Nature: the good, the bad, the ugly. Thai pork meatballs

Frank Zappa’s Weasels Ripped My Flesh.  As one comment said, “Frank covered many genres, even Noise,”


So there we were, six old friends, conflicted with the animal-lover/gardener dilemma: after planting, watering, feeding, and coaxing fragile lettuce starts, pampering quirky peonies, and cajoling tricky Daphnies, how does a gardener stifle the urge to wring a rabbit’s neck when you see him devouring your hard work?

We were sitting outdoors after dinner at our annual Memorial Day potluck sharing stories. The Sweetie’s wildflower patch was just beginning to bloom: purple lupins, white lacey flowers, yellow poppies, towering pink foxgloves—surrounded by ragged, bare patches curated by munching bunnies. All of a sudden, the juncoes sounded their chirpy alarm and dive-bombed the flowers. Then, down the slope, shrieking and clawing, tumbled a furry, fighting ball of two small, grappling animals. Didn’t take long to see that it was a weasel with a young rabbit clenched in its jaws.

As I’m a terrible Nature photographer and forgot my camera anyway, these pictures were nicked straight from the internet.

Granted, there was general dismay over the violence and some sympathy for the bunny, but there was also an almost involuntary, overall cheer from the gardener side, “Go weasel, go!”  Mr. Google knew all about the weasel and called it a “vicious and bloodthirsty predator.” Anyways, this episode, straight out of PBS’s Nature, was brief but spectacular and over almost before we could choose sides. The fighting and wrestling ball rolled past the juncoes and through the wildflowers until it came to a stop at the base of the slope. The weasel tightened its grip, looked over its shoulder, and dragged the bunny up the slope and into the woods—probably not to attend the teddy bears’ picnic.

Before the weasel/bunny excitement, we polished off dishes from our Asian-cuisine get together: Thai asparagus & yam noodle salad, seared, stir-fried tofu with vegetables, and Korean rice bowls with pork meatballs. We’ve scaled down some: no more five-course feasts, complicated menus, or fussy food. We’ll choose the easy, the quick, and the accessible and will stick with old friends, good food, and lengthy conversations. 

Thai pork meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons Nuoc Nam sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons short grain glutinous rice, such as sushi rice
  • 4 ounces pork fat, cubed
  • Vegetable oil
  • 6 to 8 (8-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in warm water for at least 30 minutes. 

In a small bowl combine the ground pork, shallots, garlic, sugar, fish sauce and pepper. 

Place the rice in a small skillet and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until rice is toasted, golden brown and fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. When cool, place rice in a coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Measure 3 tablespoons of the powder and set aside.

Add the 3 T. rice powder to ground pork mixture. Don’t over process or the mixture will become sticky. 

Lightly oil your hands. Divide meat mixture into heaping 1 1/2 tablespoonfuls and roll each into a smooth ball. Recoat your hands with oil as necessary. Thread the meatballs onto the bamboo skewers, fitting as many as you can on each skewer.

Grill or broil the skewered meatballs, turning occasionally, until cooked through.  

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la: Shrimp & asparagus pasta

Wildflowers, Tom Petty

If “April is the cruelest month,” as T. S. Eliot once wrote, then May is the kindest: temperature in the 70s, gentle rain, cool Puget Sound breezes, and glorious color everywhere. Screaming yellow Scotch broom runs rampant along the highways, foxgloves are set to explode, those pesky little purple weeds disguised as flowers still look innocent, species rhodies bloom along side roads, and front yards are vibrant with newly planted annuals.

As for our wildflower slope, the Sweetie has put in the hard work, labored with hoe and rake, lugged countless sacks of soil and compost, sowed and watered seeds, and we’re beginning to see early results: dark blue lupines, white alyssum, gold poppies, and pink who-knows-whats. I have contributed in my own own lazy way to our backyard beauty with a few reluctant snapdragons, a sun-shy begonia, and some brash Martha Washington geraniums. Now we can sit back and wait for the show.

