The First Mixer

Three times per year, our neighborhood hosts a mixer for everyone to get to know each other- particularly those that have recently moved in. They are hosted in a volunteer’s backyard. Due to my work induced hibernation called busy season, Alex and I missed a couple when we first moved in.  When late spring offered the opportunity to shut down the laptop and go meet the neighbors for the first time, we indulged. The mixer was held at Jeff & Nancy’s home, which was a beautifully restored ranch style home with a great big outdoor bar and barbeque with black tumbled marble countertops, and plenty of seating. They also had a tree house further back! Inside, the house was modern with a great cook’s kitchen. I didn’t get a full tour, but what I saw, was sleek and nicely updated. Mixers are generally confined to the backyard so to get to see the inside was quite a treat.

We met and spent time chatting with Karen and Ed, who told us the history of the infamous neighborhood horse (apparently a recently removed sculpture which was much beloved), Jeff (the homeowner), and another Ed who happened to have a HAM radio connection with Alex – that’s where I tuned out (pun intended). I instead turned my attention to the food.

Mixers are a wonderful thing. Everyone is supposed to bring a dish potluck style that feeds about 6 people, but they seem to feed much, much more. The neighborhood association provides the beverages. We had veggies, cheese, dips, cake, and cookies. We had a dinner plans with friends that night, so it was difficult not to over indulge. This was where I started to introduce myself to the neighbors, and it was important to make a good first impression.

How to be Neighborly: Always make a good first impression.

So, I brought my trusty zucchini salsa and pita chips. Everyone always loves this. This time was no different. As predicted, everyone loved it. It’s easy, flavorful, and relatively healthy. Take this to your next potluck and you’re sure to make a good impression too!

Zucchini Salsa with Pita Chips

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Zucchini/Mexican squash diced into ¼ inch pieces
  • 1 tsp dill
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ¼ red onion, diced
  • ¼ c pomegranate seeds (*)
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Pita chips

IMG_1696Combine oil, zucchini, dill, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper in a bowl and coat the zucchini. Put the zucchini on a sheet pan and roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until just softened, but not mushy or brown. Let the zucchini cool to room temperature. Once cool, add zucchini, onion, pomegranate seeds, avocado, and lemon juice to a bowl. Stir to combine, but be gentle with the avocado.

Serve with Pita Chips.

(*) If you can’t find pomegranates, you can use pine nuts and chopped dried cranberries: ¼ c each.

Spreading the love… of curd 

This year, Alex and I stayed home on Valentine’s day.  No neighborhood parties, no dinner reservations, just the two of us, well, three with our dog Wiley.  A neighbor had told us about this great Persian supermarket with amazing fruits, veggies and meats.  We took a field trip to see what it was all about and stock up for V-day dinner.  We got a rack of lamb, Persian flat bread, and colorful tomatoes.

How to be Neighborly: Let your neighbors in on the secret hole in the wall finds!

Now I was off to menu planning.  My mom had given me some blood orange curd, so I needed to find some way to use that for dessert. So this was what I whipped up for dinner: Continue reading

The Contributing Community

I understand. We are all busy. We have work, family, friends, some of us have kids… so when, and why, could you find time to contribute to your community? You know it’s important, but finding the time is hard. And if you were to find the time, why spend it on service? Hard labor, even?

Well, if there is one thing this place has taught me, it is that if you work with others towards a common goal, your relationship with those people will be strengthened more than you thought possible. So, with that, I cancelled my yoga class and headed out at 8:30 am on Saturday to paint for the third year in a row. The goal was refreshing our tired and dirty light posts. The benefit would be catching up with friends, and meeting new ones. Added incentive needed? Mimosas and donuts don’t hurt either.

We all gathered at “Base Camp,” each followed in tow by relevant supplies: carts, wheelbarrows, ladders, step stoops, brooms, brushes, paint brushes, “City approved” black paint, ice, OJ, sparkling wine. The essentials. Alex (a.k.a. “Ladder Boy”) brought out the hand held radios. Communication is important to encourage teamwork. “Strike Leader” (a.k.a. Jon) helped organize everything. Maps were provided. Instructions were given. Teams were formed.

  • Pole Position Teams: Paint Light Posts
    • Team 1: Cat Lady, Hawaii 5-0, and Scooby Doo
    • Team 2: Cougar, Old Cougar, and Mer-lay. Biker Boy joined in after his ride.
    • Team 3: Strike Leader, L-Dog, and S-man
  • Tag Team: Spray paint signs
    • Team 4: Ladder Boy, T-money, and Sniffles

IMG_1643The teams rolled out, maps and instructions in hand. We all crouched around the posts, cleaning, painting, inspecting, and then admiring. For 3 hours, we joked, sipped, munched, discussed the neighborhood history, upcoming events, people, plans, etc. The four teams communicated over the radios, less for supplies, more for fun.

IMG_1644Half way through the task, we ran across another volunteer crew, independent of ours: The Tree Huggers. They had organized themselves to at our neighborhood herb garden to spruce up the joint. The garden is large enough for a handful of benches to surround a large evergreen. For such a small space, it can grow an impressive amount of weeds. Half of them were on hands and knees, weeding and planting. The other half were raking, sweeping, and pruning. It appeared we weren’t the only ones interested in contributing and building that sense of community.

How to be Neighborly: The neighborhood that works together, stays together.

Whether you believe the goal was painting or pruning, weeding or cleaning, fun or building a sense of community, when we turned around, there were a row of shining black light posts behind us, a flowering garden at the corner, and a smiling group of friends around us. Mission accomplished.

  
     

The Importance of Flowers

 

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Clivias

My garden has a mind of its own. We didn’t plant it, it came with the home, and it has a natural wild beauty to it. Whomever planted it, however, really understood the seasons. It always has something new spouting as the seasons change. My favorite is spring. Each March, the very back of our yard explodes to life with vibrant orange Clivias. I don’t proclaim to be a green thumb… I rely on Alex to keep the living things around me alive (herbs, veggie garden, plants, flowers, dog). I feed Alex the caretaker. And, I’ve fed him well, because the garden continues to flourish. That first spring in the home, I couldn’t help but bring the outdoors in. I placed a cutting of Clivia in the front entry and it just made me smile every time I opened the front door. I had some left over scented diffuser bottles, so I used those as bud vases and put them all over the house. Once the Clivia season had ended, I missed the flowers, so I restocked the front entry with an orchid. A very good friend came over for dinner one night and commented that flowers in the entry were good Feng Shui, good Chi. Apparently the orchid is a symbol of the quest for perfection in any areas of one’s life. It is also associated with abundance, spiritual growth, beauty and purity. Orchids now greet each of my visitors before my dog does and you’ll find fresh clippings from the garden all year long scattered throughout the house. I’ll take any help I can get from the flowers and even if my life isn’t perfect, I’ll take the smile that comes along with them.

How to be Neighborly: Greet your visitors with a flower and a smile.

Brazilian Hospitality

IMG_1586We are fortunate to have a couple chefs in our neighborhood. When we became Membership Directors of the neighborhood association and were responsible for creating a welcome basket for new neighbors, I wanted to create a basket of locally produced treats. I reached out to one such chef, the Brazilian wonder Chef Mila, to see if she might contribute her “Chocolate Sauce for Adults.” Kinky? No. Delicious? Yes. It’s a rich Kahlua chocolate sauce that is good on everything. She sells it in high end boutiques, and at our neighborhood events. She graciously agreed to supply the sauce, and a friendship was forged.

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One night, Mila and her wine aficionado husband Richard invited us over for a dinner party with two other couples. Mila and Richard live in one of my favorite homes in the neighborhood. It’s actually the home I had always wanted, from the moment I became aware of Floral Park. Fortunately for them, they beat me to it. It is a 1920’s craftsman masterpiece that was totally restored by the couple that lived in the home before Mila and Richard. It is a 2 bedroom home with lots of built in wood cabinetry. The kitchen has generous storage and the most adorable O’Keefe & Merritt stove. Upstairs, there’s an artist’s loft with square windows on all sides that make you feel like you are in a treehouse or an old fire lookout. It’s perfect for Mila, because she is a gifted painter. Out front, Mila has created a California native garden and in back is a perfect kitchen garden with herbs, peppers, tomatoes and more. The chimney is the most striking feature of the home, with stacked limestone rising high above the second story. Perfection.

The eight of us sat down to a dinner of small plates Mila had worked on all day long. It was a typical Brazilian experience where food, wine and stories are shared over multiple courses. I can’t even remember how many dishes we had… it just kept appearing from the kitchen. Bruschetta, quiche, short ribs, and of course her famous chocolate sauce for dessert. Richard paired the chocolate with a vintage port from 1992 that was divine. He generously gave us a bottle from his collection to take home. As good as everything was (and everything was amazing), there is one item that was so simple but so divine that I HAD to have the recipe. Thankfully, she shared it and has allowed me to share it with you.

How to be Neighborly: Share your stories and recipes.

Beware- once you try this, you will NEVER look at tomatoes the same way. I always double or triple the recipe because I go through these so fast (*). Obrigado, Mila and Richard for a wonderful evening.

Chef Mila’s Oven Roasted Tomatoes

  • 4 lbs ripe roma tomatoes
  • 10 whole garlic cloves
  • 1 c olive oil
  • 5 sprigs rosemary, per pound
  • 1 tbsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees for 10 minutes. Cut roma tomatoes into halves and remove all the seeds (!). Place tomatoes face up on a baking sheet. Add salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic and drizzle oil on top of every tomato. Bake tomatoes for about 3 hours until well roasted. If you have the time, bake at 250 degrees for about 4 to 5 hours.

Reprinted courtesy of Chef Mila Payne, One of a Kind Cookbook

Delicious on sandwiches, in pasta dishes, added to salads, or as appetizers on sliced baguettes. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks (*). I like to serve these on toasted bread with goat cheese.

Hint: Go with the LONG COOKING version.  You will be rewarded for you patience.

(*) You can freeze these so you always have a handy appetizer ready to serve.

(!) You can squeeze the tomato halves into a bowl and the majority of the seeds will pop out.