Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Little [too much] Sitar

Turkey's about ready to be committed to the final indignity...the penultimate, the stuffing, just recently completed. As is my want, I was watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and trying not to cry over every marching band from the country's midsection while prepping for the feast to follow. I like it and folks who know me well understand the sorry, sentimental side of me. The parade finished and Roger asked me if I'd like a little music while I was finishing up. I said sure and he chose a little, light sitar music for me. Maybe that works when you're tripping, but right now...Ravi is doing no more than making me want to throw my oven mitt at the ipod. SHADDDDDDUP already.

Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How I know It's Almost Thanksgiving and why I Probably Won't Ever Buy An Appliance That Starts with a V again

How long do you think a gas stove should last that cost around $7,000? Five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20? I think it should pretty much last for flippin' ever, but the reality is this.

We moved into this house seven years ago. We love the house, we love the look of the kitchen. We've replaced the fridge and that's when we discovered that the entire kitchen had been built by a high-end W. Hollywood kitchen design firm located in The Pacific Design Center. When the fridge was shimmied out of its snug, we found the designer's label stuck on the side of the cupboard. They did a good job with this kitchen and I'm sure listened to the client and did what she wanted. Apparently, she wanted her whole kitchen built around a white Amana refrigerator that was already about 20 years old. Don't ask. So, a year ago we replaced that fridge. We knew we were limited in what we could do because the cupboards had been built around this ancient appliance. I'm still shaking my head about that. Anyway...old fridge out, new fridge in...but no, it was about 5/8" too wide. I blogged about this so I won't go into the details except to say I had to empty ALL the cupboards that abut the fridge while the Pacific Design Center hotshots came in and reconfigured the cupboards. Okay, so now I have a stainless fridge...nothing fancy...still an Amana because that's all that fits, even with the fancy design team adjustments.

Then there's a stainless dishwasher. Asko or something. It works fine. The racks could be better, but I'm not complaining and I'm also knocking on wood.

And now on to the V appliances...seems I'm not alone. The stoves: one electric and one gas. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when we moved here. I had a stainless steel, gas, restaurant quality V range with a great extraction system. AND, I had a V electric convection oven, full-size and mounted under the counter. Two full-sized ovens. Two full-sized ovens that have had the V repairman here at least four times in the past seven years. Each visit by Vlad, the smooth-talking Russian repairman, is progressively more expensive.

And today, since the gas stove wouldn't start and it's almost Thanksgiving, he came back. Vlad is here right now and he just gave me the estimate. $597.00. One hour's work to make Thanksgiving possible.

And what are my options? Replacement isn't an option right now, but when it happens, I guarantee that the applicance will start with the next letter of the alphabet. I'm going for a Wolf.

Oh, and guess what Vlad just told me. Her heard my fridge make a weird noise and he turned around and said, "Oh, Amana. Das iss med by Viking."

The Thanksgiving Recipe Post

Thanksgiving Recipes (that are good)

I post these recipes every year at Thanksgiving. They're so good that the turkey will become incidental (lies, lies, lies). Here at Chez Dotty, we don't eat canned vegetables with fried canned onions on top. We just can't. It's not allowed. It's a violation of some law I cast in stone when the kids were little. Frozen peas, they're okay. Canned peas. Not okay. The list goes on and frequently makes no sense. It's not that we're such enormous food snobs that we don't eat this stuff at someone else's table, because we do, so just in case I ever don't cook Thanksgiving dinner in the future, I'm up for the canned beans combo dish. But, if you feel like trying something outside your normal repertoire and if you like some flavor surprises, try one of these.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with
Maple Syrup and Chipotles

adapted from Bobby Flay, Bolo and Mesa Grill

This recipe is fantastic and fortunately, or unfortunately, a friend is bringing her own Sweet Potato surprise to our gathering this year. I love this one and usually add more chipotles than called for. I like the way the smokey and spicy heat of the chiles tangos with the sweetness of the potatoes. This can be made a day or so ahead of time, put in a gratin dish, dotted with butter and reheated at the annointed time at 350 'til hot. Yield 6 to 8 servings. Most people don't eat huge quantities, so you can stretch this to serve 12 if you have the traditional mashed potatoes with the Thanksgiving meal, as well. I always make a small mashed sweet potato and marshmellow dish for any children joining us (and any adults who still love that wonderfully Elvissy dish).

