Fish Night : cooking for the family

Here is another of my super simple and tasty meals that can be made well even if there are interruptions, which with a house of kids is about as common as an avocado going bad before you use it ( how did I not see it there?).

Petrale sole, caught wild, bought fresh so I had to make it within a couple of days of buying it.  Rice, and salad.  Does it please everyone in my family? No, Rex won’t eat fish or salad. So he got hot dog, grapes and rice.  If he was a baby I’d call that meal “choking hazard delight!”

Our family this night was myself, Viv, Rex and our neighbor gal pal ( 10 years old) Gracie.  She is far less picky than my kids so she is a delight to feed.

First, I make the rice.  Much to Chef Husband’s chagrin I, like my father before me, I love the rice in the bag.  Sorry, rice is my Achilles heel and I can’t take the time to spend 40 minutes making the kind of rice he does.  Boil in a bag of salted water and then after I drain it stir in a bunch of butter.  The kids love it, and darn it is tasty.

Meanwhile, I take the fish out and lay it on a paper towel.  Good to get the moisture out and let it rest. It’s pooped.

Then set up my work station. Flour, egg mixed with a little milk, breadcrumbs with dried oregano.

The fish goes in the flour first.  Then the egg, then the bread crumb.  After that trip through three bowl lane the fish is tired again and needs to rest.  Back to a paper towel while it all sets.  It works out better this way.  ( note: Rex’s dinner is ready to go nearby)

Then I go to the garden and pick our lettuce. Our best crop of 2012.  Wash and drain it. drizzle a little ranch dressing on it because universal truth everyone loves ranch dressing.  I’m not kidding around with oil and vinegar, little bit of ranch, not a ton, and my daughter eats salad. 

I get the plates and forks ready because the fish takes no time to make.  I heat up the pan on low with olive oil, place the sole in the pan with a little chunk of butter. Not to get all Paula Dean, but butter does make things better.  Everything.

Then I go to the backyard and yell for Gracie and Vivien to come in for dinner.  Each side of the fish takes one minute.  No more.  I ask the girls where Rex is.  They go to get him and as I am about to put the next fish in the pan I realized the yelling for him has gone on to long.  I turn off the pan.

“Where is he?”  I yell out.

The girls say they don’t know.  Visions of him hurt and unconscious in the yard  cause me to run out of the house into our back, back yard ( it’s long and large). I scream his name with no response.  Then  I find Rex looking downcast, sitting by himself by the fence in the wood chips.

“Rex, are you feeling sad?”  He nods his head. I think I know what happened.

“Do you feel like the girls left you?”

“Yes, I want to play.”

“But, I called you into dinner.”

“But, I want to play.”

“It’s still early and dinner won’t take long.  Then you will still have time to play, okay?”

“Okay.”  I pick him and we walk and I explain to the girls that they need to be like the Marines and not leave a man behind.  Always bring him up with you when you come in.

Now, they are all at the counter and I make the rest of the fish.  I serve them the salad, chopped, rice and fish. Then I finish making my portion of it all and by then Rex is done and I sit down to eat ( three seats at the counter).  They had juice, I had a French Rose.

The girls clean their plate and then ask for more rice.   Success. 

4 pieces of fresh petrale sole

1/3 cup of flour

one egg

1 tablespoon of milk

salt

pepper

1/3 of a cup of breadcrumbs ( store bought)

a couple of pinches of dried oregano

olive oil

1 table-spoon of butter per two fish

inappropriate sandwich shapes for kids

In my quest, like many parents, to keep my children interested in that thing called eating I have tried on occasion to form food in fun ways.  Astronaut carrots, deforested broccoli, you know the usual.

As I was taking my pizza cutter to shape a sandwich for Rex today I had the impulse to make really inappropriate sandwich shapes.  Here are are some of my favorites:

A gun

Devil, but it didn’t look devilsh enough, so I thought I would try the crazy anti semite leader of Iran Ahmandad..whatever and add coffee grounds for his permanent sort of beard.  This was not my finest.

I was more pleased with my next creation, Crime Scene House

By the way, Rex picked up the gun sandwich and the barrel went limp.  “Momma, it broke.”  Yeah, there is a reason sandwiches are  NOT shaped like that.

What kind of sandwiches do you make your kids?

Great recession food humor

Now, I’m getting my groove back humor wise.  .  The great gift of comedy is lifting your head up out of the gutter of your dark thoughts. Or to put it another way, get over yourself.

