Category Archives: Family Stories

Thankfully FUN.

Last year I flew to Scotland to celebrate Thanksgiving with my dad and step mum at our home in Bridge of Weir, a beautiful village near Glasgow. Having lost my mother earlier in the year, I just wanted to make an extra effort to be with my father for the holidays. We hadn’t celebrated Thanksgiving together since we lived in Okinawa, back in the early 1970s. It was a wonderful celebration combining Scottish ingredients with American dishes (note: haggis stuffing).

My sister Janet organizes our family Thanksgiving here in Los Angeles. Not only is she a fantastic cook but she goes ALL OUT with a yearly theme for the day. Recent celebrations have included Greek, Caribbean, Southern and even a British Thanksgiving.

This year? Well, we’ve come up with a fun retro idea for 2014 that I’ll be sharing on instagram and twitter on Turkey Day. Or check back here at the end of the month for photos and a recap.

If you’re feeling less than excited about the usual Thanksgiving gathering, think about adding a theme to the day. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just a few ingredient changes (see below), inexpensive table settings and a trip to the thrift store if needed. Don’t take it TOO seriously… it’s all about having fun.

Photos from previous “theme” Thanksgiving meals:

Greek/Mediterranean 

Greek Thanksgiving 2010
Table setting (Greek)

Greek Thanksgiving 2010
Greek Thanksgiving Menu

Greek Thanksgiving 2010
Appetizers: Pita, Hummus and Saganaki Fried Cheese topped with plum and arugula.

Greek Thanksgiving 2010
Blue/White “Greek” Attire: My nephew Camron and his wife Jennee

Greek Thanksgiving 2010
Opa!

More photos from our Greek Thanksgiving

Southern

Southern Thanksgiving 2009
Southern libations!

Southern Thanksgiving 2009
Southern Thanksgiving Menu

Southern Thanksgiving 2009
Table setting (Southern)

Southern Thanksgiving 2009
Fried Green Tomatoes of course!

Southern Thanksgiving 2009
Uncle Peter carving the turkey (in his Southern overalls & bow tie!)

More photos from our Southern Thanksgiving

British

Thanksgiving 2012
Thanksgiving booze (British Theme)

Thanksgiving 2012
Menu (British Thanksgiving)

Janet (my sister) w her 3 sons: Chace, Cody and Camron. Thanksgiving 2012
My sister Janet and her three sons, Chace (left), Cody and Camron. Lots of plaid for “British” theme…

Kindal & Janet (my niece & my sister) Thanksgiving 2012
Janet and her daughter Kindal

I made Haggis Balls too! Thanksgiving 2012
Haggis BALLS (stuffing and haggis)

Lots of Scottish pride! Thanksgiving 2012
Great Scots! My husband Peter (left) and little brother, Greg.

More photos from our British Thanksgiving

Caribbean

Caribbean Thanksgiving 2008
Caribbean Thanksgiving Menu

Caribbean Thanksgiving 2008
Caribbean table setting

Caribbean Thanksgiving 2008
Bacon wrapped pineapple

Caribbean Thanksgiving 2008
Limbo of course!

Caribbean Thanksgiving 2008
Group shot (Caribbean Thanksgiving 2008)

More photos from our Caribbean Thanksgiving

Again, it’s all about sharing laughs and gathering around the family table. Enjoy and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

P.S. My favorite way to use up leftover stuffing? >

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My Old Rice Cooker

My Old Rice Cooker

I’ve been eating a lot of black rice lately, because Dr. Oz said I should.

It’s amazing how a kitchen appliance, like my rice cooker, can bring back so many memories. I purchased it on my Tokyo honeymoon (to ex-hubby) in 1987.

When we split in 1993, I chose the rice cooker and he got the fax machine. My old cooker still makes the most perfect rice.

I wonder how that fax machine is doing?

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On Being Thankful.

As most Americans prepare for Thanksgiving tomorrow,  I’ll be arriving in London en route to visit my dad in Bridge of Weir, Scotland.

Of course he and my stepmum don’t usually celebrate turkey day, but we’ll gather in their village kitchen and cook a Scottish/American feast together. I know, for sure, there will be some sort of turkey and glorious HAGGIS BALLS (equal parts stuffing & haggis mixed together) that I love to make year round.

