KITTY’S KAFE FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Almost time. Am so eager. My garden is on the verge of overflowing with earthy delights. Although I am especially hungry for plump, bright red, sweet and juicy home-grown tomatoes to be ready for plucking, I can wait. Red is my end stop, but green is the go-to pick until the main event gets here. Of course, I’m talking about green tomatoes and that wickedly delicious country treat of fried green tomatoes.

If looking for a recipe, you can’t do better than the buttermilk-crusted fried green tomatoes served at Kitty’s Kafe in Gulf Shores, Alabama. 

Kitty’s is a a kasual, congenial, diner-like place featuring all-day breakfast and a variety of down-home, Alabama-style “kountry cookin” specialities.  Owner Kitty Simpson fills her menu with Southern-accented delights such as kountry fried steak, kreamy grits, kasseroles and kobblers. (As you will notice, Kitty kharacteisticly replaces “c” with “k” wherever she kan. It’s a little khaotic for spell-check, but kinda katchy on the menu.)

Kitty Simpson

Kitty gave me her recipe for fried green tomatoes and while she was at it, jotted down the recipe for her Creole Potato Salad—another goodie. 

Both are kaloric, but komfort food at its best. Thank you, Kitty

Here are Kitty’s kool recipes:

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES FROM KITTY’S KAFE

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.   

4 large green tomatoes 

1-1/2 cups self rising cornmeal

1/2 cup self rising flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

About 1-12 cups buttermilk

Vegetable oil 

Cut tomatoes into 1/3-inch thick slices, discarding ends.

Combine cornmeal, flour, salt and pepper and place on a plate.

Pour buttermilk into a shallow dish. 

Dip each tomato slice in buttermilk then dredge in cornmeal mixture.

Pour 1/4 to 1/2-inch oil into a large heavy skillet. Set skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, fry tomatoes, in a single layer, until nicely browned on underside. Flip tomatoes over to brown second side. Remove browned tomatoes from skillet and drain on paper towels. (Depending on skillet size, you may have to fry the tomatoes in batches.) 

 

CREOLE POTATO SALAD

 

 

For other great recipes from Alabama

Click HERE 

 

and  HERE

 

and  HERE 

 

 

GRAND RESIDENCES RIVIERA CANCUN AND COCKTAILS

Lately, confined by the pandemic, I’ve been dreaming of Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a 5-star resort located in a private enclave on the Riviera Maya, a 10-minute drive from downtown Puerto Morelos. 

Here’s a place I would like to be confined. The resort offers gracious suites with large bedrooms, beautiful bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens, dining/living room combinations and balconies overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

The atmosphere is intimate. The pool is so spacious as to seems private.

The beach feels mine alone.

The whole resort is a delight, but it’s the food that sends me into ecstasy.  

Although I enjoyed casual pickup dishes at the beach bar, as well as the Mexican specialties at the main restaurant, a special dinner presented at the resort’s gourmet restaurant, El Faro Grill, was above and beyond—a gift to the gourmet—a grand adventure for the culinary traveler.

Hard to describe it, but I shall try.

Executive Chef Rafael Borbolla applied international cooking techniques to local ingredients, making each of the six courses not only authentically Mexican, but also artistically original.

For example, Borbolla served the first course of bay langoustines with a chorizo crisp, tomato jelly, lime foam and aguachile granita.

The third course offered duck confit with dried cashew fruit mole sauce, chipilin herb tamale and baby carrots.

Fourth came the blackened beef fillet with potatoes, escamoles, bone marrow, asparagus and a smoky sauce. (Despite relishing the taste, I am embarrassed to admit that stopped eating the sweet, buttery, barley-like escamoles when I learned that the delicacy was ant larvae.)

To top off the evening with exceptional style, Pastry Chef Alicia Guzman made a dense pound cake perfectly shaped as an ear of corn with a white chocolate husk. She garnished the masterpiece with candied pumpkin, an array of local nuts and seeds and tortilla ice cream. 

