Posts Tagged ‘California’

I love Napa. I was lucky to grow up there. Even though I don’t live there anymore, it’s still home. I visit friends and family there when I can to get my “Napa Fix.” So much has changed over the last few decades, yet it feels exactly the same to me whenever I go back. Once I drive into Napa and see the mustard growing in the vineyards, I know I’m home.

When I was a kid, all the tourists passed by the actual city of Napa and headed up valley to the wineries. They missed out on a lot of cool stuff. Now they flock to Downtown Napa, with all of its new restaurants, wine bars, boutiques, hotels and a bustling riverfront. But there are so many other beautiful places in Napa. Just drive away from Downtown in any direction and you’ll see.

I can’t wait to go back. Besides, I’m overdue for some malfatti. Which brings me to my Top Ten List.

Top Ten Ways You Know You’re a True Napan:

10.  You snuck into Kay-Von Drive-In in somebody’s car trunk. Or you snuck in under the fence. Or you simply paid to get in by cramming as many people in the car as you could.

9.  You call the country club the Country Club. (I don’t know what the “Silverado Resort and Spa” is … )

8.  You have your own personal Rebob story. It probably involves either one of your friends trying to scare the crap out of you, or you trying to scare the crap out of one of your friends.

7.  You cruised the “J” on Friday and Saturday nights, and waited all year for the big Cruise Night. And you found your friends somewhere along Jefferson without the help of cell phones.

6.  You went to the Big Game every year at Memorial Stadium, and your life depended on who would win.

5.  You headed to the Lake many summer weekends in an overcrowded car stuffed with friends, Doritos and beer, blasting AC/DC and Journey all the way. Or you went up with the family in your station wagon. And you saluted the Old Man With the Pipe on the way up.

4.  You walked Downtown on the weekends and met up with friends (usually at the Clock Tower — officially known as the Paul R. Gore Clock Tower. Paul was the Dad of a few of my high school friends). You probably grabbed something to eat at the Woolworth’s counter, or at The Fox & The Grapes, or at the deli next to Mervyn’s. You stopped in Partrick’s Candy (now Anette’s) to smell the chocolate. You browsed Brewster’s, Mervyn’s, Merrill’s and Carithers. Sometimes you’d see a movie at the Uptown, when they had intermission and cartoons, too. You hurried past the Connor Hotel, but slowed down at the deserted Fagiani’s long enough to peek through the front door window. If you dared.

  “Napa Clock Tower” by Will Murray (Willscrlt) is licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-US

3.  You know the exact two spots in town to pick up malfatti. And you likely took a big pot to the back door of The Depot back in the day to pick some up from Clemente and his family.

2.  Depending on which generation you fit into, you either partied at the Tucker Bag and Rainbow Bridge or you hit Alfredo’s on Tuesdays for Nickel Beer Night. And you probably hit whatever incarnation the popular Downtown hotspot was at the time (either The Oberon, Main Street Bar & Grill, or Downtown Joe’s). Maybe you played volleyball at Tom Foolery. You probably even stopped in Henry’s … if you were in-the-know.

1.  You know the difference between a Napan and a Napkin. A napkin, by definition, is “a square piece of cloth or paper used at a meal to wipe the fingers or lips, and to protect garments.”  ‘Nuff said.



Read Full Post »

When I was four and Tracy was five, my parents took us to amusement park central, Southern California. We obviously went to Disneyland, though the only things I can remember about that visit are the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Adventure Thru Inner Space. I don’t even remember Cinderella’s Castle. If you look closely below, you’ll see me and Tracy standing in front of it, with Papa Don nearby on the right, making sure we don’t get kidnapped.


I have a vague memory of The Enchanted Tiki Room and all the crazy animatronic birds in that tropical setting, though my Mom said I fell asleep about five minutes into the show. But I was wide awake during the Adventure Thru Inner Space. They actually shrunk the riders on the trams as they went through the ride. It would turn us into the size of atoms. At least that’s what I thought. There was a big microscope thing with a glass tube and we could see teeny tiny riders moving through it inside. I was mesmerized by it. The Adventure Thru Inner Space was eventually replaced with Star Tours, and well, I guess we all know where that idea is headed now.

During that trip, we also visited Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm. Imagine planning that vacation now. Of course admission tickets weren’t $3,000 dollars back then. Park refreshments probably weren’t that expensive then either. In fact, here Tracy and I are enjoying tasty, ice-cold sodas with Woody the Woodpecker:


You think we’d stop slurping those sodas long enough to smile for a photo. But hey, there was likely a month of Powdered Milk that preceded those treats, so the brain freeze was probably well worth it.

