White Elephant and Balloon Dog: Olive oil braised halibut with roasted tomatoes and artichokes

My favorite Christmas song.

Whether you are a Santa or a Scrooge, if you receive a regular paycheck, a holiday office party is inevitable. I’ll bet if They took a poll, the majority of employees would rather go straight home and stay there than squeeze into those sparkly shoes, get back in traffic, and mingle with people they just spent eight hours with. (The woman at the Gift Shop told me about a holiday party that required employees to stay “until it was over” to receive their annual bonus.) Why don’t employers just give that substantial sum to someone who really needs it instead of hosting an event for reluctant workers? I’ve been to both bad and good Christmas parties, but can’t remember a time when I wanted to go. This week I had an opportunity to change my Grinch and put on a happy face.

While I’m on the box, not only was attendance politely requested, this party required a  $25.00 White Elephant gift.  I’m not known for my Christmas generosity and don’t even spend $25.00 on a present for the Sweetie. Anyways, the White Elephant quest pushed me downtown looking for an appropriately cool, unusual, oh-you-shouldn’t-have, put-it-on-the-pile-of-useless-trinkets for someone I didn’t know, and the search became my gift.

First stop: the Crocker Art Museum.  I entered through the Gift Shop, anxious to see what they had. (Just between you and me, sometimes I enjoy the gift shop as much as the art.) The difficulty was not finding something for $25.00, it was choosing from the many options. What will it be: a Jeff Koons knock-off, paper Japanese coasters, a Crocker coffee mug, a Picasso coloring book–all equally cool and useless. It had to be the Jeff Koons knock-off.

Balloon Dog is from Getty Images, the rest of the photos were taken at the Crocker.

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog


Tip Toland, Wallflower


Wayne Thiebaud, River Intersection


Roland Peterson, Two Seated Figures


Judith Lowry, Welgatim’s Song


Clayton Bailey, Buns Robot

Second stop: Capitol Books and Gifts, in the basement of the State Capitol Building. Finding a small shop in the California Capitol Mall is no easy task. As the Gift Shop lady said (with a bit of a defensive tone), “Well, you can’t put a street number sign on the Capitol.” Finding my way through a security pat-down, two holiday choirs, elevators disguised as enormous doors, and Japanese tour groups, I hit the mother lode: an etched wine glass, a retro California tablecloth, a “California Senate” ball-point pen, and a California poppy refrigerator magnet.


California State Capitol rotunda


Grade school choir

I  had a great time at the Ten22 with Sweetie’s workerbees, wore my market pants and new Crocker earrings, ate olive-oil poached bass, and went home with an amusing coffee mug that went directly to the back of the closet.

White Elephant outsmarted me. As cool as I think we are, the recipient opened Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, looked puzzled, said, “What in the world…?” and traded it for a hand-cranked flashlight.

BTW, last year an authentic Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog sold for $58 million dollars.

Olive oil braised halibut with roasted tomatoes and artichokes

  • 1 tsp. saffron threads soaked in 2 Tbs. hot water
  • 2 6-oz halibut fillets seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbs. chopped shallots
  • 2 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1⁄2 cup artichoke hearts (fresh or canned-in-juice)
  • 1 cup oven- roasted Roma tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 cup fish stock (or chicken stock)
  • 2 Tbs. butter

Soak saffron in small amount of hot water.

Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil, add artichokes and tomatoes.

Season both sides of the halibut with salt and place in sauté pan over vegetables. Place pan in a 350 degree oven for 6 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Remove halibut, tomatoes and artichokes from the pan and keep in a warm place.

Add saffron/liquid and stock to pan—reduce until liquid is almost gone. Whisk in the butter, return vegetables to pan. Place halibut on a plate and top with sauce.


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1 Response to White Elephant and Balloon Dog: Olive oil braised halibut with roasted tomatoes and artichokes

  1. Therese says:

    Hi Marla,
    So glad you are back at the blogs. I am with you on the white elephant. I would rather give my $25 to charity than have another useless item.

    This recipe made me think of a little restaurant I visited while in Tacoma. It was a great little Italian place called Grazie’s. If you are ever in the mood for a pricey but excellent dinner out the address is
    Grazie Ristorante
    16943 Southcenter Parkway
    Tukwila, WA 98188

    Take care.

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