Monday, December 28, 2009

Are you there, vodka? It's me, Kristabel.

This year Dad and Mama Xanax are spending the holidays with my brother and his family in New York. When they told me a couple of months ago, I knew I would miss them, but that it would mean a different sort of Christmas for me. No obligatory family events, no shopping stress, no oven-slaving, no fake cheer. I revelled in the thought of the fabulous Un-Christmas I was going to have.

Then I realized that it also meant a holiday without Mama Xanax's pecan pie. This would have to be remedied. Unfortunately I have a little pie issue. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make a decent pie crust. If it's not so tough it's unchewable, it's so flaky it falls apart during the rolling, and I end up piecing it together in the pan, and then the filling seeps out the bottom making everything a soggy mess. I've tried every recipe I can find, including the nasty no-fail vinegar crust. I've asked every expert pie maker I know for tips. I've watched others make them. I've read books. I've watched videos. And always failing, I have resorted to buying pre-made crust, which although it holds together, is really thin and awful tasting.

So it was with great skepticism that I read the rave reviews for a pie crust developed by Cook's Illustrated using vodka. Something about gluten not forming in vodka which keeps the dough moist and flaky...blah blah science stuff blah... But then I thought about my own life, and how vodka has often been the answer to a variety of problems. Why not pie crust? So I decided to try it.

Here are the ingredients: flour, salt, very cold unsalted butter, very cold shortening, sugar and vodka. Oh, and ice water. That's not in the picture. Sorry. Some people like to use all butter. Some people like to use all shortening (although why you'd want to do that and not have that sublime butter flavor is beyond me, and we're not even going to talk about that disgusting butter-flavored shortening.) I'm pretty sure you can do whatever you want; I just decided to follow the recipe this time. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl.

Cut the butter and shortening into little cubes. If you use a food processor like the recipe in the link says, your cubes don't have to be quite as small. I like to do it the old fashioned way so I can pretend I'm Laura Ingalls Wilder. Except now I'm most likely old enough to be Ma Wilder. Sob.

Use a pastry blender or two knives to start cutting up the cubes of fat and mixing them with the flour mixture.

Keep blending and cutting until the mixture looks like yellowish cottage cheese. I realize that doesn't sound very appetizing, so just bend over and smell the butter. Then sprinkle the vodka and the water over the top of the dough.

Use a spatula to mix it all together. Now bend over and smell the vodka. Really I just like telling you to bend over.

Then use your hands to knead the dough until it's smooth and holds together. This is what happens when you ask your perverted boyfriend to take a close-up of the dough kneading. You get a cleavage shot instead. The dough will be very wet and very sticky. As will your cleavage if you're doing it right.

Split the dough in half, shape it into balls, flatten them into disks, wrap them in plastic and stick them in the refrigerator to chill. This dough is so sticky you have to chill it a long time in order for it to be firm and workable - probably at least two hours.

This was the perfect time to take a break and have a little Un-Christmas celebration: Chinese food and horror movies.

Spread some flour on the counter, unwrap your dough and roll it out to fit your pie pan. I was nervous, but look... no tears! It held together perfectly and was so easy to work with.

Put it in your pan and crimp the edges in whatever pretty way you want.

Then you get to fill it. I used the pecan pie recipe on the bottle of Karo syrup because that's what Mama Xanax uses. I also broke into her stash and used these amazing pecans from Georgia she has our southern belle cousin send every year.

One day I'm going to artfully arrange the pecans in gorgeous concentric circles on top of the pie. This was not that day.

Throw it in the oven and bake it based on whatever you've filled it with. It was so fun watching this pie bake. You could actually see the vodka bubbling along the edges of the crust as it cooked out. I was so transfixed, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture, but you'll see for yourself. Look at this beautiful thing.

And the taste test? Oh. dear. god. This is the best pie crust I've ever eaten in my life. And what's more...I actually made it. There's no trace of vodka at all. It's tender, flaky, buttery and absolutely perfect.

I took a slice to Grandma Xanax on Christmas day and excitedly told her about the new recipe. "Sounds like a waste of good vodka," she muttered, but this is a woman who could probably make pie crust in one hand while plucking a chicken with the other.


Link to the recipe at Serious Eats

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I heart Christmas typos.

That's how I like my Herald Angels singing too, sister!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dear Santa, No thank you. Love, Kristabel

Photo credit to Bumblebee, who was standing outside Broadway Animal Hospital laughing so hard the picture is blurry.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes Redux (aka Happy Birthday, you)

My cousin Keri will be celebrating her birthday tomorrow. I hope it's filled with all of her favorite things. I was fortunate to be able to see her on Thanksgiving, and we spent a few good hours reminiscing and completely boring our partners. Keri and I started Chocolate Covered Xanax over two years ago when she came to spend a long weekend in Bear River. We wanted to use it as a way to keep in touch with each other. On Thanksgiving we talked about the adventures of that weekend (and about how things just may slow down for her soon, and she can start writing again. Crossing fingers.) So I thought I'd bore our partners...and anyone else who's already heard this story...yet again. Because when I think back on it, I get that warm fuzzy feeling that only homemade limoncello and near-death experiences can give. And I get a little tear in my eye because I love and miss Keri and wish I was celebrating with her right now. And it's our blog; we can be sappy and repeat ourselves if we want to, damn it. Happy Birthday, beautiful.

Mountain Lions, Anacondas and Cupcakes
June 21, 2007

It's almost 1 a.m. on the longest day of the year. I should definitely be asleep by now, but the sudden realization that Keri and I could have died, or at the very least been made horribly unattractive yesterday, is keeping me awake. It could also be the amazing orgasm I just enjoyed or the late-in-the-day caffeine fix.

After spending most of yesterday drinking homemade limoncello while making Brady Bunch tiki talismans out of clothespins, Keri and I needed a break. I hadn't shown her much of the valley yet, so we set out on a little late afternoon drive. First we headed to the toilet graveyard that sits about a quarter-mile away from my house. I have no idea what past lives these toilets have led, but every time I go by, the rancher who owns the property seems to have added more, and I am usually compelled to leave flowers.

Suitably impressed with the graveyard, Keri wanted to see more of this great land, so we headed up the mountain toward Southmayd Ranch. It's an eerie drive - dark, wooded, steep - there is a patch of trees that seems to have been afflicted with a disease at one point as they appear black, dead and decidedly ominous. Once you reach the top of the mountain, the sky opens up, and there is an absolutely gasp-inducing view of the valley below. A small house sits at the top of this road with a deck that juts out over the side of the mountain. The house is very rustic - faded wood siding and a variety of different-sized windows. It looks like it was pieced together from parts of other houses abandoned long ago. There used to be a young couple that lived there, but on this day, there was no sign of life at all. The yard was overgrown, and from the little bit that we could see through the dusty windows, the place looked empty. We stopped the car, and Keri said to me with the persuasiveness of one skilled at peer pressure, "You know you want to break in and look inside."

We opened the gate at the top of the driveway and began walking toward the house. As we got close, I stood on my tiptoes trying to get a look at the inside. Not being able to see much, I continued walking past the house to try to get a look in the side windows. Keri, on the other hand, opened the front gate and began heading down the hill toward the deck. She had decided that the best way to see the house would be to scale the deck and get in through the screen door.

I stood watching her, admiring the fact that her six-foot willowy legs could easily climb the wooden posts while my short and stout ones are chronically planted to the earth. She had just about reached the deck when suddenly a noise came bellowing from the shadows underneath. It sounded like the whoosh of a gas heater being turned on followed by the deepest, most resonant growl I have ever heard, and I got the distinct impression that it was a territorial warning. We both froze in place. My eyes darted around wildly looking for large rocks, sticks, super hero powers or a strapping ranch hand with a big gun, but there was no such luck. Keri turned to me and said with extreme calm, "Did you hear that?" And suddenly we both realized we were definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. She turned and got out of the yard as quickly as she could, and we both walked back to the car swinging our arms above our heads and talking very loudly, which is what I've always been told to do when accidentally crossing the path of a mountain lion. Of course, we're not sure that it was a mountain lion......

We both slammed the doors of the car and sat shakily trying to breathe for several minutes. As soon as I could get a steady hand on the steering wheel, I turned the car around and began the descent back down the mountain. With the windows open and the smell of the evergreen needles wafting in, I could almost forget our narrow escape.

I was just about to turn on some roller-skating-in-the-driveway-in-my-Joan-Jett-headband music when a movement from the woods caught the corner of my eye, and I heard a rustling sound near the edge of the road. Choosing to ignore it, I remained looking straight ahead. And then I heard Keri say the words that every girl loathes to hear while in the dark forest,

"What the fuck was that?"

Apparently, we had disturbed a giant snake in his journey across the road. Keri said that it was about the diameter of a stop sign pole, although my boyfriend says that it got bigger every time she told the story. Boys. She watched it rise above the road in a writhing, angry snake dance and slither off into the trees. I looked at her incredulously. "How'd we get to Jurassic Park?"

Rolling up the windows and locking the doors, I continued down the hill and was ecstatic to see the open pasture and my cute little house - where only birds, deer, bats and the occasional mischievous raccoon or possum frolic nearby.

After our frightening adventures in the wilderness, Keri and I came to a quick conclusion that a little baking therapy was in order. And that it must, of course, include chocolate.

I'm a scratch baking kind of girl - organic butter, high-quality chocolate, real Mexican vanilla. I'd rather have an invasive medical procedure without anesthesia while being preached at by Pat Robertson than serve someone a cake topped with that nasty, tongue-coating frosting made from Crisco. But in this case, instant gratification was definitely more important than gourmet quality.

At our grandparents' house in Samoa, there was always a crystal bowl filled with wrapped candy sitting on the coffee table. Keri's favorite was the triple-layered coconut neapolitans, and mine was the chocolates filled with fruit cream - especially the ones with the delicious orange filling. It was just these candies that I thought of as I opened the cupboard and saw a box of Trader Joe's chocolate orange cake mix. Perfect.

I mixed up the cupcakes while Keri whipped up a lovely orange juice glaze. In about a half-hour we were happily licking sweet chocolate crumbs and tart citrus icing off our fingers. That once-uncomfortable feeling of having narrowly escaped tragedy somehow mixed with the lusciousness in our stomachs and became something more akin to a fuzzy daydream.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Art Appreciation

Mark and I had a lovely time in SoHum today. We went to the Winter Arts Faire at the Mateel and saw all sorts of beautiful handmade goods and art. We ate some delicious squash lasagna and listened to some hippie dippy Christmas celtic music.

After that we headed into Garberville where we walked around looking at more beautiful art and people until the rain caused me to come down with a severe whining disorder. We ducked into a coffee shop, got warmed and caffeinated, and all was right with the world again.

I thought I'd share my very favorite piece of art. It was hanging above our table, and I couldn't stop staring at it. Its title: Mystery Hottie.

I think a better title would be Mystery Hottie Wearing a Bad Toupee.

Or....Mystery Hottie Hasn't Noticed a Mangy Shih Tzu is Sitting on her Head. Feel free to add your own suggestions.

P.S. Mystery Hottie can be yours for only $200 at Flavors Coffee Shop.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Did you hear that? (Double Bonus DYHT week)

Date: December 8
Time: 12 p.m.
Place: Cafe Court, Bayshore Mall, Eureka, CA

A somewhat neurotic man and a very helpful woman are eating cheap Chinese food and chatting.

Man: I've been wanting to put my computer out in the living room instead of the bedroom, but I'm afraid that when the neighbor kids jump on the trampoline they'll be able to see the porn through the window.

Woman: Well, you could hang a curtain.

Man: Good idea. Did you know that I always clear all my private data everytime I get off the computer? All the history and everything.

Woman: Why? So your dog won't see what you've been looking at?

Man: I'm afraid that if a burglar ever comes in my house, he'll steal my computer and then see all my porn.

Woman: Huh. I think you should just stick a note on it that says, "Dear Burglars, please don't judge."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Did you hear that?

Date: December 5
Time: 7 p.m.
Place: An Arts Alive venue in Old Town, Eureka

A man, as part of a large crowd enjoying a holiday choir performance, turns to the woman standing next to him and says:

"That was the biggest jingle bell clusterfuck I've ever heard."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beginnings and endings, they make a girl ramble. And cry. And eat.

My world has been filled with beginnings and endings lately, and no one who knows me will be surprised that I shed many tears through each one. Tears of joy. Tears of sorrow. Tears of anger. Tears because that's what happens when I try to express any god damn emotion at all.

Last weekend was my aunt Teresa's memorial service. My family and I sat together and watched a fantastic video my uncle Ken put together celebrating Teresa's life. For the last several years she had been very sick and could barely move or talk. She laid in bed most of the time. This was the last image of her for most of us.

But on the video we watched the Teresa we hadn't seen in a long time - a girl who rode horses and walked her pet pig on a leash through the streets of Rio Dell. A woman who jumped out of planes while raving about her parachuting instructor's ass. A woman who spoke out for the rights of people with disabilities and worked tirelessly to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research.

We watched, remembered, laughed, cried and talked. And then, of course, we ate. A lot.

The day before Teresa's service, Mark and I attended a beautiful wedding on Moonstone Beach. Kim, one of my favorite human beings on the planet, married Jack, who is madly in love with her. Kim has always wanted nothing more than to simply live happily ever after, but yet it's eluded her time and again. Until now, that is.

We watched Kim and Jack, surrounded by the many people who love them, wiggle, giggle, make vows to one another and kiss and kiss and kiss. And then, of course, we ate. A lot. And drank. A lot.

Today I attended a funeral for the father of a friend. Her father was also a good friend of my dad. She and her mom sat with perfect posture at the front of the church as one by one, people told stories and shared memories about their dad and husband. He was loved and will be missed by many.

I'm always astounded by people who show such poise in the midst of great sadness. When someone close to me dies, I sob, wail, pound my fists, scream even. I wear my grief like a gigantic Carmen Miranda headdress gone sour, and everyone can smell the rotten fruit before I even enter the room.

Afterward, I hugged my sweet friend and tried not to say anything trite. And then, of course, we ate. A lot.

A little over a year ago, I moved into this tiny little funky cottage in the middle of Loleta. Unable to be seen from the street and totally surrounded by trees, I've always felt like a fat little bird here, completely safe from predators. Now there will be a new bird in the nest. A tall thin one who has a habit of leaving his clothes right in the middle of the floor where I trip on them in the dark.

Mark is deep but uncomplicated. He is smart, even-keeled and incredibly kind. He has changed my life in ways I could never have imagined. Plus, he makes me laugh. And I make him laugh. How much better can it possibly get than that? So with simultaneous excitement and trepidation, I'm making room and clearing clutter. We'll add shelves and move furniture. With some benadryl, ear plugs and luck, this beginning may ease into a comfortable middle where we'll kiss and cry and love and live happily ever after. Oh, and eat, of course. A lot.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Please Buy Local and Handmade. Pretty please? With a glob of glitter glue on top?

Here's my shameless plug for the holiday season. This Sunday is Handmade Holidays, another fab indie craft fair put together by the Crafty Mavericks. It's at the Bayside Grange from 10 - 4. There are over 35 vendors, all selling magnificent handcrafted goods, as well as live music, cupcakes and so much more. It's going to be a great time.

I'll be unveiling my new line of pendants made out of upcycled maps.

There's plenty from the older lines as well.

Bird Pendants

Weird images from vintage dictionaries

Vintage sheet music and sexy postcards

And lots and lots of words

Why did I think someone would want to hang a bauble with the word bacon around their neck? Because I was hungry when I made it. And high on vicodin.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Did You Hear That?

Date: November 11, 2009
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Place: The Spa at Personal Choice, Old Town, Eureka

Three women are talking about the pros and cons of several local dining establishments.

Woman #1: I have a policy not to eat anywhere with a sneeze guard.

Woman #2: The last time my husband and I went out to dinner he found a button in his mashed potatoes. A button! It came off of one of the waiter's uniforms. He didn't find it until it was in his mouth.

Woman #3: Well.....I'll never forget the time I found a mop string in my crab cake.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alphabet: A History (B is for Burnt Sienna)

B is for Burnt Sienna

One summer when I was eight years old, my Aunt Teresa gave me my first set of real paint. Not plastic tubs or dried tablets in a hinged box, but metal tubes full of thick acrylic goodness.

I held each tube one by one reading the names that were written underneath a small square showing the color inside. I knew right away that these were no ordinary colors, for instead of the plain red and blue and yellow I was used to, long foreign names took their place. Napthol Crimson. Indigo. Vermilion. Ultramarine. Burnt Sienna.

Teresa squeezed the brownish Burnt Sienna from one of the tubes onto a plastic palette. I watched in fascination as she mixed in a little bit of Ochre and then a dab of Titanium White. "There," she said. "Remember....the color of the grass on the sand dunes at the beach starts with Burnt Sienna."

Aunt Teresa brought more than just color into my life.

When I was in high school and had begun to have sex with my boyfriend for the first time, she wanted to talk to me about it. "I'm not going to tell you about love or diseases or birth control," she said. "I know you know all that stuff already. What I want to know is if he's giving you orgasms. Because if he's not, you need to teach him how. It's important."

Very early in my first marriage, I found that to continue to carry the baby growing inside me would result in my death. It was Teresa who sat beside me with silent streaming tears as I learned to maneuver the needles I would have to stick in my stomach for two weeks preceding the abortion.

When this same marriage failed, and no one around me knew what to say, Teresa didn't say anything. She sent me a book titled, "100 Things You Don't Need a Man For." With a $5 bill as a bookmark so that I could drink a mocha while reading it.

That same summer of 1978 when Teresa gave me the acrylic paints, she also took me to Clam Beach for a sunset picnic. She spread out a blanket behind a sand dune to shield us from the wind. Out of a brown paper bag she lifted a loaf of bread and a large thermos.

"Is that hot chocolate?" I asked, licking my hopeful lips.

"Even better," Teresa answered. She unscrewed the lid, and the richly-scented steam filled the air around us. "This is called fondue. It's made out of hot cheese. You tear off a piece of bread, dip it into the cheese and eat them together. It's sooooo good."

It sounded good to me, and it smelled even better, so I quickly ripped a hunk of bread off the loaf.

"Before you eat it, you have to promise me you won't tell your mom about the fondue," Teresa said, her voice dropping to a whisper, "because I put wine in it."

Elated that the aunt I so much admired thought I was grown up enough to eat wine, I promised her I'd never say a word. I then dipped the bread into the thermos of gooey cheese and took a small bite. It was delicious. I grabbed an even bigger hunk, drenched it with an even bigger gob of cheese and stuffed it into my mouth.

Teresa and I ate the whole loaf before falling on our backs to lick the last of the sticky fondue off our fingers, surrounded by the grass on the sand dunes, whose color started with Burnt Sienna.

My dear Aunt Teresa passed away last week after an exceptionally long battle with multiple sclerosis. She will be greatly missed.

Read Alphabet: A History (A is for Art) here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Culinary Travels with New York Little Brother

My wife and I attended a wedding last weekend in a small town in Wisconsin. A few hours to kill before the wedding found us driving around looking at the fall foliage, drinking cider and enjoying some time completely unscheduled without the kids.

To my delight, we found ourselves smack- dab in the middle of a Columbus Day Weekend street fair and carnival. Wandering around listening to locals argue about which is a better mascot, a Packer or a Bear, sampling endless supplies of free cheese and listening to high school cheerleaders rattle off cheers and chants about the dogs and bratwurst they were peddling at their fundraising stand, I ran into this beauty of a sign:

Knowing my love of Mexican food, you can imagine my eye was first drawn to the "taco" portion of the sign. Walking tacos no less, whatever the hell that might be...I immediately inquired. I expected them to be wrapped in foil. As this was a street fair, I assumed it would allow one to walk around with said tacos. I was wrong. You see in Wisconsin, walking tacos refers to the meat in the tacos. Anything that used to walk can be put in them. In this case it was pig (yes, the guy said pig and not pork,) and chicken. Apparently cow and bull had been sold out by the time I got there.

Two chickens and a pig later, my attention was drawn to bacon...chocolate covered bacon! What, are you kidding me? Two of the most wonderful treats in the world, finally dating long enough to have offspring.

As you can imagine, the young lass that accompanied me to this fair had stayed at this stand long enough to be polite and hear the history of walking tacos, but at this point had had enough and wandered off to look at more exciting local handicrafts such as wooden spoon kitchen witches, doilies and such.

Jim, the corn fed gent that walked me through the taco talk, pointed to the sign just as I was finishing up chicken #2. Mouth full, I gave him a head nod, and held up three fingers. Jim took three slices of raw bacon, dipped each into a vat of melted chocolate, and let them cool for just long enough to make sure the chocolate stuck to every inch. Transfer to the even bigger vat of hot oil was smooth. A couple of minutes later, I was in heaven...pig and chocolate heaven.

And I thought the only thing I was really going to like in Wisconsin was the cheese. So happy to be wrong about that!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The absolute best time to get your Saturday Night. Revised. Yet again.

is on a stormy Tuesday afternoon.

I know it's been awhile, but you remember the tune. Sing it with me.

Bomp chicka bow wow....chicka bomp chicka bow bow.

Mmmmm hmmmmmm.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's like holding autumn in the palm of your hand. And then cramming it in your mouth. While moaning in ecstasy.

Cheddar cheese on apple pie; you either love it or you hate it. The rest of my family thinks it's really weird, but my mom and I just can't get enough of that glorious combination.

Fortunately for me Mama Xanax has a few trees, and she always shares. Golden Delicious apples are ripe right now - perfect for pies topped with thick slices of extra sharp cheddar, which was what I was planning to make last night. Then I saw this recipe over at Bon Appetit and just had to try it. If you're one of those that loves a little cheddar with your apple, you should too. And if you're one of those who's never tried it but thinks it sounds a little weird, these will win you over. These apple turnovers are quick, easy and really delicious. Here we go:

2 medium Golden Delicious apples, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (I used three because they were small apples.)
1 1/2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Pinch of salt
1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water to blend (for glaze)
Sugar (Oops - I left the sugar out of the picture. Pretend there's a bowl of chunky raw sugar sitting next to the apples.)

Take the first six ingredients and mix them together in a bowl. Isn't that lovely? A perfect marriage of fruits and nuts with some sharpness thrown in for flavor - kinda like the comments section at the Humboldt Herald.

Then take your thawed sheets of puff pastry and use something round, like this small dish, to cut four circles out of each sheet. Place the rounds on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.

Then spoon the filling onto half of the rounds.

Make an egg wash by beating an egg with a little water.

Brush a little bit of the wash around the edges of the rounds and fold over. Then use the tines of a fork to seal it tightly and make it look pretty.

Cut a couple of small slits in the top, brush the tops with more egg wash and sprinkle on the sugar.

Mmmm. Mmmmm. Mmmmmm. See how my turnovers are bursting open at the seams and spilling out everywhere? This is because I filled them too full as I'm just a more-is-better kind of girl. I'm sure you'll be completely cautious and frugal with your filling.


UPDATE: Some sweet jackass who really knows how to grate my cheese noticed that I didn't give any baking info. Sorry! Bake them at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. Remove them with a spatula onto a wire rack as soon as they come out of the oven, otherwise they'll stick.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If you haven't eaten lunch yet....

You might want to check out the specials at World Cup on F street.

My lips are just....tingling.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Unmarked and Unnamed

At the edge of the Ukiah Valley Cemetery, there is what appears to be a large parking lot. Composed of dirt and gravel, it stretches nearly 100 yards before the ground breaks into well-cared for headstones placed carefully with flowers and memorabilia. Only it isn't a parking lot.

It is a mass grave where 433 people with disabilities have been buried. Buried and forgotten. Unmarked and unnamed.

On Monday, September 21, I was fortunate to be able to attend the seventh annual Day of Remembrance coordinated by the California Memorial Project. A collaboration between several California agencies, the purpose of the project is to remember and honor over 45,000 people who died and were buried in mass and unmarked graves in state hospitals and developmental centers.

Led by people with disabilities, a number of whom have lived in state institutions, the project is an enormous act of advocacy - they are reclaiming and healing their shared history by honoring those before them. They are achieving this by restoring the cemeteries at the state institutions, recording the stories of people who lived in them by decade, and documenting the history of the client/survivor movement in California.

After an opening ceremony at the mass grave site, we were led into the heart of the cemetery to another, much smaller, unmarked grave. People attending were then given the opportunity to share their stories and remembrances.

Some spoke with obvious pain about their own experiences of living in an institution. One woman was committed when she was fifteen because "in those days your parents didn't have to have a reason. They could just put you in there if they were tired of you." She talked about being abused by staff people and witnessing a murder. Others spoke about the horrific experiences of their family members.

Some read poems and others sang songs.

Undeserved confinement,
Someone's Grandpa
Sitting in a chair,
Watching birds sitting in a tree...
Lost lonely souls,
Souls not as lost as presumed,
Touched by the light of the universe.

One man said that he had survived over 140 shock therapy treatments. "One day I saw a little girl get killed right before my eyes. It wasn't right. I tried to talk to someone about it - to tell them it shouldn't have happened. I was mad. That was when they took me for my first shock treatment. After that, every time I spoke out about something - anything - I got another shock treatment. Before I went in the state hospital, I could read and write. I can't read and write anymore. "

"But I'm one of the lucky ones. I got out, and I'm still alive." He swept his arm in the air across the empty plot of land in front of us. A plot where 1660 people with disabilities had been cremated and buried. Buried and forgotten. Unmarked and unnamed.