Matzah Brei: It’s All It’s Cracked Up To Be

In the last post, Josie mentioned disappointing brunch food. Normally, brunch food comes in two categories: 1. Average and diner-esque 2. Delicious, but ridiculously overpriced. Breakfast food is so easy and simple to make so where is this nonsense added price coming from? Do restaurants think they can capitalize on serving a meal that mixes together 2 other meals? Who knows. What I do know is that when you look back on your childhood one of the first dishes you probably made was scrambled eggs. Cracking an egg for a child, and even for me now, is monumentally fun. It’s cracking the shell into the world of cooking and the world of all life forms.

I don’t know if it is because of my new idol, Ruth Reichl, or the reemergence of my Jewishness that seems to come back every few months but yesterday for dinner I wanted Matzah Brei. It is a simple dish that is basically the ingredients of plain scrambled eggs or an omelet with the addition of matzah crackers. This dish is most commonly a brunch food that makes a large showing during passover when leavened bread is not allowed. The truly interesting part of this dish is that it is a blank canvas and depending on what area your Jewish ancestors were from affects whether the dish is sweet or savory. You can either put salsa on it or applesauce and jam. It can either be scrambled or more like an omelet. Since becoming a devout Ruth Reichl convert, I used her simple recipe religiously and broke it into pieces like scrambled eggs. She may have been the LA and NY Times food critic and the editor of Gourmet magazine but this dish could not be any simpler. 2 eggs, 2 matzah crackers, salt, and butter. You break the matzah, you get it damp with water, you crack eggs, stir, and fry. When it came time to dress it up, I chose applesauce. It seemed the most fitting. I don’t really remember this dish as a kid but I always saw my grandma putting orange marmalade on matzah for breakfast.

Later, the night of my BFD (brunch for dinner), I talked to my mom and told her about my dinner. She claimed that she  and my grandma used to always make this dish for me as a kid. I might not remember this, but as soon as I took my first bite it felt just like home. When I asked my mom how it was served for me as a kid, she replied, “With jam.” Not a surprise, I know that my family is Ashkenazi with more of a sweet rather than savory palate. By sweet, I mean fruity. My grandma introduced me to the joys, from an early age, of raisins in everything. From carrot salad to stuffed hen and bran muffins, nothing was without raisins. In fact, I am looking for a stuffed cabbage recipe with meat and raisins similar to the one she used to make. If you have such a delicious recipe pass it on and if you are looking for a cheap and delicious comfort brunch food add this to your repertoire. From the breaking of crackers to the cracking of eggs, this is a perfect no fail UG dish! Crack on, this dish is all it is cracked up to be!

Santa Cruz: A Meal and A View from the Crow’s Nest

My mom is a woman that is not one bit of a fool, even though she shares her birthday with April Fool’s Day. It hasn’t been an easy birthday to have, especially when you are a woman as sensitive as my mother. My uncle once wrapped her up a dead bird when she was 13 and I tried to top that by giving her a dead fish when I was 10. I have since realized that this behavior is simply not funny. My mama is the kindest person I have ever known and on her last birthday she flew us to Costa Rica. She allowed me and my little bro to zip-line the rain forest, sit in mineral baths at a resort, get pina coladas IN the pool bar, and so much more. I decided that this year I would drive home to see her. I drove to Santa Cruz on Wednesday night and arrived only minutes before it was about to become her birthday. She managed to bypass most pranks on her birthday this year, except for one. At the home where my grandpa lives, a place filled with seniors, there is one young guy in his 40s who lives there because he had a stroke. He was wearing a shirt that said, “Keep Staring- I might do a trick” and as he was walking down the stairs my mom said, “I like your shirt!” He was on step number 5 and tumbled down the rest of them causing all of the nurses to run in a frenzy, my mom was terrified that she distracted him and caused him to fall. The man went from his tumbling position to standing straight up and saying, “April Fools!” Nursing homes are simply NOT the place for practical jokes. After all this, my mom decided that she wanted her birthday dinner to be at the Crow’s Nest despite already being there earlier in the week. I suggested she let me pick the restaurant and she said I needed to stop being bossy. She’s much tougher since she started martial arts and told me she could put me in a headlock. I obliged. We headed off to dinner and were later joined by our favorite neighbor, Buzz, who has been a regular at our meals and is now part of the family.

