Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Dishy Look at History

"Speaking For Myself; My Life from Liverpool to 10 Downing Street" by Cherie Blair Little, Brown & Company $30 341 pages

I liked this book because Blair says what she thinks. Only at the end does she seem to become more than a little self-serving and/or defensive in the extreme (various scandals - the press never liked her.) She is refreshingly frank about money -- they never had any.

It's an interesting book for the peeks at things we'll never see -- being presented to the Queen; staying at Balmoral (take your best underwear and leave the recreational drugs at home - the maids unpack absolutely everything) or what previous Prime Ministers' wives had to say about the redecoration of the public rooms at 10 Downing Street. Norma Majors liked the new terra cotta-colored walls; Margaret Thatcher looked around and said, "This is disgusting." On her former study, she cried out, "What have you done to my lovely room? This is just appalling."

Blair never got along with the Princesses Margaret or Anne. Anne bawled her out during a State dinner for Tony Blair's support of the ban on fox hunting. The Princes Phillip and Charles were quite a bit better behaved.

She and Hillary Clinton were more professional colleagues than friends. Clinton did give her an extensive tour of the White House and how it is run. Blair and Laura Bush enjoyed a much warmer friendship and were always happy to see one another despite political difficulties.

It's another angle/point of view from a front row at British politics and well worth your time in reading it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Luck Foods for the New Year

There is a recurring theme in all of them and it's prosperity, not good health or necessarily good luck. Pork is featured in several (not exactly luck for the pig) and apparently the thinking is: May you grow as big as a hog! Coins as represented by black-eyed peas and lentils and actual coins buried in cakes and/or sauerkraut. In no particular order, my gleanings from online sources --

France - 13 desserts which is not the sugar rush you might be thinking it is -- fruits are also considered "dessert" (candied or fresh.)

Baltimore - sauerkraut and beef short ribs. Other areas use pork ribs.

Austria - pink "pig" cookies

Italy - lentils and pork sausage

Germany and Poland - pickled herring because they're shiny and silver-colored like a coin but I'd rather be broke all year than eat one ...

Greece - a plain cake with a coin baked into it which reminds me of the New Orleans traditional Mardi Gras King cakes.

Alabama, Texas - indeed all over the South - black-eyed peas with or without collard greens or ham.

Korea - rice cake stew

China - big oranges and pears, candied lotus roots or melon, sticky rice cakes.

Cuba - black beans and rice

Spain - 12 grapes eaten at midnight

Israel - Jews eat a fish head for Rosh Hashanah -- to always be first and never the tail!

My own superstition has nothing to do with food. It's this: If you're a writer/painter/singer/musician/chef make sure you do your thing on New Year's Day so that you can continue to do it all year long!

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Never Amount to a Hill of Beans..."

Carolyn Green, a friend in Kansas City, sent me a Web site of all crock pot recipes the other day and just the other month, Richie had bought us a new crock pot. It's much bigger than the old one (which finally died after 30-some years,) is oval-shaped and has two speeds.

Richie likes to use it; I don't. His "Hamburger Stroganoff" requires the hamburger to be cooked before putting it in and, really, what's the point of that? All you're doing is keeping it hot all day long. (But it did work well keeping hors d'oeuvres warm at our open house.)

It occurred to me that crock pots had to have evolved from Boston baked bean pots -- remember them? A dark-brown colored pottery pot? Squatty-looking with earred handles and a lid? Beans have long been a staple for American non-Astors and Rockefellers and the Brits who fancy theirs on slices of toast. The Irish breakfast features beans, eggs, blood sausage and bacon.

I never did find confirmation of my theory; what I did discover was that canned beans (a staple) were limited in the 1960s. If you wanted baked beans, you made them yourself. Naxon Utilities did develop a "Beanery" which became the crock pot or slow cooker circa 1971. Today Rival is the leading brand.

The theory is that long, slow cooking will render less-than-tender meats into something tasty. The low temperature is 165 degrees; high is 190-200 degrees. Yes, long and slow and then some!

Manufacturers recommend putting food in it in the morning, going gaily off to work and coming home to a nice hot dinner. I cannot stress strongly enough what an idiotic idea this is. Never, ever leave your house with an unattended, plugged in and turned on appliance. It may well be hot when you get home, but it won't be your dinner.

If you plan to stay home while it's cooking, visit for a variety of crock pot recipes - Cheerio! Pip! Pip! Have at it!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ah, Sundays

Nowhere to go and all day to get there...

Happily it's sunny today (always a cheerer-upper) and so far, the LA and NY Times crossword puzzles seem do-able. Richie started his daily sudoka and all is peaceful in his world. Eventually I'll go to and do jigsaw puzzles (my new craze - you can change piece shapes.)

I would love to "take down Christmas" -- unwrap the stair railings' tinsel chains, go through the cards one last time and put all the photos of other people's children in the album, put away the decorations and put the tree back out on the balcony, but he would screech like a barn owl so I won't even broach it. As lazy as I am on a Sunday, I am anxious to get going with the new year, new opportunities and adventures. Bring it on! Show me what you got, Baby New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

We'll All Have Champagne, Thank You

Clearly, Le Saint-Raphael restaurant didn't get the memo about the recession. Here's their menu for New Year's Eve ...

First Course - Assortment of canapes (unspecified)

Second Course - Lobster spring rolls OR Yukon gold potatoes with smoked salmon and caviar OR Feuillet d'escargots with garlic and herb butter

Third Course - Half a young, roasted chicken with polenta fries and truffle-cheese dipping sauce OR Filet Mignon Rossini (seared foie gras on a brioche with mushroom duxelle) OR Saffron seafood risotto with a watercress emulstion OR Prosciutto-crusted John Dory with spiced tomato chutney and chanterelle sauce

Fourth Course - Cheese platter with honeycombs, mixed berries and candied walnuts OR a pear cooked in Port wine, stuffed with rum raisin ice cream and mixed berry sauce

And a glass of champagne! $60 per person. Dinner will be served between 5 and 11 p.m. For reservations 310-543-5100 Arguably good value for the money. If you're a Rockefeller...

Friday, December 26, 2008


Souplantation, 21309 Hawthorne, Torrance, CA 310-540-4998

I have no idea whether it's "Soup-lantation" or "Sou-plantation" but either way it's a pretty silly name. Misleading, too -- I thought there would be a tasting menu of say, three small bowls of soup.

Hah! It's a buffet with salad, pasta, pizza, breads (foccaccia, blueberry and bran muffins, baguette chunks) and machine ice cream. And four soup choices. Plus "Add a scoop of dressing (as in turkey dressing) to your bowl of soup!" Do what?

Richie made himself a mixed salad, then had a bowl of clam chowder - "Okay, but I've had better," a helping of Cajun Sausage Pasta "Not that hot." He reported that the dressing, eaten solo, was "glue-y." The minestrone was "thin." He did approve of the machine ice cream - soft-serve? I forget the technical name for it, but you pull a lever down and your dish fills up with "ice cream." He treated himself to two bowls' full.

I had a taste of the Caesar salad, some green peppers with a dab of blue cheese dressing, some red onion slices with a bit of roasted garlic dressing and tossed some hardboiled egg chunks in as well. I tried their chili -- sweet and Horrors! it had canned tomatoes in it! I ate the top off of a slice of four cheese pizza, served in a rectangle about 4 in. long by 2 in. wide. The garlic bread was much better. The one thing that they got absolutely right was macaroni and cheese.

When I discovered that they had butterscotch in addition to chocolate sauce for the ice cream, I had two servings of it -- vanilla first with Oreo bits and then chocolate with toasted coconut.

Lunch was $7.50 per person (water only) It's a nice enough set of rooms, the most attractive asset is the glass ceiling atrium over the main dining room. I'd rate the food as a couple of cuts above Home Buffet (which is ghastly -- bad high school cafeteria food) and certainly a bargain in these times. Souplantation(s) are a chain which explains a lot of things, but I must say the help was on the job, busy replacing buffet items, putting out trays of bread and all of them were very friendly.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Santa Was On Our Street!

Richie brought the newspapers in and remarked, "The street is full of reindeer dung."


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa vs. Scrooge

or Nourish vs. Nature. The War on Wollacott (trademarked, Don King, fuhgeddaboutit) has been going on for at least a month, maybe longer; it certainly seems so. Richie is insistent that he has to buy me something to put under the tree to open Christmas morning.

I'd be intently writing Christmas cards and he'd brightly say,, "Oh! Making your Christmas list?!" I'd be jotting down dates in my calendar; same remark. I made a list (rather comprehensive) of what I needed for our open house. Same thing. Maddening! I finally told him, "Don't worry about it --if you keep this up, I will have killed you by Christmas!"

I don't need any more clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry (the latter makes me sound like a godless Communist heathen, but it's true) because in the 25 years we've been married, I've amassed a very good wardrobe. NOT let me stress because I've bought a lot but because I never, ever throw anything good (or still good or nearly still good) away.

Nevertheless, we dutifully visited the Del Amo Mall, the Nordstrom Mall and then the Manhattan Beach Mall yesterday. Talbott's has the nerve to ask $59 for a skimpy white blouse made in Indonesia. There are no navy pants in any of the stores. I personally haven't seen a navy anything since 2004, but you never know. There are no fox fur toques to be found in Southern California; you have to go East for that kind of head gear.

When I said, "I've been thinking ... I'd kind of like a little spinet piano..." he looked irritated and said, "No! We don't have room for it!" Me (enthusiastically) "I know! How about a Segway?!" He didn't even bother to look up from the Sports section, but growled, "Hell, no!"

Finally inspiration dawned on me this morning. It had to; push has come to shove. He's not going to give up or give in; he's stubborn (it should be mentioned that I myself am not "stubborn," I am "patient.")

We're about to leave for the big book store on Hawthorne and I get to pick out any two books that I want. Peace at last!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Temporary Respite

These are trying times -- it's frigidly cold over most of the United States (and raining here) but still we must go out -- groceries, errands, last-minute gifts ... this poem seemed particularly appropriate. It's by Robert Frost.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Entertaining

Last night we were lucky enough to have had 14 guests attend our open house. The nice thing about an open house - ours was from 3 to 7 p.m. -- is that they don't all descend upon you at once! They drift in and out again as gently as a summer tide. It's exciting when the doorbell rings yet again -- "Who can it be?" flying down the stairs to open the front door.

What really makes a party "go" are the guests. Ours varied in age (from 88 to 34) and there were eight men and six women. Having more men than women is a good thing -- they compete for the womens' attentions and you have built-in champagne bottle openers, tight cap twister offers and food platter passers! Men love to be useful.

Most of all it's the guests themselves -- sure of themselves, confident, curious about the others present, willing to ably participate in conversation, quick to laugh at a joke or quip -- all of ours were just that.

You could have a party and serve indifferent food, the drinks in washed-out tin cans with paper towels for napins and if you had guests as great as ours were -- your party would be a howling success! God bless'em, one and all.

P.S. Cats do not make good guests. They run under the bed at the sound of a doorbell.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Plan B

When figs were in season, I bought a basket of them; divided them into sixes and put them in ziploc bags and into the freezer. Yesterday, I defrosted them because I wanted to slice them, stuff them with a blue cheese, wrap them in pancetta and bake them until the bacon was done for our open house today.

Alas... they are so juicy that they can't be used. The bottoms of the bags are heavy with water. The figs themselves are squishy.

Now I'm thinking ... water chestnuts smeared with blue cheese and pancetta wrapped... or... the hell with it anyhow!

Friday, December 19, 2008

For Your Consideration ...

* The Daily Breeze (our local paper) announced that the august City of Redondo Beach had a new Web site, all about the glorious things to do here. (Trust me, you can work through the list pretty quickly.) There is even a live feed from a Web camera! If you are at all curious about what life is like where we live, visit If you're sitting in a snowbank elsewhere and moaning about our sunshine, it's a fooler. At 6 a.m. today it was 43 degrees outside and 54 in our living room. Tomorrow's high is predicted to be 60; low 47. At 10:35 a.m., it is 63 inside and 55 outside...Caveat emptor...

*I'm not a lawyer, but this seems to be a logical idea to me. (If you are an attorney, you may well have an amusing moment in store...) A gay couple of some duration lives in a state which announces that gay marriage is now legal in that state. The happy couple, acting in good faith (a key phrase) files the appropriate paperwork, marries and then -- a year or three later, the state changes its mind and says "Gay marriages are not legal now." It seems to me that said gay couple could successfully sue for breach of contract against said state ...

* Basically an online clipping service, it's a good site for travelers -- it gives you information on hotels and restaurants all over the United States and many places in the world. If you're going to Aruba, Amalfi Coast, Abu Dhabi, Austin -- have a look -- it's

* From Jamie Olivers' "Cook with Jamie" -- it's the Bits and Bobs section near the end:
Chefs wear aprons because they can quickly pull them away from their bodies if they splash scalding water or oil on themselves.

If you're cooking a communal meal with family/friends and you drop oil or water on the floor -- alert them, stop what you're doing and immediately clean up the floor.

Keep your pot and pan handles turned away from the floor! Keep them over the counters or something. I learned this with our first bunch of cats -- I didn't want to be in a hurry and knock something on the stove off onto the kittens.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Recession?

I'm not seeing it here. The shopping mall parking lot (Del Amo for locals) was jammed with cars. We couldn't find a space and were in a long line of other cars that couldn't either exiting onto Hawthorne.

Target's parking lot had a lot of cars. Trader Joe's was jammed with people and carts; Il Fornaio, the Italian resto across the parking lot had tables full of people -- possibly office parties and I thought they'd been banned!

Today, 10:30 a.m., The UPS Store was doing a very brisk business -- all kinds of people were shipping holiday packages.

My sister e'd from northern Illinois that her contractor can't get to her for at least six weeks! And contractors mean serious money is being spent.

The problem is the media -- they love nothing more than putting some sobbing person on camera - theme being "I lost it all, sob, sob" -- or interviewing homeless persons. This, to them, is news. Nuh huh, it ain't.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Grocery Shopping

This is being written Tues. night since I won't have time on Wednesday... grocery shopping for our open house.

Since I am the kind of person that googles a new restaurant's menu prior to a visit and walk into it knowing exactly what I'm going to order for dinner.... this is for our guests.

Cheeses - Brie, Carambazola, Gouda with walnuts
Dried apricots, cranberries, cherries
Charcuterie - Speck Duck Pate Pepperoni
Pita chips Baguette slices, butter
Jalapeno-stuffed olives Marinated Mushrooms Tapenade
Cold Langoustine Tails with Lemon Mayo
Miniature Quiches - Ham & Cheese
and Goat Cheese with Caramelized Mushrooms
Pancetta-wrapped Figs stuffed with Carambazola
Pigs in Blankets (for the beer drinkers)
Chocolate Sparkle Cookies (Richie)
Pumpkin Pie (Richie)
Coconut Macaroons (me)
Irish Cream Chocolates and
Chocolate-Covered cherries
Pistachios and Cashews
Champagne Pinot Grigio Cabernet Sauvignon Beer
God bless Trader Joe, one and all!

So Many Kinds of Stupid...

"The Darwin Awards Next Evolution - Chlorinating the Gene Pool" by Wendy Northcutt Dutton $19.95 291 pages

The book is neatly divided into types of accidents -- both fatal and those with survivors -- Miscellaneous Mishaps, Electrical Extinctions, Vehicle Victims, Medical Maladies, Criminal Capers (largely thieves of building supplies who cause the elevator to fall on them or the roof to collapse over them,) Work Woes, Combustion Crazies and Animal Antics -- something for everyone's tastes.

I can tell you right now it is not a good idea to try to rope a deer, get drunk and climb into the bears' cage at the zoo or go rafting when the bridge is covered with water ...

It would be a great cautionary read for teenaged boys (or girls for that matter) and is amusing on its own.

At first, I had a little difficulty about reading "funny stories" about people who actually killed themselves doing some of these things. It didn't seem, well, right to be amused, but the more I read of these bone-headed stunts, the more my cynicism peeked back out from its temporary hiding place and I wound up enjoying the book.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shes Funny! (For a Girl)

"Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea" by Chelsea Handler Simon Spotlight Entertainment $24.95 264 pages

Of late, a debate has been raging - Resolved: men are funnier than women. In our defense, I would say, "Women have the best sense of humor; look at the men we marry."

You will have your opinion of how funny Handler may (or may not) be. I can say that if similes were removed from her writing vocabulary, this book would only be 132 pages long.

However sucessful Handler's career has turn out ("Chelsea Lately" on E, appearances on Leno and Letterman) it didn't start out with much promise. At 6 she was lying to classmates about being in a movie with Meryl Streep; at 12 she set up a babysitting business and sat with children two years old than she was at the time.

"I got my first DUI a week after my 21st birthday" she starts a funny account of some 24 hours at Sybil Brand Women's Prison. Her adventures continue -- travel with girlfriends and an unforgettable trip with her Dad. He got them upgrades into 1st Class by claiming she was his new wife and that they were honeymooning. Since Handler lies at the drop of a hat, we could argue that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.... Maybe her Dad is even funnier; we'll have to wait for his book.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Somewhere in Time ...

Maybe it was the decor -- slightly wrinkled, poinsettia-flowered plastic tablecloths covering some, but not all of, the regular tables. Maybe it was the two-dimensional cardboard "ornaments" that could have come out of a 99 Cent Store..the rather tired-looking stocking hanging from a wall. It all took me back to Larry McMurty Country -- to a main street with diagonal parking, the very clear feeling that this had once been something else -- common in small towns where the bank becomes a restaurant, a dry goods place becomes a thrift or antique store ...

The help -- a fat guy (presumably Big John himself; he looked exactly like his portrait on the menu) tending bar and giving orders to the kitchen through a pass-through window; a 40-something waitress who worked at a leisurely pace, but was friendly; the teenage bus boy in denims and a shirt ... they added to this deja vu I was feeling.

But I wasn't in Big Sandy, TX., we were in Big John's Cafe, located on Artesia, which is a very busy street here. You'll see it on a map as the 91 Freeway, in fact.

Big John's Super Burger is a 32-oz. patty (two pounds) with lettuce, tomato, onion, topped with cheese on a toasted bun "drenched in our special sauce." $26.95. "Big John will pay for your Super Burger if you can eat the whole burger in one hour. Ask your server for details." I asked ours and she laughed and said, "No one's done it, honey - ever. We got a wall fulla pictures a the people that tried it. No one ever done it." Mental picture: "Where y'all goin' Billy Bob?" "Ah'm gonna go git me a Super Burger and git it did, Jack."

Big John is a worker though -- business hours are from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., closed Mondays. There are daily specials -- Thursday's is chicken stew and biscuits; all days it's $10.95.

Richie had the Tri-Tip Dip - Angus tri-tip slices on a toasted house roll (at first I thought it was pita bread) with au jus, a little dish of horseradish and potato salad $7.25. I had a patty melt with grilled sweet onions, melted cheese on grilled rye bread $6.95. Coffee is $1.95, free refills. Desserts aren't listed on the menu but Friday it was tiramisu or spumoni vs. apple crisp or peach cobbler.

Big John's Cafe, 2302 W. Artesia, Redondo Beach 310-376-4881

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Nephew, the Wino

I knew that Steve had recently graduated (with honors) from a wine certification course for professionals, but I couldn't remember his new title so I e'd him and asked. He wrote back, "Certified Sommelier or Wine Guy or Wine-O."

I had consulted him on the column about which wines with fast foods. He wrote back, "I say, if you like it, it must be good, and down with wine snobbery! My boss told me a story about a wealthy couple in Florida that used to come to his resort for dinner. Their choices: two hamburgers off of the bar menu with a bottle of Chateau Petrus. $10 burger with a $1,000 bottle of Bordeaux. Go figure ..."

I replied that I fervently prayed I would never be that wealthy ...

Incidentally, 30-something ladies, my nephew is a blue-eyed blonde, 6 ft. 7 in. tall with a killer smile. Unfortunately he is somewhat geographically unattractive due to the fact that he works in a city near Dubuque, Iowa. However, his aunt (the pit bull) would be happy to pass along any messages of interest to him.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flying - Some Good Stuff

Having grown up with a Dad who was once a barnstormer and then a private pilot all of the rest of his life; having married a man who worked for a Major American Airline (MAA) for nearly 36 years, my interest in flying seems natural.

In addition to MAA's "secret site" (for employees and retirees only) I've found two others that intrigue me. The first has been of real help to us when expecting someone to fly into LAX (and, more sentimentally, checking to see if they got home yet.) It's and when you type in the airline's name and flight number, it pops up with a map of the United states, showing a little airplane leading a curving line (to show where it's been.) Below the map are the flight details -- down to the arrival gate number! It's great fun to see this and to know that you personally know someone who is --- right this minute!-- at 30,000 ft., just past Kansas City and that they're hurtling toward you at 550 mph. Or to yell excitedly to Richie, "They're starting their descent -- just passed over Palm Springs!"

Given my penchant for wanting to know what's going on backstage rathern than right under my nose, the other site has been quite informative. It's for simple and this for more to write down -- The latter is written by pilots and flight crew members. One feature is written by a guy who flies for (probably) United or (possibly) American on the Boston-Paris route. He says that he and fellow crew member like to do athletic things -- he is a great fan of the Fat Tire Tours (bicycles, rollerblades and, most recently, Segways) through Paris. He includes photos -- the cockpit view, crews making merry and various Parisian scenes.

It's an informative site with features -- "The 7 Best Airport Restaurants in the World," flight attendant gripes and tips, "Ladies, if you want to meet a man, ask for the middle seat."

Most of all, I recommend it for fearful flyers. When you realize that the pilots are not out to kill you nor the flight attendants to terrorize you; that they're human beings just like you are, you will (I hope) feel a little more rleaxed in flight. If not, what the hell, drink a lot! Just kidding!
A friend of ours (and a medical doctor) says that for long flights, he takes a Benedryl, has a beer and sleeps all the way there. I can't really endorse this idea, especially because if I'm not awake and alert, what's going to keep that plane in the air?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Table 13

We went to Richie's retirement club's annual luncheon on Tuesday at a Torrance hotel. We asked at the front desk which room it was being held in and were told "The penthouse." We raised eyebrows at each other and went to the bank of elevators.

The 12th or penthouse floor had a short flight of stairs up to a landing and the room which stretched downward in three shallow tiers. Short flights of steps (and a ramp) connected them. The decor was very '80s -- tons of gold-colored chrome and sheets of plexiglass lining the stairways; cunning little three-legged chandeliers with one light apiece. Both sides of the room were floor-to-ceiling windows giving a bird's eye view of ... downtown Torrance.

It was assigned seating at the tables for 10 and we dutifully trotted off to Table 13 after we received numbered place cards (for the poinsettia centerpiece on each table) and Richie bought a roll of tickets for the 50/50 raffle. This is a division of spoils between the club and the recipient. At the grande finale of the lunch, our place cards were collected and put into a drawing for a variety of smaller prizes.

Nine of the 10 people at our table won something! Richie got a bottle of Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, I a pair of Bushnell binoculars, another a nice pen, another a $20 gift certificate to Trader Joe's! Who said 13 is an unlucky number?!

Oh! What did we eat? We started with rolls and butter. The rolls were so tough I expected to see a hail of flying dentures! Next came the salad -- one-third fancy lettuce and two-thirds regular lettuce (some economizing going on here) with a balsamic vinegar dressing or "ranch." The "ranch dressing" was so thick -- sour cream? -- that we speculated it was for the baked potatoes, soon to appear on our plates. All were quite pleased at this prospect ...

But no -- the dinner choices had been baked salmon or a roasted, half-chicken accompanied by seasonal vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, carrots and squash baked to death) and potatoes au gratin (white gravy and a little burned cheese.) My half a chicken was ... small and thin, the Mary-Kate Olson of chickens. Dessert was a dense (but not moist) slice of chocolate cake on a bed of chocolate ribbons.

In fairness to the staff (who wer all quite professional) they did have to feed 170 people with a time frame (the length of time the club had reserved the room) and they did an efficient job.

Breaking News

The NY Mets have hired a new relief pitcher. His name is J. J. Putz! Is that funny enough? I'm kvelling over here!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Such Silliness!
National Public Radio's Joshua Wesson is a wine advisor for "The Splendid Table." He was interviewed about which wines with fast food? And before you get all giddy, a stern reminder that having an open container in your vehicle is a one-way ticket to jail.

Big Mac - the sauce is a nice combination of sweet and tart. So go for a slightly sweet or off-dry wine such as Gewurztraminer or Chenin Blanc.

Taco Bell Spicy Burritos - there's a reason most people drink beer with Mexican foods so look for a sparkling wine - not champagne, but perhaps Prosecco.

Twinkies - with that gloppy center, you need a palate cleanser - Asti Spumante!

Champagne is Good For You!
Cheryl Forberg, writing for Spry magazine, said so. Champagne flutes only hold 4 to 6 ounces; that's only 90 to 135 calories (versus 5,000 for egg nog.) The bubbles may force you to sip, not slug it down (another portion control.) Champagne is high in antioxidants "that may bost your brainpower."

Hey, It Worked...
Coming home from the gym, I was thinking pleasant thoughts about a Boar's Head hot dog for lunch (they aren't as junk-filled as other brands.) Then I remembered the only sandwich bread in the house was the heels. While I will be rude to get the baguette heel, I will not touch a heel of sandwich bread.

Then I remembered the hot dog at a South Texas golf tournament -- wrapped in a tortilla! Stuck the hot dog in the microwave, turned on the gas burner and warmed my tortilla, added a stip of Velveeta cheese down the middle of it and "buttered" the rest of it with mustard. The hot dog further melted the cheese and I rolled it up like a cigar and ate it. Worked like a charm!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Broccoli (Ugh)

When George Bush, #41, said he hated broccoli, I cheered. I cannot imagine just steaming it, adding a little "butter" and pepper and actually eating it. It just tastes "too green" for me. I do cook it; I do serve it, but I sauce it with oyster sauce, or soy or hoisin or... or... something! Not naked broccoli.

Bon Appetit arrived yesterday and in the 'I ate at such-and-such restaurant and really loved the (fill in food item) - can you get the recipe?" column some deranged person wrote in from Seattle (rain-damaged brain?) raving about the "Broccoli Blasted" served at the Black Bottle restaurant. (I would have reversed the title, but ...)

Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper
1 1/4 lbs. broccoli crowns, cut into florets -- 8 cups (argh!)
3 1/2 T olive oil, divided into equal portions (1 3/4? Not good at fractions)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Big pinch of dried, crushed red pepper

Oven at 450. Toss the broccoli in one of the olive oil portions; spread it out on a rimmed backing sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Put the garlic and red pepper in the rest of the olive oil and drizzle it over the broccoli, tossing it a bit with a spatula. Roast it a bit longer -- about 8 minutes -- until the broccoli begins to brown. Remove it, put it in a dish and serve it.

I looked at this and had to admit that roasted asparagus turned out well; perhaps this would, too. You give it a try and get back to me. I'll just wait here for your report ...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Let's Have Some Fun!

Mondays are grim enough as a general rule and it looks like its going to rain out here (with any luck at all.)

A respondent to this morning's Dear Abby/Ann column wrote: Grandchildren are God's reward for not killing your teenagers.

I'm just back from visiting the Burnt Food Museum which is reasonably zany. Some wing nut has amassed a collection of burnt foods and periodically has exhibits of said burnt offerings.

Master Gardner Shepherd Ogden, of Cook's Garden: "Surround the garden with porous rocks, like cinder blocks. Collect the urine of carnivores (i.e. people) and douse the rocks with it. No creature big or small will cross the pee line." I think this would be a man's job, myself...

Problem: We're about to have an open house and I don't want to run back and forth with trays of mini-quiches to and from the kitchen. Solution: Richie's new crock pot -- which is a generous oval shape -- with about 1 in. of water in it and the clear lid turned upside down and filled with goodies! I'll have my OWN steam table!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Once Aloft

Today -- Sunday -- is the Western Nuseumof Flight's holiday Open House at the Torrance airport. You'll find it at 3315 Airport Drive in the Red Baron Hangar #3. They'll be offering free admission, aerospace and science gifts for sale and the opportunity to pose with several of the old war birds and biplanes. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

These are always interesting to us -- Richie's Navy work involved installing electronics in prop planes (all they had back then) and my father was a barnstormer. He and his best friend somehow got the money together to each buy a biplane and then they lived off the land, so to speak. They offered farmers the chance to go aloft and view their own farmlands from the air -- $5 a trip. When funds were short (most of the time) they would cajole a good-natured farmer into letting them park the planes on a field and sleep under the wings. My Dad also once worked an air show -- he did the wing walk -- successfully -- but for the dramatic grand parachute jump, there was a lot more drama involved than he would have chosen. The parachute failed and he fell 1,200 ft. before it belatedly (to say the least) opened 50 ft. about a field of corn stubble.

Obviously he survived, but his right ankle was "scrambled like an egg" according to one doctor, his shin and thigh bones were broken -- all so severely damaged there was talk of amputating it, but he absolutely refused and (finally) left the hospital weighing 120 lbs. He was 6 ft. 2 in. and must have looked like a pencil. His right leg was 3/4 of an inch shorter than his left, but he did not limp and the only person who knew it was his tailor.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Two Funny Dudes

"Freakin' Fabulous - How to Dress, Speak, Behave, Eat, Drink, Entertain, Decorate and Generally Be Better Than Everyone Else" by Clinton Kelly Simon Spotlight Entertainment $24.95 237 pages

He is the co-host of TLC's program "What Not To Wear" (which I've never seen) and his book covers a great deal of previously unexplored material. For example, interior noises at the dinner table -- upper half, apologize once (from behind your napkin) saying "Excuse me" NOT "Damned cabbage keeps repeating on me!" and go on eating; lower half, say "Excuse me,"leave the room and make no explanation upon your return.

You hold a wine glass by the stem, not the bowl, to preserve the temperature at which the wine was served. His grammatical tips on Lay vs. Lie (something most of us have had trouble with at one time or another) "Lay means to place something -- you lay a Xanax on your lover's pillow before bed." "Lie means to recline -- you lie around the house all day because you're hungover."

His is a fresh and funny voice.

"Tales From the Dad Side" by Steve Doocy William Morris $25.95 203 pages

Doocy is the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster and co-host of "Fox & Friends" (which I've never seen) and his is a much more mature voice. He and his wife are the parents of a son and two younger daughters, now college age. Doocy covers incidents from their births to today and compares a lot of these experiences with his own with his father.

The thrust of this book is that fathers are different than mothers who tend to be nurturers -- fathers tend to be worriers -- and "That's the greatest understatement since Noah turned on the Weather Channel and found out that the next 40 days called for a 20 per cent chance of light rain."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Other Cultures, Other Ways

I'm a great armchair traveler but rather than a general over view - "The Magnificient Alps" or "The Beauties of Paris" I want the details of daily living. Conde Nast Travel is currently running a series on how to behave in foreign countries (business meetings, who pays in a restaurant) and today's lesson was Tipping 101. (You may view the others at

China has a "no tipping whatsoever" policy in the better hotels (which stick you with a 10% extra fee anyhow) but since you can't rid us Americans of the nasty habit of tipping everything that moves, China has relented somewhat -- if you insist on tipping, do it quietly and out of sight, never in front of employers. This presents a delightful picture in my mind... hotel corridor, guest furtively sticks head out of the doorway, spots a maid down the hall -- 'Psst! Psst!" urgently... maid turns, comes to the doorway; guest whispers "In here"... the maid looks furtively around and slides in. "Here," the guest whispers, "Take this." The maid bows silently and scuttles away.

Japan is nearly as secretive. Tips must be enclosed in a clean, white envelope -- some department stores even have a money-wrapping department! You should also try to get new bills in consecutive numbers from a bank, if at all possible.

Russia used to have a non-tipping policy and people were afraid to accept tips believing they would be reported to the police for taking bribes -- but not any more, not by a long shot. In Russian today, be sure to tip your waiter directly; don't leave the tip on the table because management will slide along and take it! In fact, all of Eastern Europe now expects to be tipped.

In Dubai, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Brazil, Costa Rica, France and the United Kingdom, the tip is included in the bill. Look for the words "service compris" on the tab -- in any of these countries. It's French for "service included" and universally accepted as an explanation.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Pizza

This is my sister's recipe. She calls it "White Pizza" but I renamed it for the holiday. It's a fun-looking dish and people in the past have enjoyed it.

You can prepared the crust the day before and store it as you would bread. You'll need:

1 can Crescent rolls
1 8 oz. package cream cheese (with a little milk to thin it)
1 green pepper
couple of slices of red onion
pimento-stuffed olives

Bust open the can of rolls (I really hate to do this, shudder) and spread out all of the triangles in a round pizza pan. Bake per instructions but keep an eye on them -- unfolded like that they brown faster. Assemble them loosely in a pizza shape; you want the "cutting holes" to be visible.

Let your pizza crust cool and then thin the cream cheese and "butter" the crust with it generously. Cut rings of green pepper and put them on; cut a slice of red onion and put those rings on top. Slice the olives into rounds and place them artistically among the green pepper and red onion rings. Put it out with a pizza cutter and stand back and admire your handiwork.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kitchen Tricks

"The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper" by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift Clarkson Potter Publishers $35 338 pages

"The Splendid Table" is a program on public radio and the women who run it have put together a book of "Recipes, Stories and Opinions" which is quite interesting. Some tidbits ...

The Vinegar Man - Lawrence Diggs -- runs the International Vinegar Museum in beautiful, downtown Roslyn, SD. It features vinegars made from all kinds of plants, paper made from vinegar (!) and the Web site is

Bag your own lettuce; store-bought bags can carry salmonella. Buy a head of lettuce (any kind,) wash and thoroughly dry the leaves (don't tear them up into salad size just yet) then put them in a ziplock bag with a paper towel to wick up any moisture. Squeeze out all of the air, seal the bag shut and put it in the crisper. Ozygen and water are a lettuce's enemies.

Learn to measure dry ingredients without using cups or spoons. Next time you have to measure something, use the proper spoon -- 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 --but dump the contents in the palm of your hand, not the dish. You'll very quickly learn how much you need. Just don't do this when baking; baking is a precise science (and probably why I hate to bake and do it so badly.)

Freshening frozen shrimp: Squeeze the juice of a lime into a medium-sized pot, add the rinds and about a quart of water. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Raise the heat, add the frozen shrimp -- even in a block of ice -- cover the pan, bring it back to a boil and immediately take the pan off of the heat. Drain the water off, but keep the shrimp in the pan -- off the heat -- partially covered for 15 minutes then go ahead and use them.

This sounds suspiciously bad to me, but perhaps you are more open-minded ... It's called a "65 degree egg" and what it is is this. Turn your oven on to 150 degrees and wait 20 minutes. Put the raw eggs -- in their shells -- on the oven rack and forget about them for two hours. (Salmonella dies at 140 degrees.) When the eggs have been in there for a couple of hours, remove them, gently crack the shell and ease the egg out, being careful not to beak it. The eggs are said to be exceptionally creamy. Eat with a spoon.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Leafing Through ...

Rickle's Letters by Don Rickles Simon & Schuster $35 ('way overpriced) 211 pages (half of them blank. I read this in about half an hour.) About what one would expect from Mr. Rickles: "Dear Arnold (Schwarzeneger) Lose the cigar. It's hard enough to understand you without it."

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan Little Brown & Co. $23.99 358 pages
Akpan was born in southern Nigeria, was ordained a Jesuit priest in 2003 and received his MFA in creative writing in 2006 (Univ. of Michigan.)

If you want to read scarier fiction than anything Stephen King ever dreamed up, I recommend this book of five short stories. The first one - "An Ex-mas Feast" features a destitute family of six children -- girls 12 and 10, a boy 8, twins age 2 and a baby. The mother gives the kids New Suntan shoe glue to sniff -- sniffing glue discourages hunger -- while berating the father, "You didn't work two days last month!" The 12-year old is a street whore, albeit a smart one -- "It's better to starve to death than go out with any man without a condom." The 8 year old takes the baby out begging. Even their dog is pregnant! But the matter-of-fact attitude of the characters shocked me.

We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee Weinstein Books $24.95 261 pages Mee, formerly a columnist for the UK's Guardian Weekend, is degreed in psychology and has spent the past 10 years studying animal behaviors.

His story begins in the South of France where he and his wife have bought land and a pair of barns, planning to refurbish them. His sister sends him the real estate ad for the "Dartmoor Zoologial Park" and after many troubles (painstakingly and tediously spelled out) he and his mother buy the place and she, he, his wife, their two kids and his brother move in -- 12 bedroom house.

At first I thought he was amusing enough - typical English self-deprecation - but by page 180, he begins to seem a bit self-centered, a bit "put upon, O God" if you will. Still, it is too bad his wife died of brain cancer with such young children.

Marrying Anita by Anita Jain Bloomsbury Books $24.99 307 pages She was born in Northern California of Indian immigrant parents, graduated from Harvard and worked as a journalist in Mexico City, London, Singapore.

While working in New York, she became frustrated at the "Sex & the Single Woman" life style. Deciding to listen to her parents -- who have been blissfully married for some 40 years after an arranged marriage -- she moves to New Delhi in search of a husband. After all, "Was looking for a husband in a bar any more barbaric than traditional arranged marriages?"

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Holiday 5 & 10

No, not a dime store. I'm talking about weight gained during the run from Halloween ("Damned kids -- left me with all of this candy") through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

W magazine's December issue had a feature on how people such as chefs, restaurant critics and the extremely social ("Oh, dahling, during the season, we're out every night!") keep their slender figures.

In fairness, most of them work out on a daily basis. But of much more importance is the balance they employ -- if they eat a rich dinner, the next day they have broth or a salad or an egg-white omelet -- light meals, as compensation. They also dine on only a pair of appetizers or the main course -- no appetizer, no soup, no salad -- and they eat their vegetables.

They're referred to in this afticle as "Thin Foodies" meaning that they tuck right into the foie gras, pork bellies (said to be the rage sweeping Manhattan; doubtful) and so forth. One added, "And you can take home the petit fours -- a lot of people don't know that you can ask that your dessert be boxed."

Yet another said, "You might as well have your salad tossed in the kitchen -- you'll eat less of it" rather than asking for "Dressing on the side, please." Still, with a thick dressing, I prefer to have it on the side, dip my fork tines into it and then spear some salad.

Apparently, with prudence, it's possible to roll with the pigs at dinner and soar with the eagles at breakfast! All right!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Revenge and Nazi Bubble and Squeak

Revenge! (of a sort)
Thinking that we might enjoy a three-day Last Stand before Christmas in Las Vegas, I went to and checked out hotel prices. They're giving rooms away! And considering all I have given them ... only fair.

December 2 to 4 -- Paris - $99/night; Rio $75/night; Bellagio $139/night.
December 9 - 11 Paris - $80/night; Rio $61/night; Bellagio $129/night.

Granted, these are midweek prices, but I also saw $39/night at the various Coast hotels and downtown, an unbelievable $20/night.

I checked the fares on MAA (a Major American Airline) and was aghast to read RT $299 per person. Go to and see if you can't get a better deal.

Gas is much more reasonably priced now (for the moment) but it's also a five hour drive from LA to Las Vegas. Which is worth more money -- your time or your nerves? Your choice...

Nazi Bubble & Squeak
The other day, Richie (who has been on some kind of mission to "Cut costs!") said, "You better do something with that sauerkraut in the refrigerator" so I did. To explain the unlikely name I gave it ... in Great Britain, "Bubble & Squeak" is a cabbage/potato dish. German cooking gave us sausages, sauerkraut, caraway seeds (and Nazis.) Thus:

1 potato, peeled and cut into 1/4 in. slices
1 T olive oil
2/3rds of a can of sauerkraut
1 T caraway seeds
2 Boar's Head all-beef hotdogs

Coat the bottom of a pan with a tight-fitting lid with the olive oil.
Put the potato slices in the bottom of the pan
Spread the sauerkraut across the potato slices
Sprinkle lightly with the caraway seeds
Quarter the hot dogs and stick them in the sauerkraut
Put the pan lid on and put the dish in the oven -- 300 degrees for an hour.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hello, Sailor!

This is a quick navy bean soup for rainy, cold days. I have to use canned beans because every experiment with soaking the beans/lentils has most definitely not worked. Maybe it's something about being only 200 ft. above sea level?

1 can white beans (I like Trader Joe's cannillini beans, probably because they're only 79 cents a can)
1 slice onion, minced and sauteed in bacon fat (Midwestern habit - keep an old can in the freezer, drain off bacon fat into it; when the can is full, toss it in the trash)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced and sauteed with the onions
1 dash of liquid smoke
white pepper to taste

Saute the onion and garlic in a heavy-bottom pot, add the beans, about 1/2 a cup of water and the liquid smoke and pepper.

Just before serving, take the potato masher and bust up the beans a little for a thicker soup.

In other news -- I tried the butter-brown sugar and rum sauce recipe last night and it works!

This morning, I printed out the labels for our Christmas cards and now cannot find the purple Hallmark bag with the five or six boxes of cards... They are Somewhere in this house; I know it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Uncharted Waters

The Chart House, 231 Yacht Club Way, Redondo Beach 90277 310-372-3464

About 20+ years ago, we had a bad dinner at the Idylwild Chart House (I'd hate to be hanging as long as those shrimp) and vowed never to darken the door of another one - to explain why it took all these years for us to go to the local one. Since the entryway is through a long parking garage to a building directly on the sand, we'd never even seen it!

What we did see was a big banner advertising their Thanksgiving dinner out on Hermosa Avenue. Normally, we would go to Ports O Call and bask on the patio, but rain was threatened. So we looked at each other, shrugged and I made a reservation.

The restaurant doors are visible after you drive into the parking garage and they open to what you see above. Ocean in three directions.

We both ordered the Thanksgiving Day dinner, preceded by a shared shrimp cocktail. It came to the table in a blue glass bowl, set on an off-curving stem -- five big prawns. The surprise was the sauce -- like a gazpacho with tons of river shrimp! Quite innovative!

Their holiday dinner consisted of: white and dark meat (they couldn't give me white meat only,) cornbread stuffing with pan gravy (not enough gravy for me; I like to wallow in it,) mashed potatoes or a baked sweet potato with rum butter sauce,* creamed spinach ("No thanks," I told our server) cranberry relish (in it's own sweet little dish) and choice of pecan or pumpkiun pie. $24.99. The shrimp cocktail was $12.99 and I much prefer a flat $25 or $13.

The food came out plated and was as it should be -- tender turkey, moist dressing, a properly slit and squinched sweet potato ... and all was well until we got to dessert. My slice of pecan pie was cold and gluey. It reminded me (unpleasantly) of those little pecan pies you can buy in gas station convenience stores. Richie gloated that his pumpkin pie (graham cracker crust) was superior to theirs (flour crust.)

It's not fair to judge a restaurant on a holiday when "Oh, we're booked solid from 1 to 7 p.m." so we'll have to go back. I could certainly deal with another shrimp cocktail and perhaps a trip to the salad bar (they have caviar!) -- $16 for salad as dinner; $7 as an add-on.

*The rum sauce was a melting ball in the middle of the steaming sweet potato. My best guess at duplicating it -- and I'm going to try to because it was tasty -- would be to cream equal amounts of brown sugar and sweet butter together, adding a little bit of dark rum to thin it faintly and then chilling it and serving it with a melon baller as a scoop.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you're going somewhere, I hope you get there with a minimum of fuss.

If they're descending on you, I hope they go home early and leave you some leftovers!

Us? The gym, then 11:30 a.m. brunch at the Chart House. This is flying blind for me; normally I Google the restaurant, pull up the menu and decide what I'll eat before I ever leave home. Not this time. The laptop won't open their site. I didn't ask when I phoned for reservations so I don't even know if it's a champagne brunch or not, menu only or a buffet... Tell you all about it tomorrow.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Specs on Speck

Speck is smoked proscciutto and I'd never heard of it until last week, when I came across it as an ingredient in some dish. Next day, there it was in the Trader Joe's meat case, so I bought a package. To be frank, I'm not that crazy about prosciutto since it takes forever to chew it up enough to swallow it.

Of course, I had no idea what I'd actually do with it, but it's always good to have hors d'oeuvre fixins during the holidays. Then I was saved by the bell -- literally -- Bob called and invited us over to meet three of their grandsons, along with two of their girlfriends. With a shout of glee, I accepted and grabbed my speck! A tasting panel in the offing!

The panel's ages varied; we had five men and four women, none of whom had ever tasted speck, but all of whom were familiar with prosciutto. Hands-down, we all preferred speck. It has a tougher texture than prosciutto; it has tiny flakes of salt - much like dried beef -- and the same coloring as it, too -- a darker red meat with a whiter fat than prosciutto.

Belatedly curious about what I'd eaten yesterday afternoon, this morning I looked it up. Speck originated in the 1300s in northern Italy and German when it was hung up to smoke inside the peasant's kitchen chimney. Today it's "cold-smoked" (never higher than 68 degrees) in modern, well-ventilated facilities. Traditionally, it's smoked for two or three hours a day -- for three months.

"Speck" in German means "lard" and comes from "bachen" or bacon.

Mario Batalli wrote about speck -- a pork leg is cured in salt and a choice of flavorings -- juniper, pine, cinnamon, nutmeg or coriander over a pine or juniper wood fire. Naturally he touts Speck della Alto-Adige, Italy, which formed a committe that oversees production and name rights and believes theirs to be the only authentic speck to be found.

Don't tell Trader Joe ...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bermuda Foods and Fancies

Prior to the 150-passenger ship's arrival on Friday, July 28, 1609, Bermuda was uninhabited and undiscovered. And the ship's arrival was an accident as it had been blown off course during a storm. The first "Gilligan's Island" perhaps?

Fish and wild hogs were plentiful, but eight took off in the long boat which survived the landing and were never seen or heard from again. The remainder built two ships and all but two men took them and left as well. They went to Jamestown, their original destination, and imagine their shock and dismay to discover that only 60 of the original 500 settlers there had survived. They turn right around and went back to Bermuda.

By the late 1800s, Portuguese farmers from the Azores were brought in and farming, as an industry, grew. The first bananas ever exhibited in London came from Bermuda. They are the chief crop of the island.

The people who live there are formally called "Bermudians," less so as "onions" (Bermuda onions are a famous export) or slangily "rock happy." They also have the Bermuda Junior Service League which published this book of Bermudian recipes. Two (so far) caught my eye and both are for tea parties - Brits you know, must have their cuppa.

3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teas. vinegar
1 teas. butter
food coloring
pinch of salt
"flavoring" rum? vanilla? The book didn't say which onoe OR how much.

Put sugar, water and vinegar in a pot, low heat and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Boil gnelty without stirring for 20 minutes. Add the butter and salt and continue cooking until the candy thermometer reads 290 degrees.

Take the pot off the burner and stir in the food coloring and "flavoring."

Pour this mixture about 1/8 in. thick into the bottom of muffin tins that have been well greased with shortening, not butter. When they are cool, turn the pan upside down and tap them out. Wrap individually in candy wrappers.

WEISSE MAEUSE (White Mice in German)
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter
2 cups flour

Mix all ingredients to make a soft dough. Shape into 2-in. long crescents and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 350 until golden brown - about 30 minutes. Makes about 30 "mice."

Monday, November 24, 2008

6 of 1; Half-a-dozen of the Other

The other day, Richie said, "I want to make this" thrusting a Bon Appetit "Tastes of the World" cookbook at me. Experience has taught me to be wary of these pronouncements and I've trained him to always show me the recipe.

I scanned through "Spiced Beef with Chilis and Vegetables" (Mexico) and said, 'Why don't you just make chili, add a potato, a carrot and a can of beef broth." He frowned.

"Why don't you use stewing beef, not the hamburger they're calling for and have a kind of a Mexican daube?"

"We'll see," was his response.

Do it your way is my suggestion, but I have to say the stewing beef worked wonderfully.

1 T olive oil
1 lb. ground beef or stewing beef
1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5 oz. can diced peeled tomatoes (I'd leave them out; hate canned tomatoes)
12 oz. potato, peeled and sliced
1 large carrot, diced
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 teas. dried oregano
2 teas. chili powder
1 teas. ground cumin
1/2 teas. ground allspice

Brown the meat, onions and garlic; add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the vegetables are done, about 15 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat and cook until liquid thickens - another five minutes. (Or after you put it all together, put the lid on, and stick it in a 300 degree oven for an hour. - My Way.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Handy Household Tips

The Turkey Right now a lot of people are planning to cook a turkey and they're kinda, sorta uncertain as to exactly how long it should cook. A friend sent me this foolproof method, but it means stuffing the bird's cavity with dressing, not cooking it separately in a casserole dish.

Make your usual dressing, but add this ingredient -- a half a cup of popcorn. Mix it in, stuff the turkey, set the oven at 350. Put your turkey pan -- neck to the back wall of the oven -- in and go do something else. After about an hour, you will hear popping noises. Grab your oven mitts! When the turkey's ass blows the oven door off and the bird flies across the room -- it's done!

Mending Tips When I worked in offices and wore skirts and suits, I'd often find that I'd ripped a bit of the hem open. For lightweight, flimsy fabrics I used Scotch tape; for heavier fabrics, like tweed, I'd use a stapler. Yesterday the inseam of my very favorite white pants opened about two inches along the thigh. I bought those pants when I was a size 14, then went down to a size 10. The pants were still newish (and I loved them) so I took them to the tailor, who took them in. Clearly this gap in the thigh was a result of re-tailoring.

I have duct tape (aka "200 mph tape" in the automotive racing industry) and that perhaps my thighs have expanded a tad, I turned the pants inside out, laid a strip of duct tape across the seam and viola! Mended.

With an extra, added benefit. When I went to go to the john, the loose edges of tape ripped the hair right off of my thigh. But hah! I fixed that, too. I stuck a strip of toilet paper over the duct tape and all is well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dressing or Stuffing?

I read (somewhere) that if you cook your dressing inside the turkey, that's stuffing. If you cook it in a separate casserole dish, that's dressing. I knew you would want to be au courant.

Thanksgiving = "Fall" to me ... smoky leaf fires, the hard glare of light... trees bare against the sky (none of which happens here in Southern California incidentally.) Dried fruits mean "Fall" to me -- the fresh robustness of summer's apricots, cherries -- gone in that form, but resurrected (so to speak) in dried form. I serve dried fruits with the Brie ... snicker about fruitcake aka "American Abomination" and then my thoughts turned to dressing.

Dressing is kind of a neither this nor that in that most people also serve mashed potatoes and gravy. I prefer to substitute dressing for the mashed potatoes and slather my gravy over it.

My dressing recipe is very simple - baguette chunks, chopped onion, black pepper, a little sage; all bathed in chicken broth. I'm thinking now of adding a quarter of a cup (or less) of chopped dried apricots, cranberries, pistachios and maybe a handful of raisins. I want the hint of those flavors, not the maximum statement.

Something to mull over at any rate ...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Long Time Coming

We went to our first fixed price dinner last night -- three courses and three choices at each course. The reason I've never done this is there is always something included that I refuse to eat. Roy's, Rancho Mirage, tempted me strongly -- lobster dim sum to start! -- followed by some kind of Hawaiian fish and ... that was that.

Le Saint Raphael (previously reviewed) was saluting the start of the "new" Beaujolais season and consequently, for $35 per person, one was offered a glass of chilled Beaujolais as a "Welcome!" followed by: appetizer - French onion soup or a plate of charcuterie (wedge of very good country pate, prosciutto, French ham, salame with a slice of brioche toast and cornichons) or the cheese plate (grapes and strawberry slices and servings of Brie, Camembert, a domestic cheddar - cut to look like carrot sticks, very amusing -- and another hard cheese.) For the main course - Beef Bourgogne or fish en papillote or Chicken Cordon Bleu. Dessert was Creme Brule or Chocolate Cake or Tarte Tartin.

I managed to stretch it to four courses by asking that my cheese plate be served after the beef bourgogne while I shared Richie's ample plate of charcuterie. Robaire, our server, stretched it to five courses by giving both of us a flute of champagne along with the bill!

When he approached and it was clear that he intended to do it, I blurted out with suave sophistication, "Is it free?" and he smiled, nodded and said, "For the most beautiful woman in the room!" I had to laugh (and what I said back in French is not repeatable for your gentle ears.)

We both ordered the Beef Bourgogne which came with green mashed potatos (basil infused) that might be more appropriate for St. Patrick's Day, a lighter version of maque choux, the Cajon corn dish and a serving of very salty but tender beef. The owner's mother was working that night and she visited our table a ouple of times to chat. When I complained about it, she commiserated and said, "I know! I tell him it's too salty or too spicy, but he doesn't listen to me!"

Le Saint Raphael is owned by the family who own the Creme de la Crepes. The mother of Jessica (Le Saint) and Bruno (the Cremes) said that she is 56 years old, but I promise you she doesn't even look 40 -- 4 ft. 8 in. and size 0 to boot. Damned French women anyhow.

This was a great experience )and I'm obviously still remembering it with warmth) due to Robaire's professional serving (I caught his eye across the room, he gave a great start and hurried over to our table -- he's a gifted clown,) generally good food and the friendliness of the owners. I remember when Creme de la Crepe opened in Hermosa Beach and that Bruno (presumably) always had a friendly word and concern that you were enjoying your food. It's an excellent family gene to have.

Le Saint Raphael, 522 S. Pacific Coast Hwy, Redondo Beach 90277 310-543-5100.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Bad Case of BC

Yes, I am Baking Challenged. I hate the exactness of baking -- 1/4 teas., 1/8 teas! Why don't they just say "pinch" and leave it at that? Measuring out a cup of flour and then having to level it off with a knife blade. Maddening. But more than anything else, I cannot stand the feel of flour on my hands which is pretty much a career ender right there.

So it was a happy surprise to come across two cookie recipes that even a dullard like myself could make fairly easily (or so I think without actuallly having tried to do it.)

Damon Lee Fowler (previously covered,) writing in Bon Appetit, has shared these with us. Fowler is a Southern food writer of great distinction -- he once wrote an entire book on fried chicken which strikes me as "Southern eccentricity" to the max, but what does a Damned Yankee know?

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teas. salt (pinch, dammit!)
2 teas. finely grated orange peel
3 large eggs
24 oz. (about 6 cups, firmly packed) sweetened, flaked coconut
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted to garnish

Turn the oven on to 325, plan to use the center rack. Line three, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat the butter until smooth, add the sugar, salt and blend. Beat in the orange peel, then the eggs -- one at a time. Mix in the coconut and drop the batter on the cookie sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 in. apart.

Bake them, one sheet at a time, for about 25 -30 minutes. You want them golden brown on the bottom and browned in spots on top. Let them cool and then drizzle them with the melted chocolate.

Dough: 1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, room temperature
1 3-oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
1 T sugar
1/4 teas. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

Beat the butter, cream cheese, sugar and salt. Stir in the flour -- the dough will be soft and sticky. Shape the dough in a disc, cover it and chill it for at least two hours. Then form the dough into 24 1-in balls, press them into a mini-muffin pan, forming them into a shell shape. Chill for another 15 minutes or so.

Filling: 3/4 cup golden brown sugar
1 large egg
2 T amaretto
2 T (1/4 stick) sweet butter, melted and cooled
1/8 teas. salt (tedious - why not just say "5 grains of salt")
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, toasted almonds
1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate morsels.

Pre-heat the oven to 350, then whisk the sugar, egg, amaretto, butter and salt together. Stir in the almonds and chocolate morsels and spoon this filling into the shells.

Bake until the crusts are golden and the filling is set -- 23 to 25 minutes. Let them stand until you can pry the shells out of the muffin pan and store them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ice Rink Update!

Our Man in the Air reports from his 4th floor condo that Ruby's Diner blocks their view, but they heard no noise at all last night. He went on record as saying, "I think it's a great idea and hope it's a success."


Yet thoroughly arrogant.

The CEOs of "The Big Three" flew into Washington, D.C. -- on corporate jets, no less -- to plead for corporate bail-outs.

Rick Wagner, CEO of GM, uses a $36 million jet and refused to discuss his ride, brushing it aside with a "That's not important right now." GM is seeking some $10 to $12 billion in aid.

Alan Mulally, Ford CEO, made it part of his employment contract that he and his wife are to have the use of a corporate jet because, see, they don't actually live in Detroit, but in Seattle and commute weekends. This is one of Ford's eight (8) private jets. Financially-troubled AIG has already sold two of their seven jets, but Ford management said that selling any of them was "non-negotiable." Mr. Mulally's annual paycheck is $28 million.

Robert Nordelli, Chrysler CEO, used one, too, but further details were not forthcoming in the article.

I say, "Buy a Toyota!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ice Skating at The Beach!

No, your eyes do not deceive and I'm not drunk (at 11 a.m.? Horrors!) Starting today at 4 p.m. one can go ice skating -- outdoors where it's 80 degrees --at the Seaside Lagoon, Redondo Beach. The rink will be open for 55 days. It's $14 for adults and $12 for kids to skate for 1 1/2 hours and includes the skates.

In summer Seaside Lagoon is a warmed sea water kids' lagoon. The sea water is pumped out of the electric plant where it's used to cool the generators (I think.) It's shallow water throughout and has a sand beach.

The ice rink is the brainchild of Scott Williams and Tom Kearney and it's 120 x 60 ft. The generators are rated at 800 amps each and the two refrigerator chillers weigh 11,000 and 16,000 lbs. respectively.

The engineering interested me particularly. How the hell do you create an ice rink at the beach? The Daily Breeze said that first the sand was leveled. Foam boards were laid on the sand, then covered with a plastic liner and a series of tubes put down to circulate the propylene glycol, a coolant. When all that was done, the tubes were sprayed with water to form ice to a planned depth of three inches. A temporary road of steel plates was put down so that a forklift could bring the chillers and generators across the sand.

I wonder how much noise the generators/ chillers make and how loud the "Skater's Waltz" will be because directly across from the Lagoon are several sets of condos. The residents will be out on their balconies howling like wolves if it's at all loud.

Another consideration is the fact that we've been warned repeatedly that there may be rolling blackouts due to the fires. It would seem a tad inconvenient if, when this thing is lit up, every bit of power in the South Bay goes out. The good news is that they began making ice late yesterday afternoon and nothing happened at all.

Whatever the inconveniences may turn out to be ... to get your annual Christmas photo shot while you are ice skating at the beach in a bikini? PRICELESS!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Table Crumbs

Lobster Bibs! Grab yours and head to a Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill (; locations in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado)

Lobster tacos and burritos are back! Since we dasn't step foot in Baja right now (great civil unrest) and we miss Lobster Village, a Rubio's was an acceptable substitute. I had the tacos which came on soft flour tortillas with chips (hit the salsa bar for a variety of flavors) and a little pot of beans. Richie had the burrito (and my beans.) Portions are generous and I like it that there's fresh cabbage slaw instead of lettuce, tomatoes and cheese on the tacos. I always feel quite virtuous after a meal at Rubio's -- they promote themselves as "healthful" and I see no reason to doubt them (even though an hour later I'm hungry again -- like Chinese food.)

Useful Citron Sauce This is good with seafood including crab cakes. You're going to be blending Lime Curd with Limoncello liqueur and a little fresh lemon juice. It's your choice as to how thin you want it. The lime curd is the base (very sweet) and the Limoncello gives it a little pep and then the lemon juice jumps in and cuts it nicely. Serve it cold or heat it up in the pan that you cooked shrimp or scallops in.

Oven-Roasted Hash Brown Cakes -- This was billed as a Christmas day breakfast dish, but given the amount of prep time and 45 minutes to bake, I don't see it as a real time saver. But it did sound good.

Set the oven at 425
1 1/2 cups paper-thin onion slices
1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, Peeled (or not) and coarsely grated - about 2 1/2 cups
pinch of salt
2 T melted sweet butter

Put the onions in a big bowl; put the potatoes in a smaller bowl with the pinch of salt let them sit for 5 minutes. Use your hands and squeeze out as much liquid as you can and put them in with the onions. Drizzle the butter on top and stir it in thoroughly. Divide into four mounds on a baking sheet, pressing them into cakes with a spatula. Roast 15 minutes at 425, then turn the oven down to 350, flip them over and let them bake until they're golden brown with lacy edges - about 45 minutes.

Easier: I had a pork loin roast in the oven and a leftover potato so I peeled it, sliced it into 1/4 in slices and put the potatoes in a shallow saute pan with olive oil, added chopped red onion (a couple of slices) and three garlic cloves, minced. I cooked it the first 45 minutes or so with a lid on (to thoroughly cook the potatoes) and the last hour with it off to crisp them up. The garlic carmelizes and is chewy...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Strange Day

The ashes are so plentiful that you can look directly at the sun with no ill effects. The resulting light is a strange, yellowish hue that reminds me of the light during tornados in Kansas City, MO, all those years ago.

There is no wind here; the very tops of the trees move a little bit, but nothing else.

The neighborhood is strangely silent for a weekend. The garage band (it truly is one) is not practicing; even the dogs on their walk-abouts aren't barking.

The only siren I've heard all day was the noon siren from Hermosa Beach's fire station.

Very strange, almost a solemn feel all around. God bless and protect the fire fighters especially.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Southern California Fires

Live urban, not suburban -- reason? Here in Redondo (and a lot of other local places) we live in concrete enclaves. We don't even have sidewalks per se, we have concrete driveways. Since our houses, on average, are situated 36 in. apart, we have access to neighbors' water hoses, a fire station 1 kilometer away ... you get the idea.

A Subscription Pays Off

Yesterday the December issue of Bon Appetit arrived. Some months I read along and shrug; others I find things that I would like. December was a real gift --and I'm only halfway through it!

My first "Ah-hah!" moment hit early on - page 28 -- where readers write in for favorite dishes from restaurants. Someone wanted the wok-fried edamame with garlic and chilis found at The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong, Honolulu. We first ate edamame at Roy's, Rancho Mirage (you may recall our embarrassment at eating the pod, instead of shelling out the soybean and eating that...) We liked them, but it never occurred to me that one could make them at home -- until page 28.

1 lb. unshelled edamame (soybeans) Trader Joe - freezer section.
2 T soy sauce
2 teas. oyster sauce
1 jalapeno chili, seeded and minced
1 teas. sesame oil
2 teas. peanut oil
2 teas. peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced

Cook the edamame in boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and put edamame in a bowl of cold water to crisp.

Stir the soy sauce, oyster sauce, jalapeno and sesame oil in a little bowl, set aside

Heat the oil, add the ginger and garlic, saute until beginning to brown, about one minute.

Add the edamame and stir to heat through, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixure, stir one minute to coat; transfer to a platter and serve as an appetizer.

On page 62, I found gold! Years ago I cut out a color photo of an Italian dessert with dried fruits and chocolate and pasted it in the "Dessert" section of my 3-ring binder of recipes. Since I didn't know the name of it, I couldn't look it up -- until page 62!

1/4 cup dried black Mission figs - 3 1/2 oz.
1/4 cup orange juice
2 T honey
1/2 teas. ground nutmeg
1/4 teas. ground cloves
1 1/4 teas. grated orange peel, divided
1/2 teas. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted (how about pistachios?)
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
14 standard paper muffin baking cups

Cook the figs, orange juice, honey nutmeg and cloves and 1 teas. orange peel in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the liquids coat the figs, stirring occasionally - about 6 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cinnamon, 1/4 teas. orange peel and the nuts.

Put the muffin cups on a baking sheet for stability. Melt the chocolate and put 1 teas. chocolate into the bottom of each paper cup. Top the chocolate with about 1 teas. of the fig mixture. Chill and peel off the paper cups.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Boots on the Ground!

Scroll down - rt. hand side My boots on a crack in the sidewalk, representing the Big One...

Dateline - Redondo Beach - Great Southern California ShakeOut This is Nina Murphy for FOXY News -- I'm currently embedded with some CERTs (screen runs "Community Emergency Response Team" below) of about 20 to 23 people. Most of them are in the required gear for an exercise - ID on a cord around the neck, work boots, clothing they don't care about, reflective vest and CERT hard hat; gear bags close to hand. I can't disclose our actual location, but it's a local park. We've been here (glances at watch) exactly one hour and nothing whatsoever (frowns) has happened ( brightens) But I can tell you that the bullhorn works and they are available at Radio Shack! We're told to be ready to convoy out in another 20 -- or 30 -- minutes - back to you, coops!

"Thanks, Coops - we convoyed over to the northern end of Melvyn's, on the south side of the now defunct Comp USA -- there are ambulances, fire engines and fire fighters ... a police car ... as well as many volunteers and several tents for signing up -- everyone must be registered and given a wristband with their ID number on it -- and then re-registered to go out in the field a a medical tech or search and rescue team or as a runner to team leaders. I'm told that the information booth inside the mall needs a pair of volunteers to explain to shoppers what is going on (maniac grin) at the Great Southern California ShakeOut! (Serious again) Search and rescue teams have all been issued small green information cards to hand to shoppers as they've been instructed not to stop and give explanations. This is very serious business, Coops

"Camera and I are still waiting for an assignment -- we have now been standing around for a full two hours and frankly, this is not what I signed up for... if we aren't chosen in the next few minutes, I think it's safe to say we've seen enough ... back to you, Coops

"Thanks, Coops ... this is Nina Murphy for FOXY News saying "Goodbye for now" Camera and I are headed out to Cialuzzi's Italian restaurant for a glass of wine and dinner -- when we were leaving at 5:40 p.m. some volunteers had just been told to set up the medical tent and three search and rescue teams were still cooling their heels against the side of the old Comp USA. We began this exercise promptly at 3:30 p.m."


To explain our turn-tail stance ... Richie and I have participated in a number of drills and exercises since graduating CERT -- I graduated Class 11 in 1999; Richie was Class 19 and they are up to Class 30+. We have done several search and rescues, a previous major disaster scene, gone back for additional training in Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) as well as re-certification in CPR. We attended this drill in proper clothing, gear bags at hand.

It was interesting to observe the bare bones of an operation of this magnitude. Now we know what to expect from volunteer help -- which should prove interesting in view of reality -- cracked streets broken water mains, power lines down and gas leaks in addition to crumbled buildings -- making the possibility of assistance like this rather ... unlikely. As an education tool it was invaluable.

But take it to the bank -- we're all doomed. My advice? Stay home and take care of your own.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Would You Like a Footstool?"

Asked our waiter as Pat and I slid onto a banquette and Bob and Richie pulled up chairs at our table. He had two black "boxes" under his arms and at first glance, I thought they were kids' booster seats! Gracefully, Pat and I declined.

It reminded me of restaurants in Baja where ladies are given a footstool for their purses (El Rey Sol) and the Estero Beach Hotel where our waiter pulled out a chair (I thought he was joining us) then picked my purse up off of the floor and gently deposited it in the chair.

Michael Franks and Robert Bell have a playful touch -- instead of offering bread and butter, staff puts out small dishes of a gently-flavored onion dip (creme fraiche is one ingredient) and a white bean dip and a basketful of restaurant-made potato chips and poppadams (and, yes, I had to ask what they were. Delicious!)

They have been co-owners of Chez Melange, their creation, for the past 26 years. Their new location is 1611 S. Catalina, Redondo Beach 310-540-1222. The signage is mostly over the patio, but there's another entrance into both the restaurant and the new gastropub and that's the door next to the garage driveway. Nice touch -- the "door" to the dining room is a brown velvet curtain.

The dining room is elegantly understated with muted walls and a judicious use of dark wood trim. The wall facing us was windowed, but at night the curtains are closed which mutes any noise. Tables are spaced just far enough apart to give privacy to one's conversations. Servers in crisp white shirts and black pants were friendly and plentiful.

Our water glasses were swiftly filled, drink orders taken -- they have a beer list (!) in addition to a wine list. Richie ordered the split pea and bacon soup ($8) and the crab-stuffed prawns, wrapped in prosciutoo and pan-roasted with a basil lemon sauce ($15.) I started with the romain salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese ranch dressing ($9) then the prawns. Pat stayed with just a bowl of split pea soup, planning to share Bob's veal sweetbreads with Italian black truffles and porcini mushroom risotto ($26.)

All of our food was very good indeed and portions were generous. My salad fed me, Pat and Richie! The crab-stuffed prawns came three to a plate and were huge. Since I avert my eyes from sweetbreads, liver, all innards, all I can tell you is that Pat and Bob said they were delicious. The forkful of mushroom risotto given me had a sweet and garlic-y taste. We finished off with a creme brulee (Pat and Richie's favorite) which came to the table properly blasted on top and cool and creamy underneath ($8.)

Dinner -- food only came to $80; beer and wine was $60 and I tipped appropriately. (I paid because Bob and Richie are both Navy veterans and this was my "Thank you, veterans.")

When you cost out $140 for dinner for four, we see that dinner was only $20 for excellent quality and flavor dishes and a bar bill of $15 is not hard to rack up when a (singular) glass of wine (low-end) is $7. For $35 a person we had a wonderful meal in a lovely room with excellent service!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Welcome a Great Guest Editor!

Perhaps one of the most memorable meals I ever ate was at a USO in Key West, FL. I was a young sailor in sub sonar school and Christmas was approaching. I was not going to go home due to the duty roster. I was required to stay so that others would be with family.

I was new in town, lonely and without resources. I went to a USO and there I met an older, motherly woman who was a volunteer. I ordered a tuna sandwich on white bread. She talked with me about home, family and service. She asked how I liked it after I ate it. I told her Mom used homemade sweet pickles in her tuna and toasted the bread.

She said I should come back on Saturday, the next day that she worked. I returned and she had homemade sweet pickles and made it on toast! To a lonely sailor at Christmas time, it was a red letter day and a gourmet meal.

To these volunteers, every day is Veterans Day and thank God for that spirit.

By Don, Deep in the Piney Woods

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Honor Our Veterans - All of Them

In my mind's eye I can see the LA Veterans Cemetery - it's on the right hand side of the 405 Freeway, going north. Row after row of small, white crosses ... the endless geometry of them is awe inspiring... from any angle, they are aligned as the men and women they represent were once neatly aligned on parade.

A deeper thought comes with this memory's vision. Every one of these small white crosses must have left what the military calls "collateral damages" -- grieving parents, siblings, relatives, spouses and children. Every cross represents the pain of those left behind. A soldier was killed, mourned and buried and much of the joy left that soldier's family.

In a much smaller way (after all, they lived) these people should be honored a little bit, too. War is hell on everyone except the generals.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shallow Siblings

"Life with My Sister Madonna" by Christopher Ciccone with Wendy Leigh Simon Spotlight Entertainment 342 pages $26

Let me go on record: I have never admired or even liked Madonna; don't believe I've ever heard any of her music, seen any of her movies or video appearances. Her recurring photo spreads in W magazine have been more than enough. The last series suggested that she'd had (enjoyable) sex with a stallion (yes, as in 'horse.') When I finally stopped laughing, I was appalled at the vulgarity, but then vulgarity has always been a Madonna trademark.

Why then, you ask, would I read this? To further fuel my hatred of her! What other possible reason could there be?

Ciccone starts his account in London during "The Girlie Show" 1993 appearances. We learn that she tries to run her life according to a strict timetable, makes incessant lists, is an insomniac and rarely sleeps more than three hours a night, wears size 7 shoes and that her favorite books are the diaries of Anais Nin (an earlier Madonna?) the poetry of Anne Sexton.

She doesn't allow the air conditioning to be used, claims she's always cold and that it's bad for her voice. Her contract riders spell out that her dressing room must be painted white; only white flowers are allowed - gardenias, tuberoses, lilies. No meat or alcohol admitted. Four boxes of her favorite candy -- Hot Tamales.

And that was just in Chapter One.

Ciccone professes love and admiration for her and then gets nasty. It was an engrossing read because underneath all the "I love my sister!" runs a deep river of resentment and loathing. Ciccone says she doesn't sing that well and is certainly not an actress; he's walked out on various of her movies, they were that bad. Not surprisingly "Uncle Christopher" has rarely been around her daughter Lourdes and never her son Rocco. "They're always with their nannies" he whines. He, I believe, is always with his mirror -- very much like his older sister. It's definitely a coin flip about which sibling is the most self-serving, spoiled or shallow.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Stretching A Dollar

Avocados are plentiful here in Southern California, but in the Midwest where I grew up, they were rare. They were considered "exotic" -- much like the Florida orange we'd find in the toe of our Christmas stocking each year. I seem to remember they weren't called avocados either, but "alligator pears."

Two 10-oz. packages of frozen peas, thawed and drained
1/3 cup sour cream
3 green onions, chopped
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 T lemon juice
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teas. ground cumin
pinch of cayenne
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender.

Two 15-oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 4-oz. can diced green chilis
2 green onions, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teas. chilil powder
pinch of ground cumin

Use a food processor to combine these ingredients, but don't over use it -- you want to be able to discern the bean shape.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Airline News

Cribbed from the Vanguards' newsletter for November, 2008. Vanguards is the retirement club of a Major American Airline (MAA.)

In 2009, American Airliens plans to "unbundle" passenger services. They will offer a lower base fare with the option of paying for extras such as: checked baggage, a blanket, beverage (does this include water?) or an aisle seat.

Back in the day ... LaGuardia (LGA) is one of the few airports in this country where pilots go by landmarks (on the ground) rather than instruments to land on Runway 31. Pilots are told, "follow the Long Island Expressway to the eastern side of Shea Stadium (which is said to look like a giant blue donut with a green center from the air) bank the plane left around the outfield wall and go straight to Runway 31."

But: Shea is going to be replaced by a new stadium to be built in Shea's old parking lot. The report said, "Pilots will have to go through a bit of trial and error before figuring out just when to bank with this new landmark." Cheery news indeed, eh?

Get Your Flu Shot and Get On! Last year O'Hare offered flu shots to passengers and 5,000 passengers took them up on it. About two dozen airports plan to offer the shots this year at kiosks set up near the gates.

TSA expects to be able to lift restrictions on 3-oz. bottles of liquids, gels and aerosols by Fall, 2009. Equipment has been up-graded to recognize the difference between a harmless liquid and explosives. Nice to know... that they can't do that today!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gloom and Doom Predicted

The financial crisis seems to be abating (but I haven't checked the market today) even though yesterday's Drudge Report headline made me laugh out loud -- the morning after the election, the market took the steepest dive since (fill in a date -- any date.)

It would be irresponsible of me not to recommend some cheap recipes so that we could all survive a Worst Case Scenario should there actually be one (which I seriously doubt, but anyhow...)

Bread and water have been traditional panaceas (along with a catsup packet) for the starving. I was 21 when I moved to New York, promptly ran out of money (who knew a checking account wasn't the same as a charge account?) and my roommate Jane and I survived for a week on cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup (10 cents a can) and crackers.

COOKED WATER SOUP aka "Acquacotta" by Biba Gaggiano
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (soaked in 2 cups lukewarm water for 20 minutes)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, thinkly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cups canned Italian tomatoes with juices
4 cups water
pinch of dried red pepper flakes
3 large eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan
8 small slices toasted Italian bread

Drain and rinse the porcinis, then chop them roughly
Heat the oil over high heat, then saute both sets of mushrooms, adding the garlic and 2 T parsley.
Transfer this to a saucepan on high heat; add the tomatoes, water and hot pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered 25 to 30 minutes.
Beat the eggs, adding the Parmesan and remaining parsley; put two slices bread in each bowl, cover with the raw egg mixture and then pour the boiling hot soup over the toasts and serve.

24 saltine crackers
4 T melted butter
Topping of choice -- sesame seeds, rye or kosher salt

Turn oven to 400, float the saltines in shallow pans of ice water - about 20 minutes -- then lift out with a slotted spatula, and put them on a greased baking sheet.

Brush the crackers with the melted butter, taking care not to press down. Top with the seeds and bake until the crackers are puffed and golden -- about 20 - 25 minutes. Serve warm or let cool on a wire rack and store them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


As the smoke from a family barbecue in Kenya drifted skyward, in a different place and time, another event was taking place. A Parallel Universe (wholly-owned subsidiary of Murf Ink) also had an election and by a unanimous vote, I was elected as "Son Altesse" (Supreme Ruler.)

After gracefully accepting my subjects' cheers and applause, I immediately settled down to work. My first task is to obliterate racism in all of its guises. It is just as racist to applaud blacks for getting out to vote for a black candidate as it is to publicly yell, "I ain't votin' for no nigger!"

It is racist for our media to identify people as "African-American" or "Mexican-American" or "Whatever-American." Until there is no distinction made among Americans, racism will exist. This identification is unnecessary and it's demeaning in the extreme.

Steve Lopez, long-time LA Times columnist, this morning lauds the Tolliver family for having turned out "Bernard, 30, an insurance agent. Aaron, 27, about to enter the LA Police Academy; Alexandra, 25, just graduated from the university of the Arts, Philadelphia, with a major in dance." Why was this family singled out?

Mr. Tolliver owns a barber shop in South Central LA, traditionally a black neighborhood. The condescension I see displayed here is absolutely unforgiveable. The inference that "This poor black family has done so well" is insulting to the family and more so to the speaker. Very few of us of any color simply sailed through a higher education without some hardships.

Lopez went on to write "For more than seven years, he (Tolliver) and the customers at his Florence Avenue barbershop have treated me to one of the best, longest-running shows in Los Angeles." I.e. "at the minstrel show?" in other words. Blacks let themselves down by letting this guy hang around.

It should be said, too, that much of the racism blacks feel is generated by their acceptance of such as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Maxine Waters -- professional racists all -- and as such should come with that label attached to them at all times.

I'm working to convince my people here in A Parallel Universe that: we ARE different in our thinking, our habits and our beliefs - a good and absolutely necessary thing -- but the color of our skin (or wrapping paper, if you prefer) doesn't matter at all.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just Fill in The Blanks

It is understatement to say that I no longer trust the media, which has been going on and on about early voters! "I waited three hours to vote!" "I waited five!" ("I camped out last night in front of the polls....ACHOO!")

Given my petty and vindictive nature, I am curious about how true this is (or isn't.) Therefore I ask you to fill in the following sentence and return it to this blog as a comment.

When I arrived at my polling place in (name of town) at _______ o'clock, there were approximately ______ people there and a polling person told me, "____________
___________________________________________________ (re attendance.)

Update: When we arrived at our polling place in Manhattan Beach at 9:20 a.m., they were doing a good, but brisk business due to the efficient way the Masonic Center had been laid out. Redondo Beach residents went to one side; Manhattan Beach to the other side of the room. There we were all processed quickly and sent to a booth -- approximately 8 to 10 for each of the two cities.

I know (sigh) -- I can't even follow my own instructions!