My Funny/Yummy Food 4 Thought Column 14

              Days of Magic (Part 1) – a 6.0 on the Richter Scale

 I have lived on three coasts: the East Coast, where I was raised, the Midwest Coast – so named because Chicago sits on what is truly the Michigan Ocean, and the West Coast, specifically, Los Angles, where I lived for two glorious, non-productive, and incredibly fun-filled years when I was in my late twenties.

I ostensibly went out there to continue my career as a TV show/freelance writer, but I really went to L.A.in pursuit of lost love and a girl named Jeanne who had dumped me back in Chicago. I pursued her in L.A., but could never rekindle the flame. She may have worn flip flops, but  never flip flopped on bagging me. I remained in the dumpster.

I took it seriously and ended up doing what other folks on The Coast do: I coasted. I joined the stream of L.A. driftwood who parked cars, pumped gas and waited on tables while waiting for real life to kick in. That was the L.A. mode and though I slipped into it, I never regretted it for one second because I had the privilege, nay the esteemed honor of working for almost two full years as a waiter at the Magic Pan Restaurant in Santa Anita, CA.

Remember the Magic Pan? I know I’m dating myself, but it’s better than dating Jeanne.  They served fabulous crêpes, which rhymes with Schweppes if you want to get French about it. But who are they to talk about speech? The French\ have no word for “rendezvous.” The Magic Pan’s food was delicious. They had an incredible seafood crêpe filled with shrimp and lobster that I still dream about, but forgive me, I digest, er digress. I was noting how much I loved working at “The Pan,” which had advantages galore. One day, for example, I got to wait on Mr. Richter, the guy who invented the Richter Scale. The menu shook when he ordered. Just joshing.

Everyone should be a waitperson at some time. It teaches you humility, the art of service, how to plan ahead and organize. You’re on stage, so you have to be an entertainer. Plus, you’ve got to be neat, clean, courteous, good at food promotion and you have to move fast. You can’t be half-fast and be a successful waiter. 

Waiting tables is a great learning experience, but not much of an earning experience. Most waiters don’t make much, plus it costs money since you’re forced to tip exorbitantly for the rest of your life. And don’t even get me started about iced tea. (Huh?) When someone orders iced tea, forgetabouit. You need an extra tall glass, ice filled to the brim, a special spoon, regular sugar, Sweet and Lo, plus a lemon wedge as a garnish. Whew, that worked up a sweat. I need an iced tea!

I had my first panic attack the night I started, but I got through it and soon learned the ropes. In fact, I got so good at waiting that I turned it  into a sport one night, as ye shall see in a subsequent story about a duel I had with a Thai waiter who worked with me named, Jan Udomwathanafong. Would I kid about a name like that? I have three stories to tell about some fascinating characters I worked with and hopefully you’ll read them and not toss the paper into the dumpster.

 I loved the crew at the Magic Pan and the lifestyle. We worked during the day and early evening and partied long into the night. I didn’t have to worry where my next freelance writing job was coming from, or think thoughty thoughts all the time, or hustle for new freelance business. I could waste away with the rest of the gang in Margaritaville and I loved it. 

I knew it was just time off, however, and that I would eventually return to writing for a living. Something was missing; call it a future, call it a calling, call it the ability to go to my grave having written my own epitaph:

“Here lies a writer who skirted the plan        

and leapt from the fire into The Pan.

He loved and he laughed and never felt lost;

he was fulfilled like a crepe and frequently sauced.

                                    Chicken Rustica

                                 Chicken No Fustica

                              Chicken Other Coastica

                                               a.k.a.

                          (Chicken & Potatoes in the Oven)

This dish is magical, done in one pan and reminiscent of L.A. in its laid back nature. You really don’t have to fustica with Chicken Rustica. It’s Tuscan originally (not French), but this is an  adaptation. For crêpes sake, I mean cripes sake, don’t under- spice it. Don’t under-spice life either. Keep it tasty, toasty and coasty. Sometimes instead of running, you’ve got to glide.

 What Youza Need

6 (yup 6), whole cloves garlic

3-4 large peeled potatoes, drawn and quartered

2 medium onions, quartered

2 medium-size ripe tomatoes

1 whole frying chicken drawn and quartered

Spices (salt, pepper, dried oregano and basil, garlic powder)

1 oven with temp at 400º

What Youza Do

Wash chicken and pat dry. Put chicken, potatoes, onions and garlic in medium-deep roasting pan and coat it all with olive oil. Now, spice the beejeebies out of all of it. Season everything (front and back, top and bottom, up and down) with spices. Next, squeeeeze the tomatoes by hand over it all and cook at 400º (pretty dang high, just like the folks in L.A.) for about 45 minutes. Check pan in about 20 minutes to make sure you’re not making chicken soup. If there’s too much juice, remove all but a third of a cup or so. You may also have to remove the potatoes if they get done before the chicken. That’s it. Mangi, balli, si diverta (Eat, dance and enjoy)!

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