Ojai Kitchen

I am sitting here looking at a pink-purple sky against faraway mountains. Dusk in Ojai.

Ray and I are staying until tomorrow because we have been busy all day buying materials for a freestanding kitchen that will be nestled between two orange trees near the fire-ring and sitting area. This will be an 8 x 10 structure with tin siding and a tin roof that will be our new center for all cooking operations. It will include a Chambers cooktop and oven, a refrigerator, a three-basin sink, a bank of metal shelves on one wall and cabinets above the oven and on both sides of the sink.

Today we went to Restore in Ventura and found a glass door, a huge window, and the stackable metal cabinets. We already own another window that we’ll also be using so the space ought to be light and airy and pleasant whether it’s hot or cold outside. The stove, fridge and sink also are here in storage so it’s only a matter of moving them from a nearby bin to the kitchen when it’s done.

This will be a great addition to the orange grove. Currently when our kids are here or other friends come, we have to carry everything for cooking over from our Spartan trailer and it takes lots of hauling back and forth to get everything set for a meal. This way, we’ll have a kitchen ten feet from where we’ll be eating and it will be fully functional, which is a far cry from our current situation. At this rate, I might actually have a way to host a big family gathering like Thanksgiving up here. That would be a lot of fun without losing any of the benefits of a full menu.

Gregorio, a man who has worked for us for fifteen years, has already built the platform for the little building and tomorrow will start construction of the walls. That was our other stop today – Lowe’s – where we bought plywood and the wood for framing. We are on our way now. I am so pleased. This has been a dream of our since we bought the orange grove a decade ago. The time is coming when we could actually serve a big meal with the comforts of home. Hooray.

Off to head down the road to post this from my neighbor’s Wifi. I have to hurry, though. It is starting to get dark. Ray had begun to light the candles.


Stretching Time

I am sitting here in Ojai. The kids are gone; it’s just Ray, me, and the dogs. I can hear a mourning dove cooing off in the distance, a bird tweeting in a nearby tree and a car shifting gears on the highway, which is at least two miles away. Cordelia – the Corgie – is asleep on the couch beside me; Sammie – the Scottie – is sacked out on the floor. Ray is outside putting food away in our new/old refrigerator that is in the well pump house where there is electricity. (We are thrilled with this new innovation since we have been living with only an ice chest for all the years – a little over ten – that we have owned this acreage.) The wind is blowing enough to move the limbs on the orange trees, the sun is shining, and the temperature is now dropping down to 68 after being about 74 all day.

This is one of those places where time seems to elongate in the best possible way. Twenty-four hours here feels like a week; forty-eight hours, a month. We are unplugged and disconnected except for the occasional glance at a cell phone to do a Facebook status update and to make sure nothing horrible has occurred in the world, and also once a day I pull out this computer to write a blog piece. But to post I have to walk a quarter of a mile to my neighbor’s house and sit on her patio to pick up Wifi. As you might imagine, I try to have everything written before arriving so I don’t feel like a squatter/stalker once I am over there.

I am so used to going, going and going that being this relaxed moves me to near silence. I have nothing to say really. I just want to sit and enjoy the day. That feels strange, but good. As if my body and brain are letting me know that there is nothing new to add, life is good, plain and simple. Let it suffice to say that I am enjoying this rest. The end of the school year is perfect for this. Everything old is ending; nothing new has started up. An in-between time in a quiet place. Nothing but good can come from that.

I hope your holiday weekend has been equally as enjoyable. Please take time to relax this last evening before the new work-week begins.

I will see you tomorrow.


Ojai for Memorial Day

I am standing by our campfire this evening listening to a frog croak nearby. Liz, Ron, Rachael and Ray are all getting ready for bed. The stars are all out and there is a sliver if a moon. It is quiet and peaceful here.  


Ray and I are staying here for a few days. The kids are leaving sometime tomorrow. It is a treat not to have to rush back home. 

Time slows down here. Probably the absence of electricity. We are not staring at television. Instead this afternoon we all play cards for several hours before doing what needed to be done to prepare dinner and build a fire. This evening we have just sat around the fire and talked. 

Wishing everyone a good Memorial Day weekend. 

