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!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jane!

Today is my sister's birthday. She's eight years younger and my only sibling. Yes, for eight glorious years I was An Only Child. I did adjust well to her arrival though despite a somewhat shaky start ... her bassinet stood on kind of wobbly legs and when I bent over to pick her up, I jostled it and two of them collapsed! She flew up into the air, did a perfect summersault and landed (thankfully) on her back. No damage done (except to my nerves -- I thought I'd killed her.)

Later on, I invented a game in which she starred -- I called it "Dump Truck." As she slept face down, I would hook a couple of fingers in the back of her diaper, gently lift it --and her -- up about three inches and -- let go. Our mother marveled at my sisterly devotion; she said, "Every time Jane cries, Nina is right there!"

When Jane was little, it was thought that she was allergic to chocolate so our mother made Maraschino Cherry Cakes for her birthdays. I remember (vaguely) that making this cake was a big deal because the cherries were so expensive -- something like maybe $3 for a 6 oz. bottle? Expensive goods in those post WW2 days.

And, in truth, Maraschino cherries were for the monied. Originally they were made into a liquer -- for royalty and their rich friends in Europe. They were introduced to America in the late 1800s -- in fine restaurants, of course. Today it amuses me to know that I can buy what looks like a half-gallon jug of them at Smart & Final, Iris for probably $8.00.

Sift in a bowl --
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teas. double-action baking powder
1 teas. salt

Add --
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup cherry juice
1/2 cup milk
16 (16) Maraschino cherries, cut up
Beat two minutes with an electric beater

Add -- the unbeaten whites of four large eggs and beat two minutes more
Fold in 1/2 cup walnuts

Bake in a sheet cake pan or two layer pans at 350 for 30 minutes. Frost with either powdered sugar or boiled frosting.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Surfeit of Chocolate

Salon du Chocolate, Place de la Porte Versailles, Paris 75015, France

Michelle forwarded the site and several pictures of the wonders to be seen at this "All Chocolate; All of the Time" exhibit. Models swirled around a stage wearing dresses made of chocolate..beautiful vases of flowers graced the auditorium -- all made of chocolate.

This is (apparently) an annual tour (I had to cobble together information from various Web sites.) It closed today in Paris and will then go to New York Nov. 7-9, then Moscow Nov. 28- 30; Tokyo Jan. 21 -26 and finally back to Paris Oct. 14 - 16, 2009 (mark your calendars.) I wondered how they transport all of these chocolate items -- and realized they tour in the winter months...

A staistician wrote that Belgians eat the most chocolate -- 23.59 pounds per person per year! Amazingly, we Americans are only good for about one pound a year per person.

The French accounted for $3.44 billion and more than 360,000 tons of it, but the CEOs of such as Cadbury and Karft Foods are hoping for a big break through in China. It's believed that the Chinese have little taste for "sweets" but that once they see this exhibition, Katy bar the door!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Settling In

Getting used to being here ... the bathroom is down the hall; the cafeteria is upstairs.

It's acting like it's going to rain (but probably not; this IS Southern California) so will cook a pork roast for dinner and try this new dish with it. Pork and Sweet Potatos/Yams seems like such a natural to me ...

1 egg
1/2 teas. lemon juice
pinch of pepper
2 T minced crystallized ginger
1 1/2 T honey
2 medium sweet potatos (about 1 lb.) peeled and grated
1 small onuion, grated
1 1/2 T flour
1/4 teas. baking powder (Say what?)
Oil for frying

Combine the egg, lemon juice and pepper. Add the ginger and honey and mix well. Stir in the sweet potatoes and onion. Sprinkle the flour (going to omit the baking powder) over all, mixing well. Form into small flat patties and fry.

You can save half of them for another time in the refrigerator. Reheat them on a baking sheet at 450 for about 5 minutes.