Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hollywood Show: Meet the Mouseketeers

Me with Spin and Marty!  ("Marty," David Stollery, left, and "Spin," Tim Considine, right)

Spin and Marty and Annette in 1957.

A lifetime's dream realized, in an afternoon spent with the Mouseketeers.  It's probably useless to try to explain to younger generations the impact the Mouseketeers, the child performers on Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club, had on children in the 1950s.  In those early days of only black and white television, children's programs were few, and were shows like Howdy Doody.  But The Mickey Mouse Club featured real kids, talented kids who sang and danced and seemed to have charmed lives of Hollywood fame and "belonging."  As a lonely child growing up in New York City, I imagined what their world was like, dreamed of being one of them, or just being lucky enough to meet them - once.  I never realized that a whole generation of kids felt  the same way about the Mouseketeers.  And of course, a generation of boys fell in love with the most popular Mouseketeer, the lovely Annette.  The girls mostly fell for teen hearthrob Tim Considine, and wished they could be friends with Annette, or Doreen.

Young stardom in the '50s

So you can imagine my pleasure when, half a century later, I really did become friends with Doreen!  It happened because we both worked for Warner Bros.  The studio lot has something like 20,000 employees, and I work at home, so I never expected to meet her, but one day in the course of the Harry Potter Lexicon trial, in which I was being prepared as a witness, I happened to spot her nameplate in the legal department - and there she was!  I gushed and enthused (much to the perplexity of the lawyers), and Doreen and I quickly became friends over some very sparkling lunches.

For Doreen Tracey was, is, and forever will be, full of sparkle.  Here she is at seventeen:

And here I am with Doreen and the still handsome, and very warm and charming Bobby Burgess at the Hollywood Show in Burbank, earlier today:

I wasn't sure I wanted to go.  I knew the drive would be awful - to drive to Burbank on a busy Saturday afternoon means being on four freeways clogged with text messaging lunatics for an hour.  All the way there I was thinking, why am I doing this when I have a 600-page manuscript to read, and I'll get tired, and won't I feel silly and shy going up to people whose fan I've been for half a century - they'll think me an idiot and it will be awkward, and it'll be an awful hucksterish event where they push you to buy pictures and merchandise...

But the minute I walked into the Burbank Marriott hotel and conference center, the atmosphere was electric and I felt thrilled to be there.  The room was filled with people all excited to be meeting the celebrities, who were sitting at tables around the room.  You could walk up to anyone you chose, quite casually, and chat, take pictures, buy pictures - or not.  I didn't bother even looking to see what other stars were there (though you can look at the roster if you're interested: ). 

For me it was about the Mouseketeers, and that was that.  And there they were!  The first I saw was Sharon Baird.  She greeted me graciously, and allowed me to take her picture.

Here's Sharon in her Mouse days, when she was the best female dancer on the show, usually paired with the amazing Bobby Burgess.

Next to Sharon sat Karen, with her lovely daughter, who resembled her greatly.  Karen's in a wheelchair, result of a long-ago car accident, but she seems limited in no way and is a lovely woman, with the same sweet charm that made little Karen stand out.  She was always paired with cute Cubby, who was supposed to be there today, but I was disappointed to learn that he'd missed his plane and couldn't make it.

Karen now

Karen then

Then I found Doreen, and any shyness cannot exist in her bubbly star presence! Wearing late Mouseketeer Cheryl's starry specs, flirting and bantering and signing autographs, she's the life of the party, the kind of person you can't take your eyes off - yet down-to-earth, pragmatic, funny.  She immediately made me feel like part of her gang, which, of course, was exactly what I'd longed for all those years ago.

Bobby and Doreen

I shouldn't say I "also met" Tommy Cole, because he was adorable, and talking to him felt like I'd known him all my life - which, of course, in a way I have.  He shared in common with the other Mouseketeers a complete understanding and sympathy about how their contemporaries and fans felt about them, and while they clearly enjoyed the friendly adulation, they were unaffected and truly appreciative.  It was clear that, although they'd never expected that their success on a kids' show half a century ago would carry on and have permutations in their lives for so long, they appreciate and cherish everything about it. 

Tommy and me

A better view of Tommy

The lad as the dishy singer of the show. 

