Monday, October 13, 2014


Not too far from where I grew up in Gardena, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, there used to be a landfill. Eventually it was indeed filled up and it was shut down. Then, the county purchased the land, rehabilitated it, and turned it into the South Coast Botanic Garden.

It has been a favorite place for our family to visit, and we have gone there on many of our trips to California. Several plants grow in the backyard of my father’s house that were purchased in the gift shop there as presents for my mother.

On one of our visits, the local fuchsia society was having a flower show, and many varieties of gorgeous fuchsias were on display.

 And among these beautiful flowers was a plant with rather small and not very flashy flowers compared with the others. The label said this was an example of the original fuchsia from which all the beautiful varieties had been created in the hundreds of years since the plant was first discovered.

Last weekend Richard met our neighbors as they were leaving on their way to a motocross event, and they mentioned that a couple of their hens had gone missing after a thunderstorm moved through with its sound and light show the night before. He said we would check to see if the hens had come home to roost.

So I did go several times to see if there were any chickens running around loose, but I didn’t notice any.

But I did notice clusters of wild grapes hanging into yard from a tree along the fence line.. Not the big fancy seedless kinds--grapes sometimes as big as a joint on your finger--that we can buy in the stores these days. No, these were the wild variety....

Grapes not much bigger than green pea, if even that big. Grapes that make a satisfying pop when pressed against the roof of your mouth and release a small burst of sweet but slightly sour juice, a small morsel of flesh, and two huge seeds.

Folks are upset about genetically modified plants that are increasingly working their way into our food supply in the United States, and rightly so, perhaps; but we humans have probably always tinkered with plants – like fuchsias and grapes – and the animals that we involve in our lives, selecting for the traits we want

From this….

to this…

 and this (and the little dog was no doubt feeling very frustrated because the big dog was in heat and he was sort of out of luck)…. and this...

 our precious Molly Wog ...

And from this momma cow to her baby, whose daddy was a very different sort of bull than the momma...

 and who watched me with interest as I sampled the grapes and is now enjoying life and kicking up his heels with the typical joy of a young animal, little knowing that he will likely end up as hamburger at someone’s dinner.

So, although I enjoyed eating the wild grapes, am very glad that I can reach in the freezer and grab a handful of frozen giant green grapes to enjoy in my morning yogurt.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A pudding by any other name...

“Me mother allus gives me a special do on a Wednesday night after I get back from Houlton market—a few good slices o’beef, sprouts and taties and, like I said, three Yorkshire puddin’s and a smashin’ spotted Dick and custard…”

 “…as we took our places and read through the good, old-fashioned Yorkshire menu, which had always delighted me—Yorkshire pudding, plaice and chips, steak and kidney pie, steamed jam sponge, spotted Dick and custard…”
Every Living Thing--James Herriott

The cook smiled at Inspector Barnaby and Sergeant Troy. “Would you some puddin’ then? Some spotted dick and a bit of custard?"
Midsomer Murders
I have always found it something of an adventure to try the foods that other cultures enjoy but that are not common in this country. Having read many novels set in the United Kingdom, I have wondered what some of the things the characters eat are like, and I have gone to the trouble of making a few of them.

The first lesson is realizing that some of the words they use to refer to their favorite concoctions do not mean the same thing in the United States; pudding, for example, is almost certainly not what we know as milk and sugar heated on the stove and thickened with eggs and cornstarch (or the instant variety of the dessert that emerges from a package dumped in a bowl and whipped vigorously with cold milk).

Once upon a time, I bought kidneys and tried making a steak-and-kidney pie (once was enough) – I can eat some organ meats, but kidneys? Never again. I have put a Yorkshire pudding, which of course is not a "pudding" at all, in the oven along with roast beef on a number of occasions.

But Spotted Dick? A sponge pudding called Spotted Dick? One trembles at the thought. And Richard, my dearly beloved,  who often refers to himself as Dick when he talks to people on the phone, saw a can of it at the salvage store...

and couldn’t pass it up.

And it was quite good...

even without being topped with custard.

I seldom make dessert, but now that I have had a taste of it, I may even try my hand at making it next time I have company. 

And when they ask, "What is this?"  Perhaps I'll tell them it is "spotted Richard," or "Richard with raisins."

Monday, September 01, 2014

Where’s the vegetables?

People who watched television in the early 1980s are almost certainly going to remember the advertising campaign for the Wendy’s Restaurant franchise. One may not remember where one put the keys, or the dog’s leash, or the birthday present (a beautiful pottery mug) one got for one’s husband several weeks earlier, but one certainly remembers “Where’s the beef.”

And in case you missed the commercial because you had not yet been born when it aired in 1984 or otherwise hadn't seen it...

To celebrate his birthday, my dearly beloved, who is now on the far side of 70 and doesn’t look a day older than...oh... say about 60 (which is what clean living will do for one’s face), decided he wanted to have Chinese food. We have not eaten a meal at an Asian  buffet in a very long time. And “what a difference a… year or two…makes!”

I get it that any cuisine from one culture that makes the journey to another culture is going to be adapted to the new culture. The ingredients will change: things that are readily available in a tropical or semi-tropical climate in another hemisphere halfway around the world may not be available in the new country. A number of the recipes in the Chinese and Indian cookbooks that I have contain lists at the end for substitutions if one can’t find the ingredient locally.

So yes, one expects the food is going to change – it’s inevitable – and that new recipes will be created based on some of the traditional food, as has certainly happened with Chinese food.

But, in the case of Asian food, the changes we have noted in the in Asian restaurants, both when ordering from the menu and in buffets, have been inexorable and not so subtle and not for the better.

I have the general understanding that authentic Chinese cuisine mostly uses of combinations of vegetables and carbohydrates—whether, noodles, rice, or tofu—and a little meat. Our hospice counselor, who went on an extended tour of China last summer, confirms this. A picture she sent shows the ingredients of an authentic Chinese meal, called “Hot Pot” that they were served and which varied depending on what part of the country they were visiting…

And most of the meals we have eaten in Thai and Vietnamese restaurants have indeed been mostly vegetables and a little meat.

Not so at the Asian buffet we ate at recently. Not counting the salad bar or the “Mongolian BBQ” counter where one picks what one wants and a chef cooks it to order (and expects a tip for doing so), and the soup, which had some vegetables, there were 2 vegetables offered singly in the buffet steam tables—fried green beans and fried mushrooms—and two dishes that were a combination of vegetables and meat—one with beef and broccoli and another with beef and wedges of onion. That’s it.

As I stood there looking at all of the meat cooked in a variety of ways (most of which involved a heavy, sweet sauce) and almost no vegetables, I was thinking one would be hard-pressed to get even a fraction of the “5-7 servings of vegetables and fruits” that we are encouraged to eat to be healthy.

Variations on the “where’s the beef” slogan have become catchphrases, perhaps “where’s the vegetables” should too.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How about a biscuit with that stew?

Among the gifts we received when we got married in June 1971 was a little cookbook...

and a beautiful enameled cast iron cooking pot...

Even though I was not a budding Martha Stewart when I was living at home, I was not totally naive about what went on in the kitchen. I did help my mother (and father, too) prepare food for the family--in fact she said I made a better pie crust than she did--but I didn’t really know how to cook for a husband.

The little cookbook became very useful indeed. There was a great recipe for a dilled potato salad for two, and four meals from one recipe of meatballs, and various desserts.

The cookbook and the cast iron cooking pot are among the few gifts that I still have and still use. The cookbook is indeed well used and looks it, its pages are very stained with the evidence of many meals prepared from its pages. The pot is also rather well used, especially the inside which I am reluctant to scub too severely for fear of damaging the enamel..

One of our favorite recipes from the cookbook is a simple beef stew that I often cooked in the cooking pot. I still make the stew -- not as often as I used to because beef is so high; but in fact, I cooked it not all that long ago.

Although Richard and I eat lunch together at the kitchen table like proper people are supposed to do and exchange scintillating conversation, we eat dinner in bed and watch TV. Each of us has a TV tray on our side of the bed to put the plates and drinking glass when we aren't holding them.

On this particular night in question, Molly Wolly Doodle all the Day was stretched out on her spot at the foot of the bed.

About half-way through the bowl of stew, I decided I wanted some bread, and so I put the bowl down on the TV tray and went rummaging in the freezer for some bread. I could not find the bread but I did find a freezer bag of biscuits that I had made a few weeks earlier was doling out to us for Sunday morning breakfast. I thawed one and came back in the bedroom to see our dog standing at the edge of the bed, in front of the TV tray, and Richard informing me that she had been licking my bowl.

I could see where she had licked some of the stew gravy off a chunk of carrot, but everything else looked untouched, so I thoroughly washed the carrot, but before I could resume eating my stew, the telephone rang. So I sat the biscuit down on the bed (on the bed!!!) and took the bowl with me to answer the phone (I had learned my lesson about leaving the bowl within the reach of the dog, indeed I had). While I was talking to my friend, I could hear Richard start to laugh in the background, and when I got back to the bed I saw that all that remained of my biscuit were a few crumbs on the bed, and the dog was prepared to lick those up as well.

I guess I was not the only one to enjoy the meal…

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Meep! Meep! and Buzzling Meat

I believe a fully stocked junk drawer is essential to smooth functioning in the kitchen, and so when I went into the junk drawer to find the Phillips-head screwdriver that is supposed to be there so that I could tighten the handle on my large pot, it was not there, and neither was the flat-head screwdriver, for that matter.

So I confronted the culprit.

Where are my screwdrivers? I am supposed to have one of each kind in this drawer.

We need to fix you up a marked container with the tools you need, says he.

And so he did. But that meant we had to clean out the junk drawer of the flotsam and jetsam that we really no longer needed.

I now have a nicely functioning junk drawer with all the stuff I need, and I am quite happy with it.

And this post will sort of be the equivalent of a junk drawer, not that I think what I am writing is junk you understand, but I have a few odds and ends of things I wanted to write about that need someplace to live… so here they are.

+ + + + + +

I saw many Roadrunner cartoons when I was a kid (Meep! Meep!). I saw a real Roadrunner when we were in Texas visiting my husband’s father, and I followed it quite for quite a distance as it cruised through the neighborhood. Roadrunners have been extending their range in recent years into Missouri and do live here, although seeing one is quite a novelty. I certainly never ever expected to see one at my own house, but there it was, standing on the driveway right by the porch as I drove up in the car. It stood there for a minute or two and then strolled off into the brush.

+ + + + + +

When cat’s food in the dish began vanishing overnight, we knew something else besides the cat was eating it. And the fact that little muddy footprints were left all over the table where the cat’s food and water sit gave us our second clue – this was raccoon. How the raccoon was getting into eat the cat food was a bit troublesome. Our whole-house attic fan vents into that room and so there is a door to the attic in there that is open. Did we have raccoons living in our attic?

Richard got the big live trap set up, and after a few days we did indeed catch a raccoon – big one, and we intended to take her down the road about 5 miles and let her go. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, and especially for her, the plan changed because she bit Richard on the finger through the mesh of the trap before we could get her loaded into the car.

So that meant instead of her living happily ever after a few miles away, she went 25 miles down the road to the veterinarian, who put her to sleep and chopped off her head and sent it to the state laboratory for a rabies analysis. Last year on July 3, I was in the hospital with a broken arm, and this year we were dealing with this. We have decided to skip July 3 next year.

We were very happy indeed when the test came back negative, so he does not have to have the rabies shots, although I am keeping an eye on him and if he began to act strangely, I may have to get the gun out and shoot him.

We left the trap set up, and sure enough, more food was missing. I was about ready to start yelling that Richard need to get up into the attic and find out how the raccoons were getting in when I got up early morning and opened the door to see if we had caught anything. I was very surprised and also very relieved to see the tail end of a raccoon disappearing through the screen in the open window. They had carefully pulled the screen out of the frame without tearing it— so it was not immediately obvious there was anything wrong with it— and were using that as their own private “doggy door.”

+ + + + + +

A few days ago, he went shopping and I moved my car from in front of the porch to in front of the garage so that when he came back he could park close to the house to carry in the groceries. On the decorative blocks that line the concrete slab in front of the garage was beautiful green snake, sunning itself....

and  I managed to take it up and get a picture of it.

+ + + + + +

We decided to have steak sandwiches for dinner. Richard thinly sliced the onions and cooked them in the skillet until they were sort of caramelized and added mushrooms to go with them. Then it was my turn to cook the thinly sliced meat (an arm roast, not fancy steak). He said the skillet was hot but that I should put a little oil in it, so I did. I expected when I dropped the meat in that it would immediately begin to “sear” instead of boil, but the skilled did not appear to be that hot and the meat just sort of sat there. I pointed this out to Richard, that the skillet did not appear to be very hot and he said…

Look… the meat is buzzling!


But he was right. The meat had indeed started to buzzle.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A little early morning music

I lurched out of bed at about 5:15 and into the bathroom to do those necessary things that one must do upon waking in the morning. While I was washing my face and my hands, I suddenly heard music. It was a bright, upbeat jazzy sort of melody of the sort that National Public Radio might play between segments in a program, so I assumed Richard gotten up and turned on the radio. But the music kept on going, so then I assumed he had turned on the computer to live-streaming music, which he sometimes does if the transponder for the NPR station is off the air (which it often is).

When I opened the door the bathroom, he was standing there waiting for me with a funny look on his face.

Me: Did you turn on the radio?

Him: No. I thought you had suddenly decided to play the keyboard. And I was thinking, wow, you have really gotten good!

Me: No, I wasn’t playing the keyboard. Obviously.

Obviously indeed, because the bright and lively music was still playing.

To my unanswered question he pointed toward “Kitty Prison”...

the section of the house in which we confine the Squeaker kitty at night because she bothers us and where I keep the electronic keyboard I use to practice.

He had just opened the door to let her out. I am not sure how the cat did it... 

because I have not figured out how to do it myself, but she managed to turn the keyboard on (well, I do know how to that), and step on just the right combination of buttons to cause the keyboard to begin playing preprogrammed music in its memory banks.

Not exactly Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, but fun anyway.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

No human father has ever been perfect, so I expect just about everybody has a bad memory or too, of their dad, but for some people, being reminded of their father on Father’s Day is like having a sharp thorn thrust through their heart. Some fathers weren't just imperfect humans, but were monstrous and treated their children in ways we would like to imagine couldn’t possibly have happened, but did.

I heard a story yesterday from the man who preached at our church about his father. He came home drunk, opened a jar of pickled pig's feet, and ate all of the meat off the bones. Instead of throwing the bones away, he put them back in the jar, put the lid on, and put the jar back in the cupboard.

The next day he lined his children up and demanded to know who had eaten the pickled pig's feet. None of them had, of course, thus, none of them would admit to having eaten the pig's feet. So, he beat all of them because he knew at least one of them had to be lying.

I am thankful that don't have that sort of story to tell, but I always seem to have trouble finding a good Father’s Day card for my dad, who was not perfect but who was, and still is, the best possible dad a child could have wanted.

I found a very nearly perfect card this year.

The elementary school I attended was within walking distance of our house, and so I walked to school. During those early years, my dad worked part time at a gasoline station and went to the trade-tech school in the evenings to study to become an auto mechanic, and I think after that was done he worked swing shift. In any event, he was home during at least part of the day, and on many mornings, he rode me to school on the handlebars of a bicycle, and when I was too big for that, I sat on the crossbar.

And then I remember quite well one summer afternoon, the local parks and recreation department had a kit-flying contest at one of the nearby parks. My dad and I used the sticks from an old kite to frame and covered it with white tissue paper used to wrap presents. I decorated it with a sponge dipped in paint. We attached a tail and some fishing like and off we went to the park.

I stood in line next to the other children while our  parents stood with their child's kite. At the signal, each parent threw their child’s kite up into the air, and mine took off so fast it beat all of the other kites for that category. My dad never quite “got over” the fact our simple homemade kite had gone up against some very fancy kites and won. I got a certificate “suitable for framing,” which I think I still have stashed way somewhere.

And I am thinking of friends – including my dear cousin, whose father just died a few weeks ago– who are no longer buying Father’s Day cards, and am thankful that most of them can remember their fathers with joy in their hearts, and if not that, at least forgiveness.