Sunday, August 29, 2010

Summer's lease hath all too short a date

It is the end of August already, and next week my white jeans will have to be retired until after April 24, 2011 (I'm from the South, where we follow the no-wearing-white rule from Labor Day until Easter). This weekend has been like a microcosm of summer, distilled into 48 hours. When my husband picked me up at work on Friday afternoon, we stopped at the edge of my boss' rural property to pick blackberries, gathering 4 pints in about 10 minutes, while birds screeched in rage. A portion of this bounty will go into a blackberry cobbler later this afternoon, while the rest will accompany yogurt and granola in this week's breakfasts. 

Then it was off to cocktails on the roof of a local hotel, with a wonderful view. Leaves are beginning to change on a few trees. Can it really be that time already? Of course, summer did not begin in the Valley until its appointed time--up until the Solstice on June 21, it was cool and rainy and I though I would never get to wear any summer clothes. It's mostly been a cool summer, with highs in the 80s, which has been great for people but less perfect for fruits and vegetables. Everything is coming in about a month late. 

Rooftop view

Marvelous grilled tuna loin was paired with squash, potatoes, and peashoots from our CSA for dinner:

Saturday was spectacularly lovely, and highlighted by several long walks. With clear skies, temperatures in the 70s, and a cool breeze, it was far too delightful to spend a second indoors.  And I'm glad I didn't, because after a sunny morning that allowed for some garden maintenance, it's now cloudy and cool, and I'm inside with a pot of hot tea. A foretaste of the coming fall and winter. But for now, it is still (officially) summer, and there is fresh produce to savor and flowers to enjoy.  Below, graceful Japanese anemones, my favorite of the late summer/autumn blooms. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Of Bats and Being Alone

It's been an exciting week in the Valley. My darling husband flew to Memphis on Wednesday to visit family and friends, so I was on my own. It is amazing how quickly one lapses into the habits of many years living alone. Most lunches and dinners have consisted of eggs in some form or pasta, except for the cucumber yogurt soup that took 3 minutes total to make, thanks to the food processor. By Thursday evening, I was eating the pasta straight from the bowl in which I mixed the fresh tomatoes (finally, our garden produced two!), basil, and chevre that composed the sauce (from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, While the Pasta Cooks). Darling husband brought me two bottles of my favorite Rosato from the winery where he works, but I've been drinking cheap Italian Pinot Grigio from a 1.5 litre bottle, just as in my single days. 

Cats enjoy the morning sun

Although I lived alone for almost 25 years, I found it surprisingly unsettling to be in the house alone the first couple of nights. In the wee hours of Friday the 13th, I woke to hear strange noises. The cats were dashing about and there was a flapping sort of noise. I turned on the bedside lamp to see a bat flying around the room, and seemingly straight at my head. I shrieked and dove under the covers. When I tentatively peered out, the bat, apparently alarmed by the noise, had flown out into the hall. In a panic, I grabbed my phone and called my husband . . . and got voice mail, because his phone had died. I fired up Safari on the iPhone and searched for "getting bat out of house." Unfortunately, the method recommended by Wikihow required a number of items I did not have in my bedroom, so I donned my thickest hoodie, covered my head, and opened the bedroom door, staying low to the ground. The cats--originally excited by the bird/mouse combo flitting about above them--were starting to get freaked out and were glad to follow me downstairs. Closing the door at the foot of the stairs, I pondered my next move, while looking for my leather gardening gloves. 

Bat Battle Gear: Rose gloves and the sweatshirt my boss brought me from Vegas

It was then I saw the phone number for the 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic stuck to the refrigerator. "They'll know about animals!" I thought, "I'll call them." A very nice woman answered and managed not to laugh at my hysterical ravings. She and another vet tech talked me through going back upstairs (gulp!) and closing all doors to other rooms, leaving the bat in the hall with the wide-open window through which it entered. This involved some most undignified belly crawling and a few more girlish squeals of terror. I beat it back downstairs and decided to go look at the Perseid meteor shower while having a restoring glass of wine. I only saw one shooting star, but I got my wish: the bat found his way out.

