My Heroes: Coney Island Chili Dog Sauce

“Who Let the Dogs Out,” Baja Men


When I first read about Cesar Milan in a 2006 New Yorker article, his Saturday morning show, “The Dog Whisperer,” was on the National Geographic Channel. I had no dog, but I didn’t care, I would get one just to hang out with Cesar. Ginny came to Eugene for a visit and we spent an entire Saturday binge-watching a Cesar marathon. I bought a copy of his book, Cesar’s Way, told my dog friends what they were doing wrong with their dogs, and spouted off to strangers about Cesar. He was gentle, he was kind, he had sad, brown eyes and he turned bad dogs into good dogs. Cesar was everywhere: People Magazine, late night TV, dog food commercials, and personal appearances.

Eventually my crush wore off. After a few seasons, the show became predictable, consisting of the same three chapters. 

  • Chapter One, “The Dog”: Cesar and his main dog, “Daddy,” meet the problem dog who barks, bites, whines, pulls on his leash, pees on the furniture, destroys shoes, chews on the baby’s toys, runs away, can’t get along with others, or wants to eat the cat. 
  • Chapter Two, “The Fix”: Cesar clips a leash on the bad dog’s collar, walks him down the sidewalk, gives his leash a firm tug, says “Tsssstt” when the dog misbehaves, and, with Daddy as the good example, turns bad dog  into an Alpo ad. 
  • Chapter Three, “The Hero”: Cesar trains the dog owners, solves their personal problems, and walks off into the sunset. 
  • Chapter Four? Cesar leaves and takes Daddy with him, reformed dog stays, no one is interested or patient enough to work with dog, dog resumes his old, bad habits and eats shoes, toys, and the cat.

Chip and Jojo were my next reality heartthrobs. I sat through Saturday Fixer Upper marathons, planned to install shiplap behind the bed (who knew about shiplap?), bought a rusty bike for the “design wall,” and thought of the darling duo as family. Much like The Dog Whisperer, Fixer Upper has three chapters with a predictable finale. 

  • Chapter One, “The Dog”: Chip and JoJo help the new couple select a miraculously cheap problem house in Waco, Texas. 
  • Chapter Two, “The Fix”: First there’s Chip’s demo, then there’s the unsolvable problem Chip or Jojo solve (usually it’s Jojo), and finally, Jojo decorates the renovated house. 
  • Chapter Three, “The Hero”: Chip and Jojo pull back a giant photo of the original house and ¡Viola!, a spiffy–as–new, “open concept” house complete with landscaping, two-car garage, play space for the kiddos, “Chef’s kitchen” with a farmhouse sink, and washing tub for the dog—all done for $30,000. 
  • Chapter Four? Chip leaves and takes his DIY expertise with him, Jojo leaves and takes her furniture and wall art with her, kitchen clutter creeps in, farmhouse sink is impossible to keep clean, dog tub leaks, weeds crop up amongst the perennials, no one is interested enough to hang up their clothes, etc.—my obsession waned.

But fortunately, I have Real World reality stars. Bridget and Ronnie (with help from their village) turned a cramped, dark house with a moldy, above-ground pool into a stunning, light-filled, forever home with an expansive, wrap-around deck. Now, it took a year longer than they planned (a year in which they had no free time), cost more than they planned on, and “If we knew then what we know now, we never would have attempted it.”


Jon and Lara lived in their house for ten years, planned carefully what changes to make, went through three contractors, are now stepping around stacks of old bricks, have no working sink, and cook on a stove in the living room, but hope to be renoed by the end of May. 

Rae Anne walked on plywood for three years, cooked in the laundry room, made coffee on top of the dryer, and used the bathroom sink for dish washing. She finally has beautiful hardwood floors, striking Shaker cupboards, stand-alone open shelving, a new gas stove, and a sun-filled kitchen/great room.

Dogwise, my Real World heroes are Ginny and Ron, who have comforted and trained orphan dogs for thirty years. They wouldn’t think of buying a dog with a pedigree but provide homes for dogs with no place to go. They made room for Shelby—best dog in the world, Alfie—ankle biter with a Mickey Rooney complex, Dinah—ball dog and sandwich snatcher, Gina—Italian immigrant, and now Arthur—blind, deaf, old, and dignified.

My Real World heroes are the ones who belong on the cover of a magazine.

Coney Island chili dog sauce 

  • 1 lb. ground beef 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white vinegar 
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar 
  • 4 oz tomato paste 
  • 1 cup water 

Brown the ground beef, add onions, sauté until onions are soft. 

Add all ingredients and simmer for 2 hours.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 4 Comments

Make ‘em laugh: Caramel sauce

Bruce Springsteen, “I’m on Fire”

Give a tribe of mostly twenty-something male misfits access to sharp knives, hot oil, and fire, add a healthy dose of cruel, X-rated humor and you have a restaurant kitchen—what could possibly go wrong. In my experience, the more tightly controlled the kitchen, the meaner the jokes. Working the grill one busy night in a fancy LA kitchen, I watched the Chef rebuke sauté guy for his lack of preparedness by turning sauté guy’s pan handle over the flame during service; there was uneasy laughter from the line.

Susan Feniger, the second woman to work in the kitchen at Le Perroque, a formal French restaurant in Chicago, was routinely doused when when she walked into the kitchen freezer. “One of the guys” would balance a five gallon bucket of water over the freezer door and send her in to get something, soaking her and getting her in trouble for making a mess. The line cooks hid her knives, tied her stash of towels in tight knots, pilfered her mise en place, and waylaid her timecard.

At City Restaurant, a line cook’s towel, stuck under their apron tie or stuffed in their back pants’ pocket, would occasionally catch fire. The towel flamed on until someone (usually a kinder-than-a-cook dishwasher) would yell, “Hey pinché cabrón, estás que ardas!”

The phrase “it’s all fun until someone gets hurt” cut to the quick one night when macho grill guy hid pastry girl’s sauté pan, full of just-made caramel sauce, above the pass. She saw it, reached up to lift it down, and the still-bubbling caramel covered her hand, sticking firmly. She was back to work in three months after several rounds of skin grafts.

Walk-in shenanigans flourished, especially on Monday mornings. It was a given that after the Acme Poultry delivery, I would find chickens, ducks, or quail in a chorus line—arms linked and legs crossed—lounging on the walk-in meat rack in compromising positions. Chicken and pig feet, at the top of the prankster wish list, were used in endless ways to amuse and terrify.


The butcher, John Pierre, lived for the days when a whole baby goat or suckling pig was delivered. Screams could be counted on to give the prep guys a giggle when the newest waitron unit encountered a severed head perched above the bar lemons. And tucking lobster and fish heads among the side salads in the servers’ reach-in created endless delight.

Servers were an easy target. Trumps’ (no connection to the current one) front-of-the-house considered the back-of-the-house to be unwashed, uncouth, and unintelligible felons and the BOH was determined to prove them right. “The Girls” (as all servers were known) collectively recoiled during rushes as the line cooks sweated and labored in front of ovens, burners, fryers, and grills, “How can you stand it back there?” “We’re animals, Lovey,” responded my favorite Aussie grill guy. 

Sauté guy’s favorite trick was to push metal skewers deep into baguettes, considerably slowing the girls down when they filled bread baskets. And woe to the server who left their street shoes accessible. Runners were treated with more respect, but an occasional squirt of whipped-cream in the kitchen phone’s earpiece kept them on their toes. 

The dishwashers were responsible for mayhem in the staff bathroom: they covered the toilet bowl with cling-wrap, hid the door key, and filled the soap dispenser with watered down mayonnaise. Servers would risk suspension and sneak into the front house restroom rather than use the one in the kitchen, designated “Staff.”

I had no agenda when I worked in restaurant kitchens—I needed a job and, despite my age and gender, I thrived there. I loved the sense of community, the frantic rush of dinner service, and the impossible level of organization required to survive. Unfortunately, I became used to swearing like a sailor, having no suitable grownup clothes, laughing at socially inappropriate jokes, never going out to dinner, and…any whole chicken that comes into my kitchen will, more than likely, be posed sitting crosslegged on a refrigerator rack—make ‘em laugh. 

Caramel Sauce 

  • 4 c. sugar 
  • 1 c. water 
  • 1 quart heavy cream 
  • 4 oz. cold butter 

Caramelize sugar and water over low heat until bubbles are foamy and mixture is warm brown. Remove from heat and carefully add cream (it will splatter). Bring to boil and mix in cold butter, one piece at a time. Keeps refrigerated for a long time.

