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The El Chico Pizza Recipe aka Shakey’s Pizza

By Maryellen Burns

The story the Sacramento Bee wrote for Sherwood “Shakey” Johnson’s obituary was that in 1954, he and Ed Plummer – a college friend and fishing buddy – each put in $850 and rented a defunct mom-and-pop grocery store at 57th and J streets to open a neighborhood draft beer place.

They later added pizza, using a recipe Johnson knew from his childhood, some of which he spent serving as a recipe interpreter between Italian housewives and his mother, who was Swedish.

That might be the official story, but I much prefer the one I was told by Dr. Patrick Edward Melarkey. He was nearing 80 and wanted to share some of his stories for an oral history or possibly a book.

We had initially met working on the committee to save the Alhambra Theater and the George McGovern presidential election campaign in 1972. He was Chair of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and had an unsuccessful run as Mayor. I worked on his campaigns, not just out of deep respect for his political leanings but because of my fondness for him while hanging out at his restaurant and nightclub, Melarkey’s Place, at 1517 Broadway, across the street from Joe Marty’s bar and El Chico’s restaurant. Later he became a neighbor. Much later, my dentist.

To call Pat’s language crusty is an understatement. I’ve left out some of the more colorful language here, and his descriptions about Joe Marty and his racism and misogyny, but otherwise this is his story word for word.

“Eleanor Lineburger was the cook at Joe Marty’s for years. She was raised right across the street from me. If she was alive, she’d tell you the same story. Shakey got thrown out of Sacramento Junior College. He had a routine. He always played a Jazz Ragtime Piano. And then he teamed up with a friend of his who was raised around the corner here, too. A very prominent attorney, who is now dead. Shakey is dead too. And they had this routine where Shakey would dress in this white suit, and his friend would dress in a long black dress with a white mop. And they would start singing like Tom Lehrer and they would make fun of everybody. So, they would sing at the Junior College and they made so much fun of the Dean that he threw them both out of school. Shakey got the job at Joe Marty’s because his father was a very prominent attorney, he got a job as a waiter. Well, El Chico actually, but we all just called it Joe Marty’s. Eleanor always made this pizza which had been made by the Italians for centuries. Shakey would go back and watch her make it. He had a little notebook that he kept in his shirt pocket and a little pencil and wrote down all the ingredients. Then he would watch how she put it together. The dough was made in a big Hobart mixer, using a dough hook. Then she’d knead it a little bit more by hand, cut it into balls the size of your fist. She’d dust a little flour over each one and then put it into the refrigerator for 24 hours or so. She’d take them out and roll them when they were still cold. No hand-tossing.

The sauce was just a mixture of tomatoes and herbs. Fresh in season and big cans in the winter. Mozzarella cheese, parmesan, pepperoni, ground beef, Italian sausage, salami, mushrooms and black olives or a veggie option — onions, mushrooms, olives, green peppers, tomatoes put on top. Then it was baked at the highest heat in the oven. Only the World War vets, or little kids ordered it with plain cheese and a little tomato sauce, Neapolitan style.

Later, when she got swamped, he would offer to go in and make the pizza with her. It took him a while, because she had a special way of feeling when the dough was ready, how much extra to knead it after it came out of the mixer. He did that for a little over a year and then he and Ed Plummer, went off to start their place. They intended to do pizza from the very beginning. They wanted a place large enough to host Dixie Land Jazz bands and to play their own music. They picked the spot near Sac State because it was so close to students. They thought from the beginning that they could put a pizza parlor in other college towns. They were keen businessmen. They had a plan.

The parlor opened on the weekend, but the pizza ovens hadn’t arrived yet, so they only served beer. He took the profits from the beer sales and bought ingredients for the pizza the following Monday. The dough used a blend of white flour and Tortilla Flour, a little yeast, salt, water and Crisco. Eleanor always claimed that there was no yeast in her dough. That might have been
the only change that Shakey made to her recipe. He didn’t own the place for very long. 13 years or so before he sold the business for 4 million. They might have called it Shakey’s Pizza but the recipe for the sauce was different. They used commercial sauce and sent it out in packets. Nothing was done in house anymore.

I never spent time in the kitchens, really, we always had a chef or cooks, but I didn’t attempt Eleanor’s pizza (which was the best ever). Our ovens just weren’t hot enough.”

Pat didn’t remember the measurements but Eleanor’s niece provided me with the following recipes:

12 ounces all-purpose flour, sifted
4 ounces Quaker Harina Preparada Tortilla Flour, sifted
6 ½ ounces water, lukewarm
½ tablespoon sugar
½ tablespoon instant dry yeast
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Crisco Shortening, room temperature
Handful Cornmeal Four, for rolling out dough

1. Combine Water & Sugar add Yeast and proof 5 minutes. Add mixture into Mixer.
2. Add remaining ingredients and mix using Dough Hook to form Dough Ball.
3. Place Dough in container twice the size of Dough Ball and let rise several times, punching down dough in between rises.
4. Divide Dough in half form balls and wrap with cellophane. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Roll out to desired size on Cornmeal Flour, add sauce, toppings, etc…
6. Bake at 450° on hot Pizza Stone for 6-8min or desired doneness.

Pizza Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 basil leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon dried basil)

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, and sauté until transparent, three to five minutes. Add tomatoes, sugar, marjoram, salt and basil leaves. Reduce heat slightly, and simmer, stirring frequently, until thick, 25 to 30 minutes. Makes about two cups. Use as directed below.

For this recipe, if you can’t find fresh mozzarella, substitute the best regular mozzarella you can find.

Neapolitan-Style Pizza Dough

The key to real Neapolitan style pizza is the use of a good durum wheat pizza flour. Our local pizza parlors used commercial flours and yeast and made the dough in a large Hobart stand mixer that made 60 quarts at a time. The key was to let the dough to proof in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

This is El Chico’s classic Italian pizza dough recipe. Soon, I’ll share the story of El Chico restaurant, which had two locations. The one on Broadway and the other on Freeport Blvd.

I buy the flour from Corti Brothers or online. That is, when I make it. It is much easier to purchase pre-made dough at Taylor’s Market or Trader Joe’s.

4 cups Italian 00 flour if you can find it (all-purpose flour also works)
3 teaspoons salt
2½ teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups tap water

Place ingredients in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until there is no flour left in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to proof on the counter for 12 hours. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and portion into three balls. Put dough balls into plastic bags or containers and allow to proof in the fridge for 24 hours. This is simple and takes time, but the flavor is incredible!

Roll out to desired thinness. Place all the dry ingredients on the pizza first and then drizzle the tomato sauce on top. Tomato sauce on the bottom makes for a soggy pizza.

1000 Miles in a Smart Car. With Pete.

By Lesley James

A friend of mine has a fantastic tale – ALL TRUE – about her trip to the Bahamas in 1999. Hurricane Floyd hit during that trip. The category 4 hurricane was at peak strength when it almost leveled the Bahamas. Needless to say, it’s a pretty riveting story.

It’s an interesting fact that good vacations generate rather boring stories. The more boring the tale, the better time you had. I’ll let you be the judge. This is the story of Pete and my 10 day road trip in his brand new Smart Car. I hope it bores you silly – then maybe I can convince myself that it wasn’t really the nightmare I thought it was.

Are you familiar with the Smart Car? It is a tiny little thing – less than half the length of a standard 4 door coupe and about a foot narrower. Apparently, shock absorbers were considered unnecessary – or maybe it just has really teensy Smart Car sized ones – because the darn thing bounces around like a dune buggy. These cars are made for zipping around crowded city streets and running errands. They were never intended for travelling. Two average size people are shoulder to shoulder. Two large people are crammed in like sardines. You can’t buckle your seatbelt without elbowing the other person in the ribs. There is NO freakin’ place to put any luggage, beyond what you’d pack for, say, two or three days.

The other thing that you need to know is that my beloved husband, Pete, is not in very good health. He’s had bypass surgery. He’s had multiple TIAs (mini strokes). He has emphysema and congestive heart failure and a host of other complaints. He is also, not a person to suffer in silence and since he’s been sick, tends to whine about almost everything. The charming, urbane, witty guy I married has become a temperamental baby who’s perpetually negative and unhappy.

Day 1 – Sacramento to Timber Cove

Packing the car I realized that the Smart Car has no spare tire. The manufacturer, no doubt thought to save space by leaving that out. Instead, there is a little tire patch kit under the carpet on the passenger side of the car. My big mistake was in letting Pete know that the car had no spare. (“Your stupid little car hasn’t even got room for a spare tire”) For the rest of the trip, any time I hit a pothole in the road, Pete started screaming at me to “be careful – there’s no spare tire!” 

Days 2 – 4 – Mendocino and Fort Bragg

We have a division of labor: I take care of planning, packing, driving, booking the motels, tour arrangements, laundering our 2 extra sets of clothing, etc.; Pete handles the after-the-fact commentary, the complaints, the “you should haves” and the “you shouldn’t haves”. He didn’t sleep well. He didn’t like the accommodations. He’s mad that he has to sleep on the left side of the bed because there’s no plug in for his sleep apnea machine on the right side. He couldn’t take a shower because the motel soap makes him itch (how does he know this? He didn’t try it!). He’s bored. The Skunk Train is fun but the ride is too long. He didn’t know there’d be so much walking around in the botanical gardens. 

