Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Move Your Life- Day 4 with no end in sight

Ugh. Moving is the pits. Since the successful Ikea trip yesterday wedged in between a million other errands didn't allow time to completely assemble the bookshelves, today was not the most productive. My father had to direct a bridge tournament in his retirement community, and having no power tool confidence to assemble solo, the stacks and stacks of books packed away in boxes sat unopened.

We did manage to get the shelves mostly assembled this evening, but the unspoken noise curfew of 8:00 p.m. hit too quickly to finish bolting them to the wall. Hence, not much unpacking. Why is it that anything involved with moving takes a zillion times longer than you think it will?

Tomorrow will be much more productive- another truck day with multiple trips to the storage shed, and this time with the assistance of a dolly! Honestly, what did people do before the wheel?
This whole experience is inspiring me to take note of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by paperwork, junk, and the general amount of information and stuff we are innundated with on a daily basis. My dad received no more than any other average person accumulates- he just decided to keep it.

But I have to give him credit where credit is due: the thing about packrats is that underneath the piles of yard sale knick-knacks and vintage clothing that has yet to make a comeback are some buried treasures. The superman cape my brother wore for Halloween when he was 6, the wooden animal figurines my dad had given to his parents when he was ten, the crappy circus picture I drew in elementary school and thought I'd thrown away ... all that stuff has resurfaced and appreciated in value, while some of the things that seemed so important at one time are now completely worthless.

So we still have 30 boxes of books to unpack, and 8 boxes of papers to organize. So we'll probably have to make several runs to the dump and the Salvation Army to beg anyone else to take the burden off our hands. I guess what makes this move more *fun* than others is not really knowing what exactly we'll find tomorrow. All I know is that I'm going to be wearing that cape while I'm looking.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ikea or Bust

Does breaking a record merit a prize, or is honor enough? My dad and I pulled into Ikea at 12:35 and left at 12:55 with 3 full-sized bookshelves in tow. I may as well have run a marathon, I'm so proud.

Now onto the storage shed in Martinez. But first I'll have to figure out a way to pitch a new reality show to TLC- the amazing Ikea relay race.

How to Move Your Life- Day 2

Ways to simplify moving- go to Ikea, Target and Wal-Mart (if you must) right away and only get what you need. When you go to Ikea, have some idea ahead of time of what you need, or want. Wear comfortable shoes. If you can, bring someone who can make decisions for you when you become overwhelmed by the options. At least bring one person who is a voice of reason.

Keep eating throughout the day, even when you want to move just one more box to make the next day easier. If you must, eat fast food or junk. On a moving day, that's acceptable. Keep drinking fluids.

If you think about it, try to have gas in the tank and money in your wallet or that will be one more errand to run.

Try to have a truck rented or borrowed ahead of time. Even better, pack up boxes in advance so a room can be moved all at once.

Things to have on hand- paper towels, garbage bags, rags, Windex, a sponge, dish soap, and please, oh please, a roll of toilet paper.

Don't wear flip-flops, even when you think all you'll be doing is putting things away.

Last, but not least, have someone to make a toast with when you realize how much time you will be spending in the new place and it starts to feel like home. A beer or two in the fridge doesn't hurt either.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

How to Move Your Life- Day 1

I reluctantly left Santa Cruz this morning to return to Walnut Creek. A big day was ahead of me, because my dad is in the process of moving from a rented bedroom with a friend into his own apartment- his first time living alone in 6 years.

As exciting as it is to start over in a new place, there is a lot of dread that goes along with it. Few things are more stressful than moving, and it becomes even more of a stress if you’re not organized. My dad, like a lot of dads, isn’t super organized.

The last move was pretty intense- my dad had to whittle down his life in a three-story, four-bedroom house into one bedroom. Whittling proved to be too challenging, so a lot ended up in storage. For this move, I’m determined to put everything in its place, and get rid of the stacks of excess paper, old clothes that never get worn, and the dank storage shed in Martinez. To really move in, you have to move on and let go of things.

For a half a day of work, I think we accomplished a lot. I couldn’t identify if I was impressed that all the receipts for the rental truck from the last move turned up, or that much more hellbent on trashing anything that hadn’t seen daylight since the new millennium. There is something so cathartic about trashing old files, especially if the information that was once so valuable is now obsolete.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, particularly with the kitchen, which is as bare as Mother Hubbard’s. The only things in the refrigerator are beverages!

One of the things I love the most about my father is his passion for reading. We have barely started, and the large bookshelf is already packed full. I’m sure each and every book will have a home before we even set up a place for my dad to sleep.

