Saturday, September 29, 2012

Flat Footed (Almost)

Friday night dinner is usually a creative, clean-out-the-fridge affair in our house, sometimes a pantry choice or frozen meal.  By Friday we have usually eaten all the produce and fresh market goodies bought the previous weekend, so we have something light such as a grilled sandwich, soup, or Lean Cuisine from Costco.  Last night, though, I invited my friend Lorie to stop by for dinner on her drive with friends from LA to San Diego.  I had planned to make Salmon en croute or something nice, but I didn’t have time to get the salmon and forgot the fresh dill in the fridge at the office.  Arriving home late, I had one hour to make dinner, set the table, and clean house a bit.  I was definitely feeling a little flat footed; Lorie came to Beaune with us last year and surely she would expect something good to eat…well yes, and no….she’s a good friend and probably wouldn’t care if I gave her PB&J for dinner; what counts is that we have some rare quality time together.  So maybe it was me who wanted to produce a nice meal, to facilitate good conversation and unwind on a Friday evening.  I had eggs, carrots and three mangos left from last week, that was it.  Yikes, no time to go very far for salmon or burrata or other yummies.  I decided to make a quick dash to Pavillions grocery store a few blocks away, to see what I could come up with.

I like to have some little nibbly thing out for guests when they arrive.  So I bought a log of goat cheese and cut chives from the garden~

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The goat cheese got rolled in the chopped chives, set out on a nice cutting board with a pretty knife~

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Once that was done and the wine was chilling, I turned on the lights in the corn stalk arch and lined the steps with votives and pumpkins. No matter what we eat, this is festive and makes guests feel welcome.  Pavillions has a Pink Pumpkin for sale this year, yes.  I bought one for $6 and it really is a pale pink, proceeds going to Breast Cancer Awareness or Susan G. Komen Foundation, I don’t remember, but it’s all good~

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I figure, if it’s dark enough, they will just focus on the pretty votives and perhaps they won’t notice my baskets and stuff sitting outside the kitchen door, right?~

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It was a balmy night, and the full moon was rising; I quickly set the table out on the patio, with Booth’s blue willow plates, French sterling, tartan napkins for fall, and of course, lots of votives and one hurricane candle~

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Passing back through the kitchen, I set the cheese and bread on the table, then gathered up the mail and papers that are usually scattered around the kitchen table; in case of guests I stack and then sandwich stray papers between two books, so hopefully no will notice, and I will be faux-organized.  Linda gave me this book last weekend at the market; it’s still sitting here waiting to be read; and now beneath it sit a week’s worth of mail~

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But just in case someone picks up Henrietta’s book on top and discovers my pile of crap and papers, throw a magazine or three on top.  Clutter….what clutter?~

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Passing through the dining room, I dimmed the chandelier and lit the painting light.  And planned to usher the guests from the kitchen through the dining room rather quickly.  The table is full of dishes and glasses and tea pots that need to be put away, as well as a few paper bags of prescriptions and things from CVS for my parents.  I wish I were perfect, but helas I am not, and at the moment I am unapologetic though slightly embarrassed that the house is not cleaner.   My Canon camera really grabs the light, and in the evening light you couldn’t see all the stuff on the table that you can see in this pic~


Then it was time to move on to the food.  My younger sister loves her crock pot and make-ahead meals.  This fall I will have to show some make-ahead stews and meals too, but I don’t own a crock pot and wanted something lighter today than stew with the warm weather we are still having.  I bought two “organic/hormone free” half chicken breasts at the grocery store.  I don’t know where I got this recipe, but I call it Lemon Chicken.  Slice the chicken breasts thinly, and put it in a bowl.  Juice a lemon and put the pulp & juice over the chicken pieces and let sit for 20+ minutes.  Stir once or twice; the chicken will take on the lemon flavor~

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In a frying pan, melt a few tablespoons of butter and a roughly equal amount of oil. I used olive oil and cooked on medium heat (olive oil generally doesn’t like to be cooked at a high temp), but any vegetable oil works fine.  Many restaurants saute fish using half oil half butter like this; it gives a nice flavor and oils like canola cook and crisp with a neutral taste that lets the delicate flavor of your fish come through.

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Cook the chicken pieces in the pan; they should not brown.  Add salt and pepper to taste when the first side is cooking.  Turn them over and cook until firm (about 5 minutes more); remove the pieces from the pan and set the pieces on paper towel to drain.  I slice a few pieces in half to confirm they are cooked but not overdone.


We had Sage Mountain carrots (boiled and tossed with a bit of butter) and wild rice that I cooked then mixed with Minute Rice.  Sorry gals, not fancy, but it tasted fine!


