I was 21 when my daughter Bridget was born; she had her first child, Caleb, in her late twenties; and today, my grandson and his wife, Leah, became parents to Jane Rose. All of this adds up to a new stage in life for my 76-year-old self—that of Great Grandmotherhood.
Caleb was a cheerful, spunky little boy with a thoughtful side who grew up to be a cheerful, athletic, intelligent man who is kind and generous. His raising up was similar to Louie, the Batchelor’s family dog. Louie, a rambunctious, stubborn, and smart pup, was the first dog on the Batchelor scene. Ronnie and Bridget, the adults in charge, raised Louie with kindness, consistency, and a firm hand—much the same way they raised their three children. There was to be no biting, slapping, hitting, howling or running into the street; you were expected to answer when you were called; you loved and supported your siblings and you were respectful to Mom. All four grew up to be loyal, caring, tax-paying (well, three of them) citizens with a commitment to fun, family, and faith.
The Sweetie and Caleb
Caleb and Jane
Leah and Jane
Gramma Bridget, Poppa Ronnie and Jane
Bridget was born in a military hospital where order was the rule and there were to be no questions or complaints. Women were lined up, assembly-line style; fathers were kept pacing far away in an outer corridor smoking cigars; and just-born babies were scrubbed, measured, and whisked off to boot camp. It is a kinder, gentler world now where birthing centers (and hospitals) offer a quiet, supportive environment with pillows, ice chips, colorful sheets, and fathers.
Breaking news: another Texas Walmart incident involving an anonymous woman and food. This time, security cameras caught a woman opening a cartoon of “Tin Roof” Blue Bell ice cream and licking the top! Police were called, the culprit admitted to her misdeed, and was banned from Walmart for life. What is it with Texas, Walmarts, and food?
You may remember that not long ago, thanks to Beto and Bernie, the Sweetie and I were released from Wichita Falls, Texas. You may also recall the kerfuffle at the local Walmart Supercenter when a scooter-riding woman careened around the store, guzzling wine out of a Pringle’s can. Walmart security eventually herded her into a corner where she was relieved of her ride and banned from the store for life.
Well, that same Wichita Falls Walmart is back in the news. This time the culprit (again, a woman) bought a cake from the bakery and polished off half of it while she shopped. When she lined up at the check-out counter, she demanded 50% off because there was only half a cake left. Whether or not utensils were involved has not been revealed by store management, but the visual is vivid—scooter-riding woman careening around a Walmart Supercenter, eating cake out of a bakery box. Wichita Falls Police were called, the cake-eating suspect was forced to pay full price and was banned from the store for life.
Today is the Fourth of July and I can’t seem to conjure up many bright holiday tales. Don’t remember much about it growing up, other than watermelon, sparklers and Roman candles. I do remember attending a great Fourth of July party in 1985 or so at the Foster/Ventimiglia Fontainebleau apartment in the Pacific Palisades. We consumed copious amounts of bing cherries and wine, sang songs, danced dances, and ooohed and aaahed as fireworks sparkled up and down Sunset Boulevard.
Our sister Nikki died on the Fourth and our brother Tommy died on Father’s Day, so those holidays carry a mixed bag of emotions. Here’s to you both, we will always remember you.
Nikki was our family’s “Pie Lady” but she also made a mean chocolate cake. I pressed her over the years for the recipe and she finally wrote it out on the back of an envelope.
Nikki’s Chocolate Cake
“Buy a Pillsbury ‘Moist Chocolate Cake with Pudding.’ Put it in a mixing bowl. Add one tablespoon of instant coffee espresso powder to the warm water. Then put in the eggs, the water with the espresso and however much oil it says. I also add a teaspoon of real vanilla—it seems to help with the cake mix taste. I mix it with the beaters for about two minutes and then put it in a 13 x 9 inch oiled pan. Bake as directed on the box.
Be prepared to serve this particular recipe about 45-50 minutes after it comes out of the oven. It should still be pretty warm. I guess one could really just warm it up again.
While the cake is baking put an 8oz. bar of whatever kind of semi-sweet baking chocolate you like in a microwave safe Pyrex four-cup pitcher. It is easier to stir and then pour it right at the table. I was forced to use an 8 oz. brick of Baker’s Chocolate and it seemed to be just fine. Melt about a little over half of a 1/4 lb. of butter and about a 1/3 cup of half and half in the microwave. There is less chance of seizing if you put the butter and cream in first to heat up a little. Then add the chocolate chunks. I don’t bother with chopping. I put it in the microwave for 10 secs. for a few times, checking and stirring until everything is quite warm. If you need to correct the consistency it is easier to add at the end than instead of trying to figure out just how much you need at the start. Start stirring it until it looks almost like runny pudding. Serve sauce very warm on warm cake and don’t forget the coffee ice cream. You already know how to melt chocolate and bake a cake but this is just the way I do it.”
