These are memories from a journey of just a few years ago. I am hoping for a time to visit again - soon!
Life is quiet in San Miguel de Allende. It's early June and many ex-pats have retreated until autumn. Well above the 6,000-foot elevation and dry, evening brings blessed relief in the the way of cool breezes.
A gentle swing in the garden. The hum of traffic. Occasionally, we hear the sounds of nearby steeples chime and the hammering of construction. Dogs are barking, a lone hummingbird drinks from a pomegranate blossom, and my tequila shot glass is empty.
In the rain forests there is complete silence. The fog is creeping into the mountains. Fireflies are dancing through the darkness. Bugs and birds serenade us during our dinner as daylight retreats behind the peaks.
Yes, Made in America has been a mantra. Embraced by many. Now, more than ever, it should be embraced by all Americans. During the pandemic, we could clearly see how out-sourcing nearly all of our manufacturing put us at an economic disadvantage. Many everyday items - appliances, electronics, parts - were unavailable or taking many weeks or months to arrive. This was not the case pre-COVID.
So, when I decided to buy a new garden birdbath I would have nothing other than "Made in America". Thanks to online searches, I quickly located Florence & New Art Company. Imagine my delight and doing a joyful dance!
Family-owned and operated for decades, the original Florence Art Company was founded in 1916 by Tuscan artisans living in San Francisco. A leading San Francisco statuary manufacturer established in the 1920s, New Italian Art Company, bought Florence in 1950 and the next generation of garden art began. One of the West Coast's premier manufactures of garden décor, Florence & New Italian Art Company hand-casts a wide variety of fountains, birdbaths, containers, and assorted garden accents.
I immediately called the Hayward-based company. Yes, they were still making birdbaths. And incredibly, my local Ace Hardware of Chico was one of their distributors. Just two tiny glitches. (1) Ace Hardware was out of the hummingbird birdbath I was seeking. (2) COVID! In the early days of the pandemic, Florence & New Italian Art Company was not considered essential and had to close down for several weeks. By the time they re-opened, they were many weeks behind in manufacturing. The ups and downs of being a small, locally-owned, operated and Made in America company. Sigh.
I would not be deterred, the birdbath was ordered and the waiting began. Tick tock. The days and then weeks slipped by. Every so often I would call to confirm. "Yes, we have your order." The promise was always "soon". Months passed.
Then, sometime in November the call finally came. My birdbath was in on truck and on its way from Hayward to Chico. The long wait was over. I could hardly contain my joy. Now mind you, I had never actually seen this birdbath. I was hoping against all hope that it would be everything my garden and bathing birds would love.
And it is! The proof is in the splashing.
It has been ten years since the call came...cancer. A decade! You always know exactly where you were. The date, December 28, 2010. Hard to believe. To honor this decade milestone (a day I always cherish), I am republishing this story and remembering all the people who came into my life and followed on that journey. Plus, the sidebar article recounting those days that seem like a dream to me now. The Diagnosis. It's true that throughout this journey I said more than once, "I was so lucky!" In October 2015, I went in for my fourth annual check-up. The letter came days later, the opening sentence said it all, "We are pleased to inform you that your Breast Imaging exam shows no evidence of cancer." So lucky.
Breast Cancer Survivors Retreat & Renew
Photo Credits Peg Miskin & Barbara L. Steinberg
California is vast. Even with today’s sprawling communities, breathtaking open spaces are abundant in far-reaching corners of northeastern California. Envision serene places and natural beauty that can heal body and spirit near ancient and ritual temples such as Mt. Shasta and Burney Falls. Imagine, too, being presented the gift of a weekend retreat at a historic lodge near rushing rivers and world-class fly-fishing including river guides! All of this at no cost other than a little gas money.
Sound too good to be true? Not so. Just fill out an application. If the stars align, they draw your name. You could be one of 14 lucky women chosen to enjoy this tranquil haven. What’s the catch? There’s just one. You must be a breast cancer survivor! An elite club, breast cancer survivors are treated to this life-altering experience. As if breast cancer weren’t that, too.
Casting for Recovery, a nonprofit organization, along with a cadre of compassionate sponsors are the benefactors of this generous offering. Headquartered in Vermont, Casting for Recovery provided 47 retreats in 33 states in 2011. Their Santa Rosa office facilitates two retreats in northern California. This past August, 14 remarkable and beautiful women – different ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds – gathered at Clearwater Lodge at the Pit River to share their stories of despair, hope, recovery, and survival. The weekend focuses on the fine art of fly-fishing. It’s an excellent therapy for anyone recovering from the rigors of breast cancer surgeries and treatments; a Zen moment.
One-by-one women arrive on a Friday afternoon. Greeted by CFR staff, they tell each women, “We are here to serve you!” For most of us, this is a foreign concept – to be served instead of serving. As we wait to check-in, there’s an exchange of pleasantries, “Hi, My name is _____, from _____.” Soon we are chatting like old acquaintances. Rooms are assigned, some shared. We settle in and then gather to be fully-garbed in the finest Orvis waders, fly-fishing vests, and boots. Before long, everyone is laughing and looking like fly-fishing professionals. The moment is light. An open book whose pages we have yet to turn. Not one among us could possibly predict the outcome.
A jar of endless homemade cookies and the most divine gourmet cuisine is another highlight. Chef Noel Wright is celebrating her 17th season at the Lodge. Over the weekend, we will gorge on Mahi Mahi, grilled asparagus, strawberry scones, whole wheat pancakes, fresh fruit, cheesecake with blueberries, and more of those famous cookies. No guest at Clearwater Lodge ever left hungry! The dining room is a cacophony of voices at every meal. Everyone is talking at once and you would think we had been together for years.
From early Saturday morning to mid-afternoon on Sunday a fly-fishing course, free time, meals, and discussions are adeptly orchestrated into our stay. We learn the basics of casting, knot tying, what fish eat, and more casting. Some have fished before. Some not at all. We all start as beginners guided by accomplished women fly-fisher staff. They are patient and giving. And while our casts may not be perfect, we receive big doses of positive reinforcement and many hugs. Training is interspersed with sharing of history. What kind of breast cancer. When? Surgeries. Which drugs and treatments. How many years? Family issues. Relapse. The stories are as varied as our ages and circumstances. The common thread, the double-surgeon’s knot that binds us together, is that we are all survivors.
During two discussion sessions each woman shares her story. The most poignant and powerful moments spent as friends and survivors. There is more laughter and tears. Nodding and shaking of heads; breathlessly listening to tales of strength and optimism. We hear over and over, not just about fears but about the blessings. And the good luck that brought us to this magical place.
Sunday, the moment of truth arrives! We gather to read poetry and prayers, and sing songs. At breakfast, we are joined by volunteer River Helpers who, one-on-one, will guide us to fly-fish. We climb into our fishing regalia and head-off to Hat Creek. The energy is palpable. Each two-some must establish a relationship of trust and communication. The Helpers support us as we navigate the rushing waters and provide guidance on fly-fishing techniques. Secretly, I think, we all hoped to catch something – some did – but for those few hours cancer was left behind and we were all fly-fishers together.
It’s hard to leave the river. The retreat is coming to an end and we will disperse to our various lives. At a brief graduation ceremony there are more hugs and tears. Words of thanks and gratitude for gifts we cannot even begin to describe. Only 48 hours, departing is truly the hardest part.
You don’t have to be a breast cancer survivor to enjoy the wilds of Clearwater Lodge, fly-fishing, or the beauty of northern California. To quote Sally Stoner, an extraordinary teacher and fly-fisher, “A lot of it is just being there. You being part of it, and feeling it.”
Go…and be there!
The Whole Story in Photos
Casting for Recovery still provides these retreats in various locations throughout the United States. During the time of COIVD, like so many things, retreats are on hold. Check online for the Casting for Recovery Northern California Retreat or Casting for Recovery Southern California Retreat dates. If you or someone you qualifies, please apply. It will change your life.
Make a donation and designate northern or southern California as the recipient.
Looking back: Parkwest Casino Lotus owner John Park and his design team spent 18 months envisioning a first-class casino to replace the old Silver Fox card room on Stockton Boulevard. The gleaming Parkwest Casino Lotus was that dream realized. Opened in 2017, the 16,000 square-foot Lotus boasts 17 card tables plus a full bar and restaurant. Vietnamese-centric, the resort-style card room is beautifully aesthetic and pristine. Suspended above the main floor is a spectacular, one-of-a-kind fabric and crystal chandelier, and Vietnamese artwork adorns the walls.
