Sunday, May 31, 2009

Butter II

Author and researcher extraordinaire Margaret Vissar was born in South Africa and went to schools in Zambia, Zimbabwe, France and Canada where she now lives. She has written books on social rituals, fate and an "ordinary church" as well as "Much Depends on Dinner." Some gleanings...

The Potato Famine came to Ireland and butter (used on potatoes, porridge, bread) became scarce (mainly because the cows were dying of starvation.) It became a mark of Christian charity to offer a guest a bit of butter for his or her bread. So widespread was this practice that one Neidh O'Mulconry's tombstone called him "the head of the inhospitality of Ireland" because he vowed often and publicly that he'd never give bread and butter together to guests.

The Irish, Norse, Finns, Icelanders and Scots all flavored butter with garlic, crammed it into a wooden firkin* and buried it in the bogs. It was usual to plant a tree above your firkin of butter so that you could find it again, years later.

In Morocco they knead butter with various spice and herbs; then cook it, salt it, strain it and store it in stoppered jugs. Each family takes pride in their ability to produce a fiine-smelling "smen" (butter) and occasionally a guest will be allowed the honor of sniffing it. Otherwise it is saved for gala occasions such as a wedding.

Butter, being plentiful (except in winter) was for the lower classes; the nobility might use a bit in a sauce, but otherwise ... 'Peasant food, dahling." And, for their snobbery, they suffered from vitamin A deficiency and got bladder and kidney stones for their pains. Today, the rich will eat a little fat -- but never enough to make them fat.

At our house? Company gets "real" butter; we use a substitute. But if you want to cheer up a bowl of tomato soup -- throw a cube of butter into it. You have peasant food (the soup - I've bought Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup for as little as 10 cents a can) and the elite's butter. Best of both worlds, you might say.

*Firkin is 1/4th of a full-sized barrel. Butter, measured by the amount in a firkin, equals 56 lbs. Firkins themselves are wooden buckets with a handle and lid.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Are We "Butter" Off Without It?

"Much Depends on Dinner: the Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal" by Margaret Visser (unofficial winner Longest Book Title Probably Ever) . Collier Books 351 pages $10.95

Visser has carved a career out of exploring the history, anthropology and mythology of every day life. This book focuses on a simple meal - corn on the cob, chicken and rice and salad. The butter on corn on the cob apparently sets her off on an excruciatingly detailed account of butter.

She posits that butter could originally have come from traveles in northern climes, carrying leather bags of milk. As they walked or rode, the milk-filled bag jolted and swayed (essentially acting as a churn) and viola! Butter.

The color of butter used to be determined by the cow's diet. Pale in winter (no grass) and darker in summer. To get a desirable color, people from the Middle Ages onward tinted it with various things -- crushed marigolds, carrot juice, saffron and annatto.

Because butter can only be churned in a cool environment, northern Europeans ate it while southern Europeans used olive oil.

It was considered so rich in the Middle Ages that it was banned for Lent. But, by paying the Catholic church a fee, one could indulge. The "Butter Tower" of Rouen Cathedral was constructed from these proceeds.

Butter was practically unknown to the Japanese (before exposure to the West) and they were appalled at the scent of people who did eat it. They called them "bata-kusai" or "butter-stinkers.

To be continued because there is much to depend on butter.

Friday, May 29, 2009


Last night our neighborhood (north Redondo) had a police helicopter flying in circles for nearly two hours. At 8:45 p.m. a bullhorn bellowed, "We have you completely surrounded -- come out now and surrender!" ... and nothing more. No gunshots, no sirens, no nothin' -- just the helicopter whirring away.

Nothing in either of this morning's papers. Nothing on the radio. I went to two of my sources (both excellent, by the way) and one of them said he'd look into it; the other said he might have to wait until his wife gets home from work.

Waiting to find out is killing me! When I do -- I'll be back.

THIS JUST IN (and how cool is this?)
Councilman Steve Diels forwarded the following message from (presumably) the Chief of Police to his constituency here in District 4:

"Mayor and Council: This is still an on-going investigation but last night we were able to arrest several people (4) we believe to be part of a larger robbery ring operating in the South Bay. The initial crime incident began at Aviation and Dufour Avenue. Assistance was requested from surrounding agencies. We also called in a helicopter to aid the foot pursuit. A PR release will be issued today. Bill"

Thursday, May 28, 2009


(I'm onto something interesting, but I have to do homework on it.)

A Funny Gift for a Boater - It's a life vest cover for a bottle of wine. Bright orange with a snap-buckle close -- all you need to do is attach a cord to the collar so that if goes overboard, you can just pull it back in. Ask your sommelier for one ... $12.95

Going International Was Never Easier - In preparation for a trip to France, we went into our local AAA offices and got international driving licenses. I don't think they're needed there, but they are an additional form of identification.

Talk about one-stop shoping! AAA handed us a form to fill out, looked at our California drivers' licenses, took passport photos of us -- and issued the licenses (a little grey cardboard book, wider than a passport) then and there! The photo was $8; the Permit was $15. These are linked to your state driver's license. When mine expies on 4/25/10, so does my new international license.

Finally! A Taste of Ireland - In 2006, we toured Ireland. In Dublin, we ate at The Gin Palace, O'Connell and Middle Abbey Street, and had their signature dish of Gambas Pil Pil which were prawns served in a sizzling garlic and chili oil sauce with fresh baguette slices to sop up the sauce. Damn! they were good! Because the restaurant's pocket menu is on my desk, I got to thinking about them ... bought a half pound of fresh shrimp (you don't want pre-cooked) and put about 1/4 cup olive oil in pan. I added equal parts Chipotle chili powder and garlic powder and let it all sit for a couple of hours. For dinner, I got the oil going good, popped the shrimp in and cooked them. Served on slices of toasted baguette, it was close to the original. Close enough for horsehoes and hand grenades at any rate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green First Aid?

"Go Green!" is a fad that doesn't seem to be going away. Cars, houses ... and now first aid? Granted, French pharmacies have had a bright green cross over their doors (when the light is on, the pharmacy is open) since neon was invented. Pharmarcists there are treated much like a visit to the doctor. The patient describes symptoms, the pharmacist nods knowledgeably and then prescribes.

Comes now Graham and Rosemary Haley who wrote "Haley's Hints Green Edition: 1,000 Great Tips to Save Time, Money and the Planet!" which is quite a job if you ask me.

They suggest the following remedies for summer:

Sunburned? Toss a handful of baking soda into a bathtub of warm water and soak.

Mosquito bite? Dip a cotton ball in vinegar and daub at the spot.

Bee sting? Make a paste of baking soda and water, slap it on and let it dry.

Poison ivy? Rub the area with the inside of a banana peel! The Haleys are quoted as saying, "It should reduce the irritation within a few days." And I add, 'If you can stand to smell like a banana for that long."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reflecting on Life While Dressing for a Funeral

A fellow Beach Cities Health District volunteer has died and the services are set for 11:30 a.m. today at the Inglewood Park cemetery. Therewas no obituary so I don't know if it will be in a chapel on the grounds or literally graveside.

Funerals have changed a great deal in just the last five years. More often than not, they are a "Celebration of Life!" which is very nice even though no one seems to want to be the first speaker at one. Not knowing what to expect (no obit) means: What to wear?

In olden days, one had a black outfit hanging in the closet, ready to go (summer and winter weights, thank you very much.) The last formal funeral I went to was my father-in-law's (full Catholic mass, procession to the grave, graveside send-off.) Conversely "all black" at a Celebration of Life! pretty much indicates you got it all wrong...

Without Miss Manners' counsel on what to wear to a morning funeral, I think black loafers, pants and blazer; long-sleeved white shirt are going to have to suffice. My volunteer ID badge can provide any necessary color and explain who I am.

It's not about me, but being there represents the organization since I only knew her from it. I can hear the usual hisses, "What was she thinking?!" plenty of other places. It is only respectful to dress properly.

I was online, looking for directions to the cemetery, and up came which lists famous burial sites. She will be in interesting company -- two of the O.J. Simpson lawyers - Robert Kardashian and Johnny Cochrane, Jr.; former LA Mayor Tom Bradley, Sugar Ray Robinson, Cesa Romero, T-Bone Walker, Ella Fitzgerald, Hoot Gibson, Betty Grable, Gypsy Rose Lee and Paul Bern (Jean Harlow's husband briefly.)

Naturally, it's a grey, overcast day. Should make for a positively Dickensian atmosphere.

* * *
The sun finally did come out, but the main service was held indoors. We were late (we didn't know that one of the main roads there was all torn up) and when I read the program, I was glad -- we missed someone singing "Over the Rainbow" which I do not doubt dissolved everyone there into wads of wet Kleenex.)

She had a good-sized crowd; we weren't the only ones who had to stand in the ante room (but I was the only one dressed like a waiter.)

The service blended traditional with celebration-of-life. A Baptist minister led a prayer and read the Scripture, remarks from the audience were limited to two minutes per person and it ended with a prayer. Guests were then urged to their cars for the graveside service.

Beach Cities Health District was well represented with about six of us present.

That Jerry drove the land speed racing car her husband and son built at over 200 mph was mentioned several times. She enjoyed reading, gardening and volunteered in several programs for the elderly and children. Above all, Jerry was a great lady; she had the gift of making everyone in the room feel right at home.

She was born 11/6/1937 and died 5/20/09. I would have sworn she was only 62... No cause of death was mentioned, but a guest told me "lung cancer." Given what I know of her character, I would have bet that she eschewed futile efforts to prolong life. After reading the poem in the eulogy, I believe it. Selected lines: "This isn't death - it's glory!" ... "This is the end of pleading for strength to bear my pain; not even pain's dark memory will ever live again." (by Martha Nicholson) Godspeed, Jerry.

We repaired to the Proud Bird (previously reviewed) had a Bloody Mary and ate our way through the buffet. (Very good lobster ravioli, pork loin -- and desserts.) You need to keep up your strength after a funeral ...and no one else is going to do it for you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Magic Boat Shoes

Your eyes crossing at the idea of magical boat shoes? Ah, but you don't have the pair I do ...they're khaki suede with a moccasin toe and white rope bow.

Boat shoes are the epitome of East Coast preppy dressing to me. Their aura is ivy-covered university walls, the beaches of Montauk, the rocky coast of Maine ... of yachts, sails snapping in the winds off of Connecticut ... casual lobster barbecues on the club patio..

When I slide into my boat shoes, the old fat lady (me) disappears. In her stead is a taller, leaner woman wearing a navy and white French sailor's tee, chino calf-length pants; one arm looped casually around the main mast of a 38 ft. sailboat, blonde hair being tossed insouciantly by the breeze. I'm toasting the waves with a glass of champagne. Admiring males are roaring at my bon mots ... it's a very pleasant world that I enter every time I put on my magic boat shoes.

And their history is, you ask? A guy named Paul Sperry was out with his cocker spaniel "Prince" one nasty winter day in 1935. He noticed that the dog ran easily over the frozen muck and slick spots of ice. He wondered why, but by the time they got home again he'd figured it out -- the dog's paws gave him traction. He sat himself down with an old pair of sneakers, bits of leather and a razor blade. He used the blade to cut grooves in the rubber sole (for traction on wet decks.) He oiled the leather uppers (to make them water resistant.) He marketed the finished product as "Sperry Top Siders" which is still the leading brand for boat shoes. Indeed, boat shoes are part of the U.S. Naval Academy's casual uniform.

But I bought the magic pair. And they were on sale! How magical is that?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wretched Excess

I've been having a love-hate relationship with Vogue magazine for some time now. They're often unrealistic ("Rinse your blonde child's hair in champagne") or wildly impractical ($3,000 for a pair of boots?)

Occasionally they do run an interesting story about a rich, white woman (American or English) and "Her World." Every month there's an Auntie Agony column called "Up Front." June: "Battles of the Heart - While her husband was reporting in Iraq, Anna Menendez received a letter that sent her marriage into turmoil." (Doh. He was cheating on her!)

Always there is an article on unlikey beauty treatments (all requiring vast sums of money.) This time? Skin-tightening lasers and fat-dissolving ultrasound! All in the quest for Eternal Youth which is really quite shallow when you think about it.

But "Last Look" (last page) is what's got me scrambling to cancel my subscription. There's a full page photo of a bicycle. As it is the June issue, it is suggested that the groom buy it for the new bride. Read along with me ...

"The Abici Amante Donna city bike now comes fitted with Fendi's luxest (Ed. say what?) Selleria leather accessories. Seat, handles, thermos case and GPS HOLDER are all cut and sewn by hand. The fully-outfitted picnic basket/make-up case bears the house's signature stamp" (a horse.)

I would question the need for a GPS on a city bike. I laughed out loud at the leather-etched drawing of a horse on the basked-- on a bicycle!

The Fendi Abici bike is $5,900 and the detachable case (which looks like an old trunk -- wonderfully unwieldy on a balance-necessary item like a bike) is $975. Thus $6,875 for something that won't last on the streets of New York for longer than it takes you to swing a leg over it.

Impractical to the nth degree. Goodbye, Vogue; it's been real. Er, no, it hasn't.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fun with Dick and Jane

Today's To Do List -- meet "D" at noon at Pier Plaza, Hermosa Beach; go directly to the food court where "D" will have a bratwurst, Richie a Santa Maria tri-tip sandwich and me an egg roll (followed by a bacon-wrapped hot dog.) We will then saunter around the exhibits and displays at a leisurely pace. Having decided (yet again) that there is absolutely nothing we're interested in buying, we will repair to the Poopdeck, order a pitcher and settle world affairs.

HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY - may your pitcher never run dry and your barbecue fire never go out.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Few of the 10,001 Things of Dr. Bader

(Sounds like an avant garde German film title, doesn't it?)

* If you lose a contact lends in the evening, turn the lights off and use a flashlight to explore the ground. The lens will reflect the light.

* You've got one of those pressurized lids with the little pop dot which won't? Take a beer can opener and, using the tip, pry gently along the bumped out edges. This will finally release enough air to make the lid "pop" and you can easily lift it off.

* Never fish near a bridge or off of one. The pollution from vehicles is tremendous. That fish which looks so shiny and good can make you sick.

* Is eating fish really necessary for heart health? Harvard tracked 45,000 men and their eating habits. The heart attack rate for men who ate fish six times a week was the same as it was for men who only ate it twice a month!

* River fish have more flavor because they have to swim against the current and thus, they exercise more than a lake fish. (Amusing mental picture - the diligent river fish vs. the indolent, drifting lake fish ...)

* There's a good reason I love shrimp (basically because they aren't fish which I hate.) The cholesterol content of shrimp is higher than that of fish, but: the cholesterol count for shrimp is lower than any other type of meat product and doesn't have a lot of saturated fat.

* I know people who love their steak rare. It makes me cringe to see the blood on their plate. But wait! That isn't blood!? Dr. Bader says it is a pigment called myoglobin found in all meats that gives it a reddish color. Blood gets its color from hemoglobinm. The red juices are, for the most part, colored by myoglobin and water.

* Hot dogs were first sold in America at Coney Island, Brooklyn, by a German immigrant named Charles Feltman. Muscling in on the business, one Nathan Handwerker (Nathan's Hot Dogs) began selling them, too. He made his employees wear white coats and stethoscopes -- to denote cleanliness after a rumor spread that hot dogs were made from ground dog meant! Hot dogs aren't made of weiner dogs!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Joys of a Mini-Vacation

"Vacation" to me means "someplace else." Yeah, I am easily amused...

Yesterday morning, over his coffee, Richie read in the LA Times Food section of a barbecue chef that travels with some of our local farmers' markets. . Westchester on Wednesday was the place to be.

For non-locals, Westchester is north of LAX. We rarely "go north" so much of it is unexplored territory. The farmers' market was near the Howard Hughes Center, a huge, sprawling mall.

Except that it wasn't. We went into Nordstrom Rack and while Richie buttonholed clerks and customers about the market, I scooped up a pair of Sperry Top-Siders and two t-shirts. Since Nordstrom all by itself is a very expensive department store and Nordstrom Rack is the home for errors in buying; stuff that didn't sell well, I made a killing -- saved $52.

A sales clerk told Richie that there used to be a market- a long time ago - and, oh! it was on Saturday not Wednesday.

Disappointed (no barbecue) we shuffled back towards the car. "Hey! Since we're this far north, get over on Lincoln and we'll go to Baby Blues BBQ. So we did.

(Previously reviewed: Baby Blues BBQ, 444 Lincoln Boulevard, Venice 90291

We had a pair of lunch specials for $10 each (pulled pork on a toasted, grilled ciabatta roll with cole slaw on top and beans on the side.) Their beans are different -- kidney, black and pinto beans with slabs of onion in a thickish broth. It was all very, very good and I could kick myself for waiting some three years to go back there. Portions were so generous we had the leftovers for dinner. I love it when we can get two meals out of one. But we did eat all of a slice of key lime pie...

Coming home, Richie took Venice side streets and the residential section is far different that of Venice Beach. Well-kept houses, tidy lawns and no bizarre characters.

We left around 11 a.m. and were home at 2:15 p.m. We saw new places, ate very well and I saved $52 shopping for things I needed and wanted.

It is good to get off of the reservation every now and then...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Be The Bread Winner!

Dr. Myles H. Bader is a preventive care specialist whose "10,0001 Food Facts, Chef's Secrets & Household Hints" was published in 1998. He tackles making bread in the first chapter.

Crusts too hard? Put a little metal container of water in the oven while the bread bakes.

The secret to a softer crust is to open the oven door and throw in a few ice cubes halfway through the baking time. The dense steam will provide just enough moisture to keep the crust from becoming hard. It also allows the bread to rise more easily for a nice, firm, chewy inside of the loaf.

Knead dough on a wooden board. Plastic boards don't have the tacky surface or "grabbing quality" that wood does.

Whole wheat bread quick rise -- add a tablespoon of lemon juice to the dough as you're mixing it.

To speed up the rising time for bread dough, put the pan with the dough on top of a heating pad and set it on "Medium."

Conversely, on very hot or humid days, the dough rises too quickly and becomes very hard to knead.

As a substitute for yeast, you can use one teaspoon of baking soda mixed with one teaspoon of powdered vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is just acidic enough to make the reaction work.

Always add the yeast to the water; never just dump the water on the yeast. The weight will kill it.

So -- may your dough always rise and may you always have dough enough to make dough!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Deja vu? Pee Yew!

"The Girls From Ames, a Story of Women and a Forty-Year Friendship" by Jeffrey Zaslow Gotham Books $26 297 pages

The vapid mewlings of a bunch of shallow teen-age girls who couldn't find anyone else to be friends for the next 40 years!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cultural Differences

To my utter amazement, I discovered that France (!) has supermarket trashbloids!

Why is that so surprising? Isn't curiosity about our fellow man pretty much a universal thing? Not in France. There, people run well-regulated, private lives except for breaks to yank up cobblestones and assault the police or go on strike. Ah, those proud French -- they love a good strike and any slight (imagined or not) is good enough.

The French are a sharp-eyed lot that can price out your clothing from shoes to hat in a nanosecond as you walk past them at a sidewalk cafe. They themselves are impeccably dressed; not for them the casually tied sneaker or yanked on jeans.

Here, in America (land that I love) we are a great deal more casual, thus differences exist in their trashbloids and ours.

Ours tend to the puerile -- "Oooh! Jen Talked to Brad! Angie's Furious" but theirs deal with deeper matters. Some recent cover headlines from France Dimanche (Sunday in France or French Sunday, as you prefer.:)

"He died in the arms of his last lover!" about Gerard Blanc. (Editor's note: He was in a hospital bed which is not nearly as dramatic as what one might have thought...)

"January 17th, the day of his death, I opened my veins"... Mimi, widow of Carlos.

C'mon! "Opened my veins" is great. I imagined a great Roman noble, reclining in a marble bath in a crowded bathroom, surrounded by weeping friends and gloating enemies, all being served wine by winsome maidens. Much more dramatic and evocative than "I tried to kill myself." Such a flat note...

"The killer of old ladies is semi-free!" about one Jean-Thierry Mathurn.

Theirs are probably as uneliable as many of ours. "I put my Cesar (French Oscar) in the barn with my garden gnomes," said Yolande Moreau.

No self-respecting French person would own a garden gnome (barn or anywhere else) let alone admit to it. "Garden gnomes - zey are for ze British," with a haughty sneer.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Small Amusements

Today is our dear friend Bob's 84th birthday. He regaled the Thurs. Writers with this anecdote.

"I saw the technician for my six months check on my pacemaker the other day. He told me that my battery is good for 5 1/2 years and I told him, 'That sounds about right!'"

Verizon has been and gone and I'm still puzzled. One of their channels is a screen that is 3/4ths black with one small corner that reads: "Comedy Radio" and a warning that adult language may be heard. It's a disembodied voice telling jokes! There is no picture at all! Yes, buy high definition -- get that big screen! So you can listen to your TV...

I'm still charmed by the fact that I can be pounding away online and the phone rings. All the people who have complained bitterly in the past, "Your line is always busy!" will be happy once again.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Who Is On First?

(subtitled) A Patient Looks at Medicine Today

Delicate Readers, there is no gore in the following message unless teeth gnashing is too much for you.

My ob/gyn, displeased with my white coat syndrome's high blood pressure, told me to go get a physical from my GP (general practitioner.) I duly present myself and after tests, he tells me he wants me to see a cardiologist and gives me a choice of two. "Let me think about it" and I depart. With help from my eye surgeon/good friend, I select one of the cardios.

I duly make an appointment. To my amazement, he's fat! We will now call him FC (Fat Cardiologist.) I gave him my test results and he was delighted to receive them. In fairness, the GP didn't know which I would choose and couldn't have forwarded the results.

FC decides I need a fasting blood test, an echocardiogram and a nuclear treadmill test. Dates are set for these.

During a follow-up visit to the GP, I mention all of the above. He asks me (!) for a copy of FC's results! Which FC should give him because the GP referred me. He goes further and tells me to ask for kidney function and potassium levels at the blood test.

Meanwhile, my ob/gyn's nurse-practitioner has been hammering me, "at the next blood test, ask for vitamin D levels." Some nonsense about bone density.

So I dutifully e-mail FC and tell him who wants what. Never hear back from him.

I go for the test this morning and the tech (a lovely lady) puts in the needle flawlessly. She's drawing blood and I'm telling her the additions. She frowns, bites her lip and says, "I need another tube for the vitamin D and I can't reach it -- and I've got the needle in ..." I grin, reach over and say, "I'll hold it." She looks a little dubious, but quickly wheels her chair back, grabs one and continues.

At the end of all of this, I apologize for any inconvenience, state further that I wasn't empowered to ask for any of them and why in hell didn't the doctors communicate their wishes to each other? She shrugged and said, slowly, "They don't seem to like to do that." In fact, she has to copy the other three with the results!

So I would advise you (if you're ever a patient and God forbid) to ask for a copy of all test results as a matter of course. Chances are, your primary physician would love to see them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The Verizon installer left about 20 minutes ago and we are marveling at all that he has wrought.
Co-axial cables, fiber optics (called, I now remember Fi-Os, not "Fritos")

Richie is in front of the TV, blissfully happy - baseball, did I have to say?

Downloads on the computers are whiz! bang! Done. But a still small voice in my head (NO! not that kind) is reminding me ... "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket..."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The End Is Near ...

Yesterday I had a doctor's appointment; Richie had the MAA (Major American Airline) retirees' club meeting. The doctor doubled my cardiac med's dosage; Richie brought home a folder they'd all received and discussed - a folder for end-of-life decisions! MAA has covered a number of (to me) depressing issues in recent months - elder abuse; setting up finances and now this. Clearly there is nothing further to be discussed after one's own death so perhaps it will be safe to go to the June meeting.

The folder - entitled "Your Way" - is put out by the Healthcare and Elder Law Programs (H.E.L.P.) Corporation, funded largely by the Ahmanson Foundation. It is a patient's directory which covers what is to be done of the patient cannot speak for him/herself. They're located at 1404 Cravens Ave., Torrance, cA 90501 310-533-1996. or
This information is FREE.

Talk about detailed! Three sets of papers: a general guideline about how you feel regarding long-term illness, persistent vegetative states and death; full funeral instructions and the legal work to declare another your "helper." I particularly like a section called "Your Additional Feelings and Views."

1. In making decisions for me, obtain the views of these people (list them)
2. In making decisions for me, ignore the views of these people (list them)
Is that hilarious or what?

The Instructions Concerning My Funeral and Burial Arrangements are practical (and when someone dies suddenly, they are beyond useful) and led me to rather imaginative thinking... "I desire for the following persons to be my pallbearers" Okay - Eric Clapton, George Clooney, Elton John...

It even asks you to list who is invited to speak -- and who is barred from speaking! "I desire that the following persons be notified, but ONLY after any services have been held." I love it! Controlling from beyond the grave! Meat and drink to me.

But all of us should have this kind of documentation. When you've completed the paper work, put it in a safe place and make a copy for those directly involved. Once this is done, you can do what my cousin in South Texas plans on doing -- he's not going to die, he's going to ascend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Pepper

In today's world with a plethora of black, white, pink and red peppers it may seem odd to learn that it was once so scarce as to be used as currency. In A.D. 410, a guy called Alaric the Visigoth (catchy, eh?) demanded 1 1/2 tons of pepper as ransom from Rome.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, peppercorns were counted out, one by one. In the 11th century, many towns kept their accounts in pepper ("1 woolen dress - 5 peppercorns") and taxes and rents were paid in them.

As always, crime comes into it (sigh) - at the turn of the century (unspecified) crooked spice dealers would cut their product with ... mouse droppings.

Back in the days of Prohibition, it was common to sprinkle a little black pepper on your martini. The pepper dragged the impurities of the bathtub gin down to the bottom of the glass. I'm led to believe Russians still add pepper to their vodka - for the same reason.

Today? Much more mundane uses. Fill the foot of an old pair of pantyhose with pepper and hang it in the closet to repel moths. You can keep vermin off of your property by laying down a layer of pepper along the boundaries. (Expensive - I'd use red chili peppers; you can buy them by the quart jar at Smart & Final, Iris.)

In the laundry - add a teaspoon of black pepper to the first suds when you're doing cottons - it stops colors from running. (Better idea - only wash in cold water.)

Add a dash to vanilla ice cream or to buttered popcorn.

The reference book says to stop small leaks in your car's radiator, add a teaspoon of pepper. Quote: The pepper sinks to the bottom, finds its way into small holes, and expands, filling them." I've cooked with pepper for years and no matter what the dish (stew, roast) the grains are always the same size when the dish is done. I don't really believe this one...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review

"I'm an only child, which means I was overprotected. My tricycle had seven wheels. And a driver."

"Men who have a pierced ear are better prepared for marriage. They've experienced pain and bought jewelry."

"My last credit card bill was so big, before I opened it, I actually heard a drum roll.'

"When you get older, you really appreciate sleep. It's the best of both worlds: you get to be alive and unconscious."

"I Still Have It ... I Just Can't Remember Where I Put It" by Rita Rudner. Harmony Books $23 251 pages

It's an amusing read, full of her thoughts on important matters such as ordering from catalogs, reality television and looking for the perfect retirement house. Rudner was born (or so says 9/17/1953 so she's not that old.

Her title got me to wondering if I still have "it." After a careful assessment, I can tell you my eyes are still a dark blue. Gravity is waging a successful war -- the mammogram tech makes me keep my bra on -- she said the machine can't get that close to the floor. I've even added things to the original "it" - marionette mouth (think Mortimer Snerd) and an assortment of wrinkles in unlikely places. I've still got "it." Just somewhat re-arranged...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

From Hero to Zero

The odds are pretty good that you've never heard the name Steve Dublanica. Reason? His identity was closely guarded as he wrote, a blog based on his experiences as a waiter in a Manhattan restaurant.

Then he got a book deal! "Waiter Rant - Thanks for the Tip - Confessions of a Cynical Waiter" by The Waiter Ecco, a Harper Collins imprint $24.95 302 pages

He starts off strongly with a conversation with a cook (unprintable here) a la Anthony Bourdain. The book moves along with a little more whining than I like, but, hey! It's New Yawk! They do that there.

He recounts the customers -- the good, the bad, the indifferent. But at least the last third of the book is a downer -- "Why me, Lord?" He rues having been a waiter for most of his '30s (at approximately $200/night take home pay.) He regrets The Life which is the opposite of the 9 to 5-ers and the difficulty of having friends outside of The Life. Very tedious. Several times I wanted to yell, 'So -- quit awready!"

It wasn't until the appendixes that it got amusing again. 40 Tips on How To Be a Good Customer; 50 Ways to Tell You're Working in a Bad Restaurant; Items a Waiter Should Carry at All Times (or Have Close By) such as "Matches - lightning birthday candles, covering up the foul stench in the employee bathroom; burning the place down (use dupe pad soaked in Bacardi 151 as a starter.)"

If, despite my misgivings about recommending it, you do read it, it is critical to remember that it was written about a Manhattan restaurant which is pretty much the reverse of any of ours. We're not living on a thin shelf of concrete over miles of deep subway tunnels; our rats aren't nearly as big nor our cockroaches as hardy.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

At the K9 Trials

First of all, it is disconcerting to this old hippy to sit in an audience composed of at least 40% off-duty cops. Sure, they were wearing cargo shorts (small guns,) t-shirts and flip-flop sandals, But I Knew. They appear to be fine breeders, most had at least two little kids with them and their wife/honey.

Alone in a vast sea of flesh came ... an anorexic woman of a certain age (probably mid-50s.) She had long blonde hair and a nice trim figure, but I think the scoop neck, sleeveless top may have been a mistake unless she was making an anatomy study mandatory.

Manhatta Beach -- who couldn't fund their Fire Department's Open House -- had two entries in the field.

A lot of the officers were working with new partners -- six, eight or 10 months duration - and the dogs were eager (avidly so) and for that reason extremely funny. One jumped all the way over the police car door mounted on a stand, not through the window as planned.

The whole audience loved the bite work. A bite suit is a pair of heavily padded pants with an equally padded top. Once encased in one, a man's head looks the size of a pea. A bite sleeve extends below the fingers and above the shoulder.

To kick off the bite work, we had a little entertainment. A "woman" (played by RB Oficer Ken) waddled across the football field, pushing a baby carriage. The announcer asked her to leave the field; she gave him the finger (we howled) and a bad guy! in a b/w striped prison suit ran up and grabbed her purse! Where upon, she tipped the carriage forward and out bounded a little dog wearing a red cape who attacked the robber.

In the first exercise, the dog wears a muzzle. A man and woman are arguing; he's got her by the arm, the police car comes by, the officer gets out and orders the man to stop. He doesn't so the officer uses his key chain to activate the police car's back door. It flies open and the dog comes hurtling out of it, chases and knocks the bad guy down (back of the knee seemed popular.) If you are considering dipping a toe into the dark side, be aware that once the the dogs have the bad guy on the ground (nanoseconds) they go right straight for the head and neck. Picture all of this without the dog being muzzled and I think you'll decide that white crime is much less stressful.

On the same note, not all of the dogs will rspond to the "Back off!" command. The poor guy wearing the bite suit behind the portable toilet should have gotten battle pay.

The sun was out, the breeze cool; the hot dogs were delicious and I can't wait for it all to happen again next year. I want to be a bite suit guy.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yay! Weekend!

Saturday, May 9th - Open house at many local fire houses -- little kids get plastic fire helmets; bigger kids get to crawl around on the equipment and the adults get to talk to the fire fighters. This gala runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Interestingly enough, the Manhattan Beach FD is NOT participating due to 'high costs" -- some $15,000, mainly for overtime for the fire fighters who host it (while the regular crew works.) Since MB is kind of our Beverly Hills, I was amazed.

This is not the day to do it, but fire stations welcome 'thank you' gifts -- See's candy, home-made cakes or cookies or pies from Marie Calendar. The best gift you can give a paramedic is to let the station know the outcome of their transport of your loved one to a hospital. Paramedics are most often left hanging and since they care, this bothers them. Understandably so.

Saturday, May 9th - the almost-annual K9 Trials (budgetary concerns in past years) will take place on the Redondo Union High School football field. The agility trials are a particular treat -- the love and trust beween officer and dog will bring a tear to even the stoniest of eyes. Bonus points for the hot dogs they serve - it's a package deal for a hot dog, small sack of chips and a soft drink. Proceeds benefit the K9 program.

Sunday, May 10th - Despite the fact that it will be Mothers' Day, the South Bay New Orleans Jazz Club will take place as usual. The visiting band this time is a group of students, many of whom are on scholarship, playing big band sounds. The music starts 1 p.m. (snacks available) and runs till 4 or 4:30 p.m. I've covered this repeatedly in the past, so apologies...

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Feeling Snarky

"Relish" is a magazine insert in Wednesday's local paper. The editor is Jill Melton and she wrote an apology for running a cover caption with "Funner" in it. In her apology, she notes that her daughter texted her "CYA." She didn't know what that meant; evidently her daughter told her was "C Ya" with which she ended this note. Her daughter pulled one off on her -- "CYA" most commonly means "Cover Your Ass." Don't you love it when kids make their parents look like idiots?

Scene: Main library elevator; Richie and I are going up from the parking lot. A man with a sleeping little boy splayed across his chest like a starfish gets on. The kid is 3 1/2, maybe 4, and totally out of it. Clearly they're headed for the kids' section and "Story Hour."

I said softly, "Someone's having a good nap" and he smiled and said, "Well, he's going to have to wake up soon!" and before I knew that I was doing it, I said, levelly, "Drop him."

The man's eyebrows flew up toward his hairline and I thought, "Uh, oh... Now I'm for it" but then he just grinned.

And a reminder from the retirement club's newspaper: Be aware that a halo has to fall only a few inches to be a noose.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

And the Thrifty Bird Settled on a Branch and Sang "Cheap! Cheap!"

The June issue of Consumer Reports ( has a list of ways to save money. Since it was culled from "staff and reader tips" ... no thanks possible...

* When you fly, take your own sandwich on the plane, do security with an empty water bottle and fill it up after you've made it to your gate.

* Instead of throwing out the plastic cover from the dry cleaners, knot up the hangar hole and use it for a trash can liner.

* Skip going to the "Live!" big-name concert and buy the concert DVD instead for about $20 rather than paying through the nose to actually be there (with the guy behind you singing along and the people in front all standing up.)

*Clothes that are labeled "dry clean recommended" can be (carefully) machine washed. But never wash something tagged "dry clean only."

* If you don't want to cook, go get takeout. There's no table service so no tip necessary and you can resist getting dessert, too. And eat only half of whatever you get and save the rest for lunch the next day.

But this is going too far -- flatten the toilet paper roll a little. It won't spin around as much and waste paper!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Green Beans

Aka "haricorts verts" in France; "runner beans" in Great Britain. Whatever you may call them, they're coming into season. Bon Appetit says so.

It's believed that the Conquistadors brought them to France in 1597 which seems rather doubtful to this writer as I don't remember the Conquistadors going to war on French soil. (Then again history is not my strong suit.) Spanish royalty married into the French line, but however difficult marital relations may have been in some cases, that's not "a war" to me.

Bon Appetit is very good at making vegetables sound appealing. BA also pushes positive health benefits -- green beans are rich in vitamins A, C, K plus potassium and iron. They have omega-3 fatty acids. BA says, "Eating green beans may help boost energy levels!" (Isn't that what chocolate is for?)

"Green" beans come in yellow and purple (which fades to green as they cook which is sort of "So? What's the point?")

Since I've had good luck roasting asparagus, this recipe sounds good:

1 lb. green beans trimmed and set aside
1/4 cup olive oil
zest from one lemon
2 big garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 teas. crushed red peppers
1 vitamin C tablet*

Gently heat the lemon zest, garlic cloves and red peppers in the olive oil. When the oil has absorbed the flavors, get rid of the lemon and cloves. Crush the vitamin C tablet, mix it into the olive oil and toss the green beans in the oil. Roast until done.

* the vitamin C tablet is supposed to keep the beans a bright green as they roast. Since I don't care, I don't think I'll be doing that.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Two Different Books

"Cooking and Screamin - Finding My Own Recipe for Recovery" by Adrienne Kane Simon Spotlight Entertainment 272 pages $24.00

Weeks before her graduation (Berkeley) Kane suffered an arterio-venous malformation (AVM) that left her with speech and cognition deficiencies as well as total paralysis, right side. An AVM is a malformation in the brain, "a little knot inside the labyrinth of gray matter, biding it's time and waiting to burst."

She spent a great deal of time in rehab, first at a facility in Vallejo, then at home. Instead of graduation and venturing off into the real world, she moved back in with her parents. It was comforting to be where all was familiar (including her mother's cooking and her own.)

Kane had been a good and interested cook. The frustrations caused by her AVM were daunting -- using the numb, lump of her right hand to anchor say an onion, and having to use a sharp knife with her non-dominant hand. Scary.

Gradually she begins to improve -- to the point where she starts a successful catering company; her boy friend stays loyal and eventually they marry, move from California to New York and her cookbook is published. It's a memoir (with a recipe heading each chapter) that has a frightening beginning and a happy ending.

"Annie Leibovitz: At Work" by Annie Leibovitz, Random House 235 pages No price given; think the dust jacket went missing but charges $26.40 for it.

I've never been a fan of hers, having heard that she's a bitch to work with. I have proof -- a cousin worked for her in NY -- and am not relying on anecdotal material or urban mythology.

She won me over (to a degree) when she said that the wonderful thing about photography is that essentially it's you and your camera, off on an adventure. I flashed back to my own days as a racing photo-journalist and that resonated with me because I knew exactly what she was saying.

She includes photos and anecdotes about her subjects, including several pages on the supposedly ill-fated shoot with Queen Elizabeth. All and all, it was an interesting read and I finished it in one afternoon (lots of pictures.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Mordant Birthday Card

But naturally I thought it funny. Picture a court jester -- bells on pointed shoes, striped tights, blouson, floppy, three-pointed hat (ditto the bells.) Okay ...

Card front:

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jumps over your candlesticks

(open card)

Jack be in the burn unit at Mother Goose General Hospital.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Philosophical Musings

* Where is Ed McMahon? Back on February 27, 2009, he was reportedly in Cedar-Sinai's ICU "fighting for his life." Surely, he can't still be there? Clearly, he's not (yet) dead since the media will go nuts for 15 minutes if/when he does die.

*"Troubled" singer Amy Winehouse is still alive in St. Lucia. If even 50% of what is written about her various ... indulgences ... is true, then she clearly has superior genes and samples should be taken and studied!

And her Dad is becoming as much of a media whore as she is -- "Worried Dad Jets Off to St. Lucia," etc.

*The Seeds recording of "Pushin' Too Hard" only made it to #30 on the national charts and that was back in the '60s. We visited the old Elbow Room (now a sports bar) some time ago and when we walked in, it was playing. When we went in during this visit to Palm Springs, the song was STILL on the play list; in fact, Richie played it for me. How can it still exist some 46 years later when #30 was the best it ever did?

* The Globe (factually proven to be the silliest and most inaccurate of all the tabloids) ran all kinds of headlines about the Bushs before they left Washington. "He's Drunk Again!" "Laura's Leaving!" And yet, not a word since they moved back to Houston/their ranch. Somehow I can't picture Laura the Librarian letting him lie drunk underneath a Jeep somewhere out on the prairies...

* Danny Gans, Las Vegas entertainer, is dead at 52. If things continue to "go in threes" I have to wonder who is next. In fact, if I were a celebrity, I might just stay in bed for a couple of weeks, never venturing out of my front door. Wherever you are, Ed, watch it! Danger lurks!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Minor Grievances

Kaiser Grill, Palm Springs, management has to die. "Harsh words!" you say? To cover myself in the event everyone in management is suddenly crushed under a SunBus (PS public transportation) let me say that was hyperbole.

For years I've been locked in the Great Prawn Wars with them. It was love at first bite -- the prawns wrapped in pancetta, grilled and served with a citrus reduction. Then -- suddenly -- no prawns. I protested; nothing happened. I took to reading the menu posted near the sidewalk and if they weren't on it; we didn't eat there. If they were, we did. Too busy Monday night to look.

Monday night we went in for dinner and there were immediate changes. KG has a double patio split by the entrance. From the street, the left hand side is non-smoking; the right hand side permits smoking. Naturally I asked for smoking only to be smugly told, "Oh, the entire patio is now non-smoking!"

It got worse. Perusing the menu -- no prawns, no meatloaf (which Richie liked.) The "old" shrimp cocktail came out in a sundae dish with a scoop of guacamole and tri-colored chips. The "new"? "Poached Prawns - wild white shrimp with cocktail sauce and lemon."

I ordered the Caesar salad which came with a "Parmesan cookie" and a wood-oven baked pizza of Asian pears and gorgonzola. Richie ordered chicken piccata with split pea soup to start. Service was languid despite a dearth of customers.

The manager wandered by for comments and when I complained about the missing favorites, he shrugged and said, "The owner said, 'I'm fed up to my back teeth with this menu - five years! Change it!'" He added, "He signs the paychecks..."

When the bill came, it arrived with a "Comments" card (another example of not thinking things through -- disgruntled customer?) I wrote, "Perhaps you could have a monthly Old Home Night and serve the dishes your clientele has come to expect. You could let your client base know via an e-mail or flyers on each table."

One of my rules -- Never complain unless you can offer a solution.

The Plumbers Apprentice
Richie was one, back in his salad days. Yesterday he decided to test both toilet tanks for leaks, but he didn't tell me he was going to do oit. Mid-afternoon, I go into the upstairs bathroom to pee, finish my business, stand up and turn around to flush the toilet. The water was a bright pink! I very nearly screamed. A nanosecond later, I realized my innards were all in place and yelled, 'Richie! What in HELL did you put in the toilet?" (Answer: red food coloring that he uses for the hummingbird feeder.)

Good Hotel Room Hiding Place
The maid had been and gone. Richie wanted to go for a swim. I didn't want to leave my watch anywhere visible. "Ah-hah!" I popped it into the empty coffee container of the coffee pot and went my merry way. I'll check underneath the coffee maker -- I bet you could leave a lot of money in a ziplock bag there. I'm thinking of Las Vegas where the room safes are often considered to be Not That Safe.