Friday, June 29, 2012

Big Sur Blues

V had business down in Big Sur this morning and I was happy to go along.  This is the Point Sur Lighthouse with the receding fog bank behind. The wind was coming up pushing the waves onto the beach. Fog, sea, and air. The Big Sur blues.

V's business took us to Nepenthe, a Big Sur landmark since 1949.  It was built by Bill and Lolly Fassett and is still run by the family.  Their son, Kaffe Fassett is well known by knitters and quilters for the vibrant and colorful designs he creates for the Rowan company and Westminster Fibers.  Although he makes his home in England, he comes to the area nearly every year and puts on terrific workshops for quilters.  I've been lucky enough to have attended a couple myself.

Big Sur is wild and legendary and romantic.  It is where people living somewhat under the radar sit side by side with painters, poets, writers, and tourists. 

In the future we will take you to see Deetjen's Big Sur Inn.  Pure romance.

In bocca al lupo. m & v

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Angry Cat and Old Lace

Technical difficulties necessitated returning to the sewing room to salvage some lace.  
A pause in the fish stories.  More on them later. 

 In the meantime, enjoy some lacy pictures.

Battenburg lace freshly washed and gently pressed.  So happy to have that handwash cycle on the machine!

If she weren't 100 years old Agatha would be more severely reprimanded. As it is, "oh Aggie" will suffice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Jellyfish come from the family (phylum) Cnidaria which also includes hydroids, corals, and sea anemones. They all contain the stinging cells called nematocysts.  The entire group is pretty old, around 700 million years old.  Their sizes are anywhere from around an inch to about 8 feet wide.  The tentacles that hang from the edge of their bell, or medusa, can be just a short fringe or can reach out as far as 100 feet. They are carnivorous, feeding on zooplankton, small fish, and other jellyfish. They aren't really efficient swimmers and pretty much rely on floating about until they run into their food.
If sponges didn't exist jellies would be the simplest of the multicellular life forms.  Their bodies consist of three layers: the outer ectoderm, the inner endoderm that lines the gut. The middle layer is called the mesoglea and would appear as goo.  Their mouths and tentacles hang downward for most (there is an upside down jelly that I'm not getting into here).  The mouths of the jellies hang down in the center of the medusa with frilly extensions that are feeding arms that convey food to the mouth. The tentacles hang from the edge of the bell and contain the infamous stinging cells, the nematocysts. A jellyfish's tentacles may contain thousands of nematocysts. Each nematocyst contains a hollow needle attached to a coiled thread.  Upon contact with prey this needle shoots out and injects venom of varying potency, depending on species. Here on the Central Coast the sting of our local jellyfish is barely perceptible to humans. In other areas around the world the toxin can be extremely potent causing paralysis and death.

Visitors to the aquarium have been known to spend their entire visit just watching the jellies swimming. The grace and seemingly effortless movements have a mesmerizing effect on many people. They provide a quiet escape from the hubbub and frenzy of everyday life.

In bocca al lupo. m & v

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Day at the Aquarium

Today is our playday. We share the same shift at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's summer and there are thousands of people coming in everyday and they're coming from all over the world.  Sea Nettles.

Some of our visitors come to the area specifically to visit the aquarium. As v loves to say, it is truly a world class organization. The Central Coast has such an array of varying marine habitats and each is represented at the aquarium.  The research arm of the aquarium is MBARI, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. For some amazing video images go to, or check them on YouTube.  Ocean Sunfish.

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.  We find that our visitors are hungry to learn more about what they can do to forward that mission.  It is so heartening to hear from people from China, Russia, Germany, Chile, Tunisia, Israel, Great Britain, France, Mexico, Japan, Norway, and so many other countries tell us of their concerns, and what steps their own friends and countries are taking toward the conservation of our home, this planet.  Sheephead.

What we take away from meeting so many people from so many places is the joy of the diversity. Isn't it wonderful that we aren't all alike?  We all have different experiences and can look at the world each with our own unique perspectives.  Despite these differences the people who come through the doors of this aquarium share the love of this earth and the ocean, and the desire to learn more about the creatures under the sea.  Green Sea Turtle.

In upcoming posts we will tell you more about the animals featured today, and of others.  Care. Support. Conserve. We are all we have.

