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.

Invitations and apple donuts

Sometimes I think, “Gosh, I haven’t seen so-and-so in a long time.”  And I catch myself wondering, when was the last time we saw each other?  I wonder how she’s doing.  And then I remember that everyone—myself included—is busy and if I want to see someone, maybe I just ought to invite them out or over. More often than not, the invitation—or even just reaching out with a “hey, I haven’t seen you in some time,”— is met with a, “you’ve been on my mind! Let’s get together.”

Most of us think about our friends often. Well, except those with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies but I’ll leave that for the professionals.

Similar to not seeing friends is not going to restaurants/cafés/bars that we love. I was in PG the other day and realized I hadn’t been to Pavel’s in a while, although it might not seem that way to you, dear reader, since my last column was Ode to a Chocolate Croissant, from there. I digress, anyways. I popped into Pavel’s for lunch and Paul, the owner, saw me. He came out from the back and said, “Remember that story you wrote about the apple donuts? You had gone somewhere.”

“Yes yes!” I said. “Apple Hill. Apple Cider donuts.” I was touched that he had remembered something I’d written. And from October!

“I’m going to be making something similar on Saturday for the celebration across the street at Grove Market. You should come try them,” he said.

Well, I don’t need to be told twice to try apple donuts so I added the event to my calendar and on Saturday made my way over to Grove Market for apple donuts. And…they were out. I asked the cashier about them and she said, “Oh…those were apple? They were so good! I thought they tasted fruity!”

Drat. I thought.

I ran across the street to Pavel’s. There were only 5 loaves of bread left and nothing else. It was 2pm on a Saturday, after all.  I saw Paul and waved with a huge smile on my face.

“They’re all out of the apple donuts you were telling me about across the street,” I explained.

“Oh. Hang on just a minute.” He turned around and went to the back.

I waited patiently. OK…not so patiently.  He came back with a small box of four donuts.

“Oh my God,” I said, “thank you!”

“They’re still warm,” he told me as he folded the box over itself to seal it.

“No, no. I’m having one now.” I told him. How could I not have a still-warm apple donut that I drove all the way over there for?

I took a bite and as you can imagine it was pure bliss. Yes, it was still warm and it tasted like it had macerated apples in it and the most delicate—still soft—glaze. My eyes rolled to the back of my head and I crouched down ever so slightly into my knees. “This is amazing!” I told Paul, shamelessly speaking with food in my mouth.

His smile beamed. As someone who cooks myself, I know how special it is when someone likes one of your creations. I thanked him 800 more times and walked out eating the still-warm donut.

On the drive home, I called a friend and told him I had fresh donuts for him and he might want to put a pot of coffee on. He—a fellow food lover—was thrilled and I could hear him pouring water into the kettle. By the time I got over to his apartment there was piping hot coffee to go along with our still-warm donuts.

The moral of my story is, if someone invites you for freshly made apple donuts, always oblige. But really, invite your friends over and connect with people you haven’t seen in some time, this is why we live. We’re on this earth for an indeterminate amount of time so make everyday worthwhile. Share what you have and check up on your friends.

Look at the glaze on that donut!

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

Red’s Donuts, Monterey

As you ramble on through life, Brother,
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut,
And not upon the hole.

–Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin 

Walking into Red’s Donuts on Alvarado Street is like taking a stroll down memory lane. The donut shop that has stood in the same spot since March 15, 1950 looks like it hasn’t changed one bit, perhaps added a few decorations to the walls and updated the cash register. That’s it. The shop was started by Herman O’Donnell in 1950 as Angel Food Doughnuts and changed names to Red’s in 1957 as that was Herman’s nickname on account of his red hair.

The idea to write about them was inspired last week when I was volunteering at the AT&T Pro-Am. The Pro-Am gets donuts for their volunteers from Red’s and has for years. This year the Pro-Am got 200 dozen donuts…that’s a lot of donuts! Actually, one of my most avid-readers and a professional donut enthusiast himself had recommended I write about Red’s a few weeks back and it finally all came together.

