Thursday, July 30, 2009

Solving California's Money Crisis

You have probably heard by now that California is in a world of hurt due to a budget crisis. I don't want to get into a long story about the why or how it happened, but it pretty much boils down to: more money is going out than is coming in. When that happens, you gotta start spending less money.
Last week the Governator OK'd the budget and there are big cuts all over the place in addition to the cuts already made. Furlough Fridays for state workers, less hours at the DMV, programs and funding cuts--you name it.
California State Parks were one of the areas that didn't fare well in the budget cuts. So much so, that some State Parks will probably be closing. Only 13 of 279 of the parks are self-sustaining, the rest rely on the state for funding.
One of the things being suggested is partnering with industry as a way to regain the necessary funding. With that in mind, those two clever guys--Dale and John--put on their thinking caps and came up with these possible partners for some of the California State Parks. They included some National Parks too just in case Uncle Sam tries to do the same thing.

Terminator billboard on Half Dome

White and Day Death Valley

Fresh Step Kitty Litter presents Will Rogers State Beach

Red-Bull-Wood National Park

Banana Boat Aloe Vera Gel presents Joshua Tree National Monument

The Devil's Post-Fruity-Pebbles-Pile

Zales' Colma Gold Discovery Site at Marshall's Mill

Sucrets Mono Lake

The Southern California Edison Reddy-KiloWatts Towers

McDonner's Lake

Yoplait-semite National Park

Shasta State Park (no name change necessary!)

Morton Salton Sea

Burger King's Canyon National Park

KCBS-TV Channel 2 Islands

Kraft Catalina Salad Dressing Island

Manzanar, presented by Toyota

Rio Honda Park (no name change necessary)

Malibu Barbie State Beach presented by Mattel

San Onofre State Beach presented by the NRC

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Here's another summer staple at Fartwood Manor: Cold Soba with Chicken. I could eat this every day. Rather than the traditional way to eat cold soba--in which the chilled noodles are presented on a little bamboo mat and served with a soy/ginger dipping sauce--this is a one-dish affair that includes spinach and grilled chicken that was briefly marinated in a little of the sauce, then everything gets tossed together with a little more of the soy/ginger sauce.
The original recipe calls for udon noodles, but I'm not a big fan of cold udon--to me those are soup noodles. Most of the time I grill the chicken, but today I cooked it in a grill pan.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Salad Days

It's finally summer here and the heat is on--not like Portland, but just about right for me. So that means I'm in a salad sort of mood, but I wanted something more substantial than just some mixed greens. Chicken was on sale too, so I knew that would be an ingredient.
This is a Vietnamese salad called Goi Ga. It has poached chicken, cabbage, carrots, onions and herbs tossed with a dressing made with chiles, garlic, lime juice and fish sauce.
I used two recipes for inspiration. One is from Leite's Culinaria called Poached Chicken and Cabbage Salad with Vietnamese Coriander. I also consulted Wandering Chopsticks to get her Goi Ga recipe. Both recipes were different, yet basically the same. I used the salted cabbage from the Leite's, but I liked the way Wandering Chopsticks soaked her onions in vinegar first. I also followed WC's technique of using the mortar and pestle to make the chile-garlic paste for the dressing. Both recipes called for the Vietnamese herb rau ram, but I wussed out and used mint and cilantro. Even though it is a pain in the butt, I made the fried shallots. You wouldn't think so, but these pretty much make the dish. The contrast between the tangy, light salad and the smoky funk of the shallots is incredible.
A great salad for a warm summer night.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


I really like beans and I'm always on the lookout for good ways to prepare them. I do use them in a few salads, but it seems that cooked beans are more of a dish for cooler weather. So when I came across Tuscan Beans in Summery Tomato Ragu I was excited to try it.
The dish is really easy to prepare--you just have to remember to soak your beans ahead of time--and uses ingredients that are almost always on hand. I will admit it is not a "cool kitchen" dish, since it does go in the oven at some point. I used Great Northern beans--but I would love to try cannelini beans sometime
The mellowness of the beans offsets the tangy tomatoes well, and the cheese that is sprinkled on top adds a wonderful undertone. I served this as a side for some grilled steak and garlic-sauteed wild arugula, but I think the beans with a big salad or a pile of sauteed greens would be more than enough to make a nice meat-free dinner.

