Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Onion Rings

Yesterday we made our annual jaunt to Beverly Hills to give our tax stuff to the accountant. This is a great occasion for us because we always have lunch at Factor's Deli (previously reviewed.) Their corned beef is out of this world good; Richie loves their chocolate shakes and I like their onion rings.

In fact, as I looked at the dinner plate-sized serving of them, I wondered aloud, "Who invented onion rings?" Richie looked up blankly from slurping his shake and shrugged.

I found that the earliest mention of them was in 1929, but it wasn't substantiated. The next would have been in a 1933 Crisco recipe -- pull the onion into rings, dip in milk, then in flour and fry them. It occurs to me that onion rings would have been extremely cheap food during the Great Depression. Not nutritious, mind you, but filling and cheap.

Onion rings are popular in the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Malaysia (!) but I've never seen one in France or Mexico. Then again, I wasn't expecting them there.

In 1955, a man named Sam Quigley began selling them out of a store-front in Nebraska. His products led to "Sam's Onions," the first commercially manufactured ever in the US. In 1962, "Sam" added mushrooms and in 1973, he sold onion rings to International Dairy Queen (perhaps they have DQs in Malaysia?)

The Outback Steak House's "Bloomin' Onion" was first presented to diners in 1988 with an artery-busting 2,210 calories and 134 grams of fat. Chili's used to make them as "Awesome Blossoms" but quit serving them.

Stil, thee is something of an aura of myster as to exactly who, when and where. Hope to know more tomorrow.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tabasco Goes to War!

Edward McIlhenny, a wealthy banker, grabbed his wife Mary Avery McIlhenny and fled from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and thence to Avery Island, her plantation in 1862. The Union soldiers were coming! One year later, the North took the island and destroyed it (the island was made of solid salt.)

When the Civil War was over, the McIlhennys returned from Texas to the plantation. about all that was left of it, were some capsicum hot peppers. Undaunted (and broke) McIlhenny grabbed them. He mixed the crush peppers with salt, let them sit for 30 days and then added "the best French wine vinegar" and bottled it. The friends he sent small bottles to liked it.

In 1868, only four years after being ousted from his home(s), he had a thriving business.

1898 Lord Kitchener's troops took Tabasco with them when they invaded Khartoum, Sudan.

1898 The Brits started a "Buy British!" campaign and banned it. Howls of protest from the House of Commons where dining tables featured it. The resulting fuss was dubbed "The Tabasco Tempest" but order was restored (and the bottles went back on the tables.) (Queen Elizabeth is said to like it on her lobster cocktail.)

Vietnam - Tabasco sent the troops 2-oz. bottles along with a recipe book - "Charley Ration Cookbook."

Operation Desert Storm - a tiny bottle was put into one of every three ration kits sent to the soldiers. It proved to be so popular that today the US military now packs it in every ration kit.

Ironic, isn't it, that a war forced a man out of his home -- but then his ingenuity and further wars made him rich? Scarlett O'Hara should have been so enterprising!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

At The Clam Chowder Cook-Off

The Wellness Community had wonderfully sunny weather for their event. The "International" Boardwalk at the Pier is U-shaped, with water and moored boats in the middle and sidewalks around three sides of it. Quality Seafood, where it was held, occupies a vast space along one side and the top and people were all over the place, most of them happily spooning in the chowder.

Tasters were given a souvenir of this event - a clam shell with a hole punched in the top with string forming a necklace -- a sticker inside the shell announced the event. Everyone was also given a small, white paper bag which contained contest instructions (taste and vote, basically) with five blue tickets to get the chowder and one yellow ticket to vote for it.

Richie was our official taster for this event and he reports as follows. (The first three are local restaurants; the last two were private entries.)

#1 Tony's on the Pier "Lots of clams, not real creamy. It's a good taste."

#2 Fat Face Fenner's Faloon "Thick, like mashed potatoes; very creamy with bits of red pepper and plenty of clams."

#3 Delzano's By The Sea "Thick, not as dense as Fat Face's. Red potatoes. It has a very good taste; creamy but not thick."

#4 Team Mayhem "Bits of cilantro, thick, but not pasty. Too many vegetables; too much stuff in it, takes away from the clams."

#5 Leslie B & Friends "This is the second thinnest, spicier than the others."

Richie's choice? Tony's on the Pier. I went to qualiftyseafood.net to see if the winner had been posted; as of this writing, no.

Aside: I would bet that the restaurants "refine" their day-to-day recipe to include more of the good stuff (cream, butter) and that a bowl ordered in the restaurant would be ... rather different.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Avocado Abuse!!!

By jingoes, if no one else will stand up for our gentle friends, I will! I think we all know that the avocado is a mild-mannered, creamy "extra" which exists only to please us -- thrust into "bad company" (Chilis! Onions! Cilantro!) to give us guacamole and gazpacho with never a murmer of protest. Submissively nestling up to a slice of bacon in a sandwich or hamburger (Secretly? Avocados really like bacon and see a definite future between themselves.) Avocado slices are tossed until they're dizzy in salads -- never a word of complaint out of them.

But these ... abominations .. are not to be tolerated! I refer you to page 151, Los Angeles magazine, April 2009 issue. The article is headed "Gotta 'Cado?" (the first diss) and is followed by three recipes -- an acceptable guacamole and these two.

AVOCADO RISOTTO WITH MASCARPONE (as rendered by Jonathan McDowell, executive chef, Blue Velvet restaurant)

1 oz. shallots, chopped
3 teas. extra virgin olive oil
3 T butter
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
3 cups vegetable stock, kept at a simmer
1 T mascarpone
1 ripe avocado
2 teas. fresh lime juice
Olive oil or chopped herbs (none specified) as garnish

Make the risotto as usual; add the mascarpone and 2 T butter. Puree the avocado pulp with the lime juice in a blender; add puree to risotto just before you serve it.