"King's High Scent" sweet peas from Territorial Seed

The rest of the weekend was blessedly boring, giving me the time to appreciate such niceties as the sweet peas blooming by the back door. Their scent is the first thing you notice when you step outside--no mean feat since they are right beside the garbage and recycling bins and the small compost bucket (over which an enterprising spider built her web, where she is harvesting a feast of fruit flies).  Scent is an essential part of the garden for me. There are roses and lilies at the front, and more sweet peas, honeysuckle, and jasmine in the back yard. A magnolia tree blooms by the door into the side yard, reminding me of the South of my childhood. I ordered fall bulbs this weekend--always a difficult decision--and made notes of what has done well and what needs to be moved or replaced. More monarda is definitely called for: watching the hummingbirds it attracts has become our cocktail hour entertainment.

Purple monarda and white cosmos

"Raspberry Wine" monarda, the hummingbirds' favorite

Finally, we had two tomatoes ripen; one I used in the aforementioned pasta, and the other in the omelet I had for lunch. (Seriously, I only cook eggs and pasta.) Lunch was a locavore's delight, with eggs and feta cheese from local farms and tomato and basil from the garden. The tomato is a variety called "black truffle"--really delicious. The butter I used in the skillet was local, and Dave's Killer Bread, which substituted for a baguette, is made in Portland. 


... and After

I decided that a festive glass of wine was in order--it is Sunday, after all. It's been hot here--upper 90s--so I've been staying indoors reading in the afternoon: Jane Alison's lyrical but disturbing memoir, The Sisters Antipodes (my book club's selection for this month) and the always-entertaining Diana Cooper's autobiography. Happily, my husband will be back tomorrow. I wonder what he'll make for dinner?

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Somewhere under the rainbow...

A couple of weeks ago, I was suddenly struck with the urge to get up early the following morning and go for a walk. Do not ask me where this came from--I'm the sort of person who's devoted my life to avoiding early mornings and exercise. But the idea was irresistible, so I did it. And it was lovely. And I've done it every morning since. Summer mornings here could not be more perfect. At this latitude, it starts to get light by 5, so the east-facing windows in my bedroom wake me with the morning sun a little after 6. By 6:30, I've stretched myself awake and have taken care of my first and most important duty, feeding the cats. If you think I'm going to be able to leave the house without doing that, think again. The temperatures are in the 50s at the hour, so I need a sweater or hoodie over my shorts and T-shirt. The air is so fresh and cool, and all the neighborhood cats are out, stalking the early birds and the squirrels. This is a very cat-friendly area--every other house at least has a cat or two. Some watch me warily without moving a muscle, others run and hide, and others come running up to rub against my legs and be petted. I'm pretty sure they're the ones whose humans don't get up early to feed them.

The late, lamented Maeve, the first cat who came to stay

I adore cats, and currently have four of my own. I grew up in the country, and we had alls sorts of pets: cats, dogs, rabbits, frogs. The cats, to my distress, were never allowed in the house. I had a beautiful Siamese/Burmese mix named Serena, who produced several motley litters that included cats of every color before we had her fixed. I was allowed to have a dog inside, a toy poodle. I know, stop laughing. Yes, she was white and she came with the name of Precious and she and I adored each other, so just hush. But what I really wanted was a cat I could keep inside. This didn't happen until I was grown, had been living on my own for some time, and had bought a house where no nasty landlord could tell me what to do. One cat arrived, and led to another and another and another, as they tend to do. They're such elegant, independent creatures. It's the independence that I admire above all, I think. I am extremely uncomfortable with clingy, dependent creatures--I would have made a dreadful mother--but I respond very well to cold and aloof. 

Today was, for the first time since I started this routine, a bit misty--a foreshadowing of the cool, wet mornings to come, when this new whim will be put to the test. It was cool and lovely today, though, with the smell of rain added to the jasmine, honeysuckle, and roses on my route. I love seeing what others are growing in their gardens, noting what does especially well in our little meso-climate, and getting ideas for next season. It's almost time to order fall bulbs, incredibly. So strange, because our tomato plants are only now beginning to set fruit. I think I saw a hint of red on one this week. 

