Thursday, May 29, 2008

Big Bobcat eats entire house!

Day three and there is a giant pile of debris in the middle of the house. The bobcat is now picking up great jawfuls of stuff and moving it into the dumpster. The machine eats like a pig, but gets most of each clump into the target. Two guys are working their way around the walls still standing and removing stucco. The bins can only carry about a half full bin of stucco or they exceed weight limits.

The guys (this is a technical construction term for a crew) have a fire lit in the fireplace and so now it stands alone, burning away. Strange sight.

We decided to pitch out the pots and plants that lived on the enclosed patio. They are half rotted and root bound and more trouble than they are worth. We thought about keeping them but realized we'd just be moving them and moving them again and they aren't worth it.

Tomorrow we'll be down to just three people, stripping off the floor tiles and continuing the clean up. The guys that get to go home will be happy to see their families...they don't like being away very much at all.

Smash and Crash

Day two of house destruction. Walls crumbled and windows smashed. The house has imploded. Late last night we went back to show Ross Dailey the mess and a bobcat was at work bringing down the front wall. The cat was tearing off chunks about 10 x 10. Unfortunately, they broke a pipe in the process so we will have some repairs to do. Also they have snapped off some of the irrigation heads in front where the lumber is piled. The biggest gaffe of the day is a hole in the utility room roof where they got over enthusiastic. This part of the roof is to stay....I guess we'll be able to patch it.

The boys have set up an HQ in the guest bedroom, using my gas burner for cooking and the microwave we loaned them from our HQ. They've got eggs, tortillas and a myriad of snacks to eat. The foreman told me that they had it the fireplace and played cards the night before. Lots of coyote noise bothered them a bit but otherwise they say they slept well. Who wouldn't after driving up from the border, working about 10 hours - hard physical abor? The crew was down to 9 yesterday and today will only be about three. Mostly they will be picking up and putting everything in the trash, moving our roof tiles to the creek and placing our beams where we want them. Today they tear down the little garden house too...they've decided it can't be moved.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bringing down the house

Big day today! At 8:00 am, Dirt Cheap Demolition rolled in with trucks, crowbars and 12 guys all ready to roll. One call to Fallbrook refuse and a big dumpster was here in about an hour. Lalo, our crew chief, has the magic words I guess. It took us a month to get a dumpster - and site visits and deposits.

Like locusts, the guys swarmed over the roof, removing tiles and stacking them in piles, then throwing them down to a man standing by pallets. He caught and piled the tiles. 7 pallets filled up in no time and Lalo ran to Fallbrook for 6 more. About the half the tiles are off. Half the crew moved to the patio cover and started removing that while the other half started ripping the roof off the master bedroom and bath. Another worker went around the house making cuts in the stucco so they could pull it off.

At noon they stopped for chicken and tortillas and all ate heartily. The laughter and teasing rang round the grove - they had a good time. Lalo told me that he would remove the little tool house in exchange for a chicken lunch. They also agreed to take the antenna away - somebody would want it.

I sat with them for a few minutes and talked near the end of the day. The house is about 1/3 down and the two lead men were very happy with their progress. I asked them if they liked what they do and they both said "We love it!!". Probably because they really do something - at the end of the day you can clearly see the result of your work.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

We joined the throngs at the local movie theatre to see Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull on the second day of its release on a long weekend, Saturday night. You'd think this would be a recipe for disaster but we got fairly good seats and although the theatre was full of kids, they were quiet and attentive. The movie is set in the 50's and in one scene Indiana stumbles across a fake neighborhood populated with mannequins. When he hears a countdown being broadcast in a loud voice, he jumps into a refrigerator clearly marked "LEAD LINED" just before a blast blows the fridge and the town to Kingdom come. He staggers out of the fridge just in time to see a mushroom shaped cloud arise on the horizon. This is the closest to food we get in the entire movie.

After, we went to the Peking Wok next door to eat. Sizzling Rice Soup, YuShiang Pork, Lemon Chicken and Hot Braised Shrimp. The food was very good and the YuShiang Pork a flavor surprise containing Chinese 5 spice. Although the Sizzling Rice Soup was quite different than that served in LA Chinatown (no pea pods, no water chestnuts), it was pleasant. It felt good to eat after all the Indie action.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Our book club read The Wind, by . A mystery story set in Barcelona and full of twists and turns. The clever author has a great web site on which he has posted music he composed to go along with the book. What talent.

The food was good. Vickie brought beautifully grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon..the shrimp was cooked but tender and the bacon was cooked perfectly. A real tour de force. She also brought a "tortilla" - large potato omelet. Lori brought marinated grilled chicken with grilled fennel and onions all arrayed on a platter garnished with edible flowers. Delicious. I brought Spanish potato salad and shrimp ala the pintxos in San Sebastian. Vicki also brought some excellent Spanish chocolate flavored with orange and Lori made a custard tart piled high with Roxanne's berries. Overall, the eating was about as good as it gets, thanks to the great cooks and readers in the club.

We all enjoyed the book and spent time discussing who could play which role in the movie version. Antonio Banderas got a lot of votes as did Pamela Cruz. The book must have 500 scenes in it, which would make it difficult to turn into a manageable script but the twisty, turny plot would make engaging viewing. Somebody clever will likely manage it.

Monday, May 19, 2008


The drive up to Solheim to see Richard's mother is long and can be ardurous if the traffic is bad. To reward ourselves we usually try to eat at some place new or different while we are up there. This Sunday we tried Oinkster located just a few blocks away from Solheim. Upscale fast food, the pulled pork is the big star of the show. We found it disappointing - dry and tasteless. The Carolina barbecue sauce wasn't much help. Belgian Fries were limp. The pastrami was excellent although sliced too thickly to get the maximum flavor. It was however fatty and peppered beautifully. Oinksters house mustard is a perfect complement. Desserts had no visual appeal so we skipped those, partly because they didn't look good and mostly because the music was too loud and the place couldn't be more uncomfortable. Tables wobble and tip - wads of paper are squished under most of the legs. We sat at a two-top where our table had been wedged over the neighboring two-top in an attempt to get some stability. Passing through the tables is like walking down a plane aisle - you have to turn sideways, dodge and weave. You can't wait to get out of there.

Once was enough for the Oinkster.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Vaseline on your tortillas

I learned a new trick from Shari - you can teach an old dog, if you are patient enough. She was doing a photo shoot for Bumble Bee and I played assistant. One of the shots was a wrap made with a large spinach tortilla. She plunked down a jar of Vaseline and we rubbed it into the tortillas to keep them flexible, help hold the filling in and make them sealable. It worked like a charm and this little trick made the whole wrap thing fairly easy.

Three shots went along briskly - the digitalization of food photography makes the whole process much easier. Need more red pepper? - use the cloning device and add some more in - click, click, click. Our client thought the rosemary in one shot looked like hair. Huh?? That photo got a digital shave, using the erase device - the photographer just rubbed it off. Gone are the bad old days of doing things over and over - now,once you have the basics you can go a long way with digital adjustment.

All three shots turned out great - they are colorful, simple and should sell tuna.

Richard, the photographer ,is an artist and has done a series of tapestries depicting "downtowns", mostly downtown LA. He showed us his portfolio with interpretations of city hall, the Disney Concert Hall, the LA Cathedral, Little Tokyo and the Ahmenson theatre. They reminded me of what you see in a kaleidoscope.

As we left the studio a New York photographer and his entourage came in to scout things out. They've rented the studio for Friday (3 people all the way from New York) to photograph a hospital bed!! They looked kind of grim and the one person I talked to didn't show much sense of humor. I think we had more fun with the tuna than they are going to have between, over, under or on the sheets.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Dawg Fairy Tale

This morning it's Richard's 69th birthday and we're having Dutch Babies and bacon for breakfast. Dutch Babies are an old friend. One of my first product development jobs was working on a frozen Dutch Baby batter for Van de Kamps. We never did sell it as it took too long to thaw and bake. The product brings back memories of working in the VDK lab in some house trailers the company rented for our R and D work. Although San Fernando Road was not the most glamorous place to work, the trailers were fitted out nicely. We used the kitchens, our offices were in the bedrooms, the dining rooms were great for conferences and product showings ; the living room was used for meetings.

A stray dog took up residence under the trailers because our garbage cans were always filled with primo test products. The picking were good! Dawg, a lovable creature, started sneaking in the trailer if we weren't watching closely. One thing led to another and soon the dog was sitting in somebody's office for most of the day, curled up at his or her feet. We'd gone too far and finally one of the execs said that the dog had to go. Devastated we tried to find him a home, asking everyone we knew about possibilities and finally one of the girls made a great connection. Her mother worked for Kay Spreckles, Clark Gable's widow who had a big property in the San Fernando Valley. JoAnne's Mom told Kay about Dawg and Kay said she would take him as a ranch dog. Fortune smiled on our poor mutt because when he went home with Kay, her son - Clark Gable's son, fell in love with him and so Dawg, moved into the house and lived happily ever after, just like a movie star.

Richard enjoyed his fancy breakfast with orange juice in wine glasses, our best embroidered napkins and his mother's silver.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Old Crab

Shari and I had a good time in Wash DC. We were able to pull the flavor school together by 10:20 the night before which translates to about 4 1/2 hours solid work. In the morning it took us about 1 1/2 hours to lay it out and get the handouts together. The Unilever guys took care of the video, which posed the usual problems but ended up being just fine. Our audience was attentive although smaller than anticipated. We had about 34 people instead of the 50 person estimate. Dick our host seemed pleased.

After our work was done, we went over to Wegmans for lunch and had crab sandwiches carefully and meticulously prepared by the "Old Crab". Old indeed, he looked about 75 and had a sandwich set-up at the end of the fish section. His crab cakes were simmering in an electric frying pan and he had a large mixing bowl full of coleslaw which looked particularly colorful and appetizing with large pieces of carrot and cucumber blended into the shredded cabbage. There was a constant line of people waiting for his sandwiches, chatting away with him. He seemed to be popular and I imagine a bit of an icon.

He'd prepare a bun by scooping out one side and slathering it with a kind of thousand island dressing. The bottom of the bun was placed on the plate and topped with a generous portion of mixed greens topped with 4 thick tomato slices, then the crab cake was perched on top. The top of the bun with the thousand island was balanced against the side of the sandwich. A generous cupful of coleslaw was added to the plate along with a couple of lemon slices. He gave us a big smile and a couple of words as he passed the sandwich over. Shari and I enjoyed ours at the tables upstairs in the cafe area above the market. The crab cake consisted of large pieces of crab, held together with a little mayo. It was rolled in a very fine crumb and then cooked. Even though mine was almost cold it was still delicious - crab quality was excellent.

Wegmans was a wonder. Beautifully lit, the interior is warm, inviting and gets your appetite going immediately. The main entrance takes you right into a huge produce section. The first thing we saw was a pile of gorgeous artichokes and bin after bin of high quality produce spread out ahead. They claim to offer more than 700 items from 800 suppliers. In the produce section, a woman was serving samples of a tostada consisting of the usual ingredients but the base was a pita bread instead of the usual tortilla. The sample was a generous portion and the woman, warm and engaging. A recipe was available and this "What's cooking?" station operates everyday to give shoppers ideas for easy meals they can create in minutes. Moving on to the bread section, we watched workers making a loaf called Marco Polo which was a yeasty smelling round loaf that they dipped in a mixture of rice flour, water, yeast and sugar, then put it in the oven. The finished loaves were dark brown, crispy looking and gorgeous. A Chinese baker gave us a cup with samples of two artisan loaves; a ciabbata and sour dough. Munching on our bread, we continued on past the ovens and proof boxes to the sweet section of the bakery and admired fruit tarts, chocolate bombs and all kind of beautifully decorated cakes. Next up was the meat section - yards and yards of beautiful meat and poultry both regular cuts and partially prepared products like shish-kebabs. Rib eye and filet steaks, as large as 4 inches thick were sitting in trays. Tiny racks of lamb riblets nestled between pans of chicken breasts, some stuffed and wrapped, other layered with ingredients or marinated. The cheese section was amazing with four or five islands, 15 feet long, filled with cheeses from all over the world. Huge wheels and tiny slices were available. A charcuterie/deli offered every conceivable variety of cured meat, hams, sausages and salamis. Amazingly all this food was well priced. Next to or adjacent to all these displays, compatible or complimentary items were displayed such as basting oils, marinades, sauces, rubs and sprinkles or serving utensils and cooking equipment. Next to the meat section, an island held barbecue accessories such as a set of spatulas, forks, scrapers all shaped like golf clubs or curved skewers for extra pretty kabobs. Next to the fish section there were many cooking accessories - one was a dredge which was basically seasoned flour for dredging fish. An olive bar was at least 15 feet long and held 30 or 40 kinds of olives and a couple of gardinieras. You could mix and match with a fixed price per pound. Gone would be the 10 or so half-filled jars of olives that permanently dwell in my refrigerator, most of unknown age and questionable quality. Oh to be able to purchase just a few of each, fresh on each market visit. Oh to have a Wegmans in the neighborhood.

As would be expected, there was a large wine section with a tasting bar and a chalk board announcing when tastings were scheduled. I was surprised to find no Wine Spectator ratings or tasting notes posted on the wines. The wines were however very well priced - the wines I know and buy were priced similarly to what I pay at Trader Joes or BevMore.

Perhaps 30 - 40% of the market space was dedicated to food service. A long display case held 40 or 50 steam table inserts full of entrees like cedar planked salmon, pastas, sushi, vegetable and potato items which could be purchased by the pint or the pound. Another station served sandwiches in a carvery set-up with a piece of roast beef and a ham under warming lights. There was a long Chinese buffet which held 30 or 40 items. Pizza could be purchased and a variety of soups were ready for to-go. The food was fresh looking and these buffet lines/display cases were clean and obviously well tended.

Check out at the market was fast, friendly and efficient. They offer help loading your car and offer an escort in case you have
fears at any time but I would suppose this would be popular after late night shopping.

Hanging out at Wegmans...a huge and delightful surprise bonus to this trip!!