Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Proof of the Pudding

Bakewell Pudding aboard Queen Elizabeth

Several years ago I posted a blog about how I discovered the Burgess side of my family originated from Bakewell, Derbyshire, England. On my recent cruise on the Queen Elizabeth I met some women from that area who asked if I knew about Bakewell pudding. (There's also Bakewell tart, a bit different dish.) 

Coincidentally, a few nights later we were served this dish in the Brittania dining room. I loved the almonds and the creamy sauce. I hope to visit the Bakewell Bakery some day, where Bakewell pudding and tart are featured. I found their shop online, and learned that the eponymous pudding has been made in that hamlet since the 1800. My ancestors must have sampled some, and now, so have I.

Thinking about pudding, I remembered that my Grandma Gertie, who married Joe Burgess, knew how to make pudding herself, even though it wasn't Bakewell, and didn't involve almonds. Here's what I know about Grandma's pudding, and how I tricked my late husband, who claimed an aversion to all things pudding:

 The Proof of the Pudding

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Miguel Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote. I believe that to be absolutely true, literally, not just figuratively!

“I don’t eat pudding in any way, shape or form,” my husband Ken had warned me when he spotted the package of banana pudding mix I’d set on the kitchen counter.

“I thought I’d mash up these two elderly bananas and stir them into the mix. I know you like banana cream pie.”

“Make some banana bread instead. I don’t do pudding.”

Yes, Ken had definite do’s and don’ts about what he’d eat. So now I added pudding to the mental list that already included lima beans, candied sweet potatoes and deviled eggs. When we first got married I’d been amusedly puzzled that he’d refused to sample some of the down home dishes Grandma Gertie had taught me to cook and that I dearly loved.

How could he be so fussy? After all, here was a fellow who bragged he’d savored snails in garlic sauce purchased from a street vendor a block from the Eiffel Tower, and lamented that Wal-Mart didn’t carry quark, a kind of yogurt cheese he’d buy when he’d lived in Germany.

But now, a few years into our late-in-life marriage, I began to be a bit troubled. I’d found myself more than once forced to toss out a dish that simply didn’t please his palate. Ken knew how much I hated to throw any food away. My years in the Peace Corps had taught me “waste not, want not” when it came to edibles. Why, one spring as we weeded the front yard, I’d even mentioned I wished I could remember how Grandma had prepared what she called “a mess o’ greens.”

“I know she wilted the dandelion leaves in bacon grease, and added onion and garlic,” I began, dreamily recalling the delicious aroma. “I think she added a dash of vinegar. Or maybe it was pepper sauce.”

“It would be a mess, all right,” Ken had retorted, yanking the weeds from my hand and tossing them into the wheelbarrow.

I usually went along with his preferences, but when it came to bread, I drew the line. I believed that letting bread grow stale or moldy amounted to blasphemy. Bread, I’d learned from Grandma, was the staff of life. Every crumb needed to be consumed.

So when ours started to stale I’d make croutons to sprinkle on French onion soup, crumbs to pad out meat loaf, or cubes to stir into stewed tomatoes. Then finally one day I noticed that some of the apples from our trees that I’d stored in our pantry last autumn had begun to look a bit dehydrated. We also had half a loaf of more-than-a-day-old French bread.

I thumbed through my recipe box and found Grandma’s recipe for apple bread pudding.  Aha! I told myself, ready to delve into a little deception. I’d have to call it something else. Maybe I’d claim it was Brown Betty. Grandma had made that, too, but it didn’t contain milk and eggs. Ken wouldn’t know the difference.

I headed for the kitchen to whip up dessert.

Gertie’s Apple Bread Pudding

4 cups                                      soft bread cubes
¼ cup                                      raisins
¼ cup                                      chopped walnuts
2 cups                                      peeled and sliced apples
1 cup                                       brown sugar
1 ¾ cups                                  milk
½ cup                                      butter
1 teaspoon                               ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon                              ground nutmeg          
½ teaspoon                              vanilla extract


In a large bowl, combine bread, raisins, walnuts and apples.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, milk, and cup butter.  Cook and stir until butter is melted.  Pour over bread mixture in bowl.  In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and eggs. Pour bread mixture into prepared dish, and pour egg mixture over bread.  Bake in the preheated oven to 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until center is set and apples are tender.

Sometimes Grandma served this with a sauce, either vanilla or caramel, but since Ken scrunched up his face at syrupy sauces, I’d simply top it with whipped cream, which he loved.

“Ready for dessert?  I baked something this afternoon that I think you’ll love.”

