Sunday, October 30, 2016

Hayrides: One of the Best Things of Life

Sunshine, walking, love: some of the best things in life are free.

A new roof, new flooring, and new windows throughout The House: some of the other best things in life are super expensive.

I should know: we've spent the past two months getting a new roof, new flooring, and new windows, which have been great but also pricey. With all those costly projects done, the next pricey thing on our list was redoing the bathroom.

Mr. Wonderful and I are famous for agreeing to start a DIY project, but even more famous for disagreeing on how to complete a project.

Enter the hayride.

Hayrides exist on the best-things-in-life-spectrum somewhere between walking in the free sunshine and redoing your roof for a humongo hefty price tag. Rather than spend another day roaming home improvement stores to compare and contrast tile, sinks, and facet fixtures that we would never agree on anyway (He likes the gray one; I like the leopard print one), we opted to ditch the DIY bathroom reconnaissance and get into the season by going on a hayride.

"What's so great about a hayride?" my spouse said bouncing our DD (Dear Daughter) on his knee.
"You go on a hayride to get bumped, jostled, and get hay in your hair."
He cocked his head. "Like I said: what's so great about a hayride?"

This hayride reached paramount importance when I realized that neither Mr. Wonderful nor our DD had experienced a hayride. There was only one thing to do.

Jump on a wagon, have a tractor pull us through a cornfield, and drape myself in a pumpkin.

Okay, so there wasn't one but several things to do. And in the picture below, that's not a pumpkin but a gooseneck gourd, which was lovely and funny at the same time. That's my kind of squash.

Most importantly, Mr.Wonderful and DD experienced an awesome, cheap hayride full of bumps, jostling, and hay in our hair. We laughed the whole time. After stopping the tractor in a grassy field full of gourds, the tractor driver announced that we could pick out our own pumpkin. My heart sank. Mr. Wonderful and I couldn't agree on anything at the home improvement store, how were we going to pick out a pumpkin for our family? 

I surveyed the hundreds of pumpkins in the field and bit my lip. "Which pumpkin... do you want?"
"The orange one," he said with a smile.  I gave him a high five and we let DD pick it out.

WOW. If choosing bathroom tile, faucets, and fixtures were this easy The House would have been completely redone six months after we bought it! Needless to say, before we venture out again to shop for new bathroom accoutrements, I'm taking all of us on a hayride because we can agree that some of the best things in life are cheap.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Doing the Bourbon Trail

“How do you want your Bourbon?”
“Straight up.”
“Girl, you know what you’re doing?”
“Oh. Yes.”

As most of the planet knows, I’m a wine drinker—through and through. I could drink—and have drunk—wine morning, noon, and night. But I am not an I-drink-wine-only snob. Indeed, I imbibe other beverages like water and Bourbon. Although I never drink water and Bourbon together.

Needing a break from the month-long roof work that was done on The House, Mr. Wonderful, our DD, and I took off on an adventure: exploring Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. Admittedly we did it not for our little DD, but for him and me. But she came along anyway and drew in coloring books, while we sipped Bourbon here, there, and everywhere. 

For those of you wondering what makes Bourbon, “Bourbon” the U.S. government decided that it must contain at least 51% corn mash, be aged in new barrels, and when drunk, put hair on your chest. All the Bourbons we drank fit that description.

We visited several distilleries beginning with Maker’s Mark, the popular Bourbon with the white, red, and black label. The distillery’s campus is uniformly beautiful with all the buildings painted in white, red, and black. Even the gardens were lush in white, red, and black plants. Don’t ask me how they did the black plants. But when they choose a theme, they really carry it. All. The way. Through. 

Bourbon is aged in barrels which are stored in a facility called a rickhouse, and the one at Maker’s Maker was stunning. The glass flowered ceiling was made by the same artist who decorated the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas, minus the fountains because... water and Bourbon don't mix.

We also toured Woodford Reserve and its limestone buildings were as was as stunning as its Bourbon was delicious. Now that distillery is a personal favorite for both architecture and Bourbon flavor.

We had a fabulous guide and tour at the Buffalo Trace Distillery, which makes the best Bourbon of them all: Pappy Van Winkle. 

We didn’t taste the Pappy, but we discovered a new beverage: Bourbon Cream. It’s like Baileys Irish Cream but creamier, smoother, and so much better because it doesn’t mix water with Bourbon. Be forewarned: this Bourbon Cream is my new go-to hospitality gift, after dinner drink, and favorite ingredient in an adult root beer float! De-lish!

We had a great time touring the Bourbon Trail. It was fun, delicious, and gave us the break we needed before embarking on our next little home-improvement project: redoing the whole bathroom. Maybe I can survive this latest project, if I have a glass of Bourbon Cream. Or two. Thank you, Bourbon Trail! To My Old Kentucky Home!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Italian Recipe--that's NOT Pasta

When talking about food, say the word "Italian", and everyone thinks pizza, pasta or pizza-pasta-presto! But after spending the summer cooking and baking countless recipes from the Italian cook book--Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan--I've learned a bunch of recipes that are not pizza, pasta or pizza-pasta-presto!

In short, if you want to be creative and make any dish Italian, make sure it has Parmesan cheese, cream, and plenty of butter. Ecco! Instant dinner Italiano! Like the following one...

Here is the recipe for Creamy Parmesan Peas that I have been making all summer. Mr. Wonderful loves it.

2 cups heavy willing cream
1 teaspoon unsalted/sweet butter
1 half onion diced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups cooked (or frozen peas that have been thawed) peas

1) in a saucepan over medium high heat bring the cream to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat down to a simmer until the cream has decreased in volume making it thick.