Since I was only four, I just have a few specific memories about the Happiest Place on Earth, but I remember a “feeling,” like a happy, sunshine-y feeling. I really have no recollection of Universal Studios either, except for watching a cowboy get shot off a building. And I don’t remember a thing about Knott’s Berry Farm, except for visiting the replica of Independence Hall, with its replica of the Liberty Bell inside. Here’s a tiny, blurry glimpse of me and Tracy standing in front of it:


Even though we’re micro-sized in the photo, you can tell we’re wearing matching clothes again. We were basically Irish Twins, and Mary Ann always dressed us alike. She either made our clothes or ordered them from the Sears catalog. Here’s another example:


Just kidding, that’s not us. We didn’t get the part.

Here’s Independence Hall at Knott’s Berry Farm again:


See that narrow path next to the flag pole? I believe that is the actual spot of my first clear memory as a human. It’s where I fell down, and immediately started crying. Not because I was in pain, but just for the drama. See, I think I fell down on purpose so I could yell and cry so my parents would turn around to see how far behind them their precious child was, and in danger of being lost or kidnapped. I think I was about five feet behind them, but when you’re four, it seems like miles. So I wailed, and my Dad came back, surveyed my traumatic injuries, and held my hand for the rest of the day.

A few years later, my grandparents started giving us Knott’s Berry Farm jelly samplers for Christmas. I couldn’t wait for that thing. There was Cherry Jelly with real chunks of cherries in it. But even better, there was Mint Jelly. Obviously Mary Ann wouldn’t serve that with lamb, so I ate it on toast. No one else wanted any, so more for me. I practically licked that jar inside out when it was empty. I’ve still never had lamb with mint jelly. Pretty sure I never will.

Read Full Post »

Mary Ann made Chicken Pot Pie when we were kids. Actually, I think Banquet made it, and Mom baked it. Hurl. I never liked it. Seems like it always ended up burnt on at least one side and half of the top. The only part I liked was the bottom crust … assuming it stayed soft and didn’t get burned also. There was always about one cube of fake carrot and about three fake peas floating around in there. Not a fan. Sorry I don’t have a fancy Chicken Pot Pie recipe for you, because I never make it. The only thing that comes to mind when I hear “Chicken Pot Pie” is this:



But I recently ate a Chicken Pot Pie … and loved it. Actually it was a Chicken Pie – no Pot. I had said pie in Fresno – the armpit of California. Why did I eat a Chicken Pie in Fresno? Because I live there now. I haven’t had a chance to tell many people because it happened quickly and this last month has been a whirlwind. Jay was offered a fantastic career opportunity, thanks to his bro James, and I reluctantly agreed to the move. We hope to be here just a few years, but still. If you asked me to make a list of 100 places I’d like to live, Fresno would not be on it. Fresno wouldn’t even have the chance to be honored to be nominated for the list.

So I left Oregon and my family, kicking and screaming the whole way. Well, I didn’t kick and scream on the drive here; that would’ve made it even more difficult to navigate my truck and trailer on the highway. Though once we hit California, the other drivers were kicking and screaming. Jay said some were even flipping him off as he drove the U-Haul ahead of me. Ah, I remember road rage.

I did some research on Fresno before the move. Despite boasting a super high crime rate, horrid air quality and ridiculously hot summers, the city has a cool area called the Tower District. I made Jay take me there last weekend, so I could try to find something to like about Fresno. And, it was pretty cool! Funky shops, antique stores, Sequoia Brewing Company and the art deco Tower Theatre. The theater was closed, so we were peeking through the front doors. An employee saw us and let us in … in fact, they gave us a tour of the whole place and introduced us to the owners. Very cool. And, across the street was the Chicken Pie Shop. I had read about it online, too, and figured it was worth a try. I knew at least Jay would love it.

Jay had to fight me for the Chicken Pie. We only ordered one to share, and one is just not enough. That thing was delicious. I hate gravy, but whatever they put on and in this pie was heaven – like eating Hollandaise. The place is retro – or actually, it hasn’t been updated since it opened that I can tell – and that’s part of its charm. I highly recommend checking it out it you ever make it here. Though I don’t recommend moving to Fresno.

Read Full Post »

If you’ve been following this blog, you’re familiar with Papa Don, otherwise known as my Dad. Papa Don was a cool Dad to grow up with. He wasn’t always called Papa Don, he was just Dad, but my niece called him that as a youngin, so now we all do.

Papa Don was born cool. Just look at this baby picture. Does this kid have attitude, or what? He’s even motioning with his hand, like, “C’mon punk, you want some of this?”

In high school, Papa Don was apparently a bad-ass. I guess one time some punks were picking on my Uncle Bobby, his younger brother, when some kid ran up and said, “Hey man, don’t you know his brother is Don Coen??!!” They all beat it outa there.

Papa Don and Uncle Bobby have an Aunt Betty Lou that is very close to their age. Back then, Aunt Betty Lou was dating John, who later became Uncle John. Betty Lou and John used to like to park outside her house and neck, or whatever you called it in the ‘50s. But there was a bright street light that lit up their car, so my Dad and his friends would throw rocks to bust out that street light so Betty Lou and John could have their privacy. Then the city would come out and fix it, and then Dad and the gang would go and bust it out again.

When I was about eight, I sprained my arm by tripping over our cat, Midnight. I wasn’t the most graceful child. I don’t remember quite what happened, but the cat darted out in front of me while I was walking on the front lawn. I remember going straight down on my elbow, while my older sister, Tracy, and my best friend, Randy, also ended up on the ground, rolling with laughter. I was in agony and they were enjoying it. I had to go to the emergency room to get an x-ray and Dad was sitting there right next to me. I was babying my arm by bending it and holding my hand up near my shoulder cuz it hurt like crazy if I tried to straighten it out. The doctor came over and reached for my hand and said he was going to take the x-ray. Well, before I knew it he slammed my arm straight out on the table. I gasped and screamed and my Dad bolted straight up and went for the doctor. I think he was going to open a jar of whoop-ass right there in Kaiser Hospital. The doctor apologized over and over saying that the “surprise straightening” was the only way to get an x-ray cuz I wouldn’t like it if he had to slowly straighten out my arm. So my Dad calmed down a bit. Lucky for that doctor.

When my sisters and I were little, Dad would come home from his job at Mare Island and we would rush him, begging him to play “Monster” with us. He’d chase us around the house acting like a growling monster and we’d run and scream until the youngest, Melissa, would freak out and cry and beg him to stop. Then he’d settle down in his favorite chair while Mom made dinner and one of us girls would serve him a big icy glass and a bottle of RC Cola. We fought over serving him, cuz it meant we would get some of that delicious cola. Every once in a while he’d pour some for us in our color-coordinated plastic cups. We’d take a big drink and it was so strong it would make our eyes tear up.

There was a small section of the kitchen floor that would fill up with empty RC Cola bottles that Dad would let us recycle at the local liquor store. Yeah, back in the ‘70s the liquor stores had lots of candy, too, so they’d allow us in without an ID. We’d put all those RC Cola bottles in our little red wagon and venture out to the Wagon Wheel Liquor Store to cash them in. We usually had enough so we could each buy our favorite candy—mine was Skittles. I think my Skittles only cost about a dime then, so I guess that whole wagon-full of bottles added up to about 40 cents. Wow, that’s less than a stamp costs these days. Oh well, at least my Dad can still beat up your Dad.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa Don!!

Read Full Post »

Well, I thought it might be a good time to remember one of our “favorite” dishes from Friday Night Casserole. Yes, THE Friday Night Casserole. In case you missed it the first time around, enjoy. And if you’ve already seen this one, hey, enjoy it again. I do actually have some new material for you. If you look above, you’ll see a tab for a new page I’ve created — FAQ & Glossary. It’s a work in progress. But there’s a little something there for your entertainment, and to explain some of the crazy/strange/ridiculous Coen terms and sayings you may have experienced on this blog. And if you’re a Coen, or an honorary Coen, you just might remember saying or hearing a few of these cool phrases yourself.

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.


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
White Rice
Filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers
Bread heels
Chicken Pot Pie
Deviled eggs
Creamed corn


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 (stay tuned for “Jello Mold” and “Mayonnaise Cake”).

Read Full Post »

Jay and I went on vacation to Hawaii last fall and I couldn’t help but notice the white rice on every breakfast menu while I desperately scanned the options looking for potatoes, hash browns or any type of spuds. Nothing. Mahalo a lot, Hawaii. Jay was thrilled because he loves rice. When he was a little kid his sweet little full-blooded Japanese mother would serve him a bowl of rice, splash some soy sauce on it and then crack an egg over the top. No, the rice wasn’t hot enough to cook the egg, it just oozed its raw egg self all over the rice. He said he liked it. I threw up in my mouth a smidge. It sounds so nasty he may have to write his own childhood food blog.

Anyway, rice everywhere in Hawaii. That’s fine, when in Rome, eat white rice—and Spam. Jay was in heaven with the Spam, pulled pork, short ribs, rice, noodles and of course, the beach. Growing up in San Diego, he loves the beach and lived at Mission Beach as a bona fide surf dude in the ‘80s. On our Waikiki vacation he body-surfed Waimea Bay and Sandy Beach. I body-surfed the tide pools and ended up with a pancake-sized bruise on my ass. But hey! I remembered something as I came to in the tide pool—I do like white rice for breakfast! How could I have forgotten?! In fact as a kid, I ate it every chance I got after a night of Chinese take-out. You know when you order Chinese food you can pretty much rest assured that there will be no leftover pork-fried rice to stink up the fridge; however, you can almost always count on leftover white rice. As a child, that was a good thing for me. I didn’t really care to eat it for dinner, as you may recall from “Gourmet Top Ramen.” My experience with Chinese food was the soggy, fatty sweet and sour pork my family loved. I would probably offer to babysit the heathen neighbor children on Chinese take-out night. But finding the leftover white rice in the fridge the next morning was a joyous occasion.

I don’t know where the idea to eat rice for breakfast originated back then. I was only about 8, so I’m fairly certain I never jet-setted to Hawaii on summer vacation. I imagine I was inspired after seeing my Grandpa Smothers eat white bread in a bowl of milk. But that’s just wrong. That’s like a nasty flour milkshake if you ask me. But my rice delicacy was heavenly. I’d put leftover rice in a pot with some milk on the stove (What’s that? Microwave?! We didn’t have no stinking microwave in the ’70s). When half of the rice was cooked and the other half had burned to the bottom of the pot, I’d scoop out the part that was still white into a big cereal bowl. Then I’d pour cinnamon, sugar and milk all over it. Yum. Hey, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, and who cares what my sisters say, they don’t know about white rice–though they made fun of me for eating it. Perhaps that’s due to the Milk Container incident of ’75.

Yeah, we didn’t have no stinking garbage disposal back then either. My Mom kept an old milk carton next to the sink where the contents from the sink strainer went to die. I don’t know why, since the garbage can was only five feet away. That milk carton would sit there a week or so, and then get tossed out into the trash. She was quite resourceful. However in the summertime (and no, we didn’t have no stinkin’ central air conditioning either) that milk container would ripen quickly. One time I had dish duty and was emptying the sink strainer contents into that container. That milk carton was so disgusting; it was full of nasty stuff and some rice that was in there got on my hand. At least I thought it was rice until my little sister, Melissa, informed me there were maggots on my hand. I about broke my arm at the elbow flinging it into the sink to get to that running water. Ah…so that’s where the hand-washing comes from. OCD mystery explained.

Read Full Post »

When I was a kid, my Grandparents and my Aunt and Uncle bought a cabin just outside of Lake Tahoe. Going to the Coen Cabin was kid heaven … creek walking, funny drunk relatives, Oreo cookies, snow and Poker Night. I’m not just talking about adults playing poker — the apples don’t fall far from the tree, even if the seedlings can only afford to ante up pennies.

Our cousins, the Sax’s, had a cabin in the same subdivision. Usually each set of families would vacation there at the same time. Those were the weekends that Oly increased the poker revenue tri-fold. The Sax’s were so fancy that their outhouse had two seats. Yes, my cousin Shelly and I were not too modest to use that outhouse at the same time.

See, at the cabins you didn’t DARE go to the bathroom in the actual indoor bathroom!! Geez! Even though the Coen bathroom was so big you could fit 14 toilets in it, the only thing we were allowed to do in there was brush our teeth in the sink. It had something to do with the plumbing … so, you had better make damn sure you made a visit to the outhouse before bed, because you sure as hell didn’t want to go out there at night. That meant waking up a cousin or two and BEGGING them to get up, put on another layer of clothes and venture out there with you with a flashlight, and no protection against Bigfoot.

Upstairs at the Coen cabin was one huge room with seven double beds and a double mattress on the floor. That is a LOT of snoring — especially when all those adults had been indulging in Oly all night. We kids were always banned to the upstairs once the serious poker playing started downstairs. Little did they know that we were also playing our own game of poker … for pennies. All of us cousins usually started our gamble-fest in the evening after dinner. We would set up the little plastic record player and listen to 45’s like “I Like Beer” by Tom T. Hall and “My Ding-a-Ling” by Chuck Berry over and over and over again. All my sisters and my cousins Kristi, Michelle and Cathy would goof around, pretending we knew how to dance, and my cousins Mike and John would entertain us with their lip syncing … then all of us would take turns jumping on all the beds and doing super flips from one double bed to another, complete with our 4-point landing on the mattress on the floor.

Sometimes we’d play games like Charades with the whole family. There was no TV, so we had to do something. We’d perform our silent renditions of songs like “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight” and the parents would guess it because they were un-cool and actually knew that song. I guess that meant we were un-cool, also. We didn’t use the fancy arm and finger signals like in real Charades … we just flailed around acting out our words.

We’d walk the creeks and go on adventures and discover secretly marked boulders that we were sure had been left behind by visiting aliens. We’d hide from the younger cousins and hope that all the adults would drive into Tahoe to gamble so we could have free run of the cabin under the rule of a cool, older cousin.

While vacationing at the cabin one summer, my Grandpa brought a two-pound can of smoked almonds that my youngest sister, Melissa, discovered. One night she proceeded to eat the majority of the can, and then proceeded to sleep next to me on one of the double beds upstairs. And then proceeded to throw them up all over the fancy new sleeping bag my grandparents bought for me at Christmas. Oh well, I still love her, and I still love smoked almonds. Just not the regurgitated type.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: