Monday, September 13, 2010

Restaurant Follies

In the introduction to my book Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, I wrote, “Friends often wondered, with all of my restaurant knowledge, why I didn’t open a restaurant. Usually my response was laughter. I knew full well how hard restaurant owners and chef-owners worked, nearly 24/7. Basil has to be in your bloodstream to a bring a restaurant to life and keep it on life support. The good ones are magical. Cooking is one of the creative arts. I love basil, but it is not in my bloodstream.”

That was never a tough decision for me. And I have never second-guessed myself—at least on that decision. Reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential makes me feel like a freaking oracle. It has been out a while (2000) and was a surprise best-seller, especially to the author. He wrote the book for fellow chefs, thinking it too much of an inside treatise for us innocents who patronize restaurants.

A month ago I had purchased his latest work, Medium Raw, but put it down after a few chapters and bought his first best-seller. I’m glad I did and recommend it to all foodies or foodie wannabees. Though, even for foodies it is often a language foreign.

He entitles his chapter on restaurant ownership, “Owner’s Syndrome and Other Medical Anomalies.” In it he writes, “Inarguably, a successful restaurant demands that you live on the premises for the first few years, working seventeen-hour days, with total involvement in every aspect of a complicated, cruel and very fickle trade. You must be fluent in not only Spanish but the Kabbala-like* intricacies of health codes, tax law, fire department regulations, environmental protection laws, building code, occupational safety and health regs, fair hiring practices, zoning, insurance, the vagaries and back-alley back-scratching of liquor licenses, the netherworld of trash removal, linen, and grease disposal.”

So, you own a successful dentist practice and your friends say you should open a restaurant because you give great dinner parties? Fugetaboutit. Invest in a chain of tattoo-removal shops.

* He meant Kabbalah, a Jewish term mostly meaning mystical. So Kabbala-like means mystical-like intricacies.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I know, you are thinking that blowhards and blogs go together.

PJ loves hardboiled eggs. I prefer my eggs scrambled and blended with all manner of foodstuffs. Eggs scrambled are like casseroles, you just add whatever is in the refrigerator.

Boiling eggs is pretty simple. It’s the peeling that is tedious at best.

I recently saw a video about an egg-peeling shortcut. A guy created it, of course.

Place 3-4 eggs in a saucepan high enough so that eggs are fully submerged. That would be after you add water. Then add a teaspoon of baking soda. Boil for 10-12 minutes. In another bowl prepare an ice bath. That would be ice cubes and water. When the eggs are done put them in the ice bath for about 4-5 minutes. The shell should feel cool to the touch. Crack an egg at both ends and remove up to an inch in diameter of egg shell from each end. Place one end to the lips and blow. This is where being a blowhard comes in handy—you have to really blow hard—probably more than once. The egg will pop out of the other end. Rinse, repeat.

Gals, you may need a guy for this. We are much better blowhards.

This actually worked, much to my surprise. Though, I would say that the egg with the cooled shell but still warm core actually peels pretty easily. It is when both are cold that peeling tests one’s patience.

Just to prove that I am not a blowhard, I’m going to end this posting now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bittersweet Day

Today is the 5th Anniversary of Katrina trashing New Orleans, a bittersweet time. Read the attached column I wrote about my last visit in November, 2008 to understand why.

To New Orleans, With Love

I went because I had to. I do not recall it being a choice.

During nine New Orleans’ trips since January 2006, I have helped gut sixteen homes, build eight Habitat for Humanity homes and a playground, recruited 34 friends (many of whom returned up to four times), and helped launch another NGO (non-governmental organization) which has to date hosted another 3,000 volunteers.

However, I am but one of many who contributed as much, and more. A recent estimate put the number of volunteers at two million. A senior Habitat official estimated that 700,000 workdays have been donated to Habitat.

Most of my trips were linked with the St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Churches’ RHINO (Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans) program.

Logansport high school classmates and fellow Up With People alums, joined me on my swan song trip.

Vivid memories abound. I have stood in horror upon entering my first ravaged home – then I smashed windows just to breathe. Two days later the gutted, reborn home was but a skeleton of its former self, its moldy, toxic, rotting core carted off by trolling garbage trucks to some unknown heap.

I have seen the endless ghost streets and blue tarps on roofs, sailboats on streets, and battered homes, some swept across streets and onto cars or other homes. I have winced at the heights of flood water lines stained onto homes, and the National Guard’s spray-painted cryptic survey summaries on doors. I witnessed the onset of refrigerator wasteland, FEMA-trailer towns, and trailer-lined streets.

I have left behind 20 contaminated, ripped, or paint-splattered jeans and shirts, and returned home four times with Katrina cough.

I am still challenged by friends and acquaintances perplexed as to why I would “waste” so much time recovering a city they view as a waste of time. My first rejoinder is always, “It is their home.”

The Times-Picayune ran a weekly series entitled “The Kindness of Strangers.” That series featured me one week, a pleasant surprise.

I have breakfasted at Carmellia Grill and Café Rose Nicaud, lunched at Willie Mae’s and Crabby Jacks, and supped at Galatoires, Emeril’s NOLA, Redfish Grill and Jacque-Imos. I have slid down dozens of Acme’s fresh oysters, and downed adult beverages at O’Briens and Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge.

I have ridden the circuit of the rickety, rejuvenated St. Charles trolley line, toe-tapped to Preservation Hall jazz, zipped around to Zydeco at the Rock N’ Bowl, and sipped wine in The Columns’ parlor as guitarist John Rankin strummed. Mardi Gras beads hang next to my home office computer.

I have drooled over countless columned St. Charles Ave. mansions, and stayed up to watch a phalanx of police clear and clean out Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras’ witching hour.

There is something about the crescent city. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Yes, there is the contextual, textural, rainbow history, joie de vivre, food, smells, and the jazzy live-in-the-moment rhythm. It is more, whatever it is. Maybe it is nurtured by a repressed sense that it all could be gone in a flash (or a flood), and Orleanians are driven to cram as much as possible into each day. Sort of like a Po-Boy sandwich with everything. Living in earthquake and fire-central Southern California, who am I to criticize or psychoanalyze?

New Orleans may not channel the Las Vegas slogan “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas”, but it’s close.

She can be an exasperating city to navigate, even over three years since Katrina. I still cursed at missing street and one-way signs, stop-and-go traffic behind late Friday trash collection, and trying to decipher the French Quarter traffic grid. And what’s with all of the potholes? I would think that the rental car companies would be suing for axle abuse.

I have revisited gutted homes and fought my negativity upon seeing them mostly as we left them two years ago. Was it for naught? Too often the road home (and The Road Home Program) is potholed with good intentions, along with an intimidating bureaucratic maze. I try to remember that each home is a story. I do not know the stories. I wish I did.

Yet, the heart soars when driving around Musicians’ Village, greeting the new owner of a home I helped build in RHINO’s Ferry Place project, or seeing Gertrude LeBlanc in her new digs just across the canal in the Lower Ninth Ward. Her new home sits in the midst of homes sponsored by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Make it Right 9 Foundation.

Orleanians say without hesitation that the volunteers saved the city, not the local, state, or federal governments. As a candidate, President-elect Obama promised New Orleans Category 5 protection. I doubt that much is necessary but I do fear the current Category 3 fortification is not enough.

Now it is time to go. New Orleans can keep the clothes.

I will return, whether for Jazz Fest, or a culinary tour. You now have a piece of my heart, New Orleans, and I don’t know how to quit you.

Keith Frohreich, November 2008

Shell-shocked Fish

PJ has a shellfish allergy. She doesn’t get violently sick and thrash around on the floor, but a bathroom had better be nearby.

Hence, I am depraved because I am deprived. Not really, I just like using a favorite line from West Side Story.

Shellfish does not cross the threshold of our home, until PJ leaves. Currently she is on a multi-day trip to visit her folks and sister in another time zone. The first day she was gone I trekked to Santa Monica Seafood in Newport Beach. (No, I do not know if there is a Newport Beach Seafood in Santa Monica.)

I bought mahi mahi, petrole sole, red snapper, trout and yellowfin tuna, all fish PJ can process without a trip to the bathroom. I also bought thirty shrimp and two dozen little neck clams. My taste buds were already practicing a jig in anticipation.

That first night I found an accessible recipe for garlic shrimp; minced garlic, olive oil, dry sherry, parsley, red pepper flakes and salt. First I faced the tedious task of shelling and deveining. I’m not sure what the big deal is about deveining, they looked pretty wimpy and harmless, but I generally follow recipe directions. The next time I’m going to pay extra for a professional deveiner. There’s a resume enhancer for you.

The next night I purged the clams of impurities (excrement) and created a hot tub of diced tomatoes, chopped shallots, minced garlic, chopped basil, water and cream. The clams got pretty steamed about it. (Sorry, I simply must jump on the easy ones.) But the clams got over it, didn’t stay clammed up, and all opened up on cue.

My taste buds finally got to do that jig they had previously anticipated. I even slurped up the entire aromatic and delectable broth. Yes, there were major slurping sounds but not so loud as to bother the neighbors. In case you think that was overdoing it, notice I never said that I bought a baguette of sourdough to sop up the broth. That would have added about 1000 carbs.

I was tempted.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Turnip Bowling

In our ongoing effort to manage carbs and our weights I have been using more turnips lately. At one time I considered turnips as one of my anti-guy foods. Then I found a Thomas Keller Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables recipe that uses them along with carrots, yellow onion, leeks, rutabagas, garlic, thyme and small red-skinned potatoes.

Turnips are low in carbs, potatoes are not. So I eliminated the potatoes and used more turnips. Rutabaga availability is hit and miss at my supermarket. (Extra foodie points are given for those who can tell the difference between turnips and rutabagas.) The roasted chicken juices, along with the garlic, thyme, onion cousins, olive oil, salt and pepper, layer on plenty of flavor to an otherwise pretty boring vegetable like turnips.

Another favorite, roasted vegetables with pesto, calls for fingerlings, which we love. Duh, it is still potatoes. So I now substitute turnips for the fingerlings with that recipe. Cheaper, too. The pesto peaks the flavor in this dish. This is not your traditional pesto recipe—no basil. No matter, I add some anyway but not the usual amount.

Last week, while vegetable gathering, I selected several turnips. First I had to wait for the sprinkler system to run. For you supermarket shoppers who know vegetables, they are always stacked neatly. I pay no mind to that and more often than not pick from the middle of the stack knowing what might ensue. Sure enough several turnips went tumbling. It was one of my better turnip bowling results. One rolled at least fifteen feet. Fortunately there were no small children in its path. These days they are safe and secure in the new SUV shopping carts—the ones so large that moms have to go outside just to turn around.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Match Not Found On

A few days ago I roasted turkey breasts on the barbecue and added wood chips for some smoky flavoring. I made enough so we could eat as leftovers for lunch for several days—the turkey, not the chips.

In my endless quest to find more excuses to eat blueberries I made a blueberry sauce two days ago, uncertain as to how I would use it. We had banished ice cream from our house weeks ago, a traditional calorie-loading treat. We have learned that there is no weight loss without pain.

