Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tai Chi

Peter Sellers and Burt Kwouk

My husband was cautious when I returned home on Friday. He was standing in the hallway and I went straight into my crouching dragon position. The cat ran away quickly after seeing the purpose and determination in my eyes. I looked Richard up and down, thinking to myself, "Soon I'll be able to take him down." 

Am I too ambitious - am I shooting too high? I started Tai Chi classes yesterday and today actually feel stiff from the stretching and balance challenges. Tai Chi (which means "supreme ultimate fist") is recommended for people with acoustic neuromas for relaxation and improvement of blance; from this first class - it seems perfect for me. The instructor is calm and quiet and the music is very soft and relaxing. Aerobics classes became too hectic for me - couldn't stand the loud music.

Burt Kwouk today at 83
An uncoordinated slob compared to the rest of the group, I bumbled through the moves. Some of the people have been in the class for years and are very good.

We did "Pouring" - pouring the weight from one leg into the other while breathing slowly in and out. Did the "white crane spreads wings" posture and the beak - simply forming your fingers into an approximation of a bird's beak. The instructor follows what seems to be a pleasant sequence of postures beginning and ending with relaxation. Somehow I thought there might be a theory component to the classes where you learn about the history of the art and the logic behind the moves but I guess that would be another kind of class. There's plenty of meaty information on-line that I can read.

Richard has nothing to worry about yet...they say it takes three to four months before you can kill someone with your little finger. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Many are cold but few are frozen

"for many are called but few are chosen" Matthew 22:14

When we were kids and went to St. Edward's church, just as we'd get ready to exit on really cold days, my father would invariably turn to us and say "for many are cold but few are frozen." Then he'd chuckle while he turned his collar up, made sure our coats were closed and our scarves were in place and out into the icy winter air we'd go for the walk home.
I thought about his little bible parody as I drove home along Sandia Creek Road this week.

Many of the groves along the way were affected during our recent spell of freezing temperatures. I've never seen anything quite like this damage - in some areas it looks like someone ran through the trees with a blow torch scorching a row of trees here and then one tree in the next row and then a couple of hundred trees. The avocado trees and other vulnerable landscaping actually look burned. We were lucky to have come through it all unscathed. We have a few frost bitten leaves but nothing significant.

Avocado experts advise leaving the dead portion of the tree alone and waiting a few weeks to see what happens. Loss of limbs may affect the tree similarly to a severe pruning - in other words some may recover and continue to grow and bear fruit.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sunset Pork Scaloppine

My scaloppine ala Sunset magazine

The Sunset original 

Still working on that final Sunset Magazine recipe section. I feel like I'm going through a divorce and hanging on sentimentally to the last vestige of intimacy. Parting is such sweet sorrow. 

I used a pork tenderloin cut into medallions instead of the thin pork chops specified in the recipe. Dijon mustard and butter were smeared on the medallions before cooking and added robust and hearty flavor to the meat. It stood up nicly to the intensely flavored fried sage leaves. The crispiness of the fried leaves was a good texture contrast to the super-tender medallions which I bashed thoroughly with the back of my cleaver before doing a quick saute. You want thin and yielding for this cooking method. Everything, no matter how tough in the beginning, eventually succumbs to a decent cleaver beating. Hmmm...this statement could join the ranks of those awful platitudes posted on Facebook every 5 minutes. All it needs is an illustration with dogs sporting studded collars, hard-rock tattooed guys on motorcycles etc., etc.

 Everything, no matter how tough in the beginning, eventually succumbs to a decent cleaver beating. 

Cannellini beans are often forgotten around here. Richard says he's "never met a bean he doesn't like," so there's no reason to avoid them. I usually use these beans with lots of chopped parsley, olive oil, minced onion and a squeeze of lemon in a sort of room-temperature Mediterranean side dish, but I forget about how wonderfully they sop up the flavor of anything they're mixed with, particularly if the mixture is warm. Sauteed onion, lots of garlic, minced fresh sage (to echo the fried pieces), lemon zest and a diced tomato in this recipe made a perfect foil for the pork. Most of the time you can get cannellinis for about $.99 a can. A bargain.

Okay Sunset - the recipe was logical, time estimate about right! Finished product gets a thumbs up.

About my photo: I over-did the sage leaves on the pork. The cherry tomato in my beans looks like a maraschino cherry - scourge of the world!!! I like my shallow bowl better than their plate. My medallions, before I added the sage, looked better than their pork chops (you'll have to trust me on that). 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Snow Storm Inspired Easy Guacamole

4 ingredients is all it takes to make a basic guacamole for breakfast. We usually have fresh cilantro in our refrigerator, but if you don't have any on hand, "Pop & Cook Chopped Cilantro"* is a reasonable substitute - inexpensive and easy to keep on hand in the freezer. You can purchase it at Walmart. Yes, Walmart.

1 medium ripe California Hass avocado
1 cube Pop & Cook Chopped Cilantro
1/8 tsp. garlic salt
1/8 tsp. fresh lime juice

Optional: chopped green onions, minced jalapenos, Tabasco sauce, chopped tomatoes. 

Remove the cilantro cube from the freezer. Individual cubes are easily popped out of the plastic container into a small bowl; it takes only a few minutes at room temperature for the cube to soften.

Take a break from watching the snow storms back east and walk into the grove. Find a ripe avocado under a tree. Bring into the kitchen. Slice open, remove seed.

With the back of a fork, mash the cilantro cube. Add garlic salt and blend together.

Go outside to your lime tree and select a lime from the dozens on the ground. Watch out for the thorns on that bougainvillea. 

Be careful to step over the oranges that have accumulated on the patio overnight. 

Bring the lime inside, rinse off and slice in half.

Scoop out avocado and place in bowl with cilantro and salt. Add fresh lime juice and mash everything together with a fork. Do not overmix.

Return to the televisions news going on and on about the storm back east - the raging snow, snarled traffic and cancelled airline flights.  Enjoy your easy guacamole with scrambled eggs.

Note: If you're really in a hurry, place the frozen cilantro cube in a microwavable bowl and heat for 5 - 10 seconds, just until the cube is thawed. 

* 20 cubes in a package. Ingredients: chopped cilantro, canola oil, corn starch, sea salt, lemon concentrate. 

Pop & Cook varieties: Ginger, garlic, chili, basil, cilantro.

Photo from the Pop & Cook Facebook page. 

Monday, January 26, 2015


Our final issue of Sunset Magazine arrived. For the sake of nostalgia and in keeping with the latest diet craze "Souping', I decided to make the Savoy Cabbage Soup with Tiny Meatballs. It doesn't look bad - in fact, I think our finished product was every bit as attractive as the magazine photo. But looks aren't everything when it comes to soup. Bland and flavorless (except for the parsley), it was a real disappointment. I was hoping for a similarity to the great Cabbage Soup we used to get at Billy's Deli in Glendale. Remember that great stuff?  We would drag ourselves down there "the morning after" for one or two bowls. I suppose we used it somewhat like the hispanics around here use Menudo. Soup, yes---but also medicinal. Maybe because it was served by the ultimate mama types like Evelyn - everything tastes better somehow when someone like Evelyn delivers your order.

Evelyn at Billy's from

The lack of impact shouldn't have been a surprise..there's little in the mixture with real flavor! The only seasoning is 3/4 teaspoon each Kosher salt and pepper and 3/8 teaspoon of nutmeg for flavoring a head of cabbage, 7 cups of broth and a pound of meat. The 5 tablespoons of parsley added too much vegetative flavor for the bland soup; it stuck out of the blend like a sore thumb. Maybe if it was called Flat Leaf Parsley Soup with Savoy Cabbage and Meatballs....

"Tiny Meatballs" should also have set off a warning bell. Too much restraint!!!

The choice of leeks for the soup is odd to me. Leeks are notoriously gritty. Rinsing well, after halving, as the recipe suggests, is not enough. The best way to clean leeks thoroughly is to chop them up or in this case, slice into half-moons and then put them in a colander and rinse well. They're relatively expensive and in this kind of mixture are too mild. They were lost in the watery soup. A good brown onion would have added some substance to the flavor; cost 1/2 or less the price of the leeks with no cleaning challenges. Fiddling with the leeks added time to the prep with no return on the investment.

It did take me an hour to get it together (as the recipe estimates), not counting clean-up time.

The soup needed canned tomatoes, garlic, more salt, more pepper and a couple of shakes of Tabasco, at the very least. Vinegar would have helped but you'd have to eliminate the final swirl of cream. We sprinkled vinegar into our bowls to add some interest to the flavor. It helped but just barely. Next time I get the urge for Cabbage soup, I'm sticking to the tried and true Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup.

The recipe could be re-written to be much more efficient in my opinion. My suggestion is to start with the soup ingredients and while they are simmering, work on the meatballs. Salt, pepper, nutmeg should be mixed with the milk and then combined with the bread crumbs. You always mix small particulate materials in any liquid you have to assure even distribution through a mixture. Throwing 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg on top of a pound of a meat and expecting evenly mixed flavor is ridiculous.
The recipe seemed frankly amateurish - even for Sunset.

It's likely the nutrition declaration was the driving force behind the recipe creation. Keeping the sodium low is admirable, but not at the expense of flavor.

I copied the recipe below from www.epicurious for the sake of convenience. Sorry about the formatting. Authorship goes to Sunset Magazine.

savoy cabbage soup with tiny meatballs


10. 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
6. 1/4 cup milk
7. 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
8. 3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
9. 1/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
11. 5 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley, divided
12. 1/2 pound ground pork
13. 1/2 pound ground beef*
14.  tablespoons olive oil
1.1 tablespoon butter
2.2 medium carrots, sliced into half-moons to make 1 cup
3. 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), trimmed, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and sliced into half-moons
4.1 small head savoy cabbage (about 1 1/2 lbs.), cored and thinly sliced
5. 7 cups chicken broth (reduced-sodium if store-bought)
15. 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream


1. melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add carrots and leeks and cook, stirring, until leeks are soft but not browned, 5 - 7 minutes.

2. Stir in cabbage and  1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper and cook until slightly wilted.  Add broth, cover, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until cabbage is quite tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make meatballs: In a medium bowl, stir together bread crumbs and milk. Add 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Mix milk mixture with bread crumbs and combine with 1 tbsp. parsley, the pork, and beef. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands. Scoop mixture by slightly rounded teaspoons and roll into small balls, dipping spoon occasionally in water to keep mix from sticking.

2. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. oil and swirl to coat. Brown half of meatballs. turning once and reducing heat if they start browning too fast, 5 to 8 minutes, 4 -5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and meatballs. 

5. Gently stir browned meatballs into soup and cook, stirring occasionally, until meatballs are cooked through and flavors are blended, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream, 3 tbsp. parsley, and remaining 1/8 tsp. nutmeg and ladle into bowls. Sprinkle Garnish with remaining 1 tbsp. parsley.

*Choose ground beef with at least 20% fat for the juiciest meatballs.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Speaking of Gluten

"The Truth about Gluten" appeared in the January issue of Consumer Reports. An excellent summary, anyone considering adopting a gluten-free diet should read it. Six points are raised as to why the diet  might not be a good idea (if you don't have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity):

  • Gluten-Free isn't more nutritious and may be less so.
  • You'll probably increase your exposure to arsenic
  • You might gain weight
  • You'll pay more
  • You might miss a serious health condition
  • You might still be eating gluten anyway
The fact is there is no clear evidence to eliminate gluten from the diet if it isn't necessary to do so.
People offer all kinds of totally unsubstantiated reasons for going gluten-free. 25% of the people CR surveyed thought gluten-free foods have more vitamins and minerals than other foods. 1/3 of Americans think going gluten-free will help them slim down. 

Most shocking to me is that last year twice as many gluten-free pet foods were launched than breakfast cereals. Gluten-free pet food!!

Kecak Dance photos

Our Kecak dance photos from Bali turned out too dark - most were almost black. I lightened them up a bit and salvaged a few....meaningful only to our travel companions. The grand finale to the dance is the preparation of a lively fire made from a large pile of coconuts husks. They flame up and quickly end up a smoldering pile which is repeatedly kicked around on the performance floor until the fire is gone. Problem is they kick the smoldering husks at the audience. Ouch if your bare toes get a scorch. We were in the front row and after the first kick, I lifted my feet and pulled my purse out of the way. 

We've seen this dance several times and this was by far the best performance although the venue was downtown Ubud. It's better seen at one of the sea side temples with the ocean as a backdrop.

Kecak Dance is always performed just before sunset.  As the drama unfolds, the scene is cast in the last rays of the sun when its orb slowly disappears behind the glowing horizon of the sea. The story continues into the darkness of nightfall as dancers are dramatically lit only by the light thrown from the flames of torches casting long shadows.   

The dance begins with the percussive chants of a 150-man chorus clad in checkered cloths around their waists, sitting in concentric circles, forming a stage in the center. With burning flames as the only lighting, this cacophonous play creates a mystical atmosphere, illuminating the performers and audience alike in a haunting glow. The circular ensemble sways rhythmically back and forth and waves their hands as the drama unfolds, yet above the chants of the swaying masses, the narrator’s voice can be heard, telling the tale. As the plot progresses, the ring of acapella percussionists enhance the performance of the lead actors in the center by acting as the armies in the battle scenes, and even unite as an enormous, twisting serpent in the performance’s final climax.A triumph of style and emotion over actual story, the Kecak dance is sure to keep every viewer captivated for every second of the show.

Unlike other Balinese dances, the Kecak is not performed to the accompaniment of Gamelan, which is the Balinese “orchestra.” Instead it is enacted to the sounds of 150 or more male voices chanting “chak-achak-achak,” hence giving the dance its name.  Another unique factor is that the Kecak is also one of the only dances that was created for the sole purpose of entertaining foreigners. It is almost never watched by the Balinese in their villages.

Kecak was originally a trance ritual accompanied by a male chorus. In the 1930’s, the German painter and musician Walter Spiestook a deep interest in the ritual while he was living in Bali. He then worked together with Balinese dancer Wayan Limbak to recreate it into a drama, combining themes and movements from the traditional Sanghyang exorcism rituals with portions of the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The intention was to create a dance that was both authentic to Balinese traditions, yet appealing to a Western audience.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sepia Saturday 263: Ads for odd products.

Ads for odd products reminded me of ads for products whose markets have vanished. First to mind came the old Wate-On ads. As a skinny-minnie myself when growing up, I hoped and prayed that Marilyn Monroe curves would magically develop on my bony frame. In the photo below, I'm the short, skinny flat-chested 14 year old on the left with the limp crinoline wearing my older sister's shoes. On the right was my friend Sandra with the snazzy kiss curl on her forehead. Sandra was pretty, tall and buxom. She had the largest bosom and the biggest crinoline. Linda in the middle, was perfect. Still is. We all remain friends which pleases me no end.

I read these Wate-On ads avidly in the backs of magazines and related entirely to the copy... "an undernourished looking body with no flowing figure-line may spell oblivion to a popular social life." That was me. One of my curvy friends told me when I was about 15, "At least, when the boys ask you out you know it's not for your body." This was meant to be consoling. The boys weren't asking me out. 

Then along came Twiggy and being a skinny-minnie wasn't so bad any more. As I ended up with a career in the food business which required basically that I ate all day long for 45 years, my natural skinniness stood me in good stead. 

The second ad I love is the Lane Bryant "Free for Chubbies" ad. "Charming Chubby-size clothing." Being chubby was just as bad as being skinny. At least the chubbies weren't facing oblivion like the skinnies were. 

It was great to be/or have a chubby baby with nice pinchable cheeks like the Gerber beauty."Chubby" began to be a dirty word when applied to a child about 8 or 9. Nice of Lane Bryant not to charge more for the chubby clothes even though more fabric was necessary. They were obviously an agile company - they still have a store in our mall. What was it with the 1/2 sizes for ample women? I'm guessing it was more desirable to say you were an 8 1/2 rather than a full size 9? or 10 1/2 rather than an 11? I know that the strategy behind sizing clothing is complicated and has morphed over the years as more and more has been learned about body image and psychology. 1x, 2x, 3x looks like the size ranges available for the plus sized curvy woman of today.

During my long eating career I worked for Lawry's in the salt business when sodium was blamed for every health problem. Immediately thereafter I went to work for the California Egg Commission and suddenly cholesterol was in the hot seat and eggs were proclaimed "killers". Happily my career began a little late for the Lard Council.
The lard ad's actually a spoof as you can guess - such a grotesque over-the-top claim. We all know it's not lard that makes you happy - it's GLUTEN. 
I should disclose that I was recently hired by the Gluten Producers of America. 

Check out the horse tales, buggy whip stories and other adverts at Sepia Saturday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bum Numbing

Last look at the jungly ridge and the corner of the villa deck. I could hear a gecko in the distance croaking out a goodbye. 

The girls, Wayan and Made, carried our luggage out on their heads. They transport groceries and water bottles on their heads everyday - up and down steep stairs, balancing on the paths through the fields, always smiling.

From the very high second story, waving at everyone below.

Leaving the villa this morning was a bit wrenching for me. We trod the path through the rice paddies for the last time. Nyoman wasn't in his usual place asking "Ubud?" Ten years ago when we were married in the villa, Nyoman was the night watchman. His mental state has deteriorated with old age and now he works his rice paddy everyday and doesn't say much. In fact, he only said one word to us - "Ubud?" and he would gesture with one finger up.

Three or four ducks quacked as we passed. They always have the final word.

One last harrowing ride to the airport with Wayan was over too quickly and we were back to reality in the new International Airport. My God - there's a gauntlet of designer shops to be run before you reach the departure gates - all the usual suspects. You could be any place in the world...quite a change from the funky old airport with local people selling fake watches and corny handicrafts. It had it's charms and I'm sorry to see it go.

Bringing up the rear. 

Thai business class
From the soft smiling service we received all over Bali (even in the shiny new airport) to the icy cold efficiency of Thai Airlines is like a dash of cold water in the face. Food and drink were served abruptly: eat, drink and hurry-up. "Are you finished?" they ask and then add - when you try to gulp your drink - "Take your time." It came across like the old saw: "Here's your hat. What's your hurry?" The guy in front of us coughed all the way from Denpasar to Bangkok; the woman across from him sounded like an espresso machine. The air in the plane was dry and crackly. 

The huge airport in Bangkok remains near the bottom of my list of airport preferences, if there is such a thing. The announcements screech gratingly, like a radio not quite set on the station. There are long empty stretches of partially lit buildings to be navigated and when you do reach a concourse, it's a mad house of signs with arrows pointing up, down and sideways, most in Thai, little in English. We've been through here several times and it never seems to get easier. 

We headed for the Thai Silk lounge where people were waiting in a line for chicken soup. They shuffled along like the chorus line from Oliver Twist, inching toward the soup ladler lady. Maddeningly indecisive people blocked the line's progress, contemplating the soup spoons, reading the ingredient list on the chili oil, soy sauce and hot sauce available as condiments, unaware of the building line and anxiety. Another 5 hour Thai light (red eye) was next with another vegetarian meal and bingo - we were in Seoul, where the temperature was -17 F. We got a jolting blast of the frigid air between the aircraft and the jetway. We were still wearing sandals albeit with the pee-soaker airline socks. Our brains were still in Bali.

There's a neat transit hotel in neat, I mean neat that there is a functioning hotel behind security and right near the middle of the airport. We got a room and slept for a couple of hours - paid the 8 hour rate. How glorious it is to be able to stretch out and get out of the noise and hubbub. We've stayed in this hotel before in a windowless room. This time we opted for the glamorous window upgrade which looks out onto the check-in counters. Like looking out a prison cell but who cares when you've actually got a bed.

Fruit salad plate 

For interest's sake we ordered veg meals all the way back. They were poor and I wouldn't recommend doing this as a matter of choice. I got the same fruit salad three times (served with two forks, three knives and 2 spoons) and a small portion of some kind of noodle. You cannot complain about the cutlery portion - it was generous to a fault! Richard's meals were ovo-lacto and were even worse than mine. On the final flight on Asiana Richard managed to get me a non-veg meal. 24 hours as a vegetarian was 24 hours too long - I needed protein.

Asiana business class was excellent in terms of service and the seating configuration was quite good. We managed to sleep for a good portion of the 10 hour flight. All told from when we left Bali to when we arrived at LAX, time elapsed was 31 hours. Even in business class that length of time in any seat is bum numbing.

Asiana business class