These older pictures, I should say, are taken from the Original Mickey Mouse Club website ( ), except for the magazine covers, which are my scans.  The pictures today were all taken by a most kind and friendly fellow Mouse fan and writer, Julie Snyder.  She urged me to go over to Spin and Marty and said she'd take my picture - something I, fearless and indomitable woman of parts though I am, actually rather trembled over!  Another friend and fan, Ross Neville, was there too and it was fun to step back a bit and share our excitement.

Tim Considine and David Stollery of course are now in their sixties, like most of the rest of us, but they're looking wonderful:  very recognizable as themselves, and such a joy to see.  Regular friendly fellows, who took my prattling and gushing in very good, kind spirits. 

Such memorable encounters might well be enough for one day, or one lifetime, but there was more - the Mouseketeers had a professional photo session, and, as Doreen's friend, I was allowed to watch.  It was somehow both beautiful and touching to see them walk into the photographer's room and hit their marks, just as they must have done on the show in 1957.  They needed no instruction in forming a "Mouse" group, posing, and turning on the brilliant Mouse smiles and waves.  A few fans had pictures taken with them (I didn't ask what it would cost!), but the wonderful moment came when they burst into song.  And they still had it.

I stood next to Karen's daughter, as they sang:

We're the Mouseketeers, we wanna say hello
And give three cheers, to all of you who see us
Every day.  You're OK!

With exactly the same hand gestures, movements and steps as fifty years ago!  It was stunning, amazing.  They really were unusually sprightly, charismatic people - then and now.  I felt chills down my back, and another fan afterwards told me, "I had goose bumps."  It was a moment.

Perhaps sweetest of all, though, is this picture, where I think you can see how much they really all do still care for each other.  "Through the years we'll all be friends...wherever we may be."  Yes.  Who knew it would turn out to be true?  But they made it so.

As I drove home, I thought some thoughts about mortality.  Of the nine original Mouseketeers, Cheryl is gone and Annette is an invalid.  Bouncy and eternally youthful as the remaining ones are, they're getting on, as I am.  I hadn't realized, perhaps, quite how far on we are in life, and there's naturally a sadness to that.  But what a shining moment this brief recapture of youth was for me.

Colleen McCulloch and Cauliflower

Pindar and Catullus

I was excited to receive the new issue of JASNA News (Jane Austen Society of North America), with a book review I did of Colleen McCullough's novel, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet.  Mostly because I think it's one of the better book reviews I've written:  I'm pleased with it!  (Paul's comment was, "Reads like 'The Spectator,'" which is high praise from him!)  I don't think JASNA will mind if I copy it here, mentioning that you can join at   If you click on the review it blows up to readability.

Also, a nice breakthrough on the low-carb front. Now I can cook all my favorite Chinese dishes, because cauliflower rice turns out to be so delicious. We couldn't decide if we liked it just as well as rice, or maybe even a little better. It was that good. I read several recipes, and tried cooking it in two different ways, to see which would be best. Since I don't have a food processor, I used one of those flat graters to grate the cauliflower. It grates very easily, into rice-sized bits, and just took a few minutes. I do have a blender, which has Grate and Grind buttons, but I was afraid to use it, thinking it might render the cauliflower into pulp.

Then, I sent half the grated cauliflower down the hall for Paul to microwave for 6 minutes with a spoonful of water in it, while I stirred the rest of the grated cauliflower in a skillet with a little olive oil. They were done at about the same time, but mine was a clear winner. The flavor was better. The other was fine, and looked more like plain boiled rice, but had a slightly "microwave" flavor. And it's easier to just stir it in a skillet than send it out to be microwaved anyway.

Tonight's dinner was a family classic, Ma Po Bean Curd. A spicy, easy to cook Chinese dish you can make with either ground pork or ground turkey. It went really wonderfully with the delicate, slightly nutty cauliflower rice!

Ma Po Bean Curd

1 large box or 2 smaller boxes tofu, drained and cut into small cubes
Half pound ground pork or ground turkey
chopped garlic, a little ginger if desired
1 bunch of scallions, chopped
1/4 lb. Chinese peapods
1 Tb. Chinese hot chili and garlic sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee brand, and lots of it - we like spicy stuff)
2 Tb soysauce (I use the low sodium Kikkoman brand)
2 tsps. cornstarch dissolved in a little water
2/3 cup chicken bouillion
2 Tb. olive oil
black pepper
a little sesame oil

Cut bean curd into small cubes and place in a pot of boiling water. Cook, stirring a few times, until it reboils. Put bean curd into a colander to drain.

