A Remembrance of Things Past

In “Swann’s Way,” the first of the seven books that made up Marcel Proust’s famous À la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past), it happened this way:

The narrator, upon a taste of a madeleine dipped in tea, is suddenly flooded with a long-forgotten memory from his childhood.

Wandering North Hollywood

Here’s how it happened to me:

I had to get the car serviced, so had a couple hours to kill in North Hollywood. On the particular stretch of Lankershim Boulevard where the dealership is located, there ain’t much to see. So I set out to wandering. I had gone in and out of the 99 Cent Store, walked under the U.S. 101 overpass, glanced at the menu of an old school French restaurant housed in a small faux chateaux, and was wishing the couple of legit dive bars in the neighborhood opened a little earlier, when I spotted it: H. Salt Fish & Chips.

H. Salt was an infrequent but cherished part of my childhood. There was one down the street, next to the 7-11. It had illuminated maps of London on the walls, and smelled of things fried long and hard. It was part of an American milieu of deep-crusted fried things that also included the equally lost-and-forgotten Pioneer Chicken, which featured indistinguishable chicken parts encased in a nearly fiberglass orange shell.

Inside the H. Salt

Upon retrieving my freshly serviced car, I returned to the H. Salt, parked and went it. It was just like I remembered — the illuminated London maps, the glass drip case spotlighting items recently retrieved from the oil, even the Chinese people running the joint. The stale grease smell alone was enough to transport me instantly to some amber moment of my youth: 8th grade, perhaps — the same age as my son! — skateboarding home from school, stopping at the 7-11 for a few games of Asteroids, then counting up my money to see if I had enough for a 2-piece fish & chips, a 1-piece, or just a couple fried scallops.

I’m a relatively affluent middle-aged man now, I could afford the 3-piece. But that seemed like a lot of oil to be ingesting in one sitting. I opted for two and got them to go. Back in the car, I slathered the golden fillets in malt vinegar and a good solid shake of salt. It tasted exactly like I remembered — not the best fish and chips in the world, but tasty still and comforting like the smell of cookies baking or an old song whose words you still remember.

I was glad to have found the H. Salt. I won’t go back — it’s too far from my home, and probably not great for my blood pressure. But I did feel like it gave me a certain closure, like running into an old girlfriend who you never really said a proper goodbye to. H. Salts can’t be long for this world. I didn’t realize way back when that one time I went to that H. Salt next to 7-11 that it would likely be the last. (There is a bank now where the 7-11 and H. Salt stood.) This time, I could say goodbye.

Now I just need to find a Pioneer Chicken.

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A Chili in the Air

If it’s early fall in Topanga, it must be chili time.

My ingredient list

My ingredient list

Every year, around the first weekend in November, the Topanga Swap Meet & Chili Cook Off rolls around. For a couple years, I was a judge. And then two autumns back, I was convinced by my friend Nonie who helps run the local community house to enter the contest, along with her husband Dan who was also entering. More

Queues and Barbecues

They asked me to do it again. Despite the lines — oh! the lines… — they asked me to do it again.

“Is there anything we can do about the lines?” they gingerly put forth.

Last Halloween, our children’s annual grade school Halloween carnival got an upgrade. It moved from school to the ballfield at the local community center, a live band would play, there would be a bar… And they asked me to do the food.

The Chef boogying at sunset

The chef/fairy/cow boogying at sunset

I was to cook for somewhere between 450 and 600 people. I was a week in preparation and was all set — except that the chimneys I needed for my coal were 90 minutes late. The carnival had opened at 3:30, people began queuing up for food at 4-ish. And I didn’t have anything to serve until close to 5 p.m., at which point the line had stretched from our home-plate set up well into left field. We would never catch up.

More

Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Paris — A Tale of Two Cities

It took me a little while to get my bearings in Paris. It’s a city I know well — I’ve spent a lot of time here — but after the easy, laid-back intimacy of Italy and the French Rhone-Alpes, Paris was a jarring awakening.

Arc de Triomphe, Bastille Day

Arc de Triomphe, Bastille Day

The entre, after two weeks of meandering country roads, was driving the rental car into the heart of the Marais to drop the family and luggage off at the Airbnb, and then trying to navigate my way along the frenetic Rue du Rivoli to the subterranean Hertz offices at the swirling mayhem of the Louvre Carousel. More

The New Wines

Awhile back, I shared the unfortunate story of how my family’s wine business had been usurped by an unsavory investor whom I had dubbed “The Onceler,” after Dr. Seuss’ famously greedy villain from the cautionary tale, “The Lorax.”

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Today — many months and several legal actions later — I have the pleasure of writing a new story. And introducing our new family winery, Bruce Patch Wines. More

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