The Not So Perfect Thanksgiving

Hi Friends–  Still pulling things together here after Thanksgiving.  It really was full of fun, family and fabulous food!!  But surprisingly  also included the flu!!    A few of us had a bout of that flu and a couple even spent all day Thursday in bed while the rest of us celebrated!!

I’ll just share the best bits of our Thanksgiving (flu aside); it was a fine full, truly thankful day for us here.

We tucked into a true feast– My favorite– Lulu’s sweet potatoes sliced up with apples, walnuts and whiskey!

And here are a few of my favorite moments all through the day–
Jodi organized a giving thanks game that had us all guessing and laughing,  cousins waiting for everyone to arrive.
     

Grand-girls making place cards for the table,  Micah & Grandma Lo’s after dinner talk.

     

My kitchen “helper” eating breakfast,  evening trumpet concert by Charlotte and Cousin Brett (our concert band teacher)
     

All in all, it was a fine day together.  Thankful, thankful for the people around the table with us, for all God’s  goodness to us in this year.

Grammy Camp 2017!!

Hi there fellow grandmas (& potential grandmas!!)– Just finished up 4 days of Grammy Camp with the 3 oldest Grand-girls.  It’s an annual event around here– Lots of crafty messes, early morning baking, a little pool time, library scavenger hunt, girls’ night out to the movies and a kidseum!

There’s just 2 rules for Grammy Camp–
#1.  One ice cream every day.  #2.  No grumping.

So here’s the highlights– lots of girly (& grandma) fun!!:
Art projects– painting initials & making Fathers Day notes and the tackiest puffy painted t-shirt!

   

Treasure Hunt– following clues to find the treasure — Squirt Noodles!! sorry, no photos. We were having too much fun squirting each other.

We had a couple park stops.

     

The girls’ favorite was splashing in Great Grandma Lo’s pool.

And we started everyday with Breakfast & Bible stories.  (Here’s the view sitting across the table from Jobay! Note the oatmeal is not disappearing.)
    

Spent our last day at the Bower’s Museum Kidseum!  Lots of hands-on fun for 3 girls.

     

Thanks Charlotte, Maryann and Jobay for tons of fun!!  It’s always makes my heart happy when you walk in the door!

P.S.– A few friends have asked about how Grammy Camp works, so here’s our schedule:

Saturday–
*Make your own pizza for dinner.
*Bedtime movie & ice cream sundaes

Sunday–
*Breakfast& Bible stories
*Church
*Backyard hot dog feast with Great Grandma Honey
*Fathers Day notes & puffy paint a t-shirt for Dad
* Crafty initial painting
*Dinner out on the town & movie: Beauty and the Beast

Monday–
*Breakfast & Bible stories (Maryann bakes breakfast!)
*Library Scavenger Hunt
*Park reading picnic
*Swim in Great Grandma Lo’s pool
*Taco dinner with Grandpa Larry
*Yogurtland!!

Tuesday–
*Breakfast & bible stories
*Bowers Kidseum
* Lunch on the road
*Trek on back to the girl’s home in Ojai

Grandma gets home and collapses!!

 

Here Comes the Bride

Hi everyone– Just one more little scrapbook post.  Family came in from far and wide this weekend for a little pre-wedding celebrating– a Bachelorette party by the beach and two warm & wonderful wedding showers.  So happy for you Laurel & John!

It was so sweet to be with family and old friends to shower Laurel with gifts and good wishes.

     

There were meals together, good times getting to know John’s family come in from Wisconsin and quieter times just hanging around the house…

   

And we threw in a trip to the beach one day, and a picnic at the park another (complete with cherry pit spitting contest).
     

     


It was a fine full weekend– a little crazy–with it’s ups and downs (ie-engagement ring lost at the beach and found by a guy named Stan with a metal detector!!)  But lots of time together– and there’s nothing I love more than that.  Happy Wedding to come John & Laurel!!  God Bless on all that lies ahead…

P.S.  Thanks Jodi for your pictures that I “borrowed.”

Stamps on the Wall

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Hi all– I have friends who are crazy crafty (that’s you Ruth) and others who make luscious quilts (Hi Jill & LeAnn).  My meagre craft expertise is lopsided 4th grade art projects, all glue and paint and glitter…  But last month I painted our family room a soft gray and took down all the old pictures from the walls, wanting something fresh.