In Bridge of Weir, Scotland with my dad 2002For a food fanatic like myself, Thanksgiving is absolutely the best time of the year. Not just because of all the tasty bites, but also a time to exhale, be grateful and reach out to family and friends.

Back in April, my mother passed away and I had to fly to Miyako Jima (near Okinawa, Japan) to take care of her funeral and estate.

The trip was absolutely dreadful (except for a few delicious moments) but it would have been worse if we hadn’t reconciled the year earlier.

My mom and I hadn’t spoken for over ten years, until two years ago when a friend of mine, over lunch at Jitlada (my favorite Thai restaurant), demanded I call my mother. If it weren’t for my friend, I’d never have found peace and comfort of knowing my mother a bit better. She had retired from the business I abhorred (more later), and was just a funny, old lady I chatted and laughed with long-distance.

My dad and I were also estranged for many years (international divorce and spending ten years in a children’s group home can do that), and it took decades for us to want to be in each other’s lives again.

Although it wasn’t always easy (I used to hold on to anger)… IT WAS definitely WORTH IT. I fly back to Scotland to visit him once a year now, and I’m so grateful for every moment together.

If there’s someone in your life you’ve been waiting to call or visit, please stop and JUST DO IT.

Life is short. There’s always time to heat up the leftovers tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving. Love, Jo

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Sunny Spot

An old Virgin Islands Clipping I've said for many years!When I was twenty-two years old, I had the ridiculous pleasure of living in the Caribbean for a few months. It was 1986 and my then-boyfriend Perry (a newly licensed pilot) scored a winter job flying for Air St. Thomas / Virgin Air (no connection to Sir Richard Branson). The small island-hopping airline was based in the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Thomas, so we made our home above the hills in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie.

Our apartment in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 1986Our upstairs apartment had a large kitchen (Perry did most of the cooking back then), and just one other room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the island.

Mr Wayman, our landlord built a ramp near the back door so our dog Warhol (who moved with us from the mainland) could run up the side of the mountain. We loved our tiny bit of paradise.

Always a photo buff, I spent most of my time photographing and getting to know the island. I loved pretending to be a “local” for those few months, and on Perry’s days off we would rent a small boat and head to the nearby British Virgin Islands.

Me at 22. At the beach, St. Thomas 1986Our favorite spot was Sidney’s Peace and Love in Jost Van Dyke Island’s Little Harbor, just 7 miles northeast of St. Thomas. Once docked, I would pick out a live lobster from a trap near the shore and the cook would grill it on the spot. Perry always ordered barbecue chicken (he didn’t like seafood) and we BOTH drank heaps of rum at the attached open-air bar. It was “serve yourself” at Sidney’s, and also “total the bill” yourself if you weren’t too drunk. An honor system that you just didn’t mess with in the Caribbean.

Heading to the beach. St. Thomas

My favorite shop on St. Thomas was called Sunny Caribbee, where I picked up island spices, oils and trinkets for the kitchen. There was an elementary school nearby and I loved listening to the students pounding on steel drums in the afternoons.

We left the Caribbean when Perry was offered a job with United Express, the commuter division of United Airlines. He now lives with his wife and kids near San Diego. (More about Perry here)

Walking into Roy Choi’s Sunny Spot for the first time made me smile from ear to ear. I flashed back to 1986 and was suddenly transported to my carefree, twenty-two year old, vagabond self.

After several visits (including dinner and brunch) I still get that happy feeling when I walk in the door. It’s a mini-holiday, a few hours of vacation. A delicious and less expensive trip to the sunny Caribbean, that’s for sure.

Sunny Spot, Venice
Don’t Worry… Be Happy!

Sugar Cane Fried Pig's Feet at Sunny Spot
Sugar Cane Fried Pig’s Feet

Muh-F*K*N Mofongo at Sunny Spot Venice
Roy Choi’s take on Mofongo! Muh-F*K*N Mofongo: Plantains, Bacon, Garlic, Black Pepper

Cocktails at Sunny Spot Venice!
LET’S PARTY!
Left: Fleur-De-Lis: Gin, Hibiscus, Honey, Chartreuse, Lemon
Middle: Death in the D.R.: Dominican Rum, Lime, Honey, Absinthe, Champagne
Right: Dry Harbour: Pot Still Rum, Lime, Absinthe, Habanero Pineapple Shrub