Days 5 and 6 – Eureka and Crescent City, Rogue River and Avenue of the Giants, Cave National Monument

Pete: “It’s too cold.” “You made me shower and now I’m all itchy.”  “The winding road is making me sick.” He starts micro-managing my driving: “What gear are you in? You don’t need to let everybody pass us. Downshift! Downshift! You’re going too fast! Pull over, I’M GOING TO DRIVE! I SAID, PULL OVER! WHY AREN’T YOU PULLING OVER? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO? BE CAREFUL, THERE’S NO SPARE TIRE!!!”

There are these really cool caves in Oregon. I really wanted to tour the caves, but the tour would be too strenuous for Pete. I decided (and Pete encouraged me) to go on the tour by myself – I really like caves. 

After parking Pete at a picnic table, I went on the tour even though it involved a lot of stair climbing, steep narrow pathways and doing the “cave walk” (hunch and crouch like Quasimodo) because of the low ceilings. I may have over-estimated my level of fitness. I definitely underestimated how bad my knees are. By the end of the first 40 minutes of the 1.5 hour tour, at the place where the wimps can exit, before the tour gets REALLY strenuous, I climbed out a narrow opening back into the sunlight and onto a very steep path down the mountainside. If you have bad knees, you know that going down stairs or downhill is much worse than going up. Now, I am in pain, I’m tired, and my knees are killing me. I’m not at my patient best, and neither is Pete. At some point he had run out of nicotine lozenges and he’s at a whole new level of cranky. 

I don’t remember anything about the drive down the mountain but the battle that raged in the Smart Car.

Day 6 – Medford, OR – Worst Motel EVER

The motel was disgusting. Dank smelling, dirty carpet, hard bed… for some inexplicable reason, Pete didn’t notice that the accommodations were so bad. None of our lodging’s shortcomings were even mentioned.

Pete: “What took you so long to come back with dinner? The sub shop is just across the street! You stopped for soap? Do I smell alcohol? Have you been in the bar? Are you listening to me? Why are you crying?”

Day 7 – Crater Lake, OR

It is beautiful there. It’s a beautiful drive. Pete really wanted to see it. I really wanted to see it. Problem is, the elevation there is 8000 feet. I had difficulty breathing at that altitude. Pete went insane. He yelled at me in public. He yelled at other people who walked in front of his camera shots. He CURSED at people. We both made it back alive only because of a few minutes of indecision. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I should jump over the edge myself or to push him

Days 8 and 9 – Trinity Alps – Scenic byway, Weaverville, Whiskeytown Lake, Redding

Warning: When you spot something on the map labeled “scenic by-way”, beware. This is likely to be a torturously long, winding, partially paved and poorly maintained logging road, clinging to the side of a mountain. It may be scenic, but you won’t know it because your eyes are glued to the nasty little road, your heart in your throat as you negotiate the twists and turns. No one is on the road but you – and the occasional log truck. This was the only time on the trip I was thankful for our narrow little car. There really isn’t an experience to match scootching your teensy little car as far as you can get it over to the side of the road, steep drop off on the right, and watching through the moon roof (that Pete paid an extra thousand dollars for) as a semi goes by on the left, hauling enormous logs that tower over you, secured by surprisingly delicate looking chains.

Touring the Joss House, a Taoist Temple that dates back to the Gold Rush, was something both of us wanted to do. We were in Weaverville on a Tuesday and it turns out that the Joss House is closed Monday through Wednesday. 

NOW Pete has a complaint he can really sink his teeth into. THIS development is CLEARLY my fault. I mistimed the trip to get us into Weaverville when the Joss House was closed. (Big dramatic sigh) This is probably the last time he’ll have the opportunity to see this. He’s always wanted to see it and was looking forward to it. I don’t pay enough attention to detail. It says clearly in the AAA Tour Book that the Joss House is open Thursday through Sunday…..

So I suggest we take a stroll through this historic little town. Maybe visit the little museum on Main Street. It was really a good museum with lots of historical stuff from the gold rush era. Pete made a big deal out of finding a place to sit down and rest – two minutes ago, he was up for touring the Joss House and now he’s too exhausted to look through the museum. I pasted a smile on my face and tried not to grind my teeth as I limped around the museum, carefully examining each and every object. Pete sat on a chair, periodically calling for me to find out where I was.

When most people travel, they are just anonymous tourists in the midst of other anonymous tourists. Not us. People probably remember us. He’s the one that yelled at you or your wife or kid. Or, more likely, he’s the one that you recall was screaming at his wife. I’m the one you gave a sympathetic smile to or just pretended that you hadn’t noticed so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed. And everywhere, people know my name. If Pete can’t see me, he bellows for me. “LESLEY, WHERE ARE YOU?…. LESLEY!…  LEHHHHHSLEEEEY!”

