Thursday, June 30, 2011


If you spend any time in Asia you will probably acquire a puppet or two. Back at home, they look out of place and uncomfortable. I've been trying to put a small one purchased from the Bagan market into a shadow box, but the cat keeps getting his nose into the proceedings. My favorite, an ancient Burmese General, unearthed from a dusty stall in Yangon hangs almost over my head.

The puppets we've both enjoyed most are not merely decorative. They're on the job every day in the Water Puppet show in Hanoi. We've seen them twice and love everything about it - the dusty, dusky old theatre and uncomfortable seats; the squawky orchestra and the charming stories the shows recount. The event is a "must see" on all the tourist's lists and the theatre is generally full, many of the people snoring in their seats -  not because the show isn't engaging, but because they're exhausted from being on the typical grueling tour group schedule.

A thousand years ago, water puppet shows were created by farmers who spent their days in flooded rice fields. They discovered that water was an excellent venue for puppets as it hid the rods and strings that provide movement and could be used for special effects, like waves and splashes. The shows depict daily village life - farming, fishing children's games plus legends including dragons and lion dogs. The fishing vignettes are particularly entertaining as the fisherman is outwitted by his prey.  These shows are accompanied by an traditional orchestra which includes drum, flutes and the dan bau - sometimes there's a singer, sometimes not. The shows are about an hour long - funny, colorful and utterly captivating.

For $1.00 a ticket, I'd say it's currently the best entertainment value for the money on the planet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Treasure Hunter

We were able to visit Tom, a good friend and former colleague of Richards in DC. A treasure hunter, Tom's home is loaded from top to bottom with Asian ceramics, pottery, porcelain - jewelry and decorative items.

He handed us a beautiful carved ivory object which on closer inspection revealed carvings of baby boys at play. After challenging us to guess what it was, we discovered that the top could be removed whereupon Tom pulled out about 25 inches of chain and explained that it was a Chinese baby boy measurer. Only for boys.

As we drank tea from his lovely paper thin antique cups and enjoyed dim sum on 19th century Japanese and Chinese plates, he regaled us with stories of his antique hunts, great finds and the current state of the art in Chinese antiques. Apparently the Chinese are now buying up all the antiques in the U. S. because it's presumed they are more likely to be authentic. Prices have been driven sky high because Chinese dealers come in and buy literally everything.

Because I started getting more and more interested in treasure hunting, Tom passed along a few of his  tips: carry a small flashlight, a magnifying glass and a package of handi-wipes. Get there early and if you see something you like, pick it up and carry it around. If you decide later you don't want it, put it back down. He goes to yard sales, estate sales, swap meets. We laughed when he told us that he can tell at a glance if a yard sale is worth stopping at...if it's flat, it's likely to be clothes. If it's pink or blue, probably children's stuff aka closet cleaning.  And here's Tom's advice on finding sales:

Here's a link to the best compilation of nationwide estate sales that I have found  .  It's updated daily, steadily expanding, and extremely useful when planning weekends.  Each listing has photos and most have textual descriptions, and in my experience, the photos usually show about half of what is available.  Still, they will help you get an idea of the "philosophy of the house."

Ivory mysterious object
Chinese baby boy measurer - boys only

A Chinese Parable: Sai Weng Shi Ma

A Chinese parable - A certain Mr. Sai, who lived on the northern frontier of China, lost a horse. His neighbors all came to console him, but he was not worried at all. “This may turn out to be a good thing,” he said. A day later, the horse came back with many wild horses following into his corral. His neighbors congratulated him, but he was not overjoyed at all. “This may turn out to be a bad thing,” he said.

One day, Mr. Sai’s son was out trying to break the wild horses when he fell and broke his legs instead. And his neighbors came to comfort him, but he responded with, “This may still turn out to be a good thing after all.” A few days later, a Chinese warlord came through the area, looking to draft young men into the army for a particularly brutal conflict, and he passed by Mr. Sai’s son because of his broken legs. “This is a good thing,” his neighbors said.

This parable, called Sai Weng Shi Ma conveys a truism: We are not always able to accurately assess what is ultimately good and what is ultimately bad in any given situation.

