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Shining Star

I was about nine years old when Don McLean’s agonizingly lengthy song “American Pie” came out. It was a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper – popular musicians from before my time who died in a plane crash on Feb 3, 1959. I remember that song would start playing on the car radio on the way to the grocery store, and would still be playing when we got back into the car after filling a whole shopping cart and waiting in line behind three other people. I never knew what “the day the music died” meant until I was older. And this week, coincidentally 57 years to the day when those three iconic artists perished, is when my music died.

Everyone who knows me thinks Billy Squier is my number one, my main man, my all-time favorite musician. Well, he’s certainly up there in the top two. I didn’t leave my hand unwashed for three years after he grabbed it because I think he’s just so-so. He’s the Bill-Man, after all. But there was someone before him. And his name was Maurice White.

I just read that Maurice passed away. It’s funny that we don’t know our favorite artists personally, but they become such a big part of our life that when we lose them, it’s like losing a good friend. I think most people from my generation will agree that Earth, Wind & Fire was one of the best bands ever. I own almost every album they ever made. And if you’re a true EWF fan, you know that it’s not their popular hit songs that are the best, but it’s all those others on their albums that never got radio play. Maurice could write and sing some seriously uplifting, mystical, spiritual, bad-ass lyrics. And who can sit still when “Shining Star” or “Let’s Groove” comes on the radio? I must’ve listened to those albums thousands and thousands of times. I played them every day through junior high and high school. We danced to their music every day after school in the family room and memorized the lyrics wearing those big ‘ol headphones on our ears. I think it’s safe to say I grew up on EWF.

 

Earth, Wind & Fire - Positivity On Demand

 

I think it was in 1981 when I went with friends to see EWF for the first time. It was bittersweet. See, although Maurice and the rest of my favorite group was right there on stage 20 feet away from me, I couldn’t see them because some guy with the WORLD’S BIGGEST AFRO was standing right in front of me the whole time. I’m not kidding, that thing was like a tiny planet. Plus, I had to pee worse than I ever had to pee in my entire life. And there was no getting out of that crowd I was smashed into to try to find a bathroom. Have you ever had to pee so bad that after an hour or so, the feeling goes away? Well, that actually happened. Either that or my bladder fell out and I didn’t notice. To add insult to injury, the guy who asked me to be his date that night flirted with my friend throughout the entire evening. But still, I could hear EWF, and caught glimpses of Maurice every now and then when the afro guy bopped his head to the side. And it was freakin’ awesome.

I saw them again about 10 years ago, and it was just as awesome. Even when I listen to them now, I feel like I’m 16 again. I can close my eyes and I’m right back in my old family room, at the dance, at a party or cruising the “J” in a friend’s car. Luckily, the music doesn’t really die. Maurice and all the others who have left this place have graciously left their music behind.

But, Billy Squier, if you’re reading this, don’t EVER die. I’m not having it.

Photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/gjhall/14034306459/”>VibeRide</a&gt; via <a href=”https://visualhunt.com”>Visual hunt</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>

Making its annual appearance on this award-winning* blog — which debuted five years ago today — I give you, the infamous post, Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole:

There were two kinds of Fridays in our house: Pay Day Friday and Casserole Friday. We loved Payday Friday. Dad would come home from his job at Mare Island with a wad of bills. Sometimes he’d let us hold them. Then everyone would hop into the wood-paneled Ford station wagon and head for A&W, or the family restaurant Palby’s, for a big night out. Ahhh, A&W … sitting in the station wagon parked next to the scratchy-sounding order sign machine thing. My family ordered burgers and root beer — in those fancy frosty mugs of course — however, I always ordered a fish sandwich and grape soda. And yes, they all made fun of me. Except for Coleen, who also preferred the fish sandwich. And she believed you weren’t allowed to have a burger until you were an adult. She finally had her first Big Mac at the ripe old age of 10. Tracy had to wait till she was 11.

Now for Palby’s: if you never lived in Vallejo or visited the bustling Solano County metropolis with its abundance of 1970’ish restaurants, you might’ve missed Palby’s. Sucks for you because Palby’s was awesome. Palby’s was on Highway 80 between Vallejo and Napa in the area that’s now known as American Canyon. Palby’s was like a freaky dinner theater for kids. Look out the window and there were peacocks. There were seals. But we didn’t eat them. I preferred the deep-fried shrimp myself. I recall my little sister Pooh always ordered the ribs and proceeded to happily get the sauce all over her face. Thinking back, Palby’s seemed like a Winchester Mystery House to kids, because there were all these different areas with trippy things to see. Or maybe there was just the lobby and the main dining room and I had an over-active imagination.

