Monday, July 6, 2015

            The old barn stood deserted in a huge field overgrown with yellow, blue, and pink wild flowers. It had been abandoned years ago. No one repaired it because it didn’t belong to anyone. What once was the large door for horses to go in and out was now completely covered with ivy and moss. The people in cars that rushed by on the highway did not see the small opening in the far corner that led inside to a wonderland where CaliClaus and her faithful felines were preparing for their Christmas miracle.

Huge baskets filled with clusters of catnip dangled from a thirty foot high ceiling.
            Twinkling lights from the rays of the sun danced on green leaves through the overhead skylight window, and the tiny cracks in the roof dripped just enough rain to make them grow until they almost touched the floor.

            The barn was sectioned off with everything a cat needed for a happy life. Squeaky fur mice, dangly string toys, and assorted colored balls filled huge boxes. Comfy beds and pillows made of denim and velvet, wood scratching posts, litter boxes and perfumed cat litter were sorted into bundles. And hundreds of bags of dry kibbles and canned wet food were piled in the center of the floor surrounded by kitty treats.
            Cali counted her workers. There were eight in total. They were her pilot team, well trained and reliable. They had gathered enough food, bedding, and toys during the year to accompany two hundred cats and six dozen kittens on their journey.
Bombie and Angie were the leaders of the team. They traveled together as a pair. Bombie, the gentle, well-mannered, elegant black cat that resembled a panther from the jungle, had eyes the color of copper pennies and was a purebred Bombay. Angie, the long-haired white Angora, could trace her breed back over four hundred years to 1600. She was strikingly beautiful and danced like a ballerina. Both were highly intelligent and believed that every human deserved a special cat to love and be loved.
            OK, commanded CaliClaus, Is our team ready?
Yes indeed, answered Bombie and Angie, as they moved toward the door together.
Yes indeed, purred Bali the Balinese, who always had something to say. Yes indeed, sang Ragamuffin, the affectionate cat that loved everyone. Yes indeed, Chirped Munchkin, trying to stand tall on her short legs.
Yes indeed, cooed Dollie, the large mild-mannered combination of the Persian and Siamese cat that became the Ragdoll breed.
Yes indeed, lilted the Scottish Fold twins in their soft voices, their little ears folded tightly into their heads.
            When there were no cars in sight they ran across the highway one at a time so as not to be noticed by any passersby. In the distance, they could see the animal shelter where stray and unwanted cats were taken.
The Shelter was tightly secured with wire fencing and a gate that had a combination lock. Using a pair of wire cutters, CaliClaus clipped an opening for them to squeeze through. Then they found a window that was slightly cracked open.
Dollie, since you are the largest of us, wedge underneath and push the window open.
The 16 pound obedient Ragdoll did as she was told and, with a huge effort, pushed the window upward just enough to let the others through.
            What they saw caused them to stop in their tracks. There were cages from floor to ceiling filled with cats and kittens. CaliClaus whispered, Over half of them will be put to sleep before the week is over.            The Scottish Fold twins wrapped their paws around each other, holding each other tightly.
            Why can’t we take them all, and set free the ones that can’t live with people, mewed
Bali, who always had something to say.
            Because they will only be killed by cars or be attacked by raccoons or foxes or
Bobcats, meowed Bombie, her penny colored eyes half closed with sadness.
Enough of this! We have to choose 200 cats and six dozen kittens to place in homes
tomorrow night. It’s time to interview and bring them with us as quickly as possible,
commanded CaliClaus.
            It was a difficult job. Most of the cats chortled, Take Me, Take Me, while the kittens just cuddled together sleeping peacefully. But there were also a large number who said they were street cats or wild Feral cats and were happy living together but not with people.
Then there were the old cats and the sick cats. They were in a separate area, waiting to be put to sleep. Every cat in the team stayed away from them, while they slipped open the bolts of the cages and grabbed the chosen by the scuffs of their necks with their mouths to drop them down to CaliClaus.
            All except Ragamuffin. She tiptoed past the others, stopping to look into a cage that held a single black and white old male Tuxedo cat.
You look like me, said the gentle, affectionate Ragamuffin. Are you a thoroughbred?
No, I’m just a mixture with good markings. I’m twelve years old. The elderly lady who loved me died. I have arthritis in my legs and back and I move very slowly. No one wants to adopt an old cat that cannot jump or play, so they  are going to put me to sleep tomorrow morning. I do not mind, really. I will be at peace because I have had a very happy life and miss my human.
            That’s terrible, replied Ragamuffin. If you’re part of my family, you were still a kitten until you were almost five years old. We live a long life. You could be happy for at least another five years. And, saying that, she ran back to CaliClaus to ask if there might be a home for this unfortunate feline.
            CaliClaus studied her list and found an old lady who lived all alone. She had no family and no pets. She had arthritis and it was difficult for her to walk or go out. So she sat alone and lonely in her rocking chair waiting to die.

            Ragamuffin ran back to the cage, unlatched it, and helped the old fellow out. Then she pointed her paw at Dollie.
Please, Dollie, he cannot walk a great distance by himself. Will you carry him
back to the barn on your back?
            When they returned to the barn Bombie and Angie wrote the names of a family or person on tiny tags they fastened around the neck of each cat and kitten chosen to belong to them. When they finished, they saw it was almost Christmas Eve and they had not yet rounded up the dogs to pull the Contraption they had been working on all year.
            The back part of the contraption was a huge crate made from the wooden planks that had once separated the horse stalls. This would be filled with the heavy supplies that would require eight strong and loyal dogs to pull.
The front was put together with pieces of wire fence that once surrounded the field. The cats and kittens could look out while CaliClaus kept a watchful eye on them.
The entire odd-looking structure was attached to a brand new shiny Harley Davidson that CaliClaus had borrowed from the motorcycle showroom when no one was looking. It was quite simple to do. She quietly strode into the outdoor area where the bikes were lined up, jumped on to the seat as though she was going to take a nap and then, with a quick stab of her front claw and her magical meow, the bike lifted into the air and sped away. No one thought anything unusual about a cat in the showroom until they saw the empty space where the bike had been parked.
            After she returned to the barn, she and her team worked through the night, loading the beds and toys and food into the back of the contraption and the cats and kittens into the front.
            All right, Ladies, announced CaliClaus, it’s time to gather up the dogs. You will find them at private homes where they have been well-trained and can be depended on to listen to commands. Now, go and bring back eight strong, smart canines to do the job. But first, sharpen your claws to protect yourselves in case of attack.
            One by one, they exited through the little door and lined up by the big oak tree. One by one, they stood on their hind legs and furiously scratched the heavy trunk. When their claws were well sharpened, they scattered in different directions to find the dogs.
            One hour later, they returned.
Bombie and Angie brought the leader of the pack, a huge Rottweiler with a powerful body and mean muzzle, and a Doberman Pinscher they chose as his running mate. The Doberman immediately attacked the Rottweiler, growling that he was going to be their leader.
The Rottweiler bared his teeth.
Don’t you guys dare bring your baggage into my barn, commanded CaliClaus. We felines are about to embark on a magical miracle mission. So, get rid of your macho aggressiveness or go home. Do you understand? Rott and Pinch sat down.
Now, the rest of you: Raise one paw when I introduce you.
            BEAGLE: You are part of the Hound family and, although you’re not too bright, you are a good family dog. As a hunting dog, you are a tireless runner. A happy paw went up.
BOXER: You are a great athlete with your lean, muscular body and strong legs. You
are also sensitive and proud, but tend to be very stubborn. A large brown fist of a paw shot up into the air.
DALMATION: You were bred to run with the horse and carriage. You have super
energy. You have been a hunter, firehouse dog and circus performer. Don’t get goofy or even think about tearing apart my contraption. An elegant spotted paw went up.
 YORKSHIRE TERRIER: Although you are a tiny fellow, you are highly intelligent. However, you are difficult to train because you want your own way. Your original job was in the coalmines getting rid of the rats, so you are clever and confident and strong for a little guy. A small fluffy paw went up.
SAMOYED TWINS: You have endurance and power from your days as reindeer
herders in Siberia. You are gentle and dependable. Try not to bark too much and don’t chase my cats. You will be at the back of the line to push the others on. Two white furry paws went up.
Ok, put on your helmets and get into line to tie up to the Contraption, ordered CaliClaus.
I won’t wear a helmet. It’s for sissies, growled Boxer.
Oh, yeah, hissed CaliClaus. It’s time you found out that cats – not dogs – are in charge of this event. Smart sissies are invited to the party. Dumb arrogant boxers are not. Go home and take your Attitude with you.
            Boxer slumped toward the door, stepped half-way through, stopped, turned around, put on his helmet, and took his place in line.
Meanwhile, CaliClaus had other problems.
            Which one of you lifted his leg on the Cat Contraption? Seven heads turned to look at Yorky. You stupid terriers are all the same. You refuse to be housebroken. If you can’t hold it in, find a tree. The next time you hit on my Cat Contraption, you’re dismissed. Do you understand?
            Now, where did Beagle go? Has anyone seen Beagle? In the corner was an empty
bag of cat food with Beagle asleep in the middle. Get up, you bottomless chowhound. You are about to work this meal off.
            With all the dogs in line tied together, CaliClaus secured the ropes to the Cat
Contraption. In a flash, she shot out her front claw and quickly tapped each of their noses, being careful not to draw blood. The dogs were stunned but not hurt.
            Then, the eight feline members of her team fastened their helmets decorated with pink bows and jumped onto the dogs  ------- Bombie on Rottweiler, Angie on Doberman, Bali on Beagle, Ragamuffin on Boxer, Munchkin on Yorky, Dollie on Dalmatian and the Scottish Fold twins on the Samoyed twins.

