Betty: Meat loaf

My older sister Nikki could go to the movies on Saturdays only if she took me along—not an easy decision on her part. She wanted to see her friends, but…was it worth the trouble. I loved the Western serials, each episode ending with the hero in trouble, his cowgirl tied to the railroad tracks, or Timmy in a well. 

This is my take on a Saturday serial. Feel free to chime in with an adventure thread as we go along.

The Eagles, “Take it Easy”

Long ago in a truck stop far away, a tired waitress, wearing “Hi, My name is Betty!” on her blouse, slowly pushed an oily, grey rag along the chipped formica counter. The interstate haulers, wired teenagers and insomniac suburbanites had come and gone, so she could finally close up. She put a few quarters in the jukebox, turned up the Eagles, piled the dishes into a grey bus tub, and left it in the back for Frankie, the dishwasher. She switched off the coffee machine, threw out the last of yesterday’s doughnuts, and emptied the rusted tin ashtrays. She hung up her apron, slipped off her white SAS tie shoes, stepped into her fuzzy mules, pulled the door closed behind her, and looked back for a final check. The neon sign hanging behind the counter blinked, “Open.” “Oh well,” she thought.

She walked around the back of the cafe, turned off the porch light, and let herself into her dark bedroom. Big Daddy, the fat grey Persian, wound around her legs, purring with anticipation as the counter-top can opener unsealed his Chicken Morsels. She unwrapped a tuna sandwich mistake, turned on Wheel of Fortune, opened a Tab, and settled back in the couch.

Big Daddy woke her up at 3:00, marching rhythmically on her chest, insisting that she wake up and go to bed. He was nowhere to be seen when she lurched awake at 7:00, already late for her shift. She put on clean underwear, slipped yesterday’s uniform over her head, and straightened her name tag. Frankie had the lights on and the grill hot by the time she opened the back kitchen door. She spooned five scoops of Folgers into the basket, filled up the water reservoir, and stood, cup ready, as the dark brown liquid dribbled out of the spout.

A tall, sandy-haired stranger with a new haircut and handsome, ostrich cowboy boots, eased onto the first chrome stool at the counter. “Morning, Betty. (He saw by her outfit that her name was Betty). I’ll have a Chicken Malibu, a large bag of Cheetos and a Tab.”

The stranger chatted as he ate his breakfast, telling her stories of his cowboy ways, left a generous tip on the long chipped counter, then slid off of the first chrome stool. 


“Remember, Betty,” he said as he turned to go, “No one is useless. They can always be used as a bad example.”

Meat Loaf 

  • 2# ground beef 
  • 1# ground pork 
  • 1# ground turkey or veal 
  • 1 c. diced onion 
  • 1⁄2 c. diced celery 
  • 1⁄2 c. diced carrot 
  • 1⁄2 c. diced red pepper 
  • 1 T. minced garlic 
  • 1⁄2 t. cayenne 
  • 1⁄2 t. cumin 
  • 1 t. thyme 
  • 1⁄2 t. basil 
  • 1⁄4 t. nutmeg 
  • 1 t. salt 
  • 1⁄2 c. 1⁄2 & 1⁄2 
  • 1⁄2 c. dry bread crumbs 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1⁄4 c. ketchup 
  • 1⁄4 c. barbecue sauce 
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1 T. Dijon 
  • 3 shakes Tabasco 

Sauté onions, celery, carrot, pepper, and garlic in hot oil until onions are soft. Add spices and herbs— sauté. Let cool. 

Mix half and half, ketchup, barbecue sauce, egg, bread crumbs. 

Combine ground meats—add liquids and cooled vegetable/spice mix. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Test small piece for seasonings. 

Pat into loaf pans, packing slightly to avoid empty spaces. Spread thin layer of ketchup on unbaked loafs. 

Bake for 1 hour at 350° or until internal temperature reaches 180°.

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Jon: Lebanese cabbage rolls


My son Jon was born smiling. He seldom cried; he slept through the night and loved his big sister from the start. As a rambunctious three year old, he delighted in storming in to Ed and Sophie’s house see Sithee, his Lebanese grandmother, jumping on her lap, pinching her cheeks before she could get to his. “Ya Dinny!”, she would cry, followed closely by, “Isn’t it time for him to take a nap?”