This Friday's cocktail/market/dinner combo featured local beers at the bar on the roof of a local hotel, with marvelous views of the mountains and the valley. Whenever I go up there, the fact of that I live in a picture postcard is brought home to me yet again. Really, it's ridiculous. The market had fresh albacore tuna an clams, which my brilliant, creative hudband turned into this:

Soooo good. We sat in the garden in the twilight, finishing the wine, watching the stars come out, and talking of many things. He's taking off this week to visit family and friends in Memphis and Oklahoma City (and to enjoy the heat-and-humidity festival), so I will have no cocktail companion or chef. Back to omelets and pasta for me!

I must go and deadhead some flowers, and cut a bouquet for the house. One of the great advantages of having a garden is the luxury of a free and constant supply of fresh flowers for the house. Honestly, I almost prefer the pleasure I get from that to the satisfaction of growing food (although picking berries for breakfast is one of my favorite things). One is food for the body, the other for the soul. Sometimes we forget to nourish both. Like my walks, for example. Although it is no doubt benefitting me physically, it's the beauty and the quiet that give me the most immediate pleasure. For me, as usual, it's all about the aesthetics.

For those who don't know about Booktryst, the blog I write for in a my professional capacity, I'd like to link to the post I wrote this week on J. P. Morgan's librarian Belle da Costa Greene. It's one of my favorite things I've written.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


This Sunday in the Valley is a special one, because it's my husband's birthday. It's been a lovely day--even though poor boy had to work--and tonight we'll celebrate at our favorite restaurant, Bistro Maison. Fabulous French food, excellent wine list. Can't wait! 

We've had gorgeous weather this weekend: cloudy, cool mornings and sunny afternoons, highs around 80. The mornings were perfect for gardening and the afternoons for reading and napping. I made a batch of marionberry jam (as addictive as crack!) this morning. Marionberries taste like a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, and make the most fabulous jam. In fact, my marionberry jam is the only thing I've ever made that has been served in a fine restaurant. A chef friend used a jar of it to make a sauce for a wine dinner. I even got credit on the menu!

I've been re-reading Brideshead Revisited this week. I had recently read Mad World, an account of the Lygon family who were the inspiration for Brideshead. Evelyn Waugh has long been one of my favorite authors. I love his acerbic wit, his close observation of social mores--the anthropology of the drawing room and the cocktail party, as well as his use of language. I know some find him snobbish and mean, but I rather like that. The people he skewers generally deserve it. 

When I first read Brideshead (my paperback has photos from the PBS Masterpiece Theatre series on the cover, so more than 20 years ago), I was barely older than the youthful Charles and Sebastian. Now I, like Charles the narrator, am middle aged. It brings a new perspective to the book, and a different way of identifying with the characters. I always appreciated Waugh's wit, but underrated his compassion and humanity. The gentle, elegiac tone of Brideshead is inexpressibly moving.

These photos show the progression of Friday night's sunset--really a spectacular display. Clouds blew in at the last minute, cooling things down and providing a wonderful palette for the setting sun. 

Since I began this post, we went to dinner at Bistro Maison. Incroyable. A half bottle of Taittinger to start, then an enormous Antipasto plate with French ham, anchovies, potato-chickpea salad, roasted tomatoes and red peppers, salade, and bufalo mozzarella, accompanied by a bone-dry Sancerre. I had moules frites as my main dish, and the birthday boy had wild river-caught sturgeon with saffron beurre blanc, this accompanied by a half-bottle of Gigondas. For dessert, I had the chocolate lava cake with cherry amaretto ice cream and fresh cherries macerated in amaretto; birthday boy had a tasting of tawy ports--10, 20, 30, & 40 years old, with a bar of Schaffenberger 70% cacao chocolate. We are now sitting stupefied in the garden. 


This post has been rather disjointed. Highlights of the week: watching hummingbirds feed on the monarda, finches on the cornflowers, and chickadees at the bird feeder. Book group, with great discussion and much wine, topped off by a beautiful moon rise. A weekend of domestic joys, crowned with a stupendous dinner in honor of the love of my life. It doesn't get much better.