Saturday, April 25, 2009

Revlon Run/Walk for Women

No one can forget where he or she was on 9/11. Roger and I were in California, anxiously awaiting the birth of our first grandchild. We spent one week trying to process the horror of that September day before Charlotte was born, healthy and beautiful, and filling us with joy once more. And then the day after her birth we flew back to Milwaukee where I had my final chemo cocktail on September 20th.

Bye bye ovarian cancer, hello life. And so this year, as in others, my daughter Jane and I will walk to celebrate life and to remember others who haven't been so fortunate. If you can help in any way, I'd so appreciate it. Thank you. xoxo

Monday, April 20, 2009

When Aioli is Not Just Aioli

Mon professeur de français, Arlette, et son mari Andrew sont les hôtes fantastiques. And last night was no different. Arlette is from Antibes, near Nice, and thus knows a thing or two about regional cooking, southern French style.

In Provence, an aioli is not just a home-made mayonnaise, deliciously heavy on the garlic, but an entire meal that honors the bounty of spring/summer. A room- temperature meal, the preparation happens before the heavy heat of the day turns cooking into a dreaded duty. Then you call friends. "J'ai fait un aioli. Allez plus." Or something like that (my class is tonight so I'll find out if that really is what they'd say).

Our aioli included cod that was poached most deliciously, langoustine and, well, here are a few pictures that convey the meal far better than my words.

The cod


Magnifique, n'est-ce pas?

The aioli

The location (the view, the view!), the home and the company conspired to make this a special evening.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hummer Mum

The last few weeks have been magically cool, for the most part, with some fairly high winds. We've kept an anxious eye on the hummingbird's nest which has been built with great skill and sophistication in the low-hanging and weedy-thin branches of the Chinese Elm on the patio just outside our kitchen. We've tiptoed in and out to the grill and finally moved our main outdoor dining table to the back patio to discourage anyone from sitting within 10 feet of the nest. Then we fixed the screen door to stay in the open position just because we were tired of yelling at one another for letting the door slam. And then we kept a close watch.

We started pointing out some of the nest's materials, the minute twigs and fluff and spidery web lashings that she gathers. There is this obviously artificial, plastic-looking stuff which she has favored with this nest and which renders it near artificial, almost as if an artist wanted to create the most perfect hummingbird nest ever and stooped to use non-natural materials to achieve her goal. We've finally figured out what that fake material is, clever sods that we are. A couple of years ago we'd had a shoot at our house for this green, yoga(y) type catalog that actually has some wonderful things in it. It was only April but this was for their annual Christmas catalog. Our Topanga Canyon home was turned into a rustic and cozy Maine cottage. Organic, flannel sheets were lovingly Army tucked into our bed which was moved into our little family room, right off the kitchen. Christmas wreathes were hung and dusted with snow. Fake snow. Plastic stuff that even months after their departure we were still finding in the oddest of places like the inside of a camellia flower or dusted along the ledge of a rarely opened window. Grrrrrrrr, I would think and then promptly forget it. Until the nest presented itself in all its snow-dusted glory.

Were there eggs in it? We didn't dare get close enough to look in case some of our garlicky human breath left an unfavorable impression on the hummer mum.

What if the nest falls? The winds are so high. Jesus, what kind of hummer mum is she to build her nest in such an obvious spot. I'll tell you what kind of mum she is, she's a good one. Only a hovering bird could raid the nest and hummingbirds leave one another's young alone. There is no way any scavenger bird could perch on the willowy branches of the Chinese Elm, try as they may.

She sat patiently on the nest for what felt like weeks, disappearing every now and then for some nectar or the odd bug but flying back before I began flapping my hands in baby worry. If I happened to go out the kitchen door and lingered too long in the vicinity of her nest, she'd swoop up and around me, leaving the fast thumping flutter of her wings echoing in my head for tens of seconds after her erratic switch-back departure. Gradually she became more and more comfortable with our habits and would just hang on her nest staring at us as we went back and forth, always giving her a wide berth.

And then she stopped sitting there. Oh Christ, has she abandoned her babies? Should I call the Hummingbird Rescue folks? Should I climb up there and...? And then she started flying around my head and I knew everything was okay. I came inside and got my camera and oh...babies! See their little beaks? Those black things aren't so cute (fecal sacs) but a necessary part of keeping the nursery tidy.

And then they just started growing and growing until the nest was beginning to look decidedly too small. (Hah, I thought it looked small at this point)

But now, half the time they're just draping themselves over their snug roost dreaming, no doubt, of flying. Oh Christ, please be careful (and tell your Mum to clean up that fake snow that's loosening and making your perfect home look a little any nursery, I guess).

