Quarantine Chronicles, post 1

Hello dear souls.

I have decided to keep a blog of my quarantine chronicles. Not to make light of the situation–I am terribly sorry for those who have lost their jobs or much worse yet, their lives or loved ones–I am simply chronicling life during these unprecedented times. After all, I am a writer and like Amanda Hesser says, “writers love nothing more than to observe.” Here I am observing and experiencing this global pandemic and sharing it with you all.

Please drop me a line with your experience or share a story.

love love,

Sally

Social Distancing

I’ve been hyperaware of this social distancing bit. I’m a hugger and so I have to remind myself to respect the space. Has this been difficult or different for anyone else?

I went for a hike yesterday up in Veteran’s Park. It’s felt so good to get outside and get fresh air and pump my legs. As I turned a corner to go up to the stairs I heard some people so I slowed down to make space for them and not startle them. There was a young, chubby guy with the most shiny, round, beautiful chipmunk cheeks I have ever seen (OK, second most beautiful, my baby niece takes the cake on beautiful chipmunk cheeks). The kid practically yelled “hello” and came at me with arms wide open for a hug. I stepped back with my hands out in front of me. I looked to his hiking buddy, maybe his brother? He was calling to him in Spanish, telling him to stop. I was startled. Not freaked out and there was no gut wrenching warning like I was in danger–I hope you’ve never felt that before but I have and you know, your whole body washes over with this warm sensation and your insides clench up and you freeze and want to run away. I believe they call that fight or flight. Anyways, this was just like, ahhh sorry! We’re not supposed to hug right now. And then I realized this kid had some sort of developmental disorder. He held his arms out again and came at me, slowly and steadily, for a hug. His brother grabbed his arm and told him to come along.

I said “I’m so sorry, honey, it’s just that we’re not supposed to hug right now…umm, coronavirus…” I felt stupid as I said it.

He kept yelling “hello” as he and his brother walked off in one direction and me in another. I turned the corner and burst into tears. I was standing on the trail “ugly crying” as the cute girls call it. I was so sad that I didn’t hug the kid. I know we’re in a global pandemic but was my hugging this kid going to disrupt the course of fate?

All these thoughts ran through my head as I wept. It felt good to cry. And to cry outside in the open air, not holed up in my bedroom. Not that I ever feel holed up in my bedroom but you get what I’m saying. So I just took a moment to cry. And it felt good. If you have someone you’re not condemned to be socially distant from, like your husband, wife, boyfriend, etc. please hug them extra hard and long for me today.

Uninhibited

After a lot of rain and being inside far too much, I decided to go to one of my happy places, Asilomar, for a walk this afternoon. I parked on the street and walked down the boardwalk and up the sandhill and then down towards the beach. There were so many people on the beach! This coronavirus has definitely got people going outside.

Greetings from the beach

Anyhow, I saw a young mom with her son on a beach towel and then the little boy ran off with a bucket and mom leaned back with a book to read. The boy, who was no more than five years old, ran over to me yelling something. When he got closer I heard him say “I founded a shrimp.”

He was very proud. We had a brief exchange about his shrimp and I asked him if he had eaten it. “No, silly,” he told me. He rambled on about some other stuff without stopping in between thoughts or sentences to take a breath.

I needed to cross a little stream of water and the little boy saw me pacing back and forth and testing out rocks for their stability. He looked at me and said, “just do like this” as he hopped lightly from rock to rock and onto the other bank.

I laughed out loud. What a beautiful little mind he had. He was uninhibited by the fear of falling and I clearly was. He stood on the other side of the little stream, jumping up and down and yelling, “just go!”

After much trepidation, I crossed the stream, markedly less limberly than he had. He had already run off to join his sister who at this point was yelling towards me about her brother’s shrimp discovery. I went on my walk with much to think about.

Am I afraid to “just go?” Maybe I should do like the little boy and just jump on ahead to the other side of the stream. Maybe I think too much. Why do we think so much? Test every rock before taking a step?

the little stream
the little boy, uninhibited
lovely Asilimar

The human condition

Or what little I know of it.

I guess the human condition is not learning from history or the experiences of others. I hear people say, when will we learn? But that’s just it, dear souls, the human condition is not learning and effectively repeating history.

I went and got my plants from my office the day before yesterday. My office felt barren without the greenery but my little house has come to life. More to life, I mean.

Trying not to squish my money tree in the passenger seat

It’s so nice seeing so many people out walking together as couples or families. Maybe as friends or neighbors. And kids riding their bikes around the neighborhood.

