Saturday, May 15, 2021

April Love


#8: My superpower

Hard to believe that it is already the middle of May! I shouldn't be surprised, though - every year towards the end of the school year things tend to get crazy when April rolls around. Everybody seems to be in some kind of overdrive during those last two months. This year of course things got extra crazy with the return of our students to the campus in April. It required a lot of preparation, training for staff, new safety protocols and, of course, daily screenings. But it is so worth it - since the students have returned to campus (about half of them opted to come back for the remaining two months while the other half preferred to stay in distance learning) there is so much energy that you can feel at every corner of the school. I hadn't realized how much I had missed the friendly teasing and joking of these young people.

The German School also was super busy since we're already planning the next school year. I'm not only a teacher there but also serve on the board where we do most of the planning. This spring I had offered a couple of extra classes that kept me busy. Even though the school year came to a close today, I am still teaching a summer class that will begin on Wednesday, but this one will only last four weeks. I do need a break after this very crazy year.

With all this school stuff going on I didn't have much time for anything else (except knitting and pottering around the garden), but at least I was able to participate in Susannah Conway's "April Love 2021" challenge on Instagram. While I didn't do it every day, I chose the prompts that spoke to me. For most of them I did not go out to take photos, but looked through my pictures. No worries, I'm not showing you all of them!

#7: Growing

On one of our fence posts we discovered this cicada that had just emerged from its shell and was growing into its final perfect self. I didn't even know that we have cicadas (only crickets), but when I did a research I found out to my surprise that there are 65 species of cicadas in Northern California. Aren't the wings just amazing?

#27: Stairs

Since I love to take photos of stairs, this prompt was an easy one. I chose the ancient worn out steps leading up to the chapter house in Wells Cathedral. These stairs have fascinated me since I saw them for the very first time back in the 80s. They are several centuries old and hundreds of feet have walked, skipped and jumped along them. I wish I knew some of the stories of the people who used to walk here.

#15: When I was small

Can you see that I am wearing Lederhosen? Both my brother and I wore them when we were small. They are simply indestrcutible and made my mother's life probably a little bit easier. My brother still wore Lederhosen when he was older while I started wearing dirndls even though we weren't living in a typical "dirndl area" (that is Bavaria). As a small child I was fearless and happy. I stayed like this during the elementary school years (grades 1-4), but it all changed when I started 5th grade.

#6: Life-changing book

This was not an easy prompt. However, after I had given it some consideration I have to say that this book definitely was a life changer for me. It inspired me to follow that "whisper" in my heart and to get away from the "no I can't" to "yes, I try". Without this book I would not have started blogging, which led me to write for Vision and Verb for five years together with women from Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Tanzania, Spain, Italy, Canada, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and the US; with most of them I'm still keeping in touch and some of them I met in person. I would not have opened my Etsy store (my first few customers were readers of my blog) and I certainly would not have taken a brush in my hand and started painting.

#25: Bear

Of course I was first thinking of a real bear or a teddy bear. But this bear - Lumibär - is like a member of our family. I bought him when the Geek and I were still dating (so it's older than our daughter). We were on the way to our favorite café in Tübingen to have breakfast when I discovered the bears in the window of a shop - not just one, but several and each in a different color. They do look like giant gummy bears. There was no price visible on any of them, so the Geek went inside to ask for it. After he told me I decided that we should first have breakfast and I could think about it. Over coffee and Müsli I came to the conclusion that I cannot live without a Lumibär. When we entered the shop the sales lady inside only asked "which one shall it be?". Of course it had to be the orange one. Lumibär moved to California with us and he is one of the things we pack when we prepare to evacuate (which has happened almost every year since 2017). He stands right at our front door and the kids in the neighborhood love him.

#26: I live here

Northern California has been my home for 20 years. I live in Sonoma County which to me is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has mountains, vineyards, a big city close by (San Francisco), but its best feature is the coast. Here the Pacific Ocean does not have beaches with smooth white sand - our sand is gray and coarse, the water is freezing and way to dangerous to even think of swimming. There are steep cliffs and winding narrow roads. Many beaches are rocky and littered with driftwood and empty abalone shells. Often the coast is shrouded in more or less dense fog, that sometimes burns off by noon, sometimes not. The coast is windy and at least 20 degrees cooler than inland. It is a force of nature and simply fantastic.

One of the last prompts was "favorite person" - of course there wasn't only one for me. It has to be these two (this photo was taken in a pub in Kenmare, Ireland):

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Spring Walk in the Cemetery


Our oldest cemetery, the Rural Cemetery, is only a ten minute walk away from my home. It's like entering a different world with old crooked trees, birds singing, soft paths and blissful shade. It's an oasis of calm and solitude. Now in spring there is an abundance growth of grasses - everything looks fresh, but soon they will turn brown and mowed so that they don't lend fuel to future wildfires.

The old gravestones tell the history of my city, the names that are so well-known here. Many are beautifully decorated and sometimes small surprises can be found on them.

There are trees that can't keep it straight any longer, fences that broke down a long time ago nd every now and then there are flowers hiding near the gravestones.

I simply love this place. What about you - do you like to visit cemeteries?


Friday, April 2, 2021

Laguna Birds


In my last post I promised to show some of the birds that I had seen during my walk in the laguna a couple weeks ago. It was a beautiful sunny day, but as you can see in the photo above, there was still snow lying on the hills. It's always intriguing to see flowering trees and fields down here and the snow capped hills in the background.

I know that there are quite some Western Bluebirds in the laguna, but I see them only rarely. This time, however, I spotted them every time I walked here.

There were dozens of Song Sparrows in the bushes and grasses. These sparrows truly pay credit to their name - they have such a beautiful song. They may blend into their surroundings, but their singing gives their presence away.

