BBQ Inspiration

In some of my previous posts, I mentioned that my husband and I were thinking of opening up a Texas BBQ restaurant in Lone Pine. Well, we are moving forward with our plans and one of the first steps in the process is the purchase of a commercial grade smoker for residential use so I can practice smoking meats and getting our meat recipes perfected. As you can see my smoker is gorgeous. I can smoke six 12-15 lb. briskets or smoke different meats at once for different amounts of time.

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In addition to the meats, Lauren and I will be working on perfecting the side dishes. Our BBQ restaurant will have Texas style meats but we must have California sides. So for the next couple of months, we will be testing recipes for Mac and Cheese, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, BBQ beans and corn bread. Not sure how we are going to minimize our weight gain from this venture but we will try.

There is another inspirational development in our plans that came about from our Austin BBQ crawl a couple of months ago. Mike who lives in Lone Pine and will be our Pit master for the restaurant, contacted Wayne Mueller of Louis Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Texas and asked him if it would be possible to spend some time interning with him to learn how to properly smoke meat. Wayne was very receptive and told him it would probably take about 4 months to become proficient at it and he would definitely take the time to teach him. This is a major coup in our learning curve about cooking Texas BBQ because Louis Mueller BBQ is one of the preeminent
BBQ places in the country. We are going to ship one of the Commercial Smokers we are purchasing for the restaurant to Taylor, Texas so that Mike can learn on that equipment under the expert tutelage of Wayne Mueller. So with Mike’s BBQ education, my meat smoking practice and Lauren’s and my perfection of our side dishes, we should be ready to open the restaurant in early summer.

Having said that, Lauren and I have made the decision to take a short break from writing posts for the blog so we can concentrate on the restaurant needs and also continue to improve the design of our blog to make it more appealing to our readers. So please check back with us in a few months, when Lauren and I will have more cooking, travel and discovery posts to share.

New Baby, New Life

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My Grandson was born on Christmas morning last year. Looking at his perfectly formed body and adorable face makes me so full of hope and inspiration for his and my future and I can’t stop smiling. I spend hours dreaming about what our life will be like together. I picture pushing him in his baby carriage, taking him to the playground, teaching him to cook, feeding and changing him and watching him grow and evolve. While I am relishing this new rite of passage of being a grandparent, I am thankful that my Grandson has two parents and a half brother and sister to attend to his everyday needs.

I didn’t grow up with my Grandparents. I never knew my Mother’s parents and my Father only had a Mother by the time I came along. She never learned English so the only way to communicate with her was to speak Spanish which none of the kids in my generation of our family were taught because it was my family’s way of Anglosizing and assimilating into America.

I think you are given a second chance to get it right as a Grandparent. I think I was a good Mom to my kids, I mean as adults they still like me. But I am sure there are things I could have done better. So with my Grandson, I will do things better.

According to The Department of Health and Human Services, parents clearly benefit from having a grandparent in a child’s life: There’s that extra pair of hands for diapering, soothing, cooking, and reliable childcare. But the children benefit, as well.

Grandparents:

Provide a sense of family continuity and history;

Have stories to tell and are great transmitters of the family’s cultural heritage;

Contribute to the children’s sense of belonging and security;

Become additional role models;

Often have more time than parents for reading stories, teaching new skills, and playing games; and,

Have a vested interest in the well-being and healthy development of their grandchildren.

At this moment in time, my focus is spending as much time as I can with my Grandson so when he gets a little older, I can give him the best Grandparent experience ever. In the words of Aretha Franklin, I’m daydreaming and I’m thinking of you.

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Mochi

I didn’t grow up with dogs. I did have a cat and I loved that cat like there was no tomorrow. So when we lost my husband’s older two dogs that predated me and our children, and then several more years had passed, I had forgotten how important having a pet was.

Then one day, my youngest son convinced me to go with him to a local pet shop where he saw a puppy in the window. I knew it was a bad idea but I thought I was strong enough to just say no. “We’ll just look,” he said. WRONG.

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This is my son’s face several days later when I surprised all three of our kids with our new puppy. And here is my daughter naturally holding him. Maternal instincts.

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And here he is on day #1. Trying to get three kids to agree on a name is quite the challenge. In the interim I named him “Mochi.” Japanese for soft, sweet rice confection. It stuck.

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Ever since, not a day has gone by that this little bundle of fur has not been loved to the greatest degree imaginable.

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He has been dressed up in holiday costume, kimonos, fur coats, sweaters and the like. He has been the best sport through all of it.

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He has been crated, play-penned, leashed, trained, walked and finally accepted as partially-trained but not trained well-enough dog. BUT LOVED.

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These last two pictures really say it all. He is such an important family member. Especially to our youngest child who had his two older siblings leave for college six years before he was eligible. Mochi was his comrade in arms. The love knows no bounds.

Mochi, like me, is now middle-aged. In fact, just recently he surpassed me. He seems to be slowing down a bit and gave us a scare recently with a severe left limp. We worried about arthritis or something worse but were relieved when the vet thought it was not serious. I’ve never seen my youngest son so concerned.

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Our sprite, feisty, sparky young pup is beginning to look a little more regal. More contemplative. More serene. He likes to sit by the fire. Sleep. Snuggle. Cuddle.

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We’ve all gotten older, wiser and perhaps slower as well. But I realize how lucky we are, how much we’ve gotten from our little wonder ball of fur. So much wisdom, so much love, so much caring and nurturing. We would not be anywhere near the same people or family without him and we are so blessed and grateful for him coming into our lives.

We love you, Mochi.

Cooking with Maya Angelou

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Right after Maya Angelou died earlier this year, I bought two copies of her cookbook Hallelujah! with the thought that I would keep one and give one away as a gift. It was the most I have ever paid for a cookbook, about $75.00 but it is the most inspirational cookbook I have ever read because Ms. Angelou writes about what was happening in her life at the time she discovered each recipe she shares in the book. The following is a very accurate review of the book. If you are a cookbook collector like Lauren and I, this one is a must addition.

Throughout Maya Angelou’s life, from her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, to her world travels as a bestselling writer, good food has played a central role. Preparing and enjoying homemade meals provides a sense of purpose and calm, accomplishment and connection. In Hallelujah! The Welcome Table, Angelou shares memories pithy and poignant–and the recipes that helped to make them both indelible and irreplaceable.

Angelou tells us about the time she was expelled from school for being afraid to speak–and her mother baked a delicious maple cake to brighten her spirits. She gives us her recipe for short ribs along with a story about a job she had as a cook at a Creole restaurant (never mind that she didn’t know how to cook and had no idea what Creole food might entail). There was the time in London when she attended a wretched dinner party full of wretched people; but all wasn’t lost–she did experience her initial taste of a savory onion tart. She recounts her very first night in her new home in Sonoma, California, when she invited M. F. K. Fisher over for cassoulet, and the evening Deca Mitford roasted a chicken when she was beyond tipsy–and created Chicken Drunkard Style. And then there was the hearty brunch Angelou made for a homesick Southerner, a meal that earned her both a job offer and a prophetic compliment: “If you can write half as good as you can cook, you are going to be famous.”

Maya Angelou is renowned in her wide and generous circle of friends as a marvelous chef. Her kitchen is a social center. From fried meat pies, chicken livers, and beef Wellington to caramel cake, bread pudding, and chocolate éclairs, the one hundred-plus recipes included here are all tried and true, and come from Angelou’s heart and her home. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table is a stunning collaboration between the two things Angelou loves best: writing and cooking.

Character Counts

A few years ago, my husband mentioned a radio program that he came across and enjoyed listening to. The speaker was Michael Josephson, the Founder of The Josephson Institute. In my husband’s brief description, he used the words “character” and “values.” That was enough for me to take a closer look.

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“Ethics. Everywhere. All the time.” This is what greets you when you enter their website. WOW. “Youth ethics. Sports ethics. Business ethics. Public Service ethics. Policing ethics.” And, “We’re working to create a world where decisions and behavior are guided by ethics.”

HOW REFRESHING. When our news is dominated almost completely by a focus on the bad acts of people and tragedies, here is a focus on individual moral principles leading to the greater good. I’m interested.

The Josephson Institute is a non-profit organization that conducts educational programs for public officials, school administrators, military and police officers, journalists, senior corporate and non-profit executives, judges and lawyers. Their programs focus on business ethics, public administration, policing, character education and sportsmanship.

Character Counts

As a mother, I was particularly interested in their programs for youth. Character Counts is their national program, taught in thousands of schools and affecting millions of children. It is based on a framework of basic values called “The Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.” I wish my children had this program in their school. Although we try to teach these values at home, emphasis from outside is immeasurably beneficial.

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Center For Sport’s Ethics

The Josephson Institute’s Center for Sports Ethics developed and teaches a program for teachers, coaches and parents to ensure a positive experience for kids in sports. It is made up of 16 sportsmanship principles that they encourage sports program to adhere to, including the values of integrity, perseverance, sacrifice, respect and responsibility. This is another program I wish my children had been exposed to. Those lessons learned through sports seems more important than the sports activities themselves.

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I am grateful that I came across the work being done by Michael Josephson and the Josephson Institute. I subscribe to their weekly newsletter via email, “What Will Matter.” This week’s topic: “The Truth About Trust and Lies,”  with the first line, “Honesty may not always pay, but lying always costs.” Yes. Thank you. I can’t wait to read it.

Finding My Roots

I love that show on PBS called Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The series uses traditional genealogical research and genetics to find the family history of famous Americans.

About 15 years ago, I became interested in learning more about my family history and started asking the eldest members of my family on my Father’s side about where they had come from and how did they get to America. I focused on my Father’s family because other than my Mother, I didn’t really have any contact with other family members on that side.

During my conversation with a cousin about our genealogy, she mentioned that someone had done a research project and published a book about Spanish families who had migrated to America from Spain to escape Franco’s dictatorship and our family was one of the families she had profiled. So I contacted the publisher and found out that the book called Memories Of Spain had been out of print for some time but I got the author’s contact information and I wrote to her to see if she may have some additional copies laying around that she would sell. She happened to have one copy of the book left and she sent it to me.

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It was fascinating to read about how in 1907 my Paternal Grandfather and Grandmother came
to America. They were living in Malaga, Spain with one child, my eldest Uncle when a Sugar cane company came to their village recruiting skilled workers to work in the sugar cane fields in Hawaii with promises of a living wage as well as room and board and after 3 years of productive work they would be given a house on one acre of land. My Grandfather was a professional tree grafter and farmer and wanted to escape the political and economic oppression Spain was experiencing at the time.

The Long Voyage to America

Six ship voyages from 1907 to 1913 came to America from Hawaii, relocating nearly 8,000 Spaniards seeking a new life. They were recruited mostly from the Southern agricultural areas of Spain. The voyage was very difficult and long averaging 53 days for each of the six trips.

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Life on the Sugar Cane Plantation

My Grandparents were located on a sugar cane plantation near Hilo, Hawaii. According to an interview in the book with my eldest uncle who was five years old when they arrived, “The Hawaiians were barefooted all the time, ladies and men. The Spaniards communicated well with the Hawaiians, (we called them Kanakas) and sometimes we had parties with them. There were Portuguese, Filipinos, Chinese, and Japanese working in the sugar cane fields side by side, but they lived separately from the Spanish camps. There was a grocery store nearby but my family raised and grew almost everything that we needed.”

Leaving Hawaii

In another interview with my Uncle, he said, “My parents did not stay the full five years of their contract. Three Spanish families left Hawaii previously and went to Placer County, California. They wrote to my parents about the beautiful land and jobs, and this helped my parents decide to leave Hawaii and go to California.”

My Grandparents settled in Central California and lived and worked on rented farms. They had 12 more children, the youngest of whom was my Father. My Grandfather died in a car accident and left my Grandmother to raise the kids.

Someday I hope to pursue some additional genealogy research on our family but this accounting of my families’ migration from Spain is a good start.

Mixing Up Thanksgiving

I like to change things up. OFTEN. Thanksgiving is no different.  Here’s an account of an unusual Thanksgiving I had a few years ago with friends.

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Because people go in so many directions over Thanksgiving, I decided one year to have friends over for a casual Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving. To keep it simple, I cooked the turkeys spatchcock-style (flat with the backbone removed) and served all the food buffet style. Here is Carl’s (Raelene’s significant other) take on the meal.

“Thanksgiving dinner presents an interesting challenge for a cook.  How to make a meal conform with tradition and still be distinctive.  So when we had Thanksgiving dinner at Lauren’s house last night, all be it four days before the official holiday, I was interested to see how she handled the dilemma.  I am one of those people who thinks that Thanksgiving without turkey and stuffing isn’t Thanksgiving and I wasn’t disappointed.

Lauren presented a magnificent turkey.  It was a deep golden brown and somehow she had browned the entire turkey.  No white spots even under the wings and legs.  This was obviously no “set and forget” production. When a turkey looks that good, your eyes send a message to the brain and the brain tells the taste buds, “This turkey tastes great and don’t report otherwise.”

The second major test is the moistness and again Lauren scored a 10.  A dry turkey never elicits open criticism, but a background of observations outside of the cooks’ earshot like:

“It was a “little dry!” or “It could have been a little moister!”  Everyone feels compelled to comment. Part of the tradition.  You can judge a turkey’s dryness by the consumption of gravy.  But as I mentioned, Lauren’s turkey was moist and tender, even the breast slices that are the litmus test of dryness.

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The dressing was delicious. First of all it was moist and firm, not dry and crumbly. I know that many diners like the dry and crumbly, which they rectify with an ample covering of gravy.

I never use gravy for one simple reason.  The turkey and dressing (and mashed potatoes for that matter) have subtle flavors and using a gravy, usually giblet based, overpowers the flavors and the entire meal tastes the same. The better the gravy is the worse the problem.  You might as well shovel the turkey, the stuffing and the potatoes and pour gravy into a blender and serve them up as a stew.

I don’t have a clue what Lauren used in her dressing, but it was the highlight of the meal. No single ingredient overpowered the others and every bite seemed to have a slightly different taste. I like that!

The food was served “buffet style” which is great.  I make a quick sampling of everything and then circle around for my final selections.  When Thanksgiving is sit down, I seem to lose control of what ends up on my plate.  Anyway, making several trips to the trough is the best way I know to complement the chef.  In this instance, I even found myself grazing on tidbits long after the dinner was finished.  If that isn’t a complement, I don’t know what is!”

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Well, thanks Carl! It was certainly fun and different. This year I have decided to try something new again. A wonderful new gourmet catering restaurant has opened in our area and their food is outstanding. I am going to “order” Thanksgiving from them. So, rather than spend the better part of a week planning, shopping, prepping, shopping again, cooking, cooking and more cooking …. I am going to try to enjoy Thanksgiving this year the way my family enjoys it. Just show up at the table and relax most of the day! This will be a challenge for me but an experiment also. Will I enjoy myself or desperately miss the cooking grind? Will the food be as good as when it is homemade? Will anyone notice?

I promise to let you know how it turns out!

The BBQ Whisperers

During our BBQ crawl in Austin a couple of weeks ago, we came across a couple of individuals who I would categorize as BBQ whisperers. They were passionate about BBQ and both of them took time to speak to us about their product and methods of cooking and gave us some pointers about opening a Texas BBQ place of our own. They also visited the dining rooms in their restaurants to speak to their customers and find out how they were liking what they were eating.

Franklin Barbecue

Franklin-signThe first BBQ expert we came across in our research was Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue.

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He started his establishment five years ago in a travel trailer turned BBQ stand and focused on producing the best BBQ brisket possible. In 2011 he and his wife moved their operation to a brick and mortar location and have built their BBQ empire into what is considered the best barbecue in the country. They have a cult following and every day have a line of eager customers around the block who wait in line up to five hours to get a taste of Franklin brisket. After my husband and I waited for 3 1/2 hours to eat, Aaron graciously showed us around his smokehouse, introduced us to his Pitmaster and enthusiastically encouraged us to pursue our dream of opening up a Texas BBQ restaurant.

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From what I have gathered in my additional research, Aaron Franklin is an expert at using Social Media to grow his business and keep his cult following growing. He said that he currently cooks 85 briskets a day and is adding another custom built smoker to bring that quantity up to 100 briskets. Every day Franklin Barbecue opens at 11:00 am and by 1:30 is sold out of brisket.

Louie Mueller Barbecue

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The next most inspiring BBQ master we met in Taylor Texas, was Wayne Mueller. He is one of the Grandsons of Louie Mueller and the most ebullient BBQ master I have ever met.

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His establishment is where all the great Pitmasters including Aaron Franklin have been trained and after meeting with him and talking with him about barbecue, I can understand why. Louie Mueller is the only Barbecue restaurant included in our research that has won a James Beard award which is proudly hung on a wall by the ordering counter.

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While we were eating, Wayne came over to our table and answered all of our questions about his cooking methods and talked to us about learning how to cook brisket. He said that he thinks of each brisket as one of his children and understands that each one has different needs. So he cooks each one according to what that need is. It was entrancing to hear him speak so passionately about barbecue. We were so inspired by Wayne Mueller, our restaurant manager came up with the idea of asking Mr. Mueller if he could intern at his establishment for a month to learn about cooking barbecue. I’ll keep you informed about how that goes.

Coach John Wooden

I met an old friend for lunch last week and he took me to a favorite restaurant of his in Encino, California. As we walked in, the host waved us to my friend’s favorite table.

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Of course. My friend is, and always has been a huge UCLA basketball fan and hence a fan of John Wooden. Sitting here reminded me of a John Wooden book I had read a few years ago and of his sound, old-fashioned good advice, of his salt-of-the-earth and feel-good quotes and of his many fans.

A week after this lunch, I happened to be on the UCLA campus while taking a tour with my college-bound son. After walking for miles around the campus and listening to two hours full of every reason one should pick UCLA over any other school, I was about to collapse when we came up this at the end of our tour.

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Filling the better part of a two-story interior wall in the state-of-the-art recreational center on campus (“John Wooden Center”) was Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success,” a philosophy on success and leadership that Wooden taught to his players and that he has become known for.  Seeing it, I was reminded of a summer basketball camp that my oldest son attended when he was younger in which this pyramid was introduced. It’s not really just about basketball, but about life.

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I thought these two “signs” were meant to get my attention. And they did. They have given me pause to think about a man who lived by strong principles – which I admire. They also remind me that slowing down to teach our values, in my case to my children, is vital. John Wooden took the time to teach his values, not only to his players but to future players and future people. And it inspired me to look up some of his famous quotes, also known as “Woodenisms.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

“It isn’t what you do but how you do it.”

Museum Thursday

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About a year ago my girlfriend and I decided to do a monthly museum day that we named Museum Thursday. The premise was that Los Angeles and its environs has many interesting museums that we Angelenos never take the time to visit unless we have out of town guests that we want to entertain. These museum visits were scheduled to be the first Thursday of every month. When we first started it was Museum Wednesday but we found that there were a lot of museums that were for some reason closed on Wednesdays so that is why we changed the day.

It has become an event in our lives we really look forward to. Both of us will peruse the museum openings in the Calendar section of the LA Times and see what interests us and suggest a visit. We usually meet up with each other at the museum and have lunch there if a dining option is available or we will meet somewhere close by and visit the museum after lunch. We both have felt a little guilty when we tell our husbands that we are leaving for Museum Thursday and they look like they would really like to go. But we have made it our day and resisted inviting them to come along.

Some of our favorite museum visits have been at the Natural History Museum, The Egg and the Eye, The Los Angeles Museum of Art, Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, The Huntington Library in Pasadena, Hammer Museum in Westwood and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Scheduling a regular museum day is a great way to learn about your city, stay connected with your friends and feed your soul with great art and interesting history.