As if food perfection wasn’t enough, Sommelier Javier Moreno matched each course with extraordinary French and Mexican wines.

Oh my! Heaven. The stuff of sweet dreams. Thank you:

Rafael Borbolla, Alicia Guzman, Javier Moreno

I didn’t get recipes from the dinner as the dishes were much too local, intricate and unique to be reproduced, but I do have two Grand Residences signature drink recipes to share.

 

You can find information about buying and drinking tequila and a recipe for the resort’s habanero margarita by clicking HERE.

 

 

And  you can find the resort’s dreamy, creamy Almond Passion cocktail recipe here: 

GRAND RESIDENCES’S ALMOND PASSION

Yield: one drink (and one is never enough).

Put in a blender:

2 ounces evaporated milk

1 ounce vodka

1 ounce almond liqueur

1 ounce cream of coconut

1 ounce Torres 10 brandy or similar

1 tablespoon grenadine

Blend until ingredients are well combined.

Add lots of ice to the blender and blend until mixture is slushy. Pour into a Hurricane glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. Enjoy.

 

 

COCKTAIL: MARK KATZMAN’S MASTERPIECE

My son, Mark Katzman, excels on so many levels  that I can’t list them all. And this is not just mommy praise. He is a quintessential photographer (see website markkatzman.com); a preeminent authority on the photogravure (see website photogravure.com) and a groovy kinda of fun-loving guy who consciously lives a responsible, caring, environmentally and politically sound good life. He’s smart enough to have married a great cook who laughs at his jokes and lent him her DNA to produce incredible kids. He eats for health and wellness, exercises and enjoys drinking (gets this from my side of the family). 

That said, during the shut down for Covid19, Mark was riding his bike, hit a bump in the road, fell and suffered a concussion. Doctors suggested that he not drink during recovery.

To lock out alcohol during the virus lock down proved to be too much for Mark, so, ever inventive, he spent the course of six weeks healing trying a little of this, a little of that, in hopes of finding a drink that he could tolerate.  

Voila! Just in time for summer, he came up with a 70-calorie masterpiece (his word—not mine). He suggested I share the recipe with Sweet Leisure readers, so here you go:

MARK KATZMAN’S 70-CALORIE CONCUSSION MASTERPIECE

Yield: one drink. 

Fill 1 large crystal glass with Sub-Zero ice (or any ice). Add 2 to 4 capfuls of Kettle One Citroen vodka and 1/2 capful of Roses lime juice. Squeeze to death the juice from 1/2 juicy lime straight into the glass and then rake the lime along the lip of the glass to remove the pulp. Top off with Trader-Joe’s Lemon and Ginger Seltzer Water. Stab the squeezed lime half with a knife, insert into the drink and stir. Enjoy. 

 

 

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP KISS COOKIES FROM MINDY BIANCA

I have traveled with Mindy Bianca on some wonderful trips. We went to Scotland together;

Scotland

to Sunset at the Palms, a special treehouse resort in Negril, Jamaica;

Sunset at the Palms Treehouse

and to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.

Sunrise along the Alabama Gulf Coast

I went as press. Mindy ran the show, first working for Gillies & Zaiser Public Relations and then designing trips for her own PR firm, Mindy Bianca Public Relations (MBPR).

Highly organized, detail oriented and totally fun, Mindy arranged perfect trips that showed off the multiple attributes of her lucky clients and totally charmed her guests.

I, of course, relished all, but I especially loved the meals that Mindy fed into the schedule. They were always beautifully prepared by talented chefs, appealingly served and throughly delicious. 

Mindy knows food, so I was eager to see what she would pick as a favorite recipe as many dishes that I’ve had in her presence would qualify. 