Here is a good stab at some recession vocabulary from another site.  My favorite is DUPPIE, depressed urban professional.

Today I’m thinking of combining my interest in comedy with my husband’s, and by extension myself, interest in food. How about recession food?

Foreclosure Chile– eat it fast before it’s taken away from you.
food

Short Sale Short Stack — you sell your pancakes to the person next to you.

Toxic Asset Meatloaf –this will turn you into a vegan

Pork ala Ponzi — you eat this in a room that you have to be invited into.  The sauce is Mad-off of other people’s food and you must first give your own food, before you get a serving.

Double Dip ice cream — coated in chocolate and regret.

Glass-Steagall of red wine — it will numb the pain for a minute as think about how this was Clinton’s greatest failure, not all that seamen nonsense.

Sub Prime meat — what public school kids are served at lunch.

European Contagion Cheese — runny and smells, but paired with a dried apricot on a smal wheat round goes down nicely.
food
lil’ Fannie Mae Cookies — do you have the income to cover this? Maybe you should rent a cookie instead.

Crudite default Swap — by the time the carrot gets to your mouth it won’t be worth much.
food

One perfect Egg

I have finally perfected my husband’s wonderful olive oil fried egg.  Obviously, others have made this, but it was new to me when Mark first made it for me years ago.

Now, it’s great with a little romesco sauce on top of it.  It’s nice on top of a crispy corn tortilla with a slice of jalepeno jack cheese. But, all that is beside the point if you don’t get the egg right.

What you will need to make this:

One medium to large egg

olive oil- about 1/8 to 1/4 of a cup depending upon the size of your pan.

kosher salt

Ideally, an iron skillet

I much prefer cooking with these.  I feel like I have more control over the temperature.

Make a shallow pool of olive oil. The egg should “swim”, but not be submerged by the oil. You might think, this is too much, it’s not.  Put the flame on low.  Don’t crank it or it will smoke.  Let the oil heat up.  If you put the egg in too soon it won’t work.

Drop the egg in. Hear the crackly of egg to hot oil.  Have a large spoon handy that you can bast over the yellow part of the egg.  This will create a thin white top on it.

Don’t cook through, the egg will be running when you eat it.  The edges of the egg are crispy and brown.  Remove from pan ( takes 2 to 3 minutes to cook).

Sprinkle with kosher salt, eat asap.

Enjoy.
egg

We are closed

Saturday night we closed The Tar Pit.

The restaurant we (largely) own.  Long story short, the landlady wants to raise the rent, we thought it should be less as the lease was negotiated pre recession. This has been VERY emotional.  We have a lot invested in it. Other people invested in it.  We have employees.  There was going to be no point in staying open with high rent. None.
We just had a triumphant night with Mark cooking with Roy Choi. ( watch that here) Best to leave while we are ahead.
When we made the decision I was sick to my stomach.  I said, “I think I’m going to shit in my pants.”

We had to leave to go to a food event Mark was working on.  Our manager would notify our employees.  Mark started calling the investors while I drove and the kids watched “Home Alone” and “The Wizard of Oz” in the back seat.  We didn’t want to be defeated, but in this economy we can’t be squeezed anymore.  We had made cuts were we could.  We had the best manager and the best chef we have had since we opened. Our staff was the kindest, least drama mama’s we had had thus far.  The drinks were the best.
But, the roof was leaking ( literally and metaphorically) and it was time to act.
I was glad we were away while the news sunk in.  Back at Dolphin Bay with the sun shining, a big suite. It forestalled reality.  People who fail don’t live here.  It was also good to be in close quarters with my kids. we are closed

On Thursday I picked Vivien up from school and when I said, “Vivien we are closing The Tar Pit.”  She started to cry.
“why mommy?”
“The rent is going to be too high.”

“This is bad mommy.  This is a lot of money.”  I cringed.  Had I said that to her?  I don’t want her to have money anxieties like I remember having.  It’s a fine line though, you don’t want your kids to be spoiled, but she is so little.
“We are okay Vivien.  We still have savings, we have our home.  Nothing is going to change.”  Then I took her for a cookie.

As we drove back to LA Saturday for the final night I was starting to feel better.  At least we aren’t living in indecision.  “have you talked to her Mark?  Did she change her mind?”  Even if it blew we knew were we stood. Poor Mark was miserable about calling his investors.
“Tell them we lost more than anyone.” I would say.  He would ignore me.  He actually sounded like a sound business person when he spoke to them not like a girl who feels bad about forgetting a lunch date like I would have, “well, I overslept and the cat coughed up a hair ball, and…”

As we drove down an idea started to form…this was not it.  We had spoken of this, but it started to really sharpen in my own mind.  We would take our barstools and shakers and go where we were wanted.  Where the rent was a reasonable percentage of the sales. Maybe, it would be better.

