Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Orchard House: Comfort and Contentment

The Culinary Club (aka the Foodies) consist of three flavor-lovers.

I'm beginning to see my role in the configuration. I want to write about the food, of course, but from me you'll always get the storybook version. What leads up to it, thoughts and feelings while there, and what's lingered after the fact.

I'm the touchy-feely, warm fuzzy one...
I can accept that.

The three of us met in a Nampa parking lot, piling into my Jeep for a ride through the snow, ice and (O joy!) thick fog. I chose to take the scenic route down my beloved Lakeshore Drive, just off Highway 45. The home I'd moved (from out by Boise Towne Square) and planted on seven acres, remodeled and re-constructed with my former husband was on Lakeshore Drive. The area is embedded in me, and I hope to return one very triumphant day. We'll see how that goes.

I played tour guide, pointing out the friends' house that held annual Christmas tree burns in March every year, with flames jumping higher than their rooftop when teenagers piled on ten trees at once. In the fog, we could barely make out an outline of the house on the corner.

I told Sarah and Deb about the closed-down cafe, where Lakeshore legend had it that a cougar once crashed through the big front window, alarming cafe customers. The legend has never been confirmed, and I don't recall now where I first heard it, but it's fun to tell.

I motioned to the house that had the dog that battled with our dog. The owners and I had words, then months later laughed about it over a plate of cookies. They gave away their dog, our dog died, and we remained friends.

My heart beat faster as we approached our old property. The trees I'd planted, the gazebo my then-husband had built for me, the exterior paint I'd exasperated over, finally deciding on 'Sunny Beach', the kids' fort... I'd loved that place, and I always will, but it was shrouded in fog and we couldn't see a thing.

"There it is," I told my friends, then quickly realized I was pointing to the neighbor's house, not ours. Fog factor.

Memories all the way around the lake as I remembered early morning bike rides out to Walker Lake or Riverside roads, summers of smelling the freshwater air, and a much slower-paced life than the one I'm living nowadays. There were days I'd avoided taking this very route for just such reasons, when the emotions were too poignant to take, but the thick white mist and always-intriguing conversation of Deb and Sarah distracted me just enough to be delighted versus slightly depressed.

We drove past Ste. Chapelle winery, where I'd spent many contemplative moments overlooking the Marsing valley below and planning my life and/or praying for guidance. Although not a drinker of wine, this is my favorite spot for those activities.

Due to low visibility, we almost missed our destination, the Orchard House. Once again, nostalgia hit me when I remembered my friend Lisa and I sitting over a bowl of soup and a heart-to-heart chat at this same dwelling when it was 'Cooky's Famous Potato House' years ago. Now I was there with new friends, new restaurant owners, and really, a very different and new life. The thought stuck and encouraged me. I was cold from the damp, hungry, and ready for what I hoped would be an amazing brunch.  According to one Sunset Magazine article featuring the place, we were in for a treat.

Combine the wooden paneled walls, tin stamped ceiling, white sparkling lights, and vintage-y country decor, and you'll come up with one word: relax...and yet, there was something more. I didn't put my finger on it until just now when I looked up the healing properties of wood. This is what I found:

The element of wood is closely linked to new beginnings and renewal.

How fitting that we should have a brunch so close to the beginning of the, surrounded by wood, and having just passed my old home with its many connections. Perhaps the day, the occasion and the element were assuring me it is now time to move on into future happinesses.

I expected down-home cooking from the Orchard House, but got something else. It was down-home, home-made, and comfort-style, all right, but with a twist. Within my Portabello scramble were eggs, an earthy spinach, and the delightful depth of asiago cheese. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been infused with a rich consomme of some sort, and/or possibly white cooking wine. (It all cooks out, right?) At any rate, it was freaking delicious.

Sarah chose an omelette (also tasty when she offered me a sample) and Deb stuck with the traditional bacon, eggs, toast and hash browns, explaining that the day seemed to call for that. Could there be anything more homey than being surrounded by a Grandma's cabin-feel, people all around us talking, laughing, eating, and our table filled with plates of culinary comfort? I think not.

My scramble was flanked by four hearty sun-dried tomato and herb slices of bread, toasted to perfection and glowing with just the right amount of butter, as well as colorful slices of tomato. I chose an herbal tea that (reminiscing, once again) was the same tea I'd had at my sister's on a cold rainy day in Seattle. Combined with my dear Foodie friends, the Orchard House atmosphere, and the warming mug of licorice spice tea, I was fast entering contentment zone.

A constant plus for our CClub meals is the conversation. Sarah,Deb, and I are never at a loss for things to say. Each from differing backgrounds, the diversity and open communication enhance every single shared meal.

Some bonuses during our visit: My friend and salon owner Talie Elordi and her family were there having brunch, also a cheerful-looking woman who sat nearby dining alone grinning, clearly enjoying each splendid bite as she leisurely paged through the local paper. Many times I'll frequent a place with my only companions being a journal and a book, so I observed with the happiness only a part-time solitude junkie could. Orchard House owner Sherri McCoy approached, chatting for a bit with the opener, "I see you three taking pictures, are there any questions I can answer for you?"

Sherri is among the few restauranteurs that have thus far paid us any mind, but then again we were pretty obvious with the picture-taking. I think it's safe to say we prefer to remain fairly anonymous foodie bloggers, but her joining the conversation was a definite plus. What she shared was entertaining and real; we enjoyed her comments immensely. When asked if Sunset Magazine's article put them right into stardom, her reply was, 'Not really.' Same with 'Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives'. Some notoriety where every now and then a diner mentioned that they're checking it off their D,D and D list, but for the most part, their lifeblood was from locals and the neighboring orchards' fruit-seekers.

It has become tradition to visit Marsing orchards, and then the Orchard House. The Orchard House chef, Rubio Izaguirre had no prior restaurant experience. This is one of the things  I suspect makes his work so amazing. Low on ego, high on talent, and an obvious love for his art.

The perfect storm for satisfaction was created last Saturday. Old and new, past and present, damp and fog, comfort and cheer and contentment on a plate. The Orchard House is bound for tradition for the Foodies, and as for myself, I intend to return, especially on the very next contemplative, cozy, foggy day.

*For more Idaho love, like my page, Appetite for Idaho on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Finer Matters

"That doesn't matter."

How many times have we heard that phrase?

But if one thing doesn't matter, surely something else does. It either matters or it doesn't, but sometimes I get the two confused.

Stiff deadline from a client I really want to keep vs. my teenaged daughter begging me for 'talk time'? That shouldn't be something I have to weigh, yet I do. Deadlines will come (and sometimes go), but my daughter is only with me for a limited time, and vice versa. She matters in a very big way.

The negative stuff in my life is always going to be there. If I focus on it, it will grow to unruly proportions. It's not hard to find, if the esposo allows the clock radio alarm to go on for too long, I'm bound to hear some static-y, urgent and terrible tale first thing in the morning well before my mind and/or spirit is anywhere near ready to absorb it. Not that I would ever actually be ready for that sort of thing.

When I turn on my computer, BLAM. Some image waiting to assault my senses. So and so's marriage is breaking up. The latest political scam. We'll soon be out of this or that natural resource.  Someone's cat died.

If I go anywhere during the day, I see 'Going Out of Business' signs, and they depress me. I see people standing on the corner, in need of help and not too proud to ask. I see angry drivers gesturing and talking to no one, mute to onlookers but still moving their lips in obvious annoyance with the inferred ignorance of every other driver but them.

All of that is easy to see, it's everywhere.

What's not so easy to see are the things that matter, the gold.

My son had a day off.  I'm sure he would have loved to have slept in. His sister asked him for an early morning ride to school, and he got up, scraped the windshield of his car to free it of the earlier freezing rain, and delivered his younger sibling to her education location. No griping, no trading slave labor, no questions asked. He just did that for her because she needed a ride, and because he knew I was busy working. Gold.

