Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Memoriam

Mary Sylvia, 1914-2008
Richard Andrew, 1940-2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In the 1340s

There is so much political history of interest in medieval Florence: the famous Guelph and Ghibelline feud, with exiles and triumphant returns, and the subsequent division within the Guelph party. There was war with Lucca, with Pisa, with Milan, with the Papal States. The city was ruled by despots Charles of Valois and Walter of Brienne.

Famine, plague, flood, and fire struck in turn.

New city walls were being built, and new churches, new palaces, and new piazzas.

Charles Eliot Norton studies Sienna, Pisa, and Florence in contrast. "The new cathedral in an Italian city was the witness of civic as well as religious devotion, of pride and of patriotism consecrated by piety. It was also the sign of the favor of Heaven in the bestowal of the prosperity of which it gave evidence."1

This is one of my favorites from 1340 because the baby is lifting his arms up to his mother so that she will hold him, just like Louis does with me.

Gene Brucker describes the period in his book entitled Renaissance Florence. "The guild regime established in 1282 initiated one major project after another: the reconstruction of the old Badia and the third circle of walls in 1294, the cathedral in 1296, the palace of the Signoria in 1299. Work on the cathedral and walls progresses very slowly in the early fourteenth century, but the tempo of construction quickened in teh 1330s when the walls were finally completed. The foundations of the cathedral campanile and the Loggia of Orsanmichele were laid down in 1334 and 1137; the reconstructing of the Ponte Vecchio began immediately after its collapse furing the 1333 flood and was finished twelve years later. Meanwhile, the great basilicas of the mendicant orders, S. Maria Novella and S. Croce, were being completed, subsidized by the contributions of pious Florentines and also by occasional grants from the communal treasury."2

The documents from the 1330s of the Misericordia confraternity from the 1330s mainly discuss election of officers and the administrative structure of the confraternity, indications that the organization was at a stage where it was busy focusing internally, on operations, so that in the 1340s they could focus outward.

1. Norton, Charles Eliot. Historical Studies of Church Building in the Middle Ages: Venice, Siena, Florence. pp. 21-22

2. Brucker, Gene. Renaissance Florence.p. 25

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


When everything is in danger of being reached by two-year-old fingers, scarce and functional become more and more attractive.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pear Tarte

One of our favorites, inspired by Georganne Brennan's Tarte Tatin in Potager.

3 pears, peeled and sliced
2 cups of red wine
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
2 T butter
another 1/2 cup sugar

Poach the pears in the wine, first 1/2 cup of sugar and nutmeg for a couple of hours. While they are soaking, butter a pie plate with 1 tablespoon of the butter, and sprinkle 1/4 cup sugar onto the buttered plate.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Remove the pears from the wine with a slotted spoon and arrange in a pretty pattern on the plate on top of the butter and sugar. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and dab remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over the top.

Cover plate with a pie crust (pre-made, or your favorite pate brisee), folding the edges back in towards the center. Cut a couple of small slits in the middle for the steam to escape.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until pie crust is golden and syrup is thick and ruby-colored.

Flip immediately onto a large plate after removing pie from the oven, and let cool a bit before serving.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A December Rose

We have one rose in our backyard.

Blooming in the middle of December.
Ignoring the cold weather.
Paying attention only to the sunshine of things.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Last Time I Saw Toledo

The last time I saw Toledo was in 1996.

Perhaps my favorite place is Santa Maria la Blanca.

Or maybe it's the Cathedral.

Or maybe Cristo de la Luz.

Or maybe walking the city streets.

Or maybe everything.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Feast of the Immaculada

A tuna is a group of university students that sings traditional songs. Each section of the university (Law, Medicine, History, Architecture) has its own group. On the night of December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the tunas meet in the plaza of the Virgen de los Reyes, between Seville's cathedral and alcazar, to sing and make offerings in praise of the Virgin Mary.

Afterward, the groups stroll through the old quarter, singing, stopping often for tapas and beer, and flirting with girls.

Don't miss the tambourine guy's antics at the end.

By the way, tuna in Spanish is atún.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I'll Take a Case of That


Look for this in your neighborhood specialty wine shop.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Chili and Corn Bread

2 T corn oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground beef
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
1 can black beans, rinsed, drained
1/4 cup Grandma's chili powder
1T freshly ground black pepper
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T ground cumin

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Saute onion and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add ground beef to brown. Add tomatoes and beans and bring to a simmer. Mix in espresso powder, 1/4 cup chili powder, and cumin, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.

