What’s in a Name?

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 12.01.32 pm

“Name Day” in Swedish

If I’d been born in Sweden, as my grandparents were,  I would celebrate my Name Day on December 9 with all the other Anns and Annas.  According to one source “the Swedish Church (which was a State Church from 1527 to 1999) encouraged the celebration of namedays, since the Church considered the celebration of birthdays a pagan custom.”

But I wasn’t born in Sweden, and my actual birth day places me directly under the sign of Aquarius.  Astrology.com states that “Aquarians are the perfect representatives for the Age of Aquarius.

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 11.56.23 am

I’d say about 10 of the 19 traits apply to me

The Age of Aquarius from the Fifth Dimension was released in 1969 – and, coincidentally, we just had a blog about 1969.  Be sure to re-read the great lyrics of the song or, better yet, listen to it sung. 

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius

screen shot 2019-01-17 at 1.56.47 pm

Andy just laughs when I read off some of the other traits – “temperamental,” “uncompromising” –  which we Aquarians might be expected to have.   When looking at compatibility with folks from other Zodiac signs, those who are Taurus (Andy) are considered way too kind and easy going to be hooked up with Aquarians.  LOL.  Those who know us from our MiniBlooms gardening business days will nod knowingly 🙂

When I was born that day in February,  my parents chose to name me after my Swedish grandmother – Anna Carlson – who had passed away 5 years earlier.  Except my parents simplified it, and I became just Ann.   Ann Hill.

“Anacin Pill!”  “Ant Hill!”  I still remember the young man who mercilessly teased me with those spin-offs.

I’m a little bitter that my parents didn’t think up a more charming name for me.  Why couldn’t they have stuck with Anna?  That one syllable makes all the difference.

So when I got married taking my new husband’s surname was a no-brainer.  I was tired of being Ann Hill , so I gave up “Hill” and took up “Deseran” with no feminist-inspired look back.  But even “Deseran” could have been more fascinating.  Andy’s dad’s family came from Belgium with the surname of Deserranno (which we’ve seen spelled several ways) but, arriving at Ellis Island, Andy’s dad, Gustaf Josef Jean Deserranno, became Gus Deseran.    And my Swedish grandfather’s name went from August Karlsson to Gus Carlson.  Such a shame.

Maybe the pain of a plain name made me more contemplative in naming my own kids and pets.  Andy is delving deep into our pet-name thing in today’s Andy’s Corner.  It’s pretty funny….even if I was admittedly a part of it all.

Before considering what birthday cakes I’d go ga-ga over (and do you like the name Lady Gaga? :), I have to add a favorite quote about names.  Barack Obama, when he gave his first nationally publicized speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 stated “my parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.”

Now the ga-ga cakes:  most cakes we suggest are super simple and more casual than a proper birthday cake.  But when a special occasion requires a special cake, here are four great ones.  Just click on the name to get directed to the recipe.  And be sure to scroll to the end to see the beauty that was part of this year’s birthday celebration, recipe included. Continue reading

Lagniappe: Hippocrates and Chinese Foods

screen shot 2019-01-30 at 10.40.25 am

With the polar vortex wreaking havoc in the midwest and almost everyone we know coughing and hacking and sneezing and feeling yucky, we figured it was a good time to follow up on Tuesday’s blog (Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Thy Food).

Our daughter, Sara, the food writer/foodie/Tacolicious co-owner, sent me a recipe she was making to get her family healthy-ish again.   I read it while I was sipping my Lemon Ginger Tea, soothing a scratchy throat.  A little Google-ing resulted in more recipes from one of my favorite food blogs: The Woks of Life (what a great name!).  And I thought about the conversation with our friend Lynne who is is a bone-broth believer.

So whether you’re wanting soup because it’s damn cold outside or because you’re feelin’ puny, here are some suggestions.