Ken favored me with his lopsided smile. “What’s it called?”

I averted my face as I scooped out a couple of servings into custard cups. I had a hard time telling even a little white lie without turning crimson. I squirted a little whipped cream as I thought about how to answer.

“Oh, it’s just something Grandma used to bake,” I said, carefully evading the question. “It’s kind of an old fashioned dish, sort of like a Brown Betty with apples.”

Ken ate every bite. “It’s paradisiacal,” he said. “I’ll take a second helping. What all goes into it?”

I bit my lip. I didn’t want to fib outright, so I handed him Grandma’s recipe card.

“Bread pudding?” Ken sputtered. “I thought you said it was Brown Betty.”

Now it was my turn to smile.

“Hmmm. I must have pulled out the wrong recipe. Still want seconds? You said you didn’t do puddings in any way, shape or form.” I stifled a giggle, as Ken’s frown morphed into a grin.

“Now I can’t say that anymore,” my amiable husband replied as he handed me his dish.

Grandma always said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. And I had been convinced Ken would love her old-fashioned dish if only I could coax him to taste it. Grandma also taught me that results are what count…it’s not how you start but how you finish. I’d started with good intentions, albeit a little loving trickery, and ended with a satisfied spouse.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, I’ve heard. Wait…did Miguel Cervantes say that? No…I think it was Grandma Gertie.


Queen Elizabeth buffet food sculptures

Here's the link to the earlier blog about discovering my Bakewell background:

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"No Coincidence, No Story"--Lisa See

Lisa See signs her latest, and most poignant, novel
April 29, 2017, Danish Lutheran Church, Yorba Linda
Approximately 150 dedicated fans of the novels of Lisa See gathered a recent Saturday morning to hear her discuss her latest effort, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. Fortunately I'd returned from a long overseas trip just in time to catch her penultimate appearance to promote this novel.

The book's provocative opening line, "No story," reflects what led Lisa to write this novel. She'd seen a couple in Santa Monica with an adopted Chinese daughter. The child had a mischievous air about her that reminded Lisa of what is known in Asian mythology as a "fox spirit." Such spirits, while often naughty, are possessed of magic powers which also can bring great love. This little girl even had worn her hair in a fox tail.

Lisa had been thinking of writing about the one-child policy and adoption for a long time, and now yet another coincidence occurred. She'd been on a promotional event for her previous book, China Dolls, and the group that had sponsored her speaking engagement had brought in a tea-master who conducted what she describes as a messy ceremony. But realizing that tea is the second most popular drink in the world, after water, she began her research, which lead her to discover that Yunnan province, China, still has original Pu'er tea plantations.

Lisa compared the quality of teas to that of wines, ranging in quality from "Two Buck Chuck" to  fine teas can fetch as much at auction as certain rare vintages of Chateau Margaux. In fact, when Hong Kong reverted back to China, some people sold their valuable collections of Pu'er to finance their immigration to the States. One cake of tea sold for $150,000. She mentioned the Tea Horse Road, sometimes known as the Southern Silk Road, that extends from Yunnan to Tibet. The route earned the name Tea-Horse Road because of the common trade of Tibetan ponies for Chinese tea.

During her research into issues of identity, as it relates to adoption, Lisa interviewed dozens of young adoptees. She'd heard of the "grateful but angry" adoptee, but what she found was more "grateful but sad." Many of the young women said they knew they were precious to their adoptive families, but believed they had not been precious enough for their birth parents to keep.

"This is my deepest mother/daughter story yet," Lisa added. Her previous novels,  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, deal with how mothers look at children. This novel focuses more on daughters' views of mothers.

One further coincidence...just as she was finishing the novel, Carolyn See, Lisa's novelist and literary critic mother, was diagnosed with cancer. She'd died just ten days later.

I'd been a dedicated fan of Lisa's since I first met both her and her mother in 1979 when she helped Carolyn put on the first of a marvelous series of symposiums of Southern California writers at Loyola Marymount. Those were the days even before the debut of the popular Monica Highland novels, on which Lisa collaborated with Carolyn and Carolyn's longtime partner, UCLA professor John Espey. (The inspiration for the trio's pen name had been the intersection of Highland Ave. and Santa Monica Blvd.)

I'd been on a European river cruise last July, so hadn't heard about Carolyn's death until a few weeks before this April event at the Danish Lutheran Church in Yorba Linda. I wanted to tell Lisa how much I'd valued her mother.