5 lbs (about 10 medium or 5 large) sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1/3 to 1/2 cup maple syrup (the real thing)
3/8 cup creme fraiche (can't be dealing with french accent marks so forgive)
4 tsp purée from canned chipotles (some I mince a bit, too if you want it spicier hotter)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Salt to taste and some ground black pepper

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place potatoes on large backing sheet and bake until soft, 35 to 40 minutes for medium potatoes, up to an hour for large.

Or...use a fork and poke some holes into the raw tuber. Wrap in a paper towel and throw in the microwave until soft.

Meanwhile, combine syrup, creme fraiche, chipotle puree, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.

When potatoes are tender, remove from oven, slice in half lengthwise. Scoop hot flesh into a potato ricer or food mill, puree into bowl with other ingredients. Stir with rubber spatula to combine. Potatoes should be light and fluffy. Taste for seasoning and if serving immediately, transfer to warm serving bowl. Otherwise pop into the fridge and feel smug that you've done something in advance.

Now onto the Brussel(s) sprouts. For ease of pronunciation, I'll say Brussel sprouts. Some of us have brussel sprouts every Thanksgiving, and some people don't like to even be in the same house where a sprout has been cooked in the last week. We're the former. We like small, round, green things. So, here's a recipe for every person who has ever said, "I hate brussel sprouts." I assure you, if they don't like these, they're philistines or young.

This is for four...we generally have to at least treble this recipe since even the brussel sprouts haters will eat it.

Brussels Sprouts Leaves cooked with
Pancetta and Mirepoix

1 lb. brussel sprouts
2 tbsp. rendered duck fat or olive oil
Mirepoix (dice one small carrot (2 oz or so), 1/2 large stalk of celery (2 oz) and 1/2 yellow onion (3 oz or so)
2 oz. pancetta, thinly sliced, diced
1/3 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground white pepper
white wine vinegar

Working with one sprout at a time, remove as many of the outer leaves of each sprout until you reach those firmly attached to the core. Trim the stem end, freeing more leaves and repeat until you reach the dense center. Slice the center thin.

Warm the olive oil or duck fat in a six-quart non-corroding saucepan. Add the mirepoix and pancetta and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes, without browning the vegetables, until they have softened. Add the water and the Brussel sprouts leaves, sprinkle with the salt and stir well to combine. Cover the pan and cook 15-20 minutes, stirring every so often until the leaves are tender. Season the leaves with freshly ground pepper, correct for salt and add a dash of vinegar. Serve while the color is still vivid...this is not a dish to make ahead of time. Do the prep earlier, but cook just before serving. It's a good thing to cook while the turkey is being sliced.

Hint: The brussel sprouts take for flippin' ever to prep. I usually do it a day or two before Thanksgiving because doing it on the day is more than I could bear.

Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Sauce

So easy, so delicious, it easily trumps any other cranberry relish in my book. I was given this recipe by dear friends, George & Kathleen Malone, formerly of Milwaukee, WI, then Apalachicola, FL and now Asheville, NC. People either love it or hate it. Dotty's family loves it.

2 cups raw cranberries
1 small onion (not tiny like a pickling onion, but not huge like a vidalia)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp white horseradish (prepared) I generally use double the amount the recipe calls for

Grind the onion and cranberries together in a food processor or blender. Pulse and stop before it turns into mush.
Add the other ingredients and mix well. Put in a plastic container and freeze.
One hour before servicing, move to the refrigerator to soften. It always takes me longer. I take it out of the freezer at least four hours before dinner. And THAT'S IT! Let someone else bring the favorite relish, but watch which one people try...a small amount at first and then great dollops on their plate. A wise cook doubles this recipe.

And now the history...Susan Stamberg, former co-host of NPR's "All Things Considered" used to recite this recipe on air every Thanksgiving, giving full credit to her mother. Turns out her mother copied it from an old Craig Claiborne column in the NY Times. Whoever claims it, few are neutral about this wonderfully Pepto Bismally,shocking pink, strongish relish. We love it. If you have young children who don't like horseradish, put a little aside for them without the horseradish. If we're coming to dinner, put lots more horseradish in it.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Atascadero Grade

It isn’t called the Atascadero Grade, but that’s what Roger called it as we committed to the climb in the pitch-blackness of the 101 on Saturday night. A foreboding freeway sign could well have read OUTTA GAS? YOU ARE FUCKED instead of Next Exit 10 Miles.

“Did that sign say the next exit was 10 miles?” I asked Roger.

“Yeah, what’s the gas gauge say now,” he asked calmly. It had dinged to tell me I had 40 miles left in the tank in what only felt like minutes before and now it was, wait, now it was empty?

Looking down, briefly, because after all how long does it take to read one fucking number, I grimly read, “ZERO, it says zero.”

We were on this road and in this place because we’d both awakened to a strong smell of burning that morning. Even in the dim early morning light it was apparent that the opposing hills were under smoke, just like us. Pretty sure that it wasn’t drifting smoke from the Montecito fire in Santa Barbara, I ran into the living room and turned on the TV and my computer. Every station was filled with news about the firestorm in Sylmar, just across the Valley and East from us. The wind was obviously blowing in this direction and the air was dense with smoke and ash.

It didn’t take Roger long to make the call that he wanted to leave. Not because he feared we were in fire danger, although thinking back, everyone was in fire danger at that time, but because he didn’t want to breathe the air for the next couple of days if we could be somewhere else. It sounded good to me, so we packed [very] lightly and were out the door by 10:30. An adventure.

Stupidly, we didn’t bring our insurance papers or computers or the file drawer with copies of everything we’d need in case our house burned down and I’m still not clear why we were so casual about it all.

But, change of underwear and toothbrushes packed, in case we wanted to overnight somewhere, we headed down the hill to Malibu where the air was thick with smoke. Driving a little further north, we pulled over to look at some shore birds this side of Port Hueneme. Still smoky. So we headed over to the 101, continuing north, and thought about lunch in Santa Barbara, wondering if the air would still be fouled by the two-day prior and not yet fully contained fire in Montecito. The further we went, the sweeter the air and so Santa Barbara was our first stop. Their smoke was obviously blowing south and not bothering the town at all. It was one of those bright blue days, just perfect. We picked up some apples and dates at the Farmer’s Market and then found a good little restaurant on State Street.

After eating and mulling over our next move, we decided to press on to the north, thinking San Luis Obispo, a favorite little town of ours, would be a good place to spend the night.

It was such a perfect afternoon that we pulled into the State Park beach at El Capitan, nosing our car under a tree and with the waves crashing below, contentedly read for half an hour or so before wandering down to the beach. The shore birds were all hungry and feeding and the air and light couldn’t have been more perfect.

We were in no particular hurry, except to find some good restaurant in San Luis Obispo and somewhere to stay.

I drove this leg of the trip while Roger called for reservations. “You want HOW much for a room at the Hilton?”

“You know, I’m a Hilton Honors Gold Club member…don’t I get some discount?”

“It’s not a Hilton…it’s an Embassy Suites…uh, no, we’ll check around and get back to you if we can’t find anything cheaper.”

“They want $220 a night for a room at the Embassy Suites in SLO,” he said with total amazement in his voice.

We were both remembering that we’d stayed in an Embassy Suites last year, the one near the site of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan…and I think our room was $345 a night, so $220 did seem a little steep.

Eventually we settled on a Ramada which, tax included, came to about $82. SCORE!

Directions from the nice, but kinda stoned-sounding desk clerk were simple. “Stay on the 101 and exit at Santa Rosa Street and boom, there it is, dude.” Roger dutifully wrote it down. He’s like that…thorough. As we got off the 101 to turn back northwards, I noted a 76 gas station and then hopped back on the freeway. And then the exits: Madonna, Marsh, Walnut (or something like that), but no Santa Rosa.

And so there we were, on the Atascadero Grade, running on fumes and betting the bank on the next exit.
And nothing but blackness and the Los Padres National Forest to our right and left. “Do you think there will be a gas station and why didn’t they mention gas on that sign. Did they mention gas on that sign?” I worried.

“Oh fuck, what if there isn’t one?”

“Go more slowly. Put your flashers on.” He was full of advice (and pissing me off), as I drove up the long grade with an ominous zero flashing on my gas gauge.

“Oh fuck,” he intoned, just to make me feel even more comfortable. I continued cursing myself and wondering why, why, why I hadn’t pulled into that 76 Station just five miles back when we’d taken the wrong exit. Jesus, anyone would think we were looking for a hotel in Rome and not the Ramada Inn off the Santa Rosa exit in San Luis Obispo. We’d already driven north (not far enough), then south (too far) and were now committed north again but this time I didn’t get off at the ‘last’ exit for SLO. This time I truly fucked up.

Big rigs whizzed past me as I did a sedate 55, remembering the days when the gas shortage gripped America and I queued weekly in the Washington suburbs with my newborn baby sleeping in the back and my tiny girl in pre-school. And as much as I missed them being tiny, I was really happy I didn’t have two little kids in the back of a yellow Pinto as we lumbered up the hill in our far more comfortable ride.

“Bugger. Why didn’t I stop at that 76 station at that next to last wrong exit we took.”

“Slow down,” barked Roger.

“If I go any slower I’ll be stopped…I’m not going any bloody slower. Just shut up.”

And so it went, back and forth, as we crawled up the Atascadero Grade, emergency flashers winking crazily and the pair of us sniping sharply. We’re both pictures of calm in a crisis. No, really. Give us a true crisis and we’re good. This kind of bullshit, though, leaves us just pissed off, collectively and individually.

Every now and then there’d be a left-turn lane that seemed to appear suddenly in the dark and Roger would yell, “There, on the left, turn left and head back to San Luis Obispo.” But I wouldn’t. That just seemed nuts to me.

“Okay, let me get this right. You want me to drive across two lanes of freeway traffic, RIGHT NOW, so I can then turn left going south on the 101 with downhill, fast-moving traffic bearing down on me from the right when there’s the odd chance that I may run out of fucking gas and get T-BONED???? That’s what you want?” I screamed inside my head.

What he heard was, “No fucking way.”

And then we crested the hill. “Praise the Baby Jesus,” I muttered.

Roger said, “Put it in neutral and coast.” And I did…gathering speed as we hurtled downhill doing at least 50 mph. And then in the dark, a sign.

“Santa Margarita. Maybe they’ll have a gas station,” the voice of doom intoned.

“Of course they bloody will. It’s illegal for any town not to have a gas station in America, isn’t it?” I sniped.

Heading down the exit ramp I slipped the car out of neutral and into drive, against the advice of the Grim Reaper and we both said, “Oh fuck.” Total, sodding blackness. Nothing. There was not one flipping light welcoming us to Santa Margarita.

“Maybe we should have turned left,” he worried

“No, no, they would have told us if that were the case,” she said not having the slightest idea if she was right or not.

If our dashboard could have screamed, “YOU NOW HAVE NEGATIVE GAS IN YOUR TANK YOU MORONS” it would have.

We continued another three miles or so and joy of joy, houses. Not many, but some and then a hand-painted sign that said, simply. GAS, one mile ahead!

Sweet relief. At this point we knew that even if we ran dry, we’d be okay. And we were. Because Pintor's was open. Pintor's. Heard of them before? They're not big, but are very important.

Back on the freeway headed South, up and down the Atascadero Grade was a snap. Our moods were light. “Pass the Bolly sweetie darling!”

And 10 minutes later we saw the sign for Santa Fucking Rosa Roadand were able to tell the nice young man at the front desk at the Ramada Inn that actually, one can only exit on Santa Rosa Street if you’re going south…there was no way we would ever have seen it heading north because it wasn't bloody there.

But we didn’t scream because now we were the happy clappy couple who were just so bloody jolly and ecstatic that we weren’t sitting on the side of the 101 on a Saturday night, emergency flashers mocking us in the pitch black, waiting for AAA to come to our sorry rescue.

And the next day was all sunshine and surfers and sea otters and satisfaction.

And, luckily, when we drove home Sunday night, our house was still standing. And all we have had to deal with us black ash everywhere. And that's a lot more than can be said for hundreds of other Southern Californians. We got lucky.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When you wish upon a star...

Dream hard...sometimes they do come true.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Obama Meets With Dangerous World Leader Without Preconditions

Monday, November 10, 2008

Birthday Boy

Originally uploaded by billifornia
Taken by a friend of Colin' birthday boy.
Brooklyn, NY late October '08.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

It Was 20 Years Ago Today (times two) I got lucky 40 years ago and met this guy in England at a party and then I went back home to Washington, DC but before I flew home my mum invited this guy and my godparents' son (they were good friends) to visit us for a few weeks in Washington, DC and they did and we fell in love (the guy, not my godparents' son) and we were 'intime' and then he went back to England and I sobbed at the airport and we declared unending love for one another and his plane took off from Dulles and I sobbed some more and then we decided that I would drop out of college and go and live with him in London and then I found out I was pregnant even though I was on the pill (I double ovulated but didn't find that out for another five years) and so I (an only child) told my shocked parents my plans and, well, they were not happy, but this was August of 1968 and it was a selfish time so I flew to England in October of 1968 and we married in November of a matter of fact, we married on 9 November 1968 in Hampstead at a registry office which is no longer used and I was having a few problems with morning sickness but made it through the perfunctory ceremony and then we ate Greek food with some friends and my godparents and threw plates on the floor and then we were on a train...bound for glory.

Here I am, newly 20 and wearing a tourquoise blue maternity dress that I'd bought at Lady Madonna in Golder's Green and there is my husband, almost 24, wearing a brown suit he'd worn to his stag party the night before, feeling all hung over and probably a little 'oh shit i'm married' and stuff and me feeling another wave of 'oh shit i'm pregnant' and stuff.

Like I said, we got lucky. I am one lucky woman.

British Rail...on the way to Cornwall

Forty years later...Malibu, this afternoon, November 9, 2008

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Prop 8...My Response to all of you who voted Yes on 8

Tuesday was a great day for most Americans, but amid all the sweetness and joy there was one very sour, mean-spirited, selfish, exclusionary proposition on the California ballot...Prop 8. It read as follows...

Proposition 8 is a California State ballot proposition that would amend the state Constitution, to limit marriage to unions between a man and a woman, overturning a recent California Supreme Court decision that had recognized same-sex marriage in California as a fundamental right. The official ballot title language for Proposition 8 was "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry". On the day after the election, the results remained uncertified. With 100% of precincts reporting, the vote was 52.5% in favor of Proposition 8 and 47.5% against, with a difference of about 504,000 votes;[1] as many as 3 million absentee and provisional ballots remain to be counted.[2] The organizers of the "No on Prop 8" campaign conceded defeat on November 6, issuing a statement saying, "Tuesday’s vote was deeply disappointing to all who believe in equal treatment under the law".[3]

And it passed. There were enough mean-spirited, homophobic bigots in this state to pass it. I'm still reeling. But, Jeni had an answer for them.

And then so did Gwendolyn...and then Gwendolyn tagged me to show my disappointment, which I've done. Not nearly so youngly or prettily, but in the designated style.

And I took even more...just trying to take that perfect picture where the bags under my eyes and the wrinkles in my exposed chesty area aren't so glaring. But oh well...i yam what i yam.

And I'm going to tag eight more of you...Let's get this thing rolling, all over the world. And don't forget to pass it on.

Betsy (in Portland)
Sarah (in the O.C.)
Marsha (in the Valley)
Vanessa (down under)
Penelope (in Lanzarote)
Antonia (in London)
Lucy (in Portugal)
Maryanne (in Tokyo)

Here's the News Across the Nation

Top 50 U.S. front pages

The Day After

Barack Obama elected

November 5, 2008