I was stumped at what to put up on those empty walls, but then I thought how much I loved my little Pinterest board of postage stamps from far and wide.  Who knew there were so many people pinning postage stamps?  So I printed up my favorites and crowded them into a couple of old frames.  They’re so bright and happy– just wanted to share them with you…

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Please forgive the glass glare–I’m just an amateur picture taker with an iPhone…

So many gorgeous stamps!  here’s a few of my faves!:

6c0e0107852e6383779c8b298fae95ab-1     89daeed784b92003a1290be1093447a2

9b6e0e07c8f20213e8951cdf6f5effe5     4fd454927539eaabc1906dc4545a705e

0ddfe50520972e9cb2026d483ce0f9d2  0cdd8b88a399a355577e0a3be62ed12b

207ef29e0642156cf245f0cb1a3dc22c   439f277b3c14f201f9f07046f4ab6378
Aren’t they truly beautiful?  Little snips of art from all over the globe…

P.S.  And on the opposite wall I stuck up a bunch of favorite family, food and places pics in Ikea frames stuck with those removable sticky strips:
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Grand-girls

12182587_679054412386_3114323731215632846_oHi there–we had the grand-girls (and their dear parents) here this weekend, down to celebrate a couple birthdays.  I know I sound like “one of those grandmas”  –but I just have to say I get more besotted with this girls every time we’re together.  I wouldn’t trade them in for anything!

So here’s 10 reasons why I’m sticking with this grandma job:
#1.  I hear the car roll up and they charge in the door shouting, “Grandma Rhonda!!”
#2. Sittig through the new Peanuts movie,* Jobay on my lap.  After the first hour, she looks up at me and says, “This is a long movie Grandma!!”
#3. Three girls tumble into the kitchen to frost a cake for Great Grandma Honey’s birthday       and set to it with every single sprinkle to be found in the cupboards. Exciting cake!
#4. We pull out the doll house furniture my grown girls used to play with and they spend an hour fixing up their houses.
#5.  Reading my favorite version of the Thanksgiving story on the sofa together.
#6.  Charlotte doing backwards writing in her journal (ala DaVinci) then pulling me over to the mirror to read it along with her.
#7.  And there’s the raucous sing-a-long with Tom Chapin songs in the car.
#8.  As well as the steady stream of bad puns and knock-knock jokes from someone’s Laugh Aloud Joke Book for Kids.
#9. Love Sunday morning breakfast with syrup sticky fingers and forks while the sun streams in the kitchen windows.
#10. Hugs, lots of hugs.

Yep, being the grandma is the best job I’ve had yet.  And it gives a whole lot of joy watching these girls grow and change over the years.  I pray their lives will be filled to the brim with the love of people around them and the everlasting love of God.

*P.S. — Loved the Peanuts movie, all the old Charlie Brown antics and great music with colorfully clear new animation.

Top Ten with the Fam

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Here’s our “not quite ready” family portrait the weekend Micah, Jodi and girls arrived.  Thanks for trying Aaron!!

Hello there friends– Well, if you’ve been reading this little blog at all for the last few months, you’ve seen plenty of pics of the grand-girls while they were living at our house, just arrived from Shanghai.  But they’re sadly gone, moved on.  And things are pretty quiet (dull?) around here!

They are settled up in Ojai, two hours north, where Micah and Jodi are teaching.  The girls are ensconced in a new school and they are hiking the hills of Ojai!

So just to remember the time with them, I’m making a little “scrapbook” post of our time together.  It was a whole lot of chaotic fun and I miss those girls now every day…

IMG_8437     IMG_8866#1.  We had lots of every day fun, reading library books, making puzzles, bath time and cooking up muffins.

IMG_1102IMG_1152     IMG_1117

IMG_1142#2.  And we spent a full day galloping through the La Habra Children’s Museum.

IMG_8545     IMG_8551#3.  There was the big bonus of Jodi’s home cooking,  real Chinese food!

IMG_8381     IMG_8387    #4.  We walked our legs off on a hot day at the Los Angeles Zoo–  Those girls are troopers.

IMG_0954#5.  The 2 big girls and I spent a couple days making summer scrapbooks– lots of photos, simple sentences and 5 & 7 year old art work.