There are some things that Nor Cal (if you wanna be technical, Central Coast) does better than most and that is sourdough bread and calamari. I once learned at Disney California what makes San Francisco Sourdough bread better than everyone else’s, but I forget. Ok, I will admit it, I only have done those tours for the free bread and tortilla samples. Of course, a ton of places do breaded and lightly fried calamari, but it just brings back so many memories of my childhood when I eat it in Santa Cruz. I remember being at the Boardwalk (if you’ve seen the Lost Boys, then you have seen it) and eating it on the Sky Gliders and walking the wharf with a basket and being so impressed that I, at age 7, was eating and loving squid. Anyway, calamari up in SC is personal for me and at the Crow’s Nest they made it perfectly. For the main course, I had the swordfish with truffle oil and I had them substitute artichoke risotto for the mashed potatoes because I heart artichokes. The swordfish was a tad too dry but it is not my job to complain, it was my mom’s special day. She, who chose a seafood restaurant and is not even a vegetarian, ordered the vegetable stir-fry. It was an odd choice because my mom makes the best stir-frys and makes them all of the time. Oh well, it was her special day and I won’t get on her ordering style. Buzz and my brother, Cody, had the hamburger and french fries and Cody even shot the burger picture himself.

For dessert, the waiter was kind enough to bring out a mud pie for my mom. Did I think the food was stellar? Not quite. Did I think the service was out of this world? Not in the slightest. However, our busboy Shane was fantastic and he was my mom’s preschool student many years ago and someone I went to high school with. I was also told that my brother’s babysitter, Justine, is the hostess here and that my mom is good friend’s with a waiter who is the brother-in-law to one of our neighbors. It was a community meal that made my mom happy and that made me happy. For my birthday, she was kind enough to take me to the expensive and two Michelin starred restaurant, Manresa, in Los Gatos for perhaps the best meal of my life. While I prefer the seafood from Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing, this was my mom’s choice and it was a good one. This is a family restaurant and represents so much of our extended family in Santa Cruz, not to mention the view is gorgeous. Without being too obvious, it is called the Crow’s Nest and it has the view to match. If you wanna see where Santa Cruzans eat and work, then come here! I guarantee you will run into people we know.

Port Hueneme: A Resting Place

Let me preface by saying, this is the most personal thing I have written in a long time. I am not sure if I should post this is on my own personal blog or here, but I think it is a story worth telling. Many of you have probably heard me say that January is a very difficult time of year for me, but perhaps I have never really told you why. The truth is that I come from a very small and tight family and January is a roller coaster of emotions that every year makes me plead for February to come early. It begins January 14th and remains until the 31st, which is the culmination of everything. January 14th was my grandma’s birthday and 10 years ago my uncle, his wife, and their baby took my grandma and her partner to Puerto Vallarta in celebration of her 73rd year of life. The plane never made it back to San Francisco and ultimately Seattle. The Alaska Airlines plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Port Hueneme on January 31, 2000. I was 13 at the time and had my first experience with death multiplied by 5 and intensified by NTSB meetings, news crews, and surrounded by other grieving families. Every year since then I have made the trek to Port Hueneme to be as close to where my family’s last moments were. My mom drove down from Santa Cruz on Friday and I met her at the hotel late Friday night after going to a friend’s birthday party first. Port Hueneme is one of the most confusing towns when it comes to maps, directions, and everything else. However, once you arrive, you are greeted by the kindest people and feel right at home.

Even though I didn’t get to the hotel until 12:30 in the morning my mom signed us both up for a boat ride to the crash site. Despite being here several years neither my mom or I have ever actually seen where it happened. I feel like I often talk up Port Hueneme but every year I come here I see rainbows and dolphins. It truly couldn’t be any more beautiful. Our boat, filled with family and friends of passengers, was surrounded by hundreds of dolphins. It was overwhelming. The actual site was calm and still and we dropped orchids and roses into the water. We have always known it was near the channel islands but this was the first time we saw it up close and with all of the sea life surrounding it.

The day was emotional, which was expected. My mom wanted to just order in but I talked her in to getting out. My mom, who lost her mom and only sibling on board the flight, is a huge sushi fan so when I suggest Japanese she finally agreed. This small town in Ventura County isn’t really known for food and yet on the Yelp App I found a very high rated sushi spot called, Sushi Hanada. I loved the sign near the table that says no side of wasabi. They serve sushi in the traditional Japanese manner between the rice in the fish, never mixed with soy sauce. One of my best friends is from Tokyo and taught me well that it is, “So typical American style.” I did the ordering and OMG! We got the live scallop, black cod, eel and cucumber and shitake roll.