2) In a separate frying pan, melt the butter and add the onion. Cook until the onions are soft but not brown.

3) Add the cooked onion and the Parmesan cheese to the cream stirring to blend well.

4) Add the peas stirring well to blend the entire mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Presto! It's manga-mangia time! Buon appetito!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Big Giveaway

They say it's better to give than to receive. And lately we've been giving a lot of... Tomatoes!

This year our little, uber fertile garden patch has produced a bumper crop of tomatoes that has been delicious and worth sharing.

We've got tomatoes up to our eyeballs and coming out of our ears, nose and hair follicles. So all our neighbors got some--twice--as did many of our friends, and even some acquaintances. I even had to buy bags to give away our free tomatoes. These tomatoes are costing me money!

The difference this year, was that 1) The plants produced more fruit per plant; and 2) Mr. Wonderful and I had a little helper in the tomato patch. Our Dear Daughter loved helping us pick the tomatoes for others, although she frequently took a bite out of every tomato she picked. Which is okay because we have so many tomatoes! Tomatoes! TOMATOES!

Hoping your garden is providing you a bounty!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?--The Contractor Episode

I need you. I love you. I'll do anything you want. 

There are no words sweeter to the ear. And lately I've been hearing them a lot.

It started with Mr. Wonderful whispering them to me, which is a good thing because I'm still crazy about him. So I'm glad he still likes me. Sort of.

Actually what Mr. Wonderful said in a hoarse voice while squeezed between the washing machine and the wall was: "I need you to hand me the Phillips screwdriver." When I gave him a tool, he said: "I'd love if you could ID a Phillips screwdriver." And when I dug through his tool box messing up its neat order, he said: "I'll do anything you want just leave my tools alone."

The trick to living with your spouse in a fixer upper house while fixing it up is having selective hearing. Which I do. Which is also probably why our relationship is still going. Which it is.

I need you. I love you. I'll do anything you want. 

But these honeyed words were also being bandied about by the roof company salesmen. Having someone else do our roof work, you say? Oh Mr. Wonderful did not come to this decision easily. For months he contemplated by himself removing our old roof by himself and laying a new one by himself. He even figured how many vacation days he'd need to do such a mammoth job. When I pointed out the summer weather forecast for the next four weeks and how our corner of L.A. would make Satan's home seem frigid, he decided that someone else could do the roof work. My man's the smartest!

Being a committed DIY-er though, he just didn't want the roof removed and the same type of roof put on. Oh no! He wanted a U.S. Department of Energy-approved "Cool Roof" installed to reflect the sun, keep our home cooler without using the air conditioning, and bring us world peace.

Diligently he met with various roofing company salesmen, showed them the job, and compared their quotes. They all said the same thing, "I need you. I love you. I'll do anything you want." But when fast-talking Roof Salesman #5 added that he could do the work for a fraction of the cost that the others had said, Mr. Wonderful believed him.

"Do you really want this fast-talking guy to put on our new roof?" I said making a cheese and cracker tray with one hand and balancing the baby in the other.
"He was the cheapest," my spouse said.
"But is he the best?"
"He's the best at being the cheapest," he said signing on the dotted line.

The guy was also the best at being the smarmiest. I need you. I love you. I'll do anything you want. But I won't write it in a contract.

Verbally the man agreed to the Cool Roof and its special specs that the DOE and Mr. Wonderful wanted. But on paper, this fast-talking Roof Salesman left lots of contractual loopholes to allow him to squeeze us everywhere for more moolah. It was a horrible feeling. So after being on the job for 48 hours, Mr. Wonderful did the only thing the contract allowed: he fired him.

But the fast-talking Roof Salesman's company was not doing the actual work. Oh, no! Instead it had hired a Contractor to have his workmen do the job and these workmen were already halfway done removing our old roof. When the firing happened, the work stopped, at which point we had a roof of exposed wooden boards. That's it. And it was the hottest part of July. So is my man smarter than a 5th grader? Maybe.

Hearing about the firing, the Contractor stepped up and said he could help us finish the job. He told us the magic words: I need you. I love you. I'll do anything you want. I'll just never see you. 

"Do you really want this mystery guy to put on the new roof?" I asked tossing a salad with one hand and holding the baby with the other.
"He's honest," my spouse said before hiring the guy via the telephone.

The guy was honestly the worst because Mr. Wonderful had never met him since said Contractor worked out of Lake Tahoe, which is eight hours away by car and on another planet from our roof. So after 48 hours Mr. Wonderful fired him. When the firing happened, the work stopped again, at which point we still had a roof of exposed wooden boards. At this point I realized the average bunny rabbit was smarter than my man.

But the Contractor was not doing the actual work on our roof. Oh, no! He had hired Sub-Contractors and they were the ones standing atop The House, risking their lives, to install the roof which had been completely stripped down to wooden boards. In the record-breaking August heat all we had between us and the fierce sun were a couple of thin, wooden boards. And I realized OMG: a cactus is smarter than my man.

Hearing about the firing, the Sub-Contractor stepped up offering to finish the job for us with the magic words: I need you. I love you. I'll do anything you want. I've just never done this before. 

"Do you really want this newbie guy to put on our new roof?" I asked stirring marinara sauce with one hand while holding the baby in the other.
"Better a new guy than an old one," Mr. Wonderful said hiring the newbie via text.

