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Events, More Musings, and one of Virg’s Favorite Salads

Ruth Reichl is coming to Tacoma for a free event! I cannot wait… My BFF Dawn is meeting me to go see her and I will be star struck for a couple of hours. Saturday, March 27 at 7 pm.. it is a library event being held at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood on Steilacoom Bv SW. Want to go? She is an amazing woman and talented writer…big doings in the food world!

Kat and I went to Juanito’s in Bremerton the other day and had a fabulous meal. They make food similar to the taco trucks in Southern California and their tacos are muy authentico. Their rolled tacos remind me of when Mark was at Camp Pendleton and I visited him. We would hit Roberto’s and get rolled tacos the morning after lots of partying and they were SO good! If you want some great, simple mexican food that is not dumbed down, get thee to Juanito’s. The people there are super friendly and for those who want something a little different try the carne asada fries. French fries topped with carne asada and cheese! We didn’t try those and they are not so authentico, though John (Juanito) says they are very popular.

Another fun thing that happened this past week is that Jennifer Morris, a writer with the North Kitsap Herald/What’s Up interviewed me. The link to the blog is HERE.

As I continue my musings into my food past I keep thinking of new things. One that sticks out is my first love: Del the auto mechanic. His shop was right next door to our house and I was very young, perhaps 3-5 years old. I don’t remember what he looked like or how old he was, just how much I loved being around him. I can still see the signage for his garage ‘Del’s’, and that he would let me roll around the garage floor on the wheeled back board that he used to crawl under the cars. He must not have had a lift; maybe no one did in those days. I remember the Coke machine that (I think) cost a nickel for a Coke. They were in glass bottles like they still are in Mexico, and you could open the glass door to see the Coke bottles poking out lid-first, in a vertical row. You could touch the tops of the bottles, but you could not pull one out until the money was put into the slot. Del would drop the money in and let me pull out the Coke, then open it for me on the attached bottle opener. I don’t drink soda now (unless we are somewhere like Silver City that has Ginger Ale and Root Beer on tap…I love that!) and I haven’t for years, though I certainly enjoyed a Coke with Del when I was 3!

My mother’s family loved to gather, and we always had food at those gatherings. Lots of food, never ever did anyone go away hungry or wanting for lack of food. My family fed people at every opportunity: birthdays and funerals, holidays, weekends and other celebrations, whether you were happy or blue, if one family member was anywhere near another they were feeding each other or cooking together for someone else. I remember Thanksgivings in a community or church hall, because nobody had a house big enough for the whole family to gather in. Gramma Marylee made a family cookbook from recipes that were used at many of those gatherings and I still love my copy of that book. In summers we would gather in parks, sometime camping and other times it was just for an afternoon. I would go from picnic table to picnic table soaking up so much love from all the ‘elders’ that it still feeds my heart as write this. Most of them are gone now and many of the betweeners, my parents’ age, are gone or scattered too far away to gather regularly these days. In August we are having a Long family reunion (Virgil’s side) at the coast in Oregon, which seems to be a more central and certainly a cooler location than Walla Walla in August.

The other Thanksgivings I remember were at Dick & Louise’s house with the big table extended as far as it would go and other tables throughout the house. (Gramma has a twin sister and the family was bigger back then.) This side of the family was the more ‘serious’ side, and that may be, at least partially, due to the fact that alcohol did not flow so freely here. And just as I label the Wrights as the more serious pair of grandparents I can see Grampa sitting down to dinner and saying ‘Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub, yaaayyy God!” and Gramma would would admonish him “Dick!” (she wasn’t swearing, that was his name!) and then we would say “real” grace as grampa bowed his head, winking and grinning at me on the sly. I wish you could hear his laugh…both my grandfathers had wonderful laughs. Dick enjoyed a beer now and then… and his beer was cool because it had puzzles on the pop tops! They were rebus puzzles (consisting of a combination of pictures, symbols and letters) and it may have been Rainier Beer? That part I am not sure of… We had a real mincemeat pie there once, which I thought was so gross! I bet I would like it now. Maybe. Gramma and her sister Lois will be 87 this year and they are healthy and able, which is fantastic to see.

When we lived in Kennewick (7-12 years old?) my friend Peggy’s mom made something called Kududa’s for Easter. It was sort of a giant cookie that was shaped into a ring, and it was not overly sweet. There was anise flavors and a sweet glaze on top, and embedded in this cookie were whole eggs. I recently found out that they were raw eggs that ended up like boiled eggs when baked. It was Easter and I think the eggs were decorated, though perhaps it was just the sprinkles that were strewn over the surface and into the wet glaze. Thanks to Facebook Peggy and I are reconnected and she gave me this recipe! After years of searching for something like it I will finally get to make it this year. I am very excited to taste that memory in real life again!

When I was 14 we moved into a house in Renton. I tried to make ‘no bake cookies’ once and totally flubbed it, completely ruining a coffee pot and the kitchen counter top in the process. My first ‘public’ dish that I remember making was a fourth of July cake. I helped out in the kitchen at home and gramma Marylee’s throughout the years but for some reason I think that I made this cake on my own. Since I was around 10 or 11, probably I was just allowed to decorate it on my own, and we have a picture of me proudly displaying my cake sporting the U.S. flag over the entire top. I made Empanadas for a school project. The Mexican version of a dumpling, I must have made them for Spanish class, and I remember really thinking they were great. I researched the recipe at the library and in cookbooks and my teacher told me that it was very authentic. I wonder… When I was 16 a group of friends decided to go to the Spring Prom together (I think it was a Sadie Hawkins dance) and we had dinner at my house first. I made baked manicotti for the gang and it was a huge hit! I was on my way to cooking for others and I loved it even then. My grandmother Marylee was diabetic and had many health issues, especially in her last 5+ years, and I would often cook for her. She loved my stuffed peppers and since she had been an accomplished cook in her own right she would give me hints and tips about things I could do with the recipes to make them my own. I loved feeding her healthy and great-tasting foods, it felt like a real accomplishment.

My first restaurant job (my first job outside of babysitting) was when I was 16 I was a bus-girl at Cinnamon’s restaurant in the old Sheraton in Renton. I also ran room service orders (an adventure in and of itself) and helped in catering as well. My first trainer to show me the ropes on the floor was a super cute guy who was 4 years older than me and I had an instant crush on him. His younger brother was in my high school class so I knew who he was. My trainer was Mark Downen, who didn’t much know I was alive back then, though we met up again 4 years later (thanks to that younger brother who worked with me at another restaurant) and it would be 4 years after that when he asked me to marry him. In September we will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary, and in May we will celebrate 4 years of working together in our restaurant. From Del the mechanic to Mark (who was a mechanic for 16 years)… I have always loved a man who works with his hands!

The recipe this week comes out of the book my grandmother made for us. It is a compilation of recipes and memories from a family reunion in 1979 at Hood Park, near the Tri Cities. The recipe is Gramma Marylees: a salad and dressing that was one of Grampa Virgil’s favorite’s.

Romaine or Green Leaf Lettuce (it needs to be a hearty leaf and can be a combination of things like frisee, that will stand up to a bit of heat later. Spinach can also be used)
1/3 C thinly sliced green onions (red will do if you don’t have green)
6 slices of bacon
2 TBS sugar
4 TBS vinegar (cider or wine vinegar, whichever you like best)
1 egg, well beaten
salt & pepper

Wash and dry your lettuce; tear it into pieces and place in a large bowl (about 2 quarts) Add onions. Set aside.

Fry bacon until crisp and remove from pan onto paper towels to drain. Crumble on top of the salad greens.

Discard all but 4 TBS of the bacon drippings. If you don’t have 4 TBS you can add olive oil to make it.
Whisk together sugar, vinegar, egg, salt & pepper, with the drippings, and cook over low heat until thickened… do not boil or the egg will scramble.

Pour immediately over the salad, toss and serve.

The lettuce will wilt a bit under the heat and it is really tasty!