Pizza: the quest

Finding foods from the homeland, or food that tastes like the stuff you grew up with but can’t duplicate in your own kitchen, is an endless quest. For our family, that culinary holy grail is finding a pie that tastes like it came from the ovens of the Star Tavern in Orange, N.J., or the Starlite in West Orange, N.J.  Pizza, cheese only, was a meatless Friday tradition in our house.

Among Jerseyans and New Yorkers, there is always discussion about whose neighborhood joint makes the best tomato pie. When Jerseyans and New Yorkers are separated from their home soil, wherever they congregate, the discussion inevitably evolves into what place comes closest to making the perfect pie of their memories.  For us, it’s that mysterious combination of  sauce, cheese and crust with burnt spots, all imbued with that taste that only a half-century or older oven can make. (One final test is whether or not there is “pizza juice” that runs out over the crust and anoints the paper plate as the pointed end of the slice is lifted to the lips.)

In San Diego, Bronx Pizza [Motto: “Just like back home.”] is one of those places whose name is whispered in hallowed tones among former New Jerseyans and New Yorkers.  At lunchtime, the kitchen moved fast, and the line of customers did too.

TOMATO PIE -- Ready to eat.
PIZZA DRESSING -- No pizzeria table is properly set without parmesan and red pepper. Oregano at table is a plus.
SLICES TO GO -- Counter offers a bevy of choices for the two-slices-and-a-coke-to-go crowd. (Note: In the South, "coke" is a generic term for all carbonated soft drinks. Don't call it "soda," and please don't call it a "pop" unless you're using it to wash down a salted nut roll or lefse.)

Spirit house

My late mother brought many Thai traditions with her when she came to live in the U.S. Among them was the spirit house that stands atop a pillar in the backyard.  Brightly painted when it arrived here years ago, it has since faded, but its beauty has only grown with each raindrop and gust of wind. [A discussion of spirit houses can be found here.]

As is typical of our family, the spirit house shares part of the garden with a statue of St. Francis of Assisi [out of the frame].

AGING GRACEFULLY -- The tiny painted rooftop shingles only seem more beautiful with each passing year.
SPIRITED -- The spirit house is embraced by plants in the yard.

Flowers in two time zones

My father’s Pacific Time backyard is overflowing with color. Blue irises, pale coral moon flowers, brilliant bougainvillea and all sorts of other treats for the eye. The neighbors’ yards are equally filled with color — trees dripping with exotic tropical flowers, ripening lemons and oranges, and brilliant scarlet pomegranate flowers.

Yellows dominate the Central Time Suburban Ferndale mini-gardens.

IRIS -- Purple iris with its yellow beard flanked by coloring that looks like it was borrowed from a nautilus.
DOCKING MANEUVER -- Bee with pollen-covered legs moves into a moonflower.
BLUE AND ORANGE -- These two shrubs were growing together in the neighbor's yard.
A GOOD KIND OF BLUE -- This shrub was dense with these blue-violet blooms.
CLASSIC -- Fragrant rose opens as clouds clear away.
BIRD OF PARADISE -- Like a heron with an 80s 'do.
BLACKEYED SUSAN -- Hooray! Something new in the Suburban Ferndale garden. This lone wolf is outnumbered 1 to 200 by coreopsis though.
BLACK SWALLOWTAIL -- Pays a visit to the wildflower garden. Wildflowers are like cats. You're glad they like you enough to stay, but don't think you actually exert any control over them.


Have to confess that I’d never been a great fan of snails. They leave slimy trails, reproduce at alarming rates and can reduce garden plants to Swiss cheese or matchsticks in no time flat. However, I gained a new appreciation for Helix aspersa after spending a couple of days watching these gelatinous creatures with their long eye stalks and crazy quilt helices sliding around my father’s backyard in California.

LOOK MA! NO HANDS! -- This garden snail's slow-mo acrobatics were no less fascinating than anything Cirque de Soleil could do, but without the costumes and music.
SPIRAL -- Snail heads through the morning dew.
90 DEGREE TURN -- How a snail turns right.
COMING AT YOU -- Snail navigates a door mat.

Ornithology edition-UPDATE

The snow has hit and is falling fast. Friend and colleague Donna took  this shot of a hawk sheltering against the snow just outside her window.  Just amazing!

Red-tailed hawk in pine tree
Red-tailed hawk takes refuge from the snow storm in a pine tree.

This morning:

With a snow storm on the way, the local bird population seemed more active and visible than usual. Dozens of dark eyed Juncos came speed-grazing through the yard, from east to west, almost as if they were stocking up. Meanwhile, eastern bluebirds, wrens and crows were flitting through the bare winter branches.

two hungry birds
Two of a flock of dozens of birds peck their way through the winter landscape.
Wrens fluff their feathers against arctic air.
Wrens fluff their feathers against arctic air.
bluebird pair in trees
Male and female bluebirds -- hard to spot amid the gray tangle of branches.
Goldfinch looks for remaining grass seeds.


Bufflehead cruises its winter home
A lone bufflehead cruises the pond that has been his winter home over the last few years.




Another winter birds scene, 1,700 miles west — this purple finch was enjoying a pomegranate on a cloudy December day in San Diego.

Purple finch
Purple finch enjoys a feast of juicy pomegranates left on the tree.