And this new guy was the best idea. He worked hard because it was his first managing gig, yet after five years of installing roofs, he knew what he was doing with Cool Roofs, and his crew followed his directions to a T. They shuffled the old roof tiles into the dumpster, installed the DOE-approved insulation, the special paper, the flashings, and laid the new super reflective tiles. They all did outstanding work. Oh my goodness! My spouse is so smart for hiring them. I never doubted my man!

At the end of the three and a half week job I walked inside our newly roofed house and realized the cool tiles did reflect the sun; and they did insulate the house from the heat, keeping our home a pleasant 76 degrees F without the air conditioning. Amazing.

However I'm still waiting for world peace.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Italian Food--Eat Your Heart Out

It's the heart of summer.
It's triple-digit hot.
So of course it's time to cook Italian food over the stove.

After the trip of a lifetime to Italy this spring, I promised to cook Italian this summer. I decided to learn to cook from the best, Marcela Hazan, and her cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking full of essential, need-to-know recipes of, well the classic dishes of Italian cooking.

Update: I have made over three dozen recipes from Marcela's book.

Newsflash: Marcela does not disappoint.

Newsflash P.S.: My jeans are getting snug because I am eating so much good food but still! I cannot stop cooking and eating Italian!

I made and ate Marcela's fresh carrot salad (Directions: shred the carrots, toss them with salt, olive oil, and lemon.)  Verdict: Amazing. It will re-energize your love for carrots.

I made and ate her Cubed Eggplant (Directions: Soften eggplant; Cube eggplant; Eat eggplant.) Verdict: Fabulous. It will make you ask: "Eggplant, where have you been my whole life?"

I got so inspired by Italian food that I veered from Marcela to experiment on my own. In an effort to get my daughter to eat more vegetables, I made creamy peas. Instead Mr. Wonderful and I arm-wrestled over who would eat her peas. It was our first argument in years. If you want to make this recipe, be sure to double it.

I made and ate a tomato and fennel hot casserole twice. It was so good I only remembered to take a picture after I'd eaten most of it the second time. Verdict: It's the best way to enjoy all this summer's tomato bounty.

I've made more dishes, but right now the kitchen and Marcela are calling me to get back to cooking and eating. So until next time, friends: Buon Appetito!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Thanks for the Memories

The sun is shining, the pool water is 78 degrees, and there aren’t any home improvement projects on the horizon. Ahhh. Finally a relaxing day in our suburban California paradise. Here I come pool! What, I thought, could spoil this idyll? 

“You should replace your roof,” our 86 year-old neighbor called out from the perch of his lawn chair.
“Good morning, Harold,” I said plucking the newspaper from the driveway. “But our roof is fine.” 
“Your roof’s at least seven years old,” he said eyeing the shingles on our house as if he were a California Highway Patrol stopping a drunk driver on St. Patrick’s Day. Ever since Christmastime when Harold and Norma had gotten a new roof for their house, the 86 year-old had become the self-styled expert at home coverings doling out advice as he saw fit. Like now. “You should replace it.”
“Thanks, Harold, but it’s fine.”
“Oh,” he shrugged. “You want your roof to fall in? Well that’s your business.”

Months ago when the fear and excitement of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino was sweeping California bringing promises of wet weather and an end to the drought, a bajillion Golden State homeowners got their roofs redone. You couldn’t walk down a street where there wasn’t at least half a dozen homes getting their roofs stripped and re-shingled. Harold and Jean were two such eager homeowners. Since our elderly neighbors had witnessed the entire history of our house from our moving in day stretching back to the California Gold Rush, we asked them how old our roof was. 

“It was just redone,” Harold had said at the time. “About a year or two before you got here.” Which comforted us, giving Mr. Wonderful and me the confidence not to re-roof our house in the pre-El Nino rush. 

But now in one morning stroll to fetch the paper, our roof had aged becoming seven years old? Hmmm. Maybe Harold’s memory was off?

Taking the baby out for a walk I saw our 85 year-old neighbor in the driveway.
“Afternoon, Norma—”
“Harold’s wrong about the age of your roof,” she said hauling grocery bags out of her car.  
“Excuse me?”
“You roof’s at least ten years old.”

I found this nugget of information disturbing for several reasons: 1) Our neighbors discussed our roof’s history when we weren’t present; 2) Kids grow up fast, but our roof was aging faster than my child; 2) and 3) I still wanted to get in the pool but the pressure of buying a new roof was inserting cracks into my perfect summer idyll. Maybe Norma’s memory was off?

By the time I returned from the park with a sleepy baby, I saw both our elderly neighbors standing in their front yard, with another man wearing a fedora, staring at our house.  

“Hi Harold, Norma—”
“This is my brother, Steve,” Norma said hitching her thumb towards the hat-wearer in their threesome.
“And they’re both wrong,” Stephen said. “Your roof is over 25 years old.”
“What?! But they said—”
“Forget what we said,” Harold said tapping his head. “The memory is going. For both of us.”

And in one fell swoop my perfect summer day became frenzied with googling “new roofs”, “shingle roofs”, and “cool roofs”. So much for enjoying our pool. The idyll was gone. Arrrggggg. Harold and Norma, thanks for your memories.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yankee Doodle Dandy Easy Pasta Sauce

Happy Fourth of July! The day we celebrate all-American things like independence, fireworks, barbecues, and ... pasta?

Yes, in my Summer of Italian... Food Porn, even the most American of holidays has an Italian food connection. And of course it's pasta.

