Monday, January 31, 2011

Under my nose

Walking on my treadmill this morning, I looked out and saw another gorgeous day dawning in Fallbrook:

I'm not a very good photographer. Fiddling with the focus, I got my usual results -  never once have I successfully captured the beauty of the patches of fog tucked here and there in the hills. 

Still looking at the big picture I almost missed what was right under my nose.

So I got closer...

And when I moved my camera to the right a little, I saw this.

The spider web was glistening and beautiful like a wedding veil draped over the jasmine. A good photographer could have done something with this subject.

For me, the camera served to draw my attention to something lovely I would have missed. I stood outside and admired the web until the angle of the light changed and the whole construction seemed to vanish from view.  

Sunday, January 30, 2011


The painters have gone. I'm re-arranging my Dad's set of Collier's Harvard Classics on the shelf. In volumes 1 - 50, Colliers, circa 1909, bundled together everything you needed to read to become "well read". My father purchased the set with his first paychecks as a lawyer. A precious possession, I moved the set from Canada after my mother died. Here's more about them from Wikipedia:

The Harvard Classics, originally known as Dr. Eliots Five Foot Shelf, is a 51volume anthology of classic works from world literature, compiled and edited by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot and first published in 1909. Eliot had stated in speeches that the elements of a liberal education could be obtained by spending 15 minutes a day reading from a collection of books that could fit on a five foot shelf. (Originally he had said a threefoot shelf.) The publisher P. F. Collier and Son saw an opportunity and challenged Eliot to make good on this statement by selecting an appropriate collection of works, and the Harvard Classics was the result. Eliot worked for one year with William A. Neilson, a professor of English; Eliot determined the works to be included and Neilson selected the specific editions and wrote introductory notes. Each volume had 400 - 450 pages, and the included texts are so far as possible, entire works or complete segments of the worlds written legacies. The collection was widely advertised by Collier and Son, in Colliers Magazine and elsewhere, with great success. 

I was surprised at the "ETC" as I re-shelved Volume 32, entitled Literary and Philosophical Essays, Montaigne, Sainte Beuve, Renan etc.  "ETC"  includes 4 more authors and why were they relegated to "etc."? There was plenty of room on the spine to list the other four authors of which Immanuel Kant was one. The other ETC volume is 24., Edmund Burke. The Spine reads, "On the Sublime French Revolution ETC. The actual essays are: On Taste, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections of the French Revolution, A letter to a Noble Lord. "ETC"??? What was the editor thinking? Looking closely at the copy on the spines, I see that many of them fall short of describing the contents.

The Burke book is a collection of essays on various subjects. I started reading them and found his reasoning alluring despite the absence of facts (unknown at the time). For instance, he writes of the pleasure of smoothness and reasons his way to the conclusion that sweet tastes are smooth and therefore cause pleasure. I learned via Wikipedia that he wrote this set of essays, speculations, philosophy "before he was 19". Imagine the time teenagers had on their hands before video gaming.

From Wikipedia: In 1757 Burke published a treatise on aesthetics, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which attracted the attention of prominent Continental thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Immanuel Kant. It was his only purely philosophical work, and when asked by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Laurence to expand it thirty years later, Burke replied that he was no longer fit for abstract speculation (Burke had written it before he was 19).

Burke ended up profoundly affecting the political thinking of his time. He was an amazing orator and brilliant writer. His most famous quote is "for evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good men to do nothing."

As you can probably tell, I never found my way to most of these classics. The volume of Grimm's fairy tales is in tatters; this one was our favorite as children. My mother re-covered it with some red shelf paper. Looking back, I regret not having spent the recommended 15 minutes a day on these books. Today, I might be able to quote something more substantial than Ogden Nash. I suspect my father may have read them all - he seemed to always have a volume on his book pile.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A tattoo lunch

In jest I told my friend I wanted to get a tattoo for my birthday - a treble clef under the right ear. I've read of deaf people (young) doing this for the sake of body art and also to let people know which ear to speak into.  At our birthday lunch (4 scorpios), she was waiting with a bag of stick-on tattoos. We went into the ladies room and started sticking them on having a great time.  A woman walked in to see me bent over the sink and Shari applying a wet paper towel to my neck. "Is she all right?", the woman asked. Shari said, "Yeah, we're just tattooing ourselves. Want one?". The woman laughed nervously and squeezed on by to the bathroom.