Every Tuesday, Jon and I baked Syrian bread with Pop and Sithee in their basement. Pop was ready when we got there, so down the stairs we would go. Sithee descending cautiously, Pop close behind with a metal bowl full of dough, Jon hopping step to step, barely able to contain his excitement, and me following with a stack of towels, a tablecloth, and Jon’s tricycle. 

I smoothed a tablecloth over the white enamel-top table, Pop set the bowl down, put a Syrian record on the turntable, and lit the old porcelain double oven. Sithee scooched up her chair, pinched a knob of dough out of the bowl, smoothed it into a round on her lap, and slapped the round back and forth between her hands and forearms forming a large, oval-shaped, loaf. Pop shimmied the loaf on to the edge of a thin, handmade baker’s peel and slid it off onto the oven floor. I stacked the loaves on kitchen towels as they came out of the oven, and tried, but always failed, to make a useable loaf. Jon rode his tricycle round and around the basement, careening between hanging laundry, the water heater, and a chest freezer, missing Sithee in her chair most of the time. “Yallah! Isn’t it time for him to take a nap?”

Jon comes to Seattle a couple times a year on business and on this trip, we had a bed and a spare room waiting for him. For dinner, I made a test run of our winter party menu (a “good-to-go” from everyone), we watched a little Japanese TV, caught up on family news, and went to bed. The next day, Bob and Jon polished off the privacy screen project with only three trips to the hardware store, leaving plenty of time for a walk in the woods, a few coffees, and lots of chatting. Jon took us out to dinner that night at Mediterranean Breeze, a Turkish restaurant in West Olympia, drove to his hotel, made his business rounds the next day, and flew back home to his girls. He is a kind, generous man, and always a delight to be with.

Shepherd’s salad

Turkish pide, the best bread, ever. 

Cabbage rolls (recipe from the 1960 edition of The Daughter’s of the Ladies of St. George Cookbook)

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Lamb bones or leftover cabbage stems
  • 1/2 cup Uncle Ben’s Rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb or beef
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced 
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Cut out the thick core from center of a cabbage head. Drop head into salted boiling water, cored end down. Boil a few minutes until leaves have softened. While boiling, loosen each leaf with a long fork, remove each leaf and place in a dish to cool.

Lay each leaf flat on cutting board, with stem facing up. With small, sharp knife, slice down to remove most of the thick stem allowing leaf to be stuffed.

Fill each leaf with 1-2 tablespoons stuffing and roll in the shape of a cigar.

Place lamb bones or cabbage stems on bottom of heavy-bottom pan. Arrange cabbage rolls on top of bones or stems, alternating in opposite direction.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, a sprinkle of salt, and sliced garlic.

Press down with inverted plate or dish. Add water to reach dish.

Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes.  

Add lemon juice, cook 10 minutes more.

Serve with plain yogurt.

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes, Restaurants | 3 Comments

A Christmas Caper: Pumpkin Bars

 Henry Mancini, Pink Panther

Dennis gave me a key to Stratton’s back door so I could go in early to prep for Sunday brunch—I hated brunch. You would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant cook who doesn’t hate brunch: the crowds, the waffle irons, toast, the endless choices, the annoying substitutions, the hollandaise, the cheap Champagne, the poached eggs, the families, toast, the hungover servers, the hungover customers.

Anyways, I had a key to the back door. It was our first LA Christmas away from home and we didn’t have plans. Foster and Cass were out of town, Tom and Ali were at Lompoc, Dennis and Bea were at Sandy’s, and Nikki was driving North for the holidays, so we invited Eddie, our own “waiter-with-a-screenplay” next-door-neighbor, to join us for an early afternoon Christmas dinner.

I decided to go traditional: turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green beans, etc. I bought the essentials a few days ahead at Westward Ho (my go-to grocery store when there was a place to park), borrowed some chicken stock from the kitchen, and made everything but the turkey, cranberries, and the mashed potatoes the night before. Christmas morning: turkey in the oven at 9:00, fresh cranberries popping in the saucepan, dressing and green beans ready to go—now for the mashed potatoes. No potatoes, forgot to buy potatoes.

How could I forget potatoes? Out into a 72° Southern California Christmas Day to buy potatoes, the trace of a Santa Ana ruffling the palm trees, eucalyptus leaves crunching under foot, frat boys struggling up the hill to bed. Westward Ho…closed, on to brown Von’s…closed, Gelsons? Closed. Quick Mart? No potatoes.

