For Christmas last year, Ryan and Jon gave John a certificate for a half-day class at the California Culinary Academy (CCA) in San Francisco. John and I decided to do this together and yesterday we participated in a class called California Cuisine.

We arrived at 9 am and were treated to a continental breakfast while we registered and mingled with the other cooking enthusiasts. We received nifty logo aprons and caps to wear during our class. After we finished the class, we would all meet again in the dining room and eat the wonderful things we had made. But wait a minute, the other classes are bread, sauce, soup and pies. Who’s going to make the main course for at least 80 people plus instructors and student helpers? You guessed it – California Cuisine.

We are broken into two groups and eleven of us follow Chef Mike into the kitchen. We each have a cutting board and knife and a set of instuctions. We get a short talk on cleanliness and safety. Also a knife demonstration. Then we are let loose. We must find the ingredients and make the food for forty people and have it ready by 1PM. It’s now about 10. We are supposed to take turns doing all the dishes. Tim, a young guy from San Jose State, and John and I are a team. Here’s what we are making.

Ahi Tuna Napoleon

Slow Roasted Beet Salad served with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and Goat Cheese Moussiline

Cold-Smoked Atlantic King Salmon served on a bed of Yukon Gold Potatoes and Topped with an Orange Slaw

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb with a Date Reduction, Pesto Mashed Potatoes, and Tourned Squash

Braised Mussels and Shittake in Tomato Mint Broth

And the idea is that each team will have a turn making all the dishes!

Well, Tim, John and I started on the roasted beets. We dashed into the supply room and found the stuff we needed and implements to prepare it. I made the vinaigrette, John cut up beets but then, Tim was assigned to start working on the slaw that went with the salmon. I get handed a bunch of shitake mushrooms to slice, this is for a salmon sauce. Soon we are losing track of what we are doing. John misreads the instuctions and spends quite a bit of time cutting potatoes into 1/2 inch dice when it was supposed to be 1-2 inch dice. Then I am given the prep for part of the ahi. In the flurry, Tim squeezes an orange but doesn’t take the segments out first. John and I peel two more oranges and segment them. We are not sure what dish we are doing them for. Then hurry, hurry, it is time to change stations and start working on the racks of lamb.

Okay, wipe the boards, turn them over, and french the bones of the racks of lamb. I am falling behind! John works on my lamb. Next peel potatoes! John will do the medjool date reduction, Tim handles the pesto for the mashed potatoes, I chop up some mirepoix. Then I am off to the grill to sear the lamb. Then into the oven for 10 minutes. In the meantime, quick! chop up some chives for something! Get the lamb out!

At this point, Chef Mike is saying we can’t be late with the food. Come, watch a demonstration for cold smoking the salmon. Who made the sauce for this? Beats me. But I know I chopped up some stuff for it. I make the orange slaw for the salmon dish. John comandeers the mussels and basically makes that all by himself. (He is very proud of this.)

Now, assembly and presentation. I cut up all the racks of lamb which have also been spread with a mustard, breadcrumb, rosemary mixture. It needed some oil in it or something because it is very pale. Go get the giant pot of mashed potatoes. Artfully, arrange the potatoes and separated chops on three platters. Turn the squash for this with John and another guy. Put the sauce on. Slice the salmon. We need garnish on the salmon! No one used the friggin’ chives I cut up, so I garnish the salmon with that. People are making the ahi Napoleon; we never worked on that at all. John’s beautiful mussels adorned and we are done. It’s shortly after one.

Then we ate it all. I tried the Ahi Napoleons, they were great. The lamb I cooked was medium rare and good. The mashed potatoes were good too. Smoked salmon, very tasty. Beets were stacked with goat cheese on a spring salad, yum. Didn’t try the mussels since I’m not a fan but John says they were excellent. Also had a piece of bread (needed salt) and a small piece of tart (excellent crust.)

We had a great time but did we learn something new? Well, we learned that when eleven people who don’t know where anything is and are expecting more direction are thrown together to make food for 40, it gets a little chaotic. The other California Cuisine class had one or two people assigned to each dish and they made it from start to finish. That might have worked a little better.

John and I drove home and slept for 2 1/2 hours.



As I usually do before I go to bed, last night I checked the news on my My Yahoo home page. The headlines on the AP top stories included the whole Harriet Miers nomination withdrawal, the death of Rosa Parks, two soldiers killed in Iraq, a suicide bomber in Israel, speculation on the indictments to be handed down by the special prosecutor, the scariness of bird flu, the oil-for-food bribes AND the fact that Mr. Sulu is gay. What an odd juxtaposition of stories! Certainly, George Takei never expected that his coming out would be of the same importance as these weighty subjects. Perhaps his story is above the stature of Anna Nicole Smith’s dogs boycotting Iams, maybe at a par with the Orlando Magic’s Grant Hill missing three to six weeks due to a sports hernia (and exactly where on your body is the “sports”?), but up there with “Scooter” Libby and Rosa Parks?

