My next-door neighbor and I were talking about food needs a day or so ago – neighbor, who is actually the niece of a long-time neighbor come to Texas to take care of her aunt, a lovely woman who is slowly devolving into age-related dementia – and I were talking about cheap eats. Neighbor-niece thinks the world of us, as we have shared many dishes with her. I talked for a bit about the Boston Baked Beans recipe that I did a couple of days ago and recalled this favorite from my mother’s repertoire. I think that it must be a genuine Depression-era recipe, as Mom said that it had been a feature on Granny Jessie’s table in the 1930s and 1940s, when money was short and main dishes were preferred to be simple, wholesome, and tempting to the appetites of working men and hungry teenagers, especially Grandpa Jim who was the most unadventurous man in the West of the world when it came to culinary experimentation – and above all, filling. We ate it when Dad was in grad school on the GI Bill, and long afterwards, because Mom had a house of hungry teenagers.


1 larghish potato, peeled and thinly sliced

1 similarly largish onion, also thinly sliced.

1 cup white rice, rinsed and drained (although brown would likely work as well.)

1 lb lean ground hamburger, crumbled (or really, any ground meat. I think chicken or turkey would work well for this; pork might be too fatty.)

1 14-oz can tomato sauce.

Salt and pepper. Really daring – maybe thyme and oregano; a light sprinkle over each finished layer.

Layer potato, rice, onions, crumbled meat in a casserole; two or three layers of each – Mom used a enameled 2 or 3 quart enameled number, porcelain-covered cast iron, with a cover.

Pour tomato sauce over all. Fill up can with water – hey, beef broth for extra punch – pour over top of the casserole. Cover and bake until potato layer is tender, and beef is cooked.

And that’s it. Simple, filling and inexpensive – although ground beef may verge on the pricy these days.

We were always able, even at the height of the lock-down covidiocy, to walk the dogs and later Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson, in our neighborhood. Which is a small and working-to-middle-class homeowners, a great many of whom are military retirees. We were always grateful that our city and state administration didn’t go all “self-isolate at home” safety-Nazi on us and pursue with crushing law-enforcement authority anyone daring to go for a walk in a quite park or a swim in the ocean. In two more years, I will have paid off the mortgage, which should indicate how long I have lived here.

We saw, in the real estate/banking debacle of 2008, a lot of vacant homes in the neighborhood go on the market for months – some interesting foreclosures and abandoned houses as well. There was a house gutted by a fire set by teenagers which went through at least two flippers trying to make bank, and another which was painted dark gray, fitted out with bars on all the windows and an amazing spread of monitoring cameras. Yes, we all knew that the current residents of that place were processing drugs, at the very least. If they were hoping to go unnoticed in a quiet suburb, no, they didn’t. Everyone started calling it “Cellblock C on ‘street name’” and halfway expecting the place to explode one day, sending the roof in several different directions; we all within range hoped that our homeowner’s insurance would cover repairs. Another rental property was a drug and party house. Everyone within the radius of about three blocks knew this – and watched with appreciative interest when half the local SAPD substation busted them in a mass raid which had some of the cops asking for the use of a neighbor’s hose to wash the human feces off of their shoes. I had already researched the name and address of the absentee owner, who lived in Palo Alto, California. I was on the verge of writing a strongly-worded letter to him and his management company, when the police dropped in for a quiet visit and chat with the then-tenant. (The current tenants are nice and responsible people, although I reserve some doubts about the rainbow flag on the back porch.)

Presently, there is one house up the road where a tenant with extreme hoarder tendencies was evicted last month – the mountains of junk that the tenant didn’t take with him was dumped on the lawn, and eventually taken away in several trailer-loads to the dump, but not after there were crowds going through the piles – even a conflict between two men, which resulted in a stabbing and the police being called! That eviction was the talk of the neighborhood for at least a week.

The one thing that I have noticed is that many neighbors have spruced up the exterior – new siding, new paint, replacing windows and roofs. At least three houses have gone for metal, instead of asphalt shingles, even though the metal roof will cost about three times as much. The prospect of not having to replace a shingle roof every ten or twelve years, does have appeal, since Texas weather is very hard on shingle roofing. The sequence of developers who filled out the neighborhood had a repertoire of about twenty basic designs – from single story narrow cottages of about 1,000 square feet, all the way up to two-story units of 2.000+, a kind of generic brick

Later – the house itself, with the new paint job all but complete

and stick-built early 20th century suburban/neo-Palladian/simple Victorian style. There were about thirty different colors of brick, a few the traditional rose or dark red, most of them in shades of beige, brown or grey. This resulted in those houses which weren’t entirely sided with brick, being painted in complimentary colors; colors which explored the whole vibrant palette of pale beige, medium beige, light brown, grey-brown, beige brown and off-white. Lately, some owners have rebelled – and painted over the brick, and explored such colors as leaf-green, Caribbean blue, sage-green, or stark white over all the brick and siding, with black trim and shutters – which, along with a very dark gray roof, gives a kind of Elizabethan look to the place. And just this week, another neighbor, having gone for all new hardiplank siding, took a color scheme from a camo-style Santa hat, that was sent to the husband when he was deployed – they’ve painted over the bricks with sandy-yellow, the siding in dark O.D. green, and the trim – the facia boards and window surrounds – in black. It looks better than it sounds, actually.

