A blog of art, photography, food and writings.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


One year ago last October, I created my website with the help of my girlfriend's son, Milo. The time had come for me to make myself real as a writer. I brainstormed about the layout, visualized the design and thought about how I'd like to present myself to readers--from casual drop-ins to editors who might need more information about me.

I also knew that I needed a photo or two on various pages as a way of saying "hello" to visitors. After all, in cyberspace we need to make connections with each other visually.

Because my husband is a good photographer, I enlisted his help. I chose the "photo shoot" day and started the primping process early on, as any woman would. I slicked my hair back, put on makeup, positioned my earrings, and stood in front of the mirror practicing poses that Bruce would be able to snap and later hang on his office wall with pride.

He asked me where I'd like the photo shoot to take place. I said, "The garden, because the background will be nice."

So the two of us exited our office door and went into our little garden in the back of the house. A few years earlier we had both worked hard on this special area to make it a quiet retreat with a glider, bench, beautiful plants and trailing vines. The operative words here are: beautiful plants and trailing vines--two of Bruce's greatest loves (he's a landscape architect).

As soon as we were in our little garden, he said, "Where do you want to sit?"
I said, "I don't know. As the photographer, you're supposed to tell me where to sit." He then pointed to the glider and I obediently sat down. Within seconds, I started swaying back and forth. Not helpful for a photo shoot, which requires a still head and not one bobbing around like a hula doll on a dashboard.

When the swinging subsided, I sat there patiently waiting for Bruce's direction. Dead silence. I said, "What do you want me to DO?"
He said, "Just do anything. Smile, look into the camera."

I hated being photographed and could feel myself freezing up. I needed his prompting: "Head down, look to the right, eyes to the left. Smile, frown, cry. Think of the cats, laugh out loud." Anything to help me loosen up. But he couldn't offer any art direction and I sat there in a petrified state.

Then the fighting started. "Bruce, please tell me what to do!"
"I'm not good with people," he said.
"But you don't understand. This is for my website, and I need this done TODAY! You're the one that has to do it!"
"Just start smiling and I'll start clicking," he said.

Smile? How? With teeth, without teeth? Half-smile, open smile? Help!!!

Needless to say, this session continued with a tangible tension and wasn't a bonding experience between husband and wife. When we came into the house to view the photos, I almost started crying. Perhaps it was a subversive act on his part, or simply a revelation for me that Bruce really IS better with foliage than with faces.

In some of the photos, the staghorn fern--forked like a two-fingered peace sign--protruded directly over my head making me look like a bozo. In others, the delicate snow bush leaves draped over my eyes giving me the appearance of a pirate with a newfangled designer patch.

And in a few frames, purple flowers (his real focus) bulged behind my head. Vines? They looked great, but I looked ridiculous, my face lost in a sea of twisting runners with little jasmine blossoms opened behind me in a stunning display.

To add fuel to the fire, a few of these pics even had an ugly fence in the background! What was that all about? A precursor to a new design idea?

Heaven help those of us who enlist our husbands for jobs that are really meant for others. It's kind of like having a spouse take care of a plumbing problem when he's really better at polishing the silver. You just don't go there.

So now that it's been a year, and my homepage still reflects back to me memories of my first "photo shoot," I'm beginning to think who I might want to ask to take pictures again.

One thing's for sure: I'm not going to ask my husband, who clearly does better with plants than with people, and should remain behind the lens only for snapping a flower in full bloom, or a staghorn fern...without a beloved wife's head in the forefront.

Contact Sarojni

Monday, October 30, 2006


Okay, I'm going to let the proverbial black cat out of the bag: My husband, Bruce, has a serious propensity for "kicks," which can often teeter on the brink of minor obsessions--especially relating to music or food. Right now his music kick is Phantom of the Opera. He plays the CD morning, noon and night. I have to shield my ears or go into another room, because the haunting songs are beginning to crash around my brain like chilled Chablis in a wine jug.

Bruce's current food kick is chipotle chilies. If I run out; he panics.

On Saturday, he went to Smart and Final and came home with a 3-pack, just to make sure he "has enough" on hand. Yesterday morning he put chopped chipotles in his scrambled eggs. When he walked past me with his plate, a smoky waft blew by, and when I looked up, the eggs were so red I thought he had used a whole can. But he assured me he had only used two chilies.

Then last night, he said he'd like to use them again in some kebabs. I thought that was a grand idea--but wasn't that a bit overboard? I mean, two times in one day? Not for Bruce.

