Monday, July 30, 2007

Bars are not for old people

The family reunion was a big success. Unbelievably we encountered little traffic on the way up. Not a single slow-down on all the busy freeways between our home and Santa Maria. We stayed at a Radisson Hotel located near the airport in Santa Maria - hard to find, but quite comfortable. There was the inevitable wedding reception in progress and the hotel was full of children, running around the halls and crowding in and out of the elevators. They appeared to be having a wonderful time.

We went to the bar at about 9:00 to have a snack as dinner was served in mid-afternoon-we found we were hungry. The bartender was very personable and didn't blink an eye at our request to share a quesadilla and to share a beer - a Stella Artois which was very good - served at the perfect temperature, with a perfect head of fine bubbles in a frosty glass. Oozing with Jack cheese, dotted with spinach and chicken, the quesadilla appeared on a plate with microgreens, excellent guacamole, salsa and sour cream. We noticed they had a very nice list of central California wines by the glass and a tasting flight of 5 wines (3 ozs. each) for $14.00. A bargain and an opportunity to get a nice sampling of the local wines. It was too late after too long a day so we passed it up.

Visiting bars is not something we usually do, but this was a decent one and our only food option at that hour. A small unamplified combo played easy listening music providing a pleasant background for the room where the acoustics were pretty good. No clatter and we could actually hear ourselves speaking. How unusual is that? The patrons in the bar were an odd polyglot. There was a single drunk who wandered in and out muttering to himself. A couple who appeared to be Spanish, came in and ordered a beer each, downed them in about 5 minutes and left. Two men in their 30's, one Spanish, one not, came in and ordered cocktails, downed them and were out in about 10 minutes. One single guy sat at the bar and had two drinks during the time we ate and drank. Another pair of men came in and sat talking together and drinking slowly. No women.

The practise of rapidly belting down drinks puzzles me. My generation is likely the last of the cocktail "sippers". Bars, to us, still retain some of the hangover glamor of the 40's movies..places where the combo played, romances started, people met and fell in love - there was a patina of sophistication associated with frequenting them. Today's patrons view the bar as a "party" place. The contemporary version of a party consists of loud, loud music, drunken brawling, throwing up, public nudity and other vulgarities. The drinks pushed by the liquor companies reflect this attititude: Piece of ass, Fuk meup, Absolut Sex, Afganistany whore. They know their market.

As we age and we begin forgetting things AND our ability to retain information diminishes, the idea of voluntarily paying for alcohol to put us into a further muddle loses it's appeal. Bars are not places for old people.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Family Reunion

We're preparing today for the family reunion over the weekend. On Saturday, we have a traditional Santa Maria barbecue - tri-tip beef, chicken, beans and salad. Everybody brings a snack and their own beverages. We're making a tapenade of olives, capers, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and chopped herbs; a guacamole and some hummus. Richard is buying some bagel chips for dipping. For each hostess we're taking a basket of avocados and olive oil. We also take along a big loose bag of avocados for general distribution. On Sunday morning, we all go over to one of the cousin's vineyards, the Pretty Penny, where we enjoy pizzas baked in their outdoor wood burning oven, one after the other, after the other. They are so delicious -the best pizzas I can remember except for Italy, and the setting of the vineyard is wonderful. The house is at the top of a hill with the vines marching down the sides of the slopes and even though in July, it's beastly hot - it's still wonderful, sitting outdoors on their wide spacious patios enjoying the views. Our cousin takes the kids on tractor rides up and down the rows of vines which they all love.

There will likely be 40 or 50 people this year. The oldest will be Richard's Uncle Kelly, other than Richard's mother, the oldest living relative. Who knows who the youngest will be? Last year, there was an infant one of the cousins had adopted from their daughter. There will be an 80+ year life span represented.

City Chicken

We went to see "Buddy" last night at the Lawrence Welk theatre. During dinner with our friends, we were wallowing in nostalgia over our teen age years when Buddy Holly was the really big deal. The subject of mock foods came up. The ritz cracker apple pie was one dish Pam, Richard and I remembered and in fact, Pam had actually made it once. Joe remembered something they called City Chicken which was actually pork and veal, skewered and then baked in the oven. Pam can recall her mother making the dish for their family; Joe enjoyed it in the seminaryl The origin of City chicken (aka mock chicken) seems to have its roots in the Northeast. The definitive origin of the name continues to elude food historians although it may be related to chicken fried steak. (The photo is from the Detroit News, 2005)

The culinary evolution of City chicken:

"Mock" foods (foods that are named for an ingredient that isn't in the recipe) have a long an venerable history. Medieval cooks employed by wealthy families were fascinated with illusion food. The practice of calling one food by another name (mock sturgeon was composed of veal) or making one meat resemble another was quite an art and highly respected. Victorian-era cooks were also intrigued by mock foods. They enjoyed mock turtle soup (calve's head...remember this character in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland?), mock goose (leg of pork) and mock apple pie (soda crackers). Depression and World War II-era cooks created mock foods to stretch the budget and satisfy family tastes. The 1931 edition of Irma Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking has recipes for mock chicken sandwiches (tuna), mock pistachio ice cream (vanilla with almond extract and green food coloring) and mock venison (lamb).

German weiner schnitzel [breaded veal cutlets] morphed in the 1940s in many southern states into "chicken-fried steak." The recipe for "city chicken/mock chicken" is almost identical except for the long oven cooking in moist heat. The difference is that city chicken is made with pork and veal cubes (as opposed to a single type of meat) and shaped on a skewer. It seems that chicken at this time was actually more expensive than pork and veal. Also people didn't like pork tenderloin, believe it or not. They thought it was tasteless and the silverskin was butchers used it up in the Mock Chicken or City Chicken format.

