Sunday
May062018

UPCOMING EVENTS I'LL BE MISSING

For a small city, Santa Barbara has a great array of lectures and cultural events. When I grew up here, I was out all the time, even when I was supposed to be in class at San Marcos High School, Santa Barbara City College or UCSB. And even today I often want to see two things that are happening at the same time. Of course there isn't the array or abundance of things happening here like there is in NYC, where I spent years running from one thing to another. But there's quite a wonderful lot.

Lately, though, I've had a severe bout of what I call Post Disaster Inertia. I want to go to things, but the months of fire, mudslide, numerous evacuations, knowing the losses friends endured and driving by the wreckage left both Ray and me exhausted. We left home so many times with so much uncertainty of the future that just lying in bed and forcing Ray to watch Forensic Files with me is a luxury.

It's strange to think back on how many things Ray and I would go to in a given day in NYC or even during the first two years when we moved back to SB, because at the moment I can handle one thing a day. Sometimes half a thing a day. I'm sure that we're not alone among Santa Barbarans, and I'm sure it's affecting the cultural attendance here.

But the fact is, when I think about going out to something right now, I can easily get talked out of it.

For example, I was pleased to see that Charles Hood, the author of a book I've enjoyed, A Californian's Guide to the Birds Among Us, would be speaking at the Sedgwick Reserve in Santa Ynez on May 12th at 7 PM.

 

 

 

Charles is a poet as well as animal chronicler and his book is witty, informative and fun. When I wrote Charles and asked him about the lecture, and said we'd like to go, he told me he'd just gotten back from photographing bats in Arizona and looked forward to talking about scrub jays with us.

He then said his lecture would be about the evolution and future of field guides rather than focusing on birds. Hmmm. Well, I'm sure Charles can make the art of the field guide interesting or at least poetic, but the thought of driving an hour to hear about field guides set off my Post Disaster Interia.

Then I thought perhaps it would just be fun to finally get onto the Sedgwick Reserve and we could go early while it was still light, take in his talk -- hey, I'd learn something about field guides! -- and especially fun to meet and talk to an author whose book I like and who knows a lot about birds. Now, birds may not be a subject you find interesting, but I find them endlessly fascinating. Ray and I are bird enthusiasts (some would call us bird crazy) and consider the Scrub Jays, Titmice, Juncos, Doves, Crows, Hummingbirds and company on our property our feathered friends. We give them names like Nipper and Kikki and Ed and even have framed photos of our birds on our mantle:

Now that I look at the photo above, I do think we are crazy. However, our birds raucously greeted us when we returned home after every evacuation. They did seem to be saying, "Great to see you're alive -- now you can return to giving us peanuts." But they're good birds, even if a little self-interested.

Another enticing aspect of the Hood lecture was that we'd been wanting to visit the Sedgwick Reserve. Plus there'd be the lure of a nice dinner afterwards at one of my favorite SYV restaurants nearby. So I wrote Charles and asked if he'd like to join us afterwards for dinner. We could yak about his recent visit with the bats and share bird stories. He wrote back that he was planning to go out into the night on the preserve with a flashlight to study mammals, so no dinner out, but he would have a bottle of wine. I wasn't sure whether he was offering to share the bottle of wine and the mammals with us, but if he was, maybe it would be fascinating to accompany him. Although I'm not keen on encountering mountain lions with only a flashlight and a bottle of wine.

Charles wrote back that Ray and I needed to let the event unfold as it will. I'm not a very unfolding person these days, especially when I'm hungry and worried about encountering a mountain lion, so I wrote him we'd have to pass. However, if you like birds or any other kind of animal, I highly recommend Charles' books, which you can buy (and should buy) from Chaucer Bookstore. And if you decide to go to the lecture please let me know what you learned about the art of field guides -- in just two sentences, please.

There's another upcoming event that at first got me excited. Ashton Applewhite, an anti-ageist activist and someone we knew in NYC, is going to be talking twice. First at the Public Library downtown on Friday May 18th, and then at UCSB on Saturday the 19th. I love attending lectures at the Santa Barbara Public Library in Faulkner Gallery. The photo below perhaps doesn't convey the excitement one can feel listening to an expert there on a topic that includes lots of stats, but it's a great venue.

However, when I read what the focus of Ashton's library talk will be, I felt a desurge of energy. The synopsis of her talk was listed as: "What makes aging different for women –- and so much harder than it has to be? How does the double impact of ageism and sexism affect women’s health, income, and well-being? And how does competing to “stay young” dig the hole even deeper?"

I can answer that without attending the talk. Women do it to women. Yes, they do. I used to go to a Park Avenue dermatologist who told me he was glad I hadn't asked him for Botox. I said, "Why do women do that to themselves?" He said "Their girlfriends tell them they need it. I'll always ask these women what their husbands think and they'll say 'he thinks I look fine and don't need it' and I'll say 'I bet your husband doesn't think you need a new dress, either.'"

So maybe the husband is cheap or maybe he's having an affair or maybe he really digs his wife. But the point is, from my own personal experience women can be pretty damn ageist about other women. The most ageist places I ever worked as a writer were the glossy women's magazines. I once wrote a column for Harper's Bazaar touting actresses over 40 and my female editor told me that old age, like not being 22 any longer, really depressed her.

Then there was my last birthday. A number of my guy friends, of all ages, wrote me sweet messages about how much better I get every year, my husband bought me chocolates and lingerie. And what did I get from a woman acquaintance? She sent me a photo of a decrepit Bette Davis holding up a pillow embroidered with her famous line "Old age ain't for sissies." Gee, thanks, lady.

So no go for me on the library talk. Then I thought about going to the UCSB lecture the next day. I remembered fondly how I first heard Ashton talk on anti-ageism at her Williamsburg home a few years ago. She was just getting her lecture organized and tried it out on a small group of friends to get feedback. I was impressed by her drive about the subject and admired her when her book "This Chair Rocks" got turned down by publishers, she didn't let it stop her and published it herself.

I heard her do the lecture several times and she got better each time. And her commitment to anti-aegism seemed to grow. When she came to hear one of my autobiographical shows at Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village she commented afterwards that she felt my referring to my mom as "still beautiful at 90" was ageist. Interestingly, when I also described my late father as "still crazy at 92" that didn't seem to bother her. Nonetheless, I admired Ashton's passion.

I wasn't surprised when she did a TED Talk or finally got a book deal from a mainstream publisher. I was pleased to see her success. But then I read one of her mass emails about This Chair Rocks last fall and I was dismayed. 

Why was I dismayed? Because it was all about her alignment now with all these other movements, like #MeToo. I despise the #MeToo movement, which is not a movement so much as witch-hunting and the equivalent of 1950s McCarthyism. Here's an article about the renowned Swedish theater director, Benny Fredriksson, who killed himself after being #Metoo accused of sexual abuse and none of the allegations were substantiated. Great going, girls, you destroyed a theater director who employed hundreds of actresses and gave them the chance to do meaningful theater.

What exactly have any of these #MeToo gals done that's creative? Nothing. They're just destroyers. Oh right, men have kept them from having careers. No, actually, if these MeToo women spent less time getting revenge on bad dates or imagined micro-aggressions and more time creating their own film companies and publishing houses I'd have a lot more respect for them. In a year when women in the food industry complained on MeToo about being held back, a number of other women spent their energy forging ahead with their culinary careers. Like the three Zitelman sisters in Philly who run their own tahini business, Soom Foods, and who were lauded by Forbes as an exciting upcoming business.

And then in that same email Ashton also mentioned something about "the patriarchy." Isn't it interesting how no one mentions the word "patriarchy" in a positive way? I sighed when I read that. I mean, aren't old patriarchs entitled to anti-ageist activism on their behalf? Maybe that's why it didn't bother her when I made my remark about my father still being crazy at 92. The truth is, men get subjected to a lot of ageism as well and not all men in their 90s are patriarchs who ditch their long suffering wives for hot young women. I've known men who were abused in their later years by their wives and by female staff members at hospitals and assisted living homes.

I wrote Ashton about my reservations, but never heard back from her. I've become used to that in the last year. Now, I consider myself a liberal, albeit in the old-fashioned 1960s/70s way when liberals actually believed in liberal things like freedom of speech. But I find some of my new-fangled "lib left" friends will spout their political opinions out of nowhere -- you can be talking about how nice the warm weather is and suddenly out of the blue they'll say in a loud voice "God, I hate Trump." As some Millennials like to say to excuse their own bad behavior, these people got "triggered" by something. Was it thinking about what a nice day it is in Santa Barbara that triggered them? Can they not have a nice day while Trump is in office? Do they blame him for global warming? Who knows what triggers them. And then they'll go on and on ranting and I've come to realize they just expect me to nod and listen because if I say something like, "Well, I didn't vote for him, but isn't it time we Democrats moved on, I mean, time's a wastin' and we don't have a viable candidate for the next election" they'll go silent, walk away, or say "we obviously can't talk about politics."

And these days that's enough to trigger me and my Post Disaster Inertia.

So I'll be missing Ashton Applewhite's two talks. I hope she'll drop the MeToo, anti-patriarchy and intersectionality and just do what she's great at, which is being an activist for anti-ageism.

***

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Saturday
May052018

UCSB ON CINCO DE MAYO & MY MEXICAN LAMB SOUP

Happy Cinco de Mayo! And just so you don't get too giddy today, both The Bottom Line and the Daily Nexus have published pieces in the last few years about what we Santa Barbarans should and should not do on Cinco de Mayo. Here's an example from the Daily Nexus:

Could these UCSB Social Justice Warriors lighten up a bit? I can't imagine more of a wet blanket date than going to a Mexican restaurant with either of these writers. "Don't pay the band to play La Bamba! That's racist!" "Don't say 'gracias' to the waitress! That's racist!" "Don't even think of putting on a sombrero! That's racist!"

You know what's more important than adhering to these guidelines? Supporting local Mexican restaurants, who depend on holidays like this for business, especially now since many restaurants had low business during the fire and mudslide and the aftermath, I think it's more important for them to make money than please some UCSB student's misguided sense of social morality. And if you see someone wearing a sombrero, don't scold them, especially if they leave a really good tip. No, I don't enjoy being around drunks barfing on the street after too many margaritas, but that's not cultural appropriation, that's just oafishness.

Personally, I'm going to be making Lamb Albondigas soup at home today -- Ray and I eat out a lot at Mexican restaurants here (one of my favorites being Altamirano's Grill at 5838 Hollister Avenue in Old Town Goleta):

I was inspired to cook Albondigas Soup while at the Farmers Market in Carp on Thursday. I saw that Jimenez Family Farm had lamb bones. Not easy to find at regular markets. A couple of pounds of their lamb bones mixed with two quarts of my homemade chicken stock (to make really gelatinous stock, I use chicken feet from either Gelson's in Loreto Plaza or Foodland on San Andres) and I had the startings of a robust and deeply flavored lamb soup.

I didn't buy ground lamb from Jimenez Farm to make the meatballs. Ray'd already picked up two of their "sheep sirloin steaks" which he wanted to sous vide for us for dinner. We'd spent enough -- the prices at Jimenez Farms are not always cheap. While the bags of their mixed bones were just $4 per lb (2 lbs was enough to make stock), the steaks were $18 per lb and their ground lamb is $16 per lb. I don't find their ground lamb that much better than supermarket ground lamb to warrant that amount. Their prices are understandable given they're a small, sustainable and humane operation. And I love supporting local places like theirs, but I don't like going broke over something like lamb meatballs which should be a casual dish.

We ate the sheep steaks with mango curry and lime pickles (which my friend Bill Stern, founder of MOCAD and knowledgeable about all things design and food, introduced me to and which he swears he puts on everything including ice cream). I bought these condiments and parathas from Pennywise, the Indian market at 1121 E. Montecito Street just below APS. It's a terrific little market and resource for Indian cooking. More cultural appropriation on my part! Nonetheless, the lovely family who own and run Pennywise (and can be seen walking their pet tortoise on the sidewalk) seemed pleased that I was cooking Indian food and buying their frozen parathas.

Btw, we were told by the people who sold us the steaks to sear them in a pan. I don't think that's the best way to cook a piece of lamb like this. As with all of Jimenez' lamb it tasted great, but it was tough. I believe it would have been better if it was the same cut but thicker that you braised until it fell off the bone, like beef oxtails or like the lamb osso buco I recently made with this recipe and lamb from D'Artagnan. I do like Jimenez Farm, if just because they're the only local place I know of where I can get lamb belly, which if you haven't cooked, is fabulous spiced with Harissa or Vadouvan, rolled up and tied and dry roasted at 250 degrees for several hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 220 degrees. Here's a plate of my lamb belly:

Of course today I'll also be making guacamole and chips -- and in honor of the late La Paloma, the Santa Barbara Mexican restaurant I ate lunch at nearly every day when I went to SBCC and UCSB, I'm going to fry my own chips and use flour tortillas the way they did. So much better than corn, unless you are a gluten-free kind of person. La Paloma also made the absolute best bean and guac tostadas I've ever had. I've worked on recreating them, which might be seen by some as cultural appropriation on my part and those people would be wrong -- it's just nostalgic hunger.

But I've never been able to recreate the addictive taste of La Paloma's tostadas. Perhaps the secret remains with Fidel Flores, who worked at La Paloma, and often made the guacamole. I'd see him with a lit cigarette in his mouth while making it, and perhaps it was those ashes he flicked that made it so good. (The former La Paloma is now Paradise Cafe and thankfully they've kept the mural of the Aztec warrior. But the array of photos of Jackie and JFK that decorated La Paloma are long gone.)

And who knows? I may wear one of the shirts I've made out of Mexican themed fabric designed (culturally appropriated!) by Alexander Henry.

As my Mexican-American friend, Bryan Castañeda, said, "Go ahead, wear a sombrero while you drink margaritas -- I may be doing the same."

And here's a photo of my Cinco de Mayo Lamb Albondigas Soup that I made for my mom, step-dad and Ray:

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Friday
May042018

Tri-County Produce

We live in Montecito where, judging from the food selections at our Von's on Coast Village Road, it seems as though few who live here do their own cooking. However, judging from the extensive, large liquor department at that Von's, they do know how to open a liquor or wine bottle, especially one with a screw cap.

The truth is, I've never liked shopping at supermarkets or big bulk stores like Costco. They're organized to confuse you so you'll do a lot of impulse buying while you try to find what you really want, which might be something as simple as real maple syrup and you ask three staff members, none of whom know what "real" maple syrup is, and finally you stumble on it by mistake in the "ethnic" section, because, after all, it is from Vermont. A supermarket exception is Gelson's which I always find quite pleasant -- even if I have nearly been mowed down more than once in the parking lot by drivers who've had a little too much of Harry's famous pour.

But there are Santa Barbara food stores I do enjoy shopping at. Tri-County Produce Co. on Milpas Street near Cabrillo is one of them.

 

What makes Tri-County so pleasant? First, it's the openness. Then there's the sense of it genuinely being a community place. I often strike up a pleasant and informative conversation with an interesting local there. This week I had a nice chat with John Dixon, son of the late founder, James Dixon. By contrast, at Von's I was waiting in the checkout line and tried to pick up a copy of The National Enquirer, managed to send several other copies flying, and got sternly scolded by the skinny blonde in back of me in yoga pants holding her mat and a Kombucha. I wasn't sure if it was my spilling the magazines or that I was trying to read The Enquirer with its unflattering photo of Hillary on the cover. So much for that woman saying "namaste" in her yoga class.

Mostly what I love about Tri-County is it doesn't try to be everything, the way that supermarkets do. I genuinely like to explore the store without a fixed sense of what I want. There are always surprises, too. The other day I saw they carry the Japanese mayonnaise, Kewpie, a favorite condiment in an ultra-cute bottle. The Kewpie inspired me to get hot dogs from their meat section, a bag of greens and for a salad dressing, Mellow White Miso (Tri-County carries an excellent selection of organic miso) and make Japanese-style hot dogs. I spotted a perfectly ripe avocado and decided to make a Mexican hot dog as well.

Obsessive baker that I am, I'd also been wanting to try out a new pan I'd bought to make New England style hot dog buns, so I headed to their well-stocked baking section for King Arthur Flour. Tri-County also carries Bob's Red Mill and they're both terrific organic brands, but King Arthur has captured my heart with its free, friendly and knowledgeable Baker Hot Line that you can call with any cookie or breadmaking problem and they never, ever make you feel as though your lust for making the perfect crust is anything other than a deeply profound quest.

And here are my Tri-County dogs on my freshly baked New England Hot Dog Bun with Kewpie Mayo and a salad straight from the market's shelves. (King Arthur's recipe for the New England Hot Dog Buns here.) A bottle of sake, also bought at Tri-County completed the meal I made for Ray and me. (I believe sake goes with everything and have never understood why it isn't served at every restaurant and available at every liquor store in SB.)

In the end, I spend more time at Tri-County and do more impulse shopping. Pro tip: John Dixon told me the parking lot will be finished soon which will make it much easier to shop there!

***

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