I’ve been thinking about people I used to see often and I’m wondering how everyone is holding up? I know my friends in the service industry are struggling and I’m so sorry for that. Please call or text me if you need someone to talk to.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is sheltering in place and not gaining the covid-19 (lbs).

Embracing ephemera

The other day I was writing in my journal at a local wine tasting room and I overheard this British couple talking about their plans around town and Carmel. We eventually struck up a conversation and they asked me for some recommendations for local wineries, restaurants, and things to do.

Fast-forward to the next day when I was cleaning the house and wondering if the charming couple ever went to the places I had suggested. And if they had, what they had thought? And then I let my mind wander, as it does, and I thought how cool is it that I will never know? How beautiful that we shared a moment over a glass of wine and an unwritten journal page so I could share some of my restaurant preferences in my hometown. Maybe they lost the paper they had jotted my recommendations down on and never made it to those places? Maybe they went to them all and had bad experiences? Or perhaps, they tried some and discovered others on their own.

And then I got to thinking about how we oughtn’t control things or expect things. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from the attachment to expectations. And also to embrace and live in the present. My recommendation-giving was yesterday…and I gave them those recommendations without expectations that they would like or dislike them or report back to me. Now it is with me as a nice memory as I dust my bookshelf.

I let my mind wander some more and I began looking up words and found that the word ephemeral–which means lasting for a very short time–comes from the Greek ephēmeros which means “lasting only one day.” I can think of many things in my life that lasted only one day or even less and that they were beautiful just in their short lifespan. A meal with a friend or a lover. A swim in a creek. A deep conversation. A movie. Blackberry picking in the summer.

A daylily, so called because it is only in bloom for about a day
Photo by Bradley Howington on Unsplash

If only I can remind myself to let events in life be ephemeral. To not attach expectation to them and maybe I can find myself a little more liberated. To embrace a moment, a conversation, a relationship for its lifespan…whatever that may be. And then to let it go.

Lunch at Sur Burger

Ack. It appears that I have let “busy-ness” plague me like so many in our society. A friend messaged me the other day to have lunch and so we met up at Sur Burger on Alvarado. He commented that I hadn’t written on my blog in some time so here I am.

This life is crazy and beautiful. We get so many things thrown at us that we get no formal training on how to deal with. I guess busy-ness is one of those things. We all have our ways of coping: making schedules, exercising, ensuring we get enough sleep, etc. But sometimes those habits are less than healthy, maybe we lose sleep to accommodate the busy schedule and try to accomplish more in the day. Maybe we drop the exercise on account of being tired from losing sleep or to try to accomplish more in the day. I guess this is me reminding myself to focus on the healthy habits and not the less than healthy habits. To remind myself that no matter what happens, it will all get accomplished and it will all turn out OK in the end.

My friend suggested we order a bottle of champagne…we had lots to celebrate: life, friendship, living in California, a day ending in “y.” So we ordered a bottle of bubbly and a couple of burgers (we were at a burger joint, after all) and I thought this is so California. A little known fact is that the name “California” originates from the Spanish conquistadors after “califia” a mythical island paradise in Las Serges de Esplandian by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, a Spanish romance written c. 1510. But also California is a land of abundance with a Mediterranean climate. With that abundance, people–inventive, motivated, life-loving people–have learned how to refine and perfect so much of the natural abundance and resources. Take for example, agriculture (and gastronomy) and viticulture. California has such lovely food and wine.

Anyhow, I’m not trying to get too philosophical here other than to say champagne and burgers felt like a very “California” lunch to me. Champagne is reminiscent of “high-class” culture, if you will, and burgers are fast food. Put together, and eaten slowly, you get the perfect Californian meal.

Something unique about Sur Burger is that they have a “condiment bar.” You can fill up on pickles, cole slaw, and different dips for your fries and sauces for your burger. The menu offers “chicken and waffles,” which I was going to say is a California food on account of the popularity of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles, but upon further research, I have found that the dish is a bit older than Roscoe’s. There are multiple theories about its origin but one posits that in the early 1800s hotels and resorts outside of Philadelphia served waffles and fried catfish but over time the catfish became any other meat due to catfish’s limited availability. By the end of the nineteenth century, the dish was a symbol of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. How cool!

