It’s rare I have a weekday that’s not stuffed with work, a mish-mash of songwriting, blogging, curating, working on my next live Super Ball Bounce Back show, etc., etc., etc.  But last Friday was one such day and I spent most of it at one of my favorite still-standing places in Burbank, Chili John’s. This is such a serious chili pad I even took the Wienermobile there a few weeks ago:

Chili John’s started in 1900 and is still going strong in Green Bay, Wis.

Chili John’s Burbank, the only offspring, was erected in 1946. All they serve are dishes topped with SERIOUS chili.

The prices are a little different than back in the ’60’s:

As usual, Mark Blackwell documented my culinary experience:

I spent a lot of time documenting the decor:

The entire restaurant is a U-shaped array of formica and bright orange vinyl:

Even the light switches go way back:

In the center of the counter there are vats of different strength chili:

The neon clock over the entrance to the kitchen is classic:

LOVE the fake flower pots and the ‘Chili John’s’ that rim the walls as they meet the ceiling all the way around the restaurant:

But nothing kills me more than the wall mural that runs along the entire east side of the restaurant:

As photogenic as the decor is, I spent most of my time photographing the food:

And what food it is! The chili dogs, with varying-degrees-of -spiciness-chili are INSANE…::

…as are the Sloppy Johns:

The chopped onions add a crispiness to make for a cornucopia of textural wonderness.

You can get a glimpse  of other dishes here. All the foodstuffs are definitely a two-fisted job:

Mark and I started with the excessively wonderful and creamy lemon pie, pictured below but solo-photo-of-which I forgot to take, and then dove backwards into the main course. As you can see, the take home cartons were already poised to be loaded:

Here I am in the kitchen to check out how the secret seasonings are brewed:

Owner Alec  Loguercio pours the fixin’s into a giant grinder:

Then it’s all tossed into a pot that’s so big it’s stirred with an oar:

Chili John’s is a family run joint. Alec…,

…and his mom, Debbie,…

…who was there the day we pulled up in the Wienermobile.:

Sue Mell, family friend, also pitches in:

It’s no secret that I love hot dogs. I don’t care what’s in them (though Chili John’s offers a choice of beef, chicken or vegetarian dogs).  They’re health food for the soul.

Put that hot dog under a bed of homemade chili and then put that chili dog in a setting like Chili John’s with a seriously friendly staff and the smell of simmering garlic tickling your membranes and you’ve got one happy chilin’ Allee Willis!


I don’t know about you but anytime I’ve tried to use a sponge made out of this kind of super-aerated foam I may as well be dragging a Kleenex over what I’m trying to clean. In other words, this never would have made it home with me had  the three sponges that comprise it arranged into anything other than a piece of cake. Although it’s a little generous to call sponge #3, the strawberry, a sponge:

Barely over in inch high, it would be more appropriate to call it an all-too-tiny piece of foam that your cat or child could choke on.

I will say that the frosting sides of the two pieces of cake are more practical than the cake portion itself. Although the form underneath doesn’t give it much support, at least there’s a shot of scraping something off a surface if one positions their cake right.

As tempting as the sponge is to eat, it comes with ample warning:

I just noticed when reading the label that this is actually called the “Shortcake sponge”. I don’t know about you, but any shortcake I’ve eaten has a more biscuit-like texture. This is a stone cold plain ol’ slice of vanilla cake with strawberry frosting.

The slices are made by one of my favorite companies for these kind of products that at once make sense and don’t make sense. Made in China but produced for Japan by Daiso.

Some of my other favorite essential Daiso products include the sauna jacket

…the apple comb

the Mayonnaise Case

… the portable banana keeper

… and the Love coasters.

The designers at Daiso must’ve been so excited about the impracticability of the tiny pop-out letters of the Love  coaster that they decided to go for it again with that stupid strawberry.

But God love them for the kitsch they create like the good-enough-to-eat-but-not-good-enough-to-clean-your-dishes cake sponge.

A few weeks ago, on the dawn of Hanukah, me, Snappy P a.k.a. Prudence Fenton, and Wendy Goldman-Rohm hopped into the mustache van and headed north to Snappy’s family pad in Monterey. We stopped at my favorite place on earth, The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, for a little Christmas shopping on the way.

We also bumped into a friend, Isabell Freed, who stopped at the inn for some french fries and pie on her way back down to LA:

Once we got to Monterey we stopped at Whole Foods for supplies, including these lemons. Yes, I said lemons.

All being writers, we treated our stay as a 5-day writing retreat.

Monterey is very quiet, condusive to this type of activity. Though the view out of the window next to us was very inviting I stayed glued to my computer.

A lot of friends stopped by to say hello:

Although beautiful, it was really cold.

Lots of great food was cooked.

It was, after all, Hanukah:

Wendy and Prudence attended to all the culinary duties:

I oggled..:

…and ate:

Wendy’s apple pancakes were KILLER:

Our friend, Sally Rosenthal, drove down to meet us from Palo Alto just in time to sample them:

Sometimes we ate out. The soup at Cassanova was especially good:

Every day started out with a walk:

Notice that I’m not in any of those photos. I prefer my exercise to take place in a nice easy chair in front of a TV.  Though I did manage to venture out once:

I only had to walk about 100 feet from the house to get a great shot of the golf course it sits on:

Every day included a lot of writing.  I had to finish my Wienermobile post as well as two songs and a new outline for my live show slated for May 8 and 9:

On the last night we hit Carmel Beach as the sun was setting.

Snappy, Wendy and Sally, of course, went for another walk.

I stayed in the car and photographed the sunset…

…and worked.

All in all, Monterey yielded a most restful and productive few days. But alas, it was time to wrap up the latkes, jump into the mustache van and head back to LA for the holidays.


As you read this, I’m boiling away in Kenosha, Wisconsin where I’m attending two friends’ wedding. Getting up at 4:30 AM to make the plane here didn’t make me the happiest of campers but at least I had the foresight to sip my barely-morning joe out of this udderly fantastic souvenir Wisconsin cup in attempts to enter the proper dairy state state of mind.

I have very fond feelings for Wisconsin as not only did I attend four stupendous years of college in Madison, but I returned there last September for my conducting debut.

If I had an inch to spare in my suitcase, always packed as if a natural disaster could hit at any moment and I could sustain myself for weeks despite the fact that I may only be gone for three days, I might have brought my Wisconsin cup.  But this is a brat and beer state and udders don’t exactly spew the latter.

Besides, the coffee at the Best Western, THE hotel in town, has been lukewarm every time I’ve  tried it, so it’s not worthy of swimming on top of the milking spouts. But speaking of swimming, the coffee machine is located in the lobby and that overlooks the pool, or should I say poo.

If it were winter, it would be nice to sit with a nice cup of coffee and ponder the meaning of ‘gister otel gues on y’.  But it’s summer, it’s hot and humid, and a steaming cup of the stuff is not what me-who-would-rather-have-air-conditioning-chips-inserted-into-her-body-than-sweat needs. Which means I’m just fine without my udder cup here in

I’m not a bowler. But I AM a bowling-kitsch-artifact collector crazy person. Bowling was THE happy-go-lucky, stylish, social sport of the 1950’s. So it follows that I would like anything that involves bowling balls and the accoutrements that accompany it, even occasionally lifting the ball myself and tossing it down the lane for the inevitable gutter ball.

Well, at least I had balls. I love the sound, feel and aesthetics of a bowling alley. I love the balls, the shoes, the snack bar, the tables you sit at to keep score. And over the years, other than the snack bar, I’ve collected a lot of it. I have bowling coin purses…

…a bowling pin lamp…

…a bowling pin bottle opener…

… bowling balls in my garden…

… bowling tables in my home…

… a wide assortment of bowling coffee mugs…

… bowling shoes…

…and a bowling ball brush.

I even use bowling trophies as door handles in my house…

…and have them carved into the floor.

That’s my kitchen floor, above which the Bowler’s Coffee Cup featured today sits in a cupboard stocked with other vintage cups.

I drink out of the bowling cup a lot because it cheers me up when I stagger into the kitchen bleary-eyed every morning.

I love all the graphics on this cup.

Less thought out than the graphics, however, was the color used to create them. I love when people who design things don’t think about the product in full use, in this case coffee being poured into the cup and lessening the effect substantially.

And that’s a real gutter ball.

I have a problem with lettering on cups when the word is short yet from no angle on the cup can you see the entire word.

And I always think that cup manufacturers cheese out when they don’t spring for anything printed on the back. The last time I looked there were more righties than lefties, which means that ‘Papa’ is ignored the lionshare of the time.

The little leaf pattern seems a tad too delicate for ‘Papa’.

And speaking of that which is not entirely masculine, let’s discuss the handle of this cup:

In addition to being a little froufrou, those sharp little bits of ceramic sticking up dig into the back of your thumb  and side of your middle finger like little knives, making it impossible to hold this as one would naturally hold a cup lest you risk puncture wounds.

I know that ceramic piece stretching across the inside of the cup is to keep ‘Papa’s’ mustache out of his coffee. But this looks much more like a bat to me and if I were ‘Papa’ I wouldn’t be so happy about my lips resting on an animal often confused for a rodent.

And what are all those brown spots at the bottom?

They’re embedded deep in the glaze and I have no idea how they got there as it’s a completely different color than the gold that graces the rest of ‘Papa’s’  cup.

Hopefully you have fewer gripes about your father than I do about this cup. If so, please wish ‘Papa’ Happy Father’s Day for me!

Nice, big, fat story in the Times on me today + 12 photos. Thank you, Bob Morris, for seeking me out (no press agent involved here!) and writing such a heartfelt, spirited, and happily long piece. My house thanks you too (at least the part of it that made the photo)!

I’m about to tool around LA today looking for more kitschy architecture that I may have missed in my 9 trillion similar such drives and, as all my drives start out, the first stop will be to hit the pumps for a full tank of gas. If only gas was still as cheap as it used to be I could be cruising up the coast of California in search of kitsch palaces instead of just hitting the neighborhood.

$3.54 for 13+ gallons brings it to 3.6¢ a gallon. That’s about the same inflation that’s hit the price of these S&P’s. Originally given away at the stations for free with the purchase of a full tank, they now can go for up to 100 bucks a pair depending on condition and whether the seller understands their value as a collectible. I got these for quarter in some junk shop when I moved to California in the late 70’s. Back then, I used to collect S&P’s like crazy. I rarely used any of them and obviously hadn’t used this one until today when I went to photograph it and pulled the bottom out, creating this pepper disaster.

I actually didn’t mind the spill as I still have a stuffed nose from the almost-but-not-really cold I had this week. Suffice it to say my nose is clear now. I know that most people don’t use salt and pepper shakers this way but I’m all for multifunction whenever possible.

I would kill to know when this pepper was first placed in the pump. In my fantasy as a vintage collector, I’d like to think that it was back at Alabam’s in Buffalo, Wyo.

I’ve never known a gas station to offer “Soup-Or-Service” before so I think that placement of the condiment in the pump at Alabam’s 60 years ago is a feasible supposition.

As I sprinkle (new) pepper on my scrambled eggs, I can only hope that my impending late morning drive produces visual treats as beautiful as these Phillips S&Ps.

This short film of my bff Charles and I baking his acclaimed Cherpumple, three pies stuffed inside of three cakes, is as much about a great friendship as it is about a brilliant and inventive edible. A frequent guest of Martha Stewart as well as a vintage slide show impresario, Charles is a kitschmeister of the highest order. We go on weekend drives a lot together, often in search of kitschifyingly wonderful foodstuffs. But recently we had an incredible kulinary adventure right here at Willis Wonderland baking the aforementioned Cherpumple.

Known for holiday delights that slide out of his test kitchen like the Astro-Weenie Christmas Tree and the Thanksgiving Tiki-Turkey Dinner, Charles created an all-year-round monster with the Cherpumple when it landed him and it on the front-page-of-The-Wall-St.-Journal a couple of months ago.

This particular Cherpumple was my birthday cake this year:

As a lover of food that would send a vegan to the funny farm, I decided it was time I learn how to make the ‘I-don’t-care-how-fancy-your-cakes-are-this-one-is-better’ cake, so Charles headed over with 3 boxes of Betty Crocker, three Sara Lee pies, 6 cans of frosting and a vintage Sunbeam Mixmaster.  I set the oven to 350.

I learned many valuable things during the fabrication of the Cherpumple. For instance, I never knew that a hole in the middle of a pie meant that it was a cherry pie.

I also learned to check the dates of food that sits in your cupboard for years so it doesn’t spit out brown tree rot when you open it and ruin your clothes like one of our cans of frosting did.

I hope you’re inspired to bake a Cherpumple after you see this instructional film. It’s so pretty.

AND IT’S SO GOOD!! Won’t you bake one with us now, please?: