Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mike Dunne Interview...2007

I did this interview with Mike Dunne when I had the Sac Food Forums. The interview took place in 2007. I'll repeat it here..now. I will say that I am incredibly disappointed at how the Bee "did not handle or mention" why some of our favorite writers are just gone. For someone with abandonment issues...this is hard. :)

Mike Dunne has worked for The Sacramento Bee since 1978. He is the food & wine critic and has a blog, Appetizers with Mike Dunne.I asked Mike, about a month ago, if he'd be willing to do an interview for the Sac Food Forums website. He agreed to it but advised me to get in touch with him about the middle of April. I marked my calendar for the 19th of April. I contacted him on the 18th to remind him. He got back with me and said "give me a number and a time to call.

I will preface this interview by saying that the quotation marks do not indicate an exact quote.. but do indicate that Mike is the one doing the talking. What I am trying to say is I didn't use a tape recorder and I don't type super fast.

1. Why did you agree to an interview for this website? "Well, because it gives me insight into what is interesting to others and because I am interested to see what the reaction/feedback might be."

2. Do you visit this website often? "Yes. Not every day, but several times a week."

3. Someone sent me an email with a request to ask you this; what do you think of the dining reviews on websites similar to this, or on blogs? "I think it is good overall. It brings more voices, a greater diversity of opinions. If you read them, for the most part you'll see that public opinion usually stacks up with what food writers have to say about the restaurant. Sure, restaurants have bad nights. The chef is off that night, or the server is. Slip ups occur. The drawback is when anonymous people post to having a bad experience but they don't elaborate why. They don't make themselves accountable for the review."

4. What is your food/wine background? "I don't have a commercial background in food or wine. I made wine as a hobby. In 1978 I was a feature writer at the Sacramento Bee. My boss, at the time, began to assign me stories on food and wine. I interviewed Robert and Tim Mondavi..and introduced Opus One via my writing. I also interviewed Julia Child and Alice Waters. The Bee was very supportive in sending me to related symposiums as well as cooking and wine classes. Back then there weren't that many..not like now. I ask, "What was Julia Child like?" Mike said, "She was very down to earth, entertaining, funny, and knowledgeable. She wasn't political at all, in that she was totally candid..which made her a fun interview."

5. What is your fondest childhood food memory? "I know this is going to sound trite or cliche, but it is the memory of my moms apple pie. Everyone thinks their mom made/makes the best apple pie. She had a way with crusts. She left me the recipe but I think she left some ingredient or technique out because I haven't been able to duplicate it yet. I think I took her cooking for granted growing up (in Sonora). It wasn't until I'd come home from college and was sent back with her apple pie. My roommates and I really appreciated it and looked forward to it. Also, she had a group of friends who had their specialty dishes.... one made the best waffles, one the best tamales and the other the best ravioli. I've still not found apple pie as good, nor have I had waffles like that. Those childhood foods set the standard for me. I've found some comparable tamales and ravioli but am still searching for those waffles and apple pie." [be on the lookout for the guy eating apple pie, tamales, and ravioli] Mike went on to say that his mom was an RN and his dad was in the lumber industry as well as being one of Sonora's early postal carriers. His father was also a noted poet and artist..everyone knew that about him.

6. What is your favorite meal to eat..or to cook? "It would have to be Italian. I like everything from pizza to osso bucco. I appreciate how Italians have that fresh and direct approach to cooking. There's not a lot of elaboration."

7. Do you have a wine cellar at home? "Yes, well we have two. We have an old Victorian in midtown. We have one cellar under the stairs..which is closed off and has an entryway. I have about 10 cases there, which are wines I bring out for special occasions. We also have a cellar in the carriage house, in the back. Those are my short term wines. I am partial to Rieslings and currently am enjoying those from the Fingerlakes region of New York. I also have some CA Zins, Pinot Noirs, and some Rhone varietals, among others."

8. How many cookbooks do you own? What are your "go to" books? "I have about 150 cookbooks. Some, like Thomas Keller's French Laundry, I just use for reference or technique. I guess my go-to cookbooks would be The Joy of Cooking and any of Mark Bittman's. James Peterson has a great dessert wine book, and I appreciate Harold McGee for his information on food science. I also enjoy Elaine Collins and Russ Parsons. Locally on wine, Elaine Smith of Sacramento Magazine and nationally I enjoy the food writing of Coleman Andrews, Rob Walsh in Houston, Frank Bruni of NYtimes, Michael Bauer of the SF Chronicle, Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly... who just won the Pulitzer prize and is the first critic to win that award, and Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator and Eric Asimov of the NY times. I also check out blogs such as Vinography and Fermentation."

