Tuesday, September 30, 2008

So Much Happiness, by Naomi Shihab Nye

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

More talk story about food, and community, and do-gooderness

I forgot to take a picture of our dinner last night, which is a bummer, but it was pretty. And a very collaborative effort.

We had some very nice trout that the nice man building our fence brought us from his weekend fishing trip--whole, cleaned and gutted. We more or less followed this recipe; I stuffed and wrapped, Jam Guy grilled. I sliced up another one of the heirloom tomatoes from our friend's garden and Jam Guy dressed it with nice olive oil and sea salt and pepper, and then while I had my trout with rice, Jam Guy had his with slices of campagne bread from a loaf that Della Fattoria gave us while we were eating lunch there recently.

It was delicious, and it makes me happy to eat the tomatoes our friend grew, the trout our new friend the fence guy caught, the sage from our own garden, the bread from one of our favorite bakeries that just sort of hands out bread to its customers when closing time is approaching because they don't want to serve day-old bread tomorrow but they can't bring themselves to waste either. It was lovely.

Speaking of community efforts: we are thinking of switching our phone service to Credo Mobile, who donates one percent of its customer charges to causes like Planned Parenthood and America's Second Harvest, and bills itself as "the only pro-choice phone company, as well as America’s greenest phone company," which by itself is enough to make me want to switch. Also, they'll buy out your current phone contract, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to do the right thing.

The thing that is stopping us is that it'll cost more for us to get the same amount of minutes and data transmission we get right now with Helio. While we want to do the right thing, we are wannabe-do-righters on a new-homeowner/recent-graduate budget. It's rare that the right thing is the easiest thing too. This is something to think about.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Smitten, full, grateful, sleepy

Last night for dinner Jam Guy and I went to Stark's, an unexpectedly fantastic steakhouse just a few blocks from our house. We were walking back from meeting some friends at a wine bar nearby, and I was giddy from having walked around all day talking to hotels about block rates for our wedding guests--my first sort of official action as a bride-to-be--and we were hungry. I mentioned the dubious-looking old dive I'd seen while jogging around the neighborhood; I really like dive bars, and I figured it was worth a try since it was so nearby. There are a few old, incongruous businesses in the residential area just across the creek from us; I figured the dive was from that era--kind of one of those ugly-but-neat spots that stays because of its history and entrenchment in the community.

Turns out Stark's is not a dubious old dive; rather, it is a fancy fine-dining restaurant constructed to LOOK like a dubious old dive, opened just this year by a team that's opened a few other successful restaurants in the area. This sounds just too cheesy to be any good, I know, but the menu sounded awfully appealing, and we were starving.

Inside felt like a speakeasy from an old movie. There were like a million whiskey bottles on the lighted shelves behind the bar, cushy leather chairs, a whole menu of classic cocktails like the Vieux Carré--a mixture of rye whiskey, cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine, Peychaud's and Angostura bitters, one of which pretty much knocked me into idiotville--and a Moscow Mule, made somewhat atraditionally with vodka, ginger syrup and lime. Jam Guy had two of those and was very happy; it's nice to be able to walk home.

The specialty at Stark's Steakhouse is, of course, the steak, which is dry-aged and has topper options like roasted bone marrow and a truffled egg--and while we will remember those next time we want big slabs of meat (which is not infrequently), we were more interested in making up our own little tasting menu and sharing a bunch of small plates. We got a half dozen lovely oysters on the half-shell, a plate of steak tartare which I'd never had before but I now LOVE and have been thinking about all day, a crabcake because the waitress said it was the best she'd ever had (and it was very good), a butter lettuce salad, and these crazy-good chicken-fried onion rings, with which we ordered black truffle aioli and also an herbed boursin sauce for dipping them in. Man it was good.

Then we decided we were stuffed, until the waitress brought the dessert menu. The entire menu looked good, but we decided on a butterscotch creme brulée that was kind of geniusly paired with kettle corn. Kettle corn in my teeth makes me fretful, but it was worth it.

I can't wait to go back for lunch, when they have what looks like a fantastic burger menu.

Today we went to a wedding at a beautiful winery near Sacramento where during the ceremony I was a total useless weepy soggy mess, with nothing but a couple of quickly-disintegrated Whole Foods napkins in my purse. It was a beautiful ceremony and fun reception; I drank too much wine and we giggled most of the way home, and now I am very sleepy. I am excited to get married.

Thursday, September 25, 2008



I like the man building our fence.

He just gave me a peach-blueberry turnover and told me that he'd bring us fresh trout on Monday. Mr. Fence Man, it is enough that you and your crew are building us a fence at rock-bottom prices and that you brought your puppies over to play with Toby yesterday. It is wonderful that you talked about how you wanted to go and help rebuild fences on Kauai after Hurricane Iniki and how you built a fence around a macadamia nut farm on Kona as a barter for airfare and lodging. We like you already. But we will not object to being fed.

Mr. Fence Man goes on my People to Make Pie For list.

Dinner last night

Totally inspired by Surfrunner, I'm posting pics of the dinner I made last night, and sort-of recipes, as best as I remember them.

I made beef short ribs over mashed potatoes and parsnips with an heirloom tomato salad. It was good, if kind of heavy--we were both stuffed. The great thing about short ribs is you can start them like 3 hours or more before you want to eat them, and do other things in the meantime. And they're so yummy.

I started by frying some coarsely chopped onion and bacon in a big enameled cast-iron oval dutch oven. Then I seared the ribs on each side in the same pot, deglazed with some shiraz, added some bay leaves and parsley and a bunch more shiraz and some chopped carrots, covered up the pot, and put it in the oven at 350. I left it there for about 4 hours, checking it occasionally and adding liquid whenever it looked in danger of burning, and ladling the liquid over the ribs a couple of times.

About an hour before we wanted to eat, I chopped up five parsnips and five baby Yukon potatoes, peeled five cloves of garlic, cut a big hunk of butter into little bits, and put all those in a smaller enameled cast-iron oval pot, topped off with a lot of rosemary branches. That went into the oven next to the ribs pot.

About an hour later when the parsnips were soft and roasty-looking, I took the pot out, added more butter and a little cream and some fresh chopped parsley, and mashed everything up with a potato masher, which is easily one of my favorite kitchen tools.

Our friends from whom we got the giant mystery squash (which actually turned out to be a mutant ginormous zucchini) kindly gave us a whole bunch of beautiful heirloom tomatoes that they are growing in their (clearly thriving) garden this summer. I sliced up some of those, poured a bit of olive oil over them, and scattered torn basil leaves around the plate:

and served us each a big rib on top of a pile of parsleyed parsnip-potato puree, which I tried to get Jam Guy to say five times fast, but he didn't want to:

That rib had a bay leaf sort of glazed onto it. I thought that was neat. Hard to get a picture of, also because I was rushing to take the pic before our food got cold.

It was super-yummy, and Toby enjoyed eating the bones. The tomatoes were, as tomatoes continue to be for me lately, an absolute revelation in how good and how diverse tomatoes can be. The deep red-and-orange one was big, fleshy, and very sweet, almost cloyingly sweet but not quite--almost obscene in its juicy meatiness. The little green-yellow ones were crisper and kind of lemony-tart, and so the two types balanced each other really well. I'm excited to grow all kinds of tomatoes here next summer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fences and neighbors

We are putting up a tall fence. One of our neighbors, a lovely elderly woman who likes to stop and chat over the 4-foot fence we are replacing, reportedly commented to the fence-building crew that our planned fence is "unfriendly."

We are not TRYING to be unfriendly, but we are definitely building the fence with privacy as a big priority (another big priority being that Toby's Houdini-like escape adventures be permanently and categorically thwarted, and a smaller priority being that random folks quit hopping our fence and crossing our yard to get to and from the creek trail behind us). I am a little fretful about facing opposition from this neighbor, and sort of fretting about whether to invite neighbors that aren't actually also our friends to the wedding, since it's going to be in our backyard and sort of obvious, although less obvious with our new fence. There are so many truly important friends that I want at the wedding, and the necessity to keep the guest list small is so real and concrete, but I also want to maintain good neighbor relations in our little neighborhood. This is hard. I think for starters I need to bring the chatty neighbor a pie, but after that my diplomatic strategy runs out.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I was going to write a post about how much skinnier the cast of the new "90210" is than the cast of the original; something about how even though I wasn't allowed to watch the original show when it was running (from when I was entering seventh grade to when I was graduating from high school) I wanted so much to look like Kelly and Brenda. I knew I wouldn't ever, but I dieted my booty off (literally) trying to get thin and cute like they were. Today, looking back at pictures of my high school self, I want to holler at that girl: YOU ARE SO FREAKING HOT! LOOK HOW SKINNY YOU ARE! YOU WOULD BE EVEN HOTTER WITH ANOTHER FIVE OR TEN POUNDS ON YOU! EAT SOMETHING! EAT THAT SPAM MUSUBI I KNOW YOU WANT! And while we're chatting, JUST DATE THE DRAMA CLUB/MARCHING BAND/CHESS CLUB/MATH TEAM GEEKS YOU HAVE ALL THOSE CRUSHES ON, AND FUCK WHAT YOUR GIRLFRIENDS WILL THINK!

Anyhoo, it worries me what students today are going to think they need to look like, when I compare the Kelly-and-Brenda bodies I was aspiring to look like back in my literally lean years

with the body of Shenae Grimes, who plays the "new" Brenda character:

Anyways, that was the post I was going to write. But then while looking for those images to use to illustrate my point, I kept finding all these mean blogs that basically reamed out the actors in the original 90210 for getting older and not looking like teenagers anymore--even though any present-day picture I found of the two actress I wanted so much to look like showed that they're totally grownup hotties now. I thought about how hard we can be on ourselves and on our idols; how little I appreciated my face and my body in high school and how I worry about laugh lines now and how I might look back in another fifteen years and wish my thirty-year-old-self thought more highly of her appearance, just as today I wish my fifteen-year-old self did.

And then I just felt sort of bad for picking on Ms. Grimes for being so skinny, because she is after all just a nineteen-year-old--a tough age to be, and in a tough business, and she probably wants to eat whatever the Canadian version of a Spam musubi is, but it might be a career risk for her.

I wish for her that she enjoys being nineteen and lovely, and that it feels like a gift and not like a burden.

And I'm glad I don't have a TV, because things like this clearly get me too worked up. I am off to play in the dirt instead.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tractor day, and big adventure at the dump.

Today Roger, Jam Guy's friend and coworker, came over with his tractor to grade the orchard area. The idea was to pull up the layer of what Roger told us was "bermuda grass" to make room for the field of poppies we envision there, and also to smooth out the ground in the area so that it's comfortable for everybody to walk on at the wedding.

Yesterday Jam Guy did a LOT of work in the garden while I was working at a winery event, all to make it easier and more effective for Roger to do his tractoring. When I came home, I found all the fruit trees pruned into much smaller fruit trees (which I am given to understand is very good for the trees) and an enormous pile of branches stacked tidily against the greenhouse. Moreover, the old stump around which I had proudly dug my very first trench--we used the trench to flood the area around the stump, to facilitate its removal--had been pulled up. Poor Jam Guy was a little sunburned and a lot tired, and I was so impressed by everything that he had accomplished while I had just been pouring wine.

(The winery job, by the way, is SO MUCH FUN. Here's what I do: drive for about half an hour through progressively prettier wine country, pull up at a winery literally carved into the side of a hill, with views of vineyards rolling up and down in gentle waves. I stand behind a bar in the tasting room inside this hill, pour tastes of wine to happy strangers and chat with them, and when there are no happy strangers around chat with the happy winemakers, managers and vineyard staff. It is pretty freaking awesome. It doesn't pay very much, but I don't care, because I feel like I am getting paid to hang out at a cocktail party.)

Anyways, tractor day: Roger brought his tractor over in a big trailer behind his cargo van, and generously offered to use the trailer to help us haul all of our yard waste to the dump. Roger is adorable. He has this big white beard; he drove around in his tractor wearing a straw cowboy hat with a feather stuck in it. He is a study in idioms about cheerful men: he literally has a feather in his hat; his eyes literally twinkle, his laugh literally booms. And he really seemed to enjoy tractoring and hauling stuff to the dump and just being a nice and helpful friend.

While Roger gamely tractored about, Jam Guy and I piled tree boughs and bermuda-grass bits and literally hundreds of tiny unripe apples onto the trailer. I felt really guilty about the apples going to waste--the branches needed to be cut, but the apples are too green for any people to want to eat them--but Roger says that he thinks there are critters that scavenge at the dump, and probably they will eat the apples. I think he might just be saying that to relieve my guilt. I'll take it.

At the dump I was kind of fascinated, because I'd never been to a dump before. We made a stop to drop off some wood planks, another to dump all the tree limbs and leaves and apples, and a last one to leave some aluminum sheets that had been under the old tool shed that a nice man kindly removed from our garden after we put it up on the "free" section on Craigslist. The woman who worked at the aluminum station checked with a magnet to make sure that the sheets really were aluminum (I guess to make sure they were recyclable) and then peered at me as I hopped out of the van and said "You are a very pretty girl," apropos of nothing. I was having a good day already, but damn if that didn't just totally make it for me. I'm not sure there is anything much better for one's morale than getting a sincere-sounding compliment from a stranger when you are dirty and in your mucking-around clothes and your hair is escaping every which way from its braid.