The guests arrived just as I was finishing the chicken and just after I had thrown away all traces that anything came from Pavillions.  I love these little hotel silver trays; their light weight makes it easy for guests to pass around the table~


We had a really lovely meal…..Lorie, my new friend Margaret and her daughter Marguerite around the table~


Lorie, lovely dear Lorie, brought Jadot wines and some white roses which I put in the kitchen.  There were lots of votives outside on the table as well~


All in all, not bad for a last-minute meal. I am going to have to stock up though on my staples like rice and try to plan ahead more.  Hopefully next time I will not be caught flat footed when it’s time to whip up a meal!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Half Full

It is truly amazing how our body can grow new bone and heal itself.  After finally immobilizing Mom’s arm and keeping her on a regimen of protein and calcium, she has turned the corner on her recovery; now all she needs is time.  Still, she is frustrated that she can’t do more and can’t drive.  Several weeks ago I sensed that she would really benefit from a change of scenery.  A vacation….what a great idea!  Neither one of my parents are “vacation people” and proper getaways have been few and far between, unless it’s me taking Mom somewhere like Napa or Provence or a transatlantic cruise.  Today, the concept of the two of us taking off and leaving Dad alone with the dogs is out of the question.  I am planning to go to Beaune before the end of the year and the thought of me being gone has both of my parents a little anxious.  But having a break is healthy, and I have made up my mind to keep my own boundaries.  And so, while Mom protested that she wanted to go just for the weekend, I rang up my Sister in Minneapolis and negotiated for her to send Mom a plane ticket for a week’s visit.  We compromised at 5 1/2 days. 

And so this morning at 5:00 am off we went to the airport; I arranged a wheelchair for her upon departure and arrival, so that she would have someone carry her roller case on and off the plane.  My niece is having her 11th birthday this week, and I checked a box on as Mom’s luggage containing my sewing machine; no, not Mom’s Singer that I love; this is a Kenmore that I bought in New York that is plenty good but I never use; Lauren will surely love to have this as she is learning how to sew and using my Sister’s machine heavily.  I thought this would be a nice thank you of sorts for Sis~


It really gave me peace of mind to know that Mom was in good hands and I was also going to have a break for a few days.  From the airport I went to my other Sis’ house, to retrieve the corn stalks and pumpkins from the party last weekend.  In the darkness at 6am I cut the stalks down from her gate and loaded my car.  It’s true, she really did love the look of the gate at the party, and the following day came by to pay me for my expenses and spend some time with Mom.  Among the platitudes, there were also a few zingers, like “Why did you go and buy corn stalks when your street frontage looks like a symbol of the National Drought?”  Yes, it’s true, I did grow a lot of corn this year, including on the street.  And yes, it looks kinda bad about now~ 


But you know, I don’t even notice.  Why rest your eyes on dried corn stalks when the marigolds have self-seeded next to them in the flower beds?


And why not look up, on top of the wall above the corn, and take in the riot of pink oleander blooms~


They are perfection, and they also happen to smell like carrot cake.  I love this photo; it’s the equivalent of someone pulling a gold coin out magically from behind your ear.  See it, on the right, just behind the flowers and the leaves…..I didn’t even notice it until I took the photo….


A perfect little abandoned bird’s nest.  Thank you, Mother Nature…this is going inside to join my collection~


OK back to the corn….I had the idea even before my Sis’ party that I wanted to decorate the kitchen arch for fall; this would last me through November, when I will transition to Christmas.


I started by securing the corn stalks to the stone with a few turns of florist wire.  Next year I suppose I could ask any number of farmers; I could surely get them for free….just didn’t have time this year.


I filled it out with my own smaller (non-GMO) stalks from the street frontage; it turned out to be big and generous and bountiful; what is green here will soon dry to match the others~


My Dad adores corn, so I buy it (non-GMO, strictly local) for him; Mom is not a fan and won’t eat it.  She says corn reminds her of the farm, and having grown up on a farm she only wanted to get away from the farm and corn and the pigs that ate it.  That’s so funny because when I look at corn, and this stalk archway, I think of bounty; I think of Pilgrims in white starched collars, and a good harvest.  I think of the magnificent autumn leaves of New England, walking through the fall woods of Palisades Park in New Jersey; I think of walking into Bouley restaurant in Manhattan and smelling crates of fresh apples and finally getting to wear warm turtleneck sweaters. And I think of John & Marge, my friends who planted this corn with me in the spring~


I have a few rules of thumb; one of them is that if there’s too much dead and dried stuff; add some life.  Dried corn stalks are fine with white mini lights and fresh vibrant yellow Mums. 