Lo and behold she reaches back to high school and a neighbor’s recipe for her contribution. Here’s what Mindy says about the favorite cookie: 

This has been a go-to recipe for me since I bit into one of these cookies at a neighborhood cookout when I was in high school. (And who am I kidding? Once I bit into one cookie, I had at least four more.) I got the recipe from the neighbor and for more than three decades it’s been the one that got me through every office potluck. It’s quick and simple to make and always a crowd-pleaser because you think it’s just a weird-shaped chocolate chip cookie until you bite into it and realize – ta-da! – there’s a Hershey’s Kiss in there!

 

For me, though, the very best part of the recipe for this yummy shortbread is the fact that there are no eggs in it … so you can snitch dough with reckless abandon the entire time you’re baking and never worry about health issues. 

 

Chocolate Chip Kiss Cookie

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 (9-ounce) bag Hershey’s Kisses
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup mini chips

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 375.

DIRECTIONS

  1. Remove wrappers from Kisses.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended.
  3. Add flour. Blend until smooth.
  4. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Mold a scant tablespoon of dough around each Kiss, covering it completely.
  6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set.
  7. Cool slightly and remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

MAKES About 3 dozen. 

To read more about:

 

Mindy Bianca and MBPR, click HERE.

 

Sunset at the Palms, Negril, Jamaica, click HERE.

Orange Beach and Gulf Shores Alabama, click HERE  and  HERE  and HERE. 

Various places in Scotland, click HERE and HERE and HERE.

By the way, I should mention that Mindy spent seven years as public relations director at Hershey Entertainment & Resorts—but this was before I knew her. When I asked Mindy if the cookies inspired the job or what was the cookie/Hershey liaison, she replied: “I actually baked these and brought them to work with me on my first week at Hershey…and took them to every office party we had during my tenure.”

 

 

YUCA’S HUT COCHINITA PIBIL

 

 

IMMIGRANT CHEF: SOCORRO HERRERA

Yuca’s Hut

Los Angeles, California

Socorro Herrera was born in Mérida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatán State. Both ancient Mayas and Spanish conquistadors settled in Mérida leaving behind rich cultural characteristics that influenced Socorro as she grew up, married and started a family. 

Seeking a “better education for her son and two daughters,” Socorro, with her late husband Jaime, moved the family to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s. 

Socorro settled into American life initially working as a dressmaker, but encouraged by family and friends who praised her cooking, she eventually opened a food “hut”.

“God send me here,” said Socorro, speaking of the 8- by 10-square-foot restaurant hut sitting on the edge of a parking lot in the Los Feliz neighborhood of L.A. “I saw. I fell in love.” 

Not having a business plan, not even speaking English, but sure of success, Socorro opened Yuca’s Hut in 1976. She cooked Yucatán specialties that she learned to make from her mother and grandmother, altering recipes, when necessary, to accommodate local ingredients and cooking techniques. The restaurant thrived. Food critics showered Yuca’s with praise. Oprah invited Socorro to guest star on her show. Yuca’s won a James Beard award in the America’s Classics category. 

Today, tourists in rental cars, stars in Rolls-Royces and gardeners in Ford trucks line up for Socorro’s food which they take home or devour on the spot at one of the seven wrought iron tables set on the parking lot. “For me, success is a big surprise,” exclaims the humble Socorro, “I say God thank you. I have a very very nice life.” 

Cochinita Pibil ranks as a centerpiece on Yuca’s menu. “Whenever people come and they say they never been here,” explained Dora Herrera, Socorro’s daughter who works with her,  “we always suggest that they try Cochinita Pibil. Everything else is good, but we like people to try something from our state.”

Cochinita translates to small pig and Pibil in the Mayan language refers to the technique of cooking underground in stone lined pits.

In the Yucatan, the pork is seasoned, wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted in an earth pit with a fire at its top. Given Los Angeles’ health-department regulations, Yuca’s slow roasts their Cochinita Pibil in the hut’s small oven and serves it in their super popular tacos, burritos and tortas.

