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Son of an Ice Cream Man

By Mel Gilden

I have a close personal relationship with ice cream. Though summer is officially over, I don’t require hot weather to enjoy the king of hot weather treats. I like to eat it no matter what the weather. I don’t think it’s all the fault of my father, but he probably helped. My father and his partners owned a fleet of Eskimo Pie ice cream trucks.

He started work early, and he came home early, and so we always had dinner at 5:00 p.m. Often the family would be sitting at dinner when we heard the sound of the enemy entering our domain: the Good Humor truck.

Mel says he never sold an Eskimo Pie to a woman wearing spectator pumps and an apron--but he wishes he had.

Forks were suspended in midair. Conversation stopped. Then my father would curse in Yiddish. Roughly his curses translated as, “Columbus should be so lucky,” and “He [meaning the Good Humor man] should have on his bones what he makes on this street.” As the Good Humor man truck’s music faded, we would begin to eat again, trying to pretend the whole situation had never happened

Every Good Humor bar the driver sold represented one fewer Eskimo Pie bar that one of our guys sold. The competition was terrific, especially during the winter when business was pretty thin for all.

I drove an ice cream truck myself one summer. Being the boss’s son, I was open to some gentle kidding. For one thing, most everybody called me Ace. But I didn’t mind. It made me feel like one of the guys — which was OK because during the summer some of the drivers were students and others were even teachers. One gentleman from England assured me that he liked “fast women and fast ice cream trucks.” Another gentleman was a cracker-jack salesman who sold more ice cream in a day than some drivers sold in a week.

Theoretically, each driver had a route where he would slowly roll the streets, watching for customers to wave him down, but sometimes there were arguments about who was supposed to drive where. I didn’t have this problem because, being the boss’s son, I was sent out to the good places, places that the other drivers might not even know about. I was sent to nice neighborhoods, and to Marina del Rey. In those days the marina was not so built up with fancy condos and restaurants, and I parked along the channel to service the men and woman who fished from the rocks. This was not only a pleasant way to spend a hot summer day, but it meant that I wasn’t using much gasoline.

For a while I sold ice cream at Roxbury Park, a fancy public space in Beverly Hills. A Good Humor man was also assigned to the same location, and we went round and round the park, chasing each other along an alley that ran behind it. Officially, each of us was supposed to stop only when actually doing business. But often one of us would stop and wait for business to come along. Though we both did this, only the Good Humor man had the lack of class and breeding to report me to the cops. I probably still have a police record buried in a file somewhere in Beverly Hills.

One of the problems with being an ice cream man was the tendency to eat up the profits. I did my best to limit my ice cream intake, but I found myself eating a lot of a novelty item called Papa Jino’s Italian Ices On a Stick. I ate a couple of these every day for a few weeks, and then one day I didn’t want another one. From that time on Papa Jino was safe from me.

My labors–and my restraint–paid off. I bought my first car, a used 1960 Chevrolet Belvedere, with the proceeds of my summer stint as an ice cream man.

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Try the Soup

By Mel

Part of going to a party is knowing how to eat the food they serve. For normal people this isn’t usually a problem because one of the things most of us learn as children is how to use eating utensils. I’m sure my parents tried their best, but apparently not everything they taught me stuck to my gray matter.

For one thing, Laurie is forever having to remind me to put my fork into my mouth right side up — in the carrying position — rather than turning it over to dump the food into my mouth. I know she is right because doing it my way, some of the food will inevitably escape, especially if it is in any way granular or slimy. I am always washing my shirts.

Which reminds me of a Talmudic joke I once heard. It is Talmudic because supposedly it has a deeper and more universal meaning than the obvious surface meaning. I don’t know what that meaning is. All I know is that this joke is about silverware and it always makes me laugh:

Every Friday for many years a man named Morris visits the same restaurant before he goes to temple. And every Friday he has the same food delivered to his table by the same waiter.
One Friday the waiter brings the soup to Morris as always, but he has not taken two steps away from the table when Morris calls him back. “Try the soup,” Morris says.
“What do you mean?” the waiter asks.
“Try the soup,” Morris suggests more strongly.
“You’ve been coming her for fifteen years. It’s the same soup.”
“Try. The. Soup.”
Disgusted but willing to go along with a crazy customer, the waiter nods. “All right,” he says. “Where’s the spoon?”
“Aha!” Morris cries.

