Friday, October 31, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night....

The sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky is dark now, and it is easy to turn the clock back 50 years to 1954, when I was 5 years old, and Halloween had come.

It was a simpler time then. My mother made my costume, and a very unsophisticated costume it was, too. I was a black cat, and she had created the costume by dying some pajamas black and fashioning a hat to resemble cat’s ears. A black satin mask completed the look.

And in this photo, when I was a few years older,  I think maybe I was supposed to be a princess or perhaps a fairy godmother.  At that time, the elementary school I attended had a Halloween parade during the day and so we came to school in our costumes.
And again, this was a homemade costume.

Our father had an amazing Halloween costume. My sister and I can recall seeing a picture of him dressed up in it, but neither of us has the picture and we don’t know where it is. He had a rubber mask that looked very much like a Neanderthal, with exaggerated features, and scraggly hair. It was not too overdone, and thus is looked very realistic. He would put the mask on, and wrap himself in some old burlap sacks. And he would go with us trick-or-treating, lurching along next to us and growling and moaning at the other children on the street. They would be delightfully scared and would laugh and screech and they loved it. And he had so much fun doing it. Over the years he became the hit of costume parties that the adults had.  

Our Grandfather lived very nearby and we usually went to his house after we had finished trick-or-treating. On one memorable Halloween he tried to make us hot cocoa but accidently put salt in the cocoa instead of sugar.

In this part of the state, it seems inevitable that on October 31, Nature throws the switch for Winter, and the weather invariably reminds us of what is coming down the pike. The first few years that we moved here I found taking our boy out trick-or-treating was quite a far cry from the “brisk but not bad” nights we enjoyed on Halloween in southern California. It was almost always very cold and not much fun. Several years it poured rain, and we did not go, and finally he was old enough that we didn’t have to go anymore. Whew.

Tonight is no exception. Warm fall days earlier in the week have turned cold. The wind is whipping through the trees, leaves are blowing everywhere, which makes it seem even colder, and there will be a hard freeze tonight. We have never had a child come to our door for candy on Halloween, and I don’t expect there will be one tonight either.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A star is (almost) born...

Today is my birthday, and I suppose it would be appropriate for me to find a picture of me as an adorable infant (which of course I was), but instead, I offer you me on my third birthday, which was 62 years ago (if I’ve done my math right). This is the first birthday I remember.

We were at my aunt’s house, and I was given a small fishing pole that fit in a metal canister when it was taken apart. 

 Dad loved to fish...

 and I was happy to be able to go fishing with him with my own pole.

But what I actually want to write about is the family truck and what became of it. Sometime in 1948, a year before I was born, a pick-up truck rolled off the Ford assembly line, and about 15 years later my dad bought it and it rolled up in front our house.

Dad drove the truck to work every morning. On Saturday mornings in the summer, he used it to take us and our friends, including these two women who I went to high school with, to the beach. 

Which is why I expect they wanted a picture in front of it when they came to call on Dad shortly after Mom died.

When it came time for me to drive, I started learning to drive the truck, with Dad teaching me. Poor soul. My initial attempts at managing the gas and the clutch—mind you, this was in the large parking lot of a nearby warehouse—got him so nervous and riled up that that he had to stop and Mom had to take over teaching me in the family car.

Years passed, and because Dad was an auto mechanic, he kept the mechanical parts of the truck repaired and running, even though vehicles half its age had long since been retired to the junkyard or scrap heap. The interior of the cab was not in such good shape though.

Then, about 3 years ago, the family decided it was time for Dad to stop driving, and so he gave the truck to my younger brother.

He began to restore the truck and started taking it to car shows.

 In addition to winning prizes, the truck caught the eye of a man who supplies vintage vehicles for movies and TV programs.

One thing led to another, and last summer, my brother found himself on the set of Clint Eastwood’s movie, “Jersey Boys” as an extra in a street scene. 

He mostly spent the day driving forward, and then backing up and doing it again… and again…. and again…. We were all very excited that we might actually see him in the movie. Unfortunately, his scene ended up on the cutting room floor. But he and the truck may have another chance—he was also an extra on a film being made by Warren Beatty about Howard Hughes.

In the meantime, I am happy to be alive, and I don’t mind being 65. Wouldn’t mind having a few parts restored though, and I indeed expect there will be some new joints in my future.

Monday, October 20, 2014


It was October again … a glorious October, all red and gold, 

with mellow mornings when the valleys were filled with delicate mists as if the spirit of autumn had poured them in for the sun to drain — amethyst, pearl, silver, rose, and smoke-blue. The dews were so heavy...
that the fields glistened like cloth of silver and there were such heaps of rustling leaves in the hollows of many-stemmed woods to run crisply through.”

L.M. Montgomery

Days of seemingly relentless rain falling from cold, gray skies have finally given way to clear, sunny skies, but not too hot – maybe mid-60s in the afternoon, a perfect day for heading off down the frontage road for the church loop and the large pond, a favorite place to walk.

When I take this route in the early mornings on these lovely Fall days, before the sun rises above the tree line, there is thick mist in the low area behind McDonald’s that sometimes flows out over the highway, and at the pond, the mist rises from the water.

All of that vanishes quickly as the sun creeps higher in the sky and warms the air, and I am reminded of the verse…  
You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while. Then it disappears (James 4:14).
Yesterday afternoon the sun felt lovely and warm, warm enough to leave the light jacket at home. The recent rains had brought the level of the pond up high enough so that we could leave the asphalt and walk along the edge of the water without stepping in mud. A grasshopper fleeing from my approach leaped into the air and landed in the water. There are fish in the pond and I was curious to see if one would come up from the depths and eat it. While Molly was snorting into in the opening of some small animal’s burrow, trying to assess whether there was actually anything in there worth trying to dig out. I watched to see what was going to become of the grasshopper.

The grasshopper floated on the surface of the water for a few seconds, and then, much to my surprise, began to propel itself—not sure if I could call it “swimming”—toward the stubble that was sticking out of the water at the edge. I watched until it had climbed safely up on a stalk.

I expect there is a rather profound object lesson here for us: How often does life drop us into the deep end? Do we flounder around or immediately head for the shore? I guess we do the best we can not to drown. I dunno… but I can’t pursue it any further because the Wogster knows it is time for the afternoon stroll. Places to go and holes to snort into…

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…