Saturday Smile: Different Drum

This past Monday, our granddaughter Mylee celebrated her 8th birthday. When I suggest that she STOP GROWING, she simply giggles her Mylee giggle. She knows, as do I, that you can’t stop your kids from growing up. So enjoy every minute.

She celebrated her birthday with friends last Saturday afternoon at a place called Boondocks……

The kids each received a party bag from Boondocks that included plastic glasses, their actual purpose escaping me. Still, Cole’s take on the glasses made me smile. He clearly travels to the beat of a different drum, and is proud of it…..

Have a great weekend.


Thursday Thoughts

Be True to Your School
I stopped by Target the other day and came face to face with what is one of my most unpleasant sights: back-to-school supplies. I don’t know why the thought of the kids going back to school is so bothersome to me, but I’ve hated it ever since Court was school-aged. Perhaps it’s just the suggestion that summer is nearing its end. And then I remind myself that the temperatures indicate summer will be here for a while.

Raw Fish
Alyx and the three kids and I went out for a sushi lunch the other day. I’ve never seen youngsters so taken with Japanese food. Even Kaiya — who doesn’t like sushi — enjoyed edamame, and likes to sip soy sauce with wasabi. Seriously. No fish. Just the soy sauce with wasabi. Mylee loved her seafood salad, and both she and Cole ate most of my salmon roll and my salmon nigiri…..

No Arm Wresting
The other day I had my annual physical, and got a clean bill of health (though no magical solutions for periodic bowel obstructions — drat). I got a vaccine for pneumonia and thought nothing of it until later that afternoon, when I realized the muscle in my arm was so sore I could barely lift my arm. I’ve never had that happen to me before. I’m happy to say that it was much better the next day and even better the next. And it’s undoubtedly better than getting pneumonia!

Pizza Pie
Our favorite Denver pizza place has an online site customers are supposed to use to order their food for pickup. I fight with it nearly every time I use it. Sometimes it just tells me no customer orders will be taken until the next day, which I know isn’t true. So the other night I placed an online order. When I went to pick it up, the server at the counter said (in the manner of those radio announcers who talk rapid fire to tell you there product might kill you), “Here’s your medium thin crust with sausage and no cheese.” Say what? Bill likes sausage pizza. But I could come home with pepperoni or ground beef or even ham and he would take it like a man. But no cheese? No go. I told them there was no need to start over. They could simply put cheese over the pizza and put it in the oven for a few minutes. I literally heard the cook and the server fighting when they took it out of the oven. “This will be way over cooked and they won’t like it,” he said in a stage whisper. Try me, I thought. She brought it out and tentatively opened the box. Bingo. Sold. We like our pizzas crisp.


Hidden Fun

When Bill and I were on our Big European Vacation in 2008, we stumbled upon a circus in Honfleur, France. Knowing full well that we wouldn’t understand a word that was being said, we both agreed we wouldn’t miss that little family-owned circus in a unique French village for anything in the world. It remains one of our favorite memories of that trip.

While any traveler doesn’t want to miss the highlights of a destination, many times some of the things upon which you stumble might give you the most pleasure and the strongest memories. So while we all enjoyed the predictable things we saw during our recent visit to San Francisco — and wouldn’t miss them for the world — there were a few unexpected pleasures upon which we stumbled.

For example, as we made our way the first day from Pier 39 to our final destination of Ghiardelli Square, we noticed we were passing an interesting arcade called Musee Mercanique. The games in this arcade were all vintage. It was fun to see the kids playing with some of the old-school arcade games more familiar to their Papa Bill than to them. For a mere quarter or less, you could play with a puppet or listen to a music box. You could have your fortune read by a scary-looking porcelain head….

…or arm wrestle an even scarier-looking porcelain arm…..

We spent a good bit of time in that old arcade museum, and Papa spent plenty of quarters to watch the kids go back in time.

One day when we were all getting fairly thirsty (did I mention that we had unusually pleasant — even warm — weather, something for which we were all grateful), we stopped at a little cafe that turned out to be more than just a cafe. The Gallery Cafe instructs its customers to PUT DOWN YOUR TECHNOLOGY and talk to each other and to have some fun. There are old-school games…..

…..and many opportunities to be creative, something at which the McLain kids excel…..

While visiting Chinatown, in addition to Addie getting a SMOKIN’ deal on some earrings…..

…..we also visited some Asian markets. We saw many different fruits and vegetables with which we were unfamiliar. The proprietors spoke Chinese and the signage was also in Chinese. I was particularly struck by this beautiful fruit…..

Not having the remotest idea of what it was, I texted my daughter-in-law Alyx and asked if she knew what it was. Dragonfruit was her immediate response. Inside fruit is like a white kiwi, she added. Who knew?

Our hotel overlooked the ocean, and every night we would see men fishing from the shore. I’m not sure just what they were hoping to catch, nor did I ever find out if they were fishing for fun or were professional anglers. But they were a pretty sight as the sun would go down…..

The wind, salt water, and sea spray gave me a laugh when I saw just how relaxed our granddaughter Addie — who always takes great care to look perfect — was after a few days on the beach. Can you say Crazy Hair?….

By the way, I likely won’t ever be forgiven for posting this photo!

When we visited Muir Woods, one of the most interesting and typically-Californian things I noticed was this sign…..

And finally, that same day as we were driving home from Muir Woods — July 11 — Jll suddenly made a screeching turn into a 7-11 store parking lot. Why? She remembered that it was July 11 — 7-11 — and they were giving away free icees. What can I say? More vacation fun…..

While I’ve visited San Francisco on a number of occasions, this is one I will certainly never forget.

I Left My Heart

The first time you visit San Francisco, here are the things you must do: drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, take a gander at the sea lions on Pier 39, tour Alcatraz, hop on a cable car and hang off the sides, walk through Chinatown and look at the ducks hanging in the shop windows, eat seafood on Fisherman’s Wharf, drive or walk down crazy Lombard Street, drive through the intersection of Haight and Ashbury (preferably while singing Age of Aquarius), and eat an ice cream treat (most likely an enormous hot fudge sundae) at Ghiardelli Square.

By time you’ve done all of those things, you will recognize that it’s just about time to go home.

The first time I ever visited San Francisco was in 1991, when I went with Bill, who at that time was my husband-to-be. I know this to be true because during the fairly recent Cleaning-Out-of-the-Bookshelves in our bedroom, one of the things I came across was a little photo album. I blew off the dust and read my hand written label: San Francisco 1991. I’ve been back several times since.

Dave and Jll not only honeymooned in San Francisco, but have visited the City by the Bay since. So, they have also done all of the above-mentioned must-does. However, none of their four kids had ever been to San Francisco, and they – just like Karl Malden and Michael Douglas – were ready to hit the Streets of San Francisco.

We ran into our first glitch when Jll (thinking, as did I, that tickets to Alcatraz were readily available), realized that the tickets were sold out until the next millennium (well, practically). Oh no! she texted me. Is there anything we can do? I put Bill on the case. He’s as good a detective as Michael Douglas any day of the week, at least when it comes to finding tickets or reasonably-priced hotel rooms. What he learned was that tickets were indeed sold out. However, if one is desperate enough to get up with the birds and be at the Alcatraz boat dock by 6:30 a.m., some lucky people might get tickets. We did just that, and though I felt our chances of getting tickets for eight people to be slim (being the glass half empty sort of gal), we did indeed get tickets for the 8:45 a.m. tour. The tour was well worth the inconvenience…..

We had checked off the sea lions at Pier 39 (the majority of which were not making their appearance because they were off breeding) and eating seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf the first day. I know this will surprise many, but Bill’s top priority was not the Golden Gate Bridge nor cable cars nor Chinatown; it was Ghiardelli Square. Well, not the square so much but the ice cream treats the square offered.

Because of this, following our visit to the indisposed sea lions, our next stop was Ghiardelli Square, with a quick stop-over to Boudin Bakery — the home of sourdough bread….

This photo was actually taken at our SECOND trip to the Mecca of Ice Cream Treats. But who’s counting? After all, it was a different day.

We were all interested in riding a cable car, but we were put off by the long lines. Dave discovered that if one was simply wanting to ride a cable car for the experience instead of to get to Fisherman’s Wharf, the best idea would be to take the less popular California line. That had our names on it, so one day we rode a cable car up and back, with everyone taking turns hanging off…..

Lombard Street and Haight-Ashbury were knocked off in a couple of driving trips, along with some lessons about switchbacks and the history of Flower Power. And I did, indeed, sing The Age of Aquarius, which admittedly caused some surprised faces among the grands. Was Nana a hippie? The answer: a most decided NO.

I documented some of our trip to Chinatown in my last Saturday Smile. In addition to our lunch at House of Nanking, we also visited a fortune cookie factory…..

…..where the woman’s job was to take one of the soft, flat disks that were coming down the line, lay a fortune on top, and fold it and crimp it and place it into the special cooling pan, then move on to the next one. Catholics would call her job Purgatory. Or perhaps Hell.

That same afternoon, we took a bathroom break at a restaurant called Sushi Boat. The boats carried plates of sushi; they would float by, and if you were interested, you would grab the plate from the boat. The color of the plate told you the price. Alastair would have stayed there all afternoon had I given him a couple of hundred dollar bills to pay for all of the little plates he would collect…..

We checked off our drive over the Golden Gate Bridge with a trip to Muir Woods, on the other side of Sausalito. It was a beautiful morning…..

Our days always concluded with whale watching and enjoying the beautiful sunsets over the Pacific Ocean…..

Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith watch the waves gobble up their footprints at sunset one night.

I Hear the Train A-Comin’

The morning that Bill and I departed on the California Zephyr heading west to San Francisco, the train pulled into Union Station at exactly 8:05, as scheduled. We were promptly shown to our sleeping room – a spacious berth with room for our luggage, plenty of space in which to move around, and, of course, an ensuite toilette. We made our way to the dining car, where Hercule Poirot sat with a silver coffee service on his table. He nodded coolly to us as we passed, on our way to our table for two, covered in a white tablecloth and furnished with china plates and crystal glassware. We dined on Eggs Benedict and poured coffee from our own silver coffee service.

Of course, none of the above is true. But then we didn’t expect anything beyond what we got – and enjoyed our experience immensely.

It didn’t help that the evening before our early morning departure, as I bent down to wash my face, my back – which had given me trouble the week before but had seemingly settled down – gave a silent TWANG, and sent me down for the count. I wish I could say that my back went out as I lifted 20 lb. weights, one in each hand. But no; it simply took umbrage at my leaning over the sink. I hobbled to bed, hoping for the best.

Around midnight, I got out of bed, and, in great anguish, made my way to the bathroom. I knew I was in trouble when I was unable to stand up following my toilette. Bill awakened upon hearing groaning that sounded like childbirth.

As he helped me back to bed, I thought to myself, there is no way I’m going to be able to even get out of bed tomorrow morning, much less board a train upon which I will ride for 33 hours. So I did what any God-fearing potential traveler who is in pain would do: I began praying fervently for a miracle and took a Percocet.

The next morning, the miracle happened. While I was still very sore, I was able to be ambulatory enough to hobble to Union Station……

Bill had been keeping track of our train since it left Chicago, and knew that it was running two hours late. We boarded the California Zephyr at 10:30 a.m.

Our steward introduced himself as Alfredo (as in the fettucine) and showed us to our sleeping car. It was small – large enough for two chairs facing one another with a small pull-down table in between. That was it. Even our luggage had to be placed elsewhere. Nevertheless, I loved it immediately. It was private and we could move around enough to avoid getting blood clots. Best of all, we were steps away from both the bathroom and the dining car. I’m pretty sure the difference between riding a train as a simple passenger and riding a train as a sleeping car passenger is as different as day and night. Despite the smallness of the berth, having a steward makes all the difference in the world……

The window is immediately to Bill’s right, and the door is immediately to his left.

For the next 33 hours, we clickity-clacked along the tracks with scarcely a problem. Well, there was the small matter of the car that pulled out in front of the train somewhere in Nevada, requiring the train to come to a screeching halt and delaying us while they checked the train for damage and emptied the conductor’s shorts.

At night, you summon the steward to prepare your room. What this means is that Alfredo came in and pulled down the two chairs that made into a bed that is reasonably comfortable, but narrower than a twin bed. He also pulled down the bunk that rests from the ceiling to provide sleeping space for the second passenger. As long as the second passenger is a chimpanzee. Because, you see, there is no ladder provided to the passenger who drew the short straw and is supposed to sleep in this bunk that is – quite literally – no further from the ceiling than three feet with no window to provide relief from imminent claustrophobia.

Nevertheless, I tried. I managed to get into the bunk, and Bill crawled into the bed below. I laid there for a couple of hours, wide awake, concerned that I would (a) slide onto the floor as the train made a quick turn; (b) hyperventilate from claustrophobia that I never would have known I have had I not been stuffed into a bunk bed with three feet of head room; or (c) never be able to get out of the bed given the fact that – as you might recall – I threw my back out 24 hours previously.

C turned out to be the most realistic fear. Around 2 a.m., I could no longer deny the fact that I had to go to the bathroom. Bill, I whispered, to no avail. Bill, I said out loud, again to no avail. Bill, I nearly yelled, and he awoke. I explained my situation, and for the next 20 minutes, we worked on me successfully getting out of the bunk. The bunk to which I never returned. We spent the next couple of hours scrunched together in the narrow bed, and arose long before the crack of dawn to take a shower (which was obviously deserted) and await the breakfast bell.

The food? It was fine. Hercule Poirot would have been discontented, but we managed to find something to eat at each meal. Well, until our final meal, which was lunch that next day. As we all optimistically looked at our menus, the server came in and said, “Put down the menus because they’re useless. We have exactly four things available at this point – a hamburger, the hot dog and the mac and cheese from the kids menu, and the black bean burger. We’re out of everything else.”

I can’t explain how this happens, but apparently running out of food is commonplace on trains. Had our train been running hours and hours late (as is also commonplace), we would have had no food. The word on the street (or on the train, as it were) is that Amtrak has a stash of Dinty Moore beef stew that they hand out in these situations. Thank the good Lord, I can neither confirm nor deny.

All-in-all, we enjoyed our experience. The question everyone asks is would we do it again. The answer is a most emphatic YES, but no time soon. Like childbirth, you need a bit of time to forget.

Saturday Smile: Be Quiet and Eat

Our trip to San Francisco this past week (about which I will blog next week) brought about many smiles, but perhaps the funniest experience of many funny experiences took place in Chinatown.

Dave and Jll honeymooned in San Francisco 21 years ago, and their memories are fondly recalled. One of their best memories was a meal they ate in Chinatown at a place called House of Nanking. As Dave tells the story, as they perused Chinatown 21 years ago, it became abundantly clear that most of the restaurants had available seating, but one restaurant — House of Nanking — had a lengthy line down the street. Bingo, they thought. That’s the place with the good food. And so they got in line, and so it was.

We arrived past 1 o’clock, so the line — while still present — was considerably shorter than normal. A table for eight, Jll cheerfully requested. The proprietor didn’t even blink. Five minutes, okay, she said…..

It was a bit longer than five minutes, but not an unpleasant wait. We sat down, and the server came over and said, “You been here before?”

Not most of us, we admitted.

She picked up the menus she had just set down, and told us, “I order for you.”

Since walking in the door, about 4 minutes had passed.

Before we could say Trump China tariffs, food began appearing. Bowls of won ton and hot and sour soups. Pork dumplings. Stuffed mushrooms. Something she called tender beef. Sesame chicken. We would finish one thing and the plate would vanish and be replaced with something else. This photo was taken in the literally few minutes before the appearance of food…..

The woman who took over our thinking process is standing to the left. Standing guard…..

And all of it was delicious. She was right; she really did know best. We probably were done eating in just a bit over 30 minutes. No chopsticks to slow us down. No one asking if we would like any dessert. We decide what you eat; we decide how much you eat; and we decide how long it takes you to eat.

There are more people waiting, after all.

House of Nanking provided us not only with a delicious lunch, but with a lot of smiles.

Have a great weekend.

Cooking for Dummies, Redux

This blog was originally posted on April 20, 2016

Take Monday night’s dinner, for example. No, seriously. Take it, because it was practically inedible. And God bless Bill because he doesn’t EVER complain about my cooking. So he bit into the pieces of completely charred Italian sausage and said something like, “Food Network would call this carmelized.”

It was such a nice try on his part, but the truth is Food Network would call it a cooking fail.

The recipe was simple. Tiny new potatoes, fresh green beans, sliced pieces of Italian sausage, seasoning, all doused in olive oil and put into a piece of aluminum foil. The foil was closed up to make a package, and cooked for 30 minutes on the grill. Easy, right?

Except that I should have double wrapped it in the foil because it cooked fine on the closed side. However, I turned it so that the part that I had allegedly pinched closed was on the bottom, and unfortunately, it really wasn’t closed. At least not tightly enough.  As a result, the olive oil dripped onto the grill and a rather large fire ensued. A fire of which I was entirely unaware because I was engrossed in a book. I was reminded of a simply hilarious episode of the Bob Newhart Show in which Bob was grilling steaks on his Chicago condo’s patio and unbeknownst to him, the steaks caught fire. Bob was in his living room doing all of the funny conversational things of which Bob Newhart is the master, and in the background the audience watched as the grill was consumed by flames.

That was me on Monday night.

Here’s an interesting fact about moi. I am easily influenced by reading what someone in a book is eating. So if I read a book that takes place in India, I crave Indian food. If Mexican food is mentioned, that’s what I want for dinner. It happens the book that I’m reading (in which I was so engrossed and totally missed out on a grill fire which rivaled the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, minus Mrs. O’Leary’s cow) takes place in Scotland, and the characters routinely eat scones.

Normally I can take or leave scones, but after reading about the characters eating scones with their tea, I simply HAD to have a scone. If I was in Denver, I would simply have walked over to Whole Foods and purchased a peach scone. Despite giving it plenty of thought, I couldn’t think where I could get a scone around our AZ house. (Bec has since reminded me that Starbucks sells scones and there are probably two or three hundred Starbucks in a five mile radius of our house. Oh well.)

So I made my own peach scones. Had I shot video of my endeavor, it would not have made the cut on Next Food Network Star. Perhaps on America’s Worst Cooks. Ina Garten makes the process of making scones look easy (using peaches imported from a small organic and sustainable peach grove in the south of France). She ends up with a beautiful disk of dough that she easily cuts into triangles and bakes until they are a golden brown with sugar crystals glistening on top. I, on the other hand, ended up with a crumbly mess that I pressed into roughly a round disk, all the while frantically patting the crumbs back into the dough.

But it didn’t turn out too bad…..

peach scone disc

And when it was all said and done, the scones were quite delicious, as evidenced by Bill eating two in a row.

Just as an aside, when I’m cooking, Ina Garten often comes to mind. Mostly how she would be horrified to observe me in the kitchen. For example, I thought of her recently when I was making chicken. I had seasoned the chicken, and needed to throw something away. Because I had not yet washed my hands (which were full of whatever it was that I wanted to toss) and didn’t want to touch anything with raw chicken still lurking there, I opened the cabinet door with my feet. While doing so, a couple of thoughts came into my mind: 1) I have never seen Ina Garten open a cabinet with her feet; and 2) I wonder if it is any more sanitary to put your feet on the kitchen cabinet handle than using chicken-laced hands.

Don’t worry, I used an antibacterial cloth to wipe the handle.

Here is the recipe for the peach scones. Despite the crumbly dough, the scones were delicious.

peach scone cut

Peach Sconescourtesy

2 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 T baking powder
½ t. salt
½ c. unsalted butter, cubed and cold
1 egg
¼ c. heavy whipping cream, plus more for brushing
¼ c. sour cream
2 t. vanilla extract
½ c. fresh peaches, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Once combined, cut in the butter with a fork or pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Whisk together heavy cream, sour cream, egg, and vanilla extract. Slowly add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Stir in the peaches, and mix until just combined.

On a well-floured surface, turn out the scone dough and pat into a small disk that’s about a half inch thick. Cut into 6-8 slices, and transfer to the baking sheet. Brush each scone with just a bit of heavy cream.

Bake for 16-18 minutes, or just until golden brown. Allow to cool.

Nana’s Notes: Her recipe had a glaze; I chose to sprinkle mine liberally with sugar after brushing on the cream. Also, since I was facing the above-mentioned crumbly mess, I formed my disk right on the baking sheet, and that seemed to work fine. Finally, I didn’t use fresh peaches; instead, I used canned. That made the dough a bit wetter and the resulting scones a bit more moist. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.