Penguin Books cover for their publication of Aristophanes’ The Birds and Other Plays

Νεφελοκοκκυγία, should you need the title translated, is Ancient Greek for “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” an overly-optimistic, fantasy-like utopia in the sky, first described in Aristophanes’ drama The Birds and now the title of a new novel by Anthony Doerr. If you need help translating this title from Korean – 오징어 게임 (hope I got it right) – it’s Squid Game, the new huge hit on Netflix. Ted Lasso, translated from British English, is American English for Ted Lasso. What do those three very, very diverse works have in common? Well, they’ve been on our To-Watch/To-Read list during these last months of pandemic-related isolation. And because I’m always looking for food tie-ins, I zeroed in on these three possibilities.

First I thought a Ted Lasso Biscuit recipe (“biscuit,” when translated from British English to American English, means cookie) was perfect to blog about, but I’ve already blogged about a fabulous biscuit/cookie/shortbread. Clearly, a squid recipe in honor of The Squid Game would have been spot on, but I’ve never fixed squid – and quite possibly have never eaten it; I could have tried Dalgona candy, but that seems to be usually a store-bought, not homemade, treat.

My kind of squid

Maybe some food from Cloud Cuckoo Land? In the first chapter we’re introduced to Konstance, a 14-year-old, who is on a space ship fleeing the earth – which has been ravaged by climate change. The mother-like character on the ship frets that Konstance isn’t eating enough and offers her a “nice risotto.” You’ll have to read the book to find out how you do risotto on a space ship – but that line made the final decision about our blog recipe quite easy. We’d do risotto!

Besides, as it turns out, we watched about 10 minutes of Squid Game before I covered my eyes and screamed to Andy to “TURN IT OFF!” And Ted Lasso – after adoring Season 1 – mostly disappointed us with Season 2. But I just finished Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land and loved it.

Anthony Doerr

An NPR review of the book comments that “the greatest joy in it comes from watching the pieces snap into place. It is an epic of the quietest kind, whispering across 600 years in a voice no louder than a librarian’s. It is a book about books, a story about stories. It is tragedy and comedy and myth and fable and a warning and a comfort all at the same time. It says, Life is hard. Everyone believes the world is ending all the time. But so far, all of them have been wrong.”

Anthony Doerr’s own website has an interview with him in which he is asked what he hopes readers will take away from Cloud Cuckoo Land. I love Doerr’s response:

I hope readers are reminded of our myriad interconnections: with our ancestors, with our neighbors, with other species, with all the kids yet to be born. I believe that the more we can remember how much we’re all in the same boat—the more we can train ourselves to imagine, recognize, and remember our connections—with the bacteria in our guts, the birds outside our windows, the meals on our plates, and the children in our futures—the better off we’ll be.

With Thanksgiving coming up soon, I think we should all give thanks for such gifted, introspective, and thoughtful writers in our midst.

Before I move on to our risotto recipe and a couple of Thanksgiving suggestions, I should point out that today’s Andy’s Corner also acknowledges that life is hard…perhaps not as eloquently as Anthony Doerr, but maybe with more humor.

Now for Thanksgiving: my family is hotly debating the menu, which is not surprising given that we’re a bunch of foodies. Turkey is the main talking point, since it’s so difficult – if not impossible – to roast the perfect turkey. This year I’m buying ours from Sonoma’s Slow Food Heritage Turkey Project. As an old (in so many ways) 4-H-er and as a believer in avoiding mass-produced meat if financially possible, I’m looking forward to that part of our meal and will be using a dry-brined technique on it.

Though we’ve voted to stick with a traditional menu this year, I’d encourage you to get wild and crazy and break away from the fixation on mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy and yams. And I’d encourage you to simplify the menu as much as possible. What about doing this super-simple risotto, using it to replace the labor intensive mashed potatoes and ubiquitous green beans? You can still make gravy to enhance the probably-dry turkey :). In all honesty, if you believe you can serve a perfect Thanksgiving meal with perfect food and perfect guests, I believe you’re in Cloud Cuckoo Land!

