Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Wisdom of Celebrating with Food

Over the weekend I was on the phone with my grandmother telling her about our cozy anniversary dinner at Pace in the Canyon in Laurel Canyon.  Pace is the Italian word for peace.  She was so pleased we used her gift money marking the occasion in this way.  She simply observed, "it's good to do something different to celebrate the day." 

Photo Credit: Minx Society
We chose this restaurant not only for it's remarkable food (click here if you want to see the menu), but almost more importantly for its atmosphere.  One of the very few outpost locations still around from the 20's, this tucked-in-the-Hollywood Hills gathering spot is in a European cave-like setting.  I love places like these where you feel like you are part of a secret.  The restaurant is technically in the basement of the upstairs country grocer and is just steps from where Jim Morrison used to live.  Yes, this is old hippie territory and really only locals know about it.

Photo Credit: Zagat
So what is it in our human make up that triggers the innate sense of celebration with food and drink?  Maybe even more so as we get older?  I keep coming back to this question throughout the holiday season.  With the obvious Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's celebrations, this time of year for me also includes an anniversary and a birthday.  Unfortunately, in the background but no less important are the recent passings that also happened in my sphere.  All of these events have been punctuated with food....special food which brings people together.

Food does several things.  It brings us nourishment.  Food is emotional; spiritual to some. And we all require food to continue living.  Factor in our need for socialization, a reason or excuse to celebrate or honor an event no matter how big or small, brings all these things together in the most satisfying of ways.

Whether you are into the art of preparing a celebratory meal, recreating a family tradition or choosing to celebrate the fact you finally got together with a friend when schedules are so hectic, I'd like to think that uniting around our food is a superb way of living in the present and "doing something different to celebrate the day."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ho, Ho, Ho

Tis the season for Christmas cheer.  Here's to pacing ourselves!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Homemade Peanut Butter in a Nutshell - A How To Video!

Nut butters are one of the simplest pantry items you can make yourself and you don't have to be a homesteader to create it.  As I've been writing this blog over (oh my) 3 years, simplicity is a common refrain I've heard from friends and family.  It's fine and dandy to make all things homemade if you can, but please keep it simple. 

I've heard you!  So has the hubby.  Starting with this post, John and are introducing a new dimension to Sly's Mise En Place, how-to videos.   Being home cooks, we've learned so much through our own trial and error.  When we happen across something easy and successful we'll share it with you via our how-to videos.  Now, let's make homemade peanut butter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Stay Tuned

John and I are in the "what will we do when we are no longer working" mode.  It's a long ways off or course!  We both feel strongly we will need to have some sort of purpose so why not use the skill set we've been using professionally (television) and apply it to something we're really passionate about (food!).  Why wait till later?

Stay tuned for our latest addition to this blog later in December.  In TV land we call this a tease.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dangling Chads and Other Callings on Thanksgiving Day

While so many were counting their blessings with loved ones on November 23, 2000, I chose to stand with John at the Broward County Courthouse watching officials count dangling, pregnant and dimpled chads.

Judge Robert Rosenberg examining a ballot.  Courtesy NBC Nightly News, November 23, 2000
Like so many in the service industry, military, health care and emergency responders; TV photojournalists work through the business of the day.  (An old adage says there are only two living things not running away from a fire; firemen and newsmen.)  "Breaking news" never happens at a convenient time.  On this day, he was the photographer who took these pictures waiting out the days at the courthouse until the election was called.

Courtesy, NBC Nightly News - November 23, 2000 (and my husband...)
The expression in the above picture mirrors the look I gave John through the phone receiver when he told me couldn't come home for the holiday.  Standing for hours on end, amidst the shouting and demonstrations in front of the courthouse and with no Thanksgiving references on this day is not what I envisioned for myself or anyone I care about.

While I couldn't pack up Thanksgiving and all its trimmings, I was fortunate enough to make the trek to him and his work buddies stuck on the same assignment.

It was an historical time and one I hope this country never has to repeat. But in our sacrifice of a home cooked meal with family and friends on this particular Thanksgiving, we witnessed a turning of the tide with an added treat of an interview with Senator Bob Dole.  He and his wife, too, sacrificed their day to participate.

Every Thanksgiving thereafter, I appreciate all those who are unable to spend the day as they truly desire in their hearts.  As for me, I count myself so fortunate to spend it with my family one more time.

What did our journalistic crowd have as our Thanksgiving feast on November 23, 2000?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Taco Shop Drama

This is the story of the Studio City "Taco Apocalypse."  Had you asked me a year ago, I would have told you my neighborhood was in a major meltdown over the end of our historic neighborhood darling, Henry's Tacos. 

Young and old alike, we were witnessing the long, slow death of a fixture that held personal meaning to each of us.   The smallest restaurant I've ever seen, for John and I, mere adolescents in Studio City residency years, Henry's was the nourishment that got us through the move into our house and countless weekend house projects thereafter.  We signed our offer papers while seated at one of the 5 picnic tables available to patrons.

Many a Hollywood location scouts utilized Henry's as a backdrop for their storytelling.

TV Show - Adam 12
The prolonged drama between the landlord/tenant started the strife.  Henry's Tacos owner (i.e. tenant), Janis Hood, with the best of intentions, wanted to place the corner taqueria building on the city's historical register as a Googie-style, mid-century treasure.  The landlord of several decades, was concerned the historical landmark designation would limit future sale or development opportunities. When it came time to re-up the lease, the negotiations turned bitter and became very public. 

Elijah Wood
Celebrity protests, Occupy style eat-in rally, on-line petitions and farewell gestures caught the national media's attention.  Henry's wasn't going down quietly.

Occupy Henry's Rally

Henry's Tacos had been in the neighborhood for over 51 years being built by Hood's grandfather Henry Comstock during the early '60's way before anyone thought of a Taco Bell.  His specialty, "gringo tacos," are also considered a mid-century relic.  But in January of 2013 this family run business lost the epic battle with the owner of the building and Henry's was shuttered forever.

Or so we thought.

Janis sold the business to her longtime chef, Omar Vega to carry on the taco stand tradition with it's original recipes.  He vowed to reopen and did so later in the spring.....about 50 yards away!

All had returned to normal in sleepy Studio City!

Maybe.  The new tenants in the old Henry's location naturally decided to turn it into a...wait for it...a taco shop!  Cactus Taqueria #3.  Henry's was up and running months before Cactus finished their extensive re-model -- an upgraded the kitchen, dining area and exterior finishes.  They did a lovely job, but the Googie features have now been muted and because it's a "#3" it has lost it's architectural uniqueness.

Both serve great but very different versions of Mexican-like food.  Cactus has an more extensive menu than Henry's.   Their food takes longer to prepare.  They are also more expensive.

Cactus style - Rolled Tacos with Guacamole

Henry's Classic Gringo Tacos

Henry's has stuck with their no frills, low cost menu.  Both seem to be pacing okay but the competition has diluted the taco business.  (The lines at Henry's are shorter than they were in the old spot). This why the story is still important today.

If the fine folks of Studio City want to have street tacos in the future, then all the Occupiers and lovers of tacos need to come out and consistently support both.  Otherwise, Henry's and Cactus might sadly disappear from the landscape and that battle to keep street tacos alive will be lost to the war of consumer's next passion of the day.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Do We Dress Up for Halloween?

Is Halloween the same as Day of the Dead?  And why do I dwell on such questions?  Maybe it's because I am trying to avoid figuring out what I'm going to be for my office Halloween party.  Every year the benchmark is set higher and higher.  No pressure.  What else would you expect from people who work in the entertainment industry?

Since I don't have any brilliant costume ideas (yet), I'll instead tackle these other pressing questions.  Of course, food is common between the two celebrated holidays.  What differentiates the two is the goal of attracting good souls and avoiding the not so-good-souls.

Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos occurs over a three day period, October 31-November 2 around All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.  It's a time where families build private altars honoring the souls of their dead ancestors.  The altars are decorated with sugar skulls, brilliant orange marigolds and favorite food/drink as on offering for their dearly departed.  On those 3 days, families will clean, decorate and set up the altars at the cemetery with the intent of encouraging visits with the souls of their loved ones.  We'll call them the good souls.

Halloween on the other end of the soul spectrum, also known as "All Hallow's Eve," began as a Christian feast influenced by Celtic harvest festivals.  Harvest festivals falling at the end of summer's bounty and going into the darker half of the year was seen as a time when the spirits could more easily pay a visit to the world of the living.  If one didn't want to encounter the evil souls, they would costume themselves as a way to disguise their identity.  The costumed came to be known as guisers.  If guisers wanted to frighten the evil spirits away, then jack-o'lanterns were carried to deny those spirits entry into heaven or hell.  Turnips, yes turnips were the original jack-o'lanterns.  By the time the North Americans got a hold of the tradition, they used the much softer pumpkin to make their point. So, the trick or treaters coming to your door today are carrying on the very old tradition of guising.

Turnip Jack-O'Lantern, courtesy Wikipedia
Now that I know guising was supposed to scare the evil spirits away, I'm not so sure of my past costume choices.  But the one I've been most proud of was the year I went as Jack I. Box or simply  Jack. I'm not sure I'll ever top it and I'm pretty sure I didn't frighten any souls except for maybe myself when I looked in the mirror.  This year, I now know what I need to focus on when I create my next great costume....the fear factor!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Horse is a Horse of Course ...... But a Horse Trough is Perfect for a Vegetable Garden

No one can talk to a horse of course, but if one could go right to the source and ask the horse he'll give you the answer that you'll endorse.  Save your back when you build your next vegetable garden and get a horse trough.  Thanks Mr. Ed.

Looking back in my pictures, it was exactly three years ago this weekend, we had just completed our first raised vegetable garden.  I was just coming into appreciation the effort it takes to grow food...Super Size Me, My Way.  If you check out the original garden below, you'll witness how often I would have to squat or bend over to attend to my patch.

The squats and bending are all fine and dandy today, but what about as I grow older?  I don't want aches and pains to be an obstacle in doing something I love.  Thanks to a recent visit to a friend's home in Vallejo, she planted ideas in my head for ways to plan ahead.  Best start this project now while we're able to do hard labor. 

All those little red dots in the picture are cherry tomatoes.  Millions of them!  This trough idea is a producer.

You noticed I said "we" in the hard labor comment?  No way could this weekend warrior do a project of this scope by herself.  My knight in shining armor came to my aide.  He too was inspired.  While he loves the homegrown produce, he doesn't love the digging and bending required.  I had a willing participant.

First order of business, where to find a trough.  All the Googling in the world didn't land the obvious retailer except for Amazon.  I asked my girlfriend where she purchased hers; she drove to Petaluma.  Not a practical solution for this So Cal girl.  Giving it more thought, we remembered there's an equestrian center in Burbank.  Surely, there will be a feed store nearby that could give us direction.  Not only were they able to give us direction, they carried various sizes of troughs.  They probably thought there goes another set of yuppies using serious equestrian material for some grand gardening scheme.  So what if they did?

Having gotten over that hurdle, our next challenge was irrigation.  This last summer proved to me our lack of gardening success had everything do with our lack of available time to attend to the garden.  We needed to automate.  This is where my knight was truly amazing.  He tapped into our existing sprinkler system and created a separate line to our revamped vegetable garden.  But first we had to tear apart the old garden.

Another good reason to go to a trough system, pressure treated wood only lasts so long
Trenching for the new irrigation line.

A great find, a solar powered timer installed.  Everything tests out.

Determined to make the area look tidy with as little maintenance as possible, we laid out weed barrier fabric and topped with mulch.

With the area prepared, we were ready to install the troughs.  Because the troughs are enclosed, drainage needs to be created.  Here's where having the right tools makes the job all the easier.  John used a steel drill bit.  Holes created with ease.

Not wanting the feet of plants and soil to get water logged, we added drainage gravel.

So that the premium potting soil doesn't slip out through our drainage we just prepared, we added a layer of landscape fabric.  

Bags and bags of premium potting soil added.  Learning from my past successes and failures the quality of soil is everything.

Installing the drip lines up next.

My knight

Ready for planting now and all those future years ahead.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

What's Your Best Age?

Not long after John and I moved to Los Angeles, we encountered Jack LaLanne at our favorite Greek restaurant, Le Petit Greek Estiatorio.  No, he did not look like this when we saw him ... but here's what he looked like at the height of his career.

Courtesy Wikipedia
Star sightings are not unusual where we live, but what was unusual is he came over to our table to visit with us.  I promise, we did not prompt him to come over.

John, being his ever so shy self, put his journalism cap on and asked Jack, "what was the best age of your life?"  The evening of our visit with him, we estimated he was in his early 90's.  He did not blink.  The answer was easy.  He replied, "Right now!"

Long before it was fashionable to be "healthy," Mr. LaLanne became famous through his fitness and nutritional TV shows thanks to the golden age of television.  Many thought, back in the day, he was a charlatan and a nut.  Doctors claimed what he was doing could give people heart attacks and make them lose their sex drives.

Motivated by his father's premature death at the age of 58 most likely due to poor nutrition, young Jack recognized the sugary junk food he had been living on up to that point contributed to his own terrible headaches, an awful complexion and a horrid temper.  It all became clear when he witnessed a lecture from Paul Bragg, a pioneer in the wellness movement.  Paul delivered a speech on the evil aspects of overdoing on meat and sugar.  Following that light bulb moment, Jack has always credited Paul for saving his own life.

If you watched TV anytime between 1953 and 1985, you probably remember Jack LaLanne's persona well.

When he first started appeared on television, he actually had to buy a 15 minute block because no one could imagine viewers would want to watch exercise.  A few years later the show was picked up on the ABC network evolving to a 30 minute daily program.  I can honestly relay, that guy you saw on TV was exactly the same guy in person.

Here's the lessons I took away.  Those who believe the best years are behind them, may be blinded to the joys of today.  I also learned those who are ahead of their time are often ridiculed.  Keep an open mind to new ideas and we can perhaps evolve.  Of all the star sightings we've had, he was one of our favorites. A few years later, he passed away to his great chagrin.

"I'd hate to die, it would ruin my image. "

Jack LaLanne September 26, 1914 - January 23, 2011

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Need an Appetizer Idea? FIGgedaboutit!

For many years I shunned the fig.  Wrongly, I classified it right up there with prunes and dates; something you "should" eat but hardly have an affinity for.  Boy have I been wrong.

A couple years back I started challenging myself to try new things.  By default, John got roped into trying new things too.  He's been a trooper with the small exception of kale which I now "slip" into his food (don't tell).  For me, you may remember I was persnickety about persimmons but found a way to enjoy them.  Enter the fig.

Always looking so regal at the Farmer's market, I started experimenting with Figs in salads and juicing.  Guess what?  I like them .... a lot!  So similar to eating a sugar cookie, except healthier.  Within the last month, in two separate cities, I had friends mention how tasty figs wrapped in prosciutto were.  Coincidence or an indicator I should try it?  Seizing the suggestion, I implored my second friend to show me his tried and true approach to this simple appetizer.

Our friend, Nick

First slice figs in half just up to the stem so that the stem acts as a hinge to keep it together.  Scoop out the center.  Reserve the scooped out meat of the fig in a bowl for the filling.

Mix the fig meat with a small log of goat cheese.

Throw in some fresh mint into the mixture; this will give the appetizer a brightness to the sweet and savory flavor.

Fill the scooped out fig shells with the goat cheese/mint mixture.  Similar idea to a twice baked potato.

Wrap the sweet, tangy package in a good quality prosciutto sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350.

Let cool slightly.  Enjoy with a lovely glass of wine.

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