In the 1700's young British men of the wealthy classes traveled to Italy to polish off their formal education and to make them more worldly. On this so called Grand Tour they hiked the ruins of Rome, explored the pleasures of Venice, and ate the latest pasta dishes of the Boot peninsula, which in the 18th century, was macaroni.

Returning to England, these young men were enamored with all things Italian: the rip-roaring history; the high fashion with tall, decorated wigs; the classical architecture; and the delicious food... like macaroni. To be fair, anything would taste delicious to young Britons raised on Marmite and haggis. But I digress. Other older, less worldly Britons liked England being English and derided these internationally-minded young men as foppish dandies before the label "foppish dandy", existed so they took to calling them "Macaronis". Sort of like how we call today's instagram-ing, bacon-loving population under 35, "Hipsters".

In the 1700's, the British in Britain looked down on American colonists as being uneducated, rough-around-the-edges and home-spun. I mean, who did these colonists think they were trying to fight a war against the mighty British army? Therefore, during the American Revolution, British troops made up a song to make fun of this uncouth American.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it Macaroni

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy 
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

The song posits that the American Yankee thinks he can be a classy Macaroni just by putting a feather in his cap. How ridiculous! If he wants to be a Macaroni, he needs to go to Italy and see those sights, wear that fashion, eat that delicious food! 

When the American soldiers heard the song they LOVED it, dismissing the derision and embracing the plucky, rough-around-the-edges Yankee who took on, and beat the grand British army for American independence! 

In honor of the daring pasta-loving attitude of our Yankee Doodle I have an Easy Pasta Sauce recipe for your next pasta meal of linguine or fettuccine (but not macaroni!). Of course it has tomatoes, which are very American:

Yankee Doodle Easy Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove of garlic (chopped fine)
1/2 a large onion (white, yellow or red chopped fine)
28 ounces (794 grams) tomatoes or tomato sauce (I use a sauce can from Trader Joe's)
1/2 cup full/heavy cream (for whipping)
Parmesan cheese (grated)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add the onions; once the onions are soft (3-4 minutes), add the garlic (2 more minutes). Add the tomatoes or tomato sauce. Once this is warm (2-3 minutes), add the cream. Stir thoroughly (2-3 minutes). Pour over freshly boiled and drained pasta. Sprinkle with a spoonful of Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. 

Buon Appetite, Yankee Macaronis!

Finally, in honor of this American Day of Independence I continue my annual tradition of reading the (surprisingly short!) Declaration of Independence today. Here is a link to this bold Declaration of Independence that was signed in Philadelphia on this day 240 years ago. 

Happy Birthday America! 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

My Summer of Italian... Food Porn

I went to Italy.
I saw Italy.
My tastebuds were conquered by Italy.

After a fantastic writer's residency at Tuscany's Lemon Tree House and a fun-filled family vacation in Italy, my body may be back in Southern California, but my taste buds aren't. To stay nothing of my soul, which is still dining at the Piazza Navona, lingering in Vatican City, and floating  somewhere along the Arno. At. The. Same. Time. So even though I'm here in L.A., I'm still there in Italia eating the pici pasta, the paper thin pizzas, and luscious gelatos. Fior di latte flavor anyone?

I long to be in Italy so I will do the next best thing--cook, eat, and drink like I'm still there.

Every year I get a cookbook and cook, bake and concoct the heck out of it. I've done this with French, Greek, and raw food cuisines. Although the summer of my raw food I didn't cook at all, which was--a-hem--the whole point to the "raw" food cookbook in the first place.

But this summer is my Summer of Italian food and I'll be learning from the best: Marcella Hazan, the Italian cookbook author who married an Italian, and lived in New York City for decades. With her books, namely, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking she is the go-to source for high-quality, pure Italian recipes. Even Mario Batali returns to her cookbooks again and again.

I like Mario, and Italian men. But I love Marcella.

Marcella's recipes are simple, wholesome and delicious. The only thing I don't like about her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking--and this is a teeny, tiny fribble quibble: There aren't any pictures.

So this summer I will read her cookbook, make her recipes, and take pictures of them for your reading and dining inspiration pleasure. Get ready for Italian Food Porn!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Mr. Wonderful Leaves

I can't believe it happened.
I didn't see it coming.
Mr. Wonderful has disappeared.

At first the home repairs slowed. Then the trips to the home improvement store stopped. Now he's left the building entirely. Why? Because he's outside playing with our daughter. Drawing with sidewalk chalk, pushing her in the Cozy Coupe car, pretending to eat vegetables with her.

Friends, it has happened: Mr. Wonderful has morphed into Papa.

The House has never looked as unfinished as it does now but he's never been happier. Is there a correlation between not doing DIY projects and being happy? Or is it more that he is just thrilled to be a father? The House, all home improvement store stock holders and I are betting (praying) it's the latter and he'll start back on the home improvement projects soon. Although not today. Today is his day.

Wishing all the fathers, dads, and papas a very Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Traveling Italy... with a Toddler

Italy is full of ancient history, delicious food, and romantic walks. Going there is the trip of a lifetime for a couple.

But if you happen to be traveling through the boot with a toddler, like we did recently, be prepared to split your days between the traditional highlights and Toddler Activity Time (TAT).

I scheduled it so that all museum visits happened during her afternoon nap time. While she sawed wood in her stroller, we got to see the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel (gorgeous), the Uffizi Gallery, and the Accademia in Florence (David is a hunk). But to get her to nap we had to let her spend the rest of the day pursuing Toddler Activities to wear her out, like: Chasing pigeons in Florence.

Chasing pigeons at the Vatican.