Personally, I would have filled the fridge first.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ingrid's Soup Kitchen

What started as a carefree day of spontaneity and leisure quickly became an intense food project. I decided to follow Ingrid back to Santa Cruz after hanging out in San Jose for the evening. Ingrid Moody is a wonderful poet and friend of mine since we met at camp when we were teenagers. Being with her is a combination of revisiting childhood and thinking ahead of a future in writing.

Ingrid and her husband are part of a community garden share and had been falling behind on their produce. It’s easy to want to race against time when it comes to perishables- when they’re ready to go they won’t wait for us. Nothing is sadder to me than wasting food, so I was happy to step in.

We made plans to do a major soup and freezing operation that evening. But first, we needed to refuel, and second, we needed to enjoy the glorious afternoon in Santa Cruz. We biked over to Walnut Avenue Café, where I had an amazing ­­­­­­­Old Special #1 and 4 cups of coffee.

Ingrid remembered her cousin’s baby will be two next week, so we went to Bookshop Santa Cruz for a gift. It’s been a long time since I had the chance to linger in a bookstore, and it was a good one for that. A great selection of used books, a big children’s section and super knowledgeable staff made the afternoon fly by much faster than I wanted. I could have spent days in there had I been allowed a sleeping bag.

When we got back, I was ready to devote myself to the veggies in need. Thank goodness Ingrid’s new place has a huge counter space and plenty of equipment. We started cranking out vegetables like a soup kitchen. I usually do all my chopping and mise en place at once, so I will work on several projects simultaneously. “It’s going to get a little crazy in here,” I warned Ingrid, but she shrugged, giving me allowance to do whatever I needed to do.

A couple bags of cheerful red peppers could mean only roasted red pepper soup- one of my favorite things in the world when coupled with chevre. Some butternut squash roasting in the oven kept them company for a second soup.

Ingrid and Jon had accumulated tons of potatoes, which have a long shelf life, but still needed attention. I made some mashed and experimented with freezing them. I’ve heard negative things about it, but read that they can be quite good when reheated with egg or dairy mixed in. Jon and Ingrid both work long hours at the university, so anything I could prepare for them ahead of time was important to meet their full schedule.

One of Ingrid’s favorite things is her grandmother’s ratatouille, which I was delighted to try to make for the first time. (It’s incredible how many amazing dishes out there I still have yet to make.) I warned it was going to be our adaptation of it and wouldn’t be an exact replica, but we both jumped into it feet first.

Next was collard greens sautéed down with garlic and vegetable broth. I like adding bacon or lardon to it, but tonight we were trying to stick with just veggies. Okay. Just for tonight.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Whiskey

Tonight was another night of whiskey and throwing together several friends in San Jose. We sampled Wild Turkey's new American Honey, courtesy of an old friend from high school who works at a bar and gets to reap the benefits of sample bottles. An added bonus was a long lost camp friend meeting us from Santa Cruz.

We met up at Rock Bottom Brewery at the prune yard for brews and grub. I wolfed down a Tex-Mex inspired Laredo Burger with my Brown Bear Brown. Several beers in, we also discovered a controversial food pairing- macaroni and cheese dipped in gravy. It's not for everyone, especially the faint of heart.

We broke into the American Honey and got ready to mellow out. I am a huge whiskey enthusiast and I give it two stars out of four. It wasn't a bad whiskey, but the flavor was a bit strong and I am much more into the natural whiskeys. I'm a Maker's girl, mostly, but Jameson or Bushmills are also good choices. If you aren't a serious whiskey person, this could be a good gateway whiskey.

Sipping on a whiskey is a great alternative to opening a great bottle of wine- best shared among friends. Drink up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Lumberjack Breakfast for a Lumberjill

On a quiet Tuesday morning, Humboldt County sent me off to the Bay Area with a spirit of adventure and a hearty breakfast. A visit to the Samoa Cookhouse outside Eureka, CA threw me back to days of being in a logging camp during western expansion. This unique restaurant is the last of its kind- the last surviving cookhouse in the west dating from 1890.

Once walking through the doors, I was seated at one of the banquet tables covered in a classic, red-checkered tablecloth. The beauty of this restaurant is the lack of menus and sharing plates of food with others at your table like a German beer hall. A large coffeepot was plunked beside me and my dad and I prepared to dive into a full-breakfast, dished up family-style. Our friendly waitress, Pam, put down platters of biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, and pancakes with sausage. In the logging camp tradition, the plates are never ending. If you haven't eaten in days, this is the perfect restaurant.

The restaurant houses a logging museum filled with treasures from the cookhouse and lumber history. Photographs, old chainsaws, logging helmets, and antique kitchen tools. The mix of the kitchen and pioneering worlds made me feel right at home. Pam and I swapped stories between her lightening sweeps of other tables. I asked when the maritime museum next door opened and she didn't know, but suggested going down to the docks to "see the weathered fishermen, who are a museum themselves, honey."

I imagine one can get a better vibe on weekends when the joint is in full swing. All they need is to ring the dinner bell and holler "Come and get it!" to send me running back for seconds.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Once Lost, Now Found

The Lost Coast. I've heard about it for so long and wanted to visit- at last I got my chance today.
My father and I started late in Miranda, but we started the day right. I ordered stick-to-your-ribs oatmeal and felt my body shoot to a full tank of all-day endurance.

We stopped along the way at Avenue of the Giants for a walk around Rockefeller Grove. Since more than half of the world's tallest trees include the redwoods of Humboldt County, we needed to get a better look. I was proud of my dad for persuading me to ford the stream with him when the seasonal bridge was out.

By lunch, we found ourselves on the beach at the Lost Coast entrance in the north end. I sipped a red seal ale while slogging through the sand and enjoying the companionship of crashing waves. It had been raining that morning, but the sky cleared up just for us when our feet hit the sand.

The day was far from over, for we would be meeting up with a couple Brooklyn buddies who now live near Arcada and attend the Dell'Arte school. As the sun was setting, I suggested a 40 minute detour to the Patrick Point State Park for a dramatic view of whales and sunsets. It was worth every minute out of our way.

Claire and Max met us back in Arcada at Humboldt Brews for dinner. I had my usual local nutty brown and my dad ordered the Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat. The Northcoast microbrewery is a true thing of beauty and I wish I could have tried them all. Next time I can't miss a chance to try the Red Nectar Hemp Ale

As much as I enjoyed my oatmeal, I was famished and ate every scrap of my shroomers delight burger with Cypress Grove Chevre- right down to the last fry.

I am typing this out on my phone, exhausted, but thoroughly content to be in a lovely place with a wonderful father and friends.

Who could ask for more?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bragging Rights

Since I am in California on an extended and much-needed break from Brooklyn, my father and I have been planning a camping trip for weeks. We headed north this morning from Sonoma County for a few peaceful days of hiking and exploring before a great moving adventure begins at the end of the week (his move, not mine). Being nature enthusiasts, hiking in a new park with different terrain is a real thrill.

We stopped en route on Hwy 1 10 miles south of Fort Bragg at Van Damme State Park to see the Pygmy Forest 3 miles from the ocean. Though shrimpy due to ancient soil depleted of nutrients and stunted plant growth, don't be fooled. Some of these trees are hundreds of years old, despite me towering over them. Hence, the dwarfed forest. Kind of amazing to think that just 50 miles away are giant Sequoias. One of the greatest things about California is its geographical diversity- conditions can change dramatically in just a few miles.

We did find some wild huckleberries along the way:

Up the road, the park continued with a bog walk. I hiked with my arms over my head to avoid the stinging nettles that are unrelenting this time of year. My dad is an excellent hiker, but he wasn't so lucky. Too bad the nettles weren't a little younger or we could have prepared nettle soup! (Just kidding, you should never remove anything from any local park or preserve.) I managed to find the last wild blackberry of the season- they usually are in their prime mid-summer, but the farther north you go, the later the season is pushed.

I also made a friend on the trail, but banana slugs have always resisted me:

Across the highway at Van Damme Beach, about half a dozen scuba divers were searching for abalone. This can be very dangerous, so it all depends on the strength of the tide and the skill and equipment of the diver. Having no gear, my dad and I combined our creative talents into sawing off the end of a large piece of kelp and using it as a horn. My dad was pleased that his horn playing skills were better than mine. It turned a few heads, but sometimes you've just got to toot your own horn.

It was after lunch when we rolled into Mendocino. We stopped at the Mendocino Bakery and Pizzeria for a snack before we explored the beaches a bit more. I had a lovely egg, sausage and fennel pouch while reading poetry in the local paper. It was delicious and went much better with poetry than pizza would have.

Up at the Mendocino Headlands, an instructional diving course was taking place for students at Humboldt State. I was elated to see some craggy sandstone, so I attempted to do a few rock scrambles off the trail. The one thing about sandstone is that you have to thoroughly check how solid the rock is, and avoid it altogether if there's a lot of moisture. Luckily the sandy beach makes a soft landing. It's been too long since I've really climbed- hopefully I won't have to wait much longer.

