Archive for February, 2012

Oscars

The Oscars is one of my favorite nights of the year. It’s not the celebrity watching, the fine clothes, or the long speeches that get me every time (although I do love all of this); it’s the movies and the love of them that all started with my mother but more aptly with her father. My grandfather was an actor; he was in over 100 movies and 1,000 TV shows and commercials. People are usually surprised when they hear this and they ask if they have seen him in anything. “Why yes”, I say, “if you have seen – BLAZING SADDLES, HELLO DOLLY, PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES, or LET’S MAKE LOVE. But if you blink in most of these you might miss him.” He was a character actor, in fact, a character in life, but he was proud to have made a living in the movies. He was more proud of his profession than anything, including his family; my mom and I used to joke that he didn’t understand what family was; he treated us like agents or managers – sending press clippings with silly notes that said “check out what this old man is still up to.” He was married about 7 times and I think the only steady thing he had in his life was the movies. At the end of his life most of his phone conversations with my mother centered on what movies they had both seen and if they were any good.

With this, it should be apparent that I love the movies for everything they are – entertaining, creative, enlightening; but I also feel a strange sense that it is just who I am and where I come from. After my grandfather died, my mom and I spent many a night together curled on the couch watching BLAZING SADDLES the way other families watch home videos. We would share stories he had once told about the filming of this movie or that show. He lives on in my life through his “work” and in my appreciation for the arts more than in the role of grandfather, which was a part he never took to heart.

With such a long personal history to the movies it is no wonder I have an equally long connection to the Academy Awards. For me the Oscars remain inseparable with my mother. For having grown up in such a busy house and with a mother who was the center of so many converging worlds and circles, the Oscars were the only night of the year I could be certain of her undivided attention. She would cancel all appointments. We would roll the TV out of the closet, only happening for this night and the World Series for my Dad and Zelda. The Oscars were sacred in our house. My mother would tell people they couldn’t come over, and the one year we had 13 college students living in our dining and living room, my mother made my father vacate his house so she and I could watch alone from his living room.

This was many years ago when the Oscars used to be on Monday nights. This was the only night of the year I can remember my mother picking me up early from whatever project or school event I was involved in. It was the only night of the year we would stop and pick up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (it could still be called that back then). We would get a six-pack of Diet Pepsi and a pint of Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Ice Cream. My mom would unplug the phone and we would settle in to the blue couch for the evening.

I remember those years not just on this one night, because it was more than the Oscars she shared with me, it was all of movies and her view of the world she imparted onto me. By her side she would tell me about Elia Kazan and the black list from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, she taught me about Lillian Hellman. She raged the year Barbara Streisand wasn’t nominated for Best Director of PRINCE OF TIDES. She challenged me to look at the art and not the artist. She would know each film and write down the movies I had to see to better my understanding – IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, CASABLANCA, ANNIE HALL, She would tell me the Directors she admired (John Cassavetes, Ingmar Bergman, Alejandro González Iñárritu,). She knew the names of all the actors and actresses. Some families pass on carefully constructed family trees, my grandfather passed on his love of the movies and my mother continued the branch onto me.

I like to think of my mother and grandfather when I go to movies now. I like to imagine what I would say to them and what I think they would have thought themselves. There were so many wonderful movies this year, and on more occasions than I can list, they made me fondly close my eyes and remember the family I come from. The delight and sheer uplift of watching THE ARTIST; the emotional punch of A SEPARATION; and the tangible grief and sense of continuing life in THE DESCENDANTS.

Happy Oscar watching!

Ramona

26

02 2012

Fantasy Trip

Today I happened upon this website for EAT. PRAY. MOVE. Yoga Holiday Retreats, and now I can’t stop thinking or fantasizing about taking one! This one in particular!

All day I have had a smile on my face and a lightness to my step thinking about the idea of sun salutations, downward dogs, and cobras under the Moroccan Sky! I want to smell the deeply spiced air of Marrakesh while I meditate. I love the feeling of hope that comes with thinking of a potential trip. The first seed of a dream that gets planted.

Does anyone want to join me? If not I hope imagining it brings you as much joy as it has it has brought me today.

Namaste,

Ramona

23

02 2012

CHOCOLATE NUTELLA COOKIES

I love Chocolate! I love chocolate in almost any form it will come – a molé, a cake, melted to cover or dip fruit in, ice cream, a bar, a cup – you know what I mean. Sometimes life just needs a little more chocolate in it, and along came this cookie. Anne sent me the recipe a little before Christmas, before I had found my new apartment, before I had a kitchen to bake anything in. But I read the recipe and held onto it knowing the first chance I had I would bake these.

They are more than chocolate; they are Chocolate Nutella Thumb print cookies. I am also a big fan of the thumb print cookie, I find it loads of fun to sink my finger into the round lump of dough, bake it, and then fill the indented valley with more yumminess, in this case Nutella. I had a Dutch roommate one summer who introduced me to Nutella; she would take Nutella and thickly slather it over a piece of bread and then cover it with chocolate sprinkles. I thought that took it a bit far for first thing in the morning but from then on I was an avid fan of Nutella.

With my aforementioned devotion to chocolate it must be said these cookies are a little on the chocolate overload meter – not for the faint of chocolate heart. They are delicious but they are rich and they fill your chocolate void in a small delectable few bites.

Chocolate Nutella Thumbprint Cookies:

I think this recipe came from the newspaper, originally from Huntsberg and Willis of Whisked! In Washington.

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

½ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at a very soft room temperature

½ cup sugar, + 2 tablespoons separated for dusting (the recipe called for double this but I am a fan of cutting back on sugar where and when I can)

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

1 tablespoon heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup Nutella

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder and salt in a small bowl.