Heat 1 Tb. olive oil and stir fry the ground meat in a wok. When brown through, add 1 Tb. chili and garlic sauce, and 2 - 3 Tb. soy sauce, and stir. Add chicken bouillion, bean curd, peapods and half the chopped scallions. Stir.

Cover the wok and cook for 3 minutes (over fairly high heat), stirring once. Thicken with cornstarch, then remove from the heat and stir in sesame oil, black pepper, and the rest of the scallions. Serve over faux rice.

And Peter's blood sugar readings ranged from 125 - 137 today, two weeks after starting the low carb diet. A lot different from the 300s a few weeks back!  We'd all be happy eating Cauliflower Rice instead of real rice, forever and ever, amen.

Here's what the rice looks like (picture borrowed from the Cave Man Food blog).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Paul's Birthday, a Paean to his Cat - and Creamed Celeriac

Today is Paul's birthday, so his fond mother writes a paean to him and his cat.  Mostly about the cat, as they are One. 

                                          Paul and Catullus (Tully) Birchall

Her fur, the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace
Catullus is not the most beautiful cat in the world.  She was the runt of the litter when she came to us from the shelter, very unhealthy, seriously underweight with a crooked back and monkey-like features that even a mother couldn't love (she may have looked at her kitten unawares, to paraphrase Jane Austen, when she took off for points unknown).   Frankly, poor Catullus only got adopted because I ended up taking home the whole family of three.  I remember thinking, "Well, that one isn't even a pretty kitten, but she's long-haired, so maybe she'll look better when she's full grown."

 A man and his cat

Peter instantly fell in love with Pindar, the fast-moving, authoritative, coruscatingly intelligent, graceful little Alpha, who is a bit of a bitch - well, he wouldn't let me say that; but even he would concede that she is, as Paul says, charming to those above her, while bullying those below.  But even that's too harsh; she is simply the Alpha, who patrols the whole house, looking out with responsibility, love and concern for all family members, cat and human.  She has, in short, a lot in common with me, hence Peter's attraction for her, and vice versa.

I fell in love with Martial the Epigrammatist, cat of few words, also known as Marshwiggle.  She is the most Birchallian cat, shaggy, wayward, greedy, cowardly, bohemian, gentle, and infinitely cuddly and loveable.  You haven't lived until you have held and cuddled this fat cat.  She is the most like Peter in looks (alas, she hasn't his brains).  So she is my cat.

The Lord only knows what psychologically murky underpinnings made Paul gravitate so irrevocably toward the small, the bullied, the crooked, the runty Catullus.  She was needy, always latching on to people and even trying to suckle on Pindar, who endured it patiently.  I found this distasteful, but Paul simply saw she needed affection, and gave it to her.  He cared for her tenderly, played her favorite mouse-on-a-string games, and allowed her the run of his house.  She is now his bondswoman and liege, possessed of a boundless, wordless devotion for him (well, sometimes she does emit her characteristic little squeak:  "Kek"). 
Catullus as a sadly runty kitten

And true enough, she has flourished and become quite a handsome cat.  Her fur is the best, most luxurious, silkiest, and most parti-colored in the house, swirling lashings of soft black and red.  Indeed, this lavish fur might be said to be the outward and visible sign of an inner grace, for there is no doubt that Catullus has the most beautiful character of the cats, gentle and loving:  an innocent.  Brainy she is not, and one of her names is "Garbage Eater," for her louche passion for chewing styrofoam; but she is entirely Paul's cat, and if she knew it was his birthday, she would doubtless make him a present of a dead moth.

   ...And he has The Patience to Play with Cats (I have it not)

Happy Birthday, Paul!  Fortysomething years ago my room at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan was filled with lilacs, as an eighteen-year-old mother looked into the one-sixteenth Chinese blue eyes of her baby son...(bla bla bla, mom goes into sentimental peroration, as she does every year...)

Grilled Bok Choy and Creamed Celeriac

I plan to include a Low-Carb Recipe with every post, which should be easy since we are trying new dishes almost every day.  Last night I made baked pork spareribs, and when they were getting their final browning under the broiler, I put half-a-dozen split baby bok choys under the broiler too, in a shallow pan in which they'd been tossed with soy sauce, apple wine vinegar, ginger and garlic.  Broiled baby bok choy (stirred once while broiling) turned out to be sensational when served in tandem with creamed celeriac!

Most people in the U.S. don't know about creamed celeriac.  We learned about it when staying at an exquisite small castle hotel in Scotland, Glenfeochan House near Oban (sadly now defunct).

                                           Glenfeochan House

The owner's wife was a Cordon Bleu chef and told me how to make this delicious stuff as they (presumably) do in France.  Celeriac is just ugly celery root, which they now always have in Los Angeles supermarkets.  You chop off the gnarly outer skin with a knife, discard, and then cut up the white root in pieces, as if you were going to make creamy mashed potatoes.  You boil the celeriac until it's soft when pierced with a fork.  Drain, and then I put it in my Osterizer blender with a big lump of butter (lots!  2-3 Tb. for one root), some cream (or half & half), salt and pepper, and then cream the lot.  It comes out like creamy mashed potatoes but with a subtle, sophisticated taste - and is a very healthy, low carb vegetable.  Having celeriac and bok choy with our spareribs, we didn't miss potatoes at all!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Miracle of the Cats and Carbohydrates


The most recent biopsy on Peter's (small and early) prostate cancer showed that it's active enough to need to come out sooner rather than later. He'll have the robotic prostate surgery at Cedars Sinai within the next few weeks, but the scariest factor here is his severe diabetes, which makes him alarmingly prone to infection. So, faced with this prospect, I went into action, and put him on a strict No Carbs diet, ten days ago. Results have been so astonishing that the word "miraculous" would not be an exaggeration. He went from an average glucose level of 250+ (very high) to average 120 (normal) in just a few days.

Pindar, whose blood sugar must be similar to a hummingbird's

I had skimmed all those Zone, Atkins, South Beach diet books, and never been able to stand them; have just thrown them across the room or out. Too complicated, too much deprivation; I knew we could not live life constantly balancing and measuring and counting and not enjoying. But since I knew he *must* do low carbs, I got a list of the all low carb foods he could eat, according to stringent first stage Atkins. All the recipes given were horrible, so I made up my own recipes and menus. This took three days of the most intense thinking and planning and researching and studying and experimenting. I did figure it out, however, and out went the bad food from the fridge, and in came a bunch of new things from Trader Joe.

Peter has hardly been able to cut down on the insulin fast enough! I don't know if he'll ever be actually off insulin, but nobody seems to have ever seen or heard of an improvement quite as dramatic as this before. The doctors are literally speechless. Our conversation with the endocrinologist, after only three days of the diet, went like this:

"Who put him on this diet?"
"How did you learn it?"
"Not through those impossible books. I made a list of low carb foods he likes and am tailoring recipes using them."
(Doctor's eyes bug out and he says simply:)
"If you can keep this up, Peter's blood sugars should be low enough for surgery within a month. It's in your hands now."

Marshwiggle, who is not on a low carb diet

We really can't express our own amazement, and I must say dear Peter is most touchingly grateful to me, as he knows that this has been a lot of work. We always knew "diet would help," but this? And *which* diet? I only chose this one because two hopelessly obese people I knew had taken up what seemed to me a bizarre and difficult way of eating, in the last year or so, and lost respectively 100 and 50 pounds. I never thought *we* could live like that - or wanted to - but events made it urgently imperative for Peter. So imagine our delight when we found that the eating need not be bizarre or unpleasing! It must be that Peter has some really extremely carb-allergic metabolism. Can he keep this up? Oh yes. Let me show you our menus of the last week:

Italian chicken with tomatoes and cheese, with spaghetti squash

Steak, baked "fries" cut out of yellow squash, creamed celeriac, string beans, and tons of mushrooms

Spaghetti made out of eggplant parmesan, with homemade meatballs

Chicken rolled in Parmesan and baked, with squash fries and baked asparagus

Baby back ribs grilled with bok choy, squash fries

Grilled salmon steaks, creamed celeriac, squash fries and asparagus

Hamburgers with Portobello Mushroom "buns," squash fries, sauteed cabbage & onions

His favorite dessert is a baked custard with pumpkin, cream and cinnamon. I also make delicious muffins with almond meal and pumpkin.

Obviously he still has the surgery ahead (we haven't got a date scheduled yet, but soon), but this should certainly help his prospects.

I haven't photographed any of the food yet because I've been too busy cooking it, so I illustrate this post with cat pictures, as they are always Peter's comforters. We have also pioneered Cats as an antidote for depression, a service they perform most effectively.

Peter Taking the Cat Cure

Paul contemplating two fat cats (Marshwiggle and Catullus)