Monday, March 31, 2008

Lights Out America

Well, Dale and I did our patriotic duty and supported the "Lights Out America" activity on Saturday night. Thank goodness it started AFTER Big Joe or I don't know what I would have done.
Of course we didn't think it through beforehand. Like, what WERE we going to do once the lights were out? It went something like this:
M: Wow, it sure is dark, huh?
D: Yeah.
M: So, what do you want to do?
D: Hmmm...I don't know, it's kinda dark.
M: I'm bored.
D: Yeah, me too.
Normally, I would have been happy to just sit on the patio and listen to the crickets, but it was a little too cold and breezy. A fire in the fireplace would have been nice, but like I said, we didn't do too much pre-planning.
So we took a walk around the neighborhood. Didn't see anyone else obviously participating, but maybe THOSE people were inside their cozy, darkened houses, telling ghost stories and eating the popcorn they wisely thought to make ahead of time.
At least we made the effort, right?
I was reading about the event on Sunday, and I had a quizzically raised eyebrow when I read about Google's effort. They made their background black (instead of white). But if you weren't supposed to have the lights on (and I assume computer) how would any one see that?!?

Friday, March 28, 2008

All About Austin

In Texas, we did a few more things besides the Big Joe Polka Fest.

First thing to do on a road trip is get gas. Man, I thought LA gas prices were high!

On the way from Austin to Round Top, we stopped for some famous Czech kolaches. I had always heard of them and finally got to sample one (or two!).

These are from Weikel's, which is located in a gas station mini-mart. We had cherry, peach, and cheese. They are pretty much like a danish, but the base is a sweet, yeasty dough rather than flaky pastry.

Since we attended the Polka Fest only on Friday, Saturday we went for a ride in the surrounding countryside. The Round Top area is famous for their antique shops. Aaron took us to a disc golf place and we played nine "holes". Dale and I had never played before, but once we got the hang of it, we didn't do too badly. It was a beautiful day just to be outside and enjoying the fresh air.

One of our favorite tee-vee shows is "King of the Hill" and right or wrong, that show is how we think of Texas and Texans. ("I tell you whut") One of the things often seen on the show is the restaurant Whataburger. Conveniently, there was one across the road from our hotel. Didn't have a burger, but the breakfast stuff was OK.

On the way back into Austin, we stopped back in Round Top for lunch at Royer's. Wow. A country cafe on steroids.

Everything is bigger in Texas---these are jalapeno poppers!

The food was wonderful and the pies even better!

Much to our delight we learned that Brave Combo would be playing a show in Austin on Saturday night. They played at a restaurant/nightclub named Jovita's. The place was kinda small, there might have been 150 people there.
This show was a lot different than the Polka Fest. They played more Tex/Mex songs and of course, the famous Hokey Pokey! Alan, the usual drummer, was there too. Dale got to chit-chat with the band after the show and he got everyone to sign his cap. They were pretty impressed that we came all the way from California just to see their shows.

After the BC show, we got a whirlwind tour of the famous Austin music scene. We went to the Continental Club (where BC played a few weeks ago for SXSW) and to the Saxon Inn. The band at the Saxon Inn was "The South Austin Jug Band" and they were really good. Sort of bluegrass-y but a little more intense.

Sunday we took a ride out to Lake Austin and had lunch at The Oasis.

On the way back into town, we stopped at the University of Texas campus and checked out the tower. In 1966, a sniper inside the tower killed 14 people.

I loved this frieze on the Natural History building.

Monday, we checked out Congress Street for some shopping, then toured the Texas State Capitol.
I don't know about you, but I see something else here.

Can you guess what this is?

It is a BUBBLER!! You step on a foot pedal and water flows from the spout. So maybe not a true bubbler, but pretty snazzy just the same.

The capitol is very beautiful inside and we learned much about the history of Texas. I tried hard to forget Dubya also trod these very halls.
These elaborate door knobs and door hinges are on every door.

Lunch was at The Ironworks, for some yummy BBQ.

