Secret Sauces

Last year Heinz introduced Mayochup, a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup. It was received with such frenzy that they brought out Mayocue and Mayomust. Has it really come to that? Are we so pressed for time that we can’t stir together a blob of mayonnaise and a squirt of ketchup or mustard? I must admit though, even as we speak, I have a bottle of Sriracha mayo and a bottle of chipotle mayo lurking in the door of the refrigerator.

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Consumers love to find out what the “secret ingredient” is—the more closely held the secret, the better the dish must be. It has been said by some that Colonel Sanders’ “secret blend of 11 herbs and spices” is more of a marketing ploy than a recipe kept in a vault. Well, according to a 2016 Chicago Tribune article, the cat is out of the bag: here is KFC’s secret revealed.

KFC’s blend of 11 herbs and spices

Mix with 2 cups white flour:

  • 2/3 Ts Salt 
  • 1/2 Ts Thyme 
  • 1/2 Ts Basil 
  • 1/3 Ts Oregano 
  • 1 Ts Celery salt 
  • 1 Ts Black pepper 
  • 1 Ts Dried mustard 
  • 4 Ts Paprika
  • 2 Ts Garlic salt 
  • 1 Ts Ground ginger 
  • 3 Ts White pepper
Then there’s the urban legend about a woman who lunched at Neiman Marcus and so enjoyed their chocolate chip cookie that she asked for the recipe. “You can have it for two-fifty,” said the waitress. Later, when the woman got her credit card statement, at the bottom of the Neiman Marcus Cafe’s itemized bill was: “Chocolate chip cookie recipe-$250.00.” She was so angry about the charge that she sent the recipe to everyone she knew. So here’s another secret, revealed. 

Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie
  • 2 cups butter 
  • 4 cups flour 
  • 2 tsp. soda 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 5 cups blended oatmeal** 
  • 24 oz. chocolate chips 
  • 2 cups brown sugar 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 8 oz. Hershey Bar (grated) 
  • 4 eggs 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder 
  • 3 cups chopped nuts (your choice) 
  • 2 tsp. vanilla 
Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. Add chocolate chips, Hershey Bar and nuts. Roll into balls and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 112 cookies. ** measure oatmeal and blend in a blender to a fine powder.


I will admit to two, less-than-gourmet, secret ingredients: Ranch dressing and Heinz ketchup. A squirt of Ranch to cream up potato salad, a slather to elevate a sink sandwich, a spoonful to smooth out a salty stir-fry, or a zig zag to garnish a rice bowl (just stir in a skosh of Sriracha to hide the shame). Ketchup is my slip-in, on-the-sly addition to Korean vegetables and rice, Shanghai noodles, tofu mapo, meat loaf, of course, and enchilada sauce.

To bolster my case: I was recently watching a Jacques Pépin episode about making braised duck breast with beurre rouge. He deftly boned the duck, carefully browned the breast (skin side down to crisp the skin), sautéed minced shallots, deglazed the pan with red wine, reduced the sauce, swirled in cold butter cubes, then…casually looked into the camera, added a squirt of ketchup, and said, “Now, don’t tell anyone.” And Bridget (the one with the long hair) on America’s Test Kitchen, has unapologetically said, “Ketchup is my favorite, secret ingredient.” 

There are no rules when you cook—ketchup in French, Ranch in Mexican—if it tastes good, it’s all good. Here’s my own, carefully crafted, all-occasion, secret sauce spreadsheet.

Latin:

Fish tacos, pupusas, Cuban potato balls, quesadillas, taco salad, chilaquiles, burritos, nachos

Asian:

Okonomiyaki, Korean tacos, stir-fried rice, scallion pancakes, ramen noodles, grain bowls

American:

Burgers, fries, onion rings, Shrimp Louie, Iceberg wedge, fish & chips, lobster stew, lobster rolls, grilled cheese sandwich

European:

Bouillabaisse, Crostini,

Frittata or omelet

•½ cup Mexican crema, sour cream or mayonnaise

•½ cup Kewpie or regular mayonnaise

•½ cup mayonnaise

•a couple good squirts Ranch Dressing

•1/2 cup Greek yogurt

•½ cup Greek yogurt

•½ cup yogurt

•½ cup sour cream

 

•2 tablespoons lime juice

•1 tablespoon rice vinegar

•1 tablespoon lemon juice

•1 tablespoon lemon juice

 

•2 teaspoons soy sauce

•2 teaspoons fish sauce

 

 

 

•1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

•1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

•1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

 

•1 tablespoon sesame oil

 