RAW VEGAN AVOCADO-CHOCOLATE MOUSSE (from Astara Callas, co-founder Elf Cafe, Echo Park)

2 ripe avocados
1 1/3 cups raw cacao powder
3 1/2 T coconut oil (death to the arteries)
2 1/2 teas. vanilla
6 T agave nectar (preferably raw)
3 pinches sea salt
pinch of cayenne
1/3 cup "springwater" (and good luck finding one)
Nuts or dried fruit for garnish (none specified)

Slowly combine all of the ingredients in a blender, starting with peeled and pitted avocados and following with cacao powder. Within minutes, it should become a thick, smooth mousse. Chill at least 1 hour. Serve it using an ice cream scoop and top it with the dried fruit or nuts.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Interesting Possibilities

I had to buy a can of chipotles in adobo sauce for a dish I did. I got to wondering if it was possible to buy chipotle chili powder and during the next trip to the supermarket remembered to look.

Sure enough, Spice Islands Ground Chipotle Chili nestled in the spice section! Bought it, brought it home and began contemplating uses for it. Made spaghetti bolognese last night -- added a dash of it and it really brought up the "dark brown taste" of that sauce. Simply using it as one would black or white pepper seems like a good idea... I was toying with shaking it over freshly-popped corn but ....perhaps that would be overkill.

And wouldn't you know it -- the day after I bought the 2.3 oz. jar we were in Smart & Final, Iris and there sat the 12 oz. version (and I'm sure, ounce for ounce it would have been cheaper.)

Live and learn, ay?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just In Case...

"Online" is a marvelous place; a veritable Alladin's cave of goodies. Example - yesterday I was looking something up and inadvertently tiptoed into a site that covered "Tips for Swimming in the Dead Sea."

The author reminded us that you'll be in salt and very little water so: wear an old bathing suit; get a pair of cheapo rubber or plastic thong sandals (sea bottom is rough); do not shave your legs/pits/face the day before; do not get sea water on your face and to bring something suitable as a prop for a photo opp.

If you envision yourself knifing through the water, arms flashing like scimitars -- get over it 'cause it ain't gonna happen. She wrote that you will be (essentially) plopping your derriere on the sea bed and floating.

In an effort to be the full-service blog that readers have the right to expect, I wheeled smartly over to El Al. com and can tell you that if you can leave 3/27 (tomorrow) and return 4/3, business class from LAX to Tel Aviv will cost you $3,126.60 for a round trip ticket.

And no, my fellow, er, thrifty travelers -- you can't go swim in the Salton Sea instead. I checked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Strictly Speaking ...

Because today's subject is a clam chowder cook-off I wanted to use the phrase "Happy as a clam." And then began wondering (as so many have done before me) why would a clam be happy and who'd know the difference? Several online references assured me that we are saying only half of the phrase -- properly it's "Happy as a clam at high tide" (when predators can't get at them.

A phrase the Brits use is "As happy as a sandboy" and the story behind that is: back in olden times, boys were hired by bar owners to go to beach caves and bring back sand for the barroom floor (instead of putting down sawdust.) These "sandboys" were paid in drink. Of course, they were as happy as larks! Oops! Let's not go there...

Saturday, March 28th, from 1 to 4 p.m. there will be a clam chowder cook-off in front of Quality Seafood, International Boardwalk, Redondo Pier, to benefit the Wellness Community, a non-profit that offers free support services to cancer patients, survivors and families. (Note: I once volunteered there only to be handed a huge pile of stuff to be filed which was not my idea of warm and fuzzy service to others. I never went back.)

Categories include professional and amateur, Manhattan and New England chowders and you can register online at qualityseafood.net. At the event you'll be offered five tastings from various contestants for $5.

Richie once clammed on Long Island (his brother Charlie still does) and he loves New England clam chowder. Naturally, he is planning to go. Since I would rather set my hair on fire than eat that stuff -- if you're going, could you please take Richie, too?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Five Books

"Style A to Zoe; The Art of Fashion, Beauty & Everything Glamour" by Rachel Zoe with Rose Apodaca Grand Central Publishing 183 (largely useless) pages $24.99

If you are a woman in your early '20s, were raised by wolves and are contemplating a career as a pole dancer at the Dew Drop Inn, this book is for you!

"Something For the Pain (One Doctor's Account of Life and Death in the ER)" by Paul Austin W. W. Norton & Co. 297 interesting pages $24.95

Yes, I'm a medical narrative junkie. The writer (formerly a fire fighter,) found himself sliding into cynicism and emotional isolation due to sleep deprivation. So he went out and built a garage with a bedroom over it for himself. (His wife and three children slept in the house.) That's the way firemen think and I liked that.

"Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, A Memoir" by Susan Jane Gilman Grand Central Publishing 306 pages $23.99

In 1986, Gilman and her best friend graduated college, worked hard over the summer, saving their pennies and took off to visit the just-opened to visitors People's Republic of China. They believed they would be explorers! Brave new worlds! The night they landed in Hong Kong, Gilman (figuratively) turned tail and wanted to take the next plane home. I've managed to stay the course (page 83) and will probably like the book -- in very small draughts.

"The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday" by Alexander McCall Smith (author of "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series) Pantheon Press 240 pages $23.95

Isabel Dalhousie lives in Edinburgh where she is the owner and publisher of the Review of Applied Ethics. She is 40 with a lover some 12 years her junior. ("He was her north, her south" Auden.) Their son is 16 months old. The humor in this book is sly and very, very funny.

"Party Across America! 101 of the Greatest Festivals, Sporting Events and Celebrations in the US" by Michael Guerriero Adams Media 289 very well-organized pages $12.95

Guerriero starts on the East Coast and sweeps across the nation, ending in Hawaii (just after Alaska.) "Our" Coachella Music Festival (coachella.com) made the cut. I was amazed to learn that Butte, Montana, celebrates St. Patrick's Day for a full month. I was shocked at the goings-on at San Francisco's Exotic Erotic Ball (exoticeroticball.com.) To say that most of San Francisco is uninhibted is wild understatement. Don't let your kids go there for Spring Break whatever you do! The ensuing pyschiatric bills will kill you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March: Womens' History Month

"Eleanor Roosevelt, A Personal and Public Life" by J. William T. Youngs Harper Collins 246 pages Price: none given; the book was a generous gift from a cousin who is a noted historian.

I am shallow enough to admit that I find reading about people's real lives (and peccadilloes) is more interesting than of any great deeds done. Eleanor is certainly a case in point.

Her parents were handsome people; she was plain. Her childhod reads like a Dickens novel -- one disaster after another. Both of her parents and a younger brother died. She was sent to live with her maternal grandmother along with her brother, Hall. She was very shy.

Still, her character, if not looks, attracted Franklin to her and after a suitable courtship, they married. With the marriage came her mother-in-law who famously gave them a house -- smack dab next to hers, in fact, with connecting doors on every floor.

Roosevelt gave her six children within 10 years and while she loved them, she was not in any way maternal; they were raised by a succession of nannies and tutors. She had a personal secretary named Lucy Mercer and the two became close friends.

Roosevelt returned home from a naval inspection so sick that he was confined to bed. Unpacking his things, Eleanor found love letters from Lucy Mercer in his luggage. This was betrayal of the deepest sort and Eleanor never really got over it. He apologized profusely and she extracted his promise never to see her again.

So -- he switched his attentions to his secretary "Missy" Hand. During his long recovery from polio, they even lived together on a house boat in Florida and Eleanor never turned a hair. She had other fish to fry, quite possibly an affair with her bodyguard, Earl Miller. She was 44; he was 32 -- perhaps she was the World's First Cougar! If so, kudos!

She traveled so extensively as FDR's "eyes and ears" that the newspapers nicknamed her "Eleanor Everywhere." A cartoon of the times shows a coal mine, deep in the ground and a miner exclaiming, "Why, it's Mrs. Roosevelt!" in astonishment.

Eleanor was believed to have had a lesbian relationship with the very masculine-looking Lorena Hickok (aka "Hick") but I think it's doubtful. Our sexual preferences don't have an on/off switch. I do think that Eleanor enjoyed a warm closeness with her (after FDR's long coolness toward her.) Eleanor was very Victorian (florid) in her letters and affectations. She wrote to her mother-in-law on her honeymoon (!) how much she looked forward to coming home to cozy chats and "lots of kisses."

Franklin's death wounded her yet again -- Lucy Mercer was with him. She went on until age 78, dying of aplastic anemia and a rare form of bone marrow TB in 1962.) She had a remarkable ability for change -- from shyness to commanding the world's stages. And doing a lot of good from them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Flour Water Egg

Corn Tortillas
2 cups masa farina
1/2 teas. coarse salt
1 1/2 cups warm water

Mix the salt and masa, add water and stir until combined (the mix will be lumpy.) Cover the dough and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Make 18 balls of dough and flatten them into tortilla shape. You can use a tortilla press or put plastic wrap on your cutting board and use another plastic-wrapped board to flatten them. heat them in a dry skillet until they grow little brown spots; package and save or serve.

Chapatis
2 cups chapati flour (Indian market) OR 1 cup each whole wheat flour and unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teas. coarse salt
3/4 cup warm water
4 T ghee (clarified butter) or sweet butter, melted

Mix the flour and salt, add the water and 1 T butter. Stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together in a sticky ball. Dust a work surface with flour and put the dough on it, kneading for about 4 minutes or until smooth. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Form each into a ball, then press it flat to 1/2 in. thickness. Taking your rolling pin (or a full wine bottle) roll out the flattened ball to a disc about 5 in. wide.

Heat a heavy dry skillet until a drop of water sizzles in it, then cook the rounds for 2 or 3 minutes, flip with tongs and cook for another 2 minutes. Put the chapatis on a cookie sheet and brush them with the remaining butter and serve.

Pasta Dough
3 large eggs
1/2 teas. coarse salt
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Beat the eggs and 1/2 teas. of salt together. Gradually add the flours, alternating between them, until you have a stiff dough. Put the dough on a work surface and knead for at least 5 minutes or until the dough springs back lightly when pressed with a finger tip. Let the dough then rest for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough and roll it out until you have thin sheets of pasta. Using either a pasta rolling machine or a knife, cut the sheet into long, thin slices. Let them dry out and store them or use them. Note: fresh pasta cooks in half the time store-bought, dried pasta does.

Serenity

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Things Cooks Love II - Updated

It's a "sopa seca" or "dry soup" and it's considered a Mexican comfort food. Me, I'd call it "Mexican Lasagna." Let's go South of the Border (with none of those pesty drug wars.) Incidentally, as it's meatless, it's good for vegetarians or Lenten Fridays.

CORN TORTILLAS CASSEROLE

The Sauce
2 T vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 cups canned tomato puree Used one 8.oz. can
1 canned chipotle in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 teas. adobo sauce

Saute the onions in the oil, add the garlic and then all the other ingredients. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes or until thickened and set aside.

1 fresh poblano chile - roast it, let it cool, scrub off the skin, de-seed it and cut it into 1/4 in. wide strips. Set aside. Didn't see any fresh poblanos at the market, so used two canned green chilis.

Tortilla strips - the recipe calls for you to slice them and fry them, but I'd use chips from a bag -- less fat. Bagged works well.

Cheeses
1/2 cup sour cream or "crema" - to finish the top of the dish
1 cup grated "queso anejo" or pecorino romano or Asiao Used Parmesan
1 cup shredded "queso Chihuahua" or Monterey Jack or Muenster

Assemblage
Cover the bottom of a casserole dish with sauce, add a layer of tortilla strips/chips. Sprinkle the chips/strips with 1/3 each of the two cheeses. Then layer half of the poblano strips across the cheeses. Repeat and top the finished dish with a layer of sour cream. Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes, then let it stand for 10 minutes and serve it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dope-Dealing Secretaries

The Mexican drug wars have taken over the headlines today. Mexico is "closed" to American tourists -- the smart ones anyhow. Hideous atrocities -- what's up with beheading anyhow?

Back in the '60s "Drugs!" were a scandal to the jaybirds -- "Our Children are Smoking Pot!" "LSD Victim Goes Blind After Staring at the Sun!" "Meth Addict Up For 7 Full Days; says 'I couldn't help it.'"

But by the '70s, things had mellowed out considerably. In re-thinking that time period, I suddenly realized that I and all of the other secretaies on the 18th floor of a Century City office building were drug dealers.

You betcha! Typical scene in the break room: "I've got a date tonight --(wail) My dress is too tight! I'll never get into it (picking morosely at her yogurt, looks up) Anybody got a water pills?" ("Water pill" = Lasix (furosemide.) Or: "My boss is driving me crazy! Get this! He made me write to the Wall Street Journal demanding a 50-cent refund because they didn't deliver his paper for two days! (sigh) Anybody got a Valium?" (Valium = diazepam.)*

We all knew about Valium - it took only 15 minutes for a 5mg pill to smooth us out like an iceberg. "No worries!" as we hustled coffee, typed letters, took dictation and answered phones. I have no idea how long that tiny dosage lasted, but it didn't matter. The immediate crisis (nervous breakdown/up for Man One) had been resolved. There's a reason the Rolling Stones wrote "Mother's Little Helper" back in December, 1965 -- housewives (!) had beaten us to it!

As for us, we all thrived, waxing thin or fat in season and were quite calm. None of us wound up under a street light wearing fishnet stockings and micro-mini skirts soliciting johns. Why should we? Our ob/gyns wrote scrip for these drugs like handing out glasses of water at a marathon. Life was, if not good (low pay, high rent) at least quite comfortable. For long moments at a time.

* True story. It was my former boss, a petty satrap if ever there was one.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Things I Didn't Know

"Things Cooks Love" by Marie Simmons Andrews McMeel Publishing $35 342 pages

This is the first in a series produced and promoted by "Sur La Table" a firm started in the Pike Place Farmers' Market, Seattle, when Shirley Collins opened it in the mid-70s as a sort of "enlightened place" to buy kitchen utensils for foodies and wanna-be's. Sur La Table is now a franchise. The book is dedicated to the knowledgeable staff there.

I was furious to have picked up a book that promised recipes and then -- sold pots, pans, knives, etc. Until I got into it and discovered the book is actually quite readable, very informative and had a host of things I didn't know in it. My bad, eh?

Ridged Grill Pan - I've always used ours for hamburgers and steaks. Other things that work well (I learned) are chicken breasts, fish and thin-sliced vegetables or to heat up hot dogs or already-cooked sausages.

Pita Chips - Make your own. Buy a bag of pita bread, cut the discs into two rounds each and lightly coat one side of each slice with olive oil. Stack up perhaps four slices and cut them into wedges. Spread the wedges out on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 until they start to brown. Flip them over and bake the other side. Let cool and then store in plastic bags.

Rice - Comes in colors I never imagined!

Green rice is imported from China and flavored with bamboo juice; steamed, it's served as a side dish.

Red - usually imported from Bhutan, the Himalayas or the Camargue, in southern France. All have a chewy consistency and nutty flavor.

Black - served in Thailand, often with coconut milk and sliced mango.

Spanish Rice- it's not just what we're served in Mexican restaurants. There are three varieties. Those are Bomba, Calasparra - which are prized for their ability to sop up liquids - and Valencia, which has a slightly smaller grain. All are excellent for paella.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Move Quickly!

Trader Joe's is selling a bundle of 10 daffodil stems for $1.29. Since Farmer's Market fresh flowers run from $2.50 to $6 per bouquet, this is a sensational price.

At home, I cut off the bottom half-inch of stem, stuck them in water in a vase and almost literally stood back and watched them bloom! I left the house for an hour and when I returned two of them had already begun to show bright yellow at their tips. This morning they were in full bloom!

They'll probably die as quickly as they bloomed (of exhaustion) but while they're here, I will enjoy them immensely. Daffodil Yellow is a mood as much as a flower!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day

"Everyone's Irish on St. Paddy's Day!" Er... Maybe not ... Yesterday Richie bought a loaf of Oro-Wheat Jewish Rye - a big green & white sticker on it read: Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Because it's popularly believed (however wrongly) that this is National Drink A Gallon or Two of Beer Day, I will not give you the Irish blessing that starts, "May the road rise up to meet you!" (splat)

If you don't like picking the spices off of your home-cooked corned beef, cut the little envelope open carefully and put the spices/seeds in a tea ball and close it up tightly. Throw it in the water with your corned beef and when the beef is done, open it and throw away the spices/seeds. Tea balls are used with loose-leaf tea, by the way.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Not So Silly After All

During World War II, the US War Production Board asked GE to synthesize a cheap substitute for rubber. James Wright developed smething out of boric acid and silicone oil and called it "nutty putty." Turns out it wasn't much of a substitute and it languished until 1949 when Paul Hodgson, a former ad agency executive who was running a toy shop in New Haven, saw a demonstration of it at a party.

Sensing a trend in the making, be bought 21 lbs. of it, hired a Yalie to separate all of that into half-ounce balls and to pack them inside hollow plastic eggs. He re-named it "Silly Putty" and it's been a popular toy for more than 50 years. More than 2 million are sold annually.

It's not "just a toy" -- because Silly Putty's specific gravity is similar to human flesh, Silly Putty is used to align and test CT scanners. It's used in physical therapy -- squeeze one for 10 minutes every day in each hand. Mental therapy, too -- the Apollo 8 astronauts played with it -- and used it to secure small parts to keep them from floating around. Smokers, trying to quit, find it gives them something to do with their hands.

In 1981, the Columbus Zoo people used it to take hand and footprints of their gorillas for educational purposes. Geology and astronomy professors are said to use it to demonstrate the gradual movement of large masses of Earth.

I googled "Silly Putty" and found 324,000 entries with 6,500 shops offering it at "competitive prices." Amazon.com even sells it! I noted several entries for "Make Silly Putty yourself!" which I emphatically do NOT recommend doing. Boric acid? Nuh-uh, don't want to mess with that stuff.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

O Fleeting Fame

It would seem that I am the unwilling recipient of rather a strange gift -- for durations of time easily as long as a nanosecond, I am mistaken for Someone Important/Famous. The first incident was May, 2006. Richie and I were in a bar in Ireland, waiting for the rest of the tour to come down for dinner. An older couple approached us (we were the only people in the bar except for the bartender) and pleasantries were exchanged. Suddenly the old man threw a glance at his wife, leaned forward and said, "May I kiss you?" and before I could respond gave me a chaste little peck on the lips. Leaning back, he said with some satisfaction, "I've never kissed a filum (film) star before!"

The reverse? Last Sunday not one of the four friends we were meeting at the jazz concert recognized that it was me underneath That Hat.

Yesterday, we and "D" hooked up for the St. Patrick's Day parade. We followed it down to the Pier, had a hearty lunch at Scotty's and then waddled along the Strand ("I'm as full as an egg," Richie said) to the Poopdeck. By great good luck, we got three stools at a window and settled in with a pitcher of beer. Time passed and I wanted a cigarette so I went out to the patio, which was doing a very brisk business. Six or eight guys wee massed around a table, pouring beer into plastic cups, downing the beer, slamming the cup back on the table and then flipping it so it stood properly upright once again.

Avoiding them by sidling along the wall behind them, I bent to set my beer down and suddenly a young man had his arm around my shoulders and was urging me to smile into his buddy's cell phone for a photograph. I go along with it and afterwards, I ask, bemusedly, "So -- what did I win? Oldest woman in the bar?"

"No!" "No!" several shout - "Sexiest woman in the bar!" Another one leaps to my side, throws an arm around my shoulders ... and then spots my pack of cigarettes. Quick as a magpie, he takes one -- the guys begin yelling, "Make him give you a dollar!" - I obligingly stick my hand out, palm up. He grabs his wallet(I can see green in it) and says, "I don't have a dollar bill!" and in despair looks around for something else valuable to give me. Spotting the pitcher of green beer on their table, he grabs my glass and gives me a refill.

"Green" beer is a rather dubious color. I looked at it, looked at the group of guys and said, "Okay -- who peed in it?" Great whoops of laughter. I go back into the bar where I tell Richie and "D," "You know? You really should get out more!"

To the guys who were so gracious to an old woman -- Thank you! May you all spring from your beds this morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and not with the mother of all hangovers. Well done, lads!

P.S. - Rafa? I looked hot!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

To Your Credit!

The Franklin National Bank, New York, offered the first bank credit card in 1951. Back as early as the '30s, people had "credit" at various department stores and grocery stores in that they charged goods purchased, were given a monthly bill and paid it. Each would-be buyer had to establish a credit rating and an account with each store. I remember my mother had an account at a grocery store that delivered; in fact, grocery stores did deliver back then because all the Daddies had taken the (only) car to work.

Also in the '30s, oil companies offered "courtesy cards" to be used at their stations (and only theirs) across the country. In 1950 a man by the name of Francis Xavier McNamara founded Diners Club which was the first multi-purpose credit card used.

You could say the idea really took off - in 1990, Americans charged a total of $480 billion (billion) said to be the equivalent of $1 million every minute. (The math seems a little shaky to me, but ...) The typical American carries nine credit cards and owers over $2,000. (1990)

In 1988 Master Card was the first issued in The People's Republic of China. Consumer Reports wrote that 80 per cent of US purchases are done on credit.

Who knew? tlhe magnetic strip on credit cards - first track; name, expiration date, card type, PIN and credit limit. Second track has your account number, start date and "discretionary data.' The third track is for ATM use.

But this was the coolest. To open a locked door, use an old credit card. Slide the card between the door and the latch and the bevel should slide right back. If, however, the bevel faces the other way, cut the plastic into an "L" shape, slide it in and pull it back toward yourself. I know that as responsible adults, none of you would ever even consider breaking and entering unless, of course, it was an emergency. Ahem.

Friday, March 13, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Parade, Hermosa Beach

The parade kicks off at 11 a.m. from Arlington and Pier Avenues -- in front of the post office, across the street from the library.

This year (as it was last year) it's sponsored by the City of Hermosa Beach. What does this mean to me? you ask. The saddest words of tongue or pen -- NO food court! In an effort to boost local businesses, it's all HB restaurants. All of which will be jammed to the very rafters.

Another thing missing -- free bus service to and fro. When Mark Conte Productions ran it, we had all of the above plus bands, a beer garden and tons of vendors. Mark, lad, we miss ya's!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Hat!

Target - $13
I give up! The photos won't come up.
The hat is white cotton, shaped like a snap-brim fedora with a black ribbon headband.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Doubles

"Country Living - Eating Outdoors" by The Editors of Country Living Hearst Books 176 pages $19.95

Generally speaking, books with non-specific authors can be an iffy proposition (no one to blame.) I'm reminded of animals (elephant, camel) said to have been created by a committee. The front cover illustration had a sort of fore-warning -- a lakeside picnic table with a tablecloth going all the way down to the ground. Shoving one's knees under it could easily take down the cloth, dishes, potato salad and all.

Creamy Ranch Dressing $1 - It's suggested for use with macaroni salad, cherry tomatoes or as a baked potato topping.

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley
1 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 teas. dry mustard
1/4 teas. dried dill
pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk the mayonnaise and buttermilk together, add all other ingredients. Will keep in the refrigerator (tightly covered) for up to five days.

Creamy Ranch Dressing #2 - Suggested for use on a baked potato, a dip for raw vegetables or as a salad dressing.

1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 T chopped green onion
2 T finely chopped fresh parsley
1 T cider vinegar
1 teas. Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and whisk until blonded.

I checked the Index to make sure no other Ranch Dressing recipes were lurking -- there weren't - only these two.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The Book of Animal Ignorace" II

When I took this book into Thurs. Writers, six of the eight members present jotted down the title to buy themselves a copy. Clearly, I'm onto a good thing so --

Bats: Bats have "nursing roosts" and there might be more than 1,500 baby bats in it, but mamma bat, using sound and scent, goes right to hers. Bats (much like cats, I'd say) spend up to an hour a day grooming themselves. They rub their wings with an oil secreted in their faces.

If our fingers grew in proportion to a bat's, our fingers would be 7 ft. long and thinner than a knitting needle.

Vampire bats, movies notwithstanding, feed mostly on cattle, horses, tapirs (not too many in our neighborhood) and turkeys. If a bat did bite you (extremely unlikely) it would go for your big toe!

Bears: They don't go into hibernation per se; it's more of a torpor in that their temperature, respiration and metabolic rates don't change. They're like this for seven (7) months when they don't eat, drink, urinate or defecate. Mothers have even given birth to cubs in this state! "Sleep like a log" needs to be change -- "Sleep like a bear"!

Beavers: Until I read this - "A fully-grown beaver is about the size of an 8 yr. old child" - I thought of them as cute, Disneyesque-type animals. Their teeth are bright orange (!) The enamel contains iron (for extra strength) and the teeth never stop growing.

"Busy beaver"? In winter, the average beaver only leaves its lodge once every two weeks. (Book didn't say where they went or why.) In spring and fall, the tail doubles in size (stored fat) but shrinks during winter as the fat is used up.

In 1760 the College of Physicians and Faculty of Divinity in Paris classified the beaver as a fish because of its scaly tail. This meant that French settlers in North America could officially eat beaver during Lent! Beaver tail is said to taste like roast beef ...

Bees: Bees and cows are the only human food providers in nature. Archaologists have tasted it and said that 3,000 year old honey found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs is still edible.

Cane Toads: There are 100 million of them in Australia. They were imported from Hawaii to eat the cane beetles who were ravaging crops. Big mistake. Their front line expands at a rate of 35 miles per year.

Cane Toads are extremely poisonous. Australian museums display snakes that died so quickly that the toad is still in their mouths (like this is such a bad thing?) Their poison is so strong that a dog who drinks water from a bowl the toad walked through will get sick. Now "toad-busters" go to known watering holes and scoop up as many as 40,000/week. They are then gassed or deep-frozen to death and turned into liquid fertilizer (called "ToadJus.")

Monday, March 9, 2009

Ramping It Up

Ramps (aka "wild leeks") are only available fresh from March until June. Ramps have a small white bulb that grows into a tall, flat green leaf with a purple streak. They taste like a mild combination of garlic and onion.

Ramps are said to be good sources for iron, vitamin A, vitamin C and contain sulfur compounds that may lower the risk of cardio-vascular disease and help stabilize blood sugar (but you'd probably have to eat 10 lbs. a day for these benefits to kick in.)

When you use them, treat them like a young green onion. Cut off the stem end and slip the first skin off of them.

Bon Appetit says they are versatile -- brush whole ramps with olive oil and grill them. Simmer whole ones until they're soft, pat them dry, let them cool and drizzle with a vinaigrette. Or leave out the vinaigrette, chop them and add them to chicken broth and mashed potatoes for soup. Go Asian and saute chopped ramps with sesame oil, ginger and soy sauce, then sprinkle them with toasted sesame seeds. For an elegant breakfast dish, saute chopped ramps in butter, add beaten eggs and scramble. Serve on toasted English muffin halves.

I once found ramps at the local Farmers Market and bought some. "The Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver had been raving about them in one of his books. I was expecting a Really Big garlic-onion flavor and was disappointed at the rather delicate taste that I did get. But they were good in scrambled eggs. Incidentally, he's called "The Naked Chef" because he doesn't like overly-sauced foods. Not because he cooks au natural. (Or so he says.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Signs of the Times

The window of the Impact Gym - "Burn Fat! Barbecue your wife!"

As a wife myself (who would be labeled "well-nourished" at an autopsy) I rather resent the implications. Grade: Lame

Redondo Tobacco, a gathering place for retired philosophers (and customers) - Hand-written and posted by the cash register "No Cussing!" I asked Sam, the owner, about it and he shrugged and said, "New law..."

I couldn't believe that --nanny-state that California has become -- so I googled it and discovered "No Cussing Clubs" are promoted by the Church of Latter-Day Saints. The mayor of South Pasadena (far from here) recently had a "no cussing day" (maybe it was a week; can't remember.) Grade: Ironically Hip

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Major Disappointment

There's no recipe for lumpia in "Another Taste of Aloha' and I'm kicking myself because the book next to it was "A Taste of Aloha" (same authors) and I bet it was in that first one.

But here are some Hawaiian spins on foods we mainlanders cook. We eat prosciutto-wrapped asparagus...and they like -

Leeks and Ham
4 leeks, cleaned and blanched
4 slices Black Forest Ham
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Wrap each leek in ham, put them in a shallow dish, sprinkle the top with Parmesan and bake at 375 until the cheese crisps up - about 30 minutes.

Spinach Salad
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
3 bananas, sliced
1 lb. apples, cored and thin-sliced
10-12 fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 11-oz. cans of mandarin oranges, drained
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1 avocado, sliced

Dressing
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teas. dry mustard
2/3 cup white vinegar
3 T onion juice
2 cups vegetable oil
3 T poppy seeds.
Mix, pour over salad and toss

Just in time for the Easter ham!

Hawaiian Sweet Potatoes
2 eggs
2 teas. vanilla
2 cups sweet potato, grated
1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup flaked coconut

Preheat the oven to 325. Beat the eggs and vanilla together, add the other ingredients and mix well. Use a greased 10 x 7 x 2 in. baking dish and bake until the custard is set; about 35 - 45 minutes.

Friday, March 6, 2009

$9.00

"The Far Side vol 4" by Gary Larson - $1 Going to keep it in the car for the times I get caught without a book and Richie's not back yet (to the car.)

"My Favorite Intermissions; Lives of the Musical Greats" by Victor Borge, born 1/3/1909; died 12/23/2000 age 90. He was a Danish musician and comic, known as the "Clown Prince of Denmark." Excerpt: "Every theatre is a lunatic asylum, but opera is the ward for incurables" said a friend of Franz Liszt. $2

"Another Taste of Aloha" collectively written by the Junior League of Honolulu $3 (Why have I never heard of the "Senior League" of some place? Hmmm....) I am hoping for a recipe for my beloved lumpia or Hawaiian-style egg rolls.

"A DSM-III-R Casebook of Treatment Selection" by Samuel Perry, MD, Allen Frances, MD and John Clarkin, PhD. Sample from the Contents page -- "Schizophrenia, Undifferentiated - The Case of the Square-Dancing Spiritualist." Each chapter describes a patient presenting with whatever symptom mentioned; various means of treatment, which treatment was used and outcome. Riveting, I can tell you. Just waiting for Richie to come back to the car from a quick errand, I've diagnosed my late Fa-in-Law and three friends! Whee! What fun! $3

All purchased at the Palos Verdes Library book sale.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Terrifically Good Read

"The Book of Animal Ignorance" by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson Harmony Books 242 pages $19.95

This is an engaging series of short pieces on animals and their special peculiarities. The chapters are arranged alphabetically - "Aardvark, Ant Eater, Cane Toad" ending with the homely "Worm."

The albatross was fascinating. As soon as it's able to fly, it will stay in the air until it's ready to mate -- some 10 (ten) years later! They mate for life, developing a body language unique to only that couple. They raise only one egg every two years and parents take turns sitting on it or foraging for food.

Cats need to eat the quivalent of five mice per day. Even if they have access to a huge pile of food, they will eat only "one mice" at a time. When a cat exends its claws, its paws double in size. I would add that this goes along with an angry cat's appearance in general -- they puff up, extend all of their hair -- to look bigger and more formidable to the enemy.

Dogs evolved from wolves. Humans began keeping them 12,000 to 14,000 years ago. A dachshund's breed name comes from the German for badger - "dachs." Labs were bred to retrieve fishing nets in Newfoundland. Poodles were originally used for (drum roll) duck hunting! Poodle comes from the German word/phrase meaning "to splash in the water." Louise Doberman, a night watchman bred his namesake dogs for watchdog duty in the late 1800s. Toy-sized dogs were originally bred to be carried in the sleeves of Chinese noblewomen -- to keep them warm.

(Inside the frontispeace) Octopuses are dexterous enough to unscrew lids from jars. The bald eagle's feathers weigh twice as much as its bones.

The book is filled with entertaining details like this. The chapters are short - perhaps a page and half in most cases, with illustrations of special features. Memorize bits of this and you can dine out on the contents for months! Wonderful conversational tidbits.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Counting (Richie's) Chickens

He's become a good cook, quite possibly because he follows a recipe exactly. I swear if it called for "three grains of salt," he'd count them out. We had the Cordon Bleu last night.

POULET CORDON BLEU (serves four; he halved it for us)
4 chicken breasts, split and pounded out
black pepper to taste
4 teas. Dijon mustard
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices prosccciutto or ham (he used Black Forest)
1 cup bread crumbs

"Butter" each breast with mustard, add a slice of cheese then a slice of ham. Roll it up as best you can and tooth pick it shut. Dredge in flour, then beaten egg and finally the bread crumbs. Bake in a dish lined with parchment paper for 35 - 45 minutes.

Sauce
1/2 cup dry, white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 T flour
1 T butter
1 cup cold milk

Heat the wine in a sauce pan, reducing it by half. Add the chicken broth, bring it back to a boil and then simmer it. Keep warm until ready to add.

In another sauce pan, make a roux by melting butter over medium heat until bubbly. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk for 8 - 10 minutes. Add the cold milk and whisk it in completely, add the wine sauce and add a dash of pepper. Plate the chicken and top it with the sauce.

CHICKEN PICCATA (Serves 4)
4 split, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs.
2 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 400. Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Pound out chicken to 1/4 in. thick.

Mix the flour and a pinch of pepper on a plate. On a second plate, beaten eggs plus 1 T water. The third plate has the bread crumbs. Dredge each breast in flour, then egg and finally bread crumbs. Heat 2 T olive oil and saute chicken until browned - about two minutes per side. Put the breasts on the cookie sheet and bake 5 - 10 minutes.

Sauce
3 T sweet butter at room temperature
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup dry white wine

Melt 1 T butter, then add the lemon juice, white wine and pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced by half; about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, add 2 T butter and stir well. Sauce the chickens and serve.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Among the Uppah Clawsses, Dahlings

(Despite the fact that we are Full Metal Jacket Middle Class. Thought that should be noted.)

Richie surprised me today with lunch out. We'd finished running errands, but instead of heading north and home, he went south to Riviera Village. For non-residents, Riviera Village is the south end of Redondo Beach and could be considered our Beverly Hills. Tiny boutiques (they change frequently)several brew-pub restos, a Trader Joe's, a card shop, a couple of office buildings and so forth.

Yellow Vase Flowers - Cafe - Bakery, 1805 S. Catalina, Redondo Beach, 90277
yellow-vase.com/bakery

The building is a rectangle with a patio running down one of the long sides. First in your face is a flower shop, followed by a small cafe tucked behind that and presumably the kitchen and bakery are behind that.

The Yellow Vase sells flowers, wedding cakes (round or square,) has a glass display case of hand-made chocolates, another of desserts -- dessert bars in cherry, apple or lemon, pastel-tinted meringues and it serves actual food -- salads, crepes, paninni and one lone pizza (margarita.) You enter, look at the menu, order and pay for your food, are given a numbered plaque for your table and you go sit down -- inside or on the patio.

Richie ordered the ham melt -- Black Forest ham, Brie, capers and Dijon mustard. It looked like a rather smallish sandwich to me, but it came with a huge salad -- arugula, radiccio, etc. I had the Parisian salad -- romaine lettuce with dried cranberries, candied walnuts, red onion, shallots with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side, please. It was quite good. We agreed that the food was okay nothing wrong with it, but what made the place outstanding was the clientele.

It was mostly women, the Ladies Who Lunch plus real estate saleswomen (eager eyes trolling the rest of us) and the dilettantes -- one woman was wearing tennis clothing! I haven't seen a grown woman in tennis whites since 1982! (when I lived in the real Beverly Hills.) It was all hilarious to us. Normally a large group of women would be so shrill that bats would flee them, but the music system -- harps, flutes - was so loud we never heard their gasps of appreciation, sneers at lesser mortals or (sadly) any riveting gossip.

So, if white-gloved Auntie comes to town or racquet-wielding Betsy, this is the place to take them. Let their husbands go to the brew pub across the street. They can sit by us.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mondays. (Sigh.)

Resumption of the heavy load. So let's have some fun! 'Impossible!" you snort, but consider these ...

Toothpaste
The CIA is said to use poison toothpaste to take out dictators (such as Belgian Congo's Patrice Lumumba.) Larry Devlin, the agent issued it, said he didn't use it.

If you're going camping, be advised that bears can't differentiate between food and toothpaste, so include it in the food you hang high above the ground.

It's said that 72 per cent of Americans squeeze toothpaste from the top of the tube. I'm one of them so Richie took it upon himself to put a clothespin across the base of my tube to encourage me to change my errant and evil ways.

Vegetable Shortening or Crisco
Waterproof your baby! Cover the entire heinie in Crisco!

To make white clown make-up for Halloween or for just generally terrorizing the neighbors (wear it with no explanation) mix two tablespoons of corn starch with one tablespoon of vegetable shortening.

Although Crisco, for example, appears solid it's actually more than 80% oil suspended in a lattice of fat solids similar to honey in a honey comb. Ladies, think "cellulite."

Jell-O
Show your kids how plants grow beneath the earth's surface -- plant some seeds in Jell-O and watch them grow. (Frankly this doesn't sound possible to me ... dirt is one thing; Jell-O is quite another.)

Style your hair on the cheap! Forget expensive potions. 1 teaspoon Jell-O dissolved in a cup of warm water and applied to your hair.

Wrestle in Jell-0! (Admit it -- you've always wanted to ...) Pour 2,347 boxes (no more, no less) into an 8 ft. square, padded box, add boiling water and chill for two days.

Mark Your Calendar! April Fool's Day, Eugene, OR At the Maude Kerns Art Gallery -- "Jell-0-Rama" where local artists use it as their medium. Painting, sculpture (if a little wobbly) and so forth.

Special thanks to Editor Tony.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Naming The House

It doesn't seem to be the thing these days -- to give your house a name (and use it on your personal stationery, also a disappeared item. I can remember when a proper bridal gift was a box of engraved, monogrammed notes and envelopes meant for "thank you" missives.)

This custom started in Europe and crossed the Atlantic to the East Coast. In my mind's eye, I can see an example -- the great, looming stone "Condre Hall" in Huntington, NY. It has vast terraces on two sides of the massive house and with little trouble at all, I can "see" F. Scott Fitzgerald flappers and smooth guys, draped languidly on chaises, sipping cocktails. The north shore of Long Island is studded with these types of place. One sheik used to have himself choppered into The City weekdays. Wonder if he named his "Dubai West"?

In the Midwest (and I'm thinking specifically of Kansas City, MO) there is a long downward-sweeping avenue with great mansions on either side of it. The Kansas City Art Institute is situated in one, I believe.

Out here about all we have is "PickFair," the old Mary Pickford estate which has changed hands many times since the '20s. The Doheny Mansion (oil wells) is now a catered wedding/event site. It's quite elegant, but they don't allow use of the mansion's toilets; one has to go up a flight of stairs, traipse back up a path, across a parking lot ...not hospitable at all.

Texans always seem to name their ranches -- Possum Hollow comes to mind -- and my cousin's place is a good example. He, wife and little girl live in Corpus, but outside of Mathis, they have a working ranch with an official-sized roping arena! Complete to tiered stands and stadium lights. They use it for charity roping contests (and draw some of the biggest names in rodeo to them, too.)

If we ever won the lottery (insert hollow laugh here) and bought a place high up on Palos Verdes Peninsula, I know what I would name it. "Vue de Dieu" (God's View) because it very nearly is (not being blasphemous; it's like being in a low-flying airplane up there.)

However, here where we actually do live (36 in. between houses) I would have to lower my expectations considerably. "Warthog House" ("My dear, she looks exactly like one!") or perhaps "Lower Masses Containment"? But, not having any engraved, monogrammed stationery, it doesn't really matter ...