Lying on the floor of St. Peter's Basilica and playing with mama's shoes because chasing pigeons is a tiring activity. 

While traveling with a toddler you must accept the fact that she will want to see John Keats and Percy Shelley at their house ("Knock, knock!"), even though they left the building two hundred years ago.  

Realize that your toddler is watching everything you do from speaking Italian, to looking both ways before crossing the street, to holding onto the pole during metro rides. So set a good example and she will follow.

Italians love children and they go ga-ga over toddlers. Our toddler gave high fives (batti cinque) to countless Italian children, parents, and adults. Every waiter we had fell over themselves to help out with our toddler, which was a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, although every Italian restaurant has a high chair (seggiolone), embrace the fact that for your toddler, no seat is as comfortable as your lap. Even while dining at the Pantheon. 

Enjoy the beautiful Italian architecture, even when you're stuck at the playground... for three hours.

Be comfortable skipping the hip Art Gallery and let her watch street performers instead. She'll have more fun, which means you will too. 

Traveling through Italy with a toddler takes planning, patience, and a love of travel. But will our toddler remember this trip to Italy? Maybe she'll remember the feelings of happiness that she, my husband and I all felt there. Maybe she'll remember the hugs. But will she remember seeing the Pantheon? St. Peter's? All those pigeons? Probably not. But I will. For a long, long time. 

So if you are debating whether to take that big trip to Italy with a toddler--or elsewhere--do it. It will provide challenges, there will be meltdowns, but there will be so much joy. It just may be the trip of a lifetime... for your family.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thank You For Your Service

I don't meet military personnel enough.
I don't see veterans often enough.
I definitely don't say it enough.

After all, I live in L.A. where the only "uniform" people wear consists of yoga pants, a California Republic T-shirt and flip-flops.

But anytime throughout the year that I travel through airports--like last week--and see members of the military, I always take a moment to thank them for their service. They're always gracious for the acknowledgement. They deserve more than a thank you. They deserve good and timely healthcare; educational scholarships; safe, affordable housing; low-interest loans; and so much more.

But saying thank you is a start. So today I say to all current military personnel and veterans THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

And have a very happy Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Writing in Italy

“I need to cook and clean less,” I said sweeping the kitchen floor.
“Okay,” Mr. Wonderful said putting the breakfast room chairs on top of the table.
“I need to work less.” I said sweeping under the table.
“And I need to write more.”
“… Okay.”

Between doing home improvement work, caring for a baby, and putting food on the table, it had become abundantly clear to me that there were not enough hours in the year for my writing. So I did what any self-respecting writer does: I got out of Dodge.

Specifically I went to Italy to write with The Lemon Tree House Residency Program for writers and artists. There I stayed in a villa atop a hill in beautiful Tuscany.

Every day delicious breakfasts and dinners were prepared by talented chefs (no shopping, cooking or cleaning for me!). 

There was a daily cocktail hour (to help relax me after a day of writing). The estate had molto kilometers of walking paths (to get my brain in the writing mode). 

There was a daily cocktail hour (yum). The staff was kind and the other writers were diverse and creative, which made for dynamic dinner conversations. 

My writing room was bright and quiet. And did I mention the daily cocktail hour?

The residency’s location, program, and that daily cocktail hour were so amenable that I was able to achieve my goal: to write like a fiend, which was fantastico! The Lemon Tree House helped recharge my batteries and jump start my writing. For me it was the perfect residency with the best people in a glorious corner of the world.  It was a wonderful experience. Thank you, Lemon Tree House!

In fact, I'd love to go back... If only for that cocktail hour. Salute!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Good-Bye To All That

“I’ve been gone for so long,” I said mixing a bottle of water and baby formula for the little bundle in the bassinet.
“So?” Mr. Wonderful said jolting down a cup of espresso.
“I haven’t blogged in months.” 
“It’s okay,” 
“People will wonder where I’ve been.”
“Just tell them.”
“I’ll start with the neighbors.”

Yawning, I shuffled to the driveway for the morning newspaper and saw our local rose specialist digging in his garden.
“Morning, Jerry. Your roses look lovely.”
“Thanks,” he said straightening his San Francisco 49ers cap. Then pointing to our house, “You still live there?”
“I know I’ve not been around much, but that’s because—”
“You have a baby.” I stopped short. “Good thing you put in that low maintenance, drought-tolerant garden. With a baby you won’t be doing much gardening now.” 
What?! “Jerry, how did you know about our baby?”
“Harold told me.”

Just then Charles appeared in his driveway. The dogs were loaded in his car ready for a trip to the dog park.
“Morning, neighbor!” he said with a friendly wave before crossing the street. “Long time no see,” he said giving me a bear hug.
“I know,” I said hugging him back. “I haven’t been around much because—”
“You have a baby.” I stopped short. “Good thing you redid your kitchen. I can’t imagine having a baby and not having a kitchen.”
What?! “Charles, how did you know about our baby?” 
“Harold told me.”

That was so Harold: flapping his lips about news in the neighborhood without even talking to the source of the news. Namely moi

Returning to our house I noticed our 86 year-old neighbor sitting in a lawn chair in his driveway.
“Hi Harold, working on your tan?” 
“Which is something you won’t be doing much of with that baby of yours.” I stopped short. “Babies take a lot of time and attention. Good thing you got the house painted. Now there are fewer lead paint flakes for her to eat.” That is so Harold: he’s such a ray of positive sunshine. (Insert sarcastic tone here.)
“How did you know we had a baby? And a girl?”
“I may be old but I’m not deaf or blind. Yet.” He looked at the pink color on his bare arms then stood up. “How’s she doing?”
“The baby’s doing great, but I’m tired. Exhausted really. Plus we still have so much to do on The House, but I can’t imagine redoing anything on it right now.”
“Babies sap your energy. With them, the years are short but the days are long. So enjoy it. All of it,” he said folding up the lawn chair and disappeared into his garage.

Maybe he was right. Maybe they all were right. (Insert tired sigh here.) I should be thankful for what Mr. Wonderful and I had redone and should just enjoy being a mom now. I should say good-bye to all those trips to the home improvement store; good-bye to all those hours comparing tile, and good-bye to all those weeks living in a construction zone. I should say good-bye to all that and just put a pin in home improvement projects, including replacing the sagging patio awning, until our Baby was older. Like 18 years-old older.

I shuffled inside for a cup of tea and back to Mr. Wonderful and our dear Baby.
“What did the neighbors say about our news?” he said while bouncing the Little One on his knee. 
“They already knew we had a baby and a girl. So I guess everyone in the world knows now.”  I sat in the kitchen, took Baby in my arms and kissed her soft cheek. “And that’s fine by me.” My eyes ran from her tiny, perfect eyes, nose and mouth, to her tiny, hands with perfect nails. If the home improvement projects had to stop for a while, including the sagging outdoor awning, because of her, that was okay by me.

Mr. Wonderful pointed to the sagging awning over the patio. “Want to redo the awning?” Was he crazy? Having a baby while fixing up The House was madness. It would take us a gazillion times longer with her. But who was I kidding? 
“Let’s do it!” I didn’t want to sacrifice or settle. I wanted the Baby and (one day) a completely redone DIY house! (Insert a hopeful cheer here.) Even if it meant doing so while living in a construction zone. 

So “Good-bye” to Speedy DIY Projects and “Hello” to Continued, But Slow, Home Improvement with Baby! HOORAY!

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Gift with a Big Red Bow

"What do you want for Christmas?" Mr. Wonderful asked driving to the home improvement store in early December.
"Nothing," I said from the passenger seat while rolling the car window down with my right arm.
"But I have to buy you something."
"I don't want anything."
"But you need a Christmas gift on Christmas."
"I have everything I want," I said blowing him a kiss.

While the formula (Christmas + December 25 = Presents) was undoubtedly true, I didn't want any gifts because there was another true formula: (Christmas + My Age = Everything I Want/Need/& Ever Desired Wrapped in a Big Red Bow). Besides if I gave in and let him buy me something, it was bound to be a humongo sweater, a fuchsia-colored crock pot or a pair of itchy wool socks. Although I love my spouse, I prefer buying gifts for myself to ensure that I get the right size, color and cotton content.

But Mr. Wonderful was insistent and for the 12 Days of X-mas tried to buy me X-gifts all of which I refused with a big "X". Finally the day before Christmas he sprung a gift on me which had this formula: (New Car + Big Bow = Big Wow).

At the car dealership he showed me a car with a big red bow on it and said, "It's for you."
I was floored.
"I... I love it," I stammered.
"Unless of course, you still don't want me to give you a Christmas gift--" He was about to say something more but I stifled his words with a kiss.

Hoping you have a a very Merry Christmas with a big red bow on it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Flavor and Taste--Painting the House

“What do you think of white?" I said laying a paint sample card on the dinner table.
“Too cold,” my husband said pushing it aside like a dirty dish.
“How about red?”
“Too hot.”
“Too wine-y.”
“That's not a bad thing.”
“Speak for yourself.”

I'm a big fan of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Cabernet. Those colors aren't too shabby either. In fact, I wanted one of them to grace The House’s exterior walls, trim or even gutters. But Mr. Wonderful had other ideas about what colors we should paint our humble abode.

“How about this brown,” he said flapping a paint card in one hand.
“Too dark,” I said shaking my head.
“Too boring.”
“Too grim.”

And The House remained unpainted.

We had put off painting The House’s exterior for far too long for one reason: Mr. Wonderful and I couldn’t agree on colors. I was rooting for the bright hues of French Vanilla, White Wine and Chardonnay. He preferred the murky ones of Almond Latte, Roasted Coffee and Fresh Arabica. I liked Old Vineyard; he liked Double-Shot Brew. I liked Wine White; he liked Coffee Brown. And then it hit me: we each preferred the colors of our favorite beverages. Wineaux me liked the colors with vino-oriented names and espresso-lover him liked the coffee-related names.

“The names are distracting us,” I said clearing from the table my wine glass and his espresso cup. “We’re going to look at the color, not drink it.”
“Speak for yourself,” he said eyeing the espresso machine with desire.

And The House remained unpainted.

The next weekend we decided to forgo looking at names and choose paint samples based purely on the colors. I gravitated to the rich hues of a maple tree in autumn while he went for more earthy colors. I liked Northern Territory, Saddle Up and Santa Fe Sunset. He preferred Red Rocks, Red Clay and Red Dirt Pile. I wanted Scandinavian Modern; he wanted Arts and Crafts. I wanted light; he wanted dark. I wanted beautiful; he wanted depressing. Then it hit me: my spouse was lacking in taste. Specifically my taste.

And The House remained unpainted.

But taste in color can be acquired. Just ask Iggy Pop: the rocker and former drug addict who is now addicted to… vintage red wine and opera. And since Mr. Wonderful was a fan of Mr. Pop, I thought there was hope for my spouse. My man could learn my taste. Purposefully I left my preferred paint samples lying around The House: on the coffee table, across the kitchen counters, encircling the bathroom sink. I even wore my preferred autumnal colors, which all happened to come in wool sweaters.