Shari's chest tatt

Picking them out.

Showing off various applications. Most are hidden from view. 

Shari and her lunch

Laurie waiting for her food


Chicken papaya salad
A good time was had by all. 


Sunset magazine, that staple of Western life style, has been morphing over time into something I don't like. The articles have become shorter and shorter, like little ads. The graphics are such that frequently I mistake the lead page of an article for an ad; this is probably what the editors are looking for - a seamlessness of content and advertising. Too many articles boil down to lists of do's and likes.

I particularly don't like the easy breezy vocabulary they're using. Appetizers are now Apps. Credibility is now Cred. "Yeah" is used frequently. "Kinda" has replaced kind of etc., etc. The headlines are sappy: "Call the new Saturday Tuesday". What?? It's starting to look like a bunch of disparate blogs, one after the other. 

So we were letting our subscription lapse. I decided to try one last recipe from the December issue: A one dish feature - Pork chops with butternut squash, escarole and walnuts. It was excellent and reminded me of the reason we subscribed in the first place 40 some years ago. The recipes are always reliable - they are very well tested in the wonderful Sunset magazine kitchens and most of the time, pretty good. Sneered at by food snobs, the food content is not particularly sophisticated, no haute cuisine, but practical and realistic.

Lawry's entrance
In some ways, letting the subscription lapse is like cutting off a relative. For a long time, I worked at Lawry's. The California Center, my home away from home, was designed by Cliff May, same architect that designed Sunset's corporate offices in Menlo Park. Every day I had the pleasure of working in that gorgeous building surrounded by gardens. I knew various food editors from Sunset as over the years  Lawry's was a pretty consistent advertiser  - I did flavor schools there for mutually connected companies, for instance, Safeway.

Following is from the Cultural Landscape Foundation website: About the Sunset magazine headquarters:

Constructed in 1951 (with ongoing additions until 1966), architect Cliff May and landscape architect Thomas Church synthesized a corporate version of their celebrated yet sensible postwar suburban gardens. The structure, opened to the public in 1952, embodies many of May’s innovations, employing contemporary materials and ideas that aimed to modernize the ranch house without compromising the relaxed, informal, indoor-outdoor qualities.
Sunset magazine corporate office

As with other May and Church commissions, the outdoors came inside with ample patio gardens to assist with the seamless transition. Although the original display gardens by Church, which followed the contours of San Francisquito Creek, have been altered over time, the idea of a long serpentine border flanking a generous lawn still survives today with many of its original trees and shr

Nostalgia Hit: Working at Lawry's was my single best employment experience. If not for the allure of consulting which at the time was lucrative and plentiful, I certainly would have stayed. Richard Frank, the company founder and president believed that creativity and innovation were the keys to success and invested heavily in them. He would tell me repeatedly that the lab people should have at least 20% of their time for just thinking. One day he wandered into my office (I was R & D manager), sat down and said "I think you should go to Europe and get some ideas". He sent me and one of our  most creative food scientists to the Anuga fair in Europe, a favorite event of his and probably the biggest food trade show in the world. It was the first time for me - after that experience, I attended many times over the years. My point is that Richard fostered a fabulous environment - everybody felt respected and part of a team, as corny as that sounds given today's vicious corporate environments

End of story is that, yeah,  the Pork Chop recipe and a wave of nostalgia infused a bit of cred into the value of the subscription. Even though Tuesday will never be the new Saturday in our home, Sunset magazine will continue in our mail box for at least another year.    

Ordinary paint

Another paint job. With a color consultant I picked rose based taupes. The painters started rolling it on and I quickly realized the house was going to look mauve. Shriek!!! We ran to the Frazee paint store and brought home some bland, very light beige paint. What an improvement. The color consultant, who I called with my decorating emergency dashed back over and said, "Oh, but it looks so ordinary." And she's really right and I'm very happy. I just don't have the color gene I guess - she could glance at a paint and say that's green based or blue based. It's all Greek to me, but I know I couldn't sell a mauve house. My painter tells me not to worry about the last minute change. The record holder for changes is a woman who tried 28 colors before finally settling on something. I have 26 to go.

Mauve on the left, ordinary beige on the right
The painter looked at my kitchen ceiling and said "hmmmm..somebody had trouble with a ketchup bottle." Sure enough when I got my glasses on and peered along with him, there are some little dark red dried dots..the famous condiment got splashed up there sometime. As I was peering I realized I was faced with the rare opportunity to interject a poetic quote into the conversation. As I only have two or three left in my rapidly disappearing mental inventory, I turned to him with glee and quoted that perfect jewel of food poetry, the two succinct lines that sum up life for me. Ogden Nash, The Catsup Bottle*.

"If you do not shake the bottle,
None will come, and then a lottle."

My painter cocked his head and I repeated it and he cocked his head again. It was sort of lost on him - not that he isn't a bright guy - but the context wasn't right for poetry I guess. 

New colors
Not to 'dis the color consultant. She has been great. She has given me all kinds of excellent ideas and carefully reviewed colors with me from a color deck before we started. Her approach was logical and I was happy with our choice based on the small swatches and even 2 x 2's placed here and there. Oh, but when it started really covering walls and the house was literally vibrating with the purply mauve, it made my stomach churn.'s mauve
I love color but realize at last that I love it in tiny bits - small paintings, jewelry, designs on tile and dishes. Great expanses of it make me uneasy.  

*There are all kinds of variations on this two liner and all kinds of opinions as to who was the author .

Monday, January 24, 2011

Memories of the World's Largest....

I came across this picture today.

Depicted is none other than the World's Largest Creme Brulee. An official Guinness World Record, we established it through the combined efforts of the California Egg Commission, students at the Art Institute of Los Angeles and the Bel Age Hotel.  The Guinness record hangs on my office wall.

Here's how the "Big Brulee" got started. I used to give lectures about eggs on behalf of the commission ( I was a consultant)  to companies, culinary schools, universities - basically whoever wanted me. Because the audience was usually young and fidgety, in order to keep them interested,  I would try to work in a story and object lesson about Howard Helmer, World's Fastest Omelet Maker.

Howard established this Guinness record when he was about 30 and built a career around it.  He recently retired, but had a marvelous time for 35 years or more working for the American Egg Board, traveling around the world, making omelets really fast, on television, at trade shows and state fairs.  The purpose of his presentation was to teach the audience that eggs are the fastest food you can possibly imagine. He would teach through a zany funny presentation that in 40 seconds, you can have an omelet on the plate. After he completed his demonstration, typically he'd have a cooking set-up so that everyone in the audience could apply the lesson right away. I watched every imaginable kind of person walk away delighted with themselves and of course with Howard for teaching them this wonderful technique.  

The point I would make with the story is excellence. If you become the best you can be at something, the goodies in life are highly likely to follow: money, fame, respect.  If you become the best in the world at something, even better. Depending on the audience, I would offer the commission's financial support for the group to make a Guinness attempt at any culinary record containing eggs. 

This group of kids at the Art Institute of LA starting talking about what they could do better than anyone else. They told me they would "cook something up".

A week later, they came up with the Big* Brulee idea. The effort was spear-headed by their inspired teacher, Rick Royal. It took a lot of work: engineering to get the frame to support the weight, a special recipe which could be cooked in a huge steam kettle and a myriad of small details, certifications, insurance waivers, special witnesses required by the Guinness people.  Most importantly, the young people had experiences they will benefit from for the rest of their lives. Determined to succeed, they hurtled forward despite bureaucratic red tape and various road blocks. Worst of all for the students to overcome was the negative energy generated by the naysayers, skeptics and the ever present lazy- ass people in life who sit on the side lines chewing a toothpick and finding fault with the brave and gutsy people trying something new. Like fleas on a dog, these annoying kill-joys show up whenever there's something new afoot.   

The event was held in 1999, on the rooftop of the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood and was an operational and public relations success. At the end, all of the chefs and students hitched up their blow torches and flame throwers; brown sugar and raspberries were thrown all the surface by on-lookers, and the chefs blasted away at the top, fire skittering over the surface, scorching the sugar and making great caramelly bubbles. It was a dramatic grand finale. 

A couple of news helicopters hovered around filming the event and we got pretty good press. The dessert was sold to guests for a nominal fee which was donated to a charity for homeless teenagers. Over the years, we (the commission) got a lot of mileage out of the event - for instance, we used a video loop of the event in the commission's booth at every trade show for years. The return on our investment was splendid. 

In 2005 I got a call from a newspaper in Orlando where their Culinary Academy broke our record of 23.25 feet in diameter by 2.75 feet. They used exactly the same format; copied everything- even selling plates of the dessert to raise money for charity which was their primary reason for the effort.  As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery. The reporter wanted to know if I had any comments to make. I offered the group my heartiest congratulations and told him while we'd enjoyed being Largest, records, like eggs, are made to be broken.

*Later I found out that being listed as the "Largest" anything can be dangerous. Occasionally we ended up on a curiosities list next to something like the world's largest tumor. Yuck.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A book called "Home"

I wrote a comment in Vivian Swift's blog about taking pictures of clothes before sending them off to good will. Another commenter said:
Helen’s right about taking pictures of things you’d like to remember. I heard a story on NPR several months ago about a granddaughter who was distraught over the fact that her grandmother was having to move to assisted living, and she was sad that the place so full of childhood memories would be gone. A friend suggested she get a photographer to take pictures of all the rooms in the house, the special things that meant so much, etc.
My parents are now in the their late 80s and won’t be able to stay at home too much longer, so for Christmas I gave them a book simply called Home. I photographed every room in their house, things on book shelves, pieces of furniture, pictures on the wall, even Mom’s house shoes in the closet. The book is 44 pages of ordinary things that reflect a lifetime of 6 kids, a dozen grandkids, etc. Now when they move, they have a reference to the where they’ve lived for 40-plus years — without having all the stuff they no longer need or use.

What a great idea. If you ask anyone in a care facility of any kind, the thing they miss most is home. 

Friday, January 07, 2011

HIgh on the Hog

"No autographs please!", said Petunia modestly after the final count. I shook four hundred forty eight dollars plus some foreign money out of her today. As she was born in China and likes foreign food left-overs, I pushed the euros, ringbats, and rupiah right back from whence they came.

Petunia was a rescue. When I first laid eye on her in Big Lots I knew we were made for each other.  Always cheerful, she loves her home on a shelf in my closet and does her job well, collecting all the change from pockets and purses.

Over the past year however, she'd gotten really heavy -  so heavy that I could barely lift her out of the closet!  While time consuming and disagreeable,  I decided a disgorgement was the order of the day. We steeled our resolve and braced ourselves; on the count of three, I removed her little black plug. Whew...the stuff I pulled out of there! First she was very relieved to get rid of the copper which plays  havoc with her digestion; I could almost hear her breathe a sigh of relief as I shook the last pennies out. Most satisfying for her and for me are the fifty cent pieces which emerged every so often: 56 in all. Pet is really too good for the little stuff anymore - I'm committed to keeping her on a diet of half dollars in 2011.

That said, wallets stuffed, we are going out to have a special dinner, "high on the hog" as it were, in Petunia's honor.
The ever-popular rear view


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book Club Meeting January

Lumpia, adobo, pancit

This months selection and a bottle of Malbec
Beth and Buster

Laurie saucing her Philippino plate

Susan sizing up the food
Beth and Lennie
Baby back ribs
Pomegranate salad and the table
Everyone was affected by the book. The consensus was that although the stories about trafficked women were horrific, the individual stories were mostly uplifting - the women overcame unbelievable circumstances. The authors spent some time explaining the research regarding what moves people to help or get involved...and concluded that individual stories that one can connect with are most effective tools for securing money, involvement and political action.

Food was good as usual:  Philippino items: pancit, adobo, lumpia; baby back ribs, great bread - stuffed with sour cream and roasted garlic (didn't get a photo), stuffed baby red potatoes, pomegranate salad with walnuts and cheese, cheese and crackers. A couple of bottles of wine were consumed - the Malbec pictured merely got the ball rolling.

A new member, Linda joined our ranks. Hopefully she liked us as much as we liked her. We look forward to seeing her at our next meeting in February. 

Barb's book choices for next month were: Bill Bryson, At Home: A history of Private Live; One Amazing Thing by Chitra Divikarani; The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and The Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton.  We chose One Amazing Thing.  

Grand finale: Beth brought the handsome Buster and spirited Lennie out of their barn into the corral so we could get a look at them. They are beautiful animals.

The absent members were sorely missed. 

The King's Speech

As a kid, I loved this tongue twister: 

Betty Botter bought some butter,
"But," she said, "this butter's bitter.
If I bake this bitter butter,
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter -
That would make my batter better."
So she bought a bit of butter,
Better than her bitter butter,
And she baked it in her batter,
And the batter was not bitter.
So 'twas better Betty Botter

Bought a bit of better butter.

This ditty kept running through my mind as we watched, "The King's Speech", partly because King George was known as Bertie to his familiars - and his brother, cruelly would call him B-b-b-b-bertie. The film made me appreciate the ease with which most of us speak. Tongue twisters and word games were a source of great fun for my family. Volumes of hot air blew around our household generated by all except my mother who thankfully was a born listener.  A French speaker, even after years of living in an English speaking environment, she still mentally translated many things, slowing her down. She was embarrassed about her accent and her faux pas; the rest of us being wordophiles, we jumped all over her for the smallest mistake. No wonder she talked less and less (to us) and listened more and more.  

Ironically, yesterday after running around buying building materials in Temecula, I stopped at Vince's for take-out spaghetti, where the manager is deaf. Deaf from childhood - he has a speech impediment. Between the two of us, communication was almost impossible, both trying to read each other's lips. Finally we had to have a waitress help sort it out. 

Being half deaf is a kind of speech impediment - the conversation squelcher. People quickly tire of repeating things to you and fewer and fewer conversations ensue. In answer to questions I can't hear clearly, I frequently guess at the "correct" answer and say something inappropriate. This is a real turn-off for people who quickly realize my audience is worse than no audience at all. Because listening involves strain, I want business people to give me the fast facts and the fast facts only. It's the very worst in retail stores in which the so-called background music is ubiquitous and now, to me, annoying and nerve racking. I frequently leave stores because of the noise and recently I've begun letting people know that the music has driven me out. 

Watching Colin Firth playing King George, I could feel anxiety gradually engulfing me like a shroud.  On the edge of my seat, I (and the rest of the audience) struggled along with him to squeeze out the words. As the King walks into the recording area to deliver the speech, the feeling of dread is powerful. The camera cuts from the sweating, struggling King to Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) his coach, standing in front of him oozing peace and calm.  

The film is wonderful. Richard turned to me at the end and said into my good ear, "flawless". 

Monday, January 03, 2011

Perpetual Peanut Soup

Mr. Moretti, man of mystery, joined us for dinner tonight. Two bottles of this beer have lingered in the refrigerator for several months and it was time to drink it or toss it out. With left-over chili, a spinach and cucumber salad plus a cornbread souffle it made a simple and satisfying dinner on a rainy night. 

The chili has been around for a week and we've dipped into the pot twice for dinner and once for lunch. I added a can of beans and some tomatoes tonight; the bottomless nature of these kind of dishes reminded of the Perpetual Peanut Soup that I ate for a year in Culver City. Freshly moved from Canada, we lived in a building full of immigrants; our immediate neighbors were two young Ghanaian students. 

Peanut soup which involved a chicken, chicken broth, onion, tomatoes and peanut butter, was a staple of their diet and we soon came to love it. Their apartment was a 24 hour open house; the soup was always on simmer. It seemed to be both indestructible and never-ending because one or the other of the small cadre of us that lived on the stuff was always tossing more into the pot.  We were an odd lot in that building - besides the Ghanaians, there was a couple from Budapest, a single French woman and a middle aged German mechanical engineer. All of us were new arrivals in the US and we bonded together like a little club.

Any time after six p.m. we would wander over to the soup kitchen with our bowls and spoons, ladle out a portion and eat it standing up in the kitchen or sitting around the pool. I remember lots of interesting conversation and laughter. The Ghanaians used to have great parties and taught me to dance - that hip swinging, slouchy kind of African dancing - I  loved their music. They continued to be friends after we moved away but they returned to Ghana and we lost track of them. 

I still think of them and the soup every time I see or eat peanut butter. 

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Slow cooked pork, not photogenic but delicious
New Year's day in Palm Springs with friends is a tradition. Our hostess slow roasts (8 hours) a pork shoulder with sauerkraut, a wonderful dish. Everybody brings something - this year I stuffed cucumber cups with an Asian coleslaw topped with shrimp. Crisp and refreshing, this appetizer is a good one when there's going to be a lot of food. 

For 40 pieces:

5 cucumbers peeled, cut into 3/4" pieces, centers scooped out
1/3 head cabbage, shred finely
4 green onions, tops and bottoms, minced
6 springs cilantro, leaves and stems, minced
40 shrimp, cooked and peeled

1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Mix cabbage, onions and cilantro. Toss with dressing and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Fill cucumbers with cabbage mixture,  top with a shrimp and garnish with a cilantro leaf.

Scooping out cucumbers

Filling with cabbage mixture

Ready to eat

These can be refrigerated for several hours before serving however the thin dressing may leak out of the cucumber cups during this time. Store on a plate that will catch the dressing which you can drain off before transferring the appetizers to a serving platter.

Somebody brought cute little Turtle cookies that everyone liked. How simple can you get?

3 Ingredient Cookies

Waffle pretzels (square grid)
Rolo brand chocolate-covered caramels
Pecan halves, toasted or not
Place 15 or 20 pretzels on a microwave-safe plate. Top each pretzel with an unwrapped candy. Microwave on High for 20 seconds or soft and melty (time depends on your microwave). Press a pecan half into each one. 

New Year's Eve

Buster and Pink checking out the lobsters.
Lobsters for New Year's Eve dinner. They were previewed by the cats who quickly became bored.

Watching a movie in bed later, Richard turned to me and said "It's midnight!" We were surprised because we don't normally stay up this late, but the last bit of jet lag is still working and our schedule is not quite back to normal. "What Just Happened?" was the film we watched - a satire about movie production. Cameo roles by Sean Penn and Bruce Willis. John Tuturro plays (okay, overplays) hilariously a neurotic OCD agent with severe anxiety problems. Most of us know somebody like this, and the satirical portrayal was done very well.

I have an OCD friend - we have lunch every few months. We eat at the same restaurant every time because it eliminates much of the fussing around that involves finding the right table in a new spot. Possible problems for her are the obvious: too close to the kitchen, too close to the bathroom, too close to the entrance, under a speaker or a fan, too much light or too little light, facing an undesirable doorway. I traveled with her once on a short trip and choosing a hotel room involved the same agonizing process. She looked over the whole hotel ticking off her no-no's; too near the elevator, too high up or too low down, too close to an exit door. In addition there are the various views and safety issues to review. In fairness she gives the desk clerk $20 to put up with it - and then doesn't hesitate to look at 5 - 10 rooms before settling down. Obviously she is excellent company - well worth suffering through these rituals.

She travels a lot for her work but every aspect of the travel has been worried over, examined and routinized. The parking place, the airline and her seats on each aircraft. She stays only at Sheratons on the executive floor in certain rooms. Fortunately she calls on the same people all the time so she doesn't have to face new uncertain situations in unfamiliar business buildings and restaurants. As she's very successful, her company accepts her "idiosyncrasies" and they don't object to any of the expenses  her special needs entail.

Surprisingly she moved recently from Southern California to New Mexico. Swiftly and with seemingly few problems she changed households in 30 days, selling one home and acquiring another in that narrow window of time.