In bocca al lupo.  m & v

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Neighbors

This is a nudibranch. He's related to the slugs in your garden, but he's so much prettier. All those projections on his back that look like a shag rug are his gills. Some nudibranchs eat, among other things, the tentacles off of sea anemones.  Embedded in the tentacles of sea anemones are stinging cells called nematocysts.  The same kind of stinging cells on jelly fish to whom sea anemones are related. The nudibranch is able to munch away on those tentacles without triggering them to fire so all those stinging cells end up stored in those frilly gills and can be used by the little sea slug. His bright color warns potential predators that he's more than a mouthful.

Tube anemones live on the sandy bottom. They create their own leathery tube that burrows deep into the seabed. Their tentacles extend over a foot as they gracefully collect plankton. Each tentacle will delicately curl in on itself as it floats back to the center to slip silkily through the shorter tentacles to slide its tiny meal into it's mouth.  When the tentacles are brushed by possible danger the anemone can pull in it's tentacles in the blink of an eye.  However, sometimes a hungry little nudibranch is able to hold on for the ride. The anemone isn't killed, but it returns to the water column with a slightly less graceful mane. V sees the witches from Macbeth in this group of tube anemones.

We don't see these animals unless we are divers or have the chance to visit an aquarium, in this instance; the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  There is unbelievable beauty beneath the crashing waves and the gentle swells. Life forms that have existed since before man first walked this earth are in danger not just from industrial pollution, but from you and me.  Our carelessness and our laziness.   When you visit your local coffee house to get together with your friends, ask for your coffee to be served in a "for here" mug. Many coffee houses will give you a discount for not using a paper cup. If you get a snack have it served on a plate and not in a paper bag.  And don't forget your re-useable shopping bags--and not just for groceries. 

Here's a secret: It's not just for them that we do it. It's for ourselves.  A world where not everything turns to trash.  Permanence.  Less clutter.  More air. More room. More life. Really. We promise.

In bocca al lupo. m & v

Friday, June 22, 2012

Love and Peas

Finally the peas are ready to be picked! I planted later this year. I've always tried to plant on St. Patrick's Day being a superstitious Welsh-Irish.  I've even come to the realization that the climate here on the Central Coast lends itself to, nearly, year round pea growing. Of all the vegetables that we plant I love the peas the best. Nothing is sweeter than a freshly picked pea.  They are so orderly in their pods.  

The very act of shelling the peas is a pleasant communal activity. My sweet dog, Hannah used to love peas as much as I.  I discovered this one June morning when I was picking the peas and tossing them in the basket.  Every now and then I'd check the basket and kept finding that I wasn't making much progress. At the sound of crunching I turned and saw Hannah a few feet away, carefully removed from my line of vision, happily munching away on the peas. She had a nice little stack of chewed pods in front of her. I also soon discovered that she learned how to pick them as well. From that time to our past season I had to fence in the peas.  Hannah passed in January this year. She lived well past the due date of such a large dog, sixteen.
So now peas are planted with sweet memories of our lovely girl Hannah and the anticipation of bountiful bowls of beautiful peas.
In bocca al lupo. m & v

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Summer begins.  Solstice from the Latin Sol for Sun,  sistere for stands still.  The longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.  Winter begins down below, the shortest day of the year.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development begins today in Rio de Janeiro. Among several topics they will be discussing are climate change and ocean conservancy. This conference is also referred to as Earth Summit.

Warning: the following is a rant

These conferences have been going on for decades, but what effect have they actually had on the well being of this planet and daily lifestyle changes? Acidification of the oceans continues to increase, every hour more than 2.4 million pounds of plastic trash is dumped into the ocean (in an earlier post I said daily, but I rechecked my resource).  People are still rolling flatbed carts out of big box stores filled with enough product to open a small shop of their own, to be hauled home in a vehicle the size of a covered wagon. Consuming is the national past-time.  How much of these purchases are packaged and then further wrapped in plastic? Where are all those rolls of toilet paper and cases of spaghetti sauce being stored? Is it truly economical to turn a home into a warehouse?  As garages are used to store excess stuff one of the most expensive investments (for most people) the automobile is left out in the driveway or the street to suffer the effects of exposure to sun and weather.  How is that being frugal?  I, so far, have not come across anyone who shops at one of these temples of economy who is shopping in a collective fashion, i.e., on behalf of themselves and a group of friends and/or neighbors. This would be understandable; a co-operative.  I'm sure some groups must be doing this.