Sometimes on Payday Friday, Dad and one or two of us kids would just pop over to Munchie’s on Sonoma Boulevard for 10 cent hamburgers. Munchie’s was a burger joint in a cool round building that sold cheap hamburgers and fries and I just liked saying “Munchies.” Sometimes we’d just grab 300 tacos from Taco Bell, when all they really had was tacos.

But, if it wasn’t a Payday Friday, and you didn’t make plans to get in trouble and stay after school — or better yet, offer to babysit for the neighbor’s heathen kids — you were going to experience Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole. God have mercy on your soul.

Ingredients:

No rules apply!!!

Check the cupboards for stray cans of stewed tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, deviled ham or anything else that resembles vomit. Next, go to the fridge and grab any and every leftover you can find saved in old margarine and Cool Whip tubs — these are important casserole ingredients.

Leftover examples:

Pork ‘n Beans
Kentucky Fried Chicken Cole Slaw
Canned Spinach
Taco Meat
Chopped-up Fish Sticks
Creamed Chip Beef Sauce
The last slice of Olive Loaf luncheon meat that will never be eaten
Macaroni and Cheese
Spam
White Rice
Filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers
Bread Heels
Chicken Pot Pie
Deviled Eggs
Creamed Corn

Directions:

Throw all of the ingredients you found into a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Feel free to add canned tomato sauce or a packet of onion soup mix to make it fancy.

Bake at 350 degrees. I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to do this. Just hang around the oven to make sure nothing explodes.

Serve to your happy family. Well, they were happy before dinner. Now they hate your guts and are secretly flipping you off below the table. A few of them might be dry heaving into their towel bibs. You will definitely want to plan a huge dessert for later in the evening (maybe a nice Jello Mold).

* Award for Most Inconsistent Blog Posts in the History of Blogging

Star Wars Mania

People are losing their minds over Star Wars. They can’t wait to see the latest installment in the Star Wars saga up on the big screen. They’ve been lining up at theaters all across the country, even camping out on sidewalks. I guess this happens every time a new sequel, or prequel, comes out. Every other post on my Facebook feed is about Star Wars light saber tattoos, Chewbacca shoes, Star Wars-branded bags of apples. Of course … branded apple bags. Because that makes sense.

The Force Awakens. Well, it’s definitely awakened. Maybe it’s because the big guns are back. Maybe it’s because we all know the effects will be even more awesome than before. Maybe it’s just because it’s Star Wars.

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that I was losing my mind over Star Wars. The original Star Wars. The one called just “Star Wars.” Well, it was officially Star Wars: A New Hope, but everyone just called it “Star Wars.” But it actually wasn’t until after I saw Star Wars that I lost my mind. I don’t think anybody back in 1977 expected the phenomenon we were going to experience. It just sounded like a cool sci-fi flick to go see on the weekend.

I was 13 when the original Star Wars came out. It was playing at the Uptown Theater in Napa, and me and my BFF, Teresa, went to see it. We had no idea what we were in for. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with that dreamy, blue-eyed space farmboy who would soon be plastered all over the pages of my Tiger Beat magazines. Teresa fell in love with Han Solo. Good … more Luke Skywalker for me. But it wasn’t just a cute Jedi-wannabe that was exciting. It was the whole thing. That film had everything: adventure, romance, mystery, action, comedy, and of course, sci-fi. Not to mention the best music score. We couldn’t get enough of it. It was like crack. I don’t remember how many times I went back to the theater – with hard-earned babysitting money – to experience it all over again. One time I went to see it with my cousin, Shelly, and her mom had to come into the theater (after waiting who knows how long to pick us up outside), find us in the dark, and drag us out after we tried to stay through a second showing. Luckily movie tickets weren’t 500 dollars back then, so we just kept going back.

Star Wars was the shizit in the late ’70s. I remember my 8th grade yearbook had Star Wars art all over the cover. And this is an actual old-school trading card from one of my own fancy junior high scrapbooks:

 

Luke Skywlker

 

Star Wars stuff ended up on t-shirts, lunch boxes, posters and everything else you could imagine. And Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were cooler than the Fonz. Of course, all the guys were gaga over Princess Leia, but not as much as when she showed up in that fancy gold bikini six years later in Return of the Jedi.

