Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Costa Rica Fruit in Market - 9 ways

Spode - For writing group

What could I offer to Spode?
To get it in every abode?
Should it fit in the sink
                 Or be painted in pink?..................

For that awful year, every morning on my way to KalKan Foods, on E. 45th Street, I drove past Farmer John’s slaughterhouse, known as the Sistine chapel of Vernon because of the murals painted on the walls and fences. It was the worst job I ever had. I took it for money, for a thirty percent increase, and found out later why the company paid higher wages than the rest of the industry.

The weird cavorting pigs painted on the F. J.mural reminded me daily I was about to enter the crazy twilight zone of my job. The working environment stunk. It was noisy beyond belief and often dangerous. I worked with three oddball PhD’s: an obsessive-compulsive who expected me to memorize every danged formula; an introverted female researcher, and a wild, drunken English playboy. The three disliked each other, lied to each other and rarely spoke, except to complain. They convinced management to create my position to foist off all the tasks they hated and improve communication in the lab. My job description included the pet food testing program, answering the midnight phone calls to approve ingredient substitutions for the plant, delivering talks to kennel clubs, keeping the nutrition analyses current, conducting tours for lab visitors, translating for the trio and keeping projects on track.

While most of my business associates and friends at the time, worked in pleasant surroundings and lingered over lunch in fine restaurants, I spent my days in Vernon in a hard hat and lab coat and ate lunch at Frank’s Cafe, the favorite dining spot for packing district workers. Frank’s had the worst ambiance of any eating establishment I’ve ever seen. No kidding—prison cafeterias were more inviting.

After you pushed the door open at Franks, you entered a cavernous hall furnished with ugly Formica tables lined up in rows. The air would be thick with cigarette smoke and cigar fumes and testosterone. At noon the place would fill up with workers, 98% of them men, dressed in white coats streaked with blood and gut scraps, wearing hairnets under hard hats and beard nets if they had facial hair. Everyone clomped around in boots with steel toes.

A typical daily special was a one-pound Salisbury steak, so large it hung over the sides of the plate, served with a minor mountain of mashed potatoes, the whole ugly thing slathered with country gravy. If you uttered the word “salad”, they’d have called the police. Every man felt compelled to get attention from the few women eating there with catcalls, whistles, remarks or propositions. My options for lunch were to run that gauntlet at Franks or endure the stripper-style restaurants (it was the 70’s) where the ingredient salesmen took the lab guys for hamburgers, beer and a skin-show. I went along with them once and brought my lunch from home afterward.  

One evening, after spending a half-day testing dog food in a kennel, suffering through a Frank’s lunch and enduring a hard ride home on the freeway, I got a call from a recruiter who asked, “What would you think about working for Spode?” “Spode?” I repeated, sure I’d misheard him. “Are they in the food business now?” I asked.  “Not exactly,” he said. “They’ve decided they want a food person on their creative team. Your name came up.”

Spode Place Settings
Baffled, I thought perhaps the unlikely connection was because Spode was bone china? As I began to tell him it seemed too much of a stretch, he said, ”You’d be working in their offices in Century City.” That did it for me. Century City?? My eyes lit up. I didn’t care what I’d be doing. “Yes!” I said, with excitement.

During the time leading up to the interview, like a teenaged girl writing the name of her boyfriend over and over, I dreamed and doodled about my possible future. I envisioned my new business cards. “Creative Food Person, Spode.”  I read everything available about the company but I failed to see how I’d fit in.

Regardless, my mind raced forward to my imaginary new life. I would toss out my cleated boots, my hard hat, and hair nets. I’d wear snazzy suits and even high heels to work. Everyday lunch would be at Spago or one of those great Century City restaurants. I’d dab on perfume. I’d enjoy being a girl again.

The day of my life-changing interview arrived. I was ushered into the VP’s office on the thirtieth floor and seated in a wheeled chair in front of his desk. To my right, ten feet away, was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows with a view west to the ocean and down to the street below. I’d never had a fear of heights—but I froze in a kind of panic attack. A combination of pre-interview jitters and my lack of confidence that I had anything to offer the company overwhelmed me. I tried to concentrate on the interview but my brain fixated on the sharp drop to the ground and the wheels on my chair. Sweat ran down my forehead like it did on Albert Brooks’s in Broadcast News. I don't remember what was asked nor what I answered. All I wanted was to escape—as fast as possible!

It was no surprise when the headhunter called to inform me I wasn’t getting an offer. My excessive sweat hadn’t been interpreted as enthusiasm. I’d acted like a caged mouse with a cat peering through the bars. Later, I learned they never filled the position; I felt strangely vindicated.

After that interview disaster, I decided to put maximum effort into the KalKan job for the rest of the year I had to stay without ruining my resume. While it was the worst job of my life, it was a great learning experience about what made people, including me, tick. I learned about humility, experienced prejudice and figured out what work really meant. My ego was bashed and battered. And I learned the most valuable lesson of all: I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was.

Sepia Saturday 360: Elsie McGill, Aeronautical Engineer

Drilling A Dive Bomber (1943) Alfred T Palmer - Library of Congress

This week's riveter brought back memories of Fort William, Ontario in Canada, where I was born in 1942. Fort William was a lake head port without even a decent road connecting it with the rest of Canada. My father was posted there training troops. Mom was pregnant with me.

My father, middle front row, with officers of A company, 102nd CABC, Ft. William, Feb. 26th, 1942
The Canadian Car company in Fort William began manufacturing the Hawker Hurricane aircraft in 1939 under the supervision of Elsie McGill, chief engineer and the first female aeronautical engineer in Canada.
Elsie McGill "Queen of the Hurricanes"

At the beginning of the war, the manufacturing plant employed five hundred people. By the war's end, four thousand five hundred people worked there, over half were women. Men hated having the women working there, but eventually came to accept them. "They needed us. It was as simple as that." The women were better welders than the men and they showed up every day.

Here's an excellent video made by the National Film Board of Canada in 1999 about Elsie and the Canadian Rosies, "Rosies of the North." It's long but even the first three minutes gives you a feel for the women of those times.

Visit Sepia Saturday for more Rosie tales about WWll.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sepia Saturday 359: Pluto Water

Who doesn't love Louis Armstrong? As I read about his interesting life I discovered he was a devotee of Pluto water (1). Close examination of the prompt photo revealed a bottle sitting on the edge of his dressing table. Mr. Armstrong loved to eat and he frequently gained a lot of weight. He believed Pluto water was an aid to dieting. So devoted was he to the product that he frequently signed his letters, "Pluto Wateringly yours,"

The below photo, which is the best match that popped into my head, is from the excellent blog, "Spitalfield's Life." The gentleman in the photo is Aaron Biber, London's oldest barber as of June 2012. He died a year and a half later in November 2013. If you've never read Spitalfield's Life, have a look. The Gentle Author has committed to writing every day for ten years about her neighborhood in London. 

The pictures taped on the wall and the collection of items on the counters are similar. The two men, world's apart, shared much in common: a poverty-stricken childhood, absence of a father and pride in their chosen professions. 
Aaron Biber,, 6/07/2012

And finally, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to post my favorite reflection photo . . .  my sister on her wedding day.

(1)From Wikipedia: Pluto Water was a trademark for a strongly laxative natural water product which was very popular in the United States in the early 20th century. The water's high native content of mineral salts generally made it effective within one hour of ingestion, a fact the company emphasized in their promotional literature.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

More Cruise Photos

Little boy on tram car Aruba.

All day delights on board Holland America. 

Williamstad Curaçao 

Girlfriends Cruise




Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write

a Good Short Story


  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sloth Sanctuary

I knew little about sloths except that "sloth" is one of the deadly sins along with pride, envy, wrath, avarice, gluttony, lust. A visit to The Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica changed all of that. The tour began with a boat ride through the jungle where we saw sloths hanging onto sky-high tree branches. Sloth watching is infinitely easier than bird watching. Birds flit; sloths just sit...and sit and sit. Once you spot one it's easier to keep it in view than a bird except that they are up so high it's hard to see details without good binoculars.

They have no fat on their bodies for warmth and so are covered with thick fur even though in the tropics. Algae grow on their fur which helps with camouflage and protection from predatory birds. Their only protection against predators is their long claws which are used mostly for hanging on,but they can use them for defense.The sloth descends from on-high once a week to defecate and urinate in the same spot —they move unbelievably slowly. I watched one reach for a cage wire. It took more than a full minute to move a hand over a foot of distance.  They eat the leaves of one particular tree (reminiscent of the Koala who eats only eucalyptus). They do not drink water...cannot as when they drink on the ground, they are vulnerable and slow. They move at a snail's pace except when they mate. Mating takes 45 seconds and is 100% effective. The gestation period is 11 months. I thought they looked eerily human.

We went on this tour with a personable young Chinese man who lived in Vancouver. He was a trained chef and had lived in Paris, then taught school for a few years and he is currently a mortician. He said he liked to know how to "do" things and so he's changed professions every five years and intends to continue doing so. 

Floating along looking for sloths with a Chinese mortician. We don't do this often. 

These succulents hung out of their container. They reminded me of the sloths.

They sleep in hammocks in the sanctuary. You can read more about the creatures and the sanctuary

Photos Cruise 2017


Poor photo of a banana blossom in Costa Rica, followed by an artistic effect added from Colorama.

Several photos taken in Curaçao with artistic effects from Pixma. 

Attack of the IHOP Whipped Cream Dispensers

It was 1988 and I had a cash flow problem. Money was running low so I took a consulting job with IHOP I really didn't want.

A little background: the over-arching business problem of a breakfast restaurant chain is they are only busy in the mornings. This is a hard enough marketing challenge for breakfast-heavy restaurants like Denny's but especially difficult when your name is as limiting as the International House of Pancakes. The marketing team at IHOP were always trying to think of ways to increase lunch and dinner business.

That day in 1988, Genius One, in a stroke of insight, said to Junior Genius Two, "Let's add a Chinese Chicken Salad to the menu!" Junior and all the sycophants in the lab nodded gravely and commented, "Great idea" and so on and so forth. "Arse-kissing", the devilment of clear thinking, was leaning against the wall, twirling his black mustache.

Genius One called me and asked if I could develop the product, "Fast," he said, "We're having a franchisee meeting in a few weeks—and we'll pay bonuses." I needed the money so did I argue? "And" he added casually,"we don't want to add ingredients to our inventories." What did these guys think I was—a magician? Well, yes they did because that's what one had to imply in order to get work in those days. 

Even the photo of the current
president features a stack with a dollop.
Time passed in a cloud of Asian salad dressings while I tried this with that and that with this, formulating always with a calculator in one hand and a scale in the other. Hanging at eye level was a list of all the ingredients IHOP kept on hand because those are the ones I could use. It was hard turning pancake mixes and breakfast ingredients into something Asian and I'm not going to divulge all the magic here. Note however that the salad would be one of the few items on the IHOP menu that wouldn't come with an optional "dollop" of whipped cream.

Let it be noted that I did the job....almost no new ingredients, food cost exactly right, flavor profile pretty good (IHOP good) and no slowing down the cook line. In fact, the cook line might speed up a bit because the BTU load of food on the grills was reduced. 

The day of the franchise meeting dawned and the marketing group was crazy nervous. The intent of the meeting was to energize and inspire everyone. Much back patting took place. The marketing people were the stars of the show, presenting the marketing strategy for the year ahead: ads were shown, new products evaluated.

I came on stage with Genius One and he presented the dubious strategy while I had the salad and ingredients to show. The booing started almost immediately. Franchisees looked at each other in disbelief and either laughed or got angry. To say we bombed would be a gross understatement.
At first there was silence. Then a lone voice asked, “Where would we put the whipped cream?”(1)
Other voices joined in—
CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD??? Are you out of your minds?? they asked. That was the question that should have been asked in paragraph three by Junior Genius Two; the corporate executives; or even me if you were looking to pass the buck. They never even bothered to taste the salad or admire all the technical details.

In the end, it was the strategy that flopped and I'd still stand today behind the architecture of the salad. I remained on good terms with the marketing geniuses and worked for them on more successful products in other companies.

Along with my Danny Kaye flop, that fateful franchisee meeting haunted me for years afterward. I had nightmares about the franchisees in a mob, chasing me with their whipped cream dispensers.

"Get her!" they shout.

(1)IHOP employees don’t always respect and revere the dollop as they should. In the memoir The IHOP Papers by Ali Liebgott, she states “...the whipped cream cans are usually flat because Tim and Kristen suck the gas out of them to get high.” Who knew?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Tales and Tails - For my Writer's Group

My friend Wayne Yonce wrote a hilarious essay about his personal Summer of '42. That essay inspired recollections of my own summer that year........

Tales and Tails
The summer of ‘42, when Wayne was a teenager worried about preventing pregnancy, it was too late for my parents. Conceived in April and born in November, I was on my way-—a two-pound, foot-long fetus, unconsciously urging my mom’s pregnancy on with enthusiasm. After listening to Wayne’s essay, I wondered about my parent's intentions that spring. Did they run out of condoms?

While Wayne was sweet-talking the girls, my only utterances were hiccups. It’s likely I was growing teeth and ear lobes and had just lost my tail. I was covered with a coating of fine hair called lanugo. I’m fascinated by the idea that I had finger prints.

Whether they ran out of condoms or planned me, my mother’s pregnancy was the result of the third time she and my father had sex. The first time resulted in my sister, Eilleen; the second in a miscarriage and then I came along. I am sure they never had sex again. Why would they? Isn’t that true of all of our parents? Sex was only for procreation in those days; our generation invented the really good stuff.

We were living in Fort William, Ontario in Canada that summer. My father, a World War I veteran, had re-enlisted in 1940 at the age of forty-one. He was training troops and later on was appointed a Judge Advocate, spending the remainder of the war and some years afterward on the bench.

Mom, as she recalled, wasn’t happy, separated from her friends and family, pregnant and living in military housing. Of course, I don’t remember anything of my fetal year except through the stories. One tale I loved was about the white rat my sister bought from a kid on the bus for a quarter, while mom’s attention was momentarily diverted. In a weak moment,she succumbed to Eilleen’s six-year-old wheedling and let her keep the creature. Mom put Eilleen fully in charge of the rat so she’d learn to be responsible. Empress of her universe of two, Eilleen decided in a stroke of liberal impulse, that the rat should have play time in the attic. The rat, acting like Wayne and his teenaged friends wished they were, began to procreate with alarming enthusiasm. Right about when my fetal tail fell off, those rats were creating new baby rat tails with alacrity. What a scene I see in my mind’s eye! Picture a screen split into three parts: mom is downstairs contentedly gestating me; the rat is upstairs trying to populate the earth; Wayne sits in the LA river basin admiring the palimpsest of the condom in his wallet.

From what I’ve read, Canada was a crazy place that summer when the war-mode government took over the agricultural economy. The export market for apples and lobsters had collapsed threatening farmers and fishermen with massive surpluses. Patriotic Canadians were encouraged to eat them. I can hear people complaining: “Lobster tail again!” “Oh no...more apple pie?”

From my perspective as a food professional promoting the nutrition culprits of our time: salt— when sodium was bad, Equal—when Nutrasweet was considered poison and eggs—when cholesterol was a killer, I can’t help looking back at those war times with longing. Oh, to have been born in an earlier year, a better year, say in 1926 and have had a chance at a war-time career working blissfully for the Canadian Apple and Lobster Commission.

rat with quip.pngAnd that’s my story of four tales/tails during the summer of 42: Wayne’s inspirational condom tale, my own temporary fetal tail, the attic rat’s multiplying tails and finally, the piece de resistance, the surplus Canadian lobster tails.

Mom, me, dad, Eilleen...summer of '43

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sepia Saturday 353: Stairs and Arches

This week's prompt is a photo of the steps of Inglesia San Tomas, Guatemala. State Library of Florida (1938).

First the stairs: I'll always remember the stairs in Myanmar leading up to the PopaTaungkalat Shrine. There are 777 of them—you have to climb barefoot and there's no railing. Macaques hang around looking for handouts and they can be aggressive. Although we saw them jumping all over the place, they didn't bother us. Hot and sweaty during the climb, I was happy we'd asked for a safe journey from one the 37 Great Nats who live at the bottom of the stairs.

Nats are spirits connected with Buddhism. Most Burmese think of them as a combination of fairies and saints. They don't really believe in them, but just as we don't pass under a ladder unless necessary or avoid a black cat, so do the Burmese make sure, if they really want something, they consult the nats first and leave an offering. The offering is often liquor, coconuts, bananas or small bills. 

The first photo is my straight-forward photo. The second, I fiddled with on LunaPic's free photo software online (spell check wants to change LunaPic to Lunatic). Okay, I'll admit...I may have overdone a lunatic. 

I think this effect "dreaming" makes the photo less threatening. More like a castle and less like a fort. 

Now the arch: This arch-framed view of the Taj Mahal is iconic. The area was more crowded than it looks when we visited last year. I held the camera up over my head to get this shot. The second shot, also run through an effect on LunaPic, I actually like better. 

For more peeks through arches, go to Sepia Saturday sample how others interpret this week's prompt. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Avocado News

Julian Zaal and chef Jamie van Heije are opening The Avocado Show in trendy area De Pijp in Amsterdam. How do you eat these? I guess with a knife and fork. Apparently avocados are trending, whatever that means. 

The below photo is actually credited to Colette Dike, a food stylist but it's all over the web associated with the avocado show. 

Colette's fabulous Instagram feed is here 

Also opening in February in New York is the Avocaderia in Industry City. Takeaway only.
Here's their website: Avocaderia
Photos by Colette Dike, Food Stylist