After indulging in several donuts at the Pro-Am — chocolate old fashioneds are my favorite — I decided to visit the shop on Alvarado Street. I had never been inside despite growing up here and now living here as an adult for the past seven years. The place was happy and vibrant with clown paintings on the walls, photos of former president’s, and the family-owners and almost every stool at the counterwas filled. I waited to be attended to and asked Evelyn, a seasoned Red’s employee of 26 years and counting, if I could ask her a few questions. She was busy, it was before 9 am on a weekday, but she said she would make time for me.

I found a stool and ordered a donut and a cup of coffee. There is something wonderful about coffee and donuts. And chocolate old fashioned donuts…what an invention of pure magic. When business quieted down a bit Evelyn and Ollie—who has been there for six months—both answered my questions. While we were talking, George, a regular, came in and said hi to everyone. They knew his order and in between chatting with me, got it for him without his having to ask. A young musician, Steve, who just moved back to the area from LA told me he has eaten donuts all over the country and nothing compares to Red’s. The customers chimed in the impromptu interview. Stacey told me she had been bringing her daughter to Red’s since she was small enough to sit on the counter. “Now she can’t come because she’s in high school,” she laughed a guilty laugh.

Red’s has another location in Seaside where they make the donuts. The Red’s donut operation is 24/7; they begin making the donuts at 4pm and work all night for the deliveries. Evelyn estimated that they deliver to 35-40 establishments on the peninsula and make about 500 dozen donuts a day. She told me the recipe is the original recipe, “nothing has changed.” The Seaside location, being open all night, gets their clientele at all hours of the morning, some coming in off the graveyard shift at 4am.

Red’s serves 33 different kinds of donuts and rolls and 11 special donuts (certain days only), and of course, a fresh pot of coffee is always on. They even serve milk for those who prefer their donuts with a cold cup of milk. Simple, delicious pleasure. Specials Monday and Tuesday on boxes of a dozen. With one location in Seaside and one on Alvarado Street in Monterey.

Evelyn knows most of her customers by name and has their orders committed to memory. She is friendly and personable and that’s what makes Red’s unique with a genuine hometown feeling. She told me that she had moved to the area in 1964 when her father was sent to Fort Ord. “He was a drill sergeant,” she smiled, “with the Smokey the Bear hat and the whole nine yards.”

On my way out, an older gentleman came in. I heard him say to Evelyn, “I’m changing it up today.”

Without skipping a beat, she told him, “You can’t do that, Ken,” and they both erupted in laughter. We live in such an amazing community that such a wonderful donut shop exists. I could get philosophical about donuts and donut holes but I’ll spare you. Just find your way down to Red’s and have a donut, I won’t think less of you if you order anything other than chocolate old fashioned but do be sure to chat with Evelyn. She is the prototypical diner waitress and I mean that in the best way possible, she never stops working, she is always smiling, friendly, has an excellent memory, and always has an ear to bend for a customer.

A thing of beauty
Don’t you feel at home?

Cibo, Monterey

When I moved back from Spain I was nostalgic for everything Galician—I lived in the small town of Ourense in Galicia, the Northwestern corner of Spain, above Portugal. (You can read about my adventures in Spain here.) One of the things I thought I would miss the most was the live music, it felt like the old alleys incessantly reverberated with the piercing hum of violin music or echoed with the bellow of a cello. But as I re-settled into my hometown, I found that Monterey was rich with live music, too.

One such place is Cibo Ristorante Italiano (pronounced chee-bo), offering live music six nights a week. I often walk by on Alvarado and am drawn in by the music—it’s so lively and welcoming.

A friend invited me out there the other night and it was a nice reminder of what a fun place Cibo is. It’s wonderful to meet those friends that you see only once every few months and get to catch up on everything over a long, leisurely meal.

We sat in a booth and, having just driven back from the Bay Area, my friend suggested I order a glass of wine. The waiter recommended a nice Cabernet. We started with the polenta and sun-dried tomato appetizer. And talked and talked. My parents used to say when I was a kid that I talked more than I ate which I think is true during meal times—well not only meal times but especially meal times because I have a captive (read, stuck) audience.

