Monday, April 9, 2012

My Book Is Here!

Please go to my website for more

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My New eBook

Read All About It Below

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I Just Happened To Be There
By John Molinari

I Just Happened To Be There is an unapologetic view of guiltless exploration with humor, and a passion so great that it almost consumed and destroyed.
Did you ever enjoy something so much that you wanted more? Did you ever wonder where enjoying endlessly would take you? What if you found out you were really seeking answers to something special but did not know what it was? How far would you go to find out?
Go no further than, I Just Happened To Be There, a collection of autobiographical stories about a journey, which took root during the social unrest of the 1960s, and evolved into a living-large lifestyle in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. A lifestyle that landed me front-and-center alongside some of the most famous, iconic figures of the times.

These personal explorations, which went to such extremes, took me to corners of the world that I never dreamed I would see, and always to the farthest depths of my mind and soul. With each exploration I came to a place where I could go no further, it was then that I would magically meet the icon that owned the genre. Whether the genre was the world’s greatest drinkers, experimental drug explorers, musicians, singers, actors, comedians, poets, writers, leaders of political movements, or assorted wiseguys, to Indian spiritual teachers at the top of their enlightened mountains, I managed to meet them. In I Just Happened To Be There, I share my encounters with icons like Jimi Hendrix, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Robin Williams, Frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, Underworld Figures, Indian Guru’s and many more. I did not start out to meet anyone or to discover any of life’s mysteries, it was simply the result of taking something, anything, and everything as far as one could go.

There are books about the sixties; it’s music, social unrest, drug experiments, and various alternative living lifestyles. There are also books on spiritual exploration, with journeys to India and other such epicenters, and books on life’s extreme pursuits, of pushing boundaries, and sharing what they learned.
However there has been no other book until now, that brings it all together under one umbrella, one person; one adventurous spirit at it’s most extreme. I Just Happened To Be There is a great love story told by one of life’s biggest fans to the love of his life.


1. Preface

GEE YOU ARE YOU. During a near-drowning incident as a child, a comforting vision appears to me—an omen of things to come, and a precursor to a life-long inner struggle between my over-adventurous, worldly spirit and my spirituality.

2. Coming Of Age, Or When Coming Is No Longer Enough

THE SIXTIES. Welcome to my generation – from sex, drugs, and rock & roll, to political turbulence and activism. Exciting times of exploration and unrest.

FOOTPRINTS IN THE SANDS OF TIME? CLOSE, BUT NO JOINT! My friendship with fellow explorers Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, and others; Knocking on John and Yoko’s door, a close call with history.

JIMI. Tripping with the greatest rock guitarist in the world.

KEYSTONE JUNKIES. How far would you go to save your friends? A darkly humorous look at my attempt to rescue those I care about from the brink of heroin addiction.

THE PARTY’S OVER. Stanislavsky set the bar high, Ken Kesey pranked his way through it; Owsley’s LSD; Fast-tracking my search for spiritual bliss lands me in the hospital; No sympathy for the devil at Altamont.

CALIFORNIA OR BUST. Arrested for possession of pot in upstate NY; Pushing the legal envelope, I take my last trip in Toronto, catching the now-historic Festival Express concert tour; Going stir-crazy on probation, and longing for Berkeley, my friend and I hatch a plot.

RAG THEATER. Retail clothing and protest play out against the drama of People’s Park. We’re Mod and we’re not gonna take it anymore!

MY PASSAGE TO INDIA. Three months of magic and mysticism; studies of my Spiritual Path; Speaking to a crowd of 150,000 on universal harmony.

3. How I Fell Off The Spiritual Bandwagon And Landed On A Bar Stool

SITTING HERE IN LIMBO. Back from India, giving spiritual talks; struggling to balance my newfound clarity and the pull of the “real” world - my Spiritual Compass vs. my Inner Bad Boy; Weakening and rediscovering the joys of drink.

ALL-IN. The struggle continues, but fun sets in; On meditating and drinking; A change of role models – goodbye Grateful Dead, hello Rat Pack.
THE WOW. An old acquaintance becomes an instant drinking buddy; Debauchery, and Fear and Loafing in Las Vegas.

DO AS THE ROMANS DO. Working hard, playing hard, and drinking hard, sets the stage for a fall. After a doctor orders absolute abstinence and rest, what’s a Bad Boy to do? Head straight to the casinos of Lake Tahoe!

I OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES. Nevada-bound and questioning the wisdom of the trip (and my new lifestyle); Pondering how life imitates art, in my case, the movies.

PLAYING THE FIELD. Low on funds at Harrah’s, I throw caution to the wind. Call me irresponsible, but Lady Luck is on my arm.

YO-LEVEN. Riding the emotional roller coaster of high-stakes dice and conspicuous consumption; Hitting rock bottom - a stone’s throw from salvation.

4. Hollywood

BEHIND BARS. Making the move to Los Angeles to chase a dream; Exploring the glamorous history of Tinseltown’s drinking establishments; Getting some golden advice from a star of the silver screen.

THE ROCHESTER CONNECTION. Hooking up with some boys from the hood, old and new; An eerie visit to the scene of one of L.A.’s most brutal and highly publicized crimes.

THE DAY I MET MY MARX BROTHER. A chance meeting with Bob Marx turns into a great friendship, and opens the door to the Hollywood fast lane.

OFF BASE. How I ended up at the wrong end of Gregory Peck’s baseball bat.

YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. Meeting the Fifth Beatle, Billy Preston.

ROCKIN’ ROBIN AND THE LIVING LEGEND. Standing at the crossroads of Robin Williams, a past friend, and Frank Sinatra, a friend-to-be, on the set of the TV revival of Laugh-In.

COME FLY WITH ME. An invitation from out of the blue to join Barbara Marx, Bob’s mom, and his step-dad, a blue-eyed guy named Frank; The one and only Jilly.

5. Speaking Frankly

HEY, BUDDY, THE BAR IS OPEN. Treated to a weekend at the Fairmont Hotel; Meeting my hosts – Frank and Barbara Sinatra.

BERKELEY REVISITED. With our armed bodyguard at the wheel, Bob and I run loose through the old stomping grounds. He looks up a friend, Patty Hearst.

FREE RADICALS. Bob’s offer to bring the former fugitive to Camp Sinatra doesn’t sit well; At Fisherman’s Wharf, Mrs. S gets a health lecture on shellfish, and Jilly mussels in.

POT SMOKING SINATRA. Feeling like family, I treat the clan to a pizza fest; Frank tries to dodge a few bullets – and a few headlines.

THE MILLIONAIRE. The truth about Frank’s philanthropy.

AS TIME GOES BY. Dinner with the Hearst sisters makes me late for a very important date; an Oakland Raider rushes me through the streets of San Francisco.

WHO’S AFRAID OF TINA SINATRA? After Frank’s show, his outspoken daughter and I are properly introduced. Fasten your seat belts.

WHATEVER GETS YOU THROUGH THE NIGHT. Pulling an all-nighter with Ol’ Blue Eyes, one-on-one, where there is no such thing as Last Call.

ONE FOR THE ROAD. Jilly, the old road warrior, needs to pop his cork.

6. Hollywood Ending

SIDE BY SIDE. Back to the reality of my life in L.A.; Meeting Helen, my soul-mate; Discovering the New York transplant; Armand Hammer and I conduct the Billionaire’s Glee Club and Chorus Line.

NOTHING COULD BE FUNNIER OR FINER THAN THE WEDDING OF A REINER. Best Man at a best friend’s wedding; a tale of two families – Matzo meets Ritz Crackers.

CHUTZPAH UNDER THE CHUPAH. The hysterical trials and tribulations of a dual-faith ceremony; Carl Reiner can’t get a laugh; the General’s family lands in the clink.

THE LAST AUDITION. After a series of setbacks and rejections, a part on the hit show Happy Days is mine, until the contractual height clause of its stars nixes my chances - size does matter! Disillusioned on the Paramount lot, passing the Mork & Mindy sound-stage, and running into its star, pal Robin Williams - but do I have the heart to face him?

7. And Now Just Leave Me Alone With My Ravioli

CHANGE OF LIFE. Scoring in the magazine business moves us back to my beloved NYC. My wife and I turn a new leaf.

HIGH ANXIETY IN NEW YORK. A long overdue reunion – clearing the air somewhere over the Rainbow Room.

BRONX CHEER. Sparks fly at a mobbed-up birthday party, and not from the candles on the cake.

FATHER FIGURES. My fascination with wiseguys started young, tempered by my father’s guidance; An unusual job interview leads to a lucrative proposition – but is it an offer I should refuse?

THE KEY. A mysterious gift is bestowed at my father’s wake.

EPILOGUE. Some closing thoughts about why I decided to tell my story. But, hey, it ain’t over till it’s over!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Legend of Little Lord Mikey REDUX

Footnote or shall I say foot in the mouth note. This piece that I wrote was in a variety of newspapers and magazines it originally posted on my blog on Oct 8th 2009 before the NYC election for mayor. After the election it was deleted. Mr. Bloomberg has made a lot of noise about "not" running for President. So I thought I would bring it back and repost. Although he has an occasional good idea, usually practical in nature, another read of The Legend of Little Lord Mikey will remind you why someone who is 20 billion removed from the common problems of man should not be President.

The Legend of Little Lord Mikey
Once upon a time an even smaller than usual hobbit from Bostonia made his way to his new city, New York. In no time his fate kicked in and he became the richest among the little people. His riches and all they bought quickly bored him, so he sought his thrills elsewhere, and bought himself the Lordship position in his new land.
Secretly he viewed all his new city subjects with disdain. Compared to the people of his beloved Bostonia they were loud, smoked, drank libations in the parks, and generally told the truth. They cheered in coliseums for what he thought were the wrong teams as they were not from Bostonia. People, simply put, had fun, in fact BM {BM despite what you may think means, Before Mike}; this new land was known to the masses of the world as “Fun City.” His Lordship, Little Mikey, decided that he and only he knew what was good or bad for us, his mission was to reform his new subjects.
So it began, he slipped in comments through his rein, such as “my luxury NY.” He also stuck up for all corporate interests from those whose neglect created blackouts to declaring that insurance company CEO’s don’t make that much money and should not be scapegoats in the healthcare debate. During tough times when coins were scarce in the new city’s tills he created cuts in services like garbage pick ups, but never in his luxury areas where his rich friends lived. The cuts came in the areas where his subjects were the poorest and when they complained the now power mad lord said “Is it too much to ask someone to suck it up and smell the stink for your city, just keep your windows closed.” His numerous arrogant comments through his two term rein went largely unnoticed because the main industry in this new city, that brought millions of people to it, was make as much money you can. Since Little Mikey had so much money he was looked upon as the man who actually got the gold ring from the merry-go-round that they were all on, thusly they deferred to him.
If someone in his lordships council disagreed they were quickly brought in line with sums of coins from Little Mikey’s, piles of money, either with donations to their campaign coffers or to their individual “foundations,” in fact sometimes his lordships own foundations could be used to enrich the others. This is how he overturned the will of the peons that voted in term limits to run for a third term without calling for another vote from those who voted for the limits in the first place. You see social graces, and rules are for the real little people who remain silent, us.
And so it came to pass that after wrecking the spirit of the new city , he enabled it to return to the gilded age once again, doing nothing to discourage the high cost of living. Artists who formerly inhabited SOHO now could not even afford to park there. People pay over half their incomes in rent that is after “qualifying,” by proving that you make 45 times the rent plus the yearly rent on top of that. Do the landlords think someone is going to pack the apartment and run away with it? No, my friends this is all by design to have class cleansing in Little Mikey’s luxury NY.
Developers are a notch above child molesters and the notch is slipping downward fast. Instead of working on behalf of his subjects Little Mikey choose to enable the developers to further class cleansing, hoping that one day his new city would turn into his secret vision, a place where only the super rich reside along with those that serve them. To further insult his subjects he built a new luxury building in his honor that holds his lord’s interests and named it, not after the city that gave him his wealth, but after a place in Bostonia called Beacon Hill.
In ancient Rome salt was considered a sign of wealth, in a recent NY newspaper article they talked about Little Mikey’s fondness of excessive salt on everything and I mean everything he ate. Hopefully his fate will be the same as the Roman Emperors whose table habits he emulates.
An appropriate message in the month of Novemberous for the town crier as the election approaches is an ancient one spoken in our sports coliseum in the Bronx and that is “THRO DA BUM OUT!”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Between Two Worlds

Between two worlds, surreal, seems to describe my recent political state of mind perfectly. After writing my last piece The Root Canal Of All Evil on my blog I seemed to have left my political self in the dust. I could not get past the subject of the post that the obstacle at the root of solving every ideological difference on challenges we face together is money. Upon reading my usual newspapers, websites and listening to a host of talking heads, my mind ran a gamut of emotions. On one hand the activist in me wants to fight, while the realist in me says the politicians don’t mean what they say, they are bought and paid for. They vote and speak as their corporate owners tell them. I even get angry with those who I support. I get livid at their mediocrity of achievement, the baby steps in policies and bills that hold our future in their words, such as the absence of a strong public option in the healthcare bill. I then realize that this too is a result of the money influence. Is there any hope? Should we fight? Would it even matter unless we could offer them more money by outbidding the corporate interests?
The corporate owners of America are delighted as they have us divided to keep us away from the real problem, them. A Government of the people, by the people and for the people has been reduced to an illusion. I recall the words of that great anthem by Bob Marley “ So now we see the light, what you gonna do? we gonna stand up for our rights, don’t give up the fight, get up, stand up for your rights.”
Last week the dust of my malaise began to settle, as Bob Marley verses ran through my mind, I was reunited with my political self. As the surreal clouds lifted, I saw my political body waiting to be dusted off and put back into action. Fight? You bet! Fight the only fight that counts, the fight that will address everything we care about, to remove money from the equation. We must stand up and battle until this becomes a political reality.
Between Two Worlds is a classic film staring John Garfield, Paul Henreid and Sydney Greenstreet. The films narrative is a group of diversified characters are about to board a ship with separate destinations. Some of the characters are at peace with whatever seems to unfold and reveal itself, while others are disgruntled for various reasons, ego and misdirected anger being mostly the culprits. What they don’t know is they are all dead and on their way to judgment day. Sydney is aptly cast as the awaiting judge, and the needs of the passengers are sympathetically dealt with by a serene steward named Scrubby who happily obliges their whims until their judgment moment arrives. The judge reviews every ones past deeds and they are then sent off to an appropriate eternity of their own making. Anyone who committed suicide has a special destiny, the same as Scrubby who ended his life by his own hands, and has to spend eternity as a server on the ship of dead souls on their way to face the judge. Over and over, trip after trip, forever. The film is an example of the ship on which we all ride. However we have the best possible leader to steer us in the right direction to a future that gives us and others a chance at a real sustainable future, and the captain of the ship is President Obama.
As progressives we have to stop eating our own, as that can become our political suicide and doom us to an eternity of repeats.
Fight for real change instead of picking apart every detail of what Obama proposes. Let us collectively try to be conscious that merely turning this ship of fools around is an arduous task that would completely escape most other leaders. Another so called, stuck in the past leader, might drive us directly into a black hole, putting us squarely back in time
instead of the direction of new horizons. We must beware of contributing to the chatter of the far right which only weakens him and our causes even further. Let us continue to speak out while also focusing our energies on getting our country to a place where a forward thinking President like Obama, or any future leader, will have the freedom to propose their full desires in a bill without worrying about the money obstructions in getting the votes. Speak out, keep up the fight to rid money from our political process and remember the words of Jim Morrison of The Doors “you can’t burn out if you’re not on fire.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Root Canal Of All Evil

The root canal of all evil is money. All intelligent sincere debates between persons of same or different political parties are useless. Job preservation for elected members of the senate and congress is their number one priority, even over any good for the people that they represent. Getting the job and keeping their job takes a lot of money and most of their time. Each day is spent raising funds for their next election from their very first day in office. Their daily fund raising dollar goal usually far exceeds the income of any of the people they represent.
There are eight healthcare lobbyists for every congressperson and every senator, four for each member from Wall Street, banks and other financial institutions. It’s a wonder there is room for our officials to walk down these crowded aisles to get to the bathroom. Hmm, maybe that’s why so many republicans have a constipated look on their face and why they are so mean. To be fair, this problem is with both parties.
Recently, Mr. Tan Man, John Boehner paid a visit to Morgan Stanley’s CEO and told him unless you want banking reforms you better start giving more money to republicans. An open, blatant shakedown, in the light of day, to sell out the American people. Americans will have to suffer through any future unregulated scams as we are now suffering from the last one, but next time it could be worse. At least the house passed a regulatory bill and the President to his credit is trying to get a meaningful bill through a very constipated senate. Constipation is the state you arrive at when you keep swallowing dyed green dollars.
After his visit to shake down Wall Street, Boehner the tan man then had the nerve to go before The Mad Tea Party and feed them lines to stoke the flames about democrats and Obama. The Tea Party and everyone else should be outraged, not by the sound bites hurled at them that have no basis in reality, but by what’s really happened to our system. Right or wrong we demand democracy from every other nation as we are losing our own.
America is on the way to becoming USA INC, a corporation instead of a nation. The Supreme Courts recent decision for unlimited contributions by a corporation to anyone’s campaign is not just troublesome, but is the beginning of the end of our empire. It is now perfectly legal for any corporate interests to give a group of elected officials billions to vote their way so they can make trillions. No concern for an appearance of impropriety or maintaining even a small pretension of representation for the people.
John McCann, whom I used to like in one of his past reinventions of himself, is now unfortunately best characterized by the line in The Beatles song Mean Mr. Mustard “such a mean old man.” McCann, Mr. Campaign finance reform himself, has been eerily silent on the court’s decision. Perhaps his hearing aid was tuned to off as creatures with black gowns that called themselves Supremes sang from their bench the hit from the 60’S “
“Nothing But Heartache,”
Our “leaders” by design have us divided and occupied by yelling at each other, as they sell off our interests to the highest bidder. Ever wonder why we are so behind other countries in transportation, infrastructure and more? Ever wonder why we do not have a real safety net for our people? Money, that’s why. It can be said that any nation that does not build on its infrastructure, care for its young, elderly and less gifted is doomed for extinction. We can save our country by demanding a box on every ballot that will allow us to vote for publicly financed elections and a complete ban on all lobbyists’ money. Lobbyists should be allowed to make their case, but not buy it. Maybe we should be The Supremes and the song that we sing should be “Stop In The Name Of Love.”

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Did You Learn How To Eat Yet?" Part 2


ITALY - In Rome there is a saying, “Quello che voi siete noi eravamo; quello che noi siamo voi sarete.” “That which you are, we were; that which we are, you will be.”
Rome, where everyone has something to say, even those who are long gone, and mostly about food, rocked my culinary world.

On our first trip to Italy my wife and I decided upon a 10-day trip starting in Rome then on to Capri and back to Rome. Later these journeys grew to at least one month each trip. Many of our meals were planned in advance. We carefully researched restaurants and food destinations so that we would not miss the season’s star foods. From the truffle season in the north, to the small tomato season in south, zucchini flowers of Rome, or the full flavored peppers of Sicily, and all in between. We also studied the wines of each area so we could have the best enhancer to their regional foods, keeping with the philosophy that what grows together should be served together.

Why choose Rome and Capri for our first trip? The Roman emperors had the whole world to play in, yet they spent all of their time in these two places. It seemed to be a good place for a cultural overview. I had arranged for our hotel in Rome through a friend in New York who managed a branch here, he enlisted a driver to pick us up by the name of Dante. Dante was a born philosopher, not unlike any Roman. He was wise, kind, and also patient with my Italian, which returned to me with each day of practical application. On the way to our hotel, Dante took it upon himself to make a side trip up a small mountain. Then suddenly he abruptly stopped the car and asked us to accompany him. We looked around and saw nothing except a huge, wooden door attached to the wall of a home. What was going on? He just motioned for us to follow him to the door as he stood
proudly and asked us to look through the keyhole. There it was, Rome, all of it, in all its glory! Dante who had a smile the width of the Tiber said, “Benvenuti a Roma,” “Welcome, to Rome.”
As my eyes took in the breathtaking Roman view I had a realization that we just went through the keyhole and passed into another level of food adventures.

So many food memories and life long impressions were enhanced in Italy from our many trips, thoughts that still warm our culinary souls. We were spoiled by the quality of vegetables, especially in the Campania region, where all soil is enriched with the minerals of volcanic ash from Mt Vesuvius, making every bite magnified in flavor.
A few of our fondest memories are walking up the mountain side in Capri, when we stopped to catch our breath we saw a little old man in his own backyard vineyard. I asked him about the two grapes he was cultivating. He then smiled and put up a finger indicating that we should wait. We were fixated on him, as we observed him go from grape to grape until he found the perfect samples for us to try. He earnestly awaited our reaction, which was genuinely enthusiastic, and this pleased him very much. This taught us the love and pride that goes into every sip and bite, starting with the growing process.
One night in Capri we wanted to dine in our room and thought a simple Caprese salad would satisfy. I walked to a tiny shop to purchase the necessary ingredients, Buffalo Mozzarella made nearby, basil, tomato, and a small piece of garlic, also freash tiny bits of green chili, with good sea salt, local olive oil and crusty bread. As I reached for a ball of wrapped cheese on the counter a grandmother type shocked me by slapping my hand. I thought I had reached in front of her, or perhaps offended a local custom. She then explained to me that my choice of cheese was wrong as it was made in the morning and she handed me one that was made later in the day. I asked the proprietor where the tomatoes were? He told me to come around the counter and took me to a small room where the shelves were lined with tomatoes that were displayed and cared for like each one was a precious stone. Italians have an incredible love and pride, not just with their cultivating and cooking, but also from being able to offer the best to others.

Rome showed us the delights of Funghi, mushrooms of all kinds. We discovered a wonderful family owned trattoria called, da tonino alla lampada. Which means lamp of Tonino. Tonino was the owner, chef, and resident maestro de funghi, master chef of mushrooms. Lamp is an Italian slang for the lid or the shade of each mushroom. Upon entering what we called “Mushroom Place,” we were blown away by the strong fragrance that filled the room from the baskets of mushrooms on display. Everything from large Funghi Porcini served with pasta, or as a primi course, grilled with pieces of garlic inserted in the lamp of the funghi, with a drizzle of olive oil. There was also Ovalo, a bright orange egg shape mushroom that is usually thinly sliced, served raw with lemon juice and olive oil. Local cepes, black Umbrian truffles, white truffles from Alba and more, all blended together to create the powerful scent.
It was here that Tonino invited me into his kitchen to show me the art of making Roman style artichokes. The chokes are first trimmed then stuffed with garlic and a Roman herb similar to mint is mixed with salt, then they are cooked stem side up in a combination of white wine, lemon halves, and olive oil. When done the artichokes are removed to cool and the liquid is reduced to a syrup and drizzled over this much prized roman delicacy.

There is much more that we learned, so many stories, that every day when my wife and I shop and cook, any given ingredient could spark a memory that brings a smile to our faces.
Seek out the freshest and best quality ingredients available; always remember less in any art, is more. Pass on your love by cooking a dinner for a friend today, and then give them the recipe to cook for others. I always come back to Dante. At the end of our first trip he picked us up to take us to the airport, and the first thing he did, before pulling out of the drive way, was to turn around with his Tiber wide smile and say, “So, did you learn how to eat yet?”
He went on to say, “now you know the Roman secret,” “what is that,” I replied, “everybody dies, but not everybody lives!” Well Dante, the answer to your question is I’m still learning how to eat and live.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Did You Learn How To Eat Yet?" Part 1

As a self-confessed food explorer I often reflect on just how it all began. Maybe it was those sub zero upstate New York mornings when my mother would wake me for school. As my eyelids slowly found their way open she immediately inquired, “What would you like for dinner?” Thoughts of the decided upon Italian delicacy warmed my cold day; I used my minds palate to tune in and taste this dish several times throughout my day.

We were far from a wealthy family, yet we regularly purchased the best quality of foods that were available. Having dinner together every night and discussing the finer points of what we were consuming was a ritual. As a child Saturday’s were usually devoted to our weekly food hunt. My father would often wake me at the crack of dawn to accompany him on our journey to the public market. The local public market was a greenmarket, open to chefs and the public as well. Farmers proud of what they displayed, yelled loud descriptions of their wares, from local cheeses, to a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, a real feast for the eyes and ears. There was an immense level of enthusiasm in the air and that feeling had a lasting effect on the way I think of food until this day.

After the market we moved on to the Italian Specialty store for the weeks supplies then on to the German market for meats, as they had the best quality and most knowledgeable butcher in town. Next up came a variety of bakeries, where we would add to our food excursion, warm crusty Italian bread, freshly made Italian pastries, deli style dark baked seeded corn rye, and with my encouragement, a Black Forest cake. The cake was a delightful combination of rich chocolate, layered with custard cream, liquor soaked cherries topped with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

When we returned to our home base the arguments between my Mom and Dad ensued due to my father’s over purchasing. Relatives were enlisted to aid in the distribution of the abundance of purchases. My Mom made packages for each one of them. This event added more color to my day as they all gossiped over Anisette and espresso about each other. My Mom would demand to know what they intended to make with their package as they gave her their recipes and anxiously awaited her nod of approval. My Mom was a recognized advanced cook and in today’s world would have been one of its culinary stars. I used to watch her at work in the kitchen and ask constant questions that never tested her patience. As a child food often interfered with my rest and hygiene routine, for example preparations for Christmas Eve began the previous day when sheets were laid over beds, tables and furniture, topped with freshly made pasta drying, and the bathtub was filled with Baccala {dried codfish} desalting in water. The activity level at Christmas would increase by the minute, along with the excitement. There was a constant flow of people bringing over their contribution for Mom to cook for the anticipated feast, which always exceeded expectations.

My Family had an unspoken philosophy that nowhere was too far to travel or out of reach when it came to obtaining seasonal delights. Every year when the moment presented itself my dad would go to Maryland, accompanied by an equally adventurous friend to secure bushels of cooked, seasoned, Chesapeake Bay Crabs that filled our refrigerator. There were trips to Connecticut where relatives made homemade spicy sopressata salami that took up most of the backseat of the car on the ride home.
One can certainly say that this was an auspicious culinary beginning for the development of any young palate. By the time I was 10 years old I was anxious to apply my accumulated knowledge. I had skipped school and in an attempt to lessen the anticipated punishment, I thought it would be a good time to test my ability and cook a dinner for my working Mom and Dad. So it began.

Berkeley CA – In the beginning of the 70’S I began to prepare for a move to Berkeley CA by weaning myself away from the importance of all good foods that I had grown accustomed to, on top of that I was now a vegetarian. I thought that I would be entering a culinary wasteland; instead I found the beginnings of a food revolution, and a complete explosion of experimentation and innovation that lead to a new way America looked at food. It seems The Bay Area took to opening its collective minds and exploring foods in the same way as it did to hallucinogenics in the sixties.
My new home added much to the way that I approached cooking and eating; it was another level of discovery. The finest freash ingredients were available for any amateur cook to use in their kitchens. Many establishments served as a place of education, like The Cheese Board in Walnut Square where cheeses from all over the world could be found. The knowledgeable owner and staff would encourage you to taste, recommend cheese choices, and then volunteer background information on the history of each one.
It was the start of what has become known as the Alice Waters movement that began when she opened the acclaimed and iconic Chez Panisse restaurant on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. Her purveyors were local cheese makers and farmers who cultivated the restaurants specific requests.
Going to a green market daily and creating a dish based on what’s available is nothing new in Italy or France for the chef and the home cook alike. In America at the time, shamefully even in California, where climate was waiting for chefs to catch on, we still seemed to not yet get it. Shelf life concerns and processing still ruled the day.
Alice Waters brought a new kind of “Grow Your Own,” to the Bay Area, which ignited the imaginations of chefs all over the U.S. I used to walk down the hill from my Berkeley home, tie up my dog outside and try exciting new worlds of foods that Alice served up, like young garlic soup.

I also made good friends of The Crotti family at Tommasso’s restaurant of North Beach in San Francisco. Tommasso’s was a who’s who of the culinary world; it was a Mecca for Alice, Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck and more. The reason for its fame was Tommasso’s had the first wood burning pizza oven in the U.S since 1935, he was a consultant for Alice, Wolfgang and any one else that wanted to serve up wood burning delights. The Crotti’s brought a little bit of Italy to San Francisco by using their oak wood oven for more than delicious pizzas. They would wrap the freshest fish that they could possibly acquire, like sea bass wrapped in herbs and cook it near the burning pile of wood, also clams, veal, even eggplant parm would become something special when baked in their oven. Each bite brought a smile to the diner as the smoky miracle exposed itself.

In nearby Oakland there was an Italian store that made pesto. It was the first time I ever tasted this perfect combination of fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, that were all ground together with a stream of ligurian olive oil, imported Romano and Parmesan cheeses. Italians from Genoa had settled in the Bay Area in groves after arriving in New York’s Ellis Island, because unlike their southern Italian brethren they had the extra $100 it took to go west. These natives from Genoa introduced pesto to the Bay Area when the rest of the country did not even know of its existence. They also were the only ones who had access to ligurian oil indigenous from the region of pesto’s birth that made it a 10.

I was fascinated by and became quickly addicted to Mexican cuisine in the Bay area. Mexican food was as foreign to New York as finding someone from the Bronx who rooted for The Red Sox.
I began to experiment with Mexican sauces, such as various ways to use a host of chilies. I cooked and honed the sauces for years, until I was ready to serve my dishes to others. I learned the best way to make sauces was use a roasting process. When making a green tomatillo sauce I would not only roast the chilies but all of the other vegetables too. The sauce came alive, with a new layer of flavor, when first roasted slowly to caramelized perfection, before blending and reducing with additional herbs and spices.
I also, thanks to the expanded minds of Bay area residents, discovered the joys of a little known cuisine in America back then, Indian.