Ya see, Morris can’t just come out and ask for a spoon because that wouldn’t be Talmudic — the story would just be a joke. But being a Talmudic story, we are allowed to ponder on what we learned from it.

Perhaps it will remind me to use my fork right side up.

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A teapot arrangement for a larger table

Tea’s simple– or it can be. At one time tea consisted of bread, butter and jam, and tea. It became more elaborate in the early 1800s when it developed into a late-afternoon meal intended to tide ladies over until dinner was served sometime after nine o’clock. “Low” tea–often called a cream tea in the south of England–is taken in parlors, preferably served by the staff to ladies chatting in their armchairs. High tea is served on dining tables, hence the “high” part.

My Wisteria Tea generally turns out to be a substantial meal, though many of the items on the table come from the cream tea tradition. I lay a buffet on my dining table and set up small tables on both my front and back patios. Laurie and I own lots of 30-inch round tables because, well, we throw lots of parties. We share them for events, and we buy them on sale whenever we see them (usually at Big Lots; you know us – we love a bargain!). You never know what might happen to them -– I once came out of the kitchen during a party just in time to catch one young niece photographing another niece artfully posed on a rapidly collapsing table normally reserved for three seated at, not on the table. Panic ensued as they spotted me and hastily tried to put the table back together–in vain. Those nieces are lovely young ladies now and would never do anything quite so undignified these days – at least not in front of me.

Our nieces have helped assemble flowers at my last couple of teas. Both this year and last, I was in the kitchen while the fabulous table arrangements were magically produced by my floral genius sis, Hellen, and the nieces. This year Hellen had our niece Norah at the flower mart at 6:00 a.m. and back designing at my house before 7:00. We’ve done lots of arrangements in teacups, but this time they chose from my large collection of antique creamers.

Here are some of the results, arrangements so easy an 11-year-old can make them (with some expert advice from one of the best designers in the business!).

Just grab a few of your favorite flowers -– if they’re larger (roses, lilies, ranunculus), it really only takes five or six stems for a small arrangement. If the flowers are smaller (baby roses, sweet peas, daffodils), it will take a few more. Start with three in your hand (think of a triangle) and add a few more on each side. Finish with an edge of something green (three ferns, a couple stems of ivy or three or four sprigs of rosemary –- your own yard may provide endless possibilities). You can wrap them together with a pipe cleaner to hold the shape you’ve created, but if your vase neck is small enough, it will do the job without a pipe cleaner.

Make one for each small table. If you’ve got five tables (for 15 to 20 guests), make five adorable little arrangements. Plan to buy (or, if you’ve got a great garden, cut) 25 to 30 larger flowers, plus some smaller ones for filling in gaps. Hellen used sweet peas to fill in, along with herbs from the garden. That’s it for your small centerpieces – how easy can it get?

Hazel

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Since it looks like rain is heading our way for the weekend–figures! it’s perfect all week and wet all weekend– I will offer you another pressure cooker recipe that is super simple and rivals the best stew you’ve ever had.

Costco sells stew meat, as do most markets. It’s called stew meat because, in theory, you let it stew until it becomes tender and flavorful, usually several hours on the stovetop or all day in your Crock Pot. The sad part is that sometimes (okay, often), no matter how long it simmers, stew meat never becomes tender.

Bring on the pressure cooker! It makes a mockery of tough hunks of meat. I always make lots so I can have leftovers, and here’s how I do it.