Mock Chicken Legs
1 lb beef steak
1 lb veal or pork
2 tesapoons salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup fat, melted
1/4 cup flour or 3.4 cup cracker crumbs
6-8 wooden skewers
Have steaks cut about 3/8 inches thick. Pound well and cut in 1 or 1 1/2 inch squares. Arrange 6 pieces alternately through one corner on each skewer, having top and bottom pieces somewhat smaller to represent drumsticks. Brush over or roll in fat, then in flour or crumbs, season with salt and pepper. Fry in fat left over and brown on all sides. Cover pan closely, cook slowly about 1 1/2 hours, or until tender, adding water if necessary."
---The Settlement Cook Book, Mrs. Simon Kander [Settlement Cook Book Co.:Milwaukee WI] 21st edition enlarged and revised 1936 (p. 161)

"Mock Chicken Drumsticks (City Chicken)
6 servings
Cut into 1X 11/2 inch pieces:
1 pound veal steak
1 pound pork steak
Sprinkle them with salt, pepper
Arrange the veal and pork cubes alternately on 6 skewers. Press the pieces close together into the shape of a drumstick. Roll the meat in flour.
Beat 1 egg, 2 tablespoons water
Dip the sticks into the diluted egg then roll them in breadcrumbs.
Melt in a skillet 1/4 cup shortening
Add 1 tablespoon minced onion (optional)
Brown meat well. Cover the bottom of the skillet with boiling stock or stock substitute or water. Put a lid on the skillet and cook the meat over very hot heat until it is tender. Thicken the gravy with flour (2 tablespoons four to 1 cup of liquid). If preferred, the skillet may be covered and placed in a slow oven 325 degrees F. Until the meat is tender."
---The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer [Bobbs Merill:Indianapolis] 1936 (p. 95)


Mock Apple Pie

This recipe -- or one very much like it -- was invented around 1852 by a group of pioneer women for their children who missed the apple pie they'd had "back east." In Helen Evans Brown's West Coast Cookbook, she quotes Mrs. B. C. Whiting's How We Cook In Los Angeles (1894), "The deception was most complete and readily accepted. Apples at this early date were a dollar a pound, and we young people all craved a piece of Mother's apple pie to appease our homesick feelings." The recipe was referred to as "California Pioneer Apple Pie, 1852", and the crackers used at that time were "soda crackers" which were mixed with brown sugar, water and citrus acid and cinnamon.

After Ritz crackers were created in the early 1930's a recipe for Mock Apple Pie began appearing on the box. Apples were once again expensive and homemakers in those years were once again able to use crackers in order to give their children a taste of apple pie.

Recently, another Ritz cracker curiosity has appeared on the Web, using Ritz crackers and dipping chocolate to simulate the taste and texture of the chocolate mint cookies that are sold each year by the Girl Scouts. Look for for "Faux Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies."

Mock Apple Pie a la Ritz
Pastry for two-crust 9-inch pie
30 to 36 Ritz crackers, coarsely broken up (about 1 3/4 cups)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Grated rind of one lemon
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Place sugar, cream of tartar and water in saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Add grated lemon rind and lemon juice. Allow to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

3. Roll out half the pastry and line a 9 inch pie plate. Place coarsely-broken cracker crumbs in pie crust. Pour cooled syrup over crackers. Dot with butter or margarine and sprinkle with cinnamon.

4. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie. Trim, seal and flute edges. Slit top to allow steam to escape. Bake at 425 F for 30-35 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden. Cool completely before serving.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Doggie Bag

Once a week, we dine with a 92 year old neighbor. He doesn't eat much but he likes to have company for dinner and likes to go out, which is unusual for an elderly man, I think. He always gets a "doggie bag" and carries home at least half of what he orders. This gets eaten the next day for lunch.

Lawry's restaurants invented the doggie bag. They noticed that people couldn't finish the large portion of prime rib served in their Prime Rib restaurants and so they started giving their patrons a bag to take home the leftovers. With a nod and wink, it was christened the doggy bag. I believe this was some time in the thirties. The term is more common in California than other parts of the country where you may be asked if you want a "take home" container or a container to go.

Lawry's also invented valet parking, the pre-dinner salad fork, the chilled salad fork and some say, drive-in dining. Richard Frank told me that his "old man" as he always referred to his father, had his servers put a board through the front seat of the car and served dinner on it, with china, glass and silver. Very classy. Cars were a novelty at this time, and people wanted to be seen in them. The Franks are/were a very creative bunch. Richard was responsible for many concepts, such as Casey's Bar in downtown LA, a meadieval chop house in San Francisco and best of all in my opinion, a small Italian eaterie which should have been the Olive Garden. He didn't expand it because they couldn't seem to make the lunch pay off. Richard was responsible for taking the seasoned salt which his father concocted and turning into the Lawry's food company. He developed one of the countries most recognizable logos with Saul Bass, a marketing genius operating in LA in the 50's. He was also the first food person to package in flexible foil. Richard was always on the look out for packaging innovation. A great leader and a wonderful person to work for, I enjoyed my years at Lawry's foods very much. Richard Frank fostered creativity, ingenuity and a spirit of entrepreneurship in all his co-workers - when I was managing the product development lab, he would wander in and tell me that everyone in the lab should have at least 20% of their time free to dream, create and let their minds wander. Can you imagine that philosophy prevailing anywhere today??

Online I read of the British expression "a real dog's dinner" which is not related to the doggy bag but instead describes a mess of some sort. "She showed up looking like a real dog's dinner."

