our local strawberry stand

I complain that we don’t have an independent, locally-owned grocery store with a full-service meat department where we can chat with the owners, as we did in Gilroy with Rocca’s Market. I bemoan the fact that we don’t have an independent produce market, as we did with Kachy’s in Gilroy.

strawberriesWhat we do have is a small strawberry stand just outside of town. Their hours are irregular. You never know when they are going to open, close for lunch, or shut down for the day. But they have the sweetest, most moist, tasty strawberries that you will find anywhere. And it’s not possible to get strawberries any fresher. If they’re busy you may have to wait while the ladies pick more and bring them over to the stand in their golf cart. There is a strawberry stand closer in to town that is easier to get to, but their strawberries just don’t compare.

And our strawberry stand just introduced a new high-tech innovation. They had business cards printed up that include the owner’s cell phone number so you can call and see if they’re open before driving out there. How amazing is that?

They are only there for a couple of months each year, but when they are there we are delighted to have them.

impromptu gazpacho

I have been following through on my plan to do more vegetarian cooking. As I wrote previously, it has to do with the fact that I’m not allowed to have red meat for the time being and my perception that I can’t fix poultry for dinner each and every day. I could, yes, but I certainly don’t want to. The vegetarian approach also fit in nicely with Earth Day, as I reflected on Monday while noting all the various celebrations reported online.

gazpacho soupIt was in fact on Monday that I made a Cajun Skillet Beans recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. The recipe included beans (I used garbanzo), celery, bell pepper, tomatoes, Dijon mustard, honey, and a lot of spices. The spice mix included thyme, basil, oregano, black pepper, and cayenne. I used hot chili powder rather than cayenne.

Terry and I both enjoyed the dish. There wasn’t enough left over for a second meal for two, so I was struck by an idea. On Tuesday at lunch time, a relatively warm day, I used our Vitamix to purée the leftover mixture that I had stored in the fridge. It made for a marvelous cold gazpacho soup (I know, that’s redundant). I added to that a slice of garlic bread from my home-baked sourdough loaf.

It made for a very tasty lunch.

The Olive Tree

The Olive Tree coverThe Olive Tree
Carol Drinkwater
narrated by the author
Whole Story Audiobooks, 2009
Audiobook $22.95, Kindle edition $2.99
audiobook borrowed from the Santa Clara County Library System

I have pretty much exhausted the lecture series from The Great Courses in which I am interested and I have listened to some of them twice or more. Until the good folks there come up with a new course that excites me I thought I would shift to audiobooks for a while.

This title was a delight. Drinkwater is a British actress who took up olive farming in France with her husband. She was concerned about climate change, environmental degradation, and the random, haphazard use of pesticides. She was also interested in the history of olive tree cultivation by humans and how far back it went. This set her off on a journey.

And what a journey it was. She visited Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Sicily, and Italy. She traveled alone in spite of the risks and made contact with friends of friends or colleagues of colleagues (or even more tenuous connections) in those places who had experience in olive cultivation. She asked a lot of questions, she learned a lot, and through it all managed to make it home safely.

The fact that the author narrated the audiobook made it all the more delightful, though I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief when she described making her way out of North Africa, a place where a woman traveling along is looked on with suspicion, at best.

If you are interested in travel narratives or the story of olive farming you are likely to enjoy this book.

some things are best not written down

“Some things are best not written down.” That’s how I started my speech at Toastmasters two weeks ago. And that is why I gave a speech instead of writing a blog about that particular topic. I pointed out that what you put out there on the internet is there forever—even if you think that you’ve deleted it.

The subject in question had to do with the behavior of a family member that was, well, inexplicable, and the repercussions that resulted from that behavior. It made for a good speech; I received the best speaker ribbon and people were visibly moved. But I made the speech and now it is lost to the ether. It was not recorded in any way.

Which makes me think of a pledge I made here some years ago. I was listening to a series from The Great Courses about writing nonfiction and I had read about works published as nonfiction that were in fact mostly fabricated. (Conversely, some novels are actually more memoir than fiction.)

My pledge was that everything I tell you is the truth. I will, not, however, tell you everything.

That pledge still stands.

Best Speaker ribbon

The Source of Self-Regard

Source of Self-Regard coverThe Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Toni Morrison
Knopf (February 12, 2019), 369 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $18.87

I haven’t read Toni Morrison before, and I’m not sure that this book was the right place to begin. I suspect that to really appreciate her skills as a writer I should have started with one of her novels.

Nonetheless, this is an important book, reflecting as it does Morrison’s thinking over the past couple of decades. Many of the pieces are speeches, including commencement addresses and her Nobel prize lecture. The book gives us Morrison’s perspectives on race, class, society, and art. Morrison has a lot to tell us.

She makes clear that the work of artists, including writers, must be protected.

quoteThose writers plying their craft near to or far from the throne of raw power, of military power, of empire building and countinghouses, writers who construct meaning in the face of chaos must be nurtured, protected. And it is right that such protection be initiated by other writers. And it is imperative not only to save the besieged writers but to save ourselves.

Some of her essays have the sound of having been written since the 2016 election, but were apparently actually written in the early 2000s. How much we value and appreciate that interlude of the Obama years!

The occasion and date of each piece is not included with the respective speech or essay, but rather all are grouped together at the end of the book. This was somewhat annoying, but perhaps the editor is telling us that what Morrison has to say is important regardless of context.

Toni Morrison is one of the important voices in the arts and society today. We need to listen to her.