The mother/daughter theme also ran through Carolyn's I mentioned that I remembered that to Lisa, when she signed my book. I added that while she had been talking that morning I couldn't help but recall Mothers, Daughters, Carolyn's novel of family relationships set in California's turbulent '70s. Many of the events in that book had been drawn from Carolyn's experience in raising her own daughters. Lisa nodded. "I know," she said, her eyes reflecting her pain.

Lisa signed my copy, "A Story of Mother Love."

A final note. Lisa's next novel will not be connected to China. Rather it will focus on the haenyeo, the women seafood divers of the coastal Jeju province of South Korea. Some of these divers are still working at their trade, even in their seventies. The gender reversal roles in this matriarchal society will play a central theme. 

For more about Pu'er tea and Lisa's research, visit her website:
A conversation between mother Carolyn and daughter Lisa:
Carolyn See on mother and daughter relationships:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Kind of Chicken Soup!

Chicken Soup publisher Amy Newmark with contributors at Buca di Beppo, Carlsbad, CA

Though I'd not met publisher Amy Newmark before, she recognized me the minute I neared the registration desk at the luncheon she hosted yesterday in Carlsbad for contributors to the popular Chicken Soup inspirational series.

"Terri?" she asked, approaching me. I'd arrived a little early, since I'd been uncertain how long the trek would take me from my Westminster home. It looked as if I were the first guest there. When I'd promoted Amy's book, Simply Happy, at a San Bernardino library event several months ago, my photo had appeared in the Chicken Soup communique, "The Inner Circle." Still, I never would have expected that Amy would be able to associate my face with my name.

D'ette Cortona whirled around from where she'd been arranging identification tags, and asked how I liked being back in California. Barbara LoMonaco joined us and we chatted briefly about the Chicken Soup luncheon I'd had for my book club friends shortly before I moved south, and how I still treasured my Chicken Soup picture frame, apron and oven mitt. Talk about a warm welcome!

How could they keep us all straight, I wondered, as I watched the three women greet roughly 60 other area writers as they filed into the upstairs dining room of this cozy Italian restaurant. Since I'd stolen a seat near the front, I listened in on many of the conversations. What a family reunion, with conversations focusing not so much on writing, but on updates about children, grandchildren, marriages, divorces, graduations and career changes.
With D'ette Corona

As I chatted with those seated closest to me, Sallie Rodman and BJ Jensen, I realized that I, too, enjoy an insider's view into so many lives. That's the secret of the Chicken Soup magic. All of us who write for the series willingly reveal our daily triumphs and tragedies. I know more about the daily lives of many of my fellow contributors than I do about my neighbors and relatives.

Though few of the contributors had met in person before, we settled into an easy familiarity. BJ Jensen, who took the photo at the top of this page, declared she was dining with her true BFFs. (And for the curious, and the foodies, no, we didn't spoon up chicken soup. Instead, our waiters served us bruschetta, Caesar and apple and Gorgonzola salads, penne basilica, chicken
Barbara LoMonoco and  husband Frank
limone and chocolate chip cannoli. And yes, I likely gained a pound.)

"Our mission is more important than ever before," Amy began, adding that the Chicken Soup franchise ALWAYS has been about kindness. "We will continue to feature stories about people from all religions, from all gender identifications, from all walks of life."

She revealed that the Chicken Soup webmaster has been receiving angry letters, mostly from old women, complaining that as a Christian publication, the franchise should not be publishing stories about gay couples or people who adhere to other religious beliefs. 

"We are not exclusively a Christian publication," Amy said. "We welcome inclusion. If we lose readers who fault us for that, then we do. We have never been political in the past. But if promoting kindness now is seen as political, then we're political."

An old woman myself, I personally congratulated Amy for taking a strong public position. Because I'm dating a rabbi, I, too, have been subjected to some mean-spirited comments. (A personal aside: my new love is the founder and past president of the Orange County Interfaith Council, dedicated to combating hate crimes. I've been writing about some of these experiences, and will continue to.) Amy reminded me that she covers the topic of ridding oneself of toxic people in Simply Happy.
Amy emphasized that the upcoming book, My Kind (of ) America, exemplifies Chicken Soup's dedication to fighting mean-spirited attitudes and open expressions of hate that have increased over the past year or two. This new book will feature stories that reflect what Amy believes is the true nature of our country.

This is how it's described on the Chicken Soup website: Our book about Random Acts of Kindness was a big hit, and we are doing another one now, with an emphasis on the USA. America has always been known as a kind country, filled with people who care about one another and about the rest of the world, too. We live in a country filled with good people who volunteer in our communities, help people who need help, and pride ourselves on doing the right thing. Our huge and varied country is known for tolerance, energy, and spirit. We are proud of our inclusive and welcoming attitude, no matter our color, our country of origin, our sexual identity, or our religion.
Amy and Barbara introducing key personnel involved in May Chicken Soup releases

 Tips from Amy for fellow contributors to this series:

1. Don't be discouraged if you don't get as many acceptances as in the past. Chicken Soup now receives nearly double the number of submissions for each title, five to six thousand, rather than the two to three thousand it used to expect. (My guess is that this is because the number of publications seeking first person creative nonfiction has diminished in the past few years. Chicken Soup remains one of the last publications that pays well for our stories.)

2. Current pet peeves include dangling participles ("Having no pulse, I dialed 911,") and contributors, sometimes even seasoned ones, who submit what obviously is a first draft, expecting the Chicken Soup editors to clean it up. (If you don't like to edit, ask you like to get published?)

3. Don't assume that just because one of your stories isn't accepted for the title you submitted to, that it's been discarded. Sometimes it's kept in the database with a future title in mind. Resubmit stories that you think might fit current upcoming titles. (I've successfully resubmitted stories that had not been accepted the first time around.)

4. Chicken Soup appreciates the local promotions, the book signings and interviews that contributors do, since it's difficult these days for publishers to get press and television coverage. It's even getting difficult to persuade retailers to stock books. The company also lost money in the Border's bankruptcy. ( I've loved seeing Chicken Soup books with my stories in such stores as Walmart, Rite Aid and Safeway. A friend tells me that authors call this "seeing it in the wild." I hope these businesses continue to stock Chicken Soup books.)

Here are the three timely new Chicken Soup titles that Amy discussed at the luncheon...
all possible gifts for May events. Though I don't have stories in these editions, writer friends of mine do. And every Chicken Soup book contains stories that will warm your heart.

Here's the link to my blog about that Chicken Soup luncheon from a few years back.
My 2014 Chicken Soup luncheon 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Indian Ocean Idyll, April 2017

Beau Vallon Beach, with Silhoutte Island in the distance

Coconut and fruit drinks at Beau Vallon
 I lived in Seychelles from January 1995 until November 1997, working with the Ministry of Education to develop a training program for people who would become school counselors. Additionally I worked as the Ministry's link to the Youth Health Center, and provided training for several agencies on domestic violence and alcohol and drug intervention. What a joy to see how these programs have evolved over the past 20 years.

My partner, Dr. Frank Stern, and I visited Seychelles for several days early this month before embarking on a leg of the Queen Elizabeth's around-the-world voyage.
Frank enjoying breakfast at Coral Strand buffet

With old friends at Youth Services Centre

Frank on deck at Coral Strand

Time for "lemonade" at the gardens

Feeding tortoises at botanical gardens

With Sylvia Sophie, former peer counselor, and son

Fabulous Kreol lunch at Ruby Pardiwalla's home with Bishop Wong

President's Village where friends Mimi Adelaide and Heather Bird used to work
Noella Gontier, director of CARE, picked us up at the airport and drove us all over the island
With Colette Servina, from Youth Health Centre years

My old Student Welfare Unit pals, Ben Vel, Desiree Hermitte
I'd forgotten how much I love iced lemongrass tea!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Here? Not Elsewhere?

"Even on a cloudy day the sun is shining somewhere.”—Anonymous

The thought that children would be separated from parents at borders sickens me. I'm compelled to share my experiences with such separations. This alarms mel Have we gone mad?

 I know about separation's a story I wrote a few years ago. I called it "Elsewhere"


I hung up the phone and stared at a poster on the wall beside my desk. The visiting center had called to let me know that a mother had appeared for her court-ordered monitored visit. For three years I'd been the psychiatric social worker for the nursery at the Los Angeles County residence housing children awaiting placement by the juvenile court. I anticipated how the visit would go.

The visitor would be angry. We had her child in a locked building. It wouldn't matter that the two-year-old had been removed from his home because he had been left alone for hours and neighbors had reported hearing his cries.

The nursery aide who would escort the toddler to the visiting room would treat me and the visitor to hostile glares. Most of the nursery staff resented visiting days. The children cried when their parents left, leaving them behind. I'd conducted training on bonding and attachment, and explained that though these children might be too young to remember events, they would forever remember feelings. Nonetheless the staff still believed in "out of sight, out of mind."

"It would be better if the parents didn't come at all," they said. "Besides, they don't deserve to see their kids."

And, yes, the toddler himself after the visit would squall and kick and flail at me with tiny fists all the way back to the nursery.

"I hate you, I hate you," those old enough to talk often screeched when their visits ended, as I returned them to the nursery.

On Sundays, when I conducted these visits, I became a jumbo sponge to soak up everybody's ire, taking care not to ooze any out myself. That would be unprofessional for a psychiatric social worker.

The three earlier visits so far that late November day had been particularly unpleasant. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, parents had fixed me with sullen eyes, dropping references to having little to be thankful for.

Usually the poster by my desk brightened my spirits, with its sunflower and splashes of bright lettering in yellows and reds. A local artist had been designed it for MacLaren's annual Sunflower Day, a summer Sunday when actors, artists and musicians visited to entertain and mingle with the two hundred and fifty or so children in temporary residence. Today, though, even the poster's glowing gold and shimmering scarlet hues failed to cheer me. Instead I carried a vision of a sodden gray sponge as I trudged towards the visiting center.

I glanced out the window at the darkening clouds, and realized that by the time my shift ended and I headed home, it would probably be raining. I dreaded driving the oil-slick Los Angeles freeways in the autumn.

No sunshine for me today, I thought.

I reminded myself again that only three elements needed to converge to create a situation that could lead to child abuse or neglect: a child, a parent with poor coping skills, and stress. Many of the parents I saw were ignorant of the most basic child-care routines. Many suffered from untreated character disorders or alcohol or drug addictions. Most were so deprived in their own childhoods that they had no alternative to repeating their own parents' pattern of poor care.

What was evident, though, was that most of them indeed loved their children. Some enough that they'd enter treatment programs or ditch an abusive partner in order to rehabilitate themselves so they eventually could make a home again for the child. In my Parent Outreach project, I offered such resources to the visiting parents.

To my surprise, the visiting mother's face was wreathed in smiles. It had been a few weeks since she'd visited. I'd tried to reach her, but her phone had been disconnected.

"Guess what?" Her smile illuminated the little room. "I've been released from the recovery center and I've got a job! I've got a gift for Tommy." She held up one of the new plush Care Bears. This one, bright yellow, was Funshine Bear. I well knew the stars of the new Care Bear television series, sitting on the nursery floor and watching the cartoons with the kids. Funshine Bear had a tummy symbol with a smiling sun. He was famous for always trying to help someone, being able to use his symbol to light up the darkest night or shine a beacon for all to see.

Kind of like me, I thought, the first time he I noticed him. I'd wondered who lit up Funshine's dark days. Could he turn his beacon toward himself?

The aide who brought Tommy to the visiting room was new on the job. Her eyes twinkled when she spotted the bear. "Oh, look, Tommy," she said, a pleasant lilt to her voice.

Tommy squealed, grabbed Funshine Bear and hugged him close. He clambered up on his mother's lap and answered her questions as best he could.

"We walked to MacDonald's yesterday. I ate ice cream!"

"The nurses decided it would be a good day for an outing since the sun was out in the afternoon and the restaurant is only a block away," I explained. The Saturday nursery staff liked to get a little exercise, and pushed the younger children in buggies and strollers.

Tommy didn't even cry when his mother kissed him goodbye. She'd promised to come again soon, and confided to me that she thought the court would release him to her soon. Her probation worker was ready to vouch for her. I congratulated her.

A couple of years earlier I'd complained to my consulting psychiatrist that sometimes I felt unappreciated – by staff, by the children, by the parents.

"Honey," he'd said, "in this line of work you've got to get your loving elsewhere. You've got to get it from yourself. Appreciate yourself!"

At that time I planned to not a let a working day go by without doing three kind things: one for a staff member or parent, one for a child, and one for myself.

When I returned for my last evening report in the nursery I made a special effort to single out the aide who had been so cheerful in bringing Tommy for his visit.

"You made it so easy for him to leave," I praised her. "Letting him take the bear to his crib was a really great idea!"

I spent several minutes before I left rocking one of the four-year-old girls. She'd fallen in the playground earlier and bruised her forehead. Plus her parents didn't show up for their visit.

"I love you," she'd whispered in my ear as I tucked her into her youth bed. I gave her a final hug.

Then I climbed into my car and turned on my windshield wipers, anticipating what kind thing I'd do for myself that day. I usually saved me for last, enjoying the anticipation.

"A Christmas Story" had just been released. It played in a theater close to my home. I decided to get an early jump on the holidays and see it. Then I'd treat myself to a hot bubble bath and a mug of cocoa before bed.

Perhaps tomorrow would be sunnier. Sunshine already was breaking through in my heart.