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Are You Missing Collective Effervescence?

Ono, Choco, Oakley, and Wynn – our cats and dogs – have been our only dinner companions of late.

We recently had a group of human friends to dinner here in Glen Ellen. There were 7 of us, 2 from Madrid, Spain, 2 from Medford, Oregon, and 1 from Los Altos, California – and Andy and me. Getting ready for this dinner seemed unusually stressful for me. It’s not that the guests were unfamiliar. I’ve known the women for 59 years. It’s not that I never give dinner parties (see our blog about Dining In). Rather it’s that I haven’t given a real dinner party for almost 2 years!

There’s been so much in the news lately about what I just experienced. Getting back “in the groove” and meeting up with folks after our long Covid isolation doesn’t necessarily come easily but it’s so necessary. This NYTimes Opinion piece helps explain it all: “Post-Covid Happiness Comes in Groups.”

This NYTimes essay also caught my attention because I thought I could one-up Andy, the Sociologist, with this blog and refer to one of the most famous sociologists of all time, Émile Durkheim. Durkheim was the one who coined the term referred to in the article – “collective effervescence.” Instead of being in awe of my sociological awareness, Andy in today’s Andy’s Corner, ignores sociology and focuses on cinematography.

The essay’s writer, Adam Grant, a psychologist teaching at Wharton, summarizes it this way: We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence. It’s a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose. Collective effervescence is the synchrony you feel when you slide into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor, colleagues in a brainstorming session, cousins at a religious service or teammates on a soccer field. And during this pandemic, it’s been largely absent from our lives.

Lots of collective effervescence at our friend’s recent Boulder, Colorado, 50th birthday party!

Even if we need the energy and harmony that being with others provides, getting back to socializing seems to be causing anxiety for lots of us – not just dinner-party-givers but also dinner-party-guests. There’s lots in the news about this phenomena.

These wedding guests don’t appear to be experiencing post-Covid anxiety as they enjoy their collective effervescence. Which makes me wonder: do women possibly experience collective effervescence more than men? You can get a glimpse of our grandson Moss – in a long-sleeved white shirt – toward the back of the dancers at this recent Oregon wedding reception.

Though the article references singing in choruses, running in races, or participating in yoga classes as activities that bring about collective effervescence, I have no doubt that dinner parties do the same thing. After our recent dinner party, my Madrid friend emailed a sweet thank-you with the comment, “I haven’t laughed so much for quite some time.”

So here’s my recommendation for getting your dinner-party groove back. Make everything ahead of time and keep it all simple. SIMPLE. Then when the evening and guests arrive, you can kick back and laugh and enjoy every bit of the long-absent collective effervescence. And your being relaxed will relax your guests. It’s a win win situation.

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Random Acts of Kindness

A pathetic plant (a choisya?) at our house. Should I plant it? Give it away? Or throw it away?

I consider myself a “plant person,” and, admittedly, we have more plants around here than normal people need. Some plants are in the ground, some are in pretty decorative pots, some are in their nursery pots, still waiting to be planted, and, sadly, some are near death AND still in their nursery pots because I’ve had them so long. But I do occasionally get on a Marie Kondo kick and want to get rid of unnecessary things. When that happens we put our unwanted plants out on our little dirt street with a “FREE!” sign.

Today I heard someone walking up our front, creaky, wooden steps and then walking back down, without ever having knocked. I went to the front window, a little puzzled, and caught a glimpse of our neighbor from down the street, walking away from our house. When I opened the front door, there was a thank-you card and a bag of Lindt Lindor Chocolate Truffles.

Our neighbor’s oh-so-sweet and random act of kindness was a little “thank-you” for all the plants she’s acquired from our “FREE” spot. And for being good neighbors (I’m humming Mister Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” as I type this).

If you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m a pretty cynical person. So when I looked up “random acts of kindness” and was bombarded with list after list after list of icky sweet things we might do, I almost lost my enthusiasm for the concept.

Chalk encouraging words to runners and bikers on their path.”

Give your husband a coupon for ‘You Get To Pick the Movie Night!'”

