Monday, August 29, 2011

Tomato Jackpot

This time last year, if you remember (I certainly do!!!), I was strolling all the Farmers’ Markets a couple of counties over in search for home grown tomatoes. And almost every time, I would come home either empty handed, or disappointed, with tomatoes that tasted so-and-so, but cost more than the grocery ones.

I love fresh tomatoes! My poor old grandma, God rest her in peace, is probably smiling down on me (I have said this before, too) knowing I love them so much – I used to hate them as a kid and she used to make me eat them every morning. Now, I can’t get enough of them. But not literally!

So, after last year’s tomato drought, I decided to put a few tomato plants in my new veggie garden. I bought about 10 or so, thinking, juuuussst maybe one or two will bear fruit. And holy Christmas! They all did! Don’t even ask me what kind I bought, ‘cause I think I bought one of each kind, telling myself that “well, we’re experimenting and there is no way they’re all going to come out, anyway”. They all bore fruit, and they are all deliciousness in a bowl! Sweet, and ripe, and firm. They are so heavy with fruit, they break the stakes! They are all laying on one side right now, and I have given up trying to tie them up them properly.

My heavy with fruit tomato plants

I have made tons of tomato salads, and cooked with them so far: just put them over pasta, with herbs and such, made omelet with them, soups, put them on the grill, even! Let me tell you, my Southern friends would tell me there is nothing like a fresh tomato sandwich, and that is the pure truth! But skip the sandwich – just slice them up, put some salt and pepper on them and eat them on the side of your favorite … whatever …

My wild cherry tomatoes

I am not tomatoed out yet! I am so greedy, I am not even sharing them! And they keep coming, too! Now, I am looking for recipes on how to preserve them for the winter – who would have thought that in a state where the farmers had trouble growing them last year, I could get such a harvest?!

Till I find just the perfect way to can them or the perfect recipe for a canned sauce, I just bagged several portions of freshly chopped tomatoes for winter chili and I am planning my next salad meal. Cannot wait! Hmmm… the smell of tomatoes on your hands …

Remember Bubba in Forrest Gump telling Forrest about however many ways you can cook shrimp?! Well, that’s how I feel right about now with tomatoes! What else can I do with them?! Good thing we have google for that, and

And as for sharing them. Maybe next year. Hopefully.

And in case you forgot Bubba - a reminder

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Torn by Contradictions

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” ~ John Muir

They were apple trees. I think. I drive to work every morning through this neighborhood. It’s a mixed bag of old and new houses, some well kept, some not so. Not a cookie cutter business, but sort of a compact but eclectic mix of this and that – all sizes, all sidings, all sorts of landscape, green and desert. In the middle of this small city world, there is a beautiful green and fresh orchard that stretches for a couple of blocks, behind a well kept split rail, white fence, where horses graze in the heat. A fresh, green spot in the middle of asphalt, giving your eye a break in today’s overgrown urban jungle. Or should I say … there was an orchard.

The orchard is sort of a big deal, perhaps, been there longer than the mix-and-match houses, because the neighborhood elementary school adjacent to it is called Orchard Elementary. Judging by the 70’s looking architecture of the school, it looks like it’s been there a while. This week, I drove past the orchard as usual, only to see all the trees cut down to the ground, and a big sign in front of the fence announcing custom homes coming up soon.

My heart sank! I keep trying to forget about it, to not think about it too long, but the poor, beautiful trees laying down and withering – dying - under the desert sun have been haunting me like a bad deed trying to scream out from cover! What a shame! In a place where it’s so hard to grow anything, because of long winters, too much rock and not enough rich soil, too much scorching sun and not a lick of shade, a whole entire orchard that somehow weathered it all is now gone. And for what?!

A page of Americana - with this old truck driving by the "Orchard Elementary" sign

My first impulse was: “Great! We have thousands of empty houses people (me, included) can’t sell in today’s market, all we need is more homes?!” I hated the person who came up with the idea and hated those who cut the trees down. But then my husband reminded me – maybe the farmer is just trying to get out of debt and the money he got from the developer will pay for all his troubles and allow him to live comfortably, or maybe he has a huge loan due to health trouble to pay off, and this will allow him to do that. Maybe his kids need to go to college? And everyone wants new homes nowadays – some families will be happy there.

I don’t know what to think. Sure, those are all good points. But the trees, somehow, to me, have to have a say in all this too. Years and years of fighting drought and wind. Years of trying to be fruitful, despite all adversities. The assiduous care of the farmer, who had to water them, fertilize the soil, prune, mow around them, weed, protect them from pests! All that – gone. In half of a day, all that work, and sweat, and green – gone. Then, the name "orchard" which established a neighborhood (the neighborhood grocery store shopping center is called "Orchards", too), a page of the history of the city, maybe - elbowed aside by "civilization".

Behind the pretty fence, the fruit trees cut down to the ground
(click on the picture for a larger view)

All good reasons for it set a side, I can’t help but feel a big, deep hole in my heart. There is something sad about trees being killed. A little spot of heaven on earth goes away. A huge disappointment in humanity. A feeling of emptiness and loss like that of missing a good ol’ friend only now, they’re gone forever.

“Who leaves the pine-tree, leaves his friend,
Unnerves his strength, invites his end.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ "Woodnotes"

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Love America, the Past

A personal quest kind of blog

“At some point … we became a nation of whining, sniveling, complaining, suing, Prozac-gobbling, label-warning, non-spanking, airbag-surrounded, water-conserving, designated-driving, emailing geeks.” (Prioleau Alexander – “You Want Fries with That?”)

I come from a long line of very hard workers – as I am sure most of you are. They raised me believing that nothing is ever achieved without sweat, blood and tears. And most often than not, the government, your company, your rich brother, or just life in general, good ol’ Karma, will rob you of everything you’ve got. And that’s just normal. But no matter the hardships, you worry about yourself, and keep going.

I moved to America, leaving everything I had and knew behind, because I was also raised that in America, things are different. You work hard, and you get to keep most of it (except for the taxes, of course, but they have laws for that!). Injustices are punished and fairness is restored. People are respectful and own their actions.

I was raised to believe that in America all things are possible. I grew up reading the stories of the making of this beautiful nation, stories of freeing of the Old South and of shaping up of the great, big Wild West where people started with nothing but their own bodies and own two hands, and slowly and assiduously, made a life. For them, and their followers.

Back in the day where there was no law, no boundaries, and nothing but willing, hardworking people with a vision. And thus America was built. No complaining about hardships, just a big, wonderful dream of making it. They crossed an ocean, they fought persecution and extreme poverty, diseases unknown, and they made a country. They had will. They had hope. They had drive. They had grit! And amazing things did happen – the civilization we enjoy today is proof of that. That’s the America of my childhood stories. The sense of adventure, and freedom to achieve something lured me in like an iris does a bee!

As they often tell you, once you get closer, the shine seems to fade, however. I sometimes wonder, in my day to day life, when and where did that shine disappear? I am wondering are we truly the followers of such wonderfully driven and resolute people that built this unequal under the sun nation, of freedom, equality and hope?! Where are today’s whiners, and complainers, and weaklings truly coming from? When did apathy replace fortitude?!

Our world today is full of people who are mostly ungrateful, self-entitled, self-absorbed, over-consuming, space-hogging, comfort seekers, who need buttons and “apps” for everything to avoid using a minimum effort for anything. The pride is still there, however, but its roots are gone!

I am still to find the true passion that built this country in our every day life, especially in days like today where this passion is needed. It’s so sad, some days, to watch this! A myth busted is always disappointing, but even more so when that myth was the Bible of your own life. We all complain about too much work and not enough pay, and we too often forget about people who just a couple of hundred of years ago were still tracking across an empty and beautiful land full of nothing but dust, starting farms and building roads with nothing but their own backs! Too much work?!

I hear people every day that that “have to have” comfort, and recognition, and respect, but they show little effort to earn those. The sense of expectation is far bigger than the sense of deserving.

We criticize that the waitress is rude, the internet is too slow, the burger is too dry, the a/c is not cold enough, there is no customer service anymore – and these are all unacceptable, unless – unless – unless – we are in the business of providing these! If we are supposed to provide these for others, all of a sudden, things change. Then we want amendments! “Well, yeah, I talked bad to my customer but my five year old is sick with the flu so I didn’t get much sleep last night” or “I showed up for work every day last month – why didn’t I get a bonus?!”. Or “Oh, yeah, Sir, your internet is slow, but you can’t stream a movie, have 100 tabs open, upload pictures and a movie all at the same time. Sorry.” But this shall not apply to us.

We find such easy excuses when we forget how people before us could not afford them, as their lives depended on their own drive and resolution. They were meant to follow those or perish! How and when did we forget that we actually have to participate in order to reap rewards? That we have to care? That life is hard, but then the pay is grand? We have technology, but the rules of common sense should still apply, don’t you think?!

I think when Bush II got elected, and even worse, re-elected, mediocrity was accepted as the new law of the land. All of a sudden, “life was not that bad for a C grade student” and we could not leave anyone behind! Striving for excellence and trying harder, staples that built America, were never to return as part of the equation of making an American. Excuses flourished. “Good try” replaced “good job” at every level of society. And “good try” was good enough.

There is no accountability anymore. We sue the city because they don’t build fences around rivers, so our kids won’t drown. We come on the radio and declare: “Well, if society wants me to be skinny, they need to provide me with the tools to know what I am eating (about putting calories and fat content on menus nationwide) so I can be skinny”. Really? Seriously? You should have called us first, before your first bite – we would have clued you in! But would you have listened? There are always choices – and today, it’s hip to make the wrong ones and then find a scapegoat to sue.

The decay you see in this society is visible, to me at any level. Our teens might not know who Dostoyevsky, or Cezanne were. Or even Fitzgerald or Frost. But virtually every one of them misses life going by because their heads are buried in a smart phone with a thousand apps doing absolutely nothing, at all times. If I thought finding humor in Jackass was bad, more recently, our society started finding humor in “the human centipede” – and that says enough!

Where I come from we say that one can become weary of “too much good”, and I think that’s what happened to our country. Except for the blue collar worker, or the under minimum wage worker at WalMart, we are all becoming weary of too much good – and the things that “matter” to today’s world are frightening and embarrassing.

Whatever happened to the dream I had of America? A land where everyone was free, happy, resourceful, intelligent, with endurance and drive and worked towards something bigger and better than just shining their navel?!

I talk with friends and family from other cultures and this new era of America is a laughing stock for everyone out there. We boast loud and clear that we don’t need to fix out health system, because we don’t want to lose access to our medicine which is the “best in the world”, and yet I was given the wrong treatment for a sinus infection! And the misdiagnoses, inflated prices, poor paperwork, unresponsiveness, lack of care abound in every family I know!

We have no interest in culture, no manners, our political system is just as bad as everyone else’s out there, and yet we not only don’t think we should be the ones to fix it, but we emptily demand the respect of everyone else in the world, forgetting that respect is earned and there is no kind of real, worthwhile leadership other than that by example. We still clench our fist across our heart and declare ourselves patriots on July 4th. Our pride grows inversely proportional to our resourcefulness and involvement.

I fear some days that all this Americanism is contagious and I am becoming more American than I ever wanted to be. But the choice is to be a cynic – and I am not sure what’s worse.

I still love America, and I am still happy and grateful that I am one of her citizens. But, as a true Romanian passeiste, I love the past more. I also love it because it still allows the freedom for every one of us to be whoever we are, regardless of what’s going on around us. For now. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have a chance not to forget my own past.

I stepped off the box, but if I could make one more suggestion: grab a copy of the “Fries” book quoted above! It will open your eyes to a whole new world. The world you are living in today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From "Family Town" to "Everything Town"

Interesting fact: Did you know that tiramisu is made with … lemons instead of coffee in some Utah County restaurants?! For those who don’t get it, just google “coffee forbidden Utah” and find out.

We are so lucky to be so close to Park City for so many reasons. Not just because it’s a picturesque place to visit, with breathtaking mountains and beautiful architecture, but it’s our breath of fresh air. Literally and figuratively!

We go to Park City for The World Market. We go there for the Whole Foods store. We go there for The Eating Establishment restaurant and Squatters' IPA. We go there for good bagels. We go every summer for Park Silly Sunday Market, and every fall for The Parade of (vacation) Homes.

But most of all, we go there to escape into a sense of normalcy! It’s our chance to remind ourselves we still live in the US of A, and not on a patriarchal estate, somewhere, on a remote island where God locked us up and threw the key away.

In our very guarded, very securely, ever so carefully and morally tightly packed ‘Family County’ we feel like suffocating some days. After tripping on strollers everywhere in our town, after dining next to “The Smiths, family of 23”, of which adults are always outnumbered, every Friday night, no matter what restaurant we pick, after weeks and months of frowns when we order wine in a restaurant and a parade of several waiters in one order because the 16 year old, nor the 18 year old, nor their parent waiters know how to make a ‘non-virgin’ margarita, it’s nice to go “out” (literally) and … have choices!

Funny how our lives change. As the old cliché goes, you don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone. Ordering a drink, being in an adult place, like a bar, and feeling that comfortable unwinding kind of feeling at the end of a long week, where you congregate with other adults and hash out the stress gone by, used to be commonplace a year and a half ago, in another state. Not anymore. Now, it’s a treat that you have to travel to the next city to get.

This past weekend, we got away for an impromptu couple of hours to the said Mecca of Park City. We ate at Bandit’s Barbecue and I re-discovered another long time culinary love of mine that I don’t order but maybe once a year: fried pickles, baby! And here I was thinking that I left them buried into the Ol’ South! Not so.

We also took the chairlift across Main Street and beyond – more than an hour of peace, quiet, fresh pine and sap fragrances, and lots of fresh air. That was such a recharging experience, too! There is something overwhelmingly serene and therapeutic about being forced to just sit, with nowhere to go, and just be. Just breathe and watch and listen. And wonder. That’s what a chairlift does.

But as beautiful as the nature was, and always is, our most favorite part was just to connect with “other” kinds of people. Less judgy, perhaps, and more accepting (or completely ignorant!) of their neighbors. We enjoyed seeing the big, wide, crazy world out there, first hand, past the borders of our subdivision and small city life: colorful people and street décor, no reservations young artists of all sorts of media, we loved enjoying the exotic smells of street foods, like Thai and Peruvian, loved even seeing the oddities, like super fancy mobile restrooms (not the kind you think!), funky art like necklaces made of bent spoons and forks, and spoiled rotten puppies, as well as people eating out on the sidewalks on small patios and decks, taking in the mountain dim sun!

Most importantly, we loved just feeling like ourselves again. With freedom to talk however we want, and order without any nervousness that they might be out of … adult beverages on a weekend, freedom to even shop, on a Sunday …Freedom to move about without tripping on 2 year olds. We forgot there for a minute we’re in the same state. We forgot we’re not on vacation yet. And the ever so joyful and acute feeling of letting go and enjoying the moment was one last plus for which Park City will always be our get-out-and-breathe little getaway! Till next time, world …we’re back on the estate. *Sigh*

For pictures from this midday adventure, click the “last chair”.

Coming back from the mountain on the chairlift - last chair floating by us ...

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Parade

So, my husband and I are home improvement junkies. We watch everything there is to watch on HGTV and DYI Network, and we parade all of the homes there are to parade in a season, three counties over. We like to learn about what’s possible in a home, just because we’re both, at core, really, home bodies. We need to make it as comfortable as we can, right?! And what are you gonna do when you make less money than your heart desires to spend? You dream, and you snoop on others who can afford it, right?!

And you can surely dream while visiting these places – for as many great ideas as we have gotten from these tours, we have gotten that many crazy ones, too. And the people watching is priceless!

Great ideas we have seen. And I am not talking about the really “crazy”, extravagant ones, like golf courses in the basement, and skate boarding half pipes, and mini movie theaters with 20 recliners on premises. Or basement bars with 4-5 suspended television sets above your head. Or indoor pools and bedroom balconies complete with hot tubs and water slides into the waterfall pool down below … I am also talking about the practical, new ideas that we can actually use in real life, for better insulation, cost saving siding and roofing, creative and economical ways to build heating and cooling systems, using solar and wind energy. The list goes on and on. These latter features are really the lessons we learn, constructively, for when we might be ready, one day, to build our own humble abode. One day!

With every house we see, we become more and more fascinated by what’s deemed “comfortable” and “needed” in today’s world. And what is a home anymore? Is it just a place to shelter you from the seasons and offer you comfort at the end of a long week? Or very much a showcase of how much money you have and how wild your architect and interior designer get? Do these people really need all the 10 bedrooms and 12 baths? Really? I know Utah people have large families, but seriously? Most of these mansions have so many “toys” they would never be fit for kids anyway. A horse barn and a waterfall? And a vintage kitchen as if peeled from a French magazine?! Sometimes I wonder how they even have time to cover by foot all the square footage in their own home, in a whole year! I bet you they stash stuff in closets and forget about it, and end up with 10 of the same thing when they eventually move out.

View of the Salt Lake Valley from the living room of one of the homes on Capitol Hill

The size of the homes is not the only thing that amazes me, though. The materials sometimes are unreal, as well as the facilities. You can see everything from elevators to complicated intercom and surround sound systems, from wrap around porches on the second floor to mini play rooms tucked under staircases for the really little ones.

Sinks, in various shapes and colors, made of anything from Murano to recycled glass, the quiet, infinity bathtubs, the efficient (and also quiet) toilets, the 2 toilet master baths, each with its own little room, the views of some of these homes … oh, my! And some homes are built just purely for fun – like the replica of the “Up” house – yes, a real life, very much in-livable copy of the house you saw in Pixar’s “Up” cartoon. Tell me that’s not done purely for experiment and show?!

The "Up" House - complete with the balloons and a hired (or volunteer?!) "actor". The living room has a mural of 'Paradise Falls' above the fireplace and many other movie details

They had on the radio today that the majority of people in Haiti don’t have “permanent homes:”, they live in tents, under tarps and cardboard roofs, in these temporary shelters, since last year’s earthquake, but in America, we can afford to spend a minimum of $100,000 for a “simple home” just for the sake of building.

But it’s fun to snoop. Except for the low points.

The visits are usually fun, except for some “snags” that cramp our picky styles. Like, the infamous “surgeon’s booties”. Man, whoever invented the system was not very bright! I mean – the use of these booties at the home shows: they ask you to slip them over your shoes, not to step on the rugs/ carpet/ hardwoods with your muddy shoes (no mud in the desert, mind you, but …). The worst part is not the wearing of them, but the fact that they reuse them over and over and over again for three weeks straight. And since it’s summer time, most everyone wears sandals – and the booties are wet and smelly from likewise feet! Some homes ask you to put the booties on over you bare feet – again, reusing them forever … and then … it gets really juicy! Some parades, however, forgo the booties, and those are our favorite, no matter what homes they have on display!

Then, it’s the mandatory “chat”. There is usually a representative from the builder’s business or the realtor who’s listing the house – and they must talk to you, about their business, and about your needs, and how the two might meet. And we're not talkers.

I must say, though, other than their normal "business curiosity" – they’re in this business to make money, right?! – they are not too bad. They don’t require you to sign anything, at any time. Some of them might offer a drawing for home décor or other home services, but they are not forcing anyone to sign up – which is pretty nice.

But then, there is the painter guy who makes all the art and murals in the house. And the stay-at-home mom jewelry maker, and the Blazer scooter salesman, and … the trust fund guy – all waiting for you to exit through the garage and while you’re helplessly and embarrassingly and disgustedly peeling off your booties, they jump on your back like a flock of hungry vultures – even with nothing but dirty looks at times - making you feel even smaller than wearing the booties does and answer their lame questions about when was the last time you thought of a will or a trust fund?! I guess they make money at this – but, again: seriously?! Is that a place to “hit people up” for stuff like that?! Credit card offers are next, I am sure!

As for the other visitors, they are usually polite and courteous. Except for the high maintenance wife who insists on yelling out how cheap everything looks compared to her own house, while she snaps shots with her Iphone and sends them over to her rich husband, on business in Shanghai, I am sure. Or except for the parents who think the open house is a new playground that just opened for their 5 kids, and who are letting them behave likewise … But then … they never offer lessons in behaving in public at these joints, so what are you going to do?! All are welcome, and as we know: “all” is a pretty wide range.

Overall, it’s a fun experience. Educational, in many ways, enlightening in more of others, and never boring – by any stretch of the imagination. If you think it’s boring, just ask my husband for the cure: open a cupboard or a closet, and you’ll find a reason for a chuckle. Almost always!

We were so shocked that someone had the guts to display this at the entrance. We had to emigrate to Salt Lake County for this, but ... it was a treat!