Monthly Archives: March 2011

Pacific in Pacific Grove

Seaside paintbrush

Counting my dear sons’ wives, which I very thankfully do, I now have five daughters. It’s sad to think how I spent several years complaining that I didn’t birth more children; during that time I never anticipated the familial wealth that in-laws can bring.

Point Lobos

In an effort to enjoy our family friendships we women spent a few months planning our first mother-daughter holiday. When continents stretch between, the grandchildren have pressing needs, and the young women pressing schedules, so it’s a tribute to our devotion that we even tried. In the end, only half of us, two daughters and I, were able to get together recently, on California’s Central Coast.

Seaside daisy

Pacific Grove was our home base. Every morning I woke with the feel of long-ago visits to my Aunt Margaret, whom I knew mostly in my teens. She lived in Carmel in a cream-colored house with white carpets, under a sky that was often white with fog or overcast, and the mood was so quiet. The sort of quiet that is filled with the sound of surf and the cry of sea gulls.

Our gathering of last week was a quiet group, too, in spite of our much talking, which I imagine was still on the low end of charts that might be made of all-women excursions, as we often stood in silent wonderment over our surroundings.

In our Keen boots — really, no one one had coordinated our foot attire, contrary to all appearances — we walked a lot, up and down the hills of Pacific Grove and Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea. And we looked at flowers and trees and birds and tried to identify them all.

Flower is California hedge nettle
ceanothus in Pacific Grove

On Point Lobos especially the sweet smell of ceanothus blooms was filling the air, along with the buzzing of bees who were crazy over it. We liked the challenge of photographing busy bees. They liked how the pollen was offering itself to them on vast fields of stamens.

Carrying great loads of pollen
Protea behind Cannery Row
Lucky for us that Mrs. Bread showed us a Protea in her garden our first afternoon, so that we could guess their identities when we kept seeing them everywhere from then on. The genus includes a huge variety of forms that are really striking. I came home to find that our bottlebrush tree is not a Protea, however. Proteas seem to have come originally from the southern hemisphere, but they definitely like growing on this patch of the globe.

Behind Cannery Row murals have been painted along the bike path, evoking the culture and history that John Steinbeck depicted in his books. I liked browsing this lane better than the touristy shops which carry, as Joy pointed out, all the same stuff from China that touristy shops all over the nation carry.

Oh, except maybe the otter dolls. I was expending so much mental energy drumming up buyer’s resistance that I didn’t even think about how I could have taken a picture of one. There were three stuffed toy versions of the captivating creatures that we watched lolling and playing in Monterey Bay, and I can’t find one online that is as cute, to post here.

fava plant in bloom
While in Monterey it was quite fun to revisit the Cooper-Molera House so soon after our last visit, but long enough that the plants were further along in spring, as this fava bean plant with its black-and-white blossoms. There were even little bean pods forming lower on the plant.
Another Protea
Pacific Grove is called Butterfly Town, because of the Monarch butterflies that migrate there every year. I’ve long had a vicarious and romantic attachment to the place thanks to the book by Leo Politi, and now it has become a direct relationship with the same feelings.
Updated adobe cottage in Pacific Grove

The weather we experienced was surprisingly mild in spite of frequent short showers of drizzle or light rain — but I might find it difficult to stay long where the sun doesn’t show itself often enough to keep the spirits up.

Flowers seem to glow more vividly under grey skies, though, and that makes up for the drear a little bit. People paint their houses in cheerful colors. And peace and quiet count for a lot.

The Pacific Ocean is not always peaceful, but it was fairly calm this week. The tsunami from Japan didn’t make a big wave here. You can’t see them, but two otters are playing in this picture. And peace and serenity and love were all playing some quiet music in our hearts.

How to Get Light instead of Fog.

St. Isaac of Syria

Thanks to Christ is in our Midst for this posting appropriate to the beginning of Lent. To me it is a helpful elaboration on C.S. Lewis’s statement that “Virtue — even attempted virtue — brings light; indulgence brings fog.”

…If you cannot be still within your heart, then at least make still your tongue. If you cannot give right ordering to your thoughts, at least give right ordering to your senses. If you cannot be solitary in your mind, at least be solitary in body. If you cannot labor with your body, at least be afflicted in mind. If you cannot keep your vigil standing, keep vigil sitting on your pallet, or lying down. If you cannot fast for two days at a time, at least fast till evening. And if you cannot fast until evening, then at least keep yourself from satiety.

