The Blessing of the Tree – A Short Story

I am one-half of a century old today, as I gaze out this window from the house where I was born. How could it have passed so quickly, I wonder? This ancient house, which is now mine, still sings with laughter and the cries of the spirits of those who lived here and are now gone. I see a lovely yard out my window where all the children played together. There is still the one largest tree growing out near the street, providing welcoming shade to all who pass by. But, for me, I am alone.

I will tell you how this came to be – an old woman alone in her family home. I grew up with many sisters and brothers. My father was a furniture-maker in our village, lucky and successful, and married to the most beautiful woman in the whole of Mexico, who was my mother. I was born less than a year after their marriage, and although I was a girl, there would be many more chances for a son. Besides, they wished to have a girl to help with the rest of the children yet to come and to be the chosen one who would care for them when they were old. It was decided without words. I had no say in my fate.

The home was a loving one where my mother cooked all the meals and bore the children of the family as a good Catholic wife was supposed to do. She was strong and loving and guided her family in the proper ways of the Church and the accepted customs of the village. I was a true and faithful daughter, helping the family grow along their way, as was my destiny.

One day, my father came home from his furniture shop with some seeds from an oak tree that he gathered from some branches that he was using to build some furniture for a wealthy customer. He took me out in front of our house near the main street running through our village, where he carefully planted the seeds. He told me that soon the seeds would sprout and an oak tree would grow from the ground. It would be strong and true and play an important role in my later life. He told me that I should make sure the tree was watered and cared for because it would be a very special tree that would mean a lot to my future. It would have a special magic in its heartwood. I could not see how this was possible, but I dutifully promised my Papa that I would make sure the tree was well cared for.

One by one I watched my brothers and sisters grow up, and one by one they began to leave home to make their own lives. We all went to the village school and learned many things and learned that there was a big world outside our little village. Every year, the tree grew bigger and bigger and after many years, I watched a brother or sister leave home, one by one. Some went to America when it was still easily possible to do so. They settled and married and started families of their own. They would sometimes come back to visit the old ones and their childhood home and village, but none of them wanted to come home and make the village their home. The outside world was far too exciting and attractive to exchange for the simple life of the village where they grew up.

I marvel now at how everyone in the family assumed I would be the child who stayed home with the old ones and cared for them with no thought of herself or the dreams that I may have had. How did I know and accept such a situation? How did everyone else know this thing? What was to become of me? I had no husband and no children who would look after me when I was old.

My mother was the first to start her decline. There was a doctor in our village who said she was beginning her walk with the spirits. There was nothing he could do. If it was something he could give medicine for, or repair, he would. But no one improved when they were walking with the spirits. I cared for her day and night for more than a year. Finally, she passed and we buried her in the Holy graveyard next to the Church. She was a simple villager, but she could have been one of the Saints.

Then it was just me and my father. He still went to work every day at his furniture shop, but his spirit was heavy without the love of his life. One day he came home with a beautiful wooden bench he had built and he put it out in the front yard of our house next to the sidewalk, underneath the beautiful oak tree. He said it would be a peaceful place to sit for all who traveled along our street. It was a curious thing to me, but he said it would be a place for people to sit and maybe talk with me while I swept our walk every day and tended to the yard. It would keep me from being too lonely, now that everyone was gone except for just the two of us.

More years went by and my father was able to go to his furniture shop less and less. He was becoming bent and tired and he finally sold the business to a young man who worked with him since he was a boy. My father had taught him all his skills at making the beautiful furniture that people came from all of the villages around to buy. He stayed home with me more and more, and sometimes we would sit on the bench under the oak tree together and watch the traffic and people pass by.

A few more years, and my father found his way with the spirits to join my mother – his one true love. Toward the end of his days, he always told me that the tree would provide for me in my old age, that he had seen it in a vision. I could not understand what he was talking about but soothed him and told him it would all be fine. I thought it was just the ramblings of an old man with a tired mind. I couldn’t understand how he thought a tree would provide anything for me in my old age other than some nice shade.

Most of the family came home for his funeral. The house was again full of laughter and life in spite of it being a sad occasion. None of my brothers or sisters had any question about the family home now belonging to me. I was the only one who wanted to stay and live in the village. Some offered for me to come live with their families, but I declined, as this was the only life I had ever known.

So life is passing by outside my house and yard. Everyday, I go out and sweep the front walk under the tree, keeping the yard neat and clean like I have always helped to keep it. It is not such a bad life for me. I have the Church and my work with some of the nuns in caring for people in our village. I feel like a nun myself, I just never took any vows like they did. It is the loneliness that is so hard to endure. Now as I enter the last part of my life, I seem destined to live it alone. What hope is there for an old woman to find a different life?