Sara recommends this West Lake Beef Soup; if you have time, making your own beef broth is well worth the effort.   Here’s a fabulous video from PBS – with lovely music to accompany it – that makes the whole broth-making process seem do-able, even enjoyable.  The only change I would make is that I would simmer it during the day, instead of all night.  Having the stove on at night, while we’re sleeping, is not something I’m comfortable with.  Or use your slow-cooker.  I’ve included my adapted version of this recipe below.  There is not a great substitute for homemade beef broth but Better Than Bouillon Beef Base is often recommended.

If you have a Chinese or Thai or Vietnamese market anywhere near you, go there!  If you’re used to just shopping at Safeway or whatever, you’ll be inspired, enlightened – and possibly a little overwhelmed.  Andy blogged about our Baton Rouge/Vietnamese shopping experiences a while back.  Today we’re off to Santa Rosa try to find the herbs recommended for Chinese broths –  ching bo leung soup mix.  If we can’t find them, Amazon (of course) offers this package. The herbs could be used in pork or chicken or beef broth.

screen shot 2019-01-30 at 7.24.14 am

Traditional Chinese Soups to Warm your Soul” is the Woks of Life site I recommend, if you’re searching for a warming and healthy soup recipe.  I’m planning on making the pork bone soup – Ching Po Leung.  We blogged about lotus soup some time ago.

So here’s to your good health.  Let food be your medicine….at least up to a point.

Lemon Ginger Tea

This is great for cold symptoms.

  • 2 T grated ginger
  • 1 T honey
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • pinch of cayenne
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 2 c boiling water
  • a scant ounce of bourbon (very optional)

Put the ginger, honey, lemon juice, cayenne, and turmeric into a teapot or pan and add the boiling water.  Cover and let steep for about 10 minutes.  Strain out the ginger, add the bourbon, if you’re using it, and serve.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.

Beef Bone Broth

  • Servings: varies - upon how you're using it
  • Print

Though I prefer the recipe below, many beef bone broth recipes will suggest you roast the bones before beginning the boiling process.  If you want to try that, use a baking pan lined with foil, place the bones on it and stick them in a 425 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes and then skip the soaking-and 10 minute boil-and drain steps. Just take the roasted bones, add water to barely cover, add the onion, ginger, peppercorns, and vinegar, bring to a boil, and simmer. Recipe adapted from Patricia Wong on PBS.

  • 3 1/2 lb beef bones – such as short ribs, oxtail, knuckle, shank
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 5 slices of ginger
  • 15 whole peppercorns
  • 2 T unflavored rice vinegar – or apple cider vinegar

Cover the bones with cold water and soak for 20 minutes.  Drain.  Add to a pot of boiling water (there should be enough water to cover all the bones) and boil for 10 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.  Return the bones to the pot, add the onion, ginger, peppercorns, and vinegar and enough cold water to just cover the bones.  Return to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 6 hours – and up to 8 hours.  You might only partially cover the broth for the last several hours so that the broth reduces a bit.  Strain and serve.

Recipe brought to you by BigLittleMeals.com and Andy and Ann.


Dogs, Dinner Parties, and Echinacea

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 9.28.08 AM

Before delving into Hippocrates’ command,  which, of course, I think is great, and before you delve into Andy’s blog about un oeuf, I want to discuss Apollo.

screen shot 2019-01-07 at 9.31.10 am

Apollo Guards the Herds (or Flocks) of King Admetus, 1780–1800 by Felice Giani

The Greek god Apollo is associated with medicine and healing.  So it’s not surprising that Apollo, the name of the dog in my current hands-down favorite novel, The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez, helps his new owner in her dealing with grief.  I think we animal lovers would not even question how much the love and companionship of an animal (shall we omit cats from this blanket statement? At least OUR cats!) contribute to the quality of our daily lives and mental – and even physical – health (I’m not the dog-walker in the family, but I acknowledge that walking a dog is a healthy exercise).

screen shot 2019-01-07 at 11.12.38 am

Let a Dog be your Healer and your Healer (maybe a Blue Heeler?) be a Dog.  Not as eloquent as the quote attributed to Hippocrates, but not bad.

screen shot 2019-01-14 at 1.05.28 pm

A Blue Heeler aka Australian Cattle Dog.  I want one.  But do I need one?

If dogs are healers, I think flowers and plants and gardens are also healers in many ways.  To be In the Garden (a song, which was sung with great enthusiasm by the musical side of my family when gathered around the piano/organ) is to find solace in nature – assuming your garden is not overrun with gophers, moles, voles, fruit flies, and hornworms.  According to this relevant article on gardening as therapy, Colorado State University offers a degree with a focus on Horticultural Therapy.  Kind of a cool idea.  Maybe I’ll suggest it to our college-bound grandson.

Echinaceas are a favorite perennial in our garden – and echinacea is also my go-to if I think I’ve been exposed to someone who has a cold or the flu.  The research supporting echinacea’s medicinal properties is still TBD, but I’m a believer….but only if you take it before your fledgling-symptoms have turned into a full-fledged sickness.

screen shot 2019-01-07 at 11.22.48 am

Echinacea is lovely in so many ways

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 2.28.56 pm

Our natural plant and bee-based armament for colds, coughs, wounds…you name it.

Now about food (I occasionally forget that this is supposed to be a food blog):  Ceres may have been Roman, not Greek, but she was a goddess of “agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships” and a Northern California group has named their organization after her.  And that organization is preparing and delivering food to cancer patients, hoping to show that good food can, indeed, work as medicine.

A NYTimes article elaborates even more on new research being done into food as medicine.  Not only have UCSF and Stanford joined up to explore the link, but the Times reports that the U.S. House of Representatives Hunger Caucus recently launched a Food Is Medicine Working Group to look at how “research into medically tailored meals might inform national policy” (with the goal being to keep medical costs down!).  Will wonders never cease.

But good food can contribute to our mental health, as well as our physical health.  We wholeheartedly agreed when our friend Lynne recently suggested that getting friends together around a dinner table may be a great way to help our psyches – which may need lots of help given this day and age (perhaps with the caveat that hugely-controversial subjects are best left for other times and places).

screen shot 2019-01-15 at 1.48.28 pm

The fascinating and somewhat controversial Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” – at The Brooklyn Museum, just across the street from our son’s place

Six years ago the NYTimes posted an essay bemoaning the death of the dinner party, “Guess Who Isn’t Coming to Dinner,” the gist of it being that increasing food sensitivities, hand-held devices, and inability to converse are contributing to the demise.  A relevant quote from the article states that dinner parties had “a sense of fun and community and gathering people together for good simple food.”

We think it would be great if the old-fashioned dinner parties were reactivated.   Call them a “Pot” luck?  Mmmmm.  How about a “Dining In?”  Andy has memories of Dining Ins in Vietnam… defined as dinner and drinks – and lots of toasts – for officers in a military company, intended to foster camaraderie.  That’s also what the NYTimes new food writer, Alison Roman, calls her “easy, impressive dinner” ideas column.  Our Dining Ins can be defined as Easy, Impressive Dinners Intended to Foster Camaraderie.

screen shot 2019-01-21 at 2.59.50 pm

When we were in the LSU Newcomers’ Dinner Club years ago, a hostess would put together a menu with recipes and then each person would make and bring their assigned dish.  That was a nice touch because it kept the dinner from being too mish-mash – which could happen if everyone just brought something they wanted to cook.

Since Apollo is a Greek god, why don’t you start with a Greek-themed dinner party; I’ve made sure that every recipe can be made a day ahead of time so no one has a last minute rush and everyone arrives relaxed and ready for stimulating conversation and delicious food and wine (or beer or milk, if you insist). Continue reading


Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 2.11.11 PM

My granddad, William Silas Hill, a Congressman at the time and an “Eisenhower Republican,” conversing with Richard Nixon in 1956 – 13 years before Nixon became President.

It’s 1969….50 years ago. On January 19 Richard Nixon is sworn in as President of the United States.  He promises to achieve “Peace with Honor” in Vietnam, hoping to begin to withdraw the approximately 500,000 U.S. troops who are serving there.

Andy and I are in Huntsville, Alabama, at that time, thanks to the draft (read all about it in the last Andy’s Corner).  Following Andy’s advanced ordnance training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD,  we completed our “dream sheet” – where the Army allowed you to indicate your preferred areas to be stationed next;  we had naively put “no place in the South.”  Remember, it was 1968 and the South was not our idea of a happy place.  We can still picture some military person assigning Andy – with unabated glee – to Alabama.

So Andy is serving as a 2nd Lt in the Army stationed at Redstone Arsenal.  When his orders for Vietnam arrive (accompanied by lots of tears), we begin to figure out what to do next.  I will go back to my folks in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and look for a teaching job.  Raggedy, our kitty, will go with me.  After the move to Colorado, we’ll go together to San Francisco and see the sights as our last fun(?) trip before Andy departs for Qui Nhơn; I’ll wave him goodbye at the San Francisco airport.  It is all surrealistic and awful.  We’ve only been married 20 months and have already been apart 12 of those months.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 7.08.07 AM


Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 7.23.50 AM

Note the “Hill’s Hellions” on the truck.  They weren’t MY “Hills.”

But there’s clearly a light at the end of that tunnel.  We both survive the year – and learn a lot about ourselves and our relationship.  Raggedy thrives on our 5-acre “tract” in Fort Collins.  I find out what teaching middle school in Loveland, CO, entails.  Andy deals with more than he ever needed or wanted to. And we add our first Australian Shepherd, Marcus (named because Andy arrives home from Vietnam in March) to our family.

One of the more satisfying things to ever happen is when Andy and our adult son Travis travel to Vietnam in December of 2000.  They land in Hanoi, fly to Hue and then bicycle down the coast, ending in Saigon.  They are both surprised and delighted by the warmth that the Vietnamese extend to these Americans – 25 years after the United States had finally withdrawn from the country – in a most ugly and traumatizing manner (the Nixon-promised “peace with honor” certainly didn’t pan out).  Andy shares some lessons learned from that trip  – about lycra and noisy horns and riding in crowds – in today’s Andy’s Corner.

viet bike tour andy with kids

Vietnam – December 2000

In addition to the appeal of the country and the Vietnamese people, both Andy and Travis raved about the food.   Andy and I had already become somewhat immersed in Asian cooking prior to his 2000 bicycling trip, since we had helped our daughter with her cookbook Asian Vegetables and, in doing so, had discovered a most amazing little Vietnamese grocery in Baton Rouge, the Vinh Phat Oriental Market, which became the source of many fun and – to us – exotic ingredients.  Andy has written about it too.  It was there that we first bought Asian fish sauce (Red Boat is our present go-to; our daughter recommended Three Crabs in her cookbook) and the most-interesting daikon radish, and rice (or vermicelli) noodles.



When I need help with Vietnamese recipes I frequently turn to the website and cookbooks of Andrea Nguyen.  She is from one of those many Vietnamese families who – in 1975 – fled the country.  Her family ended up in Southern California and she now lives in the Bay Area.  On her website I found a good basic recipe for daikon and carrot pickles, which are a must for Banh Mi sandwiches (here’s a link to Nguyen’s history of the sandwich as well as her basic Banh Mi recipe) and as a side dish for so many other Vietnamese dishes  – plus yummy to munch on just by themselves. Continue reading

What If?

Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 7.40.57 AM

Visiting our Baton Rouge friends’ Maine family

What if Andy and I had never had boiled lobster, freshly caught, in Owl’s Head, Maine….or Swedish Meatballs in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago.  Or Jamaican Jerk Chicken in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, or Jambalaya in a little cross-the-tracks restaurant in Baton Rouge, or Coho salmon in Gig Harbor, Washington?  Or what if we’d never had two little tortillas filled with carnitas at Tacolicious in San Francisco?  We’d be diminished both food-wise and culture-wise.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 7.10.32 AM

Near and dear to our hearts: the Original Tacolicious on Chestnut St in SF – which moved to a new space 2 blocks down Chestnut in 2016.

