Tuesday, December 10, 2019



Over the meadow and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go...  That may be true for a lot of families in America in the 1950's as they made their way to grandma's for Thanksgiving, but not my family.  We had another route.  Dressed in our Sunday best (it was the fifties) my brother and I would climb into the backseat of my father's Ford, my mom nestled in the front passenger seat holding her onions au gratin casserole on her lap as my dad got behind the driver's wheel and drove us over the streets of Queens and through the Belt Parkway to grandma's house in Brooklyn.

Mumu and Poppy, as Robert and I were taught to call them (maybe that's what Finn children called their grandparents in Finland, I never knew for sure), lived in a brownstone a couple of blocks from Sunset Park.  We arrived at their top floor, spacious and gracious apartment, around eleven in the morning so that my mother could help Mumu prepare the Thanksgiving meal, including mom's onions au gratin that went into the oven as soon as the turkey came out to "sit" for awhile.  Poppy and my dad talked politics (argued is more accurate) and we kids were left to fend for ourselves.  Well, there wasn't much for young kids to fend for in a game-less (except cards) apartment filled with Victorian antiques and Persian carpets, so we wheedled our dad to leave politics in the living room, and take us to the park.  Poppy never joined us.

The park was expansive and quite beautiful, with gorgeous views and many places to explore, but what I remember most is the old men scattered around the park's many acres, sitting at cement tables playing chess or checkers.  I wondered if, like us, they'd had to escape their apartments for a bit til Thanksgiving dinner was ready (men who weren't chefs in restaurants rarely cooked, or even helped, back then - it was women's work).  By the time we got back to the brownstone, dinner was ready... Robert and I would wash our hands and take our assigned seats as the turkey was brought out and we all ooh-ed and ah-ed.  The table always looked splendid with Mumu's finest china and shiniest sterling silver place settings displayed on top of a white damask tablecloth.  Each of the linen napkins was fanned into silver napkin rings.  White tapered candles in silver candlesticks were lighted and dad would begin his 'carving the turkey' ritual.

The aromas of the meal made the apartment smell heavenly.  Mom would take off her apron and serve the mashed potatoes, stuffing, Mumu's cranberry sauce and string bean casserole. But, for me, it was my mom's onions au gratin that always won  the day.  It's a dish she only made three times a year... Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.  Sometimes with roast beef.  Sometimes with ham or pork roast.  And, like Thanksgiving, sometimes with turkey.  A meat lover as a kid, onions au gratin was the only vegetable I really liked.  Of course, if she left out the onions and served only the 'au gratin,' I would have been a happy girl.  She had me at melted cheese. I devoured my turkey, the mashed potatoes, stuffing and dinner roll (or those carbs!) and managed to get through the string beans (I think it was the added mushroom soup and crunchy onions that did it), but I savored those onions and often had seconds.  It's amazing that I was a skinny child.

After mince meat and pumpkin pies, mom and Mumu spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening cleaning up and doing dishes as Poppy and my dad retired to the living room.  Poppy was not a verbose kind of fellow except when arguing politics.  He'd lived in America since he was 18, but still preferred to speak Finnish.  He wasn't affectionate and rarely talked to my brother or me when we were little, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought to make a connection with us.   An hour or two after dinner and Robert and I began to get bored (they didn't have a TV), Poppy would lie on his stomach on living room carpet and ask us to take turns walking on his back. Though he was a builder, he still did a lot of carpentry work and lifting on job sites, and walking on his back was comparable to getting a massage - besides, we didn't weigh all that much.  By the time we were finish and Poppy was back in his comfy easy chair, mom would be done in the kitchen.  It was time to go home.  As we left, Poppy would hand Robert and me each a shiny half dollar for relieving the soreness in his back.

By the time I was in high school, our Thanksgiving family had dwindled down to four.  Mom, Robert, Poppy and me.  Poppy moved in with us after Mumu died.  My dad was already gone. But mom eventually remarried and moved to Connecticut.  Poppy moved back to Brooklyn and I rarely saw him.  I was out of college and living on my own when he finally joined Mumu and his son, but I still have such clear memories of their apartment in Brooklyn when I was a little girl, my sleepovers there, scattered throughout the year, going to Flatbush so she could buy fabric (she was an amazing dressmaker), the beautiful Christmas and Easter outfits she would make for me in velvet and dotted swiss, but the most vivid memories of my early Thanksgivings are of walking on my grandfather's back and mom's onions au gratin.

My mom died over a decade ago and I haven't had that dish since.  This year we were invited to friends for Thanksgiving and Richard made the casserole for the gathering.  Reading my mom's handwritten recipe she had given me years ago, Richard did a little online sleuthing and found out that the ingredients used were popular for such dishes during the Depression and WWII because of rationing in America.  He made the onions au gratin true to that recipe.  It still tasted as I remembered.



2 cans of pearl onions (drained) - (today's recipes say frozen or fresh pearl onions)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2/3rd cup of evaporated milk undiluted (today's recipes say cream)

2 cups of grated processed cheddar cheese


If you're using fresh pearl onions, boil them with the skins on as it's easier to remove the skin after their cooked. Defrost frozen onions.

Preheat oven at 350 degrees (tho some online recipes say 375)

Put the drained pearl onions (canned, frozen or freshly cooked) in a greased casserole dish. 

Simmer the evaporated milk (or cream) in a sauce pan w/ salt over low heat - just below boiling (about 2-3 minutes)

Slowly add the 2 cups of grated cheese.  Stir over low heat til completely melted. 

Pour over the onions ...

and bake in the oven for about a half-hour or until bubbly and slightly brown on top.

My mom would have been so proud!!!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

THE BOOKS OF RUTH - Lunch With Ruth Reichl

This is my latest Food & Drink column in the winter issue of the Ojai Quarterly magazine.  Sadly, I was too busy eating or taking pix, I didn't get pix of all the food or of Ruth signing her new book.

Lunch With Ruth Reichl

I love to eat.  Cooking?  Not so much.  But I do love to read cookbooks.  Well, not really “read” as I barely scan the recipes, it’s the pictures of food that tantalize my tongue… how that food is plated, the dishes used – you know, “food porn.”  Of course, I then show these pictures to my husband, who does love to cook, and ask him to work some culinary mojo.

I first met six-times James Beard Award winner Ruth Reichl (virtually) when my husband brought home “The Gourmet Cookbook,” her massive tome with the heft and weight of a family bible. The comparison is apt, since it became his cooking bible.  There are no pictures, but I’ve salivated over every meal he’s made from that book and took my own pictures.  In the past, I had often thought of writing about food, but I was a political satirist and wrote comedic essays and scripts for TV.  Food writers seemed to take their craft quite seriously… that is until I discovered the Book of Ruth.

My second virtual introduction to Ruth took place when my book group chose her 2001 memoir, “Comfort Me with Apples.”  I fell in love with her conversational writing flare that recounted how she became a food critic.  Her travel adventures that focused on the world’s cuisines were funny and informative.  I was so inspired by her stories that I started a food blog.  Ruth showed me that writing about food can be fun, often “tongue-in-cheek,” even tongue-in-cheeky.  I saw how it was possible to pen a mini-memoir about a homecooked meal or a restaurant dinner that made readers relate.  So, when I read that Ruth was going to do a book signing at a luncheon at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa’s Farmhouse, I begged and pleaded with my publisher/editor (strategic tears in my eyes) that the Quarterly send me to cover the event.  OK, no tears (poetic license), but he agreed.  That was all that mattered.

The Farmhouse is a twenty-million dollar food event venue with a huge barn-like structure that houses a large “open to the room” working kitchen and space for many tables, plus lovely grounds that can host all sorts of parties, from weddings to masked balls (that is, if anyone still does masked balls). 

Inside the barn, folks were mingling while sipping fine wine and nibbling on pink deviled eggs..

 ... buckwheat blinis with salmon roe......
  ... and tomato gazpacho passed on trays by Farmhouse servers.

Internationally known chef and author Nancy Silverton, an old acquaintance of mine from my LA days, is one of the Farmhouse’s culinary ambassadors, so I was excited to see her at the luncheon to introduce her old friend, Ruth, and to mingle with the guests.
Nancy Silverton & Ruth Reichl
Nancy & Bret Bradigan, my publisher/editor
 Ruth briefly talked about her time at Gourmet Magazine and why writing “Save Me The Plums” about that era of her life, was important to her… how the publisher, Conde Nast supported her vision and never micro-managed, giving her carte blanche to push the food magazine envelope… a freedom given an editor that few, if any, publisher allows today.  She rewarded that trust by straddling the fence, continuing to give old subscribers what they wanted while bringing a new approach to the magazine that would garner new subscribers.  It was also important to her that this new book clearly demonstrate that women can be mothers while having a challenging career.

During the Q&A after her brief talk, Ruth was asked… “If given the choice, what would be your last meal?”

“A meal that never ends,” she replied with a smile.
We then started our family-style meal.  

 Bowls and plates of hummus, a Moroccan salad, broccoli rabe bruschetta, and borscht salad almost magically appeared on the table...
Moroccan salad
broccoli rabe bruschetta
borscht salad

 along with bottles of 2017 Dampt “Cote de Lechet” Chablis Premier Cru.

While I wandered through the barn taking pictures, serving plates with new dishes arrived, filled with Pollo alla Diavola (Devil’s Chicken an intensely seasoned burst of flavor), grilled sea bass with salsa verde, spicy Tuscan kale, and corn pudding.  Bottles of 2017 Domaine Marc Roy Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noir also arrived. But, by the time I returned to my table, the sea bass was gone. I made up for it by having two helpings of the Devil’s Chicken.

Of course, no luncheon is complete without dessert and we had two choices, luscious strawberry shortcake or a totally tarty “tart lemon tart.”

It was time for the book signing.  I wanted to tell Ruth how much she has meant to me as a food writer.  How she influenced my approach to food writing.  How she makes me laugh (and hungry) when I read her books, but the book line was too long, so I just said that I was a fan and thanked her for coming to Ojai.

As the holiday season is upon us, I had planned to leave you with a favorite Ruth Reichl holiday recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, but as I was reading “Save Me The Plums,” what could be more perfect than her Thanksgiving turkey chili, a dish she and her staff made as a thank you for rescue workers at Ground Zero?

Ruth Reichl’s Thanksgiving Turkey Chili recipe:


1 tablespoon cumin seeds
3 canned whole chipotle chilies in adobo
1 bottle dark beer
2 pounds tomatillos (husked, rinsed & quartered)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large onions, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, finely minced
2 jalapenos, diced (if you don’t like heat
   remove the seeds)
3-1/2 pounds ground turkey
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
8 large cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked white beans
1 4-ounce can diced green chili peppers
Cream sherry
Balsamic vinegar
Sour cream


1.      Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet until they’re fragrant.  Allow to cool, then grind to powder.
2.      Puree the chipotle chilies with the adobo.

3.      Put the beer into a medium-sized pot, add the tomatillos, bring to a boil, and turn the heat down to a simmer.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomatillos are soft.  Strain the tomatillos (reserving liquid) and puree in a blender or food processor.  Pour back into the pot with the beer.

4.      Slick the bottom of a large casserole with a couple of tablespoons of oil, and sauté the onions until they’re translucent.Add the cilantro, oregano, jalapenos and cumin and stir for a couple of minutes.  Break the turkey into the mixture and stir until it just starts to lose its raw color.   Add the pureed tomatillos and beer, the chipotle puree, the chicken broth, and the garlic, along with a couple of teaspoons of salt and the bay leaf, and simmer the mixture for about an hour and a half.

5.      With a large spoon, smash the now-soft cloves of garlic and stir them into the chili.  Add the white beans and diced chili peppers and taste for salt.  At this point I like to start playing with the flavors, adding a few splashes of cream sherry, a bit of balsamic vinegar, or perhaps some soy sauce or fish sauce.  Heat for another 10 minutes.

6.      Serve with sour cream.
Serves 8

Wednesday, November 27, 2019



The Holidays are coming and what better hostess gift than a book.  Wine soon disappears down the gullet, albeit often pleasantly, flowers die... ah, but a book lasts forever.  So why not one of mine.... or both.  

Check out "Freeze Frame" a political thriller that takes place in Manhattan... 
...or "White Gloves & Roy Roys" a murder mystery which also takes place in Manhattan, but this book's time period is the 1930's and 1968.

 Both are on Amazon (White Gloves is also on Barnes & Noble), Kindle and ebooks.

For all of you who have followed my blog, here are 5 Things you may not know about me:

1. I'm an ex-dancer

2. As an artist (as well as a writer), I was hired to repair a religious mural on the ceiling of a Catholic cathedral in the Brooklyn Navy yard when I was 17.  Four scaffolds up!!!  I pretended it was the Sistine Chapel.  I started right after Thanksgiving and the church was often filled with beautiful voices singing seasonal hymns as the choir practiced for the Christmas masses while I was hanging from the ceiling painting.

3. I love cheeseburgers, hot dogs and pizza (well, you probably knew that) and write a food and drink column for the Ojai Quarterly magazine - what you might not know is that my heroines in both my books are foodies of sorts as they run for their lives or seek revenge.

4. Mysteries and certain political thrillers are my favorite reading genres (well, I do write them, after all), but my favorite authors are Pat Conroy and John Irving.

5. I pay homage to Radio City Music Hall in my lst book, the Manhattan political thriller, "Freeze Frame" and to the Schrafft's restaurants in my latest book, "White Gloves & Rob Roys

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

GOOSE & GANDER (St. Helena, Calif.)


Yes - what's good for the goose is good for the gander at this wine country "public house."  Though it's not a description used often (pub being the more common choice), public houses were known as restaurant/bars that served ale, alcohol and delicious tavern food and were the focal point of a small village community.  The Goose & Gander fits that definition and then some, serving delicious bar-bites in its tavern-like bar and a rustic American/British food menu in the main restaurant with many gourmet twists.

I wish I could say we "discovered" Goose & Gander when we were up in Sonoma, but we wouldn't have, even accidentally, since it's in the town of St. Helena, in the Napa Valley.  When friends heard we were off to Sonoma, they told us about their friends' public house/pub/tavern/restaurant (all work).  When I checked it out online and read "pork burger with cheddar and bacon," I knew I had to drag Richard, Bob & Nguyen there. 

The day we decided to go, the weather was perfect... the  drive to St. Helena, beautiful, and the town quaint and picturesque.  Owned by Andy and Trisha Florsheim, I immediately fell in love with this public house the minute I saw it.

The main dining room with it's pitched wooden ceiling and substantial wooden bar is welcoming in an "old world" way.

The separate bar downstairs is dark and cozy with brick walls and a large stone fireplace.  It was like stepping back in time as if we might have left our horse-drawn carriage and entered the restaurant for a meal in a English countryside wayside inn during the age of Henry V.

But, being a beautiful day, we opted to have lunch in the lovely outside terrace/patio that featured a koi pool.

Bob and I started with a "featured" cocktail (Finns like cocktails - some like them too much):  Walter's Manhattan, made with Templeton rye, Evan Williams single barrel bourbon, Carpano Antica, and bitters.  Don't know who Walter is, but he mixes a helluva Manhattan.

We met Sylvia, Dwight and Jason, who took excellent care of us.  We started with a bar bite of corn croquettes with pepper coulis to share...

... as well as wood roasted cauliflower with cilantro, spiced yogurt, chili and curried almonds.  Two perfect examples of gourmet twists on English/American food standards.

Richard chose the Pulled BBQ Duck with Masa al la Plancha, avocado puree, chipotle slaw, radish, lime and pickle fennel.  Of course I tried it.  Wow.  Sadly, it was gone before I could take a picture.

Bob opted for the Beef Chicharrone - a delicious concoction of beef tastes you won't find in your average pub -- not even a gastro pub.

Nguyen loves British pub favorite, fish and chips.  She was not disappointed.  With malt vinegar powder, a side of fresh made coleslaw, tartar sauce and lemon, it lived up to pub excellence.  And then those duck fat fries...  Yes!

For those of you who know about my hunt for the perfect cheeseburger, must have guessed that I, of course, had the Heritage Pork Burger.  Well, that was the whole reason I insisted we come to Goose & Gander, right?  Topped with melty cheddar, bacon, Siracha aioli, nestled in a pain de mie, pull apart bun (made with no eggs, but plenty of butter, Julia Child's favorite ingredient), it was beyond my juicy cheeseburger expectations.  I also got the duck fat fries... not one was left.

We couldn't leave without desserts with lots of spoons to share...  cinnamon ice cream, vanilla ice cream and orange sorbet... perfect on a Keto diet.  Just kidding!  Then came a vanilla brownie with caramel sauce.  Really!  I gained 10 pounds just from looking at the desserts.

Also on the Goose & Gander lunch menus (a la carte and prix fixe) were Vietnamese Sticky Ears one of the other bar-bite, cheese plates and a charcuterie board - (I was sorry I didn't get a chance to try the Martini House mushroom soup made with wild and "tame" mushrooms, topped with chives - I just couldn't taste another thing)... wines and cocktails and craft sodas, including house-made cream soda.

Needless to say, if you're in Napa or Sonoma or within a day's drive of the Goose & Gander, you must have lunch or dinner there.  The surroundings are beautiful - the food, well, you'll want more than just a gander at it!

1245 Spring Street
St. Helena, Calif.  9474

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Williamson Wines

As Richard, brother Bob and sister-in-law Nguyen and I wined and dined during our Sonoma County "road trip," we came across a gem of a tasting room in the charming town of Healdsburg.

Owner Bill Williamson, a farmer and winemaker, is also a software entrepreneur who designed the software that runs his business.  Did I mention he also wrote a book?  "Way Beyond Wine - The Williamson Wine Story."  Born in Australia, Bill developed a successful software company there and it was at his company that he met his wife, Dawn.  They immigrated to San Francisco where Bill started yet another software company.  Eventually, he sold that business and he and Dawn moved to Dry Creek... the rest is Williamson wine history.
When our little group entered the tasting room, we had no idea what to expect, folks were sitting at various tables in a collection of rooms...

...with a barista, sipping wines and munching on little snacks.  Hmmmm.  Food.  What's that all about?  We were soon to fine out.

A young man, who introduced himself as Sam Williamson (the son of Bill), escorted us to a table for four and told us that the tasting/pairing would be complimentary.  So that was what that food was all about.

We checked out the tasting menu...

... as he explained that with each taste we would be getting a small bite pairing created and made by his mom (Dawn) specifically for each wine.  As you can see, each small bite was placed on a piece of cheese which served as its cracker.  I was in cheese-pairing heaven.

While our bites were being prepared, Sam started us off with Bliss Sparkling Shiraz that just whetted our palate.  I could start a tasting that way every time. 

Next was Frolic Viognier.  Viognier has become a favorite white wine of mine, having more body than a sauvignon blanc, but not as oak-y as a chardonnary.  Frolic frolic-ed happily in my mouth.

The Joy Sauvignon Blanc followed.  I'm not a sauvignon blanc fan normally, but this was a crisp, refreshing mouthful.

Elate Grange Cuvee recommended to be paired with bacon/pork/turkey earned three stars (out of four) from me, as did the Enchant Trinity GSM, great with lamb or pork.

Folly Melange is a Bordeaux blend (hence "melange") that goes with everything from meat to duck, pizza to chocolate.  Loved the hint of blueberry and spice.

If you enjoy a good cab, Impulse Cabernet is a must. A Bordeaux/Merlot blend with rich tannins, described by the winemaker as a "Left Bank" wine.  I describe it as quite good.

My four star pick has to be Ravish Melange with its classic French "nose" of a Bordeaux with hints of spice, coffee and chocolate.  Rich in color, it's a lush red wine.  My favorite wine of the day.

We ended the tasting as we began with a sparkling wine...  this time the sparkling was a Malbec... and a worthy finish to a sparkling day.

Williamson Wines
1334 Matheson Street
Healdsburg, CA  95448