Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why the Long Face?

I can't befriend a horse without thinking of the joke (and laughing, every time): "A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says, 'Why the long face?'" Met this horse on today's early-morning walk. This horse's friend is wearing a fly mask to protect the tender eyes and ears it cannot protect on its own.

Some jokes never get old. One time a friend and I were arguing about nature and he passionately demanded, "Do you know the lifecycle of the cicada?" I replied, "No, but if you hum a few bars, I'll fake it," and that makes me laugh still.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Food Porn, Summer Edition

I didn't really need a basket of umber-colored heirloom cherry tomatoes because at home I had big red and yellow ones from the honor produce stand, but there they were looking just like the 'maters on the cover of this month's issue of Food and Wine, which features a positively wanton summer salad of peaches, heirloom tomatoes, and feta, and before I knew it I'd also bought four pounds of peaches and a half pound of Bulgarian feta, but I digress; the absolute first thing to make and eat when back from the farmer's market is a fresh-tomato sandwich.

The proper tomato sandwich is made with white bread. Some insist on Pepperidge Farm's; my bread machine makes mine. Slather mayonnaise on both bread slices; pave those with ripe tomato slices piled half an inch high, then salt and pepper them. Lay some fresh basil leaves down if you have them. Close the sandwich and mash it down a bit so the juices flow. And what happens next is just private.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tiles for Miles

"These people are obsessed with tiles," I thought, because in Portugal tiles are indoors and out, town and country, fronting buildings and churches, in restaurants, stairwells, kitchens, train stations, bathrooms. There are two kinds: faience, or ceramic tiles made of a special gray clay; and Moorish tiles, much heavier, made of terracotta. Both are hand-painted but Moorish are more likely to be textured and geometric (reflecting Islamic esthetics imported by the Moors who once ruled Portugal); faience is painted with just about anything, cobalt blue a favored color. Blue tile art is called azulejo and dates from the 17th century. People don't do it so much anymore.

Pictured above is an azulejo chapel ceiling (in the seaside town of Nazare; the chapel was just a hole in the wall and I went in and beheld this), and below, a restaurant front in Nova da Gaia; a bunny-themed tile in another restaurant; a doorway with atypical monochromatic tile; a bathroom in one of our hotels in the tiny town of Pinhao; and a sampler from one of my hosts' tile collections, now tiling his kitchen wall. It was I who was obsessed with tiles, and it'd be great if we could put people to work tiling things here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Stranger in Paradise

Where've I been? In Portugal. It's all the Europe anyone needs: They have cathedrals, cloisters, narrow cobbled streets, great paintings, fish and wine, seashore, vineyards, fountains, Roman ruins, the winningest soccer team that took the EuroCup when I and my fellow tour members were there watchin' on TV rootin' "Port-u-GAL! Port-u-GAL!," and the very best bread in the world, which I'm currently trying to duplicate. Ahem. I got home five hours late, at midnight, because a huge thunderstorm postponed my ride, and early the next morning suited up and first thing, after picking up broken tree limbs, went into my woods, and what do I see there but the yellow carpet of chanterelles I dream of all year. And knew I was home.

The Portuguese are friendly and polite, the youth speak English, and so many of them, all ages, helped me when I couldn't work their subway or the train schedule to Lisbon and felt stupid because all I could say was "Good day" and "Thank you." One day, tired, I pointed at a menu item not knowing what it was, but it was 2 euros (about $2.15 USD) and to my surprise came the most wonderful slice of ham and slice of cheese on one of their marvelous crusty rolls, plus a latte. These people are obsessed with painted ceramic tiles -- on the fronts of buildings and churches, hallways, bathrooms -- and I became obsessed as well, and will soon (after I wash and cook my shrooms) post a few photos of sights that knocked my socks off.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Love and Commitment

Come over, I'll make you coffee
I've never loved like this before. I am head over heels because this red Nespresso machine makes the best coffee I have ever had or ever will have, with its little coffee pods, not at all like Keurig pods; oh no. They aren't interchangeable. One must buy Nespresso pods from the Nespresso company (and recycle them). This thing makes me love life.

I have terrible memories of Demetrius's 12-cup coffeemaker and how he drank all 12 cups every day and became a roaring monster, unable to sleep. I had been contented with my pour-over.

Each Nespresso pod costs 70 to 75 cents and each of the 17 different varieties is sold in packs of 10, each type with with jewel-colored, brushed-aluminum pods and romantic names. The pitch-dark Turkish coffee called "Khazar" is my favorite, with "Roma" a close second; on Sundays I like the "Ciocolatino" espresso with its chocolate whiff. The "Linizio Lungo" in the blue pod is my daily, with "Indriya" and "Dulsao" for variety; the green pod is a limited-edition Rwanda coffee.The pods are recyclable.

This machine costs about $120 but you can pay fortunes for stainless-steel ones that will froth your milk and connect with your phone. I know an owner who keeps a Nespresso machine in his bedroom and connects with it upon awakening.

I have one caffeinated cup per day, taking great care to time it when I most need caffeine, and taking time out to sit and savor it, thinking happy thoughts. The nearest Starbuck's is 17 miles away.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why Healthy Oaks Drop Branches

Heard it about 11 p.m.: Slow cracking and then a whoosh and thump. This is the third time in 14 years so I know what it is, and outdoors with a flashlight--stepping very carefully in case any copperheads are out lounging on the gravel like before--see that one of the twin oaks, tall and very old but thriving, has dropped a huge live branch, blocking the lane but causing no damage. I text the handymen and they chainsaw it up the next morning.

Before they arrived I had a good look at it and wondered why well-leafed oak branches drop and found an excellent online article by Heather Hacking (a fine name for a reporter interested in botany) who interviewed arborist Scot Wineland:

"Trees draw up a tremendous amount of water during the day and release the moisture through their leaves. The process is known as evapotranspiration.

If you tied a plastic bag around a potted plant, the bag would become cloudy as moisture is released to the air. If the tree hasn't had a chance to shed some of that moisture, the "phenomenal weight" of the water can bust a limb.

Sometimes a tree will have an ever-so-slight defect, or a crack. Perhaps woodpeckers or squirrels damaged the limb in a way that leads to a larger crack over time and later decay.

When the limb gets too heavy with water, that crack can lead to a break. There can literally be buckets of water that flows from where the limb breaks, the arborist said."

See the entire article here. It's from the Chico, California Enterprise-Record. Maples and other trees have limb drop, too.

I didn't see any water in the morning, nor any black ants at the core of the fallen branch, but that doesn't mean they weren't there, because my eye is untrained. I am relieved the 25-foot branch didn't fall on anyone or anything.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Dreams from My Father

Last night on vacation with my father we went swimming, he in the deep water, I in the shallow, but while wading I could watch on the other side of me a couple, man and woman, gliding, bellies down, in a marvelously fast gliding boat; the man was teaching  and the woman was catching on.

My father died 34 years ago. I love seeing him in dreams. Last time, 10 years ago, I was trying to withstand my husband’s constant abuse because I didn’t want to get divorced, and Daddy appeared, crying, and I understood he loved me and did not raise me to be abused, even by a sick man.

Short, compact, dark and hairy, Daddy spoke with a heavy Slavic accent but also with the nasality of people who learned English in Chicago. He worked double shifts at the tractor factory when there was work, giving us all he had of love and care, a real family man. I used to think all men were as kind, generous, and steady as my father. If only they were. I am a fool for kindliness.

In the photo, my sister and niece tend his grave. There’s an American flag on it, always. We live in a great country and he understood that. Immigrants are our strength.

Friday, July 1, 2016

July 1

Always a special day in the middle of the calendar year, very early summer, delicious, paradise, dreamed about all year, and not yet so hot or droughty that it makes us lax or gives us headaches or the cicadas keep us up all night. So with appreciation, here's the creek and its creekbed wildflowers, Queen Anne's Lace and phlox and junk lily, and also an Allium head that's past peak but still beautiful, like so many people we know.