Years ago I worked with a 90 year old coffee taster. He trained me to "cup" coffee and he also taught me how to drink a martini at the Jonathan Club in downtown LA. He loved sushi and I would take him to our local Japanese joint - this was 30 years ago before there was sushi on every corner. He would ask for a doggy bag for the parsley on the plate. A real depression scarred human, he didn't let anything go to waste. I remember a story he told me about purchasing a $1000 whole life insurance policy in the 20's. At the time, people asked him why he would make such an extravagant purchase as $1000 was such a princely sum. Well, he had beat the statistics and lived to see the policy amount because of inflation become almost worthless. We laughed about the fact that the $1000 even thirty years ago wouldn't cover a funeral.

Now that there are more cat owners than dog owners, perhaps the name should be changed to a kitty bag.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Viral recipes

Today is our annual community picnic. Everybody brings a dish for two plus. We're making chicken drumettes and a lemon dessert. Some friends who used to live in our area are coming along as well. The food at events like this are always an interesting melange. Family recipes, church bazaar favorites, pot-luck favorites. It's haphazard and the kind of food that everyone loves once in a while. True comfort food and full of surprises.

One of our friends is barbecuing a turkey. The ethnic people usually bring something interesting. One year a Korean woman in the neighborhood brought some delicious marinated and barbecued beef. On different occasions I've brought Asian cole slaw or last year I did a fruit salad in a watermelon, disguised as a pig. Oddly not a soul commented so I've left my fruit carving kit in the drawer since. No sense in the effort when there is no audience for the art.

The lemon dish I'm bringing I first tasted at an office pot luck many years fact about 30 years ago. One of our secretaries brought it and it was instantly gobbled up by the assembly. The Japanese woman, the cook, was so modest that she was loathe to get attention for her contribution. I wonder where she got the recipe. Tracing one of these to their origin would be an interesting exercise.

Pot luck foods have been the subject of many recipe books over the years. I have several and took to buying them whenever I passed through a community either at a gas station or in a airport bookstore. Some years ago, I stopped collecting them because most of the recipes are similar or even the same from community to community.

Sometimes recipes are passed around almost like a virus. This is a great trick to pull off if you are promoting an item such as strawberries. The strawberry/spinach and almond salad flashed around Orange County from pot luck to pot luck a few years ago and I'm sure it ultimately spread round the country. The Lipton Onion chip dip is a classic case and the product has lasted for decades.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Adapted From Taste of Home


1/3 cup raspberry vinaigrette
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon prepared mustard
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4-1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1 package (10 ounces) fresh baby spinach
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans or other nut, such as almonds or macadamias, toasted


In a blender, combine the vinaigrette, sugar, salt and mustard. While processing, gradually add oil in a steady stream. Stir in poppy seeds. Transfer to a small pitcher or bowl. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until chilled. Just before serving, toss the spinach, strawberries and nuts in a large salad bowl with dressing. Yield: 8 servings.

Writing later, after the picnic, we can pronounce the food a great success once again. This year the table was groaning with entrees. Roast pork, lots of home fried chicken, chile in various iterations - turkey, vegetarian, super hot. Lasagna, some mexican casseroles and various kinds of cole slaw. I only made it down half a table before my plate was starting to look horrible so I stopped and ate to filling. Couldn't get to the last bits. The most unusual
dessert was avocado ice cream.
The volunteer fire department showed off it's two new fire engines - clean, sparkling, beautiful things. To those of us who live in a tinder box, a working fire truck parked just down the street, is a beautiful sight. Our local supervisor, Bill Horne was on the scene as usual - he's been an excellent supervisor and very good to our community. Ross Daily, the padrone of the community at 92 is still going strong and he calls the "Let's eat" signal every year. I love the picnic and think it's the kind of glue that keeps people together.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Aroma packing today. I've devised a little packing box with styrofoam holes for the vials. This makes the kit easy to mail and less likely to develop leaks. No matter how tightly the lids are screwed on, when mailed in plastic containers, I find aroma transference and leaking. Hopefully this will solve that problem.

When the aromas leak, there's an odd but consistent aroma that develops - even thought the specific aromas might be different. For me, it's flavor school aroma. Orange, garlic, smoke, lemon, clove, ginger, coffee all melded together into a unidentifiable's not nice and not appealing in the least. In fact, it doesn't smell like food but more like a kind of oil that's heated up, like on brakes or on a small straining electric motor. It is a very persistent aroma too..
lingers in the air, long after the vials are gone.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I have a client that wants us to develop a pilaf for him. He markets a line of mediteranean and middle eastern foods. This would be an addition to that line but also he hopes might be a way into conventional grocery outlets in the US. We talked about Costco and their approach to adding products to their stores...throw it against the wall and if it sticks, it sticks.

Pilaf is a rice dish which originated in the middle east. It is also known to the Turkish as pilar and can be known as plof or pullao or pullaw. Typically it is rice or another grain sauteed in oil or butter and then simmered in a broth with seasonings. In many cuisines it's mixed with meat or vegetables.

In Turkey it is made with bulgur which is the oldest processed food known. Bulgur is prepared precooked wheat, originally from the Middle East. Wheat is soaked, cooked, and dried, then lightly milled to remove the outer bran and cracked. It is eaten in soups and cooked with meat (when it is known as kibbe). Also called ala, burghul, cracked wheat, and American rice.

Pilaf is not difficult to develop but still it takes time to decide on a strategy, some flavors, screen for competitive ingredients, find a contract packer, write ingredient declaration and package instructions that are clear and legal.

My middle eastern friend told me he would change his name if he was younger. He feels having a middle eastern name is a death sentence in western business circles. I wondered how that would feel when your very name strikes dread in people.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Brain Freeze or Spheno Palatine Gangleoneuralgia

A visit to Jamba Juice yesterday where I drank an original size Caribbean. For me, unused to super gulps and the like, this was a huge drink and by the time I was through it I was very uncomfortable and bloated. The icy cold temperature was refreshing but sucking it through a straw lead to the dreaded brain freeze - a stabbing pain in the forehead that lasts a few seconds. Brain freeze is referred pain caused by a combination of super-cooling the sinus cavities and the trigeminal nerve. My husband calls it the tri-genital nerve because he likes the sound of it. The tri-geminal nerve is undersung for a system that affects most of us every single day. Some facts:

Your brain DOES NOT actually freeze. NO damage is caused by brainfreeze.

• 7-Eleven registered the term "brainfreeze" in 1994 to communicate the painful joy of drinking a frozen Slurpee beverage.

• Brainfreeze is also known as an "Ice Cream Headache", and "Frozen Brain Syndrome"

Some sudies suggest that brainfreeze is more common in people who experience migraines. Raskin and Knittle found this to be the case, with brainfreeze occurring in 93% of migraine sufferers and in only 31% of controls. Other studies found that it's more common in people without migraines. These inconsistencies may be due to differences in subject selection–the subjects of the first study were drawn from a hospital population, whereas the controls in the second were student volunteers. In my case, I have never experienced a headache but can trigger brain freeze almost immedicately by touching something cold to a specific spot on my palate.

What happens? When something really cold touches the palate, the body's response to the cold is to vasoconstrict the peripheral vasculature (to reduce the diameter of blood vessels). This vasoconstriction is in place to reduce blood flow to the area, and thus minimize heat loss to keep warmth in the body. After vasoconstriction, they return to normal status and artery size results in massive dilation (vasodilation) of the arteries that supply the palate (descending palatine arteries). The nerves in the region of the palate (greater and lesser palatine nerves) sense this as pain and transmit the sensation of this pain back to the trigeminal ganglia. This results in pain that is referred to the forehead and below the orbit, other regions from which the trigeminal nerve receives sensation. The pain is not caused by the cold temperature alone, but rather the quick warming of the cold palate.

Here's a trigeminal ditty I wrote for flavor school:

You love ice cream and eat in sprees
But go too fast, you get brain freeze
You love hot foods, eat them with ease,
Your tongues on fire and still you seize
still more hot sauce for your Chinese
and salsa for your plate of peas
Or even for your fine head cheese
Your palate wants a constant tease
And sunshine seems to make you sneeze
It's all trigeminals if you please!!!

The trigeminal nerve has three sections: the opthalmic branch (affecting the eyes), the maxillary branch (affecting the nose) and the mandibular branch which is centered in the mouth. If you eat a bowl of chili you can feel all three areas: your eyes will water, your nose will run and your mouth will burn. Trigeminal nerves in the mouth wrap around the fungiform taste buds and there are three times as many of them as there are taste receptor cells. Supertasters, because they have many more taste receptor cells than non-tasters, are far more affected by chili heat than are tasters are non-tasters and they are less likely to eat hot food.

A frequently experienced tri-geminal affect occurs when you go to the dentist and get aenesthetized. Frequently the tri-geminal nerve is numbed and you are left not knowing where your tongue is. It also feels very thick. This is a very strange phenom to experience and makes you appreciate the presence of all the neural systems which work together to keep you informed of where you start and where you stop.

A few other trigeminal favorites are: the tingle of carbonated beverages; nasal pungenecy of horseradish and mustard; the bite of raw onion and garlic; the cooling sensation of menthol. During flavor schools, I give people a mint to eat and think about and sometimes, a vial of ammonia to quickly sniff. Smelling salts were basically ammonia and a whiff of this really jolts the tri-geminals and gets your attention. Last year in Thailand, watching a long holiday parade in the heat of the day, I was passed a vial of smelling salts which the Thai ladies used to revive themselves and regain focus. A little upper sniff.

The dark side of the trigeminal nerve is it's connection to headaches. I know little of this but hope one day some clever researcher will figure out how to stop the great suffering that many experience.

The picture posted is a watermelon brain from camerge on Flickr. Looks pretty cool doesn't it?

Here's to plenty of ice cream, many slushy cold drinks and little or no spheno palatine gangleoneuralgia

Monday, July 16, 2007

Menu for a "down under" guest

We're thinking today about our Australian visitor in August and what to have for dinner that would be American, new for him, good with wine and easy to prepare ahead. Hmmmm. We thought about enchiladas - Mexican food being somewhat scarce down under. Perhaps we'll have a big nacho plate for appetizers, chicken enchiladas and a flan with some kind of caramel foam for dessert. Or we could have big delicious hamburgers on onion buns, cooked on
the Barby! Perhaps artichokes as an appetizer, a grilled fish, local vegetables and home made lemon ice cream (with the meyers and a lavendar foam. We'll have to decide if we want to go sophisticated or more down home. Our friend will be exhausted as he's at the end of an around the world trip.

We decided on: gazpacho with plenty of avocado, a coucous salad mixed with grilled vegetables - zucchini, peppers, eggplant and with halved cherry tomatoes and basil chiffonade. The dressing will be olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings. We'll served alaska crab leg meat with the salad.

Desserts will be something foamed. Is this American - no? But do I have a foamer I want to use? yes.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

You Kill Me

Saw "You Kill Me" last night and enjoyed it. A couple of meal scenes but no focus on food, except for a close-up of a turtle eating a piece of cheese!! Lots of drinking scenes because the story is about a Polish alcoholic hit man, played by Ben Kingsley. To shovel the snow he begins by taking a huge slug out of a bottle of vodka. He throws the bottle a few feet, then starts shoveling. When he gets to the bottle, he takes another big slug, then throws the bottle out a few more feet. Good plan. As the film progresses, between slugs from the vodka bottle, he drinks beer. The film is full of scenes of people drinking, bottles being opened, liquor poured, in bars, at home and at an Irish wake. It actually started to nauseate me, as the sister of an alcholic, thinking about all that booze being consumed and how it would make the people feel the next day. Kingsley does a wonderful job of being almost emotionless at the opening of the film when he just joins AA and he's totally unaffected by the people around him, like an automaton. When he drinks in the film, he drinks almost as if he's taking medication - joyless and mechanical. In one scene, he drinks in a bar sitting perfectly upright with that Kingsley ram-rod posture, picking up the glass, sliding it toward him, raising it to his lips at almost right angles and then throwing it back. Scene by scene, seemingly "one day at a time", he starts to show emotion and become connected to people - Tea Leoni, playing someone he meets in the mortuary in San Francisco where he works (she's relieved he isn't gay - alcoholic and a hit man, she can handle) ; his AA sponsor; the black woman at the mortuary; his Polish mafioso "family". Pretty good film with lots of laughs and particularly funny if you know AA or if you know an alcoholic.

Speaking of alcohol, we had a rather poor beer last night with our Indian food after the film. It was watery and thin, like Coors. Our meal consisted of Chicken Tikka, Spinach Saag with homemade cheese, #60 which is potatoes and cauliflower in a kind of curry, rice and garlic/cilantro nan. Taste of India in Temecula is almost always empty which astounds us because the food is quite good - not great, but perfectly serviceable Indian food. The service is excellent because of the low level of patronage. We eat there on Saturday nights if we're going out because almost all the other restaurants in Temecula and Murrietta are crowded and there are long, noisy waits. Pam mentioned last night that they're all the same too! Isn't that the sad fact.

A new amusing routine: we're throwing out left over bread onto the branches of our Norfolk Pine. The branches are widely spaced and almost flat. Bread chunks nestle nicely into the cleft down the center of the branches. Big crows swoop down to the deck, sit on the railing and assess the situation. Then they make their move, fluttering over to a branch to establish a footing and get a beak around a chunk of bread. They carry off pieces about 1/3 of their size, fly a long distance from the house, drop the bread and then eat it. Once one crow comes, the others follow and the tree/birdfeeder can be stripped of a loaf of bread in a few minutes.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Food Memories

Friday the 13th. And on the freeway to Orange County. Lunch at the Bowers museum was very good. Joacham Splichal of the Patina group owns the restaurant and they have some unusual items on the menu. "Airline chicken" caught our attention and we asked what it was. Turns out they get their chicken breasts from a farm on the east coast. The chicken breasts are flown to OC and logically became airline chicken breasts. They also serve "soup of yesterday" instead of "soup of the day", because everyone knows that soup is better the second day.

We had four appetizers: the spanish cheese with grapes baked in sherry, eggplant and carrots cooked with cumin and pomegranite syrup, skirt steak on skewers with mache salad and crab cakes. They were all good but the skirt steak and the eggplants were my favorites. For dessert we had the chocolate pyramid which was a really delicious chocolate mousse served with real, creamy, buttery caramel sauce dotted on the plate. The caramel was so good that I'm sure either Shari or myself would have licked the plate. After lunch we visited the gift shop briefly and then I shot over to my brother-in-laws to help him organize his closet. It wasn't a big job as he doesn't have too much. He took me to dinner at Le Brasserie but it was closed for remodeling so we went to an Italian restaurant in Orange where I had cannelonni and Jim had veal marsala.

Jim is going to Winnipeg and my thoughts turn to the foods we used to love there. Kelekis' hot dogs and chips, Blakes fish and chips, Salisbury house nip and chips, the malts at the Hudson's Bay, Jeannies cakes, pierogis with sour cream and onions, Mrs. Wiebes cream puffs, my mother's paper-thin crepes slathered with butter and brown sugar, fresh green beans out of the garden steamed about a minute and eaten with butter, salt and pepper, pickerel fillets, fiddle head ferns, stewed rhubarb, fresh raspberries with cream, fresh blueberries with cream, smoked goldeye.

From the web, author unknown:

Jeannies cake icing recipe:1 CUP MILK 3 TBSP. CORNSTARCH 1/2 CUP WHITE MARGARINE 3/4 CUP SHORTENING 1 CUP FINE GRANULAR SUGAR (icing sugar) 2 TSP. VANILLA Extract. Combine cornstarch and milk in a sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until thick, stirring slowly and constantly. When thick remove from heat and keep stirring until mixture is cool. Combine margarine, shortening and sugar and beat with electric mixer until creamy. This takes about 7 - 10 minutes. Add to cooled milk mixture, add vanilla and beat on medium speed till icing resembles whipped cream. Butter can be substituted if white margarine is not available but will color the icing off yellow. This icing is best when made fresh as it does not keep well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bon Appetito

Carry in food tonight. Spaghetti and meat sauce for me;spaghetti and meat balls for Richard. We had a very busy day and had no time to even think of going to the grocery store and getting a meal together. The meat sauce on the spaghetti was very good - deep and dark with a rich flavor and mahogony color. Marinara sauces leave me cold - the acidic tomatoes I find shallow and for me, they do little for the pasta. Richard's meat balls tasted like...well, meat balls. Rubbery and with a kind of warmed over flavor. But he enjoyed them.

We're searching for the all-time best meat sauce around here. The quest keeps us trying new Italian spots always applying our uniform kitchen test - how is the meat sauce? Most of the sauces lack the depth which comes from long simmering and building layers of flavor with first, a good meat base, fresh tomatoes and a knowledgable hand with the spices and wine. When done correctly a good meat sauce is a work of art. My own meat sauces are always disappointing to me. I try different recipes but none deliver the richness and layering I'm looking for. So far, Vinces in Temecula delivers the best flavor. Incredibly it's also very cheap!

I can cover up a lot of sins with the herbs from my garden. A mediocre Italian dish is incredibly improved by laying a large, fragrant piece of rosemary across a steaming plate. The diner gets the rosemary aroma borne skyward on a cloud of steam. Regardless of the actual taste of the dish, the rosemary does a lot for the perception of what's about to come - and anticipation and preparation is half the experience. The other trick is to serve a good wine and plenty of it. Garlic bread is so ubiquitous and so well liked that a good chunk slathered with garlic butter and then dredged in parmesan cheese is another distraction.

I'd like to spend some time in Italy with someone who really knew where to go and eat. We've had a marvelous time stumbling into places and have eaten well. But oh how wonderful to be taken to the "sure thing" in every location to try the best of the best. Maybe 2008 will be the year we get to do this with one of the many experts who offer such a service.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

It's Magic

The disappearing sugar trick is progressing! I've been practising and have developed a story to go along with the disappearance. With magic, the distracting story is key..particularly when your magic skills are marginal. Tonight I did the trick for Richard and he liked it and offered suggestions. I think he is lusting after my thumb. He tried it on tonight but he has rather large knuckles and would probably have to have one made to fit. One of those anatomical peculiarities that simply put one out of the game.

While buying my thumb at the magic shop in Temecula I learned that David Copperfield lives in Oceanside! I was surprised to see his scrapbooks in the magic store show case. The owner told me that David comes in to visit and talk and decided to do the shop a favor and leave the scrapbooks there for a while. How cool is that! Visiting the store is great fun as the bulk of the customers are little boys who are more than eager to share their knowledge. They spend much too much time pressing the whoopee cushions and fart machines; but for them, nothing exceeds like excess. I've enjoyed my several encounters with these cute, curious kidlets very much. Yes, the magic store is
a fun stop in Old Town in Temecula.

Last time I was there I discovered the Temecula cheese company. The woman running it is charming and told me she used to be a real estate agent. She got tired of people "disliking her". She decided to find something to do where people were eager to come to see her. After spending some time with the wineries she decided that wine making was what she really wanted to do. Alas, she is not a billionaire so the next best thing she could come up with was the cheese business. Self taught she spent two years working at shops, traveling to cheese makers and taking classes. Now she and her husband have opened a store and are hoping for the best. I bought a few ounces of Port Salut and a half pound of olives mixed. Both were very good.

Plum Jam day

Plum jam was on the menu today. I used about a gallon of plums and made the simple oven recipe Jan has been using for years out of Sunset Magazine. The result was lovely - a beautiful color and nicely balanced sweet and sour. While the plums were in the oven I braised and then simmered pork with green chiles, some salsa and broth until the pork fell apart in shreds. We're eating it wrapped in tortillas with guacamole, salsa and lots of chopped cilantro. We'll eschew our usual glass of wine and trade it in on a Negro Modelo and a Tecate. With both beers we'll try our client twang's beer salt - a little sprinkled in the glass.

Salting beer is a Mexican custom. They do it because it compliments the lime that is traditionally squeezed into the beer and also because it makes the beer foam. I like it because I think some beer tastes better. Oddly, people in Canada used to salt beer. Perhaps it has it's origins in Europe. Miller introduced a beer this year that is modeled after this drink - the chile and salt addition. Following is an announcement about the beer intro.
Miller tries lime-and-salt beer to boost sales
The Wall Street Journal

Miller Brewing Co., known for its conventional slate of American beers, is hoping a brew with a Mexican twist can help pull it out of a sales slump. The Milwaukee brewer is launching Miller Chill, a 110-calorie beer flavored with lime and salt, throughout the U.S. this summer after a successful test run in Texas and other states.

Miller said Chill is expected to be available in the Kansas City area as early as this week.

Chill is Miller’s answer to the michelada, a drink popular at Mexican beach resorts usually consisting of beer, lime juice and ice in a salt-rimmed glass. The brewer hopes Chill, which it calls a premium light lager, will appeal to light-beer drinkers seeking more flavor. Miller is targeting 21- to 35-year-olds with the new brand, said Randy Ransom, Miller’s chief marketing officer. “Consumers are looking for new and different ways to experience beer, and they’re willing to pay for it,” he said. “The core objective of this brand is to take share from competitive mainstream brands by giving light-beer drinkers a compelling reason to trade up.”

Miller began researching the possibility of a michelada-style beer about 18 months ago. Its focus groups suggested American beer drinkers would be willing to try it. “There’s clearly a move toward Latinization if you’ve been watching the American consumer,” said Ransom, citing hits such as the Mexican-food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.

Michelada ingredients can vary. They sometimes include hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce with a pinch of black pepper. Miller tested more than 20 recipes of Chill. It declined to discuss how the beer is made, citing competitive factors. The brewer began test-marketing Chill in March in San Diego, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. The beer did so well that Miller decided after four weeks to launch it nationally — an unusually short trial period in the beer industry. Sales to retailers have been about 40 percent higher than the company’s goals, according to a recent memo sent to the company’s distributors.
Michelada- Mexican Beer Cocktail

Micheladas have been around for decades in Mexico and have been especially popular in the Northern areas of Mexico. The Michelada stemmed from the usual practice of adding a squeeze of lime and a dash of salt to a beer. Now there are as many recipes as there are bartenders. Here is a simple recipe for this beer cocktail including the more popular ingredients and suggestions for other variations.
1 ice cold Mexican beer (dark is better)
coarse salt (for the rim)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1-2 dashes of hot chile sauce (such as Tabasco, Tapatio or Cholula)
1 dashes of soy sauce
1 dashes worchestshire sauce
beer mug or large glass (chilled if possible)
lime wedge for garnish
Salt the rim of the glass by wetting the edge with some of the lime juice then dipping it into a plate with salt on it. Now fill the glass about half way with ice and pour in the lime juice, chile sauce, soy sauce and worchestshire sauce.

Mix with a spoon then slowly pour in the beer to the top of the glass. Push the lime wedge onto the edge and serve immediatley. When you have a few drinks, pour the remaining beer into the cocktail.

A dash of Maggi Sauce
A pinch of black pepper.
1-2 pinches of all-purpose meat seasoning.
A pinch of celery salt
Do not salt the rim, instead add 1-2 pinches of salt to the cocktail.
A sprinkle of Pico de Gallo seasoning

My UPS office called this morning telling me to get over there and take a package waiting for me, out of their building. It was smelling up the place. Sure enough when I walked in the door, the smell of onions had leaked out into the whole place. Oh, they suffer there with me as a client.

I find myself plum tired out today.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Jerks in Hollywood

I've recently joined a book club. What a great bunch of women belong! Last month we read a book about Hollywood called Easy Rider to Raging Bull. A difficult read about some very difficult people. The book club members all bring something to eat- nothing formal, but everyone contributes something. I decided to bring a Beef Jerky salad which seemed appropriate as all those directors appear to be Jerks. Unfortunately the meeting was changed and I couldn't make it. The Beef Jerky ingredients are all here waiting to be assembled into something. I'd hate to serve it to my husband!

What's in it? Well, it's a popular Thai dish and combines the jerky with green papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, onions and other seasonings. Very delicious but it will have to wait for the arrival of a not so nice person who hopefully won't get the pun.


- 1 large ripe tomato, cut in to wedges.
- 1 green papaya (500 g/1 lb), coarsely grated to yield 3 cups.
- 1/2 cup diced beef jerky
- 1 small carrot, coarsely grated to yield 1 cup.
- 2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves.
- Sprigs of mint leaves, to garnish.

- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice.
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce.
- 1 tablespoon sugar.
- 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce (or more if you like it hot)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, dry-roasted for about 10 minutes over low heat until browned OR
- 1 teasoon sesame oil

- Combine the Dressing ingredients in a large bowl and mix until the sugar is dissolved, then add all the other ingredients (except sprigs of mint leaves) and toss well to combine.
- Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with the mint leaves and serve immediately.

Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 mins.

An ordinary day

We have a new client that makes whipping devices. As we are intensely interested in foams this is something we are looking forward to. A friend recently sent me a menu which featured a beer and bbq pairing and there were even foams featured on this macho menu from a bit of a culinary outpost...Fresno. Foams were prominently featured on many menus we enjoyed this year, but primarily at Alinea.

Now we can spend some serious time foaming everything that comes along and looks like a possibility. Richard is bringing over apricots tonight which we will halve, sugar and bake for 20 minutes then put in the freezer. My sister-in-law Jan is a wizard at low sugar, delicious compotes and jams. This is her recipe. Could we puree the apricots, water them down and then foam them for an ice cream topping? We'll see.

We might get rain tonight in Southern California! Very unusual and dangerous because the rain will sprout the dormant seeds, they'll sprout, grow a bit and then dry out, leaving the hillsides covered with fire prone vegetation. It's already a tinder box here...this may be just more fuel for the fires.

Lost things were reunited with their rightful owners today; Richards lost sunglasses turned up and he found his toothpaste. Perhaps this good fortune will spread to me and I too will magnetically attract the lost and convert them into the found.

Dinner tonight is an artichoke with veal and angel hair pasta. We're still eating up the creme fraiche so perhaps we'll have a dollop on some apricots, drizzled with cognac.

Just an ordinary day in Fallbrook.


Yield: 50 servings

Craig Shelton's Basil Foam

2 bunches basil leaves, washed of silt
3 1/3 cups spring water, divided
8 pieces gelatin sheets, 1.4 ounces powdered unflavored gelatin
4½ Tablespoons granulated sugar
Cold spring water with ice for ice bath

Soak the gelatin in cold water if using sheets, or use 1/3 cup of the spring water, to soften powdered gelatin. When softened drain and wick off moisture from gelatin sheets.

Bring the spring water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the basil leaves for 30 seconds. Shock and drain the basil leaves, carefully reserving all the blanching liquid, stirring in the granulated sugar until dissolved.

Transfer blanching liquid to a deep container that can be partly submerged in a deep bowl of cold water with ample ice to bring the temperature of the boiling water down sharply and quickly. Shock until it reaches (90°F). Add softened gelatin. Stir to dissolve. Continue to shock until chilled (about 70°F).

When basil is cold, transfer to blender and purée until smooth, adding enough cold infused liquid to facilitate blending into a smooth purée. Strain through a fine sieve so that some flecks of basil are visible in finished product. Combine basil purée and cooled basil-infused water in a stainless steel siphon canister. Turn to seal tightly. Load with two CO2 cartridges. Maintain under refrigeration between uses.

Black Grape Foam
Recipe Courtesy of Mario Batali

2 pounds black grapes (may substitute any wine grape)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cup heavy cream
Wash and stem grapes. Pass grapes through a food mill, not allowing any seeds through but including all pieces of pulp on skin that come through. Refrigerator.
Make simple syrup by heating sugar and water until clear and refrigerator. When ingredients are cold, add simple syrup to grape pulp. Add lemon juice and zest and stir to mix well. Whip cream to soft peaks and fold into cold grape mixture. Place in ice cream machine and chill following machine instructions. When finished, pour into 2-ounce Dixie cups. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze. To serve, remove from freezer and allow to stand 10 minutes. Unmold into a martini glass and garnish with fresh cream and clean grapes.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The luckiest day of the century

Today is everyone's lucky day. 7/07/07. It's also a chilly day here in GG. We're testing a condiment dispenser and it's humming away cooling down and getting ready to be loaded up with goodies like relish and pickle slices. Health department regulations require that such dispensers hold food at 41 degrees F. That is the test.

Chicken wings for dinner last night. On the barbecue, cooked almost to done and then brushed with butter for a mahogony hue and some crunch to the bite. This is the ultimate finger food; greasy mouths and always the danger of burning the lips because you just can't wait for the darn things to cool down. Mashed potatoes are willing accomplice to this over-indulgent meal: translation in (goes in really fast), dul (all good sense goes out the window when you smell them), gent (what you used to be before you started tearing into the wings like an animal). A small salad and a glass of TJ Chilean cab for $2.99 were also consumed. Such a meal can't ring up more than $5.00 on the cash register but feels like a million bucks while you're eating it.

Fresh strawberries are sitting on the counter drawing fruit flies. They are teetering on the brink of over-ripeness and you can smell them all over the house. Tonight they will find themselves in a salad with sliced almonds, citrus olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Maybe a salmon filet? After a day of inhaling strawberry aroma, my focus is entirely on the fruit. My sister-in-law made strawberry ice cream the other day and this is weighing heavily on my mind.

Another new computer in the household. Richard recieved his Lenova Think Pad tablet sized computer. It's a real fly weight and should be easy to haul around. They now come with nothing much but a cord to plug it in and then they have a life of their own. You name them press a few buttons, listen to a little song and they are born. This one should be called Teenie. We'll see what he comes up with.

Off to pick up a lottery ticket or place a bet on something. Gamblingrevenues will be off the charts today.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Summer Time

The "bombs were bursting in air" here in Fallbrook last night. We could see the celebration in Temecula flaring up behind the hills outside of our decks. It was a perfect summer day, warm but not hot, clear and gorgeous. A warm evening for people to sit out in shirt sleeves.

We ate alone eschewing the traffic we'd encounter participating in a celebration. Gazpacho seemed perfect for the warm weather and I always think of it as party food. We made it with chunks of cucumber and avocado floating on top. It was chilly and delicious. Second course was a scallop salad. Bay scallops were sauteed with limoncello (home made) and then tossed with arugula, watercress and baby lettuces. An olive oil and white balsamic vinegar dressed the salad. We drank a Rock Rabbit Sauvignon Blanc 2005 which recently won best of show at the Orange County Fair. The faint peachy and lemon flavor paired well with our entree and dessert: white peaches drizzled with creme fraiche. A perfect, cool dinner for July 4th.
GAZPACHO - actually anything goes
Photo above from the Pagan Chef

V-8 juice
lemon juice
olive oil

Pour a quart of cold V-8 juice into your favorite mixing bowl and add a diced cucumber, 1 cup of
diced fresh tomatoes, a small minced onion, a diced red or yellow bell pepper, a clove or 2 of
minced garlic, the juice of a lemon, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper
to taste. Combine and relegate to the fridge for a few hours of chilling. Remove from fridge, pour a helping into a deserving bowl, and garnish with slices of avocado, maybe a dollop of sour cream.
Tonight we'll have a pasta variation on the classic Lime Tequila made with grilled shrimp. The buttermilk in the fridge is calling to me (I can drink it straight out of the carton - a pint at a time) so there will likely be a dessert of plums on puff pastry with more creme fraiche.

What else can we do with bushels of plums???

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


At last the Villa delle Stelle called back and we have reservations for the end of August. A houseguest from Australia is coming to visit and it's his first time in LA. We'll be spending a few days with him in Hollywood before bringing him out here to the country to see avocados hanging in abundance.

Tony sells corks and other accoutrement to the wine industry around Adelaide. Traveling with him in Asia, we drank many fine wines that we would never have ordered were we alone. We're looking forward to trying some unusual wines while he's here. I'll be picking them out here and hauling them home.

The Villa is almost on Hollywood and Vine so Tony will be able to see Graumanns and some other sights on foot for a day before we will be able to join him. I'm sure he'll be grateful to have a pause in the company in order to catch up and gather his thoughts after his round the world travels.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Gourd Festival

Fran came over from Carlsbad and we went to the gourd festival together. Shockingly high admission price of $9.95 - a bit much when really it is mostly shopping for gourds or gourd related equipment. This would be much like paying admission to a shopping mall. We did however enjoy the exhibition of contest winners. Some of the gourds were stunning. I bought three unpolished gourds to sit out on the deck.

Afterwards we came home and I made us each a glass of lemonade squeezed from our Meyer lemons with a shot of limoncello added for extra flavor and a big sprig of fresh mint from the side garden. We munched on some peanuts and waited for Richard to bring home the game hens he twirled on his BBQ. They arrived hot and redolent with the aroma of anise seeds that he puts in the cavity. The seeds along with salt and pepper are just enough to flavor the tiny birds. We ate wild rice with them and a small salad. Two bottles of wine disappeared much to our surprise - a chardonnay and a Beaujolais Nouveau. Fran enjoyed herself and we talked about going on a cruise in the Norwegian Fjords.

There was no dessert but I did manage to dig out a few very old cookies from the freezer. These were left over from Equal experiments of long ago and while they were overly soft (I microwaved them), they were something sweet to drink with our green tea. To remedy the emergency dessert situation I bought some chocolate brownies from Costco and put them in the freezer.

Two bottles of wine. Oh my.