CaliClaus mounted the Harley, gave a loud magical meow, and the contraption
lifted into the air, climbing high above the trees and houses, and flew into the clouds pulled by the dogs and cats.
Checking her map, CaliClaus directed her team to 272 homes of the families they had chosen to give these special gifts to.
            As they landed on each roof to bring the cats, kittens, and supplies inside the houses, people gathered below on the lawns to point and exclaim, “That’s not Santa Claus
and his reindeer. Those are cats and dogs. And, that’s not a sleigh. It’s some sort of strange contraption.”
            It was almost midnight and all but one cat had been delivered. The contraption struck the ground with a loud thud in front of a small house where an old lady was sitting alone, rocking in a wooden chair. Ragamuffin let Tuxedo out. He walked slowly up the porch steps and looked at her. When she saw him, happy tears filled her eyes. She reached down and lifted him up into her lap. He cuddled against her, knowing that both of them had found something to live for.
            The empty Contraption rose again and soared through the sky. Its mission was completed. When it landed, CaliClaus directed her team to take the dogs back to their homes. Her team untied them, removed their helmets, and guided them into their kitchens. It would take several hours for the magic to wear off. They would not remember their adventure but would find a whole steak as a reward for being good.
            The contraption was broken in pieces and piled in the corner of the barn. There was only one chore left. CaliClaus flew the Harley back to the dealership and returned it to the exact spot she had taken it from. She wished she might be able to see the confused salespeople explain to the police that their missing Harley was back where it belonged.
            When she entered the barn, her team welcomed her with a celebration. There was broiled fresh fish the restaurant owner had given to the beautiful Angora and sweet Scottish twins when they came to his door. And there were sautéed chicken breasts the hotel chef had given to Ragamuffin, Munchkin, and Dollie after Bali charmed him with her voice.
           They ate heartily, then lazily dipped their heads into saucers of warm milk as CaliClaus raised her paw in a toast to her faithful felines.
You have done well, my Team. Sleep soundly in the catnip plants because tomorrow we must begin to collect what we need for our voyage next Christmas.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


It's time to Blog again. My latest book MY BEST LIFE, launched this spring and I want to share some of it with friends, foodies, and historians, who also believe four-legged furries have souls. MY BEST LIFE is the autobiography of Sakie, an eighteen year old historian and food aficionado, who just happens to be a cat. In detail that is both humorous and poignant, she describes her present life as a cat with an American family and the three other lives she remembers. The big white dog has been a part of her other life when they traveled together as the pair of good fortune to the Indian tribe. Cats she meet along the way tell of their past existences as protagonists that saved civilization. Sakie's first life was as the revered mau of Ramses II favorite daughter. There is the cat that remembers her life as the pampered feline of Marie Antoinette's daughter, Madame Royale, and the terror of the French Revolution. Blackie tells his story of how he saved Siena from the bubonic plague. And, the handsome SAR cat, Tabby, describes how he was responsible for winning the battle that changed the tide of the American Revolution and freed us from the wicked king of England. In her dreams, Sakie leads the army of cats on the Spanish Armada and jumps into a mirror with the Cheshire cat for an adventure in Wonderland. And, in real life, she visits the eclectic SoBe area in Miami Beach and finds an old cat that remembers South Beach. Her life changes when she moves upstate to a small town in central Florida and discovers the magnificent St. John's River. And, the interloper mutt that wrangled his way into her home and tried to take her place, brings real life humor and drama into the book. Each adventure is followed by recipes of the times and regions to create a combined novel-cookbook. This is a book to enjoy, in and out of the kitchen.

(From MY BEST LIFE - Archway Publishing from Simon Schuster)

Kentucky Derby Favorite Foods

Kentucky cuisine centers around old fashioned, mouth watering southern style cooking: Fried chicken with cream gravy over mashed ‘taters with buttermilk biscuits, Catfish and Frog Legs fried in cornmeal batter with hush puppies, Burgoo Stew with meat and veggies, and, of course, the breakfast favorite Biscuits and Cream Gravy thick with breakfast sausage. Although Mint Juleps are the sacred tradition of the Derby, you won’t be ostracized if you order ice tea, as long as it’s Sweet Tea.

Yield: to fill 12 shells
Purchase a box of Old El Paso® Crunchy Taco Shells and Soft Tortillas (6 each)
1 pound lean ground beef
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Fresno chili peppers (or of choice), minced
1 red onion, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
6 ounces tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 ¼ cup (10 ounce can Campbell’s®) beef broth
2 large plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Package 8 ounces Mexican chopped 4-cheeses
Optional: Sliced black olives

1.      Put the ground beef in a heavy bottom pot and cook it in its own fat over medium heat until slightly brown, breaking it up as it cooks. Discard any excess fat.
2.      Add the garlic, chili peppers and onion and stir to combine. Stir in the cumin. Stir in the tomato paste and lemon juice.
3.      Stir in the beef broth, ¼ cup at a time, as sauce thickens.
4.      Bring to the bubbly stage, stirring. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring often, until sauce is thick. (10 minutes)
5.      Remove from the heat. Stir in the diced tomatoes. Allow sauce to stand 30 minutes or longer. Taste for seasoning. Reheat.
6.      Heat the tacos and tortillas according to package directions. Place a large spoonful of the sauce into each. Top with the shredded lettuce, chopped cheese and olives.

Yield: 8 juleps

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
12 or more tender mint leaves
Cracked or crushed ice
12 ounces Bourbon (or more to taste)
8 silver julep cups or hi-ball glassses

1.      Make simple sugar syrup: Heat the water. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Refrigerate until cold or overnight.
2.      Place cups or glasses into the freezer 30 minutes to frost.
3.      Pour the sugar syrup into a glass or silver pitcher.
4.      Add the mint leaves. With a muddler or back of a long spoon, bruise the mint gently, blending it into the syrup by stirring and pressing. Do not crush the leaves, because they will release bitter juice.
5.      Pack the pitcher with cracked or crushed ice. Add the bourbon and swirl gently with a spoon, bringing the mint leaves up to the top.
6.      Pour into individual cups or hi-ball glasses. Insert a straw and garnish with fresh mint.

Yield: Contents below make 1 drink.  Multiply for more.

1½ ounces tequila
½ ounce triple sec liqueur
3 ounces sour mix (For 4 drinks, combine 1¼ cup sugar with 1¼ cup hot water until sugar is completely dissolved. Add 1¼ cup fresh lime juice and 1¼ cup fresh lemon juice and refrigerate.
Lime wedge to garnish
Salt or sugar to rim the glass
Margarita or martini glasses

1.      Chill the Margarita glasses in the freezer.
2.      Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice cubes and shake well.
3.      Pour salt or sugar or both into a bowl. Turn each glass upside down into the salt to coat the rim. (They should be moist from the freezer. If not, turn upside down into cold water before coating with the salt)
4.      Pour the drink with its ice into the glass. Garnish with lime.

sandwich bread, topped with another slice of bread. Cut into finger sandwiches.


6-10 inch flour tortillas
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 ripe mango, peeled and diced (peaches work during season)
1 poblano pepper, seeded and minced
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Preheat grill for medium heat.
1.      Spread half of the tortillas with about 2 tablespoons cream cheese each. Sprinkle mango and poblano peppers over cheese, and press another tortilla on top. Brush butter over the outside of each quesadilla, top and bottom.
2.      Grill quesadillas 5 minutes each side, or until golden brown. Remove from grill, and slice into wedges. Serve warm.

Derby Pie™, a trademark dessert of Louisville's Kerns Bakery, is sinfully rich and delicious, filled with chocolate chips and pecans. The pie has long been a tradition enjoyed on Kentucky Derby Day, the first Saturday in May.