One morning I looked out my window to see an older, well-dressed man, sitting on the bench under our oak tree. His hat was neatly placed next to him and he was staring across the plaza at the house that used to belong to the village judge before he died. I was very curious about this, as few strangers came through our village and none so fine-looking as this gentleman. I wanted to find out more about him so I straightened my hair and I took up my broom and went outside to sweep the front walk as I did every day. I pretended to shoo away the feral chickens that dot my yard.

When I came closer to the bench with the stranger sitting on it, he suddenly turned and greeted me in an open and friendly manner. I hardly knew what to say, but I smiled back at him. He stood and asked me to come sit with him on the bench for a while. He said he was happy to meet one of his new neighbors. I was shocked to hear him refer to me as one of his neighbors. I had never remembered seeing the man before in our village.

I sat with him and listened to his story. He was the son of our village judge who used to live across our street – and he had left home as a young boy to live with an aunt in America where he could grow up and go to good schools. This was a few years before I was born so, of course, I would have never seen him in the village. He grew up in California and went to school and college there, and started a prosperous business. Now that he was elderly, he sold the business and decided to return to the place of his birth. He was still the owner of his father’s house, so he planned to move into it and live out his older years in our peaceful village. He was happy to meet a neighbor who lived right across the plaza from him.

We talked on and on, sharing laughter and stories of our families. I felt like a young girl again, full of life and unspoken dreams. He said his father’s house was still full of the beautiful furniture made by my father in his furniture shop. I told him that my house had my father’s beautiful furniture, as well. He said he so admired this lovely oak tree and knew as soon as he saw the bench that it was made by my father. He recognized his work and craftsmanship. He said he was drawn to sit on it while he waited for the workmen who would clean and repair his house so he could move in.

His workers arrived and we said good-bye. He said he was looking forward to sitting on the bench under the oak with me again, and sharing more stories. I told him I thought that would be nice and I was glad to have him as a neighbor. He took my hand and smiled into my eyes and said how happy he was to find me here.

I went back into my house and everything inside looked different. The windows looked clearer and brighter, and the colors of everything in my house looked new and vibrant. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe this was what my father foresaw in his vision so many years ago when he planted the oak tree with me. He must have seen that the tree, and the addition of the beautiful bench, would bring someone into my life, at just the right time, to fill the elder years of my life with love and companionship. Perhaps I won’t die a lonely old woman after all.

Gracias, mi Papa.

A Mostly Typical Day with a New Puppy

We have a new puppy at our house. A very adorable little West Highland White Terrier who is now 10 weeks old. She weighs about 3 pounds and has very sharp tiny puppy teeth. We named her Kenzie. We chose a puppy from the litter that seemed to be a little quieter and more low-keyed than her litter-mates. THANK GOD!!! Boy, did she have us fooled!

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She joins our 9 year old West Highland White Terrier (Yuki). Yuki wants nothing to do with this new interloper and we can see it will take a while before we can have the two of them together. Its been about 10 days since we brought Kenzie to live in our home. Yuki shows a mild interest in her through the mesh of the dog kennel and the sides of Kenzie’s playpen, which is now a major piece of furniture in our living room.

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I finally decided that I could probably safely make a run to the grocery store one recent morning after dropping Paul at the college. Life seemed to have settled into a routine somewhat, and Kenzie usually naps in the mornings after the excitement of her wake-up sink bath, our morning coffee and newspaper, and breakfast. We each cuddle her while we have our coffee along with paying some extra attention to Yuki, as well.

I was pretty wrong about this grocery run plan. I came home with a trunk full of groceries including a lot of frozen items, refrigerated items, and fresh produce. It was already 108 outside, so these things needed to be unloaded quickly. I came into the house to check on the doggies and Kenzie has peed all over her kennel. Uh-oh. So I take her out of her kennel and pop her into her playpen until I can get the groceries into the house before I changed her kennel pee-pads. I quickly pulled out all the frozen food and put it all into the freezer willy-nilly, figuring to straighten it out later.

I cleaned Kenzie’s peed kennel with Clorox Clean-ups and put clean blankets into it. I hurriedly tried to get the refrigerated food into the refrigerator before the next disaster happened when I look over at Kenzie who is jumping up and down in her playpen and barking at me in her little puppy voice. I rush over to see what’s going on with her, and I see that she has poo-ed and is gleefully jumping up and down in it, and has it all over herself, her playpen, and her toys. OMG!! She clearly needs a bath – RIGHT NOW! The grocery project will have to wait.

