Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Eve Food Traditions

I've talked about Japanese New Year traditions at length in the past. This time, let's talk about some end-of-year food traditions around the world.

(1) Eat something shaped like a ring. A doughnut, or slices of Japanese chikuwa would do nicely. Or how about some of those small ring pretzels, or Lifesaver candies?

(2) Ever hear of a "bannock"? It's a fried "pancake" of quick bread pastry that the Irish eat on New Year's Eve. Pancakes for a midnight snack? I can do that.

(3) Have you heard of the tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight? That's a Spanish tradition. I think the grapes stand for the 12 Apostles. Hmmm, I wonder if raisins count too?

(4) They eat a lot of rice in the East. It's their substitute for potatoes, which come from the West. But rice has cultural significance. For example, in India and Pakistan, it's eaten on the Eve to promise prosperity. 

(5) A very crunchy sweet Jewish tradition is the snacking on apples dipped in honey during Rose Hashana.

(6) This one might get messy and attract ants, cockroaches and other vermin (nit to mention slipping accidents). In Switzerland, they drop dollops of whipped cream on their floors and leave them there. It symbolizes the year-to-come's richness.

(7) Down south in the good ol' US of A, the way to guarantee good fortune in the year ahead is to shovel some black-eyed peas and pork down your gullet.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Ferry Building (and More)

Every now and then, whenever the wife and I tooled around San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf and nearby environs, we'd stop over at the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero.

It's easy to get there via the Muni Streetcars that motor along Fisherman's Wharf's two principal streets: Jefferson and Beach.

The Muni is $2.25 a head, but only $1 for kids and seniors (cheaper than gas, and it's funnier than driving, paying for parking, and walking a block).

These days, you have three things to explore if you get there on the right day—the Ferry Building shops, the Ferry Building Farmer's Market, and the Ferry Plaza Booths.

Ferry Plaza Booths

Let's start here, because it's the first place we visited after disembarking from the Muni. It's mostly commercial souvenirs, some handmade on the spot, some great for presents, many you've seen before. It's a good place to stroll and linger for a while.

They weren't there the last time we went to the Plaza Building. But maybe we just didn't see them.

Some pix:

Ferry Building Farmer's Market

The farmer's market sets up on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Local farmer's and wholesalers set up their produce at reasonable prices; all of the fruits and veggies are in great shape during the right season.

Stretching along the sidewalk from one end of the Ferry Building to the other, it does cause a traffic jam with tourists slowing their cars and snapping pictures as they pass by, on their way to Fisherman's Wharf. And that's another good reason why it pays to take the Muni.

Some pix:

Ferry Building Shops

Inside the Ferry Building are a plethora of food-related shops. You can get fruit, vegetables, jarred and canned products, packaged stuff from all over the world. The shops are staffed with people eager to chat you up about what they're trying to sell you.

There also are several restaurants, food service counters and markets that are busy as heck during mealtime. Go there around lunch time and it's practically shoulder-to-shoulder crowded as workers from downtown rush across the Embarcadero for their midday meal.

One of my favorite shops to gawk at is the mushroom shop, Far West Fungi. They used to have a big stump outside the shop with a school of mushrooms growing out of it.

Another is Boccalone, where they sell cured pork products and sausages. We bought some of their tee shirts sporting their slogan: "Tasty Salted Pig Parts."

Some pix:

And that, my friends, covers our latest San Francisco Ferry Building adventure. Hope to see you there one day for lunch.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Movies for Christmas Day

When I closed my movie blog (Shhhh! The Movie's Starting), I had two Christmas movie reviews that I had not run. Instead of trashing them unread, I saved them to post here for you.

A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story is based on Jean Shepherd’s short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes gleaned from two of his books – In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories.

In 1940, 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley, and as an adult, the narrating voice of Jean Shepherd) of Hohman, Indiana, has only one Christmas wish – he wants a Red Ryder BB gun (y’know, the one with the compass and a sundial, displayed in Higbee's corner window).