I never thought I’d someday work for Industrial Light + Magic (thank you Lori!) and witness first-hand how the artists created the special effects for all the Star Wars films, including those in production when I worked there: the Re-Release films and The Phantom Menace. Walking through the halls of ILM was insane. Every once in awhile, one of the model shop guys would cruise around with R2D2. There was a life-size Darth Vader in the lobby, and I have to admit, I always held my breath when I passed him. When I first started working there, part of my job was to review all the resumes that came in. Which were a LOT. If I had a dime for every cover letter that began with, “When I saw Star Wars as a kid, it changed my life,” I’d be richer than George.

Okay, so I’m curious about The Force Awakens, and a tiny bit excited to go see it. I’m sure a lot of you are going to go check out the premiere tonight. Maybe some of you had the chance to see it last night. My sweet friend, Liz, and her awesome hubby, Doug, attended the World Premiere on Monday in Hollywood, since he’s Lucasfilm’s Head of Art Design. I can only imagine how many people were bugging them for details after they saw it. But no one can leak that precious info. Otherwise, this happens:

 

 

 

Darth Vader

May the force be with you.

 

Halloween was my favorite holiday when I was a kid. I loved it more than Christmas. It was that cool time of year when the leaves would fall from the trees on windy evenings and the breeze still had a hint of warmth. I guess it also had to do with the fact that on Halloween night I would get CANDY, CANDY and more CANDY. I loved dressing up and loved creating my perfect costume. When we were little, my Mom would make Halloween costumes for me and Tracy:

“Help, I’ve lost my sheep! And my dignity.”

In later years, Mom would sometimes buy us costumes from the store — probably K-Mart, and most likely a blue-light special. Little girls in the late ’60s and early ’70s had about two costume choices: nurse or witch. I chose the nurse. I liked those little candy pills that came in the little plastic nurse’s box. Hand-me-downs were also a part of Halloween: Coleen and Melissa would be wearing those Little Bo Peep costumes a few years later.

Once I was a lot older (at least 9 or 10), I would pride myself in making my own costume. I wasn’t your typical girly-girl who wanted to be a Princess or Fairy or Bride for Halloween. I was immensely proud of a bum costume I designed once. I used a pair of my Dad’s old pants, an old shirt and tie, and a sailor’s hat. Hmm. Apparently I was a bum from some ’40s Hollywood movie. I rubbed used coffee grounds all over my face to resemble a five-o’clock shadow. “Brother, can you spare a dime? Or a Snickers?”

When I was just starting elementary school, there was a super dry spell in Halloween festivities for children in the San Francisco Bay Area. There was a crazy serial killer named the Zodiac on the loose. During those Zodiac years, no trick-or-treating was allowed in the greater Vallejo area. I hated the Zodiac. I was too young to understand what was going on — all I knew was some crazy person had ruined my favorite holiday and all of us were banned to school cafeterias and community centers to celebrate our Halloween. Trick-or-treating around a cafeteria just isn’t the same once you’ve experienced the real outdoor festivities, especially when that nasty warm corn smell was still lingering in the cafeteria air from lunch time.

We’d parade around the cafeteria in our costumes getting candy and snacks. Oh, and there was bobbing for apples, or as I like to call it, Hello Hepatitis! What were those adults thinking? Hey guys, let’s grab a huge rusty pail from the backyard scrap pile, fill it with water from the hose and throw some apples in it. Then for kicks, let’s have the kids dress up like dorks with crazy makeup all over their face, run around the block begging the neighbors for candy in the cold, then drag them and their runny noses over to the big rusty water pail full of apples and stick their faces in it. Then let’s have them bite at the apples with their candy-corroded teeth long enough so that their spit mixes together in the water. If one of them actually snags an apple in their teeth, they WIN!! They win an APPLE!!

Even as a kid I knew there was something terribly wrong with bobbing for apples. But there were more dangers lurking around in Halloween goodies. My Dad made us well aware of the potential razor blade or cherry bomb or “drug injected by needle” that just might be hiding in our mini Three Musketeers bar. When we got home from trick-or treating during the non-Zodiac years, we had to line up and pass our bags over to Dad for official inspection. Dad would check for pin holes and the like in our candy wrappers. Many times he would have to taste test our candy to be sure they were safe for us. He had to check A LOT of our candy. Well, he didn’t want a cherry bomb to blow our cheek off.

One time I didn’t listen to my Mom and Dad’s lecture about eating candy at night and I snuck lots of candy from my trick-or-treat bag into my room right before bed, and proceeded to eat most of it. That night, I had the dreaded “eating-candy-before-bedtime nightmare.” About werewolves. Dancing werewolves. If you missed that post, click here, or here (I tend to write about those werewolves quite a bit, apparently).

I don’t eat candy before bed any more. And I sleep with a gun loaded with silver bullets.

Gourmet Top Ramen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a few occasions, most likely a Pay Day Friday, my family would go out for Chinese Food. That was pretty much the only Asian cuisine we knew of around the Vallejo suburbs back then. I specifically remember the Cathay Inn. Not a fan. Not that their food wasn’t good. Of course I wouldn’t know, the only thing I ever ate there were the deep-fried prawns. The only thing my family ever ate was the Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein. However, this wasn’t your Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein of today … I vaguely remember chunks of fat covered in limp, bready stuff with bland red sauce and bean sprouts, maybe with a few noodles mixed in. I’m not sure the waitress ever handed us menus, because this is all we ever ordered. The prawns were a safe bet for my discerning palette, and even though I didn’t like fortune cookies, at least there was the promise of a goofy fortune at the end of the meal.

I swore I hated Chinese Food until my sister, Coleen, dragged me to the Mandarin House in Napa as an adult and ordered Broccoli Chicken for me. I was in love. This was Chinese food?! What the hell were we eating as kids?! I don’t remember Orange Chicken! Or potstickers! Cashew Shrimp? Food, glorious food!! Take me to a restaurant now, and all I want is Chinese, Japanese or Thai. Make it Asian please. Domo arigato!!

But I digress. When we couldn’t make it to the Cathay Inn, Mom had her version of Asian fare, and believe it or not, I think I actually enjoyed this one.

Ingredients:
• 4 packages of Top Ramen or any dried Asian noodles on sale. Alright, Top Ramen probably cost 2-1/2 cents a package then, so I have a feeling my Mom splurged for it.
• Prepare the ramen in pot as directed.
• Don’t bother transferring the noodles to a big fancy serving dish — you don’t have one.

Prepare a few of these optional toppings:

Chopped green onions
Grated carrots
Chopped hard-boiled eggs
Chopped pieces of “Land-o-Frost” Pressed/Cooked Luncheon Meat
Diced tomatoes
Chopped Spam
Canned peas

Place each topping in its own special little bowl (substitute old margarine tubs as needed). Put the pot of Top Ramen in the middle of the table. Make sure to place it on the knitted potholder your youngest made for you in summer school. Space the little bowls equally around the pot (this is quite impressive if your kids’ friends come over for dinner). Put a teaspoon in each dish. Go to the small kitchen canister, dig your hand in past the stale saltine cracker packages and grab a handful of the soy sauce packets you saved from Chinese takeout. Place one at each table setting. Spoon some Top Ramen into each person’s dinner bowl and then let them dig into the toppings. If you want to make it fancy and expose the kids to some Japanese culture while they’re eating, be sure to turn on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

 

 

blue mooncourtesy of kevin phillips – pixabay

 

Tonight is a blue moon. It only happens once in a blue moon. (Thank you, I’ll be here all week.) Apparently, a blue moon isn’t a moon that looks blue in the sky, it’s when two full moons occur within the same calendar month – and the second one is called the blue moon.

So what’s the big deal? Well, spiritually you can take advantage of this time to purge, to bring things to a close, to start fresh. If you’re pregnant, you might want to try to take a nap and make sure your hospital bag is ready to go. If you’re a werewolf … sorry, you have two transformations this month. For me, I like to think the energy of this blue moon will bring me extra luck. Or it will simply create low and high tides. Whatever.

When I was a little kid, I remember going outside and just staring at the moon. I remember hearing there was a man in the moon, and that the moon was made of cheese … but mostly I just remember looking for astronauts. I was five when man first landed on the moon. That was a big deal back then. It was all everybody talked about. I was so amazed just thinking that a rocket ship could blast astronauts into space and land them on the moon. I’d squint really hard trying to see those astronauts walking around up there. It’s weird to think back and realize we were experiencing a major part of history. Wow, I must be old.

