The joys of adult children: Carrot cake

The Avett Brothers, February Seven

The Avett Brothers, No Hard Feelings

I wish they lived down the block, but I’ll take what I have: two wonderful adult kids, an extraordinary daughter and son-in-law, five granddaughters, one grandson, one grand daughter-in-law, and, dun da da dun, one great granddaughter—all on the Eastcoast.

I just returned from a whirlwind family visit—drives through the Tennessee and South Carolina hills (they call them mountains), delicious meals that someone else made, cozy, comfortable guest rooms, shopping in vintage stores, thrift stores, fancy stuff stores, lunches in tiny Berea, Kentucky and Greer, South Carolina, night walks in downtown Knoxville, Mexican food at Babaloo, morning coffee with my favorite people, Syd’s famous cinnamon rolls, soft doggie ear rubs with Louie, Lucy, and Layla, football games, and…thanks to Ronnie, a rousing surprise: an evening Avett Brothers concert for the whole family.

The concert goers gather at the UT campus before the event.

Noodle Nirvana, Berea, Kentucky

Aunt Katie with Jane

Grandpa Ronnie with Jane

Downtown Knoxville

My dears also threw me an official, present-opening, carrot cake-eating, candle-blowing birthday party. All in all, it was a best-ever week with the ones I love. They gave up their time, let me have their too-cool, kookaburra drink bottle, drove to see me, told me their best adventures, showed me their latest kitchen improvements, fluffed my pillow, made my morning coffee, gave me a portable white-noise machine and a warm quilted shirt, took me on a guided tour of their new factory, dropped me off at my departure gate, introduced me to their boss, made me cinnamon rolls, cooked dinner for me, and made me miss them even more. 

Bob got sprung from his Sacramento project, so a week after I returned from the East Coast, here we are at the airport, ready to go home. I’ll miss the sunny weather and our 11th floor view, but will be so glad to be home again.

Sound Food Carrot Cake 

  • 4 eggs 
  • 1 c. oil 
  • 1 c. brown sugar 
  • 1 c. white sugar 
  • 2 c. flour 
  • 2 tsp. baking soda 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder 
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon 
  • 1 1⁄2 tsp. nutmeg 
  • 3 c. grated carrots 
  • 1 c. walnuts 

Beat eggs until lemon colored in large bowl. Add oil, brown sugar, white sugar.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and spices together in separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in large bowl. Mix in carrots and walnuts.

Pour batter into one 9×11 or three 9” greased and floured cake pans. Bake 40 minutes in preheated 325° oven. Cool before frosting.

 Cream Cheese Frosting 

  • 1⁄2 c. butter, softened 
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened 
  • 1 # box powdered sugar 
  • 1 Tb. vanilla 

Beat butter and cream cheese together. Add vanilla.

Posted in Family and friends, Travel | 6 Comments

Out and about in Sacto: South Carolina Barbecue Sauce

Louie Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

Routines are comforting and evolve without effort. Mornings: out the hotel door, walk to the bus stop, nod to the leaf blower wearing a neon green vest, say hi to the blue-haired school girl waiting for my bus, show my pass to the same grumpy bus driver, get off close to the YMCA pool, ask to share lane with white-haired noodle rider, back to the hotel.

Afternoons I run bread and grocery errands, take a bus trip to a farmers market, or just wander.  

Today I took a walk through Bishop Gallegos Square, a lovely retail/restaurant courtyard area near the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, whose steeple we see from our window.

This stunning statue installation, “Wings of the City,” by Jorge Marin brought me back to the square three times.

Quick stop at the Cesar Chavez Plaza for a falafel, back on the Grumpy Bus. This time the #38 whizzes on by twice; obviously I am invisible, which I will use to my advantage when I board and don’t pay.

The building murals in Downtown Sacramento are spectacular. They are put on dilapidated hotels, crisp red brick apartments, stone warehouses, and hotel exteriors.

City-savvy sign in front of mural.

I’m flying to South Carolina this morning to see my kids and their kids. Will miss my Sweetie but will love spending time with Bridget, Jon, families, and dogs. I’ll bring you back some South Carolina barbecue sauce.

South Carolina Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Louisiana hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon salad oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ground black pepper

Combine vinegar, mustards, brown sugar, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, cook over medium heat, whisking, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, stir in butter and oil, season with salt and pepper.

