When I was 16 years old, I used to wander over to the Contemporary Resort at Disney World to lay out in the sun on their beach, something that isn’t possible anymore because of alligators. But, then, Disney was still young and the gators hadn’t yet infiltrated the lakes.
I was fat, but wore a tube top and a bathing suit bottom that went up to my belly button, keeping my midriff exposed to the sun.
These were the days before we knew about skin cancer and using sunscreen. I had my trusty bottle of baby oil that I slathered on every couple of hours. (Tanning at home, I used Crisco.) Just reading it, I’m checking all my freckles and moles!
No one ever checked to see if I had a room key or asked if I belonged on their beach. That would never happen today. Because no one cared, when I got hot, I’d dive into one of their two pools, swim around (I’m a great swimmer), get cool, then go back to my spot on the beach.
One time when I was in the pool, there was a woman sitting on the side hollering, “Barbie! Barbie!” and I answered her, asking, “Yes?” I swam over to her and she was calling one of her twin daughters, also named Barbie… we laughed, then introduced ourselves. It took less than 2 minutes before we were fast friends. After we were done swimming, I took them on a guided tour of the Magic Kingdom (the only park open then) and they took me to dinner. Barbie’s mom and I corresponded for 10 years, talking on the phone a lot, too. They lived in Canada, so never saw them again. I think about the family often wondering whatever happened in their lives.
Frozen Orange Daiquiri
But, what about that Frozen Orange Daiquiri?
While I lay on the beach, servers wandered around asking if people wanted something from the bar (including snacks!). Can you imagine that happening today? No way in the world would they traipse in the sand selling drinks. But then, it was awesome.
The first time I had enough money to buy something to drink, I asked if there was a virgin anything cold and the server said, “We have Frozen Orange Daiquiris,” and I probably said, “Yes!” way too loud, but she toddled off to the bar to get me that drink.
I swear she floated back, my drink balanced on her tray, my mouth watering as she came upon me like an angel of Frozen Orange Daiquiris.
It was served in a clear plastic cup with an orange slice on the rim.
It was exquisite.
Sipping the thick icy treat, I found using the orange slice as a scoop to be more efficient as well as yum-MEEEE! I asked the server for a few orange slices when I ordered the next drink and she brought me a bowl of them!
This became my special treat and even when I didn’t feel like laying out in the sun, I’d go to the Contemporary Resort, sit at the Sand Bar and order one Virgin Frozen Orange Daiquiri after another. With a pile of orange slices to dip, use as a scoop, then peel the orange from the rind with my teeth.
I can taste it even now, feeling the searing sun on my back, slurping the icy drink off the orange slices.
Where Are They Now?
I have not figured out why, but no one seems to make Frozen Orange Daiquiris anymore. They make Peach, Mango, even an Orange-Banana, but where are the unadulterated Orange ones? I’ve ask experienced bartenders to make me one and usually get a look of confusion. I’ve probably only had 5 in the last 40 years. And even those didn’t taste like I remembered.
Yes, I am aware that the atmosphere of the burning sun, the white sandy beach, being on Disney property, the server wending her way through the lawn chairs, the piles of cold orange slices create a memory that can never be recreated, that no matter how many Frozen Orange Daiquiris I have, none would ever taste the same.
I’m salivating remembering the tart sweetness over the decades.
Let’s bring the Frozen Orange Daiquiri back to a drink everyone asks for!
I’m having a flood of food memories and thought I should write them down for my kidlets and others who remember these crazy things.
Red Velvet Cake
I remember the first piece of Red Velvet Cake I ever had. First grade. The perfect square of deep red with white frosting. When I picked up a piece with my metal fork and slid it into my mouth, I’m sure I made a childish moan of delight.
I never saw Red Velvet Cake outside of the south until about 30 years ago. Reading, it seems that the movie Steel Magnolias (a movie I have memorized) brought the dessert out of the southern states about 1989 when the Groom’s Cake, in the shape of an armadillo, was blood red from the cake inside.
I haven’t seen the Jell-O cake in decades, but remember how to make it as if it was yesterday.