Today, staring at the open refrigerator I noted the turkey breasts but wanted to add something. The blueberry sauce sat next to the turkey breasts. Hummmm…I wondered.

The match worked, combining the smokiness of the turkey breast with the sweetness of the blueberry sauce.

Friday night I will throw some pork tenderloins on the barbecue and pair them with what’s left of the blueberry sauce.

There are lots of recipes for blueberry sauce. Just enter the term in the search box at

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lettuce Lessons

With the all-too-frequent packaged lettuces scares lately, I’ve made some changes.

In my book I advised vigilant shopping when buying packaged lettuce such as, make sure the expiration date is at least five days from purchase, and to not wait that long and use it within 1-3 days of purchase.

Sometimes you can simply see the lettuce turning dark in a bag that says it has several days of use left. Use your eyes. They don’t lie.

Now I only buy unpackaged lettuce, even if there are no dates stamped on the leaves—with one exception, arugula. I don’t know where to find fresh arugula when my farmer’s market doesn’t sell it. I like to mix arugula in with other kinds of greens and for a favorite side dish, a watermelon-arugula-toasted pine nuts-feta cheese crumbles-herb salad. I can’t remember the last time I bought iceberg—too many other interesting flavors and colors. Iceberg is the white bread of lettuces.

The lettuces we buy are washed, spun, and laid out on paper towels to dry. After an hour I use more paper towels to soak up any obvious moisture, layer them between more paper towels, roll up, bag and finally store in the refrigerator. Still, we use or toss the lettuce within five days. Costco is going to name a store after me for my multiple uses of their Kirkland paper towel brand.

Lately I have added Caesar Salad to the menu options, and made-from-scratch dressing. Instead of croutons I make my killer onions rings, quarter them and mix as the final step. None of that canned French’s French Fried Onions for me*. Romaine never tasted so good.

PJ is not a big fan of spinach. We are still on speaking terms. But she is fine with a recipe for a spinach and pine nut pesto that we use to coat skinless chicken breasts. We bake them first.

So, if you ever let us entertain you, be assured we are looking out for you when we serve a salad.

*You won’t be thrown into the C.I.A (Culinary Institute of America) jail if you cheat and use the canned version.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fridge Cleaning

I like cleaning the refrigerator about as often as I have a root canal.

You know it’s time to clean the fridge when:

· Some “Use By” dates are from 2007

· You need to use a sharp knife to dislodge some jars

· You could supply your local high school’s science labs with cultures.

A PJ mishap forced the issue. While re-filling her water glass in the middle of the night she spilled most of the chilled container, half of it onto the floor, and the other half throughout the bottom half of the fridge. Of course, she only wiped up the floor, leaving the fridge clean-up to me. Her rationale was that since I was the cook, she should leave such food-related issues to me.

As is my wont now and then — don’t put off today what you can put off longer— I put off the clean-up. Two days later I noticed that the lettuce bag was compromised. Wet lettuce in the fridge is not an optimum sanitary food condition.

Actually a few weeks ago I had purged the fridge of out-dated containers. Fortunately I hadn’t been using those anyway. A good cook’s rule would be to occasionally forage around in recesses of the fridge. Not sure why I thought I needed three large bottles of store-bought barbecue sauce, since I began making sauces and rubs from scratch a couple of years ago.

A good indicator of when to probe the recesses is that when you open the door, the stuff closest to the door falls out. That can get pretty messy if they are glass containers and you have kitchen tiling.

Something akin to finding a dead rat (or several) when you clean the garage, a package of dill had climbed out of the veggie/lettuce drawers and lay hidden in the back. It’s “Use By” date was 12/30/2008. Since that is a bit old for fresh dill, I tossed it.

I think that when it is time to clean the fridge again, I’ll buy a new one.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Time to blog again. Sorry for the absence. It was transition time. PJ retired recently and a new chapter began.

Even though we have been married forever it seems, when togetherness becomes defined as 24/7, it takes some adjusting. The rhythms of the day form a new dance. It has all been mostly good, but change nonetheless.

I temporarily lost my writing voice.

Now it’s back. The good news is that change always fuels new material. This blog will reflect that now and then.

My domestic engineering duties continue albeit with some redistribution of chores. PJ has taken back the laundry. I fought it for all of two seconds. But I have picked up more cleaning duties after we cut back the housecleaners to once a month—a nod to our new retirement reduced cash flow reality.

I am now in the market for a John Deere riding vacuum cleaner.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Cold Reality

I am currently under the weather with the cold crud. (Under the weather—another “where did that come from?” term.)

Bad news for domestic engineer guys—if you still board a plane now and then, you will be more susceptible to colds. At least I am.

I am no disease wonk but I suspect that it has something to do with immunities. The more we build them up, the more resistant we are. Going to work every day and hanging with other upright mammals expectorating airborne germs builds resistance over time. DEG’s hang out with their dog during the day and unless you are exchanging saliva regularly with Fido you are probably pretty safe.

Board a plane and all bets are off, especially if exchanging saliva. I haven’t kept track but Id’ wager that I’m batting 500 over the last 7-8 years, meaning I have come down with a cold on half of my plane trips. My memory is faulty but I’m pretty sure I never exchanged saliva with anyone other than PJ. This is really a bummer, especially in the summer, if you are exposed to enough germs on the first flight of the vacation.

This time I caught it on a return flight from Minneapolis.

I have no sage suggestions for prevention (Airborne has proven ineffective) but I am ready to wear a surgical mask on future flights. Not your everyday accessory, but at my age why should I care? A healthy vacation matters more.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pesto Me

In a November 2009 blog about turkey salad pesto sandwiches I gave you the basic recipe for fresh pesto. I once bought some pesto in jar at my supermarket—never again. Whatever preservatives they add alters the flavor too much. Besides, pesto is so easy to make.

Last night I prepared some lamb shoulder chops and served them with mint-basil pesto. Basically, instead of two cups of basil you use one cup each of basil and mint leaves, toasted walnuts instead of pine nuts, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and reduce the parmesan portion to 3-4 tablespoons. This could be served with any cut of lamb.

Tonight I am preparing chicken breasts and topping them with spinach and pine nut pesto. Instead of basil I will use 2 cups of spinach leaves, pine nuts, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1-2 teaspoons of grated lemon peel, and a third cup of parmesan. I’ll leave out the garlic.

Another variation for lamb is walnut and mint pesto with one cup of mint leaves and one cup of parsley leaves, walnuts, lemon juice, and garlic.

I haven’t tried this next one yet but will soon—2 cups basil leaves, 1 cup parsley, 1 tablespoon each of fresh thyme, rosemary and tarragon, ¼ cup of walnuts, and garlic.

All of these pesto recipes use about 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper, and a third to ½ cup of olive oil.

You simply put all of the ingredients (except the oil) into a food processor, turn it on and slowly add the olive oil. Voila, fresh pesto. Pesto can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. To keep the pesto from turning a dark green, tear off a small piece of cling wrap and press it down directly over the pesto. It will keep its fresh green tint. I don’t like using cling wrap since it clings to everything before it submits to covering a container. Cling wrap is an emotional dwarf.

The basic pesto recipe is a great sandwich spread. Substitute for mayo—if you’re being good. I cheat and put pesto on one slice and mayo on the other.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Perfect Onion Rings

We celebrated our son’s birthday last night. As is our tradition the honoree picks the menu. I knew onion rings would be one of the choices.

I pretty much have this down to a science but last night I sliced them as thin as possible without using a mandoline (besides, I play it poorly), or slicing any fingers. I used my small fan to blow the sulfuric fumes into the family room, interrupting Olympics watching and appetizer consumption.

I use mostly an Emeril recipe. I referred to this in an earlier January post so I thought I'd share it.

2 large onions sliced very thin, thinner than 1/8 inch

2 cups buttermilk

¼ cup hot sauce, any brand is fine

4 tablespoons Emeril’s Essence

2 cups flour

Candy thermometer

Canola oil (you can also use vegetable or peanut oil)

Mix the buttermilk, hot sauce and one tablespoon of Essence in a bowl.

Place the onions is a 9 by 13 inch pan or baking dish

Pour the buttermilk mixture over the onions, cover with foil and put in refrigerator for at least one hour.

Mix the flour and two tablespoons of Essence in a separate bowl.

Heat the oil in a tall stovetop pan to at least 360 degrees.

Working in batches, thoroughly coat onions in flour mixture and fry for about three minutes. Place each batch on paper towels. Season each batch with more Essence.

Keep a knife handy to fend off errant hands sneaking samples before dinner.

Filets were also on the menu last night. Crisp, thin, deep-fried onion rings are extraordinary on filets.

There are rarely leftovers but once when there were some I used a Ziploc and refrigerated them. Two days later I crisped them up in the oven. Almost as good as freshly fried.

If you have a deep fryer, the kind shown on cooking shows, go for it. I have been able to do French fries and onion rings in my tall stovetop pan.

Important safety tip—do not dispose of or strain the oil back into the container shortly after use. Something bad will happen. Wait until the next morning.

Still working on perfect French fries.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"It's Nice to See You Again, Oprah"

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference two years ago one of the speakers suggested that the seven most powerful words in publishing were, “It’s nice to see you again, Oprah.” Too true unless your name is Sarah Palin.

At least I can say that I wrote my book.

I could count on one hand the number of authors who don’t fantasize sitting next to Oprah during one of her shows. I am no different. I also know that there are better odds for world peace than Oprah asking me to read my shortest chapter, “A Short History of Guys and the Kitchen.”

Will I send her show my book? Absolutely. Something about nothing ventured.

I was commiserating with a fellow self-published author yesterday (and fellow San Francisco Writer’s Conference attendee) over the daunting odds of selling books in today’s economy and during a downward spiral of people-who-read-books. No bloodletting but massive wringing of hands and primal groans. We are both casting about trying tactics that would have been unheard of even ten years ago.

My next book may be entitled Rogue Marketing for the Self-Published. But it would only see the light of day if I sell enough books to beat those daunting odds. At least those are better odds than appearing on Oprah.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review Just In

I am expecting two reviews from book review services. The first one is in, from Reader Views.

Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering
Reviewed by William Phenn for Reader Views (02/10)

"This funny 269-page book covers every aspect of the stay-at-home man. The man, who has been laid off, fired, phased out or just plain quit his job and is now the homemaker. This book may also apply to the guy whose wife makes twice the money he makes, even when he is working. So rather than put her into a bigger tax bracket, he elects to stay home.

Conveniently broken down into forty exciting chapters, the book can be quickly referenced for answers to any domestic situation and more. From helpful hints on coping with the tragic layoff, to relaxing after dinner and enjoying a fine cigar, “Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering” is funny and informative. Since I enjoy cooking, I especially liked, “Recipes for Success.” This section, along with others like, “You’ve Been Jobbed, Separation Anxieties and Adjusting More Than Attitude,” were chapters I could sympathize with. Another favorite was, “BS.” This was the basic cooking chapter that I seriously needed to pay close attention to. “Blanching, Browning Meat and Cooking Steaks,” were just some of the topics covered that I needed to learn more about. “Channeling Your Handy-Manly Side” was still another chapter that I read with due diligence. Since my work in a past life was Automotive Engineering, I was not used to fixing things around the house, I left that to the experts - plumbers did not do engineering and I did not do plumbing.

The book is funny to say the least - a laugh on every page would be more like it. I have high hopes for this very funny volume of domestic duty. It is an easy read, keeps your attention and is very well written. The graphics are hilarious, they complement the book nicely and are placed at good strategic locations.

I highly recommend “Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering” by Keith Frohreich to all adults no matter what their situation. I say that because you can never tell when the inevitable can happen, “no one ever plans for it.” I gave it one of my highest ratings of an A and I would like to see every man in America read it because it makes sense while tickling your funny bone."

Plumping Up With Polenta

One of my daily routines is to check in with Mark Bittman’s blog ( In keeping with his “keep it simple” casual cooking style he recently did a video about a polenta dish.

I watched it thinking I might be too hard-headed about such dishes like polenta, couscous and hummus. Hummus is not Hummer discharge, but pulverized chickpeas (garbanzo beans). As I write in my book, Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, guys don’t do couscous or hummus. I was still reserving judgment about polenta.

Polenta is basically a mush made from cornmeal. Parmesan is frequently added. Bittman also added some Italian sausage, suggesting that polenta is very user-friendly. I rarely use cornmeal except for a blended coating with flour for a catfish recipe.

Part of my resistance to dishes like rice, polenta, couscous and hummus stems from a campaign to significantly reduce carbs consumption. PJ and I are not Atkins’ groupies, but Americans’ diets had gotten way out of whack with carb loading. Especially since most Americans don’t run marathons. Even today the infamous food pyramid suggests 300 grams of carb intake per day. Three hundred! Pack that on your thighs and tote it.

Most guys, if wanting the comfort of carbs, will do a half-gainer into a vat of garlicky, buttery mashed potatoes. And none of this girly couscous, hummus, polenta mush.

So with a wary eye I reviewed the cornmeal package. One quarter cup contains 100 calories and 24 grams of carbs. The dietary fiber is less than one gram. There is some dispute about whether cornmeal qualifies as a whole-grain, something PJ and I need to consume more of.

After reviewing the other whole-grain candidates: whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat flour, rolled oats (too much work because after you buy oats you have to drive your car over them), and popcorn, we going with the popcorn since it also fulfills another food group—guilty pleasures. But only after we soak it in butter or live on the edge by shaving some parmesan over it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Canning Cans

Generally I try to avoid foodstuffs that come in a can. Fresh is always best. That said, it is pretty unavoidable.

The downside of using less canned goods is that I often forget that they are there. Yesterday PJ called late in the day to inform me that she was coming down with a bad cold. She wondered if we had any chicken soup in stock—as in the cupboard. I said yes, knowing that we had some tucked in and around the other cans.

After hanging up I researched the situation. Yes, there were two cans. Something made me look at the bottoms. (Generally guys are notorious bottom watchers.) Both had “use by” dates that probably would have made PJ’s cold seem like a minor itch. A more appropriate phrasing should be, “This will expire you if you don’t use by ____.” Now that these bottoms had my attention I began looking at all of them.

Full disclosure—awareness of canning dates had simply not stayed in any part of my memory depot. That train had left station.

Inventory completed, I threw out fourteen cans including vegetable soup, vegetable and beef broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, beef gravy, chicken noodle soup, cream of chicken soup (the texture of hard jello) and fancy crabmeat still left over from my crab cakes recipe creation five years earlier.

Not all canners put a “use by” or any sort of date on their cans, or if they do it is in code. I probably should toss them all.

Supermarket marketers love to temp us with two-for-ones or buying in larger quantities to “save money.” The problem is that you use one or two cans and the rest sit there, for years.

From now on I will buy as needed.

Today PJ took a sick day and once again asked about chicken and vegetable soup. Instead, I found a vegetable soup recipe on Food Network, adapted it, and tossed in a 12-ounce can of chicken breast, well within the date. I didn’t have any chicken breasts thawed.

Next up—it is time for my annual refrigerator cleaning. Yes, I said annual. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. I’m pretty sure there are some cultures camped in there that would qualify as WMDs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Following Directions

Over my birthday weekend, both PJ and I were guilty of abusing directions.

PJ volunteered to bake shortcake from scratch. I handed her my shortcake recipe, a Mark Bittman concoction. Most shortcake recipes have two degrees of separation between them.

PJ soldiered forth following the recipe religiously including making a portion much larger than our needs. Since she is math-challenged I felt it best to do it that way even if it meant tossing out the leftovers.

When it came time to portion the batter on the baking pan PJ decided to dollop out five sizeable portions so that our strawberry shortcake treat could be a double-deckers. We don’t do strawberry shortcake often but when we do we make a dessert mountain.

Once in the oven I checked it as it neared its suggested cooking time. Most of the dough was still quite soft and uncooked. I grabbed the recipe. Aha, it suggested using a heaping tablespoon to portion twelve cakes. I pulled the pan from the oven and scooped them onto another pan since they were beginning to char on the bottom. I put them back in the oven at a slightly reduced temperature and baked for another 7-8 minutes. Once cooled, I scrapped the charred bottoms.

Shortcake salvaged. Dessert was a triumph.

Yours truly failed to read the Emeril recipe steps for leg of lamb. I thought I had selected it for its simplicity, though Emeril often uses more ingredients than the words in this blog. This time I didn’t care since on special occasions I spend more time. Duh, the recipe called for marinating the lamb for at least eight hours. This was problematic since I began preparing the rub around 4 PM. So I put the coated leg in the refrigerator at 4:30 and begin giving it deep-tissue massages. That was one relaxed leg of lamb.