9. Do you read local food blogs or websites?
"Oh yes. I come to your site often, and I enjoy Elise's- Simply Recipes, Brendon's-Something in Season, Cakegrrl..although I see that she has changed the name..she is active in the community, is knowledgeable, and it's a good read, I read Garrett's-Vanilla Garlic, and Sacatomato. There are lot's of good food blogs in this area." [check out Mike's blog, Appetizers with Mike Dunne].

**10. I interviewed Matt Woolston a few months back (Mike replies, "yes, I read that interview.") [oh shit, I am thinking] but I say, that's great! So you know what Matt said about wishing that food critics would ask this question, before rating restaurants: 'what are you trying to be?' Yes, I saw that. Years ago I used to ask something similar to that. Now I am of the opinion that a restaurants or chefs vision should come across in the food that they serve".

11. Has a restaurant owner ever comped your meal? "No, nor has anyone ever tried. I would not accept it. I am on an expense account with the Bee, a great perk. Years ago, a bottle of sparkling wine showed up at our table. We had not ordered it, and I sent it back. I get recognized about 1/3 of the time. I make it clear that I want to be treated just like anybody else."

12. If you could eat at one restaurant in the world, where you haven't been yet, where would that be? "Impossible to narrow it down to one. I'd have at least 10 in each city. In New York I'd want to eat at all of Mario Batali's restaurants..and at Paris Bay. I'd have 10 in Paris, 10 in Hong Kong, etc. I can't narrow it down really."13. What is the most rewarding part of your job, and the most challenging aspect?"The rewarding part is the diversity of the food and wine. If I am writing about asparagus, I can look at it from the growers perspective, it's history, what to do with it (recipes), or even what wine to pair it with. The challenging part is coming up with an angle or topic, and doing justice to it.

"Well thank you very much Mike. I have enjoyed talking with you. You made it easy. Is there anything else that you want to add? "Yes. You asked, if I was stranded on an island, what wine and/or beer would I want with me?"Oh yes. What would they be? "A Riesling and a Pinot Noir..and some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale." Good choices..but I would take some nice Sauv Blanc, a Rose', and Sapporo beer

On those notes,we say goodbye. He tells me to holler at him if I have any further questions. He also thanked me for my persistence in nailing him down for this interview. He is a very busy guy. [and I was beginning to feel pushy..glad I didn't give up!]

We'll miss you Mike, and Bob Sylva, and Pat Rubin, and Gwen Shwoen..and many others. Sorry if I didn't spell your names correctly. I blame it on menopause. I have cancelled my subscription to the Bee..and have told them why. I was hoping they'd acknowledge, and say a fond farewell, to those who they "forced retirement" upon.. those who have been writers at The Bee for many, many years. They didn't. Did they think people wouldn't notice?

Monday, December 29, 2008

What is a Friend?

I was answering questions to one of those "silly quizzes"...I think this one was about one's Real Age. One question kinda had me befuddled.

How many good friends do you have?

How many friends do you have?

It was something like that. It got me to thinking about friendship.

I had a hard time answering the first question. What is a good friend? What is "a friend"? What is an "acquaintance"? (I am now looking at how I don't put my quotation marks in the right place..and hoping spellcheck will help me with the rest.........shit, I was such a good speller most of my life).

For me, a good friend is someone who loves you no matter what your "negative personality traits" might be. They know they have their own and forgive yours. [this does not include psychotic, unreliable, or just crazy behavior....drunk or sober]

A good friend can be counted on in an emergency...a real, true emergency. They will come thru.

A good friend is someone you can easily talk and and laugh with...you see the sparkle in one an other's eyes.

A good friend is inclusive. They call you, invite you, etc. They also tell you their troubles. They can "be real" with you and feel safe about it...and you with them.

Good friends...well, it takes time and nurturing..like any relationship. I guess you'll know if you have a real friend if they clearly take the time, are inclusive, and clearly care about you..and are trustworthy.

What are your thoughts about good friends?

Another Reason I Love Living in California

We have about 10 lemons almost ready to consume!

