Friday, May 21, 2010

A Life of Contrasts

One of the qualities I pride myself on is my range of adaptability. I am equally at home camping in the wilderness (with no toilet or shower for days!) as I am staying in five-star hotels (soaking in a Jacuzzi bath and ordering room service). Marcus shared this love of contrasts and we even had our wedding rings designed to communicate the point: a ring of fine gold ran around the outside to represent elegance, with an inner ring made of steel to represent our more rugged interests, like camping and motorcycle trips. These two rings were mysteriously connected-yet-separate so they made a jingling noise when shaken. The rattling turned out to be a useful communication tool as we would use the sound occasionally, usually when making up after an argument, by shaking them in each other's ears as a non-verbal way of saying, "I'm sorry. I still love you." (Photo above: Marcus and me, wearing our rings on our engagement day, camping at Umpqua Hot Springs in Oregon. May 30, 2003.)

Now I wear both rings -- Marcus' bigger one on the bottom and mine on top of his to hold his on -- making for quite a weighty load on my left ring finger. I can't wear the rings every day (especially not when baking pies -- all that dough gets stuck in between!) but I did wear them to my dad's 75th birthday dinner on Tuesday, to which we were driven in a stretch limo.

The last time Marcus and I rode in a limo together was five years earlier, for my dad's 70th birthday. (Photo, right. May 18, 2005) Which made my dad's 75th birthday yet another one of those bittersweet occasions. (The bitter and sweet combo is a recurring theme these days -- but in truth my life feels more like one big messy, sour rhubarb patch!) While it was fun to be with my family celebrating my dad's birthday in such high style, my heart was heavy the entire evening with the longing for Marcus who should have been there with us.

But wherever Marcus is, surely he would have heard me as I shook my hand throughout the evening (trying to do it in a way that no one would notice or think I had some nervous tick!) I jingled and jingled those heavy gold and steel rings sending him the message, "I'm sorry. I still love you." And I wish you were here.

(Photo: The Howard Family, minus Marcus.)
(Photo: In the back of the limo with my brother Michael.)
My life continues to be full of contrasts. A fun occasion, a heavy heart. A limo ride to Beverly Hills for dinner one night, driving the RV to the semi-rural life in Portland the next. I set off for Portland on Wednesday and kept jingling those rings the entire 1,000-mile drive. I like to think Marcus did hear me because I made it back safely. If he can't be my husband any longer at least he can be my guardian angel. The only down side is that my hand is tired from all that ring shaking.
And now for a contrast I'm greatly looking forward to -- parking the RV for a while and driving my Mini Cooper again!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Banana Cream Pie for My Dad's 75th Birthday

I always liked the saying, "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first." I should like it as I was pretty much raised with this motto in mind, at least by one parent. My dad would take us out for hot fudge sundaes before dinner, but we were not allowed to tell our mom! So when I brought home a banana cream pie for my dad for his 75th birthday present at around 3:30PM and our dinner reservations were for 5:00PM, of course we cut right into it and ate a couple of big pieces. Would we "spoil our supper?" Who cares -- it's PIE!Now a note about this pie and why I didn't make it myself. I can't use traveling in the RV as an excuse, because I just made a pie in the big rig two days ago. I also could have used my parents' kitchen, but then the pie wouldn't have been a surprise. My best and easiest solution was to buy one. And I knew exactly the place. The Apple Pan. We shot our pie TV pilot there in January, and Apple Pan's banana cream pie was one of the best I've ever eaten. You will never find a banana cream pie with more bananas in it!

When I stopped at the Apple Pan to pick up the pie I made a point to say hello to the owner, Sunny. She gets a lot of TV crews coming through her restaurant, but she remembered me, probably due to my unusual circumstances -- how often does a TV crew include a grieving widow driving around the country in an RV? "Are you doing better?" she asked. The tenderness of her question made me tear up. (It doesn't take much!) "We got your thank you note," she said. "I showed it to my mom. It was so nice of you. We never get thank you notes." (My dad taught me about eating dessert first; my mom taught me to send thank you notes.)

I explained that I was buying a banana cream pie for my dad's birthday -- "as a paying customer," I insisted. But Sunny insisted back, "No, please, take it." She handed me the pie box, adding, "And tell your dad we wish him a Happy Birthday." Her kindness and generosity made me feel like it was my birthday.

The banana cream pie from Apple Pan was as delicious as ever. And not only did we have plenty of room for a big, fat steak dinner, we had room for more dessert.

Monday, May 17, 2010

First Pie Made in the RV

I'm still in LA and though I have a 1,000-mile drive back to Portland awaiting me this week I didn't mind making a 120-mile round-trip drive to Faria Beach this past weekend to take my friend Christine (pictured below) on her first RV road trip adventure. In fact, the weekend was one of many firsts.
It was the first pie made in the RV. We bought four pounds of fresh cherries on our way north, stopping at the grocery store in Malibu to stock up on pie ingredients and other supplies.

It was also the first gluten-free pie I've ever made. Not that I made it. Christine brought a bag of Bob's Red Mill organic rice flour, eggs, butter and sugar and made the dough on her own.While she was doing that, I was trying to light the oven. And seeing that it was the first time I used the oven in the two years we've owned the RV, I didn't know how to turn it on. I turned the knob into the on position and held the lighter to where I thought the pilot light sat. Nothing happened except that we could smell gas. After three failed attempts I discovered I was turning the knob for the stove-top burner, not for the oven. Doh!

Meanwhile, I had never made a cherry pie before. I have made many other kinds of pies, many of which I can make without a recipe, but I didn't know cherry. We didn't make them at Malibu Kitchen, probably because the pitting process is too labor intensive. Or maybe because the owners wanted to avoid the inevitable lawsuits due to people breaking their teeth on cherry pits. Luckily, I could use my Blackberry to look up recipes and got a rough idea of what goes into the filling. So what if we didn't have vanilla or almond extract for the filling? So what if we didn't have the baking powder for the crust? This presented the ideal opportunity to pass along one of my favorite pie lessons to Christine: IMPROVISE!
The oven eventually got lit, the pie got assembled (after an hour of de-pitting the cherries by hand), and voila! And in spite of the missing ingredients, we had a delicious gluten-free pie, which we ate by candlelight.Naturally, pie tastes even better when eaten at the beach with dolphins swimming by!And let's not forget, RV living is not only about pie. There's also the not-so-glamorous side of RV-ing. Yes, that's me below, cleaning out the waste tanks. Fun!It was a great weekend and reminded me that there is so much I miss about living in LA (dolphins being one), and ALSO that I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss gluten-free baked goods. Our RV-made cherry pie could have been a contender in the National Pie Championships! I should know, I was a judge in the cherry pie category for the Professional division.