Thursday, February 22, 2018

Yurtle the Turtle and the Blue-ish Cake



I love a good theme. If didn't have a job and a freelance business and literary aspirations and bills to pay, I would spend a good portion of each day plotting events, outfits, photos, and food all around fun themes. Recall, if you will, the Summer of Tiki, in which three months of my life literally disappeared into the bottom of a Mai-Tai glass. So I have refrained, in the interests of semi-adulthood, from behaving like the Lord of Toad Hall and dashing off on each new idea's whim. But woman cannot live on responsibility alone. And last week being the occasion of the First Lady of Frosting's (FLOF's) birthday, I was fairly jiggling as I inquired, "Would you say I've been well-behaved? Would you say I haven't been carrying on an extended affair with my hot glue gun? Would you say I deserve a treat?" The FLOF looked at me with wary side-eye, before I began peppering her with the usual question of "What color is your birthday party going to be this year?" Admittedly, the FLOF has never asked for a theme color for her birthday, but for the last two years, I suggested it, and possibly even picked the color for her. I'm not sure it's cricket to decide someone's birthday theme for them, but we (okay, I) Googled her number of years and found that Sapphire is the usual color for such anniversaries (and what is a birthday, if not an anniversary?) So, the Sapphire birthday theme was set. The game was afoot.

I had a vision. Modest, but in my mind, totally achievable. Blue birthday hats with sparkly blue pompoms and beads glued to them. Several craft store and dollar store visits later, I realized that blue birthday hats aren't a common thing to sell in quantity. Amazon will sell you 8 of them for a certain amount of money, but they weren't pretty ones. I ended up with one very large blue party hat...big enough, in fact, that with a proper brim, it would like a blue witch hat. But no matter. A few plastic flowers later, and I had blue flower hair clips, with beads and sparkly things glued to them. 



Which left the cake. Blue cake, of course. I found a recipe for Sapphire Blue cake that swears that if you add blue and violet food color to a red velvet cake, it will turn a lustrous sapphire blue. IT IS A LIE. If you add blue food coloring to a red velvet cake, it turns a muddy mauve gray. Luckily, my baking track record is well-established, and I had backup boxes of white cake mix. The idea was three layers with an ombre effect of different shades of blue. Kind of like this:


I liberally doused each bowl of batter with different kinds of blue food dye, pondered briefly the possibility that I was going to turn my innards a permanent blue, contemplated (i.e., furiously scrubbed at) the kitchen tiles' solubility in the face of blue dye, and then slid those babies in the oven to bake.




It turns out, the exterior of a blue cake actually turns a foul shade of green. Yurtle-the-Turtle green, like something that belongs on a camo vest. Why? Does it matter? Of course my blue cakes ended up with a thin layer of ugly green. Of course they did. The miracle is that they did not slither out of the oven looking like spinach death-cakes. The FLOF was certain that the frosting would hide the green edges. It did not. Which is not to suggest that the cake wasn't pretty, or that it didn't taste good. In fact, it was met with rejoicing and clamoring and most of it disappeared in under fifteen minutes. It looked okay, despite the fact that I'd already had a frosty beverage by the time I attempted writing the message on it. But there was no getting around the little green lines of Yurtle-the-Turtleness in each layer of blue.


 Ah well. It tasted good, with blue cream cheese frosting and a side of non-blue ice cream. I guess I can live with the Yurtle Blueish Cake. Maybe in another hundred years, housewives in the South will be competing to make the best crust of camo green in their blue cakes.

Behold the blue!


Well, it was fun, and everyone enjoyed themselves. In the department of blue cake, I am happy to report that nobody turned blue or felt blue after eating it, and really, as long as you have decent food coloring, it's not any harder than normal cake. It has me asking...what about green cupcakes for St. Patrick's Day? I've already proven that I can do green! 

Interested in what the FLOF is up to? She has two new audio books out! Visit her here.

Friday, February 9, 2018

My Big Opinion on "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert




I’m not a writer who needs to be encouraged to write. I don’t require someone to tell me to keep going at it. I don’t fear writing. I don’t question my right to write. I have to create; it’s not optional. I've been writing for over twenty years. Because sometime in my mid-twenties, I quietly decided I wanted to write novels, and write them exceedingly well. There has rarely been a week since then that I've not written, and usually it is a nightly occurrence. So, in reading through Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity (let’s just say it: she wrote the book about writers, not the making of quilts or decoupage), the sections about getting over the fear of writing were yada-yada-yada to me. But the book is thoughtful, funny, and surprisingly down-to-Earth. Elizabeth snagged me with two lines of logic:  

Suffering does not add to your artistry. Martyrdom kills your creativity. 
Keep your day job. Your creativity doesn’t need the burden of being your bread.

