carol's kitchen

Monday, January 13, 2014

Can I do It?


I never imagined I’d live in California; then I moved to West Hollywood and thought I’d stay forever.  But, after twenty-five years enjoying the best weather and the most beautiful apartment in the hood, a rent-controlled historic landmark haven, I believe it’s time to go. 

I need to re-imagine a new life.  How many times I’ve done that, I can’t even count, but this will be the last time, so I’d better do it right.  I want to be near (but not too near) my grandkids in San Francisco; I need clean air, good climate, and reasonable housing - which doesn’t exist in San Francisco - plus something I always missed in Los Angeles – a sense of community, a feeling of belonging.  

So, thanks to my friend, Collette, a smart, sassy school teacher who moved to Vallejo eight years ago, & told me about this unusual city, I’m camping out in a temporary rental in northern California, bundled up in warm sweaters, scarves, & boots, hunting down an old house, or a new condo, or I-don’t-know-what, and a new way of life in Vallejo, on the banks of the peaceful Napa River.  My location is 33 miles by road, or a stunning ferry ride of less than an hour to San Francisco, where my sweet little chickadees reside.  

Vallejo’s an historic city on the edge; it’s gone through tough times, hit hard by the housing bubble & major budget problems due to gross political mismanagement, and two bankruptcies in recent history.  It has nowhere to go but up.  Meanwhile, cheap real-estate abounds, an active community struggles to pick itself back up, and a feeling of optimism prevails.  I’ve met a lot of local artists, who are connected and like to get together, and welcome me.  I’ve met people who care about the city and are working to make it better.  

This morning I called a couple I know & suggested we get together for dinner this evening.  They said yes, and offered to pick me up.  In Hollywood, my friends are always fully booked, or can’t commit, or busy until the last week of next month on Thursday, & invariably will cancel when the time approaches.   In Hollywood, one is always holding out for something better.  Getting picked up depends on which direction we’re going & usually falls on me.  Really!  Most of my friends in L.A are too busy for the likes of me.

I think, I hope, I’ve found a place in a community where I belong, where I can enjoy clean air & visits from my grandchildren.  I’m dreaming of family Sunday dinners in a place I call home.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Love it or Leave it...

I don’t blame Saudi women for wanting to drive cars and be independent, but living here in West Hollywood, I confess I wouldn’t mind a driver once in a while.  I used to enjoy driving in Los Angeles.  It took a long time to get anywhere but you could keep on going until you got there.  I used to take myself to Santa Monica, stroll along the promenade, drive to Venice beach, walk on the sand, and treat myself to a nice lunch at the Fig Tree Café on Ocean Walk. 
These days driving is stop and go and wait and blocked intersections, and traffic jams and freeways where nobody moves, impossible backed up bumper to bumper all the way.

Nowadays I won’t go more than 3 miles away from home.  Traffic is too horrible, and it keeps getting worse.  I sometimes have to wait ten or fifteen minutes just to get out of my garage.  Whoever said Fountain was a great east-west cross street told too many people.  Now Sunset is often much better than Fountain.   And Santa Monica Boulevard has become a nightmare.  

A few weeks ago I met a friend at the Getty Museum in Malibu, only to discover we couldn’t get in because we didn’t have a parking reservation, and then I spent more than two hours driving back to West Hollywood.  There must have been an accident that blocked all the streets on the west side.  But there’s always something.  It’s one bottleneck after another.  

What’s the good of living in Los Angeles if I’m trapped in my own neighborhood?  I’ve got 6 Trader Joe's, and three Whole Foods in the immediate vicinity, Erewhon, the Hollywood YMCA, the greatest farmers market in the city, restaurants, shops, the best of everything, but it would be nice to look at the ocean once in a while, and watch that sunset on the blue horizon.  

And what about the air?  How long can I live with the exhaust from millions of cars?  And the stress of it all.  I can’t put myself through it anymore.  I’d rather stay home.