Cuban Torta at Sunny Spot Venice
Cuban Torta: Pork Terrine, Prosciutto, Provolone, Pickled Jalapeño, Mustard

"What A Jerk" Wings at Sunny Spot
“What A Jerk” Wings: Double coated, double fried

Bridgetown Swizzle at Sunny Spot
Bridgetown Swizzle: Barbados Ru, Averna, Falernum, Lime, Angostura

Diablo Prawns at Sunny Spot
Diablo Prawns w Rum Glaze, Garlic Butter & Herbs

Yucca Fries at Sunny Spot Venice
Yucca Fries w Banana Thai Basil Ketchup

Jamaican Roasted Lamb at Sunny Spot
Jamaican Roasted Lamb w Lettuce Wedges & Pickled Mango

Whole Roasted Red Snapper at Sunny Spot
Whole Roasted Red Snapper w Ginger Oil, Cilantro, Chili Vinegar

The Silver Goblet at Sunny Spot
The Silver Goblet: Coconut Ginger Sorbet

House-Made Caramels at Sunny Spot Venice
House-Made Caramels w Maldon Sea Salt, Toasted Cashews

The back room at Sunny Spot, Venice
The “bird cage” table in the back dining room

The back room at Sunny Spot, Venice
Dinner in the bird cage: Me, Peter, Evelina & Greg

Savory Festival Bread at Sunny Spot (Brunch Menu)
Brunch Menu Festival Bread w Goat Butter, Guava Jam & Rum Honey

Brunch at Sunny Spot
Brunch Menu Bloody Mary: Vodka, Dirty Sue, Tomato, Jamaican Jerk Spice

Brunch at Sunny Spot
Brunch Menu Banana French Toast: Rum Coconut Whipped Cream, Caribbean Spiced Maple Syrup

Brunch at Sunny Spot
Brunch Menu Sunny Spot Egg Plate: Korean Style Baked Eggs, Jerk Seasoned Potatoes, Mo Jo Glazed Grilled Pork Belly

Brunch at Sunny Spot
Brunch Menu Eggs, Sausage & Grits: Fried Eggs, Jerk Sausage Patty, Anson Mills Grits, Maple Syrup

Brunch at Sunny Spot
Take a seat!

Sunny Spot Venice!
Sunny Spot

More photos at Sunny Spot

More photos of the Caribbean

Sunny Spot
Website
822 Washington Blvd
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 448-8884

An old Virgin Islands Clipping I've said for many years!

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ALL YOU CAN EAT Fried Chicken!

What: All You Can Eat (AYCE) Super-Crispy Fried Chicken

Where: Chef Roy Choi’s A-Frame in Culver City

When: Every Saturday & Sunday, 12-3pm

Cost: $18 per person (including two side dishes)

Beer: Add endless Hite lager for $10 per person

AYCE Fried Chicken at Roy Choi's A-Frame
Roy cooks his KILLER chicken legs and thighs sous-vide, using rice flour for extra crispy breading. Personally, I was thrilled the platter was without breasts. Gimme them juicy thighs (and legs) anytime!

AYCE Fried Chicken at Roy Choi's A-Frame
Sides: Zucchini/Cabbage Cole Slaw and “Supermarket” Deli-Style Sweet Potato Salad.

AYCE Fried Chicken at Roy Choi's A-Frame
Two awesome dipping sauces for the chicken are included: Lemongrass Creamy Dip and Housemade Tonkatsu.

AYCE Fried Chicken at Roy Choi's A-Frame
My favorite of the two salads was the Zucchini and Cabbage Cole Slaw. I eat low-carb when I can and the flavors of the slaw were just like my grandma’s potato salad… sans the carb-loaded spuds. Of course my sweet-toothed Peter loved the Sweet Potato  Salad.

AYCE Fried Chicken at Roy Choi's A-Frame
And YES, I know fried chicken has carbs. I’m telling you… these are WORTH IT.

AYCE Fried Chicken at Roy Choi's A-Frame
The inaugural AYCE Fried Chicken day (July 14) was a HUGE hit! Many thanks to Roy Choi & Natasha Phan for organizing the food crawl last week! Both food and drink were hosted.

A-Frame Website
12565 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA.
(310) 398-7700

A-Frame on FaceBook

Follow Chef Roy “Papi” Choi on Twitter

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” Arnold H. Glasgow

Please check back for Sunny Spot & Chego posts!

