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December 10, 2023

The Mystery Behind Panko

While waiting at a stoplight on Glen Arbor Road in Ben Lomond I glanced over at the long row of lovely golden yellow daffodils gracing the side of the road.

Those daffodils have appeared each of the 18 years I have lived here announcing that Spring is arriving. I’ve spent many summers in Puyallup, Wash., known as the Daffodil Capital of the U.S. and each year that fragrance of those daffodils fills the valley floor.

Driving to Boulder Creek from Ben Lomond these last few weeks and following the directions of the flagmen with their traffic stops and starts, has given me the opportunity to discover more about the lives of my neighbors.

The expression ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,’ has helped to take away the frustration behind the wheel of my car while I wait for the flagmen to wave me on. I simply bring a few crackers and cheese, or a sandwich half and a drink to help ‘while away’ the time.  

There are so many backyard gardens along the way. I see chicken coops, kid’s swing sets and a yard where goats use to graze but are no longer there. There are small, hand-painted signs announcing a hair salon, a tax consultant and massages, small business tucked back from the road that I didn’t know existed—until now. 

There is the A-Frame home where the sun shines on in the afternoons. Their blinds are always closed. I have wondered for years who owns this home. I have always wanted an A-Frame home with exposed timbers and natural logs. Something about that home with a fireplace burning in the winter months—I guess you could call it A-Frame envy.

There is another expression I think about as my car is idling: ‘You never know what goes on behind closed doors.’

Some yards are overgrown, and some houses look as though they haven’t been occupied for years—many cars and trucks, all squeezed into tiny spaces, seem as if they haven’t been driven for years. And then I come upon the yard of the house where dear Sgt. Damon Gutzweiler was killed. My eyes fill with tears. Oh, I think, ‘if those walls could talk’.

How empty the town of Ben Lomond looks with the giant Valley Oak tree no longer stretching its massive branches over the Highway as if to protect all who ‘travel there.’ 

And then the flagman waves me on and moving ever so slow with my windows down, I drink in the smell of the redwoods as I reach my home. 

I am grateful that I live among the trees in this beautiful San Lorenzo Valley.

I’d like to talk about breadcrumb toppings that I use in many of my recipes: Upper Crust’s authentic Panko. What is it and how is it made?

Many years ago, my Hubby Norm was traveling to Japan on business and on one such trip, I went along. It was there I discovered this delicious Panko product that has been a staple in my kitchen, along with a more cake-like batter that is known as Tempura.  

Panko and bread crumbs are bread crumbs, but that is where the similarity ends. What separates Upper Crust’s Panko from regular bread crumbs is how they’re made, their texture and their end result. The name Panko comes from the Japanese words pan and bread.

Upper Crust Panko is made from bread that has been baked using an electrical current. Now, don’t ask me how—I’m a cook, not a scientist. This method produces pure white bread with millions of air pockets and with no crust. The bread is then staled and ground which creates light and delicate sliver-shaped breadcrumbs.

Most standard breadcrumbs are made using day-old or expired bread from grocery stores. This bread comes from various stores and various bread manufacturers.

There are poorly duplicated Panko manufacturers, Kikkoman being one.   

The Upper Crust method produces a lighter, crispier and non-oil soaking crumb, without the usual bready flavor which can change the flavor of your dish.

I use this authentic Panko in my crab cakes, meatloaf, eggplant and meatballs, and anytime a recipe calls for ‘dredging in breadcrumbs’ I only use Upper Crust Panko. I store the panko in the freezer. 

Japanese restaurants have been using Upper Crust Panko for years. You should too.  

Both Panko and Tempura batter is available online (uppercrustent.com) and reasonably priced.  

Deep-fried Shrimp Japanese style

Tempura Batter


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg beaten well
  • 1 cup ice water


Gently blend batter with ice-cold water. Some lumps are good. Usually will coat 12 large shrimp.  The thickness of the batter should resemble a pancake batter. Dust peeled shrimp with flour, then dip in the prepared batter mix.

Immediately roll in Panko. Deep fry at 375 degrees until golden brown, 1-2 minutes. So easy and delicious.

Restaurant-style Tartar Sauce

In a bowl mix together and chill:

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp. minced sweet onion
  • 2 Tbsp. Dill or sweet relish
  • 1 tsp. dry dill 
  • ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp. Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].


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