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Category: Food

Anything edible (or not)

Under New-ish Management

In November of 2002, I saw this vinyl sign hanging outside a restaurant in Laguna, CA. I thought it was funny. Not the untold, implied story — that part is likely sad — rather, the boldness of Eva as depicted on the sign.

The restaurant is still in business in 2015, and managed, apparently, by Eva, sans-Drew.

Eva’s Carribean Kitchen website and Facebook Page.

How Much Do You Weigh? (Dry Weight)

I’m not sure if this is within the realm of complete integrity, but when I opened a can of Trader Joe’s Organic Pinto beans and poured off the heavy, syrup-like liquid in which the beans floated (and only enough to allow the beans to settle in), the can weighed noticeably less, and was only 2/3 full.

Trader Joe's Can of Beans 2/3 Full

I guess they are being honest… maybe overly so. I mean, it’s my fault for thinking I would actually want to consume all 15oz of the stuff in the can. The photo on the front which does not show beans frolicking in a pool of clear-ish sludge is merely a “serving suggestion.” So naturally, I was wondering what the beans weighed before they were prepared properly, you know, bone dry. Ahhh… 2/3 of what I thought I bought.

That’s truth in advertising for you.

One unadvertised bonus: Trader Joe’s does not use BPA in most of their packaging.

Trader Joes Beans Dry Weight

My Espresso Technique for a Breville Cafe Roma (newer model is Cafe Modena)

I have a technique of packing a “mountain” of grounds…

The mountain of grounds before tamping, Breville Cafe Roma

…into the portafilter so that it’s flat, and 1/8in. (.32cm) or less from the top. Pretty firm pack.

Tamping down the grounds, Breville Cafe Roma

How deep the grounds pack with firm pressure, Breville Cafe Roma

I pack it with the lid of an empty Trader Joe’s sea salt jar which is a perfect fit (I filled mine with coffee beans so it stays near the espresso maker).

My espresso packer for a Breville Cafe Roma

Then I mount the portafilter.

The next step is awesome for extracting: wet the grounds before the pull.

Manually pulse the pumper by alternately turning it on/off in the following pattern:

On for 1 second
Off for 1 second
On for 1 second
Off for 1 second
On for 1 second
Off… for 3 seconds
Then On for a complete pull.

Nice, beginningdark pull after wetting grounds, Breville Cafe Roma

Regular pull after wetting grounds, Breville Cafe Roma

Blondish crema, Breville Cafe Roma

Nice crema, though this one is a bit “blond…”

I got the pulsing idea from watching my friends’ automated Breville machine (below), and it does pretty much that on/off thing by program. But it’s $600

What About Popeye?

My wife and I made a trip to Costco last evening to get some more coffee beans. We prefer the French Roast they make right there in the store. Yes, it’s true, our Costco in Vista, CA, has a coffee roaster right in the warehouse. The coffee is inexpensive and fantastic, aromatic and fresh.

As is the way with a trip to Costco, we went for coffee and came home with the trunk full of other stuff, too. Creatures of habit, I suppose. A bit impulsive, too.

One of the things I was reminded I needed as I meandered through the warehouse is a container of Continental Salad Blend — mostly due to my doctor telling me I needed more Item #48757 in my diet (that’s #55321 if you’re in a Canadian Costco).

As I picked up the container I noticed the sticker added to the packaging: does not contain spinach. They were in such a huge hurry to save their sales forecast in light of the Great Spinach Scare of ’06 that they didn’t even bother to use any capitals.

I feel very sorry for the Spinach Industry. Really. I am convinced that the spinach I buy in bulk in those bags of spinach they told everyone to throw away is always cleaner than I could ever get it. Prior to bagged spinach, I could never get the dirt and grit off of spinach I bought in the produce section. I could soak it, swish it, bleach it and salad-spin it, and I would always taste dirt, or lose a little more enamel from my molars. The triple-washed stuff they sell in bulk has always been great. Clean. I never saw any e. coli. Oh and I looked, mind you.

We have, prior to the scare, had a big bag of spinach in our fridge every week. No more, sadly.

I can hardly wait for the all-clear. I miss our salads. (Raw spinach is fantastic sprinkled with dried cranberries (or raisins), pine nuts, some spicy, candied pecans or walnuts and Feta Cheese, with Italian Dressing).

We’ll just have to do with a little more Item #48757.

The Macaroni Grilling

We had a Pre-Christmas Dinner at Macaroni Grill in Oceanside. Lauren was all dressed up in her fuzzy light blue hat that I bought for her in Nov. 2003 at the Carlsbad Street Fair. I had to get a picture of her.

By the way, here is my review of the Macaroni Grill in Oceanside, CA: I cannot recommend it. It is a very attractive restaurant, inside and out, but the food was quite literally—and I am being careful not to exaggerate, here—the worst food I have ever put in my mouth.

That dubious honor was previously held for 42 years by cold, canned, cooked spinach with too much salt on it which I ate as a child. In honesty, I plead mea culpa on the oversalting of my spinach and the eventual frigid temperature, but my parents must certainly take some blame for allowing me to flavor it to taste in order to complete the task of eating everything on my plate (something I still do even though I am overweight).

But back to Macaroni Grill. I ordered the Honey Balsamic Grilled Chicken which arrived looking picturesque, to say the least. It was gorgeous to the eye… perfectly symetrical, square grill-marks hatching the double-breasted fare, revealed under a dark, thick, glossy glace.

Everything else went south from there.

I cut into it and noticed in the cutting that the surface of the chicken was hard and dry, and then discovered inside was dried out as well. Chicken Jerky. I hate dry chicken. I hate it when I make it, but I hate it more when it’s from a restaurant charging 5 times what it would cost me to ruin it myself.

Then came the sauteed broccoli. Whoever allowed the brocolli out of the kitchen should be drawn and quartered. No, too nice. They should be covered in the poison they put on my brocolli and made to lick it off. My nose curled up in a smell-of-death grimace at the first bite. This is as accurate a statement as I can make: it tasted like burning plastic. I cannot imagine what they could possibly have done to make it taste like the smell of the toy army men I used to burn as a child, but they did. I had Teresa taste it, and she almost puked.

The waiter came over and asked how everything was. I told him politely that something was seriously wrong with the broccoli. He apologized and said he’d get me something else if I prefer. I told him, “No, I like broccoli, but this batch is just wrong.” He came back a little later with a new serving and dropped it off on a fly-by.

The only thing I can say positive about the second serving is that the chefs had used the interim time to perfect the burning plastic taste.

I called the waiter over and told him it was worse. “It tastes like burning plastic,” I offered. He said, “I’ll get you something else then. The chef told me that sometimes if they mess up the garlic it flavors things badly.”

I asked him to tear a piece of the broccoli off and taste it right there and tell me if that’s close to how it’s supposed to taste. He did.

“Oh my God!” he said as he immediately spit it into his hand, looking for an appropriate place to throw it out, and wondering how he could recover from spitting food in his hand in front of his customers. “That is just horrible!”

In the end, the waiter apologized and told us my dinner had been taken off the bill.

You know, the waiter was the only good part about the restaurant. Why was he the one apologizing. It wasn’t enough. For the next few hours after that meal I was worried about my life-expectancy.

They should have instead offered us all a free dinner in the future, just to get us to try the restaurant again, on them. But what they chose only guaranteed one thing: They will never get our business again.

Macaroni Grill HQ has received a link to this review.

Always Open — 24 Hours

Day 3 of our Salt Lake City trip

Most of what we saw and did you can see in my Salt Lake City Photo Album. But one story is worth mentioning unrelated to my rock balancing performance Wednesday evening:

We dropped by a local Denny’s for lunch. I guess Denny’s restaurants are everywhere. The food has never really changed, though updated and added-to. You still get a reliable, big, hot meal pretty fast for a few dollars.

But the decor is different, and they no longer have the redundant hours of operation in huge letters on their signs. “Always Open—24 Hours”

Yeah, I get what that means.

Now, I had largely forgotten the racial tension between Denny’s and American-Africans back in 1997, but as we walked in there was a huge poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. completely covering the window beside the entrance door. The poster was “left over” from their “Re-Ignite the Dream” campaign that took place all year, 2003. The poster had the effect of making me feel strangely White, walking into a Salt Lake City Denny’s, of all places. I commented to Teresa that “poor Denny’s is still fighting the Media’s maligning of their restaurants five years later. I’m surprised they aren’t handing out free gas coupons from Texaco.” To her, it was an obscure reference which I had to detail. As we were being seated and I was recalling the story to her, we both chuckled to ourselves when we looked around and realized the only other customer in the whole restaurant was a black man, and he was doing a business lunch alone, cell-phone to his ear, having “my people call your people.”

Our waiter, Brian, showed up immediately with ice water and menus, and gave us menus at which we glanced, stating, “we’re ready to order.” I decided to forego the Low-Carb anything and just ordered a big Bacon and Cheddar Cheeseburger on sourdough. Teresa ordered a Patty Melt. And just to make sure we were using the same language in SLC that we use in San Diego, she double-checked, “That has grilled onions on it?” Brian confirmed it, and headed off to the kitchen.

A few minutes later our meal arrived, and immediately Teresa noticed that she had a pile of sliced roast beef in her sandwich, not a hamburger patty, as expected. She asked “Is this my order?”

The waiter peeked in under the bread and said “No, I think the cook made a mistake.” As he reached to take back the plate, Teresa smiled and said, “No, this is fine. I can just eat it—as long as there aren’t green bell peppers on it.” She began eating, and pretty soon the manager came over and began apologizing for the wrong order and making far-too-big-of-a deal over it, so we told her it was okay, no problemo, we’re just here to get food in our tummies, etc.

I asked Teresa for a pen, and began drawing a cartoon on my paper napkin with which to tease the cook. You can see a full-size copy of it by clicking on the picture.

I handed it to the waiter—he laughed “This is great!” then he took it to the manager, she laughed, then we heard the manager call the cook over, and he laughed. In the end, it turns out the cook filled the order according to what was given him by our waiter, via the computerized ordering machine. The waiter had accidentally pushed the “Philly” button on the computer, sending a dot-matrix order slip to the kitchen. Everyone had a good laugh, and the manager told me she wanted to post the napkin in her office.

I gladly gave it to her—it was for them anyway—but I asked if she could make a photocopy of it for me. “Sure!”

A few minutes later, the manager showed up at our table holding a shredded napkin with remnants of blue ball-point pen markings on it. “What happened?!” I asked.

“I almost wasn’t going to come back out here,” she said sheepishly. She’d run it through the document feeder of her all-in-one copier/fax/scanner, and as it started to bunch up, grabbed it out, tearing and shredding it to bits.

I told her that if she’d get me a rolling-writer and a piece of copier paper, I’d re-draw it for her—and this time I added the reference to the “napkin paper shreds” at the bottom.

Hey—she knocked 20% off our bill.

The Monkey Wore a Ramekin

That’s the title of my next book.

Doesn’t that sound like a cute hat, or a little fuzzy vest? It’s not. It’s a little, fluted, stoneware dish for flan. And to my knowledge monkeys do not wear them—nor am I actually going to write a book with that title.

I was looking over my wife’s shoulder as she was poking around As it turns out, the little dishes are called ramekins. And I had to know what that word sounds like, so Teresa dutifully got the pronunciation of “ramekin” from

Who knew?

I feel smarter somehow, and not so naive.

Of Recipes and Recompense

It’s pouring rain in Carlsbad, CA this afternoon. And in our own little way, here in this vacation town, beachie village, it’s cold.

Impulsively, to Teresa and I this seems like the perfect day for home-made cookies. We decide on Celestial Good Cookies.

“I’ll mix the wet ingredients, you take the dry,” I munch.

We’ve had everything ready for this moment for two or three months.

And so, in less than ten minutes, we have before us a batch of the finest home-made cookies a couple can make in a whirlwind of culinary togetherness.

Celestial Good Cookies
From the kitchen of Celeste Painter
pre-heat Oven to 375°
Wet Ingredients

  • 3/4 c Oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cubes Oleo Margarine
    or 1 c Marg. or Crisco

Mix these with the wet ingredients:

  • 1.5 c sugar
  • 2 c brown sugar firmly packed
  • 1 tsp salt

Dry Ingredients mix in a separate big bowl

  • 4 c flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 c oats
  • 2 c chocolate chips
  • 1 c nuts
  • 1 c shredded coconut
  • 3 c corn flakes

Plop golfball-sized, or bigger, lumps of batter on a non-greased cookie sheet, 10 minutes at 375°Let cookies cool 5 minutes before removing from sheet.

Seems all my life I have seen recipe cards, mostly in my mom’s kitchen, that say at the top: From the kitchen of—and even as a kid, probably because I recognized the names written there, I understood the concept of not taking credit for something you didn’t invent.

Celeste Painter is an old acquaintance from a former life, and she served these cookies to me and my family 15 years ago. She called them simply Good Cookies. She wrote down the recipe for us, and whenever we’ve passed the recipe on, we’ve credited Celeste in the name—even though they are not her invention. Why?

  • We don’t know who gave Celeste the recipe
  • Celestial Good Cookies sounds better to us than Good Cookies

We think it’s the corn flakes and the coconut that make these cookies.

Make yourself some, and sit down with a nice tall glass of cold milk, and think about how someone out there who had the foresight to mix corn flakes and coconut into a chocolate chip cookie recipe is no longer getting credit for it.

Mmmm Good!

Tuck It In, Homes

At a nice restaurant last evening the servers prepared a table near me for a group, and not long after, three beautiful, college-age women arrived wearing elegant black, thin-strapped or strapless evening gowns, sparkling and sleek. Each had done masterful natural-looking make-up, with a touch of glamour. Their hair styled for an evening of celebration.

They chatted for a while waiting for others to show up.

Over the next ten minutes, as we finished our meal, four young men showed up.

Each was wearing baggy pants—jeans or cargo pants—their button-down, plaid shirts were un-tucked and completely un-buttoned exposing t-shirts with cheesy art, and a couple of them wore weathered baseball caps with curled brims.

I shook my head at the chasm between how the women viewed the evening versus how the “boys” did.

Who is helping boys grow up and learn to be men—MTV?

Filet Mignon

Vegetarians just do not know how to celebrate a 1st Wedding Anniversary.

Just got back from a romantic dinner for two, and it was delightful.

If you haven’t met this woman, you should.


International Connections

Monday just before taking several paintings of mine to a local gallery for sale in December, I received an e-mail from a woman in Italy, confirming a sale of one of them, Goodbye…. She is excited to be able to get it, wired the money immediately, and asked me to mail it after Christmas when she’ll be back in Italy again after her Christmas trip to the States.

What’s remarkable about this is that just five years ago, it would have been pretty near impossible for this sale to have occurred. Joanne, my new collector in Italy, is literally a friend we’ve never met. Two or three years ago, my wife replied to an e-mail joke that was sent to her, and somehow managed to Reply To All (which is so embarrassing, if you’ve ever done that accidentally), and Joanne was one of several to have received my wife’s reply, since Joanne was on the sender’s TO: list.

Got that?

Well, my wife is a very funny woman; a pro at quick retorts and smart-aleck replies, and she made Joanne laugh. Joanne wrote to tell her just that, and added a few funny quips of her own, to which my wife replied, and so it went, on and on to this day. Only we’ve developed a friendship with Joanne, who is roughly our age, an American who’s lived in Italy for years with her Italian companion Luigi, and they’ve known each other as long as Teresa and I have known each other. We’ve ICQ‘d with her live from Italy, we’ve emailed political musings back and forth, talked of God and religion, talked on the phone with her when she comes to the States, and even received a beautiful Italian handmade glass bowl as a wedding present in January 2003.

And Monday, she bought my painting!

It’s always a tremendous feeling, to this day, after 24 years of doing art for sale in one form or another, to have someone buy the stuff I do. But this one is just that much more special, since, like other paintings I have sold to personal friends: it’s going to hang in the home of a friend.

I love that!

Apparently she’s been talking it up among her relatives. This morning I received a quick little e-mail from one of her Italian cousins, Mauro, telling me in a sentence or two how much he/she (can’t tell by the name, but assume it’s he) likes the art on my website, in particular “Goodbye…”

Now wasn’t that sweet?

The slightly broken English told me it was probably an ESL situation, which warmed my heart even more.

I replied with an appreciative note, and then, “to make it easier for Mauro” (?) decided to copy all of my English text into the translate this box on Google’s Translation Service, chose English to Italian, and then copied and pasted whatever it gave me as a translation.

Yeah, I just trusted it was close to Italian, and that it said something close to what I meant.

Doing this reminded me of an old joke from the 60s (yes, I remember jokes from the 60s — probably because I didn’t “go though the 60s” like some of you out there with glazed eyes and slurred speech):

The Russians and Americans were having such difficulty in communication that the Leaders of each country were delighted when someone showed them a powerful new computer that could translate from Russian to English and back again. (Now you have to remember, any such computer in the 60s would naturally be huge, fill up a room or two, have rubber mats on the floor so that you and other computer users could walk around the machine without slipping, would be festooned with myriad blinking lights and whirring 1/2-inch tape reels, and probably have a steel cat-walk around its second story. So picture that, as I did when I was 10).

So the Americans want to give this thing a try. They type in an English phrase, and after some tremendous processing time, blinking of lights, and shaking of this monstrosity, there’s a loud DING! and out from a slot pops a strip of paper with what appears to be Russian text. The American hands it to the Russian who reads it and smiles with delight.

[To make a long story short] this goes back and forth, language to language, to everyone’s great pleasure, with everyone feeling like they are finally having a relatively quick conversation… until someone realizes they still are not sure what the other is reading, because they don’t speak the language. So an American decided to type in an American colloquial phrase: Out of sight, out of mind. DING! The strip of paper says something in Russian. The Russian diplomat looks at the translation with a confused look on his face. The American gestures that he should type in exactly what the paper says, so they can see how it translates back to English.


“Invisible Idiot”

I have no idea what I said to Mauro. I never ran it back through from Italian to English.

I hope I didn’t inadvertently denigrate the family line, or call into question the origin of his grandmother’s salad dressing recipe.