Serve with your favorite cornbread and Honeyed Butter.

For honeyed butter, mix 3T softened butter with 1 T honey until smooth. Spread on corn bread.

This is my entry for the latest Royal Foodie Joust. Check it out!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's Hard Being 2

There's a lot of work to do when you are 2 years old.

And your parents don't listen to anything that you try to tell them.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


My grandparents never had much money, but they would always throw the biggest Thanksgiving dinner they could manage, and invite everyone they cared about. There were often more than 40 people at the table in the house in the Avenues.

The best job at Thanksgiving was setting the places at the long table that stretched from the dining room to the middle of the living room -- it was a table top on a couple of saw horses, but with Lida's linens and the good china, it looked lovely. If you were well-behaved and careful, you were allowed to help lay out the silverware. There were two long wooden benches that ran the length of the room on either side of the table. Younger folks usually sat on the benches. Read on to find out why.

Grandpa was in charge of picking the bread for the stuffing a day in advance. If you were very good and careful, you could help with that too.

This was a big group: the Postons, the Zaros, the Lynches, the Karas, the Weilands, the Crosbys, plus all the kids, plus sometimes a priest or two, plus sometimes the Terheydens; plus sometimes the Jensen brothers (Al and Doc); and sometimes Ray Bishop; and sometimes Auntie Joy and Uncle Blackie Puglesa, Sheriff of Lake County.

There were very, very complicated seating arrangements (descriptions based on reminiscences from years past):

1. Uncle Ed and Aunt Loretto had to be in chairs with backs--otherwise if they were sitting on a bench, when they had too many drinks they would lean back, and fall off the bench.

2. Auntie Eleanor could not sit next to Uncle Bob Weiland because of his roving hands and other things.

3. Auntie Helen could not sit next to Uncle Bob Weiland because of his roving hands and other things.

4. Auntie Dodie could not sit next to Uncle Bob Weiland because of his roving hands, etc., etc.

5. Uncle Freddie could not sit next to Auntie Louetta because of amorous undertakings that developed with wine (as opposed to roving hands, etc., etc.).

6. There was someone Auntie Joy could not sit next to, but nobody can remember now who that was.

7. Uncle Bert had to be in a place where he had room to do the carving. He was always in charge of carving the turkey.

8. Grandma did not like the bottles of red wine to be too near the far end of the table where grandpa would sit.

9. Grandma and Auntie Dorothy and Auntie Helen had to be near the end of the table near the kitchen because they needed to get into and out of the kitchen. Auntie Louetta usually did not join the ladies in the kitchen -- sometimes she had had too much wine by then. Grandma always sat on the piano bench at the end of the table closest to the kitchen. Good girls got to sit next to her.

10. The stuffing and the mashed potatoes had to start at the opposite end of the table from Uncle Bob Weiland (he of the roving hands) because otherwise he would eat them all and not pass them around and they would be gone before the turkey came out.

11. When the priests came, they would have the places of honor, right alongside grandpa. If this were the case, the wine was really kept far away from that end of the table.

12. In those days, instead of bringing a bottle of wine for the hosts, guests usually brought along a bottle of bourbon.

12. The kids were sort of spread out and squeezed in where there was room, and sometimes if the big table was too crowded at the breakfast room table.

What else do you remember?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Turkey

There was an interesting article in the New York Times yesterday about bosses giving away turkeys to their employees. Check it out.

Papa likes to tell us the story of the year that his father got a turkey from his boss for the holidays--only it was alive!! He had to bring it home in a sack, and they left it in the hallway still in the sack and the children were too afraid to go into the hallway with the turkey in the sack. They were discussing what to do with it, when one of the neighbors came over and said "Give me the turkey. I know how to take care of it." She had grown up on a farm and knew how to "take care" of turkeys and chickens, and other things too. So she "took care" of it and cleaned it and then they made a big turkey dinner for everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The box has arrived!


It is almost Christmas. How do I know? Because the mailman just brought us the box from Spain! Every year, our abuelos, Rafael and Concha, (abuelos are grandparents in Spanish) send us a big box of Christmas goodies from Spain. There is always an assortment of turrón, mantecados, and figuritas de mazapán, which Rafa likes best. This year there is also a box of cortadillos de cidra for Papá.

The tradition still exists in Seville of handmade sweets, and there are cloistered convents in the city that sell these handmade sweets as part of their livelihood. The nuns live in seclusion and prayer, and part of each day is spent in handiwork, such as sewing and embroidery, or book-binding, or making sweets or jams. These products are then sold to the neighbors, who come to the convent door to place orders through a screen. The attendant places a box of sweets at the door and the neighbor leaves the money there and carries off the box of goodies.

