Sunday, August 9, 2015

RABALAIS BISTRO - A Bit of New Orleans In Rural California

A Bit of New Orleans in Rural California

Since moving to the picturesque Ojai Valley littered with citrus groves and lavender fields, I'm continually amazed at the quality of food I find in a town that boasts a population under 8,000 (well, if you count all the people who actually live in neighboring Valley towns, the population swells to 8,007).  It's a farm-to-table mecca of fresh produce and restaurants that support the Alice Waters/Chez Panisse theory that fine dining means farm fresh, seasonal ingredients whether the menu be Italian, French, Mexican or California cuisine.

Recently, after a twenty minute drive up the mountain, through Upper Ojai, past farms and cattle ranches to the quaint town of Santa Paula, I discovered Rabalais, a New Orleans-style coffee, bakery, bistro...Yes, in Santa Paula! A tiny town often neglected by foodies or anyone not living in Santa Paula.

I first discovered Santa Paula because of its playhouse.  A terrific theater that produces first class productions of plays by such playwrights as Sam Shepherd's "Fool For Love" and Ingmar Bergman's "Nora," based on Henry Ibsen's "A Doll House."  Who would have thunk it?! 

Shortly after that, I heard about this terrific bistro in town that made "the best New Orleans style beignets."  OK, that alone made me want to drop by, and once there and I found a menu with all sorts of wonderful southern, French Cajun delights, including those warm, homemade beignets. Of course, I indulged!

Owned and managed by Tracy Lippert, a transplant from Louisiana, her bistro's fare is inspired by her grandmother Anesia Lois Rabalais' timeless, homemade recipes. Anesia, one of many children, came from a little French settlement called Bayou Juane in southern Louisiana and Rabalais Bistro is a tribute to her cooking legacy, a woman Tracy remembers as someone "with strength of character and a servant's heart."

The restaurant has seating on its front patio.  

The inside is a large open space with dark woods, bistro chairs and tables...

... a bakery glass display and coffee station...

... black & white photographs...

... and a lounge area in the back of the restaurant to sip coffee or check your phone or thumb through a magazine while you wait for a table.

On the menu you'll find grits, po' boys, gumbos and jambalyas... fried green tomatoes and fried catfish... Croque Monsieurs and Madames.  The dinner menu boasts, among other entrees, pan-seared catfish with a lemon, capers beurre sauce over linguini; bone-in pork chop with a bourbon glaze; chicken fried NY steak with sausage gravy, mashed red potatoes and seasonal vegetables; and Louisiana Cochon, a slow braised Cajun seasoned pork, pattied and seared, topped with a horseradish cream sauce.

Brunch (and lunch) was being served the last time Richard and I were there.  And, after changing our minds thousand times, he settled for shrimp and grits (well, he is from a southern family) that made him think of his mom's cooking.  

I had the BLT salad with farm-to-table greens, fried green tomatoes (my new favorite thing) and shaved parm.  Delicious!   

And for those who just want to have fresh drip, rich coffee and something from the bakery, take a seat on the "bakery" side of the bistro and order from the selection of  fresh homemade pastries, pies, cakes, cookies, breads and beignets (to order)...Laissez les bontemps rouler!

861 E. Main Street
Santa Paula, Calif. 93060

Thursday, July 30, 2015



I have no memory of the first time I met Gisela, she’s just never not been in my life.  The fact is, we met in the 1st grade.  Did we bond over our matching braids that fell to our shoulders?  Or because we were the tallest girls in the class? (I stopped being tall in the 8th grade, Gisela kept growing).  I don’t know.  Whatever it was, we bonded.  She became my always friend.  

I could regale you with stories from Mrs. Potter’s third grade class ...

3rd Grade.  Gisela is in the last seat of the 2nd row, I'm in the lst seat
... or our Brownie and Girl Scout Troops… or when we both were part-time teen waitresses and short order cooks at the Woolworth’s lunch counter (seeing us in hair nets was a scary sight)… or doing the Lindy together (the only time I ever “led” Gisela) whenever rock’n’roll music was playing… or as cheerleaders, cheering for our high school basketball team from the floor of Madison Square Garden as they played for the NYC championship (we lost in the second round). 

We sang in our church choir together, did plies side-by-side at Miss Mildred’s, were on the same swimming, volleyball and softball teams.   