We got home and Oliver kindly watched the kids as I changed to go out for the final night and to thank our staff.  I will say this, we did create a lot of work the last couple of years.  With our own money we  were the job creators.  I have learned a TON the past couple of years.  It’s been like a really expensive Learning Annex course, “How to run a small business”, but with drinks.

“I know what to wear to an opening, but what do I wear to a closing?”
“Something with color” said Chef Peel, the eternal optimist.
When I got to The Tar Pit I had to wait 15 minutes to park.  That was a first.  The place was not only crowded, usual for a Saturday night, but it never waned.  I sat with an investor.  He was down, but hoped we would go on.  I saw some friends who had heard through the grapevine who came in.
we are closed we are closed

There were tons of people I didn’t know.  Old employees came in by the bucket.  It’s the transitory nature of hospitality that people come and go, but we have one server, Natalie who opened with us. She is so sweet and always wears a flower in her hair.
we are closed
Tonight she had a really big flower.  She got up and sang. We all cheered for her.

I was most touched by the chef friends who showed up for my husband.  Roy Choi walked in.  We can find a place for some people at Campanile, but most of our staff had just lost their jobs.  Roy gave his card to the kitchen staff and told them to call them.  He had ideas of where we could go.  He has a great appreciate for Mark.  I love that guy.
Govind Armstrong walked in.  We hadn’t told him. He just heard about it. He started working for Mark when he was a teenager and now he is a major chef in his own right ( just opened Post and Beam, which we will be going to later this week)  He was at our wedding.  I was glad he was there.
we are closed
Person after person told us where we should move, that’s a hot area, think that developer would love a Mark Peel restaurant.
I had to go and let Oliver go to sleep, but it was hard to leave.  We had all been up beat and I went around a few times to hug the staff.  I was in the bar well telling three of them, “thank you so much for all of your hard work,” and my voice cracked.  I had to get out. They didn’t need me getting soppy on them.
People had to be thrown out after closing.  Fingers crossed we will be able to welcome them back one day.
we are closed

My husband knows his meat

In the ramp up to our one night only event at The Tar Pit Mark and chef Roy Choi visited the best butcher in Los Angeles.  Harvey Gussman is a legend to chefs in LA.  In France their is a great appreciation for a good butcher.  In our jumbo corporate food world this art gets lost.  But, you can taste the difference between a good steak and a lousy one.  It’s not just the chef, he needs the right tools. on Flickr”>meat
I learned a lot watching this video.  I also know that if I became a vegan my marriage would be in jeopardy.  Well, Mark says we’d have to go to counselling.

Check out two food legends discuss their knowledge of meat.  Food lovers, like moi, love this stuff.

Diner home cooking and Roy Choi, Mark Peel Mashup

I get asked a lot “why do you ever cook? Your husband must do all the cooking.”
My standard answer is “if I am at his restaurant he does.” Even when Mark is home at night ( at most two nights a week) I am the executive chef and he is my sou chef.   I tell him what we have and what I was thinking, then he takes and comes up with something.  Is that something that would be featured on a special tasting menu at Campanile?  Not usually.   The kind of food a great restaurant makes is a little too involved for a family of five when small kids and one grown lady will get really cranky if they don’t eat on time.
Also, I have to remind Chef Peel about what the kids will really eat.  I use to say, “okay, we have sausages, broccoli, grape tomatoes and various pasta.”  Mark would cook it all, and spice it well, then he would put it ALL TOGETHER.  For a my little kids that was a big yuck.
“No, the sausage, must stand alone, the broccoli, must stand alone, and so on.”
I will never be a chef like my husband.  Not even close.  But, I have realized I am a diner cook.  If you walked into a NY diner and looked at the menu, that’s the kind of stuff I can do pretty well.  Chicken Milanese, fettucine alfredo.  My vegis are way better than a diner, though. When I want exciting food, I can go out.
——————————-
Speaking of going out. I’m very proud of putting together a special culinary event. Even people out of LA have heard of the Kogi truck.  Chef Roy Choi put delish Korean meats in a taco and a cult following was born.  He is a very creative chef who has branched out into restaurants without wheels as well.  I went to his latest restaurant, The Sunny Shack and loved it.  I knew Mark would love the adventurous spices, the stewed goat.  Mark kept back with me one night and they chefs were pleased to talk about their shared passion.  Roy had been a fan of Marks.  I said, “Hey, would you do a special night at the Tar Pit?”
Several weeks and our team and Roy’s great team meeting and such and an exciting night is born.  Here is the flyer the Kogi gang put together that I love.
choi peel

The event is almost sold out.  I don’t even have a seat.  I’m meeting with our managers today about the event and one thing on my agenda is, “can you guys set aside some food for me?”

Cooking with Coolmom & kids: oatmeal

Cooking with young children is not a quick job, but they love to help. Nothing fancy, not giving my husband a run for his money.  Just like to get the offspring involved in food preparation.  The hope is that they

1) understand what goes in food

2) an appreciation for fresh, healthy foods

3) They won’t starve when they go to college and call me when they are 18 asking me how to cook rice (yeah, I did that, and thanks mom for not saying “read the bag you dumbass.)

I get fixated on a breakfast for about a year at a time.  Right now I’m into Oatmeal ala Daph.

Good Bye Legend

If you eavesdropped on me and my sisters without seeing our faces you would think we were 90.  We remember things that we are too young to know.  Particularly when it comes to

1) Los Angeles history

2) old restaurants in Los Angeles

We were taken to them at a very young age and as LA is not great at perservation most of the eateries of our youth… are gone.

The latest casualty is the Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd.  The Hamlets were a big deal back in the day.   From the Hamlet’s website:

In 1950, Marilyn, a dress designer, and Harry Lewis, an actor, opened the first Hamburger Hamlet on Sunset Blvd; because of their commitment to quality, flavor and “simply marvelous food and drink,” it became an immediate success. Hamlet quickly became a Hollywood landmark and was packed with celebrities every night of the week.

Particularly since I had a mom who stopped cooking when I was 8 and an older sister with a driver’s license, many a dinner time was my mom handing my sister a twenty and telling her to take me to the Hamburger Hamlet ( usually on National blvd) to feed me.
hamlet
The book about how the restaurants got going is a fun read.  Sammy Davis Jr helping to serve in the first little place they had.

Well, the Lewis’s sold the place years ago and look, it was NEVER the same.  Not as good, menu changed a lot.  But, the one on Sunset, the oldest one left, still had a sweet spot in our heart with it’s red vinyl booths, brass fixtures, clippings of John Barrymore as Hamlet.
hamlet
A couple of days ago Kat Odell of Eater LA wrote that the Sunset Hamlet was closing on December 19th.  Some company that makes expensive restaurants for posers ( my words, not hers) were going to take over the place.  Good bye French Onion soup  and older black waitresses who had worked there for 30 years.

It serves all day so we were able to have dinner at the dream time–for me of 4:45.  The host handed us simple pieces of paper with the menu items.

“Everyone is stealing our menus.  We don’t have any left.”

Cecily, “I don’t blame them”.

Despite the changes over the years the burger was still quite tasty.  We noshed as my mother told us about going to the original Hamlet down the block with my dad and my oldest sister, a baby at the time.  My dad had an old Studebaker and my mother cut white shag carpeting to fit on the bottom of the car to make it more comfortable.  Cecily and I rememeberd in our teen and college years coming here for a late dinner with our friends.  Often through the years Dean Martin sat at the bar.  Or he was in a booth with friends.  After he lost his son Dean Paul Martin people said he didn’t look the same.  How could he?
hamlet
We thought we were nostalgic snapping a few photos when near the end of our meal a videographer with a camera light blazing followed an older couple to a table.  The lady had the upswept hair of an earlier generation.  The kind that never left house without being done.  Not the scrappy, half dressed peasants we all look like.  Her hair was was raven and I knew I knew her.  Cec and I couldn’t place here and then I said,

” Her first name is Carol”

Cec:  “She was in Incredible Mr. Limpet”

Me:  “Carol Cook!”  bingo, I knew it wasn’t Arlene Dahl, but in that food group.

As we left a manager told us they had raised the rent.  That the restaurant had grandfathered in rent for only 10 grand.  A tiny sum for that size of place in that area.  “They raised it to 45 thousand”.

Then she said, “and we haven’t been busy like this for a long time.  Everyone’s coming since we are closing.”
Fwd: Bye!
“I’m sorry”.  We told her how much it had meant to us.  I realized this woman and the rest of the employees were all about to loose their jobs right before Christmas.  The Hamlet’s are part of the past.  There are two left, but not ones I ever went to as a kid ( in Pasadena and Sherman Oaks).

Did the world move on or do restaurants like this not keep up and current?  Who their patrons were became clear when we tried to leave.

We could not.

As I started to walk to the front door to leave Cecily nodded toward Viven as if “not a good idea”.

“A guy is on the ground” she said.

“What?”  There was an elderly man being attended to be some of LA’s strapping finest firemen.  After a few minutes or so of vamping I pushed open the door enough to ask if we could leave.

“yeah sure”, Fire man biceps said.

As we walked to our car we saw them put a very frail, gray skinned older man on a gurney.

Yes, we do have the same taste as 90 year olds.

Thanksgiving ’11

Sigh,

We were back.  Back in a house big enough to host Thanksgiving. In our home.  Or as I call it out corrective emotional experience.  It was a great day.  Sure, my friend Whitney got my car into a little accident two days before.  It wasn’t his fault and I have a rental that is clean for the next week or so.  Sure, all my house guests never used the same cup twice and I’ve never loaded the dishwasher this much, piffle!  Everyone was upbeat, fun and ready for football. Yes, the low rent Kennedys were at it again.
thanksgiving 11
Our annual football game.  We always have the strong players, my nephew, husband, brother in laws, friend Whitney.  They actually seem to know the rules and how to catch a ball.  Then there is the plucky.  My sister Cecily who doesn’t know all the rules, but can run and catch.  Then it drops down to my sister Carole and I who are like big, dumb guards.  You do not want to throw to us, but we can block and distract. Every year there are the wild cards.  More than skill we like enthusiasm.  This year we had a European player.  My sister in law’s boyfriend, Reinier,  from Holland.  A great cross cultural experience to play with a man brought up on soccer, or as his people call it, football.

After the first down Reinier said  : ” did they score?”

“no”

“so it’s our ball”

“no, they get 4 tries”

“this is the stupidest game”  It sounds even better with the Dutch accent.  That was the name we gave him as well.  “Dutch”.

“Dutch, you hike the ball”

“to what, where?”

It was hard to explain to him the ins and outs of football as I really don’t get it either. There is Dutch holding the ball.
football

Vivien and her friend Gracie played, but when my brother in law Kevin decided to make Vivien the running back she left the field in tears.  Great idea QB, little rough for the 6 year old.  Everyone charging at her.
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 She stayed with her Aunt Leslie after that and cheered us on.
thanksgiving 11
 Gracie was also promoted by Kevin.  Great idea.  She left bewildered and with a small cut on her hand.  Which was also a bummer because we lost her father “Neighbor Bob” who could actually play.

Brogdon girls are not known for athleticism as this photo certainly bears out.  But, we have the aforementioned needed enthusiasm.
thanksgiving 11
We played at a nearby park and towards the end two large brothers asked if they could play.  They were drafted immediately.  My team had Roman.  Sadly, they came to late.  The other team scored and the final score 2-1  ( how we score it)

“Wish you guys had come sooner.” we told the brothers. Don’t know why they didn’t want to pose with us in our final shot. Probably had had enough of this rag tag crew.

thanksgiving 11

Mark really dove for a ball at the end and got a little scraped up. Wolverine, I mean Whitney, tries to help him out here.
thanksgiving 11

Later Dutch mentioned he was surprised that Mark played only three weeks after his hernia surgery. It shows my Minnesota roots that that didn’t even occur to me. Of course he had to play football!

We head home and change into our dinner clothes.  Serve apps and the losing QB redeems himself with martini making.  I made a good savory tart, goat cheese, carmelized onion.  Cecily made one with nuts and cranberries.  Then we have dinner, go around the table for everyones list of gratitude and at desert I break out my annual “Turkey Trot Trivia” contest.

By the way, the turkey was from Campanile and was brined for days.  Mark was up at 4am for three days preparing thanksgiving dinner for over 700 people at the restaurant ( and a few carry outs like myself)

Rex was fussing, but I forged ahead as I still wanted to put the camera on the tripod and get a picture of us all.  Then we did the funny poses.
“okay, kung fu”
“okay, fake family portrait”

Poor Rexy, I finally put him down to bed and he had a little fever.  He had just gotten a cold.  Maybe it’s the time of the year for that or maybe his crazy distracted mom and family upset him.  I did worry a bit.

Though now he is better and I am congested and feel like my eyes are bleeding, so guess it was just a cold.

We do have so much to be grateful for.

Jump for joy.
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