IMG_0911      IMG_0884
IMG_0849#6.  One Sunday evening we cooled off splashing at Newport Beach and riding the Back Bay Ferry to get a frozen banana.

IMG_0936#7.  Back behind the garage we planted zinnias and sunflowers for some fall flowers.

IMG_8506     IMG_8507#8.  There was some splashy Easter egg dying when the girls first arrived.

IMG_9988     IMG_0926#9.  With plenty of snipping and stitching, the girls put together their doll quilts.

IMG_0631 IMG_0134     IMG_0539

10463722_10103321999558063_6632792410892087368_o#10.  And the highlight of our summer together was a trip to San Francisco to visit Aunts and Uncles, play with Harry the wonder dog and to meet cousin Baby Mae!

So glad Micah and Jodi and those 3 girls for the time with you herewith us– and glad you’ll be close by ahead.

Chicago Super Seven

IMG_1569Hi blog friends–  Our daughter Laurel works for the photo website, Photojojo. About once a year, the employees pack up and relocate to an exotic location (Thailand, India, Costa Rica…) and spend a couple weeks on a “work-cation.”  They work some days and tourist  around in between.  It’s a whole company of people who know how to have fun (and take great photos while their at it)…

So when I visited my Laurel this past week we had a little work-cation of our own– She’s just moved into a sweet old apartment in Chicago, so we spent our days tracking down furniture and all she needs to kit out a kitchen–and did our share of eating and touristing as well.  What could be more fun than that?!

So here’s the super seven of a fab week with Laurel:

IMG_1553     IMG_1657     #1.  Let me just jump in right from the start– some fabulous eating!  Laurel does know how to find the best places!  (I’ll do a whole ‘nother post on all that yummcious food.)
Here Laurel takes her expert food pics.  And a incredible charcuterie lunch at Eataly.

IMG_1577     IMG_1576#2. We spent an afternoon trekking through down town Chicago–  joined the summer tourist crowds snapping pictures of the bean.  Why is that thing so intriguing?  And we explored the Chicago Cultural Center top to bottom, ending up under this glass dome.

IMG_1668     IMG_1768     #3.  And, of course, we shopped–thrift stores, good old Homegoods and 5 productive hours in Ikea!!  Gathered up all we needed to make a home sweet home for Laurel.  Then
we went to work.  If you need help, putting together any Ikea furniture together, give us a call.  We’re experts!  (even constructed a sofa.  Yikes!)

IMG_1711     IMG_1700#4. On Saturday, we hit the road for Milwaukee with Laurel’s friend John at the wheel.  It was great–from a community Farmer’s Market, to the most incredible Milwaukee Art Museum on Lake Michigan, on to the river walk and, of course, a Wisconsin brat lunch.

IMG_1606     IMG_1549    #5.  I have to say my very favorite moments were working mornings with Laurel.  We’d locate a comfortable table in a cozy coffee shop and and breakfast, while Laurel worked and I wrote on blog posts and read away the hours.

IMG_1637     IMG_1630    #6.  We spent an afternoon wandering through Eataly, Mario Batali’s food emporium, two floors of Italian groceries and several tempting spots to sit and enjoy a leisurely lunch.  We couldn’t resist the charcuterie and a glass of wine.  It was a food wonderland!

IMG_1546     IMG_1558#7.  As a California girl, I love the old style architecture of Chicago.  Laurel’s neighborhood is a collection of leafy streets lined with solid brick homes and beautiful old churches.

IMG_1578     IMG_1752. So here’s Laurel in front of her new home sweet home.  Thanks dear girl for all the furniture shopping, nonstop talking, salad making, apartment planning, sight seeing fun.  It was the best!!

Cooking with the Grand-girls

IMG_8444 Hello there– There’s been a lot of cooking going on around here.  And most days I can lure one of the grand-girls in to be my assistant to stir up bunch of muffins or to cut up fruit for dinner.  They are enthusiastic mixers and surprised me that they can pretty well crack eggs into a cake all  on their own (well, most of the time).  I’ll just say it’s been loads of fun!

IMG_9295     IMG_9277Charlotte specializes in cutting up fruit and making it “fancy” on the plate.

IMG_9811     IMG_8468Maryann spreads the pizza dough.  Says it’s just like using play dough. (Notice how elegantly she cooks in her princess dress that plays Cinderella music with a touch to her jewels! )  And even Joby contributes, mixing up the muffins with a firm stir.