Aaron's mom gave me these cool-ass antlers! They are gonna look great on the patio. Maybe they will scare the squirrels.

Monday, March 24, 2008

MMMMM Malasadas!

Here's a yummy pic of the malasadas I got at the Torrance Farmer's Market on Saturday. They are soooo good. I had dropped off my knives at the sharpener, and while I waited, I picked up a bagful and munched away.
It was pretty hot all weekend, and we tackled some yard chores.
My Easter dinner menu was boneless leg of lamb in a Greek marinade (lemon/garlic/oregano), roasted asparagus, grilled onions, and potato wedges. The food was great, but the pics I took pretty much sucked, so all I can show is this rhubarb cake thing we had for dessert.

I love rhubarb, and every spring I try to make a couple of things. This was a new recipe. Tasted good and was easy to make. I remember when I first moved to California, I made a rhubarb kuchen or pie and brought it to work to share with my co-workers. They had been pretty amused already by my Wisconsin "ways" and accent, and this rhubarb dish really threw them. They didn't know what to make of it. But they liked it anyway.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

I don't have any scintillating thoughts to share about Easter. Other than it is 90 degrees outside. On March 23. Anyway, I will definitely take that over 12 inches of snow any day. I'll post some photos tomorrow of our Easter dinner, which I will prepare after this post.
So, since my ideas are lacking, I am going to share this Easter reminiscence I received from my cousin, Doug. To give a little perspective, he is the second of eight children.

Easter was always a holiday we Catholic kids looked forward to. Any holiday where we got something was, in our books, a pretty cool deal.

Easter baskets.
Well you gotta like Easter baskets. Finally, finally after 3 cold months since Christmas with nothing to do we were finally gonna get some stuff.
By this time, all the Christmas presents we had received were either broke or boring. We kids needed a boost to our morale. Easter baskets was just what the doctor ordered. Nothing like a boiled egg to cheer up a kid with cabin fever. Best part about an egg is that they were colored by our own clumsy hands the night before. That was always fun. For the kids anyways. (I still can't believe mom didn't drink.)
Jelly beans.
I don't generally think "I want a jelly bean." but when I eat one I think to myself, "This is good. It's colored. It's got your sugar. And I got lots of them." I don't think I've ever eaten a jelly bean in a month ending in "ary" or "ber." Strictly Easter food.
For some reason Easter baskets were always hidden. I think it has something to do with Jesus being buried in his tomb. That or it's hard to wrap an Easter basket.
In our house there were only two places to hide a basket. One was behind the couch, and the other was behind the couch. We didn't have a lot of furniture in those days. We were what people in those days called "poor."
Briefly what happened was, we'd wake up, look behind the couch, find the baskets, take them to the center of the front room and sort out what we got. on the front room rug. Jelly beans with the jelly beans, peeps with the peeps, eggs with the eggs and more jelly beans with the other jelly beans. Then we'd count 'em and argue. Mom and dad, in the early years were careless. They just dumped jelly beans into baskets. They quickly learned that every kid better get the exact same amount of candy because we could count and we were checking for favoritism.

Before Easter back at school, there was a whole bunch of things we did during Holy Week. All of them involved kneeling.
While we kneeled some priest told the story of Jesus' bad weekend. Now the first few times I heard the story of Jesus and the Last Supper and the crucifixion, death and resurrection, I found it interesting. I quickly found out that when you know how a story ends, it loses some of it's suspense and this coming from a pretty holy kid - me. If I was bored, imagine how the misbehaving kids, like David and Ally felt about reruns.
One thing that always caught my attention during the story was to find out just how clumsy Jesus was. Jesus falls the first time, Jesus falls the second time. Jesus falls the third time. At this rate, he's not gonna get up the mountain until the day after Easter.
Well, miraculously he makes it just before the end of Good Friday. Good Friday is the day that we would sneak out the front door between 12 and 3 and get yelled at by Ally because she said we aren't supposed to go outside between 12 and 3. So instead we came inside and watched cartoons. It's a fine line between sinning and being holy.
The story of Jesus goes on to say that He rises from the dead. Wow! This really must have freaked out a lot of people.
Knock at the door, "Who is it?"
"Get outta town! Omigod! It's Jesus. Come on in."
"Mind if I sit down. I'm a little dizzy."
"Here let me clear this off. It's a little messy around here what with the funeral and everything. How the hell are ya?"
"Pretty good considering."
"Would you like some wine?"
"I'd love some. Better yet, make it a whiskey. I'm whipped."

