Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Sugar Cookies

Hal Kemp, A Boy, A Girl, A Lamplight

There must be a lobe of my brain dedicated to song lyrics. I may not remember where I parked the car at Costco, but I know all four verses of Joy to the World. Obscure tunes from the 1940s, like A Boy, A Girl, A Lamplight, roll off my tongue like the Pledge of Allegiance and right
 now, I could belt out the chorus of Ragtime Cowboy Joe (I used to know the verses, but they’re lost in Costco’s parking lot.)

I know Muth had a collection of 45 records she played during the day and that Daddy listened to big band concerts on our RCA Victor console radio at night. As a pre-teen, I sat as close as I could to Nikki’s bedroom, leaning up against her slammed door listening to Elvis, Jerry Vale, and Peggy Lee coming from her transistor radio, until she yelled, “Mom, make her get away from my room!”

This twisted talent comes in handy at Christmas parties. Want to sing Frosty the Snowman, Up on the Housetop, Winter Wonderland? I’m your man. My preference, however, is for wistful, almost sad, holiday tunes about blue snowflakes, merry little Christmases, skating away on a river, gleaming love lights, and little drummer boys par um pa pum pum.

Nostalgia is always present at Christmas. Commercials with Marines returning home, children gazing out the window, and Clydesdales trotting proudly through snowy fields are as likely as jingle bells and ho ho hos. Maybe the yearning is for past Christmases or Christmases that never were, but for every play of Holly Jolly Burl Ives, there’s dewey-eyed Judy Garland and the dreaming crooner, Bing Crosby.

For my money, the most wistful Christmas sound comes from Vince Guaraldi’s music in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I challenge any holiday humbug to sit through this without at least one misty eye episode.

Here’s one for “poor lonely people.” I Wonder As I Wander, The Cambridge Singers


New favorite, Sufjan Stevens Sister Winter

Can’t seem to leave this one out—what’s not to love; this year we’ll listen to Sarah Mclachlan’s version. When I was a kid in Nebraska, the creek behind our house froze solid (we hoped) in the winter. All the neighborhood kids skated up and down the creek until spring, when the ice started to crack. The high school boys built roaring bonfires along the way to keep us all warm. Ah, those were the days. I’m not kidding, those frozen river shots in the video must have been taken along our creek.

River, Sarah Mclachlan

So turn off your device, turn on the Christmas tree, snuggle the baby, gather the near and dears, throw a cashmere wrap or cotton quilt over your collective knees, warm your hands around a mug of cocoa, listen to Christmas songs, and watch the day fade away.

This recipe must be good, I copied it off the back of a C&H sugar sack. We used to help Muth make Christmas cookies: snowmen, evergreen trees, snowflakes, candy canes. You could always tell the ones we made, they were grayish, with too many sprinkles and too much pink frosting.

Sugar Cookies

  • 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift flour before measuring)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups C&H granulated Sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • 4 cups C&H Confectioners Sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon extract or flavoring (optional)
  • food coloring (optional)

BTW, hope you didn’t make that peanut butter pie from last week’s episode. I did, and the recipe I wrote is incomplete and frustrating. I must have made that pie a hundred times at Sound Food but did a bad job of remembering the recipe. Not only is the pie steppy, but be ready to use at least four bowls, three pans, and the mixer twice. It makes a darn tasty pie though. Here’s a better recipe.

Sound Food Black Bottom Peanut Butter Pie 

  • 1 1/2 c. chocolate chips 
  • 1⁄4 c. coffee 
  • 1⁄2 # cream cheese (Be sure it’s room temperature)
  • 1⁄2 c. honey  (I used agave)
  • 3⁄4 c. Jif-type creamy peanut butter (Don’t use natural or crunchy)
  • 2 t. gelatin (One envelope is 2 1/4 teaspoons, so measure out two from the envelope.) 
  • 1⁄4 c. milk 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 

Separate eggs.

Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup lukewarm water. Do not dump it out in a pile, as the granules in the middle won’t dissolve. Let stand for 5 minutes. Heat gently, stirring until dissolved. 

Melt chocolate chips and coffee over hot water. Spread chocolate over bottom of baked pie shell.

Using paddle attachment, blend cream cheese, honey, and peanut butter.

Bring milk to a simmer, temper egg yolks with half of the hot milk. Add egg yolk/milk mixture back into remainder of milk. Add final egg/milk mixture to cream cheese/honey/peanut butter mixture. 

Add gelatin/water mixture to cream cheese/honey/peanut butter mixture. Combine until smooth.

Beat egg whites to soft peak.

Stir 1/3 of the soft peak egg whites into the cream cheese/peanut butter mixture. Then fold remainder of  egg whites into mixture just until lumps are gone.

Pour mixture into baked pie shell. If the entire mixture won’t fit, refrigerate for 10-15 minutes then pour remainder on top. 

Refrigerate for at least four hours.

Whip one pint of heavy cream until slightly thickened, add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons sugar. Whip to medium peak. 

Top pie with whipped cream. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings.  

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Elvis: Black bottom peanut butter pie

Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock, 1957

Elvis, Run On, 1967

Elvis, Are You Lonesome Tonight, 1977

I’ve been to three concerts in my life: the Avett Brothers in 2019, Lyle Lovett & Bonnie Raitt in 2004, and Elvis Presley in 1956. On May 23, 1956, Elvis Presley and the Jordanaires played one concert at the Sioux City Auditorium. Most of Sioux City’s white, middle class parents saw Elvis as a threat to the moral fiber of the community, so Daddy’s willingness to be an accessory made me a “cool kid”, at least for a night.

I was fourteen in 1956 when Elvis played at the Sioux City Auditorium. The notion of being a “teenager” was new: there was being a kid, there was waiting to be an adult, and there was being an adult. No age definition or marketing segment separated us as a pack. There were no self-help books or columnists to advise parents about the “teenage years.” There were, however, the first glimmers of something different, something special, and something apart. Elvis Presley, more than anyone else, gave the young a belief in themselves as being distinct—the first “teenagers” in America to feel the power of a youth culture.

Our Elvis, the Memphis Elvis, the pre-Las Vegas, before-sequins, thin Elvis, looked dangerous, wore a perpetual sneer, dressed in black leather, sported a greaser’s DA with a forehead lock that refused to stay in place, and invented the pelvic thrust.

Our Elvis set a bad example and, along with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly, offered teenagers an alternative to the “more appropriate” teen idols like Fabian, Ricky Nelson and Paul Anka—boys you could take home to Mom and Dad.

Our Elvis also loved his Mom, grew up singing gospel music, favored peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and served in the Army for two years. 

A week before the concert, our principal called a mandatory school assembly to warn us of the dangers to be found in attending the upcoming Elvis concert. Letters were sent home to uneasy parents advising them to keep their ”children” at home. My parents were born, educated, and married in South Dakota but didn’t seem locked within the limitations defined by their Midwestern upbringing. Muth read books, smoked cigarettes, and played her records too loud. Daddy was a Mason, smoked a pipe, and played Donkey Baseball in the summer.

Those traces of being out of place came to my aid when Elvis surfaced in Iowa. Most of my girlfriends were forbidden to go see him, but my Dad bought two $1.75 balcony tickets, dropped me and my girlfriend off in front of the Auditorium, and said, “Now you girls have fun.” And fun we had—there was screaming, there was moaning, there was bawling. When Elvis began to play A Whole Lot of Shakin, the roof blew right off.

Our cheap seats—top row in the nosebleed section—were miles away from the stage but the power of his personality brought us right down into the action. Two hours later, or it may have been two minutes or two days, he was gone. He came back for three encores and wouldn’t come out again. I’m not kidding—the next thing we heard was, “Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.”

Sound Food Black Bottom Peanut Butter Pie 

  • 1 c. chocolate chips 
  • 1⁄4 c. coffee 
  • 1⁄2 # cream cheese 
  • 1⁄2 c. honey 
  • 3⁄4 c. creamy peanut butter 
  • 2 t. gelatin 
  • 1⁄4 c. milk 
  • 3 eggs 

Separate eggs.

Sprinkle gelatin over room temperature water. 

Melt chocolate chips and coffee over hot water. Spread chocolate over bottom of baked pie shell.

Using paddle attachment, blend cream cheese, honey, and peanut butter.

Bring milk to a simmer, temper egg yolks with half of the hot milk. Add egg yolk/milk mixture back into remainder of milk. Add final egg/milk mixture to cream cheese/honey/peanut butter mixture. 

Add gelatin/water mixture. Combine until smooth.

Beat egg whites to soft peak.

Fold egg/peanut butter/gelatin mixture into egg whites. 


Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 3 Comments

This chicken came home to roast: Mark Bittman’s roast chicken

Little Feat, Dixie Chicken

When I was growing up, Sunday dinner meant a 1:00, after-church, elbows-off-the-table, no-TV, meal of roast beef, roast pork, or roast chicken, with an occasional ham. Now before you wax all nostalgic, may I add that all roasted options were predictably dry and over-cooked. Muth accepted her role as food provider—dinner only, please—but didn’t seem to embrace it. Somehow, eating (and cooking) didn’t have the cachet then as it does today. There were no Kalamata olives, fresh mushrooms, artisan home-made pizza, avocado toast, coffee beans, Greek yogurt, Yukon gold potatoes, Trader Joe’s focaccia, or, for that matter, expectations of steppy, delectable “gourmet” meals. 

Anyways, I assumed that a large glass of water was a mandatory accompaniment to any roast chicken until the 1980s when Judy Rogers became famous for her version at the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. Thomas Keller and Jacques Pépin weren’t far behind to jump on the restaurant-version roast chicken bandwagon and food critics are now quick to say that the quality of a world-class restaurant’s roast chicken is the acid test.

Since 2009, Costco has provided home cooks with a readily available, inexpensive—still $4.99!—solution for that I-just-spent-$200.00-at Costco-and-don’t-have-anything-for-dinner dilemma. Now there are those out there who do not enjoy the taste of a Costco, Safeway, or Whole Foods rotisserie chicken (the Sweetie among them) and who can spot the culprit whether hidden under a sea of gravy, tucked inside an enchilada, or nestled in the leaves of a faux Caesar salad but there are occasions when a home cook has to seize that rotisserie chicken by the wings and serve it anyway—every day can’t be a banquet.

I meant to buy a rotisserie chicken on our trip to Costco last week, but when faced with the ordeal of walking all the way to the back of the store, fending off the snack-seekers along the way, I thought, “I’ll just buy a raw one when we stop at Trader Joes.” Now here comes the sticker-shock aspect of my story: $14.69 cents for an raw, organic, (Who cares if it’s organic? At my age, it may as well be a caged chicken that gets me.) 3 1/2 pound bird. I had the sniffles (an inadequate word for my misery), so chicken noodle soup sounded like bliss.

I recently forked over the price of a New York Times Cooking subscription and have come to trust their recipes, so it was my first stop. The ease and simplicity of this recipe made it a sure choice. I’ve made that roast chicken three times since and may never go back to the Costco alternative. There is a turkey version, so that will be on the table, so to speak, for the next turkey holiday. After the bird rests for a half an hour, I save a breast for dinner, strip the bird, make a strong stock out of the bones, and have at least four dinners. Even at $14.69 a bird, that pencils out to be a bargain.

So without further ado, here is Mark Bittman’s recipe for roast chicken, thanks to New York Times Cooking.

Mark Bittman’s roast chicken 

1 whole chicken, 3 to 4 pounds, trimmed of excess fat

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper 


Put a cast-iron skillet on a low rack in the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Rub the chicken all over with the oil and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.


When the oven and skillet are hot, carefully put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up. Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees. Continue to roast until the bird is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the meaty part of the thigh reads 155 to 165 degrees—30-35 minutes.


Tip the pan to let the juices flow from the chicken’s cavity into the pan. Transfer the chicken to a platter and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 5 Comments

The joys of adult children: Carrot cake

The Avett Brothers, February Seven

The Avett Brothers, No Hard Feelings

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

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

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

Noodle Nirvana, Berea, Kentucky

Aunt Katie with Jane

Grandpa Ronnie with Jane

Downtown Knoxville

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

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

Sound Food Carrot Cake 

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

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

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

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

 Cream Cheese Frosting 

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

Beat butter and cream cheese together. Add vanilla.

Posted in Family and friends, Travel | 6 Comments

Out and about in Sacto: South Carolina Barbecue Sauce

Louie Armstrong, What a Wonderful World

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

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

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

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

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

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

City-savvy sign in front of mural.

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

South Carolina Barbecue Sauce

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

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

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 4 Comments

There is there here: Peanuts and candy corn

Aretha Franklin, Respect

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

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

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

Definitely a cool kid.

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

Oh, for a bride.

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


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


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

Peanuts and candy corn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farmers markets: Stir-fried eggplant and peppers

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

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

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


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


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

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

The Beatles, A Day in the Life

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

Muth’s Potato Soup

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

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

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

Summer in the city: Breakfast room burritos

Lovin’ Spoonful, Summer in the City

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

City sunset

Sacramento Central YMCA

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

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


Just in case, I guess.

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

Breakfast room burritos

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

Microwave eggs and green onions for 30 seconds

Microwave tortilla with grated cheese for 10 seconds

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

Wrap and roll

Top with or dip in salsa

Posted in Recipes, Travel | 3 Comments

A Christmas in Sacramento: Alton Brown’s Blueberry Buckle

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

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


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

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

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

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

Blueberry Buckle



•3 1/2 ounces sugar

•1 1/2 ounces cake flour

•1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)

•4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cubed and chilled)


•9 ounces cake flour

•1 teaspoon baking powder

•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

•1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

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

•5 1/4 ounces sugar

•1 large egg

•1/2 cup whole milk

•15 ounces fresh blueberries


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


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

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

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

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

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

Makes: 1 (9-inch) Cake

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