It’s too bad that for all the good things that my Sis said about my contributions to her party, all I can remember is that she thinks parts of my garden are a postcard for drought. One bad comment has totally negated any good comments.  It’s just as easy to say something nice.  It’s not really that hard.  With social media as with comments, even among sisters, can we keep it nice and focus on what is good and beautiful and not on what is bad and negative?  Though I admit, I’m a glass is half full person.  I don’t see a dead sunflower, I think of how spectacular this enormous plant was in full bloom a few months ago.  I harvested most of the heads; but I let a few go, and they have become natural bird feeders. I see the birds here in the morning, and that makes me smile~ give a little back to nature~


Good thing Sis didn’t see the remaining sunflowers, or I’d get the drought comment again.  I don’t really look, there is too much else to focus on two feet away~


Love these pale pink and white hibiscus, who have enjoyed the hot weather. 


This morning I made a long list of all that I want to do while Mom is on vacation.  I still have to do Dad’s transcription, courier work and driving, washing, cleaning etc.  Catching up on a million and one things.  Dad has picked out a movie to watch together tonight, and wants to order a pizza.  Somehow I don’t think I will get every last thing done, but I can do most of it.  Enjoy your week, and please try to see the glass half full not half empty…and keep those zingers to yourself if you can!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall Entry Style

My Sis knows she can always count on me to help her out with some party style.  There are so many elements that go into making a great party, but it’s easier to have someone like me take care of the table top and style issues. Yes, I gave some input on the food; will tell you more about that this week….I was not into doing the food for 150 ppl….but I did do some styling.  Here are a few pics.  The entry, before:


The entry is a great place to start to style a party.  It sets the tone and if it is done well, guests know they are in for a treat.  Ideally, the entry gets the guests excited….something special…a hint of what is to come…..Sis and I had discusses a fall motif for the party; today I lashed dried corn stalks to her gate to make a mock arch.  If the stalks were green I could bend them (next year I will just ask Kevin!); but these were bought from Rogers Gardens dried; even the LA Flower mart did not have them.  You can not see the pots of mums at the base of each side in this pic, but Sis loved it~


At the front door a dozen steps further, I put a trio of interesting pumpkins on the left; I want it to look like fall but not Halloween, and a $13 potted yellow Mum from Costco on the right.  Perks it up a bit. 


I had another pair of these Mums at the base of the corn stalks but unfortunately pas de photo; trust me, these are a GREAT deal from Costco….my Dad was the one to discover these first, and each year I buy them~


The flowers around the house were simple and neutral green and white (Casablanca white lillies, white hydrangeas and Queen Anne’s Lace; $45 cost for three large vases full) from the LA Flower Mart, and then today I added in the pretty sunflowers with green centers from Hector at the CdM market~


Our Happy Hosts with Lola Dog~


The tables were all great; when in doubt, use lots of votives and candles and it’s a party~


Forgot to mention I put a string of white-strand mini lights in the corn stalk entry.  I wound the lights around the stalks so you see them coming and going.  In the early evening, it was very pretty and not contrived.  The lights cost me $6 and gave the dried stalks a little fantasy.  Success, to me!  I will refine this look.  What Sis does not know is that tomorrow after the market I am coming to take all this back to Laguna~


It was 90 degrees at the party, so hardly fall weather.  Never mind, tomorrow I will install fall décor in Laguna, with these props as a start.  I have a few other additions to make it fun that I will show you.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fall Party Flowers

Saturday is yet another party, though I am not hosting this one, I’m styling the tabletops and then a little more.  The event is a corporate thank you, for 150 guests.  A lot of the budget is going into the catering, so for the tabletop I wanted minimal expense but still a little something that would pop.  I started with a dozen 4” galvanized pails, so cute in this little size~


I searched around for a good supplier for galvanized products made in the USA.  I wonder if anyone has a good one already…these are all from Taiwan and (gulp) China, running between $1 (small pails) and $4 (French flower buckets) each.  There were pails sold alongside these that were tin; remember Galvanized has zinc added so will not rust; I’m going to see how these hold up and have made a note to track down a good US supplier.  These will do the job for this weekend~


I went to my favorite Green Thumb Nursery today and got two flats of 4” flowers to use on the tables.  I will go off point for a minute to say that my Mom called me 41 times last Sunday while I was at the RSF market for several hours.  If the dogs could figure out how to use the phone they would probably call me too; they are always at my feet and waiting by the door when I get home.  I’m working through some of these issues with Mom, and Biscuit is happy just to hang out and see what’s going on~


I put one $1.19 flower in each galvanized pail; I didn’t need to add any other potting soil to the little pails.  Considering I will reuse the pails, $1.19 for a little spot of color on each of the 15 tables is not bad…..


Tomorrow I will drop these off for the party and also source some ribbon to go on them for a more finished look.  Hmmm…thinking….


