Archive for January, 2012

For once, the critics have it right.  “It’s a world class performance in search of a film,” says one post on Rotten Tomatoes

Impossible to do justice to the monumental career of Margaret Thatcher in a little under two hours, The Iron Lady glances over the significant highlights of Thatcher’s career with barely more than a host of photo ops.  We  never get much motivation on which to chew.  This film is much more about the cruel and heart breaking realities of aging, no matter the earlier successes. 

Meryl  Streep is beyond brilliant as she captures  Thatcher’s mannerisms.  One minute her eyes flash with anger as she adjusts her bracelet, then next they show her devastating defeat; then we see her confusion as she struggles to grasp what’s happening to her as she ages.   But alone in the last scenes, her indomitable spirit shines through as she narrows her eyes and straightens her posture,  ready to face the horror of her creeping dementia. 

If you expect an accurate portrayal of her significant political accomplishments you’ll be disappointed in the substance of the story.  If you expect a gentle treatment of one’s inevitable decline, you’ll be impressed.  But either way, Streep’s performance is a tour de force.  

How ironic that both Thatcher and Regan, great friends and champions of the free world, should have faced such similar final chapters.

 Welcome to guest blogger Ilene R –

Okay.  So I’m not quite vegan since I still consume dairy products, nor vegetarian since I eat fish.  I am a pescatarian.  Problem is that when you have company not everyone likes fish.  So my dilemma for a recent book club luncheon was what to make that wouldn’t include tofu or fish, two of my regular staples.  Since most everyone likes some form of comfort food, I figured that a potato type casserole might work.  I decided on a potato, leek and asparagus casserole.  Here’s the recipe though the measurements are guesstimated since anyone who knows me knows I don’t measure (which is why I’m not a very good baker!):



Celery stalks, thinly sliced, maybe 3 or use more if you really, really like celery.
Leeks, thinly sliced (only white and light green part) and cut into 1/2 moons.  Again, depending on how much you like onions, start with 3.
About 1- 1/2 packages of cream cheese, but if you want to watch the calories you can use neufchatel cheese Leave it out for a while so that it’s soft.
About 3/4 cup veg broth (you have to judge if if’s enough when you throw it into the pot, so start with this small amount.
Ffrozen artichokes (I got mine at Trader Joe’s of course!). 2 bags should do it.  Make sure water is squeezed out and coarsely chopped
A little salt and a lot of ground pepper (that’s my taste, reverse if you’re a salt addict!)
A little over a bag of TJ’s little potatoes — the one that are different colors–thinly sliced.
Some chopped garlic cloves (2-3)
Olive oil

Cooking Part 1 – the Ingredients:

Preheat oven to 425. In large skillet heat olive oil over medium-high flame.
Saute chopped garlic
Add leeks and celery, cook until softened (maybe 5-8 minutes)
Add artichokes, broth and cheese. Salt and Pepper too.
When everything is all blended together, remove skillet from heat.

Cooking Part 2 – the Casserole

I used a glass baking dish and sprayed it with TJ Olive Oil spray, but you can brush the dish with oil too.
Arrange 1/2 potato slices (overlapping) on the bottom.
Spoon artichoke mixture on top
Add another layer of potatoes. Brush top with oil
Put in oven and bake until sauce is bubbling and potatoes are golden (I let mine get a little crispy).

Figure 35-45 minutes.



The Finished Masterpiece

Bon Appetit            

In my early twenties I spent some time in Bardstown, Kentucky, near the home of  the Makers Mark Kentucky Whiskey Distillery.  One of my most vivid memories was of the smell of sour mash.  In the humidity of the summer, even the apples on the trees tasted like bourbon.   I can’t say it was always pleasant, but it sure was memorable.

Fast forward to this fall when we were on our way to a Jazz Concert at  the LaQuinta Resort and wanted a quick but decent dinner before the concert.  Old Towne was right around the corner and upon our friends’  recommendation we gave The Grill on Main a try. 

From the parking lot the grill smells told us we were in for a treat.  We had no disappointments here!   The service was prompt and friendly, the setting was better than average and all our entries were deliciously prepared and beautifully presented. 

But the pièce de résistance  was the Bread Pudding with Makers Mark sauce.  OMG…it defied description and took me right back to my Bardstown memories. 

I’ve never been a big fan of bread pudding, but after my experience, I had to try to recreate it at home.  After an exhaustive search for a good bread pudding recipe with the correct accoutrement  I checked out the Makers Mark website in hopes of a recipe.   I’m convinced you won’t find a better one.!/cook/desserts/47-apple-bourbon-bread-pudding-br-with-maker-s-mark-caramel

Just remember my mantra, don’t skimp or substitute on the basic ingredients.  This one is worth the effort.  And so is the Grill on Main Street, Old Towne, LaQuinta.

Welcome to guest reviewer Ilene Rubenstein, who,  until her recent retirement, was the LRC Writing Programs Coordinator at CSU Northridge.  She settled into the desert life a year ago and currently is a part time faculty liaison at COD.


The Perfect Stranger is a charming little movie starring Colm Meany playing Irishman Mark O’Reilly.   

O’Reilly’s arrival to a small village on a Mediterranean island piques the interest of a diverse group of residents who appear unexpectedly in his life.   We don’t know why this stranger  is in town.  His intentions are hidden behind an old photograph he periodically looks at and as we watch him take many trips to the countryside, snapping pictures of odd formations in the landscapes, we are somewhat befuddled.  On the other hand, we learn a lot about the townspeople—two policemen, one open and kind, the other believing only the worst about people; a young boy who is mostly ignored by his family; a troubled young girl; a woman determined to have a baby.  All the residents share one belief about the stranger—they all think he’s going to reopen an old shop and bring the town to life.  We laugh at the communication gaffes (O’Reilly and the townspeople don’t speak each others’ language).  But we come to understand that these gaffes fulfill the townspeople’s needs (hence the movie title).  Ultimately, with a series of unexpected twists, the movie challenges us to re-consider traditional beliefs about  communication and reinforces the notion of redemption and second chances.

This film is not yet rated, and will premier in Spain in March.

They were the hit of our annual Festivus holiday party.  I can’t claim any originality here, as the recipe came from the Joy of Baking.  This video and recipe will give you all the details. 

However, the rule of thumb (you don’t want to know where that saying originated…wouldn’t that be a fun page to start on this blog?)  Anyway the rule of thumb is – don’t skimp on ingredients!  Use a good brand of peanut butter.  Use an exceptional brand of dark simi sweet chocolate, and leave the balls in the freezer for a good amount of time before you try to dip them in the chocolate. 

Yes, this recipe isn’t the fastest to make – the only difficulty I had was getting the toothpick out of the ball after the dipping process. – but definitely worth the trouble.  And I’ve got the five pounds to prove it!  Enjoy!

Cruising the Western Caribbean

In these pictures the Solstice and her identical twin sister the Equinox docked side-by-side in Grand Caymen.  It was an awesome sight.

Today’s cruise ships are bloated floating cities that carry more than two thousand five hundred passengers and a crew of more than twelve hundred.  They come complete with movie theaters, libraries, internet cafes, cable television  and boutique shops.  If you’re in need of an intimate experience, this probably isn’t it. 

We cruise because we like to STOP and be entertained, eat, read or sleep — Our itinerary is set; we don’t have to pack, reserve a car, or think about where we’re going to eat.   Well, that last part isn’t exactly true.  These days cruise companies  have created new up charge features – specialty dining experiences that do require reservations, but they’re worth it because they put the rest of the ship’s culinary efforts to shame. 

But that being said, our week aboard the Celebrity Solstice was our tenth cruise and it was heaven to be waited on whenever we wanted.  The bed was made and the towels were always fresh.  Champagne arrived with the canapes  promptly at four.  Long ago we figured out that if you get organized you can eat twelve times a day, but then, who wants to be organized on a cruise? 

The Solstice was the largest one in our experience, at one thousand forty-one feet long and one hundred twenty-one wide.  There is something to be said for the sheer marvel of engineering that modern ships employ.  

The Solstice and her four ecologically designed sister ships (all built in Germany)  are powered by Azipods – marine propulsion units with electrically driven propellers, which are  mounted on steerable pods – very little vibration, very little rock and roll, very little wake.   The elevators are powered by movable solar panels that cover the indoor swimming pool.  Most refuse goes into a high temperature burn facility and other food refuse is ground and fed to marine life.  Recycled materials are crushed and bundled for deposit at the end of the cruise. 

For me the one non sequitur was the real grass growing on the putting green on deck 16…I couldn’t quite envision one of the crew up there with a lawnmower…

Our ports of call were Cozumel Mexico, Roatan Honduras and Grand Cayman Island.  But if you’ve cruised the Caribbean before and aren’t there for the snorkeling & diving, or Mayan archeological wonders – or the ship’s casino – you’ve probably seen more than enough of the interchangeable jewelry shops and desperately sad  trinket hawkers trying to get the attention of the tourists who  like scurrying ants leaving a disturbed nest, are disgorged from the ship in every port.   So in the end, it for us it’s more about the on-board experiences. 

Clebrity Cruises, founded by the Greek Chandris Group is known by the signature X that appears on the side of the ship signifying the Greek letter Chi.  Most of the crew is Indonesian:  attentative, beyond pleasant and delightfully efficient.  Senior officers are mostly Greek and Dutch.  

The only fly in our ointment was the front-of-the-house culinary personnel  who were from the Eastern Bloc nations and were beyond overly officious and off-putting.

If you’re in a hurry, Seafood Risotto isn’t the dish with which to start out, although it’s deliciously rewarding if you’re patient.  To do it right requires almost a constant stir as you slowly add more of the liquid to the rice.  The only way to screw it up is to not cook it long enough to let the rice absorb all the liquid.  And sometimes you have to add more liquid (white wine is nice) to be sure it’s tender enough.  Your tongue will tell you.

One good recipe is at You can add peas or edamame, leeks or shallots, but skip the clam juice and double up on the Meyer lemons!  They’re fresh this time of year and really give the recipe a nice zing.   Mushrooms are good too, but don’t use those boring white ones.  Choose baby portobella or crimini – and add your white wine to the chicken stock

If you don’t have the time, a perfectly acceptable substitute can be found at Trader Joes in the freezer section (Risotto with mushrooms) or at Costco.  They have a good prepared Risotto (also with mushrooms) that can be heated in the microwave.  Both choices are great if you’re pressed for time. 

  Be inventive, be daring.  Give it a try!

Movie Review
A topic left much unexplored in our culture.  We all wonder what it must be like for the parents of children who have done horrific things.  This movie takes an unblemished look at what cannot be glossed over – or ever accepted.  Swinton’s grief  over the unspeakable behavior of her child, is mapped across her face from beginning to end.  The same goes for the two actors who portray her disturbed son.  The unanswered question – is why? 
A brave inspection of a disturbing subject.  John C. Reilly is the only flaw in this brilliant film.  Mr. Cellophane is too lasting an image to make Reilly believable in this part.  Be prepared to be thinking about this one for a long, long time. 
We Need to Talk About Kevin is a masterful blend of drama and horror, with fantastic performances across the board (Tilda Swinton especially, delivering one of her very best).

Our fourth trip back  in three years to this funky Palm Springs  restaurant proved every bit as rewarding as the earlier ones.  In between movie previews at the Annenberg, as part of our International Film Festival marathon, we’d gotten confused about where we’d made our early dinner reservations.  

Zini Mediterranean has a sister restaurant called Zen American Bistro and they are within a block of each other on South Palm Canyon in Palm Springs.  A frantic phone call finally clarified it.

Happy hour is a great time to try this restaurant.  Even the Mimosas are only a couple of bucks.  The Tapas choices were a bit skimpy for the price, but delectable none the less — great choices of gourmet cheeses, meats and olives and yummy bread.    Fortunately we had the time for a leisurely repast, as we weren’t due back for our second film screening for several hours. Besides, watching the masses drift by the open cafe is always a trip!  Our waiter, Greg, was a hoot and a good sport to boot.  He turned out to be a Palm Springs native who is a die hard Patriots fan, so we all had one eye on the bar television. 

BTW  if you get as confused as we were, just remember, Zini is a couple of doors down from the Follies and around the corner from Tylers.   Have the Salad Niçoise.*   What else do you need to know? 

*of or pertaining to Nice, France. Dishes that are served à la niçoise are characterized by ingredients common to the south of France — black olives and olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, green beans, potatoes, and anchovies.

We were fearful that our move to the Coachella Valley would prove to be a cultural desert.  Having recently retired, I finally had enough time on my hands to explore, research and organize our social life.  With typical Leo-like generosity, we just had to include our friends.

How delightful that they now anticipate our keeping them abreast of the myriad opportunities to eat, drink and be merry.  If it’s cultural we, along with our expanding friends,  embrace it all with enthusiastic abandon.  Join us and share your thoughts and experiences.

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