Friday, June 11, 2021

Fearing Fire

And so it begins: next week we get our first heat wave of the year, temps here in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, climbing to at least 100 degrees by Thursday and into Friday. But read what is happening east of us, in Arizona and Utah:

Record breaking heat. It's only June. What is it going to be like in July, August, September? I already have a bag packed, ready to evacuate. It's not complete, it needs dog food and shampoo and a few other things but the fact that it's ready is an indicator of our need to be vigilant and a sign of our powerlessness in the face of fire. 

For those of us living in Sonoma Valley, every siren we hear creates a line of alarm in our minds. In 2017, the houses around my cottage burned.  The property fence 15 feet from my cottage burned. Last year we were evacuated for ten days during the Glass Fire and the fire came a couple of miles from my street. The danger is incredibly real and frightening.

People talk about grilling and barbeques in the summer. But unless you have a gas grill, no one in the valley lights their Webber charcoal grill past Memorial Day unless the temps are down in the 70's. It's simply too dangerous. I grilled a great dinner about three weeks ago but that's probably it until November.  It's a  huge part of summer that I miss but it isn't worth the worry and the danger.

Right now fires are burning in several southwestern states. Fire season currently has no "season." Because of increased temperatures, the season is every month of every year in every state west of the Rockies. Unless you live here, it's impossible to understand the severity of the situation and the fear that invades our lives. Most of us sleep with a window open near our bed just to be able to smell smoke if it comes near. 

Be careful out there.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The new job: what was I thinking?

 OK, I admit that the lure of getting out of the house and being involved in something other than myself was a factor.  Also, the simple fact that my boss almost begged me to come to work for her was a boost to my ego. And finally, money.  Money is always a carrot on the end of the stick.

But seriously, the first two days were nothing but hard, physical labor. Coming into an old hotel that had been operating the same way for 30 years meant digging through the detritus of someone else's kitchen and hauling bags of trash to the car and then into a dumpster. Broken and bent utensils, torn plastic containers, stained kitchen towels, jars of spices that had expiration dates of 12 years ago, same with oils and flours and dried fruits. Sticky, greasy shelves that needed a scouring pad to get them clean. Dozens of scarred and stinky cutting boards, multiple sets of cookie molds, plastic bags full of plastic bags. So much trash.

We sorted and tossed and cleaned. Then came the real test: baking in a Wedgewood oven that is probably as old as I am. The muffins in the back of the oven burned.  The muffins in the front of the oven were undercooked.  The shelves dipped down in the back so the coffee cake was an inch higher on one end. The shelves were also very unstable and I feared they would collapse mid-baking. 

The general manager put me in charge of doing most of the baking for the small hotel, which wasn't exactly what I thought the job would entail. Now we all know that I love to bake but baking for friends and family is an enjoyable task with good feedback and a sense of satisfaction.  Baking for 20 - 50 people at a time is a different animal. You need to bake a lot in order to get that many servings and the goods are gobbled down quickly with very little feedback and almost no sense of satisfaction. You are on your feet for hours, in a hot kitchen on a hot summer day and there is endless clean-up needing to be done.

I committed to this job for six months.  The first two weeks have been very difficult and surprising. But hey, it gets me out of the house, gives me new challenges and will generate some income.  I am approaching it as an experimental adventure: try new recipes, new techniques.  See what works, what fails. Bottom line, if you give someone a baked item, be it a slice of a quick bread, a muffin, a piece of coffee cake, 95% of the time the person will enjoy it, even it if isn't the best baked thing in the world. That's my goal: 95% happiness.  We'll see if I meet it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Why I am not writing these days.

 There is no real reason, of course. I could make myself sit and start banging on the keyboard and produce something insignificant or self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing or possibly even something worth reading.  But right now, it simply is not happening.

What do real writers do when they hit this sort of a block?  One supposes they start banging on the keyboard with the hope of producing..... something. Anything. I don't have the backbone for that. Too lazy. So weeks go by and I have written nothing.

But part of this ennui and lassitude is perhaps born of my lack of discipline on a daily basis: I have no job, no schedule other than walking the dog, no structure.  For a year this was fine. From March 2020 to about January of this year, I was happy to be out of work, lazing about, behaving obediently within the safe Covid guidelines. Then things started to open up, opportunities for getting out and about began to appear. We could socialize a bit, safely. We could go out to dinner in an restaurant if we followed the rules. We could actually hug someone (gasp!) if we had both been vaccinated.

All those things are great, of course. But my days of doing nothing now seemed like pure laziness and slothfulness. My lack of a schedule, my lack of anything solid that would guide me to the next step now felt like a emblem of failure.  I felt like I had wasted an entire year on nothing. And had nothing to say about it.

This situation may change soon. I am going back to work this week, a part-time gig in hospitality, which I swore I would never do again. But it seems that unless I am doing something, I won't do anything. Maybe this little job will light the small fire that is necessary to get me out of my funk and will lead me to feeling at least productive again. And hopefully that will lead to picking up the proverbial pen and begin writing again.

So, to the two or three loyal readers of this small blog, I thank you for checking in now and then and quietly mentioning that I have been absent from the page for too long. Please stay tuned. Something might be appearing soon.  

In the meantime, you can listen to this.  Copy and paste if it doesn't link:

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit

 This exhibit might not be to everyone's liking because it isn't really a look at Van Gogh's paintings as much as a look at the details in those paintings coming alive. The digitally designed show takes the artwork and makes it move, makes it shimmer, shows a hidden hand making brush strokes across the canvas.  It's immersive because it surrounds the viewer, 360 degrees of color and sound and dimension. I really enjoyed it. The digital loop lasts for about 40 minutes and at times the show is calm and contemplative. There are other moments when color explodes on the canvas (i.e. the walls) and the viewer almost feels like stepping back to get out of the way of the brush. I have never seen anything like it but I can imagine this technological technique being used in other art shows or even in presenting art and photographs in a home setting. If you have the chance, check it out. It runs in SF until September.

You can see more information here:

Friday, May 14, 2021

Overnight Roasted Pork: Amazing!

 There are people who have patience for smoking/roasting a pork butt or shoulder on a Webber grill, adding coals and wood chips for hours, keeping the temp of the grill low, ending with a falling-apart, smoky chunk of pork.  I am not one of those people.

Not only do I not have the skills to keep the grill at a low temp (but I am a champ at regular grilling, just saying) but I don't have the patience to hang around the grill, futzing with the coals, the meat, the drip pan, all of it. But who doesn't like a chunk of pork that is lusciously juicy, tender and ready to be rolled into a tortilla?

Enter the overnight roasting plan.  (It won't be smoky but it will be amazing!)  Whatever cheap cut of pork you get, a shoulder, a butt, bone in or out, it all works. You make a rub (recipes abound online but mine is below) and slather it on the pork. Let it set at room temp for at least an hour, or in the fridge for all day, but pull it out of the fridge at least an hour before roasting.  Then find a vessel that it will fit in rather nicely, which means not too huge. It can be an oven-safe saucepan (most of them are) or a casserole or anything that will hold your pork without a ton of room around it. I actually line a smallish casserole with tin foil, then loosely wrap the pork in another layer of foil to make sure it cooks in close proximity to the juice it will throw off.  Once you are ready to cook, put the pork in the pot, cover it tightly (more foil it a lid isn't available) and put it in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Then, very important, turn the heat down to 220.  Go to bed.

That's it. Let it roast for at least 8 hours, more if it's a big chunk. Your kitchen will smell amazing.  After the allotted amount of time, turn the oven off and just leave it in there for another hour to cool down. Then take it out, unwrap it, stick a fork in it and Voila!  It should be incredibly tender and juicy. If it's not, (because maybe your pork chunk was REALLY BIG) put it back in the oven, turn it to about 300 and cook it another hour.  But I doubt this will be necessary.

You can shred it with two forks or tear it apart any way you want.  Then you can eat some, drain off the juice and put the juice in the fridge to solidify the grease.  The grease can be used to fry some of the pork shards into carnitas, or you can do that in neutral oil as well.  The juice, minus the fat, can be used in many ways, just don't toss it.  If you have no use for it, freeze it and add it to the next soup or casserole you make. That juice is money, I am telling you!

So, for so little work other than making a dry rub, you get amazing results. I have done this three times, and because I am a single person, I do it with about a pound and a half of a chunk of pork.  But it works with double or triple that. Start small, then go big or go home.  Just saying.....

The rub:  I use a scant quarter cup brown sugar and then any of these spices:  cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, cayenne powder or chipotle powder or chili powder, lots of salt and pepper, red pepper flakes if it needs more heat.  Yesterday I crushed some Sichuan pepper kernels and added those. Taste the rub. It should be slightly sweet and salty and spicy.  Adjust.  But really, you can't go wrong with whatever you add. I also added some dried oregano but not necessary.

OK, have at it.  You will be amazed at the results. 


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Not getting vaccinated? Seriously?

 A few days ago I was walking along the Great Highway in SF, which is now free from cars and just a long, lovely, wide concourse from the Zoo to the Cliff House.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  Coming towards me were two young women, probably about 25-30 years old. As they got nearer, I overheard a snippet of their conversation.

"I am not getting vaccinated.  I feel like not being vaccinated is really empowering for me."

What?  I almost turned and walked after them, planning on asking "Empowering?  Empowered to get Covid? Empowered to pass on the virus to some unsuspecting person you might encounter on the bus?  Empowered to die?"

I understand about wanting to feel empowered, wanting to feel in control over one's own life and destiny.  But when does personal integrity and personal choice overshadow the need to help protect the human race? Is selfishness of that sort now considered a virtue of empowerment?

All rhetorical questions, of course. The walk on the Great Highway was the same day that the New York Times noted that scientists now are saying that the U.S. will probably never reach the herd immunity that is needed to make Covid less of a danger and more of a nuisance.  Too many people are not being vaccinated which means too much of the virus is still out there, rolling around.

Let's see what happens by the end of this month when many cities are taking away almost all restrictions on gathering.  Let's see if there is another virus flare-up as there has been in the past. Let's see how things look around July 4 and around Labor Day. Let's see if that empowerment thing is really working.

Be careful out there.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021