Two weeks from now, the Friendly Neighbors Club will congregate at a restaurant of their choosing to solidify congeniality, dine together, catch up on the latest, and help someone if they can. The Club has been meeting together since the 1920s, doing good for each other and those in the community every chance they get. Their mothers and grandmothers were members, farm wives that were looking for ways to have a social life and make a difference. They started in their pre-PTO-era schoolhouse, the one their children attended. Two rooms, multiple grades, and no school lunch system. Guess who provided the hot, hearty lunches after that? Nowadays, most of them are in their eighties or better, yet they still meet once a month. Meticulous journals have been kept of all they've done, meeting minutes, births, marriages, deaths, how the dues were spent. Being older, they're probably not going to pitch in a helping hand at the next farm auction, but they write out small checks or press cash into the Club secretary's hand and pass on the love. Gold.

My dog lies at my feet. She's gray, normally hyperactive, and a little naturally klutzy. All day long, she wants to go outdoors, then she wants to come indoors, then she wants to go back outdoors, all in, say, five minutes' time. While I'm working, that drives me a little nuts. But Gracie has her merits. She brought my daughter immense joy years ago when she was spotted in an image posted on the animal shelter's website. My daughter knew that May was the one for her, and she prayed we'd get there in time to adopt her before anyone else did. I'd just started my writing career, and was heavily involved with writing for a large rodeo organization. To take time off might have caused me to drop the ball. I wasn't going to do it...but then I did. My daughter was overjoyed.

We almost lost our pet a couple of years ago. For reasons unknown, May stopped eating. We took her to the vet, who basically told us to do our best, but to prepare for the worst. Our beautiful gray dog was dying before our very eyes. Nothing we did for her seemed to make a difference, she hadn't eaten in almost a week.

"At this point," said the vet, "Try anything. Give her whatever she might possibly eat or drink."

I tried giving her Pedialyte, to get her fluids back to where they should be. (The vet had also given her some fluids intravenously, but that hadn't perked her up.)

Finally, in desperation, I spoon fed her some of my hot chocolate. May lifted her wilting head only about a half inch, and I doubted. By now, her normally glossy blue-gray coat was shedding and dull. I touched the spoon to her mouth and left a little cocoa there. She licked. Then licked again. She rose ever so slowly and slightly, and was... interested. Then, our gray dog was more than interested. An hour later, we'd sacrificed our dinner of baked chicken from the crockpot and delightedly watched her wolf the whole thing down as she made up for lost feeding time. It all looked and felt like a miracle, a dog miracle.

And now...that dog miracle lies at my feet, just about every day, watching me as I work the keyboard for hours. She's loyal, she's (yes) slightly spastic, she's now always hungry...and she's still here. Gold. Good stuff.

Stuff that matters.

*For more random thoughts, follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, January 18, 2013


There's no denying middle age.

There it is, showing up more prominently year after year. The only way to take it is with a large serving of humor.

My sister found my first gray hair. 

I think that should be illegal. I think you should be allowed to find your own first gray hair and mourn in solitude. She, a professional hairstylist, was giving me a haircut in my home, with her boyfriend present when she made the fateful discovery. For a moment, we debated. She said it was gray, I informed her that my hair was multi-toned, with threads of white-blond in it. It was a blondie, I assured. She mercilessly plucked the offending thread from my scalp and presented it -rather ceremoniously- to me.  She was standing behind me so I couldn't see her, but I could feel the heat of her bright smile, radiating through the back of my skull.  My sister was eighteen months older, and was wearing no gray hair at all.

She was also single and had no children. Well into motherhood and marriage, I was bound to be some physical repercussions for my choices. I just hadn't expected them so soon.
A senior friend later gave me some sage advice when it came to the gray hair.

"Keep it covered," she said, in hushed tones. Apparently if people knew you had them, they'd view you as deficient, knowing of the myriad intricate technicalities that were sure to follow.

I'll admit, additional odd developments have actually occurred over the years that followed.

I seem to have a very selective memory. 
I can remember the name of an acquaintance's mother's cat, something I'll never use unless I meet up with that friend's mother, in which case I would wow her with my power of recollection. I can remember the recipe for Thelma's Christmas Casserole, the heart attack in a dish that my family loves. That's easy, and imperative to survival around here. I can remember that when I was in high school, I owned a green car that I called 'Sprout'. Barring the casserole, none of these things serve a purpose, you see. Whereas I used to have a very good recall-er, I now have to live on snippets of past knowledge.

The security questions for online accounts taunt me.

What was the name of my first grade teacher?
(Ogsbury, Brown, or Bartlett. Maybe.)

What is the name of the hospital you were born in?

What is your favorite tv show?
(Now, this one is probably not my fault. Years ago, Husband Two decided we were going to 'unplug' our home, so we haven't had tv for a while. This is an honest-to-goodness 'I can't remember.')

Why can't my brain remember the vital names, numbers and such?

I have a theory on that.
My theory is that our wonderful, useful minds have a crap allowance, and I've gone way, way over. I've sat through three hour meetings on what we should have for church luncheons, grown up with a lecturing parent who liked to hear himself talk, listened to brides-to-be swooning over every little detail of the decor for their receptions for an interminable amount of time, and witnessed long-winded blow-hards giving the most boring speeches ever given by mankind. I've sat, trapped, at social dinners where egotists talked all about themselves without a clue of when to cut off. I've fidgeted in my chair through seminars full of unoriginal thought. All the while, my mind was absorbing it like a sponge. When it got full, it started to delete items. Little did I know, I wouldn't get the luxury of choosing which ones. These days, the more I put in, the more falls back out.

I feel I would've done a much better job of deciding what stayed and what went. I would've liked to have deleted the first and last five years of my prior marriage, the bad grade I once got in Algebra, the memory of a barbaric dentist extracting my wisdom teeth with a wrench, the unkind poem a couple of the mean neighbor kids chanted at me once, and a few off-colored jokes that I wish I'd never heard, and the names, faces, and understanding of how I am related to certain family members.  Alas, those remain firmly intact while the important things like assignments, times to pick up my daughter, imperative instructions, directions, directives and the dates of good friends' birthdays...poof...all gone.

My friend's mother's cat's name is Sandy.

*At this point, I can still remember my Twitter account. It's @Amy_Larson if you want to follow my random micro-blogging there. :) or like it up on Facebook.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Don't Tell Me You Didn't See This Coming: The Whaaaaaa Post

I just don't wanna today.

I'm well past the age to be throwing tantrums or start whining, but indulge me, will ya?

I'm what you might call a responsible adult. I try very hard to get things done, meet deadlines, and not let anyone down. When I'm bone tired, I still make the inhabitants of my household some sort of a dinner.

Being self-employed, some days I'll push myself to work for 15 hours, with very few breaks. I like being the 'golden child' of content writing. If someone needs something ASAP, I can usually crank some wording out.

But today....?

Today I'm tapped out. Today I want to curl up with a plushy blanket, get into my purple monkey onesy pajamas (with the monkey faces on the feet, complete with ears), lay my head on a fluffy pillow and revisit ZZZLand. I don't want to think, I don't want to fret, I don't even want to dream, since I've got too many thoughts in my head right now, with no room for more.

Hide, hide, hide, that's what I want to do. Two emails saying someone wants to see content revisions. A phone call with a problem. Is it any wonder I'm not feeling at all social today? Whatever happened to surprise flowers, or a call passing on something hilarious that just happened? Since when did I become a robot, or negativity sponge?

I'm sorry, world, and I'm sure there will be consequences, but today...I just can't. Picky people...go stand in the corner. Naysayers? Outta my way. Complainers? Let me show you a little trick that involves a cork.

Today, I just want my pillow, blankie, jammies, and possibly my thumb to suck on.

I'm only dreaming, of course, but the possibility of a Me Day coming up soon is running really, really high.

*For more random thoughts, visit me on Twitter and Facebook.