EASY OLD FASHIONED CHICKEN AND ROLLED DUMPLINGS SOUP

The differences this recipe has over traditional Chicken and Dumplings is pretty basic…and simple. This really is closer to a Cream of Chicken and Noodle Soup than anything else.

I used Pillsbury Grands biscuits to make old-fashioned rolled dumplings instead of from scratch dough. The chicken is from a leftover rotisserie chicken. The soup part is because it uses a much thinner sauce. The stock is store-bought low-sodium chicken stock. I still introduced a bit of cream near the end, but only a little cornstarch as a thickener. All in all, it really is an “easy” Old Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings.

One of the keys to the rolled dumplings is to roll out the Pillsbury Grands thin, to about 1/8 of an inch before cutting them into strips. They will puff up a lot when cooking in the stock.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 cup carrots, 1/4 inch coin cut
  • 1 cup celery, 1/4 inch bias cut
  • 1 cup white or yellow onion, 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 cup white mushrooms, halved then 1/4 inch slice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1 can Pillsbury Grands biscuits
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • Chopped chives for garnish

Directions:

  • Place the chicken stock and sherry in a large saucepan. Add the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, garlic, thyme sprig, and bay leaf to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir the cornstarch into 3 tbsp of cold water then stir into the simmering sauce. Let it thicken for a few minutes.
  • Add the cream, cooked chicken, and peas to the saucepan and let heat, covered, on low heat for about 10 minutes. Taste and reseason if necessary.
  • Remove the biscuits from the tin. You will only need half of them. Bake the other half according to package directions and save for a later use. Take 4 of the biscuits and roll them out to about 1/8 of an inch. Slice them into 1 inch long half inch wide strips.
  • Bring the sauce to a low simmer. Add the dumpling strips to the saucepan, sprinkle with the parsley, cover, and let cook for 20 minutes until the dumplings are cooked.
  • Serve in large bowls and garnish with chopped chives.

(Why did I make) FRIED CHICKEN?

The easy and obvious answer to that question is “Because it tastes so damn good!” How great is fresh-made-at-home fried chicken? My mother made fried chicken a lot when I was growing up. And that provided leftovers the next day or a staple in our picnic baskets. But, let’s face it…it always made quite a mess of the stove. Despite that, my poor Mom made it quite often.

I own 3 consumer deep fryers. All of which suck! Why? Because they are a pain in the ass to maintain and clean…that’s why. Also, sometimes they hold temperature, sometimes not. So, recently, I decided to step back a few years in my culinary journey and try an old method. No, not a cast-iron skillet. But a heavy bottomed enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. Oh, and, of course, an oil thermometer that hangs on the side of the pot.

One of the considerations will also be to filter and save the oil properly. It takes a lot of oil to deep fry anything, so I would like to cover my losses in the canola oil department. A metal funnel lined with a coffee filter or cheese cloth will do, as well as a 1 quart canning jar or two for storage. Having worked in the restaurant industry for many years where the friers get an incredible workout on a daily basis, they filter their fryer oil least twice a day or more, depending on the amount of use it gets…sometimes.

Getting back to title of this post: (Why did I make) FRIED CHICKEN? when I could just drive through KFC? I like KFC chicken. And depending on how well they adhere to their corporate instruction books, it tastes great. However, getting back to the oil filtering…it is never done as often as is prescribed…I guarantee.

One of the other caveats to making fried chicken at home is this: It’s not easy to find a “fryer” chicken anymore. What’s a fryer chicken? It’s a young chicken that weighs in a 2 1/2-3 pounds. Today’s chickens run between 5 and 6 pounds, and that makes each piece too unwieldy to fry properly without burning the skin before the interior is cooked. They are just too big. I opted for some small, skin-on thighs here. Small drumsticks are also available as well. I snuck in some chicken tender pieces this time too.