May the souls of our soldiers who have given their lives for our country rest in peace.  

Mad Max: Fury Road

We have just returned from seeing Mad Max. Ray hated it; thought it was a waste of time. I, surprisingly, thought it was pretty good for the type of movie it is, which is pretty much one huge monster truck chase after another. Still, I have to say that I thought Charlize Theron stole the show with her portrayal of a character who has a calm demeanor coupled with badass strength. Tom Hardy does a fine job as Max, the loner who is tormented with flashbacks of his family’s demise. Together they form the backbone of the film, which is all about survival in the worst of times.

Critics love this film, which is why Ray and I went to see a movie that is so far afield from either of our usual movie preferences. I have heard or read at least 3 rave reviews from film critics I respect. I haven’t seen the other Mad Max films, which surely puts me at a disadvantage in terms of assessing how much better or worse this one is versus the others. However, I can say that as far as films of this type go, this was right up there in the stunt, chase, and tension-producing department. The visual effects were impressive, the sound track compelling and the chemistry between Theron and Hardy palpable.

This movie is for a particular type of film-goer, most likely those fans of the past Mad Max movies. For those of you who fall in that category, I believe I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. For those of us who are not so much into this type of action adventure/chase film, I would suggest you find a quieter, more contemplative movie to spend your money on. But if you are with people who truly want to see this movie, then go ahead and see it. You might find yourself unexpectedly drawn into the story and worried about the fates of the main characters.

I will certainly not need to see Mad Max a second time, but it was undeniably quite a show. But do not go if you’re hoping for catchy dialogue or a deep storyline. Those two aspects are missing from this film. Instead, you will get some of the best visual effects you’ve seen in a very long time and perhaps find yourself wondering how you might survive in a futuristic dystopic world where people are forced to band together to protect themselves against marauders and despots. Certainly a question worth contemplating.

To go or not to go? That is a question only you can answer.


5-Star Recipe: Chocolate Eclair Cake

This recipe comes from America’s Test Kitchen, and even after I modified it to use agave syrup rather than refined sugar it is still awesome. The combination of homemade pudding with whipped cream, graham crackers and chocolate syrup creates such a wonderful taste blend that the only word that does it justice is delicious. This is also a make-ahead cake, which is great as well.

I am including the original recipe, but will add my notes along the way.

Chocolate Eclair Cake

America’s Test Kitchen

Serves 12-15

1 1/4 c. sugar (I used the same amount of agave syrup)

6 tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. salt

5 c. whole milk (I used nonfat dry milk here)

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks

5 tsp. vanilla extract

2 tbsp. water

1 1/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin

2 3/4 c. heavy cream, chilled, divided

1 box honey graham crackers

1 c. semisweet chocolate chips (I used freshly grated dark chocolate here)

5 tbsp. light corn syrup (I used agave syrup)

1. Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk milk into sugar mixture until smooth and bring to boil (medium high heat), whisking frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching.

2. Once mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat to medium low and cook, whisking frequently for about five minutes, until mixture thickens.

3. Turn off the heat and add butter chunks and vanilla. Whisk until smooth and then transfer pudding to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate for at least two hours.

4. After pudding has chilled, stir water and gelatin together in a small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Then, microwave for 15 seconds. Set aside.

5. Whip 2 cups of the cream (THIS IS NOT THE WHOLE AMOUNT OF CREAM IN THE RECIPE) with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Pour about a tablespoon of cream into the gelatin mixture and stir – this will keep it from clumping when added. Add gelatin in a thin but steady stream while beating cream. Continue to beat another minute until stiff peaks form. Soft peaks mean when you lift the mixer the cream comes off it like the way a kid draws an ocean wave – stiff peaks means it makes a point that doesn’t list to the the side at all.

6. Whisk a third of the cream into the chilled pudding, then scoop the rest of the cream on top and fold it in gently using a rubber spatula.

7. To make glaze, microwave chocolate chips (or shaved chocolate), remaining 3/4 c. cream and corn syrup (or agave syrup) for about 1 minute. Whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool about 10 minutes.

8. Line a 9×13 baking dish with graham crackers, breaking them to fit if necessary. Scoop half of the pudding/cream mixture onto graham crackers and smooth with an offset or rubber spatula.

9. Top with a second layer of graham crackers, then spread the rest of the cream mixture evenly on top.

10. Top the cream with the remaining graham crackers.

11. Drizzle glaze over the top layer of graham crackers and smooth to cover, if necessary. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 or up to 24 hours. Cake will keep, refrigerated, up to 2 days.

I can’t say enough about how tasty this cake is.  If you try it, please let me know what you think.  I am confident that you will be as impressed as I am.




Visitors in Ojai

We have just returned from an overnight visit to Ojai. We had the pleasure of having two visitors while we were there: Rachael and Luna. This was possible because Sarah is currently working nights and Gregorio had a graduate class on Wednesday night so Rachael was able to bring Luna up for the night.

We had a lot of fun first going to the beach in Ventura and then heading to the orange grove for turkey hot dogs, barbecue beans and potato salad. We all slept in the Spartan Manor – Luna and Rachael on our bed and Ray and I on a bed we made on the floor in the front room. (We decided we ought to give the more comfortable bed to our guests.) This morning we had freshly squeezed orange juice and bowls of oatmeal before Rachael. Luna and I headed off for a hike at the Nature Conservancy. (Ray felt he needed to stay back and work on the land.) After returning, we ate lunch and Rachael and Luna headed home to see Luna’s mom, who was just waking up from her day-time sleeping after her overnight shift at the hospital.

We had a wonderful time together. Ray and I are always pleased when one of our kids makes the trek up to Ojai, and we have also been looking forward to the day that our grandchild could come up to stay with us, too. It helps that all of our kids and their husband/boyfriends love the orange grove, too. Not everyone in life is an outdoors person, but all of us are. I am happy about that.

We are planning another trip this weekend for Sunday and Monday since it’s Memorial Day. Liz and Ron and Rachael are definitely coming; Sarah and Gregorio and Luna have to make sure that Mom and Dad aren’t too tired to make the trek. We will see.

Off I go to bed now. I got home in time to see a student for 2 1/2 hours for last-minute end-of-school projects. Now I am ready to crawl into bed and relax.

Sleep well, my friends. I’ll check back in tomorrow.

A Different Angle of the Orange Grove with a Few of the Oaks We have Planted

orange grove

 Ventura Beach

Ventura better

At the store, stocking up

group bettetr

 Rachael and Luna

r and l

Lessons from Two Masters

I just finished helping a student finish his 10 page term paper on how Edith Wharton’s and Tennessee Williams’ lives inspired Ethan Frome and The Glass Menagerie. The truth is that both of their lives are right there on those pages, disguised as other people dealing with problems of guilt, abandonment, thwarted dreams and societal pressures.

Edith Wharton wrote of a loveless marriage just as she was experiencing her own loveless marriage. Tennessee Williams wrote of the abandonment of an emotionally fragile sister after he felt as if he had abandoned his own.

I am aware that much of the fiction I write has common themes from my life. I am intrigued by addiction, family dysfunction, feelings of abandonment and the importance of naming the truth at least from one perspective. What does that tell you about my life? Probably all you need to know. I have spent most of my adult life dealing with my childhood experiences with all the above. I suspect most of us have a variation of that list, depending on how healthy versus unhealthy our people were. In my case, they were good people with a tendency to drown their sorrows, which lead to a propensity to be more comfortable with surface appearances and not tackle underlying feelings that might cause a fuss. I have had to learn to get comfortable with the messiness of honesty and the accompanying discomfort that often comes from looking squarely at a problem and not pretending it doesn’t exist. Alas…I am still working on all of that.

The gist is that I learn a lot from helping my high school AP English students with their papers. I learn that very famous writers often don’t stray too far from their own backyards when chronicling the pain and uncertainty of life. That is a great lesson to learn for anyone who aspires to write anything from a good email to a novel.

On that note, I believe I’ll bid you all adieu. All that analysis has made me a little tired. Time to head upstairs, get ready for bed and spend some quality time doing nothing but staring at television.

I hope your day went well and your evening is going even better.

See you tomorrow, my friends. Rest well.