If you are not holy in your heart, at least be holy in body. If you do not mourn in your heart, at least cover your face with mourning. If you cannot be merciful, at least speak as though you are a sinner. If you are not a peacemaker, at least do not be a troublemaker. If you cannot be assiduous, at least consider yourself lazy. If you are not victorious, do not exalt yourself over the vanquished. If you cannot close the mouth of a man who disparages his companion, at least refrain from joining him in this.

Know that if fire goes forth from you and consumes other men, God will demand from your hands the souls which your fire has burned. And if you yourself do not put forth the fire, but are in agreement with him who does, and are pleased by it, in the judgment you will be reckoned as his accomplice. If you love gentleness, be peaceful, if you are deemed worthy of peace, you will rejoice at all time. Seek understanding, not gold. Clothe yourself with humility, not fine linen. Gain peace, not a kingdom.

~St. Isaac of Syria

Buttery Week with Cats

Springtime, and the cats are caterwauling. Jim has a cute little girlfriend. Last week they were sporting together on the patio as we ate dinner, but this week he ran away when she came to eat the food I put out for him. She was stalking him at the dish today, so I went to get my camera. When I came back it appeared he was sharing his food with her. How sweet!

I was cooking while they were eating. For Orthodox this is the week before Lent proper, and we start the Great Fast on Monday. But as we like to ease into things, we already are fasting from meat as of last Monday. Some call this Butter Week, and some say it is a fun time. Perhaps I’ve always been on a trip or otherwise distracted before, during Cheese-fare Week; this is the first year I have enjoyed it this much. But anytime you highlight butter, for me that is fun.

Oh! Jim lifted his head, and it wasn’t Jim at all. It looks like Girlfriend’s sister….maybe Jim has two girlfriends! I wonder if he ran away from fright or just to be gentlemanly. Mr. Glad doesn’t really want me feeding all the cats in the neighborhood, so after I took their picture I brought the food inside until Jim comes back. It was the second time today I tried to feed only Jim and he got chased off.

My husband is o.k. with butter, and even cookies. He just told me that if a cookie is really good, he will even eat two in one day. This moderation on his part doesn’t jive very well with my own Cookie Monsterish behavior and the fact that there are only the two of us here now. So I rarely bake cookies.

But, two of my friends revealed their Freezer Cookie Ball method. I thought it would be the perfect solution to the alternate problems of me eating up all the cookies before Mr. Glad could get to them, or the cookies going stale on him. I can bake one sheet full, and freeze the rest of the dough for baking later.

I forgot that I also like to eat the dough. I’m a little shy about admitting it to the world, because my husband thinks it is the most base behavior, something like eating cat food, maybe, only more repulsive.

My sisters and I ate cookie dough as children, but I consumed the most ever in one summer between college semesters, when all three of the girls in my apartment agreed on our favorite cookie: mint chocolate chip. And we all liked to eat half the batch before it went into the oven or was even dropped on the cookie sheet.

I know that in modern times, we are cautioned against this because of the raw egg in cookie dough, but as this is nearly the only risky behavior I indulge in, and that rarely, I hope you will allow me.

So I confess that just freezing the dough doesn’t ensure that my man will have a cookie when he needs it. Luckily I also had the bright idea of freezing already-baked cookies, one to a waxed paper bag, so when he is so inclined he can defrost one in a jiffy.

Butter Week is still here for now, so I made a fresh batch of these cookies. I baked nine and crowded the rest onto a sheet to quick-freeze. It’s an adaptation of the Oatmeal Scotchies on the Nestle butterscotch chips package. I think it might be improved by doubling the recipe except for the butterscotch chips. Even though I left out half the sugar, the cookies are plenty sweet because of the high density of chips.

Buttery Week Cookies
(Oatmeal Butterscotch)

1 1/2 cups spelt flour, white and/or whole-grain (if you use wheat, use only 1 1/4 cups, because wheat flour absorbs more moisture.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks salted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar (I just left out the white sugar)
1 large or extra-large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups regular rolled oats
1 2/3 cups (1 package) butterscotch-flavored chips
about 1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix as usual for cookies, adding nuts and chips at the last. Bake about 10 minutes at 375°F.