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20, 1969

Forty years ago today, I sat at a picnic table at Potawatomi State Park in Wisconsin and watched as Neil Armstrong left the lunar module and made the first human footprint on the moon's surface.
My family left Milwaukee that morning on a two-week camping trip around Wisconsin. My folks felt it was too important of an event to miss, so we brought along our portable tee-vee so we could watch the moon walk.
I grew up in a pretty "Space Race/New Frontier" sort of atmosphere: my birth year coincided with Sputnik's launch. The silver-y snow suit I wore as a toddler was a "space suit". I remember watching John Glenn's orbit and asking my mom a typical six-year-old's question: "How do they go to the bathroom?" (Answer: "They take a pill"....good one, Mom!). Many years later, I remember sneaking out of work, to a co-worker's van, in order to watch the first Space Shuttle liftoff. Even now, I find it exciting to hear the sonic boom of the Shuttle when it makes a landing at Edwards AFB.
Dale grew up in a aerospace family--his dad was on the team that designed and built the AESEP and ALSEP modules for the Apollo program, as well as taking part in the development of the Lunar Rover used in later Apollo missions.
Here are a few of the mementoes of his:

How exciting that must have been, to be involved in such an historic endeavor? The South Bay (that's what the area where I live is called) is home to a number of aerospace companies. Sunday's Daily Breeze had a good article on what it was like back then, working on these early space programs. Everyone felt such a sense of duty and excitement.
Times are different now, so many things have shadowed the space program. Sure, our country has too many problems and not enough money, but I really do think we need to have something like this lofty goal--not just to be "the first"-- but something to capture the imagination and inspire people and now that the Shuttle is winding down I hope that we find again that compelling sense of purpose to pursue the exploration of space.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Crazy Carrots

Check out these awesome carrots I got at the Torrance Farmers' Market! I was so excited to get them home and prepare them. I thought it would be best to keep it simple, so I would be able to tell if there was any flavor difference between the three colors. All I did was toss them with olive oil, sea salt and some avocado honey (dark and robust) and roast them in the oven for 30 minutes. If you've never roasted carrots--please try it. You will love the deep, sweet, carrot-y flavor.
They were pretty good as carrots go, but I couldn't really taste any difference between the colors. The red carrot was only red at the surface--the inside was a dark orange.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bonne Fete Nationale!

It's Bastille Day in's a little video of the big military parade.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On The BBQ Trail

After all the wedding vows were taken, all the dances danced, all the bratwursts grilled (and eaten), and honeymooners sent on their way.... Dad joined Dale and me on a mini road trip down to San Antonio-- about an hour's drive south from Austin. That is if you don't stop for Texas BBQ. We stopped. Often.
The area between Austin and San Antonio is one of Texas' prime BBQ zones. I've been to Texas a few times, but so far never had a chance to really explore all the famous places I'd been hearing about. For the trip down, we took highway 183 to our first stop: Lockhart, BBQ Capital of Texas and home to Smitty's, Black's and Kreutz Market. Since it was pretty early and my companions were not looking too favorably on having BBQ for breakfast, I narrowed the choice for this stop to Black's, which claims to the the oldest BBQ restaurant in Texas owned by the same family.
We parked the car near the main square and followed our noses.

Instructions on how they do things down in Lockhart. Pretty easy to follow.

Since the meats are all sold by the pound, you can just order what you want, in the quantities you want. I chose a pork rib, some brisket and a sausage. Since this was stop number one, I didn't want to get too overloaded. Rounded out with a little coleslaw and a devilled egg.

Everything was really good. The sausage was not fatty at all. Texas BBQ differs from other types of BBQ like Carolina or St. Louis style in that it is not served with a sauce. Most places have some sauce, but you have to add it yourself. It is all about the smoke and the meat in Texas.

Yes, Virginia, there really IS a jackalope.

Lockhart is the county seat of Caldwell County and boasts this ornate courthouse on the square in the heart of the city.

Next stop--Luling, home of the world-famous Watermelon Thump as well as home to City Market, another great stop on the BBQ trail.

City Market was a little different than Black's in that you actually entered the smokehouse to order your meat. Not as many side dishes either. No frills....the food comes on butcher paper and I had to go ask for a fork. Again, I had pork ribs and brisket--both good.

My dining companions finally perked up and had some good looking pork ribs too.

A local Luling artist transforms these pump jacks into works of art. There are something like 20 of them throughout the town. This one honors the Watermelon Thump.

This jack was in the back of a Dairy Queen.

Next stop--San Antonio....and The Alamo!

I've been a big fan of "King of the Hill" for many years. One of the recurring themes is that of The Alamo and how important it is to Texans. One episode, Hank Hill did an Battle of the Alamo re-enactment, and last season, Hank even made a backyard bar in the shape of the Alamo.

San Antonio's big event is called "Fiesta" and it was going on while we were there. That meant there were many events going on around town, including one that afternoon at The Alamo put on by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Because of this the visiting hours were shortened and we only got to spend a short time inside. Dang...I really wanted to see if there was a basement! We met one of the Sons of the Republic of Texas and chit-chatted with him for awhile. He sure knew everything there was to know about The Alamo and Texas in general. When we came back later that evening, we saw they had presented these wreaths, which were still on display.

The Riverwalk was pretty neat, but it too was the site of a Fiesta event, so we couldn't really experience it like we wanted to. That evening was one of the main Fiesta events--a Boat Parade-- and all the walkways were lined with reserved seating. One restaurant was selling a seat at a table for $75! We came by later and got to see a little of the parade from atop a bridge.

Since we couldn't hang out on The Riverwalk, we hopped a bus and went to El Mercado. This was another open air place with restaurants and shops and here too, was another Fiesta event...there were three stages with live music going on and the place was packed. We were pretty hungry by this time so we stopped at Mi Tierra Cafe. This place looked like a total tourist trap and I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised with the nice dinner we had. This photo is only a tiny glimpse of the over-the-top decor going on inside.

When I go travelling, I like to stay in historic hotels, if I can. We chose The Menger for our stay in San Antonio. It has a great location-- "across the alley from The Alamo" and it was built in 1859. The lobby is gorgeous.

Here is a neat sign.

We had to head out back to Austin the next morning and we were all just too "touristed-out" to make any stops along the way. I had planned on stopping in New Braunfels for more BBQ and I guess Barney Smith's Toilet Seat Art Museum will have to wait for my next trip. San Antonio has a lot more to explore--we only scratched the surface.

We kept hearing "Y'all come back" and I'm sure we will!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Austin Wedding Limits

Finally!--as promised--a post about my April trip to Austin.
Dale and I went for our second visit to Austin, this time to attend the wedding of my niece (and godchild) Margaux. In addition to all the wedding-related festivities, we also had the opportunity to do a little more exploring than last time we were here.

A cool old sign in South Austin.
I don't know if it is an absence of zoning rules or just typical Austin weirdness, but roadside trailers selling stuff is really popular, especially in South Austin. Vacant lots are transformed into funky food places.
South Austin Trailer Park is home to a number of vendors, one of which is Torchy's Tacos. I've had more than my fair share of tacos, but Torchy's were the best I've had yet. Not only were the fillings awesome (I think this is one beef and one green chile pork) but the tortillas were unbelievably good. We loved it so much we ate there twice during our visit.
This "canned ham"-style trailer sells s'mores! How cool is that? They sell you the fixins and you DIY it at the small fire pit near by.

These cool Airstreams are parked on South Congress.
We also visited the fair.ever. was early and a little rainy, but this was one sad fun fair. Even the carnies were sad.

I'd been looking forward to checking out the Austin bat colony that resides under the Congress Avenue bridge. This is the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in the world. The bridge is over a widening of the Colorado River called Lady Bird Lake. Luckily for us, the wedding reception was right on the shore of the river/lake and we were able to see the whole thing. I expected a couple of bats to fly around, but this was unbelievable! Once they started coming out, they kept on coming and coming and coming......for about 20 minutes! Constantly. They sort of made a sinuous, helix shape and sometimes there were even two columns of bats. It was crazy!

Driving around town, I'd noticed that Austin has a lot of neon. Now I know why. We stopped and talked to Todd, the super-friendly owner/artist of Roadhouse Relics, who's responsible for many of the signs I'd seen around town.
I know--not so awsome during the day...but this is a great example of the styles Todd designs. Last time we were in Austin, we went to Jovita's to see Brave Combo play.
Another highlight of the trip was the chance to eat some kolaches. There are many outlets of The Kolache Factory around town.
Frozen custard in Austin? You betcha! This place has been in business since the 40's. Started up by transplants from Ohio.
It was sort of weird to travel to Texas to learn about California style--but this was a great exhibit. Austin has a thriving modern community and we saw some cool architecture as we explored the city.
We got to meet Maya--cutest, friendliest pup ever.
The entire visit was a blast. Not only did I do touristy things like these photos show, the wedding events were the highlights of the trip.
Since the bride is from Wisconsin, there was a large contingent of Cheeseheads that traveled down to Texas for the event. I had a great time catching up with friends and family as well as meeting more of Aaron's family.

Here's a pic of the happy newlyweds!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Lest my blog readers think I'm's my tribute to America's Birthday.
On tap for today is some much-needed house cleaning in the AM and then go hit the fireworks show at Wilson Park around 7. The sun is already up and shining--I guess June gloom is over.