I put Iceland poppies in each of the tall French flower buckets; these will be nice as they add some height and grace; also $1.19~


While the hostess is already way over budget on the event, today she decided against her original choice of inexpensive farmers market flowers for the house, so instead tomorrow in the wee hours I am off to the LA Mart to find something nice…and big…and showy.  Bucket of Roses for $20?  Probably?  Lillies, green and white, some fragrance.  I spied another floral item today too that is a great average-down item that I tipped the hostess to buy, that I will show you soon.

Lots more on this event as well as some musings on parties, entertaining, and décor to come in several posts soon~

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Quelle Chaleur

My friends in Phoenix might call me a wimp, but it was 100 degrees in Laguna this weekend, and wow, that was really too hot!  What should you cook when the temperature and humidity are so high?  At the Corona del Mar  market, Cindy had a special on some ripe but still firm “salsa tomatoes,” red and yellow, one bag for $1.  I took one bag, then went back for two more.  Please, Cindy, throw in a handful or two of mixed chilies on top of my bags…of course she did~


I got another handful of chilies for free from Don along with my eggs; back at home, everything got washed and set out on the counter.   When the temperature is really hot, I figure there are basically three schools on food: 1) stay inside, drink some water and don’t eat at all, and rest, until the temperature cools later in the night, about 10pm.  I think of various cities in Spain, I think of arriving in Nice a midsummer’s night a few years ago to find the streets absolutely filled with people; In many cultures the heat keeps everyone inside, eating or not, until 9 or 10 pm.  I remember being in Villefranche with my two nephews; it was 95 degrees at 1am as I sat in the local bar having a carafe of water while the boys slept in the sauna of the hotel room.  Incidentally the water in the carafe is not cold cold, it’s often room temperature.  In Laguna and in Beaune, when it’s hot I open the windows in the very early morning to let the cool and fresh air in, then close them by 8am; the thick walls of the house keep things cool all day.

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Continuing….2) eat hot/spicy foods when the weather is really warm. Eating spicy foods in hot weather often means you drink more water, and that’s a good thing, of course.  It also makes you sweat more, so naturally cools you.  It may sound counter-intuitive to eat this way.  Most people along the Mediterranean are in this camp, me too… Spain, France, Italy.  In my opinion.  Don the Egg Man told me the temp at his farm in Wildomar was 114 yesterday.  What grows in that weather?  Not much…but produce like tomatoes and chilies will have a heightened flavor in extreme heat. Another reason hot climes favor intense flavor and spices?

Today I made a roasted salsa, for those who like hot foods in the hot weather; core the tomatoes, any kind,any size and arrange them whole in a baking dish.  Take the stem off the chilies, any kind, here we had red and green and one habanero; slice in half and seed them or not. I didn’t seed most of these.


To finish our trio of hot food groups; 3) Eat “cooling foods” when the temperature rises.  If you live in Paris, when it’s hot you go to Berthillon or eat the shrimp and grapefruit salad I showed recently.  Think cucumber, chilled shrimp, ice cream, chilled nicoise salads.  Cooling.  My Mom is in this group, this means she wants more sushi, which I got for her yesterday at the Japanese Market Mitsuwa after I did the courier run for her~


She washed the sushi down with an individual serving of green tea ice cream; the carton is small but she loved it…perfect for hot weather~


There are hybrids, of course. My Dad wanted a hot grilled turkey & bacon sandwich with the works and a very cold Stella Artois beer with cold dill pickle spears.  Good thing he has a short order cook on staff to take his requests. This was hot and cold and a little over-grilled just the way he likes it~

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I put the tomatoes and chilies in the oven then retreated outside.  C a n   n o t  c o o k  when it is this hot.  I hosed off the patio, which lowered the temp a good 15 degrees.  Then I sat down in the big quilty wing chair which has been sitting there for several weeks since the farm to table. Nothing like a little fountain to cool and calm~

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Elsewhere in the garden, the plants like this oleander loved the heat, in full bloom~

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and this, one of my favorite hibiscus I planted; they love the heat~


Though it was almost 100 degrees, as soon as I sat down in the quilty chair, Biscuit was in my lap, spread out with head on the generous arm of the chair.  A moment later, Honey was there too, watching for birds or lizards.  So much for cooling down, with the fur babies on my lap.  I had a wonderful time reading the Julia Child bio Dearie that Barbara gave me at the Farm to Table.

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A while later, the chiles and tomatoes were roasted like this; I should note that I learned how to do this from R…so credit where it is due…~

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Puree in the robot or mini-prep to get a sauce~

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Dad and I had this sauce over our tiny filets of sole bought at Mitsua.  He loved it as did I.  Perfect bite on a hot night.  The rest of the sauce was jarred and half of it given to my favorite farmers today; the other half will be saved for Christmas gifts.  Next week I will give a jar each to Cindy & Don.  I really love this just over a scrambled egg for breakfast. 

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I wonder which camp you are in for hot weather….hot or cool….try this sauce if you like hot, it’s a good one…