Monday, June 28, 2010

bustin' out in june: from corn dogs to corn maiden tamales

Sunday's outing to the Main Street Summer Soulstice Festival in Santa Monica invites comparison with three pre-solstice festivals in Idaho: Eagle Fun Days, Emmett Cherry Festival, and Meridian Dairy Days. I can't believe I attended all four!

A plethora of Idaho festivals was our older son's ploy to keep his 5-year-old occupied, and to enjoy watching her innocent enjoyment of things totally new to her. The 15-mile drive to Emmett was enhanced by mountain scenery and glimpses of the rushing Payette River. The 4-mile drive from Culver City to Main Street was climaxed by a half-hour search for parking.

Each event had its unique features -- Eagle's Wet and Wild Parade and Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed, Emmett's vast array of bizarre activities and amateur entertainment (everything from cowboy poets and Patsy Cline imitators to cherry-pit spitting and a dunking booth), Meridian's Mascot Dance-off, and Santa Monica's 24 live bands including Heartless, fronted by our friend Diana Drake. Steve wore his Heartless t-shirt, turned to a reverse tie-dye by my laundry boo-boo.

Foods ranged from traditional to nouvelle carnival food. .The Idaho fests were heavy on deep-fried stuff: green beans (not quite tempura, but possibly trying for it), corndogs (regular and Basque style), and bloomin onions. I guess the rocky mountain oysters are grilled, though. Santa Monica's Main Street offered Corn Maiden Tamales, crepes of various descriptions, wheat grass juice, and panini.

Besides food, I purchased emu oil salve in Eagle, earrings and a tiny crocheted bag* in Meridian. A visit with our Idaho wifi purveyor in Emmett led to a service enhancement after quality time spent on the phone with their CS department in Buffalo, NY. Did virtually NO shopping on Main Street.

What of the attendees? Families with children, singles with dogs, elderlies with oxygen. Santa Monica had a greater percentage of 'old hippie' types, while the Idaho events had more young teens holding hands (in Santa Monica these must've been at the beach). Mr. Tree graced Diana's performance for a short time.

A moratorium on festivals may be appropriate for July, but bring on Culver City's Fiesta La Ballona in August!
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*Yes! I shall deconstruct and reconstruct this new-to-me 1913 design.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

legal tender

Having recently returned from two June weeks in Idaho, I'm remembering my February visit and finally writing a post that dropped through the cracks at that time.

When we come back from separate trips, Steve and I generally bring small gifts for each other. My February gift to Steve was a bottle of Idaho wine. I told him about it in the car on our way home from LAX. He grinned cryptically and said he had something for me, too. A gift for the returnee has never been standard operating procedure, so I was really curious.

While I was in Idaho, Steve had taken his stash of coins* to a Coinstar machine when he learned that they don't deduct a percentage if you use your coins to buy a gift card or make a donation. He had converted his coins into an gift card which he proudly presented to me.

In a community-property state such as California or Idaho, gifts of money between spouses seem a little redundant if not downright strange, but the gift card made it seem festive. I immediately bought the immersion blender I'd been wanting, and was delighted that it was on sale and took only half the money.

A couple of weeks later, I was complaining about my ancient Sunset Western Garden Book. Steve suggested buying one at They didn't carry it, but I was able to buy the Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles: The Complete A-Z Guide to Growing Your Own Vegetables, Herbs, and Fruits, with small change left over in the virtual coffee can of my Overstock account.

So now I can make better cream-style soups and prune our boysenberries correctly, thanks to purchases I might not have made in my normal mode of thriftiness. You might say Steve's thriftiness and mine had merged and morphed into a wonderful illusion of  largesse, adumbrated in Steve's giving of the Idaho wine as a birthday gift to a good friend.

As Steve often says, "It's the good life," in a frugal enough form for us pre-boomers to identify and accept

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*Steve is a saver and a coin collector. He goes through his change regularly to pull out anything of numismatic interest. The 'rejects' go into various categories, including a parking-meter fund of quarters.. He used to roll all the pennies and spend them at the 99 Cent Store, but they're not as gratefully accepted as they used to be, so he started throwing all his coins in a big coffee can.

Friday, June 18, 2010

stew review

An e-mail earlier this week advises that my oxtail stew recipe on has received a rating of three stars from a member with the user name Zurie. Harrumph! My 43 public recipes have an average of 4.3 stars over 27 reviews, so this comes as a bit of an insult, especially since some of the criticisms are mitigated if not obviated by my February blog post oxtail stew.

I am taken to task for not specifying a longer cooking time: "First of all the cooking time generally is longer, and 4 hours + would be nearer the mark."  My posted recipe says "simmer gently until meat is tender when pierced (about 3 hours),"  with a note re using a crockpot (certainly implying a longer cooking time), and in my blog I call for "overnight in the crockpot!" I want to shout: "Hey! Simmer is a subjective term, depending as it does on the condition of one's stove and the limits of one's patience."

Zurie also objects to my discarding the chopped onions and herbs that have been simmered for hours with the meat. To me, these bits seem disgustingly bland and greasy -- not to mention their wet-cardboard texture. They belong in what Anne Burrell calls the "thank-you-for-coming bowl," having "fulfilled their destiny" by lending flavor to the broth. But Zurie lives in South Africa and hence may not share my California prejudice against overcooked veggies.

Perhaps I am most miffed by Zurie's citing me for "rather careless ingredient measures, and ... unnecessarily intricate directions." The only wiggle-room I give in ingredients is the main one: "3-4 lbs oxtails." Well, OK, this is a factor of 25%, but who knows how much one will find in a supermarket meat tray. Maybe Zurie has the advantage of a face-to-face butcher. I relent slightly on this point but cannot forgive the charge of "unnecessarily intricate directions." Indeed, my account of making this dish is carried to a much higher level of detail in my blog version of the recipe, which starts out: "First, you have to FIND oxtails in your market and be willing to pay close to $5 per pound.*"

Of course I must admit that Zurie thanked me for the recipe and specifically praised the marinade. She even took a picture and posted it. Oddly, she apologizes for the quality of the picture, which shows steam rising from her old iron pot. But then Zurie's Recipezaar profile indicates that she has worked as a food editor and currently host's the website's African Cooking Forum.

Zurie has posted 284 public recipes on Recipezaar and has an average rating of 4.7 stars. Guess I'll try some of her stuff. Maybe even write a review.
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*Here I'm reminded of my mother talking about her Aunt Jessie's recipes, which tended to start with "Take a crock."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

talking to strangers

If you've read my previous bus stories, cougar? moi? and a better bus ride, you might think I have a policy of not talking to strangers on the bus. Think again.

Usually, talking among bus passengers is a rather perfunctory means to an end -- a way to indicate needs ("Excuse me, I need to get off at the next stop."), get information ("Have we passed Crenshaw?") or defuse tension among a diverse group of people with nothing much in common except their direction of travel.

Several weeks ago, I almost fell into a man's lap when the bus lurched as I was walking to a sideways seat in the senior section. He looked a little worried, so after I managed to sit down I said, "You almost had me on your lap then!" even though I wasn't so sure he spoke English. He smiled and said (with no accent of any kind), "Almost doesn't count!" So I laughed and said, "Close, but no cigar," and settled in for a comfortable ride downtown. When he got off the bus, I felt that his "Have a nice day" was sincere.

Sometimes, of course, real conversations are taking place on the bus -- usually among friends or family groups who have boarded together, but occasionally as the result of a chance remark to a stranger. Thus the encounter described in a better bus ride and many other pleasant visits that have followed chance remarks or requests for information. I rarely initiate these conversations myself, but I treasure the feeling of serendipitous camaraderie they bring.

This past Thursday, the passengers heading west on Venice Boulevard when I boarded the bus included a dead ringer for Buffalo Bill. He wore a large grey leather hat trimmed with darker gray lacings and a luxuriant feather, a knee-length brown leather coat (worn but not shabby), and black Wellington-style leather boots which reached almost to the knee over dark brown cotton trousers. His thick grey hair reached just past his shoulders, and he wore a full beard that covered his collar. Very dark rimless sunglasses and a black satchel with a shoulder strap completed the ensemble.

It was the satchel that finally precipitated our conversation. At first it appeared to be leather, but when I noticed that it was canvas with leather trim and stamped 'Calvin Klein' I couldn't resist saying, "It seems like your bag should say 'Pony Express' on it!" He looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'm a model and an actor and a musician." So of course we got into a discussion about music. I told him I sing in a large chorale, and he shook my hand very politely when he realized we were fellow travelers in more ways than one.

My new friend then told me he'd walked into a Wells Fargo bank and asked them if they were hiring, whereupon they called their security staff to escort him from the premises. We 'tsk-tsk'ed' companionably about their lack of imagination, and he reiterated his qualifications and experience in advertising and show biz. When he got off the bus, we shook hands once again, and I regretted that I hadn't spoken up sooner. Why pass up several minutes of unforgettable, entertaining conversation?

Later I wondered whether he was coming directly from the Wells Fargo experience. If so, I was really glad to have cheered him up a bit.

I also wondered what most corporate institutions and government agencies would do when confronted by a person walking in casually from the 19th century to look for a job.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

look at them beans

Several years of vegetable gardening doldrums ended for me last summer when Steve and I installed a chain link fence along the south side of our lot. The 30" strip of soil along this fence provides the perfect place to grow pole beans and herbs, with rosemary, sage, gopher purge, and Greek oregano already flourishing in spite of benign neglect and numerous others added in the post-fence era.

As soon as the fence was finished I bought four scarlet runner bean seedlings at our local farmers market and planted one at the base of each "line post." It was too late in the season to raise a real crop, but of course the long-stemmed blossoms were a treat. We ate a few green beans and let several pods mature to save the seed. Now four "1st generation native" runners are flourishing: two in the tiny "cukes and beans" bed, and two in the front yard's "three sisters" planting .

One of the major tenets of permaculture gardening, as I understand it, is that the soil should not be disturbed, and so I've been snipping spent plants near ground level rather than pulling them out.* The scarlet runner beans loved this kind of treatment, and two of the original four have come back with a vengeance. It turns out that they're tender perennials, sometimes known as "7-year beans."

Now that most of this year's sweet peas have been snipped down, the older generation of scarlet runner beans have filled a real void, already out-climbing and out-blooming their first year's performance. Thus the title of this post, from a Johnny Cash** album recorded in 1975.

Hyacinth beans, I hope, will replace the two runners that didn't come back. The one and only seedling from my first planting is starting to reach for the fence. Three seeds out of four germinated in my second planting; one of them is doing well in a "three sisters" planting, and I gave two to Sandy. See mixed messages for the early part of the HB saga.

Meanwhile, the heirloom rattlesnake beans are producing lavender blossoms and tiny pods in their traditional settings, while seedling pumpkins promise to shade their three sisters' tender feet.

"Man, look at them beans!"
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*This does not apply to the major weeds, of course. They go out roots and all unless they seem susceptible to smothering under thick layers of cardboard and other mulch.

**A typically maudlin Carter-Cash narrative (Poppa doesn't live to see his first good crop) is relieved by an exuberant refrain. See the video at
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License