‘Love is like a Heath Wave,’ the update

Claremont High School junior Loraine Ong made Round 3 in the Cold Stone Creamery contest for her ice cream mix flavor, Heath Wave, which I wrote about in September. But her chances of winning the $30,000 grand prize seem to be, sad to say, melting.

She’s ranked No. 11 * in online votes, with 60 as of Friday. The No. 1 contestant, Orlando Morales of Puerto Rico, has 877 votes.

His flavor, Black & White Delight, has French vanilla ice cream, brownies, white chocolate chips and caramel. Ong’s has French vanilla ice cream, brownies, a Heath Bar and fudge.

Call me biased as a Claremonter, but does Morales’ flavor really sound 15 times better than Ong’s? Or even any better?

So stop into a Cold Stone, buy the Heath Wave creation (or any ice cream), ask for the voting code for Heath Wave, go to http:imixamerica.com and give her a vote. Voting closes Dec. 31. We can’t let Puerto Rico punk us.

* UPDATE: As of Monday morning Loraine jumped to No. 5 with 335 votes. Wow! She’s still in this thing, folks.

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Sunday column preview

I had a farewell lunch with Norma Torres, the assemblywoman-elect and outgoing mayor of Pomona, on Wednesday. When we set it up, I wasn’t sure if I would actually interview her or just talk with her privately to pry loose the inside scoop on City Hall. For better or worse, by the time I pulled off the freeway in Pomona I decided to interview her. (City Hall: “Whew.”)

You can read the results Sunday. We talked about all sorts of topics, including Barack Obama, whom she met twice in early 2007, introduced by a campaign consultant. “We couldn’t get anybody to talk to him. It was all about Hillary,” Torres said. And about the Assembly, where as a Democrat she is pleased to be in the majority, while lamenting the rigid party structure that makes reaching out to the other party difficult. And about her time as mayor, where she admits she didn’t accomplish all that much, in part because she didn’t have much support on the City Council, even after replacing two members with Torres-friendly newcomers.

But space didn’t permit me to go into any of that. In fact, her tenure as mayor gets only two sentences! (Torres: “Whew.”) Rather than rehash her time in Pomona in superficial fashion, I opted to focus on aspects of her personal story, the most compelling thing in my notes and of the most interest to a general audience.

People in Pomona have their minds made up on her, anyway. I did, however, give her a letter grade. Feel free to leave your own grade below. But be nice.

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Restaurant of the Week: Upland German Delicatessen

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Pictured: A chicken schnitzel sandwich and German potato salad.

Upland German Delicatessen, 983 W. Foothill Blvd. (at Mulberry), Upland

Underneath Upland’s bland exterior lies, let’s be frank, a bland interior. But between the exterior and the interior lies a strata of fascination. Among the denizens of that realm is what I believe to be the Inland Valley’s sole German restaurant.

It’s one of those quiet gems, tucked away in a dull strip mall behind a Taco Bell and near the Hi Brow bar. For some reason I’d never been there before, a lack I remedied on Monday.

Inside, the deli offers a homey environment. There’s a small seating area with glass-topped tables, German postcards visible from under the glass; and a few shelves of market goods, including imported foods, especially chocolates, and Advent calendars. Cheerful German oompah music played softly. A wall was covered in decorative pieces of wood in which mottos were burned in script. The largest read: “Tough times never last, but tough people do!” A good message right now.

At the counter I ordered one of the combo lunch specials, the Stuttgart sandwich (Black Forest ham, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato and onion) on rye, with German potato salad, a pickle and an iced tea ($9.15 with tax). The meal came on a sectioned plate with real silverware. Excellent sandwich. I hadn’t had German potato salad: It’s finely chopped baked potato, piping hot, mixed with mustard. Interesting, but not my new favorite dish. I almost never eat more than a bite of a pickle but polished this sweet one off.

They also have wienerschnitzel, bratwurst, braunschweiger and other German foods, and they make baked goods such as tortes and strudels. A server brought by samples of plum torte for customers. It was a topper to a memorable, filling meal.

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When turkeys saddled up

On Tuesday, Betty Peters, the peripatetic history buff and Pomona Public Library volunteer, visited our office to show off a curiosity she’d found. She laid an old, lightly stained, brown piece of cloth, about the size and shape of a bib, or a diaper, on our counter and asked if I knew what it was.

I eyed it warily and said I didn’t.

“It was a saddle for turkeys,” Peters said. She explained that when she was growing up, her family had a small ranch in Pomona, which included turkeys. To help the tom turkeys inseminate the ladies, this cloth saddle was placed on a female’s back. The tom could dig his feet into the seams and not slip from her back until his business was concluded.

“If anyone ever asks you ‘Why do turkeys need saddles?,’ now you know!” Peters crowed.

Chew on that while you’re chewing on a turkey today. Happy Thanksgiving.

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The kids’ table

Remember the kids’ table? It was, and perhaps still is, a staple of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

It was the smaller, lower table where the pint-sized members of the family were seated, the better to give the adults some peace and some time to catch up without constant interruptions. And, of course, it was fun for the kids to sit together — allowing us to catch up without (ahem) constant interruptions from adults.

I remember my cousins and I blowing bubbles in our beverages through a straw — no adult ever thinks this is cool — and making mashed potato volcanoes with our gravy. And yet, there was always envy of the grownup table. Once you graduate to the grownups’ table, you’re there for good. You leave behind the kids’ table for (sniff) good.