Of course everyone is outside gardening: Ginny has a plot full of early tomatoes, lettuce starts, snap peas, chard, and gorgeous red peonies; the Fro’s beautiful garden is bursting with colorful perennials, there’s a glorious dark lavender rhodie to our right, the neighborhood front-yard azaleas are taking their final bow, and the lilacs look like they may last forever this year.

The wild creatures remind us daily that we share our outdoor spaces with them: the rabbits (I refuse to call them bunnies) and deer have their way with our tender young plants, Green Frog and Dark Green Frog claimed the Miracle Gro flower feeder jug in our patio storage box, and a mother junco emphatically staked out a dead shrub (just about to be sent to the refuse bin) as the perfect spot to raise her chicks, so the garden tidy is on pause.

Shrimp Pasta with Artichoke Pesto and Asparagus 
(makes 4-6 servings) 


  • One pound peeled 16-20 shrimp
  • 1 lb. bag of dry pasta
  • Artichoke Pesto: 
1 small jar marinated artichokes, with juice, 1/2 small can hearts of palm, without juice, 
1 Tbs. olive oil, 
1/2 Tbs. grated lemon zest, 
1 Tbs. minced garlic, 3 finely chopped green onions, 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1/2-1 cup grated Parmesan, Pecorino, Romano, or Kasseri cheese
  • 2 cups chopped greens: spinach, arugula, chard, kale, or combination
  • 1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • Salt to taste


Pesto: Pulse artichokes with juice, hearts of palm without juice, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, green onion, and pepper flakes in food processor until smoothly chunky or chunkily smooth. Pulse in grated cheese. Taste for seasoning. Pour pesto into large bowl.

Bring lots of salted water to boil. Blanch greens for 30-60 seconds. Remove from water with tongs or a slotted spoon. Let cool. Chop coarsely. Add greens to pesto in large bowl. Home-made or store-bought basil pesto works like a charm too.

Add pasta to the same water and cook 10-12 minutes or until almost done. 

Add peeled shrimp and asparagus pieces to cooking pasta. Cook until shrimp turns pink and asparagus turns brighter green—cook only a few minutes, don’t overcook.

Drain pasta, shrimp, and asparagus into colander, save 1/2 cup pasta water. Pour pasta/shrimp/asparagus on top of pesto and greens in the large bowl. Add reserved pasta water. Add more cheese. Toss to combine.

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Albuquerque Mothers Day: Bell pepper salsa

These are for Jane: Pony Boy, Jack Arthur and I’m a Little Teapot, Major and Melody

Spellcheck and I argued over my use of Mothers instead of Mother’s, but in the end, I won because I was there. Most years I spend Mother’s Day without the benefit of children or a mother, but this year I was surrounded an adult daughter, grown grandchildren, and one small greatgrand—a true Mothers’ Day feast. Creating this occasion did include a flight to Albuquerque, but the reward far outweighed the effort.

My great granddaughter will soon add big sister to her resume and her parents took a Colorado getaway before a new baby boy joins the family. My daughter, Bridget, and Lauren flew in to join Katie, who also lives in Albuquerque, to assume care and feeding of Jane (the great-grand) and Georgia (the dog), and I came in to complete the four-generation extravaganza. We only had four days but we packed in laughter, conversation, cooking, eating, drinking coffee, watching Frozen, singing songs, reading books, driving back and forth to the airport, and general snuggling.

 

Albuquerqians (?) are emphatic about their unique cuisine—not to be lumped in with Tex Mex. New Mexican cuisine, known for its fusion of Pueblo/Hispanic/Mexican cultures, developed in a relatively isolated region allowing the food to retain its indigenous flavor. Chili, either green or red and made from local chilies, is a given on any menu item. When I ordered enchiladas at Frontier, the server asked, “What kind of chili do you want?” “I think I ordered enchiladas,” I said. “But do you want red or green chili in your enchilada?” “Green chili it is.”

We lunched at The Frontier, an iconic Albuquerque landmark located near the University of New Mexico—a busy, Western-themed restaurant open from 5 am to 1 am (It used to be open 24 hours a day, but cut back its hours due to “unruly patrons.”) famous for its sweet rolls, green chili cheeseburgers, posole, and carne adovado. The owners collected and display over one hundred Western-themed artworks including a bootload of John Wayne portraits.