I will include the recipe for my flour seasoning as well as the buttermilk mixture below. But first, a few tips for frying chicken at home:

!. Use small pieces. Cut the big bone in breast halves in half.

2. Using a heavy pot deep enough to handle about 2 1/2 inches of oil, start frying when the oil reaches 350 degrees. When you drop the chicken pieces the temperature will immediately drop to about 325 degrees. Try to maintain that temperature. Any higher and the coating and skin will burn before it gets done cooking inside.

3. Thoroughly season the flour (recipe below).

4. Double coat the pieces. After soaking in the buttermilk mixture for at least 2 hours…coat with the seasoned flour…then back into the buttermilk…then into the seasoned flour again for a final heavy coating of seasoned flour. Let the pieces sit a few minutes before frying.

5. Depending on the oil temperature and the size of the pieces, cooking times will vary. A thigh or drumstick will take about 7-8 minutes on average. A breast will take less time. Cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Drain and keep warm in the oven on wire rack over a sheet pan.

6. Don’t crowd the pan or the pieces will stick together and not cook evenly.

Ingredients

For the seasoned flour:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne

For the buttermilk mixture:

  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp Frank’s Hot Sauce

For the chicken:

  • About 3-4 pounds of chicken pieces.

Directions:

  • Place all the chicken pieces in a large bowl or freezer bag with the buttermilk mixture and let it sit at least 2 hours or overnight. Remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before cooking.
  • Use vegetable oil, canola oil, or peanut oil.
  • Use an oil thermometer. Start frying at 350 degrees and maintain 325 degrees.
  • Following the directions and tips for frying above.

Air Fryer (or oven) Breaded Pork Chops


It’s been a while since I made breaded pork chops. I’m reminded of my Mom’s Shake ‘n Bake version. This is my scratch seasoning version. This recipe serves 2.

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil pan spray
  • 2 – Center cut pork chops, 1/2 inch thick, fat trimmed
  • Kosher salt, Black pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Salt-free seasoning (paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chile powder, cumin) is what I used
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1/2 cup Panko crums
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat air fryer (or oven) to 400F.

Season pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper.

Set up 3 plates for breading station. Place flour in the first, season flour with salt-free seasoning, mix well. Beat egg with milk, place on 2nd plate. Season Panko crumbs with salt and pepper, place on 3rd plate.

Make sure chops are dry. Lightly coat with flour. Coat with egg and milk mixture. Dredge in Panko crumbs, pressing them onto chop so they stick. Spray sheet pan rack with pan spray. Spray chops on both sides with pan spray. Place chops on rack over sheet pan. If using the oven, place chops in oven on center rack. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, the turn over chops, bake an additional 10 minutes or until interior temperature of chops are 155F. If using an air fryer, spray air fryer basket with pan spray. Spray chops with pan spray. Place in preheated air fryer for 6 minutes. Turn chops over, spray again with pan spray. Cook an additional 5 minutes or until internal temperature is 155F. Season with salt and pepper. Your times may vary depending on your oven and thickness of chops.

Serve immediately or keep warm on a rack in oven at 225F. Dijon mustard is an excellent condiment for pork chops.

Notes, tips: You may use regular bread crumbs instead of Panko. Over cooking will definitely make pork chops tough and chewy. A tiny bit of pink is O.K. these days. Reseasoning with salt and pepper after cooking is essential for flavor. Seasoning the flour and breading generously is essential for any breaded dish. I don’t recommend slathering any breaded food with gravy or sauce as it will make your hard work soggy. Serve sauces on the side with crispy items.