Anyhow, I had a lovely lunch of bubble and burgers, spent good time with a dear friend, and was reminded that I need to write on my blog more often. I hope you have enjoyed my stream of consciousness and that you can take a minute to remind yourself to do something you love that maybe you haven’t done in a while. Or reach out to a friend for lunch.

sweet potato fries, burgers, & bubbles

Lumpia in Lemoore

Greetings from Lemoore, CA! What I call the armpit of California, with all due respect to Lemorons—someone who lives here told me it’s what they’re called—it’s because of the farmland, the location, and the weather. Anyhow, in case you didn’t know there’s a Naval Air Station there so I’m down here for a work trip.

The Navy has a large population—and a long history—of Filipinos serving. In 1901 President William McKinley signed an executive order allowing the Navy to enlist 500 Filipinos as part of its insular force. Later in 1952, on account of the Korean War more personnel were required in the Navy so an agreement was negotiated that up to 1,000 Filipino citizens could enlist in the U.S. Navy annually. In 1954, this was increased to 2,000 people. Also, with the Nationality Act of 1940, aliens who served honorably in the armed forces for three or more years could be naturalized as U.S. citizens without having to meet certain normal requirements of naturalization. This law was repealed in 1952 and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which was essentially the same thing although it stated that they shall have been lawfully admitted for permanent residence.

Enough with the history lesson, this is after all a food column. I called a friend who lives in Hanford—just outside of Lemoore where another dear friend says the only thing there is to do in Hanford is die—and we decided to meet for beers at Plan B Taphouse. I guess there are things to do in Hanford besides die, like drink beer. He told me they didn’t serve food and asked if I could pick up lumpia at Zeny’s, a Filipino restaurant in Lemoore on my way. Lumpia is a Filipino spring roll made of thin crepe pastry skin and filled with chopped vegetables and meat. It is served with a sweet chili sauce. These particular ones were made with ground beef and shredded carrots.

So after work, I drove to the gym. From the car I called Zeny’s and placed an order for 25 lumpia, per my friend’s instruction but the nice Filipino man on the other end told me they only do orders by the dozen so I ordered two dozen. I went for a swim in the outdoor pool because the armpit of California is warm already. Feeling refreshed—and starving—from my swim, I went to Zeny’s and bought snacks for my eight-minute drive to Hanford. It’s one of those times when “my eyes are bigger than my stomach.” I bought garlic flavored crunch-covered peanuts, Thai iced tea (super sweet, unnaturally orange iced tea), the lumpia, and dessert.

Blasting country music on the radio I drove the flat highway to Hanford, drank Thai iced tea, and munched on crunchy peanuts. Life is good, I thought. I’m glad I had the peanuts because the smell of the piping hot lumpia was terribly tempting.

I arrived at Zeny’s and parked in the parking lot just to notice two big German Shepherds in the huge truck next to me. In case you don’t know, I have an irrational fear of German Shepherds. Maybe it’s rational because I’ve been attacked by dogs—on multiple occasions—but I’ll save that for another time. I took a deep breath and opened the door, the dogs both stood and started sniffing, the crack I had opened in the door had wafted out the delicious smell of lumpia…meat. Just then I saw my friend walk into the bar so I slammed the door closed and called him. He answered and I asked if he could come to the parking lot to help me. Within seconds he was there and per my pantomiming he opened the passenger door. I told him I was afraid of dogs and could he grab the lumpia. He laughed—or maybe he rolled his eyes, or both—and grabbed the lumpia and we went in for beers.

The lumpia were amazing. The outside crust is crunchy and the inside is warm, meaty, and salty. Dipping it in the sweet cold chili sauce is just perfect as the flavors go together really well. And of course, they went great with a cold beer and good company. If you ever find a Filipino restaurant serving lumpia order a dozen or two and enjoy with a friend. I don’t know for certain of any Filipino restaurants in the area but I believe there is a Filipino market in Seaside and a Filipino restaurant in Salinas.

piping hot lumpia

Stammtisch German Restaurant

“The true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end.”

–C.S. Lewis

We are incredibly lucky to live where we live. For many reasons but one because we don’t have to travel far to find good food. One such gem in our area is Stammtisch German Restaurant in Seaside.

I picked up my friend Maryann who lives in Seaside the other day in search of Mexican food for lunch. As we drove down Fremont, yacking away, she asked if I felt like having German food. I know German cuisine is not anywhere near Mexican cuisine but I am always open to spontaneity. “I’ve always wanted to go there!” I said. So, we wove our way back from the end of Fremont to Echo Ave. and found Stammtisch.

We walked in and were greeted by Erwin, dressed in traditional Austrian embroidered white shirt and a vest. He seated us and asked if we would like to have a beer. We both said no thank you but looked at one another. “Come on,” he said with a smile in his charming Austrian accent. “OK, fine,” we both said. The table where we were seated was in the middle of the main dining room, next to the pot of the umbrella plant that is growing perfectly out of control around the room with one branch supported by yellow yarn on the ceiling. I commented on the beautiful plant and Erwin told me about once a month he wipes the leaves down with a mixture of water and beer, just like his mother taught him. “That way it’s always drunk!” he proclaimed.

Two slices of rye bread along with butter appeared in a gold-rimmed black basket lined with a napkin and then two steins of German pilsner beer from the tap. Next, we were each brought a bowl of the daily soup, cream of asparagus. We chatted with Erwin, who was very hospitable and charming, and we found out is married to the chef and owner, Claudia who is from Berlin. We ordered our lunch, Maryann, the special of the day—the cabbage stew with slow-cooked pork on top—and me, the currywurst.

The décor and vibe felt so German. The wooden tables and chairs, the wall clocks, and the Underberg: the iconic German herbal digestif. Traditional German music played in the background and it was raining outside. When our main dish was served, Claudia came out and we introduced ourselves. She gave me a stiff handshake and welcomed us. The food was presented so beautifully and we immediately dug in. Claudia’s goal is to serve traditional German food, old-fashioned home cooking. “I have achieved my goal if someone says this is how my mom or grandma cooked,” she told me. Now I don’t have a German mother or grandmother whose cooking I can compare to but I do know that even for me, a non-German, it was comfort food and I certainly felt comfortable.

After the meal—which we each took half home for the next day—we ordered two desserts to share, the lemon dessert and the apple crumble along with two cups of strong German coffee. The desserts were delicious and with the rain pitter-pattering on the roof, I sat back drinking my coffee contemplating my happy, full belly and how content I was with our spontaneous decision. I encourage you to check out Stammtisch, spontaneously—if you find yourself in Seaside, or if not…plan a trip. 

Cream of asparagus soup
Currywurst, potatoes, and sauerkraut
Apple crisp and coffee

Porta Bella, Carmel

This past Friday night I went out to dinner at Porta Bella in Carmel with my friend Father Dominic and our deacon friend John. We sat in their quaint, heated back patio that is painted Tuscan clay red and has plants creeping on the walls. One of the co-owners of the restaurant, Faisal, who is also a friend of Father Dominic’s joined us.

One thing I always do when I go out to eat—after looking over the menu and picking one or two things that sound good—is ask the waitress what her favorite item on the menu is. The response is one of two things: without skipping a beat she tells me her favorite item or she says, “that’s a tough one!” and lists a few items she likes or are popular among diners. If what she recommends lines up with what I was looking at, I definitely know what I’m ordering. If not, well it depends on if it was her favorite item in which case I’ll consider ordering it. This time I had the luxury of asking one of the restaurant owners. One of his three favorites, the Lamb Ossobuco, was one of the items I was considering so I knew I’d be having that for dinner.

But of course, it was Friday night and Father Dominic and John, like myself, are epicures so we started with soup and appetizers. I had the roasted corn and crab bisque and it was spectacular: rich, warm, and creamy on a cold rainy night. I appreciate a slow meal and this was just that. We talked and caught up on life and for those of us who were not already friends, we got to know each other a little more. Next, we shared the skewered grilled jumbo prawns served with a lemon aioli, the lobster ravioli, and the beef tenderloin carpaccio. I love beef carpaccio—a raw dish of thinly sliced meat typically served with lemon, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and truffle oil. Porta Bella’s also adds arugula and capers and they’re perfect accompaniments to the raw meat. Interestingly enough, the dish was invented in 1950 by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice for countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo when he heard that her doctors had recommended she eat raw meat. The name—carpaccio—comes from the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio whose work is characterized by red and white tones, reminiscent of raw meat.

The main course, the Lamb Ossobuco, was served with a potato gratin and vegetables while the lamb itself was cooked with red wine and white raisins. The meat was spectacularly tender and the flavors were perfect. We enjoyed a local cabernet with the meal and it was the perfect complement.

As the evening and meal went on, more people joined or replaced others and our table was buzzing with people and lively conversation; as the plates were cleared, a backgammon board appeared and a game was started. You see Faisal comes from a big family and network of restaurateurs in Carmel and as some got off work they would come to check out Porta Bella…seeing the owner seated for a change inspired people to come chat, pull up a chair, and join us. And even more so after learning that we had a priest at the table.

