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Dave Hatfield

Food Anecdotes - Culinary snippets to entertain & amuse.

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I'm starting this topic because as I did my recent food blog I realised that there were quite a few food anecdotes & mini-stories that I didn't have the time or space to include.

It occurred to me that many Gulleteers must have their own anecdotes & stories they might like to share. I hope so anyway. Given the vast experience and wide range of geography and tastes represented I'm sure there's some great stories out there just waiting to be written.

Don't be shy! Anything goes so long as its food related and doesn't violate Society rules.

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I'll start things off with a French tale, what else could it be from me?

This occurred a number of years ago while we were on vacation in the South of France with friends plus my sister & brother in law. We'd set up a common pool of money to cover expense except that each couple could choose & pay for one dinner each week.

My sister in law had read about a restaurant called Chez Bruno. It sounded a nice country place that specialised in wild mushrooms & truffles. So I called and made a reservation. Since were going to be sightseeing in that area in any case I said lets stop by & make sure our reservation was OK. (My French wan't that great at the time.) We knew we were in trouble as we pulled into the parking lot & had a young man in uniform with epaulettes open our car door for us. As Linda & I walked to the entrance we passed several baskets of wild mushrooms, cepes mainly, on one side & a large basket of truffles on the other. I'm talking multiple thousands of dollars. Our reservation was OK, but Linda noticed that the place was filled with very smartly dressed French couples.

Back at the car she, quickly followed by the other ladies, said; "No way are we going into that restaurant dressed like this" Like this being shorts & casual tops. No problem said I we have plenty of time to go back to the gite & change. Hah! We ran into the most severe thunderstorm I've ever seen, 20 km/hour on the free-way We then had to cross Toulon with the storm still raging during rush hour. We gave the ladies a 15 minute turn around time while we guys studied the map. Amazingly the ladies managed their turn around. I asked Leo to drive while I navigated a route we'd plotted avoiding the main part of Toulon. It worked, sort of. At one point going up a steep hill with several inches of water cascading down the road the guy 2 cars ahead of us stalled. The quick thinking French driver ahead of us immediately mounted the side walk & went around. It shouted go Leo, go & we did.

​We were nearly an hour late for our reservation, but the restaurant didn't turn a hair. We had an aperitif and Bruno himself came around to announce the evening's menu. (Bruno is roughly 6' 3" & 300 pounds) He recited the menu which included mushrooms or truffles or both in every course except dessert. This being all in French my friend Leo said; "can you repeat all of that in English?" Ha! Ha! says Bruno & stalks off. We had salad with truffles, fish with cepes, beef with both, a truffle infused cheese & I can't remember the dessert.

Truly a memorable meal. As far as I know the restaurant is still going strong. Must go back when the weather's better.

edited to correct typos


Edited by Dave Hatfield (log)
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Great thread topic.


Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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Here's a couple of stories from the other end of the finances.

My best friend and I were traveling around Europe, on a budget of $20 per day for everything. Meals tended toward the inexpensive; we often ordered based on the price.

1. Somewhere in Holland, on a beautiful sunny day, we opted to eat from an open-air cart in a park. The entire menu was in Dutch, a language which neither of us could read or speak. (I had already learned that my German was no help in deciphering Dutch, and was very unwelcome for communicating.) I strolled up to the counter and asked for the cheapest item - cost all of 1 gilder - name vaguely familiar-looking but unknown, and handed over my gilder. The guy at the counter gave me a funny look, reached into a jar, and produced a giant dill pickle. It was very tasty, but not much of a lunch.

2. In Barcelona we'd just gotten off the train when we found a cafeteria that met our price requirements. As we passed down the line looking at dishes, I asked the server about a dish that seemed to have little curly beans and short round beans. "What's that?" I asked in Spanish. "Pulpo," he replied. It didn't mean a thing to me, but the price was right, and I like beans, so I ordered it. After I'd paid and sat down to eat I realized that the curly beans had little suction cups running down them and the little round beans each had 8 stubs. I've had octopus before, but this smelled bad and tasted worse. The next morning, Susan said, "that must have been some dream you had last night. You kept yelling 'pulpo! pulpo!'"