Mr. Wonderful slammed a glass of ice cold lemonade. “That’s some sweater you’re wearing.”
“Isn’t it beautiful? It’s a Maple Red,” I said wiping the sweat from my forehead.
“It looks hot.”
“It’s a warm color.”
“No, it looks like you’re overheating in that thing. What a horrible color. I would never wear it or have it around The House.”
“But I like it,” I said sweating bullets.
“Suit yourself.”

My plan had backfired. Mr. Wonderful wan’t going to become a fan of my colors and on sheer principle I wasn’t going to become a fan of his.

And The House remained unpainted.

More time passed without colors chosen or even discussed. Something had to happen. Someone had to say “uncle”. But I wasn’t going to say it be—

“UNCLE!” I shouted. “If we can’t use my colors then we’ll do the thing I wanted to avoid.”
“Use my colors?” he said with a lilt in his voice.

We went back the the store and pored over the countless cards and for each hue we found a bajillion hues that each of us liked, then we wittled it down to one color that was the closest to those that we both wanted individually. As a compromise we chose Almond Latte for him, Corbusier’s Red Kiss for me and Brown Mish-Mash for us. It took weeks but finally we had our colors. Hooray!

Compromising wasn’t so bad. Actually it was pretty good. In order to get results, other couples should do it, my mother-in-law should do it, even Congress should try it every now and then. Compromising may have even helped my relationship with Mr. Wonderful… Nah.

Most importantly, this compromise meant: The House would no longer be unpainted. It was going to get painted—finally! Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Next: They Paint The House and We Watch.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Blast in Burbank

I came. I saw. I was conquered by the Burbank Local Authors' Showcase!

The event hosted 50 authors and sat me between Dina Gachman (author of Brokenomics, a funny looked at living frugally in L.A.) and Barbara Sheppard (author of a book on meditations helping one live peacefully, which basically means: Move out of L.A.).

I enjoyed talking to book readers. book lovers and other authors. The Sisters in Crime mystery authors of Nancy Cole Silverman and D.J. Adamson were delightful. I can't wait to read their books. People who engage with books are such an intelligent, interesting bunch of folks. And I'm not biased... too much.

Some highlights of the day included: 1) Talking to Publicity guru Liz Donatelli again; 2) Connecting with sweet friends who came to support little moi; and 3) Meet some New House Girl blog readers. After communicating with some blog readers via this blog, I (finally!) got to meet them in the flesh, shake their hands and laugh together.

It was pretty great.

Thanks to everyone who came out to make this local author so happy to be showcased in Burbank!

Have a great day reading!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Going to Burbank!

A home to families, a boring (yawn) place, the butt of late-night jokes, "beautiful downtown Burbank" has had its share of disparaging comments. But say what you will, this Saturday I'm thrilled to be going to Burbank, California to partake in the Burbank Local Authors' Showcase!

Comedy me will be joining, among other writers: Dee J. Adams who writes Romantic Suspense, Diane Haithman who wrote Dark Lady of Hollywood and Felice Fox who writes Lust and Love Stories. Lust and love aren't the same thing? Darn. I'm going to have to break the news to Mr. Wonderful.

All this writerly action is taking place Saturday, Oct. 17th 1-4 PM at the Burbank Public Library's Buena Vista Branch. There won't be yawns, it won't be boring and there will definitely be families and book lovers there in beautiful downtown Burbank.

I'm so excited about being in Burbank for this event, it makes me want to sing about Burbank, courtesy of Burbank High School grad (1924), Cole Morgan.

In Burbank, In Burbank,
Way out in BurbankCalifornia,
I want to warn you,
Don’t let your footsteps stray,
When you start to come this way,
For you will surely stay,
Until the Judgment Day!

Now this event is just four hours long, so you need to be there between 1- 4 PM on Saturday  But if you would like to linger in Burbank, I won't stop you. I'll join you.

In Burbank, In Burbank,
There’s no place on earth that could be fairer,
That’s no error.
There’s a happy throng,
Just ten thousands strong,
And in Burbank Town you can’t go wrong.

You can't go wrong by coming to the Local Authors' Showcase! I hope to see you in Burbank this Saturday to hob nob with writers and talk books, Books, BOOKS!


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Yelp Help

“The House exterior doesn’t look good,” Mr. Wonderful said pulling at a flaking paint chip with his fingernail.
“I know,” I said grabbing 14 bags of groceries from the car and slinging them over my shoulders.
“It needs to be painted,” Mr. Wonderful said gazing at the trim.
“I know,” I said staggering under the weight of the bags.
“We should do it ourselves.”
“I kno— What?!”

Fixing up a fixer-upper House is a lot of work, You research, you sweat, you go to the home improvement store six times—In. One. Day. You drop everything to make The House look good. Look better. Look the best it can be. All by ourselves we’d fixed up the inside, the garden side and the poolside. But did we really have to do the outside?

I wasn’t being lazy, just practical, after all it was summer in Southern California: that glorious time of year when ice cream melts while still in the freezer. I could not imagine washing, sanding and painting The House’s exterior under a gray wintery sky not to mention under SoCal’s blazing summer sun. 