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 4 Comments

There is there here: Peanuts and candy corn

Aretha Franklin, Respect

Gertrude Stein’s remark, “There is no there there,” about her Oakland, California hometown, has been borrowed by the Justice Department to throw out bribery charges, used by political candidates to discount their opponents, and rewritten by Madison Avenue campaigns to disparage rival hamburgers. The City of Berkeley went so far as to commission a large outdoor sculpture, “HERETHERE,” to let people know that they were “here” in Berkeley and not “there” in Oakland. 

Other cities suffer from the same lack of respect: Seattle is cool, Tacoma is not; Portland is cool, Vancouver WA is not; Olympia is cool, Lacey is not; San Francisco and Berkeley are cool; Sacramento and Oakland are not—you get the drift. 

But the not-so-cool kids are rising up: Tacoma’s real estate prices are steadily increasing; Sacramento recently showed up on a “Best Cities To” list; Vancouver is being touted this year as a “foodie” city; Lacey—no movement yet. Sacramento doesn’t get the same respect and favor shown to San Francisco, but the downtown has character and a defiant sense of pride. 

Definitely a cool kid.

Our Midtown neighborhood has that character plus a high walkability score, so I do just fine without a car—take today, for example. Given the size of our refrigerator, a daily stroll to the Grocery Outlet is routine. On the way to the store I stopped by the Goodwill to see if there was a grater for sale, not so much; but you would not believe the rack of wedding dresses!

Oh, for a bride.

Next stop: Old Soul, the neighborhood coffee roasterie, buderie, brewery, and bakery. Cool to the max with prices to match: $3.25 for a pour of coffee, $8.00 for a loaf of whole wheat bread!


So my $8.00 bread and I continued our errands, walked through the neighborhood to the Grocery Outlet, where we picked up an onion, a few carrots, a bag of candy corn, and strolled on home through the rose garden.


It’s that time of year, so buy some candy corn, some salted peanuts and get ready for a quick, easy, pre-Halloween snack.

Peanuts and candy corn

The taste of the finished dish will reflect the provenance of the ingredients and the ratio of candy corn to peanuts. My friend RA (expert on all things candy corn), recommends using this year’s corn crop; my daughter Bridget, who gave me this recipe, uses Costco’s tinned salted peanuts; and I would never buy candy corn packaged in a cellophane bag, sealed with a twist tie. (Look for those telling broken white kernel tips at the bottom of the sack.) The quality of candy corn bought from a bulk bin is inconsistent and should be used with reservations.

1 part local, farm-to-table, sustainably-grown candy corn
1 part Costco tinned, salted peanuts (jarred Planters can be used in an emergency)

Shake candy corn gently into an upturned palm, shake equal amount of peanuts into the same palm. Consume in one shot or pair individual pieces, as desired.

For large groups, pour 1 part candy corn into bowl, add equal amount of peanuts, stir to mix, and serve.

TJ update—just read that there is candy-corn flavored popcorn!

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Farmers markets: Stir-fried eggplant and peppers

In 1986, I loved going to work on Wednesdays. At 6:00 am, Dennis, City Restaurant’s night chef, would meet me at the fish counter at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Open since 1981, the market had a reputation among Los Angeles chefs as the place to go for the best local seafood and seasonal produce. Dennis decided what seafood to serve that night, we ate a steamed pork bun, picked out fruit for the “Tart of the Day,” then we would swing by Guss Meats for a box of French poussin and be unloading at the restaurant’s alley door by 7:30.

A few hears ago, the Sweetie and I went back to the Santa Monica market and it was unrecognizable—crowds of strollers (both mechanical and human), no pork buns, lots of food trucks, and artisan everything—still enjoyable but lacking the urgent quest for products both affordable and sellable. Maybe the urgency happens at dawn, not in the afternoon.

When I was eating pork buns at the Santa Monica Market in 1986, the Eugene Saturday Market, my next favorite, had already been in business for fifteen years. A product of the rambunctious 1970s, the Saturday Market has something for everyone. You can buy tie-died underwear, precious gemstone jewelry, artwork, basketry, healing-arts products, toys, Christmas ornaments, and, oh yes, blocks of locally grown vegetables. 