Anyway, this is the week that the city comes around with the enormous trash trucks, to collect up bulk trash, like furniture and used fence panels. Sometimes there is good pickings, in what is put out – the metal recyclers usually get to all the clapped out appliances and rusty BBQ sets. In the past, I scored a lot of good-sized garden pots, and a big chiminea, and we have brought home two end tables (of different design and on different occasions) an arm chair and a tuffet – both of which got reupholstered and have done very well for us, ever since. No really good finds this year, though – I think people are holding on to the usable stuff, and posting it for sale on Next Door or Ebay, rather than just putting it out for the trash.

And that was my week – yours?

Oh, the varied delights that are on display on the Tube of Ewe! I followed the links from another weblog to this little feature, copied out and printed the recipe and tried it out this week, following this nice gentleman’s advice – well, more or less. Never again shall canned baked Boston beans cross my lips; the resulting beans were savory to the nth degree – and cheap! Really, a one-pound bag of Navy beans, a square of salt-pork, an onion and some standard items from the pantry, including hot Indian mustard powder, not the recommended Coleman’s mustard and six hours at a low temperature in my oven, and oh, were they good! Savory, tender, full of flavor with the salt pork melting unctuously into the beans and the cooking liquid. What we didn’t eat got parted out into silicon 2-cup molds, and then decanted and vacuum-sealed for the freezer.

Alas, we didn’t have a proper New England covered pottery bean pot to cook them in – I thought we did, it was one of the items gifted to us by the family of a deceased neighbor, clearing out the hoarded stuff in the garage. Alas, the perfect glazed pottery bean pot had what looked like a factory flaw in the bottom – a small crack, which wasn’t sealed by the resulting glaze, and which would have sent a constant dribble of water out of it. (Honestly, I don’t know why the neighbor had an essentially useless object, but her garage was full of similarly useless stuff.) Well, that’s something going to the thrift-store donation pile, with the proviso that it’s more for show than actual function. At this point in life, I have no need for stuff that can’t really be used for the intended purpose. In the end, I baked the beans in a Williams-Sonoma glazed pottery tureen that I got on sale ages ago for Mom because the color of it suited the décor of her kitchen. No idea if Mom ever actually used it, before it came back to me, and sat on display on the upper level of the kitchen cabinets, until I pressed it into service to bake the beans in.


1 lb. dried Navy, Soldier, Pea, or other favorite beans.

6 Tbs. brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup Grandma’s dark molasses

2 tsp. dry Coleman’s mustard

1 tsp. salt

1 medium onion, chopped coarsely

4-6 oz. fat salt pork belly, scored crosswise to rind in 1/2 inch squares.  Do not cut through rind.  Hint: pork cuts easier if frozen.



Pick over beans for defects or stones, wash, and soak overnight in 1-1/2 gallons water.

In morning, parboil about 25 minutes.  Skins will crack open when blown upon.  Do not add any salt.

Remove beans with slotted spoon to crock, but reserve the liquid, which will be needed throughout cooking for replenishment.

Add remaining ingredients and stir in enough of the reserved liquid generously to completely cover.  Place pork on top of beans with the cut pork belly side down, with rind facing up.

Cover with crockery lid or cover loosely with foil.  Do not seal tightly.

Check at least every 90 minutes and don’t allow beans to dry out.  Replenish with reserved parboil water as needed during cooking to maintain liquid.

Bake at 275° F for six hours, or until tender.

NOTE:  Kidney, yellow-eye and certain others require longer cooking times at increased temperature of 300°.

(An archive post from another blog, written originally a very long time ago, as internet time is considered.)

When JP and Pip and Sander and I were all growing up, the contiguous suburb of Sunland and Tujunga, untouched by the 210 Freeway was a terribly blue-collar, gloriously low-rent sort of rural suburb. It was if anything, an extension of the San Fernando Valley, and not the wealthier part of it either. It was particularly unscathed by any sort of higher cultural offerings, and the main drag of Foothill Boulevard was attended on either side by a straggle of small storefront businesses, a drive-in theater, discouraged local grocery store, a used car lot, the usual fast food burger or pizza places, a place with an enormous concrete chicken in front which advertised something called “broast” chicken, Laundromats, and a great variety of very drab little bars. There were no bookstores, unless you counted the little Christian bookstore across from the library and fire station.