I have been baking sourdough bread for many years. When I lived in Gilroy and was getting serious about baking bread Terry met a former boss of hers on one of her business trips so he could give her some sourdough starter that he had been maintaining for several decades.

sourdough loafI was very religious about maintaining it, and kept it going for several years. The starter made the move south with us when we left Gilroy. However, once we got here and I didn’t get back into baking bread I failed to keep it going and it died. I felt bad about that.

With the recent demise of our oven and the purchase of a new stove with a convection oven and a proof setting, I got back into bread baking mode. I placed an order with King Arthur flower for some ingredients not available locally, and that included sourdough starter. As soon as the order arrived I gave the starter a lot of loving attention and made sure to carefully feed it, which involves adding flour and water. I did so for a week and then baked a loaf of bread using the French bread flour I had also ordered from King Arthur.

The result: delicious.

I’m delighted to be baking sourdough bread once again.

reading Kindle books, keeping my paper books

bookshelfEver since the advent of the e-reader there has been a lot of discussion, sometimes coming close to religious fervor, about e-books vs. paper books. I owned two different early Kindle devices and now read almost all of my books on the Kindle app on my iPad. Terry reads paper books. Yet I love my library of physical books and have no intention of getting rid of them.

A friend of mine, who once upon a time blogged under the pseudonym Boston Pobble, wrote that both/and is a perfectly acceptable mode of behavior. More recently, in the “By the Book” interview in the New York Times Book Review, Janet Malcolm stated:

quoteWhy have a large library and not use it? Why keep books, if you are not going to read them more than once? For the décor? The answer isn’t entirely no. A book-lined room looks nice. I like walking into my living room and seeing the walls of books with faded spines that have accreted over many decades.

There you are. Who am I to argue with Janet Malcolm?

The Beyond Burger

I wrote recently that as a result of my surgery I am not supposed to have red meat for three to six months after the procedure. I also wrote that I wasn’t thrilled about a diet of strictly poultry and seafood, and that I was going to want to include some vegetarian cooking in the mix. While my sensibility, as I wrote, is that if you are going to cook vegetarian you should cook vegetarian in and of its own right and not try to emulate meat, I am nonetheless not adverse to a good veggie burger or using soy crumbles to make vegetarian chili.

the Beyond Burger with fixingsA former manager of mine read the blog and noted how much her family loved the Beyond Burger. I was familiar with it because the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain had been heavily advertising the product on baseball television broadcasts. Their version is the Beyond Famous Star. What I did not know was that the uncooked Beyond Burger is available in the grocery store.

I was doing a major shopping trip at Winco, our local discount bag-your-own-groceries supermarket and I found the item in the meat department. I bought a package and grilled one of the burgers on our new stove’s grill top. I buttered a slice of sourdough bread, sprinkled it with Parmesan cheese, and added it to the grill. I added mustard to the bread and topped to burger with tomato and onion.

The result: marvelous. It tasted just like a beef burger and was just as satisfying, although it didn’t stay with me as long. It’s a bit expensive: two patties cost me nearly six dollars, but it’s a really nice treat.

I still want to try the Carl’s Jr. version.

Beyond Burger

baking bread again

When we did our kitchen remodel in Gilroy in 2007 we bought a stove with a convection oven and a proof setting. Before that time I made bread using a bread machine. After our remodel the bread machine was retired and I regularly made bread using the proof setting for the rising phase and the convection setting to bake the bread. Not only was the bread fresh and not only did it taste great, but it was great therapy for me.

After moving here to Hemet I did not take up baking bread. We had a perfectly fine oven and I no doubt could have, but without the convection oven and the proof setting I simply did not have the motivation. I suppose there was an element of sour grapes in all of that, but that’s how it was.

breadEarlier this year our oven quit working. The cost to repair it would have been $250. We thought that was hardly worth the cost, especially since earlier in the winter a power bobble caused the clock display to stop working.

Terry and I found a stove with a convection oven that we liked at Lowe’s. The white version was not immediately available, but we were promised that it would be along in two to three weeks, and it was nearly half the cost as the same stove in stainless steel. As it happened it was seven weeks, but that all was forgiven when the stove arrived. Especially since by that time I was past my surgery and well on the way to recovery from that ugly complication which arose. I was more than ready to jump in and made good use of our new appliance.

So here I am baking bread once again. I purchased the basics locally and placed an order with King Arthur Flour for the more specialized items that I needed. I am up and running, and am delighted about that.

Stet: An Editor’s Life

Stet coverStet: An Editor’s Life
Diana Athill
Grove Press (October 15, 2014), 260 pages
Kindle edition $8.63, Amazon paperback $16.00
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $2.99

This memoir was a delightful diversion.

The second world war played a lot of havoc with the lives of many people in England. (There’s a serious understatement.) André Deutsch was a Hungarian who was stranded there at the outset of the war. After the war he started a publishing house with an absurdly small amount of capital. Warned against giving the firm a foreign-sounding in the wake of the war, he called it Allan Wingate. Stretched thin financially and having alienated his investors, he ceded the firm to them and founded André Deutsch Ltd.

With him from the very beginning was Diana Athill. The circumstances of wartime employment and the oddities of wartime personal relationships brought the two of them together and she continued to work for him in spite of his difficult personality and eccentricities.

While the two firms were tiny compared to the U.K.’s big publishing houses, Deutsch and Athill recruited a significant portfolio of distinguished authors, including Terry Southern, V. S. Naipaul, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, and Simone de Beauvoir.

Those of you who enjoy “inside publishing” memoirs will not be disappointed by Athill’s recollections.