I put it in the oven at 6 PM and made another mistake. Trying to make up time because I wanted to eat no later than 7:30, I increased the oven temperature from 400 degrees to 425 degrees. Then I failed to use the meat thermometer until 75 minutes later (for the math-challenged that is one hour and fifteen minutes.) By then the meat was nearly well-done, and with the suggested cooling time of 15 minutes (for you cooking cretins, the meat continues to cook), it was completely well-done by serving time. Our family likes our meat medium-rare. Still tasty, but disappointing.

The lesson is this—unless you are a chef, follow directions, at least the first time. This requires reading and comprehension. Pretty sure you and I had that course in high school.

Candidly, I believe cooking should be a required course in high school, and offered right after that reading and comprehension one.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Birthday Bashing

This weekend is my birthday weekend, though not my actual birthday. (DEG’s age will not be divulged.) As is our custom, when a birthday falls on a weekday we celebrate on the closest weekend.

Domestic Engineer Guys don’t get their birthday weekend off; unless you just won the lottery. If that were true you could hang up your apron and tool belt and hire a live-in chef and housekeeper.

Each year PJ gets to ask THE question: “What would you like to cook for yourself on your birthday?”

Since Friday is procurement day I just finished my menu planning.

Tonight is New York steaks with garlic, butter and thyme, roasted asparagus with dill hollandaise sauce, and fried onion rings. No dessert. The onion ring recipe is compliments of Emeril. You can find it on

Saturday is pesto, diced romas and pancetta on toasted bread (quartered), herb-encrusted roast leg of lamb with garlic roasted fingerling potatoes, pan-roasted broccoli with sliced almonds and garlic, and strawberry shortcake. The pesto is made from scratch, natch.

Sunday is roast chicken with root vegetables. The vegetable lineup includes leeks, carrots, red-skinned potatoes, rutabagas and turnips. They are all roasted together with the whole chicken—a meal in a roasting pan. That vegetable combo is amazing. I also just like saying, rutabaga. It’s a Thomas Keller recipe.

One of my stops today will be at the Wine Exchange in Orange, the best value wine merchant in SoCal. It will be a syrah Saturday, any which way you spell it.

The toasted bread for the Saturday night appetizer is not a canapé. You have to remove the crust to earn that snooty label. Guys don’t do canapés, or the stilted conversation that goes with them.

PJ has volunteered to make the shortcake from scratch. We already have fresh strawberries here in SoCal. There is a roadside stand one mile from our house.

The one birthday benefit coming my way is a weekend without KP. There is also a one in four chance that our son will do KP one night. If so, I may take a picture for posterity.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Good Day

I know that many of you are sleeping restlessly at night pondering the question, “What does a domestic engineer guy do during the day?”

There are some days when at day’s end I have wondered the same. But yesterday was a good day.

6:30 Coffee.

6:45 Carried on semi-awake conversation with chirpy PJ and shipped her off to work with hug.

7:00 LA Times Crossword.

7:30 Browsed favorite Internet web sites and responded to emails. (I don't want to hear from anyone who did the crossword in fifteen minutes.)

8:30 Breakfast.

9:00 Loaded dishwasher (breakfast plus last night’s dinner dishes).

9:30 Booked a Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering advertising campaign, and on-air interview with Indiana hometown radio station.

10:00 Went to post office to mail book to on-air talent who will conduct the interview.

10:30 LA Fitness workout—500 calories burnt.

12:30 Shower.

1:00 Light lunch—leftover Pur-ty Coleslaw with Walnuts (recipe from book).

1:15 Loaded in first laundry load.

1:30 Began paying bills

2:00 Second laundry load, hung up first load.

2:30 Finished bill paying.

3:00 Last laundry load, hung up second load.

3:15 Napped.

3:45 Hung up last load.

4:00 Began drafting this blog.

5:00 Caught up on national news and had a cocktail.

6:00 Fixed dinner.

7:00 Loaded dinner dishes and ran dishwasher.

7:30 Final email check.

8:00 Shut down brain. Don’t need it anyway for network TV programming.

Pretty exciting, huh?

Tomorrow I am thinking of counting the new sprouts on the rose bushes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Not So Rosy Roses

We have seven rose bushes. They are always a work in progress. I don’t know whether it is because my thumb never turned green from those childhood years on the Indiana farm, seven is an unlucky number, or our soil sucks.

I’m going with the soil.

I’d transplant them but there really isn’t another appropriate space on our small hillside parcel. PJ has become a rose bush groupie so I toil regularly with all manner of nurturing. She can be such a nudge.

At dinner the other night with friends whose green thumbs stick out like neon, they mentioned the magic word—manure.

Manure and I go way back. That is where I attained my spreading-manure skills. It took me several years to wash it off me when I left that farm. I’m pretty sure that is why I was so dating-challenged.

It seems an anathema that manure and sweet smelling roses would be a match, but apparently manure qualifies as aromatherapy for rose bushes. Still, I worried that using it would bring petitions from the neighborhood.

Yesterday, while the soil was still moist from last week’s El Nino temper tantrums, I mulched* the manure in and around the rose bushes. I dug out enough dirt so I could bury most of the manure and minimize the stench. I’ll get back to you on that.

If this doesn’t work I’m going to gird them with sand bags. I try to stay one step ahead of PJ. See previous two posts.

While I was at it I replanted a stunted lemon tree to a more soil-friendly area, and dug out a sickly shrub near out front door and replaced it with a dwarf palm. There was enough manure left over to treat (manure is a treat?) our lime tree and three under-performing bougainvilleas.

When I planted our lime tree several years ago I did not know they had such prickly personalities. Anytime I get within five feet it draws blood from somewhere on my body, even if wearing gloves. Yesterday it was my torso.

I burnt the manure-stained clothes.

*Yes I know; I made a verb out of a noun. I’ll do anything for alliteration.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Muddy and Morose

For the record, six days of rain is enough. One-two, fine. Six, no.

Yes, we are spoiled in SoCal. This week of deluges brings our season total to a sopping sum of ten inches, more than double the norm. I believe they issued a high surf advisory for downtown Los Angeles. The season is officially July 1 to June 30, but most years ninety-plus percent moisturizes us January-March.

But here's the rub, PJ wants to retire in the Northwest, you know that part of the country where residents have to grow webfeet. (Can you surf the web better with webfeet?) In doing some city-by-city research on Google, the lowest annual rainfall I have found is thirty-five inches. Thirty-five inches is the one-year record rainfall for SoCal since I moved here forty years ago. I remember that year, a massive El Nino temper tantrum. Cranky was my middle name.

Move inland, you say? Not an option. PJ's first criteria is to live within an hour of the water, and that doesn't mean a river.

After this week I don't need a flu shot, I need a shot of Norman Vincent Peale. That, or watching the entire collection of Victor Borge tapes.

Score near the end of the fourth quarter, Storms 5, Sun 1.

The sump pump did its duty. Oh yes, despite wallowing in the mud securing trashcan liners on the vulnerable side of the house, PJ bought twenty sand bags anyway. Twenty! Our Honda Hybrid's butt was dragging when she pulled into the driveway. So guess who got to wallow some more in the mud? She says she'll sleep better at night. I'm still trying to work the wrench out of my back. I could probably use someone with webfeet.

Today is foodstuffs procurement day, assuming I can make my runs without a boat. Trying a new recipe tonight found at It is called Italian Meatball Soup. This is one of my favorite cooking websites. Seems like the perfect way to end a soggy, dreary week. I'll be speaking to PJ again by Sunday.

Raining again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

El Nino Temper Tantrums

Storm Watch is more than what Southern California TV stations call Breaking News when it begins to drizzle in Ventura. Every 4-5 years we actually have major storms. Then they switch their coverage to 24/7.

I am always flummoxed to understand why the weather gods feel they have to make up for four-plus years of way-below-average rainfall in one week. But, this is the week that was. It is somewhat akin to planes in the landing pattern for LAX, storms lined up offshore waiting for their turn to make land and wreck havoc.

As of this morning, though still in the first half, the score is Storms 2, Sun 1.

Storms are problematic for our household. I dust off the sump pump and retrench one side of the house. We live in a cul de sac on a hillside (no mudslide worries). The property’s drainage system flows down our driveway to a run-off line in the cul de sac, and not via the shortest route, down the hillside twelve yards from the back of our house.

The root system from the bushes lining our thirty-yard's long driveway invaded our drainage system requiring me (during major storms) to sink a sump pump into the backyard drain culvert and extend a garden hose to the head of the driveway. Replacing that drainage system is currently #6 on a long list of expensive repairs and upgrades. After this week it may climb up the chart to #2.

The east side of the house is a bigger issue, mostly because our living room floor is the only part of the house below ground level. The property next door sits on a slightly higher elevation and is separated by a five-foot brick wall. The land between that wall and our house slopes down to a narrow passageway that is not paved but has stepping-stones.

Five years ago while on vacation in Europe (during the time of the tsunami) we had another El Nino outburst. There was so much rainfall over a short period that the water sat stagnant beside our house for several days. Upon returning home our living room rug was sopping. Cha-ching.

Now I trench every fall. Plus I piled dirt against the outside wall so that any water flows down, and away in the trench.

Bride PJ has a PhD in worrying. Watching the water flowing past the outside wall isn’t enough. She has determined that we need sandbags, something on the magnitude of what beachfront homes erect to fend off crashing waves during El Nino-like storms. Finding sandbags is pretty easy. The City of Anaheim offers each homeowner ten free ones. Finding sand isn’t as simple. I’m pretty sure local law enforcement frowns on pilfering sand from the beaches.

Police officer, “Excuse me, sir, but what are you doing?

Me, “My civic duty and piling up sand bags to prevent beach erosion.”

Police officer, “Okay, as you were.”

Just to rub it in, once a year PJ reminds me that on family camping trips in waterlogged Oregon her dad dutifully got up at night in middle of downpours to trench all around the tent so that his charges could stay all snugly cozy. How chivalrous.

Brain fart time. This morning (not last night) I spread six large trashcan liners over the dirt piled against the house. No rest for domestic engineer guys. Now even more water will flow away. The ground under the bags may not soon resemble a desert but no El Nino temper tantrums will seep inside the house. I think.

PJ will probably still insist on sand bags. But when I tell her I’d have to buy a Ford F-150 just to truck them in, I think she’ll back off. I’d borrow the neighbor’s truck but they only drive theirs for the image. I have never seen them actually put anything in the truck bed.

Paving the side of the house, with a culvert, and building a retaining wall at the base of the eroding slope also moves up the to-do list—maybe to #1. Cha-ching.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Buyer Beware

The meat department at my local Vons suckered me last week.

I had a new tri-tip recipe I wanted to give a whirl. I usually buy tri-tip at Costco but wasn’t willing to drive the 12-mile round trip just for one item. I had made my monthly Costco run the first week of January.

Vons (owned by Safeway) is one of those supermarket chains that bypassed USDA labeling to create their own unbranded brand—in this case Ranchers Reserve. Cute.

When they introduced this “brand” a few years ago I cornered one of the meat cutters wearing a bloodstained white apron. He was evasive about the grade of beef as it related to the USDA grades of prime, choice, select, standard, and road kill.

So I drastically cut back my Vons’ beef purchases unless I needed chuck for my pot roast recipe. With a pot roast the braising process renders beef so tender you don’t even need teeth.

Last Friday I bit on three-pound-plus tri-tip cut on sale. Big mistake.

During my Saturday night prep time I took the cut out of the package only to discover a large slab of fat hidden under the cut. By the time I finished trimming the hidden slab and some other fat, my three-pound-plus cut weighed a little less than two pounds. I had trimmed off one and one quarter pounds of fat!

I will be having a chat with another Vons’ person when I do my weekly shopping this week, only this time the manager.

If stopping by my website, click on videos and watch the one entitled “Where’s the Beef? Here’s Your Beef,”—a bit long, but lots of good meat in it about meat. The tri-tip I used in that video was purchased at Costco and didn’t need any fat trimming. So even though it was not on sale at Costco, I still paid less, pound for pound, than the Vons tri-tip cut on sale. Plus, the Costco cut was USDA Choice, not Ranchers Reverse Obese.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Puffery

As I have written here and in a published column, self-publishing is a lot like life, one long forced march into enemy territory. I am regularly more optimistic than that, but there are days when it seems that way. It is its own slog into the unknown, especially for the uninitiated, and the odds are daunting.

So, I slog on. Call it rogue marketing. The often disheartening task is to get outside my circle (albeit it a large one) of family and friends, especially with a limited budget.

For those who are clicking on my website or blog for the first time, whether via my Facebook ad or a friend’s recommendation, welcome. I hope you take your curiosity a step further, check out the book, and buy it.

To that end I am sharing here some comments received from friends. Yes, I know, friends won’t likely pan my book. And at times, the silence can be deafening. Conversely, there are some chest-expanders. What is said often says more than something like, “I’m enjoying your book,” as much as I still savor that.

To wit:

“Hilarious but oh-so-helpful.”

“Donna (spouse) kept asking me what I was laughing about so I would stop and read her a section I had just read.”

“Keith, your book is a hoot. I hope my hubby doesn’t notice the chocolate smudges on the pages Christmas morning.”

“The wedding for dummies and ‘Mr. Fix It’ situations were just great comedy.”

Your book… “has a niche, is funny and serious, thought-provoking and more, but just enough to let me beg, write a sequel! Become the macho male Erma Bombeck.”

There is no male version of Erma, IMO. It is a label I aspire to—another daunting task.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Consumer Push-backs

I was just hit with another late fee, this time by our Chevron/Texaco credit card. Suddenly it hit me—not a knockout punch, more like a whack up side my head.

Duh, dude, why do you need them? (I talk to myself a lot.)

Fair question. Gas companies take all manner of cards, Visa, Mastercard, American Express…all of which we have.

Since I still live in the Dark Ages and pay our bills with checks, I am prime meat for late fees, just one of the new credit card “gotchas.” I used to pay bills once a month. Now I pay four times a month. Whatever can go wrong, will—whether a bill mysteriously disappears (regardless of your foolproof system), or the post office suddenly takes five days to deliver instead of the usual 2-3 days.

Gas credit cards still charge gouge interest rates but we have been paying them off every month for over ten years.

Last month I missed the Chevron deadline by one day. Our thirty-five year relationship meant nothing. Gotcha! They tacked on $25.00 to the bill.

Hence the “duh” moment.

We had already cancelled our Exxon account several years ago over a similar incident. Now we are canceling Chevron/Texaco. But just to add an exclamation point we are cutting up the cards and returning them with the final payment.

We still have Shell cards. It may take a bit longer to wean our son off that last card, even though he now has a Visa card, and a debit card.

We are buying most of our gas now at Costco—routinely ten cents lower per gallon. They take American Express, as does every other pimping station.

And no, I did not misspell pumping.

We have also been Wells Fargo Bank customers for over thirty years. In yet another “push-back” move we are seriously looking into moving our checking account to a smaller, community-centered bank that loans money to small businesses.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Licking Privileges

This weekend is PJ’s birthday weekend. I won’t disclose her age, especially since it is so close to mine.

Her birthday is actually on the 13th but as is our rule we celebrate on the weekend closest to the birthday when it falls on a weekday. Since our daughter is still with us from her extended holiday visit PJ naturally chose this weekend.

This morning she asked if she could also include next weekend, and even though she is the family ATM, I held my ground and said “no.” I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out.

The birthday girl gets her pick for tonight’s menu plus lots of weekend bennies. In her case that doesn’t add up to much because I routinely handle most of the to-do lists. Remember that ATM part.

PJ chose avocado, smoked salmon, sprouts, and pesto on toasted wheat bread for the appetizer, filet-of-beef with béarnaise sauce for the main course, roasted vegetables (fingerlings, haricot verts, carrots, red onion) with pesto (in this case without the basil, and butter in addition to olive oil), and for the closer, Jack Daniels & chocolate pecan pie*. The Jack Daniels is in the pie, not the beverage you serve with it. But for you Jack lovers, got for it.

One of PJ’s regular bennies is bowl licking after I have poured or spooned out the dessert concoction just prior to baking. This pie filling includes: butter, unsweetened chocolate, eggs, sugar, corn syrup, vanilla extract, and Jack Daniels. So her first birthday treat was the bowl. Even though I made the mixture with my largest bowl she still could not put her face into the bowl. Lord knows she tried. This is one of the times when a tongue extender would come in handy**. As it was, after scooping out as much as she could with a spoon, she fell in love with her right index finger. I almost didn’t have to wash the bowl.

*If interested in any of these recipes, contact me via my website,

**I know what you’re thinking.