29 July 2009

First of Many

Obviously there are the daily howdies. The sharing of sugar, flour and eggs. The occasional dog walking sorts of favors and chit chatting on the front stoop to digest the humdrum of our days. But there is one thing about neighboring that doesn't occur to the mind immediately upon moving in: that someday you'll co-host a dinner party together with your two kitchens, your two sinks, your two sets of plates and forks and knives. And that together, the two of you will maneuver a cart full of produce around the Berkeley Bowl and gather a mix of friends to feast upon it--two sets of hands at the helm of the ship, steering it toward the dusky table where masterfully, you'll feed the people.

With a little planning last weekend, Marianne and I did just that in the second half of a Sunday afternoon. Chopping vegetables and finding ways to prep things for grilling in our rather cozy kitchen was challenging, but also meditative; washing dishes between rinsing mint and pots balancing on stools, for instance.

No matter how much you think about setting the table, I love when you can count on the guests to contribute top-shelf costume elements to the mix. That orange pattern pictured was a jumpsuit Nicole wore, and she may as well have overtaken that small vase of daisies as our centerpiece.

It was the first time we've played host to so many people at once, now with the expanded space of our backyard to use. And we billed it as a trial run for our grill, which newly functions thanks to some rigging. On both counts, it was quite a success, as the grill carried on like a champ and our otherwise huge table felt perfectly sized, and we settled in elbow-to-elbow over some of the finest food of my summer.

The menu was changing up until the last minute, but at last count featured: White Sangria; Goat Cheese with Roasted Garlic dip; New Potato Salad with Salsa Verde, Grilled Corn & Shaved Fennel; Panzanella; Red Onion, Eggplant, Zuchini, Mushroom & Lemon wedge skewers with Red Pepper Pumpkin Seed Slather; and for dessert, a Gingersnap Mascarpone tart topped with stone fruits and fresh mint.

26 July 2009

House Guests

Living in a Destination City, for me, has been a new experience. Philadelphia, for some reason, fails to attract vacationers' attention like the Bay Area and though some people came to visit us while we lived there, they were more interested in quality time with us than in the Liberty Bell.

Since moving here last fall, on the other hand, we've hosted six friends on our couch and seen several others while they were in town. Even after all this traffic, I still don't feel like I know how to entertain them, aside from going to the Berkeley Bowl to buy produce with abandon and drinking beers in the middle of the day and driving to the beach. Most of my friends by now are happy with this simple plan, but I hope that at some point I can add some other tricks to the repertoire. If you're looking for a vacation that revolves around meals and lying around, we will be sure to show you a helluva time. If you're hoping for a tour guide, I'm not sure what to tell you.

This last go around, we had two favorites in town: Kathleen of Astoria, and Mary Wegmann, soon to be of Portland. They are easy going sorts of friends.

Mostly we employed the usual tactics: a hike to the albany bulb, a drive to the coast, Burmese food to die for and a picnic apiece. Mary Wegmann brought some fresh beer from Wynkoop in Colorado, a peppery brew which we enjoyed thoroughly.

With Kathleen, John arranged for a particularly eventful event: a headless dead bird fell out of our tree, while the two were sitting in the chairs in our backyard. After exclaiming thoroughly at the insanity of it, they gave the poor guy a proper burial, not before documenting the unlikely, unsightly thing. I'm not sure this sort of thing will ever become a regular on the Mary-and-John-Oakland-celebrity-tour, but for Kathleen, a bird enthusiast, it was certainly a notable occurrence. And one you will not find in any guidebook. Here is a snapshot, but beware it is a bit graphic.

I think we'll stick to the easy going sort of hosting duties, feeding and sheltering and the like. That way, the unexpected headless birds have room to fall from the sky and you'll quite possibly have a perfectly unbelievable story to tell the folks back home. What more could you want in vacation?

15 July 2009

Kaleidoscope Weekender

You can't plan being this technicolor, but when it happens it makes you feel like you're on fire. Like the momentum of your life is unstoppable, like everything is going to work out and like you are at the center of it all. But then again, maybe your new orange sweater is just stealing all the light.

On Saturday Marianne, pictured above, made me the most amazing meals I've eaten in recent memory, also pictured above. They were bursting with summer's vegetal bounty, in all shades of yellow and orange and green. And they tasted as much, if not more.

12 July 2009

Like That

Although we've been undertaking plenty of projects lately, we've also taken whole days off to relax in honor of the various mid summer holidays, including the Fourth of July, Pride weekend and the like. These swatches of uninterrupted leisure time have yielded a few photos here and there, but very little to report. Mostly I think, with my new routine of steady employment, I'm more comfortable putting my feet up and sitting in the sunshine than I have been in quite a while.

As anyone who has struggled with the cruel ritual of job hunting can tell you, the hardest part about not working is not the lack of paycheck. Not the depression. Not the feeling that you're less than human. But rather the feeling that you never stop working, that there's no end in sight, that you're constantly engaged in the process of sending out resumes and waiting for responses and hoping. That standing obligation to convince others of what you know you can do is one of the more exhausting conditions of nowaday.

And so I find myself in the very middle of summer, with a rather lovely excuse to stop all of that, for the first time in a year. I find myself feeling more like myself again, a person who lives to enjoy the present tense. Working, sometimes, is a beautiful thing like that.

02 July 2009

All I Can Think About

Is the dinner parties to come! John put the finishing touches on our measure it, 96 inch! picnic table yesterday. That's seating for 10 at least, 12 if we're cozy. Since moving into our miniature apartment last fall, I've been dreaming of hosting outdoor style dining events but haven't had the furniture to turn that dream into a reality.

But Saturday we joined the tool library, and checked out a jigsaw (they were out of circular saws), which made the sawing a whole lot easier. And Sunday we bought materials and started cutting all the wood to size, and then a little every day after work we kept working on it, through several snags in our directions, until yesterday when John championed it and finished it without me in the middle of the day.

That's all salvaged wood, which came in way under the budget I'd made for Fresh From Home Depot lumber and I love the variations in the top. We may seal it up one of these days but since it so seldom rains out here, we're not in any rush.

ps. Ryan requested a "full body shot" so I'm adding it here. I'm a sucker for close ups, and so sometimes forget the bigger picture. My bad.