Sometimes I feel like a tourist who has decided to make this Southern California vacation last longer, and every Saturday chants “one more week, one more week.” I walk around with my mouth open, greedily soaking up every detail of beauty that surrounds me. I crane my neck through the car window, hoping to see the mountains in the distance covered with snow. I eagerly await the green light on the way to our local Persian store just to see the undulating hills of the valley hugging the horizon while the car plummets down the steep, curvy road.
I still get excited when I see a plump palm tree in a neighbor’s yard. I point and clap every time I spy a citrus tree, and sometimes even plan the elaborate nightly raids on the unsuspecting fruit hanging off the easily reached branches in the street that leads to my daughter’s school. I feel as if I were here on borrowed time, and any minute a cold hand will snatch me and whisk me away back to Ohio. And just in case I wake up freezing in some driveway west of Cleveland, I would like to have my pockets stuffed with tangerines, lemons, and oranges to keep me warm.
I waded in the Romanian Black Sea, barely getting my knees wet the year “Jaws” was playing in the theater. I watched the white nights on the shores of the Baltic Sea in St. Petersburg. I held my breath while the train was carrying me across the churning gray North Sea, my eyes painfully shut, until we hit the land of the island Sylt. I flirted with sinewy, bronzed boys on both sides of the Adriatic, seduced equally by the romantic melody of Italian and the exotic dialect of Dalmatia. I gazed at the muddy waters of the Hudson as it mingled with the Atlantic the first time I saw the U.S. I sat with my sister on the cool, sandy beach of Florida’s Gulf coast, and vowed never again to step on the scorching sands of Myrtle Beach a couple of years later. I laughed at my girls who refused to swim in the warm waters of Georgia’s Tybee Island, choosing instead to jump around the hotel pool. I stood mesmerized on a cliff in the Yucatan, my eyes brimming with tears, feeling the call of the Caribbean Sea with its palette of blues, wishing that I could stay there forever.
The Adriatic Sea will always have my heart. I am biased, and at the same time pretty objective in my assertion that it is one of the most beautiful bodies of water on Earth. But the Pacific Ocean will never cease to intrigue me. It mirrors the incredibly blue skies above and invites you in for a swim, sending long-reaching arms of frothy water to show you the way. It is fiendishly pretending to be hospitable on its calm days, feigning timidity with its seductive whispers. Its waves break against the soft, cool sand, leaving behind squiggly lines and mussels’ shells. As the water retreats, the feet follow tentatively at first, more boldly in a second, trying to catch the elusive foam on its way back to the Mother. And then it returns, stunning you with its icy touch, rendering you immobile and unable to retract. A moment later the feet are moving forward, destabilized by the enormous power of the ancient wave, and in that fleeting second you feel the majestic strength of the ocean in front of you. Helpless and hypnotized, you have to fight against the desire to surrender to the deadly embrace and call forth all the mechanisms of self-preservation to make your muscles move backward to safety.
This is never going to be my ocean. I respect its every drop and say “Uncle” way before I am pinned down. I can sit in the sand for hours, safely away from the reach of the waves, listening to the distant growling, paying homage to the most powerful water on Earth. I will look for the first glimpse of blue as the Crown Valley Road ends at the Pacific Coast Highway, my heart beating faster, as if seeing its fierce beauty for the first time. I will rejoice as the salty air fills my lungs and look forward to a long drive towards Malibu just to see the setting sun sparkle in thousands of colors as it sinks into the water. But it will never be mine.
I saw a triangle of the Pacific framed by a roof and the mild curve of a tree crown today from a hilltop in Hermosa Beach. I walked up the stairs of Pam’s house holding my purse and my camera, Husband following with a quiche haphazardly wrapped in a Berkeley Store plastic bag. Twenty or so local food bloggers were meeting to get to know each other, exchange their experiences, and learn how to make our endeavors better and more rewarding. In these situations I usually revert back into that shy fourth grader (dark-rimmed glasses, pig-tails, braces, and all) and I had to fight, again, this incredibly hard-to-conquer desire to run back to the car, lie on the floor and pretend that I was invisible.
As soon as I walked inside, it all changed. I felt warm. I felt welcome. I felt pieces of the ice shard in my heart beginning to thaw. I shared a hug with people I’d met before. I listened and I talked while sipping a Mimosa and piling my plate with all the amazing food spread on the kitchen counters. I was relaxed and thoroughly at ease, comforted by the smiles, playful banter, and witticisms of the people around me.
Back home in Orange County, I had a bag of Meyer lemons I had received as a gift from Kim from Rustic Garden Bistro, when we met on Wednesday. As I brought them up to my face and inhaled their fresh, citrus smell, I could not stop smiling. I do not have to sneak through the neighborhood and make the chihuahuas restless while I try to pick the lemons. I am not going anywhere and I do not have to arm myself with California sunshine to battle the invisible forces trying to plunge me into the land of eternal snow. I loved Cleveland, but right now I am starting to make firmer and more self-confident steps on this sand.
I do not have to fall in love with the Pacific to become a Californian. The austerely magnificent scenery is more than likely going to keep my heart racing as I gaze adoringly, even though my name is not engraved on any trees. But each friend I make is like a differently colored buoy, just enough to keep me anchored here and not allow me to drift aimlessly, looking for a harbor. For the first time since we moved, I feel as if I truly belong.
This weeks theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs was California Dreaming. I chose Giada’s Lemon Risotto.
LEMON RISOTTO (adapted from Giada de Laurentiis; original recipe here)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- ½ cup water
- 2 Tbsp butter+1 Tbsp
- ½ small onion, diced
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- ½ white wine
- 2 Tbsp Parmesan
- sea salt, freshly ground pepper
- juice of ½ Meyer lemon
- zest of 1 Meyer lemon
Heat the stock and the water until it boils, turn the heat to low and keep warm.
Heat the butter in the heavy skillet and sautee the onions until softened on medium heat. Add the rice and stir for a couple of minutes, until it starts to smell nutty. Add the wine and stir until all the liquid is absorbed. Turn the heat to low and start adding the stock, ½ cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Continue for about 20 minutes until the rice is soft, but not disintegrating. Take off the heat, and add the remaining butter, salt, pepper, Parmesan, lemon juice and lemon zest. Serve immediately.