Diner food: Chili and Beans for chili size

There are hundreds of chili and beans recipes. This is just my take on an iconic diner dish. I posted a video of making it on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/skip.hansen.31/

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup white onions, 1/4 inch dice

12 ounces 80/20 ground beef

2 1/2 tbsp chile powder (I used New Mexico chile powder)

2 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp granulated garlic

1 tsp Kosher salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp cayenne

1 1/2 cups beef stock

1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 (15 oz.) can red kidney beans, rinsed

1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce

Grated cheddar, diced onions, diced tomatoes for garnish

Directions:

Add olive oil to a soup pot and place over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ground beef, crumbled. While the onions and ground beef are cooking, add the chile powder, cumin, sugar, granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Stir until well combined and let cook until the beef is browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and stir to combined for 2 minutes. Add the stock, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Bring to a simmer, turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the drained beans and continue to simmer another 30 minutes. Remove the lid if you want a thicker chili.

My Upcoming 50th H.S. Reunion

At this point in time, a little more than a year until my 50th reunion, I am still up in the air regarding whether or not I will attend. Besides distance and ongoing health issues, there are other underlying reasons why I probably won’t attend.

To put it bluntly, my time in high school was not the joyous coming of age time that it seemed to be for others.

I know there are other student who feel the same way as evidenced by the relatively small turnouts at the previous reunions (20th, 35th, 40th)…perhaps a 150 or so (including spouses) at the 40th from a school that had about 900 graduates that year. I went to all three of these reunions but I am convinced there were hundreds of other students (still living within shouting distance of the venue) who didn’t attend. Why? I can only guess. Simple apathy. Anxiety. Maybe for reasons similar to what I will try to convey here.

How about this? The high school exerience simply wasn’t the Happy Days time that I am sure some people had. In fact I know they experienced it that way from reading the posts on the reunion Facebook page. “It was the best years of my life!” is what they say.

Don’t get me wrong, I relish the memories of growing up where I did (the west San Fernando Valley), I loved it and still think about to this day. I had a blast, even during high school years. But as far as being in school, not so much.

For whatever reason, I was not a part of the so-called “social scene” in high school. Why? I’m not sure. Shyness. Insecurity. Perception. It was’t until some years later and speaking to other students (not good friends just casual acquaintances) that I realized I wasn’t alone in my feelings. In fact, with a class that large, most were probably just like me…standing on the sidelines watching the “in-crowd” do their things. And those things were student government, clubs, elected officers, committees for this and that, yearbook staff, sports teams, cheering squads, and so on. Sure, you could say, “OK, so you had the same opportunity we all had, why didn’t you sign up for these things or go out for the team or some other “tryout”. Let’s face it, that social clique was a hard nut to crack. Most people were nice, accommodating kids…others were quite cruel and critical.

This social exclusivity did show itself (at least for me) at the reunions. I remember at the 35th…after a couple of cocktails I got the courage to talk to some people I always wanted to know better. Some of the encounters went like this, “Hi, I’m Jim Hansen…how’s it going?” With a puzzled look on their face, “Hmmm…nope…don’t remember you!” Remember that rich-kid pledge party scene in Animal House? Not far from the truth.

Despite all that, I have been active on the recent reunion page, and, over the months and years have developed a few “friendships” with people who didn’t give me the time of day in high school. Things change when we grow up. Despite my shyness in school, I got into radio broadcasting for many years. In fact, when I went into restaurant management/training, I came to like, even relish public speaking!

Like I said, despite my whining about being shy or not being a part of the in-crowd, I still went to the reunions. And, I still might attend the 50th.

There are some who might say, “At $150 a pop…why should I go? I only had a couple friends who, by the way, are not close any longer?” That’s the case with me. Except I have found a few new friends through Facebook that I would be obliged and anxious to meet in person! And I think the feeling is mutual.

Still, it is a bit discouraging to know that out of 900 or so students in our class, only about 100 have registered on the reunion website. At this point, of those registered I have no idea how many have actually committed to going. I don’t know what the national average is, but that seems low. Why? Couldn’t tell you. Probably apathy and some of the points I brought up here. I could also submit that at this age, a lot of people are not comfortable with the way they’ve aged. That’s a reality that we all bear to some extent. But the key word is “all”. Sure, there are a small handful who have weathered the ravages of time better than most, but that’s rare. We are what we are…old folks, most of whom couldn’t get into to their senior sweater in a million years! So what! It’s just the way it is. I personally am comfortable with the way my 66 year old self looks, but that’s just me.

I appreciate all the hard work our reunion committee has been doing. They’ve generated a lot interest, especially in reaching out and finding “lost” students. There is more than a year to go, a lot could happen between now and then. I hope at least several hundred can attend. Whether or not one of those will be me, I can’t tell you today.

If anyone reading this can relate, please also take this away. If you can attend the 50th reunion in October 2017, I encourage you to do it. There are many others just like you (and me) out there. Compared to when we were in high school, most people will not judge you…for any reason. Most of us have matured beyond that. I know I have.

If you choose to attend, go without any expectations except to have a good time. Don’t forget to bring your prescriptions, an address book of some type, and your party hat. And yes, most people “bail out” pretty early…dancing ’till midnight doesn’t happen often at a 50 year reunion!

New Years

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It’s been a good ten years or so since I did anything for or participated in any kind of New Years party, get together, or soire of any type. Perhaps not unusual for us older folk, so-called partying is just not something I do any longer. I mean the kind of partying that begins and ends with consuming mass quantities of alcohol punctuated with the serving of decadent, not-good-for-you food, silly party games, and capped off with the dreaded penance for such behavior…the hangover.

During the years where I worked as restaurant manager we had a term for New Years that referred to people’s drinking behavior. New Years eve was called “amateur night”. Simply put, it’s where normally tea-totaling adults, who don’t really imbibe except in the name of social acceptance, decide to go way beyond their own personal bounds of alcohol consumption, not knowing what the effects of copious amounts of Jaegermeister  will do on top of several glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, a couple of magaritas, several Jello shots, fourteen hot wings, six ground beef sliders, many hands full of pretzels, Ruffles, mixed nuts, a Kahlua and coffee, and a slice and a half of New York cheesecake. A recipe for not only gastronomic failure but for personality shifts that gave birth to the t-shirt saying, “Instant asshole. Just add alcohol!” By the way, I also bartended at night for a period of time in my early 30s while working full time in radio broadcasting. I was privy to witnessing a lot of party debauchery that seemed somewhat amusing at the time. So, no, I’ve had no desire to work in or be within several miles of that environment for many years.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have put on several New Years eve affairs in my life. One in particular was a black tie dinner party for thirty or so friends about 20 years ago. People seemed less likely to get shit-faced and make fools of themselves in a rented tux or formal cocktail dress! It was very well organized and included designated drivers. Dignified party excess? Perhaps.

Back to this New Years. For the past week, Loretta and I have chatted about what to do New Years eve. We’ve run the gamut conversationally from inviting a hand full of our neighbors within shouting (and walking) distance then settling on one friend of Loretta’s who, it turns out, has to work. Oh well, back to just the two of us! And what this means is this: a quiet evening at home not unlike any other night of the week, early dinner (we’ve discussed fish tacos), a couple drinks, a couple snacks, in bed before midnight, her waking me up at 11:55 to watch the ball drop. No harm, no foul, no exposing ourselves to the dangers of being out and about on New Years eve, no hangover, no mess, no regrets.

I dare say that we are not alone planning to hunker down in our safe harbor in our cozy little home-based boat tied securely to the dock. We only hope every year that none of the bullets that are fired into the air by neighborhood miscreants and fucking derelicts don’t come down through our roof. So far, so good.

I do have New Years resolutions this year. Kind of like divulging what you wish for when blowing out birthday candles or wishing on a shooting star, I won’t go into details save for this one: I plan to be around for New Years day 2017…and beyond. Heck, Episode VIII is supposed to come out that year, can’t leave before that happens!

Hope you have a safe and happy new year.

“Hey…congratulations. You made it!”

I hate my birthdays and I honestly hate it when people say to me, ‘Hey…congratulations. You made it!” It varies from person to person, but that’s the gist of it: recent birthday “greetings” from friends as well as strangers, older and youngsters. You see…I just turned 65.

Yep, I recently turned the big 6 – 5. The Golden Years have just begun for me…or something like that.

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Remember a few of those “important” age “passings”? Probably the first and foremost that comes to my mind is 16. It was and will remain my favorite birthday, for that was the actual day I passed my driver’s test, received my (temporary) license, and drove a car for the first time by myself. It was January 26th, 1966. My Dad and I came back from the DMV, he threw me the keys over the roof of our Teal 1962 Pontiac Bonneville, and I was gone! Of course, I think he tossed a few choice words in my direction as well as a slid behind the steering wheel like, “Be careful”…or ‘Put a dent in it and I’ll kick your ass!”…or some such utterance – I really wasn’t paying much attention at that point. I was driving’! What a feeling it was. An exuberant high point in my life.  Of course, everything else in my life went to shit from that day forward, as life tends to get more cruel after this rite of passage – but that’s neither here nor there right now.

I can’t think of any other birthday that rivals 16, at least for me. For instance turning 18 in 1968. Not a good time to “come of age”.  Remember that little thing called Vietnam…the draft…the Tet offensive, etc. Yeah, turning that age at that time in history was a bit scary.

How about 21? I get to go OUT and drink…legally! Well, yes and no. I had been embibing for a few years by then anyway.  Besides, in the Navy I got stationed in Hawaii, which at that time had a drinking age of 20. So when I landed there (at the age of 20) it was legal for me to drink in public. No 21st birthday drinking debaucery night for me trying to do 21 shots of God knows what followed by the worst hangover of my life. Nope, I kind of missed out on that B-day celebration. Besides, I think I had already had the worst hangover in my life when I was 19.

Backing up a year, my actual 20th birthday was spent in Millington, Tennessee (just outside Memphis) at a huge Naval training base where I smoked hashish for the first time then sitting in front of stereo speakers listening over and over to the first Crosby, Still, and Nash album, “Wow, man. Is ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ really about Judy Collins…man?”

Turning 30? So what? Although I wasn’t too excited about how my life had gone through the 20’s, I supposed it was some sort of metamorphisizing moment. Now I get to be an adult! And, I now had a child.

My wife at the time tried to have a surprise 40th birthday for me that, despite her good intentions it was one of most frustrating and embarrassing nights of my life…and not because of something stupid I did. It just didn’t come off as planned, let’s put it that way.

My 50th birthday: current wife set up a surprise party that fizzled, i.e., of the dozen or so “surprise guests” (old friends) who had committed to showing up, only one did. It was me, Loretta, my friend and his wife, a black mylar balloon with a silver ’50’ on it, and lots of appetizers we saved and ate for days afterward.

I don’t remember what if anything I did for my 60th. With my lifelong aversion to my own birthdays (save for that 16th), I most likely did nothing special. I probably cooked something for Loretta and I and maybe one dinner guest…one of my preferred things to do on that “special” day.

By the way, my disdain for my birthdays is simple to explain. When my parents stopped making a big deal of it, i.e., throwing me a big party, with lots of friends and presents, birthday hats and decorations, a cake and other goodies, and (in at least one instance) Sheriff John reading my name on his friggin’TV show…fahgedaboutit! For me, that last big birthday party was probably my 10th.  After that, I mostly likely went out to dinner with my family to a restaurant of my choice, got one ‘nice’ present, and a card. That’s OK. By that age, I was too painfully aware of my pre-pubescent shyness, and having anyone pay attention to me or make a big deal of something was not my idea of fun. Remember the scene in The Graduate when Benjamin’s parents made him parade around in his full dress scuba outfit birthday present for the neighbors? Well, my Dad loved to force me into things like that as well. Damn right short of child cruelty if you ask me!

So, when someone says to me of late, “Congratulations. You made it (to 65)”…perhaps my response should be, “Thanks for reminding me. Now I can die with the confidence of knowing that YOU have given me permission. YOU have acknowledged that I have ‘made it‘. YOU have decided that 65 is the bees knees, the age of enlightenment, a time to celebrate the fact that I am officially an old geezer, an old bird, an old fart primed and ready to notch up my curmudgeonly behavior. Or, I could just say, “Thanks”.

 

I Get (Got?) Around

So there’s this Beach Boys song from 1964 called I Get Around.  Not to be confused with the 1994 I Get Around from Tupac, same title, different approach.

Now, the Beach Boys rendition of I Get Around went something like this, “I get around…from town to town…I’m a real cool head…I’m making real  good bread”…(etc, etc).  It goes on to state “my buddies and me are getting real well known, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone”.  So, it was “hip” to get around back then, if, and only if, you were a guy.  Imagine if a girl group, say, like The Supremes sang a a girl version of I Get Around back in 1964?   Banned in Boston?  Speaking of banned in Boston, did you know that The Association’s first hit, Along Comes Mary was banned in Boston – apparently because of the reference to Mary, a colloquialism for marijuana? Go figure, times have changed.

You see, I didn’t get around back in 1964 nor do I get around much today.  That was left up to the super cool, surfer dudes I suppose, of which, I was not one.  However, had I did get around, how would I refer to it today?  Would I say, “I Got Around”?  Or would I say, “I Did Get Around”?  Or simple state, “I’ve Been Around”? I actuality, I did get around a bit in my younger years, but not in high school – it was a few years later.  After all, I was in the Navy for four years!  You see, by 1969 “I was gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip”…and so on.

Some of you may be saying right now, I did not get around much either, but, I Wish I had Gotten Around More, I Would Have Had a Much Better Time in High School.  How’s that for a Weird Al song title?  Or , perhaps, the other end of the spectrum, I Really Wish I Hadn’t Got Around So Much, I Could Have Avoided Many Years of Child Support.

No, my years in high school didn’t really exemplify that Beach Boys iconic 60’s tune.  I Get Around was a great song, but it wasn’t my anthem.  I think my song was more along the lines of In My Room, which is where I spent the majority of my time from 1964 to 1967 when I wasn’t actually at school…listening to Beach Boy songs on my record player.

A Canoga Park Saturday with my Dad when I was 10.

It was a Saturday much like any other, except for the fact that it was one of the Saturdays we spent, at least part of it, together, just him and me.

I think it was Summer, not sure.  I know it was sunny and warm, could have been anywhere from April to October in Southern California, after all it was sunny and warm.

My Dad and I jumped in the 1956 plain white Pontiac two-door station wagon (Pontiac’s answer to the Chevy Bel Air station wagon) with a vinyl bench seat…no seat belts back then.  I remember those vinyl seats like it was yesterday: cold in the winter and blazing hot in the summer.  But today, they were just right.  Dad lit a cigarette, a Tareyton (a popular brand in 1960),  and placed it in the ashtray. Turning the key, the V-8 came to life as he slid the column shifter into ‘drive’, the big station wagon lurched forward, and we were headed downtown.

We drove out Vanowen Street past the high school I would attend in a couple of years.  Across the street from Canoga High was a huge grove of what looked like old orange groves and walnut trees, long since abandoned.  A large sign stood near the street hawking the property’s availability, it was for sale: “40 acres for sale. Zoned commercial.  Will build to suit”.  A couple of years later, this is where Topanga Mall was eventually built along with many other stores, businesses, and office buildings.  The property just west of that, Warner Center, similar in size, would be developed a few years after that with 15 story office buildings, restaurants, theaters, and the like.  From 1960 to 1969, the transformation the west valley went through was drastic and relatively quick.  It was fast becoming the center of something bigger rather than the small country bumpkin western end of the San Fernando Valley.  It was fast becoming just another part of Los Angeles.  But right now, it was the beginning of the 60’s.

That big field across from the high school was empty save for the old groves, weeds, an occasional palm tree, and one big old house in the far corner.  Presumably this structure was home to the long time owners, old property owners from the early days, now standing to make a mint with the impending purchase of their acreage.  My Dad and I continued our drive east on Vanowen past Canoga Avenue and Mason Street to Winnetka Ave and our destination…a little strip mall shopping center across the street from the Canoga Bowl.  In this little collection of shops and businesses was a barber shop, a neighborhood bar, and a few other establishments that may or may not have been a laundromat, a little furniture store, and a cafe with a sign that touted it as having “The Best Biscuits and Gravy in the West Valley”.  All I remember for sure is that this is where my Dad and I would go every few weeks for a haircut and a beer!

We got our haircuts from the two barbers who worked there.  My Dad would get a flat top and I would get what is now called a “buzz” cut, short short and easy care for a 10 year old.  When I turned about 12 he allowed me get a flat top, which cost a buck or so more than the $2.00 standard fee for a plain haircut.  After all, it took longer, was more precise, and included a slather of palmade, the styling gel of its day.

After the haircuts, we left the barber shop, made a sharp right turn then another right turn into that neighborhood bar right next door.  It was 11:30 am on a Saturday.  I don’t recall the name of the bar, it could have been one of many ‘Jack’s Office” type names.  It was dark in there coming in from the bright sun outside.  It always took a little while for my eyes to adjust.  The room was long and skinny, with a well-stocked bar stretched out on one side with a few little neon signs that said, “Miller High Life”, “Seagrams 7”, and “Jim Beam”.  There was well-lit jukebox in the back playing a Patsy Cline song. The bartender and owners was named Bill.  And although he didn’t know my Dad by name, within a few seconds he placed a small glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon draught beer on the well-worn bar top in front of my Dad.  He didn’t know my Dad by name, he did know what he drank.  I will always remember the smallness of that glass of beer compared to the unweildy, giant, frosted mugs of beer they push on you today.  Mugs so large that the beer is warm by the time you finish it.  The reason for these old skool, small glasses of beer, almost the size of a slightly oversized juice glass:  your beer never got warm.  It was still cold when you finished it, then you’d have another one or two.  That’s the way it was done then.

One of the things my Dad always did was sprinkle a little salt in his beer.  He not only loved salt on everything for the taste, the salt help the beer keep a bit of a head.  Oh, as for me?  I barely reached the bar sitting on the stools, so I would be on my knees, waiting for my “cocktail”…a frosty glass of 7up with a splash of grenadine and a cherry…a Shirley Temple!  With that, I would jump down from the bar stool and over to the other long wall in the bar where the shuffleboard was located.  It was one of those long, wooden, waist high structures (chest high to a 10 year old),  what seemed like 100 feet long (probably 10 feet), with a fine sand spread out on the polished wood surface.  My Dad and I were usually the only ones in the bar at that time of the day save for the bartender and one lone guy sitting by himself at the far end, so I had the shuffleboard to myself.  Laid out in from of me were several, heavy, shiny, chromed, hockey pucks.  And there I would stay, playing shuffleboard, trying to slide those pucks all the way to the other end without them falling off the edge,  while my Dad chatted and smoked Tareytons with Bill the bartender.  I would sip my Shirley Temple, which eventually became a Hopalong Cassidy (substitute Coke for the 7up), eat a few hands full of peanuts from the bowl at the bar, and play shuffleboard.  I never payed much attention to what Bill the bartender and my Dad chatted about…probably complained about taxes, or the price of gas, or how much it costs to raise kids.  I will never forget the smell of beer and cigarettes, playing shuffleboard, and the taste of those little glasses of Coke, grenadine…and the cherries.  My Dad paid for our drinks, stamped out his Tareyton in the little plastic ashtray, whistled at me, and we headed out the door into the bright Saturday sunshine.

The rest of those Saturdays didn’t matter much.  My Dad and I got to go and get haircuts and have a drink at the bar, just him and me.  We would stop in downtown Canoga Park on the way home at an intersection whose four corners contained the Bank of America, the post office, Green Thumb Nursery and Hardware, and Toytown.  He would spend some time at Green Thumb buying a new garden hose or a big bag of manure for the grass, and I would languish in Toytown ogling all the neat things a store with just toys offered a 10 year old.  On occasion, my Dad would come into the store to get me and he would buy me a balsa wood glider for 10 cents with the warning, “Don’t let your sisters know I got this for you.  Tell them you got it in school…for a reading contest or something”.  Of course, I would comply.  My sisters were extremely envious of our little Saturday forays and wouldn’t have stood for us leaving that morning without throwing fits had it not been for the fact that they were distracted by my Mom with some baking project or something similar.  We always managed to make our “getaway” without too much trauma.  There would be some whining and crying from them when we returned, but, too bad…it was a done deal, we were already home!  I spent at least part of the day with my Dad, just us, getting haircuts, hanging out in a bar, and playing shuffleboard.  I was 10 years old.

What was I thinking?

I reminisce.  I think we all do despite some denials by people who only wish to think to the future, for whatever reason.

I do, for the most part, fondly look back into my past.  I think about the good things mostly since there have been mostly good things in my life.  It’s been fun so far!

But from time to time I do recollect times and occurrences I’d much rather forget than dwell upon.  And believe me, when I do go “there”, I don’t stay “there”.  These thoughts just pop into my head and I try to deal with them the best I can.  And since there have been many more good things than bad, those thoughts kind of drift away, dissolve into thin air, making way for the good stuff.

This morning I was just thinking, not languishing on anything other than the present.  This particular thought was about trying my hand (again) at making bread at home.  I’ve done it a few times with only a modicum of success, ie, it was indeed edible but not “artisan” status, bread that I would hand to someone and say, “Try this.  I made it”.  This is one of things I was thinking about at 7:47 am, November 29, 2011, age 61 plus a few months. And then…I wondered to myself, what was I thinking when I was 14, or 9, or 7 on any given day.  And I was kind of at a loss, naturally.  How can I be expected to remember thoughts like this.  How  can one be expected to sort through the millions of impulses that come and go in nano seconds in your brain, especially from years gone by.  But I did.

It was January 31, 1957, 11:18am, Terra Bella Elementary, Pacoima, California, I had just turned 7 years old, I was in the 2nd grade.  I know exactly what I was thinking then. This link will take to one of several websites that are maintained to this day by people like me who were there.

The plane crashed into the athletic field of Pacoima Junior High, just on the other side of a high chain length fence separating the two schools.  The plane came down maybe 100 feet from my classroom, crashing into scores of junior high students on the field.  Several died instantly, several others passed away the days following, scores were injured, some very seriously…and a handful of us watched in horror through the large windows of our classroom as this tragedy unfolded.  We saw it all.

I won’t go into the details of what I witnessed, I have written about this before, it’s something that just doesn’t go away.  It’s probably one of the few memories from that long ago that I retain to this day.   A memory I can attach to a very specific time and date. And I still don’t really know how to reconcile it…except in one simple thought.  I survived that incident for some reason, probably just luck and fate.  I’ve survived a few other things in my life that have taken other’s lives, ie, heart disease and surgery, cancer surgery, Vietnam, just plain life in general.  The bottom line is that I still think about that day in 1957, it will never go away.  It comes up at the strangest times.

But I do feel fortunate.  I feel fortunate considering some of the shit I’ve been through (am going through), that I should at least learn how bake bread properly!  And that is what I am thinking about right now, 8:54 am, November 29, 2011, age 61, 11 months, 29 days.  The incident in the school yard will remain in the vault, but I’m sure it will never really go away.