I scooped her up and with one hand and got her bath rig set up with my other hand so I could clean her up. She thinks this is hugely fun – a little play pool, so I was trying to bathe this squirming ball of puppy energy when I noticed that I have dog poo all over the front of my shirt. Jeez Louise! I try to hold her away from my shirt so I don’t get her dirty all over again, I dry her off with a large bath towel as quickly as I can, and put her back in her cleaned kennel, so I can now go get myself cleaned up. I have accumulated most of a load of wash in the machine between her kennel blankets, playpen blankets, my clothes, etc. I dashed off to the shower, as I had an Art Board meeting in one hour. I take a sec to wash up her poopy toys.

I am hesitant to leave her again for any length of time, but I was chairing the Board meeting and I absolutely had to go. I was hoping she would sleep during the afternoon as she usually naps at this time of day. I am thinking that I really need to be a full-time mom to this little creature for several more weeks, if not months. She needs a lot of hands-on care much like having a new baby. At 70 years old, this is an exhausting project, but oh, so worth it. She is a delight for Paul and me – just like her big sister, Yuki, has been for the past 9 years.

Kenzie has taken to chewing up the plastic-backed doggie pee-pads so I can no longer use those. I don’t want her swallowing all that plastic and she makes a total shredded paper/plastic mess out of everything. They were super convenient – like disposable diapers for a baby. I now use those soft newborn baby receiving blankets on the bottom of her kennel, and I found a flannel-lined rubber crib sheet for the bottom of her playpen. I put another couple of receiving blankets down over the waterproof sheet.

Here is a shot of her playpen set-up.

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I now have 24 baby receiving blankets in my inventory and I do two loads of wash every day to keep them in circulation. Amazon is supposed to deliver another 2 waterproof crib sheets for the playpen today. I cannot manage with just one, and I’m thinking I should have ordered more.

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Kenzie is asleep in her kennel in the kitchen right now. We set her kennel up on a low, folding table, right in the kitchen so she can be in the middle of all the activity while we cook. This is now a dominant feature of the kitchen, just like her playpen is a dominant feature of our living room.

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As you can see on the right side of this photo, her clean receiving blankets now reside on the top of the cutting boards. This is a fun arrangement because she seams to really like to watch us cook and clean and deal with the dishwasher, etc. Like a baby or toddler, she wants to be close to us.

The other morning, Paul dropped Kenzie’s sipper water bottle and it broke while he was cleaning it and giving her fresh water. We couldn’t replace it until our local Petsmart opened at 10 am. We gave her water in a small dog dish and she drank some then immediately climbed in the bowl and began flinging all the rest of the water all over everywhere! Yikes! Another emergency project – only this time it was just clean water.

Here she is – fast asleep upside down – a few minutes ago. We think she’s pretty dern cute. Love, love, love.

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We know this is only a temporary situation. In another month or so, she will be big enough to use the pet door which leads to a fenced outside yard, where the dogs can do their business outside and have a small, safe yard to play in. We have 6-foot tall Mexican brick walls all around our Southwestern property with Mexican decorative iron gates out front for the walkway and the driveway. So our entire property is fenced in, but the doggies have their own protected area within the property walls. Kenzie is still much too small to be able to manage the pet door and get up and down the stairs to their yard.

She is growing fast, though. Yesterday morning, we decided to weigh her again and see how much she’s grown. She is looking so much bigger to us. We set up a mixing bowl on our kitchen scale and zeroed it out. Paul put Kenzie in the bowl, and she weighed 3 lbs. 10 ozs! That is an entire pound bigger than when we got her 12 days ago!! She weighed 2 lbs. 10 ozs. the day we brought her home.

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I know these puppy days will pass quickly and soon she will be independently running around with her big sister, Yuki. We will wonder where the time went and laugh when we look at our photos and videos of her and think how blessed we are to have the love and fun and enjoyment of having these pets share our golden years. They certainly keep us active and involved on an everyday basis. They are lots of work, but bring us, oh, so much joy.

A Tsunami Survivability Test

Paul and I were recently at our favorite Oregon coast retreat, The Surfsand Resort in Cannon Beach, Oregon for 3 days. We both had just finished reading an article called The Really Big One, by Kathryn Schulz, in the July 20, 2015 issue of the New Yorker magazine. I don’t recommend reading this right before you plan to spend any vacation time on the coast in the Northwestern United States.