The local phone book used to include the profession in each personal listing; lots of clerks, truck drivers, construction workers, mechanics, and police officers, leavened with welfare recipients, transients and others with no visible means of support. In the late 1960ies, the city fathers discovered to their great horror that the average per capita income for Sunland and Tujunga was equal to that of Watts. (The editor of the local newspaper at the time, a reactionary and repellant little toad whom my mother loathed with especial ferocity, nearly died of chagrin at that. Several years later a local resident with deep pockets and a particularly satiric bent created a parody of the newspaper, pitch perfect in every respect, down to the logo, called the “Wrecker-Ledger” and had a copy of the parody delivered to every house in town. The whole town roared with laughter, while the editor breathed fire and threatened lawsuits.)

Mom preferred going to Pasadena for serious shopping, and to the Valley for groceries and the occasional restaurant meal. The one notable big restaurant had once been very well thought of, when it was a family-run steak house on Fenwick, established in an old converted bungalow under pepper trees. Then they ripped down the old house and the pepper trees, and put up an ugly big building with banqueting rooms, and descended into a culinary hell of buffet tables laden with square pans of mystery meat in sludgy brown gravy, vats of O.D. green beans, and fruit cocktail emptied out of industrial sized cans. No, Sunland-Tujunga was not the place you thought about when you heard the words “gastronomic adventure”… but there were three little places in town which did seriously good food, although you wouldn’t think it to look at any of them at all.

Mom found the Mexican place first: Los Amigos, which used to be in a tiny sliver of storefront on Commerce, before moving to and embellishing a larger premise on Foothill with sombreros and serapes, painted plaster sculpture, fountains, painted tile and exuberantly excessive quantities of elaborate ironwork. It was owned and run by a three generations and extensions of a local family: Grandma was from Mexico City and cooked with a delicate touch; this was not the brash, greasy border Tex-Mex. We loved the chili rellanos at Los Amigos; they were a delicately eggy soufflé, folded around a cheese-stuffed chili pepper, not the battered and deep-fried version so popular everywhere else. The wait-staff and busboys were always country cousins, just up from Mexico on a green card and polishing their English before moving on.

The second gastronomic bright spot was, believe it or not, an authentic Rumanian restaurant called “Bucharesti”, a tiny place run by an energetic gentleman from Rumania who cooked and waited tables himself during the day. How he contrived to get out from behind the Iron Curtain and finish up in Tujunga, I have no idea. His specialty was authentic home-made sausage, and lovely soups; a pristine clear broth in which floated perfectly cooked slips of vegetable and meat.

I regret to say we put off even setting foot in the third place for years, even though we were very well aware of it: a tiny, ramshackle building on Foothill, next to the Jack-In-The-Box, seemingly on the verge of falling down entirely. The roof sagged ominously, the batten-boards of the exterior walls were split from age, and the paint was faded where it hadn’t flaked off entirely. It honestly looked like the sort of place where you could get ptomaine poisoning just from drinking out of the water glasses. We had lived at Hilltop House for a couple of years before we ever ventured in. A number of Mom’s friends insisted that it was the best, simply the very best Chinese restaurant around, and finally the rapturous chorus drove us to set aside our considerable misgivings and venture inside.

The inside was immaculately clean: Spartan, with worn old industrial linoleum and old dinette tables and chairs, very plain, but scoured clean. The only ornaments were the posted menu and some small mementos and pictures associated with General Chennault and the Flying Tigers over the cash register. An elderly Chinese couple ran this restaurant; they were the only ones we ever saw staffing the place. I used to see the wife on the bus from downtown, lugging two huge grocery bags full of vegetables and comestibles back from Chinatown. (This was before exotic groceries were commonly available.) I think most patrons took the generous take-out meals, and if you remembered to bring a covered jug or Thermos, you could have soup as well. It was all delicious— all Mom’s friends were correct on that— and it met the highest criteria for take-out Chinese in that it was excellent when warmed over on the next day. The old couple were quite taken with my little brother, who radiated cute and looked like Adam Rich on “8 is Enough” . They always slipped in extra almond cookies for him in our take-out order, and the portions were so generous we almost always had enough for dinner the next day. I often wondered what the Flying Tiger connection was, but they had so little English it would have been hard to get an answer.

Chinese, Rumanian and Mexican food, all within a couple of miles on Foothill Boulevard— not bad, for a blue-collar sort of town. I wish, though, that I could have gotten the recipe for Los Amigos chili rellanos… and that clear beef and vegetable soup… and those Chinese almond cookies.

The work crew completed the short length of fence with gate across the font of the house last night – and today, my daughter bought six bags of rubber mulch, and rearranged the plants and the patio furniture! This doubles the pleasant living space in the front bedroom, and provides a sheltered outdoor play area for Wee Jamie.

It will also completely confuse anyone making deliveries as to where in the heck the front door is … but oh, well….