A lot of variety this year. As with last year, we spent the Christmas holiday in our "cabin" in Arnold, CA, where we’ll be spending it every year if I have anything to say about it. Dad & mom were there, of course, along with my brother, his wife, and their 3-yr old son, Hunter, who wanted Santa to bring him a "fire fuck." We also enjoyed the company of my dad’s sister and her husband.
Beatrice and I arrived Thursday evening. The others would not begin arriving until the next afternoon. As I go through my routine to get the heat going, the water heater on, and the water turned on we notice a problem. No water. I go back out the the main and find that the county had shut off the supply and padlocked it. Then I noticed the fresh footprints in the mud. It was raining, so it had been shut off within the last few hours. I don’t recall neglecting the $22 monthly water bill, but then again, we just moved, so who knows what got neglected in the shuffle. Bottom line is that if I didn’t pay for the service, it’s my fault.
I raced to the phone, got the book and began searching for the water district amongst the County offices. Turns out they have listed the Drug & Alcohol Abuse Prevention office, the Smoking Cessation Assistance office, the Equal Opportunity Employment office, and various other assorted and sundry offices for which I have great difficulty imagining a purpose so profound as running water. Sure enough: no listing in the phone book, which I confirmed by calling 411. They did have a number for the Blue Lake Springs water service. That’s a homeowners association just up the road. Called, left a message, and the guy called me back in five minutes. Turns out they have their own water supply, and he could have had me back up in 10 minutes. But I’m stuck with the county. He gives me the number for the water district.
I call. It’s 7 p.m. by this time. The offices are closed, but their answering service picks up. It’s for emergencies only, like water main breaks and such. Water shut off? Can’t help until next Tuesday. It’s Thursday, December 22. The county has decided to take Friday and Monday off, and not even provide essential services like restoring water service. Look, if I didn’t pay the bill, then regardless of the reason, I deserve some reasonable level of inconvenience and additional cost to restore service. But these guys turned it off for a $22 bill just hours before they knew they were going on a four-day holiday over the most festive time of the year. That I had family coming up the next day for the weekend? Sorry. That’s just mean to an extent I can hardly imagine.
So, I did what I did, which was to be at Ace Hardware when the doors opened at 7 a.m. where I purchased a 24" bolt cutter for $30, destroyed the county’s padlock, and "restored service." I’ll send the county $100 this week. Hopefully, they’ll drop it. We’ll see.
Bea and I spend Friday doing some cleaning, organizing, and setting up decorations. I come up with three large boxes of books I’ve had for years. Lots of layman science books, business books, and chess books amongst a few other types. I took them down the hill to Highland Books where she takes a good three stacks of them and complements me on the sorts of books I have (there were maybe three novels in all). She gives me a $49 credit, which I considered splendid. I dropped what she didn’t take over at the library.
Our family began to arrive shortly after and we proceeded to imbibe holiday cheer and whatnot, and my brother and I fixed a spaghetti dinner with an Italian-sausage & mushroom sauce, complete with Caesar salad and garlic bread.
For breakfast, Mike & I fixed scrambled eggs cooked on low heat, stirred continuously until reaching a cottage cheese consistency, at which point they are done. This was accompanied by fresh, thick-sliced, applewood-smoked bacon from the local butcher, cooked to what my brother and I call "JBC" (just before crispy). We also split a fresh, sweet baguette down the middle, toasted it under the broiler (both sides) and then buttered it.
Saturday, I first went down to Highland books to cash in my credit. I walked away with an enormous leather-bound, two-volume set of world history. Lot’s of illustrations. It will take a couple of years of trips up to the cabin to get through it all. I got two wonderful, large pictorial histories of WWII. You’ll melt away hours in either of those. I got David Eisenhower’s account of Dwight D’s war years; the abridged version of Winston Churchill’s memoirs of WWII; Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Three of Solzhenitsyn’s works, though she didn’t have The Gulag Archipelago at the moment. Got a small, interesting looking paperback on the Russian Revolution and a couple of other things. Ended up spending the credit and then some, but I couldn’t be happier. As I told the owner, I now have a dozen more reasons not to get TV service up there.
After that, we went shopping, and since the recent storms had curtailed the crab catch, I had to forgo dungeness in favor of king crab legs. Mom provided the many wonderful and varied hors d’oeuvres while my brother and I prepared dinner. To accompany the crab, which we grilled lightly on the bar-b-que outside, we had chilled, crisp iceberg lettuce with radishes, tossed with chilled thousand-island dressing so as to thoroughly but thinly coat the lettuce. Drawn butter, of course, and I made up a garlic and lemon remoulade as a change-up for the drawn butter. And, none of it would be complete without a fresh sourdough baguette with crispy–yet chewy–crust from the local bakery, accompanied by unsalted (sweet) butter.
That evening, we watch The Emperor’s Club on DVD and I was suitably uplifted.
Sunday, Christmas morning, brought gift exchanges, and yes, Hunter got his "fire fuck," a two foot (at least) Tonka monstrosity with motorized ladder and the whole works. He also got fireman garb, including the yellow vinyl coat, complete with insignias. Then we went down the hill to the local cafe, under new ownership, where they’re doing a bang-up job keeping the locals and us vacationers happy. Bea and I actually considered buying that restaurant a few months back, but then I looked at their income statement and regained my sanity. It’s another story.
The local fire station is right next to the cafe, and seemingly far better than had it been planned, one of their bay doors was open and someone suggested that we take Hunter over to look at some real fire trucks. I’ll mention, offhandedly, that these were the guys who saved our cabin from burning completely to the ground nearly three years ago. They responded in 3 minutes from the time our neighbor saw the fire and called. As you would expect, they acted as though getting a Christmas morning visit from a 3-yr-old in the midst of his "fireman stage" was a gift from God himself. They pulled out all the stops, even pulling Engine 435 out of the bay and firing up the pumps so that Hunter could man the hose. You couldn’t have gotten that smile off his face with a crow bar. Good show, guys, all around. Later, Hunter and his dad delivered a plate of homemade Christmas cakes and candies in appreciation.
The afternoon couldn’t come fast enough, ’cause we had serious plans. This involved even more Christmas cheer, more and varied hors d’oeuvres, and a dinner consisting of prime rib, wasabi mashed potatoes, fresh green snap beans cooked all afternoon in onions and butter, and to begin with, a french-onion soup so sublime that I will fail utterly to describe its grace in mere words.
I had intended to slow-cook the prime rib to 118 degrees in the center. No more, no less. But time got away from me, I didn’t get it in the oven until 4, and by 5:30, I threw in the towel and turned up the heat to 350. The advantage of a slow cook is that the prime rib is pink medium rare from about 1/4" from the outside, all the way through. As it was, we got well done for about 3/4" and the rest was perfectly pink. My dad’s sister made the french onion soup. You must understand: this is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. We’re not talking canned beef stock, here. We’re talking beef bones cut up and broiled brown then boiled, then reduced at low heat to a virtual demiglace. Forget, really, about the onion, the crouton, and the melted gruyere. It’s in the broth. The flavor is immense. Indescribable. The pomme de terre puree is done in my style, which means: lots of butter, a bit of heavy cream, and just enough wasabi as to have guest ask, "what’s that taste?" Also, you must melt the butter and keep it hot; nuke the heavy cream as well. You don’t want to compromise the heat within the potatoes in order to melt a couple of cubes of cold butter.
At that point, the Holiday was just about a wrap. We watched a "Two Thumbs Up" film on DVD that was so boring that I can’t even remember its title. But everything else was so perfect, it didn’t matter. I wish the rest of the year was so intense and enjoyable; and it should be.