It seems that Americans are so hung-up on sexuality these days that a secondary actor on a program which ran in the 60’s can still make front page news by announcing that he is a homosexual.



Yesterday, my stalwart brother-in-law, Gary, tried to get to Marco Island by driving down I-75 from the Tampa area. He wanted to see first-hand the damage done to our family house. We’ve gotten some information by phone. So he packed up a load of sandwiches and drinks and coffee to take to the neighbors down there without electricity. Have you seen the pictures of the people who evacuated during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina trying to get back? He reported it was much the same trying to drive down to Marco. After several hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic, he gave up and is going to try again today. Many thanks to him.

So, what have we heard? The short answer is, it could have been much worse. Several trees are down including one leaning on the back corner of the house. Some shingles torn off the roof. This is actually much better than in Hurricane Andrew when part of the roof came off. A solar panel hanging off. Screens torn on the Florida room. And 16 pieces of soffit blown off. It’s probably not quite enough damage to meet the high deductible on the insurance. The problem, of course, will be finding people to fix stuff since everyone is busy and, in a sad note, the guy who fixed the screems just a few weeks ago, fell off a screen enclosure last week and died. My sister says that the house will be habitable this winter even if we have to duct tape it together.

People sometimes say, how can you live in California with the chance of an earthquake? The thing about earthquakes is that you can’t really worry about them. You don’t know when they are going to happen. It’s not like a monster storm on the way. Buildings are constructed to withstand certain amounts of stress. It’s not like we are living in Pakistan. I’ve been living here for over 12 years and have felt one minor jolt. I think there are probably a lot of people in Florida over the past couple of years who would exchange my minor jolt for their plethora of storms. I guess the bottom line is that everywhere has its own risks whether it’s tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires, or deadly cold and snow. You can’t legislate Mother Nature to behave.



It’s not that I wanted someone else to have their home damaged or their life endangered, I just wanted the hurricane to go somewhere else, or spin itself out, but I guess that’s not happening. My family has a house on Marco Island, Florida. It was my dad’s and although he’s been dead for over 10 years, my sisters and I have just been able to use the house the last couple of years. We’ve all put in some time cleaning, upgrading and buying things for it. Now it is a matter of waiting to find out how it weathered the storm. I hope the people we know in Marco and the house have come through with little damage.



Have you gotten your flu shot? I got mine yesterday and it my arm hurts a little today but not badly. If you are thinking, oh, I won’t catch the flu. Or, I’m young, how bad could it be? Don’t think those things. Here’s a little story.

When I was 31, I got the flu. I had two little ones; Sarah was less than one and Jonathan was three. We were visiting my sister, Peggy, for Christmas. One minute, I’m all into the jollity of the season and the next I am flat on back really, really sick. It started with a horrible headache, then everything hurt, then I was sick to my stomach, then my chest hurt and it was hard to breathe and then I had a high fever. And then four days went by that I have almost no recollection of. My sister, who is a nurse, watched over me and Sarah, who was also pretty sick. (Thank you, Peggy) John took care of Jonathan. I just laid in bed. I have never before or since been so sick.

So put those “I’m afraid of needles” fears aside. You definitely don’t ever want to get the flu. There’s a good supply of shots this year so don’t put it off any longer.

And don’t even get me started on bird flu.


Last night we had another of our family dinners. What fun they are! I am so glad we are living close to our kids. This is the second such dinner we have had where John and I supply the main course and the kids do the sides. Last night we tried Alton Brown’s oven barbecue ribs. My sister, Phyllis, had told me that these are easy and turn out really well, and they did! I might try making the rub and the sauce a little spicier next time and maybe put a little ketchup in the sauce to make it more tomato-ey but the ribs themselves were great – falling off the bone and just the right texture. Yum. Sarah brought cornbread that was really good and Ryan and Jon brought coleslaw (ala America’s Test Kitchen) and ice cream with peaches. I can’t find their coleslaw recipe so I am hoping Jon will send it to me and I’ll post it later.

The best part of family dinner, though, is family.



Have you ever thought about why you are, who you are? What accidents happened to make you, you? I was thinking about this tonight. My family came to the U.S. long before the colonies were the U.S. They were Protestants coming to be free (to persecute whomever they perceived to be non-believers) in the new world. They settled in N.J. I’ve traced them back, so I know this to be true. Somewhere along time, one of my ancestors married somebody Catholic and converted. This made me a Catholic. I’ve gone to the Presbyterian Church cemetery in New Jersey where my great-greats are buried. So I know this is true. So as a happenstance of love, perhaps, the whole family dynamic changed.

Then my father, by this time a Catholic, married someone who was Protestant. Well, not really a practicing Protestant, but not a Catholic. And my mom allowed us to be brought up Catholic, although she never really bought into it. And my sisters married Catholic guys. And I didn’t. So my children experienced another shift. They were brought up a different way, hopefully embracing good and accepting of all people. Moving to California helped this.

I sometimes wonder why people hold such a strict view of the world. Don’t they realize that it’s just a roll of the dice that they turned out the way they did? There are billions of people in the world who had a different throw. Their beliefs are no less relevant and true than yours are.



Boy am I sick of hearing about the churchgoing activities of Harriet Miers. What the hell does her religion have to do with becoming a Supreme Court Justice? Isn’t it all about what she knows about the Constitution not the Bible? This whole business seems anti-American to me. It’s all wink, wink, nod, nod when it comes to the endorsement of President Bush and some other conservatives. They are all, “we know what is in her heart.” Hey, how about what’s in her brain?

Our Constitution tries to make it clear that religion is private while government is public. Between all the religious rhetoric and cronyism, things seem to have gotten reversed in this nomination.



I like to win. I mean I really like to win. It’s probably to the point of a character flaw. I was thinking about this today because I am really sore. Why? Yesterday, I played tennis with a woman who lives in the neighborhood. Normally, I only play with John because I have not been win-worthy in my game. But when I played yesterday, I really wanted to do well. So I ran all over the court trying to hit everything. Really, what’s the point? Couldn’t I just lose gracefully?

As far back as I can remember, I have always been super competitive. Beating my older sister at Clue when we were kids? Wow, what a rush. Getting the best grades? I’ve made myself sick worrying about whether I’d be at the top. Even beating my own kids at games, gives me some pleasure. They know that I only like to play games that I can win at. Pretty pathetic.

One of the greatest joys and sorrows of my life is having married someone who is better at almost everything than I am. It keeps the competitive spirit alive but it makes experiencing the agony of defeat a common feeling. Can’t win at Trivial Pursuit, not even in close in tennis. Don’t remember half the stuff he remembers. Stuck on a crossword puzzle? Just ask John. He’s also a better cook and, his dishwasher packing? Second to none.

I just hope when our grandson-to-be wants Nanie to play Chutes and Ladders, I don’t try to take him to the cleaners.



“There’s this road,” ominous words. In May, 1993, we were newbies to the American west. John and I decided to take a long weekend and go see the sights in Utah. On our last day, we visited Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park and then had to decide on a route to get back to Las Vegas to catch our flight home. Since I am the navigator, I looked at the map, the AAA Indian Country map, and it looked like we would have to go all the way back up to St. George to pick up I-15 The Grand Canyon is in the way of any direct route. But wait, there’s this road. We could take a couple of these faint gray lines and end up cutting off a corner on our trip! Certainly, our stalwart Cadillac rental car was up to the task.

So off we went. The roads were dirt but manageable. Then they got a little worse but we were okay. Then we passed some BLM guys grading one of the roads. They warned us to be careful. Then there was some sand. And a stream. We tried to ford the stream but the car did not want to go up the other side. We tried several times ultimately breaking the license plate surround by crashing into the other bank. Uh oh, what now? We really didn’t want to have backtrack all the way back but it looked like that’s what we were going to have to do. We backed up a ways on the sandy road and then tried to turn around. A mistake. The back wheels sunk deeply into the sand. The more we tried to get out, the deeper they sank. We got out, we tried to push, we pulled out brush to stick under the wheels. Nothing worked. We were going to have to be rescued.

Luckily, we had some water with us. I put a t-shirt over my head to keep from burning and we started walking. And walking. And walking. Our idea was to try to intercept the BLM guys we had seen hours earlier. We had seen nobody else the whole time we were driving. Finally, at an intersection, we saw the road crew turning the other way in the distance. We ran after them waving our arms. They stopped. We explained our plight. They told us that the road we were stuck on was rarely used by anyone. One of the guys drove us the several miles back to our car. With his jeep, he towed us out of the sand. We were saved!

This past weekend we decided to redo our ill-fated trip. We packed up our 4-wheel drive with gallons of water, mats to put under the wheels in case we got stuck in the sand, food, blankets, and a jar for me to pee in (my most horrid fear in the first adventure was that I might have to pee in the bushes.) Three things we learned from our redo. One, if you are prepared, nothing bad will happen; two, the BLM has posted a lot more signs and improved the dirt roads; and three, although I thought the situation was fairly grim when we were there in 1993, I realize now that we could have been in serious trouble out there, over twenty miles from anywhere with limited water and an inadequate map.