The discussion grew philosophical and Father Dominic was questioned on issues of morality which he answered in stride…as a Catholic priest, this is what he does for a living. It became a regular occurrence for someone seated at the table to apologize to him after saying something off-colored. Which brings me back to my initial point, “how you do anything is how you do everything.” I don’t believe that we ought to alter our behavior or our self in the presence of a Catholic priest or anyone for that matter. Sure, there is discretion and professional behavior but who we are ought to be who we are always. I find the idea of behavior-altering more troublesome than the off-colored comment, in other words, I appreciate integrity of the self. If I say something and feel I must apologize for it, maybe I oughtn’t have said it. Don’t get me wrong, I have said my fair share of things that I shouldn’t have said and will probably do so many times over in my life but, in an effort to grow and constantly improve myself I like to remind myself that how I do anything is how I do everything, to be intentional with each little thing because the culmination of all of those little things is me and my character. So here’s to being true to oneself when nobody is looking or even in the highest profile of company.

roasted corn and crab bisque
skewered grilled jumbo prawns with lemon aioli

Mags’s wedding in Sonoma & brunch at the Girl and the Fig

Sonoma in late summer/fall is amazing. While we anxiously anticipate Indian Summer in Pacific Grove, it’s nice to know we can drive northeast for three hours and be in (another form of) paradise.

I went to Sonoma this past weekend for a friend’s wedding. My friend Magda and I met while we were studying abroad in college. I was at UCSD and she was at Davis and we both chose the same “language and culture” program the fall semester of our junior year to spend in Córdoba, in the south of Spain. Back then, Mags was a tomboy and incredibly athletic (she still is very athletic). She was opinionated and a ball of energy. She concluded after orientation that she didn’t like me because I was too happy. Last I checked this was no reason to dislike someone but nobody ever asked a 20-year old to rationally justify their feelings. At the time, we all lived with old Spanish ladies. They were responsible for housing us and feeding us three meals a day. My señora got me snacks to take with me to school, like little individually packaged chocolate-stuffed croissants. I didn’t care for them so I would always bring them to school and share with my classmates, namely Mags who, much to her disappointment sat next to me in the front row of Spanish class. We were both overachievers.

Every day I showed up, happy to be in Spain, happy to be in class, excited about something I had seen or learned, and to sit next to Mags who had her arms folded over her chest and was slouched in her chair. She would roll her eyes at me when my hand would dart up at the
“what is something you learned that you would like to share with the class” prompt. But every day at break I would lean over and ask her how she was getting by and if she wanted some snacks. Mags was a bottomless pit and always wanted my snacks but she was always leery of my sharing them.

When we eventually became friends, which was not long after orientation day, she confessed that she hated my optimism and didn’t understand why I shared my food with her when I could eat it all myself. I was dumbfounded. I remember telling her that food tastes better when shared with other people and I couldn’t eat in front of someone else and not offer what I was eating, it wasn’t how I was brought up. Over the next four months we traveled together to Lisbon, Paris, Zurich, and several towns in both Spain and Morocco. We ran a miserable marathon in San Sebastian and went sky diving over the Alps in Switzerland. By the end of our adventure we were sad to part and promised each other we would have a lifelong friendship. My attendance at her wedding this past weekend is a testament to this wonderful friendship.

The day after the wedding a (different) friend and I went to have brunch just off the Sonoma Plaza at the Girl and the Fig, a Sonoma tradition. Due to the restaurant’s popularity, we sat at the bar and enjoyed an amazing brunch, sans-mimosas on account of our needing to drive home to Monterey. The little old lady sitting next to me ordered the Quiche Lorraine (ham and Swiss cheese)–which was an enormous slice of quiche that looked more like a soufflé than anything–and she said it was the best thing she had had in her life. Well already by the look and smell of it I was leaning towards ordering it but with that recommendation, I had to. It came with both a small salad and shoe string fries and it was indeed, delicious. The sides were seared so after cutting the slice of soufflé from the pie dish the chefs must sear each side, adding a caramelized, slightly crisp and charred taste to the already amazing egg flavor. The shoe string fries were good although fries aren’t my favorite but they did make an excellent vehicle for gobs of the garlic aioli, which was amazing. The salad was nice: frisée, baby chard, quinoa, marcona almonds, and cranberries with a light vinaigrette. But the quiche was the star of the show.

Next time you find yourself in Sonoma, be sure to check out the Girl and the Fig.  Heads up, you are better off with a reservation ahead of time to avoid the wait, especially on the weekend.

Quiche Lorraine at the Girl and the Fig

**a shorter version of this story appeared in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 14 September 2018