Kentucky Bourbon Chocolate Walnut Pie
Kentucky bourbon chocolate walnut pie is traditionally served at the annual Kentucky Derby Horse race. This pie recipe is similar to the Melrose Inn's famous version which has been served at the race for over 50 years. The name "Derby Pie" is trademarked, and the owners of the name are very aggressive protecting the name "Derby Pie."
 This recipe is so simple!

½ cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup melted butter
2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 ready-made piecrust
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and butter. Mix to combine. Stir in the bourbon, walnuts, chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt. Pour the mixture into the unbaked piecrust. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely before slicing. 

Hot Pepper Jelly with Lime and Garlic

I was asked to develop a recipe for HOT PEPPER JELLY because Hot-Hot-Hot to spread over cream cheese and brie cheese for an hors d'oeuvre could not be found in the stores. I Googled dozens of recipes, all that offered instructions that were adverse to my marmalade successes. They said to cook the hot peppers with sugar and then add either liquid or powdered pectin. No-No-No! The jelly didn't jell, and I had to label it "HOT PEPPER SAUCE". So, I shredded all the recipes from the net and developed my own. It is fabulous! Only problem is that my throat is still burning from breathing in the fumes. So, if you make it, wear latex (or latex-free) gloves to protect your hands and Dark Glasses to keep your eyes from tearing. And, here it is: The Champion of Champions HOT PEPPER JELLY WITH LIME AND GARLIC. Sorry, it is not in any of my cookbooks. Maybe next time!!

Yield: 6 half pint jars

2 cups minced combination hot peppers, such as Jalapeño, Habanero, Anaheim, Cubanelle, Rocotillo, Serrano, Poblano, or/and even the hottest Carolina Reaper

A large red bell pepper

Large garlic clove

Handful fresh mint leaves

1½ cups white vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

7 cups granulated sugar

1 packet SureJell® pectin (1.75 ounces)

Optional: a drop or two red food coloring

Plastic gloves

Dark glasses


1.       Purchase a mixture of peppers, depending on how hot you like the jelly. Some stores will have them labeled by degree of heat. Check the recipe index for a list of peppers.

2.       Put on gloves and glasses to protect your skin and eyes.

3.       Slice the peppers. Remove the stems. Remove the seeds from the bell peppers but not from the hot peppers.

4.       Peel and slice the garlic.

5.       Remove peppers and garlic to a food processor. Add the mint leaves and 1 cup of the sugar. Grind the mixture and remove to a large pot. Add the vinegar, lime and orange juices.

6.       Bring the mixture to a boil. Boil gently 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Cover and allow it to stand 15 minutes.

7.       Strain all but ½ cup so there will be some seeds in the finished jelly. Return to the pot.

8.       Add food coloring if desired. Bring to a boil and stir in the SureJell®. When it returns to a boil, add the sugar all at once. Boil hard, stirring, 1 minute only.

9.       Fill sterilized jars according to directions.

Note: For super-hot jelly, go heavy on Habanero chilies

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Restaurant Failure and Success

"Good food, like a good marriage, is in the mind of the participant.  Even the best critic’s opinion is subjective. The public is never wrong."
Valerie Hart

            The only pastime more enjoyable than eating is talking about it. When you have mistakenly invited people to your table who do not share common interests and the silence is deafening, it is time to open conversation about an experience you had at a restaurant or ask if anyone has tried the newest just reviewed and then sit back and enjoy the group come alive.
            During the years I was editor for the Zagat Restaurant Survey, all that was needed was one sentence in the newspaper: “Would you like to be a restaurant critic? Send a self-addressed stamped envelope to receive a questionnaire”. Ten thousand envelopes were delivered to my address the next week.
            The restaurant business is the best and worst enterprise one can enter into. Independently owned restaurants in Lake County have become akin to the game of Musical Chairs played at a child’s birthday party. New owners and chefs come and go like summer mosquitoes. The new owner generally changes the name, which is a good thing unless the restaurant is a landmark that has an image and following. Problems occur when new owner neglects to change the concept or menu and the cuisine that failed the old eatery doesn’t change. The kiss of death is a sign that reads, “Under new management”. Few people are fooled by this attempt to draw customers.
            Then there are the “landmarks” - restaurants that just keep rolling along, not by reputation alone, but with good food properly prepared and friendly service.
Former Hall of Fame NY Yankees baseball star, Yogi Berra, was known for his quips. One of the most notable was his response when asked about the popular restaurant, Ruggeri’s, in St. Louis: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded”.  
We automatically suppose that a crowded restaurant has good food and good service. The more crowded it is, the more popular it becomes. When the parking area of a breakfast place is consistently packed with trucks and pick-ups, we know the food is abundant as well as good. A hungry truck driver is not going to eat a frilly, flimsy breakfast. Bring on the grits and hash browns and sausage gravy! It’s included in the price.
 Everyone loves a “grand opening”. We like to “see and be seen” at the “new kid on the block”. Everything seems bound for success. One month later, you drive by the parking lot to see only a handful of cars. You go inside anyway and find that the lovely selection from your last visit is overcooked with a different sauce and flavor, and the house wine has changed from pleasant to unpalatable. You know immediately that the featured chef is gone and the beverage company has cut their credit. Oops! And, then, the Dominos begin to topple. The worse it gets, the worse it gets, until you see the windows darkened and the sign, “For Lease”. One of the worst mistakes of a novice restaurateur is falling into the hands of a savvy PR firm that convinces him to ‘blow the budget’ on first night ‘very important people’ and press. He gains nothing but a very expensive lesson.
 A good review of an older establishment also brings immediate response from the public, as does my TV show, Back of the House. We go with the flow of those in the know.
So, why do restaurants that seem so promising fail?
There are several reasons why independently owned (Mama-Papa) restaurants fail. Let’s begin with number one: Consistency. Recipes must be standardized. The housewife chef who gained applause for the cuisine she served her guests will generally fail when people receive a bill for an entrée listed under the same heading with a different preparation and proportion from the one served to the diner the previous visit.
Location, Location, Location! Restaurants seem to flourish best in clusters within walking distance to the main streets or in shopping centers. There are, of course, many destination places, but the restaurant has to be worthy of the drive.
  Tantamount to failure is the independent owner who cannot cook and must rely on his chef. When the chef, servers, and dishwashers fail to show, the owner must be able to do it all or close his doors. An astute restaurateur never features his chef, unless it happens to be Emeril or Bobby Flay because, when the chef leaves, the restaurant diminishes in stature.
Number three, in equal stature is the wait staff. A surly or non-attentive server ruins any dining experience, no matter how good the food. The only exception was the original Palm Restaurant, a pricey steak house in New York City where the waiters were ruder than the customers. Lofty New Yorkers embraced their nemesis with good humor, making it their favorite restaurant for the show that went along with their over-sized prime steaks.
The restaurant owner must be fully cognizant of food and beverage costs and profit margin to stay ahead of his creditors. The good restaurateur, like any other astute person with a business, understands the basics of stock market trading, “Bears and Bulls make money; Pigs do not”. A restaurant will make money with a food mark-up of around 35 percent.  This might seem initially high to the consumer until one remembers that food is only a part of the expense. Rent and taxes, preparation, servers, dishwashers, water and electric, sanitizing the kitchen and bathrooms, and a score of unforeseen expenses all must be covered with profit in mind. Wine is the one price point known to the consumer. When a recognizable chardonnay or merlot can be purchased for $9.00 a bottle at a retail store and the price in the restaurant is $45.00, there is an instant reaction of distrust for everything else on the menu. A good restaurateur may safely double or triple the cost, but must be aware that his customers are better informed than he might suppose.
Another fact I learned as editor for the Zagat Florida Surveys: For every good experience a diner has in a restaurant, the establishment gains three customers. However, for every bad experience, the restaurant loses ten customers. The experience is not only contingent upon the factors listed above but the mood of the customer himself. A young couple in love will rate any restaurant much higher than a married couple in the throes of a battle.
Brillat-Savarin, the 15th century French gourmet, wrote, “Success as a restaurateur comes to those who possess sincerity, order, and skill”. Perhaps Endurance and Endless Dedication should be added to a business that is only as good as its last meal.

Tune in Comcast channel 22 & BrightHouse 199 to watch host, Valerie Hart, interview chefs in their kitchens "The Back of the House", or watch it live on your computer at Follow her food page on Wednesdays in The Daily Commercial.

Corn and Beef Barbecue for Mothers' Day

            Okay, Mom! Get out of the kitchen! It’s time for that sports fanatic couch potato to get up from the dent he’s made in his chair and wait on you. Let him drink his beer while he’s cooking on the barbecue. You can do the shopping in advance. You may also prep the food. This is where it ends. Let him do the rest with help from the ‘kids’. This includes the married ones who regress to childhood when they return home, expecting Mom to do all the work. Let him bring dinner (and a glass of wine) to you while you wait to be served. And let the ‘kids’ toss the salad and do the dishes. As much as you might think otherwise, they are perfectly capable. If they spill, they spill. If the floor is dirty, leave it! And, if everything winds up in the wrong place, don’t say a word. This is your day. Enjoy!
 Beef Ribs go directly on the grill after they have been marinated. The recipe can be exchanged for Short Ribs. However, for fall-off the bone scrumptious texture associated with short ribs, cover them before marinating with water in a large pot. Add garlic or garlic powder, onions or onion powder, and a good amount of pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover. Reduce heat to medium. Boil gently for 30-40 minutes or until a knife can be easily inserted, telling you they are tender. Remove and cool.  Follow the instructions to marinate and grill. They can be marinated several hours or overnight. Note the absence of salt in the marinades. Salt toughens meat. Sprinkle lightly just before grilling.
            Florida corn is in season. The newest fad is to cook corn in the microwave, with or without husks and silk intact. They will cook in their own natural moisture.
Place on dampened paper towel. Turn ears over and rearrange after 1/2 cooking time.
Cooking Timetable:
1 ear - 1 ½ minutes, 2 ears - 3 to 4 minutes, 3 ears - 5 to 6 minutes, 4 ears - 7 to 8 minutes
6 ears - 8 to 9 minutes.
When ears are hot to the touch, remove and wrap in kitchen towel or foil.
Let stand at least 5 minutes. Remove husks and silk (which is easier than when cold) and serve with melted butter.
The downside of microwaving corn is that it is time-consuming and, when you need to cook more than three ears, the corn might not cook evenly. It works best for corn you freeze for a later date because it will remain firm with its juices and sugar at peak quality.
This Foodie cooks fresh corn in a basket in a large pot with enough water at the bottom to create steam. Do not overcook. Fresh corn is also fabulous grilled. Check below for the recipe to grill our native delicacy.
Mom can make marinade in advance
Yield: 3 cups

1 cup ketchup
½ cup water
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon (Grey Poupon®) mustard
Optional: ½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco®)
2 cloves crushed fresh garlic or 1 teaspoon granulated or powdered
½ teaspoon black pepper

1.                  Combine ingredients in a blender and purée. Rub into ribs.  Let stand 1 hour at room temperature.
2.                  Remove from marinade and pat dry. Place over coals or gas barbecue – gas medium heat – or gray charcoals - and cook approximately 30 minutes, turning and basting often until meat is done to your liking. Serve with a baked sweet potato.

For Husbands Who Have Never Done This:
1.                  Wash Potatoes under running water. Remove any strings growing from potatoes. Cut out any dark spots. Perfect!
2.                  Preheat oven to 350˚F. This is done by turning one knob to Bake and the other to 350°F. You can do it!
3.                  Wait approximately 10 minutes for oven to reach its temperature. Place sweet potatoes on a piece of foil so you don’t have to clean the oven later. Bake 1 hour. Insert the sharp point of a knife. If very soft within, they are done.  If there is still some resistance, continue baking another 20 minutes.
4.                  Slice butter and put it on a plate with a knife. Bring butter, salt and pepper to the table. Perfect!

2 cups commercial marinara sauce
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup commercial jalapeño jelly
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons chili powder

1.      Combine ingredients. Bring to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until the jelly dissolves. Remove from the heat to cool.

4-5 pounds beef ribs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

1.      Bring the ribs to room temperature. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear over direct heat on both sides until browned.
2.      Remove to a deep 10X13 inch baking dish (not aluminum or cast-iron). Set them meat side down.
3.      Pour the sauce over the ribs. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and grill over Indirect Medium heat 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue grilling until the meat pulls away from the bones. (45-60 minutes), turning them occasionally.
4.      Drizzle sauce over to serve.

6 ears fresh corn in their husks
Butter or herb butter
1.      Heat gas or charcoal grill to 550°F highest heat
2.      Peel back corn husks and remove silk. Brush with melted butter or melted herb butter. Close the husks.
3.      Wrap each ear tightly in aluminum foil. Place on the grill. Cook approximately 30 minutes, turning occasionally, until corn is tender.
½ cup melted butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon garlic salt

6 ears husked corn

1.      Combine the butter, basil, parsley and garlic salt in a bowl. Brush each ear of corn with 1 tablespoon of the seasoned butter. Grill over direct medium heat, turning occasionally, until browned in spots and tender. (10-15 minutes)

Yield: 6 servings

12 ounce bottle good commercial Poppy Seed Salad Dressing
 ¼ cup orange juice
1 full teaspoon Dijon mustard (Grey Poupon®)

2 Romaine lettuces, chopped coarse
1 large Iceberg lettuce, chopped coarse
2 cucumbers, peeled and cut into thin slices
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into cubes or quartered
15 ounce can pitted black olives, sliced in halves
15 ounce can garbanzo beans
4 ounces feta cheese, cubed

1.      Combine the Poppy Seed Salad Dressing with orange juice and Dijon mustard.
2.      Combine all ingredients except the feta cheese in a bowl and toss with the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Sprinkle with feta cheese.

Tune in Comcast channel 22 & BrightHouse 199 to watch host, Valerie Hart, interview chefs in their kitchens "The Back of the House", or watch it live on your computer at Follow her food page on Wednesdays in The Daily Commercial.

Working Mom vs Stay at Home

When Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen, told the world that Ann Romney had “actually never worked a day in her life” because she was a stay-at-home-mom to five sons, the emotions from both sides of a debate that began in the 1960s surfaced with a roar. Ann and Mitt Romney were married in 1969. Her decision to remain at home, even though she was intelligent and well-educated with a BA from Harvard, was not only what she was supposed to do, but what she opted to do.
            Looking back, it seems as though there was less stress during the 1960s, perhaps because we hadn’t entered the age of technology. There weren’t nearly as many opportunities for women to engage in a full-time career along with being a good wife and mother. Women attorneys and doctors were a rarity. A married woman who found it necessary to work just had a “job” as a teacher, nurse, receptionist, secretary, check-out girl, or, if lucky, an envied food or society writer for the local newspaper, usually achieved by writing her column from her home typewriter. And, if she became pregnant, it was perfectly acceptable for her employer to terminate her services.
A single woman could be a stewardess on an airplane, if she embodied the following requirements outlined in the 1966 New York Times classified ad for stewardesses at Eastern Airlines: “A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls nineteen and a half may apply for future consideration). 5’2”, but no more than 5’9”; weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height; must have at least 20/40 vision without glasses."  
During the 1970's, Maida Heatter, daughter of the famous radio commentator, Gabriel Heatter, began to give baking courses out of her home in Miami Beach. In 1974, after writing the award winning, “The Book of Great Desserts”, she said, “While all those women were out searching for their careers, I stayed in the kitchen and found mine.”
            Stay-at-home moms of the ‘80s and ‘90s criticized working mom peers for “choosing a career over their children”, while working moms criticized stay-at-home moms for “giving up their ambitions and income for an apron and a vacuum”, classifying them as dull and unintelligible in conversation. By the year, 2000, some 77 percent of women between 25 and 54 were in the workplace, many with executive jobs and professions. When a couple was introduced socially, the question had shifted from, “What does he do”, to “What does she do”? It became a stigma for a woman not to be employed.
            Then, a slow revolution began to evolve. It started in small towns like ours, where women decided to stay at home. Their careers were put on hold for the more significant career of raising children. There also emerged a large group who home-schooled their children, which, if done correctly, was a full-time job in itself.
            Many stay-at-home moms have found opportunities for creating part-time businesses from their homes. Large cities like Manhattan in New York offer part-time careers such as a dog walker for the elite Upper Eastside pampered pooches. This might be a come-down for what was once expected from those with corporate credentials, but the going rate to strut eight darlings attached together is $35.00 per dog. This adds up to $1,900 a week! Small town moms can be just as innovative. There are, of course, opportunities in computer land, but, for those proficient with a sewing machine or who have a talent for making cookies and jams, an at home business is at their fingertips. A word of advice is to refuse anyone who asks for money up front to get you started.
            For all you mothers who have chosen to work at home, and for all who have chosen to work outside the home either from necessity or to continue your careers, you are to be commended for your endeavors. Motherhood is not an easy task. The days are too long and the nights too short. And, just when the children have grown into adulthood and you think it’s finally your time of life, they march back in with grandchildren. These are the dividends that make it all worthwhile.  
           Tune in Comcast channel 22 & BrightHouse 199 to watch host, Valerie Hart, interview chefs in their kitchens "The Back of the House", or watch it live on your computer at Follow her food page on Wednesdays in The Daily Commercial.