On the plus side, the motel in Weaverville was one of the best (and cheapest) we stayed in. On the minus side, Pete was too exhausted to bathe. On the plus side, the room had two beds so the odor didn’t keep me awake. Also, I really needed the extra space since, by this time, I’d taken to curling up in the fetal position. On the minus side, he didn’t shower in the morning, either, and we’re travelling in a SMART CAR.

Day 10 – Home

I believe I set a Smart Car speed record getting us home. Believe it or not, the car will do 80 pretty well and you can get it up to 85 – 90 MPH if your nerves can stand the shimmying. I had the pedal to the metal from Redding to Sacramento. I passed a Corvette like it was standing still.

When we got home I ran a hot bath, took a bottle of Irish whiskey into the bathroom, locked the door, and didn’t come out for an hour and a half. If I hadn’t run out of booze, I’d still be in there.

The following morning, Pete told me how much he enjoyed the trip and pointed out that Weaverville is only a 5 or 6 hour drive. He said we should think about driving up some weekend soon to see the Joss House.

Please tell me you were bored.

Cookbooks Past and Present: A Story of Sharing

by Lorene Sarne

When I was ten years old my mother gave my two sisters and me her cookbook so that we could make a marble cake for her bridge party. The recipe was simple and if followed exactly, foolproof. We made an eye-popping Technicolor marble cake and I have been baking ever since.

The last time I looked, the small, local library in Rockville, MD had 19 cookbook-filled shelves. Cookbooks fill the area’s bookstores’ cooking shelves, and the choices on the Internet seem to be endless. Where did it begin? Cookbooks have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. A clay tablet from ca. 1700 BC Babylon contained recipes for some elegant meals and is believed to be one of the oldest on record. 

Cookbooks are collections of recipes handed down from generation to generation. My grandmother gave her recipes to my mother, who passed them on to me. But depending on the recipe, a reader might have a difficult time trying to figure out what the cookbook author meant. The recipes might not have used the standardized measurements we are used to today. For example, I had to watch my mother make some of my grandmother’s recipes to learn the proportions of ingredients to use. Further, cookbooks published during the 15th and early 16th centuries, reflected the assumption that the chef knew the proper proportions of ingredients and cooking times. In those days, recipes did not include the details we are familiar with today, like recipe titles, ingredient lists, temperatures, and cooking times.

A 16th century recipe for sugar cakes (what we know as cookies) for example, reads something like this: Take a pound of butter and wash it in rose water, and halfe a pound of sugar, and halfe a douzen spoonefulles of thicke Cream, and yelkes of 4 eggs, and a little mace, finely beaten, and as much fine flower as it will wette, and worke it well together then rolle them out very thin, and cut them with a glasses, and pricke them very thicke with a great pin, and lay them on plates, and so bake them gently. 

Cookbooks that were published up until the 18th century were generally only used in wealthy households. The mistress of the household would read the recipe to the cook who prepared the mixture; servants in those times were not supposed to be able to read.

Cookbooks came to Colonial America from England in the 1700s, but it wasn’t until 1796 that Amelia Simmons published the first American cookbook, American Cookery, when cookbooks began to be written for the middle class and were being used in their homes. One of the most successful and popular cookbooks was produced in the U.S. in 1896, when Fannie Merritt Farmer took on the editorship of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. Farmer was the first to standardize the methods and measurements of her recipes, assuring reliable results for her readers. 

A well-written cookbook provides a cook with guidance to make a dish fit for a king or just plain delicious. On the other hand, a cookbook that is confusing or unclear would make cooking a chore rather than an opportunity to provide sustenance and pleasure. If cooking is a challenge, trying to figure out what a “pinch of thyme” means could put off an aspiring cook. And when it comes to baking, with its even more tightly controlled chemical reactions, the difference between the cake batter overflowing the pan rather than just rising to the top could be a mere one quarter teaspoon of baking powder.

Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook, published in 1950, guides the beginning cook through soups and souffles, to creating sauces that cover meat and fish. The unexpected hint of nutmeg hiding in a white sauce that blankets a poached salmon tantalizes the tongue as it enhances the salmon’s taste. Americans’ desire to expand their cooking repertory exploded with Julia Child’s TV appearances. Her down-home style allowed viewers to imagine cooking the recipes she prepared on TV in their own kitchens. Her co-authored cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first published in 1961 and reprinted 11 times, was designed to inspire cooks to enjoy producing “something wonderful to eat.  This cookbook focused on French culinary techniques, but at a detailed-enough level that inexperienced cooks could use. I still use this cookbook despite the additional hundreds of recipes in my collection.

These days the “Food Network,” “America’s Test Kitchen,” and “Milk Street” are just three of multiple television programs that focus on food preparation by bringing in drama and excitement, and highlighting the art and science associated with cooking. Not to mention the myriad of blogs and podcasts published by home cooks and chefs sharing their recipes and cooking techniques on the internet: YouTube is rife with these. Many of the featured chefs have become national celebrities. However, for me, while being able to see how the cooks prepare the food on TV is valuable, I still prefer a printed cookbook: I don’t have to try and memorize the recipe or frantically jot it down.

When I was beginning my career as a chef, my teacher told me that the best book to learn about cooking was Madeleine Kamman’s The Making of a Cook. In her book Ms. Kamman said, “…cooking is a creative activity, too little practiced and too little enjoyed,” and implored her readers to explore the inherent fun and creativity in cooking and to share these feelings with the food they prepared.  Perhaps this is why I have always experimented on my guests.

My father passed away shortly after his 80th birthday, and while his illness made our celebration bittersweet, my sisters and I recreated that multi-colored memory of our youth by making pink, green, blue, violet, yellow, and white meringues for him; his esophageal cancer preventing him from eating anything more substantial. Cooking was one way we shared our life’s journey; inviting our guests to laugh about our first Technicolor dessert.


Foodpairing Blog,

Francine Segan, Shakespeare’s Kitchen, Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook, Random House, York, 2003 p. 203

The Cook’s Palate,

Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholde, Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Random House, New York 1996Madeleine Kamman, The Making of a Cook, Atheneum, New York, 1971, p. xi.

The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Friendship and Liberation in the 1960s By Maggie Doherty

Reviewed by Susan M. Osborn, Ph.D.

Based on her belief that most women want to find a way to combine professional interests and family life, and her recognition that this often requires having a room of one’s own, Mary Ingraham Bunting undertook what she called “a messy experiment” in 1960. As Radcliffe president, she created the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study to support a marginalized class of Americans: mothers. The institute provided two-year fellowships to “intellectually displaced women with a Ph.D.” or “the equivalent in artistic or scholarly achievement.” Each associate scholar received a stipend, access to Harvard’s resources, office space, and membership in a highly regarded professional and creative community. 

During their tenure, scholars gathered to exchange ideas with each other as well as with other artists and researchers, all of whom were women. They read each other’s work and collaborated on projects. Because they were encouraged to represent the female experience in all its complexity, the institute became a center for dialogue and the development of influential feminist perspectives. 

Five of the twenty-four women who were chosen formed deep bonds of friendship that would sustain and inspire them. They were Anne Sexton, poet; Maxine Kumin, poet; Barbara Swan, artist; Marianne Pineda, sculptor; and Tillie Olsen, writer. They called themselves “The Equivalents” because they lacked the requisite Ph.D. 

Drawing on journals, notebooks, letters, lecture recordings, and finished works, Doherty weaves a narrative of connection and separation, cooperation and competition, affection and resentment, joy and grief. The book focuses on the relationships among the five women with emphasis on the friendship between Sexton and Kumin.. (The photograph of Sexton on the book’s cover is an indicator that more material about her is included than about the other Equivalents.) 

In a departure from examining a two-year slice of history that focuses on the five women, Doherty includes information about Sylvia Plath, Florence Howe, Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, and the creation of Ms. magazine. She also tracks the emergence of the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. (Bunting helped Betty Friedan develop The Feminine Mystique which was published during the institute’s second academic year.) 

As she explores white feminism and black womanism, Doherty points out the first class was composed exclusively of white women, most of whom had already achieved a great deal. Consequently, they had racial privilege and some degree of recognition working in their favor. An exception was Olsen who criticized from within the institute by confronting its racism and classism and by objecting to the exclusion of working-class reality from the program’s prescription for women. 

In spite of certain drawbacks, the institute served as an incubator where growth and development could take place. At a personal level, the institute provided a life-changing experience for the scholars because it empowered them to take themselves and their work seriously. 

Strengths of this book

– It is extensively researched and easy to read.

– It describes a valuable program for women that once existed.

– It provides examples of the challenges that many artists and writers face.

– It identifies how the institute contributed to the success of the five scholars.

– It demonstrates the supportive and competitive relationships that exist among women.

– It provides intimate glimpses of women’s families and their daily lives.

– It illuminates the evolution of the role of women in society, both in the work that’s been done and the work that remains.

– It richly depicts situations faced by women who are trying to juggle their caregiver/ breadwinner responsibilities with creative endeavors.

– It prompts us to consider the impact of marginalization on the lives of women.