The next day we brunched at an equally famous Los Poblanos, known in the food world as one of the country’s best weekend retreats and dining experiences. We ate outdoors, under turquoise blue skies and a soft desert breeze, basking in one of New Mexico’s 310 annual days of sunshine, choosing from a farm-sourced, New Mexican cuisine based menu, settling on chilaquiles, orange soufflé pancakes, and a piece of rhubarb crumb cake.

But, we mostly we ate at home: drive-by pizza, delicious chicken rice bowls, spontaneous stir-fry, leftovers, and a last-night, glorious pesto pasta with Greek salad. One late afternoon, Leah and Bridget whipped up some bell pepper snacks, Caleb hustled to the store for chips, and we all ate so much chips and salsa that we postponed dinnertime.

We crowded onto the couch, cozied under quilts, watched movies, sat outside after dinner talking for hours, piled onto the airbed mattress with every stuffed animal friend Jane could find, played in the park, learned how to Slack line, hosed each other in the Albuquerque afternoons, and generally watched the sweetest little girl ever. Thanks so much to my family for a memorable visit. And, thanks to dear Jon and Lara from the opposite coast for my blue ceramic water feature. If I could have chosen from hundreds, it would have been that one.

This recipe for bell pepper salsa is an approximation, not a written recipe from the cook’s mouth but I think you’ll like it. 

New Mexican bell pepper salsa 

1 green bell pepper, fine dice

1 red bell pepper, fine dice

1 can (7 ounce size) chopped green chiles
1 jalapeño pepper (or Hatch chili, if you’re brave) seeded and chopped
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup drained black beans

1/2 cup cooked, drained sweet corn

1 small can sliced black olives
1 bunch chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt to taste


Combine the bell peppers, green chiles, hot chilies, chopped jalapeños, tomatoes, red onion, garlic, black beans, corn, olives and cilantro in a bowl. Drizzle with the oil and lime juice and sprinkle with the cumin. Toss well to combine. 


Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Taste before serving, you may want to add more lime juice and salt.

 

 

 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 2 Comments

The Pot Roast Principle, or Cooking like our Moms

Glenn Miller, In the Mood

There’s a popular story/urban myth about a little girl/husband watching her/his mom/wife make a pot roast/ham and asking, “Why do you cut the ends off before you bake it?”

“I don’t know, it’s the way my mom did it, probably made it juicier. Why don’t you ask Gramma.”

So the little girl asked Gramma, who said, “I don’t know, it’s just the way my mom did it, probably made it juicier. Why don’t you ask her?”

So the little girl called Great Gramma and asked her, “Why did you cut the ends off a pot roast before you cooked it. Did it make it juicier?”

“No,” said great grandma, “When I was first married, my only pan was too small to hold a whole roast, so I cut off both ends so that it would fit.”

Or there’s this one. Same little girl, standing on a kitchen stool, loves to help her mom cook dinner and later as an adult cook, follows her mom’s principal of turning a can upside down and opening it at the bottom—for safety or freshness, she assumes. Years later when they were cooking together on Thanksgiving, the daughter automatically turned a can of green beans upside down and opened it from the bottom.

“Why did you turn the can upside down before you opened it?,” Mom asked.

“Cause you always did it that way,” the daughter replied.

“Well,” said the mom, “we stored the cans in the storm cellar and the tops were always dusty, so I turned the cans upside down and opened the bottom.”

Here’s my version of the Pot Roast Principle. I change sheets and hang them outside to dry each Saturday, just like my mom did. She taught school during the week and Saturday was her day to clean and spiff. These years, I could choose any old day to change the sheets but every Saturday as I fluff a clean top sheet over the bed (“hemmed side next to your body”) and later, fold a fitted sheet (“two corners in each hand, then tuck together”) fresh from the clothesline, I think of her.

There are those who think the moral of these stories is: question the old ways, don’t be too quick to do things the way they have always been done. But I think that holding on to some of the details of our past and the routines of the ones we love, keeps their memory alive.

Here’s a recipe I watched Muth make many times, I made it by her side a time or two, and have made it by myself for years. She bought “country-style” spare ribs from the town butcher, brought them home, carefully cut each slab into two-rib pieces, put them into a Pyrex pan, covered them with the liquid ingredients, and baked them slowly for hours. I do it exactly the same, except for the chipotle peppers in sauce—not available in 1950s Nebraska. I do carefully cut each slab into two-rib pieces just like Muth did. I don’t know why she did that, maybe her pan was too small.

Anyways, happy Mother’s Day, here’s thinking of you Muth.

Oven-Baked County-Style Spareribs

  • 5 lbs. country-style ribs
  • 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 c. catsup
  • 3 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 T. chopped ginger
  • 3 T. chopped garlic
  • 1⁄2 c. soy sauce
  • 3 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. dry Coleman’s mustard
  • 3 T. brown sugar
  • 1 c. chicken stock
  • 1 T. chipotle peppers in sauce

Season ribs with salt, black pepper, cumin, chili powder, refrigerate overnight. Mix rest of ingredients then pour over ribs. Bake in 400° oven for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 325°, bake for 2-3 hours. Check for doneness and bake longer if necessary. Liquid should be thickened but not gone. Ribs should be falling-off-the bone tender with plenty of sauce left. The ribs are best when left to their own devices for 20-30 minutes before eating.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Birria: Creamy Chicken Wet Burritos

Mavericks, All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down

In 1980s when I worked the line at Trumps in LA (no connection to the orange guy), my shift started at 5:00 pm and ended at 1:00 am. After six hours of cooking, smelling, and wearing truffle-infused duck breast, grilled lobster, and bourbon-laced mushroom pasta, the last thing I wanted to do was to eat any of it. Family meal was prepared by the cooks and served out of large metal bowls to ravenous servers but the kitchen staff seldom had time to pause and reflect, so aside from professional tastes along the way, cooks left work hungry.

Not far from restaurant row in West Hollywood, a few taco trucks parked in the alley behind Melrose—that’s where the cooks ate after work. All the trucks served $.99 tacos, some expanded their menus to include chili rellanos, bowls of chilaquiles, and deep-fried churros—and our favorite one served birria tacos. Birria tacos were made with griddle-fried corn tortillas stuffed with shredded beef and cheese, and served with a small paper cup of birria soup. So you dunked the taco into the paper cup, tilted your head into taco position, and smiled as the juice dripped down your arm. Before I lived in Los Angeles, the only Mexican food I knew came out of a box or was eaten off scorching hot plates filled with reddish rice, gluey beans, and cheesy enchiladas, so tongue tacos, poblano quesadillas, and birria were a revelation.

When I quit working the night shift, a good night’s sleep replaced my late-night LA Mexican food adventures. Then we moved back home to the Northwest where tacos trucks were a dream and birria tacos, a tasty memory. So imagine my delight, when driving along Martin Way (I’m certain now that the soul of Lacey lies across the street from the Bud Barn, between Oki’s Barbershop and Miss Moffett’s Magical Bakery), I saw a banner announcing the existence of BIRRIA. Last week when Ginny came for a lunch adventure, we headed straight for the soul of Lacey to have birria at El Itacate.

Ginny ordered a bowl of birria soup and I had birria tacos—both were beyond delicious. Ginny let me dunk my taco in her bowl of juice and still took soup home, added noodles, and Bob’s your uncle—there was dinner. So if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by 9018 Martin Way East and try a birria taco, some Camarones Al Mojo de Ajo, Quesadilla Tinga, or Pozole—just give me a jingle and I’ll meet you there.

https://www.clover.com/online-ordering/el-itacate-restaurant–lacey

Today’s recipe isn’t about birria, but is a fairly easy way to enjoy an American-Mexican wet burrito.

Creamy chicken wet burritos

  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut up and softened
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
  • 8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups whipping cream

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onion, and sauté 5 minutes. Add green chiles; sauté 1 minute. Stir in cream cheese and chicken; cook, stirring constantly, until cream cheese melts.

Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons chicken mixture down center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas, and place, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with Monterey Jack cheese, and drizzle with whipping cream.

Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes.

Thanks, Nancy, for introducing me to the Mavericks.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 3 Comments

Visits with friends: Candied walnuts

Moderna unlocked the door, we threw our underwear in a sack, and the Sweetie and I motored south to Eugene for a long delayed visit with our old friends. Passing into Oregon from Washington, the change is unmistakeable: looming evergreens give way to open fields, leafy trees, and a wide horizon. Traffic finally thins out around Wilsonville and the drive becomes a rural, extended Sunday afternoon pleasure drive.

New pup Micah greeted us at the front door with woofs and wags, Patty and Jim not far behind with hugs and hellos. They live in a lovely community near Autzen Stadium with immediate access to a trail along the river that goes for miles. The house is sun-filled, spacious, and so, so comfortable with a stunning back courtyard featuring a musical waterfall, tumbling rocks, and blooming shrubs.

It was the perfect visit: lots of talk, snacks, walks, and fine dining with a bit of retail therapy thrown in for good measure. When we lived in Eugene, a drive to Thistledown, a local farmers market stand, was a weekly event. As they sell only what they produce, the shelves were a bit bare this time, but we did buy a few plants and a big pot for summer planting.

Home again, after a brief but spectacular event with a rolling truck tire—thankful for long-time relationships, vaccines, and a steady hand at the wheel.

Candied walnuts 

  • 1 cup walnut halves/pieces (you can also use this recipe for candied pecans) 
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar (not coarse sugar) 
  • 1 Tbsp butter 

Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently (with a heat proof non-plastic spatula) so your mixture doesn’t burn (especially towards the end).

When the sugar mixture starts melting, stir constantly until all sugar is melted and nuts are coated.

Transfer immediately onto a sheet of parchment paper and separate the nuts right away. 

 

Posted in Family and friends, Travel | 2 Comments

Elegance revisited: Chicken salad

Uptown Girl, Billy Joel

Today’s trip in the wayback machine begins with threadbare pillow covers—those zippered cases used to keep pokey, stabby feather ends inside your bed pillow—resulting in a trip to Macy’s. Plenty of parking, empty store aisles, no customers, no perfume squirters, no live piano music, no sales clerks to be seen, as we walked through Cosmetics and rode the up escalator to Linens—just the Sweetie and me left to our own devices. We finally disturbed a young man, who was intent on restocking, “You might try over there in the 50%-off corner.” Hidden on the floor beneath a jumble of duvets, pillows, sheets, and mattress pads were two pillow covers.

Now, how do we pay? We wandered some, looking for a cash register, and saw a sign, “Pay at the Friendly Service Counter.” Luckily, the only other shopper in the store knew what and where the friendly service counter was and we were soon out the door—no wonder we use Amazon. But before Amazon became our department store of choice, there was Frederick & Nelson, The Bon Marché, Bonwit Teller, Bullocks, Younker-Martin’s, and Neiman Marcus. Luxury department store shopping was usually reserved for wealthy customers, but Christmas—with Santa land, opulent window displays, and a chance to ride on stairs that moved—drew in throngs of middle class families.

In my 1950s South Sioux City, our store was Younker-Martin’s. On Saturdays, we crossed over from Nebraska to Iowa on the Missouri River bridge to downtown Sioux City and the corner of 4th & Pierce. In the summer we put shoes on and modeled prickly school clothes for Muth, in front of the full-length mirror. In the winter, we made a day of Christmas shopping, holiday window gazing, and Santa sitting, topped off with a turtle sundae in the 2nd floor cafeteria. Muth took a turn at the cosmetics counter, face upturned, as a primly dressed “Cosmetic Consultant” applied foundation, blush, and lipstick that was too-red. We rode the elevator, operated by a uniformed gentleman who gently intoned, “Second floor Linens, Fourth floor Ladies’ Lingerie” as he glided us up to Children’s Clothes on Fifth. On the way out we strolled through the Men’s Department, picking up a box of pipe cleaners and a flannel shirt, then headed home.

In downtown Seattle, Frederick & Nelson was the standard of elegance. You could rest your elbow on a satin pad at the glove counter while the sales clerk fitted you for a long, slinky glove. You could buy a hot dog in the basement cafeteria, a box of house-made Frangos under the chandelier in front of the grand staircase, a wedge of coconut cake in the third floor Tea Room, or a fancy chicken salad sandwich in the upscale, eighth-floor restaurant.

In the 1970s, traditional department stores, once big city fixtures, moved into suburban malls leaving downtowns vacant. The rise of on-line shopping and the emergence of Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, the Dollar Stores, and Big Lots siphoned customers away from mall department stores, leaving empty stores and deserted walkways. Last week Ginny needed batting for a new quilt, found it on Amazon, and had it in her hands within a day. It’s hard to justify putting in the time and expense to shop in a brick and mortar store, but we do miss that brief visit to elegance. Maybe vacant malls will help in the current push to revitalize downtowns but luxury department stores aren’t likely to be part of the effort.

Frederick & Nelson’s Chicken Salad 4 servings

  • 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, divided
  • 1/3 cup drained, sliced black olives, divided
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice Shredded iceberg lettuce

1. Put the chicken into a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce the heat. Simmer, partly covered, about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the chicken tests done. Remove from the water and cool. Then dice and put into a bowl.

2. Add the celery to the chicken. Save about a tablespoon of the pecans and a couple of tablespoons of the olives for garnish, then add the remaining of both to the chicken.

3. Stir together the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Fold into the salad, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (If the salad seems too stiff once chilled, loosen with a couple of tablespoons water.)

4. Serve the salad on a bed of iceberg lettuce, garnished with pecans and sliced olives.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 1 Comment

Street food: Carnitas

Tuba Skinny, Jubilee Stomp


We seldom eat in restaurants—it’s expensive, it’s unreliable, and it’s just too much trouble. Anyways, I always felt more comfortable in the back, behind the swinging kitchen doors, with the loud music, cursing chefs, plastic 7-11 cups, hot ovens, and sharp knives. However, the Sweetie and I do clean up good and have ventured into the string-quartet, champagne-glass environment of fancy, high-end restaurants: Chinois in Los Angeles, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and Blackbird in Chicago, to name a few. As enjoyable as those occasions were, my favorite dining experiences have not been in the beautiful, the gleaming, or the posh.

I’ll choose fish tacos at a no-name spot on an ocean terrace in Baja, California, roasted corn at the Washington State Fair, a short rib slider on a Wilshire Boulevard curb in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, falafel from a street cart in Tel Aviv, a pupusa at the Des Moines, Iowa Farmers Market, bibimbap at a Spanaway strip mall spot, a tastebud-tingling banh mi from a Portland food truck, shucked oysters at a walk-up bar in New Orleans, a lobster roll from a beach shack in Rockport, Maine—all priceless.

So when Ginny came for a visit last week, we wanted a lunch adventure and headed for a taco truck the Sweetie and I pass every time we go to Costco. It’s one of a line-up on Marvin Road which includes two more taco trucks and a Texas barbecue stand billowing smoke out the back side of the trailer. We lined up behind worker guys wearing yellow hard hats, feeling more confident with our choice—hard-hat guys always know where to find a good taco. Ginny ordered  a carnitas plate and I chose a chorizo torta. Both orders were delicious, with enough food to feed four of those hard hat guys.

I’ve been looking for the soul of Lacey ever since we moved here. Maybe it’s there with the taco trucks—across the street from the Bud Barn, next to the Aztec Bowling Alley.

We have bounced forward into Daylight Savings Time and the days are getting longer. Soon, winter will have no choice but to concede and let the sun shine in. Here are a few promises of color to come.

If you want to see a larger view of one of the “gallery,” click on the picture and it will enlarge.

Carnitas 

3-5 pound pork butt or pork shoulder 

Rub for pork: 

  • One tablespoon Cajun seasoning: 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 2 ½ teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoons dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Two tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chipotle powder 
  • One teaspoon ground black pepper 

Place pork in a large bowl or roasting pan. Rub mixture all over pork and cover bowl with plastic wrap; transfer to refrigerator for 6 hours and up to overnight. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Transfer pork to a large roasting pan, discarding any accumulated juices (or drain accumulated juices from roasting pan that pork is in). Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook, basting every hour with rendered fat in roasting pan, until meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork, 4-6 hours.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 2 Comments

Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day: Glazed corned beef and cabbage

 

Oh Danny Boy

The first chef I worked for in LA was a tall, handsome, Irish lad with a wicked tongue, a quick wit, and a hot temper. In the 80s, when the Sweetie and I moved to Los Angeles, we kept to our neighborhood and seldom ventured east of Vermont Ave. When I started looking for a job, I canvassed block-to-block in Westwood, knocking on restaurant doors within walking distance of our apartment.

One rainy October afternoon, I dripped into Stratton’s, an imposing, formal, European-style restaurant on Broxton Ave, and asked to see the chef. Dennis—tall, dark (think Sex in the City’s Mr. Big), and languid with a cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth—walked lazily into the empty dining room from behind the swinging kitchen door and sat down at a linen-draped table. “What can you do?” “Well,” I stammered, “I can do anything you want.” “Make a soup for dinner service,” he said. I made potato leek soup, passed the test, and started work the next day.

Dennis, a lifelong baseball fan who bled Dodger blue, was an unrepentant flirt, an enthusiastic gambler, and a hardcore partier. He was also a CIA (food not spies) graduate with an amazing bank of culinary knowledge, knew at any moment what his food cost was, and had the respect and affection of his volatile Mexican prep staff. Not so much the wait staff—they were just plain afraid of him. His temper was legendary—new, young, servers were especially vulnerable and short-lived. He was always sweet to me, though, and became a good friend. Through him, I met Bea and through Bea—Karen, Laurie, Bill, Sandy, Nana, Fred, Ricky, MoMo, Nancy, Ruby, Anabel, Kyle, Stella, Rusty and Jack.

Dennis’s kitchen was like a closet—crowded and narrow, with room for two people at most. The hot line consisted of six burners, two ovens, a salamander (overhead broiler-type oven), a two-row cold table, and three under-counter reach-ins. A stainless steel prep counter, three feet behind the hot line, ran the length of the kitchen. The pass-through, where the runners picked up the food, was directly above the cold table.

Not many executive chefs work the line, but Dennis did and was an excellent sauté cook—focused, foul-mouthed, and surprisingly fast for someone so tall. Special requests from the maitre’de received an immediate, explosive refusal. “Tell them to bleepin’ eat somewhere else if they want their bleepin’ steak well-done!” I served as his counterpart during the lunch rush from Tuesday through Friday, plating dishes, saucing entrees, wiping plates, and expediting the tickets as they came in from the dining room.

Dennis loved to party and no party was more important to him than St. Patrick’s Day. Los Angeles’ pubs and bars celebrated with vigor—green beer, green hair, green food. Dennis began talking about the upcoming holiday long before, so when Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day, finally arrived, he was stoked. Friday, the day after, I came to work at 7:00 am as usual, filled the steam table, and set up the mise en place necessary for a big lunch rush. Fridays were huge—the orders started at noon and we were slammed until 2:00 or 2:30.

10:00, no Dennis—not too unusual. 10:30, still within the limits of his world. 11:00, now the waiters are worried. 11:30, now I’m worried. At 11:45, the door to the small kitchen opened and Dennis crawled in on his hands and knees. “Marla, you’re going to have to get it alone today,” he moaned. His right eye was swollen shut. His lip was split, and his hair flattened to one side. He climbed up onto the stainless steel table, stretched out as far as he could, made a pillow of the kitchen towels, and went to sleep. Raoul, the dishwasher, came in to help me, Dennis roused around 2:00, and we all survived to have an elegant staff lunch of Glazed Corn Beef, mashers, and Irish soda bread.

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door.” Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Glazed Corned Beef and Cabbage

  • 4 to 5 lb. corned beef
  • 1 Tbs. pickling spice
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 10 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 head cabbage, cut in wedges
  • 6-8 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 4 red potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces

Glaze

  • 4 Tbs. brown sugar 
  • 2 Tbs. vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. cup mustard

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C)

Place the brisket in the center of a roasting pan. Place the onion and garlic on top of the roast, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the seasoning mix over the roast, and pour enough water into the pan to almost cover the meat. Cover with a lid or heavy aluminum foil.

Roast for 5 to 6 hours in the preheated oven, until the roast is fork tender.

Mix glaze ingredients.

Remove beef from juices. Add vegetables and simmer until tender—15-20 minutes.

Place drained beef in roasting pan and pour glaze over roast. Bake at 350 degrees, basting occasionally, for 30 minutes. Let rest for 15 minutes, slice to serve on the diagonal. Serve with horseradish mayonnaise.

Posted in Chefs, Recipes, Restaurants | 4 Comments

Somebody to Love: Orange date muffins, Sesame chicken

 Queen, Somebody to Love


Last year when the lodge pool was closed for repairs, I rode the exercise bike at 9:00 am and listened to a local AM radio station broadcast its commercial-free “Nine at Nine” segment. Every day the disc jockey featured a year from the 1970s to the present day. One Tuesday I pedaled to 1976—David Bowie, Tom Petty, Tin Lizzie and Queen. My energy ebbed and surged according to the revolutions per minute—when they were up to 80 rpm, I rocked. Queen’s, “Somebody to Love” powered me through my morning doldrums.

The song reminded me, as only a song can, of a specific time and place: the post-dinner scrub and scrape at Sound Food. Patty, the pantry cook, and I cleaned the kitchen after the last dog had been served. By 10:00, we had been slammed by at least 200 customers, four hyper-active waitron units, and one surly dishwasher—we were ready for a beer and a bed. Music got us through.

Bob the baker listened to tapes during his 1:00 am-7:00 am shift, dancing with whomever came in the back door. Bob’s cassette player had seen better days: it was floured with flour, caked with cake and permanently turned to max with no volume control knob. If you wanted to reduce the sound from ear-splitting to loud, you had to bring in your own pair of pliers. Musical choices were limited: Bo Diddley, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry for early morning solo jitterbugging; swing music when the first breakfast waitress showed up; and head-banging music from the radio to finish off the day.

Facing kitchen cleanup after a long dinner shift, Patty and I needed head banging and found two Queen tapes. Bob didn’t much care for Queen, but it suited our late night routine perfectly. We listened to that tape each night for months. Before long, we knew every word and performed our way through the grill scrub, the stove scrape, and the floor mop.

Years later at a Eugene, Oregon yard sale, while searching through a Tupperware/T-shirt collection spread out on blankets, I heard the familiar sounds of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Over at the Books, Tapes, Records table, a ten-year old boy was belting out the song to his little sister, who was sitting on the grass, listening in rapt attention. The boy knew every word, every Freddie Mercury falsetto, every Scaramouche. Good things never disappear.

Here are a few good things from the golden era of Sound Food. 


Orange Date Muffins 

  • 1 orange 
  • 1⁄2 c. orange juice 
  • 1⁄2 c. chopped dates 
  • 1⁄4 c. softened butter 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 1⁄2 c. flour 
  • 3⁄4 c. sugar 
  • 1 t. baking soda 
  • 1 t. baking powder 
  • 1 t. salt 

Either remove rind from orange and chop finely or grate orange-only part of peel, then chop whole orange. Add coarsely chopped orange, orange rind, dates, soft butter and egg—combine well. Sift together dry ingredients and add to orange/butter/egg mix until it is just combined. Don’t over mix.

Bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Sesame Chicken (Perfect when cooked, cooled and picnicked. Also reheats well.)

One cut up frying chicken 

Marinade: 1⁄2 c. honey 1⁄2 c. lemon juice 1 c. sesame seeds, toasted 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine marinade ingredients. 

Brown cut up fryer in hot oil. Be sure to let the oil come up to a near smoke stage before browning the chicken and please, don’t bother the pieces until a nice crust forms on the bottom.

Pour off excess oil. Pour sesame marinade over chicken, bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Basting the pieces during the cooking time can only help.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants, Sound Food | Leave a comment