And now look at them...I turn away for two days and this happens. They're almost ready to fly the nest, I can just tell. It happens so quickly. So very quickly...just like with our own babies. So fleeting.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Happy Endings

A couple of weeks ago when I was wiping down our kitchen/dining room table, I got a small splinter in my palm. It wasn’t the first time and I silently reminded myself to be more flippin’ careful at that end of the table. I looked at my hand, back at the table and thought idly about what grade sandpaper we’d need to smooth it down and fill the knotty holes that over time had started to deepen and, because Santiago was at that moment sanding down our outside doors (that take a terrible beating from the sun), I wondered if he could do the work, lazy cow that I am.

Then I wondered if maybe we should just polyurethane the table after we’d made the repairs. Would that change the look? We bought this table in part because it had an aged patina to it and it wasn’t a formal dining room table. Our kitchen/great(ish) room is where we have casual family meals and also dinner parties. When we’d moved from Milwaukee seven years ago, I sold our large mahogany dining room table to the folks who bought our house. The transaction went something like this:

Her: Ohmygod I LOVE your dining room. The table is beautiful and I can’t imagine anything else in here.

Me: Wanna buy it?

Her: What? Really?

Me: Yep. (unsaid…I don’t want it and it won’t work in our Topanga house).

Her: I’m sure it’s more than I can afford. Just buying this house is stretching us to breaking point.

Me: Hey, I may have paid a lot for this table, but I’ll sell it for next to nothing (unsaid: because I’m a lazy cow and who the hell cares about the table…you bought our house for almost full asking price).

Her: How much (said with absolute fear that it would be too much),

Me: $250

Her: What? Are you kidding?

Me: No. Want it? If not, I’m going to advertise.

Her: (Whipping out checkbook) Yes, Yes…I want it! Ohmygod, I can’t believe it’s mine.

Me: I’m so happy it’s going to stay here (unsaid: Hoofuckingray!).

And that’s how it came to be that when we moved to Topanga we had no dining room table. The owners of this house had a big wooden table that I thought could probably work for us but it never occurred to me to ask them if it was for sale. Their real estate agent had told us its story, as well. No need to sit down, boys and girls: it’s short.

One day, the owners (hereinafter referred to as the morons) were having a dinner party and, apparently on the very day that 10 people were coming to their house to dine, they thought, “OHMYGOD, we have no table upon which to serve the dinner.” At that point, the male moron proceeded to whipstitch together a dining room table. Boom. Done.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” I said to the agent. Skull cinema was thinking, “They didn’t realize they had no table until the day of the dinner party?”

And so it came to pass that they had a very large table (10 feet long and almost 5 feet wide) which, while it fit this kitchen fairly well, probably wouldn’t ever fit any other kitchen again.

And then they put their house on the market and we offered to buy it and then the moron said, all casual like, “Would you be interested in buying the table? It fits the kitchen so well.” (Unspoken: it won’t fucking fit in any room in our new house in the Palisades, please buy it).

And I said, “Sure, we’d be interested. While it’s a little bigger than we wanted, it would probably work for us. How much?” (I’m remembering, of course, that I charged $250 for a pretty nice mahogany table with two leaves and full table pads just a few weeks prior).

And that fucking moron looked me straight in the eyes and said without blinking, “I was thinking $1,500.”

And I looked him straight in the eye and said, “No thanks.”

And so he went from having a sale in his pocket to nothing and so said, “We could negotiate.”

And I said, “No we can’t. You made the mistake of starting too high and I’ve seen a table I like at Restoration Hardware that is just under a grand.”

And he said, “ We could go below a grand.”

And I said, “No thanks. I’ll stick with the table at RH.”

And you know what? I’m really, really glad that I did because after I got that second splinter I sent an email to customer service at RH telling them the issues I was having with this seven-year old table. They listened hard and I sent them some photographs illustrating the problems and then, last week, they said, “We are happy to replace the table. We stand by our products at RH and while we do not stock your table any longer, we are pleased to offer you either the Gun Barrel Salvaged Wood Table or our Trestle Salvaged Wood Dining Table…whichever you prefer. Just go to and make your choice and we'll deliver it at your convenience.

I’m still reeling that they have been so responsive to one of their customers and I know one thing for very certain…I will continue shopping at Restoration Hardware and if you think I haven’t already told this story one hundred times…

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Tightly lashed to a low-hanging limb of our Chinese Elm, this Hummingbird's nest has survived high winds, rain and us creeping back and forth for weeks now. One, maybe two chicks have been hatched so we'll be giving her a wide berth for a few more weeks.