Thursday, January 31, 2013

Misleading? No, Lying Advertising

Food & Wine pulled a major bait and switch on me.  I am not best pleased.  The offer was that if I would renew my subscription they would sweeten the deal by including "Our 20 Best Recipes Ever!" (basically a pamphlet) as well as Food & Wine's "Best of the Best - the Best Recipes from the 25 Best Cookbooks of the Year," a hardbound book. 

When you boast that "Macaroni and Cheese with Buttery Crumbs" is one of your best recipes ever, you're not that good a cook, are you?  Many people have have mastered mac and cheese from scratch by age 12. 

I glanced at "Tofu with Spicy Meat Sauce" and wondered briefly if I was hallucinating.  I thought tofu was a meat substitute.  It is and I wasn't.

Of note, but not much - Robert Duvall's mother's recipe for pan-friend crab cakes.  No disrespect, Mrs. Duvall - fine boy you've got there and all, but I have never heard your name associated with cooking, fine or otherwise.

The hardcover book is truly insulting to any intelligence greater than that of a horsefly.  You remember the part about "from the 25 Best Cookbooks of the year?" (2012 being the year in question)

"Molto Batali" was published 5/3/2005 which is not 2012.
"The Mozza Cookbook" was out in 20/25/2011. 
Same for "Essential Pepin" published 20/'18/2011.

This 280-page "book" is nothing more than an advertisement for the books listed.  Of the 25 books listed, from which the recipes in this book have been selected, I'd only heard of 10 of the chef-authors. 

Using an ad to sell more advertising ... the backlash is that Sauveur made a similar offer and I was considering it.  Not any more.  I'm reminded of the remark attributed to Judge Judy, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where Did I Go Wrong?

Well, perhaps the blame isn't entirely high schools in Kansas City, Mo, (and everywhere else as far as I know) there were mandatory classes.  They began in the 8th grade when all of the boys went to "Shop" and made simple things and all of the girls went to "Home Ec" and learned to cook and sew. 

If there had been any precedent for it back in the mid-50s I could have taken Shop instead.  There wasn't. 

To cut to what I'm really talking about; last week Truck had to go  into the shop because she "Runs rough in the morning; choke not working causing the truck to run to rich.  We fixed choke vacuum and replaced fouled-out spark plugs." 

Spark plugs     $22.76
Vacuum hose   $ 2.25
Carburator cleaner  $7.49
Total supplies:  $32.41

Labor:  $141.72

If only I'd been allowed to take Shop...

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Head Cold From Hell

Saturday morning I woke up with stuffed sinuses.  I don't know what lives in our sinuses, but whatever it is, it was in full production mode. 

My eyes bulged out and my nose spread halfway across my face such was the volume of inner manufacture.

I blew my nose so often that I figure that I expelled my entire body weight into Kleenexes.  Several times.

Happy news though!  This morning I woke up toasty warm and wet with sweat.   The fever (a terrifying 101) was broken. 

I was so much better that I showered and shampooed this morning.  But I couldn't help thinking about the utter slob-iness of living in a hoodie track suit for 48 hours.  Admittedly it was quite pleasant.  Maybe tomorrow I'll be well enough to wash the track suit -- and put it back on and settle onto the couch!  Not such a bad life...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Something Big Is Coming Down!"

"Last night the Murphys and the Brodskys sailed in stately fashion into Charlie's, A New York Joint (preiously reviewed) for a bit of dinner.

We ate well, conversed with some vivacity and when I was through eating, excused myself to go outside for a cigaratte.  Happily it wasn't raining which it had been on and off most of the day. 

As I stood alongside the building, deep in thought, a young woman came tripping down the sidewalk toward me.  She was small in her  pants and hoodie top.  Just as she reached the door to Charlie's, she stopped dead and sniffed the air.  "What's that smell?" she wondered aloud.

"Oh, hellfire, a cigarette Nazi" I thought with despair ino my heart.  I held it up and said, "This?"

"No! No!" she said impatiently and sniffed noisily some more.  "I think I'm smelling sardines!  Do you remember when they all came ashore?"

"I certainly do; my husband and I spent an afternoon helping to clean up the marina."  No reaction from her. 

"I think they've come back -- (gesturing vaguely) All a this weird weather.  Something big is coming down," she announced ominously and she shuddered.  She added, "I was out in Ontario today and I smelled the cows.  My sniffer (pointing to her nose) has been busy today!" flipped open Charlie's door and slithered inside.

I thought, "Well, Daddy's gift strikes again.*  As I pondered this, the door swung open and a couple with two little boys came out.  One of the kids said, "Daddy!  What's that smell?" and Daddy sniffed and said gently, "That's just the way the ocean smells, son ..."

I finally remembered that Bob and his cronies had been sailing that afternoon and Bob didn't report seeing or smelling sardines or anything else for that matter.  We were still safe.

*Daddy's gift:  If there is a certifiably insane person in a crowd of 500 or more, then that person will immediately appear at his side, his New Best Friend.  Me, too.  Thanks, Dad.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Quibbling - raising petty or frivolous objections. 

Jeez, Agree On A Name!
A well-known Italian salad is:  slices of fresh tomatoes, slices of mozzarella, garnished with fresh basil and often dressed in olive oil and vinegar or another dressing.

In Italian, I understand that it is called "Caprese."  It was spelled "Caprice" on a menu for an New York-Italian restaurant.  But I think Marie's (recently reviewed) is the most egregrious insulter.  It's simply listed as "Capri." 

This Restaurant Guy Could Be Filled with Mozarella...
Page 145, opening line of the chapter headed Sour Grapes:  No bottle of wine costs more than $5 to make.  He's talking about the grapes themselves but, er, wine does come in bottles?  Many wines do have artist-designed labels? 

He goes on to say that wine is a commodity and that the price is driven by supply and demand; mystique and marketing and ratings.  That I can believe based on all of the cork sniffers I've seen over the years. 

His riff on restaurant smells is interesting.  He said that there's no linen pick-up on Sundays so Saturday's linens sit until Monday.  Despite being tightly closed, they smell. 

The grease trap in every kitchen is the worst smell.  So bad that he hired a guy to come in and dump it and clean the containers for him.  But today, he says that his Del Posto restaurant has a filling station and that he runs two box trucks and his Excursion off of this scrap oil. 

Okay, to do that reason tells me he's frying a helluva lot of stuff in his various kitchens. 

He wrote that he changes the toilet seats on every toilet once a month.  I have no idea what he does with the old ones, but brand-new ones are put in place every month.  (At $20 a seat.)  I'm no clinician but this sounds maybe a little bit over-the-top?  As in obsessive compulsive?  Extreme horror of bodily function off-shoots? 

At least the guy is very definite about his likes and dislikes.  And unafraid to share these opinons with us. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Fascination of the Restaurant Business

I read Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" and I was hooked.  Yesterday, this popped into view at the library.

"Restaurant Man" by Joe Bastianich   Viking Pres   275 pages   $27.95

His parents are Felice and Lidia (yes, the famous Lidia Bastianich) and he grew up in the restaurant trade.  In fact, they loved on the 2nd floor over their restuarant.  Bastianich describes "Buonavia" as a "70's typical red-sauce joint."  His father didn't cook - he'd hired a chef - but he did all of the front of the house things and all of the buying.  His mother tended to stay in the background, running the cashier or the bar. 

Family vacations were spent traveling in Italy and tasting everything they could get their hands on, looking for new recipes for their place.  This is where Lidia came into play.  She wanted local tastes, common to Italy but unheard of in the United States.  For instance, she introduced polenta and rissotto to the customers and they came back for more.

Okay, that's historical, that's "how it happened," but the real story is in the Restaurant Man's duties.  First and foremost of them is never get screwed in a deal.  Keep a set of scales at the delivery room door and use them.  Once you'e signed off on something, you're stuck with it. 

Bastianich's advice:  Thirty per cent of your monthly take is going to be the food and wine costs.  Another 30 per cent is going to be labor and salaries; add 20 per cent for miscellanous -- including the rent -- and 20 percent is profit.  Your rent per month should equal your gross take on your slowest day.

That's the kind of insider stuff that I love to know.  And you should know that wine by the glass is usually marked up four times the actual cost. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Best Pizza Crust Ever?

Yesterday we went over to the San Fernando Valley to have a farewell lunch with Richie's brother Charlie and his wife, Rosalind, who flew back to Long Island today.  We deferred to them on restaurant choice  and they both enthusiastically shouted, "Maria's!"

Maria's is one of the many restaurants located on Ventura Boulevard.  Midway through lunch, I realized that the scene outside could be on Long Island itself - two-story buildings, not an inch of space between them, a mad mix of dry cleaners, furniture and clothing stores, and restaurants.

Maria's has a patio running the width of the building and two dining rooms that clearly indicate that at some time in the past, the restaurant expanded into the building next door.  This room is more formal with white tableclothes and painted frescoes on the walls.  We ate in the other half which has big banquettes behind the picture windows onto the patio and street.  This is the take-out side, bristling with neon signs.

With our beers came a basket of wonderful warm bread -- thin, chewy on the outside and soft inside as well as cruets of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Our server, Julia, from Peru then brought a separate shallow dish with the above plus flecks of garlic and green onion.  The bread was pizza dough that had been baked and cut into wedges.  We were  nearly  growling and drooling as we ripped into it. 

Rosalind was thrilled to find that the soup of the day was Cream of Broccoli.  She astounded me further by announcing, "Oh, I love broccoli!"  My sister-in-law is a strange one.

Richie and Charlie got minestrone -- a clear broth crammed and jammed with cut vegetables and then pasta with marinara sauce.  I ordered a small Caesar salad and a thin-crust pineapple and pepperoni pizza.

I may have found nearly the perfect Caesar salad.  The lettuce was so fresh and crisp that I could visualize it out in a garden, eagerly bouncing up to say, "Take me!  Take me!" to the chef.  Maria's makes their own dressing which may explain the excellence.  It makes all the difference in the world as good as Girard's Caesar dressing may be.  It also helps that they didn't drown the lettuce in dressing or add too many strips of Parmesan.

The pizza crust was perfect -- so light it had risen above the pan edge to bask in the oven's heat and so weighed down with sauce, pepperoni and pineapple that it was thin in the middle.  I've made it last remarkably well -- two slices at lunch, two more for dinner last night and -- grand finale -- three slices for lunch today.

MARIA'S ITALIAN KITCHEN 13353 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks  818-906-0783

Monday, January 21, 2013

Train Whistles

The most romantic sound in the world to me is that of a train whistle.  That melancholy sound says, "I'm going on an adventure -- and you're not.  But you can dream about going somewhere, someday."  And I remember previous train rides.  When I was six or seven, every summer my Dad would put Mother and me on the train from Kansas City, Mo. to San Antonio, Tx. to visit my mother's parents, brothers and their wives and kids.  When Daddy's two-week vacation started, he would drive to San Antonio, visit and drive us home again.

I loved seeing scenery peel past the windows; the cunning way the living room by day transformed into the bedroom at night.  The wheel clack that was so soothing, "Don't worry - relax - I'm taking you there."  

We've ridden the French TVG twice, both times from Paris to Marseilles.  Accustomed to American trains, their interiors were a surprise to us,  more like a plane's interior - pull down trays from the backs of the seats in front of you ... food and drink attendants...  

What on earth prompted this meandering business about trains,  you may ask.  The last page of the February/March issue of National Geographic Traveler (who would know travel better?) is a paen of sorts to the Grand Central Terminal  in Manhattan.    

The Oyster Bar has been shucking (and possibly jiving) since 1913!  It opened just three weeks after the terminal did.  In February, 2013, the terminal will be 100 years old. 

"I'll meet you under the clock at Grand Central" has been a rendezvous for millions of people over the years.  In that same spot, there's a hidden spiral staircase that the staff uses to go from the information booths on the main and the lower levels.

Another secret -- underneath the Waldorf Astoria Hotel there is a hidden platform and a rail car that was used to move dignitaries from the terminal to the hotel.  The rail car pulled up to the platform, the dignitaries got out; one of their staff pushed the elevator button and -- presto, up to the guest's room!  Or... maybe it could have been used to Dixie on the hotel charges... 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

So Good I Very Nearly Devoured It

"Dropped Names, Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them," by Frank Langella   Harper Collins   356 pages   $25.99

Langella, 74, has been a professional actor for 50 years and more.  He's worked in theater and in movies.  Thus he is well-equipped to talk about his experiences with an array of personalities.

He explains the book's title:  a group of actors were on dinner break at a theater and one of them said, "Oh, I'll never forget when the Queen Mother turned to me and said..."  Langella couldn't resist loudly dropping a piece of silverware on the floor, remarking, "Oops!  I dropped something..." and the other actors all roared.

Funnily enough, on page 214, he tells of his experiences with the Queen Mother.   Langella used to date the stepdaughter of Paul Mellon, who was married to Bunny Mellon who was best friends with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  Mellon enjoyed breeding and racing horses.  When one of his horses was running at Epson Downs, Langella was invited to fly over from Paris where he was shooting a film, to attend the race with the Mellons.  Naturally a man with assets like Mellon was invited to bring his part to the Royal Box.

He dated Jackie Kennedy who was nine years his senior, for quite a while, too.  Again, through friendship with the Mellons.  He often stayed at their homes in Cape Cod and Antigua.

He begins a chapter on Rita Hayworth, "It is 2 a.m. and I am alone in the dark with her again."  He's referring to watching "Gilda" but he reminsces about working with her in Mexico and their affair, 15 years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.  It would appear to have been a very late diagnosis. 

Langella is genunely funny, something that is rarely written about a professional actor.  They tend to take themselves Quite Seriously.  Astonishing as well, he makes fun of himself and not in that deprecating, "I'm so cute" way.

Fifty years of anecdotes and a huge cast - Raul Julia, Jessica Tandy, Robert Mitchum, Princess Diana, Elsa Lanchester, Richard Burton and many more.  It's a great read if you're into the inside stuff and I very much enjoyed it. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Update: Nelson's, Terrenea Resort

I've reviewed Nelson's in the past, when the restaurant was just starting to attract cusomers.  Today, forget all about trying to eat there on a weekend.  Three times we have set off and three times we were turned away -- the parking lots could hold no more cars.  Both sides of the street approaching the resort were filled with cars parked bumper to bumper.  And this is not a small resort.  The golf cart driver told me there are 600 rooms. 

Yesterday, a Friday, we had much better luck. 

The first thing I noticed was that the menu has been changed a bit.  Some old favorites are still there (the pulled pork bbq sandwich with cole slaw and onion strings) but there are several worthwhile additions.  We started with chunky avocado dip and house-fried chips with our drinks.  It's not guacamole-flavored as one might expect.  Instead the predominating flavor is lime with a small spark of cilantro and it's good!  ($12)

Charlie and Rosalind had the old favorite - crab sliders with Cajun remoulade, ($16) but I didn't see the shrimp tacos that I liked in the past.  Richie branched out Big Time and ordered a Mediterranean Chicken Wrap, composed of roasted chicken, soft feta, wild arugula, kalamata olives, shaved red onion, tomato, cucumbers and piquillo peppers on a wholewheat tortilla with champagne vinaigrette.  $17  It was, to say the least, a hearty sandwich.  Half of it came home with us and Himself is not a dainty eater, if you get my drift.  Lumberjack comes to mind...

I couldn't resist - three Kobe mini-hot dogs with kimchi on one, creole mustard on the second and sauteed peppers and onions on the third.  The snobbery of kobe hot dogs?  Kimchi? which I love?  Irresistable!  Each came on its own little bun.  They were so adorable looking!  $12.  I have read critiques by hot dog lovers of "the perfect dog" and they always include the word "pop" referring to biting into the skin of the hotdog.  These had plenty of "pop" but they weren't excessively chewy after the initial bite.   I couldn't finish the dish so the lat little doggy came home, too. 

Nelson's now serves "Mason Jar Desserts" wherein the dessert comes in a half-pint Mason jar.  Red velvet cake, blueberry cheesecake, salted caramel chocolate cake, all $6, and an ice cream sandwich, $7.

Clearly a week day is the time to visit Nelson's unless you're a guest at the hotel.  I looked up their rates and the least expensive rooms were $245/night.   And management advertises that as 30% off! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Minor Statistics

Over a couple of years, I have written 1,417 columns with a total page view of 22,714. I am pleased. 

But not cocky about it.  It's not such a big deal when you can't NOT write. 

In fact, I'm also working on my next book.  The working title is "All My Rowdy Friends."  At 72, I'm now old enough to write biographically!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Two Thumbs DOWN!

That's my opinion of the Paramount Studios Tour.

From the minute you arrive, there is a lot of unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing. 
1.  Park in the approved lot - and hand over $10 for the privilege.
2.  Walk across Melrose and go to the guardhouse.
3.  Take your driver's license out of it's sleeve and hand it to the guard who swipes it (never seen that before!) and hands it back to you with a sheet of typing paper with a 4/c map and "Admit One" with your very own name printed right on it!  (Whee.  What if I'd forgotten my name?)
4.  You then walk about 1 1/2 blocks to the gift shop where your guide will meet you. 

All visitors are instructed to be half an hour early, presumably so that you will rush madly around the gift shop buying the usual dreck.  We didn't.

Lindsay, who would be our guide, then appeared and led us to an 8-passenger golf cart and we piled in.  It was something of a squeeze.

I have no idea how old Lindsay is, but I now know that she has a twin sister, comes from Poughkeepsie, NY, has had this job for seven months after arriving in Los Angeles 10 months ago.  Afterward, driving away in our car, I realized Lindsay had reminded me strongly of Monica Lewinski - beautiful face and skin, still a bit of baby pudge. 

Perhaps she spent the three month's joblessness learning Valley Girl Speak as she is extremely fluent in it.  Some favorite phrases..."Pretty intense" after she told us that the theatre is going to have 32 additional amps installed.  "And it's like loud now!"  She describes working on the lot as "Pretty crazy"  "Pretty awesome" was used enthusiastically and her all-time favorite is "Awesome!"  as a response to one's name or favorite movie.  Yes, as an ice breaker we all had to say what it had been.  I said, "La Cage Au Folle" and everyone but Richie looked at me.

The tour was reasonably depressing.  There are no interactive things; no old movie props for a photo opp, the only visit to a working set?  Bare floor, walls and no furniture.  They were setting up to turn a bank into a supermarket.  She showed us a pair of doors set into a building.  One door was much smaller than the other and short actors use it to appear taller.
Lindsay pointed out (several times) that what might look like brick was only paint on wood.  If movie sets ever run out of paint, they'll be out of business as well.

Most annoying?  When your tour guide pulls out an iPad and shows you pictures of What Used To Be.   Couldn't the studio be bothered to create some sort of small museum honoring their past rather than the odd plaque on various buildings?   The four of us paid a grand total of $192 for admittance and an additional $10 to park for a grand total of $202 of Not Worth It.     

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

As the Late Christopher Hitchens Remarked..

The Quotable Hitchens - from Alcohol to Zionism" edited by Windsor Mann   Da Capo Press   332 pages   $17

Hitchens was a wonderfully witty writer and commentator on all sorts of things.  He seemed never to be at a loss for a word and that word was generally a deprecating one.  Some samples:

On Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani - "They both ban smoking materials anywhere they can ban them (Mrs. Clinton having failed with the use of cigars in the White House.)"

Checks and Balances - "Checks and balances refers to the exchange of bribes and emolluments on the floor of committee rooms."

Dixie Chicks - "Yes, I did refer to the so-called Dixie Chicks as 'fat sluts' (having not the least idea of what any of them looked like.)

Author Eugene O'Neill - "It's true that O'Neill did his best stuff after he sobered up, but he had obviously learned a lot from the years when he couldn't remember which train he had boarded, or why."

Open-Mindedness - "The problem with open-mindedness is that it can become empty-mindedness."

Pardons - "Guiltless men are in no need of pardons."

Pornography - "There will always be something bizarre about those who campaign against pornography.  Something, if you like, a little too interested.

Religion and Death - "Religion will die out when we stop worrying about death."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunny Southern California?

Yesterday morning at 7 a.m., it was 38 degrees outside and 56 inside.  I was horrified!  It never gets that cold "at the beach."  A worse shock came when Richie read me the weather and it was colder in Palm Springs than it was at the beach!  I mentioned this near-freeze to anyone who would listen to me, such was my shock and horror.

Until I read the thermometer this morning - at 7 a.m. it was 37 outside and 55 inside.

Now curious, I pulled up a statistical site which informed me that:

February 28, 1923 it was 21 degrees.  At the beach.

January, 1949 - San Pedro had the largest snow fall reported for this area!

That January is traditionally our coldest month.  I thought of all those Cold State people, looking longingly at the sunshine that usually accompanies the Rose Bowl Paraqde.  Poor things - imaginging warmth and sunshine when reality is an average of 65 days; 44 nights.

August is our warmest month with averages of 78 and 61, nights.

So far the South Bay, as this area is called, got the most rain ever -- 32.8 inches -- in 1983.  I seem to remember that it rained every day and night for literally 40 days.

By the way, this Thursday, we're being told, it will be 70 degrees.   If we don't freeze to death first, that is.  

But at least wintery weather inspires comfort food; preferably either served very hot or else heavily seasoned.  I got to thinking about winter lunches in Kansas City, Mo., where I grew up.  Our grade school didn't have a cafeteria (but people did know how to cook by then.)  It wasn't until high school that we had the luxury of NOT walking home for lunch and then back again to school.  

One of my other's stand-bys was tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich.  This is a combo that is dear to a lot of people so how could I -- inspired by complicated-sounding dishes with such as lemon beurre blanc or a Port au jus -- update it chicly?

Then this idea popped in and took a chair:  heat the soup and make the croutons from a slice of toasted, grilledd bread.

Would it be better to swirl a chunk Velveeta around in the bowl of boiling-hot soup or would it make more sense to toast a slice of bread, put cheese on the topside and grill the bread?  I decided that cheese-coated grilled pieces would make a showier dish, so that's what I did.  It worked out okay, but it didn't attain the perfection I was seeking.  Next time the cheese goes in the soup.  A nice dramatic swirl of yellow in the crimson soup!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Let Me Get Back To You On That, Willie

"Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Musings From the Road" by Willie Nelson   Harper Collins Books   175 pages   $22.99

I would have to say that this book was written like this:  someone tipped over Willie's wastebasket, picked through various scraps and then re-typed them into a book.  "Book," hah!

Willie (if indeed he did write it) roves from childhood memories to vaguely Biblical advice to anecdotes about other musicians (all of whom he totally loves,) hoary, hoary old dirty  jokes and page after page of song lyrics.  The final third of the book is written tributes from his extended family and longtime band/road members.  I couldn't figure out whether he was just padding the manuscript or is dying.

Willie will be 80 this year; Willie's smoked a helluva lot of weed for a helluva lot of years.  He's entitled to what could be politely termed "a roving mind."  But I don't have to enjoy the wander.  Make this a lilbrary wait-for and save your $22.99 would be my advice.

And I am a longtime Willie Nelson devotee, it must be said. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

With Gratitude to Richard Foss, Easy Reader Restaurant Reviewer

Foss has one of the most discerning palates in all the South Bay and I'm not excluding chefs either.  Every Thursday, the paper arrives and I start reading from the back for his rev iew unless he has had the cover slot. 

In a recent feature, he listed (among others) Jackson's Food + Drink and gave it a very good review.  I Googled, found an intriguing menu and decided that's where we would take Richie's brother Charlie and his wife Rosalind after they landed at LAX from JFK.

Jackson's exterior looks like someone's giant hand plopped a rustic barn down in the nest of office buildings on Rosecrans in El Segundo.  it is an unexpected sight.

One of the attractions on a cold, windy Thursday was the fireplace in the dining room which you can admire from outdoors through a heat-treated glass back.  We ate in the bar which was blessedly nearly empty.  I worried that the hard interior surfaces would be a problem, but apparently it's old, soft wood!

Charlie and Rosalind ordered the soup and half-sandwich special ($12.)  Rosalind's soup was butternut squash with Fiji apples and sharp Tillamook cheese.  Charlie got the minestrone with Genoese pesto.  Their sandwiches were the short rib with roasted pearl onions, horseradish cream and Port wine au jus.  They both kept saying, "This is delicious!" as eager spoons dipped back into their soups.  Their sandwiches seemed to go down just as easily. 

Richie ordered the grilled panini with salami, prosciutto, mortadella, sweet and hot peppers and Gruyere.  Sandwiches come with a choice of Jackson's fries or a "small salad" which wasn't.  He said the flavors were excellent but he'd never eaten a sandwich that thin with that much "stuff" in it. 

Still searching for the perfect Caesar, I ordered theirs billed as "Escarole Caesar" ($10.)  It was a generous serving, it was very good, but ... it wasn't "perfect" which, now that I think of it, seems to be a mission impossible.   

My main was a Jackson's mac and cheese parmesan and tallegio ($7.)  It was the first time I've ever ordered something I consider as mundane as mac and cheese but it was awesome!  Lovely au gratin top, served in a blazing hot, small iron skillet.  I was the only one that wanted dessert.  I couldn't resist the green apple caramel fondue with fresh almond toffee nuts (crushed) for $7.  Most usually, apple desserts feature cooked apples but this was a lovely presentation on a long, rectangular dish of:  a small pot of caramel, a row of fresh green apple slices, their tops dusted with piles of the crushed almond toffee nuts.  Using fresh apples was novel, but it was a very good idea.  Cooked apple slices generally get mushy.  Using fresh really gave the dish  punch.

Next time we go to Jackson's I want to try the grilled asparagus, poached egg, oyster mushrooms with lemon beure blanc or the seared pork belly with parmesan polenta and a dried cherry brandy sauce.

Jackson's Food + Drink, 2041 Rosecrans Avenue, #190, El Segundo, CA

Friday, January 11, 2013

Trader Joe! How Could You?

I never thought I would be writing these words about my beloved Trader Joe.  He whom I considered eligible to be my next husband, to whom I was loyal and whom I praised to the skies to anyone who listen to me.

This is what happened, this foul betrayal, this sin against eaters everywhere there is a Trade Joe's location.  It is vile; I warn you.

Recently, Himself and I were scanning the frozen food counters and when we happened on "Lobster & Shrimp Cakes" I quickly put a container in our cart.  "What heaven," I thought "Two of my favorites in one.  Wonder why no one seems to have thought of this before now?"   Thence to our freezer at home.  I was considering cooking them for dinner night before last and read all the print on the box for the cooking instructions.  

During this, I came across the list of ingredients and I will quote:  Lobster, shrimp, TROUT.  I thought my eyes were deceiving me so I read it again and it still said the same thing:  lobster, shrimp, trout.

TROUT?  Who the hell would put in trout?  A monster of depraved indifference would be my best guess...

But listen to the box copy:  "A unique item for Trader Joe's, made with naturally-sweet lobster and shrimp from cold North Atlantic waters.  These delightful cakes are seasoned with ..."  I didn't read anything about trout - did you?  No, you did not.  Because there wasn't anything, that's why! 

Naturally I refused to touch them so Richie followed directions, cooked them and reported that the cakes were "rubbery."  "Probably the trout," I said smugly.  "I guess we won't be buying them again!" 

Richie said scornfully, "I wouldn't even steal 'em."  I can assure you that for a New Yorker, that remark was the Cut Direct. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Caveat Emptor - Buyer Beware!

And I wasn't.  I remarked on  the fact that we got a new computer on January 5th, titled "Windows 8 Is Trying To Kill Me." 

Well, I'm beginning to be able to sort through all of the options of Windows 8 and I can tell you that they are repetitious and whether you left click the mouse or double tap the pad or swoosh! the whole works across the screen, it will very often not do what it is being asked to do.  Another big problem is that if I move the cursor, the print of whatever I'm looking at changes.

This is particularly noticeable in e-mails.  There I am tapping along and !  the print zips down to infinitely small; you can't really tell what you're looking at even though you do know it was - operative word - an e-mail. 

The reason for my frustrations finally dawned on me -- we bought a demo!  Hundreds of other people have played with it - including I don't doubt for a moment, little kids - and apparently busted the fly wheel or computer chip or whatever the hell it is that runs the cursor.

And while it did only cost $250, I am not willing to set it aside and buy another new computer. 

I will treat having to work with it as an exercise in developing patience.  Yes, that's what I'll do.   I will learn to do "saintly" and impress all who know me with unfailing kindness to a crazed computer program.  I can just see me, speaking softly and saying, "Oh, you don't want to work this afternoon?  That's all right, dear... I'll get back to you....I just have to run an errand at Best Buy." 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Rock and Roll Gossip

"Mick Jagger" by Philip Norman   HarperCollins Publishers   622 pages   $34.99

If you're a Stones' fan, as I am, skip to the last third of the book wherein he meets and then marries Jerry Hall, the tall blonde model.  Frankly I never thought she was that goodlooking, but apparently she is a sweet girl.  She did manage a rapport between Jagger and his first daughter's mother as well as another between Jagger and Bianca and their daughter Jade.  Hall would go on to have four children with Jagger. 

In the end though, she couldn't take any more of Mick's roaring infidelity and reluctantly divorced him.

Meanwhile, the Mick had met and seduced Carla Bruni (yes, former First Lady of France) away from Eric Clapton, who pleaded with Mick not to do it.

Age differences were merely a triviality when the Mickster went courting.  Of note, he got a load of the early Angela Jolie and nothing must do but she appear in his musical video as a woman who comes on to him whom he then chases -- in her underwear, no less -- through the streets of downtown Manhattan.  That Jagger was five years older than Jolie's own father mattered not a whit to him.  (He will be 70 in July, 2013.) 

Side Note:  Jolie married her first husband, a Brit, wearing black rubber pants and a white shirt with the groom's name writ large across it in blood.  Whose blood was left unmentioned.

Yep, it's only rock'n roll, but I like it. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Double Pez

I have a shot of what I think of as a "double" Pez.  Unfortunately, my computer has turned against me (and not for the first time, by the way) and I'm unable to post it for you.   This also means that I can't run today's planned column on knives.  I apologize for this and hope to be up and running normally very soon. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

World's Most Generous Sugar Daddy...

Pez dispensers have been putting out little candies for the last 64 years!  I'd call that "generous." 

Pez were first created in Vienna, the land that whipped cream built, by one Eduard Haas III.  The Viennese adore their sweets from the morning's hot chocolate "mit schlagge" (whipped cream) to dessert after lunch, the mid-afternoon hot chocolate with Guess What and, of course, an array of desserts after dinner.

In fact, Pez if fully spelled out is a reference to PfEfferminZ, which is a small cookie most usually eaten around Christmas time.

They proved to be a popular little candy and by 1935, it was necessary to build a factory (Czechoslovakia) for production.

Then, 64 years later in 1948, Oscar Uxa invented the dispenser.  The first dispensers didn't have a head as we're used to today; they were simply a rectangular cylinder, much like a cigarette lighter which is rather amusing when you consider the candies were originally meant to be used instead of a cigarette!

The original peppermint flavor was fine, but in the 1950s, fruity flavors were introduced.  And variations have followed apace.

By the 1960s, heads had been introduced, including permission from such as Disney to reproduce cartoon characters heads on the dispensers.  In 1974 the world headquarters were established in Orange, CN, as well as interchangeable rubber heads for the dispenser tops.  In 1987, feet were added to the bottom of the dispensers, just in time for the first collectors convention in Mentor, Ohio.

In 1993, the Christie's auction of previous Pez made the cover of Forbes magazine! 

But then came a reversal of fortune.  General Mills ovvered a Pez-with-purchase offer in boxes of cereal!  Ouch - what a come-down. 

But, a recovery of name and prestige of sorts has been obtained.  The Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia has opened at 214 California Drive, Burlingame, CA 94010.  You can visit from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Make the museum a side trip from nearby San Francisco.   

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bliss Is: a New Pair of Ugg Insoles

The other day Richie went out to get the newspapers on the driveway and, along with them, brought in a shoe-box-sized cardboard box.  "Oh, goody! It's my new insoles!"  I couldn't get through a shower and into my clothes fast enough, awaiting the wooly, sensuous delight of new sheepskin insoles!

If that sounds marginally obsessed, you'd be right.  I've been wearing Uggs in cold weather for so long that I can't remember when I bought my first pair.  I remembeer they lasted nearly 20 years though.  That's getting your money's worth!

Let us look at the long and quite distinguished career of the Ugg boot.  They are made of sheepskin, wrong side out, with a neoprene sole (which apparently never wears out. See above.)  They were first created in Australia and New Zealand for use by farmers.

In the '60s, surfers discovered them.  By the '70s when Californian surfers were returning from tournaments Down Under, they brought them back with them.  They became quite the fad with the watery set.  Uggs really came into their own in the late '90s, becoming a fashion fad that went 'round the world.  Women loved them because clunky-looking Uggs automatically slimmed down the gnarliest calf.  

Uggs have been worn since the 1920s.  There is a school of thought that believes Uggs devolved from the fur-lined boots WW1 pilots wore!

Various people claim to have created them, but these people are numerous and no acknowledged leader has ever been definitely assigned the glory that is the Ugg boot.  So the hell with them. 

They are warm because socks are not worn with Uggs which may have attracted me to them in the first place.  It's just your own cold, naked foot nestling into all of that toasty warm fleece.  Nothing comes between you and your Uggs!

It is necessary to change out the insoles every two or three years because the fiber will mat up unless you've remembered to take out the insoles periodically and run them through the washer with the towels.  Then they fluff right back up.  

When Uggs took off, so did PETA with howls of outrage.  Cruelty to animals!  It's a pity that no one has ever been able to get it through PETA heads that lamb and mutton are a major food source in Australia and New Zealand.  But then they don't get much about anything, so no loss.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Cut Above

"Paris In Love, A Memoir" by Eloisa James   Random House   360 pages   $26

James and her husband, their 15 year old son and 10 year old daughter took a year's sabbatical to live in Paris.  Both of the parents are univeristy professors and can do this sort of thing.  The kids went to schools in Paris.

Each new chapter starts with a longer piece than the short communiques she issues throughout the rest of that chapter.  She admits to the fact that their brevity is contained to the fact that they were originally twitters or tweets (or whatever the hell they're called.)

I like this "here's a word picture to see in your mind" take on the various sights in Paris because to a great degree that's what Paris is all about.  Quick scenes, brief glimpses - a small Parisian dog contentedly lipping down a fragment of food under a cafe table.. drivers tootling the horns of their miniscule cars with Gallic vigor.  She points out an oddity  - Parisians stroll along the sidewalks without a care in the world, but put them in the driver's seat and all hell breaks loose. 

Best of all, she is pro-Paris.  I've read a great number of authors-who-went-to-Paris and then grizzled on and on about the things they didn't like about France and/or the French.  There is something beautiful or at the least, interesting, to American eyes on nearly every street, but you have to have a noticing eye to see them.  I've had similar experiences there -- we once landed on May 1st which is International Workers Day (or something) and everyone was carrying a small nosegay of Lily of the Valley (mougets) in honor of the day. 

Parisienne women are indeed smartly dressed and well put together.  From their expensive haircuts to the elaborately draped scarf around their necks, past the well-cut outfit -- until your eye falls on the shoes.  They are always terrible.  A French woman couldn't pick out a pair of decent-looking shoes if their hair was on fire.

Of the foods available for purchase, James nearly always swoons over the majority of them.  She is even tactful about restaurant dining.  The such-and-such made the trip there worthwhile, but the rest of the meal was lackluster would be a typical, kindly comment. 

If you'd like to see another, positive version of Paris, this is the book for you.  It certainly was for me. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

French Toast

Offered on New Year's Eve - "If we may not be more, may we not be less."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Back To Business

Happy new year, the best of health and happiness to you!  If you have those, that money thing isn't so important.    Trust me on this; I'm old. 

I enjoyed the book on butler-ing (?) so much that I went back to the library to find another one.  My hostessing skills can always be improved upon.  For example, we always make a great fuss pouring you the first drink after your arrival.  From then on, you're on your own!  "Beer's on the top shelf, back!"

"Heloise, Jr." wrote the rather encompassing "Hints for All Occasions" so I got it. 

It's too late now, but keep this in mind for next Christmas and buy a living tree.  She thoughtfully lists where specific trees will flourish, if you do plant them after the holiday.

Douglas Fir - Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, Rockies
Norway Spruce - Anywhere except the South and deserts
Scotch Pine - Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, Rockies

Ours is in a big pot on the balcony and has nearly doubled in size from last year.

Even though the book was written in 1995, Heloise was well into eco-savings.  To dye Easter eggs, she suggests dying with vegetables.  For yellow-ish or pink-ish, boil eggs in water with either white or red onion peels.  Use spinach or turnip tops for green.  A fresh beet makes them red.

Some time ago, after a visit to South Texas I went on a (subdued) rampage to find the recipe for Pea Salad because it was Cousin Robert's favorite.  Heloise has got it!

1 can baby peas, drained (would use frozen myself)
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup grated sharp cheese
2 T onion, minced
Mayonnaise and pepper to taste.

Sling it all together using enough mayo to make it moist.  It will keep for a couple of days, tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

But as much as I admire Heloise (and I do) I have to take issue with one of the recipes included in the book.  That would be "Mrs. Chester Barrow's Watergate Salad."

1 9-oz. container whipped topping
1 small box pistachio-flavored instant pudding
1 1-lb. can crushed pineapple and the juice
1 cup miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Fold the dry pudding into the whipped cream, add the pineapple and juice, then throw in the marshmallows and nuts.  Refrigerate and serve on a bed of lettuce.

Dear Heloise, that's a dessert not a salad, no matter how many lettuce leaves you use in the presentation!  And it can't possibly be as good as Pea Salad.