There was some non-religious things we did at school too. One was to make Easter bonnets out of construction paper and paste. Apparently, somewhere, Easter bonnets are huge. Where I come from, I never saw anybody wear them. But we made them anyways and gave them to our moms.
We also used to sing a song about an Easter Parade. Again, I never saw no Easter Parade around here. If I ever find out that there were Easter Parades on Wisconsin Avenue, to be honest, I'm gonna be a little pissed off, becaus my dad always took us to parades but he never, ever, took us to no Easter Parade and I, for one was heavily into parades of any kind. I gotta believe there weren't any because if there was my dad would have taken us. I believe that. He was a good dad. Besides he had standing orders from mom to get us kids out of the house any chance he got. I mean I never heard mom yell at dad, "I thought you told me you were taking these kids to the parade!" I'd remember that.

So that's just a few of my memories of Easter. As I reached puberty, my memories turn less to do with eggs and have more to do with a pretty, little girl I had my eye on. It was during this period where I might be heard to say, "C'mon you guys! Let's go! We're gonna be late for mass!"
It's amazing what women make men want to do.
Happy Easter all you Catholics out there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Save The Candy Raisins!

OH NO! The end of Candy Raisins, the weird candy beloved by Milwaukeeans?!?! Say it ain't so! As my cousin said..."Not candy raisins AND Brett Favre!".
The New England Confectionery Co., is closing its Pewaukee-based Stark Candy Co. in May. The Pewaukee facility is the only place in the nation (and I assume, planet) that makes Candy Raisins. The parent company has not indicated if they will continue production in their Massachusetts facility, so understandably, people are sounding the alarm.

A Wisconsin guy, Gary Radke, even set up an online petition to persuade New England Confectionery to keep the Candy Raisins.

I like candy raisins. I haven't had one for a while though. Back in the bad old "non-PC" days, we called them "Indian Raisins". I do not remember them being available in individual was the kind of candy you'd get at a store with a candy counter. Back then, the Sears on Forest Home Avenue had a nut and candy counter and maybe (just maybe) if we were good, my sister and I would get a dime to get some candy or nuts. Candy Raisins would have been one of the choices. Woolworth's or Quality Candy were other places where they were available. My dad likes them and I remember more than once giving him a bagful as a birthday gift.

For those of you unfamiliar with Candy Raisins...let me explain. They are small and chewy--about the size and the consistency of a gumdrop. Now that I think of it the color is a pretty unappealing tan. They do not taste anything like a raisin. Other writers have described them as soapy tasting or with a light ginger taste. I would say they have a flowery taste, almost perfumey. Sort of like the bergamot flavor of Earl Grey tea. I agree, they are "love-it-or-leave-it" candy. I know for sure Dale will say it is another candy for people who don't like candy.

Here's what "The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel" had to say about the whole thing.

I have already seen a successful resurrection of my favorite Licorice Snaps, so I have a good feeling that Candy Raisins will survive too.

After I go sign the petition, I think I'll order a pound or so for old time's sake. I wonder if the magic will still be there?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Paddy's

In honor of Dale's potato-eating ancestors I made us some corned beef and cabbage last night. I only make this once a year. I don't know why, since we both enjoy it and it is really simple to make. When I was a kid, my mom made something similar--Boiled Dinner. I know, that doesn't sound too appetizing but that pretty much tells the story though. The difference was instead of corned beef she would use a smoked butt--another not too appetizing term. Actually, it is not a butt at all, it is a pork shoulder, I think. The butt refers to the shape. I haven't seen smoked butts in California, or else I would make Boiled Dinner once in a while too.
For dessert, I had Haagen-Dasz Bailey's ice cream. Not too bad.