We also need to continuously be aware of where the things we buy are coming from. Are we sustaining our local economy, our neighbors, ourselves?  

Make a small change: stop buying small bottles of water by the caseload. Use a re-useable bottle (preferably glass). If you must buy bottled water use bigger bottles to refill from.

In bocca al lupo. m & v

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fast Food

Economizing in style is how we characterize a new favorite meal we came up with this spring.  Simplicity itself. There aren't even any measurements.  These are the ingredients:

Pine nuts, at least a tablespoonful, toasted or not (optional, I frequently forget to add them)
Fresh sage leaves, at least eight good sized ones, tear out the stems and chop or tear the leaves into 1/2" pieces
Garlic, as much or as little as you like, chopped coarsely
Olive oil
Pasta. I use Trader Joe's organic spaghetti
Parmesan Cheese, grated

First prepare the pasta. 
If you are using pine nuts and want to toast them, heat your skillet and then toss them in until they begin to color. Set aside. 
Melt butter and heat olive oil in the skillet. Toss in the garlic and coat in the oils until it becomes blond.  Toss in the sage leaves and stir until well coated. Remove from heat. Add the pine nuts and shred parmesan cheese into skillet to taste.  Add the cooked pasta and turn until glistening and the sauce is well distributed.
Serve with additional parmesan on the side, a fresh green garden salad, crusty bread and a light white wine.
This is the most fragrant of dishes and takes only a few seconds longer than it takes to cook the pasta. It is so packed with wonderful flavor we've been having it once a week. Sage is easy to grow I have it right at the bottom of the kitchen steps. It's pretty when it flowers but the flavor of the leaves is altered then, so keep a portion trimmed so as not to allow flowering.
In bocca al lupo. m & v

Custard Cups

V was pretty sick a couple of years ago. He needed something he could eat without difficulty that would keep up his energy and his weight.  Custard came to mind, or was put there.  I've made so much custard since that summer I can make it in my sleep. The basic recipe came from my trusty old Joy of Cooking inherited from my father. It all mixes within a few seconds in the blender. Don't start 'til the oven is ready.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F

2 cups milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 whole eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Blend all ingredients. Pour into baking dish or individual custard cups. Place dish or cups into a pan of hot water on a rack, or in a heavy ceramic baking dish. Bake an hour or more for the casserole and 20 to 30 minutes for the cups.

For v I make it a bit richer. I substitute 1 cup of whipping cream for half the milk, I use the 1/2 cup of sugar and during the time he was sick I used up to four 
eggs.  I also find I'm baking even the individual cups for the full hour, otherwise it never wants to set.  I make custard weekly, sometimes several times. It's good to have on hand. It dresses up well with fruit. We've even experimented caramelizing sugar on top with a kitchen torch. 

In bocca al lupo. m & v

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Mornings

The magic of a Sunday morning. The street is quiet.  We live with the rhythm of footsteps passing, the beep of car locks,  the bass hum of passing cars and the chuffing of the older models every other day of the week.  During the school year students add their voices to the mix as they exchange updates on their lives before class begins. But Sundays the sun rises alone. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets today.
Utensils at the ready.
Thirty minutes in the canning kettle.
Sitting pretty until packed in a basket for a picnic or a Christmas gift.

V has a show tonight and I'll be there.  In bocca al lupo.  m

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Needle and Thread

I love to hold a needle and thread in my hands.  I love the whir of the sewing machine and watching the needle punch through fabric with precision, leaving the trail of evenly spaced stitches in its wake.  My grandmother took up needle and thread and supported her family through the last Great Depression and I wish I could do that for my family during this new depression we're experiencing.
She made all of my clothes until I learned to sew in high school.  They were so lovely, of course I never fully appreciated them, though I did realize how beautiful they were, and how unique.  Twice a year we had the fittings. Hot and muggy August evenings before the start of school I had to try on every garment still bristling with pins. I stood patiently on a chair as she measured hems and adjusted armholes and collars, my family surrounding us in the living room of her tiny apartment. The entire tableau repeated mid-winter for my spring wardrobe.  I must admit that I inherited her attention to detail and technique.  Sewing was an exercise in focused attention with no distraction allowed or tolerated. Although I spent nearly every weekend and holiday with my grandmother, I was never with her while my wardrobe was under construction.  I still consider sewing a solitary pursuit.  
Although I don't presently sew my own clothing I still love to make things out of fabric with needle and thread.
In bocca al lupo. m

