Queen Pauline-ish

Many years ago, I was a judge for a competition for the ICA, International Catering Association. Recipes were gathered and we met at Good Gracious Events over in midtown.

I was a little giddy at the opportunity, I love being a judgey judger, and Pauline Parry, owner of Good Gracious, is a legend, not just in Los Angeles, but throughout North America.

I had taken her seminars at Catersource, and had a catering crush on her.

Is there anything she couldn’t do?

It was a great afternoon, and  that was that.

And then, one day, out of the blue she called me. “Jen, It’s been too long, let’s have lunch!”

(She always calls me Jen. I love it.)

So we did. Four hours and three bottles of wine later, we were fast friends.

She wasn’t wearing the flower crown that day,  but if she did, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

This lunch kicked off a monthly series of ladies lunches.

We invited friends we shared event war stories and  successes, and we laughed and laughed.

On one of the earlier lunches, she invited her daughter Joanne. She insisted I would love her.

Jo was dieting that day and a little grumpy, but she picked out every celebrity in the restaurant with great aplomb. I was fascinated, and recognized no one.

At the time Jo was chef-de-cuisine of Good Gracious, and by the next luncheon, we started talking about food and kitchen culture and I was hooked.

I love this woman, and her mum, too.

I always tell my kids “it’s difficult to make friends when you’re older, so work hard to cultivate  your close relationships. ” Still true.

It feels like I’ve been friends with this woman for a lifetime. It’s been about eight years.

She’s a powerhouse in the events community,  and an excellent friend.

My relationship with daughter Jo has been nothing but fabulous.

We’ve been presenting on Plant Based Cuisine at Catersource for years now, and  we always get high marks.  She’s also a snappy dresser and I love shopping with this woman.

This is the only relationship I have with a mother/ daughter team, and it’s one of my favorites.

We never lack when it comes to gabbing, we still lunch and dinner on the regular, the three of us, and I cherish my time with them.

So much so, that we went to Italy together last year.

Have I mentioned that my trip to Italy is on my short list of favorite vacations?

We had SO. MUCH. F U N.

Today is Pauline’s “ish” birthday!

No need to mentions numbers, that would be de-classé.

Let’s just say it’s a big one.

Never have I ever been more thrilled to participate in a birthday parade for this Queen of Los Angeles. (also, COVID can SUCK IT)

The parade was no less than thirty cars, all decorated in celebration of this big-hearted woman.

Of course we all knew each  other and were so excited to be together even in our facemasks without hugs.

This women is a national treasure.

Her gift of bringing people together, connecting them through their strengths is awe-inspiring.

She talks, and waves her hands and magic happens.

Here sense of humor suits mine to a T,  and  we don’t stop till we belly laugh.

Her family is nothing short of fantastic.

I love hanging with her and the hubs, or Jo or Lauren the DIL. She has two super cuties, one I swear is destined for politics, in the best way possible.

She is a rare gem.

She’s dedicated  to her community, hellbent on making connections, and in everyone’s corner when they need her. She never says no, and is always ready to create solutions that benefit the whole.  She started WIPA (Weddings International Professional Association)  and will mentor anyone who asks. She doesn’t dice words, and can be shockingly honest (her best attribute IMHO).

So often, Angelenos like a sugar coat on reality. Not my pal Pauline.

She gives it to you straight, no chaser, unless it’s a rich cabernet.

So cheers to you my dear friend Pauline, on your ISH birthday.

The world is better because you’re in it.

I’m forever grateful for  you, your family and all the fun you bring to everything.

You are powerful, professional, hilarious, and my unique friend.

Love you forever.

Let the Eating Begin! Autumn in Amalfi ~Part 3

For the culinary tour, there were twenty- one of us in tow, three vans full. We all embraced our inner tourist and played the part with great aplomb. Let’s get out there and eat!

This is Salvatore, he took over the family lemon farm. He had to choose between lemons & family, or his career as a well pedigreed CPA. He picked lemons & family, and he’s really happy, with no regrets. He was effervescent with passion and an articulate teacher, sharing everything he could with us. We all fell in love with his lemons, his farm, his family.

Oh and did I mention  the lemon candy? Super sweet, sour and a surprise center.  I like candy as much as I like cake for breakfast.

It’s hard to tell, but he’s on top of the lemon tree trellis in this picture.

He jumped up like his knees don’t mind at all.

That entire valley is full of trellised Amalfi lemon trees, all privately owned. Some are tended, some are fallow. Salvatore had a bit to say about not tending the trees.

We had a lovely lunch in town, with the best eggplant parmesan on the trip. I ate eggplant everyday on this trip and it made me so happy.

Here’s a snap of the California crew after lunch. It was very satisfying, just look at Jo.

One night, on the way to dinner, we stopped by the Casola Ceramiche. Our guide, Jason, wanted some table tops for his restaurant back in PA. We took a tour and admired the ceramics, but I didn’t see anything I needed. But then. This platter. It jumped out and hit me with pure love.

My new friend, Therese, said she could get the price down. I said go for it. They were unmoved by her keen haggling skills. It was pricey, four hundred euros.

I really couldn’t justify it.

Then Johnny walked in and said ” the taxi driver outside said you need me to get you this platter!”

Be still my heart!

What a beauty! She arrives in April! Dinner party at my house!!

We had dinner at the top of Positano that night, during an intense thunder storm. The electric went out in the entire town as we were headed up the hill. I saw it happen. Boom, dark.

When we arrived, it was hailing. The restaurant was bustling – nothing new here, just a little dinner in the dark! We had a jovial Sunday supper by candle and iPhone light.

A wandering minstrel joined us for some singing, dancing in the dark and general merriment. One of our tourists stole a liter of limoncello off the table as we left (she later regretted her decision).

Turns out everyone makes limoncello and they all have their own secret recipe, it’s quite endearing, they push it on you, in the most charming way.

We had a few days of rain, and it was fun for this California Girl.  For our pizza-making excursion, we had to climb eighteen flights of cobblestone stairs in the rain!  So exhilerating!

I loved pizza day. I learned how to make pasta, too!

Chef made some poofy bread, and then filled it with Nutella and Concerto, a weird aromatic/ digestif they make as often as they make Limoncello. It’s an odd combination of coffee, barley, herbs and spices. I didn’t like it by itself, but it added a curious layer of flavor to the dessert, in a good way.

This cheese making family was delightful.

They are from Ravello, the same village as our driver. His community pride was showing as he drove us up to the farm.

There’s no internet here, just old school deliciousness.

 They’re operating on the equivalency of Californias Cottage Food Laws.

Their system is based on income, not meat and dairy like California. As long as they keep it below 50K a year, they can produce and sell from their home farm.

They make ricotta, a soft chèvre, and an aged herbal infused, dried variety. So delicious, and she made it look so easy.

I made some friends.

I discovered red shrimp! Of course, fancy chef JoJo had used them earlier in the season and knew all about them.  They’re amazing, if you have the opportunity, eat them!

Jo and I were often introduced as the chefs from California, and it created a bit of celebrity in my own mind. Jason made sure all the chefs knew about us, and we  got to visit a few kitchens!  There were several head lady chefs in all female kitchens. It was refreshing and inspirational.

Not this one though, look at all these nice manly chefs.

 

These beasts made some amazing cheese.

It’s not the buffalo I knew as a child. I knew that, and yet…

Just another one of our dinner tables at the top of Ravello!  We made some more cheese, buffalo Mozzarella with chef Biaggi! I was talking with Pauline how the cheese was tough, and chef overheard us. The fresh mozzarella must repose for twenty-four hours to soften. Aha! Also, do you know why burrata is so delicious? They stuff it with ricotta, butter and heavy cream!

(Jo’s in the back over there, taking a call from California.)

And it went like that for ten glorious days & nights! I woke up one day, missing my middle child and my dog. I got over it. I had two cranky episodes and I adjusted. Mostly I had the trip of a lifetime with a man I adore and some of my best friends. It was an epic holiday.

My one regret?  I wish I got more shoes. I have a hard foot to fit and they actually made the shoe around my foot. Crazy comfortable and super cute.  I got a pair of blue sued loafers and some sassy sandals.

This is the only picture I have of the shoe store. Jo and I were picking up our order, and maybe ordering another pair…

And now, on March 28th, 2020, my friend and his family are in quarantine, but safe in Milan.

These are the times.

I love you Italy.

 

100% That Bitch & Halftime 2020

J-lo & Shakira FTW

I was jamming all day on Super Bowl Sunday, by the time I got home, the game was over and Johnny was at rehearsal.

I took a bath and went to bed.

All I heard about the show, was from my daughter. She sent a text to her sister and me, asking if we watched, because it was LIT!