Cochinita Pibil Taco from Yuca’s Hut

YUCA’S COCHINITA PIBIL 

Yucatán-style slow roasted pork

Yield: 8 servings as a main dish. Serves more when placed in burritos, tacos and/or tortas.

About 1 pound banana leaves (enough to completely cover the bottom and sides of a 4- to 6-inch deep roasting pan with extra to fold over the top of ingredients, encasing the pork in leaves.)  (See NOTE)

About 8 pounds bone-in pork butt or pork shoulder

1 package, (100 g or the size of a deck of cards), good-quality achiote paste (See NOTE)

1-1/2 cups bitter orange juice or 1 cup orange juice mixed with 1/2 cup white vinegar. (See NOTE)

Preheat oven to 300°F.

If necessary to make banana leaves pliable, briefly hold leaves over the direct flame of a stove top or grill. (If flame is not available, steam leaves or place them in the preheated oven and heat until they are warm and pliable, 5 to 7 minutes).  Using your hands or a scissors, cut away the banana leaves’ hard middle rib.

Line the bottom and sides of a 4- to 6-inch deep roasting pan completely with banana leaves. (Overlap leaves, placing them in alternate directions until you no longer see bottom of pan. Place some leaf pieces in each corner to prevent leaks. Make sure leaves overhang the sides of pan so they can be folded over the pork after it is sauced to create a tidy bundle.)

Cut pork into 3- to 4-inch chunks.  

Place pork chunks in banana leaf-lined pan so that chunks butt up to each other, but do not crowd. Put achiote paste in a small bowl and stir in bitter orange juice or juice and vinegar to make a thin sauce. Pour sauce over pork chunks in pan, letting liquid seep between chunks of pork.

Line top of pork with banana leaves, completely encasing pork with leaves. Cover roasting pan tightly with foil. 

Place in 300°F oven and bake until pork is tender and almost falling apart, 3-1/2 hours or more.

When pork tests done, remove pan from oven and set aside for 15 minutes. Then, with a fork, pull the pork into large shreds and let shreds absorb juice in pan. 

Serve as a main dish along with rice and black beans and tortillas, or serve in burritos, tacos or tortas.

NOTE: Yucatán ingredients

Achiote paste: a seasoning made from the ground, red-orange colored seeds of the tropical annatto tree mixed with a variety of other herbs and spices that could include garlic, oregano, cumin, salt and black pepper. Used to add flavor and color to a variety of dishes.

Available in Latin American and specialty food shops. Brands from the Yucatán are best to use in this dish.

Banana leaves: the large fragrant leaves of the banana plant. Available in Latin American and specialty food shops—sometimes frozen.

Bitter orange (Seville orange): a tart orange that grows abundantly in the Yucatán. Can substitute a mixture of fresh orange juice mixed with vinegar.

 

 

 

KNEE PATCHES

I first encountered Kellie White when I interviewed her for an article I was writing on the 2018 World Food Championships. Kellie was a finalist in the chicken category of the championships and most impressive. She told me that she worked in medical publishing and was not a food professional, but loved to cook and to enter cooking contests. She credits the good cooks in her family for inspiring her to enter a Pillsbury Bake Off in 2010, where she had such fun that she became hooked and has entered a wide variety of cooking competitions happily ever after. 

We became Facebook friends and I like to follow Kellie’s posts, which are usually about family and home cooking. When I saw her Facebook post that included a picture of Knee Patches, I immediately asked for the recipe for Sweet Leisure. 

Kellie’s grandmother Alma Conklin

Although Kellie has a large and delightful repertoire of prize-winning recipes, she said Knee Patches is a favorite. The recipe was handed down to her from her Swiss Grandmother, Alma Conklin, who would make the sweet crunchy pastries to serve at Easter.

Kellie forwarded the recipe immediately, which makes her a forever champion in my book.  

KELLIE WHITE’S KNEE PATCHES

Yield: 12-14 Knee Patches.

