Wednesday, September 30, 2009

International (Dress) Codes

Conde Nast Traveler ( has amused itself by occasionally adding an insert to the magazine entitled "Etiquette 101." Today they featured dress codes. They do a full job - Business Meeting, On the Street, At a Party and P.S. specific to the country being discussed. You can explore more thoroughly on their Web site; I'm just picking up tidbits that amused/interested me.

Egypt: shorts on the street are Not Done. Wear long pants - males and females. Egyptian women cover their heads, but that is not expected of tourists.

Israel: Cotton shorts and tank tops in the hot months, but everyone covers up at Jewish and Christian religious services.

Lebanon: the women are really into accessories -- scarves, jewelry (the gaudier the better) and bright-hued handbags.

China: Women won't wear shoes with straps -- shows too much Nekkid Foot.

India: Sandals for street wear and mosque visits -- the slip off easily.

Indonesia: Modesty is key -- some locals don't even get totally naked in their own bathrooms!

Japan: Shopping for clothes? Japanese sizes are considerably smaller than ours. Your "small" may well be an "XL" there.

Germany: Shine your shoes, fix that dragging hemline because the natives will flat out stare at it.

Greece: no baseball hats, no Birkenstocks ever.

Russia: Gentlemen you may want to start planning a trip -- it's said that women's skirts couldn't get shorter or tops any more low-cut. And that's at business meetings!

Italy: You can't go wrong in a name designer (visibly so) outfit.

Turkey: at a party, visible name brands are seen as "cheap and low class."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Poor Richie

He had a tooth pulled this morning. The dentist told him it was a good job; must have been relatively easy because he was in with the dentist for approximately 25 minutes.

What was certainly new to me was this: the dentist not only gave him the offending tooth but put it in a bright green plastic carrying case (?) shaped like a molar! It is not a pretty sight. I'm reasonably sure the Tooth Fairy will refuse to take it. I think TF only likes little baby teeth...

Any road, the patient is resting quietly in his Big Daddy Superbowl Sunday recliner. All's well that ends well.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Improbable Art

Old and out of it, I've never understood getting a tattoo. I know they are common among 18 year old Army or Navy recruits (brotherhood, solidarity) but "sleeves"? One's entire arm is covered, often both. The barbed chain around a bicep used to mean that the owner had done prison time as does the cheek "teardrop" in blue (Mariel boat people.) I have seen pictures of backs that are entirely covered in tattoos. At our gym, many of the women proudly strut "tramp stamps."

But permanently covering one's body continues to amaze me. I certainly don't care if someone is covered in tattoos -- it is their business after all -- but the "why" of it mystifies me.

Then I ran across "TATTOO MACHINE, Tall Tales, True Stories and My Life in Ink" by Jeff Johnson (Speigel and Grau, 249 pages, $25) at the library. Eagerly I checked it out. Now I could find out.

Johnson is the proprietor of the Sea Tramp Tattoo Company, of Portland, OR. The book jacket claims that a tattoo shop is no longer a den of social outcasts and degenerates -- it's a workshop where committed (leave it alone!) and schooled artists paint on living skin.

Tattoos are notoriously difficult to remove and if your affair with "Mary" doesn't work out and you start all over again with a "Barbara" it's going to be difficult to change it.

Furthermore, note the part about painting on "living skin." No one lives forever. It's only a question of when you and your tattooed body are going to be laid to rest and never seen again. Understandably, this depresses the tattoo artist. The very impermanence of a "permanent" art.

Johnson recounts typical days at a tattoo parlor, the prevalence of practical jokers as artists and relates how the art has progressed from relatively crude tattoos to fine art (better equipment.) He stesses the major importance of checking out the sterile conditions of the shop and says that the artists themseslves fear getting some terrible disease. Gloves, disposable needles (and the red contamination box for them) alcohol bathing the skin -- don't omit a single one.

I finished the book not a lot clearer on the "why" of a tattoo, but more informed than when I started it. And absolutely no desire whatsoever to get one. I wish the youngsters getting tatts today wuld realize that they won't always have young and taut skin. Picture the demise of a sunset sagging unevenly across one's derriere -- not a pretty sight, not at all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Going Native (Without Being One)

Peter Mayle single-handedly made Provence a Must Destination. Since that time, others have clearly thought, "I could do that for Tuscany!" hence a spate of books from people who decided to move there, the diffeences in life, etc.

In "Alvaro's Mamma Toscana - The Authentic Tuscan Cookbook by chef Alvaro Maccioni (Pavillion, 224 pages, $24.95) we have the reverse. Maccioni IS a native, telling us about his country.

I found his comments more interesting than his recipes which run strongly toward peasant thrift -- bread salads, bread used as a thickener, lots of pasta and rice dishes.

On Soup: It's a way of life there. He tells us that dinner is almost always soup followed by the leftovers from lunch re-fashioned. But be warned, "soup" doesn't always mean what we're used to eating. The British trifle is called "English Soup."

Celery: Italians tend not to eat raw celery and if you try to sell them some wihtout any leaves, "they will think you are a mad person." Celery leaves are often used as a seasoning.

Poultry and Game: The Tuscan people are famous game hunters; unfortunately this includes hunting song birds. Maccioni says, "That's why it's very rare to hear a bird singing in Tuscany." Historically, chicken was a dish for the rich who were served the breast and legs, the rest was diced up for the servants.

Lamb: It's cooked very young-- three or four days old. "Lamb" means a lamb which has only fed on its mother's milk. Once on grass? Mutton!

Rice: They tend to associate it with desserts more than with main courses. Rice pudding with lemon and cinnamon is served with one's morning coffee.

Visiting: Tuscans don't say, "When are you coming to visit?" Instead they say, "When are you coming to eat the clams?" or whatever seasonal food it might be.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hand Made for Christmas

Writing about making and giving away "Come Back Sauce" yesterday made me think about more "home" gifts for the holiday.

Baking as an activity has always escaped me. I can't bake worth a damn. It's too precise -- leveling off the dry ingredients with the back of a knife blade? Puh-lease! "Yeah, more onion/garlic/pepper" is more my speed -- dishes that do not require Exact Amounts of whatever.

So this recipe for Cinnamon Hard Candies sounded good to me -- few ingredients and no stirring!

1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 T light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 T cinnamon extract OR 1/2 teas. Cinnamon Oil
1/4 teas. red food coloring

Line an 8 x 8 in. metal pan with parchment paper and grease the paper.
Heat the sugar, corn syrup and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan over high heat. Bring it to a boil, cover it and let it boil for 3 minutes. Then take the lid off, insert a candy thermometer and leave it there until it reaches 300 degrees. Don't stir!

At 300, remove it from the heat and, using a long-handled spoon, add the cinnamon and food coloring -- apparently it may splatter so be careful. Stir it, pour it into the pan and let it cool until it's pliable. Use a pizza cutter or knife to cut it into half-inch squares.

Peel the candies off of the parchment and sprinkle them with a mix of 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1 teas. ground cinnamon - optional.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Didja Evah?

Richie finished his workout and joined me in the car (I get done first.) Since he watches TV while riding a bike, I always ask, "So -- what's the news?"

This morning he said, "There was a guy shaving in the locker room -- his head! Had it lathered up and was shaving!"

Paying Attention

The new issue of Saveur arrived yesterday and in a section on favorite restaurants in Mississippi there was a casual mention of "come back sauce." I got it that "it was so good you'd want to come back for more" but what could it be? didn't know; but Ma Google did.

This is a sauce that's used all across Mississippi on cold shrimp, as a salad dressing, French fry dip, onion ring sauce or a dipping sauce for crudites.

There are a lot of ingredients but it does sound good. If it is, I'm thinking Christmas presents for locals (it has to be kept refrigerated.)

2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup catsup
1 cup chili sauce
1 cup cottonseed oil (not sure it's available locally -- vegetable oil would probably be okay.)
1 large onion, diced
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 T garlic, minced
2 T paprika
2 T water
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T black or white pepper
2 teas. dry mustard

Put all together, puree it, put it in a jar, cap and keep it in the refrigerator.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Mother Always Said ...

"If you can't say something nice, it's better not to say anything at all."

See ya tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This Just In

Two years ago, I wrote about an unusual birthday party we attended. The honoree was a good friend's Uncle Ziggy. It was held at the marina where he regularly fishes for sea bass and more. Ziggy was turning 96.

Today our friend e'd the "Fishing News" and I read: "Ziggy Nogiewich, 98, and family caught 60 sea bass, keeping 45 of them on Monday, 9/21/09."

If that's not longevity, then I don't know what is! 'Way to go, Ziggy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Book Review

'SPECIAL AGENT' - My Life on the Front Lines as a Woman in the FBI" by Candice DeLong Hyperion Books 290 pages Price cut off of inside jacket sleeve.

DeLong has certainly had an interesting life. She became a nurse and worked for nearly 10 years in psychiatric wards. Marriage, the birth of her son and divorce didn't seem to slow her down... Nearing age 30, she was dating an FBI agent and liked what she saw of the job. She applied, was accepted and went off for 16 weeks of training at Quantico.

The FBI had just begun to accept women in the '80s and DeLong had to deal with her share of men who didn't think a woman should work in the field. They thought she ought to stay home and take care of her son insead. She gritted it ut, using humor instead of rage or tattle-telling to superiors.

Deeply interested in profiling, she became a profiler. She eventually secialed in 'Interpersonal Violence" - FBI-speak for sex crimes and taught classes in it. The last chapter in the book is advice on avoiding sex criminals -- Forthwith:

I you or your chiold is ever grabbed in a location where someone might be able to hear you, don't scream "Help!" People tend to ignore it, figuring it's a joke or a prank. Instead, scream "FIRE!" We all know to call 911 when we hear that.

Keep your doors and windows locked with sturdy locks. Don't leave the drapes wide open at night.

If you can't see through your front door (no peephole), don't open it -- make the caller identify themselves. (We have a wonderful security door -- we can see out of it, but the visitor can't see us or into the house.)

Don't tell a rapist that you have a sexual disease because it marks you as a whore and "deserving" of punishment. If someone tries to strangle you, jab your fingers into his eyes. Don't waste time trying to fight him off.

If you're going out with the girls, make sure you have a charged cell phone and cab money. If someone makes you uneasy, don't hesitate to call a cab or another friend to come and get you; you can always pick up your car the next day.

Don't go out half-naked alone and don't drink too much. Many "men" take that as an invitation.

Don't drive a clunker that could die on you at any time. Always have a least a half tank of gas so that you don't have to stop for more in a seedy area.

Any stranger that approaches the car, keep the engine running, the doors locked and the windows up. Even if he pulls a gun and threatens to shoot you through the glass. You're inside a 2,000 lb. weapon -- gas it and go even if it means running over the guy.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I looked at yesterday's pork loin roast and thought, "Self, that needs to be dry-rubbed," got out my cookbook (a 3-ring binder, easily 3 in. thick) and turned to "Sauces." Recipe was right where I'd left it back in the "blackened this" and "blackened that" days.

ALL-SOUTH BBQ DRY RUB from a book called "Hot Stuff"
Mix together and keep in a little air-tight container -
2 T white sugar
2 T brown sugar
2 T cumin
2 T New Mexican chili powder
2 T fresh black pepper
1 T cayenne pepper
4 T paprika

Job done, roast in the oven, I turned back to "Sauces"

From "Chef Harry & Friends"
1 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped green olives
1/4 cup chopped, pickled jalapeno slices
Mix, chill and serve - carrot sticks should be good with this

Paul Prudhomme swears this is a South Louisiana mainstay --
1 jar pineapple preserves (10-oz. jar)
1 jar apple jelly (10-oz. jar)
1/4 cup dry mustard
1/3 cup prepared horseradish
1 1/2 teas. finely-ground pepper
Mix, chill and serve over a block of cream cheese, crackers handy

Mario Batali recommends "buttering" slices of mortadella with this sauce, rolling, toothpicking them and serving as appetizers

1/3 cup sour cream
2 T grated onion
1 T white horseradish
1 teas. Dijon mustard

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Choo's Shoes

There are only three "hot"women's shoemakers working today -- Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnick and Christian Louboutin (whose trademark is bright red soles.) Todd's driving shoes (quelle affectation) come in a rather distant fourth. All of the top three specialize in towering stiletto heels. I'm talking 4 to 6 in. high -- aka "Ankle Breakers."

I love shoes (as many women do) and try hard to avoid the shoe section of department stores. I can't justify more when I already have black cherry lizard cowboy boots (25 years old; rarely worn) construction booots (CERT work) wood-soled clogs with a linen upper; a pair of sandals that are basically three straps and a sole to name only a few in my collection.

I think women see shoes as an addition to role playing -- construction boots, white socks, khaki shorts, white t-shirt and a clipboard! Viola - construction boss! Slinky dress, sky-high heels -- vixen! (Watch "Sex in the City" re-runs and see for yourself.)

Thus, when I came across "The Towering World of Jimmy Choo -- A Glamorous Story of Power, Profits and the Pursuit of the Perfect Shoe" by Crowe and Rosen at the library I took it. (Bloomsbury, $26, 228 pages.)

Jimmy Choo was the son of an established shoemaker in Penang, Malaysia. Age 9 he made his first pair of shoes -- black slingbacks with a "diamond" buckle for his mother. Later he apprenticed in London at the Cordwainer's College (for workers in leather.)

In the book, Choo is very quickly overshadowed by a woman named Tamara Yeardye who essentially got interested in his business and then bought a part of it. She marries a Mellon (Matthew.) The book presents her as an extraordinarily stubborn, driven woman (aka "real bitch'). Since Choo is said to be retiring to the point of invisiblity, I'm waiting to see what happens next.

The good news (for women, if not their husbands) is that luxury shoe brands are thriving even in this economy ... After all, We Must Have Shoes!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Building Better Mouse Traps...

I never cease to be amazed at what one can find online! If you want to know something -- no matter how exotic or complicated -- you can find it! And quickly, too.

An example -- Carolyn Green, a friend in Kansas City, sent me this one:

When I went to look, I found a beautifully laid-out Web site with pictures of food categories -- meat, seafood and fish, dried goods (pastas, beans) milk and dairy -- to find out if you can still eat it or not, simply click on the picture and up pops an alphabetic list of whatever category you had chosen. How cool is that? No more standing at the open refrigerator door, staring at something and wondering, "Do I dare eat this?"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Deranged Musings

To file: waterproof mascara isn't.

What if? A news vendor on PCH has named his stand "NEWS" backwards. (Isn't that precious?) I passed it today and realized something. Our word "news" originally came from the four corners of a weather vane -- North, East, West, South. But ... what if the first person said, "You know? I think it'd work better South West East North." As in: " I was watching the SWEN last night ..." "And now, our anchor with the 5 p.m. SWEN.

Loaning Pills? I put in a prescription this morning at the pharmacy. This afternoon, I got a phone message -- "We don't have enough of (whatever the hell it is) to fill your prescription, but we will loan you some of it and you can pick up your prescription tomorrow after 4 p.m."

How does that work exactly" Will I have to give back some of the filled prescription? Or will they just short it the number of pills they already gave me?

Update: They short the finished product the number of pills they gave you originally.

Thurs. Writers Face a Dilemma
Joyce read the end of her short story and after congratulating her on a fine job, we asked "Have you got a new one going?" She said she didn't, adding that "I don't know if I'd be able to finish it..." Bob chimed in, "This is the first time I haven't had anything to read ever! (thoughtful pause) I don't know whether I want to write another book or not ..." Punch line: Bob is 84, Joyce is 91.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Sad Surprise

I was reading this morning's Daily Breeze this morning and let out an inadvertent, "Ohhh..." of disappointment. Richie said, "What's the matter?" and I pointed to an obituary and said, "Doctor Barr is dead."

Now a lot of people would argue that living until age 94 indicates that the person had a pretty good run and I certainly wouldn't disagree.

He was hardy until (probably) the last two years. I know because I routinely saw him in his and his son's optometry firm. Always in a suit, starched and ironed shirt, a quiet tie and gleaming shoes. I've known them both for nearly 26 years.

Dr. Barr was a gentle presence. His was a quiet personality with a dry (very dry) wit. He never telegraphed a joke. If you got it and smiled, he did, too. If you didn't? No one would ever know from his demeanor. That's an example of his great tact and ... just plain "niceness."

His wife of 59 years preceded him in death and I like to think of them reunited now.
Godspeed, Doctor Bar.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


"Mother On Fire" by Sandra Tsing Loh Crown Publishers 298 pages $23

The inside flap of the book's cover promises a lot "including limo liberals who preach the virtues of public school, but send their children to fashionable private ones..."

The basic story line running through comedianne Loh's book is her efforts to get her older daughter into exactly this kind of school -- and then realizes that she and her husband can't afford it. The usual characters surface -- over-achieving Moms, rich Dads, etc.

As I don't have children, I found this topic rather uninteresting and, in fact, just thumbed through the final half of the book. In the end, Loh realizes that she is attempting to deny her daughter the kind of schools she herself attended and -- she thinks that's just fine! (Yawn.)

Dubious Practices, an on-going topic
A friend was recently in Cabo San Lucas and told me that she and her four girlfriends were each offered a tequila shooter after dinner to celebrate her birthday. She called them "tequila poppers" and told me that the waiter puts the shot glass down, the customer picks it up, taps it smartly on the table and then throws it down at which point, the waiter grabs a napkin, holds it over the customer's mouth and violently shakes her head back and forth.

She said it was a good thing the waiter was holding a napkin -- she threw up her dinner. You've been warned...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

R I P, Patrick Swayze

I was genuinely sorry to read of the death of Patrick Swayze. He struck me as a workman-like guy -- dancing/acting are my jobs; that's what I do --and probably not a prima donna. It's a credit to him and his wife Lisa that they had been married for 34 years at the time of his death.

A New (to me) Product

Taking a shortcut through the supermarket, I found myself in an aisle I rarely ever visit. It's the one where you can buy those paper cups of various foods for microwaving and eating. I long since graduated from Ramen noodles to several of Trader Joe's Asian products.

Today my eye was caught by Kraft Easy Mac with Bacon ($1.19.) I expected it to be strictly a heat and eat product, the container solid and heavy feeling. But no! Whatever was inside, rattled.

For that kind of money, I can indulge my curiosity so I bought it. At home, I discovered that the insides are, in fact, two things -- the naked cup with dried macaroni and a separate paper envelope of a dried cheese mixture. You add water to that line there; nuke it until the macaronis cook, then add in the Mystery Powder and stir well. Then you eat it.

It was by no means imaginable "gourmet," but for quick comfort food, it wasn't that bad. Despite having started out life as a powder, the cheese "came up" well and though the mixture was thin, it was gluey enough to pass for macaroni and cheese. Total calories 220; amount of sodium (salt) 580 mg which is rather sly of Kraft. I couldn't measure an mg if it was sitting on the end of my nose. The bottom of the container reads: "Best if used by 11/2/09" so it's more perishable than I would have thought.

Oh, the bacon? Microscopic "chips." "Bacon-flavored" was right. Yeah, I'll probably buy another one someday -- when Winter is more upon us.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Praise of Crossword Puzzles

I like them. They're several things to me -- gym work for the brain, a vocabulary enhancer (always useful for a writer) and calming. On the rare occasions that I have insomnia (perhaps once every 18 months or so) I get out of bed quietly, slip into the dining room and pull out my trust NY Times Sunday crossword book. Half an hour later, back to bed.

Often the puzzle writer's ingenuity baffles me until (somehow) I get a clue and can proceed to a triumphant finish. The LA Times Sunday puzzle is more into "humor" (their brand) but the NY Times can be a real stinker to its readers. Mainly because the writer is not above slipping into symbols, not words. "*" for "star" -- *s Fell On Alabama. Most recently the writer inserted the months abbreciations into the answers. Roman goddess _ _ = jun o.

Wonderfully under-used words pop up -- berserk, disproportianate, agog. Some appear with numbing regularity - Rubik cube inventor's first name (you'd think I could remember it; can't.) French battle site - StLo.

Another reason I like them is that I'm not much of a team player. I like going up against things solo. I like trying to outwit another (always!) Possibly goes far to explain my father's not-so-flattering comment that "You'd make a good Philadelphia lawyer!" (For reasons of his own, Daddy believed Philadelphia attorneys were, uh, perhaps less honest than elsewhere.)

Crossword puzzle books are damned portable. I keep a thin one tucked in the lid of my suitcase. I can then be amused at an airport gate, in the hotel room at night, but rarely on a plane. Too much motion, too many interruptions. Reading is better there.

NY Times crossword books are not expensive and, in my case, they last a long time. It took me three (3) years to go through the last fat one.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Disbelief on Several Levels

Richie directed my attention to the LA Times' Travel section this morning, page L6.

There I found an article on Pete "Big Elvis" Vallee, who is said to sound exactly like the late Elvis Presley. He is said to have the same bass-baritone and sings five days a week, three times a day at Bill's Gamblin' Hall, Flamingo and Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas.

His shows are free! Strike 1 - free entertainment in Vegas?

Currently the singer is newly slim at 425 lbs. - 60-in. waist - down from his previous 945 (945) pounds. Instead of gastric by-pass surgery, he said he's losing weight with diet and exercise. Strike 1 1/2 - that diet and exercise alone can cause a 500 pound weight loss...

"I just had a full physical and the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. I never suffered from high blood pressure or even high cholesterol." Uh huh -- Strike 2.

You can learn more at or

We'll be in Las Vegas in October and you know what Richie wants to go see. I can hear him now, "Hey! It's free!"

Myself? "Don't join up with the Flying Elvis' band of parachuters!" would be my advice.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's In a Name?

This is offered as proof that some people can be silly all by themselves... or else they are having a really slow day! Such would be my case when, on a whim, I googled my name: Nina Murphy.

I am not alone! Even though it's an odd name ... it is shared by:

A Las Vegas singer
An Arizona State womens' basketball player
A member the Mental Health Board of Tower Grace East
An LA attorney
A member of the Fred Hollows Foundation, of Enfield, Australia
A mezzo-soprano
A Seattle police officer who filed a harrassment suit against the department
A marketing manager for Woonallee Cattle Auction of South Australia
A museum curator, quilt museum
A woman's hockey star
Activist in Bristol, RI

and notablly "Samantha Nina Murphy" whose husband beheaded her!

Friday, September 11, 2009


Remembering isn't the problem -- being able to diminish the horror is...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting Down at the Dojo

(left to right )- Andre, Sensei Loeffler, Rafael Gutierrez, MD, Roy

Our friend Rafael (aka Rafa) invited us to attend his black belt trials (and subsequent award of it) at Shugyokan, 15205 Crenshaw, Gardena.

We were the only civilians there and since neither one of us knows anything about this sport, we watched with interest (and occasional horror on my part. Those guys are not kidding around!)

The class - four white belts, two green and Rafa in his brown belt busted a few moves for us and then "Sensei" ("teacher" I believe) walked in flanked by two assistants. All wore the coveted black belt.

A moment for silent meditation and then an oral exam -- "Who were your previous senseis and what did you learn from them - be specific" "How does karate color your daily life?"

Next he was told to do some 12 (?) different sets of complicated, connected moves up and down the mat -- first at half speed; then at full speed -- 50 times each!

More questions and responses: "Manners keep us from offending others and getting into trouble." "Courtesy -- listen and try to understand another's side."

Then, drenched in sweat and audibly panting, Rafa was told he would now have to go rounds with all three instructors! (Frankly I thought this wasn't very fair -- they'd all been sitting on their derrieres all morning long, but Andre later explained that you don't get to pick your time in a street fight. "You can't tell the guy, 'Hey, I had a hard day today; let's do it tomorrow morning." Still ...)

Apparently the fighting style taught here (perhaps everywhere for all I know) is to circle, then POUNCE! when fists and feet fly in a savage burst of activity! It seemed barely nanoseconds before Rafa had the other guy on the ground. I thought ... "OMG! This ... this maniac is our good friend! (wail) He comes to dinner -- at the house!"

Sensei and his assistants retired behind a closed door, then emerged and gave Rafa his certificate and a brand new black belt. The class clapped, cheered and hugged him as did all three of the instructors.

They got cleaned up and met us at El Torito, Hawthorne & Lomita, Torrance. The ease with which staff seated all 10 of us was a marvel to see. It made our experience at On The Rocks that night even more shocking.

Off the mat, so to speak, all three of the black belts were soft-spoken, courteous men. Richie told Sensei, "I learned something today -- I never want to do karate!" and Sensei gently smiled.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Berclair Mansion

The Berclair Mansion

It's located in Berclair, Tx (between Goliad and Beeville, South Texas) and was built in 1936 by a woman who vowed it would never burn down (as a previous house had.) The only wood in it is the doors, furniture and flooring laid over concrete. Steel, concrete and brick were her construction materials.

While this 22-room, six bathroom house was being built, she and her four sisters slipped off to Europe and spent some two years buying furnishings for it. Each sister had her own bedroom/sitting room finished to her own taste.

The servants believed the place to be haunted -- particularly the attic when an Army solder (deserter?) was said to be seen frequently. They refused to spend the night in it and had their own quarters out in back of the main house. It's now a weekends' only restaurant and is used for catered events such as weddings and family reunions.

After all five of the sisters went to their various rewards, the sole inheritor was a niece who hated the place -- every time she had to visit it, her allergies reacted and went off the charts. Her Last Will and Testament directed that all of the furniture be burned and the house itself destroyed. Happily the State of Texas stepped in. The house was left exactly as it was when the last sister died -- dust covers on the beautiful furnishings -- for more than 30 years!

The sidewalks were laid by inmates from one of the Beeville prisons. Every morning, when they arrived, an old lady up in one of the rooms of the second floor would wave down to them and smile. When they'd finished the job, they told the ladies who had fixed their daily lunches, to please thank the friendly old lady who had greeted them so cheerfully every morning. The house was completely unoccupied at this time...

My cousin, Susan Dirks, is on the historical society board and is primarily responsible for most of what you will see on the next blog.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Bean For All Seasons

And that would be the cannelloni or white kidney bean.

I once had a bad experience with dried lentils. I soaked them overnight and the next morning they were covered in green fuzz! Now I stick to canned cannellonis (which are not lentils; I know that.) Trader Joe's 79 cents a can; supermarket $1.29 for the same size can.

I like to make this quick winter soup for lunch --melt a teaspoon of bacon fat in a heavy pot. Add a couple of slices of red onion, chopped, and a chopped garlic clove and a dash of smoke sauce. Let the onions and garlic cook a bit and then add the can of beans, rinsing out the last bits with water. Let it cook until the beans begin to get soft, then take a potato masher and make the soup thicker. Serve with black pepper to taste. Serves two.

Then, in Bon Appetit I ran across these two very different recipes

4 cups cooked white beans
1 1/2 6-oz. cans tuna, packed in olive oil, broken into chunks
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put the beans in a large bowl, add the tuna and onion, drizzle with oil, chill and serve. Said to serve four but I wouldn't want to eat that much of it!


1 lb. dried beans (good luck!)
8 cups room-temperature water
2 T olive oil
1 large head of garlic, unpeeled; top 1/2 in. cut off to expose cloves
1 large, fresh sage sprig
1/4 cup black peppercorns

The day before you want to make the dish, soak the beans in 6 cups of water overnight.
Drain them the next day and put them in a big, heavy pot. Add the water, olive oil, garlic, sage and peppers. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat and let softly simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Use a slotted spoon to put the beans in a serving bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil. (Mag says to discard all of the other stuff, but don't be too quick to do that. The broth alone sounds good...)

Monday, September 7, 2009

But Bob Liked the Chili

On The Rocks, 239 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach 310-379-7438

Bob, Pat, Richie and self left their condo and walked over to Captain Kidd's which was doing a roaring business; place was packed. So we walked over to the next establishment which is On The Rocks. I ignored an early warning sign -- piles of bicycles piled into the numerous bike stands and the roars of the crowd inside that was clearly enjoying a televised game.

The place is huge, sort of moat of other rooms around a big space in the center. Outdoor patio with heat lamps, another big room in front of the long bar and the central room that we ignored. The noise level was ferocious, but we found the quietest spot we could. All of the tables and chairs are wood and so are most of the walls that aren't covered with big screen TVs, each one blaring something else.

Our server, a young woman with a long blonde ponytail gave us menus and took our drink order (three beers and a glass of wine.) In the fullness of time, they appeared but our server was busy chatting it up with another server over in a corner and never came back to take our dinner orders.

We finished our drinks, still waiting to order. We agreed among ourselves to order the quickest to fix things on the menu -- two bowls of chili, a bowl of clam chowder and a shrimp cocktail.

Finally she came and we ordered. She didn't ask if we wanted another drink (we didn't anyhow) and departed. She never came back.

Finally I got up and walked over to her (still chatting merrily, but now at the bar) and asked, 'Uh, how long does it take to dish up three bowls of soup and throw some shrimp together?" "Oh," she started guiltily, "It has been a long time, hasn't it -- let me check." I went back to our table.

She approached us, apologized and said, "One of the chefs quit." Like, I'm so sorry, but unless the poor bastard was running amok in the kitchen with a cleaver and the paramedics hadn't gotten there yet, that is no excuse. Finally, she returned with our food.

Richie took a couple of bites of his clam chowder, pronounced it the worst he'd ever had and shoved it away. He was nearly incoherent with rage by now anyhow. Pat tried her chili, fanned her face with her napking, grimaced and shoved it aside. Bob, however, tore into his with gusto, made me take a bite and said, "Good, isn't it?" I said, "Well, let's see... cornstarch, salt ..." Pat shot him a look.

My shrimp cocktail consisted of five, big, fat shrimp lying on a plate with a smaller dish of cocktail sauce? It was nearly solid and had no taste at all except a vaguely ketchup-y one. My shrimp were still warm from doubtless having been yanked out of a freezer and thrown into a pot of boiling water! The other alternative -- they'd been sitting out long enough to heat up in the kitchen was equally unappealing.

Somewhere,. the manager made the mistake of coming over to the table and Richie really let loose -- "Why does it have to be SO LOUD? What's up with the terrible service? That was the worst clam chowder I ever tried to eat!" Manager slinked away.

We then waited and waited for the check. I finally walked over to our server, still chatting merrily away at the bar, and said, "look (handing her my credit card) could I just have the tab? All we want right now is out of here." She replied, "I'm trying to get the manager to take the food off of your bill .. let me go get it" and departed.

Presently, she returned, said the manager had taken off the food (and no, I sure as hell didn't ask for a box for my warm shrimp) and gave me the drinks tab which was $20. I paid it, tipped her $4 and went to the ladies room. the floor was awash with water and bits of paper towels.

We left. Walking across the parking lot, Pat dropped back to walk with me and murmured, "That's the first time I've ever seen Richie mad!" "He took a hit to his amour-propre" I said.

Bob, blissfully unaware of our conversation said, "But I liked the chili." He'll go alone if he ever wants any more of it. The rest of us agree -- we're too old for sports bars, thank you very much.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ethics Poser -- on a Sunday!

Passing along recipes from magazines ... I never want to be accused of plagiarism (or worse, sued for it.) is this magazine's Web site and as such, is open and free to anyone who comes popping in.

If, however, I was using someone's specific recipe and NOT crediting them, that's theft. But I'm not simply because the mags themselves rarely credit the chef. The only thing close is the column "Gee, I ate the most wonderful (food item) at the Such & Such resto -- can you get the recipe for it?" Even then, it's usually only the resto's name that's used.

Being a writer, I know that the editor probably assigns "winter foods" or similar as the writer's topic and it's the writer's job to ferret out appropriate recipes.

Well, as my mother frequently remarked, "Don't trouble Trouble" so ...for brat lovers everywhere --

1 cup lager beer, divided in half
2/3 cup malt vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup whole brown mustard seeds
2 T dry mustard (such as Coleman's)
1/4 cup white horse radish
1 teas. salt (omit)
1 teas. black pepper
1 T honey
1/4 teas. caraway seeds, finely-ground
2 teas. cornstarch mixed with 1 T water

Whisk 1/2 cup lager, malt vinegar, mustard seeds and dry mustard together and let stand for 3 hours.
Put it in a blender, add the rest of the lager, horse radish, pepper, honey and caraway seeds. Blend it to a coarse puree.
Transfer this to a metal bowl over simmering water and whisk for 15 minutes until it thickens. Transfer it to a small saucepan, add the corn starch mixed in water and whick until it thickens and boils. Transfer to an airtight container and chill until cold.

Or this, which is much, much easier!

1/2 cup sour cream
2 T Dijon mustard
1 teas. fresh lemon juice

Whisk together in a small container and chill until needed.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

11 + 11 + 11

Chicago for Ribs has a really good deal going for its customers. If you can make your grand entrance before 6 p.m., drinks are half price and there is an early diners' menu with almost all of the same entrees as the regular menu -- including sides -- for $10.99.

They were doing such a good business that we had to wait at the bar for a table! Naturally, we ordered drinks -- a gin and tonic for Richi and a dirty gin martini up for me. Alert readers will remember that I praised the martinis here, but I never bothered to mention that they are $10 a pop (!) Happy hour it was -- our bar bill was $11. Note: happy hour prices prevail at the bar only. No table service half-prices.

We both ordered the baby back ribs, beans, cole slaw and corn bread -- both were $10.99 each (normally $18.99 each.) I told our server, "A half rack" and she said, uncertainly, "Well, it's a little smaller serving than a half rack..." and I said, "Good!" (Six ribs per serving instead of eight.)

As it was, I took home beans, cole slaw, corn bread and most of a half order of onion rings which comes in a loaf shape.

Chicago for Ribs is a national chain -- find the one near you! Only fools pay full retail...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Airline Industry Amusements

These are courtesy of the Vanguards...

The TSA bought 207 "puffer" machines in 2004 for a total of $30 million. These machines are designed to detect bomb residue on boarding passengers. I remember they were tested at the Kansas City, Mo. airport and I had to slide my purse across a flat table screen.

TSA installed 94 of them in 37 airports; storing the other 113. They broke down frequently (dirt and humidity in airports) and were repaired at a further cost of $6.2 million. Now dubbed "unreliable" TSA is removing them at a cost of $1 million.

Speculation is rife about the longevity of the 250 body scanners TSA purchased for $170,000 each.

The Admirals Clubs (American Airlines) have begun recycling wine corks (!) to keep them out of landfills. Working with ReCork America and Sodexo, the corks will be collected from 24 locations in the US and San Juan PR. ReCordkstated that 13 billion natural cork wine closures are sold each year and the vast majority wind up in landfills. (Ed. note: not in France; they've been put in special trash bins for some time now.) ReCork will divert them to the people who manufacture footwear and flooring.

In 1973, American Airlines hired the first female pilot for a major airline and followed that up by being the first to hire a female captain in 1986. Today AA runs Women in Aviation Employee Resource Group, est. in 1996, to "promote hiring, professional development and promotional opportunities for women in aviation."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Minor Disagreements with the Chef

"Everyday Novelli" by Jean-Christophe Novelli Headline Publishing Group 245 pages $20.00 Lavishly illustrated -- finished dishes and lots and lots of photos of the chef staring down in concentration.

Novelli is a chef who originally came from France to Great Britain to seek his fortune and fame. The cover copy reads "More than 100 recipes from the nation's favourite French chef!" but which nation is not specified.

Some classics are included -- Croque Madame which is essentially a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top - Potatoes Dauphine, French onion soup - dishes that many of us know.

Here is his recipe for "Home made Fudge"
50 grams sweet butter + extra for greasing the pan
4 T water
2 T golden syrup or honey
450 grams granulated sugar
8 T sweetened, full-cream condensed milk

Grease the pan, put the other ingredients in a heavy pan and stir over gentle heat until the sugar is dissolved.

Bring to a boil, stirring until it reaches 119 Celsius. Take the pot off the heat and beat well until it starts to turn cloudy. Pour itinto the greased pan and let it cool for 6 hours. When cool, cut in squares.

"Fudge" to me means "chocolate." You will have noticed there is no chocolate in this recipe...

For a final quibble, his mother wrote the introduction! Now you know she's not going to be biased, heavens, no!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Southern California Morning (2 days ago)

South Texas Humor

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

South Texas Eats

The Pig Stand, 1508 Broadway, San Antonio, TX 210-222-9923 Photo directly above.

Mary Ann Hill owns the last Pig Stand (the first opened in Austin) and she has worked there since 1967, some 43 years. The employees' tenures range from six months to 45 years.

The parking lot was filled with '60s cars and most of the dining room was crammed with their owners. Clearly a regularly-scheduled meeting.

I ordered the pig sandwich combo with fries, cole slaw and an onion ring as decor on the top of the sandwich. Richie ordered a straight pig sandwich and an order of pinto beans. The food was "good enough" (roasted, sliced pork loin instead of pulled pork) but by no means "great." Inexpensive.

Smolik's Smokehouse, 501 E. San Patricia, Mathis, TX 361-547-5494 Closed Sunday and Monday.

(Bear with me on the photo arrangement -- still learning.)

My cousin Robert suggested the place and we're still thanking him. As you can see, "unprepossessing" is a good description of it. The interior was sparkling clean even though my sister kind of sniffed a bit at the location and building exterior when we first arrived.

We ordered pulled pork sandwiches which were chopped and sauced and put on the traditional cheap white sandwich bread buns that are the hallmark of a True BBQ sandwich.

Richie had his beloved beans (pinto in this case) and Jane and I had the cole slaw which was so good! The cabbage was snapping crisp and the dressing was an interesting blend of sugar, vinegar and a little something extra. Nothing wrong with the onion rings either which I shared with them.

Smolik's also sells their house-cured dried beef and turkey along with a variety of homemade sausages.

La Famiglia, Beeville, TX (No photo available)

Leonore Rosales opened it in 1953 -- when she was 59. At the time she retired, she had been working in restaurants more than 63 years. The recipes used here are her's and they are mighty good.

It's clearly a family-owned and run place as baby pictures, wedding photos and antecedent portraits hang on all of the walls.

Now owner George R. Benavides told us that his 4th generation away grandfather was one of only seven Mexicans at the Alamo, who fight on our side. Until they all died, there was an annual celebration mass and a dinner to honor them.

His uncle has been with the LAPD for the past 40 years, working undercover, mainly. He graduated from the police academy only to find himself right back in high school-- infilterating gangs, working mostly out of the Pasadena Police Department.