Combine the butter and ½ cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer. Beat for about 2 minutes on low speed, until fluffy, then add the egg yolk, cream and vanilla extract; beat on low speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated.

Place the remaining sugar in a shallow bowl.

Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the baking sheets, I got about 24 from this recipe. Shape each mound of dough into a ball, then roll it in the remaining sugar to coat evenly. Space the balls 2 inches apart on the baking sheets, then use your thumb to make an indentation in the top of each cookie, gently flattening the cookies a bit as you work.

Bake one sheet at a time for 10 minutes or until the edges are just set; the tops of the cookies will be soft. (If the indentations have lost definition, press the centers again immediately after you remove the cookies from the oven.) Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool. Pipe or spoon the Nutella into the center of each cookie while the cookies are still slightly warm.

The other way I have been spending my days lately has been catching up on a list of reading. To start my current bed side list looks like this.

THE SPIRIT CATCHES YOU AND YOU FALL DOWN, By Anne Fadiman; BIRD BY BIRD, By Anne Lamott; SUPER NATURAL EVERY DAY: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen, By Heidi Swanson; MY FATHER’S DAUGHER: Delicious, Easy Recipes Celebrating Family & Togetherness, By Gwyneth Paltrow.

Happy Choco-loting and Reading,

Ramona

22

02 2012

Finding A New Routine

At the start of 2009 I went to New Zealand and Fiji with my friend Gina. It was perhaps one of the top travel experiences of my life. I have a friend going to New Zealand next month so there will be a blog post dedicated to some of my favorite things NZ along with photos very soon, as soon as I can unpack my books that is. It’s strange in retrospect that that is how I started 2009; it was such “a highlight” as Astrid would say. It also started some shift inside me that I couldn’t be certain of and I am still not entirely clear on. But in the moment it was delightful, it was a dream, it was “a highlight”. I was certain 2009 would be a watershed year and it was, only not in any way that I expected. I met the Dalai Lama in 2009, well more my mother than me, but I took a plate of food from him and bowed deeply. More prominently forever will be the fact that a week before the Dalai Lama, my grandmother died, and 5 months later my mother.

I had no way of knowing any of this in January and February of 2009 as I felt myself in a living dream of New Zealand lupine. Fiji was different, but wonderful in the end. It was an addition we made to our trip because we would have to take a flight through Fiji and the cost of staying a few nights was so low it seemed too good to pass up. The reason for such a good deal we would learn later when just days before we arrived, a cyclone hit the island. We spent frantic days in New Zealand trying to get information and ascertain if it was safe to travel to Fiji, which was not the easiest task. In the end we went. We flew with a number of refugees returning to their home after having been evacuated during the brunt of the storm. We arrived only days after the storm front left and the rain continued (we eventually came to love this, swimming in a pool with a tropical rain falling). The airport quarantined my precious New Zealand honey. We drove through deserted cities and flooded towns, in the blackness, as most electricity other than generators was not turned on. We were told that leaving our resort was strongly advised against. It was a different experience than the one we expected; and it has left me with stories but the feeling that I have never REALLY been to Fiji. One day we were able to go snorkeling. They told us the waters had calmed down and most of the debris the storm had picked up was settling. We only had a window between rains but we were able to dive off a boat and see amazing coral and fish.

The reason I bring this up is that this was almost exactly three years ago from now. This was somehow the start of at times an almost unnoticeable and other times very overt shifting in me, a shifting that has not come to a steady end. I bring it up because somehow I feel as though I am in a hurricane these days. It was so much easier in the clarity of the RAvolution to pack my house up and move a year ago. It is proving to be so much easier than it is to unpack those same boxes, which seem to have a way of never ending no matter how many I unpack. The anticipation of the adventures filled me where now it is the stories and memories. I miss the adventures far more than I thought and I think only in sitting still am I noticing that.

I am trying to find a routine again; it is proving a struggle at times. I have found a yoga place I love. I have gone to the movies and been delighted. I saw a show at Ars Nova that was splendid. I saw the THE WARSAW VILLAGE BAND and I can’t get enough of their music now. I am doing a lot and yet in the face of so many other things it feels like not nearly enough. With the comfort of my own stuff I find how much I miss the sociability of the house I lived in in Kenya. I miss my friends from South East Asia. I miss inconvenience, who thought I would say that? I miss the clear direction I had a year ago and seem in desperate need of now.

I have cooked a few things in my new apartment – this soup, this chicken, my first risotto. And I have become a big fan of what I call Ramona’s House Blend Trail Mix. It’s easy— a quarter  cup of each ingredient combined that’s it – cashews raw, almonds raw, macadamia nuts roasted and lightly salted, coconut flakes, golden raisins, dried mango cut up. Delicious!!

I guess I started with the story of Fiji because who would have guessed that it’s the adventure, the unexpected, the surprises of travel is what I miss in my daily life now that I am settling back in. The other day at yoga the instructor told a story about how we all view the world as if we are looking at the sky through the end of a straw. Imagine thinking the sky was as big as the hole in the end of a straw, which is how we view life. But in the yoga practice she explained for moments you are able to see more and more of the sky. You cannot always see the entire sky but you look at it not through the lens of a straw, you see how much you are not seeing in your daily life. And I guess that is it, having to see life in a smaller lens for a while. Perhaps it will help me see myself more clearly—the self I have become, but oh do I miss the greater view of a sky I couldn’t wrap my mind around before and I can’t get out of my imagination now.

Last night was one of the many I had in fitful sleep, so after two hours of tossing and turning I dragged my weary self out of bed at 4:40AM and turned on the computer to watch/listen to Christopher Walken read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Brilliant!! Nothing like a bedtime story.

I wish you all clear skies, big views at moments, and good night sleeps.

Ra

Photos: 1,2,5 from Fiji 2009

11

02 2012