Orange's on my neighbors tree...but one large branch does
hang over into our yard! A fresh, cold orange off the tree
Christmas Day...priceless.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Sundae's...and The Aspic that Wasn't


The tomato aspic was in a fish-mold. It didn't set up. I
took a pic of the sliding aspic..and later we had it in salt
and pepper rimmed shot glasses with vodka and hot sauce.
Not a total loss. Thanks Jenny..for the help!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Lamb


The lamb was delicious. Garlic, rosemary, lemon, mint.
The retro-dinnerware and linens were a hit. My aspic didn't
set-up in time....and we have lots of lime jello left.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008 Revisited

I was reading Lori's blog and then decided maybe I should think about this past year.

High points:

1. I am still alive.
2. My husband is still alive.
3. My in-laws are still alive.
4. My brother and sisters are still alive.
4. I have two darling grandkids who I get to go see often!
5. I have a talented son who loves his family.
6. I have a talented DIL who loves her family.
7. I have another talented, but bird-brained, son who is still alive.
9. I have a few friends whom I trust and am so happy I know.
10. We had a marvelous party for Dave in March.
11. We had a marvelous party for my in-laws in September.
12. The kids came from Portland...hurray!
13. I marched for equal rights for gays.
14. I grew lots of tomatoes and cukes..and canned lots of tomatoes!!


I am sure there is more...but usually I can't recall what I did last week and I am exhausted now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Plungerhead..Old Vine Zin, Lodi


A perfect wine for my bathroom series. Plungerhead indeed! that is a plunger on the guys head...apparently an employee whose name is Eddie Plongerheid. Click on the image for a much larger view.
Plunge right into this plum, cinnamon, berry oaky big red. Hope you have a nice big shit afterwards. Those are sooo rewarding... in the end.

Good Morning Sunshine


Simon is a snuggler...and he likes to sleep in late. He was not real happy when I woke him to get this picture. He posed and then passed out. As I walked out the door, I am sure I heard him say "a cat just can't get more than 18 hours sleep in this house."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Stuffed Flank Steak with Petite Green Beans


I had these ingredients I needed to use; flank steak, spinach, kalamata olives, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, feta cheese, 2 pieces of bacon, and some petite green beans...oh and thyme, salt/pepper. I bet you can guess what I stuffed the flank steak with. :)
Be sure to begin rolling the flank steak with the long side facing you..put the stuffing in the middle. I had some spinach already cooked...I drained it and smooshed it to get all of the liquid out. I diced everything else up..and cooked it in the bacon drippings. Only two pieces of bacon people. [I didn't cook the feta]
I did pound the flank steak out a bit...I used parchment paper over the top before I began beating the meat. It's neater that way don'tcha know.
I put the stuffing down the center..rolled it and then tied it with kitchen string..about every 1 and 1/2 inches. I then salt and peppered the outside and seared it on all sides. I threw it into a 375 degree oven for 22 minutes...then let it rest for 10 minutes covered with foil. As you can see..it is med. rare so cook it longer if you want it medium but not too much longer!
I steamed the green beans in one of those cool steamer bags for 4 minutes, added a pinch of thyme to the bag..shook it up...and then we ate. It really was easy and very delicious...and it looks nice too.
Okay...I hate writing recipes down...and I hate following recipes. That's why I love to cook and HATE baking.

Our Retro Christmas Tree



"Stan"ding Guard

Stan seems to think it is his job to guard the gold tree.

Monday, December 15, 2008

To Everything, There is a Seasoning...







Turn, Turn, Turn.
Grilldave did this turkey for Thanksgiving...while I was in Portland. I am so pleased that he took pictures of the process. Thanks for being my blogger. What a husband!
He brined it for 24 hours before cooking it.



Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sac-eats...that's it!

I used my regular camera..so pic isn't so great.

A Golden Globe for Mr. Eats please.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tamales Make Me Happy




I was SO hoping to have tamales. I used to buy them from the Mexican grocer on my way home from work. That was when we lived near Florin Mall..and they have since closed. Great tamales...a perfect blend of masa and pork, and sometimes cheese and chile's.
**Tonight..the doorbell rang. It was Jane and Javier with tamales. They are fabulous landscapers..if you need a landscaper/gardner.
[This will surprise my relatives in Montana and Wyoming...but very few people do their own lawns here. I used to mow my own..which took me forever. Then I watched as these huge landscaping companies would do my neighbors front and back lawn within 13 minutes each week. I ask..."what did that cost you?"]

Jane and Javier brought us these fabulous tamales. Jane told us how to heat them up..so they won't be dried out. I had to taste one...and it was so wonderful. Lots of pork, a thin layer of moist masa=perfection. We are so greatful for Jane and Javier. BTW..they are the ones who introduced us to our most wonderful renters ...over at our "unsold" home.

My yearly salute to The Colonel

Sometimes, it just doesn't get any better. Original please.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fancy Cat Dive!


Stan did a gainer in the pike position..full tuck. 3.4 degree of difficulty.
Then, he went for the 'tacky 60's gold tinsel tree"...and ate a branch.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mom's 1950's place setting...and true portion control

Our cat Stella loves to pose. She saw the camera and hopped up there.
Look at a 1950's dinner plate compared to a 2008!

Anchor Hocking Fire King Swirl Pattern


Monday, December 08, 2008

Dee and Cecil...with some meatloaf turkey

Reading my brother's email, which he allowed me to post, got me thinking about Dad. Lori mentioned in her comment that she does not recall me writing about him. I thought I had! I thought I'd talked about how he had ESP and saved us all from the 1959 Earthquake in Yellowstone, and how he also saved us from a grizzly bear in Glacier Park when we were camping there. How he was a poet..and encouraged me to write poetry. His poetry was published in a "Drilling Magazine".

Dad was a "tool pusher"...which means he was the main boss of the company who owned the drilling rigs. He worked in Canada (which is where my brother and I were born...and where my sister Glenna was already 4 years-old). He also was the boss of rigs in Montana and Wyoming. My mom used to say that he came home long enough to get her pregnant..and then was off again. I figure my mom was about 22 years old then..and my dad was 16 years older.

Mom told me that when John was about 2 years old, we moved to Roundup, Montana. I was a baby. She said dad had rented a house for her there..which she hated. He rented it for her.."sight unseen". She hated it because there was a floor furnace, it was winter, and she was scared that John would get injured . My grandma Lydia, from Romania, was with her...as she had been in Regina, Sask., Canada. Apparently... the first night, my brother John had fallen across the hot heater and burned his hands and legs. Mom took him to the hospital right away.

She told me that she was so angry with my dad. That is when mom found "our house" on 3rd street..in Roundup. I don't recall when Grandma left...but I know that I have faint memories of her rocking me. So does my sis Glenna. My sis Pat was born when we lived there...and my brother Michael and Lydia were buried there. One died shortly after birth..the other "stillborn".

Now know, my dad made big bucks back then. I have videos he made from that time..not many people could afford cameras like that then. Then, he broke his leg. No benefits then, no disability. That Christmas...mom shaped a meatloaf into a turkey....and we all loved it. I recall it vividly. We argued over who got the leg..and mom gingerly cut off "the leg" for the one of us who won it...probably by a coin toss. It was the only Christmas I recall not having lots of people there..it was just the family. I also remember moving to the poor side of town [queue Johnny Rivers]...but mom made that skating rink for us in the back yard, and there was that hill to sled off of.

Mom told me the story about John and the heater in 1995, on our trip to Oregon...after I'd moved back to Wyoming. If you've never taken a trip with your living parent...I suggest you do it..soon! I am glad I did. I waited too long to spend time with my father before he died, and when I finally did...he didn't know who I was. He asked John, "how's Melody doing?" I stood in front of him and said, "it's me dad..I'm right here". He had dementia. My parents divorced when I was 11 and dad moved back to his home state of Texas. They both remarried. Dad died 9/11/94 and mom died 9/11/01.

I moved back to Wyo. because I knew my mom was sick..and I knew she'd be dead within 5 or 6 years. I wanted to spend as much time talking to her as I could. It wasn't always easy..as she could be a horrid bitch...but am glad I took the trip to Oregon with her.

I'll never forget singing with her in the car...music up loud to Patsy Cline songs..and to Holly Smith's "Amazing Grace"...which she said she wanted at her funeral....and was played. We should have played "I Fall to Pieces." It was fun winding our way through the Idaho Mountains singing and talking. We stopped at the first resort-type place we saw..as we both had to pee like crazy. They opened the door and said they were closed..we could not pee there. So we both pulled down our pants and peed on their porch! It was dark out. We laughed afterwards..running toward the car like little kids...I love that memory of us. I just love it. I don't want to recall the bad times with mom...at least not now.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

My Bro....guest blogging!

John, age 4 Melody, age 2

Hi Melody,

I would be a guest blogger, but I really don't have a lot of memories of life before Worland. But if I DO remember something I'll be sure to add it to your blog.

Every once in a while a thought comes to mind. For instance, I have never had any kind of throwing arm, whether it be baseball, basketball, frisbee, etc. I have one memory of playing little league baseball in Choteau (and I only remember one game). Dad was there and after the game he said, "At least you didn't step out of the batters box (in between strikes and, consequently, strikeouts). Then it dawned on me. I'm pretty sure Dad and I NEVER played catch of any sort. This is despite the fact that he was allegedly a very good baseball pitcher as a young man in Texas. I can't remember where I heard it, but supposedly he played semi-pro ball.

I'm guessing he always assumed that it was something that came naturally, or was taught by someone other than him. I coached my boys and their baseball teams for nine years. I always enjoyed it but was always a little embarrassed because most of the kids I worked with not only threw a ball better than I, but also knew much more about the game than I did.

As you probably remember, Dad never left anywhere without making friends with everyone. Unfortunately, that was about the end of his social and conversational skills. And, unfortunately or perhaps fortunately, I inherited those same skills. I talk to everyone in restaurants, stores, drive-in banks, etc., and try to make them feel at ease (like Dad). Unfortunately, I cannot carry on a conversation of any length. It scares the hell out of me. I'm intimidated by almost everyone when in a one-on-one or group situation. I'd rather hide in the back or, better yet, not go at all. So, in addition to my tremors, bad heart, and bald head, our father passed these things on to me as well.

Feel free to copy and paste this if you like and if something ever pops into this mostly empty head I'd be happy to share it with you.

Love, John

Saturday, December 06, 2008

1960's Christmas Theme ...includes dinner

I've gone wacko over my 1960's Christmas Theme and Dinner this season. I won the bid on e-bay for an aluminum christmas tree and am ordering the "color wheel" that goes with it. Anyone recall those?

I am researching what was popular to have for Christmas Dinner back then. My MIL says nothing has changed...but surely it has!! I recall jello..for one thing...and that fruit salad from a can with lots of whipped cream in it.

Who else remembers Christmas in the 60's? What did you eat...and how was your table set? What ornaments do you recall? I remember those bubble-up candle thinga majeegers.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Hot and Cold of It

I may have talked about this before..but who knows?

I have not felt cold since 1981..when I moved to Kansas. I grew up in Montana and Wyoming where winter temps were often at -18 below or worse. I recall several winters where the temp dropped to -40. It was warm if it was +18 degrees at Christmas. I recall many, many years of walking down the main street of Worland, Wyoming or Billings, Montana and seeing the Bank sign read, -22 (below zero). One winter in Worland, in the early 80's it was so damned cold that the National Guard had to come in to feed the cattle and sheep and fix the broken water lines in town. The temp that year was -55 degrees.

When I was about 19, I would walk about 12 blocks to work at about 5 a.m. when the bank sign showed -20. I had long johns on over my waitress uniform. It was normal for us..in the "cold country".

So..my point is this:

Dave came home from work today and said, "can you believe that our heater is not working?" He said he almost froze last night. I am like, "I had no idea our heater was not working..in fact, I turned on the fan before I got in bed last night". I started a fire for him...in the fireplace. We were sitting outside at 6 pm. He was shaking cold. I said, "how cold is it?" He says, "it is about 40 degrees out! Oh Lordie. That is spring temp where I come from!!

I shared with my husband that when he goes to work at 5 a.m., I hear him push the buttons on our alarm system. It wakes me up. When I hear him lock the door with his key...I get up and 'open the sash' and then snuggle down for a long winters nap...which lasts about 3 more hours. I love having the window wide open. I can sleep the best when the room is very cold. Hello??

When Dave first came to see me in West Sonoma County, I lived in a super lovely cabin with a wrap around porch...right in the middle of the Redwoods. My only heat was a huge rock fireplace in the living room.

The first night he spent there...I woke up to him shivering like a Holocaust victim. I had a heated mattress pad and a down comforter. He looked over at the window, where my cat Simon was..and saw his breath in the cold. I asked, "should I close the window"? He yells, "you mean the window is open?"

That is the hot and cold of our relationship. I am seriously thinking about decorating the front bedroom ..so I can sleep comfortably with a cold breeze and just one "down comforter"...I need my sleep. I so enjoy going to bed in a cold room. I cannot stand to sweat at night...can't stand it. Being "hot" for an hour or so is just fine......but I must sleep in a cool room!

Does anyone else relate to "hot and cold" sleeping issues?