Pay for the car behind you in a drive-thru.”

Draw a picture for a friend.”

“Return a grocery cart.” (really – does this qualify as an act of kindness?!)

This may be the silliest: “Hide money in random places for strangers to find.”

So, I decided to turn to friends and family for better examples or ideas of what random, special things they’ve done or received. Here’s what I got back:

Dropped off loaves of homemade sourdough bread for a bunch of Brooklyn friends

Posted a glowing Yelp review for a favorite massage spot in SF which has struggled during the pandemic – and whose owner is older and “tiny but so strong and sweet and lovely and good.”

Received some Magnolia cupcakes (for those of you who aren’t in NYCthat’s a yummy bakery) as a surprise for me and my workers – from co-workers in another store.

Wrote and mailed a little note, remembering the one-year-anniversary of a special get-together

The best thing I can take credit for is recently retrieving a can of tomatoes off a very high shelf at the Sonoma Market for a short lady. I was especially pleased with myself, because it usually works the other way around. This was a short lady helping a very short lady. I felt empowered and kind at the same time.

NYC’s Magnolia Bakery’s Red Velvet Cupcakes (to make your own Red Velvet Cupcakes to give away, try our recipe)
This list from the UK’s Mental Health Foundation isn’t all bad – even for us cynics.

Our recipes for today offer two possibilities: you can make the candy – pralines or halvah, package them prettily, and offer them up to someone special as a random act of kindness (highly recommended) – or you can make them and eat them yourself for fear that someone might take your kind gesture wrong. See today’s Andy’s Corner for more on that.

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It’s a Hoot

The Great Horned Owl

I thought we here in Glen Ellen must be pretty special because Great Horned Owls seem to be hanging out in our ‘hood – and hooting up a storm each night. Then I did a little research and realized they’re everywhere in the U.S. Alas, Glen Ellen isn’t so special after all.

Just a bit of info about these gorgeous creatures – which, admittedly, I’ve never seen in person: The Great Horned Owl doesn’t have horns – those are tufts of feathers. They usually weigh around 3 pounds and are about 20″ tall; their wing span is around 40″. Their flight is so silent that their prey likely never hear their approach. And – these owls have been known to fly away with small dogs!

While I’ve been busy learning about our neighborhood owls, Andy – in today’s Andy’s Corner – has been busy researching a “family” owl – and remembering another predator he was familiar with as a child.

This National Geographic video is fascinating and short – but not for the squeamish!

According to the Audubon Society, these Great Horned Owls take rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, and skunks. They eat some birds up to size of geese, ducks, hawks, and smaller owls. They also eat snakes, lizards, frogs, insects, scorpions, but rarely fish. I’ve also read that they’re also known to eat chickens, which causes big issues.

There are times we could really use these Great Horned Owls in action, rather than sitting in a tree hooting. Our tomato patch has been decimated this year for the first time ever by some unknown creatures. A long discussion on our local NextDoor would indicate it’s rats – or possibly squirrels – doing the damage. I might feel kind of bad to see one of our pesky squirrels fly away in the talons of the owl, but I’d likely cheer if our local rats became a part of the diet of a Great Horned Owl.

Damage done to our tomatoes by…a squirrel? a rat? a raccoon?

In deciding upon today’s owl-based recipe, I couldn’t possibly go for squirrel (though we were offered squirrel gumbo at a party in Baton Rouge when we first arrived there. Needless to say, we had a We’re-Not-in-Colorado-Any-More moment). And we’re clearly not into rat meat (why we don’t eat rats may be a good topic for a blog one day) – so the next thing that came to mind was rabbit. Do you remember the dish Welsh Rabbit – later changed to Welsh Rarebit, so that diners weren’t confused about whether they were eating meat – or not?

A Welsh vegetarian Rabbit dish is clearly the perfect recipe to celebrate Wynn, our new little Welsh Corgi – who BTW has been instructed to watch out for Great Horned Owls. And we don’t give a hoot whether you think that Welsh Rabbit name is weird or not. AND we’re pretty sure our Great Horned Owls can’t be tricked into eating Welsh Rabbit, even if they should be considering a more meat-free diet.

FYI: one source says the name Welsh Rabbit came about because Welsh peasants couldn’t afford meat, so the name was some kind of attempt to appease them. A 16th-century tale about the dish is even wilder: Apparently “toasted cheese” in Welsh translates as “caws pobi.” The story goes that God asked St Peter to get rid of the Welsh from heaven, as they kept causing a ruckus.  St Peter marched outside the Pearly Gates and shouted “caws pobi!”. All of the Welsh men and women excitedly ran out of the gates to get their cheese and toast – and the gates were slammed behind them (since I have a lot of Welsh in me, I feel it’s PC for me to tell this tale). 🙂

One final note: should you be in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the near future, check out the Welsh Rabbit Bistro and Cheese Shop. It’s in the fun part of FoCo – Old Town.

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You Win Some and You Lose Some

I won this one. Or maybe to win is to lose. Or to lose is to win. It remains to be seen. But WynnSome, a 10-week-old brindle and white Cardigan Welsh Corgi, arrived at our home on August 31st. And she is indeed winsome.

WynnSome D

Suddenly Senior says 70 is a good age to adopt a pup (we’ll let you run the numbers to figure out why). Let’s just say we overshot that by a bit, but we were seizing the “Wynn-dow” of opportunity.

It’s been almost 2 years since Ancho Antwerp Walden Hill was to arrive at SFO – bound for our Sonoma home. A red merle Australian Shepherd puppy, with much the same bloodlines as our beloved Oakley Devine. But Fortuna intervened and she went to Maine instead of Glen Ellen. So we’ve had two years of “should we?” “could we?” “maybe yes?’ “maybe no?” There’s been many talks around our dinner table….about puppies.

Even after 54 years of marital bliss (if you believe that, I’ll tell you another funny story), Andy and I still manage to have some pretty tense exchanges. And getting a new pet is certifiably guaranteed to cause a little huff and puff and drama with us both. Our cat ChocoLatte’s entrance into our family is a case in point. After we had put him – a scrawny 8-week-old kitten – back into his cage at Sonoma’s Pets Lifeline, having decided he wasn’t something we were meant to have, we turned and walked, slowly and sadly and sans new kitty, back to our car. And then I burst into tears. And then we went back and got Choco.

ChocoLatte – at our home and no longer a kitten

Of course you know that there are two kinds of Welsh Corgis – the Cardigan and the Pembroke. And, of course you know that Queen Elizabeth is famous for her Pembroke Corgis. And Queen Elizabeth was WAY over 70 when she got her two most recent Corgi puppies. Guess you could say we’re just living like royalty!

2016: Queen Elizabeth II at 90 years young
1936: Queen Elizabeth at 10 years of age; kind of fascinating to note the difference in appearance between the 1936 Corgis and the 2016 Corgis.

WynnSome is a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, unlike the Queen’s. These little Welsh herding dogs, who always have a tail, date back centuries and are descended from the Dachshund family. What a surprise! We’re already impressed with Wynn’s intelligence, speed, and determination – and her love of good (or even bad) food! She’ll clearly fit in well to this foodie family.

As for her name, read today’s Andy’s Corner. It reveals the complexity of animal-name-choosing in our family. The fact that “Wynn” is an old Welsh female name – which some sources say means “joy” or “friend” – certainly influenced our decision-making.

from the AKC: Cardigan above, Pembroke below

As we enter into this new phase of our life, with fingers crossed, I want to dedicate this “Cat” Stevens song not to our cats but to Andy (and to WynnSome). Here’s hoping “I love my dog as much as I love you.” You’ll have to listen to the next line of the lyrics to fully appreciate the message. 🙂

Our recipe choice is an obvious one – in many ways. We’re SO looking forward to traveling again, and New York is our favorite destination – followed closely by Mexico, but we’ve done lots of Mexican recipes. And New York adoptable dogs are being seriously looked at by our New York kiddos. May their next dog be a winner – not a wiener. (OMG – save me from the corn – but keep the corn dogs!)

Our New York Dog
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