Posted in Restaurants | 3 Comments

Shaggy Dogs: S’mores in a jar

We cannot be responsible for the reader’s satisfaction if he/she does not click on the post title, which will take him/her to the blog’s website to view the video below while reading the last episode.

Glenn Miller, Chattanooga Choo Choo

Russ muttered, “You figure it out, we’ve got things to do.” He left the diner, climbed into the idling Dart, and peeled out—the white rat lurched momentarily, tightened his grip, and held on. Russ was late for his part-time job as the Golden Nugget’s premier Roy Rogers impersonator. A rubber, inflatable Trigger waited in the trunk, ready to ride on a moment’s notice. Betty’s Dale Evans outfit, complete with white cowgirl boots, sparkly vest, and curved-brim Stetson, was in the backseat where she usually changed, but Betty was nowhere to be seen.

Russ swerved to avoid the tall, sandy-haired stranger with a new haircut and handsome, ostrich cowboy boots rounding the corner on his handsome bay stallion. “Come on!”, the sandy-haired stranger shouted to the beautiful blonde and the well-dressed man. “The Bronco Busters saddled up for one more rescue and headed out this morning to look for Betty. Bring her shoe along for Scout to track.” He leaned down and lifted the the beautiful blonde into the saddle behind him. The well-dressed man hopped on a discarded LimeBike leaning against the diner and followed in close pursuit.

The sun was setting over the purple hills of the treacherous Shaggy Dog Range as the Bronco Busters thundered across the ridge—the white hats leading the way, the black hats skulking behind. As they spiraled down into the valley, the hats and horses could see the gray curl of a campfire burning next to Momma’s cabin. 

Around the campfire sat a sandy-haired stranger in ostrich cowboy boots, a well-dressed man with slicked back hair holding a badly chewed pearl-filled white tie shoe, a beautiful blonde wearing a fuchsia leopard print blouse, and Russ, the Roy Rodgers impersonator (resplendent in a white good-guy cowboy hat, red bandana, boots of Spanish leather, a fringed Western shirt, and shiny plastic 6-guns secured in hand-tooled leather holsters), a white rat perched on his shoulder. Frankie was nowhere to be seen.

The door to Momma’s cabin opened and out came Betty, wearing pearl earrings, one white tie shoe, and yesterday’s uniform—Big Daddy under one arm and Momma’s cat under the other arm. “Found ‘em!”, said Betty only slightly out of breath. They joined the Kumbaya circle, Betty snuggling close to Russ, cats looking eagerly at the white rat. 

The beautiful blonde poked Russ with her s’mores stick, looked the white rat straight in his pink eyes and said, “Pardon me Roy, is that the rat that chewed her new shoe?”


S’mores in a jar

  • 4 Hershey’s bars, roughly chopped 
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream 
  • 1 cup marshmallow fluff 
  • 16 Honey Maid Graham cracker squares 
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted 
  • Jet Puffed Mini Marshmallows for topping 

In a saucepan, heat the heavy cream until bubbles start to form on the side, about 2 minutes. Add the chopped chocolate to a medium sized bowl and pour the hot heavy cream on top. Let it sit for a minute and then whisk until smooth. Reserve. 

Process the graham crackers until finely crumbed. Add the melted butter and pulse a few times until the mixture resembles wet sand. Reserve. 

To assemble the smores in a jar, start by adding 1/4 of the Graham cracker mixture to the bottom of the mason jars. Then add 1/4 of the marshmallow fluff, 1/4 of the chocolate ganache and finish off my topping with mini marshmallows. Using a cooking torch, toast the marshmallows until browned and serve.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The beautiful blonde: Vegetarian lasagna

Do me a huge, click on the post title, go to the web site, and watch the attached video. You’ll be glad you did.


Glenn Miller, “String of Pearls”

It was late night in the desert: semis hummed by on the highway, plastic bags snagged on barbed wire fences, and a comet streaked across the Western sky. The neon sign flashed red, intermittently illuminating the dark, empty diner. Russ slouched in the driver’s seat of the idling Dart, smoking alone in the darkness. On his shoulder perched his white pet rat, pink eyes alert and whiskers twitching.