Sunday night we were disappointed when flying back from Cincinnati because we weren't upgraded to first class. Mindful of the parable I thought, this might turn out to be a bad thing. As we sat waiting for the flight, the agent called us back from the podium and offered us compensation, plus first class if we took a bump from the flight (to LA and then on to San Diego) and instead catch a later flight direct to San Diego. Now this may turn out to be a good thing. A direct flight and first class. But then, the agent called us again to say the situation had changed and they didn't need us to take a bump. Richard asked if we could still take the later flight. Yes, and we would be assured of first class. Flights arrived at the same time in San Diego. Instead of killing time in LA (almost the worst airport we travel through) we killed the time in Cincinnati and had the pleasure of meeting "Catfish" a waitress at the Wolfgang Puck cafe. Turned out to be a good thing.

   A middle aged woman, pleasant looking, Catfish showed us to our seats. Plunking the menus on the table, she asked where we were going. "San Diego." we replied. "Shut Up!" she said. "My brother lives in Ramona". We explained we too lived out in the sticks in Fallbrook. "Shut Up!" she  exclaimed again.

Catfish aka Catherine, went on to tell us all about her brother and his wife, one Mimi Kirk. Mimi recently has recently had a vegan raw cookbook published and posts cooking video clips on You Tube. Catfish regaled us with stories about Mimi - an enterprising woman, formerly a personal assistant to Mary Tyler Moore and a well-connected former Hollywoodite. She looks fabulous for 72....makes you want to run out and buy some wheat grass (well almost).

Catfish sat with us for most of our meal - it was slow in the Cinnci airport and she went on with stories about George Clooney who grew up near her in Kentucky.

 George was a real prankster, she said. He worked in the local shoe store while paying his way through college; Catfish wouldn't let him near her with shoes. "Throw them to me, Clooney." she'd say, rather than risk one of his practical jokes. She told us that nobody in the neighborhood thought he had a serious chance as an actor...yes, he was cute and all that, but to become an international heart throb and humanitarian? They wouldn't have guessed.

Finally, we finished our rotisserie chicken and had to tear ourselves away. Catfish, barely stopping for a breath, seemed to have a never-ending supply of narrative material and was clearly disappointed about losing her audience. 

Our flight was fine - landed on time in San Diego. As the wheels hit the ground we looked at each other and realized that our baggage was on the other flight which landed at a different terminal. Oh no! This might turn out to be a bad thing after all.  But Delta's champion baggage computer knew where the bags were and had them sent over to our terminal. We waited perhaps ten minutes longer for them than we might have. So after all, it turned out to be a good thing.

But then we were ten minutes later than we would have been and the 15 freeway had just closed three lanes for construction. This could be a bad thing. But we turned on the radio while creeping slowly along and heard a great radio interview. Now this could be a good thing............ and so it goes. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mr. Wu cuts up!

Mr. Wu was a real cut-up. He brought our duck to the table draped with thin Chinese crepes. Behind him came our waitress carrying a large tray with a platter and cover to which she transferred the crepes. She laid out a cereal bowl of plum sauce and a small platter of scallions. Mr. Wu gave us a big toothy smile, lifted his long square knife and began to disassemble the duck starting with the skin. He had beautiful smooth hands, unwrinkled and unfreckled. A lifetime of immersion in duck fat will do that.

The restaurant, the Peking Gourmet Inn is located in a strip mall in Arlington, VA along with an Asian grocery store, a couple of shop front professionals - lawyers, a dentist; and a store selling Iranian trinkets.  Once the door swings open you can smell the duck as you read the testimonials from local, national and international restaurant reviewers lining the foyer. Luckily we snagged a small table for two - five minutes later we'd have waited an hour.

Richard has told me about this restaurant every time we have duck. We order it here and there, mostly in Asia and while I've usually liked what we've gotten, he always fondly recollects the Peking Gourmet Inn.
At last I got to try it.

The small entryway opens onto a very large space; it's grown and grown over the years and occupies half the mall. Rows and rows of photographs of generals, politicians and actors smile down on you from the walls as you enjoy your duck. The place has been a favorite of presidents, foreign leaders and everyday folks. We sat next to a wall of generals...the "scrambled eggs" on their chests a wonder to behold. Every president since Reagan has eaten there - a special seating arrangement is available to accommodate groups with security details.              

