Friday, December 31, 2010

Bitter guacamole remedy

If your guacamole is bitter, try adding a teaspoon of sugar /cup. Stir it in well and let it sit for about 1/2 hour in the refrigerator. Taste again. If it's still bitter add 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract, stir well again and let sit to blend. Once the bitterness has abated, add chunky ingredients as you like to the mixture: diced onions, salsa, chopped cilantro, diced peppers. These textural additions dilute and extend the avocado and shift the taste emphasis away from the base to the chunky items.

P.S. Robert Sommers of the Blue Heron blog fame notes that the addition of sugar sounds awful and I agree. I should have stated here that the sugar remedy is a LAST RESORT, the culinary equivalent of CPR. Only if you're pretty well ready to give up on the guac should you try this.

Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Top Ten Dining locations - 2010

On The Road

Top Ten Dining Locations 2010
Note: I'm trying to catch up and finish the 400 or so posts I started and never finished. They've been languishing in my blogger line-up as "drafts." I doubt we'll ever have a year like this one again. 

2010 was not a year of fine dining for us. I can't make a list of meals that knocked my socks off from a culinary standpoint. We did, however, eat some meals in wonderful settings any one of which I'd be happy and grateful to repeat. 

1) Barbecued chicken and rice in a goatskin tent in Wadi Rum, Jordan on Richard's birthday. We reclined on carpets and leaned up against huge pillows, eating while a camel herder entertained us on the guitar. Dinner was followed by an evening of stargazing like nowhere else on earth. Maybe I held back from posting this because I look so terrible in the photo .
2) In the lovely Hotel Tribunal, Mortagne France, in their formal but comfortable dining room - the three course set meal - a pleasant surprise two nights in a row with perfect service and something new for us: veal brains. 

2) Amid fragrant hubbly-bubbly pipes (houkas) at Naranj in Old town Damascus, we ate wonderful Syrian food and in particular, a fabulous tray of sweets.

3) Rumah Kecik breakfasts on the Indian Ocean, listening to the birds sing and looking out at Lombok strait in Candidasa, Bali

4) On the bay in Honfleur, in a setting familiar from countless paintings of the scene, we ate skate wing in a tourist joint served by a kind and gentle, but professional waiter. 

5) With a one hundred duck chorus, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast of homemade cereals and breads with superb coffee, in the lovely sitting room of Moulin de Fresquet, a 14th-century mill where we stayed in Gramat France in the Dordogne.

6) With good friends, a fabulous Fondue on a mountainside on a rainy day in Gruyere, Switzerland.

7) Grilled fish at La Lucciola on the beach in Seminyak, Bali, listening to the surf roar.

8) On a cold rainy night in Annecy, France in a cozy fire-warmed inn, we ate Raclette and Tartiflette- ah, the crusty breads and stringy cheese.  

9) Our first meal in our new house—a picnic lunch with friends in our office (the only room with furniture).

10) Perhaps I should have removed this because I got food poisoning at the buffet—but the location was spectacular. If you go, have a drink only. In Palmyra, Syria on the terrace of Zenobbia Charm Palace, suffering through terrible buffet food but gazing out at the most thrilling ruins. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A trio of Audrey Hepburns

Lurid signs on lagoon

Glasses at Le 48

Seeing Richard with beer glasses on - my large Bintang

Bali has it's share of oddball restaurants. We usually eat one Indonesian dinner there to reaffirm that we've had enough of the food. It's generally too hot (spicy) for my super taster tongue* (rendered even more sensitive post-rad) and prepared too long ahead of time. The Balinese cook food in the morning and leave it available for whoever in the household wants to eat any time of day. They eat alone, when they are hungry - communal dining is for special occasions. Everyday eating is a solitary affair - alone with God. 

So Balinese
We look elsewhere for our meals - not necessarily for fine dining but for the food service quirkiness that seems to wash up on Bali's shores.  Le 48 in Candidasa lived up to our expectations - expectations established by the huge, lurid sign they have draped across their patio looking out on the lagoon. The decor theme is "Breakfast at Tiffanys" and the Balinese waitresses are costumed like the iconic Audrey Hepburn in the film - little black dresses, long black gloves and a rhinestone bracelet. There were three girls working the night we dined there and one of them was pregnant! The black, white and red decor is stark and modern - just as unexpected in this setting as the trio of Balinese Audrey's. Mother nature can't abide plain white spaces so geckos have moved into the vacuum. The acrobatic, sticky footed creatures** cling to the walls (I counted 20 at one time), croaking their "Toke, Toke" sound. "Toke", pronounced "tokay" is what the Balinese think the geckos sound like. I don't's "Uh-oh, Uh-oh" to me.

One of the Audrey's
The food was sort of French and not bad. The Audrey's were excellent, providing the kind of service you'd expect at a very upscale restaurant - quiet, efficient and absolutely correct.

*Not a boast, but a statement of biological fact - a burden I had to overcome during the course of my career. From

To identify supertasters, researchers rely on a chemical called PROP, used to treat some thyroid conditions, applied to small strips of paper that tasters put in their mouths. Nontasters, who also account for about a third of the US population, will taste nothing, and medium tasters, another third, will find the taste moderately bitter. But to a supertaster, the taste is overpoweringly bitter: Some researchers believe supertasters experience flavors with three times the intensity of others.

Geckos are the ultimate climbers of the vertebrate world with the amazing ability to freely scamper around on walls and ceilings. How do they do that? Each of their toes is covered with tiny hair-like projections called, setae. The tip of each seta is covered with hundreds of very fine projections called spatulae.

Each spatula has a microscopic diameter smaller than the wavelength of visible light. The spatulae stick to walls and other surfaces by van der Waals forces, an electrostatic attraction or repulsion between materials caused by the uneven distribution of the charge on their molecules. These allow geckos to cling to almost any surface without secreting a sticky substance.

Chicken coop Christmas tree

Warisan chicken coop Christmas tree
Chicken coop Christmas tree
Chicken coops on the job
We had just enough time to squeeze in Christmas Eve dinner at the Warisan restaurant before catching our flight from Bali to Sydney.  A stack of chicken cages painted white and festooned with lights created a unique Christmas tree in their bar.  Thankfully the beautiful Balinese servers were not wearing Santa hats, a sight I find nauseating.  Along the streets through Kuta and Seminyak, people were selling firecrackers which are lit and thrown around (very dangerous) during the evening and particularly at midnight. Clouds were building up on the horizon, making ever-changing silhouettes. For a few seconds someone was kissing Katherine Hepburn's forehead but the scene disintegrated before I could capture it.

Richard had the barramundi and I had a pan-fried scallop and shrimp dish on a bed of asparagus risotto. Both dishes were beautifully served. We finished with a trio of creme brulees - speculoos*, dark chocolate and original. The journey home was long, long, long - 6 hours to Sydney, 3 hour layover and then 14 hours to LA - a couple of hours on luggage and the drive back to Fallbrook.

At home, the cats are busy sniffing our sandals; twitching with excitement as they climb in and out of the suitcases exploring every item with their noses.  We can't sit in a chair - one of them gets there first, circling, purring looking up at us expectantly. They're making us feel guilty for leaving them on the job as watch cats for the duration.

*From the web site:, Belgium has a national cookie (or biscuit as the English say) it is the Speculoos. Originally created for children to celebrate Saint Nicholas day (December 6), the treat is now so popular it is served with coffee in bars and restaurants, used as a flavor in specialty ice creams, and has even inspired a rich butter or paste (similar to a jar of peanut butter.)

Speculoos' comes from the Latin derivative 'species', which means 'spices'. Flavored with mild spices and brown sugar, the cookie finds its appeal in its ability to satisfy the sweet tooth with simplicity. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

The following bit is a figment of my imagination - a piece of dread that fades into the background when I'm away. On the way home yesterday, we saw the bikers streaking down  Mission road and the feeling of impending disaster returned; my brain is stuck in fiction gear from reading non-stop* for two weeks.