Limitations of this book

– When the author delves into the history of mid- and late-1960s feminism in the latter half of the book, the Equivalents disappear from the narrative. 

– It’s a bit disorienting when the author enters the text toward the end of the narrative.

– It would be nice if the book included a photograph of the five women together.  Apparently, one doesn’t exist.

Personal notes

-I’d never heard of this institute and enjoyed reading about it.

I was shocked at how dependent Sexton was on Kumin and didn’t realize how many times Sexton attempted suicide.

-I’ve always admired Tillie Olsen and appreciated learning more about her.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is motherhood a form of repression?
  2. Do all women, regardless of race or class, need a room of their own?
  3. How can a woman be a responsible family member and have a creative life?
  4. Have your life experiences mirrored any of those that are described in this book?
  5. What kinds of short-term programs could be developed based on the purpose of the institute?                                                                                  

Culinary Confessions

By Maryellen Burns

I confess. I am obsessed by food. I like to grow it, buy it, cook it, share it, consume it, talk and write about it. 

Over my lifetime I’ve probably eaten more than 70,000 meals and snacks.  Assuming that at most meals I eat or drink four items (bacon, eggs, toast and coffee) and for lunch or dinner an entrée, vegetable, starch and occasional dessert, I’ve probably prepared more than 100,000 individual dishes and consumed more than 50,000,000 calories. 

There is very little I haven’t eaten – from grits to chocolate covered ants, watermelon to durian fruit, pizza to pozole.  

Over the last twenty years or so I’ve become besotted with finding where a particular type of food or drink originates from; how recipes change from one region to the next; the people, places and processes behind the folks who grow, distribute, prepare and serve the food we eat. 

I once owned more than 4,000 cookbooks, have eaten out as many as four times a day, and traveled thousands of miles to go to a restaurant recommended by a friend. 

I’ve also been known to make a dozen or more U-turns to stop at a rural farm selling F.R.O.G. and T.O.E Jam or some other local delicacy; treat myself to a lobster roll and spicy crab soup at a right off the beach clam shack; drink a “black and white” cream soda at a 1920’s soda fountain, smack dab in the middle of the town pharmacy; take photos of vintage restaurant signs and yes, post photos of my meals on Facebook. 

For years I’ve tried to figure out how this obsession came about. 

Unlike most of the mothers in my neighborhood who learned to cook from their mother or grandmother – homemade Tamales or Portuguese beans, Spaghetti with Marinara sauce, Sauerbraten, Stinky Tofu, or Sukiyaki my mother was tepid about cooking and had a very limited repertoire. 

A dollar or less purchased three pounds of hamburger or chicken and figured in many meals. Spaghetti, meatloaf with vegetarian vegetable soup smeared on the top and roasted potatoes soaking up the tomato grease on the sides, Grautburgers – a blend of seasoned hamburger, onions, and green cabbage wrapped and baked in Jiffy Roll Mix. Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes swimming in butter, Chicken with Bisquick dumplings. 

Our dad cooked during the week. Pot Roast with Lima Beans, Pork Chops with canned Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, Creamed Tuna with Peas on Wonder Bread Toast, canned Dak ham, iceberg lettuce salad, canned peas or canned spinach fried with a scrambled egg, and like every other household in the city, fish sticks on Fridays, as the law didn’t allow grocery stories to sell fresh meat on that most sacred of Catholic days. 

At ten my father revealed that we were Jewish. I wasn’t to tell anyone for fear of anti-Semitism, but that allowed us to be introduced to what became my favorite foods. Bagels, lox and cream cheese; pastrami on rye; dairy spaghetti made with onions and parmesan cheese that came out of a green box; noodle kugel, and a summer favorite, farmers chop suey – a mélange of cottage cheese, sour cream and fresh cut radishes, cucumbers and celery. 

Years later, when I became a professional caterer, my mother revealed that she was never allowed into her mother’s kitchen. My grandmother Mayme was known throughout Hollywood for her exquisite cooking — Charlotte Russe, Chicken Kiev, Kaesespaetzle with Schnitzel, Asparagus Tips ala Hollandaise, Medallions of Spring Lamb, Chasseur and Apfelstrudel. Their maid and cook Chloe was black and equally renown for her Jewish cooking – braided Challah bread, crispy potato latkes, and juicy brisket and slow cooked black-eyed peas, buttermilk fried chicken, hot water corn bread, fried green tomatoes and peach cobbler. 

I couldn’t understand how my mother could be surrounded by food like that and not yearn to cook it. She confessed that she was a very picky eater and rejected all of it, insisting on simple broiled lamb chops and parslied potatoes and was forever banned from the kitchen. 

I confess that I’m glad my mother didn’t teach me to cook. Otherwise I might be making the same dishes over and over and over again. I prefer to explore new tastes, ingredients, and processes though I also confess that as much as I thought my parents were horrible cooks, I dream about my mother’s Grautburgers and simple roast chicken and my father’s brisket with onion gravy. 

Confession is good for the soul. On October 6, at 7 pm, former food editor Sue Robison will moderate a panel with food writer Debbie Arrington, restaurateur Bobbin Mulvaney, Chef Kathi Riley, and recently retired ARC cooking Instructor Roxanne O’Brien. They’ll reveal their secret food fantasies, occasional mishaps in the kitchen, guilty pleasures and otherwise embarrassing moment. They might even share some of their not necessarily rated G stories as well.

They’ll invite you to share your culinary confessions. Or, drop us a line at and we’ll feature them here. 

My Mother’s Roast Chicken

1 4-lb roasting chicken


Salt, pepper, paprika and garlic salt. 

Six Russet potatoes cut into eighths. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Drizzle the chicken with the oil, rubbing it into the skin. Season, to taste, with salt, pepper, paprika and garlic salt. Place the cut potatoes around the chicken. Roast for approximately 1 ½ hours, basting the skin with the juices halfway through.

Moment to Moment Experiences

By Janice Kelley

Saturday, October 28, 2017, 7:20 am, 52 degrees

Why do boats line up on the eastern side of Fair Oaks Bridge? Seven boats sit in line on the American River (from east to west). Fishermen always anchor their boats on the north side of the river. Is the water level deeper on that side? The south side where the boat launch ramp is located tends to be shallow almost half way out. 

Two walkers pass. An older man calls out to me, “It is cheaper to buy salmon at the store than to go fishing in the cold. It is freezing out there on the water.”  I turned and replied, “Then you miss the experience. You cannot buy the experience.”

It is a rare opportunity when I can ask fishermen why they venture into the cold river before dawn to catch salmon. For devoted fishermen, catching a wild salmon, watching it jump and wriggle and try in vain to escape is the thrilling culmination of a fishermen’s joyful anticipation and planning. Some salmon get away. Their struggle to escape can be stronger than the fishing line. At the final moment after catching the salmon, skillful hands cannot hold the thrashing fish. The salmon wins to fight another day. 

oats, fishermen, Fair Oaks Bridge, morning, American River, salmon

I watch the fishermen as they find the best spot and cast their lines. They share fish stories and talk across the water to other fishermen in nearby boats. Many arrive before dawn and eat breakfast on portable grills. These are experiences that no one can buy in a store. 

I return to watch the ducks swim by, creating their own small wake in the river. Next I see a circle of pigeons flying above the bridge. Canada Geese swim under the bridge. An Egret flies and lands on the boat launch ramp. Ducks are busy finding breakfast on the boat launch ramp and under the water. I remain in awe how various species of birds take flight and land, using their wings and feet in different, yet very precise ways. Ducks dunk and stay upside down for two minutes searching for food underwater. They paddle their feet to keep them balanced. When ducks come up, they float a while and dunk two, three or four times before moving on to the next spot. 

Many waterfowl gather to feed on salmon. I don’t smell the scent of their decaying bodies as much as I have in the past. Two dead salmon lay at the river bottom below the bridge.

I stand and watch a series of circles in the water created by Canada Geese who rise and flap their wings in the air for 20 yards before ever lifting out of the water and rise into the sky. I listen to the sound of the tiny bird, Ti Too. Ti Too as it rests on the truss of Fair Oaks Bridge.

Author Bio

A long time Fair Oaks resident, Janice Kelley is an award-winning author and naturalist, passionate about sharing the wonders and curiosities of the natural world. She provides the creative spark, provocative questions and passion that invites individuals, youth and families to make meaningful connections with the world outdoors. She draws inspiration from the life and quotations of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Joseph Cornell and other environmental champions. 

Janice captures her outdoor experiences in blogs and photography on her website,  “Mornings on Fair Oaks Bridge, Watching Wildlife at the Lower American River,” is a full-color book featuring a selection of 75 of 200 blogs posts on her website.

Experience Parallel Universes in Melodramatic K-Dramas

By Jennifer Kerr

Does this sound familiar? Our heroine is caught in a sudden tornado and dropped into a strange world where escape is unknown until she meets new friends who make her a better person and help her get back home. 

If you, like me, spent a childhood obsessively reading the 14 L. Frank Baum books and watching the movie, you’re probably thinking Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz. But no, this parallel universe is North Korea in a modern K-drama.

As you search for fresh entertainment these days, take a look at the K-dramas on Netflix. What are K-dramas? They’re wonderfully entertaining and beautifully filmed television series from South Korea. They can take you to parallel universes, immerse you in gorgeous clothing and sword-fighting history, treat you to modern chicken and soju meals and introduce you to evil villains and heroic women (yes, women) and men.

They can also be quite melodramatic, so keep tissues handy.

I’ve long been a big fan of world cinema, the best of which not only entertains you but delightfully teaches you about other cultures. Since travel is so out of the question these days, movies and TV series from other countries are a great way to get our heads out of our newly restricted environment.

Netflix, which has a wide array of foreign flicks and TV series, has been offering K-dramas since November 2008. 

Here are the main attributes of K-dramas (at least the ones I’ve watched): There are strong conflicts between good guys and bad guys, usually involving a sordid history and evil ambitions. Women characters are tough, independent and strong; they might not be historically accurate but are written for modern audiences. There are lots of emotions and tears (men, too). There must be crew members dedicated to spraying realistic tears on cheeks and reddening eyes as well as splotching fake blood on the faces of good guys who have just offed the bad guys. Good guys and gals seem to get injured but always recover amazingly quickly. There is lots of taekwondo, which was developed by Korean martial artists; one heroine is a taekwondo teacher. There are always supporting characters who offer comic relief but are at heart sweet and lovable.

Quite a few of the K-dramas I’ve watched have very similar, very modern endings: the two lovers don’t get married, but lead independent lives, coming together for travel and companionship. Quite refreshing!

I’m going to focus on three of the best (and include a list of other good ones at the end). The three all have parallel universe elements. I will only briefly describe these, not to give away too many details.

Mr. Sunshine

This is the first K-drama I watched two years ago, and I loved it. I was drawn to its historical period, the early 1900s, when the long Joseon period had ended and a weak kingdom was ruling. Japan, the United States and China were vying for power and influence and a rebel group was trying to thwart them (Japan took over Korea in 1910.) The history is very real; the plot is fiction, of course! It mainly takes place in Hanseong (the old name for Seoul).

The five complex and wonderful main characters all have feet both in Korea and somewhere or something else (thus parallel identities): A slave watches his parents being murdered and escapes to be taken to the United States; he returns as a U.S. Marine. An upper-class woman has a secret identity as a rebel and a crack sniper (an English word she learns with relish). An orphaned son of low-class parents goes to Japan and becomes a yakuza samurai. The daughter of an evil high official is married off to a Japanese mogul and after his death returns wealthy to run a hotel. An upper-class man engaged to the upper-class woman spends most of his privileged life in Japan before returning to Korea.

The King: Eternal Monarch

This came out this year. It was written by the same woman, Kim Eun-sook (Korean family names come first), as Mr. Sunshine but the two K-dramas are dramatically different.

This is the true parallel universe one: One universe is the Republic of Korea, just like today’s South Korea. The other (in the same time frame) is the Kingdom of Corea, which of course has a (handsome, charming) king. It turns out almost everyone has a doppelgänger in the opposite universe. A really bad guy in the Kingdom figures out how to go between the two and cause havoc. The young King accidentally crosses into the Republic and meets a delightful woman homicide cop whose ID badge the King was given when he, as a boy, was almost murdered by the really bad guy who also murdered the boy’s father, the King. The bad guy, of course, must be stopped.

Note for today: Black face masks play important roles in both Mr. Sunshine and The King! Nuff said.

Crash Landing on You

I really loved this 2019 one and just finished watching it. An aloof woman tycoon from Seoul goes paragliding and gets pulled by a freak tornado into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). She is found hanging in a tree by a taciturn North Korean Army captain who decides to help her get home. 

The heroine is very unsympathetic when we first meet her, but we learn of her awful family making her the tough broad she is. The hero seems at first to be a simple soldier but turns out also to have a sad family past. And there is a very very bad guy, of course.

Like The King, the man and the woman must deal with being unable to live together in either of their worlds. This time, the two countries are no fantasies, but oh so real: South Korea and North Korea. We see the North through South Korean cinematic imagination, possibly the closest look anyone gets.

Here are a few other K-dramas that I’ve enjoyed; these all take place in Joseon times. All are still on Netflix.

Rookie Historian Goo Hae-ryong, delightful and funny about an unusual woman.

My Sassy Girl, charming rom-com amid palace intrigue. My Country: The New Age, three childhood friends (two guys and a girl) and a bloody court battle.

Jennifer Kerr was a reporter for the Associated Press for more than 40 years, based in the California Capitol Bureau in Sacramento from 1977-2001, mainly covering the state Legislature. She previously worked in AP Bureaus in West Virginia and Los Angeles. She produces the Renaissance Society website and is offering Daring Women War Correspondents this fall, a course that shares the stories of the intrepid women correspondents who defied those who thought they should stay home instead of risking their lives to tell the truth — particularly what war does to women and children.