There are a lot of What Ifs being discussed by the family for this year of 2019.   What if the Dodgers win (or – gasp – lose again) the World Series.  What if Manchester United could win the Premier League for the first time in six years?  What if Tacolicious opens in L.A.?  What if Stephen Curry loses his magic?  What if we get tired of blogging?  What if our grandson, Moss, gets into high school at SOTA, the SF School of the Arts ?  And what if our 17-year-old grandchildren Silas and Mia do (or – gasp – don’t) get into a college of their choice?  Andy, on the other hand – in Andy’s Corner, is asking whether Fortuna has a role in all of this.


I’ve been conflicted as I’ve watched our two high school senior grandkiddos agonize over the college application process.  They both seem so young and so needy of some perspective – and maybe maturity – before entering university.  Gap Years are certainly trendy at the moment…send those young’ns off to another continent to experience the world.  But my thinking is that a year devoted to our country would have immeasurable worth.

I have polled the elder members amongst our friends and family (including – gasp – my elder self).  We all feel strongly that some form of  public service for our country’s 18-year-olds would be a wonderful thing.  The conversation began after re-reading the details of George H W Bush’s World War II experiences….joining the military right after graduation from boarding school, becoming a navy pilot at the age of 19 and getting shot down at the age of 20.  Of course, we don’t wish anything remotely like that for this upcoming generation (dubbed Gen Z), and we acknowledge that the internet has already made them worldlier – at least online – than most of us elders would even want.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 7.07.57 AM

This opened on Broadway Christmas 2012…with Anne Hathaway playing Fantine.

Fantine from Les Miserables – as well as many others of us – might belt out “but there are dreams that cannot be.”  And, admittedly,  the ifs ands or buts to a universal year of youth service seem almost insurmountable, but isn’t it fun to think about what if all of our 18 year olds had both the opportunity and the requirement to not only provide service to our country but to get acquainted with other folks and other regions – and, yes, other foods – of our lovely, complex United States.

Below we’ve linked already published recipes for jambalaya, jerk chicken, carnitas, and salmon.  And we’ve got a new one from our Bestie, Terry B, a native of Wisconsin, who assures us that when we finally venture that direction, we’re gonna love it.  Great Lakes, here we come!

Screen Shot 2018-12-15 at 3.19.26 PM

“Sconnie Soup” (Wisconsin Cheese and Beer) from Terry B

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 12.59.06 PM

In addition to Terry’s d-lish Wisconsin soup (recipe below), be sure to try our other regional recipes:

Baton Rouge Pork Jambalaya

Brooklyn Jerk Chicken

Gig Harbor Slow-Roasted Salmon

San Francisco Tacolicious Carnitas

And here’s a favorite old family photo from 1968, when the U.S. Army brought us – very unwillingly – to New Jersey and we met – very happily – the Ed Davis family.  If it had happened today, we might have hashtags that would read #FortDixNewJersey  #friendswhenwereallyneededfriends #lifeofanarmyprivate  #CA&COkidsgotoNJ #drinkmilkinsteadofwine

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 4.24.55 PM

Food brings us all together – in this case our newly-made friends from 1968 –  the very-New Jersey Davis family, and Andy and me (Andy took the photo)

Wisconsin Cheese and Beer Soup

Our Bestie from Milwaukee didn’t suggest the popcorn, but I read a few recipes that called for it, so don’t blame Terry, blame me if you think that’s crazy.  We served this to a bunch of Northern Californians – and they loved it!

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1-2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 t onion powder
  • 2 t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 3 c chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 c half & half
  • 12 oz beer
  • 1-1/2 lb shredded cheese  (cheddar is traditional but mixing in jalapeño jack or any other similar cheese works too)
  • buttered croutons – or popped popcorn and minced chives, optional

Spoon flour into measuring cup. Melt butter in soup kettle then whisk in flour. Stir constantly and cook until smooth. Add garlic, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Stir well. Gradually alternate stirring in broth, half & half and beer.

Stirring constantly, cook until thickened.

Slowly add cheese(s) and stir until melted.

Continue to cook on medium to low heat for about 10 minutes. DO NOT BOIL.  Serve with croutons or popcorn and chives.

Recipe brought to you by Terry B in Milwaukee and BigLittleMeals.com.








%d bloggers like this: