Thursday, August 18, 2011

Licking Your Fingers

“If I had two dead rats, I’d give you one.”

This is one of my husband’s and my shared endearments from one of our favorite cartoonists, B. Kliban. It’s a sort of “for better AND for worse” all rolled up in one, but we mean whatever we have of ourselves, we give it to the other person to share.

My gift this weekend was just a little free time, an entire day without obligations or plans. I was naturally tempted by sloth, my favorite deadly sin. After all, there are a lot of recorded television series episodes on that box under the big screen. A tiny voice from under the big screen says, I’ll be here until you erase me, too.

Other temptations were calling that were more immediate, like the gorgeous weather of the not-quite-summer we’ve had this year. Not that I want to jinx anything, but that great big low pressure swirl off the coast of Washington and Oregon has been a delight for me and brought the mildest of summers with sunshine, cool breezes and temperatures somewhere between perfection and boy-does-that-feel-good. At the risk of violating the no-gloating rule (who on earth makes these rules?) we really have had two good summers in a row with no air-conditioning needed. We still have the rest of August and all of September to go through, which are usually our hottest times here. So I may break a sweat yet.
Victorian Trade Card Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord

With the ideal weather, the answer for the day’s adventure was most certainly, “Out.” I had talked with my friend Maureen Friday who was down from Sebastopol visiting her mother Gerry, our agile window climber buddy. I wanted to deliver a wedding present for Maureen’s daughter that was too bulky to drag to the wedding in the redwoods, a pair of Belleek cups and saucers. Gerry and her two daughters Maureen and Nancy were enjoying a dinner of scrumptious pasta from Napoli’s, a favorite haunt of ours. I didn’t want to stay long but we did get started telling stories about gym classes, teachers and students. As I left, Maureen mentioned the Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol as a possibility for the weekend.

That little conversation resurfaced when the hubs and I were discussing the lack of plans for an entire day of perfect weather, so I suggested that we go.

I love the drive from my house up to Sebastopol. We drive across the marshlands of the Napa delta where there seem to be a huge number of baby snowy egrets this year. They line the ditches and shallows of the delta looking for yummy crawlies wriggling in the mud. They are an elegant bird, their white feathers so purely white, their long black legs carefully stepping to the next spot, their long necks and dagger beaks made for the instant dispatch of the unsuspecting critter. Like gymnasts, they make it look easy. We took back roads to enjoy the countryside, the cows, the deer, the late summer blooms, the dust of dry paths, the breeze through the eucalyptus, redwood and oak.

The Apple Fair is a popular little festival set in a shady oak grove north of Sebastopol. It has a deliciously old-fashioned picnic quality about it, with a hay-bale maze, crates and crates of apples, booths with handmade treasures for sale, fair-food and fairly-good-for-you food. We indulged in a large cup of unfiltered apple juice, an alchemical mixture that is uplifting and grounding at the same time. There were three stages with musical performers but it still wasn’t miserably loud and the music was fun. The Caged Bird Society booth was popular with all the little kids including the little kids my age eager to talk to the birdies, a mackaw, conures, love birds, parrots, all in their party colors.

Just as fascinating were the Bee Society displays including a bee colony under glass and all kinds of honey. Her Highness the Queen Bee did not make an appearance while we were there, but our docents had fascinating bee facts. We found out just a little more information about our “Golden Snitch,” a marvel of nature John and I had both seen while in Costa Mesa in Southern California. That bee was an enormous, gravity-defying all-golden bee which we had first mistaken for a hummingbird due to its size. Our beekeeper friend gave us the name of the professor most likely to be able to identify our “Questing Bee,” another lead to follow up on for another adventure.

When I was certain that I had inspected every booth for its possibilities, I snagged two exquisite lampwork glass fish beads for a very reasonable price and a cute little business card stand from one of the pottery booths. Total damage, not bad at all. John struck up a rugby conversation with a jeweler whose work was interesting but outside my interest to buy. We considered all the possibilities of junk food at the fair, then decided to drive home through Sonoma to stop at my favorite Sonoma Market. Ah, heirloom tomatoes for my salsa, fig spread, brie, a couple of steaks, some little red potatoes and off to home cooking better than fair food. And we had somehow managed to avoid coming home with an apple pie!

Enjoying the view from the Napa River Bridge while stuck in a little bit of slow traffic at the end of our day, we mused on the advantages of our fair city.

“You know, in Vallejo you can buy heirloom tomatoes AND visit your local Hell’s Angels chapter house.”

We have a Hell’s Angels?” I marveled, wide-eyed and always impressed with my husband’s knowledge of local lore. A slow grin and a sly look later and there we were driving past a large no-color building, a fortress closed to the public but plainly marked "Hell's Angels." And in the same block were the Sunday evening church-goers with their pot-luck dishes and high heels and suits and godly intent who waved to us as we smiled at them. Like so many mysteries, they were positioned side by side.

“Wasn’t this just a lovely day?” I said, musing about the 7 of Pentacles, the harvest of realized results.  Not a computer was stirring, not even a mouse. “I think I’ll make some salsa.”


Marcia’s Salsa Recipe

2 really large, “dead ripe” heirloom tomatoes or 3 normal size tomatoes from your garden. Even a whole batch of Sweet 100’s will do if you have those. Regular grocery store tomatoes just won’t do. You can try it, but you won’t be happy. The regular store bought tomatoes make a kind of unappetizing frothy pale pink stuff that is nearly flavorless.

1 large red onion (cut in half, save the other half for the next batch of salsa)

1 fat clove of garlic. Don’t worry. If everyone eats it, you’ll all smell like that.

2-5 Serrano peppers (this is not a wimpy salsa).  Jalapeno peppers are OK, but if you have to substitute, I'd go with Thai Dragons instead.

1 Pasilla pepper (optional but it’s really good if you can find it; you can substitute a banana pepper or even a green bell pepper but having tried them all I really like the Pasilla)

1 lime

1 bunch of fresh cilantro (don’t make a mistake and get the Italian parsley which looks a lot like it)


Coarse-ground black pepper

I used to use one of those hand-cranked plastic affairs I bought at a county fair and realized that Mr. Edison’s idea about electricity was truly inspired. So now I use one of those small electric mini-choppers you can buy at the grocery store. You can do this by hand, but you want to do this in the summer time and I don’t see any reason at all to work up such a sweat when a buzz or two of the mini-chopper will do the trick.

First, the order of ingredients is really important. Most importantly, do not try to chop the onions with one of the tomatoes. It just doesn’t turn out right. Remember, part of reaping results is learning from others’ mistakes. I’m just sayin’.

First, cut the half red onion into chunks that will fit into the chopper. Coarsely chop the Serrano peppers and toss them into the chopper (yes to seeds, no to stems). Smash the garlic clove with the side of your knife, remove the dry skin and slice it into chunks. Toss that into the chopper. IMPORTANT: At no point in this process should you rub your eyes with your hands. Others’ mistakes, etc. Zing that baby up until you can see the little bitty bits of onion, pepper and probably not the garlic. Dump the lot into bowl as the foundation for your salsa.

Next, slice the tomato into to crescent chunks and put them into the chopper. You will have more tomato than will fit into one round of the chopper. That’s ok. Continue to breath normally. Slice the lime in half and squeeze both halves of the lime juice, ever little bit of it, into the chopper with the tomato. Zing until it is a red and soupy loveliness; pour into the bowl over the onions and peppers. Chunk a second round of tomato into the chopper but this time add a teaspoon (oh, who am I kidding? I NEVER measure it; just put in as much as looks right to you) of salt and a generous-as-you-dare portion of black pepper. Zing until soupy and add to the bowl. Add a third round of tomato to the chopper and this time include the fresh cilantro, rinsed off and chopped into coarse chunks (I can tell you’re sensing a theme with this). Zing until soupy with green flecks, nice. Pour into the bowl. Last, if you have any tomato left over, and if you have decent tomatoes you will, pop those in the chopper along with the Pasilla pepper also coarsely chopped, again, yes to seeds, no to stem. Zing away and pour into the bowl. Stir the divinely inspired lava and serve with crispy salted corn chips and perhaps your local fire department standing by.

Also good on chicken, tacos, enchiladas, seared skirt steak, shrimp on the barbie and usually down the front of my t-shirt. Puts color in your cheeks. For medicinal purposes only. And it’s ok to lick your fingers but seriously, don’t rub your eyes.

Best wishes!

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