The beautiful blonde, wearing a fuchsia leopard-print blouse, ski pants, ski boots and fingerless mittens, sat on the curb. Russ creaked open the rusted green door of the idling Dart, swung one leg out onto the blacktop, and stood up. The white rat remained resolute as his head whacked against the door frame. The beautiful blonde looked up at Russ and said, “I tracked her this far, she can’t be gone.”

Russ unrolled his tee-shirt sleeve, tapped out a Lucky and offered it to the beautiful blonde, “Well, she is gone—all she left behind was one white shoe and a hanky badge. She must a been in a real hurry, she just got those shoes outta’ the Sears.”

Suddenly, florescent light flooded the long chipped counter. They could see the well-dressed man with slicked back hair and a neat brown moustache in the kitchen—one hand on the light switch, the other hand beckoning to the beautiful blonde.

The beautiful blonde stood up, snuffed out the Lucky with the toe of her ski boot, and walked into the diner, followed closely by Russ and his white rat.

“I found the pearls”,  said the well-dressed man with the slicked back hair and neat moustache, “They were stuffed in this white tie shoe.”

He set the white tie shoe filled with pearls by the green malt machine. The beautiful blonde walked around the long chipped counter, leaned over, and looked down intently, “What the hell happened to this white tie shoe, the toe’s been completely chewed off!”

“Well, don’t look at us!”, said Russ. “We’re vegetarians.”

Vegetarian Lasagna 

  • 1 eggplant 
  • 3 zucchinis 
  • 4 red peppers 
  • 1 # mushrooms 
  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 T. Minced garlic

Ricotta Layer: 

  • 2 c. ricotta cheese 
  • Couple grates of nutmeg 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 c. parmesan cheese 
  • 1⁄4 c. chopped parsley 
  • 1 t. salt 
  • 1⁄2 t. pepper 

Cheese Layer: 

  • 1 # shredded mozzarella cheese 
  • 1 # shredded or sliced provolone cheese 
Spaghetti sauce

Slice eggplant and zucchinis lengthwise (thickish) and brush with olive oil. Either grill them or bake in 400° oven for 10 minutes. 

Roast peppers either on the grill or under the broiler until skins are blackened  let sit in a plastic bag until cool. Peel skins—avoid the temptation to rinse them under water  

Sauté onions, mushrooms, and garlic in olive oil. 

Mix ricotta, eggs, parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper. 

Cook lasagna noodles according to package. 

Layer: Spaghetti sauce first, then noodles, then ricotta mixture, then onion/mushroom mix, then eggplant, then zucchini, then cheese, ending with sauce—then start all over again. 

Bake covered with foil in a 350° oven for 40 minutes. Check for some bubbling action. If there are real signs of activity and the top is getting brown, remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more. 

Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Live from Lacey: We are up to our cowboys hats in snow this morning. The doublewide has a firestove and we stocked up on Cheetos so were good for a few days. Send out the cavalry (did I get that right?) if you don’t hear from us for a week or so.

Posted in Recipes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The red headed stranger? Cheeto Pie

LW  Willie Nelson, Red-headed Stranger


Betty was late. The oil slick left by her boyfriend’s Dodge Dart was receding and the neon sign behind the cash register blinked “Open” in the late morning sun. When they peered between the bent mini-blinds, they could see one white tie shoe under the counter and a hanky badge dangling from the green malt machine, but no Betty. 

Frankie the dishwasher was a no-show—Momma called in the middle of the night with another cat emergency. Jethro the milkman had obviously been there and Rayleen’s pies, still warm from the oven, had been dropped off onto the front step.

Anxious for his first cuppa Joe, the well-dressed man with slicked back hair and a neat moustache led the drowsy pack around the back. He rattled the door, “Betty, you in there? We’re goin’ crazy out here!” The words tumbled down the empty sidewalk.

They could see Russ the breakfast cook through the screen door pondering the grill—cigarette ash threatening the fried-off bacon.

“Russ!”, they shouted, “Where’s Betty?”

“Dunno, I slept the night on the flour bags—didn’t see her come in.”

“Well, we need coffee. Power’s out in the doublewide, Mother’s busy clipping coupons, and the dogs won’t go walkies. I need coffee and some company!”

“Not my job and Betty don’t answer to me. Ask the beautiful blonde sitting on the curb. She was askin’ for Betty too.”

Cheeto Pie 

  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup uncooked macaroni
  • 2 1/4 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Bisquick
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper sauce
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup crushed Cheetos 

Heat oven to 400 degrees. 

Grease pie plate 10 x 1 1/2 inches. 

Mix 2 cups cheese and the macaroni. Sprinkle in plate. 

Beat remaining ingredients except 1/4 cup cheese until smooth, 15 seconds in blender on high or 1 minute with hand beater. Pour into plate. 

Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean about 40 minutes. 

Sprinkle with remaining cheese and Cheetos. Bake until cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Betty: Meat loaf

My older sister Nikki could go to the movies on Saturdays only if she took me along—not an easy decision on her part. She wanted to see her friends, but…was it worth the trouble. I loved the Western serials, each episode ending with the hero in trouble, his cowgirl tied to the railroad tracks, or Timmy in a well. 

This is my take on a Saturday serial. Feel free to chime in with an adventure thread as we go along.

The Eagles, “Take it Easy”

Long ago in a truck stop far away, a tired waitress, wearing “Hi, My name is Betty!” on her blouse, slowly pushed an oily, grey rag along the chipped formica counter. The interstate haulers, wired teenagers and insomniac suburbanites had come and gone, so she could finally close up. She put a few quarters in the jukebox, turned up the Eagles, piled the dishes into a grey bus tub, and left it in the back for Frankie, the dishwasher. She switched off the coffee machine, threw out the last of yesterday’s doughnuts, and emptied the rusted tin ashtrays. She hung up her apron, slipped off her white SAS tie shoes, stepped into her fuzzy mules, pulled the door closed behind her, and looked back for a final check. The neon sign hanging behind the counter blinked, “Open.” “Oh well,” she thought.

She walked around the back of the cafe, turned off the porch light, and let herself into her dark bedroom. Big Daddy, the fat grey Persian, wound around her legs, purring with anticipation as the counter-top can opener unsealed his Chicken Morsels. She unwrapped a tuna sandwich mistake, turned on Wheel of Fortune, opened a Tab, and settled back in the couch.

Big Daddy woke her up at 3:00, marching rhythmically on her chest, insisting that she wake up and go to bed. He was nowhere to be seen when she lurched awake at 7:00, already late for her shift. She put on clean underwear, slipped yesterday’s uniform over her head, and straightened her name tag. Frankie had the lights on and the grill hot by the time she opened the back kitchen door. She spooned five scoops of Folgers into the basket, filled up the water reservoir, and stood, cup ready, as the dark brown liquid dribbled out of the spout.

A tall, sandy-haired stranger with a new haircut and handsome, ostrich cowboy boots, eased onto the first chrome stool at the counter. “Morning, Betty. (He saw by her outfit that her name was Betty). I’ll have a Chicken Malibu, a large bag of Cheetos and a Tab.”

The stranger chatted as he ate his breakfast, telling her stories of his cowboy ways, left a generous tip on the long chipped counter, then slid off of the first chrome stool. 


“Remember, Betty,” he said as he turned to go, “No one is useless. They can always be used as a bad example.”

Meat Loaf 

  • 2# ground beef 
  • 1# ground pork 
  • 1# ground turkey or veal 
  • 1 c. diced onion 
  • 1⁄2 c. diced celery 
  • 1⁄2 c. diced carrot 
  • 1⁄2 c. diced red pepper 
  • 1 T. minced garlic 
  • 1⁄2 t. cayenne 
  • 1⁄2 t. cumin 
  • 1 t. thyme 
  • 1⁄2 t. basil 
  • 1⁄4 t. nutmeg 
  • 1 t. salt 
  • 1⁄2 c. 1⁄2 & 1⁄2 
  • 1⁄2 c. dry bread crumbs 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1⁄4 c. ketchup 
  • 1⁄4 c. barbecue sauce 
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 T. Dijon 
  • 3 shakes Tabasco 

Sauté onions, celery, carrot, pepper, and garlic in hot oil until onions are soft. Add spices and herbs— sauté. Let cool. 

Mix half and half, ketchup, barbecue sauce, egg, bread crumbs. 

Combine ground meats—add liquids and cooled vegetable/spice mix. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Test small piece for seasonings. 

Pat into loaf pans, packing slightly to avoid empty spaces. Spread thin layer of ketchup on unbaked loafs. 

