Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Evacuated! Once from home and once from up at the Rancho. On Monday we woke up to roaring winds and all the patio furniture blown hither and yon. Like a blast from a furnace, the hot winds raged on and soon we saw a blob of smoke coming up from behind the hills. Thus started the murderous Rice Canyon fire here in Fallbrook. When it was all over, we lost 206 homes here, most of them in Lina's mobile home park. Sadly, Lina was among those who lost their homes.

For two nights, while we were evacuated to the rancho we ate with our neighbor Gail. Sharon left and stayed up in Corona with her daughter. Gail was holding down the fort. First night, he had some grilled chicken that Sharon had prepared for house guests, now gone. We made a salad out of his leftover greens, the chicken and our carrots. He made us delicious ice cream sundaes from their sundae bar. Next day, we snuck into Fallbrook and went back to the house to collect some clothes for upcoming travel to Washington DC. A stop at Major Market was eerie because of the absence of people and dwindling supplies. We bought a chicken for Richard to twirl, some red potatoes, salad greens, green snap peas and a bottle of wine. Gail added some of his apricot brandy, home made, which was excellent. The recipe for the brandy was a legacy from his sister.

We didn't suffer any losses in this fire and were very grateful to find our house still standing when the evacuation order was lifted.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Speaking "movie star" in Kotor

We sat down at a small Italian restaurant in the old town of Kotor in Montenegro. It's difficult not to choose a small Italian restaurant in Kotor; all the restaurants are small and all serve pretty much the same things. They are differentiated by the quality and talent of the hawker or super salesman standing out in front with menus urging you to come in. A couple of nights prior, we'd passed this particular restaurant up, but thought we'd like to try it, because of "Mr. Personality".

The menus in Montenegro almost all include standard Italian dishes plus fresh fish and a few items added obviously for the British. The fresh fish is difficult to order because they sell it by the gram and you never know what you're going to pay, so we stay clear of this. Richard ordered grilled squid and I had a pasta carbonara. When Mr. Personality brought the drinks, he asked "Where from, English?". We answered that we were from the US, from California and he broke into a big smile and said very quickly, "Cameron Diaz, Al Pacino, Demi Moore". We laughed and replied with "movie stars". He gave us a thumbs up. When he brought the salad he said, "Leonardo DiCaprio, Farrah Fawcett, Goldie Hawn!". We replied with, "Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Robin Williams!" This exchange went on as he came and went with plates until we petered out of movie stars. When we left he yelled after us, "California OK".

Friday, October 05, 2007

Touristic menus in Rome

Is there ever enough time to see what you want to see in Rome? We're always rushing around trying to get somewhere before it closes. On this trip, food was at the bottom of our list of priorities as we prefered to spend every second available to feast the eyes (instead of the stomach) on the beauty in the eternal city. When we got hungry we plopped ourselves down wherever we saw an empty chair and as a result, we crowded in with our fellow tourists (no Italian would be caught dead in one of these places) and ate plenty of bad pizza, cold lasagna and other items from the touristic menu.

One day we were rushing along and we noticed one of those fat plastic chefs about 4 feet high placed outside a restaurant. Usually they have outstretched arms with a place between them for the touristic menu to be posted. Horror of horrors, this chef had lost both arms. They looked like they had been wrenched out from the shoulders - talk about your rotator cuff injury! Still, the proprietor of the restaurant chose to leave the poor crippled wretch out in front. We asked ourselves, "How bad could the food really be?". It's one thing to complain about the food, but for someone to dismember this benign plastic symbol? We hoped that perhaps the plastic cook had been ravaged a bit at a time. Perhaps someone removed a finger, then a hand went, then a forearm and finally the last bit. Somehow, this is more comforting than the thought of some diner going "postal" or "cheftal" and ripping the arms from poor plastic Genio, touristic menu chef.

Although, one more round of touristic menu offerings and we might have been tempted to attack a chef ourselves.

Ana's Wonderful Plazma cake

We were served a wonderful dinner at our friends' place in Nis, Serbia. There were several delicious salads and one particularly striking dish of peppers roasted, then marinated in a mild sweet and sour dressing. Roast pork was the entree, succulent and delicious. For dessert, Ana, our friends grand daughter made Plazma Cake. Plazma is a biscuit popular in Serbia and Plazma crumbs are the main ingredient. A lovely dessert, light and not too sweet, Ana adapted the original no-cooking recipe by splitting it in half and adding chocolate to one half making it a two tone affair. It was so good that I had repete or "seconds". Ana is collecting easy dessert recipes so I sent her my favorite for panna cotta, about as simple as it gets.

Ana's Plazma Cake

200 gr. ground nuts
300 gr. plazma crumbs (substitute crushed vanilla wafers)
200 ml. carbonated water
200 gr. unsalted butter, softened
200 gr. powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients, shape into a loaf and divide in half.
To one half, add 200 gr. cocoa powder.
To the other half, add 200 gr. raisins.
Reshape into one loaf and refrigerate.

Whose got the Presidents Choice?

An organization we belong to known as the Association of Retired Foreign Service Officers has periodic lunch meetings. The speakers are usually very good and the company splendid; if we're in town we go. Last meeting was in San Clemente at El , a lovely old Spanish restaurant with many famous clients.

A delightful and very well-organized woman volunteers her time to coordinate these events, selecting the venue, aranging the menus and coordinating payment from everyone. This is a thankless job as anyone who has attempted it will verify. It takes plenty of time and patience plus an eye for detail. For this particular event everyone had selected from the menu ahead of time, in some cases, a month or so ahead of time.

Unfortunately for all of us, Phoebe had an accident the morning of the event. She fell down hard in front of her house and wasn't at the restaurant when we all arrived; as time went on, she still didn't show. Another woman helps from time to time and she stepped into the breach. Lunch time came and dishes started to arrive in the dining room; the challenge now was to determine who ordered what. Many of these people are over 80 and couldn't remember what they'd ordered. Waiters were wandering around, yelling (many of the retired officers can't hear either), "Whose got the President's Choice?"

Happily Phoebe dragged herself in just as confusion had really set in, with plates being passed around and more befuddled waiters crowding in to try to help. Couples were yelling at each other about what they had or hadn't ordered. Oh my.

Phoebe after some shuffling around produced post-it notes for each person with what they had ordered written on it - and they were color coded! Order ruled and we all sat there with our sticky notes, waiting to be served.

Prez Choice is what Richard had. He leaned over and asked me what it was. He'd forgotten that it was the favorite dish of President of the reasons we attended this meeting in the first place. Ha!