The Cuisinart was pressed into service again to mince the herbs and greens for the Green Goddess salad dressing, made creamy with Russian sour cream and good old mayo. I love this salad dressing, it was even delicious with prawn cervice dunked into it.

A big thank you to Kalyn and Sean for tweeting about the Green Goddess, a local historical recipe. By the way, it is excellent on fish, mixed in for chicken salad and even on onion rings.

Speaking of salad, we grabbed the lantern and harvested baby lettuces from a gopher-proof bed and after giving the beauties a refreshing bath I arranged them in a bowl for the table. The chicken was done, perfect as usual, and I carved her up roughly. We set down to feast with our fingers, dunking lettuces into the dressing as well as the chicken and an occasional prawn or three.

We had a deep philosophical discussion about the pursuit of happiness and where we are going in our lives now that birthdays are upon us. After the sadness I’ve been feeling, plus that long stretch of uncertainty being unemployed I have been doing a lot of cleaning house, mentally, with the kind support and encouragement of my dear friends and my family. Where would I be without them? We talked about gratitude as well and keeping positive. Sadly we had forgotten all about making a dessert but didn’t miss it. A__ made me a cup of verbena, mint and rose tisane and we retired to our various rooms, leaving the dogs snoring on the couch and chair. As I drifted off to sleep in the moonlight with the sound of the surf through the window, I reflected on how grateful and lucky I am to be alive and to have such a nice little life.

Happiness is…..being with friends and appreciating all the little moments.

You Cannot Tune an Oboe

There are times in life when you are just bopping along, not thinking of anything in particular, when something happens that makes the world go fuzzy and freeze solid. It’s a lightning bolt from the universe, a big “Hallooo!” from upon high, a breeze from the breath from the collective consciousness.

“You cannot tune an oboe.”

I was at the Symphony with a dear friend who was kind enough to treat me to a lovely dinner and concert, and as the orchestra was tuning up, she turned to me and said those words.

The first chair violin strikes an A on the piano, then the oboe sings out and the rest of the orchestra tunes to the oboe. Although technically you *can* tune an oboe it is the hardest instrument to tune outside of the piano or the harp. Those can be tuned well in advance and usually stay in key as long as they aren’t moved after tuning. But regarding the oboe, since tuning it is difficult, the orchestra simply tunes up to its note so that they sound harmonious during play. What an elegant solution of adapting to a challenging circumstance, isn’t it?

One hardly thinks of the oboe as a critical instrument in an orchestra, and I say that with the utmost respect to that fine instrument, but an orchestra is an assembly, a true team, and therefore the orchestra tunes to its most inflexible member to protect the overall quality of its sound.

This little fact or practice or orchestral legend drilled into my head like a fat raindrop into the surface of a still pool. Layers and ripples of thoughts undulated through my mind as the music began and swelled and ebbed and flowed throughout the evening.

Why do I fight against doing the natural thing? Why can’t I accept that I have limitations or that things happened to me that I cannot change or that things may never be exactly the way I want? Why don’t I just tune my orchestra to my oboe and just keep playing life’s beautiful song, in key and with ease?

And then I took a huge breath. And then let it out.

Instead of struggling against the stream of life like a salmon determined to return to the spawning ground of its youth I should quite literally *go with the flow*. Once I had learned this lesson while surfing. Out on the water you listen to the water, you wait for the right wave, paddle out hard and then let the water take you. If it’s the right wave it is glorious, like flying, but if it is squirrelly or if you timed it wrong you have to take a deep breath, relax and take the wave upside the head and try to remember which way is up after you bit the dust. You pop up like a cork, shake the water out of your head and try again. And, most importantly, it is fun! If it wasn’t the right wave you just duck-dived through it and waited and relaxed. I think I forgot this throughout all the struggles I have gone through.

You can’t force a wave. You can’t tune an oboe in a hurry. You have to go with the flow.

So here I am, going with the flow.

Happiness Is…

… having a wonderful mom in my life.

How many daughters are lucky enough to have a warm, loving, beautiful and supportive mom, who is also a best friend?

I know I am this lucky.

mOm, I love you!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happiness Is…..

…. A good night’s sleep (finally!!)…

….a weekend filled with old, and new, friends…

….Thomas Keller’s fried chicken and waffles…..

….a surprise visit from a friend who stays for five minutes and brings wine…

…finishing a new pair of cool socks…

…listening to Adam Levy’s “I Can’t Stop From Calling” and thinking of loved ones out of reach…

…a “Heidi” dinner of Gruyer broiled on pumpkinseed bread, washed down with wine (above)….