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Home to Scotland

I’ll miss Peter and the dogs, but I’m so excited to get back to Bridge of Weir this week to visit my dad, step-mum and little brother. Not surprisingly, my favorite moments are always in the kitchen with my father, and on this trip we’re going to focus on traditional Scottish recipes.

In Scotland with my dadRumbledethumps is a traditional dish from the Scottish Borders. The main ingredients are potato, cabbage and onion. Similar to Irish colcannon, and English bubble and squeak, it is either served as an accompaniment to a main dish or as a main dish itself.

Cullen Skink is a thick Scottish soup made of smoked Finnan haddie, potatoes and onions. Lacking the traditional ingredient, any other undyed smoked haddock will suffice. This soup is a local speciality, from the town of Cullen in Moray, on the north-east coast of Scotland. The soup is often served as a starter at formal Scottish dinners.

Clapshot is a traditional Scottish dish that originated in Orkney and may be served with haggis, oatcakes, mince, sausages or cold meat. It is created by the combined mashing of potatoes and swede turnips (“neeps and tatties”) with the addition of chives, butter or dripping, salt and pepper; onions in some versions.

Stoved Howtowdie with Drappit Eggs: Boiled chicken with poached egg and spinach.

Chappit Tatties: Mashed Potatoes with little finely shredded onion or chopped chives (optional).

Up Yer Kilt!Skirlie is a traditional Scottish dish. It is eaten on its own, used as a stuffing for a mock-sausage, the mealie pudding, or used as a stuffing for chicken (most commonly) or other fowl. Oatmeal was a staple ingredient of the Scottish diet, it absorbs other flavours and is filling, so it was found in many dishes of Scottish cooking. Skirlie was used to ‘pad’ out a meal in which meat would have been scarce. In the North East it is eaten with mince as well as with chicken. It is still a much loved dish in Scotland today.

Scotch Eggs: A Scotch egg consists of a shelled hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a sausage meat mixture, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Scotch eggs are commonly eaten cold, typically with salad.

My dad didn’t have Scotch Eggs on his list, but I’m going to make sure we make a wee batch! Of course I’ll share details and photos upon my return.

Cheers! Jo

 

About Bridge of Weir

“Haggis Hunt” (a bit about my dad)

Food descriptions via Wikipedia

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My Sister and My Mother

Back when my ex-husband was flying 747’s for Evergreen International, I read an article about owner Delford Smith, and was moved by what he said about his sons growing up in an affluent family. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was something akin to: “My kids didn’t have the advantage of growing up with disadvantages I had as a child.” That really hit home for me, and I often think about how lucky I am to have had such a “different”, at times very difficult, childhood.

Dancing with my big sister Janet, OkinawaThe first eight years of my life in Okinawa were pretty idyllic. Living on a tropical island, even though we were in close proximity to the Vietnam War, was simple and carefree. My older sister Janet and I both went to American schools, because our dad was an American citizen working for the U.S. Navy.

Since both our parents worked nights (our mother ran successful “Hostess” clubs), there were many evenings where I was in Janet’s care. I can’t imagine leaving a 7 and 10-year-old alone night after night, but that’s just the way it was back then. Luckily, we spent many afternoons with our oba-chan (grandma) watching her make tofu (which she sold at market) and caring for her pigs (which we ate).

Our Parents, Okinawa (early 60's)I don’t have many memories of my mom being a “mother”, but I’m so grateful that I had oba-chan and my sister. If it wasn’t for oba-chan’s nuturing and love, I think both Janet and I would have turned out much differently. During World War II, she adopted our mother, along with many other war orphans on the island. Our oba-chan was just a phenomenal woman.

The shock of divorce is never easy on children. Break-ups are rough, but when my father got custody of myself and Janet, we were suddenly on an airplane (just us little girls) flying across the Pacific to live with our grandparents in America.

My Sister JanetWe didn’t want to leave Okinawa, but looking back, our father made the best decision he could have made at the time. Okinawa had been under U.S. possession since 1951, but reverted back to Japanese control in 1972, the year our parents were divorcing. Our dad was simply afraid that he would have no rights as the American parent in a foreign land.

Janet and I settled in San Marino, California with elderly grandparents who tried to “Americanize” us immediately. We had visited them before when we were younger with our mother, but those were only quick trips. Our dear grandfather tried to make us more comfortable by treating us to Chinese food once in awhile (heck, he tried… it was “Asian”), but our grandmother did not NOT like the “Okinawan” part of us at all. Let’s just say that she and I never became close.

Scotland Visit 1980After our parents divorced, our father was transferred to Scotland (his mother was from the Maxwell Clan), where he re-married and still lives today. As you can imagine, we had some rough patches during the past 30+ years, but as adults we moved past the blame and the pain. “Life’s too short”, is something we say over and over again.

Now, I absolutely adore my dad, step-mother and younger brother Greg, and will be visiting them again in Scotland this summer. But as a young girl I had some major “daddy issues” that I couldn’t even admit to until a few years ago. Janet, who was older (and wise beyond her years), fared much better.

My Sister JanetOur first year in America was rather turbulent, but mostly just confusing. Even though our grandparents (who became our legal guardians) did the best they could, they eventually placed us in a children’s home nearby. Janet and I always felt like the “lucky ones” though, because at least we got to spend every holiday with our grandparents, away from the “home”. We both lived there until graduating from high school. Janet “served” (as we joked) seven years and I struggled through ten. Looking back, it really wasn’t THAT BAD. We had a roof over our heads and plenty of food.

With my Oba-chan, MyLastBite.comMy relationship with my mother is very complicated. I’ve travelled to stay with her several times over the years, and although the visits were exciting, they definitely lacked any real warmth. I’m sure the disconnect is there because she never “mothered” me as a child. She was busy working, and helping to put food on the table, so I don’t blame her for that. The truth is, after we moved to America the only person “mothering” me was my sister. When my beloved oba-chan died, I didn’t feel the need to visit Okinawa on a regular basis anymore. I didn’t need to, because my sister was then, and is now, my mother.

When I look back at family photos of the two of us, the most notable thing I see is that my big sister is always looking out for me… literally. Of course back then, I was the baby sister, but even as adults she still wraps me tightly in her arms. Janet was always determined to take care of me, and as a kid I was just as determined to escape her big-sister clutches. Thankfully, she never gave up on me, because I was NOT an easy kid, teenager or even young adult.

With my big sister Janet, MyLastBite.comI had planned on writing this last year before Janet’s birthday in July. Then again for Thanksgiving when we celebrate a family feast at her house. Christmas would have been a perfect time to share her awesome “Christmas Chili” recipe, and March 18th is the anniversary of our move to America, but that came and went as well.

Through all these years, the only consistently good thing I have had in my life is Janet, and I’m so grateful we had the “advantage of sharing so many disadvantages” together. It’s taken a lot of tears to get these words on paper (plus a wee bit of courage), and there’s no way I could have conveyed how much my sister means to me, without sharing a bit of our story.

Happy Mother’s Day, Janet. I know it’s early, but thank you for always being my wonderful sister, and my mother.

(Originally posted 4/12/10)

My Sister Janet
Sisters

My Sister Janet
Janet & her husband Paul and oldest son Camron

My Sister Janet
Janet with her kids Cody, and twins, Kindal & Chace

My Sister Janet
Janet (at right) always the “mother”. And yes that’s me with the two bottles!

A yearly, family tradition is to gather on Christmas day at Janet’s house for her awesome turkey chili. The recipe:

Janet's "Christmas Chili"4- 15oz. cans of White beans
2-15oz cans of Black beans/drained
4-6 cups of cooked chicken breast diced
4 onions minced
2-4 cloves of garlic minced
4 cups of broth
2 cups of white wine
1 small can of jalapenos
1 –7oz. can of diced green chiles
2 Tablespoon Oil
Juice of 3 freshly squeezed limes
½ – ¾ cups of chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. Oregano
1 tsp. Cumin

Sautee the garlic and onions in the oil

Combine all the ingredients **except the wine, cilantro and limejuice into large pot or crock-pot, simmer not boil.

Add the wine, cilantro and lime juice before serving.

Janet’s Notes:
These amounts are basic…I add more garlic for my family!
The chili is thicker and tastier the next day, so make plenty!

My Sister Janet

More photos of Janet


Mentioned above:

Visits to Scotland

History of Okinawa

Okinawa Military History

My ex-husband Perry

Evergreen

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