Dave was really pissed off. Turns out the whole thing boiled down to one stupid lie. His fists clenched the steering wheel as he turned onto the main road heading to the freeway. At the light, a young man, probably a marine, bucked his motorcycle up in front of him as he pulled into the intersection. Gunning the machine, the kid started weaving in and out of the lanes, picking up speed as he went. You could see the kind of game the biker was playing, feeling the rhythm of the traffic, pulling in front of one car after another. Cocky and too certain. Suddenly a brake was tapped - a phone fell onto the floor, a texter looked away for a second -  something - and the flow of traffic halted and shifted slightly. Maybe just a car length, just for a few seconds. The biker missed his timing clipping the back of the car he was following. He and the bike separated fast, the bike skittering into the oncoming lane and hit first by a van. Brakes screeched and the bike was hit again and again.  The kid slammed off the trunk of the car ahead of him, bounced once and landed on the pavement, sliding at 30 miles per hour across the road, finally stopping half under the car just in front of Dave. He slammed on his brakes and opened his door to the smell of burning rubber, shit and adrenalin. He could see driver after driver dialing 911 but the pavement was turning crimson, blood flowing like a tap, too fast, too fast.   As he tried to get untangled from the seat belt to get over to the scene, he could hear sirens fast approaching. 

"Merry Christmas" he thought. 

* Add to this stack: Eat my Globe by Simon Majumdar ; Breath by Tim Winton; Deaf Sentence by David Lodge - all titles found in the Villa book cases. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Long, long, faraway shot (reserved for female bathers over 60) of me on our little beach

Wayan and her sister - wonderful people
Richard was standing on the sea wall in the moonlight, silhouetted against the sea. As I walked up behind him I had a sudden mental image of Micky Mouse as the Sorcerer's apprentice. Richard had raised his arms the better to enjoy the breeze and I imagined a pointed hat and a long robe with sleeves hanging a foot off each hand. The score started running through my mind and I could conjure up a line of brooms marching up the stairs from the beach sweeping away relentlessly.

The ocean was pounding mercilessly at the sea wall, breaker after breaker crashing into it, turning back on itself and washing back out. The back wash crashed against the incoming rollers disintegrating into huge foam plumes, one spraying up after another. At our feet was a roiling, boiling cauldron. As if this wasn't enough show, lightning bolts cracked open the sky every minute or so back lighting Nusa Penida, the island just off shore. Richard was gradually getting soaked as larger and larger waves broke against the wall.

Last breakfast in Eden
A week of living with no schedule and zero demands for any kind of routine have left us just edging into the peculiar. I don't think it would take us long to earn the sobriquet, "Eccentric". We order what we want from the gentle staff whenever we want it night or day - nobody expects us anywhere. Left to our own devices, we are having breakfast for a couple of hours, reading, beach combing, walking through the village, back to the books. A manta ray washed up into our tide pools last night - this is a huge event. Counting the hermit crabs, watching the birds, thrilling when the huge wasp comes home to his nest under our bale roof. We spend most nights under our bale listening to the waves crash and oohing and ahhing at the lightning and thunder. Thinking about going home tomorrow makes my stomach churn.

Part of the reluctance to leave is that this precious little villa will be off limits henceforth. We are the final guests in this tiny Eden. I'll try to find an apple for Richard to eat on our way out.

Temple Ceremony

Priests sprinkling water and rice
Temple offerings
Girls perched on shoes
Sweat dripped off our noses as we crouched on the temple floor trying to keep our heads lower than the priests and hold our perilously tied sarongs in place while the gamelan music bonged, banged and tinkled, bathing us with wave after wave of exotic sound. Incense wafted through the air mixed with the Balinese ladies perfume, incense, the heady aroma of plumeria and the smells of food stacked in towering offerings and carried atop the women's heads to be proffered to the Gods on this Gamulang day. Booms of far off thunder rolled through the humid air, adding to the aural grandeur of the ceremonial proceedings. Even those (me) half of hearing, thrilled.

The temple was awash with color: lacy ladies garments, masses of flowers and colorful offerings; bangles, earrings and hair decorations flashed in the sunlight. Amid this splendor, mangy Balinese dogs snuffled around looking for crumbs - lean and lanky, scruffy and scowling, they slink around watching and waiting for the opportunity to knock something over and abscond with a morsel.

Bali dog and me in a stare down.

A moment of silence; even the dogs looked up and cocked their heads. A rustling while 50 girls from 7 to 17 stood, arranged themselves in a line and began the temple dance marked by slow bowing movements and exotic twisting turns of the hands and wrists. Most Balinese women are blessed with beauty - gorgeous caramel skin, massive amounts of glossy black hair, even teeth - filed off in the puberty ritual - and perfect posture. Carrying loads on head from an early age results in straight backs, perfect balance and sure footing. Round the offering tables the conga line snaked. I spotted a girl with Down syndrome in the group - the first I've seen on this island where people mostly marry and have children while they're young.

At some cue, a prayer begins: a low thrumming sound of every voice blended together in a single tone. Western religions clutter up prayers with mere words, prattling on and on. This sound seems a better idea to me, surely more acceptable to a God ear, low, peaceful, calm, thankful.

At ceremonies end, priests circulated through temple, sprinkling holy water on heads and dropping a few grains of rice into our outstretched hands, some for eating, some for pressing on the forehead. We all paraded out happily to the sounds of the reassembled gamelan band.

Quite a few people came up and talked with us. The banjar is small and they have seen us walking up the road and taking pictures around the town. Everyone knows everyone and everything and there was lots to talk about as our villa (the one we are renting) was sold yesterday, sight unseen to a Russian musician - he came by in the morning with a translator, saw the outside of all three of the villas in this complex and the inside of only one - made his full price offer ($450,000) which was accepted immediately; the money was wired and in the bank by days end. Our Australian owner is delighted as the villas have been on the market for 8 months. Russian investment around the island is apparently on the move or is this some kind of money laundering? Sight unseen?

More temple offerings

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Down Under

R and M's street
DL17 LAX to Sydney was a breeze. The suitelets were comfortable and you could lie down flat. Everyone in business class slept (I think) and we were a cheery lot on landing. Richard slept for 9 hours, woke up and ate something, then went back to sleep for another couple of hours. Immigration and customs were handled efficiently and we were promptly whisked off to the Holiday Inn at the airport where we ate, napped and then cabbed to Newtown for dinner with our friends.

Robert busy in his kitchen
 Robert and Morrision live in warehouse where Morrie has his passementerie business, looms and such on the bottom floor. Robert, a food stylist and cookbook author has a fabulous kitchen on the second floor where they live. The room is a wonder of stuff, piled on stuff, piled on stuff. Pots and pans, gadgets and googaws collected from all over the world. 9 showed up for the delicious dinner which consisted of: mussels in a wonderful broth, quail on chicory salad with asparagus and an unbelievably good potatoes Ana. Final course was a very fine cake topped with a berry fool. Many bottles of Australian and New Zealand wine were consumed. The assembled group were all foodies and travelers: A television director and his wife, a psychotherapist and sometime Sydney tour guide, editor of a Brisbane newspaper, another tv director, a wine maker and a Thai chap, in Sydney for a conference.We talked and ate; suddenly it was midnight. Robert and Morrison helped us flag down a cab and we just made it to our beds and crashed.

What a great evening.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Not quite the last minute

Leaving today and packing up. As a master procrastinator, I usually manage to have a last minute list a yard long. Because our flight leaves later in the day, I've almost caught up. An unfamiliar panicky feeling starts building up when I stare at the last item crossed off. My God...I'd better start a new list! Richard also suffers from this malady and he will conjure up wonderfully zany last minute things: a trip to the rancho to turn on this or turn off that; a sudden need to set an insect bomb under the house; a pile of clothes for the cleaners. Why not get the car tuned up, get our hair cut and thaw out the freezer?? Shouldn't we cut the cats nails; look up ten more things on-line; return that book to the library? And on and on.

It seems that we have to keep the pressure on or everything will suddenly collapse and we'll slump like deflated balloons into two chairs, unable to get aloft again.

Let's see....I have 15 minutes until we leave -  that should be time enough to iron a blouse, sweep the floor...... clean the oven anyone????

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Live with it

Recently, I spent a Saturday afternoon at an acoustic neuroma meeting in San Diego. Only 6 of us attended so I was really glad that I went. With such low attendance, the group could evaporate and that would be a pity.

Our speaker was a physician with credentials galore:  otologist, otolaryngologist, head and neck surgeon. He spoke about diagnosing AN's and about the advantages and disadvantages of surgery and radiation. He answered our questions about the latest research into the cause - (one single cell stops producing a tumor suppressing protein called Merlin - an acronym for something complicated but so fitting), tinnitus (no hope on the horizon), problems with processing information, single sided hearing loss, facial nerve damage, fatigue.  

All of us teeter and stagger and I find I am just about like everyone else in terms of adaptation. The bottom line for all the symptoms is: Live with it, adapt, get used to it. After trying a few things like ibuprofen or small dose of valium I believe this advice exactly right.

Years and years ago, I happened to watch a television program about visual adaptation. A study they presented involved having people wear glasses which inverted other words, turning the world upside down. I couldn't imagine that a person could cope with this but in a relatively short one day, people were pouring tea into cups. The brain learned to invert the inverted images. The study fascinated me - little did I know that I would be challenged to adapt in a similar fashion. My brother-in-law has a kind of macular degeneration and has adapted to seeing the world out of the sides of his eyes only - no straight ahead vision. He even drives.

Yesterday evening I climbed a ladder and crawled into the attic to get down Christmas decorations. A few waves of vertigo but nothing serious. Last year I wouldn't have attempted this. While crawling around I whacked my head really hard on a beam and I felt nothing. I kept waiting for the pain but apparently whatever nerves transmit that message aren't doing their job. Good deal - I have something new for the resume.  A job in a circus/county fair where people throw pies at your head?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Too Blue

Delta Business Exec Seat
The plane we're taking to Sydney is a Boeing 777 200 LR. The flight is non-stop, 14 hours 35 minutes long: LR stands for "long range". As usual, we've used hard earned miles to upgrade, in this case to "business exec" where you are given a little suitelet.  The seats lie flat for sleeping and you have the pleasure of privacy in your assigned space where presumably you can do whatever you want (within reason).

Obviously this is not a very companionable setup and Richard and I will have to pop up over the wall or peek around the sides to visit. The benefits of this arrangement for the frequent business flyer are countless; for the recreational flyer, I wonder. 

Is it just me, or does this look a bit like a dental cubicle? Will Steve Martin wielding a lethal looking drill suddenly appear on the scene? A bit of pattern or another color might have softened the Telletubbie interior scheme a bit: it's so blue that it makes me nervous.  I'm going to take a very large non-blue scarf in my carry-on for decorating my space by flinging it here and there. 

To kill the time, I plan to watch at least one bad movie (2 hours), get 6 hours of Ambien induced sleep  leaving a lovely 6 hour stretch for reading ("Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann and "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand) and consuming the three or four meals they will no doubt serve. Richard will amuse himself catching up on his back issues of Foreign Affairs, dipping into and out of the Le Carre novels he's packing; we'll both read "Unbroken".

In Sydney we'll have lunch or dinner with Frances Hazel our Thai friend and perhaps her two parental units if they choose to come along. Sometimes they just drop her off. Those Aussies.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Corky our hostess and Shari

Christmas party - my only one for the year! Old friends from Lawry's got together for their annual Christmas lunch. As it's in La Crescenta I don't go often, but this year Shari and I decided we'd make it come hell or high water. And we did. Corky's house was beautifully decorated and everyone brought a dish. When food people have a pot luck, it's always great. I was fumbling with my Rudolph nose which had fallen off just as the picture was snapped. Some of these people I've known for more than thirty years and know their children and grand children. What a pleasure to get to see them all. 

Corky was the chief secretary for our technical group. We kept meticulous records on each formula. Every time we made a change (new suppliers, legal requirement, product improvements) she logged them, filed them and made sure we were in compliance with standard op for Lipton and Unilever. Pre-computer times, this was a prodigious task - our labs were lined with file cabinets and the piles of paper work seemed never ending. She is still a superb organizer - having 5 children, countless grandchildren and now great grandchildren, she keeps track of everyone - birthdays, anniversaries and other significant events. I can always count on her for a birthday card and hers is the first Christmas card in the mail after Thanksgiving. I was chuckling at this lunch as I watched her checking her list of who was coming and what they were bringing while giving people driving instructions on the phone and greeting new arrivals. 

Suzi, on far right has a 5 foot tall, 90 pound daughter who is on the UCLA cheer squad. She'll be doing her flips and cartwheels at the USC/UCLA game this weekend. 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The road to Bali

A birthday surprise. We're going to Australia and Bali.  The flight back will be a challenge: leaving Denpasar on Christmas Eve at 10:30 pm. Arrive in Sydney at 6:00 am Christmas day,  get on the next leg of the flight 4 hours later and arrive home at LAX at 8:45 am Christmas morning. A marathon flight plan.

We'll see friends in Australia and visit other friends in Bali, but mostly we intend to read and rest. Here's where we're staying - Rumah Kecil, a tiny villa on the beach near Candidasa. This is off the beaten path in Bali, just what we need.