Happiness is….having such nice things filling my days…

Happiness is…..

…. A day spent with a good friend…

…. Filling my eyes with every shade in the spectrum and my hands with the soft, pettable, fuzzy goodness of beautiful yarns at Stitches West.

…. Sneaking into the back of the room to listen to my friends chorale rehearsal.

…. The delight in hearing from a long-lost friend.

…. Filling my life with beautiful, happy things, people and experiences, a well-needed respite from the swirl of unhappiness that seems so prevalent.

…. Having the good fortune to have these positive experiences.

Gong hay fat choy! Happy New Year!

(two of my favorite happy things)

Happiness is….

…knowing my family still loves me when I…

Overbaked the Christmas shortbreads:
Hard as a rock shortbread

(but they were great dunked in a cup of hot coffee)

Knitted the Christmas gift socks too long:
Christmas socks are too large. The markers show where the toe should be

(but they can be disassembled and made shorter; the pink markers show where the toe *should* be.)

Overcooked the roast:
Over cooked prime rib. CRAP!

(but it was seasoned perfectly and still very tender and juicy)

Spilled gravy all over the tablecloth:
Gravy on the tablecloth

(hoping the stains will wash out)

The Charlotte à la Framboise turned an odd shade of puce on the outside:
...but it is strangely puce from this side

The charlotte looks good from this angle

(but the inside was the perfect pink and it tasted fantastic)

The orange cornmeal cake overflowed from the pan, burned and filled the house with smoke:
Somewhere in there is a cake

(yes, there is a cake in there somewhere!  But what was left baked well and the orange flavor was fantastic)

Sigh….

Despite all of these boo boos, gaffs and errors, my family still loves me and thinks I am great.

My self-confidence has been dinged somewhat, though. Humbled and feeling rather inadequate, I retreated to the chair next to the Christmas tree, hoisted my strained ankle onto the ottoman and commenced licking my wounds by knitting a sock:

At least I can still do this…
Pretty sock

(pattern: Pyroclastic by Marlowe Crawford from Knitty Winter ’09; yarn: Dream in Color, Starry sock weight with silver in Fairy Berry)

As I’m plodding along, my dad comes into the room, gives me a once over and recites:

“Twinkle, twinkle little star,
I went for a ride in his car.
What happened then, I’m not admittin’
but what I’m knitting ain’t for Britian!”

Peals of laughter and a sodden tissue later, I settle back to my knitting and he to his puzzles. I love my family! This was the best Christmas ever…

Feeling Crabby?

(updated)

I often do this time of year… But not because of PMS or cold rainy winter weather or crowded holiday shops (no comments please). It is crab season!!

One of the bazillion things I love about living here is the start of the crab season. Our local Dungeness crabs are so amazingly luscious, rich huge chunks of meat with lots of crab fat, large legs and bodies, sweet succulency, ahhhh.. Paired with a good beer, a loaf of sourdough bread and a few lemon wedges there is no finer dinner, *ever*. It is my family’s favorite meal this time of year, in fact we had fresh crab the day before Thanksgiving, and hopefully again before Christmas. My sis and I would regularly head to the wharf with a stick of butter, a knife and a lemon in our pockets, buy a freshly cooked crab and some Boudin sourdough and sit on the Aquatic Park steps and devour our crab like little gluttonous otters. What great memories!

Last week over at A___ and R____’s beachy place we went to the local Asian market and picked up humongo live crabs, and a few other necessary ingredients. We deviated from the usual sourdough side because the sound of zingy ginger garlic noodles really sounded appealing with freshly steamed crab.

If you have access to live crabs I really encourage you to give it a shot and cook them yourself. The only hard(ish, and not really) part is cleaning them. But it is not really hard at all, just a little messy and then it’s done, and your dinner awaits.

For seafood lovers I would recommend a crab per person. If you will be serving more side dishes then you can probably safely buy one crab per two people but to me that would be a sad, sad day. The whole point is to feast on crab, cracking and picking out the fat morsels of snowy white sweet meat until your fingers are pruned, your hands and forearms sticky with crab juice and bits of crab shell in your hair and all over the dining room.

On this night we bought 3 large crabs, over 3 pounds each, and a bunch of herbs, garlic, ginger, fresh Chinese egg noodles and Asahi beer. And an extra roll of paper towels!

When we got home the crabs hung out in the sink in a plastic bag, a very crinkly plastic bag. We tried not to think about that. I started water boiling for the ginger garlic noodles and A___ hauled out the big 15 quart stock pot for the crabs. While the noodles were boiling, which took just a minute, I began peeling a huge chunk of fresh ginger with a teaspoon (it’s so easy to remove the skin that way), and diced it up finely, I think there was about 3/4 of a cup of minced ginger. I also minced up a half of a head of garlic and popped all of these fragrant goodies into a large bowl with a 1/4 cup of vinegar and soy sauce and 1/2 cup of grapeseed oil. A___ chopped a bunch of green onions and cilantro and added them to the bowl. After a teaspoon of Asian chili and garlic paste (sambal) and a little white sesame seeds were stirred into the mix I added a dash of ponzu sauce and tossed the still warm noodles in this savory, tangy sauce.

Garlic Ginger Noodles
(tossing the noodles, the herbs and green onions haven’t been added yet)

Noodleporn:

Meanwhile, A___ started the base in which to steam the crabs. She popped open the two monster-sized cans of Asahi beer and poured them into the big stock pot. A few handfuls of fresh herbs went in (parsley, dill, celery leaves), a quarter packet of some commercial crab and shrimp boil spices (about 1/4 cup) and a little Ancho chile powder also got mixed into the beer. They simmered for a while.

The crab sauna
(crab sauna)

Once the crab base had simmered for a bit, and we were almost full from picking at the noodles in the mixing bowl (oh, oops!), it was time to start the crab.

Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it??

Brave R___ popped the crab into the pot, and we added cans on top of the lid to prevent any clattering noises from inside to disturb our serenity of watching Poirot in the other room. 15 minutes later, we returned to the kitchen, and voila! They were done! No drama, no Annie Hall-esque accidents. We pulled them out and let them sit on the stoop in a wide bowl to cool off and joked about the possibility of raccoons squeezing through the front gate to get at the crab. After about 5 minutes we retrieved the unmolested crabs and I set about cleaning them.

Here’s where it gets a bit messy. Next time I will film this cleaning process but frankly we were getting really hungry and we just wanted to start our feast!

I kept the plastic bag from the grocery store for the cleaning portion of the evening. It sat in the sink next to the colander of crab and an extra bowl. I like to work over a colander to avoid getting any crab shells down the garbage disposal (or in the case of the sink at The Roost, there is no disposal so it’s important to prevent getting all the bits from going down the drain). This site has an excellent picture of the undercarriage of a crab should you need a little reference.

First, you carefully remove the legs from the body by grabbing them near the joint where they attach to the body, and twist. The legs pop off very easily this way. Toss the legs into the serving bowl.

Turn the crab so that the flappy tail thing is facing you, and using a table knife or a spoon insert the utensil under the shell by the base of the flap. You just need to get a little purchase here to be able to reach in with your fingers and pull the crab back off the body. Toss the top shell.

With the water from the tap flowing into the colander, rinse the crab body out. There will be mysterious goopy bits that just get washed out into the colander. Many people like to save the yellowish “crab butter” however I am not that fond of it so I just rinse it out. Should you want to save it, scoop it out with a spoon and place in a small bowl. It does have excellent crabby flavor for sauces or soups.

You are almost done now! Then, you will see some feathery finger things, the gills, and you pull those off and toss them. Finally, the two white lobes of the crab body are ready to be broken in half, rinsed well and put into your serving bowl. That’s it! I like to use a big chef’s knife to crack the thick joints of the claw and the knuckle portion of the legs. I was done in under 5 minutes, so it’s really easy.

Set the table with crab crackers, little forks to help get the meat out of the shells, a big bones bowl for the empty shells, tons of paper towels, bottles of cold beer, and some lemons and Tabasco for those who care for it. Dig in and enjoy!!

PS: Don’t forget to take out the trash before you go to bed! Trust me on this.

Happiness is….

… my family, all under one roof…

… the kitchen, hectic with various tasks,  pots bubbling on the stove…

…cooling off on the front porch for a moment, sitting on the chair in the dark, so quiet that I can hear a cricket chirp slowly, the foxes yip in the distance and the fizzy roar from my champagne glass. It reminds me of the beginning of the Pirates of the Carribean, floating slowly in the dark, hearing the clink of dishes from the Blue Bayou, watching the fireflies and hearing the plink of the banjo, with the anticipation of what is to come…

… returning to the bright indoors, getting a puff of hot, turkey scented air in the face, seeing the sparkling crystal, china and silver gleaming on the dining table, and hearing the faint sound of football from the family room…

… having so much to be thankful for this year: my family’s good health, a sumptious meal soon to be devoured, cool spiced pumpkin chiffon pie for dessert and a turkey coma tonight.  I am thankful for all of this, and for Thanksgiving!

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Wishing you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving!