Lemon Aid

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)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Directions:

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.

Lemon Risotto from Bibberche

23 Responses to Lemon Aid

  1. Natashya says:

    Lovely! I have always wanted to try Meyer lemons. I am definitely intrigued by the lemon risotto. Delicious!

  2. Sasa says:

    Lana, what a beautiful post! I would so love to visit California…And how exciting that you had a bloggers meet-up, love them.

  3. Kim says:

    You are truly such a gifted writer. And I am so happy to have seen you not once, but TWICE this week!

    I understand how you feel about missing home. I think there’s something special about childhood memories; maybe because every adventure is a new sensation, and the feeling can never be recaptured. So for me, “home,” and all the experiences that go with it, can never be replaced, no matter much I love and enjoy where I live now.

    I hope the warmth of Sunny Southern California continue to stay with you, so we have plenty more opportunities to visit with one another… and I can sneak you more lemons from my yard. :-)

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend – it’s another beautiful (albeit windy) day where we live!

    [K]

  4. Beautifully written post – very visual. I’m more of a mountain girl than ocean – the reason I’m living in Colorado. Enjoy the warm weather and abundant fruit in California. Here the trees are naked except for the evergreens, my garden has been put to rest, and most everything is a shade of brown.

  5. YummyChunklet says:

    This recipe sounds delicious, but I made Giada’s fettuccine Alfredo once, and it had an abundance of lemon flavor, from the juice to the zest to the parsley. It was a little much. Great story, though!

  6. Karen says:

    Mm lovely risotto! It was great meeting you too. Hope to see more of each other soon!

  7. DebinHawaii says:

    Lovely post. I have been wanting to make this risotto for a while now as I love anything lemon. It looks so sunny, bright and delicious. ;-)

  8. lemonsandanchovies says:

    As an ocean-lover myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this lovely post. I could be in the water for hours and/or stare at it from a sandy beach for days. The only thing better is coming home to this fresh tasting lemon risotto.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Lana, it was a pleasure meeting you at the FBLA potluck today, I’m glad that you felt at ease. It was my first time gathering with this group, and I felt the same. I am smitten by your beautiful prose and the bright citrus flavor of this Meyer lemon risotto!

  10. Lana, this is a beautiful post, and I’m so glad that your fellow local food bloggers made you feel at home – food bloggers just see to be like that :-) I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for a while and have yet to try it – maybe this week. It looks beautiful.
    Sue xo

  11. April Harris says:

    What a lovely post! We visit California three or four times a year and every time I fall in love with it! Giada’s recipe looks wonderful too – I love lemons in both sweet and savory food.

    Thank you so much for linking up with Feed Me Tweet Me Follow Me Home. Hope to see you again next week!

  12. Cathy/ShowFoodChef says:

    It was SO fun to meet and talk to you on Saturday. I love your blog, been visiting your delicious recipes and stories. Nice to have a new foodie-friend :D

  13. Jackie at PHAMFATALE.com says:

    We have a Meyer lemon tree and I usually make lemon curd and other sweets. What a great way to use these lemons! I’ll definitely start making yoru ristotto! Thanks for sharing:)

  14. Andrea- Shangri La says:

    Ja bi stvarno voljela doći vidjeti Californiju.. Zavidim ti na tvom produženom godišnjem odmoru :)))

    A što se tiče rižota, već mi se par dana vrti po glavi rižoto od jabuka koji sam vidjela u novinama, pa sam se sjetila da sam negdje vidjela i od limuna.. STavljam ga u to do listu :)

  15. Jelena says:

    Prelep rižoto, jedan od mojih omiljenih. Radila sam po Najdželinom receptu i razlikuje se u 2 žumanca i malo tečne pavlake za kuvanje. Evo linka http://foodforthought-jelena.blogspot.com/2010/07/rizoto-od-limuna-by-nigella.html
    Nisam bila na Zapadnoj obali, iako su roditelji imali ideju da kolima pređemo USA od istoka ka zapadu. Veliki je to zemlja. Moj dragi voli da se šeta sa Google maps i istražuje, i zaista šta sve čovek tako može da vidi. Možda smo i vas spazili i mahnuli!

  16. Kim says:

    A very beautiful and heartfelt post. The lemon risotto is perfect for the California Dreamin’ theme. This recipe has been on my list on things to make for quite some time. It looks delicious!

  17. Biserka4 says:

    Biberche, “pleses perom” po papiru, rodjeni pisac…..Californiju imam u planu :-)
    pozdrav iz Kanade, B

  18. Krissy says:

    Beautiful post…hope you’re thinking about publishing your blog at some point…it is a beautiful journal that should be handed down to your daughters. I felt compelled to look you up this morning…I’ve not had time to keep up with all my favorite blogger friends for the past couple of months, but this week has me going again.

  19. Lana says:

    @Natashya, risotto was pretty good, but I still prefer a heartier version, like a Milanese:)

    @Sasa, California is half way between Austria and New Zealand:) You are welcome any time! You are so tiny you can sleep with my kids, LOL! And, yes, meeting local bloggers was an amazing thing!

    @Oh, dear Kim, I am so happy I met you! Cheers, for many more get-to-gethers!

    @Andrea, I am split between my love for the ocean, and the love for the mountains. I spent a summer in Colorado as an Exchange Student, and fell in love with the Rockies! I have to bring the kids there! BTW, my plants are kind of hibernating, even though it’s pretty warm here:)

    @Chunklet, thanks for the award! I just have to find 15 newbie blogs to pass it on! I agree on the lemoniness of the dish – I do like the acidic taste, but I prefer the heartier versions of the risotto.

    @Karen, I just love your blog! I am hoping to learn a lot from you:) Yes, I second more encounters!

    @Deb, It was very bright, and very light. We all liked it, but we are lemon fiends:) I usually prefer a more traditional risotto, but this was a nice alternative.

    @Jean, thanks for stopping by! I am so happy that I finally live close to the ocean!

    @Priscilla, I hope we meet more often. The FBLA meeting was a blast, and I am looking forward to the next one:)

    @Sue, without friends, there is no sense of belonging. And I now know that I have a friend in New Zealand!

    @April, let’s get together next time you are in SoCal! I’d love to meet you!

    @Cathy, I am so happy I have met you! I love your personality and your diverse nature! looking forward to getting to know you better.

    @Jackie, lucky you for having a Meyer lemon tree! I love your blog!

    @Andrea, ni Kalifornija nije više tako daleka:)

    @Jelena, i moj muž voli Google maps! Svašta stvarno može da se vidi. Što se rižota tiče, i ovde je trebalo da se doda malo maskarpone sira, ali ja nisam, činilo mi se da nema potrebe.

    @Kim, thanks for the nice words!

    @Moja Perlice, puno hvala! Samo da ti kažem da si moju mamu oborila sa nogu sa izrazom da “pleÅ¡em perom po papiru”:) Ona je lirska duÅ¡a, kao i ja:) Jeste Kalifornija dalje od Ohaja, ali nije baÅ¡ toliko daleka. PoÅ¡to imaÅ¡ u planu da dodjeÅ¡, možemo da se dogovorimo. NaÅ¡a su vrata uvek otvorena.

    @Krissy, I was wondering about you. I am glad you are back. And I have no idea if publishing my blog would be feasable at all. I did not think about it:)

  20. Well I am just catching up with my blog reading, but I’m really glad you came to our meeting and that you felt welcomed. The minute I walked into Pam’s house, I felt like I was really with my peeps. It was such a great feeling! And love your writing!

  21. Well I am just catching up with my blog reading, but I’m really glad you came to our meeting and that you felt welcomed. The minute I walked into Pam’s house, I felt like I was really with my peeps. It was such a great feeling! And love your writing!

  22. Mairi @ Toast says:

    Lovely post Lana, and completely identify…Scotland will always be home home, but I love & wonder at my new home all the time & feel blessed I get to live in this beautiful spot…just across the water from you on the other side of the Pacific. (which I have to say is somewhat more appealing than the wild, gray, freezing North Sea!)

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