We spent many days and weeks during the summer months body surfing and sunbathing at Parking Lot 5 at Jones Beach thanks to her brother Robert, a lifeguard who graciously took his teen sister and her friend (me) to the beach on the days he worked.  We double dated to our high school sorority dances.   


Once with my cousin, Bruce, as her date. 

Poodle hair cut...
She even came up a few times to my aunt and uncle’s (Bruce’s parents) summer cottage on Alexander’s Lake in Dayville, Connecticut, where we swam, canoed and skated at the lake’s roller rink to organ music as the large disco ball hanging from the ceiling speckled the wooden floor with white lights like falling stars.

The era of the "flip"
When I was thirteen and my dad died suddenly, she was there.  And not too many years later, I was there when her mom died.

I was her maid of honor when she married the love of her life, Ron.  

The girls from left to right... Ingrid, Penney, me, Susan - I don't remember the flower girl's name

And she was there during my first marriage and divorce, and when I found Richard. 

But I’d rather tell you about the time she save my life.  Literally.

It was the summer I turned 16 (she would turn 16 in the fall).  Our mothers, who were friends, decided it would be nice to send us to Word of Life teen camp on an island in Schroon Lake in upstate New York.  We were athletic and loved sports, so we couldn’t wait to go swimming, boating, hiking, and horseback riding.  When we got there, Gis and I checked into to our assigned cabin...

Gisela & cabin mates

... then after our first dinner, we followed our cabin counselor’s instructions to go to the camp auditorium to participate in a radio show.  We found seats near the top row of this presidium theater and after everyone had filed in, Evangelist Jack Wyrtzen, the founder of the worldwide Word of Life organization, started preaching fire and brimstone.  Gis and I were shocked to find ourselves in a full-out revival meeting!  In our rather staid Lutheran church (well, in comparison), congregation members might get the vapors if someone sang too robustly.  Yet, here we were in the midst of loud singing and chanting, kids coming forward crying and wailing and falling to the ground begging to be saved.  

Well, we still had the beautiful lake for swimming and boating.

On my 16th birthday, Gisela thought it would be great fun to take me horseback riding.  Now, I’d ridden a few times, but Gis had taken lessons and was pretty good.  My horse seemed friendly and accepted my control, so Gisela, our cute male Guide and I hit the trail.  
cute male guide & Gisela

We trotted, cantered and galloped through the woods and were having a grand time when something spooked my horse and she took off like a bat out of hell.  No longer in control, I held onto the saddle horn for dear life and this time truly prayed to be saved.  The Guide raced after me, and Gisela’s horse followed.  In full gallop, as I tried to avoid the tree branches whacking my face, my horse brought us to a narrow ravine.  She flew over it as my heart jumped into my throat.  The Guide and Gisela were right behind me.  We were now on a flat meadow and they chased after me like the heroes of a B-movie western.  They finally caught up with me and as the Guide grabbed my reins.  I began to slide out of the saddle.  Not to worry, Gisela was there on the other side and quickly grabbed me and pushed me upright as my horse finally came to a halt.  

I was saved!  Maybe not the "saved" Jack Wyrtzen had in mind, but saved I was by God, Gisela and a Guide.

She was a force and I loved her.  I will miss her terribly.

Rest in peace dear Gisela.

Friday, May 8, 2015


30 Minute Coq Au Vin

 According to legend, coq au vin goes back to ancient Gaul and Julius Caesar, but there's no documented recipe until the early 20th century.  Julia Child loved this dish so much she included it in her first cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as one of her signature dishes, and made it often on the PBS show, "The French Chef."

But, it's pretty much accepted that coq au vin was a rustic dish that peasants might have eaten as they beheaded their greedy, exploiting 1% royalty as "citizen" Madam deFarge sat at the foot of the guillotine knitting their names into a long scarf as their heads fell into baskets. Vive la France!

Poulet au vin blanc, a variation of coq au vin was discovered in a cookbook in 1864 which pretty much supports the theory that coq au vin has been a staple of France for ages.

The preparation of the dish is similar to making beef bourguignon and just about as long... but here's how to make a delicious version of coq au vin in 30 minutes and no one loses his head... not even a chicken.

30 Minute Coq Au Vin


4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch strips (about 4-1/2 ozs)
10 ozs cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup red wine
1-1/2 cups frozen pearl onions
2 sprigs fresh thyme or pinched dried thyme
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
Pinch sugar, optional
1 cooked rotisserie chicken

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish


Cut chicken into eight pieces
Put bacon into an unheated large, high-sided skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring periodically, until bacon is browned and crisp, about 8 minutes.
Transfer the bacon to a small bowl with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the pan.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Add mushrooms, 1/4 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper and cook until brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring until the tomato paste darkens a little, about 1 minute.

Add chicken broth, wine, onions, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and more pepper.  Bring to a boil, then let simmer until thickened, about 4 minutes.

Turn the heat down to medium, and whisk in the butter, a little at a time.  If the sauce tastes a little too acidic, add the sugar.  

Nestle the chicken and cooked bacon into the sauce, simmer gently until the chicken is heated through, 6 to 7 minutes.  (This could take up to 10 minutes if the chicken is cold, or as little as 3 minutes if it is warm.)

Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces periodically to coat completely.  

Toss the chicken in the sauce, remove the thyme stems, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

Bon appetit!!!

Monday, April 13, 2015



As a kid, Easter was always a sunny, joyous holiday to me, even if it rainedMy grandmother would make me a new Easter dress with matching coat or sometimes a new Easter suit...  once in a while she even made a matching outfit for my younger brother.  

Mom would take me shopping for new "dress" shoes (usually patent leather Mary Janes) and a new Easter bonnet and we'd all go to church which would be decorated with a zillion pretty white Easter lilies decorating the altar and beautiful white satin pulpit and altar cloths. A ritual played out for many families across the country. 

Before church, my brother and I would rush downstairs to see what the Easter bunny left us and hunt for the eggs we had colored that week and that our parents had hidden around the living room and sun room.  One year instead of Easter baskets our mom bought us fun, painted wastepaper baskets for our rooms  (well, they weren't really "baskets" as they were made of metal) which she filled with colorful "straw" then topped with Easter candy.  My wastebasket had bright pink flowers to go with my pink and green room, Robert's had sports pendant flags all over it.  We thought the Easter bunny was very clever choosing these.  

After church, our grandparents would arrive from Brooklyn, and we all had Easter dinner.  Sometimes it was ham and homemade mac & cheese and fresh veggies.  Sometimes it was Long Island duck (well, we did live on Long Island, after all) with an orange sauce, roasted potatoes and veggies, but more often, Easter dinner was leg of lamb, again with roast potatoes and veggies, with mint jelly on the side.   I wrote about my mom's lamb in an earlier blog when Richard roasted his very first leg of lamb...

... but he hadn't made one since... until this Easter.

I don't get a new Easter outfit anymore, and I don't go to church, but this year I was feeling nostalgic.  I wanted an Easter leg of lamb dinner like I had as a child (when you age you begin to regress back to childhood more and more, but I digress). Richard had just read food writer Russ Parsons' article in the LA Times (April 4, 2015) and decided it was time to roast his second leg of lamb; and besides, lamb was on sale at our gourmet market.  Parsons gave seven choices for preparing the lamb.  We picked "roast leg of lamb with rosemary, garlic and anchovies" (yeh, we like anchovies, tho I've still haven't tried them on pizza).

Here are his directions:

Cut thin slits all over the surface of a bone-in leg.  Insert a thin slice of garlic, a tuft of rosemary and a smidge of salted anchovy in each slit.  Rub with olive oil and roast.

everyone needs a close-up - even lamb
 But before roasting, Richard added a larger sprig of rosemary, cut-up onion and potatoes...

... and a bit of red wine

Then put it in a pre-heated oven to roast. 450 degrees for the first 20 minutes, then turned the temperature down to 350.

You know your oven, but for basic roasting instructions check out my "not-my-moms-leg-of-lamb" blog above.

When we sat down to dinner, I was back "home."  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

CAULIFLOWER - That's It - Cauliflower!

CAULIFLOWER! - That's It - Cauliflower!

What can you say about a vegetable that looks like a human brain?  Never, ever wanted to eat cauliflower.  It's white.  I actually love white: white walls, white down comforters, white sweaters, white farm sinks - but white vegetables that look like gray matter from Dr. Frankenstein's lab... not so much.

That is til I decided to go low carb some years ago.  I really missed mashed potatoes and found the South Beach Diet recipe for mashed cauliflower.  Loved it.  Now I've discovered a new, and really tasty way to eat cauliflower.  Roasted.  The whole head!  

Yes, it still looks like someone's brain... someone's fried brain... but each time I bite into this sumptuous brain matter, I realize it has a nutritious and delicious I.Q.

 Roasted Cauliflower


1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
A dash of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large head cauliflower, leaves trimmed


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

Mix butter, dill, garlic, lemon zest, cumin, salt, pepper in a bowl.  I add a little lemon juice to help blend all the ingredients into a smooth "paste".

Cut cauliflower stem flush with the rest of the head so it can stay upright in a casserole (Pyrex) dish.  Spread butter mixture evenly over the top and sides of the cauliflower (I use a pastry brush)...

... place in the casserole dish and cover w/ foil.

Roast in the preheated oven until tender and cooked through, about 1 1/4 hours.

Transfer to a platter and spoon any liquid in the casserole dish over the cauliflower.

Serve and enjoy. It's brain food!

Monday, January 26, 2015



OK, you know me... to quote Belushi on SNL, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.  Richard swears if I ever have to pick a "last meal," it would be a cheeseburger and brother Bob and sister-in-law, Nguyen are forever helping me in my quest for the perfect burger.  Hence, I found myself in Dad's Kitchen in Sacramento, California.

We pulled up to this "hole in the mini-mall wall"...

... and, because it's "Dad's" kitchen ("not your mom's kitchen" as they proudly state) you quickly discover that beer is the beverage of choice, including a myriad of craft beers.  In fact, they boast "Come for the beer, stay for the food!"

 Oh, and feel free to watch sports. Yup, no surprise, Dad's has TVs so you won't miss a game.  Well, I like sports and, though I pass on beer, a bloody Mary might hit the spot.

We walked through the long bar...

... and into the back dining room and coffee bar (with an "eat more bacon" sign - I'm good with that).

The large covered patio was just beyond...

... but we chose an intimate table for four in a corner of the dining room.

The aromas coming from Dad's Kitchen's kitchen were "manly" grilled meat and bacon smells that certainly perked up my olfactories.  I was going to love it here.  I gazed at the brunch menu and noticed even the "Meatless Marvel" entree was "manly"... two fried organic eggs, avocado, cheddar, tomato, spinach (a Popeye thing) & pepper plant sauce on sourdough bread pressed into a panini and served with a breakfast tater.   Talk about a "Hungry Man" breakfast!

Did you notice I mentioned "organic" eggs?  Yes, Dad's Kitchen is a "ranch/farm to table" kitchen serving organic eggs, organic chicken, grass fed beef and organic greens.  Even Dad wants you to be pesticide free.

The menu included a hearty egg, cheddar & bacon sandwich with that pepper plant sauce and chicken fried steak and eggs topped with homemade gravy and served with a homemade biscuit.  If that doesn't put hair on your chest, nothing will.  The chicken sandwich sounded yummy,  made with organic chicken breast, avocado, swiss cheese, tomato, roasted red onion, spinach (that manly, yet healthful, Popeye thing again) and cucumber with a garlic spread, brown mustard & and, once again, that pepper plant sauce panini-ed on sourdough. 

chicken panini

 I was tempted, but I was here on my cheeseburger quest.

Did I want the "Dad's Burger" made from an 8oz grass fed beef patty with 2oz of bleu cheese crumbles and 2oz of chopped bacon encrusted in the patty with tomato, lettuce, red onion and Aleppo chili spread on an artisan bun? Or a "Cowboy Burger" also made from an 8oz grass fed patty with bacon, pepper, jack cheese, crispy onions & BBQ sauce? Of course, there was also a veggie burger offering for the "manly" meatless lover made with a grilled medallion of quinoa with jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, pepper, jalapeno aioli and crispy onion also on an artisan roll. Nope, no veggie burger for me... grass fed beef all the way...

But, as some of you know, I'm a purist when it comes to my cheeseburgers - it's all about the beef, cheese and roll for me, so I "special" ordered the 8oz grass fed beef patty on an artisan bun with cheddar, all the lettuce, tomato, red onion and Aleppo chili spread on the side as a salad.  When my cheeseburger arrived, it was cooked to medium-rare perfection.  The meat was juicy and flavorful, the cheese was wonderfully melty and the bun was delicious.

All and all the near perfect cheeseburger... no wonder Guy Fieri had Dad's on "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives)...

... this cheeseburger lived up to Bob and Nguyen's hype... the best in Sacramento, and I've had a few -- but, as you probably, know my quest will continue.  Meanwhile, if you're in Sac and crave a burger, definitely pull up a chair or bar stool and have one at Dad's.

2968 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, Calif.  95818

(check out Dad's lunch and dinner menu online)