Bake for 1 hour at 350° or until internal temperature reaches 180°.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Jon: Lebanese cabbage rolls


My son Jon was born smiling. He seldom cried; he slept through the night and loved his big sister from the start. As a rambunctious three year old, he delighted in storming in to Ed and Sophie’s house see Sithee, his Lebanese grandmother, jumping on her lap, pinching her cheeks before she could get to his. “Ya Dinny!”, she would cry, followed closely by, “Isn’t it time for him to take a nap?”

Every Tuesday, Jon and I baked Syrian bread with Pop and Sithee in their basement. Pop was ready when we got there, so down the stairs we would go. Sithee descending cautiously, Pop close behind with a metal bowl full of dough, Jon hopping step to step, barely able to contain his excitement, and me following with a stack of towels, a tablecloth, and Jon’s tricycle. 

I smoothed a tablecloth over the white enamel-top table, Pop set the bowl down, put a Syrian record on the turntable, and lit the old porcelain double oven. Sithee scooched up her chair, pinched a knob of dough out of the bowl, smoothed it into a round on her lap, and slapped the round back and forth between her hands and forearms forming a large, oval-shaped, loaf. Pop shimmied the loaf on to the edge of a thin, handmade baker’s peel and slid it off onto the oven floor. I stacked the loaves on kitchen towels as they came out of the oven, and tried, but always failed, to make a useable loaf. Jon rode his tricycle round and around the basement, careening between hanging laundry, the water heater, and a chest freezer, missing Sithee in her chair most of the time. “Yallah! Isn’t it time for him to take a nap?”

Jon comes to Seattle a couple times a year on business and on this trip, we had a bed and a spare room waiting for him. For dinner, I made a test run of our winter party menu (a “good-to-go” from everyone), we watched a little Japanese TV, caught up on family news, and went to bed. The next day, Bob and Jon polished off the privacy screen project with only three trips to the hardware store, leaving plenty of time for a walk in the woods, a few coffees, and lots of chatting. Jon took us out to dinner that night at Mediterranean Breeze, a Turkish restaurant in West Olympia, drove to his hotel, made his business rounds the next day, and flew back home to his girls. He is a kind, generous man, and always a delight to be with.

Shepherd’s salad

Turkish pide, the best bread, ever. 

Cabbage rolls (recipe from the 1960 edition of The Daughter’s of the Ladies of St. George Cookbook)

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Lamb bones or leftover cabbage stems
  • 1/2 cup Uncle Ben’s Rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb or beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Cut out the thick core from center of a cabbage head. Drop head into salted boiling water, cored end down. Boil a few minutes until leaves have softened. While boiling, loosen each leaf with a long fork, remove each leaf and place in a dish to cool.

Lay each leaf flat on cutting board, with stem facing up. With small, sharp knife, slice down to remove most of the thick stem allowing leaf to be stuffed.

Fill each leaf with 1-2 tablespoons stuffing and roll in the shape of a cigar.

Place lamb bones or cabbage stems on bottom of heavy-bottom pan. Arrange cabbage rolls on top of bones or stems, alternating in opposite direction.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, a sprinkle of salt, and sliced garlic.

Press down with inverted plate or dish. Add water to reach dish.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes.  

Add lemon juice, cook 10 minutes more.

Serve with plain yogurt.

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

A Christmas Caper: Pumpkin Bars

 Henry Mancini, Pink Panther

Dennis gave me a key to Stratton’s back door so I could go in early to prep for Sunday brunch—I hated brunch. You would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant cook who doesn’t hate brunch: the crowds, the waffle irons, toast, the endless choices, the annoying substitutions, the hollandaise, the cheap Champagne, the poached eggs, the families, toast, the hungover servers, the hungover customers.

Anyways, I had a key to the back door. It was our first LA Christmas away from home and we didn’t have plans. Foster and Cass were out of town, Tom and Ali were at Lompoc, Dennis and Bea were at Sandy’s, and Nikki was driving North for the holidays, so we invited Eddie, our own “waiter-with-a-screenplay” next-door-neighbor, to join us for an early afternoon Christmas dinner.

I decided to go traditional: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green beans, etc. I bought the essentials a few days ahead at Westward Ho (my go-to grocery store when there was a place to park), borrowed some chicken stock from the kitchen, and made everything but the turkey, cranberries, and the mashed potatoes the night before. Christmas morning: turkey in the oven at 9:00, fresh cranberries popping in the saucepan, dressing and green beans ready to go—now for the mashed potatoes. No potatoes, forgot to buy potatoes.

How could I forget potatoes? Out into a 72° Southern California Christmas Day to buy potatoes, the trace of a Santa Ana ruffling the palm trees, eucalyptus leaves crunching under foot, frat boys struggling up the hill to bed. Westward Ho…closed, on to brown Von’s…closed, Gelsons? Closed. Quick Mart? No potatoes.

I’ll just borrow a few potatoes from Stratton’s, what’s the harm? I pull into the restaurant’s back alley entrance and park in Gene’s spot. I hurry down the stairs into the dark storeroom, turn on the light, and rummage around for a few russets. I grab a leftover baguette and head, arms full, into the light where I bump, literally, into Gene, the owner, as he is coming down the stairs. 


“Gene.” I muttered something about closed stores, no potatoes, Christmas dinner, guests, and kept going. 

“Merry Christmas,” he called as I ran up the stairs.

I would so be fired—abusing my key privilege, breaking and entering, rustling potatoes and bread, fleeing the scene. Now don’t get all judgey, I felt bad, really bad, and dreaded going to work the next day. Lennart, the manager, was spending the holidays in Sweden with his family and Gene would be filling in for him at the front desk.

We were slammed for lunch, in the weeds most of the time, both Pam and I rusty after a day off. When the kitchen was clean, dinner prep done, and family meal served, I went around to count the tickets in front of the pass. 

Gene walked in from the dining room to order his lunch. I avoided looking at him until he said, “Marla.”

Here it comes. He said, “So how did those potatoes turn out?” and winked.

I was so relieved that I gave him a big, sweaty hug. Gene did not hug. 

He stiffened, pulled back, and said, “Good lunch service.”

I wasn’t fired, I lived to work New Year’s Eve, and realized you just never know who this year’s Santa will be. 

Lara’s Pumpkin Bars

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar  
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 16 oz. can pumpkin

Combine dry ingredients. Stir beaten eggs and oil into pumpkin. 

Add dry ingredients by thirds into pumpkin/egg mixture. 

Spread batter into a greased, 1/2″ deep cookie sheet and bake in a 350° oven for 15-18 minutes.  

Frost with cream cheese frosting when cool. 

Cream cheese frosting 

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1# box powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla  

Beat butter and cream cheese together until well mixed. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth. 

Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment

Remembrance of things past: Eggnog pie

This time, do what I tell you, take a few minutes, snuggle under a quilt with the ones you love, turn on the Christmas lights, click on the post title to hear the videos, and listen to a few Christmas songs.


It’s been said that if you live long enough, all the people you hold dear will be gone. Not exactly a holly jolly thought, but when I decorated our little Christmas tree this year, putting up the ornaments reminded me of all those we have lost. There’s the cherub Muth brought me from Greece; look—Nikki gave me that white glass kitten; here are all the Christmas photo-cards Tom and Ali sent us over the years; OMG—there’s the banana charm Ted stole from the 7-Eleven that year; the hand-blown penguin and swan were in the box we found in Gramma Champlin’s attic after she died; oh my gosh look at Daddy in that old picture—he’s so young; there’s the little snowman I found in Normie’s jewelry box. We miss them all.

And we’ll miss and remember Jackson, Christian, Tony, Harriet, Irv, June, Jim, Steve, Mary, Rita, Dick, Gretchen, Josh, Virginia, Val, Jackaroo, Dinah, and Skittles.

Xmas.jpg  Xmas.jpg  Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg

         Daddy                      Muth with Claire                   Nikki                   Normie on the far right

Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg

       Tommy                   Mary with Meredith                    Rita                             Dick

 Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg  Xmas.jpg

           Ted                              Jackaroo                    Skittles                           Dinah

Our numbers are dwindling and I can’t see that the trend will reverse. But here’s some good news: even as we speak babies are being hatched, friends are gathering ‘round, Sweeties are cancer-free, I can still tie my own shoes, our children are healthy and happy, their children are healthy and happy, the Huskies are playing in the Rose Bowl, the Dolphins tricked the Patriots, and the Yankees may end up with Bryce Harper. 

This year I seem to prefer wistful Christmas songs, so here are a few more. 

And to Tom with his shoulder in an icebox, you’ll be missed on the slopes this season. 

Eggnog Pie—here’s thinking of you, Muth

  • 1 T. gelatin
  • 1⁄4 c. cold water
  • 4 eggs separated
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1⁄4 t. salt
  • 1⁄2 c. hot milk or 1⁄2 & 1⁄2
  • 1 t. rum flavoring 
  • 1⁄4 t. nutmeg
  • 1⁄2 c. heavy cream whipped with 2 T. sugar.

Sprinkle gelatin on lukewarm water to dissolve. Combine egg yolks with half the sugar and beat until light yellow. Add salt and hot milk. Cook in double boiler until mixture coats spoon.

Add softened gelatin—cool. Whip egg whites and remaining 1⁄2 c. sugar to soft peak. Fold egg mixture into beaten egg whites. (First lighten egg mixture by whisking in a bit of the beaten egg white. Then fold in the remainder.) Add rum flavoring and nutmeg. Pour into baked 8 inch pie shell. Refrigerate

Posted in Family and friends | 4 Comments

Over the River: Gene Stratton’s mother’s cranberry relish

“Cooking up something good,” Matt Demarco

Dennis, the Chef at Stratton’s, worked hard to develop and execute a top-quality “Continental” menu, using the best ingredients and CIA-grade culinary techniques, but was not particularly interested in creating new dishes, securing a Michelin star, or adding to his 10 hour/6 six-day work week. He carefully guarded his day off, attended every possible Dodger game with his girlfriend Bea, and loved a rowdy night out. So when he lobbied Gene, Stratton’s owner, to open for dinner on Thanksgiving, the restaurant staff was puzzled: Dennis—extra hours, new menu, work on a holiday?

Stratton’s patio

And his proposed menu was complicated: truffled mushroom soup, spinach soufflé, turkey ballotine, dauphinoise potatoes, vegetable tian, and chocolate mousse. Gene, who had been badgering Dennis to open for breakfast, liked the idea of another revenue day and approved the menu. His only request was the addition of his mother’s cranberry relish.

Dennis ordered ten, 15-pound fresh turkeys from Guss Meat and the boning marathon began. I hit my stride at the third turkey, by number seven I no longer had feeling in my fingers, and the last one was a bony blur. But…should the opportunity to bone a fresh, fifteen pound turkey arise, I’m your man.

The cooks boned, stuffed, tucked, whipped, sliced, diced, layered, and folded. The servers leaned on the pass, moaning and whining, trying to avoid Gene’s mother. She found them, marched them into the dining room, and stood arms folded as they centerpieced the tables with pop-up pilgrims, turkeys, and corn stalks.


 11:47—the tables are set (despite the server’s protests), the turkeys are ballotined (despite the “that-needs-a-few-stitches” incident), and the wine is decanted (despite the “who’s-the-boss-here” tussle between Gene’s mother and Lennart, the manager)—let the eating begin. 

12:15—let the eating begin, any time now.

12:30—must be a late crowd.

1:00—let the eating begin, please.

1:15—two regulars from the condo across the street come in with their grown, bored children.

1:30—the servers are lounging in front of the pass complaining about no tips and sneaking decanted wine from the sommelier’s table. The dishwashers are playing HORSE in the alley with Dennis. Lennart, Linda, and I are sitting on the prep table listening to Prairie Home Companion.

2:00—Bob the bartender sends beers to the kitchen, shots to Dennis, and sherry to Gene’s mother.

2:30—Gene calls it a day, opens the Champagne, and pours it into our plastic 7-Eleven cups.

3:00—Dennis, Bea, and I drive to the Gospel Mission with six turkeys (ballotined), two quarter pans of potatoes, one gallon of truffled mushroom soup, twenty-six ramekins of spinach soufflé, a quart of cranberry relish, and a bagful of paper pilgrims, turkeys, and cornstalks. 

Gene Stratton’s Mother’s Cranberry Relish

  • 4 c. cranberries 
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 c. pecans
  • 1 c. diced celery 
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 pkg. raspberry gelatin
  • 1 3⁄4 cup water

Grind cranberries, oranges (including peel), pecans, and celery through food grinder.

Dissolve sugar in hot gelatin/water.

Cool, add ground ingredients.

Chill until set.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants | 1 Comment