Monday, October 26, 2020

Summer Eats


Linguine with Bruschetta, Mozzarella and fresh basil

Before I give you a taste of my summer kitchen, I want to thank you for your comments on my last post. It was reassuring to read how many of you understand, have empathy, feel the same and know exactly what I was trying to say. To those who felt the need to criticize, preach and even lecture me, thus adding insult to injury, I can only say, please move on.

So, on to something that many of us spent a lot of time and care with during the summer of our pandemic: food. Have you noticed how often we made a trip to the refrigerator during the shelter-in-place? Even when we were able to move around more, food still remained one of the main attractions and a highlight of each day.

Spring mix with avocado, cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds

Spring mix with avocado, sungold tomatoes and pumpkin seeds

Summer of course asks for lighter food. Fresh produce is readily available at farmers markets and even with a mask and social distance shopping in fresh air is a joy. Here in Sonoma County we are blessed and spoiled with the wonderful offerings of our local farmers. There is more than tasty organic produce - there are eggs from chicken spending their life in a pasture, bread baked with ancient grains, fresh seafood and the most delicious salmon/seaweed spread I ever had.

Chicken Shawarma

Summer is the perfect time for trying food from the Middle East like Chicken Shawarma, one of our favorites. It is easy to make since you prepare the marinade the day before and let the chicken marinate in it overnight. Your refrigerator will smell of cumin and garlic and a blast of it will reach your nostrils every time you open it - and make you very hungry. I usually make it in the oven and serve it on flatbread with lettuce, tomatoes and a spicy yogurt sauce. It is delicious. 

Sweet balls of fire

We finally asked a couple we're friends with over for a social distanced early dinner on the patio. We had set up two tables apart from each other, but still close enough that we didn't have to yell! They brought wine and appetizer and I served meatballs in a chilli sauce with focaccia I had baked in the afternoon and a salad. It was a simple meal, but just the right thing for this lovely summer evening. Even more important than the food was the conversation and the laughter - we laughed hard and often! 

 Creamy gnocchi with sun-dried tomatoes and basil

One of my pleasures is to read the New York Times morning briefings. They always come with a recipe of the day and some of these are very tempting. While I would like to eat a whole lot of these dishes, I at least tried a few, among them these creamy gnocchi with sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Before I cooked this dish I wasn't a big fan of sun-dried tomatoes, maybe because most of them are oil packed. However, I found some at Trader Joe's that are not packed in oil and julienne cut. I just added them to the sauce and let them cook for a little while. It has become a favorite dish in my family.

Summer veggies with fussili in creamy tomato sauce

But I don't always follow recipes. Quite often I just see what I have and then put something together. Summer has so much to offer - here I took some zucchini and eggplant, sliced them and sautéed them in my cast iron skillet, then made a creamy tomato sauce to go with it and finally added fussili to the pan. Easy, simple, tasty.

And sometimes I make Poké. It's not as good as in Hawai'i, but it's still delicious.

Of course the food needs to be accompanied by something to drink - in the summer I enjoy more white wine and especially rosé wine. In the past decade or so the rosés in the area have become really good wines and not that sweet stuff it used to be.

But we also enjoyed other drinks, especially during our Happy Hour with our neighbors out in the street - Mai Tais, Campari O, Hard Cider, Bellinis and our traditional "drunk strawberries" (Erdbeerbowle).

What kind of food did you have in the summer? What were your favorites?

Friday, October 16, 2020

For the Love of the Land


It is still hot here, but our latest fire is almost completely contained. The air quality has improved considerably and it is wonderful to be outside again. I did some nature hikes in our beautiful county that showed me once again the loveliness of this place.

Some of you have asked why we are still living here when we know that these fires occur every year and are getting worse. I wonder whether people living in places where hurricanes hit over and over again (and getting worse as well) or who live in Tornado Alley are confronted with these same questions. 

They probably have the same answer as many of us in California have.

In the end it comes down to this: for the love of the land.

These questions are not asked by people who live here. Sure, we talk about it with friends and neighbors, and there are even a few people who actually move away. but most stay, even rebuild in burnt out areas (that is sometimes difficult for me to understand). Whenever there is a fire close by it's the talk of the day. We call each other to see that everybody is safe, we look after our neighbors. We pack our bags. We grab our phones at every "ping" checking for new alerts and warnings. We sleep in our clothes. Yes, it sounds terrible and it sure is no walk on the beach. - But -

This is our home.

Sonoma County is incredible beautiful. We have mountains, wine country, large meadows with sheep and cows, rolling hills, dense forests of century old redwood trees, a rugged wild coast, and of course the vast Pacific Ocean.

There is an abundance of wildlife. When I lie awake in the night (way too often unfortunately) I can hear two Western Screech Owls "talking" to each other; there are foxes barking, the howling of coyotes, the call of the Great Horned Owl and I even once heard the chilling scream of a mountain lion. That is something you hardly forget! On my hikes I can watch deer, skunks, coyotes and bobcats, not to mention all the birds. And I'm pretty sure the mountain lion has seen me!

All of this would be very hard to leave behind and I'm not ready to do that.

There is also this: I am my mother's daughter. My mother lived through the bombing of Berlin. She never thought of leaving the city she loved until she was told to. She would completey understand why we are staying.

The most important reason beside the love for this land is - my friends. I have some wonderful friends here - not many, but these people I can trust. They are the ones with whom I can be open and honest, the "real" me. Those who lend a shoulder and who can lean on me. The ones we can laugh with. 

Friends are so important to me. And at our age it is not that easy anymore to make new friends, to find the people that are our tribe. I have found my tribe. Why would I go away? 

For the time being we're staying. The outcome of the election might make us think about this again. But as terrifying as they are, the fires are not a reason to leave this beautiful part of our planet.

I love Sonoma County. We are Sonoma Strong.


Friday, October 2, 2020

Covered in Ashes


Are you getting tired of my posts about wildfires and bad air?

I do.

But here I am writing yet another post about a raging wildfire in our county - the second one this season - and bad air. Well, that's an understatement. It's downright unhealthy air, in some places even hazardous.

Last Sunday evening at 8:27 our cell phones suddenly started to vibrate and make annoyingly loud dingdingdings alerting us about the Shady Fire making progress from Napa Valley where it originated over the mountains into Sonoma County toward the Eastern boundary of Santa Rosa. It soon merged with the Glass Fire that had also started in Napa and both fires were quickly renamed to just Glass Fire.

What worried me were the words "fast moving". Since 2017 we are well aware what "fast moving" means when it is attributed to a wildfire.

We also live in the Eastern part of Santa Rosa.

So we did what we were doing the past three years - moving our two grab-and-go boxes closer to the garage and packing our bags. We still went to bed, but around midnight our neighbor called telling us that they are getting ready to leave because the fire was apparently getting much closer. The evacuation zones were approaching the evacuation zone of our neighborhood (since the 2017 fires the neighborhoods in our city have designated evacuation zones that can be evacuated in an orderly and timely manner). While the next zone over was only an evacuation warning (which means "get ready", whereas the evacuation order means "leave now") the evacuation orders expanded with great speed. It was getting uncomfortable.

I got dressed and went outside, checked in on my elderly neighbors to make sure they were ready (they were). There was an orange glow on the Eastern horizon, a sky I only know too well and remember from the October 2017 fires. The constant high pitch sound of sirens was loud and clear and there were more cars than usual driving through our neighborhood at this time of night - people evacuating. It was enough to set me on edge.

I packed everything in the car and then went back to bed in my clothes. The evacuation orders went on throughout the night, but thankfully we never got one. The fire burned through some neighborhoods in the East while destroying several homes and damaging more. It's the district of my high school and again many of our students' families had to leave and some of them lost their homes.

This is not new to us. But it never becomes routine.

The next day ashes were raining down and covering everything. When I ventured outside - with my N95 mask - I saw that we not only got ashes but also all kinds of burnt debris including a lot of  charred leaves. Everything in our garden was covered in ashes - the tables, the seat cushions, all the plants.

How do you clean up this stuff? Very very carefully.

Now, five days later, the fires are hardly contained, but many evacuation orders have been downgraded. There was a change in the wind a couple days ago which pushed the fire further into Napa County. The entire city of Calistoga had to evacuate, followed by the evacuation of Angwin. The fire has been contained only 6% or so. We have a red flag warning with high temperatures and high winds which makes the work for the firefighters much more difficult and dangerous.

Then the wind changed again and blasted unhealthy air to us. It is awful. Our air filters run day and night and the Geek built a couple more out of our fans and filters for the heater. He's a smart and handy guy. Let's hope the power doesn't get shut off!

And in case you were wondering - I still love living here.