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
1-2 tsp Hot Sauce, such as Frank’s or Crystal
Salt & Pepper
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.
Add the onion slices to the pan and cook about 8 minutes until they are translucent and tender and just beginning to brown.
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.
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.
Test and adjust flavor by adding salt, pepper and hot sauce, as desired.
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.
If you want to start a spirited debate in Texas (remember, it’s a legal-carry state), ask for your chili with beans. You’ll likely be told, “Take that bean stew up north, Yankee.” Texans believe that beans are added to chili only to accommodate babies, the weak, and the elderly.
Humorist Will Rogers, who measured his fondness for a town by the quality of its chili, called Texas chili, “a bowl of blessedness.” Texan Lyndon B. Johnson swore by his state’s chili and said, “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing.” According to legend, the James brothers spared the local bank in McKinley, Texas any shenanigans because Frank and Jessie’s favorite chili parlor was located next door.
The chili conversation can also be heated in Cincinnati, Ohio where chili is served in five layers: spaghetti, chili, chopped onions, beans, and grated cheese. Critical opinions range from “one of America’s quintessential meals” to “a Z-grade atrocity.” There is also Illinois chilli (note the two lls) made with ground beef, Oklahoma chili (like Texan but less militant), New Mexican chile verde, American white chili with chicken, and then there’s Mom’s chili, which involves a can opener. Strangely enough, the usually contentious New York City and Los Angeles, don’t get into the chili fray.
No one is sure where chili originated. One slightly gruesome theory involves hapless conquistadores, the Aztecs, and this recipe from humorist H. Allen Smith, “First catch yourself a lean Spaniard.” At the other end of that spectrum, a Spanish nun is said to have received the recipe from God while in a trance. Most give credit to Texas, specifically to early 1900s San Antonio, where the “Chili Queens” made chili at home in copper kettles, loaded the vats onto wagons, and sold the spicy stew in downtown Alamo Plaza.
While chili purists insist that there is no place in authentic chili for beans, tomatoes, corn, armadillo, chicken, pasta, chocolate, coffee, or quinoa—I say, let ‘er rip. We agree to become adults only if we can do what we please, so make chili to suit yourself. Anyways, here’s my version.
BTW, pay no attention to the extremists who find garnishes to be an abomination. The more the merrier: grated cheese, sour cream, black olives, diced avocado, lime wedges, chopped tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, etc.
Texas-style Beef and Pork Chili
2 ancho chilies
You’ll find anchos in grocery stores in the Mexican food area. They’re usually in a clear plastic bag along with Mexican food spices. Split them, remove the stems and seeds, and roast them over a burner or in a hot skillet. When soft and dark, they’re done. Cover them with boiling water and let stand until they’re soft. Blend and strain.
2 # beef
2 # pork
2 diced onions
6 cloves minced garlic
3 T. flour, salt & pepper
1 T. cumin
1 t. coriander
1 t. oregano
1 t. marjoram
3 bay leaves
1⁄4 t. allspice
1⁄4 t. cloves
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 c. beer
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup strained ancho chili puree
1/2 cup jarred tomatillo salsa
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup orange juice
Juice of one lime
1 tablespoon brown sugar or some agave
4 c. chicken stock
2 T. chopped canned chipotle peppers in sauce
Dry beef and pork cubes, season with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Brown in hot oil.
Add onions, brown. Add minced garlic, sauté. Add spices, sauté until spices are browned and stick to the pan.
Add beer, stir to loosen spices. Add tomatoes, strained anchos, and tomatillo salsa, simmer 5 minutes. Mix cocoa powder with a few spoons of chili liquid to blend, add. Add chocolate chips, minced chipotle peppers, orange juice, lime juice, sugar, and chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook until meat is tender. Check for meat tenderness in one hour, you don’t want the beef and pork cubes to be over-cooked. If you want beans, add a can or two of pintos now. Cook for additional 1-2 hours, if necessary.
And here’s where anything goes. You are the master of your kitchen: add beans, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, macaroni, or corn. Whatever suits your fancy, even a squirt of ketchup—just don’t tell the Texans.
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.