Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fun and games at Costco

We made a Costco run the other day. Stocking up on the items Costco sells most. Excluding tobacco and gasoline, the largest volume items are: toilet paper, cashews, rotisserie chicken. They sell over 300,000#'s of cashews a week - the largest sellers of cashews in the world. Costco is also the largest wine vendor in the world. I bought some of that too. I like the fact that they give a rating on some of the wines. I have a mental matrix which involves rating and price - what it boils down to is that I buy wines with a score of 90 or more which are under $12.00. My high price used to be $10.00 but those days are gone.

I loathe the final exam they give you when you exit. They say it's for your own benefit. Ha! They are trying to control "shrinkage" which everybody in retail suffers from to some degree. Most do not resort to examining the contents of your cart and the sales receipt. It used to offend me more than it does now...which I think is true of many offensive processes you endure for some sort of benefit. If the benefit outweighs the discomfort, you tend to ignore the discomfort until one day, you don't notice it any more.  Very scary, but we are adaptive creatures, endowed by nature with the incredible ability to
"get used" to things and carry on - from a stone in your shoe to the seemingly impossible "Stockholm Syndrome" - coming to actually love and depend on your captor.

I've given up trying to figure out the appeal of Costco. Why should we like shopping in an ugly warehouse where parking is almost always hazardous and difficult?. Where the carts are huge and unwieldy; where the merchandise is rarely attractively displayed. Why do we like tasting samples handed to us with tongs or in an ugly paper cup, by an unfriendly, hair-netted, usually unknowledgeable individual. Most of the food packages are too big for our family of two and so we buy toilet paper, cashews, rotisserie chicken and wine. Guess what? These best selling items are packaged in a size appropriate for any size family unit and they are the biggest selling items. If I were Queen of Costco, I'd seriously think about re-packaging a few more items and see what happens to sales.

We always have a hot dog or polish dog when we shop there. We stand in line in the ugly school-cafeteria-like eating area (we go to the Costco in Temecula) - pay $1.50 for the dog and drink (same price as 1965 when they started), endure the dirty, messy condiment stations where they are always guaranteed to be out of onions for the dogs and ice for the drinks, then we sit on the hard benches and actually enjoy the dog! Because it's an amazing bargain!! And because I guess we feel we are getting more than we are paying for. And that's enough to over-ride almost everything else.

The best part of sitting out on the concrete eating the dogs is the people watching. Last week we saw a cart filled with a bunch of food packed into a preparation H box. Another lack of any consideration for the consumer on the part of Costco - Aesthetics anyone? They shove the food into any old box. A very strange looking Asian lady with a "bowl" haircut appeared and rolled the cart away before I could take a picture. Out of curiosity we went back into Costco and looked at the box bins to see if we could spot another H box...none to be seen. So now we have a new game....the first one to spot a Prep H box in a cart gets a prize starting with the letter H, to be determined. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Can't win

    Golf Dream

    Smiling she teed her white ball.
    She hit it hard.  Soaring and slicing
    the ball crashed into the rough. She plunged into the shady shrubs and weeds.
    Twigs scratched; insects sucked.
    The men yelled "Hurry up!", "Let us play through".
    Curses rang out about women on the course.
    She gave up and left the ball.

    On the second tee, she used her bright orange ball.
    "A gentler swing", they said. Her head was down.
    Into the rough it sliced . She sprayed
    on Off and scurried after it.
    The men yelled, "Hurry up!". "Let us play through".
    She found the ball quickly and got back on course.

    The third time her arm was straight, her head down,
    her feet planted squarely. Everything they told her.
    The lime green ball hit, skipped and deflected into the rough.
    She walked in relishing the cool and quiet.
    The men yelled, "Hurry up!". "Let us play through".
    "Rough?", she thought.."It's rougher out there".  
    She found her ball easily but walked slowly back on

    On tee four, she used a bright pink ball. A hole in one!
    "Screw them" she thought as she smiled, smoothly scooped up her ball
    and went home. 

    As she walked away she could hear the men...shouting:

     "Hurry up!". "Let us play through".
     "Hurry up!". "Let us play through".
     "Hurry up!". "Let us play through".

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Knit leggings

    Writing about uncomfortable knit clothing reminded me of these "leggings" we used to wear as kids. Looking at the loose knit I have no idea how we stayed warm at -20 or -30, but I guess we did. As if these leggings weren't ugly enough, there's the hat. It's a wonder I'm not more neurotic than I am.

    The best thing about this photo is my fat cat Sandy whose head was bigger than mine at this point.  As he didn't have leggings he didn't go out in the cold and probably just lounged around eating all the time. He sure looks better than me.

    Bathing Beauties

    Beth has a box full of old family photos she's going through - looks like hundreds of them. I've seen some and as most are from Winnipeg, they're of interest to me. I've been rooting around in my own stash, nowhere nearly as extensive as Beth's, and I found this one.

    My Aunt Nita and my mother (with ringlets and a scowl) are in the foreground, my younger aunts in the back wearing those horrible knit bathing suits that stretched in the water. My grandmother probably knit the suits - I remember having one that you'd have to hold up with both hands once you got in the water.
    It's hard to swim with no hands available... but it was either swim and lose the suit or hold the suit up.  They were horribly itchy too which is why the younger aunts don't look too happy.

    I showed this photo to Richard and he inquired about the legs sticking out on the right of my mother and when he pointed them out, I realized my Uncle Louis was lounging behind the girls, his head in Nita's lap. What I really wondered about was the pile of overcoats off to the left and the brick wall in the background of the scene. Did they wear overcoats to this sandy area and set them in a big pile? Were these other people's coats? What about the briefcase on the bottom of the heap?

    Prodigious writing

    I rashly declared on the eve of 2012 that I would write something every day, after all I'm retired now and have time. Trying to write every day turned blogging into work for me and I've been a dismal failure at keeping up. I found myself writing pure drek. Instead I'm opting for quality (at least in my own view) over quantity and will stick with my former plan and write when the mood takes me or I have something interesting to say.

    The output of some people amazes me. Nancy sent me a link to Spitalfields Life.  "The Gentle Author" made a promise to write 10,000 stories about her neighborhood in Spitalfields England, one a day; it will take her 27 years, 4 months to complete it in the year 2037.  What a feat! So far she's written about 1000 blogs. Those I've read are interesting, well written and accompanied by excellent photographs. Rarely is there a "fudge" just to get something on paper...well, maybe the entry on "Mr. Pussy takes a nap" - about her duh.. cat napping on a quilt. Our local blogging maven Robert Sommers of Blue Heron Blast posted 850 blogs last year, always interesting. Year after year his output increases.

    In the astonishing output department, Georges Simenon, according to a recent New Yorker article by Joan Acocella, gets the prize. Here's a link to an abstract of the article:  Simenon Abstract.
    He was one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. In addition to his seemingly endless series of Inspector Maigret stories, he wrote more than 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, and scores of pulp novels under pseudonyms. He wrote 800 humorous pieces in a two year period as "Monsieur Le Coq" between 1919 and 1921, when he was 16 -18 of age.  He would write 60 - 80 pages a day, vomit from the tension but nevertheless turn out a novel in 6 or 7 days. When he'd start a novel, he'd get a medical exam to assure that he was up to the stress. Next, he'd get his four dozen sharpened pencils ready, put a "Do not disturb" sign up on his room and let it rip.

    Writing was not the only thing Georges did voluminously and in a rush.  In the New Yorker article, they say he claimed in an interview with Frederico Fellini, to have "been to bed" with 10,000 women but it only took him 2 minutes for sex.  More perhaps than we need to know except that he did everything in a hurry.  Boggles the mind though wondering where he'd find 10 women, never mind 10,000 women willing to have this kind of encounter. 

    Imagine what Simenon could have done with viagra and a computer? I wonder what kind of blogger he would have been. 

    Saturday, March 17, 2012

    Book Club - March

    This month Rox was once again our gracious hostess. We read "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks.  The subject of this well-written and fascinating story is the Sarajevo Haggadah.

    From Wikipedia:
    The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that contains the illustrated traditional text of the Passover Haggadah which accompanies the Passover Seder. It is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Haggadah is presently owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display. Its monetary value is undetermined, but a museum in Spain required that it be insured for $700 million before it could be transported to an exhibition there in 1992.[1] The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders.[2]

    Illustration from Haggadah
    Illustration from Haggadah

     Geraldine Brooks is a former war correspondent who covered Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. She is the author of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning novel "March" about the civil war and "Year of Wonders" about the bubonic plague in England.

    This tale is told in the voice of an Australian book conservator, a young, adventurous and complicated young woman who unravels mysteries of the book's travels throughout history from objects she finds contained in the book - a moth wing, a grain of salt. The story is entirely fiction but based on the true known history of the Haggadah in 15th century Spain where it originated and in 17th century Venice and 20th century Sarajevo. We all loved the book.

    Goys, to a man (?) in the club - our only expert is Beth who is married to a Jew. She was able to shed light on many questions we had about the culture but most importantly she brought gefilte fish and matzoh ball soup to eat, which we all enjoyed.
    Barb in her blue top

    Beth in her blue top
    Beth in her blue top and Rox in back, in her blue top

    It turned out to be a three soup night: potato and kale, split pea and ham and the matzoh ball. Almost everyone wore a blue top and brought soup. We had wonderful bread, a couple of hors d'oeuvres and Beth's delicious oranges for dessert.

    Next month it's the Poetry Slam and we wear another color. We bring our own poems to read if we've written any, a favorite poem, we can write one for the occasion or read one from our complimentary copy of Poetry magazine, in which Beth's brother-in-law Sean's poem, "Bemidji Blues" has been published.

    I'm working on a poem I'll bring if I can get it finished. Poetry, I've found is almost impossible to finish - slippery stuff. You put the words in place, think about them for a while and next thing you know they've slid into new places and morphed into new words. The damnable things trigger thoughts and cling to your grey matter, like lint to a piece of velcro. The fewer words, the better. Haiku uses few.

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Eating Indian in Temecula

    Richard had new glasses made at Costco and he discussed restaurants with the Indian woman serving him. She mentioned "Mantra" stating that it was far and away the best Indian restaurant in Temecula. She had a dot, he thought -  she ought to know. The only other locals we've tried are "A Taste of India" and "The Blue Peacock".

    We frequented Taste of India for several years while our Swiss friends were living in Fallbrook. It was a favorite of theirs. Service completely fell apart over the past few years. We'd often be the only people in the place and have to wake up the patriarch who manned the front door and cash register, by pulling on his sleeve or banging on his pagari turban to ask for a water refill. After the third visit with this kind of unapologetic and appalling service, we gave up. It was right about then they combined their Indian grocery/video rental with the restaurant so any trace of ambiance evaporated. Don't get me wrong, I love joints and often it's in just such quirky spots you find really interesting food and service. Not here. We tried The Blue Peacock several times and never had a decent dish, but enjoyed the non-stop Bollywood movies on their flat screens, the cheerful service and complimentary candy coated anise seed at the front door. Once when I ordered to-go they included a cupful of the seeds they knew I loved. After two or three visits, the mediocre food couldn't compensate for the other pluses.  

    As we pulled up to Mantra, we noticed the neon "massage" sign on an adjacent building. Residing just under the upstairs massage parlor is some kind of church. An interesting juxtaposition and I wonder who was there first - or if they're operated by the same people?  If you're hankering for Indian food, spiritual awakening and a rubdown, you only have to park once.

    Mantra has an undistinguished interior, but the seats are comfortable and noise level tolerable. There's a long buffet set-up running down one wall. Try to ignore all that gleaming stainless steel, so cold and unwelcoming. The deadly empty Indian restaurant buffet has a morgue-like ambiance that I'm sure doesn't register negatively with the operators. They see and hear the cash register ringing - and I understand for their Indian clientele it is strictly de rigeur.  The music cranks up as the restaurant fills and can be annoying if the place is busy. Fortunately they have booths and Richard and I can sit comfortably side by side which means we can converse while we eat. So often not the case.

    The menu is pretty typical Indian fare and we order the standard items. You can review the menu at their lively web site:

    Mantra Restaurants

    A complimentary basket of papadum(?) with three sauces comes first to keep you amused while you decide on your order. The three sauces are delicious: a chutney, a mint/cilantro/vinegar and a very hot chili sauce. We start with garlic naan and usually have some sort of chicken - tandoori or last time chicken in coconut sauce or a fish curry. The vegetable korma here is outstanding. Basmati rice pilaf is just OK. Another must for us is the panek paneer. All dishes can be ordered mild, medium, spicy. The servings are small but we always end up with to-go boxes which are mostly left-over sauce; we can usually eke out a second semi-Indian meal by using the sauces on whatever we eat the next day.

    Service is very good. The waiter remembered us on our second or third visit and we had a warm welcome. They're unafraid to make recommendations and have steered us to a new dish or two and we've enjoyed them all. In fact we've never had a disappointment. At door exit, they offer the healthier plain anise seed/ rock sugar combo - not bad, but in my opinion, they don't hold a candle to the candied version. One tablespoon of this stuff does the flavor/heat abatement trick and provides toothpick challenges for hours ahead.

    Pricing is fair; there's a nominal selection of wines but skip these and have a beer - there's a small selection including KingFisher which I like because of the name and the label...the beer is barely OK. (I know this is silly but it's the same process I apply to picking horses at the race track). Or choose or one of their delicious lassi's. Richard ordered the mango flavor last time and it was divine.


    Friday, March 09, 2012

    Fruit Bats in Sydney

    Travel Notes: December 2010

    "What was that?" we asked Robert as we stood in the dark outside their house on the surburban Sydney street. The air moved rapidly across our heads and we could hear a swooshing sound echoing back and forth, at first quite loud, then diminishing and finally disappearing at the end of the road. "Ah...the fruit bats", he replied casually, "They shit all over the cars." It was an everyday nuisance for him but a wonder for us.

    Bird Park Bali

    We'd seen these creatures in Bird Parks most recently in Bali. They're impressively huge, looking almost like trash bags slung over the trees. Also known as Old World Bats, Flying Foxes or my favorite - Megabats. The largest reach 16" in length, attain a wing span of 4.9 feet and can weigh as much as 2.2 pounds. 

    They get your attention as they fly overhead and I'm sure inspire some colorful curses when cars get splattered.  

    March Gardening

    Thrills in the garden today from head...

    to toe. 85 degrees.

    This is the tree I look at most often..

    The ground cover is in full bloom.

    Fair to medium crop this year.

    A geranium rescued from an overgrown planter box.

    We have 1000's of nasturtiums on the property

    Fruit and blossoms together at this time of year

    The view my favorite avocado tree has of the house

    The chair I'd like to sit on but never seem to have the time.

    Succulent composition.

    Lipstick plant with lipsticks blooming.

    Monday, March 05, 2012

    Two Hats

    From the LA magazine, full of practical fashion tips - here are two hats perfect for lunches out in Fallbrook. The black pointy one will go well with my black jeans and sweat shirt and I love the way the little beige one balances on the edge of the head. It could almost be a kind of jaunty chef's toque. Not only fashionable but comfortable I'm sure. Watch for my new look at our Fallbrook fashion hot spots like La Caseta or El Jardin.

    My Piano Tells All

    Here I am in my home for a dozen years. 
    Two very nice men came to take me to my new home the other day. I've been in the same place for a dozen years and since the books all found new homes, I've been lonely.  I was so worried about the trip. But it took the fellows only about 10 minutes to get me ready.  I liked the way they wrapped me up and strapped me together so I'd be safe on the ride - I'm a little arthritic and big bumps would be hard to take.  I didn't like having my legs screwed off! 

    The two guys have worked together for 30 years and still like each other enough to play golf on their days off. I heard them say that during these recessionary years their business has dropped to only 15 stops a day. At their peak, they did 25 stops each day - a stop being to pick up or deliver a piano. Most of their day is spent traveling to each stop in the cab of the truck together amiably passing the time.
    I got a little dizzy when they tipped me over.

    They're taking my legs off!
    There's my ride!
    And away we go!
    Bye bye house. It was great to experience a trip up  the walkway. 
    Looks like I'll be riding first class.    
    As we were leaving town I saw this terrible truck ahead of us. All that poor stuff was sloppily piled in the back - not even a bungee cord to hold it all down. Only one tail light was shining back at us - it was really unsafe. I had a terrible thought that a piano might be riding underneath all that junk!!! The poor thing.  

    What if there's a piano in there???

    L.A. Times - An Avocado Hummus Recipe

     L.A. Times relaunched it's magazine today. A recipe by Jeff Cerciello for Avocado Hummus from the Farmshop restaurant in Santa Monica is included. The article is called "Nigella Seed".

    Avocado Hummus
    Garlic confit
    Juice of 2 lemons, separated
    2 tbsps Dijon mustard
    2 cups drained chickpeas
    6 tbsps tahini
    1 1/2 cup olive oil (cups?)
    1/2 cup ice
    3 ripe avocados (seed and peel? Why not California avocados?)
    Salt to taste
    Pomegranate seeds

    Place confit, mustard and juice of 1 lemon in processor. Season with salt and pulse until smooth. Add chickpeas and puree, drizzling in the tahini. Add ice and 1 cup of oil. Taste, then move to a bowl. 
    Without cleaning processor, add avocado and remaining lemon juice. Puree, drizzling in remaining 1/2 cup oil and salt to taste. Fold avocado puree into chickpea puree and stir. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, oil, salt and nigella seeds. 

    Garlic Confit
    4 cloves peeled garlic
    1/2 cup canola oil
    Add garlic and oil to a small pot and simmer gently until tender.
    Jeff is no doubt a fabulous chef - his credentials are impeccable. In my experience, chefs are not usually writers - the recipe writing task goes to a minion who should attend to the p's and q's. Chef's think certain steps in the creation of a recipe are simply common sense and therefore don't mention them...or they use techniques that may be practical in a restaurant kitchen but not in the average consumer kitchen.

    In this case, Jeff has been poorly served in my opinion. The recipe could be improved. First of all, the ingredients are not listed in the order used which is a basic rule in the recipe writing world. The article is called "Nigella Seed" but they don't even list this item in the ingredient list, only as a garnish in the instructions. Why call the garlic/oil a confit and scare away the average home cook? How much does it make? Why do they use ice in this recipe? If it's served and consumed immediately, the ice would serve to chill everything and might be OK in a restaurant, but if you make it ahead of time as a consumer would, or it sits for any length of time my guess is that the ice will melt and separate out. Why do you have to use canola oil with the garlic when the rest of the recipe calls for olive oil. You must tell people to seed and peel avocados even though it's so obvious to those of us who eat them regularly. If you state that one mixture should be folded into another, you generally are trying to preserved aeration and integrity of each mixture, yet combine them. That's enough - stirring afterwards would negate the gentle action of folding. Can you keep this overnight refrigerated?
    How about the nutrition info which is required all almost everything now. The L.A. Times could give a nod to California avocados unless they don't want to scare away another potential advertiser.

    Why not name it after the restaurant? Should it be reduced in size to make it consumer friendly?

    As to Nigella seed - I'm not familiar with it, but researching a little I find it variously described as tasting like oregano, onions, pepper, cardamom, cumin, sesame and with a bitter note. I do know that if you can find it in a spice section it will cost about $8.99. Would you want to use it? or substitute something else? Perhpas the article shouldn't have been titled Nigella Seed...maybe hummus? or better yet, avocados?  

    Here's a possible re-write before testing. You may think it's better or worse - there's a lot of variations in style out there.

    Farmshop Avocado Hummus
    Makes (?) 5 cups

    4 cloves peeled garlic
    1/2 cup olive oil
    Juice of 2 lemons, separated
    2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
    1/2 teaspoon (?) salt
    2 cups drained chickpeas
    6 Tablespoons tahini
    1 1/2 cups olive oil
    3 ripe fresh California avocados, peeled and seeded
    1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
    1 Tablespoon (?) nigella seeds*

    Add garlic and oil to small pot and simmer gently until tender. Cool. Place in processor with juice of  1 lemon, mustard and salt. Pulse. Add chickpeas and puree, drizzling in the tahini followed by 1 cup of oil. Taste and add salt if necessary. Move to bowl. To processor, add avocado, remaining lemon juice and puree, drizzling in remaining 1/2 cup oil. Fold avocado puree into chickpea puree to combine. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, a sprinkle of salt and nigella* seeds. Refrigerate. Serve with flatbread, crackers or chips.
    * Optional: A few twists of freshly ground black pepper or a sprinkle of black sesame seeds (for appearance)

    I'll try it out on the book club on Wednesday - the big test.