A metaphor for growing up, one might say.

What did you think of the kids’ table, and do you still have one at holidays?

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Wednesday column preview

The Virgin Megastore at Ontario Mills is closing in January, along with the Virgin at the Block at Orange. On the plus side, a huge closeout sale starts Friday. I’m not keen on hitting the Mills the day after Thanksgiving, but this music fan plans to circle the CD bins like a vulture in the coming weeks, just as I did at Tower Records.

Read about Virgin’s pending demise Wednesday, as well as PFF Bank’s fate — the economy appears to have made me a business-humor columnist — and other matters.
But first, a few more thoughts about Virgin Megastore.

Virgin is a mall anchor and was one of the hip stores when the mall opened in November 1996. I don’t know if Richard Branson came out — chime in if you know — but I recall the mall hosting Wolfgang Puck when his cafe opened, and Steven Spielberg when GameWorks debuted. Off Rodeo Drive was a walkway with designer clothes. In the pre-Victoria Gardens era, having outposts of L.A. out here in the boonies was exciting.

With the later addition of a Vans skate park, which hosted Tony Hawk (I got to meet him), and the Ontario Improv, the Mills had an aura of youth and trendiness.

GameWorks and the Improv hang on, but Vans, Wolfgang Puck and Off Rodeo are long gone and Virgin is leaving. Besides the Improv, about as cool as the Mills will be at that point is, what, Fuddruckers?

Speaking of cool, this is my 500th blog post!

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Noble House

Several of you have lamented the passing of Noble House, a longtime Chinese restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga at Haven and Base Line. This came up when a couple of readers left comments on my post about Pei Wei’s closing. Since then, I got an e-mail asking what happened to them, and heard about it in person from another reader.

The way he heard it, the rent was going to double and the family-run eatery had to pack it in.

Whether that’s true or not, I’m sorry to hear Noble House is gone. A source several years ago had recommended them in the same breath as China Gate in Upland, and I’d say both were operating at about the same level. I ate there only a couple of times but I liked the place.

Las Campanas in Rancho Cucamonga also closed recently. It was an ambitious concept, upscale Mexican, but one that seems to have misjudged the market. Or maybe the food just wasn’t so hot. I ate there on a preview night, not the best time to judge, and wasn’t wowed enough to go back, even though the surroundings were awfully nice.

This didn’t trouble me, but I noticed Monday that Togo’s in Upland has a “for lease” sign. I ate there once a few weeks ago with two colleagues who, for inexplicable reasons, really liked it. Besides making very average sandwiches, it seemed like a dark, dank hole to me. Well, every place is somebody’s favorite.

Anyone have any Noble House stories, or have a favorite eatery close recently?

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Chili mac, when are you comin’ back?

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Chili mac, as photographed in May 2014 at Chili Mac’s Diner, St. Louis

Are you familiar with chili mac? According to Jane and Michael Stern’s book “Road Food,” it’s a Midwestern specialty: spaghetti noodles topped with chili.

I’d had it only once, years ago, but read about it in the Sterns’ book before my recent St. Louis trip and was intrigued. Seeing it on the menu at Crown Candy Kitchen, I ordered it. (Later I checked the book again and realized the Sterns had recommended the chili mac at a different establishment.)

Here’s what you get: a soup bowl filled with spaghetti and chili (no beans), and, if you want ‘em, cheddar and onions. I did. Adding to the silliness, on the side you get a package of oyster crackers, those small, six-sided crackers that come with chowder or chili but, um, rarely with spaghetti.

Strange it may be, the platypus of entrees, but chili mac was actually pretty tasty. I cleaned my bowl. Anyone else ever tried this regional specialty, or another one of which most Californians would be unaware?

* St. Louis also has a diner named after the dish, which I tried on a 2014 trip home. Good stuff.

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Sunday column preview

At Thursday’s Ontario-Montclair School District board meeting, we heard an oral report from the investigator hired to look into several allegations of misconduct against board member Paul Vincent Avila. The meeting was surprisingly low-key.

The report itself, in enormous binders, was distributed afterward to board members, the press and other interested parties. It’s dynamite.

One exhibit is an e-mail Avila wrote to the superintendent at 12:13 a.m., hours after the middle school awards ceremony, requesting a meeting to discuss the omission of his name from the event program.

Here’s one paragraph:

“In some circles it may be interpreted as disrespectful slight, You might asked, is this important? Yes, You bet is greatly important to me (self esteem) and community from which boardmember was elected. But if you must asked, then we really must seat down and have a passionate and sensitivity discussion.”

A bit later, he wrote:

“I find it difficult – really difficult when this degrading/slight/disrespectful behaviors impacts my beloved wife whom witnessed some likes of this! Its painful for anyone but especially love one. But I remain undeterred and strong!! Its probably the most demanding restraints called on me to turn the other cheeck which I refuse to do! What left is my words of defiance, resolve, and search for reasonable resolution. Some how an simple apology doesn’t do it!”

Yours truly made it into the report as well. Let me quote from page 93:

“On the audiotape of the August 21, 2008 Board meeting, the Investigator heard Mr. Avila refer to David Allen of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin as ‘Mr. Simpson,’ presumably a reference to the cartoon character ‘Homer Simpson’ of the ‘The Simpsons’ television show.”

I’m so proud.

Read about the report in Sunday’s column.

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