Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I had an odd habit when I was very young, which has admittedly carried through to my adult years. Every now and then, I just don't feel like sleeping, and I stay up all night and read, think, ponder the ups and downs of life around me, and generally escape from the hustle and bustle that's surely ready to greet me tomorrow.

One such night in 1962, I was pulling an all-nighter, reading a book called "Hit and Run," as I recall. I didn't have lots of these nights, so it's relatively easy to recall what I was reading. Truth be known, I didn't read that many books at that age ... Hardy Boys and a few sports-oriented young guys' novels that I inherited from my uncle Ron was pretty much it.

So on this late night in '62, 1260 KYA, AM radio played this new song by a folk group called Peter, Paul and Mary ... called Lemon Tree.

- Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet,
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.
Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet,
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.

They actually played it several times that night / early morning, and I fell in love with the whole folk scene in one fell swoop. I became a sucker for the likes of the New Christy Minstrels, the Serendipity Singers, even British wannabe's like Chad and Jeremy who owed a debt of gratitude to Peter, Paul and Mary.

Amazingly, I only saw them live, once. And it was late in their collective careers. Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, late '90's, outside on a beautiful summer evening. The sound was amazing, the music of course classic, and it was the first time I saw Mary Travers live. She'd aged since her "Lemon Tree" days, and put on quite a bit of weight, but her voice was like a nightengale. She had the capacity to hold the audience of 5000 appreciative fans in the palm of her hand, with nothing more than her incredible voice.

We lost Mary Travers today at the age of 72. Not young, but certainly way too young to leave us. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, and like my father who had the same fate, it took about two years to end this gift of a life.

I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about Ted Kennedy's death, and how it ranked with a few other dates over my lifetime that will stand out as "where were you when ..." dates. Tonight, I was watching a dancing show on TV when I received an email from my dancer-sister that we'd lost Mary Travers. And I'll never forget it.

We've lost a wonderful soul. A beautiful voice. The voice of peace and freedom, of hope and positive thoughts. A voice that stood out in an era when the world needed it ... along with Dylan, father and son Guthrie, Baez, Pete Seeger, and so many folk groups of the 60's and 70's. It's an era that made a difference in how people think, and look at their fellow citizens around them. And Mary was a huge force in it.

We'll miss you Miss Travers. Your style. Your grace. Your beauty. Your contributions to the world around us. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Page 372 of Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins' wonderful cookbook "The New Basics" contains a recipe for Manhattan Clam Chowder that I've done dozens of times, with varying modifications, but always to rave reviews. Page 659 is their consummate chocolate mousse recipe which I resurrect a couple times a year, with some subtle twists, and blow my guests away. There are recipes for almost everything any one of us would want to cook in this book, presented in a totally real fashion, in such a way that we all have to feel that we can do them, likely with a large degree of success. It's a confidence builder that provided so many of us with a depth of knowledge and techniques, in the 80's.

I hadn't heard of Sheila Lukins' passing until I received the latest issue of Time Magazine. There she was, sharing a page with longtime Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne, having left us way too soon.

My dear friends Candy and Michael gave us New Basics for a wedding present on August 26th, 1990. It rapidly went from a "this is cool, I'll have to try some of these," to my most revered cookbook. I've amassed dozens (more than that, I must confess) cookbooks over the two decades since, but it's still the most used book in my collection, by far. What Joy of Cooking and of course Julia Childs' early cooking bibles provided for the last generation, New Basics did for those of us who got into cooking in the 1980's. Their first book, The Silver Palate Cookbook was a huge success, but my first introduction to Sheila and Julee was New Basics.

Several huge sections of my 850 page copy, have literally fallen away from the binding. Dozens of pages are "dog-eared" for easy reference, and the most used recipe pages have blotches and stains from the ingredients in the dishes. It's likely a mini-biohazard in the making, with things like chocolate, eggs, clam juice, gravy, tomatoes, chicken, and who knows what else ... gracing the pages of my beloved guide to culinary secrets.

The 50 page index will give you an idea of the depth of the recipes and techniques contained in New Basics. From Abalone to Zucchini Blossoms, all things meat, fish, and poultry, desserts to please the most demanding home cook, amazing vegetable and side dishes, and techniques that most of us likely never knew of before digging into this book. It's the source for so many things that have become regulars on my table. Sauces, subtleties, sweets, and everything in between, presented in an easy to understand everyday language that encourages the most timid of wanna-be home chefs to experiment and push the envelope on their own personal culinary comfort zone.

Sheila will be missed. She was such a huge influence on my generation of cooks. And at 66, she's left us way too young. Fortunately we have her books and her recipes, which were magical. She's left behind a legacy that will most certainly live on, and continue to inspire the hidden chefs in all of us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Santa Cruz Weekend

Spent a fun weekend in Santa Cruz, and experienced several excellent meals along the way. After yet another major disaster at work, we managed to escape the Peninsula by about 2 in the afternoon. We had reservations for two nights at Chaminade, a nice resort in the foothills behind Aptos. We'd been there many years ago when one of my wife's "duties" was to scope out locales for the following year's executive retreat. Tough job, which gave us the opportunity to stay free at not only Chaminade, but the likes of Meadowood, Silverado, Carmel Valley Ranch, and Highlands Inn. All were wonderful in their own unique way. Meadowood and Carmel Valley Ranch are both simply elegant ... upscale resorts that would please virtually anyone. Silverado was nice, but geared more to the golfing crowd, and we're not golfers. Highlands Inn had the unique feature of a full size hot tub in the middle of the living room. I've talked about this with other people who've stayed there, and was relieved to learn that we weren't the only nut cases who dumped bubble bath into the tub and turned on the jets. Hey ... leave it next to the tub and we're going to use it!

Chaminade's not as upscale as the other resorts above, but it's a very nice place, and the restaurants are both very good. We went to the buffet last time, so we opted for Linwood's Bar and Grill for dinner on Friday night. I started with a Tanqueray 10 martini (up with a twist, thank you) while my better half ordered a froo-froo drink ... a Pina Colada. Dinner consisted of a double size pork chop cooked to perfection, topped with a mango chutney, served over mashed potatoes, accompanied with mixed vegetables. My wife ordered a sea bass with a fruit based salsa topping, and also potatoes and veggies. Everything was great, but I was amazed at how good the single baby carrot tasted. I asked our server about it, and she said the bartender grows organic fruits and vegetables, and this was a sample. You'd never think a single carrot could make such an impression, but this one definitely did. Good stuff.

Saturday lunch was at the Crow's Nest, which overlooks the beautiful entrance to the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor on East Cliff Drive. The view of the boats, big and small, stand-up paddle boards, and the ever-present pelicans, was absolutely gorgeous on this 90+ degree late summer day. I opted for the fish tacos and a side of their incredible Boston Clam Chowder. The tilapia tacos were done to perfection, wrapped in two tortillas like the authentic ones are done in Mexico. Topped with a cabbage slaw, garnishes of a light salsa and tartar sauce, they were excellent. And the soup's always great, which is why I always get it when I come here. I used to frequent Boston and Cape Ann quite regularly, and was always on a quest for the best clam chowder. That title goes to The Barnacle in Marblehead Mass, but the Crow's Nest comes close to Legal Seafood's chowder, which I mean as a compliment. Risa had a pear, pecan and gorgonzola salad with sliced skirt steak that had a vinegar-based marinade that was excellent. The Crow's Nest is always a fun spot, both for people-watching, and scanning the harbor for sights and critters. Seals, seagulls, and the afore-mentioned giant pelicans are always hanging around, and add to the restaurants ambience. Amazingly, I've never been here for dinner or even sat in the formal downstairs area. Upstairs, outside is where you want to be here. Highly recommended.

Saturday night's dinner was at the world famous Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola. Glad I thought to make reservations via Open Table, as I overheard people being quoted "hours" for a table. Plan ahead. Nice place, but I prefer not to wait "hours" anywhere for a meal. We took the famous tram down the beautifully landscaped hill, from the upper to the lower part of the property.

Shadowbrook is in a phenomenal location, a half block from the beach, overlooking the tiny Soquel Creek, just prior to it emptying into the Pacific at Capitola. The tram reminded me of a smaller version of the Duquesne Incline, which my wife and I rode a few years ago on a visit to her native Pittsburgh, PA.

Capitola has a special place in my heart as a long time California surfer. It's the first place I ever got "locked in" to a wave. This is a fairly rare situation where you turn at the right time, and the wave is breaking just behind you, propelling you along at a perfect clip, breaking just behind your head. My old surfing buddy Rick Washford and I were driven down for the day (thanks to his mom), and we caught some singularly spectacular waves. I was 14, Rick was 13. Several years ago ...

Shadowbrook is more than a pretty face of a restaurant ... great food compliments the gorgeous decor, and this night was no exception. First decision was wine, adult beverage, or both. Since our excellent server Brandy said "yes" to my request for Tanqueray 10, that sealed the deal. Risa had a lemon drop. We opted for entrees and uncharacteristically, no salads or soup. Still semi-full from the great lunch at the Crow's Nest. We both chose the specials, which was swordfish for her, steak for me. Both were excellent, as was the Argentine Malbec which was under thirty dollars, and perfect for the dishes.

So, donning my critic's hat for the weekend's restaurants, I'd be hard-pressed to be unkind to any of these three spots. Chaminade's Bar and Grill was great, and featured the best single carrot I've ever tasted. The Crow's Nest is always great, and the hot, clear end o'summer day just added to the ambience. And Shadowbrook was its traditional excellent. Service was superb in all three spots ... quick, not overbearing, friendly, perfect.

For the ride home, I wanted to cruise the spots where I grew up ... Felton, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, maybe an up-and-over the hill through Bonnie Doon. The road out of Santa Cruz over Graham Hill, brought back some fun memories. Up Zayante Road is where Marty's grandparents lived. We'd occasionally be treated to a day at the Trout Farm, where several big pools awaited us. There's a corral area off to the west where Christie and Nancy Murray used to board and train their horses. These were the next door neighbors to my grandparents, who I spent summers with between ages 5 and 13. We learned to swim together, bugged Mr. Farley to take us out on the San Lorenzo River on his rowboat, and broached the notion of coming of age at the weekly dances in Ben Lomond. Fun, innocent times.

It had become that nebulously debatable time between breakfast and lunch ... around 11:30, when we found ourselves about a mile outside of Felton on Highway 9. We spotted McCay's Cottage, and it looked interesting and inviting, so we stopped. Uh-oh ... the sign greeted us with "cash or checks only ... no credit cards." I rarely have more than a few bucks in my pocket, but amazingly, we had enough cash to cover breakfast ... which apparently was what we were going to order. I'd pretty much settled on a bacon and cheese omelette when the server stopped to tell us about the specials. We're doing a "Joe's Scramble," ... stop the presses ... you mean like a "Joe's Special? Yes ... scrambled eggs, spinach, ground beef, mushrooms, and cheese. Done. Thank you very much. Risa had the signature French Toast, and we both were happy campers. Great French Roast Coffee, everything on the menu was obviously very fresh, prices were reasonable, service was first rate ... McCay's Cottage was a hit. Highly recommended. But bring cash.

I love weekends like this one and need more of them. We don't get a lot of formal vacation time currently, as work seems to be eating up the bulk of our lives. But these little jaunts to places both new and old, can rejuvinate your spirits and remind you that life is indeed a wonderful thing.