July 20 2015 New Yorker cover photo

As long as we had already made the mistake of reading it, Paul decided to download an App on his iPhone called the Tsunami App to see where we might have a chance to run to if the tsunami warning sirens went off while we were at our beach resort. As it turns out, there is a very tall hill not far from us that his tsunami app shows as being in a green, or safe zone. The top of this hill has another resort perched on it called the Hallmark.

I suggested that we should measure how long it would take us to get to safety if we were just walking at a normal pace, and then figure that if the tsunami sirens were going off, we would be running for our lives with adrenaline pumping and we’d make it in far less time than it would take for us to casually walk to it.

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Sadly, this sign very accurately depicts how we would actually be moving trying to outrun a tsunami. Yikes!

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We decided to try this experiment in the afternoon about 3 PM. The sun was bright and the ocean was heading into a low tide and the afternoon was breezy and gorgeous. It would have been a sad day to have a tsunami come along and wreck it. Paul set the timer on his iPhone, we hooked the leash on our Westie, Yuki, and we headed out of our room. We took the stairs down to the parking lot as we figured the elevator wouldn’t be safe in an earthquake. Once on the ground floor, we began walking briskly up our planned route to high ground. A steady uphill climb. Trying to drive to safety would be useless because the roads are all small 2-laners in the village of Cannon Beach and would instantly turn to gridlock. The route we planned was about the distance of 3 city blocks.

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We climbed steadily uphill and when we got to the end of the dead-end road called Fir Street, there was a very steep set of stairs to get the rest of the way to the top of the Hallmark Resort parking lot which was in the safe green zone. This was a steep set of stairs with a couple of switchbacks. At least it looked long and steep to two out-of-shape 70+ year-olds with an elderly dog in tow.

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When we finally got to the top of the these stairs, Paul checked his timer and it read 6 minutes and 20 seconds. We could see that the parking lot continued up to an even higher area of the hill, so we kept going until we got to the top of that highest area. Time check again, 7 minutes and 20 seconds. Safety achieved! I was gasping and Yuki’s tongue was hanging out. I rummaged in our backpack pulling out water for all 3 of us. Note to self: Keep a backpack with water close to the door to take with us when we have to quickly escape with our lives.

‘Tsunami’ is a Japanese word meaning “harbor wave.” The Japanese changed the name from the old name of “tidal wave” in 1963, because they didn’t want people to think tsunamis were caused by the ordinary pull of the moon which influences the tides. Tsunamis are far from ordinary tidal waves. When an earthquake and a resulting tsunami happens, what the geologists call “the big one,” people along the Northwest coast will have between 5 minutes and 15 minutes before the tsunami comes ashore. Depending on the strength of the earthquake, it could be upwards of a 100 foot high wall of water rushing at 600 miles per hour – the speed of jet planes. That does not allow a lot of warning or time to evacuate. From our test today, we determined that we would possibly have a chance to get to high ground and survive before everything below this spiky hill (a basalt volcanic neck) was washed away. All of Cannon Beach, the Surfsand, and everything else below this point where we stood panting and gasping in the warm afternoon sunshine, would be gone.

The view from the top of our safe hill was spectacular. Its hard to really imagine that such utter devastation lies skulking in the Juan de Fuca Trench a few hundred miles off-shore. Earthquake experts estimate that in a 9.0 earthquake (a really big one like the one hitting Japan a couple years ago), basically everything in the Northwest will be toast west of I-5. This includes the entire Oregon coast, Eugene, Salem and Portland, the entire Washington coast and inland to Vancouver next to Portland, the Seattle area, Bellingham Washington, and Vancouver in British Columbia and environs. That’s a lot of real estate and millions and millions of people.

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We now have information and an informal test to show that we might survive a tsunami. So then what? We would be standing on a small, 2 acre hilltop, with a bunch of local people who probably also know to run there, in a landscape that would be wiped out for 100s of miles or more north, south, and east of us. It would be the equivalent of Masada, only instead of Romans threatening, we would be besieged by swirling sea water and debris. Then what? No food, water, room service, cabana service to bring us food and drinks on the beach, spa robes, or anything else.

We looked back down the long flight of stairs and decided to go down the west side stairs and end up on the beach a short distance from Haystack Rock. The tide was low and friendly and we love looking at the tide pools surrounding this famous Oregon Coast feature. Paul’s original idea was that if the sirens went off, we should just gather up Yuki and all hold on to each other and get swept away together. That sounded romantically fatalistic to me for about 3 seconds. Hell no!! Lets figure out if it would be possible for us to survive, and then if we can determine that it isn’t even remotely possible, I’ll buy into Paul’s original romantic fantasy plan.

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We hiked back along the beach to the Surfsand in time for Happy Hour on our balcony overlooking the scenic Haystack Rock. I was hoping the tsunami sirens didn’t go off anytime soon, as we were pretty much beat from our survivability test run. Ah, but we do love coming to the Oregon coast in spite of the risk of being attacked by a tsunami. We’ve already booked dates in June and July of 2016.

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Kachka – A Russian Dining Experience

For one of my 70th birthday presents, my dear son’s and their families gave me a gift certificate to an intriguing Russian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, called Kachka.

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It has been on the Portland foodie scene for about a year. It features food from Russia and the former Soviet states, some humble and some fit for the Tzar himself. They use mostly organic ingredients and buy as many of their ingredients from local farmers as possible. The recipes for the food that is served come from the owner’s, Bonnie Morales, mother, Luba. They are multigenerational family recipes from the ‘old country’ for food that Bonnie used to think was ‘disgusting’ when she was a kid, and later realized was actually deliciously priceless.

My husband Paul and I made our reservation for a Saturday evening at 6:30. This is way too early to eat for the hip, urbane Portland crowd, who want to eat dinner no earlier than 9 PM, so we had no trouble getting a table for 2. A lot of the tables are set up for crowds of people coming in to share as many of the tasty Russian Zakuskis (akin to Tapas) as they can fit on every square inch of their tables.

Kachka also boasts of having over 60 different Vodkas from around the word – most from Russia. Their vodka listing reads like most restaurant’s wine lists. Plus, they also have fancy Ruski cocktails with names like the Pinko Commie Bastard, Siberian Express, and Red Clouds. Beers and wines from the Soviet bloc are also available. The vodka is served in either 30g, 60g, or 100g amounts. You can do the math. You want to be careful with this stuff, as although 30g of vodka doesn’t sound like much (about 1 oz), it stacks up pretty fast and then hits you like a hammer and sickle. I decided to be adventuresome, and a little reckless maybe, as a person doesn’t make it to 70 years old every day. So, I ordered a ‘Flight” which is three 30g pours, to either sip or shoot. Thank heavens I decided to sip!

I chose the flight called the Mother Russia, which consisted of Green Mark Vodka from Moscow, Hammer & Sickle from Moscow, and Imperia, from St. Petersburg. These were served in tiny shot glasses, icy-cold as the Siberian tundra. They tasted pretty much like, well, vodka, only with slightly herbal notes. I liked them, but I wasn’t sure I had the palate to really appreciate them like a true Russian would.

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Nostrovia!

Here is one of the Zakuskis we ordered first. Zakuskis are small plates of a variety of items to taste – kind of like Tapas in Spain. There are cold Zakuskis and hot Zakuskies to choose from. This one is called a Fish Board (a cold Zakuski) and it consists of House-cured Back Cod, Beet-cured King Salmon, Scottish Mackerel, Cold-Smoked Capitan, and Cod-Liver pastet (like pate). There were 2 kinds of breads – dark crispy rye toast slices and soft pumpernickel slices. Tiny potato rounds sprinkled with dill were nestled in some smetana. The smoked fish selection was delicate and flavorful.

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Along with this, we ordered an assorted pickle collection which had some incredible house made sauerkraut, cucumbers, pickled garlic scapes, peppers, and mushrooms. These were like nothing you’d buy in a jar in a market. The sauerkraut was especially incredible.

Accompanying our Zakuskies, Paul ordered a turkish red wine called Kalecik Karasi 2012 turasan. He liked it a lot and thought it was similar to a French Cote du Rhone.

Below is a photo of the assorted pickle selection.

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The last Zakuski we ordered was an extraordinary item called “Herring Under a Fur Coat.” It was absolutely exquisite. It is a Russian version of a small 7-Layer Dip, but don’t let that put you off. The bottom layer is a soft, warm potato pancake layered with carrots, parsley aioli, finely-shredded beets, onions, beet-cured herring, and a finely chopped hard-cooked egg. A tiny sprig of fresh dill completed the presentation.

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This combination of flavors was absolutely amazing. Who would have thought all those things mixed together could taste so incredible? I could just envision Yuri and Lara eating this in their better days in a grand, ornate banquet room at the Tzar’s palace.

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A word about the restaurant itself. It is located in an older part of S.E. Portland on the East side of the Willamette River on SE Grand. It is laid out in a long narrow orientation front to back. There were incredibly high ceilings. It is decorated with an old-fashioned Soviet bloc decor with dulled wallpaper you might have seen in your old-world great grandmother’s house. Some gilt-framed mirrors hint at the opulence that was once the provence of Tzars, and are the only bright spots on the walls as they reflect the very low lighting. Here is a shot from our table-for-two against a long wall looking toward the front of the restaurant.

