Month One…

fruitEncouraged by my neighbors at “The Breakfast Club,” just one month ago today, I launched Neighborly Life, #lifeworthsharing. I wanted to share how special it is to live in this historic and fun community. I am having so much fun with it, and THANK YOU to all of you who have liked, commented, and pinned my posts. I love the feedback…. keep it coming!

Here’s to being neighborly! In the words of a very famous and kind man: Won’t you be my neighbor?  Follow me by clicking on the bottom right button!

I’m not the only one intrigued by this unique place. I thought it might be fun to share some of the stats with my readers about who else is interested in our little community.

Top Stories (#storiesworthsharing):

Top Pin’s

Webpage Interest

  • 1,594 Page Views
  • 233 Visitors
  • Location of viewers
    • US
    • Canada (we’re huge in Canada)
    • UK
    • Germany

Those are the stats! Let me know what your favorite was!  And THANK YOU again for your support!

The Proper Care and Feeding of Trees

IMG_1611As I’ve previously mentioned, we have a giant pine tree in our front yard which is much older than our home.   We also have several mature trees in our backyard, which provide much needed shade during our very hot summers, but were very overgrown when we moved in. We also had one dead oak tree, which we thought “added character” to the backyard, but for which our neighbors teased us.   One day, I heard a tremendous POP, then CRACK, in the front yard, almost as loud as a gunshot. A little shaken, I went to the front door, opened it, and found a giant limb of that beautiful tree had fallen onto the yard. I glanced to the right, and saw a neighbor running toward my house screaming “are you ok?” She was shaken too. I’d never met her before, and to this day haven’t seen her again, but she was clearly very concerned about me at the time. I told her I was fine and went back to pondering how I was going to fix this.

IMG_0200Dave, who is married to Minion the French singer two doors up, came out about 5 minutes later to check in with me. “You know, these trees are very brittle. You have to keep them trimmed, or else…” and he glanced at the fallen limb as if to say… “You aren’t taking very good care of your trees.” So embarrassing. But I really wasn’t.  Then he handled me the card to his arborist (a.k.a. the “Tree Guy”).

So I called up the “Tree Guy,” who was in the Pacific Northwest consulting on northern tree issues. He informed me that little could be done until the Fall. He informed me that if you cut the tree now, the Bark Beetle will invade. Very bad. So we had our gardener haul away the limb and hoped that the remaining limbs held out until the fall when we could get them safely trimmed. Thankfully, they did.  As soon as fall set in, I called the “Tree Guy” back up, and he came out to give me a quote. He informed me of his illustrious career as an arborist, where he single handedly planted, raised, and pruned all of Disneyland’s trees (Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was illustrious). And then he gave me the quote… the size of my mortgage payment (and that was before removal of the dead tree out back). Um… NO.

So back I went to find another Tree Guy that could be equally as competent, but maybe not so illustrious or expensive.   I consulted our Neighborhood referrals in the newsletter, and came upon a Tree Guy named Pedro. Pedro came out, I showed him the front and back yard issues, and he gave me a much more manageable quote.  The next week, Pedro and his guys had the entire front and back yards covered in tree limbs, trimmings, and leaves 3 feet high. He had to bring another truck and another couple guys to get the job done. Mid trim, Alex brought the guys a beer, they were working so hard. When Pedro and team were done, the limbs on the giant pine bounced upward and swayed proudly. The back yard was well groomed, and the dead tree was now gone. The garden was fresh and clean, and ready for the holidays. Pedro even saved all the wood for our fire pit, and brought some more the next week from another job.

Lesson learned. Maintain your trees: They will provide shade when warm, and warmth when cool.

How to be Neighborly: Vote for Pedro. Tell neighbors about people that do good work, for a reasonable price.

Here’s how you can use some of that wood:

Camp Fire S’mores

  • Graham crackers
  • Nutella
  • Peanut butter
  • Marshmallow

Assemble the bottom layer of the s’more with graham cracker, 1 tsp peanut butter, 1 tsp nutella, and then marshmallow.  If you have a fire going, roast the marshmallow on the fire before placing on the nutella.  You can also broil this in the toaster oven for about 2 minutes or until the marshmallow is brown. Leave the top cracker off until the bottom is cooked.

Supper Club

tumblr_m3eirwEg7j1qmmrwj

Suzee, our former social director for the neighborhood, and her husband, Jeff, began an outstanding tradition to host a supper club at a local restaurant.  This was our first time attending.  This one was held at Luna Kutsi in DTSA.  Kutsi is housed in one of DTSA’s most beautiful buildings, the Santora.  It’s a Spanish Colonial revival building built in 1928.  Originally, it housed a Daninger’s Tea Room, a restaurant famous for its celebrity clientele including Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Billie Burke, Charles Ruggles, Connie Haines, Lucille Ball, Gracie Allen, George Burns, Joan Davis, Rosalind Russell, Robert Young, William Holden and Alan Ladd.  Now, it hosts several restaurants, retail spaces, and artists.

IMG_1799Brunch was on the menu for the Supper Club, and it featured a beet salad, green or red chilaquiles, and a creamy Mexican version of a tiramisu.

Seated next to us were KC and Helen, the suppliers of margaritas for our annual Chili Cook-off (more on this later).  Turns out, KC and Helen have a chicken coop that KC built.  It’s the cutest white cottage looking coop with cross hatches on all the doors.  These chickens have good taste… they must watch HGTV.

IMG_1800I was curious about the maintenance, clean up, and egg production.  I think it’d be fun to have chickens assuming the caretaker (Alex, remember?) would be into that kind of thing.  He seemed interested, too.  Given we were hosting a garden exchange at our house the next week, I asked if they might bring some eggs (oh, yes, and if they EVER had any extra, I mentioned I’d be happy to take them off their hands).  Not more than 30 minutes after we got home, our door bell rang and it was Helen and KC with a dozen eggs of our own.  Green, tan, brown.  Just beautiful.

IMG_1450

 

How to be Neighborly: Put your eggs in your neighbor’s basket.

What does one do with a dozen fresh eggs?  Well, head to the “Well Stocked Pantry.” Pull some cream out of the fridge and create a fast, easy, cozy dinner.

Here’s how you can make your own Supper Club Eggs (even if you don’t have KC, Helen, and their chickens, for neighbors, this still works):

Cozy Eggs in Cream

  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 sprig rosemary, finely minced
  • Sea Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan cheese, grated
  • Toast

In an oven proof dish, like cast iron or a ramekin, put 1/4 c of cream, and 1/2 a clove of garlic grated, and put it under the broiler to heat up the cream, about 1-2 minutes.  Once the cream is hot, pull the ramekins out and carefully crack two eggs into the hot cream.  Sprinkle with cheese, rosemary, salt and pepper.  Put the ramekin back under the broiler for another 1-2 minutes.  Watch it closely, the top should turn brown but the yolks should stay runny.  Once cooked, sprinkle with more parmesan and serve with toast for dipping.

Makes 2 ramekins.

 

Meet the Maker

 

Alex and I volunteered to be our membership directors for our neighborhood association. That means that we prepare welcome bags for new neighbors moving into the neighborhood, and we put on three mixers a year for neighbors to get together and meet each other. The neighborhood association hosts the bar, and the neighbors bring the food- potluck style. We get some truly delicious food at these events.

Another director, Sandy, had some extra wine from another event and she offered that we could use the wine at our next mixer, I just had to coordinate with her husband, Ed, to pick it up. So, off Alex and I went to pick up the wine. Sandy and Ed live in an amazing French Chateaux like home. You enter through a manicured garden, pass a hidden courtyard, and then enter through beautiful wooden and glass doors. The entire back wall of their home literally unfolds and overlooks a peaceful pool and garden. Each bedroom has a theme based on their travels… the London room, Asian room, etc. It is the perfect home for entertaining. This is what my home wants to be when it grows up.

We were greeted by Ed who said he had the wine ready for us. But… if we had some time, would we like to meet one of our neighbors, a wine maker? Who could say no to that? So we joined Ed and Charles at the dining room table, surrounded by maps of wine regions of the world, and Charles told us the story of how he began to make his wine. They were tasting a Napa Chardonnay, bright with hints of vanilla. It was delicious. It was so surprising to learn that we had not one, but two, wine makers in our neighborhood (that we know about). Charles then brought a couple more bottles to the next mixer for everyone to try. A mini wine tasting in our own backyard. What a treat!

How to be Neighborly: The best wines are the ones we drink with friends.

cw_pg02.jpg

Image from conigliowines.com

 

Cheddar and Apple Tart

IMG_1381 (2)I made this for the mixer/impromptu wine tasting with some apples our neighbors Bev & Erwin had left for us on our front porch. Think of it like a sweet and savory pizza.  Yummy!

  • 1 sheet Puff Pastry, thawed
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 apple, sliced thin (if apples are small you may need 2 or more)
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Cook onions in olive oil in a sauté pan until golden and translucent, about 5 minutes. If you add a pinch of sugar then they will brown better and be a little sweeter. Roll out the puff pastry to make it about ¼ larger, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat. Spread caramelized onions on the pastry sheet, then sliced apples in neat rows on top of the onions. Sprinkle with garlic powder, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Sprinkle apples with cheddar cheese so that you can still see the apples, but you get good coverage with the cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes until puff pastry is golden brown and cheese is bubbling. Using a pizza cutter, cut into little squares.

Art Walk

IMG_1647On the first Saturday of every month, DTSA opens its arms, hearts and doors to artists. Well actually, the artists are always there. In fact, the artists open up their arms, hearts and doors to DTSA and others interested in viewing their offerings. A diverse group of people descend on one square block to enjoy art of all kinds: static, interactive, demonstrative, live. This night, a group of us biked downtown to enjoy the festivities.

Near the Bike Hut storage, there was a graffiti art demonstration which we watched in wonder at how spray cans were creating such a precise and colorful display. We then headed over to the center of the artist’s district.  It’s a courtyard of brick, with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by our most historic buildings. Where we entered, there was a live demonstration was being put on by High School students. They were painting their city, beautifully I might add, on an old convertible car. In the background, musicians played string instruments.

Hipcooks, a center that hosts cooking classes, had their doors open for visitors to look, learn and shop. A wedding reception was occurring in the restored electrical building in front of the central fountain where the art walk festivities were held. The couple and the party were visible behind large windows, a chance for all of us to peek into their lives.

IMG_1653Some of the art was temporary, some of it more permanent, some of it literally disappeared as time passed. One display was a continually updated work of words, which showed thought provoking political headlines and the time posted… like a human enabled Twitter feed, on a giant marquis. There one minute, gone the next. A cardboard Lady Liberty wept in the foreground of this display. Accident?

Another was a display of video and sound, as a musician carried his drums up to the summit of a snowy mountain in France, his boots crunching in the snow as he climbed. The paintings, drawings and etchings were done on various mediums, from canvas, to wood, to plastic, to small brown paper bags (which the artist informed me were used to hide 40’s (beer), vs. my intuition that they were lunch bags… perspective).

How to be Neighborly: Engage with the local culture. You will become part of it, and it will become part of you.

I’m not really an art aficionado, but I do appreciate having creative people near and around me. They encourage me to think differently, or just think period. Whether I come to a conclusion, or not, is not the point. The point is to exercise the mind, isn’t it?

Pomegranates

Alex and I were working in our front yard one afternoon.  Amy, who lives three doors down, and Erin a friend who lives in “the Castle” stopped by to ask if we wanted to join them for dinner. Amy was hosting, and her husband Tom was cooking.  Upon arrival at Amy & Tom’s Mediterranean/Spanish Revival home, we were treated to a grand tour complete with historic details. Tom is Greek, and they recently replaced the awnings with bold, bright blue canvas, so if you remove the homes on either side, and imagine the home dangling on a cliff, you might think you are in Santorini, or maybe the south of Spain.  You decide.  The blue theme continues inside the home where the remodeled kitchen has stunning blue marble countertops with Grecian inspired curtains.  Their home is filled with family antiques and unique finds from their travels.  Out back, they have the oldest pool in Santa Ana on record.  Don’t think that means it’s run down though, it’s not.  Hearst would be proud to have this lap pool at his own Castle.  It’s surrounded by fruit trees, and flowers.  Perfect for relaxing in the sun.

IMG_1736

Amy’s husband Tom loves to cook themed dinners. Apparently, their pomegranate tree was producing an abundance of fruit and Tom had devised a pomegranate themed dinner party to use it all up. Erin and Pete, Trish and Las, Rich and Tammy all joined in the pomegranate fun and every course featured a new use for the beautiful tiny red seeds. Amy’s pride in Tom’s cooking and creativity made the dinner even more satisfying. We left with some new friends, and new ideas on how to use the fruits of our garden’s labor.

 

How to be Neighborly: When life gives you pomegranates… share them.

Here’s how I use the fruits of other people’s gardens:

Wild Rice with Kale & Pomegranates

  • 1 c wild riceIMG_1737
  • 2 1/2 c chicken broth (or veggie broth if you are vegetarian)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 c kale, chopped
  • 1/4 c pomegranate seeds (*)

In a sauce pan, combine rice, broth, salt, pepper, and onion.  Bring to a boil.  Once it starts to boil, turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the rice is cooked.  Once the rice is cooked, remove from the heat, and add the kale and mix until it wilts slightly.  Add pomegranate seeds, mix and serve.

(*) If you don’t have pomegranates, dried cranberries work well too.

Serves 4

 

 

 

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 Importance of Flowers

 

IMG_1422

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.

IMG_1588

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.