His parents, however, balk at this, admonishing him that he’s just going to shoot his eye out.

First, he tries his mom – Mrs. Parker (Melinda Dillon). Nope. He ends up getting the standard mom-response of "Oh no, you'll ..." Well, y'know.

Next, he tries his teacher – Miss Shields (Teddie Moore). Nope again, he ends up getting another lecture. Finally, he tries a department store Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen), also to no avail, and will these lectures never end?

Each of these three attempts is embellished and supplemented by several anecdotal experiences:

  • Like Ralphie saving his mom, brother Randy (Ian Petrella) and dad, aka “The Old Man” (Darren McGavin), from an imaginary Black Bart attack with his trusty Red Ryder rifle, Old Blue.
  • Like his friend, Flick (Scott Schwartz), getting his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole during school recess when he is triple-dog dared, resulting in a visit by the fire department and cops to free him.
  • Like the confrontations with the local bully, Scul Farkus (Zack Ward), and his runty sidekick, Grover Dill (Yano Anaya), until one day, something inside Ralphie snaps and he beats the snot out of Scul while hurling a never-ending stream of obscenities until his mom happens by and pulls him off.
  • Like his father winning the major sweepstakes award – a lamp shaped like a woman's leg, wearing a fishnet stocking ... a prize that causes considerable consternation for mom because dad loves it and sets it up at the front window. Not only that, Ralphie keeps stroking it.
  • Like Ralphie blaming his friend Schwartz (R.D. Robb) for being the source of the uber-bad "F" word that he blurted out while helping his father change a flat tire on the way home from the Christmas tree lot. (Actually, he'd learned from dad, who used it at least 10 times a day). The imaginary result? Soap-poisoning blindness.

Does Ralphie get his Red Ryder rifle? Does he get to shoot his eye out? Tell you what – put that out of your mind, and anticipate instead their Christmas dinner. It's classic.

The writing is so humorous and entertaining, and the episodes accurately reflect the thoughts and experience of most adolescent boys, I'd wager. And that's the beauty of A Christmas Story; it's heart-warming and true-to-life.

A Christmas Story inspired the creation of the television series, The Wonder Years, starring Fred Savage as Kevin Arnold, whose 1960s formative years were followed by legions of nostalgic adults for six seasons from 1988 through 1993.

Grade: A-

Quotation I like from the film: "In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." – Ralphie Parker (in narrative by Jean Shepherd)

The Santa Suit (2010)

Drake Hunter (Kevin Sorbo), president of Hunter Toys, is a big Scrooge, totally focused on the bottom line. He isn't planning on giving his employees any bonuses or days off during Christmas, except Christmas Day, which just so happens to fall on a Sunday this year.

Nobody else is on the same page as Drake. His secretary, Marge (Rosemary Dunsmore), who worked with his dad (the company founder and creator of the Princess Doll), tries to be his conscience and steer him in the right direction, but it all just slides away, like water off a duck's back.

Then, Kris Krandall (Derry Robinson), one of the Santas provided by Hunter Toys to stores, questions what Drake wants them to do – "pimp" and push Hunter toys to the kids that sit on their laps, and earn a commission for each one the store sells.

He does manage to touch Drake (literally), which changes things considerably. Something weird happens. He's no longer Drake Hunter. He's changed. He now looks like Kris Krandall. Arrested for trespassing at his own company, he is sent to a social worker – Nancy Baxter (Jodie Dowdall).

Nancy takes him in at the social services shelter, after which he gets a job as a store Santa at Dobson's Toy Store, owned by the high-strung Norm Dobson (Jason Blicker). He's teamed up with Sebastian (Darrell Faria), the store's Christmas elf with an acting attitude jealous of Drake's success.

He's pretty good at it, and becomes attached to Gemma (Brianna D'Aguanno), a shy, sad little girl who shows up every day. He follows her home one evening to make sure she gets there safely, and is surprised to see that she lives in the house where he grew up. It's more than a coincidence. For you see, Gemma's mother works on an assembly line at ... Hunter Toys. And she can't afford to get Gemma what she really wants for Christmas – a Princess Doll.

Do things work out in the end? Of course they do. After all, it's Christmas.

The Santa Suit ran on the Hallmark Channel, and like all Hallmark productions, it's a quality presentation. It certainly makes one feel good. At least it did me. Kevin Sorbo does a good job, and as his alter-ego Kris (Santa), he goes a great job. And Jodie Dowdall is a very good-looking lady with a beautiful, radiant smile.

Grade: B+

Quotation I like from the film: "Santa Claus is more than a symbol. He's been overused and misrepresented. But underneath it all, he represents the best of humankind. Selflessness. Generosity. Charity. Kindness." – Kris Krandall

Y'all have a very Merry Christmas now, y'heah?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Las Vegas Christmas Scenes

For the season ... here are some lovely Christmas decorations scenes I photographed during my December 2014 visit to Las Vegas.

Enjoy these beauties from the Mirage's entrance on the Las Vegas Strip, and the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas!

The Mirage

The Golden Nugget


Monday, December 19, 2016

"Scoma-ntic" Reminiscing

Scoma's at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf is, in my humble opinion, the best seafood restaurant in the city, bar none.

The first time I ate at Scoma's at was sometime in the mid-1960s. Let's say 1966, just before the wife and I were married.

We asked a parking lot attendant which restaurant he thought had the best food. Without hesitation, he pointed to a little nondescript street off main drag Jefferson—Scoma Way. We followed that street to an old wooden building on the pier, over the water.

That was our intro to Scoma's. it looks the same now, as it did then. At the time, their menu was a bit larger than it is now. It's been trimmed considerably since then, but all of their famous favorites have been retained.

Most recently, we ate there again—50 years later. That's quite an accomplishment, considering we've gone back several times over the years.

When our #2 son graduated from UC Berkeley, we went to Scoma's. During our "Strike one, strike two, strike three" debacle trying to get on the Alcatraz Island tour, we ate there each time. When we made it on board the fourth time, we celebrated at Scoma's. We met our future daughter-in-law when our son brought her to Scoma's to meet us.

In fact, every time we were in San Francisco, we ate at Scoma's. Oh wait, one Christmas in college, we went to blustery and rainy San Francisco with another couple. We ended up having dinner at Joe DiMaggio's, which has now been taken over by Joe's Crab Shack.

I ate at Scoma's a couple of times when I was in San Francisco attending conferences and meetings. Lots of memories there, lots.

This last trip, we ate there twice—early Monday evening when we arrived there from across the bay (our son's home in Fremont), and for lunch Wednesday just before driving back to Fremont.

We started our dinner with of a cup of clam chowder each, the best we've ever had, accompanied by a tasty prawn cocktail.

Next came our favorite entree—we split a Shellfish Sauté Sec, featuring Dungeness crab, lobster, prawns and scallops in a creamy special sauce over spinach and orzo pasta.

We closed it out with a square of traditional Tiramisu, which rated a 10 on the Miyamoto Tiramisu Scale when my Heavenly Tiramisu website was active.

Two days later, we again lunched on clam chowder, this time splitting a Shellfish Combination Louie Salad filled with lump Dungeness crab meat and plump bay shrimp.

It's not on the menu, but our waiter Salvatore said they'd make it for us. Couldn't handle dessert this time or I would have fallen asleep at the wheel during our hour-long return on the freeway.

Yep, we bookended our Fisherman's Wharf vacation with meals at Scoma's, and I'll probably do it again some day in the near future.

Scoma's: Pier 47, Al Scoma Way, San Francisco, CA 94133. Open daily. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m, phone (415) 771-4383.