I applaud myself,  as I raised all my kids to appreciate a good dance show!

Now I’m excited. I’ve been a lifetime J-lo fan, and there’s no denying Shakira’s talent. I loved that she got on the pole! I have taken both belly-dancing and pole dancing classes. They are both intensely difficult, sweat inducing, extremely athletic activities.

Around noon, I start checking-in on social, I was confused by the comments from my stodgy friends. “Hyper-sexual”, “too many crotch shots” (I didn’t notice one, I think it’s because the hip action was so prevalent, it was mistaken as crotch shots)” the degradation of our youth”.

PUH-LEASE. I stand by my love for both of these amazing, brown-skinned, hyper talented performers. I loved every minute. They’ve been entertaining for decades in this fashion, what did everyone expect? A ballad? Come on.

So here’s my half time review. I loved it. Bring all the dancers, all the culture, the love for Puerto Rico and the tongue wagging.

Side note: I hate football. I think it should be abolished. It’s a tired, old gladiator game, “survival of the fittest” doomsday spectacle. I know I don’t need to rant about the head injuries and increased domestic violence on game days, because you know.

But we watch. Support. Accept all of it as part of OUR “culture.”

To all the judgey-judgers out there, go ahead, have at it.

I doubt I’ll change your mind, and honestly, I’m not trying.

For me, I’ll keep dancing, loving hyper-hips and maintain my admiration for women, only slightly younger than me, dancing and singing with their whole hearts, to entertain America.

Now, about that bitch.

Here’s my favorite Bitch. Her name is Marla, and she’s also a Diva.

These ladies are not bitches.

They were raised, well entrenched in the patriarchy and they took their place. They also do not like the word “bitch.”

I received many responses and the only folks that were bothered by the word, were 58 year-olds, and above.

Mostly, women wanted to own it.

It’s a declaration of power. Assuming authority is okay, but add sarcasm, and it’s bitchy (er…I do that).

A few more thoughts:

“My hope is that, as women become equally powerful, we influence the world differently. Women supporting other women is so important. We’re not bitches, even if sometimes we act bitchy. However, we don’t have to copy men’s bad behavior in order to be strong and powerful.”

“Assertiveness, decisiveness and constructive criticism when in a leadership role by a woman easily creates enemies and resentment.  I just answer to myself to know I am acting with compassion, empathy and sincerity (female attributes, I think).  It may be lonely at the top, but you know your own truth”

“I LOVE being a bitch as long as I’m seen as a FAIR bitch.  To me a “bitch” means I’m strong, the ultimate compliment.”

“People are uncomfortable with women who are comfortable with themselves, and especially those who exude a little prowess or power. We, in turn…do not care about their feelings. #thatbitch ”

So, in summary, I’m going to let my bitch flag fly.

I’m strong, confident and surefooted.

Call me bitch!

How-to Happy Hour

My mother and her neighbors in Seattle, have a Happy-Hour every night at her house. She has her old-fashioneds, they bring their own booze, and she offers a little cheese and crackers. Sometimes they bring snacks, too. They hang for an hour or two, and then return to their homes for supper.

It’s a beautiful thing, and one that renders me forever grateful. Chef Ma is ninety, and it’s comforting to know her neighbors are with her daily, in all kinds of spirits!

In 2016, I started a monthly happy-hour here on Mccollum Street in her honor.

I’m happy to say it’s been a huge success.

It has substantially raised our vibration on the block!

For starters, we all know each other now, and we do stuff together, like check out the new local restaurants up on Sunset Blvd.

We walk!

After two years of hosting solely at Cottage Cook, I stopped.

Nobody noticed till March. First it was my Johnny.

Him: ” When’s the next Happy Hour?”

Me:  “I’m not doing it anymore.”

Him: “Why?”

Me: ” I’ don’t feel like it, it makes you grumpy, nobody helps and why bother?”

Him, with a bit of a whine: ” but I like the results.”

Me: shrug.

Then the neighbors started piling on. Asking me what happened, are we ever gonna do it again? Can they help? Suddenly there was a gaggle of neighbors outside on my corner trying desperately to resurrect the ritual. (Maybe I swooned a tad)

Someone suggested rotating houses and that was all I needed.

So I hosted in March (they are always the third Friday) and put out a sign up sheet.

And just like that, Happy hour was re-instated.

The week before, I deliver the flag and the lawn sign to the host.

I also do a print out of the schedule with hosting addresses and circulate it to the entire neighborhood. Many neighbors do not come, but the ones that do show up with gusto, libations, snacks and stories. These are the folks that are responsible for up-leveling our community vibe.

Last year we came together and cooked for a neighbor who needed us. She wasn’t a regular happy-hour attendee, but we all knew her and wanted to help.

Every three weeks for several months, we got together in my home kitchen and stocked her fridge with family favorites to make her life a little easier.

Neighbor (and now friend) Dana, got to show off her skills. I loved her labels that came so easily for her. The just fell out of her talented hands like magic.

So last November, I put out the sign-up sheet again. I made the flyers. I hosted November and December  so I could  encourage sign-ups.

A couple of regulars missed the sign-ups and several new hosts stepped in!

We’ve expanded two blocks in either direction, and just this past Friday we had a rousing good time at a new house on a new block.

Turns out, every hosts worries about the same thing.

Do I have enough food? Do I have enough booze? Will anyone come?

And you know what? It works out every time.

We all meet new people (and dogs)  in the neighborhood, and spread love.

Every single time, it’s a beautiful thing.

The Sixty-Forty Honeymoon Interlude ~Praiano, Italy Part 2

To give you a little backstory, this is the place I’ve been dreaming of since Brian, one of my all time favorite hospitality professionals, and his wife Diana came back from their Amalfi honeymoon back in the nineties. He told me Italy stories and it sounded like a perfect European holiday.

I tempered my expectations as we drove through sad, little working villages on the way down the coast from the train station.

 Maybe it wasn’t going to be great, just okay.

But then, we get dropped off in a parking lot, perched on a cliff, on the side of the twistiest road ever (over three thousand curves to be precise),  take an elevator down six floors, and walk through a rock tunnel.

Here’s the view from our room.

I love it here.

It was a series of five villas, connected into one hotel, the Onda Verde – The Green Wave.

We’re perched over the Tyrrhenian Sea, in a bright white room, with a little Juliet balcony, making all my dreams come true.

Sfogliatelle every day. Lots of fresh fruit, toast and ham products.

Also, fruit pastries, for breakfast. These are my people.

I love Italian breakfast.

We took the water taxi to Positano for some fun, lunch, and to see the sites.

The coastline is magical and completely vertical.

I was amazed by the density. Enchanted by the architecture. In awe of the natural beauty.

We walked to the top of the town, dripping with other Americans around our age, doing what we were doing, and it didn’t bother me one bit. Everything about everything was charming and new and delicious.

Lemon slushies, yes, please.

There are cats everywhere. The city pays for twenty of them, covers their  expenses and keeps them healthy. I loved sharing the remains of my meal with them. They liked me, too.

We hung out on the docks for a while, waiting for our boat back to the hotel. This class of local high-schoolers on a camping trip warmed my heart.

Just like old times, Sequoyah!

 

This little secret cove can’t be seen from the hotel, but there are six restaurants tucked in here, and we got to three of them!

I had a simply grilled sea bass under that blue awning cooked by an eighty-five year old lady chef. It was the first of many, and also the most delicious.

We watched brave fishermen in tiny little boats night-fishing for cuttlefish.

It didn’t look very safe, but it’s the way its always been done.

Also, loved this. In all the hotels, the room key had to be inserted into this thing-a-ma-bob for the electric to go on in the room. Likewise, the air conditioning would turn off if the door was open. Very clever Italy, I like it. Good practices.

Our stay at our new favorite hotel, the Onda Verde was short, and oh so very sweet, only two nights.

Then we were off to The Reginna Palace Hotel in  Maiori, to meet up with the food tour crew, and old friends!

We had a light lunch while everyone drizzled in and introduced themselves – an even split between CA & PA people.

 They grilled Provolone (which is aged mozzarella) in between lemon leaves. Don’t eat the leaves! Except the little ones. (lemons are everywhere)

We had a dessert demonstration by the local celebrity in the town square the first night. The locals were thrilled to see him in action.

Lemon Delight is his creation, a nod to the Amalfi lemon!

Johnny and I took a dip in the sea when we arrived a wee bit early, and also did some shopping. I found  some things I like.

We ended the evening as we did the next nine nights, together around the table.

Let the eating begin!! But… there’s so much more.

So many stories about the people.

I’ll tell you about the handmade shoes, next…