The service was great and the food was phenomenal. The place was filled with locals and I think both of us weren’t quite ready to get back and face reality and the impending day. We did the smart thing and ordered more. I love that yellow pickled radish that I can never remember the name to and they added it to a cucumber roll and then we got crab and avocado wrapped in cucumber. One dish was better than the next and we finished it all off with a single mango mochi.

We left stuffed and had a great night sleep before awakening to our most dreaded day of the year. It was comforting to know that almost everyone sleeping in our hotel was feeling the same way about this day, the 31st of January. The first thing on the agenda was an interfaith service at the monument. There was a Chaplin, a Rabbi, and the most beautiful prayer in Hindi. The passengers on the flight were diverse and thus their families are. I am not a very religious person but left the morning service feeling lighter and more at ease for the rest of the day.

We had a couple hour break between this service and the big memorial at 3:00pm. I suggested we buy some orchids for our family to add to their name places on the beautiful sundial. My mom and I drove own a dirt road to Hatfield’s Orchids where we met George and got 5 very different and absolutely beautiful orchids. I must say that everyone in this community is so kind to us and they suffered too having this tragedy in their backyard.

We arrived back at the monument where we have been so many years prior. The crowd was bigger than it has been in the last 7 years and it was especially nice to see all the rescue workers again. The United States Coast Guard led the event; followed by families, poems, and music.

The rest was a blur of tears, synchronistic moments, and reflections. The names of each passenger was read, a bell was tolled, and a family member placed a rose down. At 4:22 the exact time the plane hit the water a helicopter flew by, a moment of silence was had, and we all gathered in a circle and held hands. It was nice that this year’s circle was bigger. A decade marked deserves it. This year I learned some interesting things I never knew. First, Hueneme means resting place. I also learned the rainbow bridge Native American fable that said there was a rainbow bridge that connected the channel islands to the mainland and when people crossed they couldn’t look down or else they’d drown. However, it was said that if you died in the ocean your soul would be taken on by the dolphins. Being able to see the herds of hundreds of dolphins at sea yesterday was so comforting. I am glad my mom decided to get her dolphin tattoo this year. It has been 10 years, my life is forever changed, but I am now ready to share my story with you. It is too beautiful not to. While I had a great loss, this preventable crash brought about the most NTSB recommendations. Hopefully, their lives are not in vain and at the very least I have gained an emotional attachment to a once unknown beautiful town and community.  It is so much more than the place in between LA and Santa Barbara.

In remembrance of my family. My little grandma Jeannie who gave me an early appreciation for all of the world’s cuisines and made me sample it all in her kitchen and beyond. To my Uncle Bob who was a South San Francisco firefighter with the greatest sense of adventure as a rock climber, paraglider, and Three Stooges enthusiast. My 4 month old cousin Emily who was the youngest passenger on board. Also a big nod to my mom, who encouraged me to not only write but also post this. She has an incredible book on her own journey with grief after sudden loss and the legacy of my amazing family called, The Long Nights of Mourning.

Happy Birthday to our Youngest and Coolest UG!

My little brother and I have 14 years between us and yet when it comes right down to it we are both so ridiculously similar. He loves to laugh until his eyes water and eat until he can’t bear to move. I always tell him that he is a better foodie than me because the boy loves bacon! If it were up to him, every breakfast would consist of only sausage and bacon. Since I was in town for the Tasty Awards and have never missed one of his huge birthday shindigs I decided to give him a day where we could do whatever he wanted. We went to a Sharks game in the afternoon and then got BBQ in the evening. If you know me, you know that I am not a sports kind of a girl. Yes, I infamously mistook Cal Ripken Jr. for Tom Colicchio and I think Scrabble is a sport. Anyway, this was his day and the SJ Sharks were playing the Edmonton Oilers. The game was fun and our team won but the whole time I was thinking about BBQ.

I asked my dear fellow Twits where to get good BBQ in San Jo, and ButtercupD responded with Texas Smokehouse BBQ. My little brother is growing up in my hometown of Santa Cruz. There is a plethora of organic food, only 1 drive-thru, and a ton of vegetarians and vegans in Santa Cruz. When my brother was in Kindergarten I bought him a shirt that read: Vegans Taste Like Chicken. He wore it with pride and made his big sis so proud. This part of SJ that we went to for BBQ was nothing like he was used to. He got orange soda, white bread in ziploc bags (the sign of any good BBQ joint), corn muffins, a slab of ribs, black eyed peas, and yams. The food was awesome and it was good to teach him that Black Eyed Peas are more than the band that sings “Boom Boom Pow” one of his favorite songs to dance to.

The next day was his Sushi and Dancing birthday party. Last year, when he turned 8, he had a Sushi & Disco party at the same venue I Love Sushi in Santa Cruz. He was in the same party outfit from last year, did karaoke, blew out a candle on sushi, organized a worm-off, a coke drinking contest, and dance freeze. This brother of mine is so sophisticated not only does he love sushi but he also picked out a lemon poppyseed birthday cake with butter cream frosting from The Buttery.

Cody Bear, since today is your actual birthday, I wanted to wish you a very Happy 9th Birthday! Your UG Girls love you and can’t wait to see you again soon and eat with you! And, yes, as soon as we get a TV show you can be featured on it!

A Very Untraditional Trip Home for the Holidays

It wasn’t easy getting home this holiday season. I was in my first car accident and felt the need to take my car straight to the auto body shop and then realized I was carless to make my trip to Santa Cruz. Thanks to everyone’s best friend, Facebook, I found out that two jr. high and high school friends that currently reside in LA were heading home for the holidays. They were kind enough to give me a ride and we reminisced on old memories on the way home. We listened to a song called “Too Close” by Next and I told them that when the song came on at junior high dances I remembered living the lyrics of, “Step back you’re dancing kinda close, I feel a little poke coming through on you.” It was so poetic to have so many shared experiences with a group of people you never see. We arrived late on Christmas Eve. It was just enough time for my 8 year old brother and I to make cookies for Santa and leave out carrots and celery for the reindeer. He then asked, “Does Santa like organic nonfat milk? ‘Cause that’s all we have.” I started laughing and he responded the best way possible, “Are you gonna tweet me?” Of course, I did.

Good thing my brother, Cody, and I did so much work for Santa. He was granted an electric Razor on Christmas morning. He doesn’t yet need the electric razor for facial hair so his razor is in the scooter realm. Since we are Jewish we also attended Temple Beth El on Christmas Day for a Fiddler on the Roof singalong and a chinese food lunch. It was a great deal of fun but my 90 year old grandfather who was born to kvetch was annoyed that they only served him water…what, no Diet Coke?!?!

The day after Christmas was relaxing and wonderful. My mom always complains that she eats too much when I visits and gains a minimum of 2 pounds. I am proud of this fact and love for her to indulge in my gluttonous lifestyle. This day was so no exception. My mom said she felt sick from eating too much, I was unimpressed. My little brother, on the other hand, polished off a 1/2 rack of ribs from Bruno’s BBQ by himself, that I was impressed by.

It was on this day that my mom shocked me by saying that she wanted to get a tattoo the next day. She has never had one and doesn’t seem like “the type” whatever that means. A sad anniversary is coming up for my family and I absolutely felt her need to mark this event. There was a name I always grew up hearing and it was Frank Fumano, who gave my grandpa his tattoo and who was my mom’s big first crush. Reading my mom’s book of poetry that she wrote when she was my age was chilling and her poem about Frank was always the most poignant for me. My mom once heard that Frank died and when she learned that he was alive and well and working in her hometown of San Mateo excited her beyond belief. She didn’t know what to do, and as the mother of an Uncouth Gourmand, she ended up sending a fruit basket to his office-the tattoo parlor. She knew that if she was going to get a tattoo only Frank could do it. Since I already have one, 2 orange elephants in the shape of a heart with the word for a good sigh written in Japanese (although hot tea has to be in your mouth to say it correctly), I was there for support and to monitor. The name of the tattoo salon is Al’s Rock of Ages and it is run by Al who has a ton of funny jokes and stuff to look at in his shop. By the way, if you have to go to the bathroom it is free to pee but a penny for a poo. Obviously, the highlight for me was being able to meet Frank and to help my mom get exactly what she wanted. Well, Frank was really the artist but I like to think that I helped.

Nothing about this holiday trip home was traditional but it was all so much fun. In the words of Fiddler on the Roof, “Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!” All I can say is sometimes being a fiddler on the roof is fun and exactly what a holiday season needs!

Christmas Evening: Tis the Day of Giving and Receiving

Tis the night of Christmas

and to tell you the truth

it was quite grand and merry

but I missed my other uncouth

I, Carina, am spending time with my family in Santa Snooze and like good Jews we attended a Fiddler on the Roof singalong and a Chinese food luncheon at the synagogue today. I am sure Josie ate some delicious tamales with her family in San Diego. We hope you are all having a fabulous day and night!