The waiter brought us this incredible, warm, crunchy-crusted ciabatta bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I always ask for butter as well because butter is perfect. More on that another time.

Eventually we ordered more appetizers: arancinette (crispy fried rice balls) and calamari. The calamari tentacles were crispy on the ends and meaty at the core, just the way I like them while the rice balls with tomato sauce were a tangy complement to the hearty squid. I think it’s important to have diversity in your life. Not just with the foods you eat but with your friends, too. Having friends with different backgrounds, ages, jobs, etc. really gives you a perspective on life and can often help you navigate your own life with a broader point of view. This particular friend is a generation older than me and has been wildly successful in her career in public relations. She says things to me about my just-beginning writing career as though they were so obvious and I have to remind myself that I am pursuing writing because I like to write, not because I’m a brilliant marketing specialist or PR person.

She’s also commanding which I love. She would give me a piece of advice and say, “write it down.” I diligently pulled my notebook out, for the fifteenth time and wrote down some brilliant piece of advice she had just casually passed along. “Don’t put it away, you’re going to need it again.” Another flippant, brilliant comment.

For dinner I ordered the gnocchi trio. If you’re not familiar with gnocchi I have to say it’s the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to tasting clouds. Well, my imagination’s idea of what clouds might taste like. They are light, fluffy potato dumplings that melt in your mouth. The trio were: spinach & ricotta filled with a Bolognese sauce, truffle-filled with brown-utter sage (who was the genius who thought to fry sage leaves, please thank her), and traditional potato with pesto cream shrimp. The nice thing about the trio is that it’s enough of each to taste a little bit of each very different flavor.

We wrapped the evening up with dessert, the only civilized way to eat a meal, and we had the pear almond tartlet that was nicely served with whipped cream, mango sauce, and crunchy, caramelized almonds.

Calamari & arancinette

The next time you’re looking for a place to liven up your evening, I really recommend that you check out Cibo in Monterey. Check their website to find out who is playing, one of my local favorites is Andrea’s Fault who play jazz there every Wednesday evening. Or, you could try all night happy hour on Thursday nights in the bar.

Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” So add a little music to your life, or more music because most of us could probably use more music.

*a shorter version of this story was published in the Cedar Street Times on 19 October 2018

The beauty of making someone’s day

We don’t know the power we possess to brighten someone else’s day.  Not only that, but how easy it is and how important it is.

Today, I found a single bougainvillea tucked in the window of my driver’s side door while my car was parked outside of my gym.  Clearly the person who left this there knows what car I drive and intended (I think, I hope) to make me smile.  Well did it ever!  What an amazing way to start a Monday, a week, any day for that matter.  What’s even more beautiful about doing something kind or thoughtful for someone is that we don’t know what that action means to them or what happened to them that day.

Let me explain.

I love flowers, specifically I love flowers that grow on vines: jasmine, passion flower, bougainvillea, etc. I have a running list of the flowers I will have in my future home and bougainvillea is a resident member of that list (assuming I live somewhere where bougainvillea can thrive, I don’t worry about that, I will).  In Arabic, bougainvillea’s name is majnounay, meaning crazy lady (it is the feminine form of crazy).  I read once in a book that it has that name because the vine blossoms and grows wild like a woman in love.  If you have never seen a bougainvillea in full bloom, it is intoxicating, her beauty knocks the breath out of me every time.

Thank you.

Bougainvillea outside a church on a Greek island – taken while I was visiting with mama & papa B, September 2014

 

What are you passionate about?

After yoga this morning, I went to meet a friend for coffee on my way to work.  I click-clicked on my way in front of the Monterey Post Office as my eyes caught the gaze of a slender, tall gentleman.  He was wearing several layers of clothes and was smoking a cigarette.  “Good morning, Miss,” he called out to me, revealing his one protruding tooth.  “Good morning!” I replied.  “There’s just one thing I want from you today,” he said rather seriously.  “And what is that?” I stopped in front of him.  “Would you please give me a hug?” he asked.  I let my head fall back in laughter and gave him a big bear hug, he held me tightly and whispered “thank you” in my ear.

The yoga instructor had asked us today in class, “What are you passionate about?”  She repeated the question numerous times in the hour-long class and really urged us to think about it, to consider it, to embrace it.  I didn’t have to think too much to know that I am passionate about people.  Put aside allegations of extroversion, introversion, socialitism, etc. – I simply love people.  I love interacting with people, I love emotions, I love when people are passionate, I love opinions, character, feelings, human creation, art.  My interaction with the gentleman this morning was a great practical example of my passion for people.

What are you passionate about?  I hope your passion is attainable in your daily life and that you receive the gift of it today.

Unaware

I’ve often heard people say that we don’t have seasons here in Monterey.  If by “seasons” they mean it doesn’t snow, then yes, we don’t have snow.  But nature is cyclical and even in tropical places or regions of the world with “Mediterranean climates,” like lovely Monterey, there are seasons.  The most obvious way to see the difference in the seasons is to note the changes, leaves on tree, no leaves on tree; long sunny days, short less-sunny days.  Nature needs a break, it needs to grow, to create to bear, to rest – so although we don’t have as drastic changes from season to season, they are there – you just have to be aware. The season changes in every region of the world are fitting to that region’s ecology and environment, or maybe it’s the other way around, the ecology and environment make the seasons change in the way they need.  Or maybe it’s a compromise of both, or something entirely different…

We often walk through life blind to our surroundings.  For years and years I lived in Monterey and was so absorbed with my life (whatever that means) that I didn’t pay attention to the season changes, the differences in the visibility of the stars and the moon in the summer versus the winter, the abundance of fruit in the summer and the baron shrubs and bushes of late-fall.  I have started noticing, however.  I notice the subtle changes daily in the autumn: less day light, a lower hanging sun, a definite change in weather – namely, less fog but more crisp, cool air.  I see squirrels putting away acorns.  It’s amazing! The other day as I was laying out in the midday sun of my driveway, I kept hearing something rustling in the oak tree above me and the sound of things dropping on the ground around me.  I looked up and watched as a squirrel was intentionally knocking acorns from the tree onto the ground. It made me think of something a co-worker had mentioned the week prior, that is, when squirrels put away a lot of acorns in the Fall that means (according to the Farmer’s Almanac) that it’s going to be a wet winter.  Well that makes logical sense!  Plants (seeds) need water to grow and the winter is the wet season, so squirrels act as the oak tree farmers, encouraging the seeds (acorns) to fall on the ground in the Fall and hopefully when the wind and rain comes, they will get some soil (nutrients) and be able to sprout and bring about more oak trees come Spring!  Nature is amazing.  How do the squirrels know?  We don’t need to get too philosophical here…

So I guess all I’m saying here is that if we intentionally make ourselves more aware, there is so much to discover in our surroundings.  I wonder what else I’ve been missing all these years…?

The Sound of Silence

The title of this post is not a reference to the Simon and Garfunkel song, although it is a good song, this post is about the beauty of silence.  What do you think of when you think silence?  I personally think of nature and early mornings but that is probably because I am a morning person.  

Today after my morning walk, I came home and rather than turn on my music (albeit classical) I decided to just make tea and sit outside in silence.  It’s the beginning of autumn and the weather is markedly colder than it has been.  (Colder is a relative term, it was colder for my Monterey.)  I can also tell that the season is changing because coming home from my walk, when I reached the normal landmark that I associate with daylight, it was still dark.  It was so beautiful!  I sat outside with my tea and took in the air crisp – I listened to the sea lions barking off in the distance and I heard birds chirping in the garden next door.  As beautiful as classical music is, I ought not drown out these beautiful, natural sounds that inspire musicians and composers.  I would like to just be in them, be part of them.  I don’t know that we take much time to appreciate the sound of silence in our hyper-connected buzzing and beeping world with text and e-mail notifications, constant blaring music, etc. but I did today and I appreciated it, it calmed me down and reminded me that there is more to life than my iPhone.  I think I want to try to do it more.  I suggest you do, too.