Here's the before picture:

We listen to BBC online radio often. The music programs, of course, are legendary, but the cultural shows are pretty good as well. "This Scepter'd Isle" is a great way to learn history as you snuggle up next to the fire with a cup of tea, Here is one of our other favorites: "A Kist O Wurds". This is a variety radio show in the Ulster Scots dialect. Sometimes its a little hard to understand, but I think it makes a fine accompaniment to a Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More Springiness

Yesterday I went to the Torrance Farmer's Market. I always feel a little bit guilty that I don't go there more often. It is close to my house so I really don't have any excuse not to. The last few times I've gone, I have always discovered something new, besides the usual great fruits and veggies.
Yesterday I had three things to cheer about. The first, and probably the best, is that there is a guy selling Tijuana Dogs! Wow! I thought they were illegal. For those of you that might not know the glory that is the Tijuana Dog, or LA Dog, let me explain. It is a bacon-wrapped hot dog cooked on a flattop grill with griddled onions and bell peppers. I didn't get my yearly "fix" at the LA Autoshow, so now I know where I'm going to be having lunch next Saturday.
The second thing was there is a guy doing knife sharpening. The state of my knives is one of my darkest secrets. I have really high quality knives that I don't keep as sharp as they deserve to be. When I was working in the restaurants, I could usually get one of the more experienced cooks to do it for me in exchange for me to do some of their prep work. It is a skill I wish I had, but it is also a skill that I think you make a lot of mistakes before you master it. Rather than wrecking my knives, I will be having my Tijuana Dog as my knives are being sharpened.
Last, I discovered a vendor selling malasadas, those yummy Portuguese "donuts" I used to eat in Hawaii. MMMMM Malasadas.

First strawberries of the season. Just to eat. Maybe with a little balsamic.

The official chard of The Green Bay Packers! How could I resist?

I sauteed them in some garlic and olive oil and paired them with a nice bean and sausage pasta.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring is Sprung!

Even before we went to Texas, there were already a few teensy blossoms on the peach tree. Between the rain while we were gone and this week's warm weather, the peach tree is an explosion of pink-ness. Because of the cold, wet winter I am predicting another bumper crop this summer. So start gathering those peach recipes and send 'em on over. I plan to try my hand at preserves or jam or something besides crisps and cobblers.

On the other hand, I don't need any help deciding what to do with my lime crop. Between all the Mojitos and Thai food I make, I still end up having to buy some.
The orange and lemon trees have buds that are just starting to open. They smell so good when they do. And the avocado tree is looking good too. Just waiting for Squirrel/Raccoon/Opossum Armageddon to happen. Soon, I hope.
Yay Spring!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Time Travel--With Food

Leap Day was pretty tasty this year. I had the happy experience of attending the once-every-four-years re-creation of City restaurant.
City was the creation of chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken back in the '80s. They deliciously brought together all sorts of ethnic cuisines under one roof--and in one menu. There were classic French dishes next to Thai, Mexican and Indian dishes. Throw in a couple home-style recipes and some awesome original California-inspired plates and that was City. Not only was the food exceptional, the place had this cool visual feel about it. It was in a "re-purposed" building. The wait staff had different colored jackets for the different stations: red for front waiter, gold for food runner, blue for busser (not sure if those were the actual colors, but you get the idea). The table settings were arty too: lots of little ramekins for condiments and salt/pepper. I remember there was a closed-circuit tee-vee in the bar area that showed what was going on in the kitchen. (Remember this was like, 1985 or so...Spago just opened a few years earlier with the open kitchen idea.) And the trademark crossed knife and fork on each place setting.

Needless to say, it was a pretty "cool" place and I loved going there whenever I had the chance to go up to Los Angeles. (I've always lived in the South Bay, which to me was the center of the universe, so a trip to LA was a special thing.) In fact, my last meal in California, the day before I moved to Maui, was at City. One of the driving reasons that I moved to Maui in the first place was to become a restaurant cook--an idea that was inspired by the work of Mary Sue and Susan.

So, yeah, I was pretty excited when I got the notice about this special dinner. I don't know why I hadn't heard of it before. The dinner takes place downtown at
Ciudad, their pan-Latin restaurant.

Dale unfortunately was sick with "the Uncle of all colds", so he had to miss. He'd never been to City--it was already closed by the time we met--and I had looked forward to sharing this with him. I use my "City" cookbook quite often, so he's had "virtual" City cuisine, just not the real deal.

Since I was smart and took Metro, I began with a Mojito. They make the best. (I can't wait for my mint garden to start again from its winter dormancy--that and my lime tree=Mojito Central in the summertime. Or Minty-Lime Coolers for those teetotalers amongst us.) The special menu had a three course pre-fixe menu at $45, as well as about 5 or 6 a la carte items for each course. In addition, there were a few Ciudad specialities, I guess for those diners that are Ciudad patrons that might not know City. I was torn between the pre-fixe and a la carte...I like the economy of the pre-fixe, but I really wanted to try the Thai Pork Dumpling Soup, which was not on the pre-fixe. Ach, what the hell--you can't take it with you, right? My waiter came to the rescue and said she'd give me the pre-fixe price anyway. Sweet!

I started with the potato bhujia--soft little pillows of spicy mashed potato topped with a cilantro sauce and yogurt. Pretty tasty. Next up was the Thai Pork Dumpling Soup. This is something I had never tried before, but it is in the City cookbook and has always intrigued me---why haven't I made it? Well, now I will! Very nice flavors. My only complaint of the evening was on this dish---the noodles were the flat kind, not cellophane, and either way, without chopsticks or the Asian "soup spoon" was REALLY hard to eat!

I ended with a signature City cupcake, which is a riff on Hostess cupcakes, except that you get real quality chocolate ganache and whipped cream and (hopefully) no trans-fats! Like THAT was on my mind?!?!

Ahhh....a blast from the past. I was pretty impressed that it appeared that Susan and MarySue were actually in the kitchen. I was seated next to a large table that the chefs came out to greet--hugs and kisses all around--and the chefs were in whites and aprons--it appeared that they were "on the line". So that was pretty cool. Definitely I would have liked a "total" re-creation of the old menu. Goat Cheese Avocado (why doesn't anyone but me like this?) or Potato Pea Curry? Ginger Tea (I made this for the ailing Dale on Saturday!) Here is a pic of the book. I had to laugh when it first came out--that a "major retailer" ( and I am thinking Williams-Sonoma) said they couldn't carry the book for sale because "it didn't fit in with their color scheme". Big Mistake.

How satisfying must it be that a restaurant (or really any endevor) that you stopped 15 years ago is still so high in the consciousness of your patrons? Congrats to Susan and Mary Sue for all their hard work and perseverance.

DAMMIT! I wish people would just come, sit on my patio and eat my food! OK, only 8 at a time and bring your own wine--everything else--I can do!

Here's Jonathan Gold's take on the evening.

You, too, can cook like Mary Sue and Susan recipes

Here is a story about the restaurants

Last Favre Retirement Post-- I PROMISE!

This one was just so obvious, but clever...I had to share it.

Thanks to Bill Schorr.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I Came, I Saw, I Polka-ed!

It was surreal. It was incredible. It was exciting. It was just plain-old fun. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said it totally exceeded our expectations by like a million percent.
The four of us--Dale and I, along with my niece Margaux and her BF Aaron, arrived at the Big Red Barn about 4:30pm. The place is aptly named--a houmongous red painted steel barn in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a dirt parking lot filled with big ranch trucks and RV's.

Dale and I could hardly contain ourselves as we walked into the place. The polka music was blasting! We were really there! It does exist! There was Big Joe himself up on the stage!
We sat at one of the long tables and took in the scene:

Lots and lots of old people!

We sat for a while taking it all in and fortified ourselves a bit with the $2 beers and $1 waters. Emboldened, we made our way to the edge of the dance floor. As I was trying to teach Dale how to (sort of) polka, I was whisked away by an elderly gentleman who was going to give me a few pointers on how to dance. OMG, I was freaking out, but this guy was a really good dancer and did give me a few helpful hints. This guy also happened to be one of the "regulars" we had seen many times on the show. His schtik is to wear big, freaky clown ties. We were all pretty humiliated by our lack of dancing talent and decided to just sit and watch after that. I mean seriously, there were people in WALKERS that were better dancers than us!

One of the early bands, Jimmy Brosch and the Country Boys was really good. This one had a lot of people gathered around the stage watching rather than dancing. The leader of this band, Jimmy, is 84 years old and KICKED ASS on sax and harmonica! He was seated as he performed, and after one rather lively song, Joe was joking with him that it looked like he had to rest for a bit to catch his breath..and the guy shoots right back with "I can go as long as I can blow!" You can see the performance HERE

The band before Brave Combo was Mark Halata and Texavia. They are a younger group, like BC, but also more on the traditional Czech side. I have seen them before on The Big Joe show. They played a couple of my favorites: "Aja Sam" and "Amerika" and I think "Praha". Their last song was a really great rendition of "This Land Is Your Land", which had everyone singing along and clapping.

Finally it was time for Brave Combo! How was this going to go? I thought for sure there would be more BC fans attending, but I saw only 20 or so people you could tell came just for BC. Earlier, some old guy in the men's room commented to Aaron that BC's songs are "pretty fast" and that he had hoped they might "slow it down a bit" for the audience in attendance.
Joe cordially introduced the band and there was an easy banter between Joe and Carl. Between songs they talked about the polka bands of old and stuff like that. Joe talked a little about how important it is that bands like BC are bringing in the "young people". The people that were standing next to me were from the PO.L.K. of A. group (which I guess is a organized polka lover's group) and they were very enthusiastic about BC and commented on how great BC is for the future of the genre.
As usual, BC was awesome! They had an extra guy on clarinet and also had a backup drummer. Like I predicted, they stuck to traditional songs. Most people were standing around the stage to watch and man, those oldsters were really digging it! Of course, I was having such a good time that I couldn't write up a set list, but some of the songs they did were "At the Friendly Tavern", "Joy Waltz", "Polish Holiday", "Hosa Dyna", "Kiss Me Sweetheart", "Stan Blout Medley" to name a few. Sheer Polka Heaven!
Carl getting down on the accordion.

We had a great time. Dale, who is not as shy as I am, went and said hi to Joe and had him sign his hat. He also chatted a bit with Joe's daughter Janie who said she'd feature us (as in a solo dance)...but I was too chicken to do it. I know I'm gonna regret that in the future, but we're not that good of dancers and I didn't want to be a lame ass on the tee-vee.

It was pretty interesting to see how the taping was done. Joe chit chats with the bands in between songs, and then does a 3-2-1 countdown and introduces each song as it would be shown in TV. The stage is curtained off into two sections, so one band sets up/breaks down as another band is playing. Pretty smart and no down time. We had our theories on Big Joe's personality. We were thinking he might be having "a few beers" while the bands were playing, but didn't see any of that. But he does run a pretty tight ship. I was pretty surprised that he signed Dale's cap.
Big Joe at the helm:

Of course we had to sample the local delicacies:

Don't know what this is sayin' about polka lovers...

All in all, we had an awesome time. As Big Joe always says..."Happy Music for Happy People"...and boy, were we happy people!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

End of An Era

I'm still a little numb, a little sad after hearing the news that Brett Favre is retiring. Things won't be the same without him, but who knows what the future will bring?

I have a little "Packer Shrine" in my cube at work. I had this picture hanging, something I tore from a magazine. I gave it an update today.

Say It Ain't So Brett

Favre retires--a black, black day indeed.