 

•1 teaspoon minced chipotle in sauce, or Chipotle Tabasco, or Tapatio, or Cholula hot sauce

•1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

•1 tablespoon Frank’s hot sauce or Tabasco

•½  teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

•1 tablespoon bottled red salsa

•1 tablespoon  Ssamjang

•1 tablespoon ketchup

• a little XO sauce doesn’t hurt

•1 tablespoon chili sauce or 1 tablespoon ketchup or 1 tablespoon French dressing

•1 pinch saffron, soaked in 1 tablespoon water

•½ teaspoon garlic powder

•½ teaspoon onion powder

•½ teaspoon garlic powder

•½ teaspoon onion  powder

•1 tablespoon sugar

•½ teaspoon garlic powder or 1 teaspoon powdered Ranch Dressing mix or 1 teaspoon Penzey’s black-pepper vinaigrette mix or all of the above

•1 tablespoon finely minced fresh garlic

•2 tablespoon finely minced roasted, peeled, red peppers

•½ minced serrano

•½ cup chopped cilantro

 ½ cup chopped cilantro

•1 tablespoon minced dill pickle, pickle relish, or minced pepperoncini

•1 tablespoon capers

•1 teaspoon salt

•1 teaspoon salt

•1 teaspoon salt

•1 teaspoon salt

•½ teaspoon black pepper

•½ teaspoon black pepper

•½ teaspoon black pepper

•½ teaspoon white pepper

 

Posted in Recipes | 2 Comments

Wrap rage: Three cup chicken

Why are new, packaged items so difficult to open? Is it a Johnson & Johnson conspiracy to sell more bandaids, is it another mean trick played on us olds, is it a result of Chinese interference? You shouldn’t have to watch a YouTube video to get to new batteries, ball point pens, tubes of ointment, and toothpaste. Frustration over hard-to-open, everyday household items, toys, and over-the-counter health aides has reached the point that the term “wrap rage” has been coined. There’s even a Consumer Reports’ “Oyster Award” for the most difficult package to open. 

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Trader Joe’s is at the top of my list of torturers: every box of crackers, bread crumbs, Jo Jos, or pasta is glued shut and once opened, stays open. Is their packaging department so sure that every consumer is a closet Gwyneth Paltrow carefully pouring the contents of each box or bag into a Goop-approved glass jar or ethically-woven artisan basket? Every poly food bag, whether it’s salad, elbow macaroni, or cheese, requires scissors to open, then rips down the side with no chance for another seal. Now there may be exceptions, but on the whole, after a trip to TJs, get out a sharp knife, scissors, large zip-lock bags, and Neosporin.

First thing this morning I had to open a new bottle of eye drops—I was still sleepy, only a few sips of coffee, dim morning light. The top of the small container was completely and tightly enclosed with plastic: no tear tab, no dotted line, no users’ manual. It took a pair of sharp, pointed embroidery scissors and needle nose pliers to get to the contents. And what about those convenient-to-appropriate condiment packets marked “Tear here,” are you kidding? 

Opening a new Costco-sized bottle of Tylenol always requires a sheepish trip to the Sweetie, offender in outstretched hand. Even dope has become impossible to use. Last week I bought a bottle of CBD tincture which even the Sweetie gave up on. I took the bottle to my neighbor who finally got it open using a bench vise grip, a pair of metal snips, and a razor blade. And vape refill packages—is Nancy Reagan using those plastic/cardboard vaults to just say no?

The gouge on my left hand has healed after stabbing myself with a steak knife trying to open a round box of (no surprise here) Trader Joe’s salt. I’m not kidding, it took four trips to the garage to get a skill saw, a screwdriver (had to go back twice because a Phillips wouldn’t work), and a pair of pliers to get the firmly caked, immoveable sea salt out of the box.

Let’s not even talk about those made-in-hell, clamshells packs that trap Barbies, earphones and electronic devices. They require power tools to open and are certain to draw blood. And here’s a shout-out to Starbucks. Is it possible with all your R & D, your corporate savvy, and your marketing budget to invent a bag that human hands can actually pull apart with a shred of hope that it will open and close again without spilling beans on the floor?

Anyways, I feel better now but in the future, I plan on buying everything in bulk, especially eye drops.

Here’s a recipe that doesn’t require opening a box, bag, or clamshelled package.

Three cup chicken

  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 2-to-3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into coins, approximately 12
  • 12 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 whole scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 dried red peppers or 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 2 pounds chicken thighs, boneless or bone-in, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 tablespoon unrefined or light brown sugar
  • ½ cup rice wine
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce
  • 2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves or regular basil leaves

 Heat a wok over high heat and add 2 tablespoons sesame oil. When the oil shimmers, add the ginger, garlic, scallions and peppers, and cook until fragrant, approximately 2 minutes.


Scrape the aromatics to the sides of the wok, add remaining oil and allow to heat through. Add the chicken, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is browned and crisping at the edges, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.


Add sugar and stir to combine, then add the rice wine and soy sauce, and bring just to a boil. Lower the heat, then simmer until the sauce has reduced and started to thicken, approximately 15 minutes.


Turn off the heat, add the basil and stir to combine. Serve with white rice.

Posted in Rants and Raves, Recipes | 5 Comments

Return to We The North: Mu Shu Pork

Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown

Although the NBA Grizzlies left for Memphis long ago, interest in the Toronto Raptors runs high in Vancouver parks and on city sidewalks. This year, heading into We The North territory ready to defend the Golden State Warriors, we got an early start, breezed through Seattle traffic and were at the border crossing by 10:30 am. Grilled briefly by a stern Canadian guard, (What is your reason for crossing), we passed muster and were allowed to enter, free of charge.

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The wait for our 1:00 dinner date zipped by while we sat in the park watching energetic city kids, stroller-bound babies, flap-eared dogs, colorful kites, water taxis, sunbathers with exposed white skin, and romantic couples lounging on blankets in the grass. 

As delightful as the park is, there are no readily available “facilities”, but after four hours in the car, the need to find one was crucial. The Sweetie, risking exposure and incarceration, chose an overgrown corner buffered by shrubs and a retaining wall. I was on guard, “Just move along, there’s nothing to see.” The Sweetie emerged, undiscovered and relieved but completely covered with fuzzy, blue stickers in his moustache, on his hat, and covering his soft, dark brown sweater. Luckily we had plenty of time to detach, brush, and tweeze. As a graceful, concealed option is less forthcoming for women, I waited.

 

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First course was served on the upper level of our hosts’s community garden patio accompanied by a gentle Northern breeze and warm sunshine. This year’s theme was “Lower Forms of Life, divided into three sub-themes: 1)There’s a fungus among us, 2)The yeast is red, and 3)Good evening, ladies and germs.” Needless to say, we were all curious, if not apprehensive. There was nothing to fear: a delicious, five-course adventure with mushrooms, fermented drinks, and well-executed Moo shoo pork with truffled Chinese pancakes appeared effortlessly over the next five hours.

ETHNIC’ DINNER 2019:LOWER FORMS OF LIFE

DRINKS

Iced tea. Mould

Lager beer. Yeast

IPA beer. Yeast

Non-alcoholic beer Yeast

Wines. Yeast 

Kombucha gin cocktail. Fungus

 

NIBBLES

Sushi biscotti with mirin. Fermented wine

Tuna poke with fermented red pepper paste

Roasted mushroom in miso sauce. Fermented soy beans

Black garlic horseradish smear.  Fermented garlic

Popcorn with nutritional yeast

Belgian truffle paté

Creamy mushroom paté

 

FIRST COURSE

Turnip porcini soup with truffle croutons & mushroom dust Fungus

 

SECOND COURSE

Shrimp-stuffed button mushrooms with fermented oyster sauce Fungus

 

MAIN COURSE

Moo shoo pork with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese black fungus 

Truffle-oil pancakes with fermented hoisin sauce  

Fennel with fermented red pepper paste

 

CHEESE

Double cream Danish blue

Salt Spring truffle goat cheese

Cacio di Bosco al tartufo

 

DESSERT

Chocolate chai cookies. Chocolate and tea are both fermented 


Fritz’s annual “Name That Tune” match was held as scheduled, only this year he added an extra challenge to his bag of tricks. There was the usual one point for correctly guessing the song, and one point for naming the singer (no points for singing all the verses) with a bonus five points for guessing the over-all theme of the contest. It took Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell, Diana, Paul Anka, Sundown, Gordon Lightfoot and Heart of Gold, Neil Young before the Sweetie and MacGregor both quietly yelled, “The singers are all Canadians!!”

 

The first time I had Mu Shu pork was in the late Seventies watching my friend Nancy wok-fry her way through countless Chinese dishes for a crowd of Seventies friends. Beth and I were tasked to paint Chinese pancakes with hoisin sauce and stuff them with a succulent pork filling for the multitude. Nancy had been taking UCLA Extension classes for several years from Madam Wong, becoming  proficient at the skills, techniques, and subtleties of regional Chinese food.


The second time was on May 19, 1980, the day after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. I remember sitting on the front porch steps of our Vashon rental overlooking Tramp Harbor with the Sweetie, Muth, and Beth, eating Moo shu pork (made from Madame Wong’s Long-Life Chinese Cooking, purchased in 1979 at Nancy’s recommendation), watching identical images of enormous black clouds of ash billowing up in the sky and on the living room TV.

 

The third time was last Saturday in Vancouver, with both Beth and Nancy at the table. Making Moo Shu pork is a long and daunting process not to be undertaken lightly, so a special thumbs up to our hosts who were willing and able to make it so successfully!


Today, when I took Madame Wong’s battered book from the shelf it opened automatically to this stained recipe for Moo shu pork, still smelling of sesame oil and soy sauce. It is a delicious dish (with many spelling options), but be ready for a trip to an Asian grocery store and lots of chopping, slicing, stirring, and wok-frying.

 

 Moo shu pork, Madame Wong’s Long Life Chinese Cookbook

 

  • 4 dried black mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons golden lilies
  • 2 tablespoons (after soaking) fungus
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 lb. lean pork, julienne
  • 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon corn starch
  • 6 tablespoons oil
  • 1 green onion, julienne
  • 1 slice ginger, julienne
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 medium-sized head cabbage, julienne
  • 6 water chestnuts, shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

Place mushrooms, lilies, and fungus in separate bowls. Pour boiling water over each. Soak separately at least 20 minutes.

Remove stems from mushrooms, hard tips from lilies, and hard part of fungus. Discard. Cut ingredients julienne.

Mix pork with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and cornstarch.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok. Add scallions and ginger. Stir-fry 30 seconds. Add pork. Stir-fry 1 minute or until color changes. Add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Remove.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok. Add cabbage, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and salt. Stir-fry 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, lilies, and fungus. Stir-fry one minute more. Remove

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok. Pour in beaten eggs. Scramble them very fine. Remove.

Return pork, vegetable mixture, and eggs to wok. Heat thoroughly. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce and stir-fry quickly.

To serve: Place steamed pancake flat on a plate. Spread 1 teaspoon plum (If you’ve gotten this far, just buy a jar of plum sauce) or hoisin in center of pancake. Scoop 2 tablespoons of filling on top of sauce. Roll pancake, folding one end to prevent dripping.

 

  1. Chinese pancakes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame oil
  1. Put flour in bowl. Make a well. Add boiling water. Stir quickly with chopsticks or fork until water is absorbed and all flour comes away from the side of the bowl.
  2. Knead dough on lightly floured board until smooth.
  3. Put dough in bowl and cover with damp cloth. Let stand 20 minutes. 
  4. Return dough to floured board. K knead a little more. Make i to long, sausage-like roll about 1 1/2 “ in diameter. 
  5. Cut dough i to 8 even pieces. Flatten each into a very thin round cake with palm.
  6. Brush one side of each pancake evenly with sesame oil. Place one on another, oiled sides together, to form 4 stacks.
  7. Roll each stack into a 7” circle.
  8. Heat ungreased frying pan over medium heat. Cook pancake on both sides until it puffs up slightly. Do not brown.
  9. Remove. Separate into 2 pancakes. Repeat until all are cooked and separated.
  10. Put stack of pancakes in aluminum foil. Fold over sides to keep cakes from drying out.
  11. Place foil-wrapped pancakes in a steamer. Cover and steam over boiling water for about 10 minutes.
 
BTW, although we recently experienced the heartbreak of clematis wilt, our Mountain laurel Kalmia, “Little Linda” is thriving and beautiful as is our new dogwood tree.
 
 

Thanks, Ginny.

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

The Goldilocks Camp: Baked Apple Pudding

Java Jive, Manhattan Transfer

If Leslie Stahl sat me down, leaned forward, and said, “Now, Marla, you’re seventy-six, what is the secret to life?”

I would have to say, “Moderation.” Now between you and me (we’ll leave Leslie out of this), moderation is a glossier (?) word for just enough—not too little and not too much.

Moderation seems to be one of the undisputed truths of the universe; too much or too little of anything doesn’t work. Weather that’s too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too dry is not good; too much rain, there’s flooding, not enough rain, there’s drought. Sitting too much is bad for your health, standing too much hurts your knees; selfieing too much is bad for your ego, isolation leads to depression; sleeping too much is bad for your career, not enough sleep is bad for your mood; working too much is hard on your family, idleness is bad for your wallet. Too much money in the economy, there’s inflation, too little money, there’s a depression. Too much money in your bank account and you’re one of the entitled 1%, too little money and you’re poor.

And while too many animals can be thrilling—a pod of whales, a pride of lions, a school of minnows, a herd of wild horses—a sky full of bats or a murder of crows is a bit creepy, a swarm of bees is scary, and encountering too many hopping bunnies (just read that a group of rabbits is called a fluffle) might give you pause. I love the spring sound of a tree frog but heard a bad story about someone who was so disturbed by tree frog ruckus (or perhaps it’s croakus) in a pond behind their house that they poisoned the whole lot. Now that is too much.

Of course, it might be said that moderation is a cop out. Doing something full tilt can lead to greatness: practicing too much gets you to Carnegie Hall, working too much makes you the boss, being too pretty puts you in a Hollywood movie, extreme athleticism lands you a $330,000,000 contract.

“They” (whoever they are) keep yanking us around about what’s good for us. Too much wine or just a bit, too much Coke or just a sip; first it’s good for you, then its bad for you. Honey–nutritious or an indulgence? A daily baby aspirin–life saver or stroke risk? Eggs–a healthy protein or a source of too much cholesterol?  Michael Pollan’s three food rules make the most sense to me: eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. Now, if we could just follow the second rule, “not too much,” it would eliminate the entire diet industry—moderation.

So, put me in the Goldilocks’ camp: not too hard, not too soft, not too hot, not too cold, but just right. However, let’s leave chocolate, coffee, and butter out of the discussion.

BTW, the Sweetie passed his five-year CT scan with flying colors! 

Virginia Baked Apple Pudding

  • 1/2 cup too much butter, melted
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups peeled, diced apple
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a small baking dish, combine butter, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and milk until smooth. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine apples and cinnamon. Microwave until apples are soft, 2 to 5 minutes. Pour apples into the center of the batter. Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until golden.

Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, and sprinkles. And a grating of white chocolate couldn’t hurt.

Posted in Rants and Raves, Recipes, Travel | 2 Comments

Wichita Falls shorts

The RM12 bus stopped a few blocks away from our hotel. As the on-line system was difficult to figure out and “Find-a-ride” wouldn’t answer the phone, I waited at the bus stop hoping it might come. It did come, it did stop, and Ronnie, the pleasant, helpful bus driver became my go-to guy for local transportation. 

He told me how to get the downtown bus, where to get off, looked for me on my return trips, and even made a unauthorized stop so I didn’t have to walk so far. He was a chatter with a heavy Texas drawl, so I sat in the front to read his lips. Ronnie took me to Walmart, to the Fein Art Gallery, Michael’s, Target, and one afternoon, I just rode around with him. On my last day he took me to the Wichita Falls Museum of Art on the MSU campus. 

I read on the museum website that they had a Jackson Pollack in their permanent collection, and decided to take the shorter 45 minute bus ride to MSU instead of taking the 90 minute ride downtown to see the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, maybe I should have gone with the longer ride. Although the museum had an interesting exhibit of “Cyanotype Shootapalooza,” when I asked about the Jackson Pollack, the receptionist looked at me blankly and said, “I really don’t know anything about that.” Well there you go. 

Cyanotype Group Quilt


Ron Adams, Profile in Blue


Karsten Creightney, Untitled

BTW, the Sweetie and I have escaped Wichita Falls and are back home in Lacey. Beto rode in on his high horse, said that Bernie had paid our bail with his book money, and set us free.

Wichita Falls shorts:

  • Walking in Wichita Falls may be hazardous to your health—not a single driver stopped to let me cross the street. C’mon, you’re sitting in your big black pickup, out of the rain, with your air being conditioned, listening to whatever it is you listen to—I’m standing in the rain, wind in my face, lugging a big bag, with no sidewalk, no crosswalk. What’s the harm in pausing your busy life for one minute so that I can get across the street?
  • Cars rule: I didn’t see bike lanes, walking trails, pedestrians, joggers, dog walkers, or sidewalks. 
  • I was usually the only one in the store, on the sidewalk, in a restaurant, or on the bus wearing sunglasses. 
  • People here are polite but not friendly. 
  • Spring weather runs the gamut: one day it was 92°, the next day, 52°. The one constant was the wind: there’s rain in the wind, dust in the wind, sun in the wind, snow in the wind—but always, there’s the wind.
  • This is the land of $2.00 gas, $350,000 pillared mansions, $500/month rent, and a $7 an hour minimum wage.
  • Despite the higher than average violent crime rate, the city describes itself as a “great place to raise a family.”
  • Wichita Falls doesn’t have a Starbucks on every corner—there is almost no coffee culture.
  • There is an extensive transit system that extends North to South and East to West with an almost indecipherable on-line bus tracking app.
  • Wherever we go—Chicago, Houston, Dekalb, Wichita Falls—an Uber will show up in five minutes. 
Posted in Museums, Travel | 2 Comments

Japan and Gypsy’s: Inauthentic Fried rice

Eddie Raven, Bayou Boys 

I assumed that my first food experience in Wichita Falls would be something Texan—barbecue, Mexican, Tex Mex, or Roadhouse. My Sunday plan was to take the downtown bus to the Gypsy Kit Cafe (eclectic Mexican/Asian/Cajun food, Cajun seems big in rural Central Texas), but unfortunately buses do not run on the weekend—we are in a strange land. 

On my way to catch the non-bus, I passed Thai Orchid, and further down—Samurai (I never knew there was a second “a”) Tokyo. Hmmm, rural Texas—Thai or Japanese? Japanese it is. Although a restaurant serving authentic Japanese food would probably not have an enormous, flashing neon sign, a large parking lot, and giant swords and warrior helmets in the lobby, it was close and it was cheap. Samurai Tokyo is not a cool, hipster, ramen spot, it is a large, corporate, knives-flashing, food-as-entertainment restaurant chain with a reputation for serving enormous portions.

The parking lot was full, the lobby was crowded with families waiting for tables, and a steady stream of customers came and went—similar to Sunday brunch at the Grand Buffet across the street. As Wichita Falls is more than 400 miles from any large body of water, I declined to sit in the empty sushi/sashimi room and waited in line to sit in one of the five logically more popular “Hibachi Rooms.” (According to my research, the word teppanyaki should be used instead of hibachi. A traditional Japanese hibachi, which means “fire bowl,” has a cylindrical shape, an open top, and burns charcoal or wood. A teppanyaki is an propane-fueled, iron griddle with a flat, solid surface.) The menu choices in the Hibachi Room were simple: steamed or fried rice with beef, chicken, shrimp or vegetables.

Traditional hibachi


Teppanyaki

I didn’t expect to find okonomiyaki, soba noodles, ramen, or tempura on the menu, but I did think chopsticks would be available. I expected a pot of green tea, but my beverage choices were Dr. Pepper, Coke, Mr. Pibb, or sweet tea—on the other hand, the server did have blue hair. 

I ate Hibachi Vegetables with fried rice and secret sauce, piled the leftovers in a styrofoam box, paid the $7.95 bill, ate my fortune cookie? (“Prepare for an exciting trip soon to come your way”), and walked home across the parking lot. Bob and I ate hibachi fried rice and vegetables with secret sauce for the next two nights.

On Monday, the buses were running, so I jumped off the edge of my universe, boarded the R7C downtown bus, and got off at 8th & Scott. The downtown area was once the city’s focal point with large retail stores, a hospital, residential areas, cultural venues, oil industry corporate offices, and restaurants. In the 1950s, the retail exodus to suburban malls began and commercial and corporate businesses followed suit, leaving downtown Wichita Falls to the dust.

Although there is currently a push to revitalize the area, city residents continue to ignore downtown. A few brave entrepreneurs took advantage of low lease rates and opened small shops, restaurants, and breweries, but for the most part, downtown is empty and quiet. B& B Upholstery, Healthy’s Downtown, Alley Cat Vintage, 8th Street Coffee House, and my destination, Gypsy Kit are counting on the bright future promised by the Downtown Wichita Falls Development organization.

How do you take a picture in front of a window without being in the frame?

I would like to report that Gypsy Kit, obviously one of the cool spots in town, was superior to everyman’s favorite, Samurai Tokyo, but frankly my dear, although Gypsy Kit’s menu was interesting and extensive, the food was bland—iceberg lettuce, carrot slices, and jicama do not make a memorable Thai salad. I must admit, the hibachi fried rice with vegetables was tasty—all three times.

Inauthentic fried rice, serves 4

  • 1/4 cup salad oil, divided
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 links lap chong (Chinese Sausage), cut in 1⁄4” dice, or 1 chicken breast, cut into strips, or 1 pork chop, cut into strips, or leftover chicken, pork, or beef, cut into strips
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1⁄2 cup of snow peas, diced or any combination of raw vegetables
  • 4 cups cold rice
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or to taste
  • 10-12 shakes of fish sauce, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar
  • 3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced

Cook the Egg – Heat about one tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, dump in the egg and stir constantly until puffed and cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside for later. Wipe out or clean the pan.

Cook the Raw Vegetables (other than diced onions, garlic & ginger) – Add another tablespoon of oil, let it get shimmery-hot over high heat, and toss the raw vegetables over high heat and season with a pinch of salt. When crisp-tender, remove from the pan and set aside with the eggs. Wipe out pan.

Cook the Meat – Lap chong is fully cooked and just needs heating. Add a splash of oil to the pan and the cooked meat to the pan and get it nice and hot. If you’re using raw meat like bacon, pork, chicken, or beef, fully cook it. Remove the meat, leaving any rendered fat in the pan.

Sauté the Aromatics (onions, ginger, garlic) – Now add the remaining oil. When it shimmers, add the chopped onion and sauté it until it starts to soften. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until they smell great.

Stir-fry the Rice –When the ginger and garlic are starting to turn golden, add the rice all at once. Gently poke the rice to separate chunks, tossing it to and fro to make sure every grain touches the hot oil and the aromatics are well-incorporated. Stir-fry until the rice is very hot and looks dry and separate.

Add cooked egg, vegetables and meat, and mix well over the heat.

Add wet seasonings – Clear a spot in the center of the pan for the wet seasonings. Pour the glugs of fish sauce and rice wine vinegar into the pan. Let them bubble and sizzle away for a bit before stirring the rice into it. Keep cooking and tossing rice until it’s dry again.

So: cook eggs-remove from pan
Cook raw vegetables-remove from pan
Cook raw meat-remove from pan Sauté onion, garlic, ginger
Sauté rice
Put eggs, vegetables, meat back in the pan
Add soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and fish sauce.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants, Travel | 3 Comments

Back on the bus: Wichita Falls, Texas: Pringles Meatballs

Bonnie Raitt, Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes

When a reviewer described the Wichita Falls Candlewood Suites, Sweetie’s assigned lodging for the project, as “modest”—damning with faint praise sprang to mind. The Yelper continued, “If you need anything more than this, you should check your ego.” Well, I checked my ego and I need more. I need a lap pool, a hot tub, a small-batch, artisan, coffee roasterie on the corner, at least one ramen shop per block, a king-sized bed, a city view, local farmers markets, a daily Chicago Tribune, the MLB channel, a separate space for sleeping, a cutting board, more than two forks, and access to my side of the bed. But, all whining aside, I do have a full-size refrigerator, a bus stop down the block, a free washer and dryer, an outdoor gas grill, a nearby Walmart, a daily USA Today, a local NPR station, morning sun, and a thermostat that can be tricked—so I’m good. (Speaking of Walmart, a local woman was recently arrested and banned from that nearby Wichita Falls Walmart for “drinking wine from a Pringles can” while riding around the parking lot in an electric shopping cart. Now, I couldn’t make that up.)

Wichita Falls has twice the land mass of Paris (Paris, France not Paris, Texas) with 2,000,000 fewer people. We are currently stationed in the Northwest quadrant of Wichita Falls and when I asked the bus driver where downtown was, he said, “I guess I’d have to say that downtown is in the Southeast part of town—only two transfers away. But I can’t be sure, I never go there.” Bea and Glenda told me I should go to The Professional Wresters’ Hall of Fame and the world’s littlest skyscraper, both downtown, so I already have my bus routes selected. 

On yesterday’s bus trip to Walmart, I couldn’t spot any two-story houses—not that there’s anything wrong with one-story houses. The bus route passed through miles of open space, housing developments, trailer parks, Sheppard AFB, a surprisingly large number of rusted car lots, surprisingly few cows, boarded up restaurants and taverns, Jimmy and Frankie’s Cut and Curl, the It’ll Do Tavern, Bombshells’ Strip Club, and Rusty’s Needles (?).

Most of the one-story homes have tightly closed drapes, a pickup in the driveway, and a barrel-shaped smoker in the front yard. Dogs wander around off leash and I actually saw unattended children playing, walking, and riding their bikes. Didn’t see any joggers or adults on bikes, although the oldest and largest cycling event in the country, “The Hotter ‘N Hell 100,” has been held in Wichita Falls every August since 1982.

Bombshells’ Strip Club


My bus stop on Maurine and Amber

 

Last night the local TV weatherman said casually, “Expect hail stones the size of baseballs or larger,” so today I’ll be packing my hard hat instead of an umbrella.

Pringles Meatballs

  • ½ lb. ground sausage 
  • ½ lb. ground pork 
  • ½ lb. ground beef 
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan 
  • 1 large egg 1-1/2 tsp. basil 
  • 1-1/2 tsp. parsley 
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 2/3 cup Pringles, crushed and divided 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Combine the sausage, pork, beef, cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt and 1/3 cup of the Pringles. Mix all ingredients until well incorporated. 

Place the remaining Pringles into a small bowl. Using your hands, roll the meatballs, roll in the Pringles and place on sheet pan. 

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and serve with your favorite tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if desired.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Lottie: Clam spaghetti

Eddie Fisher, Anytime

It was July, 1952 and we were on our way from Nebraska to Vashon Island. The windows in our 1944 Buick were rolled down, Eddie Fisher crooned Anytime on the radio, Daddy smoked a cigar in the driver’s seat, Muth smoked a cigarette in the passenger’s seat, and we three (slightly greenish) girls roamed free in the back. Nikki claimed the entire back seat, Ginny nested on the rear window well, and I curled up on the floor. The hours and miles sped by while we read our books, hissed under our breath at each other (”Girls, don’t make me stop this car!”), cut out paper dolls, unrolled toilet paper through a crack in the back window, played License Plate Bingo, and dozed. As rest stops were yet to come, Daddy pulled over along the roadside to stretch his legs and let the pups out. Muth smoothed out an oilcloth, opened the brown sack from home, and doled out baloney sandwiches. We peed in the bushes, collected rocks and bottle caps, and made dandelion chains.

There was no interstate, so we drove along Highway 12 through Aberdeen, Mobridge, Red Bud, Helena, Missoula, Lewiston and Olympia into Tacoma and Pt. Defiance. Each state had a distinct personality: South Dakota smelled like cows, Montana glowed mile upon mile with golden wheat, Washington stunned with green forests and tall mountains. We stopped at small, Mom & Pop motels or slept in the car if Daddy couldn’t find one, ate warm baloney sandwiches until they were gone, then stopped in small-town cafes for open-faced turkey sandwiches, meat loaf, and chicken fried steak.

The trip was interminable—stop-and-going through each small downtown along the way—but we got unique glimpses of how people in other states lived. In 1962 John Steinbeck wrote, “When we get thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.” These days, when the Sweetie and I take one of our long drives, it’s hard to tell if we’re in Iowa, Idaho, or Illinois. You always know if you’re in Texas—you’ve been driving in the dust for at least two days.

Anyways, eventually we were on the 32-vehicle Pt. Defiance/Tahlequah boat, Skansonia. Lottie, my maternal grandmother who lived with Muth’s sister, Norma, wrote us charming letters about life on an island in the Northwest, but we were not prepared for the wonders of a ferry, magnificent Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound’s deep, cold waters, rafts full of barking seals, cormorants sitting on pilings spreading their wings to dry, clam chowder during the fifteen minute ferry ride, and the cool, briny aroma and exotic charm specific to Vashon.

 

The Skansonia, built in 1929, capacity 32 vehicles

John Hinterberger was a longtime columnist and restaurant critic for the Seattle Times. Over the years many variations of his famous recipe for clam spaghetti were published—this one is my favorite.

John Hinterberger’s Clam Spaghetti, makes 6 servings 

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red chilis
  • 1 large onion, chopped 
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced or mashed 
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried 
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 2 cans (6.5 ounces each) chopped clams, drained with liquid reserved 
  • 1/3 pound mushrooms, sliced 
  • 1 tablespoon butter 
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti 
  • 1 cup chopped parsley 
  • Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 cup black olives 
  • sliced Pimento, chopped (optional) 

1. Put 1/2 cup olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet and heat slowly. Add the dried chili pepper, chopped onion and garlic. Cook slowly for about 30 minutes or until the onions are very soft. 

2. Add to pan the basil, oregano, salt and pepper, wine and liquid from the clams. Continue to simmer until some of the liquid is reduced down. Keep warm. In the meantime, sauté the mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter and add to the mixture. 

3. Bring kettle of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of oil. Cook spaghetti until just al dente (about 5 minutes). 

4. As pasta is cooking, add the clams, parsley and 3 tablespoons of cheese to the sauce and simmer at low heat for about five minutes. Add olives, pimento, if desired. 

5. Save 1/2 cup pasta water. Stir the pasta with pasta water into the sauce and toss. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese and serve directly from the skillet.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Travel | 5 Comments

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