Monday, March 28, 2011


24,000 pieces is the size of the largest commercial jigsaw puzzle according to the Guinness book. Online I found references to a 32,256 piece puzzle. These whoppers take months or even years to complete.
Former world's largest puzzle at 24,000 pieces - completed by Eric Smith 
Current world's largest puzzle, Ravensberger at 32,256 pieces
First you have to love the photo/art you are assembling; second you have to have a lot of time on your hands and a good back - lots of leaning is required for puzzle solving.

I like to do jigsaw puzzles but don't have space or the patience to attempt more than a 500 or 1000 piece challenge. I've neglected this simple pleasure until our current winter's rainy days.  "Up among Roses", 500 pieces, was finished over the weekend, the final piece finding it's home with a satisfying click. Now  PPD (post-puzzle depression) sets in moments after FPS (final-piece satisfaction); you're happy to be done with the thing but slightly agitated when there's no puzzle to sit down to for a few minutes during the day. There's usually a variety of JSP's at the Dollar stores. Not a big investment for so much lovely low-tech entertainment - an easy antidote for too much time spent online.
"Up among Roses" - last piece

I was surprised to learn that you can rent jigsaw puzzles! A company called ELMS rents them and also makes custom puzzles which can be created for a special occasion or a special gift. For instance, one fellow proposed to his puzzler girl friend via a jigsaw which incorporated business cards from their favorite restaurants, theatre tickets, menus and other "couple memorabilia" in a kind of collage with graphics suggesting husband and wedding and marriage. She, unpuzzled by his intent, said yes! Not cheap, these custom puzzles run from $3.00 per piece and up, but they're hand cut and made of mahogany.

Reggie - an Elms puzzle
You can find puzzles of optical illusions, 3-D puzzles, two-sided puzzles and borderless puzzles. Tiny puzzles, huge puzzles - puzzles cut in and by interesting techniques. The first commercial jigsaws which were maps, appeared in 1760 according to wikipedia and were used for educational purposes.

A dandy 3D puzzle from Wrapables
James Merrill wrote a famous poem, "Lost in Translation" which begins with him as a child waiting with his nanny for the arrival of a rented wooden puzzle coming from a shop in New York. The poem is wonderful - even I can understand the metaphor and the puzzles within puzzles. A line I liked: "The plot thickens as all at once two pieces interlock".You can read it here:

You can purchase jigsaw cutters and start a home business making custom puzzles with a kit sold by several companies online. Here's a link to one.

 Puzzle Presspuzzle machine

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bacon sundae, lasagna cupcakes

Two interesting food items came to my attention this week. Both are normally sweet desserts and have been re-thought with savory garnishes or fillings:

Denny's Maple Bacon Sundae

 My husband went to Denny's for an early breakfast and noticed a new Maple Bacon Sundae being specially featured as part of their Baconalia Feast. It caught his eye and he brought home the ad for me to see. I found a "buy one, get one free" coupon good until 4/9/11 that you can print out here, if you're interested in trying it:

Lasagna Cupcakes from Heirloom Catering

LASAGNA CUPCAKES are individual sized portions of lasagna that hold their shape after being heated up and can be eaten with your hands! Although the flavors defy traditional recipes, they retain the integrity that any nonna inspires... hand-rolled pasta, fresh cheeses and herbs, seasonal vegetables, humanely raised meats, and organic tomatoes. Pulitzer Prize Winning Food Writer Jonathan Gold calls our Lasagna Cupcakes "the takeout dish of the year", and goes on to say that they "pack more flavor than lasagnas 20 times their size." Don't stop at one flavor, you'll want to try them all! Some of the flavors: 

Roasted Vegetable Caponata and Ricotta
Sage, Brown Butter, and Pumpkin and Smoked Mozzarella
Smoked Mac-n-Cheese
Wild Boar Bolognese and Fresh Mozzarella
Short Rib and Robiola
Lamb Ragu and Fresh Mozzarella

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pauvre filles de Sainte Claire

My little gardener has been digging away for a decade without a break. Rain or shine, cold or hot she's always on the job. This is her favorite time of year, when she's surrounded by daffodils. Still, she doesn't look up; her pretty face remains mysteriously dark in the shadows.  Oddly, these daffodils look down modestly as well. 