All of this is still true today, but much has changed since COVID-19 came knocking.
And now: Like other businesses in the wave of the pandemic, Parkwest Casino Lotus went dark in March 2020. John Park went into overdrive to investigate all of the questions and answers related to COVID-19 safety requirements. A team of attorneys and government relations helped develop a plan to reopen. It took many months of research to produce the resulting 45-page document.
Building a new safe outdoor gaming and dining area, Lotus reopened on August 27, 2020, with the approval of state, county, and city agencies. The transformation is nothing short of brilliant, and they are committed to operating with the highest standards to ensure the health and well-being of their customers, staff, and community. The outdoor smoke-free gaming area is 5,500 square feet and features the same popular table games EZ Baccarat, Pai Gow Poker, Blackjack X, Three-Card Poker, and Pai Gow Tiles. For games where the patrons touch the cards, the cards are removed from the table and replaced at least once every four hours. Where the players do not touch the cards, the cards are removed from the table and replaced every eight hours. Once the cards have been removed from the table, they are either destroyed or sanitized using a specific card cleaning solution that has been approved by the EPA to be effective against the Corona virus.
Security at the one entrance is courteous and well-organized. Masks are mandatory for all patrons and staff, and temperatures are taken with an FDA medical grade thermal infrared system with thermal imaging for accurate detection of temperatures. Every staff member is provided with high-quality face masks and nitrile gloves. Stringent guidelines are followed for sanitizing tables, chairs, tiles, and restrooms – cleaning is logged every hour. When changing dealers, the new dealers wipe down everything. Air purifier systems were installed. Plexiglas dividers were inserted between dealers and patrons on all gaming tables. Social distancing is encouraged and practiced. Patrons have been very complimentary and send their thanks to John Park.
Currently serving outdoor gaming patrons and guests, the alfresco restaurant serves American and authentic Asian cuisine. The casino and dining area is normally open 24/7, but under California’s statewide curfew in effect from November 21 to December 21, the cardroom will be open 5am to 10pm. Cocktails are available only with food orders. Patrons are allowed to take drinks into the gaming area but must be wearing their masks at all times. They may pull their mask down while taking a sip of the drink but must put the mask back over their mouth and nose immediately after taking a sip.
Preparing for colder temperatures, propane heaters sit outside the card room pumping warm air into the tent. Cashiers and restrooms are available indoors. Indoors all safety precautions are in place and ready for the day COVID restrictions are lifted and allow indoor gaming to resume.
The idea for this story has been brewing for some time. Today, on the feast of Thanksgiving, it seemed like the perfect moment to begin. Preparing traditional dishes — learned from my parents and grandparents — the memories and the love of cooking was instilled long ago. The reminders filling my kitchen temple. Not just the recipes or skills passed from generation to generation, but those treasured implements handed down as well,
Not well-schooled at the art of "selfisims", I managed to capture this photo. This reversible apron — tied at the waist and reminiscent of an art smock — belonged to my mother-in-law Wallie Holmes. OMG could she cook! Loving every minute and every smile she brought to family and friends. I always looked forward to those holiday and family feasts. I only own two other aprons both connected to her memory, one frilly hostess-type and another she handmade for me. They hold special places in my cooking wardrobe. I won't dress in any others.
Josephine (Jo to everyone who knew her and my father-in-law's mother) was my neighbor and friend after I moved next door in 1987. We spent summer evenings on her front porch where she would share stories about Sacramento's past along with pizza and soda -- her choice! She fed my cat, Domino, who literally knocked on her screen door to be let in for snacks. In the early 1990s, Jo passed away at the blessed age of 94. Among her many prized possessions, I inherited some depression glass plates, two old potato mashers, and, the gem of all gems, the Hamilton Beach Model "D" mixer, blender, juicer, meat grinder circa 1937. All pieces intact including the original bowls and juicer. Score! The only part I ever replaced was the cracked and dangerous electrical cord.
This holiday season, two batches of cornbread ingredients were mixed and blended in these bowls. Fresh mandarins and Meyer lemons were easily juiced and transformed into salad dressing. State-of-the-art back in the '30s, this behemoth will outlive, outlast all comers. Replacing it is out of the question. While I sometime o-o-o-oh and a-h-h-h-h over slicker, newer models, this HB M"D" is a loving reminder of those who have blended and cooked before me and will be with me to the end. No drama here, but 'she' will likely outlive us all.
Sautéing, simmering, and mixing were very much part of this loving food process which included my father's Dru Enamel Cookware Dutch Oven #4126-32. Vintage? Yes, absolutely. No longer manufactured, but available online. As far back as the '70s, I remember this dear friend. My father's absolute "go-to" for his world-famous Sloppy Joes (weigh-in if you ever had the pleasure to enjoy them)! Or his beef brisket a Chanukah favorite alongside his latkes. I have recipes for both, but fear of falling short has kept me from ever attempting either.
This Dutch oven was his faithful companion until my father passed away in 2005. There was little discussion among siblings as to where the Tulip DRU would go to live. It has served me well these 10-plus years. For Thanksgiving, cornbread stuffing was assembled and mixed. To save time washing, I used it to toss salad greens before putting them in their appropriate glass bowl. Have I cherished this culinary heirloom? Yes, 1,000 times yes! Soups, casseroles, and stews have started and finished here. Not one meal or creation has passed without remembering with deep love, and sometimes tears, my father's love for cooking. Food was his way of showing love -- as is often the case. He was masterful in the kitchen. Both parents were skilled chefs, but Dad really sparked my own love for cooking. Generations past would bequeath such treasures. And, yes, my own living trust must deliver this old family friend to another generation. The question remains, "Who?"
On my first journey to England, I fell in love with Royal Worcester Evesham Gold. I was just 17 years old; I think the writing was already on the wall. Shortly after, my mother began buying and collecting the same china with a vengeance. Stubborn 20-something, I decided to go another direction though I still had a hankering for Evesham. When mom passed away in 1991, she left behind dozens of pieces of this china including plates, bowls, tea cups and saucers, and many serving pieces. With little storage in my bungalow, it was necessary to sell most of the china. I really didn't want or need much of her collection, but still loved the pattern's simple elegance and the memories of England.
Naturally, the reminders of her were/are very strong. Whenever Evesham graces my stove, oven or table the come memories flooding back. This two-piece casserole was front and center this Thanksgiving. Made-from-scratch, my cornbread stuffing was elegantly framed. This "for the love of food" memory had double meaning given that I learned the fine art of cornbread stuffing from my mother. Like so many recipes handed down, there's nothing in writing for this family favorite. The cornbread recipe is courtesy of Moosewood Cookbook, but the stuffing itself is all mom; though I have tweaked it over the years. This year I wasn't able to get the much savored fresh chestnuts, but the final product wasn't lacking. Taste buds were dancing. I know my mother was smiling. She nourished my cooking DNA and while we didn't always agree, I am still my mother's daughter!
So, this ends round one of "for the love of cooking". I hope in time, other memorable items will come to life as they touch me at every morsel of my soul. I know there are many people out there sharing the same memories. Please do!
FALL FOLIAGE IN CALIFORNIA: Places to Go, Colors to See
by Barbara L. Steinberg
Summer’s golden, sun-filled hours have shortened and the evening air is turning crisp and cool, Mother Nature takes her cue to begin a spectacular and colorful show of fall foliage in the Golden State. Autumn’s palette of deep reds, glowing yellows and warm, earthy browns may be enjoyed in many of California’s regions. Visitors taking a relaxing drive, hike or bicycle ride through the scenic countryside will be instantly immersed in the season’s breathtaking beauty.
Click here for some of the more popular places to view the best California fall colors.
The Rest of the Story....
Tags: #AwesomeAutumn, alpine, autumn, autumn, autumn leaves, big bear, Big Bear Lake, bishop, Bishop, Calaveras, California, color, county, Creek Canyon, Fall, fall color, fall foliage, fall leaves, foliage, Grover, hot springs, lake, mammoth, Mammoth Lakes, mountain, national park, photograph, photography, Plumas, Shasta cascade, Sierra, Sierra Nevada, Sonoma, state park, Yosemite
Truly a family affair, Bobby Phong inherited Phở Xe Lua from his uncle and aunt, Charlie and Michelle Phong. His father and mother, Michael and Anh Phong, were the guiding lights when the restaurant opened in 2007. Bobby has helped his family in other restaurants ventures over the last 40 years starting out as a dishwasher. He shared in the many responsibilities when opening Phở Xe Lua including serving and cooking.
“When you own a business, you do everything from A to Z so I’m very hands-on,” said Bobby.
In July 2019, Bobby took over Phở Xe Lua and enlisted his wife, Tina. Bobby, the Executive Chef, had cooked his entire life so the transition was seamless for the couple and staff. Yet, they had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead.
When announced in March 2020 that businesses had to shut down due to Covid-19, Tina and Bobby regrouped and decided to sell everything they already had in stock and close operations. By the first weekend, they were so busy with takeout orders that they scrapped that decision and stayed open. When the option to open for in-house dining came around, they kept to takeout only.
"The regulars were so happy we never closed. Fifty percent of our business is still walk-in and phone orders; the rest is 'tablet' online delivery services. Essential workers from the UC Davis Medical Center early-on were so thankful we were open. We should stay open for these people, they need us!” Bobby said.
“We decided not to open in-house dining because we didn’t want to jeopardize the health of our employees or customers. Following all the guidelines were difficult for our type of cuisine due to the number of condiments we provide and the disposable utensil requirement wasn’t feasible. Another concern was the pent-up demand for in-house dining. We would be too busy and that would cause larger numbers of people to congregate. Staying safe is our first priority. We owe it to our family and community,” said the couple.
The downside is that some of the longtime wait-staff had to be furloughed but they were able to keep most of the kitchen staff with fewer hours. They have Door Dash, Postmates, and GrubHub delivery services which allow access to customers during this time. This meant raising prices to compensate for the delivery fees. Thinking creatively, Tina and Bobby started their own website for just pick-up orders; those prices remained the same.
"Because we aren’t serving people in the restaurant we have the time to re-evaluate things we could not have done before. For example, we redesigned the menu and added a staple dish in Vietnamese cuisine – Bún Riêu, crab meatball vermicelli noodle soup. We also created new drinks and purchased a sealing machine to mitigate tampering with delivery drivers."
Tina reflected, "I miss people -- wondering and worrying about what happened to our regular customers -- and the hustle and bustle, but we appreciate the break. Friday through Sunday is still busy but less than what we used to do. We are happy and feel blessed that we still have customers and the support of the community."
Phở Xe Lua is still open for delivery and takeout but has reduced their hours from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Please place your orders by 8:15 p.m. They have been open throughout the Covid-19 crisis for takeout or delivery. They are not offering sit-down dining inside or out yet. The entire staff wears masks and/or face shields along with gloves. They require masks, so please be sure to put one on before entering. They have Plexiglas installed at the register when you pay to pick-up your order.
Side note: Celebrated Sacramento chef and author Mai Pham opened Lemon Grass Restaurant, Sacramento’s first full-service and high-end Vietnamese restaurant in 1989. Born in Vietnam and raised in Thailand, Mai was one of the first authoritative voices behind Vietnamese and Thai food in America, a distinction that grew out of her family exodus from Vietnam and her passion to share that experience through food and culture.
“Stockton Boulevard is so convenient. I used to go to Little Saigon quite a bit when my father was alive. It was a Sunday outing for the family for phở or dim sum,” Mai reminisced. “The name ‘phở xe lua’ is endearing as it means ‘train-size pho,’ a code word to phở connoisseurs.”
Thank you so much for being there on one of those painfully hot days. One of our rare "eat out" moments during Covid-19 - we were so happy to see Mariam there behind the counter. We went home with hand-packed pints of salted caramel and vanilla bean - brought miles of smiles and lovingly enjoyed that evening on fresh baked peach cobbler.They carry delicious Gunther's Ice Cream - a Sacramento tradition for many decades. Thank you Long Island Ice Cream for being there for the long haul in the neighborhood on the Boulevard. This wasn't our first tasty foray and it won't be our last.
Don't miss out on all of the deliciously prepared ice cream delights and cupcakes! Custom crafted milkshakes and smoothies, too! Oh, yes, made to order coffee drinks - every cup freshly brewed featuring (take your pick) Pete's, Starbucks, and the very local, Temple Coffee. It's all perfection and about keeping you happy and coming back for more.
When you walk the #shoplocal #shopsmall #supportyoursmallbusiness talk you should know that Ken, the owner, born, raised, and living in Oak Park.