• Make a yellow cake in a 9×13 pan
• Let it cool
• Use the back end of a wooden spoon to make a few holes around the cake
• Make 2-3 different kinds (and colors!) of Jell-O
• While the Jell-O is still liquid, randomly pour it into the holes
• Put the now kinda colored cake in the refrigerator for a few hours
• Once the cake is cold, frost it with Cool Whip. (It has to be Cool Whip! Not real whipped cream, but Cool Whip.
I prefer the multi-colored cakes, but I see online it is common to make this for red, white & blue holidays.
Besides how to make this cake, I can taste it as if it was sitting in front of me.
I used to go to Tifton, Georgia with a childhood friend, visiting her grandmother. Tifton is still really small, but back in 1974 or so, it was tiny.
Grandma lived on a farm… cows, chickens, horses, pigs, corn fields… the whole farm thing. Visiting grandma in Tifton remains the only time I’ve ever been to, visited or stayed on a farm.
It was hot as Hades at that house. Not even fans, much less air conditioning. The windows were always open, cicadas and neighing from the horses the only sounds during the windless nights.
Sitting in the kitchen was big fun. Grandma cooked everything from scratch (as most everyone did back then), 3 meals a day, 365 days a year.
Huge, amazing breakfasts of fresh bacon, eggs from the chickens and lots of thickly buttered white bread toast.
When the bacon was done, grandma poured the hot grease on top of the older grease sitting in a Ball Jar next to the stove. Grease upon grease upon grease, sitting for goodness knows how long.
If something was going to stick to the cast iron pan, a heaping spoonful of grease was added to the pan.
Because eggs were a sticky sort of food, bacon grease was the base as they were cooked… bits of bacon fat throughout.
How this bacon fat generation didn’t all die off from heart disease is beyond me.
Certainly all the hard work helped.
Still on the farm with my friend and her grandparents, we girls were sent out to the corn field to pick corn off the stalks. A novice, I had to be shown what was a good piece of corn to pick off, having chosen semi-rotten corn at first.
Once I figured it out, we went about our business and filled the giant basket we were given.
When our baskets were full, we carried them right into grandma’s kitchen where she almost immediately set to work. We were in charge of getting the “angel hair” (silk) off the cob, then passed the clean corn to grandma so she could get the kernels off.
This part was the most time-consuming part. It would take hours of manual muscle to scrape, scrape, scrape the cob in order to get what she needed to make the creamed corn.
But, when all the corn was off the cob, the deliciousness really started.
Boiled Peanuts are a part of the Deep South. You are nearly required to say the words with a Southern accent: “Bolt Peanuts.”
Roadside stands are everywhere.
For those who’ve never had the opportunity to taste boiled peanuts, you can also get them in the store… canned!
Here’s what they look like when being made at one of the outdoor locations.
People eat them in different ways. Some will remove the peanut out of the shell with their fingers, others take the peanut out once it is in their mouth… but many, many eat them without removing the squishy shell.
My thoughts on boiled peanuts: THEY ARE REVOLTING. Slimy shells are incredibly gross. Foodie, beware.
Pickled Pigs Feet
Yet another Southern delicacy is Pickled Pigs Feet. Not kidding.
Now, while I’ve never put these in my mouth, they are incredibly popular in all stores, large and small.
Anecdote: My niece was about 3-years old and there was a lower bin filled with pigs’ feet. She asked what they were and mom told her, “Pig’s feet!” My niece looked at the bin, back to mom, then back to the bin and asked, “Then how do the piggies walk?” Smart child.
My childhood friend Angel taught me how to eat grits.
Grits are made from corn (no clue how) and used to have to be cooked, but now come in the instant variety. To me, there’s no difference in the taste, so bring on the instant grits!
Angel first made me grits with sugar in them. Blech.
Then she introduced me to grits with butter. So much butter, the grits in the bowl were floating and a bright yellow color.
Restaurants in the south often make grits with cheese. Meh. Bring on the butter.
Swimming in butter is how I eat them to this day.
Simple sandwiches are usually made because by noon it is bloody hot outside. In the olden days, we had no air conditioner. On my friend’s grandparent’s farm, there was never any air conditioner.
It was not uncommon to eat this simple sandwich: Tomato & Mayonnaise on Wonder Bread.
Note the old plate the sandwich is on in the above picture… gilt around the edge. No one does that anymore because it would spark a fire in the microwave.
And then, the bane of my southern party existence: Pimento Cheese on Wonder Bread.
Pimentos. DisGUSTing. And then some sort of cheese (not real… can’t be real) all mashed together with mayonnaise. Blech!
When I was pre-teen, we’d cram luggage, then ourselves, into the Chevy station wagon (seat belts? HA!) and trek to Shreveport, Louisiana to spend part of the summer with the Cuban side of the family: grandmother, aunt, uncles and cousins.
During one particular visit, the 2 oldest cousins dragged 8-year old me into their clubhouse, wall-papered with Playboy pictures (the first I’d ever seen) and took it upon themselves to tell me how babies were made.
I was so confused.
And once I really learned, I saw they got several facts incorrect. I hope they’ve figured that all out by now.
My parents and aunt and uncle went fishing a couple of times during the summer. I salivated just seeing the fishing poles being put into the cars.
They always came home with gobs of fresh catfish & perch. Still today, catfish is pretty much the only fish I enjoy (memories are strong motivators!).
I remember the scaling of the perch as a messy, gross activity that I stayed far away from lest I be covered in the silvery scales. Whomever was scaling at the moment, when they were tired, were hosed off in the yard to get those tiny flecks of fish-covering off their face and arms, then someone took up the spoon and continued the tedious work.
Happily, catfish have no scales.
Finally, the enormous Bar-B-Que was fired up and I hung around it, feeling the intense heat, watching the cooking catfish, just stopping myself from begging for the first fish off the grill.
Being first in line, I often received those burning hot slabs of flesh.
I learned how to eat fish around the bones fast, not remembering ever eating a hard fish bone. (The soft ones are often just swallowed.)
Besides the BBQ, the catfish was often fried. Which I loved even more. You can never go wrong with breading and being fried in a cast iron pan.
I can taste it even now.
The always-offered hush puppies were also made. I gobbled those suckers up, too. Dipped in ketchup.
A wonderful book I came across many years ago was White Trash Cooking. Between the covers, recipes and photos brought back visceral memories, making me close my eyes for a moment, and feeling/smelling/tasting exactly what I saw in a mere picture.
What a fun revisit to my food memories. Thanks for coming along!
I’d been writing reviews of meals for a long time, publishing them on Disney websites (for free). I got great feedback, so kept going.
One of the folks that read my writing was Susan Shumaker. She and her partner Than Saffel were working on a book on vegetarian dining at Disney World and surrounding areas. They asked me if I would like to collaborate by eating in a slew of restaurants they couldn’t get to because they didn’t live in Orlando and had to make trips back and forth to taste test for themselves. I jumped at the chance!
I was in a poly relationship at the time with a woman and my former transman partner (who had not yet come out). We scheduled 3 weeks to hit all the restaurants on our list, staying in different Disney Luxury Resorts chosen randomly. Even though I was the one reviewing/writing, all three of us were fed for free. And, except for breakfast, also given fine wine, per course, at lunch and dinner.
I was the only one of us three eating vegetarian or vegan; they were meat eaters… and were served meat dishes throughout the tastings.
All of us loved red wine and drank copious amounts. (A separate post in the works.)
“Memories! Like the corner of my mind.”
Meeting the Chefs
It was a matter of course for the chef to come to the table to ask what my food preferences were. (No green/yellow/orange/purple/jalapeño/etc. peppers. Not terribly spicy. Love mushrooms.) We 3 had eaten (and paid for it) in most of the restaurants, so knew many chefs ahead of time. Sometimes, they’d sit with us and we’d talk about food and wine. Fun!
Sitting here almost 20 years later, I cannot recall even one time I was disappointed by food made by a Disney chef… on either coast. And I’ve eaten in Disney’s Fine Dining easily 200 times.
Restaurants We Visited
We did not just eat in fancy restaurants and I did not eat just at Disney restaurants. We ate at restaurants in different Disney Resorts, from Value Hotels to Moderate ones, and of course in the Deluxe Resorts. When I ate off-property, those places were ghastly! No vegan food at all and Stouffer’s Veggie Lasagna was almost always the meal I was given. I ate at about 8 different locations off-property, but close to Disney World. I got to see some fun shows the tourists flock to, but the food sucked.
Where it did not suck was at Walt Disney World!
Whispering Canyon Cafe, Wilderness Lodge Resort
We had breakfast at Whispering Canyon. Endless family style food. I was a vegetarian, so didn’t want the sausages. It was no problem at all. They asked what each person wanted to eat and if they wanted meat but were sitting with vegetarians, the meat was served on a separate plate. The food at that restaurant was yummy!
Flying Fish, Boardwalk Resort
Besides being a lovely restaurant, food at the Flying Fish was awesome. I wish I had a picture of the foods I’d eaten at each place, but I do not.
At a separate time, one of my friends having dinner with us was a Supertaster. He sat naming the ingredients in his dish… spices, too! We asked the chef to come over and test him. Amazingly, he was spot on with everything that was in his meal. The chef was impressed. I was stunned.
Artist Point, Wilderness Lodge Resort
Artist Point was my go-to restaurant, even having my entire family eat there with me several times. The food was fantastic and their wine list was a delight. I remember sitting in Artist Point for hours, slowly eating course after course, then having a dessert made especially for us. One of our favorite desserts was dark chocolate wafers with a dry Cabernet.
The chef got to know my poly partners and me and never made the same vegetarian dish twice. Always delicious! When I was eating for the vegetarian book, the chef made especially awesome dishes for us all. (One thing I remember about almost all of my meals was the pine tree-like rosemary sticking up from one mashed food or other.)
I haven’t been to Artist Point in at least 10 years, but know if I sat down there tonight, the meal would be amazing.
Kona Café, Polynesian Resort
Kona Café used to be the best place to get coffee at Disney World. The coffee beans were from Kona, Hawai’i and they really did make the most delicious coffee.
Researching right now, the space is actually a “casual dining” restaurant! With a sushi bar! The coffee is all but a footnote on the menu. I am sure it is still the best coffee in the World.
Cítricos, Grand Floridian Resort
I’ve been to Cítricos only a handful of times. They serve seafood and Tuscan Italian food, which isn’t my favorite. It’s a gorgeous restaurant with great service and am sure my veggie dish was good (as I said I can’t think of one meal I didn’t like anywhere on Disney property.) and I don’t remember anyone complaining about their food but me. I do remember having Italian wine and missing the California wines I was used to.
Yachtsman Restaurant, Yacht Club Resort
The Yachtsman Steakhouse, obviously, serves steaks. Huge, giant slabs of beef. I cannot remember what I had, but do remember using a menu to hide Zack’s plate that had a pool of blood underneath his steak. Blech. Carnivores love the place and I might even like it now! I do have my steak medium well and eat it with ketchup. (I know… why bother?!? Kind of what I said for a long time as a vegetarian!)
Maya Grill, Coronado Springs Resort
I loved Maya Grill! And had a crush on Beatriz, the chef at the time. Beatriz took me back in the kitchen a couple of times, letting me photograph her hands as she prepped for the dinner crowd. One of the things she made was chimichurri, a dip I slurped up hungrily… until I saw it was made with green peppers. Then I couldn’t eat it anymore. Isn’t that silly? I know! But it just messed with my world view of hating peppers.
Mexican food is easy to make vegetarian and when we were food tasting for the book, my dinner was delicious… and very different from the other restaurants.
California Grill, Contemporary Resort
Ahhhh, now the California Grill. I’ve eaten there dozens of times… as a vegetarian, vegan and carnivore. Never ever ever have I had to send something back. As the name suggests, the cuisine is California-oriented, and it is delicious.
If you are lucky enough to eat here, you must ask for Walter. He opened the restaurant and is still there 22 years later. He is worth waiting for, I promise.
Besides the food, the restaurant overlooks the Magic Kingdom. In the picture above, you can see the fireworks over Cinderella Castle and how lovely Space Mountain is covered in lights. While watching fireworks from inside is nice, I prefer the catwalk outside. In the olden days, very few people knew about that 15th floor perch and I took friends out there to impress them. And they were impressed!
Used to be you could just go up for the fireworks, but now you must have reservations to be allowed on the elevator up. So, make reservations! Eat dessert and coffee if your budget is on the small side (you do not have to tell the podium folks what you are going to eat… keep it to yourself!) or dinner if you’re wanting to spend some money on magnificent food and wine. Reservations around firework time are harder to get, so we usually made reservations either far far in advance or about 6pm and just eat several courses slowly. Tip your waiter damn good if you stay at the table for 4 hours!
There was a Dessert Chef we knew up there at one time and we’d sit at the small area overlooking the making of the desserts. Watching them being made is magic! Incredible soufflés, wondrous crème brûlée and then the most creative desserts for kids! From rice cereal sushi to bowls of dark cookie dirt with gummy worms hidden inside.
For the food review, I know we had an amazing time, a window table overlooking the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon, with peeks at the Polynesian. That meal I can remember like it was yesterday. Exquisite.
I last ate at the California Grill with my daughter Meghann her family and my mama. We had a beautiful time! And yes, Walter was our waiter. As he was for Meghann’s honeymoon meal 10 years earlier and the server for many, many of the great meals I had on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort.
It was pure luck that I was able to go around the World and eat and drink so well for 3 weeks. We had so much fun! I think everyone should be able to do the same.
The girls and I headed to Epcot at Walt Disney World, me in an Electric Convenience Vehicle… an ECV… and they walking.
I always had my camera equipment and we carried our yellow Mickey ponchos for the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms.
As we wended our way around World Showcase, we went inside The American Adventureto listen to the Voices of Liberty, an amazing a Capella group that sings beautiful songs about America… and a couple of Disney tunes thrown in. (Not quite sure where the other voices are coming from, but they vanish around 2 minutes in.)
America Gardens Theater
When you walk out of the The American Adventure (which we had been in dozens of times so did not go this day), across the way, is the America Gardens Theater. I have to show you several pictures because they will be relevant later in the story.
Because I had the ECV, we were led to the Handicapped Section. It was about 8 rows from the stage and I was on the far left of the benches.
It being June in Florida, it was damn hot. I tend to get to places early (movies, shows, parties, etc.) and this was no exception. Waiting, it was suffocatingly hot. While we always carried water, that Kakigōri booth in Japan, which is next to The American Adventure, beckoned. We needed something cold!
Kakigōri, a Japanese treat, is a sort of snow cone, or if you know Hawai’i Shave Ice, it is similar to that as well. Besides the syrups they add (your choices), some people enjoy cream in theirs. (Blech!)
Not long after we were sitting in the flippin’ hot sun, the girls were sent on a mission to get the Kakigōri cones. I love cherry, and when they have it, grape. Yum! We three sat eating our snow cones, waiting for the show to start.
It finally did.
Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance
The show began with an amazing display of Irish dancing, men and women, moving in unison, the legs kicking while the tops of their bodies were stock still. It was delightful fun!
Midway through the show, a soloist came out and began singing the most lovely ballad… her soprano voice soaring into the air around us.
Then the feedback started. A blaring eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that was the strangest thing ever! Disney is meticulous with their sound systems, it was bizarre having feedback.
People were looking around. Why hadn’t the sound people fixed it yet? Crazy!
Then I see a Cast Member wending his way through the crowd… in a hurry… was everything okay? Holy crap, he was heading… towards… me?
“Ma’am, can you get off the ECV’s horn?”
I looked down and my bulging fat belly was leaning on the red horn button, causing the horrid “feedback.”
I leaned back and, miraculously, the feedback stopped.
People everywhere were staring. Right at me. I was filled with embarrassment.
And then I started laughing.
The girls and I got the sillies, thinking about me causing all that ruckus. It took every bit of control to not howl with laughter through the rest of the performance.
Meghann had worked in our Holistic Healthcare Center for the summer and Zack and I were driving her back to Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Zack was driving his F250 and we had a new washer and dryer for Meggie in the cargo bed. The path from San Diego to Lubbock is one of the most visually boring trips in the country. Lubbock is in West Texas, in the middle of nowhere.
Now, I cannot pee outside. When I have tried, I have had it running down my legs and into my shoes. It’s just gross.
But then there is the issue of finding a bathroom that doesn’t make me gag. Unfortunately, sometimes gagging is involved with urinating in a public toilet.
We stopped at the smallest gas station on earth to fill up and let Meghann and I go to the bathroom. When we walked inside the tiny building, the man behind the glass counter…. Yeah, the man behind the counter.
He had no teeth and was holding a half-cooked greasy hamburger (without the bun) in his hand. The grease was dripping down his arm. Lots of grease. A river of grease. Dripping off his elbow onto the newspaper he seemed to be perusing.
It was revolting.
We knew the bathroom was not going to be pristine.
Meggie and I took turns in the bathroom, one guarding the other because there was no lock on the door. And what if that man wanted to wash his hands. (As if.)
Walking out, we took one last look behind the counter as the man took a gummy bite into his burger, the grease oozing down his arm.
When we got in the truck, we laughed hysterically, partially from fear release. We kept asking each other if what we saw was real and validated each other over and over. That remains one of the most surreal experiences in my life.
BBQ in Lubbock
Once we delivered the washer and dryer to Meghann’s new apartment, we headed out for some Texas BBQ.
Walking in and sitting down became an adventure in staring; them, not us. Zack is transgender, but had not come out yet so people saw him as a very butch lesbian. I’m guessing that LGBTQ people are not a big part of Lubbock or Texas Tech. The whole walking in experience seemed to be in slow motion, every step taking 5 minutes before taking the next. I swear the place went silent.
We were seated at a large table against a wrought iron room separator. Zack sat next to the fence thing and cooed a hello to a baby hanging over a mother’s shoulder. The mother shot up out of her seat and tromped to the other side of the table and sat down for the duration of her meal. I’ve always wondered if she thought the baby would catch The Gay from Zack.
We could not miss the hushed volume compared to when we first walked in, and the stares continued. Looking around, we saw many men in cowboy hats and Zack made the comment that if we were in San Diego, they would be the ones being stared at. True, true!
The next morning, Zack and I hightailed it out of Lubbock. I was never so happy to leave somewhere, barring leaving my daughter behind, even though there was the greasy hamburger man a few hundred miles ahead.
Napa Rose is my absolute favorite Disney restaurant. Besides the exquisite food, the staff is one of the most unobtrusively attentive.
I’ve eaten at Napa Rose with my family (several times), just Zack and I (several times) and by myself (a few times). I can remember almost every dinner, too. That’s gotta say something.
Michael Jordan, Master Sommelier
The very first visit, Zack and I were in awe. The decor of the restaurant, how it overlooked Disney California Adventure… and then there was Michael Jordan.
Jordan isn’t at Napa Rose anymore, but we were blessed to experience him during his 8-year tenure. He’s a Master Sommelier, 1 of 15 in the world!
When we were seated, we studied the wine list, then decided to ask Jordan for his recommendation. He came up, a delightful smile on his face… one of the most humble men I’ve ever met. We talked for a long time and when he learned I was a midwife, he said his mother was a midwife and she’d delivered Frank Sinatra (who was 13.5 pounds and had an incredibly difficult birth) in Hoboken, New Jersey. Apparently the birth was so difficult, they called in a doctor who used forceps on the baby Frank Sinatra, scarring him for life. And then he said that Dolly Sinatra delivered him! What a fun story that bonded Jordan to us within minutes. And he did, indeed choose an awesome bottle of wine for us. That night and every other night we ate there.
After my gastric bypass in 2001, a woman in Anaheim wanted to meet to talk about my experience. I was eating tiny bits of food at the time and did worry about what I was going to eat. I didn’t need to! The chef blended up some of their mushroom soup for me and I took my first slurp with him standing there, loving the soup so very much.
About 10 spoonfuls in, I began to feel ill. The mushroom soup was incredibly rich with cream and my new gastric bypass body could not handle it. I began to dump (when the body cannot process sugar or fats and floods it with insulin to try to metabolize the offending food… called Dumping Syndrome).
I excused myself from my new friend and hightailed it to the bathroom so I could moan in peace. The hypoglycemia was so bad (and I did not recognize it at that time), all I could do was lay on the cool floor, curled into a ball. Someone heard me and went to Jordan who called EMS. They got there fast, while I was still clinging to the ceramic floor and kept asking me if they could give me an insulin shot. I was in a daze, but haltingly explained the gastric bypass and the dumping that comes from it. After 30 or so minutes on the floor, the distress slowly lessened. EMS stayed to take care of, or transport, me. I remember when I could sit up again, realizing I was laying on a bathroom floor… one of the grossest places on earth. Blessedly, the restaurant had just opened so at least it was still clean and I wouldn’t have nightmares about acquiring germs and laying in filth.
I said goodbye to my friend and drove the hour back home.
Dining with the Kidlets
I can see us eating at Napa Rose right this moment… as if it was yesterday.
The 4 kids (Zack’s son included), Zack and I and Napa Rose. Michael Jordan would choose us a nice bottle of wine and we would settle in for some great food and fun conversation.
One particularly hilarious conversation occurred when I was on-call as a midwife. San Diego was 90 minutes away, so when I went, I asked my ladies to give me an earlier heads-up than they might have otherwise. So when one of my moms called, I excused myself and went to talk in the bathroom, away from the table.
When I came back, the kids started peppering me with questions: Did her water break? Does she have gloppies? (Gloppies are when women are getting ripe, losing their mucus plug, etc.) Is she engorged? (If she was nursing.) I could hardly talk from laughing so hard at how my entire family knows so so much about childbirth and breastfeeding… through osmosis!
We ate here so often, we all had our constant favorites.
Zack’s son loved the Sizzling Beach Rock Appetizer.
The rock under the shrimp was hot as fire and the food on skewers would be laid on the rock to cook. It really was an awesome display of creativity.
My favorite was the Lobster Martini. I can taste it right this second.
Lobster, avocado, mango and a pinch of something spicy combined to delight me every time. If I went to the restaurant and it wasn’t on the menu, the chef would make it for me anyway. I sure would love one now!
Michael Jordan had an enormous garden at his home and when the heirloom tomatoes came into season, he harvested them and brought them to work. Organic, so so so sweet, with a light mango dressing. Delicioso!
While the desserts at Napa Rose were amazing, sometimes I wanted the Cheese Plate. Exquisite cheeses and breads, always something new each time I went.
As I said, the desserts were amazing.
This Sampler Plate has 3 of my favorite things at Napa Rose: the Vanilla Crème Brûlée, the “World’s Best Hot Chocolate” (at $13 a cup!) and the crunchy lacy thing standing up on the Chocolate Mousse in the back.
I loved the crunchy lace cookie-like treat and would ask for a big bowl of them. Yum! Especially with the Hot Chocolate!
Zack, on the other hand, liked some dark chocolate while he finished off our delicious red wine that Michael Jordan had chosen for us.
I would love to visit Napa Rose again. Tonight! Instead, you go for me!
I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.
It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.
When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.
I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.
Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.
I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.
When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.
I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.
Into the Oven
After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.
I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….
My Nose Knows
It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.
Out of the Oven
There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.
It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.
As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.
And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.
Types of Bread
Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.
I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.
In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.
Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.
I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.
The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.
Passing It On
All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.
Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.
Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.
Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.