At 3:20 on Sunday morning, I was jolted awake when my bed started doing the jitterbug. Earthquake! And this was no minor tremor, but a serious effort by Mother Earth to realign a couple of plates that met at the long-dormant West Napa fault. Rich and I leaped out of bed and went to stand in the doorway, as instructed by a lifetime of public service announcements. Twenty seconds and a billion dollars in damage later, it was over. There were more than 120 reported injuries although thankfully, at least so far, no fatalities. As if there wasn’t enough tragedy, thousands of cases of good Napa wines were lost.
Right now, people all over the world are probably hesitating over whether to cancel their upcoming trip to California. Sizable quakes like this one tend to roll around every 25 years – 1964, 1989, 2014 – so you’re probably safe enough until 2039. But as a fourth-generation Californian, I know only too well that Mother Nature has a quirky sense of timing, so there are no guarantees. Your best bet is to learn a few earthquake survival skills, as you never know when or where one may strike. Peru, Chile, and Iceland all had major seismic activity this year, and there are many more earthquake-vulnerable cities around the world.
What to Do in an Earthquake
1. Stay calm. There will be plenty of time to panic later.
2. If you’re inside, seek protection. Stand in a doorway or duck under a sturdy table; avoid windows. Don’t try to leave; there likely isn’t time, and you do not want to tumble down the stairs.
3. If you’re outside, stay in the open. Try to get away from things that might fall on you – which is pretty much everything from buildings to bridges. Avoid beaches, as you don’t want to be out of the earthquake, into the tsunami.
4. If you’re in your car, stop and stay put. Cars offer pretty good protection against smaller falling objects. Use common sense about where to stop; see #3.
5. Avoid elevators. They often get stuck, and no one is going to have time to come help you for quite a while.
6. Stay away from power and gas lines. Fire often does more damage than the earthquake itself.
7. Don’t use anything with a flame. Chances are you won’t be standing next to a broken gas line, but if you are, lighting a match to sooth your nerves with a cigarette could be very, very bad indeed.
Most Californians are much better prepared than I am to deal with such cataclysmic events, keeping survival kits by the door and organizing escape routes and rendezvous points for family members. My plan? To be as far from San Francisco as possible in 2039.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
Not long after we decided to make San Anselmo, California, our home base when we we're in the US, Rich and I were invited to a casual neighborhood cookout. The main course? Barbecued whole baby squid.
“I am so outclassed,” I whispered to Rich. “I am going to have to get all new recipes to run with this crowd!”
Every hostess strives to serve memorable meals, and lately, with so many Americans eating on the run, trendy new snack foods are standing in for sit-down dining. Food manufacturers (I can’t bring myself to think of them as chefs) are coming up with all sorts of outrageous combinations to appeal to lots of different market segments and make their products buzzworthy. Take this little treat, for instance.
Organic, low-fat, vitamin-rich, gluten-free, Asian seaweed with a gourmet touch of honey Dijon; it’s like a focus group in a bag.
Or how about this charmer?
Kale (the curly leafed kin of wild cabbage) plus chia (a seed rich in Omega-3 fatty acids) sounds like a healthy combination, but what about the flavor? I went on the manufacturer’s website and was directed to a nutritionist’s blog, which said, “I could taste the kale, but the salsa covered it up pretty well.” Well, thank heavens she didn’t actually have to taste this stuff! These chips come in five different flavors, and one poor fellow wrote on Amazon, “I thought that the Ranch flavoring might subdue that Kale taste and allow me to enjoy these. Unfortunately the Ranch flavor was not really very up-front and didn't mask that bitter taste of Kale that I dislike. These are a healthier option for people looking for a snack, though.”
Should we live in a world where you have to man up just to get through a snack? I think not.
If you’re looking for just the right beverage to wash down your kale or seaweed, you might – or might not – want to consider the new vegetable-flavored teas.
Marketed as a snack in themselves and “not quite a soup,” these veggie infusions have not exactly taken the culinary world by storm. “My brain and flavor-brain still hurt,” wrote one reviewer, adding “You could easily convince yourself it’s medicinal and restorative…in the right frame of mind, I could see them growing on the drinker with a little hard work.” Again, do I really want to work that hard for a snack?
Contemplating these new food options, I’m beginning to understand why some people think it’s healthier to stop eating altogether. When I first saw the notice below, which begins, “Get this. You can cure almost anything through fasting,” I dismissed the writer as just another California health nut. But lately I’ve been reconsidering. Fasting may not get rid of what ails you, but at least you’d be free of honey Dijon seaweed, kale chips, and vegetable tea snack foods. And that’s gotta help.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
“So how much rent do you pay?” Spanish friends ask, not realizing that to Americans, providing specifics about our finances is as personal and taboo as giving the details of our most outlandish sex acts. “Who do you think is prettier, me or my daughter?” a Spanish hostess once asked, boxing me into an excruciating dilemma in which I’d have to insult one or the other to her face, something I’d been trained from childhood to avoid. A Seville hairdresser I was trying for the first time inquired, “Why don’t you have children?” Uh, could we go back to the one about how much I pay in rent?
In Seville, such question are viewed as a sign of interest and a way to develop intimacy. Evasion is considered rude; diplomacy doesn’t cut it. It reminds me of when I was a teenager, and the social litmus test was whether you liked the Beatles (mainstream cool) or the Rolling Stones (wild and dangerous cool.) Everyone felt entitled to know where you stood on this vital issue.
Living in an international community, I am always stumbling over cultural divides where I least expect them. An Irish friend once said to me, sounding puzzled, “Karen, I get the impression you don’t like to get drunk.” I had to admit that I dislike it a great deal. At best I fall asleep before we get to dessert, at worst – and I’m going back quite a few years here – I find myself in a parking lot, throwing up on my new shoes, and then falling asleep. Not my idea of fun. But to my friend, among others, flamboyant drinking is considered a well-earned reward. As the Northern Irish footballer George Best put it, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
In the small city of Žilina, Slovakia, my B&B host told me, “I was born here, raised here, married here, had my children here. And I will die here.” To me, this was an astonishing statement. American friends who still live in their hometown tend to confess that fact with a little shamefaced grin, as if to say, “I know, I’m so dull.” In Europe it’s a mark of success. Kudos to your family if successive generations have been wise, lucky, and stable enough to stay put rather than being forced to decamp by war, financial disaster, or an irate husband. An Egyptian once told me that Americans are restless neurotics because we all originated elsewhere and have no deep roots in the land. Žilina was the place my B&B host truly belonged; his roots there defined his life.
And his afterlife. Another shocker was that he felt comfortable mentioning his own demise. Few Americans would ever touch on the subject in such an offhand yet direct way. We employ euphemisms such as the genteel “passing away,” or slang terms such as “give up the ghost,” and “bite the dust,” or, more colorfully, “take a dirt nap,” or “screw the pooch.” And we really dance around any direct reference to our own death. We like to think “departing this world” happens to other people, not us, and we wouldn’t want to jinx ourselves by referring to it in casual conversation. I think Groucho Marx spoke for most Americans when he said, “I intend to live forever, or die trying.”
People all over the world – some 232 million of us – are no longer living in the country of our birth, and the number is growing by leaps and bounds. In the years ahead, new expat neighbors are quite likely to push conversational hot buttons we don’t yet realize we have. But look on the brighter side. We’re likely to find out lots of things about them that we don’t know about the neighbors we have now: how much they’re paying in rent, their views on death, and most importantly of all, whether they prefer the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
“There is no home repair,” an old friend used to say, “that I can’t take care of with three simple tools: the yellow pages, a telephone, and my check book.” Luckily for me, Rich is considerably handier around the house, thanks to his capable father and the wisdom in the Better Homes and Gardens Handyman’s Book, which he bought decades ago along with his first house. Last week, I was shocked to discover that Rich, who is far less sentimental about his stuff, had placed this venerable volume in a pile going to charity.
Rich might be ready to part with his Handyman’s Book, but I’ll never let go of its counterpart in my own collection, the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. My mother taught me the basics from her 1953 edition and presented me with my own copy when I went away to college. That book guided me through countless birthday cakes and Christmas cookies, helped me stretch budgets in lean times, showed me how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey, and – thanks to the table setting diagrams – resolved a few spirited debates over the correct placement of salad forks back in my early days as a bride.
The BHG cookbook has been hugely successful; launched in 1930, it sold its millionth copy by 1938, and has survived countless social and culinary changes since then. The ultra-simple instructions and explanatory photos are a big factor. But on a deeper level, this cookbook is a great equalizer. For 84 years immigrants pouring into the US have used it to cook American-style meals that they feel comfortable serving their new friends and neighbors. After World War II, countless young brides like my mother, who grew up with a housekeeper but certainly couldn’t afford one herself, used this cookbook to come up to speed in the kitchen fast. Girls who came of age in the sixties could learn to prepare granola and trail mix from its pages, although BHG wisely stopped short of providing us with marijuana brownie recipes.
Later, as more sophisticated cuisine came into vogue – Joy of Cooking, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse cookbooks – millions of Americans still kept the BHG classic for making essentials. I bought a new edition in 1996 that was updated to include microwave instructions, low-fat recipes, and speedy meals for working women. Ten years ago, even though I was sourcing most recipes from the Internet, I considered bringing the cookbook to Seville, but in the end I settled for copying my favorite recipes. Now, every Thanksgiving and Christmas, Rich and I unearth the grease-stained photocopies in the happy confidence that our turkey and stuffing will once again taste just like the ones our mothers used to make.
I'm in California for the summer, and last week, finding myself confronted by overripe bananas, I quickly hauled out my old cookbook and got to work on some banana bread. This uniquely American sweet loaf was invented to avoid wasting bananas past their prime, allowing us us to feel thrifty, guilt-free, and well-fed all at the same time. Nowadays, the humble banana bread recipe can be found everywhere, adapted by such high-profile sources as Bon Appétit, the Food Network and the BBC. BHG tweaks the recipe with every edition, but I'm sticking with my tried-and-true 1996 version.
I’ve just learned that the 16th edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book is coming out in a Kindle edition next month, and I’m conflicted. It would be great to have all 1200 recipes when I’m in Seville or on the road, but do I really want to risk having my Kindle covered with the gravy smears, chocolate stains, and bits of banana that all good cookbooks acquire? If I do, I’m sure there’s a home maintenance book out there somewhere that includes do-it-yourself methods for cleaning the household electronics. Hmmm, maybe Rich is due for a new handyman’s guide when the holidays roll around in a few months…
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I never obtain free or discounted books or anything else in return for promoting stuff on this blog. I'm just telling you about things I love and find useful, in case you'd enjoy them, too.
PS: After reading this post, Rich has decided to keep the Handyman's Guide.
Our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. Right now we're on our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, exploring the world's favorite cuisine to discover more about European culture.
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