At Jug Handle State Natural Reserve in Fort Bragg, I got my chance. On the winding walk around the twisted krumholtz pine forests, we ended up on a beach with solid rock formations, complete with jug holds! I did a quick scramble, but that was my limit without climbing gear. My dad didn't have the chance to stop me, he was trying to get a photo of an egret trio.

Our last beach on the list was the Glass Beach in the center of Fort Bragg. This is an impressive result of dumped garbage and bottles sanded by rocks and ocean waves into colorful glass stones. Many locals use the glass in handmade jewelry, but people are asked not to pocket the pretty stones. I remembered that Brooklyn girls don't take no for an answer, so I collected a few for good luck. An added treat was seeing a white seal perched on one of the rocks about 100 feet away.

We got back in the car as the sun was sinking and drove until Hwy 1 ended at the edge of the Lost Coast. A very windy, but gorgeous drive through mountainous forest got us back to 101. We settled in a motel in Garberville, too exhausted to even camp. Tomorrow is our big hiking day, and I'm going on 3 hours of sleep. I'm ready to turn in so I can give my all to the trails tomorrow.

Stay tuned for photos, and thanks for bearing with me as I work out limited internet!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

From One Blogger to Another

Last night I went to meet a friend for a glass of wine at Ravenous in Healdsburg. Handwritten menus, votive candles softly flickering, and a tiny dining room all added to the intimate vibe of the place- the perfect place for a new blogger to be primed by a seasoned one.

And so I was, by Jenna Weber of Eat, Live, Run. We met a couple weeks ago at the Zin lunch at Michel-Schlumberger and I couldn't wait to pick her brain about writing, food, and setting up a successful blog. Hers has been going for over two years and gets hundreds of hits daily, and has also paved the way for published articles and magazine press. Mine started a couple months ago, and it's still working out its kinks.

We split the cheese plate (since when have I ever been able to say no to cheese?). I haven't done a lot of wine and cheese pairing, but my Cab from Dry Creek went well with the crotin spread on walnut bread with grapes.

I lamented my glacial pace at posting, technical difficulties and having no followers. Jenna, who inspired me to take my blog more seriously upon our meeting, listened with patience and encouragement. It is a relief to have colleagues to go to for help. I went away with new found enthusiasm and focus. Finding excuses not to post is the easiest thing is the world- as much as I love to write, I would rather give in to any distraction than to expose my vulnerability on the page. The biggest challenge with writing is to simply sit down and do it.

As much as I wanted tea and sympathy, I hardly expected to find it from a self-made writer and highly motivated woman like Jenna. She could have balked at my whining and told me to stop feeling sorry for myself- I was probably asking for it. Truly, our talk made me realize that the best writers show empathy, openness, and support for each other.

The only thing that could be better than tea and sympathy is wine and cheese with a new friend.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Model for Main Street- Winemaking Part 2

By the time four tons of grapes were picked, I was desperate for coffee and food if I was denied the option of returning to bed. Our winemaking entourage headed over to Model Bakery in St. Helena to recharge before meeting the truck at the warehouse.

The line was long, so it was a good thing that bakery appeared to run like a well-oiled machine. The group’s wait for me to decide what I wanted took longer than placing my order. The six of us lucked out and found a couple tables to push together (there are less than ten in the whole joint, one of its only downfalls- that and having no restrooms). I was excited for my mammoth croissant order, but settled for a large coffee, since they don’t serve it by the gallon.

A note about making friends at Model Bakery on a Saturday morning: make sure you’re clear on what you ordered and also the name the order is under, especially if it’s a more common name like Steve or Matt. Making friends is difficult when you take someone else’s food and start to eat it before you remember that you never ordered a breakfast sandwich. If you find yourself in that situation, just blame someone else in your group.

The most important thing was that the coffee was great- the best cup I’d had in weeks. Nothing beats the Bay Area’s Peet’s Coffee! My croissant was pretty good, but a little more cakey and a little less flaky than I prefer. I was probably flakey enough on my own.

Since I was too indecisive over choosing any of the Halloween baked goods, I was grateful Steve felt festive and ordered a biscotti shaped like a witch’s finger. Cute, huh?

Next time I need to stop in and get some amazing bread, like their Bacon-Gruyere French rolls and cheddar and jalapeños boule, or a fruit tart as beautiful as anything in a Parisian patisserie. Preferably when I’m a little more awake.

The Grapes of Mirth- Winemaking Part 1

At five A.M., I pulled myself out of bed, bleary eyed and groggy in pursuit of grapes. My friend would make wine today and we needed to pick before the sun came up. I prepared to head to Napa, bundling up in layers and searching for my headlamp and trail mix. My coffee was strong and gone too soon, like most things in this life. I crawled into the truck and meandered over the mountain and through the valley to the vineyards patiently waiting to be picked.

The grapes were far more patient than I was upon arrival. We were at least a half hour early. It was dark and cold, I was tired and cranky. Two very surprising things I learned from harvesting- the first being that the winemaking philosophy is very much like catering’s “Hurry up and wait.” You can be there feeling like you’re waiting forever and anxious to get going, but you had better be ready because once things start, it’s all a flash.

The other surprise was that picking grapes is dangerous. When the pickers showed up wearing thick gloves and wielding curved knives, we were told to stand back, and not to go into the vineyards without one of the winemakers monitoring the pick for quality control.

By the way, our party included two guys who work at wineries; Patrick at a small operation with lots of exposure to the pick and the crush, Steve at a large distributer; his girlfriend, Nik, who advises winemakers; their friend, Matt, who was responsible for the whole operation and needed the startup help for making his first large-scale batch of wine; and his wife, Natalie, who like me, was simply there to learn and support.

Natalie and I chatted excitedly, snapping photos and trying to stay out of the way. I understood why they wanted us to stand back- we were a liability. The pickers were like ninjas, sweeping through the rows of vineyards with lightning speed and sharpening their knives on their belts when they got to the end. The grapes piled up before our eyes, and over four tons were picked in less than two hours.

We were all in a hurry for different reasons. The pickers get paid for yield, not time; the guys wanted to get the grapes to the warehouse to be pressed, as it’s first come, first served; and the ladies wanted coffee and warmth as the sun began to come up.

I was disappointed to not be able to help with the pick, but Natalie and I had no problem standing back and eating them, seeds and all. If I only ate what I picked, does that make me a picky eater?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Like Water for Metal

It’s not a common occurrence for me to buy into trends. I’m usually last on the bandwagon to even hear about the new gadgets, let alone buy them. I bypassed the whole Nalgene thing. I like my water, but don’t feel the need to buy the bottled stuff. I operate directly from the bubbler (that’s a drinking fountain for those of you who don’t have Wisconsin roots), or refill a 7up bottle from the tap if I’m feeling fancy.

So you can imagine my own surprise when I found myself buying one of those trendy SIGG bottles today. Well, it was a generic one from Old Navy at a fraction of the cost. Is the brand name what really makes the difference?

I gotta say, I'm a little disappointed. I like the sleek design and temperature control of the tough stainless steel material, but I'm afraid the final product suffers because of it. All I can taste is metal. Is the bottle supposed to undergo special treatment before it's used?

It's doubtful that I'll kick my frugality and start buying water by the bottle (and frankly, I can't support the claimed "health benefits" if it means the environment suffers). My poor little water bottle will hopefully improve with age, like a wok or copper pot?

If anyone is SIGG savvy, please clue me in on why my water tastes as industrial as the design.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Whiskey and Romance

It was one of those bewitching nights where it was uncertain if it was the end of summer or the beginning of fall. A full moon. I met an old friend for a drink.

He was waiting outside, like it was summer, but he huddled into his shirt with hands in his pockets like it was autumn. It had been years since we'd seen each other and he had grown into himself beautifully, something everyone should do.

Our catch-up began over a glass of wine, and then, like most of my magical evenings, led to whiskey. I know what you're thinking, that whiskey is an aggressive drink and can only lead to shenanigans, not mellow conversation. On this count, I must defend my beloved drink.

We tore down the walls and began speaking openly and honestly like the crowd we were with couldn't hear us. Whiskey is a truth serum and allowed a bridge to cross the gap between two friends who hadn't spoken in four years. It can give the prudence to see people as they really are, as if for the first time, and not who they used to be. It softened my sarcastic edge and cynical heart to admit that maybe he had changed. I knew I had.

The drink was over too soon, and we walked to my car with the hesitance of wearing cement-filled boots. My heart was giddy, with a dull ache at not knowing when I'd see him again.

I can't say what exactly caused this sudden change of heart. Only that some things improve with age, and make a completely different experience upon revisiting after a time. I doubt it would have made much of a difference what we drank, or what restaurant we were in, or the phase of the moon. Yet one thing was for sure. I was really glad he and I shared that whiskey.