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tending Gardens

We're having some very warm weather for June. It's great for getting out early into the garden to get some things done before the sun is too high. This spring we are being serenaded sunrise and sunset by a Mockingbird.  He sings the most beautiful notes I've heard in years. We have feeders and water for the birds around the garden.  This year I've notice they are repaying, not only with song, but they've been picking bugs off some of the flowering plants.

It has been uncommonly warm these past few days with a promise of more.

The best thing to do right now is keep the garden watered and mulched. I triple sifted the compost v turned yesterday and spread it thickly under the tomatoes and along the rows of corn and pumpkins. I've just planted one of my favorite tomato varieties: Yellow Pear. It's like candy. I have it near one of my favorite herbs, tarragon. I have both close to the kitchen, though the garden is small enough that most everything is considered pretty close to the kitchen.  

We have a friend who is a chef.  When he comes to dinner he cooks for us!  He heads out to the garden to select the herbs and whatever vegetables we have in season. I learn so much every time he comes, and I find I tend my herbs with ever so much more care in anticipation of his, and his wife's next visit.

In bocca al lupo. m

Saturday, June 9, 2012


This afternoon I enjoyed a visit with my friend at the home she and her husband share in Spreckles. They live in one of the old company homes of the Spreckles Sugar Company that ran from 1899 to 1984. They've gone beyond the restoration of this home; anyone entering through one of their arbored gates, who passes through the bounty of their gardens is restored.  It's a small house  that may overflow with family and friends but never feels crowded.  It is not unusual to drop by and observe one or both of them conducting an impromptu tour of their garden for a stranger who couldn't resist asking to have a closer look at the flowers and vegetables that surround the house.  She works a full-time job but her cupboards are full of the preserved goodness from their gardens.  There's always the temptation of fresh pie to have with the coffee that is offered in beautiful vintage mugs.
These two people have helped me so much over the years of our friendship.  They sheltered my father during a great storm when I was working.  They comforted us when we suffered painful losses.  She sat with my father and I as he was dying, and they kept me near once he was gone. 

I bought my house when I was still caring for my father. The house had been neglected and badly abused, but it was close to work so I could be near my father.  One evening after work, and after picking my father up from his day care, he and I came to the house to continue the cleaning and the painting that needed to be done in order to move in. It was just dusk and I was surprised to see lights on in the house.  When I entered my two dear friends had just finished scrubbing and painting the front rooms and the bedroom. They'd been there all day while I was at work.  There really are no words for what they give, and not just to me, but to everyone who knows them.  Barb and Don.

In bocca al lupo. m

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday in Pictures

Sharing Friday. From first light... 

To the end of the day...
In bocca al lupo m & v

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Beach Breakfasts

Sometimes one of us will awaken just before daybreak and decide it would be a good day to pack our breakfast and take it to the beach, we stop at Starbucks for a coffee on the way.  The best times are when low tide coincides with this spur of the moment decision so we can do some exploring of tide pools.  
Other than some beach glass or broken shells, the best thing to take from a tide pool is a photograph. 
We always see the little hermit crabs.Hermit crabs don't make their own shells, you know.  They take advantage of abandoned shells, mostly those of the sea snails, and move in.  As they grow they crawl out of these shells and move into larger digs.  I've read that certain species of hermit crabs will form what is known as "vacancy chains".  A group of crabs will surround a vacant shell.  They'll line themselves up from largest to smallest and once the largest crab fits himself into the shell the next largest crab fits himself into the newly vacated shell and so on to the smallest crab in line.  Hermit crabs aide in keeping the water nice and clean and clear by scavenging dead animal and plant materials. Not much goes to waste.  The fact that they don't make their own shells is one good reason to limit the collection of intact shells. 

