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!