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December 2015

For the love of food and memories attached to that love

Wallie's apronThe idea for this story has been brewing for some time. Today, on the feast of Thanksgiving, it seemed like the perfect moment to begin. Preparing traditional dishes -- learned from my parents and grandparents -- memories and how the love of cooking was instilled long ago. The reminders filling my kitchen temple. Not just the recipes or skills passed from generation to generation, but those treasured implements handed down as well,

Not well-schooled at the art of "selfisims", I managed to capture this photo. This reversible apron -- - tied at the waist and reminiscent of an art smock -- belonged to my mother-in-law Wallie Holmes. OMG could she cook! Loving every minute and every smile she brought to family and friends. I always looked forward to those holiday and family feasts. I only own two other aprons both tied to her memory -- one frilly hostess-type and another she handmade for me. They hold special places in my cooking wardrobe. I won't dress in any others.

Hamilbon Beach Model D  1938Josephine (Jo to everyone who knew her and my father-in-law's mother) was my neighbor and friend after I moved next door in 1987. We spent summer evenings on her front porch where she would share stories about Sacramento's past along with pizza and soda -- her choice! She fed my cat, Domino, who literally knocked on her screen door to be let in for snacks. In the early 1990s, Jo passed away at the blessed age of 94. Among her many prized possessions, I inherited some depression glass plates, two old potato mashers, and the gem of all gems -- Hamilton Beach Model "D" mixer, blender, juicer, meat grinder circa 1937. All pieces intact including the original bowls and juicer. Score! The only part ever replaced was the cracked and dangerous electrical cord. 

This holiday season, two batches of cornbread ingredients were mixed and blended in these bowls. Fresh mandarins and Meyer lemons (in process) were easily juiced and transformed into salad dressing. 

State-of-the-art back in the '30s, this behemoth will outlive, outlast all comers. Replacing it is out of the question. While I sometime o-o-o-oh and a-h-h-h-h over slicker, newer models, this HB M"D" is a loving reminder of those who have blended and cooked before me and will be with me to the end. No drama here, but 'she' will likely outlive us all.

Dru Enamel Pot Made in HollandSautéing, simmering, and mixing were very much part of this loving food process which included my father's Dru Enamel Cookware Dutch Oven #4126-32. Vintage? Yes, absolutely. No longer manufactured, but available online. As far back as the '70s, I remember this dear friend. My father's absolute "go-to" for his world-famous Sloppy Joes (weigh-in if you ever had the pleasure to enjoy them)!  Or his beef brisket. OMG! I have recipes for both, but fear of falling short has kept me from ever attempting either.

This Dutch oven was his faithful companion until my father passed away in 2005. There was little discussion as to where the Tulip DRU would go to live. It has served me well these 10-plus years. For Thanksgiving, cornbread stuffing was assembled and stirred. To save time washing, I used it to toss salad greens before putting them in their appropriate glass bowl. Have I cherished this culinary heirloom? Yes, 1,000 times yes! Soups, casseroles, and stews have started and finished here. Not one meal or creation has passed without remembering with deep love, and sometimes tears, my father's love for cooking. Food was his way of showing love -- as is often the case. He was masterful in the kitchen. Both parents were skilled chefs, but Dad really sparked my own love for cooking. Generations past would "will" such treasures. And, yes, my own living trust must deliver this old family friend to another generation.  The question remains, "Who?"

1 Royal Worcester Evesham CornbreadOn my first journey to England, I fell in love with Royal Worcester Evesham Gold. I was just 17 years old; I think the writing was already on the wall. Shortly after, my mother began buying and collecting the same china with a vengeance. Stubborn 20-something, I decided to go another direction though I still had a hankering for Evesham. When mom passed away in 1991, she left behind dozens of pieces of this china including plates, bowls, tea cups and saucers, and many serving pieces. With little storage in my bungalow, it was necessary to sell most of the china. I really didn't want or need much of her collection, but still loved the pattern's simple elegance and the memories of England.  Naturally, the reminders of my mother were/are very strong. Whenever Evesham graces my stove, oven or table the come memories flooding  back. This two-piece casserole was front and center this Thanksgiving. Made-from-scratch, my cornbread stuffing was elegantly framed. This "for the love of food" memory had double meaning given that I learned the fine art of cornbread stuffing from my mother. Like so many recipes handed down, there's nothing in writing for this family favorite. The cornbread recipe is courtesy of Moosewood Cookbook, but the stuffing itself is all Mom though I have tweaked it over the years. This year I wasn't able to get the much savored fresh chestnuts, but the final product wasn't lacking. Taste buds were dancing. I know my Mother was smiling. She nourished my cooking DNA and while we didn't always agree, I am still my mother's daughter!

So, this ends round one of "for the love of cooking". I hope in time, other memorable items will come to life as they touch me at every morsel of my soul. I know there are many people out there sharing the same memories. Please do!

Wild Rivers Coast: There’s a reason why on the Smith and Klamath rivers

The sun was barely breaking through when fog began rolling in across the mouth of the Smith River. Where river and ocean unite feels holy. Harbor seals – almost ghostly – gaze out across the shallow. A community of cormorants Zen(ly) attempt drying their wings. Brown pelicans and gulls share the sandspit. A lone angler casts again and again. He confides it’s been rumored salmon are Mouth of the Klamath at Requa Calfiorniarunning better on the Rogue and Klamath rivers. Still, he’s content. I watch with quiet respect and retreat once my camera is satiated.

Some 30 miles away, we stroll a considerable spit separating the Klamath River from the Pacific Ocean. One more peaceful world, the lone inhabitants walking or sitting quietly we reverently contemplate this sacred space. The tide is returning and waves crash to the shore. A swift undertow – the cold water just licks my naked feet as I scramble away.  The Klamath has journeyed far – 263 miles from Southern Oregon – to wed itself to the churning ocean.

These are the reasons why along the Wild Rivers Coast.



Great customer service comes disguised as the best gardener

Customer service, customer appreciation:
Rating: Star!Star!!Star!Star!Star!
Customer service crosses all lines including for lawn service. So impressed with William Gardening that I felt compelled to share the story of a simple gesture.

Really? My gardener? Yes, very much and so deserved. Business owners everywhere could learn something here. It has become painfully clear that many businesses do not embrace or study Customer Service 101. Owners and employees are rude and unconcerned -- not always, but more often than not. I acknowledge that in my youth I wasn't always at my best in the realm of customer service and learned my lessons the hard way. They were good lessons. I know the difference between good service and not so good -- it has become part of what I do everyday. In the Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook and Twitter world of today where good and bad is just a Tweet away, you need to bring your A-game at all times.

I was without a gardener. Someone to do just the mundane of mow and blow. Down the street I heard the hum of the same at my neighbor's house -- mower and blower. I wandered over and shook hands with the man behind the noise, William.

"Hi, my name is Barbara. I only need someone every other week. Are you available to do my lawn? " The response was in the affirmative and William went to work that same day. And every two weeks after that.

What set William apart in my mind was a simple gesture, "Hello Barbara," he said two weeks later. Wow! He greeted me and remembered my name. Whenever we would see each other, there was a greeting of hello. My previous gardener also was very reliable and did great work. But in all the years we knew each other, I don't think he ever called me by my name.

When I moved I let William know I would be in touch. It was winter and the yard didn't need much tending. A few months later I made the call. Days later, William arrived. "Hello, Barbara!" Even his staff waves when I approach. Something so simple. The perfect customer service. Today, when I arrived he was trimming my boxwood hedges -- unasked. It was then I knew I had to tell the world.

William Ruiz is my gardener of choice. Working in the area for more than 10 years he covers Sacramento, Elk Grove, Natomas, Greenhaven and downtown Sacramento. He does clean-ups, can provide some other landscaping needs such as bark or gravel, and pruning small trees and shrubs. I wasn't really looking for a house with lawn maintenance needs. But I'm glad this is where I landed to keep this personable and professional gardener in my life and to support local economy.

Whether it's providing lawn service or fine dining, Customer Service 101 should be top of mind. Thank you William! If you want 5-star, call 916/647-3077.