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Visiting Old Friends, Some Cooking Content

John Liu
2 months ago
last modified: 2 months ago

SWMBO spent the week before last house and dog-sitting for our friends in Berkeley. She drove down on a Friday, and wanted me to go with her. I was grumpy about it, because I’d planned to go skiing, but was ”persuaded” to fly down after my ski weekend.

By the way, I’ve resumed skiing after a twenty-year layoff, after realizing that the slopes are only a 50 minute drive from my house and that my knees are miraculously uninjured after six decades so I might as well use them doing something other that cycling. No running, thank you - during a miserable season running cross-country in high school I swore to never run again, and I’ve stuck to that oath. I won’t even run for a bus. Hence, intact knees :-) No conceivable cooking angle to this digression so I’ll say no more about it other than I wish I hadn’t lost two decades of skiing!

A pleasant week in Berkeley. Our friends returned from Hawaii and we stayed another weekend with them before heading down to Los Angeles. The only mishap was that their round stone outdoor tabletop fell off the table base to which it had only been silicone ”glued”, and broke in half.

I took the two pieces to another friend’s place. We used clear epoxy and a clamp to glue the pieces back together, filled the cracks and missing bits with more clear epoxy, sanded the epoxy to dull the gloss, cut a round of 5/8” marine plywood, set T-serts into the wood to bolt the table legs to, used construction cement to glue the wood to the underside of the stone top, applied Varathane to the wood, bolted the table base to the wood, and I brought the repaired table back to friend #1’s house.

When I entered the house, there was a big shout of “Surprise”. My wife had arranged a surprise 60th birthday party for me, and all my Bay Area friends were there!

One guy even drove up from Santa Barbara; incidentally he was the last friend I ever went skiing with. He reminded me of the time we jumped into a chute at Mammoth. I went first, got to the bottom upright. He went next, had a huge fall, the kind called a ”yard sale” that leaves your skis and stuff scattered all over the slope. He took so long climbing up the chute to retrieve his gear that, he claims, by the time he got re-assembled and skiied to the bottom I was asleep in the snow, and he was pissed. I don’t remember that part.

I had been happy spending my 60th in friend #2’s workshop doing a project with him, but the party was a nice bonus.

My birthday balloons - grump grump

Me and my friend - and terrific skiier - J____. He’s quite the outdoorsman, he and his wife, both in their seventies, still take two week backpacking trips into the High Sierras. J_____ is the only person I know who’s been attacked by a bear, and obviously the only person I know who’s survived a bear attack.

We then drove down to Los Angeles to stay with our ”Los Angeles parents”, who adopted SWMBO and I when we moved to L.A. in our twenties. S_____ is the best cook I know. She and her son taught me to cook, way back then. Covid interrupted her prolific entertaining, but she still cooks wonderful stuff for small gatherings.

In Berkeley, I’d been gifted a three pound piece of tuna belly, from the guy who caught it - another outdoorsman, he fishes and hunts so much that they hardly eat store-bought meat or fish. I brought that tuna to L.A. and cooked it for S_____ and her husband E_____. It was simple: cut into 2” steaks, pat with salt and pepper, crust with sesame seeds, sear in a couple of very hot cast iron pans, serve with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sesame oil, pepper, and cayenne. This tuna belly was fantastic. Rich, fatty, unctuous. I’ve never had better.

The next day I made dinner for S____ and E____, and S____’s son (my other cooking instructor, back when) and his partner. I made albondigas soup at SWMBO’s request, asparagus, and because I couldn’t find pork tenderloin at the store I roasted beef short ribs in S_____’s Dutch oven, topped with a creamy asparagus-garlic-horse radish sauce. I’ve never made short ribs in a Dutch oven; normally I pressure cook or sous vide it, but we didn't have a PC or time to sous vide. I like the Dutch oven results better.

On my last day in L.A., we made dinner at my friend P____'s house. He has had a hard few years. P____ has been in a wheelchair since high school. When we became friends in the late 1980s, he was a wheelchair racer, traveling all over the world to race, with huge powerful arms and shoulders, chest and back. His arms then were as big as my thighs.

But he’s been bedridden for two years, only able to transfer to his mobility scooter with help and a ceiling mounted hoist, and has become increasingly isolated, partly because of the Covid years and partly because people tend to stop visiting after a while. So SWMBO organized a little dinner at P____’s house with S_____, E_____, and P____’s brother and sister-in-law. I deboned two chickens, dry rubbed them, and brought them in a foil pan to P____’s house to roast in his new Haier oven.

So this is when the most interesting cooking thing happened. I put the chickens in the oven, set to 350F, added a baguette to warm up. After a little while I went to remove the baguette and increase the temperature a bit.

Wait. Why is the oven door locked? What’s this symbol “P” mean? Why doesn’t the damn touchscreen respond?

Get the manual, look through it, on page 30 it says “P” means “self-clean cycle”. Of course it does, everyone knows “P” means “self-clean” :-( The oven door is locked, the oven is headed toward 500F, and the touchscreen controls remain non-responsive. ****. The baguette is starting to blacken. I frantically read the entire manual. There is NO way to turn off self-clean or unlock the door. People are about to arrive. The baguette is smoking.

I found the house electrical panel, and switched the oven circuit off then on. Did this a couple times. The “P” disappears but the door is still locked. Wait twenty minutes. People are here. The door finally unlocks. Having no idea how much roasting the chicken has done by now, I threw out the blackened baguette and slapped the chicken into a pan. Hunted around the kitchen, there’s no flour - P____’s caretakers feed him packaged food, which is one reason he’s in such bad shape - but there was some corn starch, so I made a quick gravy to cover up whatever the chicken was going to taste like.

It turned out pretty dang good actually! Hey, a new recipe - debone chicken and run the self-cleaning cycle.

I hate modern appliances. I hate the people who design the UI for them. I hate the people who write the manuals for them. They are all sadistic retards.

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