Anyways. My easily-petted vanity is not the point. The point is: Because of Roger's cheerful and gracious help, we accomplished today what would have taken us months to accomplish on our own. Roger is aces.

Here are some "before" pics:

And some "after" pics:

PS: Ha ha, I said "dump."

Monday, September 15, 2008

These are the good old days

Sometimes I see my present life in flashes of Super 8 film, etchy, jerking, filled with warm yellowy tones. There are two young brothers, neighbors of ours, that are always playing some kind of ball--basketball, football, weird hybrids of both--out on the street, and I think about how if I have children these boys will be grown men, or close, by the time my children are throwing a ball. I think about how the images of me from today will seem funny and old-fashioned to my children, viewing them in whatever medium we view photos and movies in when children of mine are old enough to view photos and movies. I wonder if I will look to them like my mother looks to me in our old home movies--glamorous in her beehive and go-go boots, radiating a vague discontent that makes her more beautiful, more distant and mysterious--or like someone happy and aware of her ridiculously good fortune. Or like something else entirely.

I hear in my head the whir and flap of old projectors and wish with all my heart that the woman I am now will be recognizable to my children within the mother I become. I wish that if our children see a photo of Jam Guy and I walking out of the house arm in arm the way we do, flirting and kissing, they roll their eyes and say "Mom and Dad haven't changed a bit," and pretend to act grossed-out but are secretly glad and reassured about their parents' love and about love in general. I wish that they respect the choices I made before they were conceived and that those choices somehow, in some way, someday have a positive effect on their own lives. I wish that the values I hold most precious today--be kind to all people and animals, respect your environment, be slow to judge and quick to succor--I am still holding then and able to convey to my children.

And I wish that they dress up in the clothes I wear today and laugh and laugh when they are five because the sleeves touch their toes, and then dress up in them for nerd day at school when they are twelve because they think my clothes are so dorky, and then when they are eighteen beg to borrow them because my retro threads are going to be so freaking cool.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sidewalk Monkey loves dork humor

From, again, xkcd.com, by Randall Munroe.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Major serious shoe lust

Supposedly, these Cole Haan Sierra boots conceal Nike Air technology, so they're comfy like sneakers. I wonder if they really are as comfortable as they are gorgeous--but I'm not going to go anywhere to try them on, because I am afraid I will fall in love with them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

about living in our first home together

greedy for daylight
as the first summer wanes,
we work side by side in its
last silent snatches.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How eating is a deeply political statement

Tonight I made dinner with the goal of using up some of the produce rioting around in our backyard: I went to the store and bought some organic, free-range chicken thighs (and speaking of organic chicken: I am a hard-core feminist who knows what it is to be broke, and I support Obama 100%, and I believe he supports me and women like me. And for the record, I absolutely revere Alice Waters) a bunch of scallions, some bulk quinoa (please do feel free to google "quinoa," Mr. Babbin) and some feta. The rest of the dinner--piles of sweet, juicy Sungold tomatoes, a crisp and assertive Kirby cucumber, richly pungent basil leaves, a pair of crimson sweet peppers, and a fluffy parsely bouquet--I clipped from our garden while the quinoa steamed.

The end result was a very pretty and lemony quinoa-tomato pilaf topped with the chicken thighs, which had been sauteed with pepper and fresh herbs. (The lemons, in the spirit of full disclosure, I found in the fridge--our lemon tree is still a baby and not producing yet.)

Our little garden is totally organic, and our fancy, healthful little dinner cost a total of about eight dollars to produce, for about ten servings (lots of leftovers!). Yep, I am bragging. I am proud. Not just because I can throw down a decent dinner, but because in addition to eating on the cheap, bringing much of our dinner from the backyard instead of from the other side of the planet incurred very little ecological debt, in terms of fossil fuels, air pollution, and damage to ecosystems outside of our backyard. I am proud (and rather surprised to hear Mr. Babbin trying to make me feel ashamed) that I eat mostly organically--not at all because it's a status symbol, but because it's better for my health and better for the planet. And it's better for the chicken, honestly, that's farmed organically, and if I can minimize cruelty in my food choices I can't imagine not making that choice. It's better for human beings as a species, too, and not just in terms of individual health: avoiding the use of pesticides encourages and enables biodiversity, which is essential to making sure that human beings continue to be able to farm and feed ourselves without relying on Monsanto and other corporate giants for literally our daily bread.

Given that most everyone I know feels this way, it feels sort of weird to be preaching about it--I've never had to do it before. But I read Mr. Babbin's article, which I arrived at after a Google search of "Obama and arugula" led me there--my father had called me chuckling and asking me if I'd heard about the bizarre news story he'd heard regarding the presidential elections, and how arugula, which makes an appearance in most mainstream mixed-green packaged salads, has been somehow transformed into something that's not only as rarefied as certain types of caviar or truffle, but also rampantly un-American--and I was floored (not for the first time) by the fact that parts of America have such incredibly different perspectives on something as fundamental as eating. We are a diverse country, and truly one of the best ways that is represented is in our eating habits.

And while I disagree tremendously with pretty much everything Mr. Babbit said, I am reminded that it is no more fair of me to feel disdain towards his attitudes about food than it was for him to be snide about mine. We live in the same country; we are both American and invested in the outcome of this coming election, but we are clearly living in different cultures. Which is, I am seeing, one of the nifty things about living in this country--we are so diverse in this country that one aspect of the diversity is people who do not prize the diversity; people who, like Mr. Babbit, learn a new word ["\ə-ˈrü-gə-lə, -gyə-\ : a yellowish-flowered Mediterranean herb (Eruca vesicaria sativa) of the mustard family cultivated for its foliage which is used especially in salads —called also garden rocket, rocket, roquette, rugola] and then feel imposed-upon for having learned it.

I do prize the diversity that we celebrate here, and so I prize folks like Mr. Babbit, who prefer straightforward lettuce in their salads and coin puzzling phrases like "environmentally-fashionable." [Do note that I am not touching on Mr. Babbit's apparent misunderstanding of what being a feminist entails, mainly out of respect for my own cortisol levels.]

And in all sincerity--I have never been to Iowa, and I recognize that while nearly my entire social network is comprised of people who have a healthy respect for the environment, understand the importance of avoiding chemical additives in their food and are still far from elitist rich folk, my social network hardly represents the entire country. I realize that my politics are informed by having had, in my opinion, the remarkable good fortune to have lived my entire life in culturally diverse, liberal cities full of good eats and great attitudes and understanding about the gustatory arts, and particularly now to be living in northern California, home to the Slow Food movement, the Organic School Lunch Program, and yes, piles and piles of arugula and other non-lettuce salad greens. I realize that not everyone can afford organic groceries, and not everyone has the time and outdoor space to grow their own produce. I remember struggling to pay rent on my literally crumbling studio in Manhattan and attempting to grow tomatoes, illegally and without success, on my fire escape. I know that when times are lean it makes sense to eat what you can eat, and I remember the years-long gap between when I started learning about government subsidies, genetically-modified foods, and recombinant bovine growth hormone, and the time when I could afford to make the food choices that I make today. I spent years eating things I was pretty sure were poison on some level, and a lot of today's college students and struggling artists, I'm sure, are in that boat now. I know change can be scary. I can imagine being the first person in your social network to ask your supermarket to stock free-range chicken--that has got to be one brave person.

So I'm not mad at people who don't eat organically. I am kind of mad at Mr. Babbin, but it's more an issue of his tone than his choice in salad greens. I know from stories from friends who've traveled more within the central area of North America than I have that it can be challenging to find a diverse array of available produce there. I know, again, that I am fortunate. I am finally growing my life and my health in my backyard, living and working in the garden I dreamed about from my Lower East Side tenement sublet, and I am too grateful--for all the different kinds of tomatoes, for blackberries growing wild from under the tool shed, for soil that has been farmed for generations before I even got here, for a partner that understands how a garden works a million times better than I do, for figs, for plums, for arugula, even for Whole Foods, which is still too expensive for me to shop at on the regular--too grateful, every day, to stay mad with folks that think I am not everyday people just because I like all kinds of green things in my salad bowl.

To end on a happy note, here's a close-up of the quinoa. Jam Guy is taking some of it along to work for lunch tomorrow in a mason jar. My pilaf is better than my picture-taking, I promise.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

All the good things in my life that I can think of in 20 seconds: a useful timed exercise

-Jam Guy
-My sister
-My family
-My friends
-Our house
-Our health
-Meimei and Toby

That was in no particular order, and I actually could have thought of more, but still can't type at the speed of thought. I think my list looks pretty generic, but still, reading it over again, I feel awfully blessed.