So, here's the thing. My husband says the flowers are jonquils. I googled them and am still not sure. Some people say jonquil is the term used in the south for daffodils. Others say the difference is in the leaf - broader flat leaves are daffodils and rush-like leaves are jonquils. Still others say that jonquils have to be yellow and must have an aroma. These have no scent. The whole botanical family is Narcissus which besides being hard to spell, I thought was a term reserved only for those bright blue flowers.

Looking further, I found this list of names (from "The Genus Narcissus" edited by Gordon R. Hanks) for daffodils used in the British Isles and some from France:

The popularity of the daffodil in the British Isles is attested by the large number of common names used in various parts of the country Dony et al., 1986; Grigson, 1996; Grieve, 1998). These include: 

Popular name            Place 

Affodil, Affrodil       Cheshire  
Bell-Flowers             Dorset and Somerset  
Bell-Rose                  Somerset  
Butter and Eggs        Devon, Somerset and Northampton  
Churn                       Lancashire  
Cowslip                   Devon  
Cuckoo-Rose           Devon and Somerset  
Daffodil                   England, Scotland, Ireland  
Daffydowndilly       Somerset 
Daffy-down-dilly    Somerset  
Daffydilly                Northamptonshire  
Dillydaffs                 Somerset  
Easter Lily               Devon and Somerset  
Easter Rose             Somerset  
Fairy Bells              Dorset  
False Narcissus       Devon 
Fleur de Coucou      Devon 
Garden Narcissus    Devon 
Giggary                   Devon  
Gylfinog                  Wales  
Gold Bells               Wiltshire 
Golden Trumpets    Somerset 
Gooseflop                Somerset 
Goose-Leek             Isle of Man  
Gracie Daisies        Devon and Somerset 
Gracie Day               Devon 
Hen and Chickens    Devon  
Hoop Petticoats        Dorset  
Jonquil                  Hertfordshire 
Julians                    Hertfordshire 
King's Spear           Somerset  
Lady's Ruffles        Wiltshire  
Lent-Cocks             Devon and Somerset  
Lent Pitchers     Devon and Somerset  
Lent-Rosen     Devon and Somerset  
Lents               Cornwall, Devon, Lancashire 
Lenty Cups     Somerset  
Lent Lily         Cornwall 
Lily                 Scotland  
Narcissus        Norfolk 
Porillon             Norfolk 
Queen Anne's Flowers    Norfolk  
St Peter's Bell     Wales 
Sun-Sonnets       Somerset  
Whit Sunday      Devon 
Wild Daffodil     Yorkshire 
Wild Jonquil         Yorkshire  
Yellow Maidens     Somerset  
Fleur d'asphodèle    France 
Pauvres filles de Sainte Claire   France 

I kind of like the French one "Pauvre filles de Sainte Claire" which translates to "poor girls of Saint Claire". St. Clare, oddly enough, is the patron saint of's a long story. But I could say that my daffodils, my poor girls of St. Claire, are bowing their heads in shame and embarrassment for the deteriorated state of the medium at the moment.  Or they could simply be modesty flowers, bowing in synch with my little girl.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Fighter

Saw "The Fighter" at our local discount theatre. Christian Bale was terrific. Mark Wahlberg was excellent. The story is about a fighter locked in a familiar frustrating Irish family dynamic. Unable to shake loose his crazy family, Wahlberg is surely going down the tubes as a fighter, mismanaged and virtually untrained by his older more experienced brother, a crack addict. You want to scream at them all
and you'll thank your lucky stars if you're an only child.

It's a true story but the seven sisters you would guess to be pure fiction. Like a flock of stupid, nasty crows, they reinforce and support their mother's nutty decisions.  In one memorable scene, they sit crowded into the living room. The camera pans across them; an insane idea is suggested and you see them working themselves into a frenzy of support. Thankfully none of these characters is developed at all, which is masterful and merciful for the audience. The whole family is delusional, denying that their older brother has a drug problem and is an unreliable liar who's destroying their younger brother's chances in the ring.  With that family, anyone would want to get into a ring and pummel somebody!  The only sane person in the group is George, the father, who is totally ignored by everyone. When the fighter starts a relationship with a tough young bartender who takes no crap from anyone, you breathe a sigh of relief as his life starts to change.

Christian Bale lost 30 pounds or so to play the part of the brother. The real people were shown on the out takes so you can see how much effort Bale put into getting the character right. He incorporated all the real person's tics, twitches, body language and eye movements into his character. The Academy Award for best supporting actor was well deserved by Melissa Leo. She played the mother fantastically; she's playing "older" by 15 years or so - the hair and costume work on her was excellent.

Even if you don't like fighting, the film is worth seeing for these two splendid performances.

Christian Bale in character

The real Christian Bale

Melissa Leo as Alice

The real Melissa Leo

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Double lung transplant

We have a friend with severe emphysema which has made me on the alert for lung information. I noticed this video on the TED talks. Watch it to see an inspirational modern medical miracle and to think about if you are considering donating your organs after your demise.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Golfing fun

Perfect driving form..straight left arm.
A shot rang out!!

It was the sound of Shari's Prince driver launching her ball down the fairway. It doesn't matter if the ball doesn't go anywhere - the sound is just magnificent. I'm sure the club designers build in this element of  auditory satisfaction. In Shari's case, the ball does go somewhere. She drove 80 to 100 yard shots pretty well straight down all 18 fairways followed by excellent putting. 

As for me, my vintage KMart clubs don't sound nearly as good and I was all over the place. I drove a ball straight into the creek - it started rolling and washing down the creek bed and was going to pass under a bridge. Shari sprinted onto the bridge with her ball retriever in extension mode, squeezed her head through the railings, hung her body over and snagged the ball as it passed beneath. I couldn't believe it...a tour de force if there ever was one. It was that kind of day and a lot of fun. 

Club head blurred by blinding speed. Where are the golf attire make over people??
Miracle ball retrieval
We played the Oaks which is the short course at Lawrence Welk. Yvonne, Shari's Mom and I both  OVERSHOT the green - something neither of us has ever done before. The holes are very short ( few more than 100 yards)  but still we were thrilled to have overshot anything and enjoyed laughing about how far back we should pull for the next hole. 

In the memorable moments department, Shari accomplished a fabulous double bank shot, hitting the side of a concrete water slough, bouncing off and hitting it again, finally on the fourth bounce hitting the green. Bob, Shari's Dad hit a huge propane tank twice and hit and injured a bird. He also landed a terrifically long putt for which the three of us had our backs turned; we had to take his word for it. I hit a power line and also managed to scare a bird or two. I think the birds took a look at us, yawned and kept on pecking away in the middle of the fairway. I suspect they can size you up and figure out what kind of tee shot you're likely to make. In this case, the bird was wrong and I grazed him. I like to think he was OK even though he staggered off the fairway. He probably didn't notice that at the last moment I borrowed Shari's expensive Prince 3 wood and got an extra 15 yards out of the shot. Goes to show that you cannot take your eye off the ball for even a second. 

The course was almost empty and we took our time....5 hours worth. What a bargain for $16.00 each!

Once again, my clubs didn't get stolen. At every opportunity, I leave the old things sitting unattended here or there, hoping they might get pinched so I can buy a new set. With one of those frisbee sized
drivers that make that fabulous sound - thwaaappp!!!!

These clubs belong to an adult male. Apparently stuffed animals in the golf bag are OK for men.

Checking out the light lavender balls.

Driving with vigor!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish humor

We'll be eating our corned beef and cabbage tonight with a bit of Guinness. Just a glass or maybe two.
The attached video is on the subjects of cheap flights but is just right to watch on St. Pat's day. Feckity, feckity, feck.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Upland Nursery, Orange

I stayed overnight in Orange County and took the opportunity Saturday morning to visit the Upland Nursery, a favorite spot of mine. Everything was in full bloom and gorgeous. I picked up a large Kangaroo paw, a couple of geraniums with variegated leaves and a pot of lilies.

Mollie has 310 varieties of frangipani. She carries many unusual trees and specimen plants, bonsai (hundreds) and staghorn ferns.

African Lily photo photofunized

African Lily
What kind of cactus is this?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Natural Food Expo 2011

Shari and I attended the Natural Foods Expo on Friday. Every year there's some prevailing "hot' food issue - this year it's "gluten free". Everything seems to be carrying a gluten free label: salt, vinegar, hot sauce -  relevant or not. It seems some people are so sensitive that even trace amounts of gluten in sources like dextrin or used as an incidental additive in a thickener, can be enough to trigger a reaction.

In view of the disaster in Japan, everything seemed trivial and silly.

Best thing I tried was a piece of black licorice made in Finland called "Tire Tread". Thick, shiny, blacker than black, it looked like it's namesake and was loaded with flavor and aroma. I could have eaten a pound of it and I think some people did. Below is the description:

"Fresh and flavorful, Tire Tread Licorice is a great on-the-go snack. Made in Finland with all-natural ingredients, each piece boasts a tempting blend of aniseed oil and licorice extract. Packaged in three fun peelable pieces, Tire Tread treats are convenient to carry and fun to eat. Each handy pack of Tire Tread Licorice contains two ounces of rich and velvety licorice."

Highlight of the day was eating dinner at the Slide bar in Fullerton, in which our friend's rock and roll relative owns an interest. From the bar's web site: Slide Bar

A sizable portion of Orange County music history goes back over a half a century and can actually be traced right here, to our very own parking lot in Downtown Fullerton. This is where Leo Fender created possibly the most important contribution to Rock ‘n’ Roll ever – the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster electric guitars. Since then, Orange County has been consistently delivering major contributions to the music world.

Dave's hamburger dressed with a giant onion ring. Lighting by flashlight. 
Everyone there looked under 25, covered with tattoos and dressed in black. I learned from Bill Bryson's "Shakespeare" that only the rich wore black clothing in the 17th century. Creating really black fabric required a lot of dye therefore it was expensive. Light colored cloth and clothing was cheaper.

We stood out like sore thumbs in our light colored clothing, at a specially reserved table. The bar food was surprisingly good - fresh, salty and greasy. Stepping out of the regular groove is always fun -  it's a completely different world out there. What would Leo Fender think of it all?

Our efficient, polite waitress with spiky purplish hair and a fully tattoo'ed torso, studs everywhere, hugged us when we left....a delightful surprise. Relieved to see us go?
Deep fried pickles - huge quarters
Mac and cheese on a doily. I wonder if anyone under 30 knows what a doily is.
From the Online Etymology Dictionary

doily Look up doily at

1714, short for doily-napkin (1711), from doily "thin, woolen fabric;" supposedly from Doiley, surname of a 17c.-early 18c. dry-goods dealer on London's Strand. Doily earlier meant "genteel, affordable woolens" (1670s), evidently from the same source. The surname is d'Ouilly, from one of several places called Ouilly in Normandy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I stumbled onto this photo editing site: 

You can very easily take any photo and put it in any number of eye-catching settings. Richard took this "nose in a book" photo of me which took a couple of seconds to translate into this far more interesting shot.

Blood Oranges

61 degrees this morning when I woke up and took a stroll with my coffee. I often forget about the blood orange trees which grow down on a slope out of sight. They're loaded with fruit so I got out my shears and harvested a couple of bags. 

They make a splendid glass of juice, a beautiful rosey orange color, slightly acidic  and refreshing.

The plum tree is almost in full bloom and looking magnificent.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Planning for St. Pat's

The jasmine has finally peaked. When I open the doors, a wave of scent rolls in. It's been years since I was here at this time of year and able to enjoy this magnificent blooming season.

No more jigging for me on St. Patrick's day. With my maiden name being Killeen, there were countless  St. Patrick's day celebrations over the years, but now we settle happily for corned beef, cabbage and a Guinness. I might have listened to the River Dance thing as well, but my husband can't stand it - or any kind of clog dancing, from years in the foreign service attending the obligatory local cultural shows. So the closest we will come to jigging is an imaginary visit to the jigsaw puzzle location shaping up on the kitchen table - what's the name of that place? Kerry's something.....oh yes, Kerry's Vintage Inn. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Book Club Meeting March

Beth's kitchen

Discussing the issues

Getting food and drink together
Beth D. welcomed us all to her home this month. Our book selection was Bill Bryson's At Home:A Short History of Private Life.

As usual there was a great spread to eat and drink.  We started with a British draught Ale, Tetley's - "Yorkshires famous pub ale" which comes with a "widget" inside; the widget mixes nitrogen into the beer, which makes the poured flavor taste like the genuine draught beer.

Sticking with the British theme (Bill lives in England in an old rectory), we had mini Shepherd's pies with a particularly delicious short crust. Lobster macaroni and cheese was generously contributed by our hostess who was inspired by this observation in the book:

Lobsters bred in such abundance around Britains' coastline that they were fed to prisoners and orphans or ground up for fertilizer; servants sought written agreements from their employers that they would not be served lobster more than twice a week. 

We had a soup made from French Lentils, Kale cooked with prosciutto, a Chicken Salad, Mushroom Lasagne, Lemon Pound Cake, an assortment of cakes from the Sweet Sicilian and plenty of wine.

We all enjoyed reading the vast compilation of intriguing facts such as the origin of the term "room and board". In medieval times, in humble dwellings, the dining table was a plain board called by that name. It was hung on the wall when not in use and was perched on the diner's knees when food was served. Over time, the word board came to signify not just the dining surface but the meal itself, which is where the board comes from in room and board. It also explains why lodgers are called boarders and why an honest person - someone who keeps his hands visible at all times - is said to be above board.

As usual, a good time was had by all.


Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

The Tetley's with widget

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Who rules the roost?

Wall of rosemary
If you drive by a home sporting a yard full of torn-up rosemary consider the following:

From Wikipedia: "Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century, this practise became a bone of contention; and men were known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, ruled the roost."

Our yard is full of rosemary and it's staying put.  It smells piney, but not exactly because there's an herby undertone. It's "evergreen" to me and a deep breathful recalls the vast fir forests in the Pacific northwest and in Canada. After a rain or snow, those forests are loaded with ozone and the aroma of moss, rocks and the heady effluvia of green, growing things. Eau de Mother Earth.  Attempts at replicating this kind of aroma from air freshener manufacturers and the like, fall very short of the real thing.

We use the rosemary frequently. The flavor is assertive and just a little goes a long way. Wonderful with roasted vegetables and most meats, it should be chopped finely for even distribution and also to prevent chomping on a fragment (in a chunk it can be bitter and resinous) which can unbalance the overall flavor of a dish. A bit can be minced up in a root vegetable salad or sprinkled over anything roasted. If you place a fresh sprig on any plate of hot food, the aroma volatizes almost immediately and wafts up into your face. In Italy, they'll put sprigs on the plate and use a cover; lift the cover and you're engulfed with the smell. It's an easy aroma to coax out of hiding. You really don't need to coax it - it volunteers. Just a brush against the plants and you'll have the smell clinging for a while.

Because I have huge bushes of the herb, I can cut off bouquets and bring them into the house. Too much of it though and the house smells like soap. The aroma is ideal mixed about one third with flowers like the ever-blooming New Zealand tea plant or lavender which we also have in abundance right now.

Jasmine, a bit hail damaged

Hail fall over the weekend

NZ tea plant
Lots of lavender