It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just put it out there. 
The result is not that important; the process and what you gain from it are what is important.

I can see the points about avoiding drama, looking after your financial well-being, and not being a martyr. I learned all those points the hard way. I’m still learning them the hard way. But her ideas about perfectionism left a foul odor in my nostrils. Her thinking seems to be that we should lighten up, work hard at it, and then call it a day. If it succeeds, if it fails…who cares? As long as you’re devoted to the exquisite craft of writing and loving every minute of it, why hang your hat on an external outcome? Isn’t it more important to produce work than to produce perfection?

Well, why didn’t I like that? I will not knowingly put my name on something that is a slouchy, half-assed piece of fecal matter. I'm also an editor, in case you haven't guessed. And editors are genetically coded to perfect text. We are incapable of saying that mediocre will do. I am passionate about making writing the most amazing it can be, and that is what drives me. As Elizabeth points out, that kind of thinking can just as easily drive you insane. She is not a big fan of passion, though, and as a writer with longevity,  her words are allowed some weight here. She is a fan of curiosity, of following little wisps of interest that might unfurl into a fire. I understand her point to a degree…every day I collect little bits of conversations, mannerisms, watching what the people around me are doing. And those collected tid-bits usually end up in the writing, somewhere, somehow. But I will never, ever give up on making the story perfect.  

Another thing I pondered, in my boudoir of snarky thoughts, is this: It is all well and good for Elizabeth Gilbert to say that external validation shouldn’t drive you as a writer, that it doesn’t matter if you are ever published or not. She can say that because her efforts paid off in the end. She has six or so books published, one of which was a massive best-seller. But if she’d never gotten a book published? If she was in her fifties, still bar-tending, wondering if all those years of writing were worth it….would she really have such unshakable conviction that the creative life is its own reward? I wonder. Hey, maybe I’ll write a book about Elizabeth Gilbert’s alternate ending…what would’ve happened if she hadn’t eaten, loved, and prayed. No? Too harsh? 

All that said, Elizabeth’s writing about writing is really lovely and imaginative. She has such bright and whimsical ideas at times that I found myself shimmering in them. What if ideas are living entities that wait for you to notice them, take them in, and write them? If you don’t write the idea, will it travel to another writer and ask them? Can your writing love you back as much as you love it? Can you seduce inspiration by putting on a nice dress and making yourself magnetic? I really enjoyed these moments, as they are implicit permission to be wildly imaginative about the process of writing, not just the particulars of plot or character. The title itself, Big Magic, is something that I entirely agree with. Writing *is* magic, endlessly fascinating, and something that is the more precious and rich part of my life. A sacred part, if you will, a mystery…that’s what Elizabeth is getting at, the tending of the creative, magical soul within each of us. 

So, I recommend Big Magic to writers. It will make you think. It may give you courage. And if you take her advice to keep writing, consistently and with devotion, the book will be worth its weight in gold. 


Saturday, January 27, 2018

It's Possible I'm a Dingus: A Review of Jen Sincero’s “You are a Badass”



I am capable of really poetic, beautiful sentiments. Supportive of other women, encouraging to all. A nice person.

Except when I see a self-help book titled “You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” and on the back is a photo of what appears to be a glowing 27-year-old wearing lip gloss, cheeks abundantly funded with circulation because she is young and optimistic and has never, ever had anything bad happen to her in her life. So why would I take her thoughts on self-development seriously? Life will crush her one day and then we’ll see what kind of perky mantra she comes up with for it. AH HAHAHAHA!

I’d normally keep nice thoughts like that to myself, but there *is* a punchline here.  
As I began reading, Jen Sincero quickly drew me in with humor. This lady is genuinely funny, and she is filling the niche of self-help for people who don’t like boring, unamusing books that cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Her principles are, on the surface, potentially generic. Love yourself. Believe. Make the jump before you can see the landing pad. Vibrate at a higher frequency. But as I began to do some of the exercises she suggested, as I began writing down my worst self-deprecating thoughts and then inverting them into affirmations, as I put some thought into how I keep myself down, and (wait for it) began BELIEVING that life could be different…well, I really started to get into the book, appreciate Jen Sincero’s point of view, and will probably buy this book as a gift for my friends (just as a loved-one gifted it to me).

I began to forgive her for what I was sure were Millennial one-liners, chapter titles like “Fear is for Suckers” and “Lead With Your Crotch.” I started to look forward to the ending line of each chapter: Love yourself. It’s not anything new, but it’s a biggy, and everyone needs to be reminded of it, no matter how together their life is.

The book is not a doctoral thesis. It has 253 pages of very readable prose, and you can easily skip around, thumb through, open the book randomly and let your eyes land on one of the many bolded statements that will give you pause. The biggest one for me, in the entirety of the book, was this: 

So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision,
when what we’ve really done is
signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.”

She is challenging us to get those crazy warrior eyes, stoke the fire of pure determination, and hit the gas pedal. But she does it with humor, and in a way that does not seem overly macho…like Tony Robbins in a cardigan, without the testes or the helicopter. Total commitment would be another way to say it. She is challenging us to bring total commitment to the things we’d like to create. 

The punchline to this review is: That 27-year old with the lip gloss and the glowy cheeks who cannot possibly have experienced anything in life? It turns out, she's my age. And I'm no spring chicken. Yeah, I feel like a dingus. If you visit her website, you’ll see she has her share of laugh lines, and by her own admission, was still feeling like a pretty big failure when she was forty, struggling with money, and living in a garage. Now she has three books out, one of which is a New York Times bestseller. 

Why do I tell you this? Don’t let the cheery yellow cover or the glowy cheeks, or even the use of “Awesome” in the title stop you from taking this book seriously. There’s a lot of wisdom in it, and you will only profit by spending some time in Jen Sincero’s mindset. I recommend it as an engaging, humorous, encouraging read that will leave you energized and ready to get going on that dream life you always wanted.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Poop Cake and Other Holiday Disasters

All was jolly and bright...before I started baking!

I am quickly garnering a reputation for inciting some vortex of kitchen disaster in the 24-hour period preceding major holidays. Thanksgiving...ah, who can forget Thanksgiving. Not only did I fail, and fail miserably at making a cheese ball that looked like a turkey, I was also the would-be mistress of the vegetarian gravy for this event. The gravy tasted fine, but it was not quite silky smooth enough. So I poured the hot gravy in the blender, put the little hat on the machine, and flipped the switch...you can imagine how that ended. I spent the two hours before Thanksgiving enrobed in aloevera, frozen packs of peas, and lavender oil. Well, after enough champagne and Advil, such details fade. I looked almost perky in the family photos.

Queue the triumphant Christmas music. Although this year my town was threatened by catastrophic flame (google Thomas Fire) and many people, including me, evacuated, my family still pulled together a fantastic Xmas celebration in Los Angeles. Keen to redeem myself from Thanksgiving, I volunteered to make a chocolate bundt cake filled with cheesecake and cherry filling. Rolling into the checkout, eyes bulging at the realization that it was going to cost $40 for this cake, I thought "Christmas happens once a year, it's worth it." And for once, I didn't improvise. I followed the instructions with the precision of a watchmaker. Every step attended to, done correctly. But by the time I had put everything in the pan, I did have a little worry wiggling at the back of my mind, as it seemed rather full...as in, full up to the very rim of the cake pan. Queue hysteria as I watched the cake slowly rise in the oven a good inch above the rim of the pan as it cooked, and remained steadfastly jiggly, well past the appointed cooking time.

So far, so good....

Ah ha ha, you fool!

Yeah. Wrong size bundt pan. Didn't even know there were different size bundt pans. I do now. With the top of the cake well overcooked, it tested clean with a knife, but I didn't think to do a second check toward the inner funnel of the cake....which was not even vaguely cooked. When I unmolded it, the insides of the cake slithered out, collapsing into a coagulated mess. I was obliged to put a bowl over the entire thing, invert it, and pretend that I'd *meant* to make a trifle. But there was no way I was bringing that to Xmas dinner. Nuh-uh. So, Plan B. I grabbed the tree-ring pan, a box of Duncan Hines, and read the instructions...which said, explicitly, that the pan could be dusted with cocoa instead of flour. And it being a chocolate cake, I thought that sounded reasonable. But I now know that if you flour the pan with cocoa too heavily, it fills in the details of the trees, so that what emerges, although quite tasty, looks like it was baked by the poo demon of Golgotha.

The poop cake


And that, dear friends, is how I ended up buying an obscenely expensive buch de noel on Christmas Eve from a very good patisserie in town. I will happily report that the buch de noel was a big hit, that it looked quite charming with meringue mushrooms and some Lindt truffles scattered about it. I would share photo evidence of its grandeur, but the photo itself was so dark that no amount of Photoshop could save it...almost as if the universe was having one last Christmas chuckle at me. But I did manage to take a passable photo of one slice...


What is this strange holiday cooking curse? The other 360 days a year, I can be relied on to show up with a perfectly decent casserole, a bowl of mashed potatoes, cheese enchiladas, cupcakes....I mean I'm not Anthony Bourdain, but I can cook basic things basically fairly well. Just not in the 24-hours leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter....

Next year...next year, I bring a bottle of champagne and a carton of ice cream.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Year of the Fire Rooster: Thoughts on the Thomas Fire




From a  metaphysical perspective (because you know, California Girl here), I can't help but point out that this has been the year of the Fire Rooster in Chinese astrology. Our political landscape has been savage, a seemingly careless burn of civil rights and decency. Many things I held as sacred in our nation have gone to ashes. It is hard to look destruction in the face and find some wisdom to it. Hard to watch things burn and convince yourself something new will grow. But I'm told that this is the principle nature works on, that fires are necessary periodically to the health of a forest. Dead wood and plants go to ashes, the nutrients able to go back into the soil and help new vegetation grow.

But that did not make me feel better when Ventura, parts of Los Angeles, San Diego, Montecito, Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria all experienced sudden fires. A firefighter with a growing family lost his life in the Thomas Fire; people's homes and art and photographs and precious evidence of their lives all burned. Trees, animals, even our palm trees lining the beach side of the 101, all scorched. When it is over, the Thomas Fire will be one of the largest fires in California history. It is not done burning yet. We in Santa Barbara are waiting to see what the Santa Ana winds do tomorrow, when they're projected to pick up again. I cannot imagine fighting a fire, much less doing so in 60 MPH winds.

So, I spent two weeks watching a lot of ashes fall, wearing an N95 mask, nervously glancing up at a sun made red in a grey sky. I looked around my room, thinking, what can I not live without? What needs to be packed, just in case? The childhood Christmas ornaments came off the tree, packed into a box by the door. Things you might expect, like the box of photographs, the paintings, the passport, the taxes. And some things that make sense only to me. The scarf I bought in Paris for $5 when I was 28, the water bottle with a king-tut cat on it...because I *need* that! My crochet hooks and four balls of yarn. My money plant. My NFL Patriots nutcracker (yes, it's a thing, and yes I do believe that my putting it up during football season helps the Patriots win). I am not sure if I am pleased or abashed that the most important things in my life can fit into an economy rent-a-car from Dollar Budget. But they can and they did, as my neighborhood went into voluntary evacuation this weekend.

It is often said as a frosting statement that it is our human and animal friends and family that matter, that as long as we all come through alive, the things don't matter that much. But it's not frosting, it's truth. As I was looking around my room, packing, what I was most concerned about were all of my family and friends and animal buddies in evacuation. I thought of people I haven't talked to in a long time, people with horses stabled in the hills, people who might not have cars or the means to leave Santa Barbara, I thought about the homeless people on State Street with their dogs, the people on the bus who either couldn't afford masks or weren't aware they should be wearing them. It is in moments of disaster that we suddenly evaluate our community in less selfish terms, that we realize how vulnerable we are, how much we need one another.

Evacuating, driving down the 101, my two cats riding shotgun, flooring it past a tidal wave of smoke coming from the mountains, my heart sore at the sight of so much destroyed landscape, what I felt in equal measure was adrenaline and gratitude. Adrenaline for obvious reasons. Fire is scary. Gratitude for those friends and family who made it so clear to me that I had a ride if I needed one, and a sofa to sleep on if I needed one, and the sense that no matter what happens with the Thomas Fire, we will find a way to put ourselves back together. Especially grateful that family in L.A. made room for me and my cats and welcomed me, oh, 8 days early for Christmas. Grateful for fresh air. Grateful for green trees and flowers. Grateful for safe haven. Because not everyone finds that when they need it.
Sitting now from a safe distance in Los Angeles, aware that for those who lose their houses, this fire is a literal meditation on destruction, I ask myself, what in my personal life has gone to ashes, what in this country has gone to ashes? What might spring from those ashes, phoenix-like, with directed enough vision? I take heart from the fact that the year of the Fire Rooster will be done in February, that the coming year is the year of the Earth Dog. Earth dog. I like the sound of that.






Saturday, December 2, 2017

NaNo WriMo: Done and Doner!


The holidays always bring a certain kind of stress. You're cooking things you don't normally cook, hanging out with relatives you don't normally hang out with. Possibly you are hiding from relatives that you refuse to hang out with at all. There is the expectation of what the day should be, the reality of what it is, and then the mixed feelings when it's gone. Somehow, one little dinner manages to take up a week of preparation and then a week to recover. It's not necessarily convenient to say, "Um, excuse me. Y'all keep fighting over the drumsticks. I'm going to my room to write; I have to reach my word count today."

I personally got very little written the week of Thanksgiving. But we did have a Friendsgiving on the Sunday after T-day. We brought our leftovers and laptops and did writing sprints, then sat down to a nice dinner together. I managed to write 50,000 words in the first two weeks of NaNo, and then only 12,000 in the two weeks after that. So I ended November with 62,000 words, or 2/3 of a rough draft. This confirms my hope that with a detailed outline, I can write at a fair clip. But it also tells me that life sometimes gets in the way of writing goals, and that's okay. The trick is to keep going. Because novel writing is an endurance sport not a sprint. NaNo gives you the title of "winner" if you write 50k words in November.  I think anyone who opens their laptop and puts some words of a story down is a winner. So whether you sailed through NaNo with a monsoon of words raining down, or you got one chapter done, congratulations to all who participated.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NaNoWriMo: Halfway there!



November is one of my favorite months. Not just because it's book-ended with Halloween and Thanksgiving, but because it is National Novel Writing Month (or NanoWriMo...or to the very lazy, like me, just NaNo.) The idea is simple. One month of writing, with a goal of 50,000 words written. It doesn't matter if they're crappy words or if you write the same word 50,000 times. The idea is to keep writing and hopefully get a good portion of your novel done. To go with this there are Municipal Liaisons (ML's) in your area who are planning write-in events, where people show up, have a few snacks and then spend several hours ignoring each other as they furiously type on their laptops. It's like the Olympics for writers.

This year, we had our kick-off on Halloween at midnight. Usually this is a big party, with everyone in costume, with much fun and frosty beverages leading up to the witching hour. At the stroke of 12, we snap open our laptops and start writing to much cheering. But never did the course of true fiction run smooth. This year, the 31st fell on a Tuesday, and the hotel where the event was held neglected to tell us that the entire lobby would be sectioned off for construction and that not only would it be nearly impossible to reach the place where we were writing, but the AC wouldn't be working and it would be nearly Arctic at the hotel bar. So, instead of a gala event with a ton of writers, it was...well, it was six of us, two of whom were obligated by their title of ML to be there, one of whom by title of "husband" was obligated to be there. One of us was medicated to fend off a migraine, another of us was soon to be struck low by g.i. difficulties. By the time midnight rolled around, only four were left, and one of us was desperately drinking hot tea to avoid hypothermia, another was shortly to fall asleep...and I was trying really hard not to smear my black lipstick on all of the cookies I'd been eating to stave off the open breeze coming in through the lobby.

Halloween treats this year were shortbread cookies and rice crispy treats. 


The "bat lips" were the result of a YouTube makeup tutorial gone wrong, but still rather appropriate for a "ghastly" look. 



But I was ready and excited, and as soon as it turned midnight, I typed "Chapter 1" on my word document. What a thrill that is to me. After working for the last 5 years on building an entire world of characters, and writing and rewriting my first novel, doing all of the nitty gritty un-fun "finish this dang thing" work that comes at the end of the novel, nearly abandoning hope as the first two agents I talked to rejected it, rewriting it some more, and now, at last, close to being able to call Novel 1 finished, it was a complete and utter joy to write "Chapter 1" on the screen and contemplate a new story. This Word Witch lasted about 500 words, and then we all slapped our laptops shut and scuttled off to cars with heaters, ready to go home.

NaNoWriMo Oct 31 Survivors!


I am excited about NaNo in part because this is an experiment. For September and October I did not write a single drop of fiction. I only wrote an outline for Novel 2. A really extensive 15-page outline. I forced myself to think through the plot points that I would normally put off until later because who wants to think about the antagonist's motives or how the hero is going to defeat him? But this time I made myself figure out the entire plot ahead of time. The experiment is this: knowing the characters and the world already, with a detailed outline, and the decks cleared to allow for writing time in November, can I write a book in a month? Instead of taking 5 years.

This is what NaNo looks like. A ton of shot of my laptop and coffee and chocolate!



Well, it's Day 8 of NaNo and I'm at 25,300 words. A normal novel is about 90,000 words. I am averaging 4,000 words a day....except for those two days that I made the mistake of going back to edit my work and research 19th century underwear. But if I just write, and don't allow myself to double back and "fix" what I've written, if I just give myself the pure joy of creating, I can happily finish a rough draft of this novel by December 1. Of course, it will then take me a while to polish that rough draft into shape, get feedback from my critique group, and rewrite it into final draft shape. But what if, given that I started the outline in September 2017, I can have this thing fully polished and ready to publish by September 2018?

Why do I care about the timeline so much? The answer is that I did some math. I'm in my mid-40s now. Let's say I am writing for another 30 years. Let's say it takes me 5 years a novel. That's 6 novels in a lifetime. At present, I've already mapped out 5 novels in this fictional world I've created. And there are other worlds I'd like to create, other characters that I want to bring to life. I simply can't afford to spend 5 years on a single book. I have to get my writing process down to a year for a novel...a really good novel, because it goes without saying that I would never knowingly publish something that is crap. So, good writing, a book a year. That's what I'm going for, and NaNo is the fuel to get the rough draft finished. Plus, it's fun. Plus, there are donuts! What's not to love?



If you're interested in NaNoWriMo, you can visit their website here. They're non-profit and funded by donations, and people participate from all over the world. If you're thinking about starting your first novel or you on Novel #21, I encourage you to join the fun.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Food & Home: Summer Issue is Out!


Nothing thrills me as much as writing about food and seeing it in print. This issue of Food & Home, I wrote another edition of "Downtown Dish," my column about eating and living in Santa Barbara.


You might wonder how I ended up with the title "An Ode to Reubens and Rattlesnake Bratwursts"! The answer is that I had a delicious day taste testing the sandwiches at Three Pickles and then a wild dinner at the Brat Haus, a beer and brat restaurant with some inventive dishes.

If you'd like to read the article, it's available free online here.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Messy Magnificent Mesa Burger: Cat Cora Slays the Veggie Burger

This is a veggie burger!

If you've seen the show Iron Chef, you know Cat Cora as the nerves-of-steel chef who brings a Greek twist to her comfort food. I would expect her to open a restaurant in L.A. or Las Vegas, not a burger joint on the Mesa here in Santa Barbara. But am I glad she did!

I am not your normal burger customer, being largely vegetarian. How to put this delicately... I have eaten desiccated, oaty, blasphemously awful veggie burgers up and down this coast and all around this globe. They invariably come with wheat buns, sprouts, and low-fat mayo. Not juicy, not even vaguely edible. What I hate most as a foodie is seeing a perfunctory veggie thing on the menu, ordering it, and finding that someone smeared some hummus on a grilled pepper and called it done. There's no reason for the veggie entree to suck, but it often does, and my heart breaks a little every time I see a gorgeous menu of super foodie dishes and then the one vegetarian thing is...as I said, hummus and roasted red peppers.

Vegetarian...not kidding!

So I had reason to worry when I bellied up to the bar at Mesa Burger, where the entire point of the place is burgers. My eyes fell on the Shoreline: veggie patty/red pepper hummus/pickled red onions/sprouts/salsa verde. Yes, indeed, my old nemesis Le Hummus with his sidekick Mr. Sprouts. I want my vegan folks to have a good nosh, but for the love of heaven, do hummus and sprouts belong on a burger of any kind? I sucked in my outrage and ordered a veggie patty subbed into their signature Mesa burger with house-made pickles, thousand island, and a brioche bun with a side of fries.

The veggie burger came and was actually thicker and more burgerish than the beef burger that my buddy ordered. I took a big ol' bite of deliciousness...and, convinced that I'd accidentally been given a meat burger, I proceeded to spit it out, making little sputtering noises. Until my buddy took a taste for me, and along with the manager, assured me this was not meat. Its texture was a dead ringer, juicy and fatty, and frickin' delicious!

I definitely recommend a visit to Mesa Burger. Be sure to save room for dessert though. Cat Cora features McConnell's in ice-cream sandwiches and delicious root-beer floats!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tiki Redemption: Enter the Blue Hawaiian

 
Enter the Blue Hawaiian. The Cadillac of Tiki drinks, beckoning with its blue glow. My favorite beverage: a mix of rum, blue curacao, and pineapple juice blended with coconut cream. However, blending drinks during a party sounds like a recipe for the guests to end up wearing Blue Hawaiians rather than drinking them. So, I went with a non-blended version that sneaks around coconut cream by using Malibu coconut rum (elixir of the budget-friendly gods).

Here's what went down at ye ol' Tiki party:
1 part each of Malibu coconut rum, vodka, blue curacao, and sweet/sour mix
3 parts pineapple juice

While you can buy a bottle of MEDIOCRITY in the form of a sweet/sour mix, it's amazing when you make it fresh. Melt 1 cup granulated sugar into 1 cup water (30 seconds or so in the microwave). Then add 1 cup fresh lime juice and 1 cup fresh lemon juice. It's the difference between something that tastes like chemical byproducts and an amazing cocktail. Be warned though, this drink doesn't taste overly alcoholic, but that ninja vodka amps up the boozy woozy factor.


As they say, woman does not live on Blue Hawaiian's alone. Not even if she is stranded on a tropical island! No, she must have pineapple upside-down cake! Not just one variety, but two. Because no party around here is complete without going overboard on a theme. First, we made pineapple cream cupcakes. The First Lady of Frosting had the good idea to put a cherry and pineapple chunks at the bottom of each cupcake, and I have to say, it *made* the cupcake...that and the decorations. Little Tiki umbrellas perched like hats above the cupcakes.


Second was Trisha Yearwood's upside-down pineapple cake. Her recipe calls for nine pineapple rings arranged in an 8x8 brownie pan...we were only able to fit four whole rings and then some halves. We speculate that you might have to cut out a chunk of each ring and squish it in to make it fit. Although I did briefly think, "Trisha Yearwood, you lying so-and-so," I continued on with the recipe. The result was decent. A nice vanilla flavor (because I put in triple the vanilla) in a fluffy cake, with caramelized pineapple on top. I have to say, there is farther to go in the matter of pineapple desserts. Although the cake and cupcakes filled their social obligations nicely, I was not transported to pineapple heaven. I am seriously considering using fresh pineapple rather than the canned stuff next time. Maybe lacing it with some Malibu rum...



A word on maraschino cherries. Examine the bottles carefully. We had three different varieties. One bottle was natural (no dyes, so rather muted in color) and did well enough in the baked goods. The second bottle was comprised of plump gleaming ruby red cherries so chemically altered as to be unrecognizable in their origins. The third bottle...the third bottle had squished cherries that looked like the fruit equivalent of shrunken heads. They were too ugly to put on a toothpick, that is certain. All I am saying is that the cherry on the sundae is no benefit if it looks like the withered eye of a drunken pirate.

So, Blue Hawaiians and pineapple upside-down cake were had, along with potato salad, deviled eggs, Menehume punch, artichokes grilled with garlic oil and dipped in lemon-pepper mayo, and rainbow fruit skewers! The fruit skewers (idea from Pinterest) were a big hit, and it is fortunate that the FLOF assembled them, as I would've ended up with fruity "acupuncture" trying to handle the wood skewers! I actually think this idea would be neat to play with on other occasions (raspberries, blueberries, and baby marshmallows for fourth of July?)




You might be wondering, what to wear to a Tiki party. A Hawaiian shirt? Perhaps a grass skirt? A coconut bra, if you're feisty? Sure, all of the above. The essence of Tiki is flip-flops and beachwear. Unless, of course, you are me. Then Tiki requires a hot-glue-gun extravaganza. Because I have things in my craft drawer and I have hands and I literally cannot stop myself. Four blue coasters, a pair of mermaid leggings and a blue fishing net, a bunch of blue beads, and two balls of discount yarn, and....well...things happened. Mermaidy things. Mermaid-ish, I should say, as I in no way resembled something that ever came from the sea. From the catfish nebula, maybe. The FLOF did her best with the mermaid gear but overheated early on. The result I am going to call pineapple chic. Catfish crochet and pineapple chic. So goes the glory of Tiki. Well, once you've had a blue Hawaiian or two, nobody cares what you're wearing anyway! Isn't the whole point to have fun?


Wither Silver Webb after this consummate Tiki victory? A good question. I'll be veering toward the Chinese side of Tiki. Although some Tiki restaurants make a try at Polynesian food or Hawaiian food, one of the best ol'-fashioned 1950s standbys is Chinese food and Tiki drinks. You know, egg rolls and Mai-Tais, Kungpao chicken and hurricanes. The stuff of eating legend. I'd like to learn how to make a good kungpao sauce, a good Sichuan sauce, and maybe even figure out how to make those fried won-ton wrappers with red sauce and mustard. Possibly served with a Zombie or a Fog Cutter?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Forsaken by the Tiki Gods: A Review of VenTiki Lanai and Bar



This being the summer of Tiki, and having had my optimism stained by bad Mai-tai's at Chuck's of Hawaii, I held much hope for VenTiki, a fun-looking Tiki bar and restaurant in Ventura. Sure, a forty minute drive away, but for the fearless Tiki enthusiast, what is forty minutes....besides, the FLOF has a car and she ain't afraid to use it.


Restaurant experiences are highly temporal and subjective. You ate there the one night the chef ran out of mustard, and for the next thousand years you will bad-mouth their Welsh Rarebit. You went to the lakeside cafe the one day the algae bloom turned blue, and it shall forever be known in your lexicon as the blue fairy lake cafe. But there are some days when the stars simply don't align. Such as arriving at the quaint beach-side town to grey skies. Grey, dismal, and slightly chilly. And I didn't bring a jacket. But I soldiered on and arrive at the Tiki bar...to discover that a "she's 21 and starting her descent into alcoholism" party was happening, and it's a loud one. This I gleaned by the guest of honor wearing a necklace with a shot glass attached, attended by her parents, who apparently thought this was a great idea, and about 10 rowdy fraternity boys who were slugging back shots of rum. So, there was no room on the patio, which I will grant you was quite cute with its bamboo decor and fire pit. Walking into the main bar, a punch of stale rum hit us in the face, like pool-hall, eau d' Captain Jack's knickers. We eventually found a table outside, right by the water cooler with a wonky leg, so the table jiggled if we so much as breathed, and a steady stream of liquid leaked from the cooler over the concrete beneath our feet.


Still, I  held out hope. Until the cranky rockabilly waitress made it really clear that her garden was barren of any F***'s to give about our experience of this restaurant. And the bartender listened to my excited rant about collecting Tiki swizzle sticks, promised to bring me one or two, and then never came back. Isn't the whole point of Tiki the joy? The unmitigated, irrepressible joy of it? Not here. Not today, baby cakes.

The best thing we drank there was this, the nonalcoholic punch

Yet are there not many bad restaurant experiences that can be redeemed by alcohol? It was at this point that I made a massive, if not predictable misstep. I was, once again, lured to order a drink because it has a cool name. In this case, the Voodoo Temptress of the Seven Pleasures: rum, cherry rum, maraschino liquor, pineapple juice, and bitters. I really, really should've paid attention to that word: BITTERS. Because it was utterly bitter. It was un-fun. I did not finish it. The FLOF, who has far better instincts than I, ordered the Vicious Hibiscus, which is spiced rum, hibiscus, elder-flower liqueur, and lime. That drink was good. Very good. Unfortunately it was not my drink, and I refrained from commandeering it. All the while, trays of magnificent-looking zombies sailed by...there are, apparently, drinks at VenTiki that I would like to try...next time, stay away from the flashy names and go for the zombie!

Ready to fall apart...sushi party foul #1
 The food...oh me...oh despondency...sushi so amateurish as to make packaged sushi at LAX look gourmet. I tried the veggie roll and was  not only underwhelmed by the taste, but I had to eat it in small pieces, as it quickly came unrolled. The eel roll...well, let's just say that I ended up picking the eel out of each piece, because it was kinda slimy, and I kinda felt like I was going to vomit when I took a bite. So out came the eel. What was left was not a dining experience. And it wasn't particularly cheap.

Because who doesn't need a lamp made out of a blow fish carcass?

Had it been sunny. Had it not been Tits McGee's 21st birthday party. Had the waitress been nice. Had the Voodoo Temptress of the Seven Pleasures not double-crossed me. Had the sushi stuck together. Had there not been a baby crawling around our table collecting the grime from the sidewalk on her jumper (who brings a baby to a bar?) Had all of that not been so, perhaps this would be a different review. But it isn't.
 
At least the fire pit wasn't sucky

What can I say, my Tiki hopes were high, and my Tiki hopes were dashed, cruelly to the hard cement floor. I would not stop out of my way to go here again.

Now is the time to ask, "Have I displeased the Tiki gods?" "What must I do to lift the curse? First Chuck's of Hawaii and now VenTiki...is my summer of Tiki about to dissolve into a forgettable dribble of sub-par rum? That cannot be. I must rally. I must hit back with Hurricanes so delectable that the world stops for a moment. I must don the Tiki sacraments, make prayers to the Tiki Gods, leave bribes if need be. I have to get my mojo back quick, because in two weeks we're throwing a Tiki Tea Party...and if that goes up into a rum-ball of flaming mediocrity, I may as well cash in right now and declare this the summer of malt liquor and Fritos. Let us hope redemption awaits, in the form of upside-down pineapple cake and Blue Hawaiians.