Thursday, August 28, 2008

I Loved It! I Ate It!

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: We love our farmers’ market. Really. It is the best farmers’ market I have every seen, anywhere—and that even includes the Boqueria, though for atmosphere and sheer grandeur, the Boqueria still trumps all. Our farmers’ market takes place every Sunday in a big parking lot underneath a highway overpass, which makes it very California. What also makes it very California—but in a good way—is the abundance of fruits and vegetables available every week, all grown and harvested within driving distance of Sacramento. The bounty is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before: piles upon piles of peaches, pluots, corn, potatoes, greens, herbs, onions, carrots, squash, cucumbers, green beans. Baskets of strawberries and blackberries and figs. Fresh meat and fish. Lavender, bunches of wildflowers, fresh honey.

Andrew and I have committed ourselves to eating solely what we can buy at the farmers’ market and at our local organic food co-op, except for things like lunchmeat and yeast and other things that Safeway provides more economically. However, here our paths seem to be swiftly dividing: while I love the farmers’ market in practice, Andrew seems to be loving it, these days, more in theory.

Though I feel we’re eating healthier than ever before, eating primarily from the farmers’ market has not worked out entirely for the best—for the simple reason that Andrew really likes eating meat. I like meat too, but my relationship with meat is more take-it-or-leave-it. An all-veggie meal is perfectly fine for me. An all-veggie meal for Andrew leads him to eat a sandwich at 10pm. And though Andrew claims to “love” vegetables, a few of our recent meals have not gone over so well.

The other day, fresh from a trip to the farmers’ market, I made okra with tomatoes and ginger over rice. Andrew claimed to like it while practically gagging on every bite, and finally admitted he does not like okra, ginger, or tomato sauce over rice. Two days ago, I made stuffed peppers, using beautiful red and yellow bell peppers from that morning’s market (there’s a smaller market on Tuesdays) and ground beef from the co-op. Again, while gagging, Andrew claimed to “love” the meal. Under duress, he would say only “This is a whole pepper. It’s just…a lot of pepper.” I also made a marinated beet salad with the peppers, which perhaps doomed the whole endeavor.

Last week, I made a Barefoot Contessa recipe—pasta with lemon and arugula in a cream sauce. I love this dish. The first time I made it, Andrew seemed to enjoy it; this time, he proclaimed the arugula content too high. A dinner I made a couple of weeks ago—pasta with fresh mustard greens—met with similarly low ratings.

I do not think I am a bad cook, and, if confronted about any one of these things, Andrew will say “But I loved it! I ate it!”—inadvertently suggesting that he ate it AS OPPOSED TO throwing it across the room, feeding it to the local squirrels, or sculpting it into a California-esque work of agricultural art. Nonetheless, these farmers’ market-inspired experiments, though pleasing to me, have fallen short with my spouse. And I’m afraid tomorrow’s dinner may befall the same fate—sautéed Swiss chard with fresh corn soup. Sounds delicious to me…

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Taste of Life Off the Grid

Over the past year or so, I’ve made great inroads with my explorations of California. My knowledge of the West, however, needs quite a bit of work; I’ve been to Reno and Tahoe in Nevada, and Denver, but that’s about it. So last weekend Andrew and I headed to Sandpoint, Idaho, for what proved to be an eye-opening, rather alarming, introduction to this odd, distant state. Our purpose for the trip was a wedding, for a cousin of Andrew’s who—of his own volition—recently moved with his new wife to a log cabin deep into the Idahoan woods.  

Without naming any names or being too specific, I’ll say only this: I saw more guns this weekend than I’ve ever seen in the rest of my life combined, and heard more talk of guns than ever before, which is saying a lot since I come from the hunters’ playground of Southwestern Pennsylvania. I learned about people living “off the grid,” who don’t pay taxes and have their own generators and are for all intents and purposes, and for reasons of their own, invisible to the powers that be. I saw signs for “elk jerky” and drove by roadside stands selling all manner of lamps, wall hangings, centerpieces, and what-all else made from “shed antlers”—which are, I learned, not antlers that have been stored in a shed but which deer themselves have shed from their bodies, apparently a natural process. Oh, and “Spokane,” where we arrived at the airport, is pronounced “spo-CAN.” I’ve spent the past 31 years of my life referring to it as “spo-KAIN,” on the rare, very rare, occasion I’ve had to refer to it at all.

Despite my feeling of having stepped smoothly off the face of the earth, Idaho does have some beautiful landscapes. It was nice to cross another state off my been there/done that list, but I have to say it was good to get back to California.

Lake Pend Oreille

By the lake

Out on a boat

Dog + boat = happiness

Not seasick yet…

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shakespeare by the Lake

Now is the winter of our discontent…

There was nothing to be discontented about on Friday evening, as the sun set over a shimmering, cerulean Lake Tahoe and the brilliant stars slowly emerged in the wide black sky. Andrew and I had taken my parents, visiting from Pittsburgh, to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival to see Richard III—a repeat visit for us, having seen Romeo and Juliet at the festival last year.

