The Weekend Dish – Saddleback Salad

Here’s today’s hot tip.
Leave the leftover 4th of July cookies in the kitchen instead of taking them to your desk. Whoops.

Here’s today’s cold tip.
Make a salad. Call it dinner. Pack it up and hike to your favorite swimming hole for a picnic.

I created Saddleback Salad, which takes its name from the mountain where I watch sunset shadows play outside my kitchen window, based on what I picked up at the Laguna Beach Farmer’s Market one Saturday.  The arugula tastes perfectly at home in a wild grass and meadow setting; the mango is like a little shady spot for your tongue.  Transport the lettuce, mango, pamplemousse, and almonds in separate containers.  Make the dressing at home; toss right before serving.

Saddleback Salad
4 C mixed greens
2 C arugula
2 C mango, peeled and diced
1/2 pamplemousse (This is the French word for grapefruit and I swear if you call it a pamplemousse it tastes better)
1/4 C slivered almonds

2 T apple juice
2 T honey
2 T lemon juice
2 T honey mustard
1/8 C olive oil
1/2 T ground ginger
3 chunks crystallized ginger, slivered

Toss greens and arugula in a large bowl.  Add mango and pamplemousse.  Pour dressing over all and garnish with almonds.

Round out your meal with a strawberry, blueberry, raspberry medley, and some fresh honey goat cheese spread on slices of full grain bread, garnished with a few dried cherries.

If you’re the type who likes to read a little poetry with your al fresco meal, Mary Oliver’s, “The Summer Day,” is as good as grace.  You can read it, or listen to Mary read it aloud here.

Hurry! There are only 78 summer nights left. Don’t waste a one.
With wild abandon,
~ C

What was she thinking?

Dear One,
You of all people will understand this darting and dipping and how it happened that I really couldn’t write today.

Morning broke with new weather, a salty breeze, skipping and blue. It would have been rude, insolent really, to refuse Nature’s gift by staying indoors.  I packed a small bag of cherries and found a spot at my favorite cove. Into the sand I buried my feet where it was cool, still damp; I upturned my palms, lifted eyes to the sky.

At that exact instant, one, two, three, seven California brown pelicans arrived silently gliding on invisible currents of air, perfect in frame and formation. Ancient Egyptians believed pelicans brought protection against snakes. How could I not dip my own head briefly in gratitude?

Wingspans longer than I am tall, each outstretched bird was an aerial dancer in the Pacific ballet, utterly at ease with ungainly beauty. Prehistoric.  For more than 30 million years, back to the Oligocene epoch, since before humans walked upright, the pelican’s beak has remained unchanged.  This evolutionary marvel, this “first thought, best thought,” as poet Alan Ginsberg might call it, is a rather recent revelation, unearthed by a rare fossil find in France in 2009. “Few other flying animals appear to have survived unchanged for so long.” wrote the BBC’s Matt Walker in his account of that news.

While children squeal and grownups read updates on smart phones, or jog, or surf, there in the sky for all who will look is a symphony to original design perfection.  I scribbled in my notebook: There you are, ancient relic, resplendent and brown — color of earth, myth of heaven.

Pelicans, depicted on tombs in ancient Egypt, “have the power of prophesying a safe passage for a dead person in the Underworld…The open beak …is also associated with the deceased to leave the burial chamber and go out into the rays of the sun,” reports George Hart, former curator in the British Museum’s Education Department in The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses.

Was a soul in transport this moment?

Death seemed dim as I watched the birds soar the surf line, then climb.  They scattered to hover then dove. Headlong, with no hesitation from great heights, the way I wish I went through life, they hurtled into water. No splash. A perfect 10, Olympic judges would say. Imagine the brown pelican, as extraordinary a thing as that and almost nevermore, just three years off the Endangered Species list.

The pelican’s survival is linked to the very history of our own country.

President Theodore Roosevelt created the first national wildlife refuge, Florida’s Pelican Island, in 1903 to protect the brown pelican from plume hunters.  Teddy and I share a love for these birds, a link I discover in his 1916 collection of essays, A Book-lovers Holidays in the Open.

“The Audubon societies, and all similar organizations, are doing a great work for the future of our country. Birds should be saved because of utilitarian reasons; and, moreover, they should be saved because of reasons unconnected with any return in dollars and cents…

to lose the chance to see…a file of pelicans winging their way homeward across the crimson after-glow of the sunset…why, the loss is like the loss of a gallery of the masterpieces of the artists…”

Brown pelican as masterwork. Yes.

Suddenly, the birds I watched stopped diving. In response to an inaudible signal – A call drowned out by the waves? A wing tipped toward the sun? A movement of prey to the north? – seven pelicans fell into line once more. They lifted, barely skimming the water, “winging their way homeward.”

I watched and wondered: Am I this elegant in my food hunt?

Out to the depths the pelicans flew; rising like wishes until I could only remember where they’d been.


The pelicans. The day.
I promise I’ll stay in tomorrow and try to write something worthwhile.

With awe,
~ C

Stars and Stripes and Fireworks!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, here in the United States. A fireworks display is one of the traditional ways we celebrate. The sight of the colorful bursts of light illuminating the night sky never ceases to raise my spirits and inspire awe. So, I have taken to capturing the shows with my camera. I have fun trying to capture the many bursts. Last year, I was lucky to be home on the Fourth of July and it wasn’t foggy! I was able to catch the fireworks show off the local beach.

If you have ever wanted to try photographing fireworks but weren’t quite sure, I will share a few of the techniques I have learned. First you need a camera which has manual mode. A tripod and a remote release are recommended also. Set your camera to a low ISO setting of 100-200. Fireworks are bright and an f-stop in the mid range of f/9-f/16 lets enough light in to allow the colors to show up well. Set your shutter to bulb, which allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you hold down the shutter.  Make sure your lens is on manual focus, and focus to infinity or wait until the fireworks begin and focus on them. A medium  telephoto zoom lens works well, I use 24-105mm. Now position yourself so you will have an unobstructed view and you are ready to shoot. Listen for the launch and release the shutter and hold open for anywhere from 2-30 seconds. The longer you hold it open the more bursts you will capture.I was also in France on Bastille Day last year and was able to catch another fireworks show in Juan-les-Pins.

On my last trip to Chicago we saw the fireworks show off Navy Pier one night. . .

I tried another lens, an 85mm f/1.8, and I played with bokeh.

Remember you can check your camera’s LCD periodically to check your composition and exposure and make adjustments if necessary.

I hope you have a Happy Independence Day and get the opportunity to watch a fireworks show. If not tomorrow at some other event or location this year, and get out, experiment and play.