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoon cinnamon

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon table salt

1-½ large eggs, beaten

½ cup milk

1 quart vegetable oil

 

Stir sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl to make cinnamon sugar and reserve. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add eggs and milk. Stir with a fork until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead the dough for a minute or two until it comes together completely, and no dry flour remains. Let the dough rest while you prepare the oil for frying. Place oil in a Dutch oven and heat on medium high to 350 degrees. Make balls of dough, the size of walnuts. On a floured surface, roll one of the balls into a disc until it is thin enough to read through or see light through. Dough will be tacky, so keep flouring your rolling pin and the surface as much as needed to keep the dough from sticking. When the oil has reached temperature, quickly place the rolled dough into the oil and fry on each side until golden brown. Remove from oil to a paper towel lined pan and dust liberally with cinnamon sugar. Repeat with the remaining dough.

 

A PERFECT MEZZE MEAL

I just loved this email from Toast Bakery Cafe—it’s so very laid-back L.A.:

“Hello Susan, 

thank you so much for reaching out to us. What a great idea! We would love to be featured in your blog post. I’m sure that it would be a comfort to our customers at home to have a reminder of Toast!

our jalapeño spread:

Cilantro

Mint

Jalapeño 

Garlic

Fresh squeezed lemon juice 

Salt 

Grounded Cumin 

Grounded Coriander  

Citric salt if available 

Olive oil

Please let me know if you have any questions.” 

Question: Are you kidding?  What are proportions? How does one combine? Where’s the recipe?

THE BACKSTORY

During this period of shelter-in-place, I miss going out for Sunday brunch, especially In Los Angeles. I miss sitting in the sunshine, dog at my feet, friends at the table, watching pretty people, drinking lusty black coffee and eating something that feels like a celebration. 

In the spirit of rememberence-of-things-past and let’s-look-forward-to-the-future, I thought it would be fun to feature a special brunch that could wow family and friends when life begins again.

Thus we get to Toast Bakery Cafe.

Toast is trendy to the max. It’s so hip as to have separate menus for vegans, regular folk and dogs.

I happen to love the concept and presentation of their ultra-cool House Breakfast for 2. 

Essentially the breakfast is a take on a Middle East mezze meal—which is a collection of small and tasty dishes all served at once and  shared with table mates. 

For their speciality House Breakfast, Toast fills small bowls with an assortment of spreads and dips, adds a basket of bakery rolls and serves the mini mezze with eggs, fruit salad and a cilantro/jalapeño sauce.

It’s the sauce served with the eggs that earned my attention and the subject of the requested recipe above. As you can see the recipe lacks direction by recipe standards. (I would chop equal amounts of cilantro and mint in a blender, add enough lemon juice and oil to give the mixture a spreading texture and use the remaining ingredients to season to taste. This may not produce a replica of Toast’s sauce, but it should be good.) On the other hand, the presentation of Toast’s House Breakfast rocks with Hollywood pizzaz and is super easy to copy.

Another version of the mezze approach comes from Ta-eem Grill, a popular kosher restaurant also in Los Angeles. Fill larger bowls with assorted goodies and serve with pita. A mezze meal works well to break the monotony of family dinners in these trying times.

 

As to what to put in the bowls, click on any of names below for recipes:

SMOKED SALMON PATE 

 

 

FARMSHOP AVOCADO HUMMUS 

 

BLUES CITY DELI OLIVE SALAD 

 

LEMON FETA HUMUS 

 

PIMENTO CHEESE SPREAD 

 

 

 

THE SOUTHERN GRIND COFFEE HOUSE’S BUTTERCREAM SUGAR COOKIES

Not just a pretty face, the buttercream sugar cookies sold at The Southern Grind Coffee House are as divine to devour as they are beautiful to behold.

The Southern Grind sells a wealth of products at two locations in Orange Beach, Alabama. Among the goodie—coffee of course, homemade sweets and a generous menu of breakfast and lunch comfort foods. Non-edibles include such delights as gifts, art and home accessories. Although the shops bulge with enchantments, my favorite of all the offerings remain the shops’ buttercream sugar cookies. 

 

Keep in mind that the cookies’ crunchy buttery base is good enough to eat unadorned, but turns into the spectacular when dressed for a party in The Southern Grind’s meltingly soft, marvelously sweet icing. Also note that although The Southern Grind cookies charm with their sea-side designs, you can change the shape and coloring to create perfect treats to celebrate a slew of special occasions including Easter, Christmas and the Fourth of July. Oh my. So pretty! So good! So useful!

Ever generous, Jim McPhillips, owner of The Southern Grind, shared his recipe with us. (I’ve rewritten it just in case the photo is too small to read and I’ve added a little information after checking with Jim.)

 

THE SOUTHERN GRIND COFFEE HOUSE BUTTERCREAM SUGAR COOKIES

Yield: This recipe makes about  24 round cookies. The number depends on the size of the cutters and the way the dough is cut. 

1 cup butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, almond extract and salt and beat until well blended. Add flour a little at a time and beat until just blended. Gather dough into a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill before rolling. 

Heat oven to 375°F. 

Roll dough about 1/4-inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Place cut dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven until cookies are light golden brown around edges, 6 to 9 minutes. Cool completely before icing.

BUTTERCREAM ICING

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1/2 cup shortening

About 4 cups sifted powdered sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla 

Food coloring 

Candy decoration, optional

Combine butter and shortening and beat until well blended. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and beat until mixture is smooth. Add milk and vanilla, beat until well blended. Add another 2 cups sugar and beat until smooth and well blended (Beat in more milk or powdered sugar if necessary to have a proper consistency for piping.) Add food color as desired. Pipe icing in a decorative pattern on top of cool cookies.  Add candy for decoration if desired. 

Other favorite things in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

THE BEACH

BOOZE  Click HERE for some of the best recipes.

OYSTERS Murder Point if you can get them.

and 

THE LODGE AT GULF STATE PARK

Located directly on the beach, within Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, this new kid on the block sets a high bar not only for State Park stays, but also upscale Alabama Gulf Coast accommodations. 

The property includes all of the amenities of a trio of different type accommodations. It’s a Hilton hotel that offers the brand’s exceptional service, room amenities and meeting spaces. It’s a state-owned lodge, with a casual, welcoming attitude focusing on nature, outdoor activities and environmental as well as sustainable issues. And it’s a luxury beachfront resort with all the enhancements instrumental to a fun-packed, waterside vacation.

Opened in 2018 to replace the original Lodge, built in 1974 and destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the hotel/lodge/resort features 350 rooms including 20 suites; five dining options; an assortment of open-air or window-filled public spaces designed to maximize light and form a union between indoors and out.

For more information click below: 

THE SOUTHERN GRIND COFFEE HOUSE 

THE LODGE AT GULF STATE PARK

MURDER POINT OYSTERS 

 

 

CHOCOLATE BUTTERMILK CAKE–THE BEST

When I was teaching cooking classes a million years ago, I made a chocolate buttermilk cake in class that I loved above all other chocolate cakes. It was not too pretty being in one layer and served from the pan, but so good and easy to make that I adapted the recipe for my kids’ cookbook. 

Trouble is, when serving the cake, I always ate too much (weight ballooned), so I put the recipe aside and moved on to desserts that were not so addictive.

Lo and behold, several years ago a good friend told me that the cake is her go to cake for every birthday gathering. Also, I ran into a former student who said that she bakes the cake for all of her dinner parties. 

Inspired by their comments, I dusted off the recipe and made several versions (baking the cake in different size pans) for various casual Sunday-night supper parties. 

Surprisingly, each version— the cake baked in a bread-loaf pan, an 8-inch square pan and doubled from kids’ recipe to bake in a  9 X 13 -inch pan—produced slight differences in texture and even flavor. I liked them all (never will I admit to how much I ate). 

Here’s the recipe for the cake baked in a 9 X 13-inch pan.

Just FYI, depending on how it is cut, the cake will serve 20—or 3 others and me.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERMILK CAKE

Yield: About 20 servings.

For cake:

2 tablespoons shortening to grease pan  

1 cup butter 

5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup water

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 eggs

Grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan and set aside. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put butter, cocoa and water in a large saucepan. Set pan over high heat and bring mixture to a rapid boil, stirring constantly. 

Remove pan from heat. Without stirring add the following ingredients to mixture in pan: sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk, vanilla and eggs. With an electric mixer, beat mixture for 2 minutes, occasional scraping sides of pan with a rubber spatula. 

Pour batter into greased pan. 

Set pan in center of preheated 350°F oven and bake until cake test done, 30 to 40 minutes. (see NOTE below).

Remove cake from oven and set aside while making icing.

For icing: 

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

About 1/2 cup buttermilk

About 4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla

Put butter, cocoa and 1/2 cup buttermilk in a medium saucepan. Set pan over medium heat and bring mixture just to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove pan from heat, add 4 cups sugar and vanilla and beat with electric mixer until icing is smooth and well blended. The icing should be a bit loose and slightly runny.  If the icing is too thick, add a little more buttermilk; if too runny, add more sugar. 

Immediately pour the icing over the hot cake in the pan and spread to cover cake top. Let cake cool and icing set before cutting. 

NOTE: To test if cake is done, gently touch the surface of the center of the cake with your fingertip. If done, the cake will spring back with out leaving an indentation. OR insert a skewer or toothpick in center and, if done, the pick will come out of the cake clean, without streaks of batter.  

For other favorite chocolate recipes, click on name below:

Zingerman’s Hot Cocoa Cake 

 

Peter Merriman’s Chocolate Lover’s Torte

 

 

Patty Padawer Best Ever Brownies 

 

 

 

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DESERT: ODD, OFFBEAT AND WEIRDLY WONDERFUL

Strange. Delightful. Bizarre. Wonderful. Wacky. Weird. All adjectives apply. Prepare for the unusual. Prepare for a road trip through the Southern California Desert to a world of majestic nature and eccentric communities with off-the grid living and post-apocalyptic-style art.  

Located about equal distance from San Diego and L.A.—sandwiched between Joshua Tree National Park and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—the destinations will raise your consciousness and spark your imagination. Prepare to be amazed when you visit any of the following:

The Salton Sea 

Located directly on the San Andreas Fault, the 350-something square-mile Salton Sea, the largest lake in California, was formed by accident in 1905 when flood waters escaped a nearby canal and sent the Colorado River into what was then a dry lake bed called the Salton Sink. Seeing opportunity to create a vacation playground, developers enhanced the lake with all sorts of amenities including restaurants, marinas and yacht clubs. At its peak in the 1950s, the Salton Sea attracted more visitors than Yosemite. Then two freakish tropical storms in late 70s flooded the area and the lake began its steep decline.

Today the Salton Sea is a mess with water that is so saline and toxic as to kill the fish and birds who eat them. Beaches reek with pulverized fish bones. Dry-bed dust pollutes the air.

The State of California is trying to address problems, without much luck, yet the lake remains a fascinating place for a drive-by visit as well as a reminder of once-upon-a-time glory and tragic decay. 

Around the Salton Sea

Bombay Beach

I was told that that the name Bombay Beach came from the bombs that were tested in the area by the U.S. military. Can’t verify the truth, but the tiny town that sits on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea seems to be all that remains from some destructive war. 

Despite its appearances, not all is desolate.

Artists, trying to draw attention to the disaster of the Salton Sea, are buying the ramshackle houses and turning them into installations and venues for exhibitions, performances and other cultural gatherings. Each spring the town hosts an ultra-hip, tongue-in-cheek Bombay Beach Biennale open to locals, friends and insiders in the art community.

Installation by Ken Scharf

 

“Drive-in”, by Stefan Ashkenazy, Shean Dale Taylor and Arwen Byrd

 

“Lodestar,” by Randy Polumbo

 

Bombay Beach Installation

At other times of the year, one can wander though town viewing the installations (some interesting, some provocative, some totally creepy) and stop for drinks and a hamburger at the Ski Inn, the town’s last remaining bar/restaurant. 

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain rises from the dry desert like some sort of hallucinatory mirage in the middle of nowhere—or rather in Imperial County, just seven miles east of the Salton Sea at the entrance of Slab City.

Leonard Knight (who died in 2014), constructed the mountain and adjoining nooks and crannies with dirt, cement, sand, and adobe mixed with straw and then extravagantly painted the structures with biblical scripture. Knight called the complex, “The Museum.”  The Folk Art Society of America deems it a “folk art site.” But to me, Salvation Mountain is a visual pulpit drawing visitors from around the world, especially those venerating outsider art, folk art, the Bible and/or wildly eccentric man-made creations. 

Slab City

Located near Salvation Mountain, and built on the concrete slabs remaining from the abandoned Fort Dunlap World War II Marine Corps training base, Slab City is an off-the-grid community (without official running water, sewers, electricity, etc.), populated by squatters, artists, survivalists and retirees who decorate their space with assorted reused, recycled and repurposed materials. The city thrives in winter when snowbirds join the squatters, but heat diminishes the population in summer. I visited in 112°F, full sun when the city was at low population. What lingered in the heat took on the ambiance of a surreal homeless camp. Oh, yes, did I mention no air-conditioning. 

House of Dots Slab City

East Jesus

Located a short walk from Slab City, East Jesus has nothing to do with religion, but refers to being in “the middle of nowhere.” A rather rough and tumble place, East Jesus has been described in a number of ways including the charitable: “a sustainable, habitable, ever-changing art installation” and “a working model of an improbable improvised community at the edge of the world” and “a habitable cooperative compound” that is “a refuge for artists, musicians, survivalists, writers, scientists, laymen and other wandering geniuses.”  

Although East Jesus is a member of the California Museum Association, don’t expect anything like a traditional museum. The community—installations—ever changing work of art—or whatever you want to call it, is built with rough and rusty discarded junk-yard objects proving the saying that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

East Jesus welcomes visitors to not only view the art, but also add their own. And the community allows campers for a small fee—if they abide by the rules described in colorful language on their website.

East Jesus Art

Galleta Meadows Estates

As far as I can tell, Galleta Meadows Estates is privately owned land located about a two-hour drive east of San Diego within and around the village of Borrego Springs—itself located, like a donut hole, in the center of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The unfenced and open-to-the public land, surrounded by the State Park,  was bought by the now-deceased Dennis Avery (of Avery labels fortune) for conservation and to showcase a growing menagerie of massive metal sculptures that he commissioned from artist/welder Ricardo Breceda. Today, visitors can find about 138 sculptures that include wicked-looking dinosaurs, giant birds, sheep, wild mustangs, a sea dragon, some sloths with hair and a few humans. The pieces spread over a 10-square mile desert area like gigantic prehistoric beasts roaming at will. Some sculptures are easy to find, being close to the highway. Others seem hidden in desert pockets accessed by dusty, dirt roads. One can purchase a map (from various outlets in Borrego Springs) that pinpoints location of individual sculptures, but I like to drive around and be surprised when a creature pops up in the barren landscape. 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT

The Salton Sea click HERE.

Salvation Mountain click HERE.

East Jesus click HERE.

Galleta Meadows Estate click HERE.

Southern California Desert Attractions click HERE.

Another weird and wonderful work of California art click HERE.