Monday, November 22, 2010

Waste Not Want Not

Just when I think I can’t possibly love my dry cleaner more, he does something else that rocks my world. I know this sounds extreme. But honestly, I am convinced my sweet middle eastern dry cleaner has only the best in mind for our planet and all of humanity.

I know you’re laughing but you haven’t been to THIS dry cleaning establishment, the one who’s motto is “If we were any more environmentally friendly, we’d be beating your clothes on a rock.” Come on! How can you NOT be moved to pull your car into their beautiful new, paver- lined parking lot?

Quick back story: I have patronized Hilltop Cleaners in Encino, California since we bought our house here eight or nine years ago. For most of that time, Hilltop has been a modest establishment, more kiosk than storefront. The owner and his staff were always friendly, although the gals who staffed the place were mostly dressed, shall I say “scantily”, prompting more than one customer to mutter something like “Aguilera meets Heidi Fleiss” under their breath as they gathered their freshly laundered clothing and hustled out to the tiny, hard to navigate parking lot.

But all that has changed. About a year ago, a renovation was begun. As time passed, it became apparent this was no ordinary remodel….this was a rebuilding of magnitude. And the months wore on...

Just as I began to despair of ever being able to quickly drop off and pick up our family’s stuff and even thought of switching cleaners, the GRAND OPENING was announced---in a big way. The banners, flags and fliers seemed kind of over-the-top for a dry cleaner but I have to say, the opening far surpassed anything I’ve witnessed of a similar kind.

What once could be likened to a glass shack with a driveway and a few measly parking spaces had become---Ta-Da!---a marvel of modern architecture proudly boasting coral-colored stonework, enormous glass windows, and an adjoining strip of light-filled spaces just waiting to be filled with uber-cool boutiques and ridiculously high-priced coffee shops.

But step inside and be blown away…..big screen tv’s abound, playing seemingly endless reels of the hottest live concerts available….Beyonce, Rhianna, the REAL Aguilera anyone? Multiple checkstands abound tended by uniformed, yes uniformed friendly young ladies offering free “panic buttons” (should you suddenly find yourself popping your’s), instant tailoring, 2 hour pressing or dry cleaning, and free freshly grilled hotdogs, popped corn and a cappuccino stand! I’ve started suggesting it as a luncheon place for me and my gal pals.

But the things I am most impressed by are the owner’s commitment to environmentally friendly business practices. Apparently, they’ve dumped the ol’ toxic to people and the environment chemical processes and are now using – well, I don’t know what they’re using but I do know my cleaned clothes no longer have that funky medicinal smell.

Last week, big advertisements went out for their Food Truck/Garmento Event. Yep, for the price of two items of clothing to be cleaned, customers would leave the store with a huge green (get it?) reusable Garmento bag that has four, count ‘em four uses! Turn it inside out and use it to collect soiled clothes, hang it on the back of a door to keep things off the floor, use the nifty shoulder strap to tote your unmentionables to the cleaner and, here’s the best part, they will return your cleaned items to you in the same bag now functioning as your own personal garment bag! That’s right, no more wasteful, landfill-devastating plastic bags! Do you love that??

Your reward for doing your environmental part, was to stand in the line of your choice at not one, not two, but three food trucks parked at the curb for the sole enjoyment of Hilltop customers! Does YOUR dry cleaner do that? I didn’t think so.

Finally, just when I thought the honeymoon might be ending, I was waiting at one of the registers for my ticket, mindlessly watching the shifting images on the monitor to my right and one message suddenly came into focus:

“If you are unemployed and need an outfit cleaned for an interview, we will do it for you FREE.”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"The Mamas and Tapas"

Who does Laurie David (ex-wife of “Seinfeld” creator Larry David) think she is anyway? I mean, she’s already been crowned The Green Goddess, driving around in her earth-friendly Prius preaching environmentally correct sermons. Now she’s suddenly the expert on quality family time vis a vis The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids One Meal at a Time? She’s proven she’s got credibility on ecology issues, but where does she get off telling the rest of us how to enhance our family relations thru shared meals? If she really wants culinary street cred, she should attempt the massive undertaking my son Adam, his buddies and I did this past weekend.

The school both my sons attended in North Hollywood, has a tradition of holding annual social gatherings for the parents of students in each grade, beginning in kindergarten and culminating in the senior year of high school. Naturally, over time, we parents who’ve been haphazardly lumped together due to the coinciding ages of our children, form bonds that last many years and sometimes, a lifetime.

Wonderful, right? Except someone has to host these things. And that someone, at least in my son’s class is now us. It began last year when Adam’s tenth grade Room Parents asked me if we’d be willing to host the party. We had a great time doing it and the event was a big success, so I volunteered our house again this year.

Last year we did an Italian theme. At 15 or 16 years old, the boys were serious foodies; not only did they have the good fortune to travel extensively with their families, thus tasting some of the best cuisines in the world, but on occasion, they also pool their pocket money and dine out together in the best restaurants Los Angeles has to offer. Oh, and some of them have had summer jobs working in the finest professional kitchens around. These are boys who shop at 99Ranch Market, purchase a live duck, take it home, break its neck and start cooking. I am not nearly as adventurous.

Last year, the boys and I planned a menu and worked out a reasonable work schedule, that allowed us to prep and freeze many of our dishes in advance—a huge time saver. This year was no different. However, I had the bright idea to produce an authentic Spanish tapas menu, using a much admired but never used cookbook* I received as a jumping off point. We devised a menu of eight different tapas, some to be passed and some stationed, and a paella-sort of rice and chicken dish for an entrĂ©e. Did I mention we were expecting approximately 100 parents?

Our tapas menu consisted of Ginger-Spiced Cashews, Imported Spanish Tuna Butter Canapes, Wild Mushrooms with Marsala Wine, Roasted Mussels in

White Wine with Garlic & Pernod, Mini Spanish Frittatas with Chorizo & Chipotle Crema, Roast Pork Tenderloin with Herbed Cheese Crostini, Roasted Garlic Shrimp with Paprika & Aioli Dipping Sauce, and Chorizo “Lollipops”. (see right)

Talk about quality bonding time! Move over Laurie David! Over the course of a few weekends and many hours, the boys and I prepped our hearts out, sharing culinary tips and tweaking flavors. The best part for me though, was quietly observing the boys become so involved in their work, they talked and teased freely amongst themselves, seemingly forgetting I was in the room. What a wonderful window I was given into the hearts and minds of our children. So while getting your kids to help out in the kitchen on an already harried weeknight is a nice idea, I heartily recommend rolling up your sleeves, forming a partnership with your child(ren) and jumping into a challenge that neither of you will forget.

Next year I’m thinkin’ Chinese…..

*Tapas by Penelope Casas