Hazel’s Easy Beef Stew
1 pound (or so) of stew meat
4 large potatoes
6 carrots
1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup each frozen corn and peas
3 cans of Campbell’s consommé
3 cans Campbell’s French onion soup (I told you I like leftovers–plus I always send some home with my honey for his workday lunch)
1/4 cup catsup
Flour
Salt and pepper

Peel the carrots and potatoes and cut into large chunks and put in a pan large enough to hold them. Pour in a couple cans of the onion soup (just enough to cover the vegetables) and bring to boil, leaving uncovered. This will cook while your beef is under pressure. If you cook them with the beef, the vegetables will become mush in a very short time.

Dredge the chunks of beef in flour seasoned with salt and pepper (I usually add about a tablespoon of salt to the flour mixture; you can also add a couple teaspoons of paprika) and set aside. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your pressure cooker and heat it until the oil shimmers. Place a layer of the floured beef in the hot oil, sear on all sides and remove. Repeat until your beef is all seared, then toss it all back into the pan with the juices. Add the onions, the consommé and one can French onion soup. There should be plenty of liquid, but don’t worry, you’ll lose about half of it through the steam. Add the catsup, give it a stir and cover with your pressure cooker lid and tighten.

Bring the heat up to steam using the 10-pound designation on your pressure regulator. Cook for about 20 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Take a tenderness test of the beef – it should be perfect but once in a while it needs to go a bit longer. If so, repeat for another 10 minutes before adding your veggies.
When tender, add the potatoes and carrots, liquid and all, to the cooked beef. Bring back to a bubble and add the peas and corn. Cook just til they’re hot through. You really shouldn’t have to add any other spices. You will have a perfect (every time) beef stew. That’s it, nothing else. If you’re feeling the need of the perfect bread, I usually throw four frozen Pillsbury Grand biscuits in the oven for 12 minutes and time them to come out just after I’ve dished up our stew. I’m making myself hungry – enjoy!

Hazel

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“The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing wax–
Of cabbages–and kings”
Lewis Carroll

When I saw the long-stemmed cabbages at the flower mart a few weeks back, I knew exactly what I was

Too good an idea to pass up--long-stemmed cabbages to go with kings in a centerpiece.

going to create for our Alice in Wonderland/Queen of Hearts centerpiece. Cabbages and kings would be a major part of my table décor. I didn’t know exactly how it would figure as part of the party, just that it would be perfect for the event. I think that’s how Laurie and I often play off each other: We have used many hours of cell phone minutes working out the details of an event. This one proved no exception.

Weeks before the party, I set about creating the elements. I made a trip to Lowe’s, where I purchased a sampler can of bright red high-gloss paint and a couple very inexpensive wooden-handled paintbrushes. When I got home, I spread plastic wrap on my kitchen countertop, opened my can of freshly mixed paint and dribbled it onto the plastic wrap. Then I placed a 20-inch wire in my dribbles and laid my paintbrush at the end. I did this with both brushes and let them dry.

But it wasn’t quite the look I wanted, so a few days later, after my paintbrushes and dribbles were sufficiently dry, I went back, dipped another brush into my paint can and re-dribbled over my old dribbles (bummer, I actually had to clean that paintbrush). At last, I had what looked like paint spatters, now attached to a wire and a paintbrush. I thought that the plastic wrap would slide right off the back of my paint

"We're painting the roses red; we're painting the roses red"--and we're using this brush, complete with artful spatters.

spatters–but no such luck. Instead I had to trim it off with a fresh single-edged razorblade. I now had perfect, almost cartoonlike paintbrushes, ready to paint my white roses red before the crabby Queen of Hearts discovers the error.

Since they were just short regular brushes and I needed them to stand out in the large centerpiece I planned to build, I got out my trusty hot-glue gun and glued them onto rose stems, where they would blend in with greenery of my arrangement. Only the paint brushes–and, of course, my artful paint spatters–would show at the top.

I also taped (with green floral tape) card picks to longer stems so they, too, would stand out. (Card picks are those plastic holders you get when a floral arrangement is delivered, along with a note from your honey.) I took all of the kings out of several decks of old cards, so I could put them in arrangements throughout the house. After all, Alice’s Wonderland does feature playing cards as characters. Yep, I buy my cards at Costco, so I had plenty of cards available!

Cabbages, kings, paint brush...and, of course, a token representing the Queen of Hearts.


Next I’ll show you how I assembled it.

Hazel

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Christmas Eve day–or what Mel calls Erev Yontif, the night before the holiday. Am I busy? Oh, a smidge. Vicki’s open house is this evening and I thought I’d try out a few options for that puff pastry in the freezer. You know, along with baking five desserts. What’s a holiday for, if not to make yourself crazy in the kitchen? As an added attraction, I’ll be hitting the 210 freeway at 2:00 p.m. Yep, that’ll be fun.

Mushroom tartlets


But here’s what I spent the morning trying out.

Mushroom Tartlets
1 sheet Trader Joe’s puff pastry
8 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 tablespoons minced onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sherry
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan for topping

Saute the mushrooms, onions and garlic slowly, until the mushrooms give up their moisture and then dry out somewhat. Stir in the sherry and the cream cheese. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Set aside.
Thaw the pastry and roll it out according to the instructions on the package. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the sheet of pastry into five strips and cut each strip into six pieces. Place the squares in mini muffin pans (you’ll have about a half dozen extra pieces). Divide the mushroom mixture among the muffin cups (about a teaspoon filling per cup). Sprinkle with parmesan. Bake about 15 minutes, until puffy and browned. Serve warm.

Alternative filling:

1/2 pound Italian sausage, crumbled
2 tablespoons minced onion
3 tablespoons cream cheese

Saute the sausage and onions. Mix in the cream cheese.
Follow above instructions for the pastry. Once the puffs are baked, top each mini tart with a dab of jam (any kind will work; I used fig muscat) and a dab of mild mustard.

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These guys decorated their bikes with hundreds of toys to donate to Santa Claus Inc

Just a quick word this morning: Hazel is off to the flower mart to survey the seasonal offerings…and NOT spend her paycheck (and then, weather permitting, she’s covering a motorcycle event for Thunder Press and then shopping for toys for the 22nd annual Pomona Valley HOG Toy Run tomorrow, which donates toys to Santa Claus Inc., a cause she’s devoted to). Molly’s Mutts & Meows, a cause I’m devoted to, today, followed by a potluck holiday party this evening.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not contemplating our tree-trimming tea (that’s why Hazel’s at the flower mart). Trader Joe’s has actual butter puff pastry in its freezer case; normally I have to drive to Surfas in Culver City for puff pastry made with butter rather than shortening. Needless to say, I stocked up. Now I have to decide what I’m doing with it.

And Hazel and I are debating the cream filling for that gingerbread trifle. She thinks it would be good with lemon. I think butterscotch will be better. Guess what? We’re going to try both. Votes will be cast by the tree-trimmers. If the votes are tied, we’ll post both recipes and let you cast your votes too.

Visions of sugar plums are dancing in my head. Specifically, visions of peppermint-bark-inspired cupcakes. Details TK (to come), as we say in the editing business. I gave up making fancy Christmas cookies years ago, when I looked at the cookie trays after the family gathering on Christmas Eve and realized that all the time-consuming decorated cookies were still sitting there and all the homey old favorites–chocolate chip, brownies, peanut butter–were gone. The trouble with the fancy decorated ones is that they generally taste like flour and they’re tough as leather from all of the handling (there are ways to get around that, and we’ll talk about them in the next week or two). But a tree-decorating tea–oh, there’s an excuse for fancy cookies. What shall I make? How much time do I have?

Not much! I have to make a kugel for that potluck (it’s still Hannukah; we light the fourth candle at sundown this evening), and I’m making one of those great slaw recipes from Smitten Kitchen (ooh, Deb’s got an apple latke recipe up for Hannukah; do I have time to try it this evening?) to take also…but if I get up at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow, I should have six hours of baking time ahead of me. Oh, boy! Recipes to come. Trifle results to come. The next week will be a busy one here for the Party Know-It-Alls.

We’ll keep you posted.

Laurie

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