I’ve written about the festival on this blog before, but it is such an amazing event it bears repeating. The plays take place at the Sand Harbor State Park, on a stage in an open-air theater that has Lake Tahoe as the backdrop. The first ten rows or so feature Adirondack chairs with wide armrests, where theater-goers enjoy the dinners they've ordered in advance from Shakespeare’s Kitchen. The next rows of seats are on a sand-covered hill; and above that is the “upper gallery,” where you can rent a low-to-the-ground lawn chair for $3 and have a volunteer with a shovel help you nestle your chair firmly into the sand. These are the cheapest seats in the house, at $22, but I believe they’re the best—you have an excellent view of the lake as well as the stage, and there’s a warm energy among the people unpacking their blankets and picnics before the show.

I can’t lie: I was wary about Richard III. The history plays have never been very interesting to me; I prefer the comedies. But the play was excellent, just as it was last year. Granted, it’s difficult to follow the double-crossings and killings and proposals and marriages of large, complex, warring families like there are in Richard III, but we all did our best and had a wonderful time. 

Relaxing on King’s Beach in the afternoon

The theater at Sand Harbor State Park 

View from our hotel room—couldn’t have been any closer to the lake unless we’d been in it

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Turn Back. Just Turn Back.

Planning to be on the road this afternoon? Then my advice to you is—watch out. Better yet, stay home. I’ve got a brand-new, house-size Jeep…and I can barely drive it.

Is the Jeep mine? Please, no. Is it mine for a few days? Yes. Our beloved Volvo is in the shop again (eleven-year-old cars stubbornly tend to like it there), relegating us to the joys of paying for a rental car when we already own a car. But I digress. I was calmly watering my plants this afternoon on the terrace when I saw a behemoth of a car glide sinisterly, hearse-like, down my block. I had my usual thought, whispering idly through my mind as I tended to my bright marigolds and thyme: Look at that awful car. What an ugly, gas-guzzling piece of hideousness. I can’t imagine ever driving a car like that.

To my surprise, the car came to a stop outside my house. And then out stepped my husband, who waved at me warily. That’s our rental?! I screamed. I’m not driving that! Once in the apartment, Andrew explained that it was the only car available. We had no choice: he had to get to the airport for an overnight trip; and I’d need the car as well tonight, to pick up my visiting parents. We need a car for the next few days, and this is it.

Awful. Awful. As I drove to the airport a few hours ago, I “dominated the highway” and “felt the power of the road beneath my wheels,” which I’m sure were SUV ads at some point, before copywriters began scrawling “guzzled five hundred dollars of gas” and sprinted for the hills. Watch out, little Prius, I pleaded as I changed lanes. Don’t come any closer, I silently warned helpless little cars as they approached in my rearview mirror. I was taking up at least a lane and a half. I felt like I was taking up the whole highway. Even the eighteen-wheelers seemed to be giving me wide berth.

I have a million errands I’m supposed to run this afternoon, but I’m set on doing them by foot: Sacramento’s parking lots have ridiculously small parking spaces, and I’m not really in the mood to flatten a few normal-sized cars as I pick up groceries. I don’t know how anyone can drive these things: I have to actually lift my foot off the ground to press the brake pedal.

So take this as a warning: stay home, stay off the roads, and if you see a gigantic white Jeep with globe-sized headlights and door handles the size of slot-machine levers, turn back. Just turn back. I will try my best not to run over you but this thing seems to have a mind of its own.

Wyndham Coda

Loyal readers of this blog will remember a distraught post from a little over a year ago, when my altered mind-state, brought about by being by myself all day with nothing to do in a suburban studio apartment without any furniture, led me to agree to attend a time-share sales presentation, with the idea that this would be a good way to get a free trip to Las Vegas. Loyal readers will remember that Andrew and I were effectively held hostage for several hours, in what was easily one of the most harrowing and horrible experiences I’ve ever willingly put myself into. We escaped without buying a time share with a “fantastic” 18% interest rate on the offered mortgage. We did, indeed, receive a certificate for a free trip to Las Vegas.

With the voucher’s expiration date rapidly approaching, we have decided to forgo the trip. Not surprisingly, the departure times are difficult, the hotel is sub-par, and the required taxes all add up to something that is a total waste of time. Part of me was determined to use the trip just to spite Wyndham and to somehow redeem that whole awful experience, but the larger part of me is so disgusted by anything having to do with the company and their penchant for exploiting people who clearly do not have the means to pay for what they’ve agreed to purchase that I can’t imagine willingly entering into any arrangement with them ever, ever again.

And so—the end. Stupid mistake, horrible experience, a suburban nightmare brought to life and now, finally, put to rest. The scars from all of it are still evident (“NO!!” we both practically shouted this Sunday at a baseball game, when someone asked us if we’d like to enter a contest for something or other). And somehow I can’t think about our early times here in CA, or that hideous, soulless city of Citrus Heights, without it all coming rushing back.