I’ve always thought the moon was cool. When I was a kid, it was my major source of entertainment when riding in the car at night. I didn’t have a tablet, or Nintendo DS, or a Kindle, or whatever hand-held device is cool these days, so instead of fighting with my sisters in the back seat of the car, I’d just look out the window at the sky. I loved looking at the stars and the moon. That moon would always follow us. Every time we drove home from my grandparent’s house – which was almost every weekend – that moon was there. Even if we exited off the highway, made a turn, whatever … there it was. Magical. It was like my special friend, always making sure I got home safe and lighting up my room so monsters wouldn’t come out of the closet. I still watch the moon when I’m driving at night. Well, I mean I don’t actually stare at the moon when I’m driving, that’s ridiculous, but Jay is always driving so I stare at the moon. There’s just something about it. I’m excited to check out the blue moon tonight. And if it disappoints, I can always have this:

blue moon bottle

Oh yes. I know you guys (my three loyal readers) think I’m a snooty-snob who only loves fancy amber microbrews with Red in the name (like Red Hook ESB), but l found a new brewskie to love. And her name is Blue Moon. We were visiting Jay’s brother and went out that night and there was no Red Hook on the menu. Oh, the humanity. So I opted for a Blue Moon. I’d had it before, as my bro-in-law Brian likes it, but I always thought it was just your average beer. But this time, they threw a few fancy orange wedges in there. Hmm. Interesting. Quite the taste sensation. So I bought some Blue Moon at Costco cuz you can get 3,000 bottles for like $15 dollars. Blue Moon says they brew their beer with coriander and orange peel. More interesting. That’s like two of my favorite flavors; didn’t recognize them in there before. And I’ve amped it up lately. I pour fresh-squeezed orange juice in Blue Moon. (When in Fresno …) Who would’ve thought I’d like something sweet with beer. Now I add like a half-cup of orange juice or more to a beer. De-li-ci-ous. I think I’m on to something here. Well, at least I’m getting some extra vitamin C.

I just went outside and looked at the moon. It looks full already. Kinda creamy-colored, a hint of orange peel. I’m pretty sure I saw an astronaut.

I love cooking shows. I mean, I love cooking, which is likely obvious. Hopefully it’s also obvious I never make any of the disgusting retro recipes I post on here. Except for Big Mac Casserole, which I make for Jay and my Dad. Apparently a lot of other people love Big Mac Casserole, too, cuz according to my blog stats, people are constantly searching for Big Mac Casserole recipes. Shudder.

Part of the fun of cooking is making food for the people you love. At least it is for me. My sisters and I started cooking when we could reach the stove. Not out of love, but because it was on the Chore List. We were actually making stuff like homemade spaghetti sauce at about age 10. I think the first meal we ever made was breakfast in bed for our parents on their wedding anniversary. What kid in the ’70s didn’t try that at least once? I’m sure everyone made the same thing … weak coffee and burnt toast – with the morning newspaper set on the tray to make it fancy.

When it comes to cooking, I have a basic rotation I’m comfortable with, featuring the usual suspects like enchiladas, stir-fries, soups, pastas and what-not. I certainly don’t attempt Beef Wellington or Lobster Thermidor like some Julia Child-wannabe; I just make what Jay and I like. But I do like to watch all the fancy cooking shows for inspiration. I’ve learned how to make a meal in under 30 minutes (thanks “Rachael”), chop onions with oven mitts on (thanks “Cutthroat Kitchen”) and create a delectable appetizer with a box of mystery ingredients featuring dandelion greens, jicama, pickled plums and Rocky Mountain oysters (thanks “Chopped”).

But for this bona fide germaphobe (that’s me), it’s difficult watching a bunch of frantic, perspiring pseudo-chefs on a competition cooking show trying to beat the clock. I mean, some of those people are seriously dripping with sweat. There’s nothing worse than watching a bead of sweat hanging off a chef’s nose when their head is positioned right over the food. I feel like Brian Doyle-Murray’s character during the end scene in “Caddyshack” … watching and waiting for the ball to drop in the hole – only that outcome was a good one.

And it’s not just the piles of bodily fluids pouring off their foreheads, it’s also the other disgusting things the chefs do. They’ll take a sip out of a bottle of some soda or wine or something, and then pour some in their dish. They’ll rub their ear and nose with their fingers and then grab a pinch of salt to add to their masterpiece. And hey, I never see them wash their hands. Well, sometimes I watch a chef who has their own cooking show dissect a chicken and then say, “Gotta wash my hands.” Then they’ll cut to a close-up of the faucet spout (Why??!! Who cares??!!) while the chef rubs their hands under the water for 1.5 seconds. Yes, that certainly killed off all the salmonella.

Anyway, some of these competition cooking shows are starting to get on my nerves. At least the judges are. Plus, the melodrama and music scores of some of the shows are also tough to watch and listen to. If they don’t lighten up a bit, I may have to stop watching cooking shows altogether. But I think the profusion of sweat may make me stop watching first. Then again, if the condescending judges are the only ones that have to eat that perspiration-drenched, contaminated food, I say, “Sweat away, Sweaty.”

 

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