In the trees along the laguna I spotted so many herons that I stopped to count them. One tree was solely populated by Cattle Egrets, some Green Herons were visible, but most of all I saw Black-crowned Night-Herons. The male and female look alike, but it is easy to tell the juveniles apart. There were entire families roosting in the trees.

I love these guys!

The Red-shouldered Hawks were very active that day. Before I saw them I usually heard them, they have a very unique rather high pitched call. One of them was so kind to land in the tree near where I stood watching the Black-crowned Night-Herons. 

After my walk I stopped on the other side of the laguna - I always wanted to explore the area here and I finally did it. While I was happily taking pictures of trees in water I discovered some big white birds swimming in the distance. I first thought they were swans, but when I observed them more closely I though they were behaving differently from swans. I tried to get closer where they were, and when I finally could see them much more clearly I realized that they were American White Pelicans.

I was surprised to see them here. At the ocean I have seen hundreds of Brown Pelicans and I always thought we don't have White Pelicans in Northern California. Well, I stand corrected. This seems to be the farthest North they get in the winter - seeing them North of the Golden Gate is, indeed, very rare, and I think this was an extraordinarily special treat. Once in twenty years...

This was such a wonderful day in the Laguna that was complete after I had discovered the field of mustard on my way back.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Field of Mustard


It's mustard season in Sonoma County, when the white mustard is blooming in the fields and in the vineyards. It is always a lovely sight that I never get tired of. A few years ago, the Geek and I went into the Dry Creek Valley to photograph the mustard in the vineyards, but this year I was passing this wide field when I returned from my walk in the Laguna. There was a dirt strip by the side of the road where I parked and started shooting the yellow mass.

I was lucky that I had taken my big camera that day, because I wanted to take photos of the birds in the Laguna (those pictures will turn up in this space soon). This was actually the first day this year that I was using the DSLR again. During the pandemic I had become really lazy and was mainly taking pictures with my phone. While I was photographing the birds and now the mustard I realized how much I had missed my big camera.

Mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It is native to Europe, but is so common in North America by now that it is considered "naturalized". It turns up where the soil has been disturbed, I have read that it is good for erosion control and it supresses weeds. Recently I read an article about how it made its way to the California Coast and the findings were surprising. The scientists stated that mustard seeds were found in the bricks that were used to build the missions along El Camino Real and thus got into California. I thought that was an interesting but plausible theory.

The mustard blooming season won't keep for very much longer. When it gets warmer it will disappear from our fields and vineyards. Since it is an annual plant we have to wait until next late winter / early spring to admire it again.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Winter Dishes


Cheese fondue

Today I decided that winter is over - even though we are in the middle of a cold spell that still gives us warm sunny days but chilly nights, mornings and evenings. However, there are so many signs of spring around us that we really can't talk about winter anymore, at least not in this corner of the world.

Therefore, it's time to talk about what we ate in winter. Winter dishes are often a bit heartier than meals during the rest of the year. It seems that the short days and cold nights make us long for more comfort and warmth, and food is just the thing to give us both.

Our traditional New Year's Eve food is cheese fondue. We used to eat it with chunks of bread, but recently we discovered a healthier way to enjoy it - with roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts. It is 100% delicious and we didn't miss the bread one bit!

Baked spanakopita pasta with greens and feta

We love pasta and certainly had our fair share of it over the winter. A lot of these meals were new recipes that I tried out, most of them published in the New York Times. But we also enjoyed old favorites again.

Tortellini with caramelized onions and mushrooms and spinach

Baked spinach artichoke pasta

Lemon chicken with mushrooms and orechiette, an old favorite

Especially in winter I include a lot of veggies in our meals. My favorite place to buy fresh local veggies is the farmers market, but since it is taking place on Saturday mornings I usually cannot go there since I teach that time. However, if there is a Saturday when I don't have to teach I go to the market and my fridge drawer for the veggies is filled to the brim after that.

When I made meatballs I used to take store bought ones, but when I saw a recipe for pork meatballs that are made with ginger, fish sauce and crushed Ritz crackers I had to try that. I paired them with roasted aspargus (a recipe my lovely neighbor gave me) - what can I say? It was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S.

And since I had fresh ginger in the house I made this gingery fried rice with bok choy and mushrooms - that is going to be a new favorite! In addition to everything in the recipe I added some lemon zest and scrambled an egg in at the end. It is cooked in a wok and everything comes together fast and easy.

For the first time I tried Trout Armandine, a recipe I found in our local paper. I first couldn't find trout fillets, but then Trader Joe's started to carry frozen ones - fine with me. I was a bit nervous making these - there really was no need for that, they turned out fine and were super yummy. I will certainly try more dishes with trout fillets.

What about a cheesy spicy black bean bake? Perfect on a cold evening.

Or creamy gnocchi with sundried tomatoes and basil (a family favorite)?

We do like cauliflower - a lot. I'm always on the look-out for new recipes. I found a delicious recipe for roasted garlic parmesan cauliflower. An entire stick of butter goes into the crust - it's heaven! I paired it with Kibbeh, a new item at Trader Joes's that I simply had to try since I love Middle Eastern food (it's good, I can recommend it).

I had quite some leftover of the butter-garlic-parmesan mix. A couple days later I dipped cubes of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in it and "threw" them in a stir-fry with rice noodles and veggies. The remaining leftovers (yes, there still was quite some left) went on top of Alaskan sockeye salmon that I then baked and served with roasted carrots and zucchini a few days later.

My last dish is something that I made just this weekend - leftovers will be served sometime this week. It's a coq au vin rosé - the lighter wine makes it perfect for other seasons as well.

What is your favorite winter food?