As my daughter and I stood on one side of the kitchen chopping green beans for an Indian dish, my husband stood on the other side of the kitchen mish-moshing his concoction together. He started rallying questions toward me:
"Does this look like enough onions?"
"Sure!" I blurted back, hoping that he'd just create the recipe without my help.
"Do you think three chilies is enough?"
"Seems like it might be too hot," I offered.

But he didn't listen and continued doing things his own way. The true sign of a chef-in-residence.

After a few minutes, the kebab mixture was done and he was happily rolling his chiptole chile mixture into long logs ready to throw on the barbecue.

From my kitchen to yours, here is his recipe:


1 1/2 pounds organic, ground beef (you may use lamb or turkey)
1 egg
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
3 chipotle chilies, slit down the middle, seeded, then chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Form into "logs" about 6 inches long. You can put these on the barbecue as is, or you can use skewers. No barbecue? Then put them on a cookie sheet and broil until golden brown, turning once.
Note: Try not to overcook these kebabs, because they will be dry.

Buy chipotle chilies
Contact Sarojni

Saturday, October 28, 2006


A couple weeks ago, my father--who's originally from New Delhi, India--shoved an article in my hand that touted the merits of Indian pouch food. As an obsessed writer, I'm not always religious about reading my local paper, and often miss some interesting articles that have a culinary bent. It's good to know, however, that anything I do miss, my dad will save for me and present it later as a "food-related" gift; an ongoing theme between the two of us.

Eventually I got around to reading the piece, written by Douglas Brown (Denver Post)--a devotee of pouch food. He talked about "pouching" with his family and friends, and spreading the word to those near and far. Yet for me, the concept of eating food out of a bag hovers at a distance. Being from the cooking family that I am, I find it difficult to buy prepared anything, let alone Indian food, which can't come close to homemade if it arrives in a box--or really--in a silvery pouch within a box.

But because I'm a curious person, I could feel the early inklings of desire start to surface after reading Brown's review...

On a recent trip to Trader Joe's, I literally stumbled smack dab into their Indian boxed-food display. There staring me in the face were acrobatically-stacked rectangles of palak paneer (spinach and Indian-style cheese), chhole (spiced garbanzos) and other Indian delights. The colors on the packaging--some of my favorites--mustard yellows and ruby reds--got my attention, but then the nagging urge to try the food after reading that article also started pulling at me. Before I knew it I had snagged a box of palak paneer and sheepishly got in line, embarrassed that I had succumbed to buying a prepared food (who, at Trader Joe's would know--or even care--that I make most of my meals from scratch, anyway?!).

Soon after that trip to TJ's, I had a visit from my dad. He came over at lunch time, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to sample the pouch food. He seemed game for such a plan. As I was snipping the top off the bag, the phone rang; it was my sister asking if I knew where our father was. Of course I did, he was with me ready to dig into the Indian spinach dish. When my sister got wind that a feeding was imminent, in no time she was at my front door, and soon the three of us were sitting at my bar ready to do an official "Mehta taste test."

We slipped the spoons into our mouths, rolled the palak from front to back on our palates, and bit into the paneer with cautious glee. I looked at my dad; he grunted with approval. I looked down the long stretch of formica ( I know, I'm not supposed to have that in my home) to see my sister's reaction; she raised her eyebrows and said, "This is pretty good." I, on the other hand, was harder to please. The flavor was quite authentic, but the texture was, well, too smooth for me.

For at least 15 minutes, the three of us dipped, tasted, commented on and critiqued our way through our first bag of Indian pouch food (along with some "fresh" dishes I served on the side).

To be honest, I think I had more fun being with my dad and sister, than I did eating something that slithered out of a hermetically sealed bag. But all in all it was a worthy experiment and I give Douglas Brown kudos for nudging me beyond my comfort zone.

Will I buy pouch food again? Perhaps. If I were in a pinch, lazy, or craving Indian food, would I keep a box hidden in my pantry? Quite likely.

I do know, however, that no one makes palak paneer quite like my dad. And it is from this high-standard benchmark that I compare all others...which at times, may fall just short of perfection.

Friday, October 27, 2006


The U.S. Forest Service provides a free automated hotline to help leaf peepers find their beloved fall foliage. Updated weekly to follow color changes throughout the nation, and includes listings of fall activities. Will operate through the middle of November.

Fall Color Hotline
(800) 354-4595

Thursday, October 26, 2006


According to a report put out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 10/23/06, Americans are making progress in the area of reducing trash by doing two things: recycling more and throwing away less.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, who spoke at the National Recycling Coalition Conference in Atlanta on 10/23, announced that the U.S. recycled 32 percent of its waste in 2005. Including composting, Americans recycled 79 million tons, representing a 2 percent increase from 2004 and a huge jump from 16 percent in 1990.

Some other stats to gnaw on:

* Americans generated nearly 246 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2005 – a decrease of nearly 2 million tons from 2004.
* Individual waste generation has gone down to about 4.5 pounds per person per day, representing a 1.5 percent decrease from 2004.
* In addition to generating less waste, individuals recycled nearly 1.5 pounds per person per day.
* Recycling trends across the board are generally up:
Container and packaging recycling increased to 40 percent.
Nearly 62 percent of yard waste was composted.
About 42 million tons of paper were recycled—a 50 percent recycling rate.

This is all good news, but we must keep our awareness high and our efforts steadfast! Reduced consumption is a first step...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


"With Nolde"
4.5 x 9.5"

Rena Williams, watercolor artist
Auburn, Alabama

Rena Williams Watercolors Blog
Rattling Gourd Gallery

Friday, October 20, 2006


Late last spring I had an urge to watch Martha Stewart. After all, she's into food big time--and so am I.

So I turned on the TV and to my surprise she had a guest on by the name of Jesse James (yes, the one married to Sandra Bullock). Immediately I was hooked. First, because Jesse James owns a business (car and motorcyle customizing) in Long Beach--my city--and second, because he was on Martha's show to make his famous almond tart. How could I turn away from that?

Well, I watched the two of them talk about the tart and then I paid close attention to Jesse's tattooed arms pressing the crust into the pan. During their informal chat, he also talked about his hamburger joint called, Cisco Burger, located in Long Beach on Anaheim St. He told Martha that people could get this famous tart at his 50s-style diner. Needless to say, I was all over that one.

On the following Saturday, I dragged my husband and daughter through some seedy parts of Long Beach until we ended up at Cisco Burger, a "green" operation, from the solar panels on the roof to the all-natural meats served between burger buns. I really could have cared less about ordering a sandwich or burger; my tunnel-vision goal was to get a slice of that tart.

But when my husband and daughter came back to the car, they had only the food--with no dessert. I was SO letdown. The manager didn't know anything about Jesse's appearance on Martha Stewart, nor about the tart that this burger joint was supposed to be serving. Though he did promise my husband to look into it and said that the tart would most likely be forthcoming.

While my family and I sat on a bench near the parking lot eating our lunch, I decided to do an experiment: If millions of people watched that particular Martha Stewart show, surely, some who lived in Southern California would make the trek to Cisco Burger to get the tart. So I sat and observed...as I forlornly ate my sandwich.

Slowly, in between the locals arriving in broken down cars and trucks, came "the ladies." They arrived in fancy wheels--Jags--with well-coifed hairdos and long glistening nails. I wasn't sure if I should warn them, or just sit like a bird on my concrete bench quietly letting them discover what I had already learned: There was no tart behind the glass doors.

I chose the latter, and let fate takes its course. Hopefully, like me, those "Martha Stewart ladies" would return in the future to find what they were after...

I haven't gone back to Cisco Burger since that day, but I'm sure Jesse has put the tart on the menu by now.

In the meantime, here's a link to the recipe on Martha Stewarts's website. I've made the tart and it's great! Easy, delicious, and a winner for any dinner party.

Because I'm an organic enthusiast, I encourage you to use organic ingredients whenever possible.

AlmondTart Recipe

Cisco Burger

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Earth Palette Lands"
5 x 7"

Rena Williams, watercolor artist
Auburn, Alabama

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


I often think about those whose lives revolve around meeting the day's most basic needs: finding food. Let us think how we can help in even the smallest ways: donate food/time to shelters, help in soup kitchens, sponsor a needy family, donate money to causes that strive to ameliorate poverty and hunger.

To learn more about this subject, please visit:

World Run Day to End Child Hunger: November 5, 2006


by Sarojni Mehta-Lissak

Distended bellies
mimic the bloom
of pregnancy with
skin as taut as
drums. Yet
nothing but the steady beat of hunger,
palpable in its rhythm, tangible in its pain.
So unlike that of life, which expands with
the comfort of food, their stomachs expand
slowly with air, leaving them half-grown, incomplete
and barely able to hang on. How can I, in good
conscience casually peruse my recipes for
tonight's dinner, in this place where
food is
This is the mystery of fate...and...the inequity of surplus.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"October 11"

Watercolor, 5 x 7"

Rena Williams
Auburn, Alabama


Friday, October 13, 2006


1. Pesto baguette: Slice baguette (1/2"), then toast slices. Spread with store-bought pesto, top with chopped tomatoes.
2. Cucumber rounds: Peel and slice one hothouse cucumber. Spread each slice with dollop of creme fraiche, then top with 3 capers.
3. Broiled mushrooms: Wash and pat dry mushrooms. Remove stems. Fill caps with herbed cheese, such as Rondele, Boursin or Alouette. Broil 5-8 minutes.
4. "Italian-style" platter: Tightly roll deli slices of roast beef and smoked turkey. Cut into thirds. On a round platter lined with red leaf lettuce, decoratively place meats, whole black olives, cubed mozzarella, artichoke hearts, sliced red bell pepper (or roasted red bell peppers from a jar). Lightly drizzle with Italian salad dressing. Offer toothpicks on the side so guests have an easy way to partake of the platter.
5. Cream cheese and lox: In a bowl, mix cream cheese with chopped lox. Spread on whole grain crackers. Garnish with fresh dill (serve immediately or crackers will become soft).

Thursday, October 12, 2006


"Pink Sky"
Photo by Gina Kohn

Gina is a talented photographer who often captures unique sightings in the desert.

More on Wonder Valley to come...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


"Orb in Garden"

Photo: Bruce I. Lissak

Sunday, October 08, 2006


With the recent outbreak of E. coli cases due to contaminated spinach, it's understandable to have a fear of eating this popular produce item. 192 cases have been reported to the CDC, according to a statement put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on October 5, 2006. Two deaths have also been linked to E. coli infections. Clearly a serious matter.

But let's take heart that the source of this virulent bacterium has been found and we can resume eating fresh spinach again--when it appears in our produce aisles.

In the meantime, how about using the frozen variety to add nutrients, fiber, and color to your meals? Here's an easy recipe to get you started. Base the proportions on your family's appetites.



-oil for light frying
-tortillas--your choice: corn, flour, whole wheat, spelt, brown rice, Ezekial
-frozen, chopped spinach--thawed and squeezed of its liquid
-chopped onions
-goat cheese, crumbled
-chipotle chilies (optional), rinsed, diced--use sparingly

*For those who like heartier fare, use shredded chicken as well. Don't have any on hand? Use canned chicken breast. It works great in a pinch.
*Chipotle chilies have a wonderful smoky flavor and make this dish especially savory.

Cooking instructions

In a 10-12 inch skillet, put some oil and swirl to cover pan. Heat slightly, lay down tortilla. Fill with spinach, onions, chicken, chipotle chilies and goat cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold tortilla over and cook until golden on bottom. Flip quesadilla, and cook until other side is golden.

*Tips on Cleaning Fresh Spinach*

-Wash each spinach leaf thoroughly with cold water, using your fingers to
rub off dirt and debris.
-If desired, use a vegetable wash spray (available in health food stores or supermarkets).
-Pat leaves dry with dish towel or paper towel. Or use a salad spinner.
-Place cleaned leaves in their own "area"--on a dish towel, clean chopping
board, or in a bowl.

A final note: Never rely on the package labels that say greens have been
"triple washed." Though this may be true, wash, wash, and wash again.
Better to be safe than sorry.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


A few days ago while on blogger.com, I hit the "next blog" link and came upon the work of Rena Williams, a watercolor artist who resides in Auburn, Alabama. Rena has been painting for more than 15 years and gets much of her inspiration from nature--especially earth's geological gifts--crystals, layered landscapes, luminous colors.

From time to time I will be posting her work.

Tonight the full moon will rise above Los Angeles at 6:50 p.m. and will set tomorrow morning at 7:30 (Griffith Observatory Moonrise/Moonset table).

Enjoy Rena's painting...
"Hot Moonrise"
Watercolor, 5x7"


Friday, October 06, 2006

"The Culprit"
(see previous post)

Lurking within that fuzzy snout is a set of wolf-like teeth...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Collateral Damage
Translated: The Perils of Puppy Ownership

On April 15th, 2006 my family and I found an abandoned puppy in the Mojave Desert. Needless to say, we kept the pup, brought her home--and well--the rest is history. Now at nearly eight months old--"Lunah" still gets into mischief occasionally. Okay, okay, quite often.

One day when things seemed a bit too quiet (no chasing her tail in circles or cavorting through the house etc.), I heard some unusual chomping coming from the living room. When I went in to check on the noise, there was the dog happily destroying my $277 reading glasses! The frames were twisted and bitten to bits and the lenses lay on the carpeting like two forsaken twins.

Can one get mad at an adorable toddler/puppy who turns her head down, raises her eyes up and wags her tail as if she's accomplished the most valiant act?

Sure makes it hard...

Moral of the story: If you've got a new pup, keep your treasured valuables up high and away from the teeth that will destroy!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nature's Palette

On my walk yesterday I discovered a London Plane tree (a type of Sycamore) with peeling bark that exemplified nature's palette. Today my husband took a photo of this tree. The botanical name is Platanus acerifolia.