This year our big box of goodies also held clothes for the boys, and new slippers, and some presents, which we haven't opened yet!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Enjoy a ride in a horse carriage??!?

Take the Are You Hot Quiz

I am so not hot. Read below.

"Catching a movie along with good food and fun friends often beats a wild night out. Why not enjoy a brisk ride in a horse carriage or a fine wine from a good year. You love life and don't feel the need to live it in fast forward. You are really hot because you're already so cool with your life. "


Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Telegram

Dear friends STOP No time for blogging STOP In throes of writing thesis STOP Send Booze STOP And cookies STOP And meals for the children STOP Really mean it about the booze STOP

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brothers and Sisters

Our siblings understand us like no one else does. (Unless, of course, they don't.)

Siblings share the formative years with us. And they share the longevity of memories with us.

They remember the same jokes, and they have different perspectives on the suffering. (Except, sometimes, they don't.)

Who else remembers why you had surgery 22 years ago? Who else remembers what you looked like at 13 even though you think you've destroyed all the photos? Who else covers for you at parties when you are laughing so hard that everyone in the room is looking at you? Who else knows how to make grandma's cheesy-mayonnaise toast hors-d'oeuvres? Who else picks you up at work when your water breaks and takes you to the hospital? Who else tells you lies so that you don't worry about the truth?

My grandmother and her sister were orphaned as children, and developed such a strong bond because of it that their children were as close as brothers and sisters for many years.

My mother and her brother have remained close despite the geographic distance between them for 40+ years. No one laughs at their jokes as much as they laugh at each other.

My father and his brothers just lost their mother, and although they are old-time cowboys who don't show emotion, their bond is strengthened in knowing that their collective memories keep her present with us.

My sister and brother and I, well, I've said much of it already.

Rafa and Louis hugged and hugged and hugged each other after two weeks apart.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Boys are Home!

The big boys are home! When Louis woke up at 6 this morning and saw Papa, he shouted PAPA, PAPA, PAPA! and jumped up and down on the bed.

They brought home a suitcase full of lentils and cookies.

We celebrated with hot potato and apple soup, of course, so they could eat something warm after 22 hours of traveling. It went like this:

Peel and roughly chop one onion, one apple, and four large potatoes, and bring to a boil in 4 cups of chicken stock. Leave on low heat for at least 45 minutes until potatoes are falling apart. Puree until smooth. Stir in one teaspoon of curry and 1/2 cup of cream and serve to hungry and tired boys.

Lots of pictures to come!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Soup Season

Today we're making carrot, mushroom, and barley soup for lunch, Luisito and I. This is how we did it:

Saute 2 chopped shallots in 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter with a pinch of lemon zest and a pinch of thyme. Add 8-10 medium-sized chopped carrots, and 1 cup of sliced mushrooms and saute until the liquid is released.

Add 1/2 cup of barley, rinsed, and stir to coat in the oil and liquid. Add a splash of wine for flavor, and then 4 cups of homemade chicken stock.

Simmer for one hour before lunch. Maybe blend it into a puree, maybe not.

Warm and yummy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Quick Trip to Spain

Yes, I am here at home. No, I did not take a quick trip to Spain.

It will not be me sipping rioja on marble-tiled plazas, eating slice after slice of ham.

I will not be shopping in the market for the produce and fresh fish every morning, or going to the bakery on the corner 5 minutes before lunch will be served to get hot bread.

No high-speed train trips, gothic cathedrals, or slate-roofed castles.

No tapas of aged cheese marinated in olive oil, or purchasing of homemade sweets from the convent down the street. No jasmine and bougainvillea decorating every garden wall or red geraniums in painted pots on balconies.

Travel safely and hurry home, boys. Luisito and I miss you. In the fog.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Orange-scented Lentil Soup with Acorn Squash

In order of appearance:

one acorn squash

2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 oz prosciutto
large pinch of dried sage leaves

1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 cup lentils, well rinsed
4 cups broth

juice of one orange

salt and pepper to taste

1. Roast the acorn squash: microwave the squash on high for 2 minutes so that it is easier to cut in half. Once it has cooled for a bit, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy parts. Place the two halves flesh-side down in a baking dish and roast at 400 for about 20 minutes until soft and starting to caramelize.

2. Saute onion, sage, and prosciutto in olive oil in a heavy pot over medium-high heat until onions are translucent and prosciutto begins to brown. Add carrots and continue cooking until soft, about 5 more minutes. Add lentils and stir to coat in the oil. Add broth and let cook over medium-low heat until lentils are tender, about 45 minutes.

3. Stir in juice of orange and cook 5 more minutes.

Serve in warm soup bowls with nice crusty bread and cheese, and poached pears for dessert. A good tempranillo would be a nice wine choice.

This was my first entry into the Royal Foodie Joust. Check out all of the wonderful recipes there!

Thursday, October 23, 2008


When you're almost two years old, you're full of good ideas. Each and every morning you wake up full of wonderful ideas for things to do that day.

Here are some of the good ideas we've been "working with" recently:

1. finding a new storage place for ALL of the remote controls for the house--in a plastic toy microwave--and then standing on top of it.

2. wrenching the nightlight out of its socket in the morning and putting it in the drawer of your playtrain.

3. putting all the doorstops in the drawer of your playtrain along with the nightlight.

4. taking your mother's books from her nightstand and putting them on your own bookshelf. (makes you look like you're a really advanced reader.)

5. brushing your teeth with ALL of the toothbrushes in the bathroom. (if brushing your teeth with your own toothbrush is a good idea, imagine how clean your teeth will be if you use all of the toothbrushes on the little rack. one at a time.)

All I have to say is....good thing none of us has a contagious disease right now.

Good night.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't Try This at Home, Folks. Please. Just Don't.

I should have known two things:

1. I should have known not to try a random recipe from an unaffiliated internet site.

2. I should have known that a kiwi pie wasn't going to be very good.

But, I fooled myself into thinking that neither one of the above could be too horrible. And since our produce delivery box has sent us a kilo of kiwis each week for three weeks in a row, and I am so sick of kiwi smoothies in the mornings that no one else but me will drink, I thought I would look for a recipe that would use A LOT of kiwis, and that is why I decided to try a kiwi pie to use up the 27 kiwis that were still left in the refrigerator.

So here's what I did:
12 med. kiwis, peeled
1 c. water
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. butter
1-2 drops green food coloring
9-inch baked pie shell

(3 Tablespoons of cornstarch, mind you! Where was my brain? But to my credit, I didn't add the food coloring.)

Step 1: Cut 9 kiwis in half and blot with paper towel.
Step 2: Blend the remaining 3 kiwis with water in blender or processor. In a saucepan, combine blended kiwi mixture with cornstarch, sugar and salt. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat and add butter and food coloring.
Step 3: Arrange halved kiwis in pie shell. Pour glaze over kiwis, coating them well.
Step 4:Chill for several hours.

My additions to recipe:

Step 5: Do not taste pie. Do not collect $200. Proceed directly to garbage can and throw pie away.

Step 6: Mark "No KIWIS" on produce delivery edit list.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Orphaned by the Flu

My grandmother was orphaned in 1918, when she was 9 years old. Between July and December she lost her father, her mother, and her older sister. This was the Flu Epidemic of 1918.

Kids playing ball in the street in San Francisco, ca. 1900. From Pictures of the American City.

San Francisco was a city of immigrants then, as it is now. My great-grandmother, Annie, came from Ireland with her sister and brother and settled in San Francisco's Mission District. She married an Austrian man and they had four children. Her sister Mae married an Irish man--he was killed in a car accident on the day of their child's baptism in 1914. Mae was left a single mother, but she had her sister to rely on. They shared a pair of flats on Bartlett Street.

Then in July of 1918 Annie's husband, Fred, came down with the flu. He died five days later. Her daughter Louise was next, and then Annie herself in late December of the same year. My grandmother, Kathryn, was left alone with her younger sister and brother, with only their Aunt Mae to care for them.

Mae worked in a milliner's shop, decorating hats. When she found herself with four children in her care, she did what any good Irish Catholic would do, she made an appointment to see the Archbishop to ask advice. Archbishop Hanna advised her to send the children to a convent boarding school outside of the City, so that's what she did. She worked to pay for their schooling, and they boarded at St. Gertrude's and St. Joseph's Academies in Rio Vista.

And so they helped each other grow up, and they helped each other through life's trials, because they had only each other to rely on.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Look! A Real Zaguán

I don't mind at all that the Absolut campaign folks borrowed my idea. Really, not at all. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, you know.

Sláinte! (That's Irish, not Swedish.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Posh Affair

We went to a wine tasting event.

There were 85 different wines. The best one we tried was a Cune Imperial Reserva.

It was a very posh affair.

Thursday, October 9, 2008