Another fact about the Monterey Bay and the Central Coast in summer: it's normally cold, damp, and foggy.  Summer is the Upwelling season when the winds blow on shore off the Pacific.  The force of the wind causes an upwelling of the cold, nutrient rich water from the bottom of the bay up to the surface. The current water temperature is 49 degrees F.  This is wonderful for the kelp and the marine animals living in the bay.  This is their bountiful time of the year. However, the cold air coming off the ocean hits the warm inland air creating a blanket of fog along the coast. This is sometimes disappointing for people visiting for the first time expecting to find the legendary sunny California beaches. That's generally south of us.  
This year we actually haven't had as much fog as usual, so far.  We even had a rainstorm the other day which is pretty much unheard of after the beginning of May.  So, it leaves me wondering if this is an unusual weather event, or further evidence of climate change?  In bocca al lupo. m & v

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dementia Chronicle

Today is Wednesday and dinner will be an old fashioned pot roast. I make it the way my grandmother made it; in a Dutch oven on the stovetop. My grandmother married in 1918. I come from a family who has never been in a hurry to have children. I grew up with children who's grandparents were younger than my parents. It gives me an odd generational perspective.  I was lucky that my grandmother was able to live into my high school years.

My father lived a long time as well. However, he developed dementia and a long period of my life was put on hold while I cared for him.  It was difficult caring for him.  He's been gone a little over ten years, a lot has changed since that time. A lot has been written and there are far more resources. For us, my father and I, there was little respite.  One evening on my way to work I suddenly came to the realization that the only time I was ever alone was while commuting to and from work. 

In the beginning of his descent into dementia I worked twelve hour shifts at night. He would be alone. I would call him, periodically, to check on him. There would be times when he wouldn't answer the phone for several hours, but he'd finally be there and tell me he'd been outside, or sleeping.   One evening on my way to work I realized I'd forgotten something. When I returned to our house there was a taxi waiting in the driveway and my father was just on his way out the door to greet the driver.  Upon seeing me the driver jumped back into the taxi and sped off.  It was then that I discovered he'd been going out almost every evening I worked.  I didn't know how he was paying for these taxis until my checking account started to become overdrawn.  Within the period of a month he had gone through several thousand dollars, mostly on taxi rides.  He handed them, or perhaps just her (the one who'd been waiting in the driveway that day), blank checks.  The only recognizable writing on them, of course, were his signature and the amount which was never less than five hundred dollars for, at most, a ten mile drive. The bank couldn't help me track them as they were never deposited, only cashed, and I hadn't noticed the name on the taxi not realizing what was happening at the time.  

I took him to a doctor who, after tests, called me to announce that my father had dementia and to wish me luck.  This was in the early 90's. We didn't have internet and dementia wasn't impacting the rest of the baby-boomers just yet.  In response to my questions the doctor only responded with irritation.  I developed my own do-it-yourself dementia caregiving plan.  We muddled through for the next nine years. 

Life Savers: The Salvation Army Adult Day Care Center in Seaside, California with director Vincent Raj.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesdays by the bay

On Tuesdays we volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium's mission is to inspire conservation of the world's oceans.  We see thousands of people from all over the world come through this site and our hope and our goal is to instill that mission into their lives as well.  
The climate is changing and the oceans are warming and becoming more acidic.  Whether we live on the coast or mid-continent this will affect all of our lives and the lives of our descendants.  To view this problem globally is overwhelming to the majority of us. It leaves some of us feeling helpless and powerless. 
So, what can we do? Small changes. 
We chose our shift at the aquarium to coincide with the Tuesday farmers' market in downtown Monterey. It saves a trip into town.  We use our own re-useable bags at the market and for all of our shopping. We use re-useable mugs and water bottles. These are the little things that most people could do.
Make a change and encourage someone else to change as well.  One change at a time.In bocca al lupo.

After the rain

We had a surprise rainstorm yesterday.  An unusual weather event for June on the Central Coast, but welcome.  A sudden change in plans but still a productive day all around. Bread was baked, laundry was done, and V has decided to offer private lessons in Italian. He has placed his ad and we've developed his fliers. Now for some students.