“I respect your DIY enthusiasm,” I said plopping the grocery bags on the kitchen floor “but shouldn’t we hire a specialist to paint the exterior?” 
“And trust someone else to do it?” Mr. Wonderful said examining the paint chip in his hand. “No way.”
“Many companies paint house exteriors. So they must be trustworthy to base their entire business model on it.”
“But they won’t do as good a job as me.”
“It’s 116 degrees outside. Do you want to paint The House?” 
He shook his head. “But where will we find a painter?” 

Mr. Wonderful may be the pro at deciding when to use a Phillips screwdriver or using… the other type of screwdriver, but I am the expert on getting information. With groceries stowed away, I bounded outside.

“Hi, Harold!” I hollered to our 86 year-old neighbor. “You had your house painted last year.”
“That’s right,” Harold said sweeping the dust from his car with a large, soft brush.
“Who did it?”
“I’m not telling you.” 
“Excuse me?” 
“You heard me.”
“But we want our House to look as good as yours.”
“There’s already paint flaking off. See?” he said jabbing a finger at his garage door trim. It was minuscule but if Harold didn’t trust this painter there wasn’t an ice cube’s chance in summery L.A. that Mr. Wonderful would.
“So you won’t tell me who did it?”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“You’re welcome for nothing.”

But Harold was not the end-all be-all of neighborhood news and Angie’s List-like recommendations. I had other sources like this little thing called… The Internet. BAM! Take that, Harold!

I googled “exterior painters” and got several listings on What an odd name for a review site since yelp means “to give a quick, sharp, shrill cry, as a dog or a fox.” On second thought it’s not any worse than’s name, where yahoo means “a coarse or brutish person”.

Choosing a painting company with a local address I read a review of it on Yelp. A customer said: This was the best painting job ever! I’m so happy I chose this company!

The very next reviewer said: This was the worst painting job ever! Choosing them was a bad life decision! Even worse than when I dated that serial killer. 

How could the same company get such glowing reviews and such horrible reviews? Did it do spotty work—excellent sometimes and poor other times? Or did it have less to do with the painting company and more to do with… the reviewer? Having been around my share of blocks, I had noticed that Yelp’s mixed-bag reviews phenomenon didn’t just happen with painters, it happened with restaurants, hotels and nail bars. People either love-love-loved something! Or hated it with a passion normally reserved for Nazi war criminals. I’ve seen Yelp “reviewers” give a restaurant a horrible review not because the food was bad (it wasn’t, it was actually quite good and affordable) but because the waiter didn’t serenade them with Happy Birthday Cha-Cha-Cha, give them a free dessert and tuck them in bed at night. 

It’s outrageous, really. I have actually chosen to go to restaurants with 
both great and terrible Yelp reviews and my finding was that the restaurants were very good. Proving my point that the disgruntled Yelp reviewer will complain about anything, even if it’s unfounded. Okay, especially if it’s unfounded. Actually it’s moniker fits: the reviewers are all giving quick, shrill cries… for attention. 

Nevertheless dropping some cash on a restaurant with mixed-bag reviews is not the same thing as rolling the dice on a large expense like painting a whole house. While Harold gave me too little information, Yelp gave me too much. Yelp couldn’t help me find a painter. 

Disheartened after spending hours online with nothing to show for it, I went outside to wrack my brain for a good painter and get the mail. Then BAM! Swinging from our front door was a door hanger advertisement for an exterior house paint specialist. The ad said the company painted historic homes in Pasadena and throughout Los Angeles, which intrigued me. But what really impressed me was that someone from that company was walking door-to-door drumming up business. In. This. Heat. 

Since they could tolerate this heat, they had earned my attention. I made an appointment for a free estimate. The owner visited The House himself to give me the estimate. I found him to be nice, fair and professional. Finally I had found our painter!

Afterwards I looked the company up online. A Yelp reviewer said: This was the best painting job ever! I’m so happy I chose this company! While the very next Yelper said: “This company hung a door hanger ad on my door! That’s the worst thing anyone’s ever done to me. Including that Nazi war criminal—”

All those Yelp reviewers: what a bunch of Yahoos.

NEXT: What Color to Paint The House?

Want to read more? Get Alicia Bien's Award-Winning Book EVOLUTION OF A WINE DRINKER.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Great Flood

California + August = heatstroke.

It was the summer of  '15--hot and dry as a cow bone. We were in the fourth year of a drought when something amazing happened. The flood hit! A flood of "water", you say? Heck no. Tomatoes!

Back in May I'd bought four scrawny plants of the "Early Girl" variety. In my garden patch I dug four holes, plunked a tomato plant in each one, added some water and chicken poop then waited. One plant died. But soon the other three plants shot up and sprouted petite yellow flowers. Each bloom became a green fruit, which ripened into a red orb or lusciousness.

Then less than the prescribed 90 days after planting, the three plants--over five feet tall!--were weighted down with their bounty. The only thing I could do was pick the fruit and and eat it.

Wow! These tomatoes were delicious! Correction: Are delicious because we are still eating them. I've put these tomatoes to work in salads with feta cheese and cucumbers, on BLTs, in omelets, in pasta dishes, on toast, in grill cheese sandwiches, in ratatouille, beside steak, next to potatoes, on top of noodles, rice, bulgar and quinoa. Yet no matter how many tomatoes I use the three jumbo plants kept flooding us with fruit!

I've given bags of tomatoes to neighbors, friends, a random lawyer, my dentist and all 16 of his dental hygienists. The latter loved them because tomatoes don't cause tooth decay, which is very important to dental workers.

The Great Tomato Flood is still happening and I'm enjoying being awash in summer's finest fruity-vegetable. I'm riding this wave as long as it lasts.

California + August = Culinary Happiness!