Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Final Farewell As 2013 Comes To An End

Three of my good friends lost battles to cancer in 2013.

Pam Meehan, 64, on February 13, 2013.  Pam and I became friends when she hired on as the receptionist at Brompton Productions, Lord Tim Hudson's rock'n roll management firm.  Remember, this was in the heat of rock'n roll and our "visitors" were about as bizarre as they came without actually being confined to, uh, "secure quarters" (read:  Camarillo State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.)  Enter Pam of the big doe eyes and soft voice.  She had a rocky go of it until she learned to assert herself and then it was Katy bar the door!  She left an ex-husband with whom she was best friends, three daughters and a grandson when she died after a four year battle with breast cancer.

Sue Braden-Thorssen, 72,  on April 9, 2013.  We had known each other since kindergarten.  Despite being separated by half of the country, marriages, child raising and life itself, we stayed friends for more than 68 years.  She and her second husband Sig loved to travel and often took driving vacations "on the blue line roads" rather than freeways.  They were here and we had a memorable lunch at Ports O Call.  When Sig died, Sue sent me a Tupperware bowl  of his ashes and directed  that they be portioned out between the rose garden, Santa Monica; the deck of the Queen Mary (we settled for a curbside bed of flowers) and launched from the patio at Ports.  We never go there without stepping up to the railing and paying our respects.  She fought lung cancer for nearly 10 yeas, having beaten breast cancer nine years earlier.

Dale Cox, Jr. died June 25, 2013 of multiple myeloma a very short time after having been disguised with it.  Dale was a longtime member of the South Bay Writers Workshop and had recently published two books "Tango Trajectory" about a female test pilot and "Top Secret Flight" about a photo recon job over Japan during WW2.  Dale was 92 and left his wife Patricia after a 67 year marriage.   

Monday, December 30, 2013

Riddle: How Is Richie Like JFK?

If you said, "A good head of hair!"  Wrong.  If you said, "Both Irish Catholics"  Wrong. 

Both are/were married to international beauties whose wit was celebrated world-wide, well, you'd be closer..  But it's a very simple thing. 

Both are/were clothes horses in their own ways.  Jack Kennedy changed clothes from the skin out four to six times a day.  He got up, bathed, dressed and went to the office.  He had a pre-lunch swim then showered and dressed again. He had a 45-minute nap.   He then had an afternoon swim; same routine.  If he was going to or hosting a social event, showered and dressed in evening wear. 

While no less ambitious, Richie's articles of clothing are on a decidedly lower scale...When he gets up, he pulls on sweat pants and a t-shirt, brings in the papers and has breakfast.  he then changes into his gym shorts and yesterday's t-shirt.  Post gym, he showers and it's back to sweatpants and a new t-shirt.

If we then go out to run errands, he changes the sweat pants for jeans and when we get home, off with the jeans and back into the sweats. 

I have spent a good portion of daylight time telling him to just get dressed after your shower and stay dressed, but to no avail.  

The book is a good read and full of telling details of daily life for the famous couple.  Mrs. Kennedy had a grilled cheese sandwich and he had a medium-rare hamburger for lunch most days.  He also ate two soft-boiled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee every morning.  I'm surprised high cholesterol didn't get him before Lee Harvey Oswald did.

"These Few Precious Days - the Final Year of Jack with Jackie" by Christopher Andersen   Gallery Books   324 pages   $27

Saturday, December 28, 2013

To Vow or Not To Vow - New Year's Resolutions

I wondered when this pernicious annual vow became a part of the holiday season so I looked it up.   The Babylonians promised their gods to return borrowed items and to pay off their debts and they did this in March.  The Romans came along and moved the rite to honor the god Janus thus our New Years.  After Christmas, in medieval times, the knights all re-vowed to pursue chivalry. 

Now I don't know about your neighborhood, but Babylonians, Romans and knights are sparse on the ground in ours. 

It's interesting that a consistent vow - basically just to be nicer - has lasted this long.  It has, of course, become modified to include such personal desires such as losing weight, getting more exercise, giving up sweets.  Wanting to improve yourself is admirable.  Even recognizing that you may have a problem is admirable.  

The trouble with noble resolve is that very few of us have the continuing drive to see any vow through to the end.  We may go to the gym every day for a week and then three times a week and then ... not at all.

And when realization of failure sets in, the person who made the vow is more depressed than when they rashly promised themselves wonderful things.  

I say it's better to avoid the inevitable disappointment down the road and simply think to your Personal Deity, "Work with me here on being a better person" and let it go at that.  It's better to give up without trying all that hard than it is to make yourself crazy - and fail anyhow.  Guard your mental health!  Vow NOT to vow! 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Luxury Lunacy - Craziness on a Grand Scale

Though not by any means wealthy, I had a crazy moment this morning.  I'd written three columns so that I could take off mentally for a couple of days.  And this morning I couldn't find them.  And I knew they were here.  But they weren't

We'd had guests over yesterday afternoon/evening and in the surge to tidy I stashed them ... somewhere.  I finally found them, face down on top of the dishwasher.  I'd grabbed a sheet of paper to write down the three appetizers and their relative heats and times in the oven!  So, Ladies and Gentlemen, with no further ado ...

The front page of the LA Times for 12/23/13, had this headline "Move-in-ready Homes Pop Up in Luxury Market." 

The article starts by stating the obvious - that when a celebrity sells an abode and throws in the designer furniture and personal knickknacks, the sale will quickly follow.  Elton John used to have a pair of condos in LA and he sold them replete with his personal stuff.  Including his snakeskin-covered bed frame!   Given the fact that "snake-o-phobia"(?) runs rampant with me the very thought that something like that even exists gave me a severe case of the fantods. 

Here's an example of the "Can't be bothered - I'll take it fully furnished; here's my check" type of thinking.  A $36 million house in Beverly Hills comes with a putting green with a lavish view of Los Angeles -- and a $300 putter.

We are talking detailed when all you have to bring is your own clothing.  Toothbrush?  Try these new Philips Sonicares.  Dinnerware?  Villeroy & Boch plus $1.3 million in furniture. 

Real estate gossips report that when Ellen DeGeneres and Portia di Rossi sold their 26-acre ranch in Thousand Oaks, they deliberately left behind the pots, skillets, potato peeler!  Other houses have fully-stocked pantries along with cleaning supplies, toilet paper and paper towels.

My question is:  who among us has so little interest in their surroundings as to be able to buy and live with other people's leftovers?  No aesthetic sense at all chills me.  Are the buyers just rich robots?

The article did say this type of purchase is handy for people  who want a second home and no bother or film or corporate executives transferred here for some time.

If they've got the money and this is what they want?  Soul-less living courtesy of the guy ahead of them?  Go ahead on, Philistines!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Giving Annie Chun A Facelift

Annie Chun is the label for a variety of boxed Asian products - soups include miso, spicy Szechuan, Chinese chicken or garlic-scallion.  Oh!  and I'm still a writer, not a plastic surgeon but what the hey!  It's almost the New Year - new beginnings!

I bought a box of her miso soup some time and didn't really like it for aesthetic and flavor reasons.  I thought it could have had a deeper, fuller flavor and, oh, by the way, leave out those green stringies when the soup is cooked. 

Pressed (as we all were) by the holidays and wanting something "Asian" to eat, I forgot the previous experience and bought a box of miso.  This time though I fluffed Annie Chung up so much as to unrecognizable.  Here's how I did it - Ignore the label instructions on how to prepare it.

Get a small pot, dump in 1 cup of water and put in the noodles.  Let that begin to heat up and then add the spice mixes that come with it.  Keep heating ... but now add a generous swath of cayenne pepper across the top and a T of sesame oil.  Perks it right on up. 

And remember, Annie (if I may be so bold):  Powder (cayenne) and paint (sesame oil) make you what you ain't!  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Specialized Santas

I never thought that I'd be delivering a lecture on Christmas Day, but when I read in the Drudge Report on Christmas Eve Day that Macy's, NY,  gets customers from all five boroughs because they offer  black customers a black Santa, I became incensed.  But, the article warns, you have to know about Black Santa and special order him. 

My first thought was, "No wonder, racism is rampant in this country!  Can you start any earlier teaching kids to discriminate?  The '60s Q and A would go like this:  "Mommie, why is Santa not white?"  "Oh, he's for the coloreds, dear."

My second thought was, "A black Santa is historically incorrect."  Santa in the Western hemisphere has been white since the 1823 poem "A Visit From St. Nicolas" and cartoonist Thomas Nash's drawings which illustrate it.  

And in the full spirit of fairness, if history is going to be corrupted by have a non-Caucasian Santa, then there should be Mexican and Asian Santas as well.

I add my chorus to Rodney King's "Can't we all just get along?"  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dear Santa: Please Bring Me Some Liniment!

Dear Santa,

I realize that I am a great deal older than your usual customers, but necessity must respond  to an honest request.    In case you don't remember me from previous years (quite some time ago) I was the one of who lived at 6316 Chestnut Avenue from 1945 to, probably 1955.  Obviously I am a great deal older than I was.  (I'm 73, actually.)

Nevertheless, you're known world-wide  for a generous disposition and I need that liniment!    

If you must know (and I suppose you do) Richie taped the Rolling Stones Summer in the Sun concert in Hyde Park, London.  He taped it because it was going to run at 9 p.m. and that's my bed time. 

So, after "Jeopardy" the other night (ends 7:30 p.m. here) he ran the tape.  Having had a few adult beverages (for digestion purposes only, of course) I went wild!

First of all I have loved (collectively, not individually) the Stones from their very beginning.  I've always considered the Beatles as rather ... effeminate at best.   They were very cute, to be sure, but the Stones were the bad boys of rock'n roll. 

So I'm getting into it (the concert) and "Brown Sugar" comes on and I can't just Sit There!  So I began prancing like Jagger all around the living room, arm  gestures and all.

I could see myself in the reflection from the balcony door and I was SMOKIN' Santa.  Real word about that. 

Living up there at the North Pole, you may not think that anyone could dance like a maniac in a pair of Ugg boots.  Here to tell you - doable.   But the next morning I  discovered that prancing will render your front, upper thighs virtually unusable.  You better be ready to support your own weight when sitting down or standing up.  Furthermore  the day after that you will discover muscles you never knew you had in your upper arms. 

Therefore the request for liniment.  Frankly, neither one of us is as young as we used to be so don't Bogart the liniment okay?

Thanking you in advance for what I'm sure will be a positive response,

Best regards, 
Aged Rocker

Richie's cousin Ruth Ellen wrote, "I was told that I wouldn't go to Heaven if I marked my body with a tattoo -- or was a Rolling Stones fan!"  And I wrote back, "Well worth excommunication!"

Tinsel On The Living Room Rug

This worked out well for dinner last night.  I managed to almost duplicate #68 on the Phuket Thai menu.   It's shrimp in Thai yellow curry sauce and it is awesome!  Just the right amount of heat plus cool things like ginger, coconut milk and so forth.  As it happens Trader Joe sells bottles of it and  we had shrimp on hand.

However many shrimp you have, clean them and sauté them in butter or substitute.  When the shrimp are all pink, dowse them good with the sauce and give the dish a good, hard shake of cayenne pepper!  The pepper makes the dish. 

Fancy fingerlings ...  Fingerling potatoes are the ones that actually look like fingers (if you were drunk or otherwise impaired.)   Bon Appetit suggests that you halve them lengthwise, toss them in olive oil with chopped fresh rosemary and bake at 450 (Whoa, Nellie - that's a hot oven.)   Give them a toss or two while they're cooking.

Then when you serve them, garnish them with very thin strips of preserved or real lemon! 

Doesn't sound good to you?  What about using curry powder to season them and then chopped cashews and cilantro when you serve it  

Or how about using oregano (dried or fresh) and garnishing with feta cheese?

Use half carrots and half fingerlings, toss them with butter instead of olive oil and serve with a dash of Aleppo pepper. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013


"The  Way We Lived Then; Recollections of a Well-Known Namedropper" by Dominick Dunne   Crown Publishing   218 pages   $27.50

Astaire, Fred and Adele; Benny, Jack and Mary; Bloomingdale, Alfred and Betsy; Burton, Richard during the Elizabeth years; Farrow, Mia; Hopper, Hedda; Gable, Clark; Gabor, Zsa Zsa; Jagger, Mick; Harriman, Pamela... and that's before you even get to "K" in the alphabet!

It's difficult to see why Dunne was such a star f----r but he most definitely was.  He didn't grow up in poverty; his father was a heart surgeon.  Whence came this lust to be on first-name terms with the rich ad famous?

He wrote that in the '60s, he and wife Ellen Beatriz Griffin Dunne (called "Lenny") were out every night of the week.  If not a dinner party, then cocktails with the so-and-sos, Sunday drop-in barbecues and brunches on tennis courts and in Malibu.  A very giddy life.  I would estimate that the book is 50/50 for photos and prose. 

My brother-in-law is a hoot - he absolutely eats up "the stars."  Every time they come out (from Long Island)  Charlie is on the prowl for or the expectation that a star will appear!  He's going to love this book.  And no, I'm not spoiling the surprise; they don't have (or want) a computer. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas in Other Lands

This is too funny not to use it.

Our adopted nephew is in Nicaragua for Christmas, visiting his real family.  I e'd him and asked:

Do you all go to midnight mass and then have a vast feast?
He wrote back:   Mass is usually early as most people here are trying to avoid alcohol-withdrawal shakes so they want to start the drinking early.

What are your favorites among the dishes?

Dinner will be turkey with a Nicaraguan, pork-based stuffing; it never goes into a turkey's cavity, but is always served on the side.

Do the maids do the cooking or the family women or both?
Maids do the cooking as most people are too blitzed to do anything but serve more drinks.  Those that claim to cook usually give the directions to the maids. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Professional-looking Garage Sale

This is one of the nitpicking types of things one can do that completely escapes me.  It wouldn't even occur to me!

"What's she nattering on about?" you ask.  The Garage Sale Kit which includes:
6 large fluorescent signs, directional arrows along with price stickers, inventory list, tip sheet and a marking pen.  Cost for all of this splendor?  $7.00

Who is selling them?  Our weekly throw-away newspaper.  Makes sense doesn't it?   Printing a newspaper/printing "Garage Sale" on a sign - both are (technically) printing.

But it's a type of thinking that distantly alarms me ... what's coming next?  Putting up aisles in your garage and sorting what you're selling into categories? 

No, don't!  Half the fun of a garage sale is "finding" funny stuff (and quietly wondering in your own head why anyone ever paid cash for it.)

Save the random-ness of garage sales!   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Your History Preference - Factual or Frisky?

The history we were taught in school and the way it was taught very nearly put me off of it for life.

Dry:  On August 7, 1848 General T. Beauregard DuPont ordered his men to...

Frisky:  The sky hung leader; the clouds nearly touching the rolling fields of Bocaster Farm where the rebel troops waited for orders.  The possibility of rain wasn't even discussed; their situation was bad enough.   The soldiers stood, staring down at their equipment; tightening and re-tightening their musket balls.

Okay, now you see what I'm talking about.   Even a dull subject can (usually) be padded out into a much more interesting shape.

But this book blew me away with its matter-of-fact tone!  "Cleopatra, A Life"   by Stacy Schiff   Little Brown & Company   368 pages   $29.99

We Americans have castigated our leaders throughout the years.  But nothing they have ever done has been as scandalous as the way people in Cleopatra's world behaved.

Consider this - young Cleopatra married twice - both times to her own brothers!  The first husband irritated her to the point where she went to civil war with him and killed him.  She poisoned her second brother and later, an ambitious sister who had gotten in her way. 

Despite marrying brothers (her own) it was believed that she only slept with two men - Caesar and later, Marc Antony.  She and Caesar had a child; he was assassinated; she got interested in Marc Antony and went on to have three kids with  him.  She died age 40.

While we snicker at electing a president that has been divorced, consider this:  Pompey married five times and Caesar four. 

Schiff makes much of the fact that Cleopatra was so far ahead of her time.  Her choices were her own, no one forced her on to Caesar   She controlled Egypt's money, waged wars (and won)  Perhaps she was the first liberated woman?  Or maybe it was Catherine the Great, of Russia.  I'll have to get a history book and look.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Deification of a Chef

From time to time, following a schedule that only the editors know, a food and wine magazine will fall madly in love with a chef.

Remember Paul Prudhomme?  Every piece of meat or fish in America was blackened until no one could stand it.  Thomas Keller and his French Laundry dominated the headlines for a long time and whether it was the exquisite food itself or the fact that Keller was getting $200 a plate (I think) doesn't explain it. 

The newest deity has been crowned by Food and Wine and he is 36 year old Corey Lee, a Korean-born, American-educated chef.  He currently runs Benu, San Francisco, and will be opening Monsieur Benjamin, an "Americanized French bistro."  Lee does have impressive credentials - he's worked at Daniel (as in Boulard,) Lespinard as well as the French Laundry and Per Se.

The January issue is running several of Lee's recipes and Food & Wine welcomes visitors to its site. 

Pork Kimchi Dumpling Pancakes caught my eye because I love Kimchi (and am the only person I know who does.)  Deconstructing the recipe, Lee makes kimchi dumplings with fried ground pork, diced firm tofu, scallions, garlic, minced ginger and puts a tablespoon of his mix in a round wonton rapper, fries it and instead of adding a little water and slamming the pan lid shut, he adds what he calls a "slurry" 1 1/2 T cornstarch with one cup of water plus 2 T water.  The idea is for the "slurry" to run together and turn wontons into "pancakes."

This is over-chef-ication to me.  Make wontons, make the dipping sauce and eat.  None of this pancake nonsense.  Kimchi was never meant to be a pancake! 

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 T white vinegar
1/2 T crushed red pepper
1 T sesame seeds
1 T sugar

Mix until the sugar dissolves and serve. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Christmas Letter Provides an Unexpected Insight

You either love'em or hate'em.  There seems to be no middle ground.  I love them because I enjoy hearing what others have been up to all year long.  Travel destinations, vacations taken, family achievements (although this can be overdone - to retaliate one year, I wrote that both cats had graduated summa cum laud from UCLA)

A glimpse away from your own navel is good for you.

I looked at my 2013 calendar to see if we'd done anything particularly interesting... the annual Hermosa Beach plant and bakery sale?  Except for the lemon cookies, nothing exceptiional. 

The Thurs. Writers (southbaywritersworkshop.com) had just celebrated our annual Christmas luncheon and the June Summer Solstice Pot-luck Picnic was a vague memory.

Where all did we go?  And that's when I discovered that we tend to travel in bunches.  First week in April we went to New York for six days, visiting Richie's family.  April 23rd we were in Cabo San Lucas. 

Then we flew to Las Vegas (never doing that drive again - never!) for Labor Day at the invitation of dear friends Red and Barbara, her sister Nancy and her husband, Billy.  We flew home Tuesday and Saturday we were on a flight to London.

Both of these trips were made easy because of clothes, believe it or not.  Summer clothing in Cabo and Las Vegas; winter (more or less) in New York and London.

Maybe there's a method to our madness? 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Worst Fears Confirmed

The characters on A & E's "Duck Dynasty" show are real.  I will pause and let you absorb this ghastly thought.

I would never have heard about these duck people if it weren't for the Sunday NY Times book review which has been listing "Si-Cology 101" for a long time.

When it popped up in front of my nose at the library, I checked it out.  I shouldn't have.

Si Robertson and Mark Schlabach have a romping good time, shoveling out the platitudes, cliches and stupid-isms of the so-called Redneck Tribe.  Si is a treasure chest of horrible, ancient jokes with which he lauds himself, presuming to be the biggest wit in the room.  He's about half right.

Blowhard, braggart, falsely modest - step right up and pick your cliche!  Uncle Si is happy to provide it.

If you have to winter in a duck blind to avoid this book - DO IT.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

O How the Swells Prance and Swirl Haughtily Around Us...

"Swells" are generally thought to be better dressed, possibly better educated (but not often) people who have money and no shame about flaunting it.

And their homie magazine is Town & Country which this month offers several sommeliers  talking about how they serve champagne.  Caviar and champagne or icy vodka and champagne?  My dear, how very five minutes ago.  Let us collectively bring you up to cruise speed in the champagne aisles of this great country.

Laura Maniec, owner, Corkbuzz Wine Studio:  Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut  to accompany crispy French fries.  The rest of us can hit McDonald's for ours.

Juliette Pope, wine director, Gramercy Tavern:  Ceci La Luna Lambrusco paired with the off-menu Gramercy Park bacon cheeseburger.  The rest of us proles can just get a Big Mac to go with our fries.

Dennis Kelly, sommelier, the French Laundry:  Bollinger Special Cuvee:  with truffled popcorn!  Is it possible to get any more twee?  More chi-chi?

And, finally, the guy who confounded me:    he has created his own little version of surf and turf.  He serves a course of grilled crab and grilled licorice stick!

What the very hell?  The only licorice sticks I remember seeing were the long, snaky whips at the penny candy store.  You want to really make a mess, put a couple across a roaring barbecue pit.

It turns out that licorice sticks can be eaten like raw sugar cane.  I have to wonder if the crab is cooked over a bed of licorice sticks or if it is grilled on its own to be chawed at the table or what.  If any of you have dined with Richard Geoffrey, chef du cave, Dom Perignon and he served it - please advise!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Pretentiousness - I'm Agin It!

There are new entries in the race to be considered avant-garde.  The newest  must have for artists comes from the Institute for Art and Olfaction of downtown Los Angeles.  The function of this elevated title Institute is to provide appropriate aromas  to go with paintings.   Heavy floral scents for a painting of a vase of flowers... an intensification the perfumers claim.  

An example is the planned series of 10 big billboards on the 10 Freeway.  (My guess would be on the way into Palm Springs.)

All well and good.  This work is entitled "Manifest Destiny" (talk about pretension) and will illustrate territorial expansion, i.e., Going West.  The accompanying perfume will contain "notes of leather, dust, sweat and jasmine." 

Consider this:  traffic on the I-10 is going, on average, 80mph; out in the desert it's hot so the windows are up and the air conditioner is on.  No one is going to smell anything except the interior of their own vehicles. 

Further I wonder if the residents will rise up and disconnect the scent dispenser?  It is windy in the desert and the "aroma" could go anywhere on any given day.   After all the people that live there aren't "going West" they're already there!

It's all too pretentious for me. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Santa Double-Crossed Me - And So Did My Own Mother!

Ours was a small family - mother, father, younger sister and me.  I was post-WW2 and luxuries and goods were scarce.  I think that's why my parents decided on one big present and satellite little presents of useful items such as mittens, or socks.

So that they could sleep past 4 a.m., we were allowed to go quietly out to the living room and bring our stocks back to our twin beds to explore them.  This was followed by a big breakfast and finally we got around to opening presents.

The year I got the Flexible Flyer sled I'd been panting for, we had no snow.  None.  From personal experience, I can tell you it is not a good idea to pull on your snow suit and boots, take the sled out to the driveway, run a couple of steps and throw yourself down on the sled.  Concrete is not what the sled is used to and in shock, it stops instantly.  You, however , will go sliding down the sled and into a face plant on the driveway.

The year I got roller skates, we did have snow.  I took them out to the street where there were ruts from car treads, put them on, stood up and went exactly nowhere.  I was literally spinning my wheels.

Many years later, I was 32 and had fallen in love with photography.  I wanted a Nikon, a camera bag and two lenses to start me off.  I'd already bought the camera strap for the gear I was sure my parents would give me. 

When I got to their house, the first thing I looked at was the Christmas tree (in the guise of admiring it) and yes!  There were Nikon-sized packages under it!

Comes Christmas morning and I demurely open my smaller packages, just itching to rip the wrapping off of those had-to-be-Nikon items.  I tackled the biggest box that just had to be the camera body and found -- a boxed stack of dinner plates!

Bewildered, I put them down and opened the second box - a boxed set of matching salad/dessert plates!  What the hell had happened to my Nikons? 

I looked inquiringly at my mother, who said, "Someday, dear, you'll meet a nice man (aside) God hurry the day- and you'll serve him a nice dinner on this lovely set and get married!"

In truth, I didn't know any "nice men"; they were all rogues, scalawags or pirates of one sort or another but tremendously fun which is why I ran with them. 

I had to fake joy at this unlikely scenario my mother had presented for the rest of the time I was at home.  When I got back to California, the dishes went up on the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet and there they have rested ever since.

And 11 years after I'd gotten the Nikon China I married Richie and we've been happy for the past 30 years.

He never asks about the plastic-swathed dishes on the top shelf.  I guess I'm just sentimental -- or the holder of the world's longest grudge!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz

Huge shout out and a fist bump to ALKA SELZER PLUS COLD FORMULA. 

The box says the fizzing flat tablets are good for a veritable laundry list of symptoms:  nasal congestion; runny nose; headache and body ache; sore throat; sinus pressure.  

And I'm here to testify that they are good.  I had two doses yesterday (mid-afternoon and before bed) and I am at least 60 per cent better than yesterday.  And what a relief it is!  Christmas cards, here I come!

Even if you don't have any of the symptoms, get a box "just in case."  This is good sh - er, stuff. 

Recycled Words

Today I got the "My Turn" column in our local paper the Daily Breeze.  You can (probably) see it at   dailybreeze.com/general-news/3013121  or by Googling Daily Breeze + My Turn.

What amuses me is the fact that I wrote this column a year ago and ran it here.  I then submitted it to the Daily Breeze - last year - and they turned it down.  Undeterred, I printed the blog and stuck it in the December section of my big calendar.  Who knows?  There might be a new editor by then or better still the paper might have gone back to it's original tradition which was paying the writers.  Granted, it was only $25 a story published, but ... $25 is $25.

Naturally I'm pleased at the additional audience that it might amuse, but I was more pleased to read the last line -- "Murphy is a member of the SouthBayWritersWorkshop.com"  Now, maybe we can get more writers!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Written With a Fever

I am on Day 2 of a bad cold; nothing life threatening, of course (unless I can really ramp up the drama ...)

How bad is my cold?

I'm blowing my nose so much that I had to duct tape a box of Kleenex to my chest...

I'm coughing so much I'm getting six-pack abs

My nose is so red that Santa's got me on speed dial in case anything happens to Rudolph

I had to e Dr. "Raffish" to ask what color brain tissue is - there can't be anything else left in there.  "And not too much of that either" many might say. 

A New Holiday?

I think most of us greet January (any year) with a great big yawn.  The excitement is over or depending on your degree of participation in the holidays, was never there in the first place.

But I think this might be a minor celebration many of us can get our teeth into (literally.)

January 1st is national (!) Bloody Mary Day!  And I think the newly-re-opened King Cole Bar, St. Regis Hotel, may have been the group that dreamed this up.  And this amused me, too.  They are promoting their  "Red Snapper" which they claim is related to the original Bloody Mary recipe in 1934, invented by Fernand Petiot.

Here's what they say is the Original Bloody Mary recipe

1 oz. vodka
2 oz. tomato juice
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes salt
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

The King Cole Bar will wait a long time for patronage by me -- they charge $30 a Bloody Mary or Red Snapper or whatever they're calling the vodka and tomato juice drink this week!  Talk about New York Nerve!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Death Cuts In On Dancing Duo

The gaiety at the Jazz Club dimmed when Paul Goldman, president of the South Bay New Orleans Jazz Club, announced the death of Bernie Petitjean.

Petitjean, born November 1, 1925, died on November 23, 2013 while being treated in a hospice for dementia.  He leaves his wife Lu (previously misspelled as "Lou") two daughters and a son and their various spouses and children. 

He was an active member of this jazz group since 1985 as well as other groups throughout the locale.  As a reflection of his interest in jazz, his immediate family was present yesterday and provided refreshments to the members present.

Petitjean was an aviation mechanic in World War 2; went four years to an art school and then began working at TRW.  He was a member of the Sierra Club.  During 20 years with that group, he climbed more than 500 mountains.

After retirement, he and Lu visited 43 countries.

The family and the widow received condolences - when she wasn't out on the dance floor. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Different Strokes

I have often noticed the difference between a male's idea of "funny" and a females which is often "How ridiculous" to the male's idea of a joke.

Cases in point:  This morning Richie asked me, "Why did the banana go to the hospital?"  I just looked at him.  "Because he didn't peel good!" (roars of laughter on his part.)

He then asked, "What did the lawyer wear to court?"  I slit my eyes and waited.  "His law suit, of course!"

Yesterday a male sent "the best beer joke ever!" which was:  about 10 guys and 10 kegs gather around the opening to an absent friend's crawl space, underneath his house.  They proceed to connect the kegs to all of the water pipes there so that when the guy goes for water (for whatever reason) all that comes out is beer!

All I could think was, "What a waste of beer, time and energy."  Plus you'd have to flush the pipes after the kegs are disentangled from the house pipes...all to amuse a group of frat types with more time than money on their hands. Or brains in their heads. 

That's not funny.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"I Say, Old Chap, Shall We Dine at the Club Tonight?" (wink, wink)

"The Bordello Cookbook" by Jo Foxworth   Moyer Bell Press   229 pages   $24.95

Foxworth makes a lively point when she points out the fact that being a madam was about the only job possible for women in the late 1890s and early 1900s.  They didn't go out to the workplace because there was no workplace for them other than perhaps being a servant.

She gives as much of the back story as is available with the likes of the Everleigh sisters, Chicago; Sally Stanford, San Francisco; Miss Millie's, Atlanta;  and Miss Lulu, New Orleans.  Entrepreneurs all and to keep the men coming in, they also offered fine dining in addition to other, er, tasty tidbits.  All of the above served such lavish and tasty dinners that some customers never were interested in any activities while at the brothel.

Oysters gained their reputation as an aphrodisiacs in 1907 when a smart vendor added this sign to his push cart:  "Improve your love life!  Eat delicious oysters - six for 50 cents."  Today's nutritionists say his claim has validity -- oysters are rich in zinc; said zinc is conducive to sexual health.  (Who knew?)

Here's a recipe for pickled oysters for the man on the go - pop a container in your brown bag lunch - think of them as "Old-fashioned Viagra"

3 pints whole oysters, shucked, including their liquor
2 cups white wine vinegar
12 whole cloves
12 whole black peppercorns
2 T ground mace
2 small red peppers
Pinch of salt

Boil the oysters in their juice and put them in a bowl or jar.  Add the boiling vinegar and spices to the bowl; cover the bowl and let it cool.  Serve cold.

It's a fun read filled with all sorts of interesting trivia - Diamond Jim Brady, a big spender and an even bigger gourmand, had a stomach six times larger than a normal one and he never, ever drank although he was more than happy to see others do so and cheerfully paid enormous bar bills.   My kinda guy...

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter Is Officially Here

Mark the date - Friday, December 6th!  "But winter does not officially arrive until December 21st" you protest.  Maybe so "officially" but this morning when I got upstairs, I found that Richie had turned on the gas wall heater and the dining room ceiling fan! 

For him to turn on the heat is winter enough for me!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Pop-Out Yacht

I think all of us have seen the RV trailers with a side section that pops out?  Now there is a yacht that splits wider (when parked at the dock only.)  We saw an infomercial on it at the Hangar Inn whence we had gone to celebrate finishing the Christmas shopping with a beer.  I demurred, "Richie, it's 2:10 in the afternoon!"  Richie argued that it would be almost criminal not to celebrate such a time-honored tradition.

The bartendress and I were the only females in the place and not finding the gentlemen's conversation to be of much interest, I turned my attention to one of the TVs behind the bar.  

My eye was caught by a shot of a sleek speedboat, roaring through an ocean, followed by a rooster tail of spume.  "This is pretty," I thought.  

But when the boat was shown docked and the sides of the top deck began to extrude from the boat, my eyes really popped.  Up rose a complete bbq set-up, lounges slid into view -- there was more "stuff" going on there than a half-price sale at Nordstroms.

WiderYachtsUS.com has a great many more details to show you than the bits of information I gleaned at the bar.  The boat is made of all aluminum with a complicated dashboard with the various functions/possibilities of the yacht to expend, shrink back into itself, all of which can be keyed to operate singly.

The boat comes in 32 ft. or 42 ft. or 150 ft.  lenghts.  The 32 ft. costs $1.4 million and is manufactured in Italy.  Tilli Antonelli is the co-founder of WiderYachtsUSA.com  

Too bad we'd finished all of the Christmas shopping when we saw it.  It would definitely be a major conversation piece - until the hydraulic system broke down ...     

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Softly-Spoken Word of Warning

Both local Christmas tree lots opened over the weekend.  We've already seen several cars with Christmas trees carefullly tied on the roof. 

But after reading several sites on tree safety, I can tell you that it's a better idea to buy the freshest tree you can find and put it up only days away from Christmas and dispose of it as quickly as is feasible after. 

It's critical to keep a fresh tree watered.  When you get it, cut additional slits in the wood below the water level of your container.  This helps the tree "drink" more.  And check the water every day.

If you have tree lights, keep a small fire extinguisher near the tree.

Usually, paper-wrapped gifts are piled under the lit branches.  A better idea might be to fire retard a Christmas tree skirt, spread it under the tree -- and stack the gifts in a pile away from the tree.

Experts recommend LED lights as they are cooler to the touch and do not use as much electricity.

Never go away and leave the tree lighted!  If you're going out for dinner or to bed, TURN OFF THE CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTS.

One in three home Christmas fires are caused by "electrical problems."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Works for Swordfish and Salmon - Good Enough for Me!

Since the only fish I eat is canned tuna, when I fix "real fish" for Richie, I have no idea what the fish tastes like so am at rather a loss for the proper seasonings.

In the past, he has happily eaten:  well peppered, sautéed in olive oil with the skillet deglazed with lime juice.

But a conversation with the butcher at our local supermarket gave me a new idea.  It was swordfish and the guy and I were joking around while I looked at the fish package.  I said, "It looks more delicate than other, darker fish."  This was so, he said.  Thinking aloud, I asked - "So, whatya  think about sesame oil ... and deglazing the skillet with white balsamic vinegar?" 

He grinned and said, "What time is dinner?"

I tried it and Richie said it was delicious (quite possibly because I cooked dinner that night.) 

Tonight I tried it with salmon and Richie and "Raffish" both liked it. 

Apparently using sesame oil gives the fish a "deeper" flavor and the white balsamic adds a touch of sweetness.  Probably because it is sweeter than the usual balsamic. 

My tasting board has agreed, so go for it!

Back In The Middle Ages...

I forget the source, but when I ran across this familiar English nursery rhyme, I was forced to consider something.  Here's the rhyme:

Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye
Four and 20 blackbirds
Baked in a pie

When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Wasn't that a dainty dish
To set before the king?

The king was in his counting house
Counting out his money
The queen was in the parlour
Eating bread and honey

The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose!

They sent for the king's doctor
Who sewed it on again
He sewed it on so neatly
The seam was never seen

There was such a commotion
That little Jenny wren
Flew down into the garden
And put it back again.

Okay - it's a nursery rhyme.  It never happend.  But how could live birds be baked in a pie and not dead in there when the dish was served?  Hello, Google?

Wickipedia told me that live birds in pies became popular in the Middle Ages and these dishes were called "Entrmets" or between servings.  As time passed, these dishes became ever more complicated as the dukes and earls and others all tried to out-do one another.  Imagine shaking out your dinner napkin and out fly a couple of songbirds!

To answer my question:  the pie shells were baked empty, a hole was cut in the bottom crust and the live birds were inserted just before serving. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013


A brief glance at this mornings headlines tells me that going shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving is a very bad idea indeed -- Shootings!  Stabbings!  "Officer Down!"  clouds of pepper spray; dancing Taser beams...

One commentator remarked that it reminded him of the running of the bulls in Spain, "only with no bulls, just badly-dressed people." 

"Saving" $100 on a flat screen giant TV is not saving when you are then exposed to extensive ER and hospital bills.  Stay home.  You can always shop another day.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Yesterday I was whining about the lack of people around the dinner table.  I regretted it this morning when I read a story about two families in this morning's Daily Breeze.

The Comstocks and the Kirbys celebrated their 58th straight Thanksgiving dinner together.  When Kay Kirby and Irma Comstock Ajhar met, Kay was 23 with three little kids; Irma was 24 with two little kids.   When Irma learned that Kay who was from Canada had never celebrated Thanksgiving, she set out to remedy the situation and the two families have been celebrating it ever since.

Except that today, they require tables for 64 - four generations.  There are 15 children, 39 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.   And Kay and Irma.

This is what made me rue my words -- every year they take turns holding this massive dinner in their homes

I don't think you could crowd 64 people into our house, let alone serve them a dinner!  Clearly there's nothing wrong with a quiet dinner.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Somewhat Triste Thanksgiving...

Dinner is over; the food is put away, the plates scraped and in the dishwasher and the pots and pans all scrubbed.  The turkey roaster is bagged and ready to go back to the garage until next year. 

The three of us (Richie, our adopted nephew "Raffish" and the cook - me) sat down to an amuse bouche of slice of pear, wrapped in hot sopressato, smeared with Carambolo with a little honey drizzled on it.  We segued into black pepper and sage-rubbed turkey breast, stuffing, gravy and Ignoble Green Beans (canned French-cut green- beans with cream of mushroom soup and French's onion rings) with cornbread squares with corn and chopped jalapenos, butter and honey.  Richie's pumpkin pie for dessert which, I assure you, did not come immediately after the meal.  We needed to recoup!

When "Raffish" said, "Who all was here last year?" it triggered memories - Bob and Pat, who have since moved away; John and Angie, who took turns because a year ago, their kids were 2 and 3 months; T,  and "D" and the three of us. 

This year,l John, Angie and the kids came over in the morning for almond Danish and a bottle of Sparkling Apple juice (thanks for the bubbly!  Am not about to quit drinking, but good to know there's a fall-back position, if necessary);  T's car needs a new drive shaft and he's not going anywhere; "D" is in Chicago with his ailing mother and so it goes. 

"Life" is movement, but it's also change.  I accept that (and we had a good if somewhat subdued good time) but admittedly, I rather longed for the Good Old Days. 

However, I know that finishing off the second bottle of peach champagne will cheer me up!  Richie is watching a football game and "Raffish" is "taking a 10 minute nap."  They never would have dared -- or been interested in these things - last year.  

I'm thankful for champagne! 

Just "Not Helpful" or Sabotaging A Holiday?

The front page of today's Daily Breeze newspaper is an article warning us that if we're going to pig out, we need to work out, too.  I don't find it helpful OR entertaining to read that a slice of pumpkin pie is 323 calories; a half-cup of gravy is .118 calories or a half-cup of stuffing is 150.  This is NOT need to know brain clutter.

Thanksgiving is to give thanks, not count calories.  Eat your heart out! (as I plan to do) and let the devil take the hind part tomorrow. 


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stocking Stuffers

I'm not confused.  I know that tomorrow we will stuff the turkey. 

But Christmas is hurtling toward us - our two Christmas tree lots are up and ready for the trees to come in.  The economy is such that there will be more people in the stores, desperately bargain hunting.

So, when given the chance, take advantage and get it all done now! 

Which brings me to this (and you thought I'd never get here.)  A dear friend shared some of the chocolates her adoring son had given her.  They were German-made with a chocolate-covered peanut "crust" then a layer of hardened sugar and finally about a teaspoon of liqueurs such as Drambuie, Limoncello and so forth.

The hard interior sugar shell interested me greatly because it's such a good idea.  The unwary bite in, the sugar breaks and your mouth is flooded with a liqueur!

She said he'd gotten them at Alpine Village, Torrance, a collection of:  very spacious restaurant and bar with a separate German grocery store next to the swap meet parking lot.   Yes, lots of amusements conveniently in one location.  

They had them!  I got a 250 gram box with four flavors in white chocolate (genius):  Jamaica Run, Kir Royal, Bellini and Daiquiri.  ($10.95) In fact, I got two boxes.  And another box - slender, this time that would actually slide into a spacious stocking Asbord Pralines with Kirschen.($9.95) 

Triumpf is the maker; Edle Tropfen in Nuss is the four-drink tastes box; Edle Kirschen is the pralines. 

"Hey, Santa - you don't even have to slow down over our house!  I gotcher back."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Gentle Readers: A Warning

Do-It-Yourself books can do more harm than they do good.  Especially if you are a writer or trying to gain writing skills.  This was a lesson learned long ago, but I was tempted into harm by "Good Prose - Stories and Advice from a Lifetime of Writing and Editing" by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.   Random House   195 pages   $26

I write about things I either saw or heard about.  Simple enough, right?  It would seem I'm doing it wrong.  According to the book, you can be first person - "I saw him drop the ball" or something called "restricted third person" or "limited third person." 

And then there is "first person minor" - "We met at MacDonald's."  The reader is told that this is the approach used by the august New Yorker which goes far to explain that while I love the cartoons, I have never, ever finished an entire article in those pages.  

The book goes on and on telling us how to write in the most erudite language possible along with copious illustrations of other writers' works.  Frankly, I think these two have run out of anything else to write and are just showing off.  Authors are quite capable of obfustication.

I am also reminded of the old adage, "Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach."  Yes, that saucer of cream goes right here, in front of me.    Purrr.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ah, the Sunday Papers

In addition to the two Sunday crosswords, I particularly enjoy the Travel sections.  Sundays are lazy around here (and let's not discuss the rest of the week at this time) and it's fun to read of unlikely destinations or unusual sights to see. 

Cases in point - The Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA, has an exhibit that is mounted inside the public restrooms - WHAT? - because it's a series of wall-mounted drawings/cartoons of how passengers on ships coped with not having flush toilets - or even toilet paper, for that matter.  It's called "A Head of Its Time - You Have to Go to See It!"   marinersmuseum.org

The Historical Museum of Wisconsin is having a timely exhibit - aluminum Christmas trees, brought back from the late 50's and early '60s.   They were popular long before "green" came our way and it wouldn't be surprising if they made a comeback for the simple reason that they can be used over and over again.   The most popular brand was "Evergleam" and retailed at $25.


Either one of these would be great conversation stoppers - "Well, when I was at the..."  You could dine out for quite a long while. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Saturday is no longer a day for Richie and self to run errands because we were working all week.  Saturday doesn't have any urgency to "Get it all done today!"  so we can putter all day Sunday. 

So since it is a "regular" day here, I had time to do some thinking while I showered...

Very Good Business!
Recently Truck required some work.  Three days after I got her back, we got a thank you card in the mail.  It showed a watercolor of a bottle on a white sandy beach with a turquoise sea receding into the distance.  The caption said, "Just a note to say "Thank you" (open) It has been a pleasure serving you and we want you to know we appreciate your business. Thank you, (hand-signed) Joe."  Enclosed were two business cards for Joe Kerby Auto Repair - joekerbyauto.com

You can never say "thank you" enough and in this computer-driven world, the card was a very nice surprise.

Every time a black person plays the race card on a white person, the black person is automatically ceding superiority to the white.  The black person is, in essence, saying "All I've got going for me is the color of my skin."

Er, how about citing something else instead?  A degree in engineering "And that's why it won't work" or education - "I've been teaching for 35 years and..."  Anything that justifies your side of the argument intellectually.  We all have skins.  The color they might happen to be is irrelevant. 

The Tidy Cat
A friend down in Texas wrote this morning and she mentioned that there is a small area between their house and the fence which is graveled (against flooding.)  She said Daisy, the dog, will sometimes pee there and when she does, Red the cat, "neat and tidy soul that he is" goes out and covers it with gravel.  He seems to be saying, "That is just not acceptable, Daisy."   Thanks for a good laugh, Suzanne!

Friday, November 22, 2013

In Which My Sister Outfoxes Me

For years our mother would make Pecan Balls for us and guests for Christmas.   We grew up; Jane got married and I moved to California.  When she died, Jane took over the making and shipping  of them along with the decorated, frosted sugar cookies she used to make, too.  She and her kids enjoyed frosting and decorating them.  

Sometime last year I mentioned the Pecan Balls to her, saying how much we look forward to them.  By return mail, I got this:  "I had no idea that you didn't have the recipe!  Now you can eat Pecan Balls all year long if you like!  Jane."   She'd sent the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350
3/4 to 1 cup shortening (whatever that is - it used to be called "Crisco" and was a white substance in a metal can)
 1 teas. salt 
2 teas. vanilla
1/2 to 1 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups sifted flour
2 cups finely-chopped pecans
Additional powdered sugar to roll the cookies in after baking

Blend the salt and vanilla into the shortening and gradually add the confectioners sugar and cream well.

Stire in the flour and pecans.

Shape the stiff dough into little balls slightly larger than a marble.

Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 15 mintes.

Remove from the pan and quickly roll the hot cookies in powdered sugar and cool on a cloth-covered rack (less mess on the countertop.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

BEER Sommelier?!

At the next table...
Waiter:  "Shall I bring you the wine list, sir?"
Customer: (dismissively) Wine list?  That is SO five minutes ago!  Bring me the beer menu" looking anticipatory and all but licking his lips."

Welcome to nearly-the-end of 2013.  I'm not so unsophisticated that I have never seen a beer menu or choices listed on a blackboard, but yesterday's lunch gave me New Information.

Richie decided that Truck needed a good gallop so we went to El Segundo and on the way, I casually mentioned that it was nearing noon and "There's a new place I want to try."

And thus we parked in their lot behind Rock and Brews, 143 Main Street, El Segundo.  The restaurant consists of a large patio and a two-sided room.  The two outside walls aren't there although I noted that roll-down plastic "walls" were neatly racked above the open space.  It was warm enough not to need the long space heaters that ran along the ceiling.  This is the kind of restaurant often seen in Cabo so we felt right at home.   And, in fact, there is one there.

Two menus and the beer list were handed to us.  To say the beer menu was extensive is understatement.  There are four pages of beers from all around America and parts of Europe.  Wines get one page and it's the back page.  Not wanting to spend the afternoon debating which beer I wanted ... when I saw Stella d'Artois, I ordered one.  You can see the beer list at    rockandbeer.com  You can spend your afternoon studying it.

Richie and the waiter were talking prices and Richie seemed rather dazed by them.  I took the menu and found that The Bruery is offering 750ml for $45!  I looked at the waiter and said, "That's for a 6-pack, right?"

"No," he said laughing, "That's for one beer ... see over there, behind the bar?  Some of those are pretty big bottles."  750ml equals 25.3 ounces which equals 1.56 pounds of beer!  You better have a strong drinking arm and deep pockets is all I can say.  Other beers and sizes - Mikkeller, Denmark, 375ml for $30; Old Rasputin is a good buy - 330ml for $8. 

I had the cup of chili and Caesar salad with cheesy-garlic bread ($10.95) and Richie the pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw ($10.50)  Our Stellas were draft, served in tall glasses ($6.00 each)

The food was wholesome enough and the portions were so big we had leftovers for dinner.  I'd say the food quality and menu are typical for a sports bar.  I'm pretty sure the clientele goes to study the beer list and have lengthy discussions about it.  Just like wine snobs used to do. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I thought I'd get paper cuts, I was flipping through my 3-ring binder of recipes so fast.  Said binder is four inches thick, easily, when it's closed.  Not surprising since it contains 30 years of recipes carefully garnered from magazines, newspapers, friends, family members...

I was searching for a specific recipe for Thanksgiving turkey stuffing which I made exactly once.  Not because we didn't like it or it wasn't any good.  No, once was enough when I had to shell two cups of pistachios for the damned thing.  "One for the dressing, two for me" ... you can imagine it took awhile.  Today, my bacon is saved (figuratively) as Trader Joe sells bags of shelled pistachios!  With that good news, let us sally forth ...

1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup Calvados*
1 /4 cup olive oil
6 cups cubed baguette
2 cups shelled pistachio nuts
1 stick butter
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teas. nutmeg
1/2 teas. paprika
1/2 teas. dried thyme
pinch of cayenne
2 tart apples, peeled, cored and chopped
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup chicken broth

1.  Marinate the raisins in the Calvados
2.  Preheat oven to 350 and toast the nuts for 8 minutes - cool and save
3.  Melt the butter and sauté the onions, then add the mushrooms, garlic and seasonings
4.  Moisten the apple chunks with lemon juice and toss'em in with the onion mixture.
5.  Add bread cubes and pour on the chicken broth.  Stir it around and bake until it's a golden brown on top.
Makes 12 cups of dressing. 

*Calvados is a French apple brandy from the Normandy region.  Locally, it's called "le trou Normande"  (the Normande hole) because of this odd fact:  You can plow heartily through an entire Thanksgiving dinner and loll in your chair groaning but if you drink 1/2 oz. of Calvados, you will sit up briskly and do it all  again!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Efficiency in the Kitchen!

Food & Wine presented this.  A basic cookie dough that can be transformed into three more distinctly different flavors.

Preheat oven to 350
1 cup fine almond flour - I'd bet you could just use plain, old flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of sea salt
     Sift them together
1 stick of softened sweet butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teas. pure vanilla
     Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg and vanilla
Add the dry ingredients and mix well.  Viola!  The basic dough.

Now you can get fancy although there is absolutely no reason not to use cookie cutters and then frost these as is.    That was a big project when I was a kid.

Preheat the over to 350
Throw these into the dough, roll out and cut into rounds or triangles and bake for 10-12 minutes:
1/2 cup salted, roasted pumpkin/pepita seeds
1/2 cup chopped, dried mango or apricots or cranberries (or all three!)

Preheat the oven to 375
6 oz. finely-chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 7-oz. bag of large coconut flakes
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

When you put the dry ingredients into the basic dough, add  the two chocolates, then pack a 9 in . sq. pan  and bake for 15 min.
Mix the coconut flakes and the sweetened condensed milk together and pour over the cookies and bake another 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350
When you make the basic dough, add 1/2 teas. of cardamom.
Roll out and cut in rounds.  Using either your (clean) thumb or the back of a teaspoon to make a dent in the top of the cookie.  Bake for 10 minutes, pull the tray out and re-dent them and then bake the final 7 or 8 minutes.

After they've cooled, fill the dents with your choice of orange marmalade, lemon curd, strawberry or raspberry jam or maybe mincemeat.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Title Says It All

"Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan   Doubleday   403 pages   $25.95

This was an eye opener for me as I'd never thought much (or at all to be brutally frank) about the Asian Super-Rich.  This particular group of them lives in Singapore when they're not occupying one of their other homes in Paris, London or New York.  Their private aircraft includes one woman's 737-700 jet with a yoga studio complete with inlaid pebble walls and a heated pine floor. 

A man throws the bachelor party on his 388 ft. yacht with a karaoke lounge, a casino, two swimming pools and an outdoor bowling alley.

The story begins with an invitation from Nick to Rachel, his girlfriend of two years to spend the summer in Singapore - he has to be best man at his best friend's wedding and then why not tour around so he can show her his home town?  Both are teachers at NYU.

American raised Rachel is unaware of the degree to which these people distinguish between Mainland China vs. Overseas Chinese.  The most dreaded are the ABCs 0 American-Born Chinese. 

The families in the book are not only numerous - houses have to be big to accomodate dinners and celebrations with all of them - but they are crazy rich. 

Rivalry among the families is intense -- The Ohs have to be seated in the front pews of the Methodist church, 50 pews in front of a Ling.  A Chu won't go within 50 ft. of a Leong. 

Gossip is state of the art via international cell phones.  "You sound sleepy - why are you going to bed so early?  Are you all right?"

"Yes, it's night time here."

"Aren't you in Singapore?"

"No, Paris - what's up?"

It's a crackling good read with just the right amount of history (how they made all that money,) bitchy women, oblivious men and several love stories.  And amazing examples of how billionaires are often very cheap. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Surfeit Season

En garde!  We're moving into it.  I'm referring to Thanksgiving, Christmas/ Chanukah/Kwanza and New Year's Eve. 

Thanksgiving isn't all that fattening.  Turkey is lean, especially if you baste with chicken broth instead of butter.  you don't have to use milk in your gravy; chicken broth works just as well.  There all kinds of calorie savers you can employ for this dinner.  And you should use them!  Thigh fat is forever fat, ahem. 

Christmas is the killer.  Everyone is thrusting cookies or candies at you, squealing, "Try this!"  "No!  Try these!"  I don't know for sure, but I would bet that December is the highest sugar-consumption month of them all. 

New Year's Eve features (for the most part) rich and expensive foods -- caviar and champagne (purr) - lobster tails all around!  Eat like the Obamas!  And, of course, it's mandatory to get knee-walking drunk.

No wonder everyone is bored in January!  We're all eaten out! 

What's a body to do?  I normally wouldn't recommend yo-yo dieting (which this is) but try to lose three pounds before Surfeit Season.  A pound a week is an acceptable goal.  If you can accomplish this then you can eat guilt free and enjoy your food.

Here's an example of cutting back calories, but not taste.  The soy sauce - get the low-sodium if you haven't already - is the key to the traditional dark color with less cooking.

1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine  (or no-calorie water - or not at all; you've got the broth coming)
1 T soy sauce
6 cups low-sodium beef broth
Four 1/2 in. thick slices of whole grain baguette (for fiber)
1/4 cup shredded Gruyere/Swiss cheese.  (Really more of a garnish than a hefty part of the soup)

Cook the onions in the olive oil until they're golden brown.  Add the wine/water and soy sauce and continue cooking for about 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the cheese over the baguette slices and broil them 6 in. from the flame.  You want the cheese to brown, not burn so keep an eye on it. 

They say to put the soup in the bowl and top it with the bread.  I say to put the bread in the empty bowl and pour the soup over the bread.  If you've ever tried to cut through restaurant onion soup with a spoon... you'll see I'm right to do it this way.  It's much easier on the tablecloth...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Thought

"After the game, the King and the Pawn go into the same box."
      old Italian saying

Streaking Across the World On A Slice of Bacon

1/2 cup grainy mustard
2 T minced fresh dill
2 T crushed peppercorns
4 6-oz. skinless fresh salmon fillets
4 slices bacon

Preheat the broiler
Mix the mustard and spices in a small bowl and "butter" the fillets with it.  Put a slice of bacon on the fillet and wrap it as much as you can around the fillet, securing the bacon with a skewer.  Broil them bacon side down for 4 minutes, 4 in. from the flame, turn and cook until the bacon is crisp and serve immediately.

In Norway this dish is served with boiled, parsley-ed potatoes or dilled lentils and thin rye bread toasts and shot glasses of ice-cold vodka or beer.

6 large boiled Idaho potatoes
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Black pepper to taste
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Manchego cheese

Keep the potatoes warm while you fry the bacon and onion for a couple of minutes.  Add the tomatoes and pepper and simmer until the mixture is well blended and smooth.  Then add the cream and cheese.  To serve, quarter the potatoes and pour the sauce over them.  If you can't get Manchego, you can use a slightly-aged Munster or sharp cheddar. 

3 oz. air-cured Chinese bacon - soaked in water for at least 6 hours.  Remove the rind and chop coarsely.
1 T peanut oil
1 T sesame oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 lbs. Bok choy or Savoy or Napa cabbage
2 T chicken broth

Fry the bacon, drain it and set it aside.  Pour off all but 1 T of the bacon fat.  Add the two oils to the remaining bacon fat, crank up the heat, add the garlic and stir fry it for 15 seconds.  Add the greens and stir until they're wilted, then add the bacon and chicken broth and stir for about 2 minutes. 

Frankly I don't think you're going to get much bacon fat using 3 oz.  And:  how the hell do you measure oil left in a pan?  Eyeball it?  Pour it all out and then measure out a tablespoon?  Where's Wolfgang Puck when I need him?  

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Brief History and Some Amazing Statistics About Bacon

I've always considered bacon an essentially American table item.  Yeah, sure the French sneak it into a quiche Lorraine and you can order bacon and eggs for breakfast anywhere in Mexico.  Ireland has "bacon" which is Canadian bacon and "streaky" bacon which is the same as ours.

But America uses the most bacon, right?  Burger King alone uses more than five million pounds of bacon a year!

I was shocked to read that the Chinese were salting and preserving pork in 1500 B.C.!  Aesop mentioned it in 550 B.C.

The countries that routinely eat bacon surprised me: 
America, Great Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal (!) Germany, Austria and Switzerland plus Hungary, Denmark and, of course, China. 

Bacon is eaten sparkingly in this house - a slice and a half each on Sundays - because even though it has no trans fat and does have vitamins, protein, niacin, potassium, zinc and selenium, it is too high in salt, total fat and cholesterol.  Bacon should be like a great treat once in awhile - you wouldn't want to live on, say Godiva chocolates, for very long.

According to  "The Bacon Cookbook," by James Villas   Wiley Publishers    275 pages   $35  bacon goes well with bananas (of all things.)

2 T lemon juice
1 T grainy, dark mustard
Pepper to taste
2 ripe and firm bananas
8 slices of hickory or applewood smoked bacon, each slice cut in half

Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard and pepper.  Cut the bananas in rounds and marinate them in the sauce. 

Meanwhile, cook the bacon to about half done, drain it on paper towels and then wrap each strip of bacon around a slice of banana and toothpick it together.  Put them on a pizza sheet or similar and broil 4 in. from the flames until the bacon is crispy - about 5 or 6 minutes.

I bet Elvis would have loved them.