Or, maybe it's time to leave


Friday, November 01, 2013


No!  I can’t bear this.  First they shut down the government, causing unnecessary pain & suffering to innocent people, but not to the congressmen who made it happen.  

Now they’re taking away 5% of the food stamps that should be used for poor families to buy milk for children, and feed hungry people.  So many families have lost their homes while Jamie Dimon, who turned their suffering into cash, dines at the Ritz.  Next they’ll be tearing down the blackboards & cutting down class hours in schools.

Do we live in a dictatorship, where we are at the mercy of the leaders?  Is this North Korea?  What happened to this country?  It’s Karl Marx all over again: thesis and antitheses; the reaction to the action of electing a man who gave us hope – for a few minutes, anyway.  

Now we feel hopeless.  Why do we have hungry children in America?  Why should some people’s children get better health care in this country than others?  Or Education?  Whatever the reason, it’s wrong.  Every child should get the best health care money can buy. Period.  

If my grandparents saw what’s happening here they wouldn’t believe it.  

The money cut from the budget of our government should come out of defense spending - the military industrial complex, and those masters of war. Moreover, I think all political lobbyists should be immediately fired & retrained as social workers, and I would outlaw all political contributions.  Period.  They don’t need money, they need brains.

I know nobody reads this blog but that's too bad. 


Friday, June 14, 2013

Farewell Dinner

June 15, 2013

Yesterday morning, Guido took me for a drive to see what he called the “Grand Canyon of Tuscany,” in a place called Balse, halfway between Montevarchi & Firenze.   Extraordinary formations from rivers that disappeared millions of years ago.

Afterwards, he was eager to get home to begin preparations for the meal that night.  He & Paola had invited me, Adriana, and Tina, who live on the first floor, for dinner in their beautiful apartment on the top floor of the house.  (I am in the garden.) This would be a farewell-to-me event, and I brought the best bottle of Chianti I could find in the Gastronomia Chef. 

At the appointed hour, I climbed the stairs, and found Guido in his undershirt, battling a smokey wood fire in the open hearth of his kitchen.  Paola gave me art books to look at while she set the table.  Adriana & Tina arrived; we sat down at 8:30.

The feast began with a platter piled high with chicken liver paste crostini, sliced salami & prosciutto, then a platter of luscious green olives & ripe red baby tomatoes.  Then, of course, the pasta, raviolis stuffed with fresh cheese & herbs, sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan, and then the main event, huge grilled steaks, thick rib eyes, with another platter of fresh raw celery & fennel.  Guido poured some olive oil on my steak to be sure I enjoyed it the right way.
We ate slowly, enjoying the flavor of smokey grilled meat, and the crisp vegetables we dipped in good olive oil. After we'd eaten our fill, Guido produced a beautiful bowl of fresh strawberries that had been soaked in a little sugar, not too much.  We drank well: the wine was superb, and another great bottle of red appeared before we were done.  Guido opened a bottle of champagne when the strawberries came out. 

Paola served the cake, brought by Tina, which we ate after the berries, and it was probably, without exaggerating, the best cake I ever tasted.  She said it came from a Sicilian bakery in Montevarchi, and this just tells me I’ve got to go to Sicily. 

We ate and drank with pleasure, toasting each other, to new friendships & good health.  It was wonderful to sit down with people who love food and enjoy eating, unlike some of the meals I've had with friends back home. where this one doesn't eat this, and that one won't eat that...  So much finicky, fussy, picky eating in the land of plenty, so little joy in what is meant to be a happy way to be together, and enjoy friendship.

After dinner, Guido led us into another room where he showed the pictures he’d taken that morning, at Balsa, with me looking 9 months pregnant.  After six weeks of eating in Italy, what else?   I begged him to please fix them up with Photoshop.

To say farewell, Adriana translated my Casa Il Pino guest-book message, in which I expressed appreciation for all of Paola's & Guido’s kindnesses during my one-month stay in their beautiful home in Montevarchi.  Paola told me that Francesco had also communicated to her my appreciation for the special price they gave me, which I promised to keep secret, and everyone was happy. 

