OSCAR AND ME

My daughter and I ate lunch at the Carnation Cafe earlier this year. As first time annual passholders, we no longer feel the need to cram in as many rides as possible. We enjoy the people watching just as much as the thrills. After securing a prime patio table with a view of Main Street, she ordered baked potato soup and I chose chili, in honor of Walt. 

After a few bites, the chef approached us. Small in stature, possessing a grin wider than the Cheshire Cat, he extended his hand and introduced himself as Oscar. Five minutes into our conversation I realized that he was The Oscar, the longest employee at Disneyland. A legend. We chatted for another fifteen minutes before I realized I wasn't the only guest in the restaurant. (I admit I get goofy when it comes to food.) As we parted I vowed to see Oscar every time I came to Disneyland. It's a vow I share with legions of other fans. Our mutual mantra: It's just not a day at the park without visiting Oscar.



Six months later I sat down with Oscar in a corner booth at the Carnation Cafe. This time it's an interview. Although technically more formal, it's as if we are at home, chatting over coffee.


My first question was the obvious. I wanted to know what brought Oscar to Disneyland in 1956, one year after the park opened. With a twinkle in his eye he told me that is was his then girl friend Shirley Ann. She was working at Disneyland and he followed her to California where they were married. Shirley Ann has the distinction of being the person that made Walt's milkshakes. "Chocolate was his favorite and he liked them a little runny." Oscar added, "I don't know if he ever paid for them."

Oscar arrives to work very early, long before the Carnation Cafe opens. The cast members who work alongside him treat him like royalty. The mutual affection is obvious. When the park opens, Oscar steps outside and waves to the guests on Main Street.



It's more than a ritual. It's part of his business. "When they see me, the place fills up."

With someone as beloved as Oscar, I am surprised there is only one item on the Carnation Cafe menu with his name on it, an all American breakfast featuring the usual suspects of eggs and bacon. That observation seemed to hit a spot deep in his heart.

"A lot of people, I think they want something special from me, with my name on it. It's only on the breakfast menu, not the lunch menu. They want something special from me. They're always looking for something with my name on it, but it's not there."

What was named for him in the past that he misses now? "A long time ago, in the 60s, there was a lunch item called Oscar's Choice. It was a spinach salad with Roquefort and fruit. It sold really good," he recalled.

Flashing forward,  I wondered what item he’d like to see on the Carnation Cafe menu as his legacy. His answer was swift, simple and consistent, “A salad."

And so I decided to create a salad fit for the man that has given so much to others.

First I looked to another iconic Oscar, the Swedish King for whom Veal Oscar was named.  I included  many of the standard ingredients in the recipe (although I omitted the veal.). Crab was a natural. Oscar shared that when he celebrated his 50th anniversary as a Disneyland employee at Club 33, there was a bountiful seafood buffet - he loves seafood -  however he was hesitant to to eat anything from it. "It's too expensive." It was only after the urging of one of the executives, insisting that it was for him, that he indulged. 

Next I borrowed the other classic component of the dish - asparagus. 

Lastly, I turned the traditional Bearnaise sauce into a vinaigrette using the key elements: White wine vinegar (with a lemon option - my preference), shallot and tarragon. The yolk, usually used to thicken the sauce, is replaced here with hard-boiled eggs.


Salad Oscar with Country Bearnaise Vinaigrette

One of Oscar's favorite Disneyland attractions is the Country Bear Jamboree. 

¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 tablespoon tarragon, minced
¾ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.
2 cups chopped romaine
6 cups mixed greens
8 asparagus spears, grilled or steamed
4 hard-boiled eggs, halved
1/2 pound crab meat (when crab is not in season, substitute with grilled chicken)

To make the vinaigrette:

Put vinegar or lemon juice in mixing bowl. Add shallots and tarragon. Slowly whisk in olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper. 


To make the salad:
Mix romaine and greens. Separate into four equal servings, two cups each, on chilled plates. Make an X with two spears of asparagus on top of lettuce. Place egg halves on the sides of the plate. Form an O for Oscar with a portion of the crab meat. Drizzle vinaigrette on top of all. Serve immediately.


As retirement nears (there is no set date), Oscar hopes to be remembered with a permanent display of his trophies and recipes. Perhaps a Main Street window with his name on it, however he was hesitant to count on that. I took him outside and pointed above the entrance to the Carnation Cafe. Together we giggled. Yup, that would be the perfect place. Fingers crossed. After all, Disneyland is the place where dreams come true...


















NATIONAL SANDWICH DAY

It's National Sandwich Day! Why not make a Soupwich? It's a combo of a grilled cheese and tomato soup from my book SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle. 

SOUPWICH
Mmmm mmmm good!

Serves 4 as a Soupwich or 12 as an hors d’oeurve

1 stick butter, room temperature
¼ cup Campbell’s Tomato Soup, condensed (i.e. straight from the can)
1 tablespoon onion or shallot, minced
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
8 slices bread, I prefer English Muffin bread, French or sourdough
Olive oil

Mix butter, soup and onion.




Spread one tablespoon of tomato soup butter on each slice of bread.

Put ½ cup cheddar cheese on four of the slices and close.

Press on Soupwich to seal it.

Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the outside of the Soupwich on both sides with olive oil. Alternately you can use soft or melted butter.

Heat a heavy or non-stick skillet on medium high. When it is hot, add Soupwich.

Squish and flip a few times until browned on both sides and the cheese is melted.




POSTSCRIPT:
*If you are serving the Soupwiches as an hors d’oeurve, remove the crusts and cut on the diagonal.
*Go ahead and make the rest of the soup. Be sure to fill the can ¾ full, not all the way to the top.

JACK LONDON AND ME

My favorite place in all of Sonoma County to hike is Jack London Historic State Park. His Beauty Ranch is breathtaking. Beyond the panoramas, there are remnants of Jack's commitment to sustainable farming (beginning one hundred years ago, in 1915, long before it was a formal movement). He may be better known for Call of the Wild, but what he really wanted was a legacy in farming, not literature. Come join me on Sunday, October 5th at 11:00 for a Harvest Farm Forum honoring this remarkable and innovative genius. 


NEW RADIO SHOW DEBUTS SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4

AT THE TABLE

Siskel and Ebert talked about the movies. Wolf and Smothers talk about food. Clark, the expert and consultant, banters with me, Marcy, the food explorer and mom.

The dynamic duo has plenty to dish about for two hours every Saturday all by themselves, but they mix in guests such as Ruth Reichl, Emeril Lagasse, San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer, Bruce Aidells, Deadliest Catch’s Captain Sig, Martin Yan, Top Chef Master’s Douglas Keane, winemaker Dan Kosta, Charlie Palmer, New York Times’ Marion Burros, leading food authority Dr. Marion Nestle, editor Judith Jones, Jack Daniels’ master distiller Jeff Arnett and the Washington Post’s Joe Yonan. 

Saturdays, 1:00 - 3:00PST 1350AM 103.5FM Listen Live Anywhere
Broadcasting from Sonoma Wine and Farm Country



Can't wait? Check out the previews here: At the Table Radio


CELEBRITY SNACKER: Carl Reiner


I started collecting celebrity snack stories as a sequel to my book, SNACKS: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle. I made a list of favorite folks I might be able to approach and Carl Reiner was at the top. I met the master of comedy a few times at industry events and once had the pleasure to cook lunch for him and his wife Estelle. (A simple grilled chicken sandwich with my garden tomatoes and arugula.) I called our mutual pal, Aimee, and asked her to make the pitch. Minutes later - yes, minutes - Carl called me. His gleeful recollection of his mother's signature recipe, and every detail it required to prepare it correctly, reminded me why food is fun(ny):


“My favorite snack is potlojel. It’s a Romanian eggplant dish that my mother made when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn. I hated it then, but now I can’t get enough of it! It’s traditionally served in the middle of a salad, although I like it with an avocado. A spoonful of potlojel then a spoonful of avocado.  Just like that until the avocado is gone. It’s a simple recipe if you follow it to the letter. Here’s the letter.”

RECIPE:
One eggplant
One or two lemons
Two to three thick slices finely chopped onion
Three to four tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper
A glass-canning jar

"You gotta use a gas stove. If you don’t have a gas stove you’re outta luck. Put the eggplant on the flame. Turn it from side to side until it’s squishy and steamy. You know it is done cooking when you can easily insert a fork."

"Next, take the eggplant to the sink and run some cool water. Carefully peel the eggplant. All the skin has to be gone and the little black specks, too."

"Slice the eggplant lengthwise. Hit it with the juice from one or two lemons. Whatever you like but the point is to keep the eggplant light. Dark eggplant is ugly and the lemon keeps it from getting that way."

"Get a big plate and put the eggplant on it. Beat it with a wooden spoon and keep smashing until it is pulverized. That’s the way my mom did it and I like to do it this way, too. You can use a blender if you’re careful only to mix only for a second or two. Put the eggplant mixture in a glass jar. Add the onion, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir with a fork in the jar. Cover and refrigerate."

Thank you, Carl. You're a national treasure. And your potlojel ain't bad, either. 

FRESH SNACKS FOR 2014




 CAN NACHOS PREVENT A HANGOVER?

Moderation, lots of water (eight ounces for every drink) and a full stomach are important when imbibing. What you munch on with your martini makes a difference, too. High fat foods can slow the alcohol absorption rate by up to fifty percent.

According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, “Foods, and especially fats and oils, delay the passage of the stomach’s contents into the small intestine, giving the stomach enzymes more time to work, slowing the rise in blood alcohol, and reducing its peak to about half of what it reaches on an empty stomach.”

Drink responsibly, appoint a designated driver, and order the nachos. 

WHO PUT THE SHORT IN SHORTCAKE?

Why the short in shortcake? Because they are, well, short? Because they are associated with strawberries and the strawberry season is short?

Those are a few of my guesses, and while there may not be a definitive answer, the one common factor is butter or lard, aka shortening, is used in all the recipes.

Now let’s talk about the most famous shortcake of all. (Apologies to Miss Strawberry Shortcake.)

During the depression, Jimmy Dewar wanted to make an inexpensive snack. He noticed that shortcake pans were only being used during the limited strawberry season. That wasn’t a thrifty practice, so he developed a snack that could be made year-round.  

Dewar injected his shortcakes with banana crème filling. A name for his thrifty and tasty invention eluded him until he passed a billboard for Twinkle Toes Shoes. Soon thereafter Twinkie became the name for the iconic treat.

Twinkies became an instant hit for Hostess. When bananas were rationed during World War II, necessity became the mother of invention again. The banana crème was replaced with the vanilla crème we still enjoy today. 

HITTING THE JACK POT WITH DOUBLE CHERRIES?

Bing cherries are one of the delights of summer. I always feel lucky when I get a doubled cherry. But should I?

For farmers, doubling is unlucky.

Doubled cherries are a result of conditions the summer before they were picked. In excessive heat, the immature ovum doubles, much like conjoined twins. It’s not until the following spring that the farmer can see he has two cherries on a stem not one, but then it’s too late.

Farmers are paid for the size of their cherries and doubled ones are considered inferior.

Doubling does not affect flavor. All Bing cherries should be firm and shiny when purchased with green steams. Don’t wash them before you put them in the refrigerator because their skins will absorb the water and shorten their shelf life.

WHAT WORDS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO SAY WITHOUT SINGING?

“My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R.  My bologna has a second name, it’s Mayer.”

“Oh I ‘d love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener, that is what I’d truly like to be-ee-ee, ‘cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener, everyone would be in love with me.”

Two of the longest running and most recognizable commercial jingles of all time started with one man.

Oscar Mayer isn’t a fictional name – there really was an Oscar. He came to the United States from Germany in 1873 and was later joined by his brothers Gottfried and Max. Together they opened a butcher shop in Chicago. Oscar made bologna, hot dogs and he brought home the bacon, too.

At the turn of the century, you had to wait in line at the butcher counter to have your bacon sliced to order.  It was Oscar’s nephew, Carl, that pointed out that buying bacon should be convenient and available in self-serve cases, just like cheese and lunch meats. Oscar heeded his suggestion and started packaging pre-sliced bacon in a cardboard frame wrapped in cellophane. The idea was so unique, Oscar was issued a US patent in 1924.

And that’s no bologna.




TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!



Throwback Thursday -  I'm reposting my 2009 Thanksgiving blog:

My pal John Lasseter (pictured left) invited me to be a balloon handler for Buzz Lightyear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Pixar sponsors the Buzz Lightyear balloon and they are entitled to provide twenty of the fifty handlers.
The festivities began the night before the parade.
Pixar artist and Buzz balloon designer Roger Gould grew up on W77th street. He's watched the balloons being inflated on Thanksgiving eve outside his family's apartment for over forty years. It's such an important tradition his family hosts a "Blow Up" party annually, as does many of the neighbors. If you have an invitation that will get you past the police barricades at Central Park West and W77th or W81st, you can watch the lifeless balloons as they are being filled with helium and preview the entire line-up.

After noshing on Carnegie Deli's pastrami sandwiches, homemade chopped liver and gluten-free cupcakes, we called it a night as we had a 4:30A wake-up the next morning.
On Thanksgiving day we arrived at the New Yorker hotel at 5:30A and joined the rest of our group. A long line wrapped outside the building and down two blocks. We made our way into the lobby at 7:30A. Once inside, the organization was impeccable.


After putting on our Space Ranger costumes, we made our way to the bus. Ten minutes later we were dropped off at W81st street where Buzz waited, inflated, and under a giant net.


We checked in with one of the captains and we were introduced to our pilot. He doesn't fly in the balloon, but he is he's responsible for navigating it safely around the buildings, skyscrapers, light posts, landmarks, billboards and people.
Fifty strangers, all novices, and fifteen minutes to lay out the ground rules.
We were taught hand signals for start, stop and slow down. We learned about raising and lowering the balloon with our "bones," the dog bone shaped handle that holds the ropes attached to Buzz.
We were warned to never stop at an intersection because the cross winds could be dangerous.
Talk about team work. This was pretty serious.
Buzz Lightyear is formidable. He's 67 feet long, 39 feet wide and 34 feet tall. His helmet is 17 feet in diameter. As Buzz ascended into the air, I could really feel the tug on my line. Several times along the parade route I had to use all my strength to maintain the rope tension and not let go. Turns are tricky. If you are on the outside of the turn, you have to run to keep up because you have farther to go. We raised and lowered our ropes many times depending on the city scape around us.
The biggest blast about carrying Buzz was seeing all the people.
Three million of them. Six rows deep.
Two and a half miles flew by in a nanosecond.
Our last chore was to deflate Buzz. All the helium was released and he slowly collapsed in a giant heap. After we rolled him up and put him in his storage hamper, all the Space Rangers were dismissed.
I am awaiting my next Mission.
Lift off is Thanksgiving day 2010.