In 1950s small-town Nebraska, strawberries were not a big thing, either in size or in importance. Everyone grew a few in their backyard garden, made a little jam if they had extra, and enjoyed a few rounds of strawberry shortcake. Our berry game changed when we started visiting my Aunt Norma and Gramma Lottie on Vashon Island. There was the annual Strawberry Festival, buckets of frozen berries from the Kiwanis Club (perfect for jam), coerced child labor in Mr. Mukai’s berry fields, sliced strawberries and cream on our morning bowl of Cheerios, Muth’s Strawberry Pie (flakey crust piled high with berries barely held together with red Jello), and Normie’s strawberry sauce over home-cranked vanilla ice cream.
I’m sure sending six children under the age of twelve to the fields to pick fruit, didn’t seem cruel and unusual to Muth and Aunt Normie—they just wanted a little peace and quiet. We six would trudge off (Nikki in charge) without adult supervision, to Manzanita Road to wait for the old school bus to take us to the fields. Marshall strawberries, first to the harvest in late June, were our favorite crop—easy to pick, good to eat, convenient to throw. At the end of the day, when we walked in the door of Normie’s high-bank, waterfront cabin, we were sunburned, tired, dirty, and stained red from fingertips to bare toes. If anyone was bleeding, no one knew about it until bath-time.
After strawberries came red currants: squishy to pick, too sour to eat, but satisfying to throw. At the end of the summer, we took Harlan’s bus and our hard-earned money (paid out each day in coins and dollar bills) into Seattle and the Pike Place Market. Lunch was at Lowell’s window counter (“Almost classy since 1950”), on the ground floor of the Market. We had already eaten a cup of clam chowder on the ferry, so we ordered Alaska cod and chips with sourdough rolls—exotic fare for Midwesterners. After lunch we headed downstairs to the Giant Shoe Museum to see a shoe worn by the “tallest man in the world” and check out the tricks at the Magic Shop.
Although James Beard once described the Marshall as “the tastiest berry ever grown”, the delicate Marshall didn’t ship well and was eventually replaced by more robust, but less flavorful California varieties. In the late 1980s, the strawberry fields disappeared and the Vashon strawberry harvest came to an end. Recently, however, two Island women found heirloom Marshall seeds at the Corvallis Seed Repository, carefully cultivated them, and now are selling plants at the Saturday Market. Who knows, maybe Vashon’s next generation of six-year olds will be back in the fields, picking, eating, and throwing.
Our Aunt Normie and Grandma Lottie in Vancouver B.C., circa 1945
Every late June, I make strawberry pie, with uneven results. This year’s attempt was not memorable, but Glenda’s strawberry cobbler was, so here is that recipe.
3 cups fresh strawberries, diced
½-3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
Preheat oven to 375.
In a medium bowl, combine strawberries and ¾ cup sugar. Stir to coat strawberries in sugar and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
Add milk, vanilla extract, and melted butter. Stir until combined—a few lumps are ok.
Grease a 9-inch casserole dish, pour batter evenly into dish.
Spoon strawberries evenly on top of batter. Do NOT stir.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
12cloves of garlic, peeled
4whole scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3dried red peppers or 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
2pounds chicken thighs, boneless or bone-in, cut into bite-size pieces
1tablespoon unrefined or light brown sugar
½cup rice wine
¼cup light soy sauce
2cups 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.
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.
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.
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
Iced tea. Mould
Lager beer. Yeast
IPA beer. Yeast
Non-alcoholic beer Yeast
Kombucha gin cocktail. Fungus
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
Turnip porcini soup with truffle croutons & mushroom dust Fungus
Shrimp-stuffed button mushrooms with fermented oyster sauce Fungus
Moo shoo pork with shiitake mushrooms and Chinese black fungus
Truffle-oil pancakes with fermented hoisin sauce
Fennel with fermented red pepper paste
Double cream Danish blue
Salt Spring truffle goat cheese
Cacio di Bosco al tartufo
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.
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 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup boiling water
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
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.
Knead dough on lightly floured board until smooth.
Put dough in bowl and cover with damp cloth. Let stand 20 minutes.
Return dough to floured board. K knead a little more. Make i to long, sausage-like roll about 1 1/2 “ in diameter.
Cut dough i to 8 even pieces. Flatten each into a very thin round cake with palm.
Brush one side of each pancake evenly with sesame oil. Place one on another, oiled sides together, to form 4 stacks.
Roll each stack into a 7” circle.
Heat ungreased frying pan over medium heat. Cook pancake on both sides until it puffs up slightly. Do not brown.
Remove. Separate into 2 pancakes. Repeat until all are cooked and separated.
Put stack of pancakes in aluminum foil. Fold over sides to keep cakes from drying out.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.