Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oh California

The weather in California has apparently been newsworthy. "Storms!" the reporters say breathlessly. "More torrential rains coming our way," they promise. "Stay tuned." And then out of nowhere we see a car floating in several feet of water.

I don't wish to disrespect the ominous floating vehicle, but truly, the crazy Riverside weather has finally peaked out after three days of drizzle. When I moved here six months ago, my apartment began rattling and continued rattling for nearly a minute. California's reaction: a state wide shoulder shrug. I had to google "earthquake" and "Riverside" to confirm that there had indeed been one.

I finally--and this is embarrassing to admit--swooped down on a local beach. Please don't judge me. I loath the traffic. Nevertheless, I printed out my mapquest directions, grabbed my camera and left all my grading for another day. A Minnesota writing buddy of mine was visiting Newport Beach. Actually, we were first Prague writing buddies. We met at the writing workshop there, and most notably, spent a weekend (along with another Minnesota friend) at "Uncle Harry's Hostel" in the middle of the Czech Republic. "Uncle Harry's" turned out to be a house and the owner--who was not named Harry--loathed tourists. This was not a careless conjecture on our part. About his job he said, "I hate tourists," and he said it without a light laugh or twinkle in his eye. He proceeded to stomp about the house for the next two days. My favorite moment was when he walked into the kitchen where I was reading, turned out the light--it was night--and then walked out. The three of us with our Minnesota Nice retreated to whatever room he wasn't in, giggling passive aggressively.

When Lorissa said she was coming to the LA area, I was excited to meet her for lunch. California is no Uncle Harry's Hostel, but we do have some mighty fine strip malls, not to mention lovely beaches. Turns out, I adore Newport Beach. It's one of those shaggy, seaweedy, wild beaches. The sky was grey and deliciously gloomy. It was perfect weather for poking around on the rocks and looking at the water and talking seriously about writing (or in my case, not writing).

The beach was so lovely that I promised myself I would return soon. It had only taken me about 45 minutes to drive to Newport and with a little more nerve, I might even make it in 30. I was brimming with self promises--to write more, to drive more, to see more, to be a better, fuller, more interesting me. The beach can do that to you.

And then I hit mid-day-no-reason-for-a-jam-but-but-hey-why-not traffic.

It took two hours to get home. Oh California. When will I learn to carry a good book on tape?

Friday, January 18, 2008


After years of sending mass e-mails, I've finally evolved into a blogger.

And it coincides quite nicely with my latest triumph: Piirakka.
When I was a kid, my mother made piirakka about once a year. She would enter the kitchen with a particular blend of doomed crankiness and determination. Hours later, we would hear her muttering unhappily, "They look like ugly cows." A few hours more and she would serve them with soup and candles--which was as fancy as it ever got. While we enjoyed the piirakka, the truth is--my mother never much liked the looks of them. One Thanksgiving, I volunteered to help my mother. Mostly, I was assigned rolling pin work. My general feeling was: not so difficult.
Then I tried to make them on my own--and I tried and I tried. From Santa Fe to South Korea, I baked my miserable piirrakas and my family's general consensus was: "Not so bad. No really. Seriously. They even taste a little bit like Finnish piirraka. Yum! Yum! I'm going to have another!"

Google was no help (there were recipes, but they were disasters), nor was a trip to Finland. Even though I climbed into an hole that was cut into the frozen Baltic Sea--I still couldn't get a recipe. ("We buy it," everyone told me.)

Amazon to the rescue. There, I found this cookbook--for wanna be Finns.

While I was doubtful about a recipe that called for 1 cup of rice and 6 cups of milk, I placed my fate in the worthy hands of Beatrice.

Not only were the piirrakka delicious, more importantly, they were beautiful. My mother would have been so jealous. There wasn't a cow among them. Or maybe I have low standards. Judge for yourselves.

(By the way, this is not my apartment. This is my father and Karen's house in Santa Fe.)

So far, I haven't tried any of the other recipes. The rye breads look too ambitious. And the Fancy Fish Loaf, Fish Potato Scallop, and Lapland Chips (made with one pound frozen reindeer meat) look too meaty. And the cabbage roll? Let's just say they were a childhood burden. (I'll add that the "roll" part is made with boiled cabbage leaves.) Okay, it sounds like I'm knocking Finnish food. The truth is I LOVE most Finnish food. The cheese. The chocolate. The bread. Oh the bread! And the apples and the berries and the beet casseroles and the ice cream and the tea!

And it turns out, I love blogging too. I'll leave you with a recipe for Herring "Caviar." Let me know how it turns out.