Great thread idea, Dave!

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Being a chef I have a few interesting stories which I sometimes write up and post on my facebook. Here's one I wrote after a big Saturday night:

Calm before the storm:

You could feel it in the air and you could see it on the faces of the Chefs.

The reservations book for the night was full. No spare tables.

The tension was palatable in the kitchen. Service begins in another 10mins but the Chefs were still prepping. Every available piece of bench space was being used,prep containers were everywhere and chopping boards were everywhere with every board in use. The smells of seared meat/freshly sliced herbs/caramel/chocolate/garlic all hung in the air creating a strangely comforting smell,the smell of prepared-ness so to speak.

The facial expressions said it all,concentration/stress n that grim smile because you know its gunna be a big one. Body language was tense and movements were fast and smooth,graceful almost in the same way a golfer swings his 9 iron,fast almost violent but controlled and precise. A quick flick of the arm to shuffle the caramelizing onions in the pan or the quick twist/bend and pop up to pull the puff pastry out the oven and a slight twist of the foot to close the oven doors. The repetitive but skillfully sliding of the knife along the knuckles whilst finely chopping herbs and then a quick twist and flick of the knife to push them to one side of the board and then continue with the next lot.

The dishwasher hums away in the background as the Chefs clear away the prep and begin setting up for service. The Chefs crouch in front of their lo-boy fridges,arranging and rearranging prep and positioning everything so that they don't have to think just grab. Courgettes/tomatoes/leek for fish to one side,shallots/garlic/thyme for the beef off to the other side. Containers for garnish are arranged on the service bench in front of each Chefs board,all the containers laid out a certain way for each Chef relative to the dish it is for. Knifes are washed,sharpened and then again positioned with optimal placement for speed and reach. Service spoons/ladles/assorted ring moulds and equipment are grabbed and the service benchs are given a quick final wipe down and sanitize.

The Chefs check/double check and triple check their prep,rearranging the odd thing and run through in their head each component for each dish whilst looking for it and arranging it. Aprons are re-tied and jackets adjusted,fresh clean tea towels and grab cloths are hung from aprons and postioned on section for easy reach. Never underestimate how good a fresh cloth feels in the middle of a busy service,it could be called a morale booster,some Chefs have even been known to store one or five in the fridge during the really hot nights if for nothing else but to cool the hands down!

Service time arrives, the Head Chef asks the all important question...."Anyone in the shit?? Need anything???"

"No Chef" comes the reply and a little bit of relief is felt. Everyone is ready. Now its the waiting game.....when will the first order arrive and whats it gunna be???

The kitchen is quiet apart from the hum of the dishwasher,everyone is waiting....a waitstaff member walks in,everyone looks up!

"Whats the fish of the day??"

False alarm just getting the specials. And the waiting game continues. The Chefs exchange guesses about who's gunna get slammed and who'll end up in the weeds. Smart ass insults are traded and a little bit of laughter eases the tension. Kitchen banter is always a bit strange and this was just another example as one Chef starts to hum the main riff to a chessy 80's pop song "Funky town". It catches on pretty quick n everyone has another laugh and the kitchen goes quiet again...until someone gets clever and hums the riff to the song "The Final Countdown",laughter promptly follows but no-one picks up on the slight rise in volume from the restaurant. The customers are here....

Turns out "The final Countdown" was more than appropriate. 5mins later and a waiter walks in....

"Order up Chef"

Everyone looks at the Head Chef...

"New order,4 people..."

...a quick intake of breath..

"8 course tasting menu..."

Everybody thinks the same thing....32 courses/first table...ahhhhsssshit..

Clang,clang clang clang as sauté pans hit the stove tops..

"First course 4 Potage.."

"YES CHEF"

"...followed by 4 prawns then followed by 4 Octopus then...."

Yip gunna be a BIG night!!!!

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E.D.E!

Eat / Drink / Enjoy!

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We were in Ford Lauderdale, walking on the beach, dinner time, no reservations, no particular restaurants that we wanted to visit... You know, lazy evening. Lets have dinner at Ritz Carlton, they have a nice terrace, surely they should have decent menu. Ordering risotto which is always like playing Russian roulette. It arrives greatly overcooked, almost porridge soft. I complain, ask for it to be replaced. Waiter looks down at me (OK, he was standing and I was sitting but it did feel like a condescending look) and says: risotto is our signature dish, our Chef if FRENCH! And that is when I quickly order steak, rare. Steak was actually rather tasty.

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A story my husband loves to tell:

He's Caucasian, I am Chinese, and he loves Chinese food.

We were newlyweds on our first big road trip - to Vancouver. Chinatown was, of course, a big draw for me, a transplant from Hong Kong to a small rural prairie town.

Dim sum - YES, PLEASE!

Into a small restaurant bustling with customers. We sat down, and hubby said, "You order while I go to the washroom."

This was not a trolley-service type of dim sum restaurant, but by order. The server spoke a little faster and with a slightly different accent, asking if I'd like...., or......, or....I kept nodding my head...

I was too embarrassed to say I didn't understand. After all, I am Chinese, but I had been living in an all English-speaking community for +10 years with little practice other than my village dialect - Toisanese - with my parents.

When hubby came back, I was all red-faced, and he burst out laughing...our table - suitable for 4 people - was covered with every dim sum imaginable! :blush:

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Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Love that story, D. hope you got the Chicken Feet.

Most definitely! Hubby is too lazy to eat chicken feet so I get them all to myself.


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Cheffriis - If you cook as well as you write I'll pop over for a meal.

I've always wanted to visit New Zealand again anyway.


Edited by Dave Hatfield (log)

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Dave, thanks for the blog (just finished reading, can't comment there since it's closed) and for opening this thread.

I really appreciated that in these weeks of complaints about the scarcity of blogs on this forum (and so on) you just took the ball and started rolling. You showed a nice pair of b***s and confirmed it with your life resume.

I really hope you will continue writing some more anecdotes, it seems like you have a boatload of them in your bag. If I can ask for something, then I would be really glad if you could write some stories about your years in SF, with the rise of Chez Panisse and so on. Thanks.

Teo


Teo

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One year I traveled to Costa Rica around Christmas New Year Holidays. Stayed in Villa Blanca, a nice hotel in the cloud forest.

Not too many staff in the hotel because of the holidays. The manager toke care of most of our needs. Wake up calls, travel arrangements, laundry, dinner, breakfast, etc. I complained and complained about the disappointing food in Costa Rica. I even offer to advise him on changing the hotel's menu.

Near the end, I asked around how much I should tip him.

I was told, "I don't think you should tip him. He is Carazo Odio Rodrigo, former president of Costa Rica. He owns the hotel."

There was no Taxi at that time, so The former president of Costa Rica drove us to the airport. A two hour drive, because it was in the cloud forest, you could not see more then 10 feet in front of you. I discovered later that he deducted all the food charges on our bill.

dcarch


Edited by dcarch (log)
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Cheffriis - If you cook as well as you write I'll pop over for a meal.

I've always wanted to visit New Zealand again anyway.

Thank you I appreciate it, I enjoy writing about the kitchen as much as I do working in it. I like to think of myself as a pretty good chef, classically French trained but I'm currently enjoying the challenge of taking on the Alinea & Fat Duck cookbooks.

One of the things I love about the hospitality industry is it always generates some great stories, look forward to reading some more from everyone!


E.D.E!

Eat / Drink / Enjoy!

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Dave, thanks for the blog (just finished reading, can't comment there since it's closed) and for opening this thread.

I really appreciated that in these weeks of complaints about the scarcity of blogs on this forum (and so on) you just took the ball and started rolling. You showed a nice pair of b***s and confirmed it with your life resume.

I really hope you will continue writing some more anecdotes, it seems like you have a boatload of them in your bag. If I can ask for something, then I would be really glad if you could write some stories about your years in SF, with the rise of Chez Panisse and so on. Thanks.

Teo

Thanks for the kind comments about the blog. Flattery will get you anywhere! Two little Chez Panisse anecdotes:

#1 Paying the bill.

Downstairs at Chez Panisse getting ones bill at the end of a meal could be an issue. On one occasion it was late, we were tired and no staff were in sight. Eventually I got fed up with waiting & went in search of somebody, anybody who'd take my money. (We considered just getting up & leaving, but as we knew we'd want to return we didn't think that would be a good idea.

I heard voices towards the back of the restaurant, following them I found a table of staff amongst the Jeremiah Tower & the lady herself, Alice. Somewhat embarrassed now I quietly asked for my bill, please. Jeremiah wasn't very pleased, but Alice come and personally presented it.

#2 Nouveau Zinfandel.

Chez Panisse decided to do a take on the English/French annual frenzy over the year's Nouveau Beaujolais except that they tried it with a Nouveau Zinfandel. The wine was from my acquaintance Joe Phelps. (Phelps winery & the Oakville Grocery.) A whole menu had been built around the wine.

Unfortunately it was one of the worst wines I've ever tasted. What to do? The wine wasn't spoiled or corked or anything like that, it was just awful. So, quietly as I could I got the waiter over & asked for the wine list, I choose another wine & asked for the New Zif to be taken away, quietly please I didn't want to make a fuss. They quietly took it somewhere to be poured away.

The meal was great. The Zinfandel was not present on the bill. Class restaurant. Its the only time I've ever sent a wine back for just being bad. Corked, yes. Spoiled, yes. Bad, just the once.

I've got one more Chez Panisse type of story, but I'll save it for another day.

dcarch, I've never been served or driven by a President. Sounds like a pretty neat guy.

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This one goes back to the dark days of the mid-nineties, when my husband and I lived in the culinary wasteland known as Kankakee County, IL. My husband had just gotten a raise, so we decided to go out to dinner to celebrate. We went to the Olive Garden. (I know, but 1. we were young and 2. the aforementioned culinary wasteland - we would have had to drive 50 miles to get to someplace better.) So we ate our dinner, and my husband decided that since we were celebrating he'd have an after-dinner drink. He'd spotted a decent cognac at the bar on our way in, so he ordered that. Apparently this Olive Garden didn't serve cognac very often. The bartender at least knew it was supposed to go in a snifter, so that's how he served it - full to the top. I got to drive home that night.

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"There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then."

-Harriet M. Welsch

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"------dcarch, I've never been served or driven by a President. Sounds like a pretty neat guy.----"

He was.

He bought the hotel and the land around it to create a nature reserve. We kept in touch by e. mail until he passed away a few years ago.

dcarch

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I'm old enough to have lived in Seattle before the foodie revolution. For my 21st birthday, my boyfriend treated me to dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town at the time, Canlis (which has since become very trendy and foodie indeed). We had something "fancy dinner" like tournedos Rossini, Duchess potatoes, etc. The food was not memorable but fine and the view was spectacular and I felt very sophisticated. So I asked for an espresso to finish off my grown-up meal. The waiter said, "We don't have actual espresso, but what we do is put extra Sanka* in the cup. Will that be OK?"

*for those who don't know, Sanka is a brand of instant decaf coffee. Really dreadful stuff.

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Where has the like button gone? I would have used it more than once...

Oh, so would I have. It's a software issue. There's a bit more info on the Moderation discussion topic. Meanwhile, all I can do is laugh, or say "wow", without posting it. Sylvia Lovegren, you've given me my first laugh of the day.

So...this is my father's and mother's story, not mine, but it was one of their favorites. World War II had broken out. She, a South Florida girl, he a California country boy, trying to impress her. He took her to some fancy restaurant, nice atmosphere, great reputation, with the prices to show for it. He ordered a steak done medium. It arrived barely warm. The waiter came to check on them. Dad, in an attempt to make a point with humor, said, "you know, if I slapped on bandage on this thing it would moo and walk away." The waiter huffed a bit and took the plate back to the kitchen. It came back as near-charcoal. I doubt he laughed then, but they certainly laughed about it for many years after.

Edited to add: the "like" button is back! Yay!


Edited by Smithy (log)
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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Well, its a lousy TV night so I'll spend some time writing up another anecdote.

This is a follow up to my little tale about Chez Bruno & the mother of all thunderstorms. The day after the storm Linda & I were walking along a small lane that ran by some small beached and coves. Very nice. We spotted a small beach side restaurant nothing at all pretentious, but what attracted my attention was their sign which said; "bouillabaisse avec 24 heur notice." Ah ha, our turn to buy dinner was coming up and I really wanted everyone to try a really good bouillabaisse. Nobody other than I had ever eaten one & here we were in the heart of bouillabaisse country just a bit West of Marseilles.

In we went. "Can we get bouillabaisse tomorrow night?"; "Ah its difficult what with the storm the fishermen haven't been out, I'll check with my father." The young man came back & said they could do it for 2 people they thought. "Thank you, but we need it or 6 people!" Back to the kitchen he went with a stricken look on his face, he returned with his father & his brother. What ensued was classic French as Linda & I stood there & watched. Gesticulating, shouting, shrugs, walk a ways as they 'discussed' the problem. More importantly Dad was on the phone to his fishermen contacts. Eventually the answer was yes, but they couldn't get the hard shelled crabs. They'd serve some tiny inedible ones to keep the flavour right. Hand shakes all around & we were in business.

We weren't quite sure what to expect, but we had a beautiful evening for whatever was going to happen. Sundown over the Med looking out of the cove. We were the only customers & were seated on a nice covered patio overlooking the small beach. Simple, but very nice as were the kirs we had as an apero. We put ourselves in their hands for the choice of wine. It was local, light, but red & served cold. Not the least expensive.

The traditional first part came, the soup!

And, of course, with the soup came the 'accoutrements'. The toast rounds, the peeled garlic cloves, the rouille and the shredded cheese. For those not familiar with this kind of fish soup the procedure is: Take a round of toast, rub it on one side with the garlic clove, dab on a small spoonful of rouille, gently drop it into the soup & sprinkle over a bit of the shredded cheese. Then a brief dip & into the mouth. After the first bite you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. Conversation died as everyone was too busy dabbing, rubbing & dipping to talk. We totally demolished the soup & the accoutrements.

We were graciously allowed a reasonable break before THE MAIN COURSE came.

All of the various kinds of fish, clams, sea snails, shrimp, mussels beautifully arrange on a huge wooden platter. Wow! Very, very impressive. Dad served us. Amazingly he was able to peel & de-vein the shrimp using a fork & a spoon; one handed! 40 years of practice I guess. He filled our plates, repeatedly. It was hard to choose between all of the different seafood varieties presented; my personal favourite was, I think, the mussels. By the time we'd demolished all the fish not to mention several bottles of wine all we had room left for was coffee.

I can't remember what the bill was, but I do remember that it was modest given the quality of food & service we'd had. Dad & sons were at the door to say goodbye. Hand shakes all round. To his delight & embarrassment Linda leaned over & gave Dad a kiss on both cheeks.

A truly truly memorable meal. Sometimes you just get lucky. Can anybody wonder why I love this country?


Edited by Dave Hatfield (log)
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I've never before grasped the idea of what a good bouillabaise could be. Thank you for that insight! I'm struggling with the image of peeling and deveining shrimp one-handed, never mind the implements in question. The mind, she boggles.

My best French dining experience was the evening my friends had gone to bed already, exhausted by travel and jet lag. It was our first and only night in Paris. I had traveled more time zones than they, and should have been more tired; on the other hand, they were traveling with their 18-month old son. They had all retired. It was July, and though it was late the sun was still up, and I was single and in Paris. I went for a stroll.

Some blocks away I found a sidewalk cafe in the Montmartre district, or arrondisemont, or whatever it's properly called. I chose a table and chair from which I could enjoy the passersby. In short order, a nice-looking waiter came to welcome me. My French was, and still is, quite limited, but I used my best to say, "I'm sorry, my French is very poor." "Oh no," he said with typical Gallic courtesy, "your French is very good!" At that point, what could I do but order coffee?

The coffee came, and it was excellent. I sipped, and enjoyed, and marveled as the light faded and the colors drained from the day. I had known, from sitting out in the woods after dusk, that there's an imperceptible transition from the colors of day to the greys of the evening. One moment there's color; the next moment, the light is flat and the color has gone. I had seen it in the woods, but never in a city. I will always remember Paris.


Edited by Smithy (log)
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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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I'm struggling with the image of peeling and deveining shrimp one-handed, never mind the implements in question. The mind, she boggles.

The coffee came, and it was excellent. I sipped, and enjoyed, and marveled as the light faded and the colors drained from the day. I had known, from sitting out in the woods after dusk, that there's an imperceptible transition from the colors of day to the greys of the evening. One moment there's color; the next moment, the light is flat and the color has gone. I had seen it in the woods, but never in a city. I will always remember Paris.

Smithy - I'm still amazed after all these years & I saw it first hand. I'd never seen it before, nor have I ever seen it since.

Love your description of you first visit to Paris. Its a magic city and, I think, all who've been there have at least one special memory. Too bad we'd no doubt drift way off topic if we all started sharing those memories. Another time, another place; perhaps!

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Once I rolled up with a friend in a cafe in Rouen in northern France and she ordered a plain salad, 'No meat, no cheese'. Our salad arrived laden with chèvre and lardons. 'I said no meat, no cheese!' 'Those are the garnish, madam. They are not integral to the salad'.

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Smithy

We just got back from dinner & read your post .

We're still sitting here laughing.

Great post. Thanks!

I'm laughing too because it reminded me of an "adventure" at a Chinese restaurant in L.A.s Chinatown some forty years ago. Not a tourist place but one of the side-street storefronts where everyone else was Chinese. My friend and I ordered the Wor Wonton soup, I had been there before and was familiar with it.

The server brought a large bowl, plunked it in the middle of the table and ladled out two generous servings. My friend exclaimed at how "pretty" it was with then tiny purple "flowers" and was downing it with gusto when I told her the "flowers" were baby octopi.

She paused for a moment, looked a little askance but then resumed eating and later remarked that as far as she was concerned they were still crunchy flowers because thinking about eating octopus was to her not all that appetizing, even though they tasted good...

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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I've got a story about Chez Panisse from back in the early '70s.

A friend and three of her friends were attending a conference in Berkeley for women writers and one of the four had an emergency and couldn't attend so my friend asked if I wanted to go with them as everything was paid and no refunds, and I was free that weekend.

I don't recall a great deal about the conference as I just accompanied my friend to the panel discussions and workshops in which she was interested and as I was not a writer, did not pay much attention.

However, we did have a memorable late lunch at Chez Panisse which was as I recall, exceptional and the owner came out to chat with us and introduced another lady who also happened to be attending the conference as "Mary Frances" and we chatted with both of them a few minutes before taking our leave.

It wasn't until we were in the car, on the way back to the hotel, that we realized that Mary Frances was MFK Fisher.

That was before the days of the internet and instant recognition of famous people - and the photos that usually appeared with her books were from decades prior.

I have often wished that I could go back and thank her for all of her wonderful writings that I have enjoyed so much.


Edited by andiesenji (log)
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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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