Kisses on both cheeks for everyone.  Ciao, ciao...

It was midnight, Guido insisted on accompanying me home – down the stairs, and ten steps across the gravel, to my front door -- then returned a few minutes later to deliver my camera, which I’d left on the dining room table.

They're setting up stands now & decorating the via Roma, the main street of town.  There will be a big festival tonight, with music and food, and everyone will be there.  I don't know what it's about but you can be sure I'll be dancing in the street on my last night in Montevarchi.

Viva Italia!

That's it...  andiamo domani.

love & kisses,

Guido at Balse

it's really the tie on my capri pants



Paola and the Beef

Guido and Paola Cioncolini

Guido and the Beef

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Montevarchi - arriva derci

June 13,2013

Ultimi Funghi!

That’s what the farmer shouted as I passed his stand at the big outdoor market in Montevarchi.  At first, I thought it must be a poem.  I reached down to squeeze a fat specimen of his beautiful porcini, but he pointed a finger at me and said, gently, but firmly, “non tocare.”  In Montevarchi, we’re not allowed to touch the produce at the market, but they offer tastes of most things, and he was generous, threw an extra mushroom into my bag, and an additional tomato as well.

People are kind here.  I could site so many examples.  On our first day exploring Montevarchi, in pouring rain, Julie & I got lost & stopped into a café to ask directions to our home.  A young man examined my map, then looked outside at the rain, and said, “Wait here, please.”  A few minutes later he pulled up in his little Fiat & drove us home.

Before I go further I need to apologize for what I said about Tuscan Pizza.  It’s not thick & bready, but thin & crisp the way I like it, with great toppings; as good as it gets.  You just need to know where not to go.  I now know the good pizza places in Montevarchi – and, (grazie Francesco) I stand corrected.
Can’t change my mind, however, about the salt-less, tasteless bread.  They say it’s better to hold the parma ham, wipe up sauces, and other salty foods, but I don’t agree. 

The Tuscan sun has finally appeared, to show me what I’ve missed for a month of cold, rain, & near-daily thunderstorms.  I’d actually begun to rationalize my limited travel ability to the weather. 

But no, one needs a car in Tuscany no matter what the weather.  The train is fine, but too limiting.  I wish I was daring, adventurous, and foolhardy enough to have rented one by myself, drive everywhere I want to go, but I’ve finally come up against something I feel too old to do.  I’m scared to drive alone in Italy.  I need a driver, or a navigator, a road partner.

Not only would I wander the country-side, discovering where to go along the way, I’d have destinations.   Termi di Saturnia, for example, rated just this morning by Lonely Planet as #6 in its list of the “Top Hot Springs in Europe.”  That phrase really gets to me.  I’d cross oceans for such an experience, but alas, not the nine hours of public transportation, over mountains & through valleys, for less than 200 miles.  It will not come to pass. 

I did take the train back to Florence one afternoon this week, to gaze again at its incomparable beauty - in the sunshine this time.  I stopped for a cappuccino in Roberto Cavalli's cafe on the via Tournabuoni, & observed the beautiful Italian women, serious shoppers, wearing the most fabulous clothes, shoes & bags, step up to the bar & throw back a quick cup of strong coffee.  This experience told me I need a whole new wardrobe.

So, now it’s ultimi giorni – last days in Montevarchi.  How I loved this place!  Peaceful, relaxed, beautiful, authentic, non-polluted.  I’d forgotten what clean air smells like, & how to take things slowly, look around, smell the jasmine, & enjoy the moment. 

I’ll take the train back to Rome on Sunday, dine in one of my favorite restaurants near the Piazza di Spagna, and leave the next morning for home.  Next time I go to Italy, I swear not only will I have a driving partner, I’ll speak Italian.

amore & tanti baci,
A slice of ham.
Train station.