|Fat Cat is this year's new kitty ornament|
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Wednesday night I mistakenly left three windows open in my car parked outside on the street, so when gusty winds and torrents of rain blew into the Berkeley hills early Thursday morning, they soaked my Toyota's upholstery and floors and all the belongings left on the seats. Luckily, there was a puffy vest and swim towels which soaked up some moisture, but by the time I went out to the car Thursday morning the interior was pretty damp. While furiously mopping up the water, I noticed four books by the Italian author Elena Ferrante on the back seat. The two I had just finished were completely dry but the other pair, which I had just started, seemed at first glance to be rain-spattered only on the covers. The dry pair were the first volumes of Ferrante's Neapolitan trilogy, My Brilliant Friend, and it's Italian original titled L'Amica Geniale. The second pair, closer to the window, were the ones I am eagerly devouring at present, Storia del Nuovo Cognome and the English translation, Story of a New Name. As with the first two volumes, I am reading the Italian original with the help of the English translation. It takes me a long time to read Ferrrante's dense, passionate prose in Italian, even with help, but it's so rewarding to read these brilliant novels in Italian and it's lots of fun.
Anyway, back to the stormy day cleanup: On closer inspection I realized that most of the pages in the midsection of Story of a New Name were saturated, and its Italian counterpart was also wet and damaged. My first attempts at blotting and wiping did nothing but reveal more soaked pages all stuck together and ruined. I felt sick. I'm totally immersed in the stories of these vivid characters in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, and the precious books I had recently bought were soaked and unreadable. Calming down slightly, I decided to check the Internet for instructions for drying books. I knew "the angels" had saved whole libraries after the disastrous 1966 flood in Florence, so why couldn't I save two books? As hoped, there were numerous websites devoted to air drying wet books, so I chose the Cornell University Library site with bright illustrations and clear directions for drying "thoroughly wet, partially wet or damp" pages. I was encouraged, and I abandoned immediate plans for a trip to the bookstore. Why not make this a rainy day DIY project? I unearthed my Vornado, fanned out the pages as Cornell suggested, stood the books on edge and turned the fan on high. The pages fluttered in the breeze, separating and drying as predicted.
After air-drying for hours, many pages were still damp to the touch, especially interior portions near the spine, so I decided to use my Baby Pro hair dryer. For some reason, the websites did not suggest this option. Drying the sections page by page was tedious, but the warm air directed at each damp area really worked. The downside of the page by page process was that it was all too tempting to read the pages as I dried them. I couldn't resist skipping ahead and discovering what the two main characters, Lina Cerullo and Elena Greco, were up to later in the story. The intense relationship of the two girls, their families, friends and enemies came alive in their poor Neapolitan neighborhood, as they grew from young girls in the 50's to adolescents and beyond in the recently published third volume, Those who Leave and those Who Stay, which I will read when I finish Story of a New Name.
|My hair dryer completed the final drying process|
Blow drying yielded two books with stiff, wavy pages, totally readable, but not very aesthetically pleasing. I may try pressing the books between boards, as The Cornell Library site suggests, or I may visit my local bookstore for a fresh copy. However, to buy the Italian version I have to order from the wonderful San Francisco online bookstore Libreria Pino, Here, which carries a large selection of Italian books and ships promptly. Unfortunately, prices are high so I may read my disfigured Italian copy after all.
|Flattening air-dried books between boards|
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Today, December 3rd, after a night of heavy rain, my handy rain gauge registered five inches. To be truthful, this measurement was the result of the last three storms. I just couldn't empty it and start from scratch after each small accumulation. Finally, yesterday's rainy weather brought the total to three inches. Then when I went out this morning I was overjoyed to see it had topped out at 5! Now I'll empty the rainwater and look forward to starting over.
Thank you rain gods! The plants are happy, the fire danger is nil and the hills will soon be green.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Sunday, September 21, 2014
While in the process of moving some old family furniture out of storage, I found two of the four classic Eames chairs that my family had used as dining chairs throughout my childhood. Though the metal legs were rusty, the wood worn and the backs loose, I was struck by the elegant lines and timeless beauty of the design. I researched Eames and found that the designer was actually a talented couple, Charles and Ray, who had long and fruitful careers. Below, from the website "Design within Reach," is a short synopsis of their lives and work throughout the 20th Century.
Charles and Ray EamesUSA (1907–1978; 1912–1988)
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
And sure enough, as I gazed up the hill to the Brazil Room , I saw a huge swath of unwatered lawn, quickly turning brown.
|The BRAZILIAN ROOM, presented to the East Bay regional Parks by the country of Brazil as a gift of friendship|
Browning grasses and drought-tolerant plants are the theme of our California summer and we're all conserving water in every possible way (more on our recently completed drip irrigation system later)— so I was encouraged to see that the Park service is also cooperating.
Monday, July 7, 2014
Last Saturday I had the pleasure of spending an hour with Marisa McClellan, author of Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint. She was signing her new book (Preserving by the Pint) at the huge Saturday Farmers' Market in front of the Ferry Building, and I was representing Book Passage which was providing her books for sale.
|Saturday Farmers' Market at the Ferry Building|
As the market swirled around us on that beautiful, sunny day, Marisa filled me in on her life story. She was born in Los Angeles, moved to Portland with her family at about age 9, spent a happy adolescence in Oregon and moved to Philadelphia to be with her grandmother, where she married and has lived ever since. She has become an expert on canning and preserving, published two books on the subject, does freelance editing and writes a blog called Food in Jars.
While we chatted, Marisa's fans would wander up to our table, recognize her from her blog or Face book page, and tell her how much they enjoy her blog and which recipes they had tried in her first book, Food in Jars, published by Running Press. The constant favorite was the Strawberry-vanilla jam. I confessed that I was a reluctant canner and didn't eat much jam anyway. She countered by explaining that most recipes in her books are not jams and jellies but ingenious combinations of various seasonal fruits and vegetables. In the new book she emphasizes preserving in small batches and often doesn't use the canning pot at all. She suggested one summer recipe that really appealed to her followers—and to me: Zucchini Butter with Garlic and Fresh Thyme on page 85 of Preserving by the Pint. The veggie spread is delicious on bread or crackers and can be used as a quick sauce for warm pasta. I was sold, and since zucchini was bursting forth in the market and my herbs were in need of a trim, I made her recipe on the Fourth of July as my contribution to an annual block party in Walnut Creek. I decided to add savory as well as thyme.
|My Winter Savory|
|And my Thyme|
Zucchini Butter with Fresh Thyme and Savory
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
5 garlic cloves, gently smashed
2 large zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
5 to 6 sprigs thyme and/or savory
1/2 teaspoon finely milled sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place a large skillet over medium heat. Place the olive oil and butter in the pan and allow them to melt together. Roughly chop the garlic and add it to the pan. Add the zucchini. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the zucchini has begun to soften. Strip the thyme and savory leaves off their stems and add them to the pan.
Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring often. The goal is to cook the liquid out of the zucchini and melt it into a flavorful, spreadable paste. If at any point, the zucchini starts to brown and stick, add a splash of liquid...and lower the heat a bit more. The total cooking time should be right around an hour.
Divide the cooked spread between 2 half-pint jars. It will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge or a year in the freezer.
|Gemelli Pasta with Zucchini butter, green beans, corn and basil|
The next day I followed Marisa's advice and used more of my zucchini butter on warm pasta with a healthy addition of green beans and corn kernels, also from the farmers' market. It was quick and delicious, but unfortunately my supply of the zucchini butter is almost gone! I'll need to make more and next I want to try her Peach-barbecue sauce and Thai-basil pesto. I may become a canner yet!