I’ll just borrow a few potatoes from Stratton’s, what’s the harm? I pull into the restaurant’s back alley entrance and park in Gene’s spot. I hurry down the stairs into the dark storeroom, turn on the light, and rummage around for a few russets. I grab a leftover baguette and head, arms full, into the light where I bump, literally, into Gene, the owner, as he is coming down the stairs. 


“Gene.” I muttered something about closed stores, no potatoes, Christmas dinner, guests, and kept going. 

“Merry Christmas,” he called as I ran up the stairs.

I would so be fired—abusing my key privilege, breaking and entering, rustling potatoes and bread, fleeing the scene. Now don’t get all judgey, I felt bad, really bad, and dreaded going to work the next day. Lennart, the manager, was spending the holidays in Sweden with his family and Gene would be filling in for him at the front desk.

We were slammed for lunch, in the weeds most of the time, both Pam and I rusty after a day off. When the kitchen was clean, dinner prep done, and family meal served, I went around to count the tickets in front of the pass. 

Gene walked in from the dining room to order his lunch. I avoided looking at him until he said, “Marla.”

Here it comes. He said, “So how did those potatoes turn out?” and winked.

I was so relieved that I gave him a big, sweaty hug. Gene did not hug. 

He stiffened, pulled back, and said, “Good lunch service.”

I wasn’t fired, I lived to work New Year’s Eve, and realized you just never know who this year’s Santa will be. 

Lara’s Pumpkin Bars

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar  
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 16 oz. can pumpkin

Combine dry ingredients. Stir beaten eggs and oil into pumpkin. 

Add dry ingredients by thirds into pumpkin/egg mixture. 

Spread batter into a greased, 1/2″ deep cookie sheet and bake in a 350° oven for 15-18 minutes.  

Frost with cream cheese frosting when cool. 

Cream cheese frosting 

  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1# box powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla  

Beat butter and cream cheese together until well mixed. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until smooth. 

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Remembrance of things past: Eggnog pie

This time, do what I tell you, take a few minutes, snuggle under a quilt with the ones you love, turn on the Christmas lights, click on the post title to hear the videos, and listen to a few Christmas songs.


It’s been said that if you live long enough, all the people you hold dear will be gone. Not exactly a holly jolly thought, but when I decorated our little Christmas tree this year, putting up the ornaments reminded me of all those we have lost. There’s the cherub Muth brought me from Greece; look—Nikki gave me that white glass kitten; here are all the Christmas photo-cards Tom and Ali sent us over the years; OMG—there’s the banana charm Ted stole from the 7-Eleven that year; the hand-blown penguin and swan were in the box we found in Gramma Champlin’s attic after she died; oh my gosh look at Daddy in that old picture—he’s so young; there’s the little snowman I found in Normie’s jewelry box. We miss them all.

And we’ll miss and remember Jackson, Christian, Tony, Harriet, Irv, June, Jim, Steve, Mary, Rita, Dick, Gretchen, Josh, Virginia, Val, Jackaroo, Dinah, and Skittles.

Xmas.jpg  Xmas.jpg  Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg

         Daddy                      Muth with Claire                   Nikki                   Normie on the far right

Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg

       Tommy                   Mary with Meredith                    Rita                             Dick

 Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg Xmas.jpg  Xmas.jpg

           Ted                              Jackaroo                    Skittles                           Dinah

Our numbers are dwindling and I can’t see that the trend will reverse. But here’s some good news: even as we speak babies are being hatched, friends are gathering ‘round, Sweeties are cancer-free, I can still tie my own shoes, our children are healthy and happy, their children are healthy and happy, the Huskies are playing in the Rose Bowl, the Dolphins tricked the Patriots, and the Yankees may end up with Bryce Harper. 

This year I seem to prefer wistful Christmas songs, so here are a few more. 

And to Tom with his shoulder in an icebox, you’ll be missed on the slopes this season. 

Eggnog Pie—here’s thinking of you, Muth

  • 1 T. gelatin
  • 1⁄4 c. cold water
  • 4 eggs separated
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1⁄4 t. salt
  • 1⁄2 c. hot milk or 1⁄2 & 1⁄2
  • 1 t. rum flavoring 
  • 1⁄4 t. nutmeg
  • 1⁄2 c. heavy cream whipped with 2 T. sugar.

Sprinkle gelatin on lukewarm water to dissolve. Combine egg yolks with half the sugar and beat until light yellow. Add salt and hot milk. Cook in double boiler until mixture coats spoon.