Now, for my latest excursion into farmers markets, Sacramento’s Sunday Asian Market: no-frills, no artisan, no fish, no music, no snacks—an opportunity to buy, not only green beans, zucchini and tomatoes, but heaps of strange looking produce in colorful mounds. This is combat shopping for sure. Not a place for toddlers, pets, or looky-loos. No lollygagging please, just march ahead, eyes forward, feet moving, cash at the ready. Watch out for sharp, metal carts pushed by older women who are reaching for the same eggplant you have your eye on.


Stir fried eggplant and peppers, Martha Rose Shulman for the New York Times

  • 1 pound Asian eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil, rice bran oil or canola oil
  • ½ pound firm tofu, cut in 1/2-inch squares and drained on paper towels
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 bell peppers of varying colors
  • 1 Anaheim pepper
  • Salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and score down to but not through the skin. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil, lightly oil the foil and place the eggplant on it, cut side down. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the skin begins to shrivel. Remove from the oven, allow to cool until you can handle it, and cut in half along the score down the middle of each half, then into 1/2-inch slices
  2. Combine the rice wine or sherry, the hoisin sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl and set aside
  3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch steel skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil and add the tofu. Let it sit in the pan for about 30 seconds, until it begins to sear, then stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until lightly colored. Transfer to a plate
  4. Swirl in the remaining oil, then add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and stir-fry for no more than 10 seconds. Add the peppers and eggplant, sprinkle with salt to taste and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Return the tofu to the wok, add the hoisin sauce mixture and stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the eggplant is tender and infused with the sauce and the peppers are crisp-tender. Remove from the heat and serve with rice, grains or noodles
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Sacramento Shorts: Muth’s Potato Soup

The Beatles, A Day in the Life

A few snippets of a day-in-the-life in Sacramento:

Last weekend, we rested on a bench in the Capitol Park World Peace Rose Garden watching two wedding parties: one pink and girly with yards of airy, voluminous tulle and the other a more restrained white satin pant suit for the bride and sleek beige dresses for the bridesmaids. The rose-covered trellis, classic fountain, and white pergola beg to be including in wedding pictures, so in the summer, it’s line up first, then marry. 

After pink tulle and white satin each wed the man of her dreams, two large horses, carrying the Sacramento Mounted Patrol, lumbered up to the fountain. They were late for the ceremonies, but back on the job after a long, loud drink.



Our eleventh floor room faces west, so at around 6:30 am, sunrise reflects off skyscraper windows and at 6:30 pm, a dramatic, golden sunset lights up the darkening sky. 

At sunrise I noticed black-ribbon drifts of crows flying east, away from downtown and at sunset, dense black crow clouds coming back toward the west. Of course, Mr. Google knew what was going on. He estimates that every night during the warm months, between 10,000 and 20,000 crows roost in downtown Sacramento. In the 1980s, the suburbs became hostile to crow crowds, using dynamite to roust the birds from their evening perches. The refugees retreated, liked city nightlife, and spend their summer evenings downtown, returning to suburban roosts in the fall. 


This spring, Ginny gave me a few “Grandpa Ott” morning glory starts and after coaxing, cajoling, plenty of sun, and a few Miracle-Gro bribes, Grandpa finally flourished, covered our trellis, and provided privacy for our patio area. 

The Sweetie came back from his Saturday morning walk and said, “You won’t believe the hedge of Grandpa Otts in the park.” We went back and sure enough, the park’s brick administrative office was surrounded by a six foot tall, square block of dense, purple morning glories. 


It’s never to late to get advice from your mother. When I was organizing my recipes from newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and restaurant-pocket notepads, I came across this handwritten recipe from Muth. It was dated 1965, when I was a young wife trying to feed three on a military budget, and asked her for a few tips. She wrote me a sweet, encouraging letter with this recipe.  

Muth’s Potato Soup

“Slice three or four potatoes and a few onions. Boil until tender in a small amount of water, salt, pepper and butter. Add milk, bring to a boil. Add processed cheese if you desire. That’s all there is to it.”

Two line recipes are just what I currently need, so I brought it out this week, added some leftover salmon and corn, and thanked her again.

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Summer in the city: Breakfast room burritos

Lovin’ Spoonful, Summer in the City

We’re back in Sacramento, back on the eleventh floor of the Residence Inn, back to the culinary challenge of cooking without an oven. We look out on a beautiful view, sleep in a comfortable bed, enjoy a free breakfast, wash clothes in a laundry room that doesn’t require quarter-hoarding, buy extras at a “boutique” Goodwill down the block, take a 10-minute bus ride to swim, drive a reasonably short city-street commute, and keep cool at night with an air-conditioner that works—all is good. 

City sunset

Sacramento Central YMCA

On Saturday, I went to a baby shower for my niece Claire in Orinda, northwest of Sacramento. Lovely girl, lovely event and I got to spend time with Ginny—an extra bonus. 

We’re settling in, Bob found his work, I found a pool. Midtown Sacramento is full of fun. The other day the bus driver slowed down and shouted, “Everybody, look out your right window!” You always obey the bus driver, so twenty heads first swiveled to the left, then to the right, and this is what we saw.


Just in case, I guess.

Not Tom Cruise, but two middle-aged women, rappelling down the side of the hotel. “Over the Edge,” an event-planning company was supporting a fund raiser for Stanford Youth Solutions. Each rappeller/rappellee nagged friends, family, and coworkers to sponsor their plunge over a building backwards. What ever happened to bake sales?

Breakfast room burritos

Being somewhat discrete, pilfer (thx for the great word, Ronnie B.) scrambled eggs, grated cheese, bacon, green onions, Canadian bacon, salsa, and a tortilla from the breakfast room. It may take two mornings—just casually fill paper coffee cups with enough ingredients for two.

Microwave eggs and green onions for 30 seconds

Microwave tortilla with grated cheese for 10 seconds

Pile egg/green onion/meat/cheese in warm tortilla

Wrap and roll

Top with or dip in salsa

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A Christmas in Sacramento: Alton Brown’s Blueberry Buckle

If we had a dog, he would know that something’s up. The work shirts have been to the cleaners, the prescriptions have been filled, the Gramma chair in our bedroom is stacked with “don’t forgets,” I spent the morning grinding coffee beans, the big suitcase is out, and the refrigerator is almost empty. We’re leaving for the Sweetie’s two month Sacramento project on Monday, start date Tuesday.  

At least Sacramento is familiar—we’ll be downtown in the same hotel as last year; Sweetie will work for the same hospital group and drive the same short side-street commute. For me, there’s a bus stop in front of the hotel, a Goodwill down the block, an edgy Grocery Outlet Bargain Market a short walk away, a 24 Hour Fitness pool within a 10 minute bus ride, the Crocker Art Museum, the Sacramento Delta, and access to San Francisco’s BART system. This year I’ll try to explore more; the weather should be in the range of beautiful to scorching; but Sacramento is the “City of Trees” which makes getting out and about on foot bearable. 


I look forward to spending time in the State Capitol Park’s rose garden and eating Gogi tacos in the outdoor patio, tomatoes from the Cesar Chavez Plaza farmers market, shu mei dumplings from the Sunday Asian Market, and pupusas at La Flor—as you can see, I travel on my stomach. 

I’ll enjoy reading two daily newspapers, having someone clean the room once a week, setting the wastebasket outside the door every night, running errands on foot, and weekend waffles.

I’ll miss our cozy house, drinking good coffee, cooking with an oven, using substantial forks and spoons, swimming with my pool friends, visiting with our friends/neighbors Bill and Glenda, spending all day with the Sweetie, and seeing my Ginny.  But we will be back in November and there will be new and exotic stories to tell, although Joan Didion may disagree with the exotic stories part. As she once said, “Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”

I recently saw this Alton Brown recipe on Kitchn. Although I haven’t made it yet, it is definitely calling my name.

Blueberry Buckle



•3 1/2 ounces sugar

•1 1/2 ounces cake flour

•1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)

•4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cubed and chilled)


•9 ounces cake flour

•1 teaspoon baking powder

•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

•1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

•4 tablespoons unsalted butter (left at room temperature for 30 minutes (or until instant-read thermometer stuck into the middle reads about 60 degrees F))

•5 1/4 ounces sugar

•1 large egg

•1/2 cup whole milk

•15 ounces fresh blueberries


Combine the sugar, flour and nutmeg in a small bowl then work in the butter, using a fork to combine. Keep “forking” until the mixture has a crumb-like texture. Set aside. (Note: If you have a pastry cutter, now’s the time to use it.)


Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch square GLASS baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 1 minute. Reduce the speed a bit and thoroughly incorporate the egg. Reduce the speed to low (or “stir” on a Kitchenaid) and add one-third of the flour mixture. Once incorporated, add one-third of the milk then repeat alternating until all ingredients are combined.

Gently stir in the blueberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle on the topping mixture.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until golden. Cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Makes: 1 (9-inch) Cake

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1979, 1989, 2019: Remembering

Charles Aznavour, Ne Me Quitte Pas

Seems as if friend-making years occur when we are the busiest: during college, on our first jobs, when we’re young couples, or as playdate Moms. The Sweetie and I are lucky to have friends we met forty-five years ago during our first job/young couple years. 

Over those forty-five years, we have all made a concerted effort to stay in touch. In 1989 we hosted our first winter dinner that included single girls Marilyn and Beth, recently married Nancy, Tom, and daughter Sierra, old friends Becky and Jerry, and our dear Tommy. Beth married MacGregor, Marilyn wed Fritz, Becky and Jerry moved to Hood Canal, Sierra grew up, and Tommy died, so when we get the band together, we are eight.

Friends.jpg  Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg Friends.jpg

Ten years before our first dinner, I went to work for Rick O’Reilly and his French dream, La Petite Maison. As decade starters seem to be markers for momentous occasions, last Sunday’s summer dinner was about remembering Rick. 

Burrowing through boxes in the garage, I recently found a notecard with Rick’s hand-written recipe for Tarte Aux Champignons and went from there. 

“Tarte Aux Champignons


  • One Baked 9” pie shell
  • 4 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup Port
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/2# Swiss cheese
  • 1/2# Gruyere


Sauté mushrooms and shallots in butter, salt and pepper. (Do not wash mushrooms in water!)


Place mushrooms in pie shell, leaving all liquid and butter in fry pan. Add 1⁄2 c. port to pan and boil until reduced to 1-2 T.


Add 1 pt. heavy cream and boil until mixture thickens. 


Sprinkle 1/2 c. grated Swiss cheese and 1/2 cup Gruyere over mushrooms and pour cream mixture over all. 

Bake in a 400° oven for 30 minutes.”

Next up: Caesar Salad. 

While Rick welcomed input from the staff, he had the last word when it came to the menu. In Mexico he ate Caesar Salad prepared table-side by male waiters dressed in black and was determined to reproduce that dining experience. Scott and Chris, our two long-time waiters, were adamantly opposed; “Sheer lunacy”, if I remember correctly. Tableside Caesars would “slow service to a crawl, be messy, inconsistent, pretentious, and embarrassing.” Even though Rick was a novice in the restaurant world and Scott and Chris were experienced servers, Rick won that round and Caesar salads were prepared table-side. 

Within a week of opening, I was in the kitchen making Caesar Salad dressing by the quart, using a blender and the waiters were in the dining room wearing black vests, shirts, and pants.


Caesar Dressing 

3 egg yolks

1⁄2 tsp. anchovy paste

2 T. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1⁄2 tsp. Tabasco

1 Tbs. chopped garlic

2 tsp. dry mustard

2 tsp. capers 

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

1⁄2 c. olive oil

1⁄2 c. salad oil


Place egg yolks, anchovy paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, garlic, mustard, capers, and lemon juice in a blender—add salt & pepper and blend until smooth.


Add oils in slowly until emulsified.

Main course: Salmon with sorrel sauce. 

Rick spent at least ten summers in France, initially eating for pleasure, taking cooking classes from some of the greats, and eventually teaching. His favorites chefs were the Troisgros brothers; his favorite dish—salmon with sorrel sauce. Sorrel is difficult to find but so easy to grow. My friend Glenda found seeds for me, I planted them in pots, and still have enough sorrel to supply Rick’s old restaurant. I mowed it twice, but still had three times what I needed to make the sauce. So if you need some sorrel, I’m your guy. 

Salmon with sorrel sauce (Recipe from muscle memory only)—4 servings


Sauté 2 minced shallots in 2 T. butter. Add salt

Add 1 cup clam juice

Bring to boil, simmer 5 minutes or until syrupy


Add 1 c. wine and 3T. vermouth, reduce


Add 1 1/2 cup cream, cook 5 minutes or until thickened. (Consider it thickened if you can see the bottom of the pan when you pull a spatula through  it, or/and when the mixture coats a spoon. If the sauce should break, splash a bit of water in the pan, shake it around and the sauce should come back together.)


Pass through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pan—yield 1-2 cups (4-6 servings)


Add 1 1/2c. shredded sorrel, and cook for 25 seconds. Remove from heat. 


Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. 


Season thin salmon filets on the skin side.


Heat non-stick pan, add small amount butter, slide fillets into pan unseasoned side down. Don’t crowd.


Cook no more than 1 1/2 minutes. Turn over, cook 30 seconds more. 


Serve immediately on heated plates.

After months of long hours for the staff and years of preparation for Rick, La Petite finally opened. After opening night service was over we all sat in the empty dining room drinking champagne. Rick looked at me and said, “Marla, we have to do this again tomorrow?” He did, and we did.

Patty and Jim’s sweet dog Gracie died last week after giving them years of walks, protection, and companionship. She was a good dog, a fine friend, and will be missed.

 Friends.jpg  Friends.jpg  Friends.jpg



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Beach stories: North Carolina Fish Stew

Katy Perry, California Gurls

Another beautiful morning on San Diego’s Pacific Beach: soft, summer breeze, cloudless blue sky, gulls circling overhead (probably on the prowl for palm rats and kittens). Sundays bring out the surfers, the watchers, the families, and the yoga practitioners. Barefoot surfers walk by my concrete perch wearing wet suits, most black, carrying their boards, mostly white, and descend the steep dirt trail to the beach. 

Like the beach, surfing is egalitarian: to be known as a “surfer dude,” all you need is a ride to the beach, a board, the discipline to learn some serious skills, and stamina. Most of the wet-suited, board-carriers are young, white, men with lean, sun-tanned bodies. There are always a few silver-haired older gents and some naturally brown skins in the mix, but today I saw someone completely different: an older, grey-haired woman about my age. 

She walked solo (wearing a bright pink wet suit) with a careful stride, and easily carried her board (bright aqua blue) down the winding dirt path. She paddled out into the surf, ducking under each wave as it crashed, bobbing up on the other side, ready to take on the next one. Taking her place beyond the cresting waves alongside the young ones, she waited her turn, pulled through the water to merge, was up in a flash, and rode gracefully all the way to the beach.

While the surfers surfed, the watchers watched, and the yoga practitioners gathered. I could hear the thumping of rubber mats on the grass behind my bench as the Sunday morning devotees claimed their piece of turf. “Gotta get here early to claim a flat spot, otherwise you are downward dogging on every step.”


As if on cue, a lithe man in his forties greeted me pleasantly and asked (exactly as he did a year ago), “Mind if I hop up on your bench to lead my yoga class?” When I asked him why his pig wasn’t with him (unlike last year), he said, “Clubber fell victim to a few PB residents who ratted him out for lack of a permit. The city required that I place him in Penelope’s Purpose, a sanctuary up in Ramona, so now I pay pig support every month—don’t want to be a deadbeat dad.”

Steve, yoga instructor

Clubber, yoga pig

North Carolina fish stew

  • 1/2 lb. (6 strips) Thick-Cut Bacon
  • 2 Medium or 1 Large Yellow Onion, peeled, halved, and sliced into 1/4” half-moons
  • 6 cups Fish or chicken stock or water
  • 6 oz. Tomato Paste
  • 1 t Red Pepper Flake
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1 1/2 lb Red Potatoes, sliced 1/4” thick
  • 1 1/2 lb Thick Cut white fish fillet – cod works well
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tsp Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s or Crystal
  • Salt & Pepper
  1. Heat a heavy soup pot over Medium heat.  Cut the bacon strips into 1” sections, and place in the pot to render the fat.  Allow the bacon to crisp. Remove from the pan, leaving the fat.
  2. Add the onion slices to the pan and cook about 8 minutes until they are translucent and tender and just beginning to brown.
  3. To the onions, add 1-2 teaspoons salt, 1 tsp black pepper, the red pepper flake and the 6 cups water.  Stir in the Tomato paste. Add the sliced potatoes, and turn heat up to Medium-High.  When the soup begins to simmer, wait 10 minutes.
  4. While simmering, cut the fish fillet into large (2”x2”x2”) chunks. They should be big and thick. After the 10 minutes has passed, add the fish to the soup. Then, cracking the eggs, add 1 at a time to the soup. Cover for 15 minutes.  This should be enough time to cook the fish and poach the eggs. 
  5. Test and adjust flavor by adding salt, pepper and hot sauce, as desired.
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San Diego: Baja fish tacos

What else but…

The Mamas and the Papas, California Dreamin’

San Diego’s May grey and June gloom have been replaced by July blue sky. With Paris scorching in at 106°, the Netherlands at 104°, and the Midwest, South, and East Coast sweltering through a heat wave, San Diego’s high of 82°, with a soft ocean breeze coming in across the bay, is a daytime dream and a sleeper’s delight. 

San Diego is the land of the hapless Padres, the grand, pink Hotel Del Coronado, Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo, flocks of graceful surfers in black wetsuits, sandy beaches from Chula Vista to Del Mar, Rubio’s Baja fish tacos, Old Town tamales, past home of the beleaguered Sea World orcas and current home to our friends the Fostermiglias and our nephew Andrew and his wife Ashley. We once carved out a small footprint here in a long, breezy California box house at the top of a hill with a killer view, but California has little or no patience with financial upheavals, so our brief sojourn ended when our project did. Luckily our dear friends leave the light on for us so we are still able to visit and wonder at our good fortune. 

First up in the morning is a short drive to Pacific Beach—the Sweetie walks, I watch on a concrete bench high above the sand. 



Beaches are egalitarian and it doesn’t matter if you have driven from Tijuana or La Jolla, parking is impossible, but the sun and the surf are free. Benches are rare, so I share with another watcher who usually has a story to tell. This morning I sat next to a formidable dude with visible ink everywhere and a sad story of missed child support, garnished disability checks, and a repossessed motorcycle. 

Next up: a beautiful blonde seventy-year old woman wearing an Australian slouch hat and her fortyish son wearing a Padres baseball cap. In the 1950s, beautiful blonde’s father bought a cottage (with large lots on either side) down the beach, conveniently died in the early 2000s, and left her all his property. Dutiful son tried hard not to look too gleeful or expectant as beautiful blonde explained that when she died, all the property would go to him.

If Unicorn lets me share his lane, I have a convenient morning swim in the backyard pool. 

Baja Fish Tacos

Pickled Red Onion: 1 large red onion, halved lengthways, thinly sliced 2 small green jalapeños 2/3 cup rice vinegar 1 tablespoon lime juice 1 heaped teaspoon sea salt 

Baja Cream: 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup sour cream 2 teaspoons lime juice, plus extra to taste 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest Pinch of sea salt 

Baja Cabbage Slaw: 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 3/4 teaspoon lime juice 2 drops jalapeño Tabasco sauce 1/2 small head green cabbage, thinly sliced Sea salt and ground black pepper 

Marinated Fish: 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped 1 green jalapeño, chopped 1 lb flaky white fish filets Sea salt and ground black pepper Corn tortillas, for serving 


Pickled Red Onion: To make the pickled red onion, place the onion and jalapeño in a heatproof medium bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, lime juice and salt. Bring to the boil over high heat, stirring until the salt dissolves, then pour over the onion and jalapeño. Allow to stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour before using. (Leftovers will keep up to 1 week in the fridge.) 

Baja Cream: To make the Baja cream, whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, lime zest and salt in a small bowl, then taste for seasoning and lime juice. 

Baja Cabbage Slaw: To make the cabbage slaw, mix together the mayonnaise, lime juice and Tabasco in a bowl. Toss the cabbage with the mayonnaise mixture, season to taste and refrigerate. 

Marinated Fish: To marinate the fish, mix the olive oil, chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander and jalapeño in a non-reactive dish. Add the fish and marinate for 20 minutes. When ready to cook the fish, heat a non-stick frying pan over medium–high heat. Remove the fish from the marinade, place in the hot pan and season with salt. Cook the fish for 4 minutes, then turn over, season again with salt and cook for another 2 minutes or until just cooked through, depending on the thickness. Remove the pan from the heat and flake the fish with a fork, scraping up and mixing in any marinade that has stuck to the bottom. 

Assembly: Heat the tortillas according to the directions on the packet. To assemble the tacos, place a heaped spoon of the fish onto the centre of a warm tortilla. Top with the pickled onion and jalapeño, Baja cream, Baja cabbage slaw and tomato salsa.




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