So I’ve found out 5 and 7 year olds can chop potatoes, trim string beans, mix up muffins and cakes, spread frosting, cut up fruit, help prepare pizza dough and set the table.  I think we have some fine little cooks on our hands…

Sweet Peas for Spring

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Hi you all– Every spring when the sweet peas bloom, I have gardening buddies who say, “Oh I should have remembered to plant some seeds.  When do we do that?”  Well, I’m reminding you (at least in California), it’s right now.

Put mine in the earth today.  So now I’m like Toad (in the Frog and Toad books) sitting and watching them, singing to them, shouting at them, reading them poetry–just waiting for them to grow!  Love, love sweet peas.

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Cooking with Care

thanksgivingHi there friends–  Last Saturday we had a morning wedding shower for adorable Sally.  She is a graphic artist.  So we decided that each of the 6 hostesses would pick an art piece and use it to launch into a bit of friendly advice for a new bride. I chose “Thanksgiving” by Doris Lee (painted 1935, presently hanging in the Chicago Art Institute).  Here’s a bit of what was said:

…Laurie Colwin wrote–“No one who cooks, cooks alone.  Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

As you start cooking in your married kitchen, with all these new pans and dishes we get to “shower” on you, Im hoping you’ll feel a kinship with all those cooks who’ve fed you and taught you along the way.

I can imagine you cooking with/for Scott in the months and years ahead…

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “There is no spectacle more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.”

And Julia Child said, “I think careful cooking is love, don’t you?  The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you, is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”

Quiet meals talking together, simple of special occasion meals, are times that knit you together.  It’s time to talk through your day, to share the joy of good food with each other across the table.

And it seems, Sally, that you are a girl with many, many dear friends, so I have a feeling you’ll be feeding more people that just Scott!

Ted Allen said, “Cooking for people is an enormously significant expression of generosity and soulfulness, and entertaining is a way to be both generous and creative. You’re sharing your life with people.”

There will be dinner parties and bar-b-ques, picnics and take out food in front of football games, fancy deserts and bowls of chili.  Shared with friends, these all taste better…

The first famous food writer, M.F.K. Fisher wrote, “I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a new stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”

So I do see plenty of cooking ahead in your future Sally– for Scott, for family, for friends.  There’s a whole of of nurturing going on as you set our those plates and lay the food on the table for people you love.

And one last word of advice from Julia Child, “A party without cake is just a meeting.”

So here’s to cake and good times around your table for years to come…

Freesias

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Hi all– Every year we have a full on crop of freesias that bloom under our back window.  I can take no credit for those things.  The family who lived in this house before us, planted them 20 years ago and they’ve been popping up every February since!  They’re bright and fragrant and ever cheerful.  So nice to have around the house.

IMG_9407If you’d like to harvest your own crop, plant the bulbs in the fall in warm places like California, and in the spring in places where it snows.  Put them just 2″ into the ground with the pointy end up.  When the blooming season is over let the leaves alone as long as they are green– They are feeding the bulbs for next year.  When the leaves are browned and withered, pull them right off the bulb.  And then you just have to wait for next year’s flowers to bloom!

San Francisco Quilt Delivery

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Hi all– Just in from a quick trip to San Francisco to deliver a fresh quilt to Ani and Brian.  The project began back in April when Ani and I went to the cavernous M&L fabric store to pick out the perfect colors for the quilt.  And then the cutting, piecing and stitching began.  It’s oh so relaxing to find myself a snug spot on the couch and quilting away.  It’s sweet to pray for the person I’m stitching up the quilt for.  But mostly I watch endless hours of HGTV or Downton Abbey to keep me company while I sew.

So this week it was done!  I took it to my favorite embroidery guy who stitched a tidy A+B neatly in the corner with his fancy machinery.  And Saturday morning I was off, up the Interstate 5, for San Francisco.  Soon as I arrived, Ani spread it out on the bed and it looks just fine.

IMG_0653  537221_10101806214583303_651222221_n.

Now, I’m thinking about a couple grand-girl quilting projects I’ve been waiting on…

Zinnias again

Hi all– It’s Zinnia time and I really do love those pretty things, for so many reasons.  I love their friendly, bright faces.  They bloom and bloom after all the summer bloomers around here are done.  They’re easy–just drop seeds under an inch of soil, wait about a month and you have flowers.  And they like the hot weather here just as fall starts up.  Plus they are prolific– Every 4 or 5 days I can go out and cut a big fistful to set in water on our table.

P.S.– And if you love sweet peas too– Now is a good time to plant them (here in CA) so you’ll have buckets of flowers all through the spring!

Sweet peas

Hi friends– Here they are–sweet peas.  I love these things.  Their genus name is Lathyrus odorous.  And that makes sense.  Their smell is just luscious.  Besides being the prettiest thing you can grow.

My grandmother always had a crop each spring.  I loved to help her cut them.  And I grew them too the first few years we were married.  But when we moved to Spain, in spite of valiant efforts to nurture them in patio pots or 7th floor window boxes, we never had more than a few sad blossoms.  So later when we came to live at 314, I got those seeds in the ground that first year and waited.  When those abundant blossoms appeared week after week, I really felt we had come “home.”

So here’s to fistfuls of sweet peas, fragrant, delicate, delicious!!

Two homes

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Make two home for thyself, my daughter.  One actual home… and the other a spiritual home which thou are to carry with thee always. – Catherine of Sienna
14th century Dominican nun 

Two homes– I love our small house here under the maple trees, with the green front door, where we make our meals, take our rest.  But I have a true eternal home that is more real and lasting.

In a surprising way, this reminds me of one of my family’s favorite old songs growing up– “This World is not my Home.”  We sang it together to my Dad in his last days in the hospital.  He loved that song.

This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me, from heaven’s open door.
And I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.

 Two homes.  I love them both.

Small Houses

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I’ve always been partial to small houses, beginning with the bright red playhouse with the dutch door that my Dad built in our  backyard when I was 7.  And my predilection was confirmed when I ran across Sarah Susanka’s enlightening book, The Not So big House.  She describes houses built with economy of space, putting the resources into great finishes and brilliant use of every inch of the home.  Inspirational!  So when we bought out home, we thought 1500 square feet was just fine, even with four growing kids in tow.  I love, love the snug little house in the photo above.  We are talking about painting our house soon and I’m thinking these colors would look grand on 314 J. Street.   Thanks “You Are My Fave” blog* for paint idea.

So why do I love small houses?
#1.  Well, first of all they seem more friendly, more cozy.  There are not hallways off to unseen clusters of rooms.  I love the modest, home sweet home sort of feel.
#2.  And, of course, it’s easier to clean.  Fewer floors to sweep, fewer bath tubs to scrub. Oh, and thankfully, fewer windows to wash (you can tell that is not done too often here).
#3.  It forces you to edit your “things.”  Fewer cupboards, gives you the chance to pare down to the things you really do need, love, things you think are truly beautiful.
#4.  I like the feel of a “full” house– When friends crowd around the dinning room table, or pull in extra chairs in from the kitchen to sit around the coffee table and talk.  A little house fills up quickly.
#5.  It keeps the family in touch–sharing bedrooms, crowding round the kitchen table for breakfast, all ending up in the family room at the end of the day.  When spaces are small, you end of up sharing them–more time together.
#6.  A small garden also keeps you from spending all your Saturdays weeding and tending.  Just enough room for some shade trees, a sunny spot for sweet peas, a patch for  tomatoes and a little spot to set out a table for summer dinners.
#7.  A smaller version of the style of house you love is jus plain cheaper (Sorry, Jill, I mean “more affordable.”)  Less for maintenance when it’s time for a new roof or painting rooms…  And that leaves more for eating well, travels with family, giving money away…

That’s it.  I love our little house at 314.  It’s just the right size for Larry and me.  And when the kids come home, or friends come for meals, I’m glad to gather people in crowded around the smallish table…  I am thankful.

*Been enjoying the blog “You Are My Fave”– so bright and inventive, makes you feel like you’ve got a fresh stock of fun ideas after you sit and read it.  Here’s the link:

http://www.youaremyfave.com/

Bookcases

 

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When I saw the sweetest small green bookcase at the estate sale in the Berkeley hills, it was love at first sight.  “Where would you put it?” Larry asked.  “I’ll find a place somewhere,” I insisted.  It landed, in fact,  in the kitchen stacked with  favorite cookbooks.

I do love bookcases.  We have them in every room of the house (except those bathrooms).  When we moved into our home, first thing Larry built floor to ceiling bookcases around a window seat for the family room.  Formal bookcases in the living room, the thrift store variety in the bedrooms.  They hold memories of bedtime stories with our kids, reference tools for Larry’s teaching, travel guides that have helped us through far off places, novels that have heartened or instructed or charmed us.  Having those books around is like being surrounded by good old comfortable friends– standing shoulder to shoulder in all those bookcases.

Camellias

I’ve heard Camellia’s called “winter roses.”  They bloom in January and February when all my other flowers are huddled against the cold, waiting til April or May to show their pretty faces.  The camellia bushes that have taken up residence in our yard are more than generous with their blossoms.  We cut blooms to bring inside for several weeks.  It makes me happy to set a single blossom on the mantle or the kitchen counter next to the fruit bowl.  They make a sweet display tucked in small vases and clustered with candles along the table.  Just love ’em!  So for our winter roses, among many other things, I am thankful.

Cranking up the Stove

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I know some people like to sky-dive or bungee jump.  It really gets their adrenaline going.  But I prefer my own adrenaline inducing activity– “extreme cooking.”  Not much could be more exciting than pulling together a splendid Spanish meal for friends. So here’s what I’m doing today:

–Dash over to Trader Joe’s for sunflowers wine and bread
–On to the grocer’s for a few more things
–Run a dust cloth around the house and plump the pillows
–Then cook like crazy all day in my kitchen with the flamenco music  turned up high.
–And set a pretty table
–Finally, meet friends at the door with hugs and sit down to eat/talk into the night…

Now that’s a good day.

PS- What’s for dinner?  Spanish potato tortilla, olives, salami, cheese and olive bread for starters.  Then pans of chicken/seafood paella, a crunchy green salad and substantial bread.  Strong coffee and cheese cake wind it up.

5 things you’ll always find in my pantry…

So if you’ve read as many Bon Apetit magazine issues as I have, you know that for years on the last page they would interview some personality about their cooking skills, memorable meals, their mother’s home cooking…  And one questions they often asked was, “What 3 things would we always find in your fridge?”  It does say a lot about a person’s food predilections.  So in that spirit here are 5 things you’ll always find in my pantry, as well as 5 favorite fridge foods!:

FIVE THINGS YOU’LL ALWAYS FIND IN MY PANTRY:
#1.  Baking staples– I have most everything on hand to bake up cheddar biscuits or a pecan tart at the drop of a hat– I keep a varied supply birthday candles, dark Hershey’s chocolate and my favorite pumpkin pie spice on hand at all times.
#2.  Pasta– in all shapes and sizes from orzo to angel hair to boxes of that adorable mini penne made by Barilla.  Pasta teams up with just about any ingredients you have in the fridge.
#3. Vinegars galore– Tarragon for perfect salad dressing  or Orange Muscat Champagne for a sweeter fruity salad, cider vinegar for baking or with meats, white balsamic for a hearty antipasto salad, old fashioned white vinegar for cleaning out the coffee pot…
#4.  Beans, beans beans– bags of mixed beans for soup, jalapeño refrieds for our all those Mexican meals, cannellini  for Italian, pinto or black beans for chili, pork’n’beans for when Laurel comes home to visit.  And can I include lentils here? split peas?
#5.  And always a box of chocolate pudding mix–the cooked kind!  for the absolute best warm from the pan comfort food.

AND FIVE THINGS YOU’LL ALWAYS FIND IN MY FRIDGE:
#1.   Green olives–after 12 years in Spain I’m always on the prowl for perfectly marinated olives.
#2.  Diet Coke– one of my favorite bad habits.
#3.  A few kinds of basic cheese– parmesan-romano, jack-cheddar, mozzarella because you never know when you’ll need to make a pizza, feta with garlic & herbs, honey goat cheese from Trader Joe’s if friends are coming in.
#4.  Those cunning little minced garlic cubes– in mini ice cube trays from Trader Joe’s.  Keep them in the freezer and you’ll almost never have to peel another garlic clove.
#5.  Chinese eggplant– my new vegetable obsession, use it for pizza, for baked pasta, roasted or on a salad.  I just ran into a recipe for spaghetti with grilled eggplant and roasted red peppers.  I’ll let you know if it’s a good one.

So now I’m curious what I’d find in your pantry, your fridge.  Any lovely foods I am missing?