Add softened gelatin—cool. Whip egg whites and remaining 1⁄2 c. sugar to soft peak. Fold egg mixture into beaten egg whites. (First lighten egg mixture by whisking in a bit of the beaten egg white. Then fold in the remainder.) Add rum flavoring and nutmeg. Pour into baked 8 inch pie shell. Refrigerate

Posted in Family and friends | 4 Comments

Over the River: Gene Stratton’s mother’s cranberry relish

“Cooking up something good,” Matt Demarco

Dennis, the Chef at Stratton’s, worked hard to develop and execute a top-quality “Continental” menu, using the best ingredients and CIA-grade culinary techniques, but was not particularly interested in creating new dishes, securing a Michelin star, or adding to his 10 hour/6 six-day work week. He carefully guarded his day off, attended every possible Dodger game with his girlfriend Bea, and loved a rowdy night out. So when he lobbied Gene, Stratton’s owner, to open for dinner on Thanksgiving, the restaurant staff was puzzled: Dennis—extra hours, new menu, work on a holiday?

Stratton’s patio

And his proposed menu was complicated: truffled mushroom soup, spinach soufflé, turkey ballotine, dauphinoise potatoes, vegetable tian, and chocolate mousse. Gene, who had been badgering Dennis to open for breakfast, liked the idea of another revenue day and approved the menu. His only request was the addition of his mother’s cranberry relish.

Dennis ordered ten, 15-pound fresh turkeys from Guss Meat and the boning marathon began. I hit my stride at the third turkey, by number seven I no longer had feeling in my fingers, and the last one was a bony blur. But…should the opportunity to bone a fresh, fifteen pound turkey arise, I’m your man.

The cooks boned, stuffed, tucked, whipped, sliced, diced, layered, and folded. The servers leaned on the pass, moaning and whining, trying to avoid Gene’s mother. She found them, marched them into the dining room, and stood arms folded as they centerpieced the tables with pop-up pilgrims, turkeys, and corn stalks.


 11:47—the tables are set (despite the server’s protests), the turkeys are ballotined (despite the “that-needs-a-few-stitches” incident), and the wine is decanted (despite the “who’s-the-boss-here” tussle between Gene’s mother and Lennart, the manager)—let the eating begin. 

12:15—let the eating begin, any time now.

12:30—must be a late crowd.

1:00—let the eating begin, please.

1:15—two regulars from the condo across the street come in with their grown, bored children.

1:30—the servers are lounging in front of the pass complaining about no tips and sneaking decanted wine from the sommelier’s table. The dishwashers are playing HORSE in the alley with Dennis. Lennart, Linda, and I are sitting on the prep table listening to Prairie Home Companion.

2:00—Bob the bartender sends beers to the kitchen, shots to Dennis, and sherry to Gene’s mother.

2:30—Gene calls it a day, opens the Champagne, and pours it into our plastic 7-Eleven cups.

3:00—Dennis, Bea, and I drive to the Gospel Mission with six turkeys (ballotined), two quarter pans of potatoes, one gallon of truffled mushroom soup, twenty-six ramekins of spinach soufflé, a quart of cranberry relish, and a bagful of paper pilgrims, turkeys, and cornstalks. 

Gene Stratton’s Mother’s Cranberry Relish

  • 4 c. cranberries 
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 c. pecans
  • 1 c. diced celery 
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 pkg. raspberry gelatin
  • 1 3⁄4 cup water

Grind cranberries, oranges (including peel), pecans, and celery through food grinder.

Dissolve sugar in hot gelatin/water.

Cool, add ground ingredients.

Chill until set.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants | 1 Comment

You can run, but you cannot hide: Hickory-smoked black bean soup

Light My Fire, The Doors

It was late and I was tired. The dining room was empty, the servers were tipping out at the bar, the floor manager had been fed, the bussers were piling dirty dishes into plastic tubs, the boombox above the pass was blasting salsa music, and the kitchen was clean. I lifted the fifteen gallon stock pot off the ceiling rack, took the roasted chicken bones out of the oven, added ten pounds of frozen backs and necks, some onion ends, carrots, and celery butts, a splash of dried thyme, bay leaves, and pepper corns, set the pot on the hot top, filled it with water and turned the burner to high. 

I changed into my street clothes, washed one layer of night grease off my face, dropped my smelly chef’s pants and jacket into the laundry bin, and yelled, ”No olvides bajar la olla!” (Don’t forget to turn down the stock pot) as I walked up the kitchen steps into the night. Melrose was quiet all the way through West Hollywood to Wilshire and even onto Westwood Blvd. where the last of the frat boys were struggling up the hill to Fraternity Row. The Sweetie was sound asleep, so I showered and slipped into bed, setting my alarm for 5:00 a.m.

Mary Sue and Susan were in Tokyo on a public relations boondoggle, leaving me in charge, answering to Barbara, the major investor, strict task manager, and co-owner of l.a. Eyeworks, located next to the Border Grill. I was determined to get an early start and leave no flaw that might attract her eagle eye and sharp tongue.

Mary Sue in front of the original Border Grill


The sun rose was rising over UCLA as I drove to work down quiet West LA streets, back onto Melrose—early enough to find a parking spot only two blocks from the restaurant. I could smell burning bones a half block away and could see wisps of smoke coming from under the back door by the time I got to the alley.

La olla had not been bajared. The stock pot had boiled dry—bones burning, scorching, and sending a black cloud of acrid smoke throughout the building. I couldn’t see the stove as I groped my way through the kitchen to turn off the hot top. Now what? The dining room was a dark haze, lunch service was in five hours, and Tom, the manager, was due to arrive any minute. I could run, I could hide—but I couldn’t let Barbara find out. Thanks to the 911 call from our neighbor, Ben’s Vacuum Repair, the fire engines were already sirening up La Brea. There would be no running or hiding, and Barbara would most certainly find out. 

Ben and I were well acquainted. He lived above his shop and complained to me daily about the noise, the smell of food, the smell of grease, the smell of garbage, the cigarette smoke that drifted up into his bedroom, the cars that parked behind his shop, the bussers that sat on his back stoop, and our illegal prep area in the alley. He had been on Melrose Avenue since the 1950s and fumed as his friends and their small businesses were pushed out by the hip and the gritty: Wacko, Aardvark’s, Cowboys and Poodles, Retail Slut, l.a. Eyeworks, Johnny Rocket’s, and the Border Grill, to name a few. 

Johnny Rocket’s

Tom, Barbara, Ben, and three firemen walked through the front door of the Border Grill at the same time. Tom groaned and headed for the phones, the firemen put their axes down, Barbara gave me a quick hug, and Ben struggled into the kitchen with two floor fans. 

It took a village: the wait staff unleashed Ozium bombs in the dining room; Barbara’s “smell guy” set up a ozone diffuser in the kitchen and one in l.a.Eyeworks’ storefront window; Tom placed pots of simmering vinegar-water on three electric burners borrowed from Flip, the thrift store across the street; Ben plugged in industrial fans that roared at the front and back door; and Cuco, the dishwasher, and a waiter from Tommy Tang’s bundled the offending bones into garbage bags, then dragged them into the alley. 

Tommy Tang’s

And what was I doing? I had brownies in the oven, cinnamon/vanilla/milk syrup simmering on the stove, tortilla chips bubbling in the fryer, peppers roasting under the salamander, and chicken parts browning on the hot top. If we weren’t ready for lunch at 11:30, at least we could smell ready.

So I guess the takeaway is, when disaster strikes, face the music, then get help. I wasn’t fired, I fed the fireman, sent Ben home with a to-go container full of fresh corn tamales, we opened on time for lunch, and served hickory-smoked black bean soup with avocado cilantro crema.

Hickory-smoked Black Bean Soup

  • 2 cups cooked black beans
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp, salt
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1-2 diced canned chipotle in sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. Liquid Smoke
  • Avocado cream: 1 avocado blended with 1/2 bunch cilantro, 3 Tbs. Mexican crema, sour cream, or yogurt, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a squeeze of lime juice
  • Garnish with tortilla strips, avocado cream, and shredded queso fresco

Roast the tomatoes under broiler until blackened. Chop coarsely.

Sauté onions, garlic, chipotle, cumin, oregano, and coriander. Add salt, sauté 10 minutes.

Add the cooked beans, roasted tomatoes, and 2 cups chicken stock.

Simmer one hour. 

Blend soup with wand blender or countertop blender. Thin with more chicken stock if necessary.

Stir in 1 cup heavy cream, simmer 10 more minutes

Salt to taste. Garnish with tortilla strips, avocado cream, shredded queso fresco, and a squeeze of lime.

Posted in Recipes, Restaurants | 4 Comments

Mind Games: Bisquick pancakes, Brown sugar syrup

Mind Games, John Lennon


When I was a kid, my dad made pancakes on Sunday morning. He used Bisquick and two cast iron skillets—no blueberry faces, no chocolate chips, no banana smiles. There would be margarine and brown sugar syrup on the table—no bacon, eggs, or sausage—just flapjacks, as he called them. After breakfast, he took the Sunday Sioux City Journal into the TV room, sat in his Dad chair, and read the paper, sports section first. 

I can’t remember how it began, but he and I played the same game every week. I brought the paper in from the front porch and after reading the comic section, I carefully recreated a neatly folded stack and set it on the kitchen counter. Daddy cleaned up the flapjacks, poured himself a cup of coffee, picked up the paper, went into the TV room, sat down, and said, “I really love opening a newspaper that hasn’t been touched. There’s something so fresh and new about it.” Then he would wink at me. To this day, after I finish a newspaper, I recreate a neatly folded stack and think of him. How is it that I can retain decades-old, fleeting memories, but forget where I parked the car at Costco?

  • During the weather portion of the news, I saw Grand Mounds WA on the map. The Sweetie knew immediately that the “Mima Mounds” are close by, I thought immediately of my friend Beth. Now, where did that connection came from?
  • In the morning when I put on my underpants, I think of Foster who once said, “Stand up when you put your pants on—you’ll improve your balance.”
  • Every time I wear a turtleneck, I think of Katharine Hepburn. Every time I make cioppino, I think of Dinah Shore. 
  • Muth taught me how to fold a fitted sheet with a rhyme about bunnies in the corner. Can’t remember how it goes, but each Saturday morning when I change the sheets, I fold a neat square bundle thinking about bunnies and my mom.
  • Michael Roberts whacked my knuckles with the flat of a chef’s knife when I didn’t hold my fingers correctly. I still flinch whenever I start to chop vegetables. Jeffrey insisted that the cooks tear lettuce not chop it. I still tear lettuce
  • On the rare times I drive in downtown Seattle, I find my way to the freeway using Normie’s old mnemonic device “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest” (Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine)
  • Why are Phil Rizzuto, Allie Reynolds, and Ezzard Charles, familiar names to me? My second grade friends, Marzee Carlstein and Gordie Schmeckpepper, show up on demand but I can never remember the name of our neighbor across the street.
Oh well, “Love is the answer.”

Bisquick pancakes

  • 2 cups Original Bisquick mix
  • 1 cup milk 
  • 2 eggs 

 Heat griddle or skillet over medium-high heat or electric griddle to 375°F; grease with cooking spray, vegetable oil or shortening. 

 Stir all ingredients until blended. Pour by slightly less than 1/4 cupfuls onto hot griddle. 

 Cook until edges are dry. Turn; cook until golden. Note: If you like thin pancakes, use 1 1/2 cups milk.

 Brown Sugar Syrup

  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter 

Combine the sugar and water in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Lower the heat to medium and allow the mixture to boil for 4 minutes. Add the butter and stir until the butter has dissolved. 

Posted in Family and friends, Recipes | 2 Comments

Sacramento Shorts

Sacramento shorts:

Sacramento drivers seldom honk their horns, either to complain or to alert.

Downtown bus drivers are bored, annoyed, or just plain mean. I was scolded for using my bus app incorrectly, left standing at the bus stop three times, and flung into my seat if I didn’t move quickly.

I was in the front of the bus, sitting on an aisle-facing seat when a very grumpy man in a very wide wheelchair rolled over my feet. When I said, “Ouch”, he said, “Hmphhh. That didn’t hurt, you big baby.” To be honest, he was right.

Without fail, whenever I approached an intersection, cars stopped and waited for me to cross.

Farmers markets are just that: outdoor areas where local growers sell their produce. No music, mimes, hand-made soap, gimcracks, refrigerator magnets, or tie-dye t-shirts—strictly farm business. And the prices—cheaper than the store. I’m not kidding: vine-ripened tomatoes, $1.25/lb., baby bok choy, 8 for $1.00, zucchini, $1.00/lb, cilantro, 2 bunches for $1.00.


Unlike Chicago, in downtown Sacramento, backpacks, children, strollers, and dogs are rare.

City pedestrians follow the rules. Almost no one crosses the street until walking man starts blinking and robot voice says, “Walk sign is on, Walk sign is on.”

Having a 40-acre park in the middle of downtown is a wonderful thing, but the six-block square green space makes bus travel tricky.

Locals seldom brag about their city. They seem to quietly share Joan Didion’s opinion of her hometown:”Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.”

Residents are, however, thrilled with Greta Gerwig‘s Oscar-nominated Lady Bird, a coming-of-age drama set and filmed in Sacramento.

Maren Conrad’s mural on 16th & I

People who live and work in Midtown are quick to speak up if you mistake Midtown for Downtown. “Oh this isn’t Downtown, this is Midtown.” Midtown has a mixed use feel—quaint, old wide-porched houses, small retail stores, brownstone townhouses, busy restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. Downtown is the Capitol, tall commercial buildings, at least two Bail Bonds per block, empty “For Lease” stores, Golden1 Stadium, and the Convention Center.

All in all, Sacramento was a lovely place to visit and I would live there.

Posted in Travel | 1 Comment

Let the buildings keep our children dry

 Jackson Browne, Before the Deluge

We wondered why so many Midtown Sacramento houses have tall, daylight basements and steep, front-yard staircases leading up to wide porches. Sacramento, built in the lowest part of the Sacramento Valley, has historically been vulnerable to flooding. In 1862 after weeks of heavy rain, catastrophic flooding of the Sacramento and American Rivers created an inland sea in the Central Valley, submerging Sacramento for months under 30’ of flood water.  

The city responded to the devastation by launching a ten-year project that raised the level of Midtown neighborhoods. Houses that had not been swept away or destroyed by the flood were lifted up 10-15 feet. New regulations mandated that future building must include daylight basements firmly connected to heavy concrete posts, with steep stairs leading to the second story living quarters.

These “high-water bungalows” can be found for a hefty price in Midtown, Winn Park, Oak Park, and Lavender Heights.



Midtown’s mixed-use zoning allows for and encourages residential housing, retail, restaurants, and small businesses to nestle side-by-side making it possible to walk to work, eat, shop, and visit your acupuncturist.
Fremont Park
Mural on J & 23rd Street
Last time we were in Sacramento, Korean tacos were two bus transfers away. This time, they’re right across the street at Gogi’s.
Anyways, the project is over, we’re sleeping in our own bed, the hummingbirds have not returned yet, it’s raining, the road construction is finally over, the Dodgers won, and I’ll swim at my old pool this morning—back home and so glad.
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Sacramento: City of Trees

Say something mean and you will immediately be proven wrong. A few weeks ago, I jibed that Sacramento is not found at the top of any list—my bad. “American Forests” names Sacramento’s tree canopy as the best urban forest in the country, beating out Seattle, Boston, Amsterdam, and Paris. 

When settlers first arrived in Sacramento during the gold rush, the Central Valley was covered with grasses. It took only one summer of +90° days, I would guess, for the newcomers to plant thousands of shade trees. The city was officially smitten: in 1921, early tree-hugger Sacramento Bee editor C.K. McClatchy, regularly published front page obituaries for dead trees.


Sacramento’s park system flourished as urban and residential trees were planted. In 1923, in order to promote neighborhood tree planting, the city and the Boy Scouts partnered in a program that offered to plant trees for free. Boy Scouts canvassed neighborhoods urging citizens sign request cards that committed each resident to care for their tree, which the city then provided and planted. So now, pedestrians in downtown Sacramento are guaranteed protection from the summer sun. 

Until recently, downtown walkers could always find a cool spot to sit and rest, but one night last week all park benches along K Street were replaced with red “leaning rails.” Social advocacy organizations shouted “Gentrification!”, calling the move, “a stupid and mean” effort to solve a complex problem by targeting the homeless. Supporters of the removal insist that the city must respond to downtown’s renaissance and real estate boom with “urban beautification”, more space for bike racks, and a “safer, more comfortable” environment for tourists and high-rise residents. The pros and cons of urban renewal and the debate over the use of public spaces strikes again.

*Sacramento’s has long celebrated the title, “City of Trees” with a slogan painted on a water tower next to the I-5 freeway. Last year, in order to attract more travelers, the Sacramento Tourism Bureau convinced someone to repaint the old slogan with “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital”, whatever that means.



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