The joint was jumping on Monday night crowded with all manner of people; groups in their twenties with t-shirts, ball caps and flip-flops; many tables of families - 'Happy Birthday' would break out once in a while;  several tables were filled with people dressed in foreign costumes. Duck after duck floated by over our heads carried aloft level and secure. Tables are very close together and aisle ways narrow which requires an alert and graceful waitstaff. Energy level in the place was very high - they achieved this the natural way which happens in busy Chinese restaurants. After years of working in foodservice I'm convinced this energy level is an aura of success hanging in the air, created by hard work, concentration and the knowledge that the cash register is ringing. Contemporary restaurateurs think they are achieving this by installing  Radio Shack quality speakers and spewing out the noise pollution that passes for music in so many restaurants today. The noise makes people edgy and uncomfortable - I think it ultimately drains the staff instead of energizing them.

Wu continued with the excellent dissection job. He'd cut a small piece of skin and scrape it free of fat, murmuring just under his breath about putting the fat on the side. Quickly the skin was removed and lined up on the platter edge followed by the perfectly cooked duck - cooked so that the meat fell off the bone but not a bit dry. Wu stepped aside, gave us one more grin and disappeared into the maw of the kitchen. Somehow the duck and pancakes stayed warm as we ate; even the scallions were uniquely fresh and chiffonaded into perfect lacy shreds. I read somewhere that they have a farm in the country where they grow scallions, leeks and garlic shoots all of which are used in various dishes.

Wu left us the bones to gnaw at the end and we squabbled a little about who would get which bone. After we finished every single morsel, I could have eaten another duck, but I didn't say anything to Richard who would probably have ordered the whole show again. Better to leave a little yearning for the next time.

Monday, June 13, 2011

We didn't plant a garden this year. We put in one cherry tomato which seems to be struggling and two rhubarb plants for the novelty of it. The rhubarb has stalled. It grew a little and then gave up. Probably the soil wasn't enriched sufficiently.

On the cusp of summer we do have a few garden successes. 

Macadamia tree blossoms....

are turning into macadamia nuts!

Macadamia nuts growing fast.

The Buddha's fingers are ever-bearing and a year round show. You can see the blossom, a tiny fruit forming, a medium sized hand and a fairly large "hand".

Last but not least, the plums are ripening and I see a few tarts in our future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Jigsaw Hijackers

Why I can't finish my jigsaw puzzle:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Two Fund Raisers

Fund Raiser! 

Two Fridays in a row I attended fund raisers. Last Friday at the Grand Del Mar hotel the Alzheimer's Association held their 30th anniversary and fund raiser. In a gorgeous setting on the hotel grounds we drank champagne and ate well - all food and drink a la "Taste of San Diego" was donated by participating restaurants and wineries from around the area. The food highlight was a delicious bao stuffed with pork belly, silky and delicious. Our friend Fran, who invited me as her guest is a dedicated and regular donor to the cause. We got the red carpet treatment.

Chair person for the event was a beautifully dressed, knock-out blond oozing with enthusiasm and charisma. She told a story about her own grandmother whose Alzheimer's onset was sudden, beginning one day with her daily walk to the supermarket after which she could not find her way home. She declined rapidly and at the end was tied to a bed, raving, violent and dangerous. Not a pretty picture. Passionate about finding cure for this horrible scourge, she cheered everyone on  - urging us to loosen our wallets and get involved in the cause. 

As the hors d'ouevres were passed and champagne glasses refilled, refilled, refilled, tall thin ageless women cruised the silent auction in their Manolo Blahniks. Tanned men in perfectly tailored blazers or silk sport coats, drank scotch and puffed on cigars. Every once in a while, one of the men would step forward and bid up a Callaway golf bag until it ended up appropriately stratospherically priced. In this company, I felt too short, under dressed, under funded and overwhelmed. As the evening went on these people continued to show their generosity during the rapid fire live auction where elaborate dinners, private wine tastings and luxury travel were sold for thousands and thousands.

Myself, I live in terror of the Alzheimer's scourge. Who doesn't? Every time I grope for a word or lose my train of thought I wonder if I'm going down the tubes. The numbers afflicted grow and grow with the aging of the population and AD is being called the defining disease of baby boomers. One in eight people will have AD by the time they reach 65. If you live to 85 nearly one in two will develop it. Research into diagnosis and treatment is proceeding vigorously but there is currently no way to prevent it, cure it or slow it's progression.  Here's an interesting link: Ten signs of Alzheimers Disease and an interesting fact: AD kills more Americans each year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. 

By contrast, at the second fund raiser of the week, I helped out at the Frasier Elementary School carnival, a fundraiser for the PTA. With other volunteers, we cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, sold sodas and snack bags of chips. Attendance was good, everybody had a great time. The big item for the auction/raffle was a mountain bike. No Manolos. No fancy clothes. I felt tall enough, rich enough and not whelmed - perhaps a tad over dressed in my chef coat with the colored buttons.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Annie redux

Robert Sommers from Blue Heron Blast read my post, "Annie" and suggested it could work ala Dashiel Hammet . He sent me the paragraph indented below and a few good lines. So here is the re-worked hard boiled style story. 

I almost stepped on her this morning. A looker, she was round and curvy, about 15 x 12 inches of turtle beauty -  parked on my back doorstep. I did a classic double take - what???

"She had a shell all right - from the pads of her feet to her oh so gorgeous turtle neck, she was all turtle. Counting her rings I could tell she was old enough to know better... I suggested we retire down to the local watering hole and share a head of lettuce. She said don't get too close bub, I could give you a bad case of salmonella." (Robert's inspirational lines)

I thought she had a lot of spunk, way too much for a turt just dragging herself out of the weeds. She laid her snappy repartee on me so fast it was obvious she'd been around the barranca at few times.

"Annie" she quipped,when I asked her name, looking up at me with eyes both sad and probing.  "They thought they were so cute, saddling me with that moniker. As if I was going to burst into song any minute". She sneered and glided a little forward. "See ya around punk."

The whirring sound of a nearby chain saw broke the silence and then the whinnying of horses. A soft breeze blew across my deck.  I drained the last of the scotch and thought about what was in this for me. She wasn't going for the lettuce but the warning? Lots of turts get the old salmonella and they have shots for it now. Was she worth the risk?

Just then it hit me. Annie. Hmmmm....I'd heard about a turt named Annie blowing the coop from the neighbors about two years ago. That Annie was pretty innocent - this one knew the ropes.  I watched her move along ahead and then she did the old inside-the-shell routine. Wedged herself into the landscape probably to catch some zzz's.

I refilled my scotch and went after her. "Annie", I said, knocking on the sexy shell. "Okay so you're not interested in breaking lettuce with me, but I know someone with a whole shit load of carrots. Baby, take a look at the bright side even if there ain't no bright side." She stretched her neck out, looked me up and down and said, "Bub, I'm not buying any of what you've got to sell.  Period."

That did it. I was striking out big time. One more scotch and I drove over to the hacienda on the hill. Quiet around there but first thing that hit me was the stone turt statue in the front. These people
knew turts...if Annie hadn't lived there they'd probably know where she belonged. Caution, I told myself. The problem with putting two and two together is that sometimes you get four and sometimes you get twenty two.

The guy answered my knock with a drink in his hand. By now it was 9:00 and the Bloody Mary's had given way to the hard stuff...the stuff that keeps this burg afloat. "Suppose you tell me all about it. Start as far back as you can." I rewound events back down the hill and by the time he was draining his glass, he decided that my Annie might be his Annie too.

Truth be told, I was sorry to put her into the old man's hands. She was going to be okay but I couldn't help but wonder if things might have worked out between us if she'd been willing to just get out her shell.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


I almost stepped on her this morning. A looker, she was round and curvy, about 15 x 12 inches of turtle beauty -  parked on my back doorstep. I did a classic double take - what???

She was retracted fully into her shell and other than the shyness, she seemed to be uninjured. I guessed something had gone wrong with her onboard GPS.

After thinking a moment, I remembered that one of my neighbors had turtles and checked to see if they were down one.  Turns out this creature was Annie, missing in action for almost two years! The neighbors kept her and her companion in a large box on their property which blew over the side of the hill in one of the storms. Both turtles were missing -  one showed up at another neighbors shortly after, but Annie was, they thought, gone forever. What a survivor! We think she must have holed up in the barranca surviving on the vegetation and somehow avoiding coyotes, dogs and other predators.  

It must have been a long uphill climb for her to reach my door traversing hazardous open ground and then climbing through thick ice plant and bougainvillea on the slope. I wonder if she thought she was home when she encountered the warm concrete?

I rarely go down the slopes to the barranca but last week I braved the gauntlet of rabbit burrows and other hazards to take a look around. Could she have seen or sensed me and presented herself for rescue?

We'll never know but it was a happy day for all of us!

Friday, June 03, 2011

Food Funnies

From the New Yorker

From the Crisco Cookbook, "Praise for the Cook" circa 1940's,a recipe for 
Barbecued Bologna for Men a la Crisco:

3/4 cup Crisco shortening
2 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
2 - 3 pounds whole bologna sausage

Mix the Crisco and Kitchen Bouquet together. Spread over the sausage. Grill the bologna over hot coals or spit roast the bologna until it is browned and hot through. Cut into thick slices and serve on rye bread or toasted hamburger buns.

From the USDA, the new food guide which you can find online at

I have to give them credit for simplicity but you have to get online to get really useable information.  Obviously they've avoided printing any numbers, portion sizes, weights or measures on the chart. Why? Because most of todays' consumers are so clueless that once you throw numbers at them they freeze up. These are the same consumers who are supposed to be able to understand and use the nutrition information panel full of recommended daily allowances and percentages of nutrients expressed in terms of a 2000 calorie per day diet. Lots of luck.  

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Book Club June meeting - Tinkers

Tinker: definition from wikipedia: An itinerant tinsmith who mended household utensils.
A beautifully designed cover, so evocative of the story within

When I first heard the title of this book, the selection for May, I thought of the expression: "Who gives a tinker's dam?" A little research revealed that a tinker's curse was considered of little significance because tinkers were reputed to swear all the time.

On the day of our book club meeting, I was at the dentist with Beth. Dr. Moran asked us what book we were currently reading and when Beth said, "Tinkers", he quickly quipped "Tinker to Evers to Chance". When we looked at him blankly, he explained that this was a famous double play in baseball. Seems it was immortalized in the poem, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" by Franklin Pierce Adams in 1920 and has come to mean, "like clockwork" or "like a well oiled machine".

Baseball's Sad Lexicon
These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

Paul Harding, the former drummer of the rock group, Cold Water Flat penned this haunting story, a Pulitzer prize winning first novel, about tinkers across generations.  On his death bed, George, a good man surrounded by his family, remembers his childhood with his father; his father's struggle with epilepsy, his grim life trudging through the countryside with wagon and horse selling trinkets and household goods to farmers in a mendable world where the tinker was a welcome sight and served a critical need in the community. As his dying hours pass he recalls his loveless joyless mother and their unmendable household sadness.  There are riveting descriptions of the chaotic epileptic seizures his father endured, a situation where the sufferer is completely out of control, and equally interesting narratives about repairing clocks, a process which is totally precise and in the control of the tinkerer.                               

Everyone enjoyed the book and the lyrical writing. Several of us read and re-read parts of the book as once through wasn't time enough to both absorb the words and examine the thoughts, memories and emotions the story aroused in each of us....memories of parents, home, siblings, loss. 

Barbara hosted at her lovely home. Sipping our wine and enjoying the warm evening, we strolled through the herb and flower-filled paths on her property meandering down to her stable to visit her horses and gorgeous tack room. Her two Australian Shepherds herded us over to view the outstanding vegetable garden and berry patch.  Onion bouquets hung from the branches of trees, berries were bursting from the bushes. During our book discussion an uninvited but welcome screeching owl added comments from the back yard. 

Food was wonderful: we had cracker/cheese/tomato appetizers, deviled eggs, two chicken salads, a vegetable salad, braised artichokes, seasoned avocado chunks and candied oranges which Beth smuggled back with her from Arles, France. Using Linda's (absent member) recipe, Barbara made an Amazing Fresh Blackberry Pie, the piece de resistance. Cooked and fresh blackberries were piled high in the crust; the fresh taste and texture of the ripe, juicy blackberries accented the flavor of the cooked and sweetened blackberry foundation. Served with creamy vanilla ice cream it was a sheer delight. Was it the good company? The beautiful surroundings or was this the best blackberry pie I've ever tasted! A perfect end to a lovely evening.  

Dreamy blackberry pie


Tack room, dog leg, nice toes

Book Club rite in progress

Rare rear view of the species - Book Clubitis Fallbrookanea

Merry book clubbers getting ready to eat.

Barb's lovely kitchen
Onion garlands 
Blackberry bushes