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Then it was time for our main dishes to start coming along. We told our waiter (Miles) at the start that we were not in a hurry and didn’t want to get ‘slammed’ with everything showing up all at once. We wanted to linger over our selections so we could evaluate and enjoy all the new tastes and flavors. Meanwhile, I decided to order another flight of vodkas – different ones this time so we could try another 3 kinds, and another choice of wine for Paul. Fortunately, he was helping me out by also tasting my various vodkas. Paul ordered a Macedonian wine called Vranec 2011. He said it was very much like the Turkish Kalecik Karasi he had earlier. He liked them both equally.

This time, I decided to splurge and I ordered a Super Premium flight consisting of Snow Queen from Kazakhstan, Slovenia from Slovenia, and Jewel of Russia Classic from Moscow. Again, there were three 30g servings in freezing cold shot glasses. Refreshing, actually with stronger flavors than the Mother Russia flight from earlier. Nostrovia! Again!

Our main dishes arrived. Paul had ordered Golubtsi which were sweet and sour cabbage rolls stuffed with pork in a tomato-based sauce, topped with smetana – an Eastern-European sour cream, and fresh dill.

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I ordered Rabbit in a Clay Pot, which is rabbit hindquarters braised in smetana with porcini mushrooms, sour cherries, whole garlic cloves, and draniki. (potato pancakes).

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This was very flavorful, rich and creamy, perfect for a cold Winter’s night. I was amazed at how much tender meat there was on a rabbit’s hindquarters! It was more than I could finish, but our waiter boxed it up nicely for a perfect lunch the next day.

Here is a close-up of the cute clay pot my rabbit was served in. Very nice presentation.

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Here’s my plate with the rabbit and the draniki with the smetana sauce.

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In spite of our satiated state, we just HAD to order one of the Russian desserts offered. Sadly, they did not have a ‘Zakuski’ with a small taste of everything to try, so we were forced to each pick one. We planned to take a taste of each other’s so we could at least sample two of them. Paul ordered the Sour Cherry Vareniki – a Ukranian specialty of small Scrabble tile-size pillows of noodle dough, each individually stuffed with a sour cherry, pan-fried in butter and served with a cherry liqueur sauce. It was served with an extra dollop of whipped smetana on the top for good measure. Oh, my.

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I ordered the Raspberries and Smetana which were macerated raspberries with whipped smetana over a tiny piece of vanilla cake. It was very delicious without being overly sweet in spite of what you might think.

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Paul brought most of his Vareniki home with him, and he is having it with his lunch today.

At the end of our meal, our check was presented to us in a cute little metal box! How fun!

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When you flipped open the little box, the check was folded over inside!

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Many, many thanks to our loving family for such a wonderful gift that introduced us to an new and thoroughly enjoyable cuisine. I would go back again someday as we saw several things on the menu we would like to try in the future. Plus, there are now at least still 54 kinds of vodka we haven’t tried yet!

Dosvedanya, Kachka!!

If you go:

Kachka
720 SE Grand
Portland, OR 97214
503-235-0059

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Bigfoot Chili Mix Product Review

When we are at our summer home near Portland, Oregon, we always shop at a family-owned Portland classic meat market. It is Gartner’s Country Meats and it is like no butcher shop you could ever dream of having available in your neighborhood. They do all their own meat cutting and cut things to order exactly the way you like them. They smoke their own hams and bacon and make all their own sausages. I could go on and on.

I was in there yesterday to buy some meats (no, we aren’t totally vegetarian, though a lot) and while I was waiting for them to custom cut my order, I saw this chili mix for sale on a shelf. When Gartner’s sells someone else’s product, you can be sure that it is something they have tried and can whole-heartedly recommend with their own reputation at stake. I read the ingredients on the package of chili mix and saw that there were only a few spices and chili peppers. No MSG, preservatives, or additives of any kind. Pure and simple. The color looked great and the recipe for making their chili was simple and straightforward, with just a few ingredients that most anyone would have around their kitchen.

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After examining the chili mix and reading the recipe on the back of the packet, I add 2 pounds of chili grind hamburger to my order. Gartner’s does custom grinding of meats to your specifications to fit whatever recipe you are planning to make. So, 2 one-pound packages of chili grind beef was added to my bag. I walked out of Gartner’s with high hopes for the new chili recipe I planned to make the very next day.

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I assembled all my ingredients. I had everything I needed, and more. I planned to make the Bigfoot Chili in the afternoon and make some homemade corn bread to go with it shortly before dinner.

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Following Bigfoot’s recipe, I browned the chili grind meat until it was deeply caramel-colored in a large skillet on med-high heat. I browned each pound separately so it would not just steam together. As the meat browned, I transferred each batch to a large enamel-coated cast iron pan (I use Le Creuset).

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I was careful to use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to the Le Creuset, leaving most of the fat in the skillet for the next step.

Next, I added the chopped onions to the skillet to sauté until they were slightly softened. I have a confession here. I made a slight change to Bigfoot’s recipe and I added 3 large cloves of fresh garlic, coarsely chopped in with the onions. In my opinion, fresh chopped garlic always makes most things taste better – especially chili.

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Continuing to follow Bigfoot’s directions, I mixed the sautéed onions in with the browned chili meat and then added the packet of Bigfoot Chili Mix, folding it all together to get all the spice mix coating on all the meat chunks and onions. Next I scraped aside the meat, onion and spice mixture to make a ‘well’ to pour in the canned diced tomatoes and the beef broth. The I gently stirred everything together so that the liquid and the tomatoes didn’t just wash all that spice mixture off of the meat.

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Now it looked like this:

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I brought it to a simmer and put the lid on it, slightly ajar, so it would not just boil and steam inside. I turned it down to low, stirring very gently from time to time.

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I slowly simmered the chili for about 2 hours, then added one can of pinto beans for another 1/2 hour. The recipe says if you are from Texas, don’t add the beans. I spent a lot of time in Texas in my past and I still like some beans in my chili, even though most Texans don’t want them in theirs.

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Next, I got out the ingredients for homemade buttermilk cornbread. I used an old-fashioned Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe.

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Here is my masterpiece cornbread! Yay!

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And here is our wonderful Bigfoot Chili dinner, sprinkled with fresh chopped Vidalia onions on top of the chili!

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So, get yourself some Bigfoot Chili Mix and make your own fantastic chili supper. You’ll be so happy you tried it.

Note from Carpyharpy. If you are looking for a sexy, fun, feel-good love story for your summer read, get yourself a copy of A Spring in the Desert, by Joan Koblas. Its an adventure love story in a modern setting but without the Zombies and cannibals. You will be so waiting for the movie version once you read it. It is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, and on Kindle and Nook.

Tomkins Pottery Take-Over – An Unexpectedly True Story

Saturday morning, I went to downtown Yuma, Arizona, to Tomkins Pottery to help them with their Take-Over Fundraiser for the benefit of the Yuma Fine Arts Association. It was scheduled to run from 10 AM ’til 5 PM. As Vice President and Fundraising Chair for Yuma Fine Arts Association, I was there to help out with the crowds of people who (hopefully) would be showing up to buy pottery, with 50% of the purchase price being generously donated to Yuma Fine Arts by George and Neely Tomkins.

George and Neely have been the ceramic artists/owners of Tomkins Pottery – a popular landmark business here in Yuma, Arizona – located in the Historic Yuma Business District which is downtown for nearly 40 years.

Tomkins Take-over poster

A ‘Take-Over’ is a type of fundraiser where a business hosts a fundraising group or organization by offering to donate a percentage of their sales to the group on a certain day, or between certain business hours. People from the group hoping to benefit from the sales, come into the business to help out while the Take-Over is going on. With timely advertising about the event, your group hopes to have many people show up and buy a lot of stuff so your group gets a nice take of the sales. It benefits both the business and the group raising the funds.

The Yuma Fine Arts Association’s mission is to inspire creativity and innovation by connecting art with our community through a diverse array of exhibits, workshops, art therapy experiences (such as the Veteran’s Art Project), student art collaborations, and cultural events. We regularly have national and world renown artists on display in our downtown Art Center, which is the envy of cities many times larger than Yuma.

The Yuma Symposium is a series of demonstrations, lectures and visual presentations given by both internationally recognized and emerging artists who have demonstrated unusual talent. The Art Symposium was started by George and Neely Tomkins 36 years ago and now attracts upwards of 300 artists from around the United States and other countries.

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I arrived early with a ‘Traveler’ of Starbuck’s coffee to see us through the morning hours. When I got there, Neely was almost distraught over the fact that the Symposium’s insurance company had informed her that they would not issue the one-day event insurance necessary to serve alcohol at the big closing dinner of the Symposium on Saturday night, UNLESS she could provide them with the name of a duly-certified Bartender. This is the 36th year that the Symposium is presented over 3 days in February, and it attracts nearly 300 artists from all over the United States and some foreign countries. The Saturday night dinner is the culmination of these three days.

Neely had been searching all over Yuma for a bartender with the required certification who could tend and oversee the bar for the dinner. She could not find ANYONE who wasn’t already working on Saturday night. She had to come up with someone before Monday morning or the special permit would die on the vine and the dinner would not have the beer and wine the Symposium attendees had come to look forward to and expect. Neely looked up the certification requirements the insurance company told her the bartender needed in order to satisfy them. There was a $40.00 certification course recommended online that the insurance company would accept. It was an online course, said to take about 4 hours to complete. Then a 46-question exam had to be passed at the end to get certification. You HAD to complete the entire course before they would allow you to take the exam. No skipping straight to the exam if you felt especially confident.

I told Neely not to stress anymore over this, because help had just walked in her door. Me. I told her I would take the course and get certified and serve as the ‘official’ bartender for the Saturday night dinner. I was going to be there anyway because I am registered for the Symposium. She could hardly believe it! She said the Symposium would, or course, pay for the $40.00 course fee. I immediately registered for the course on the spot, and started in on it right there on her computer in the Tomkins Pottery shop.

I was instructed by the course company that I could not be away from the computer for more than 1/2 hour, or even change my web browser, or they would log me off and I would have to start all over. About an hour into the 4-hour course, George turns on his online streaming Pandora Radio out in his studio and the Internet cuts out on my computer in the shop and I get bounced off of my course. Yikes! I figured out how to get back online with the course, and I only had to start it over back to the last section I had finished. Not too much damage done. Neely told George, in no uncertain terms, not to do ANYTHING on his computer while I was doing this course and exam.

I just want to say here, that this wasn’t a course about how to mix drinks. I had to learn all the alcohol laws in Arizona, how to identify and catch fake and/or altered Driver’s Licenses and State-issued ID Cards from all 50 U.S. States AND Territories, plus Canada and Mexico. Anybody ever seen a Driver’s License from Guam?? Do you think you could tell if it was fake if you did see one? I had to be able to spot suspected under-age drinkers or of-age people buying for their underage friends. Throughout the course, there were short little videos and then a series of questions to test whether I could spot the underaged, the drunks, the fake licenses, etc. Some were very entertaining. I had to be able to identify an impaired person a mile away and know how to deal with unruly, belligerent drunks in bars, sporting venues, festivals, Art Fairs, etc.

I had to learn and be able to identify interventions that would not get me or someone else killed by an out-of-control drunk. All the while it was strongly emphasized that if I made a mistake, I could get fired immediately and no one’s insurance would bail me out or cover me. I would be held completely responsible at a personal level and could face arrest, fines, license consequences, lawsuits, etc. Scary responsibility!

Later, George came in and asked about lunch. I told him to go down to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, Mi Ranchito, and get us some take-out and bring it back. It was only a couple blocks away. He asked what I wanted and I told him “Anything that I can eat with a fork or spoon while sitting at the computer doing an emergency online bartending course.” He came back a while later with cheese enchiladas, beans, and rice lunch plates for each of us. We decided I could afford to take 20 minutes away and eat with them on one of the back pottery tables.

After lunch, I got back to the course. It took me 3 hours to complete the actual 4-hour course. Next came the exam. It was a sudden-death exam – I had to answer all 46 questions then push ‘Submit’ and it would tell me if I had passed or not. I could have retaken it, but only AFTER doing the online course over again! Jeez! I needed to pass it right then, because we were running out of time. So I took the exam – another 1/2 hour – and we held our breath and I pushed ‘Submit.” A few tense seconds ticked by and then this appeared:

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We were jumping up and down hugging and cheering! Neely was saved and the Symposium Dinner was saved. We printed out several copies, and she was going to email a copy to her insurance company showing me as the Certified Bartender. I was exhausted from the tension of the whole ordeal, thinking about what would happen if I had pushed ‘Submit’ only to find I had failed. Ish. How embarrassing that would have been! I can’t even go there.

The certification company (TIPS – Training for Intervention Procedures) will send Neely an official, sealed and stamped certificate for me in 3 business days, but the online copy will be good enough to prove to the insurance company that the Symposium has an official Certified Bartender.

So this is the story of how I went to the Tomkins Take-Over Fundraiser to help out on behalf of the YFAA Board of Directors in the morning, and came home a Licensed Bartender in the afternoon. I suppose I should add this to my Resume – just in case this retirement gig doesn’t work out.

If anyone is interested, we still have sponsorships and advertising opportunities available for YFAA’s major event – A pARTy in the Park – a community-wide art fair on the Colorado River at Gateway Park in Yuma on March 28, 2015. Contact information is listed on the flyer below.

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