Sucking on Nickels & Other Summer Fun

Since fall is almost here, I thought I’d update you on my summer and some of why I haven’t been writing!

I am so grateful for the wonderful trip Jeff and I had with Nate in July.  There were lots of fun moments, many laughs, and much to look back on with a smile.  I am especially grateful because the memories of Maine have sustained me through the last few difficult weeks.

To get an accurate picture of what’s been going on, we must first go back a bit.  I’ve been having pain in my back for several months.  Of course, I’m 48 so dealing with aches and pains is the new normal!  I was also dealing with a cough that began with a cold in February and hung on through mid-June.  During the time I was living with the cough, my ENT performed transnasall esophagoscopy multiple times and prescribed several rounds of antibiotics, steroids and other drugs to combat the cough – unfortunately, the large doses of meds led to a case of oral thrush.  I never really thought much about thrush until I had it….I thought it was something babies got, not adults.

Needless to say, with all of the meds and appointments and poking and prodding of my sinuses I had my fill (more than my fill) of being sick, feeling run down and seeing docs (not that I have anything personal against my docs – they are fine people, but I like them better when I don’t have to see them as a patient!!!).

So when the sporadic backache began, I filed it under the “suck it up, cupcake, you’re getting older” column.  As it continued sporadically and then more regularly, I filed it under the “we need a new mattress” column.  But just before we left for Maine I stared having pain in my lower left abdomen.  Again, I filed that pain under the heading of “getting older” and movedon.org.  But the pain in my abdomen continued to get worse during vacation, so on the last day I called my OB/Gyn and made an appointment for the day after we arrived home.

My regular OB doc was on vacation so I saw another doc in the practice who did some tests and then sent me for an ultrasound that ultimately revealed nothing.  Because the tests showed nothing OB/G related, the doc thought the next best course of action was to see a gastroenterologist.

That takes us to August 5th.  A day mostly like any other.  I wrote a post, did some laundry and some work on upcoming classes and then turned my attention to getting ready for a short trip to NYC that was to start on 8/7.  When Jeff arrived home I was putting a second coat of polish on my toenails and thinking about what to pack so he said three of my favorite words – “I’ll make dinner.”  After dinner we sat town to watch an episode of Homeland.

About three-quarters of the way through the show I asked him to pause – I was VERY suddenly feeling ill.  I was dizzy and nauseated and feeling simultaneously cold and clammy.  I ran into the bathroom – sure I was going to be sick – and arrived just in time to look in the mirror and watch all the color drain from my face.  It was such a strange experience – like a reverse blush.  I composed myself and went to lie down only to have the pain in my back and abdomen rip through me like a boning knife.  I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I needed a trip to the ER.

And so it began.

I could not sit up at the ER and one of the last things I remember clearly is the person checking me in saying that they had nowhere for me to lie down.  I remember thinking, “isn’t this a hospital?” and then finally just saying that I’d just lie on the floor – that’s how bad the pain was.  They found a two-seater chair for me to lie on and Jeff moved another chair near it so I could put my feet up.

I remember the ER doc coming in and talking to me but I couldn’t tell you anything substantive about the conversation.  I know he asked me some questions about my medical history and family history, but I have no recollection of the actual questions or my answers.  The next thing I remember was hanging on to Jeff’s arm as he guided me to a bed where I was finally given IV fluids and pain meds, which gave me a little relief.

The doc came back in to ask some more questions after which he told us he thought, based upon my symptoms, that I was either dealing with a kidney stone or diverticulitis.  He told me he was going to have me drink some contrast in preparation for a CT scan.  The nurse came back in and explained that I’d have 60 minutes to drink the contrast – that I should not try to drink it all at once, but to pace myself over the 60 minutes – and then I’d have to wait 60 minutes before they did the scan.

The first 15 – 20 minutes were ok.  I was able to drink the contrast without incident, but then the pain and nausea came back in full force.  I couldn’t lie still for more than a few seconds.  I drank as much of the remaining contrast as I could within the hour and tossed and turned – waiting for the test – until I couldn’t stand the pain any longer.  Just before the technician came to take me for the scan, Jeff went in search of the nurse, a pan in case I got sick and more pain meds.  I went for the scan and when I came back the nurse added some pain meds to my IV, which helped me relax a bit as we waited for the test results.

The CT scan revealed two kidney stones – one still in the kidney and one in the ureter, just at the opening of the bladder.  I was sent home with a prescription for pain meds, an order to drink as much water as I could stand, and a “hat and strainer.”  Oh they joys of straining your urine each time you pee – it’s kind of like panning for gold only you’re hoping to find that you’ve passed a kidney stone.

It was obvious that our trip to NYC was not to be so we cancelled our hotel and class reservations and waited for the storm stone to pass.  On Monday, I called the urologist as instructed and got an appointment for Wednesday.  I arrived at my appointment a few minutes early to fill out paperwork and give a urine sample.  The nurse took my vitals and then the doc came in and we discussed the situation.  Because of the length of time I’d been experiencing back then back/abdominal pain and because I’d been trying to pass the stone for approximately 5 days since it had been discovered and because I had an elevated temperature, an outpatient ureteroscopy was scheduled for the following afternoon.

On Thursday afternoon, I picked Jeff up from work and we headed to Harrisburg Hospital. I checked in with a wonderfully comforting woman named Nikki – she was so nice and calm and kind -and was taken to pre-op where we waited.  Unfortunately my doc had an emergency surgery to do so that pushed my surgery back; however I was grateful that I wasn’t the emergency surgery so I alternated between talking with Jeff and surfing the web on my phone  (oh, and complaining a bit about how hungry I was). Finally it was my turn…..I was whisked into the OR, my IV had to be moved from one hand to the other because it clotted while I was waiting, and the anesthesiologist came in to get started – little did I know, the anesthesia was already started and by the time the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me I already felt that familiar “2-large-glasses-of-wine warmth.”   The next thing I knew I was waking up in the OR and the nurse told me I was done and that the surgery had taken 10 minutes.  Yes, you read that right!  I spent a little time in recovery, reviewed my discharge instructions with the nurse and was released.  I was no longer as hungry as I had been so Jeff made a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home to get some ingredients to make me a nice soup.  When we got home I changed into my jammies, took some meds and crawled into bed.

Friday was as you would expect – I was recovering, watching television, reading, moving around a lot due to the discomfort from the stent and trying not to wear out Jeff’s hospitable mood with all my requests.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling fantastic – better than I’ve felt in months.  In fact, Jeff commented that my sassiness was back (I believe much to his chagrin).  Longing for a reason to get out of the house, we called my mom and dad and decided to go out for breakfast to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

After being out of the house for a few hours I began to feel wrung out – so we headed home and I climbed back into bed.  I napped with the t.v. on and got out of bed to drink water, get rid of the water I drank and to eat a little dinner, but I wasn’t really hungry.

Saturday night I tossed and turned and woke up several times to drink water.  When I got up to use the bathroom, I felt lightheaded so I leaned against the bed and waited for the dizziness to pass.  I made it down the hall to the powder room and got dizzy again.  After I used the bathroom and washed my hands I headed back to our room – but on the way I started to get that fuzzy, black-out feeling you get just before you pass out.  So I immediately sat down where I was and called for Jeff.

He came out of the bedroom, asked me what was wrong and called the surgeon who sent us back to the ER.  As it turned out, I had an infection and required more large doses of IV antibiotics, which they gave me while I dozed and poor Jeff tortured his back in the uncomfortable chair in my room.  After filling me up with antibiotics and fluids the doctor discharged me with a prescription for more antibiotics and a snarky statement.  She said (and not in a helpful tone), “Good luck getting that stent out.  I’ve never had it done but I hear it’s painful.”  Really?  REALLY?  Did she think she was being helpful – because let me tell you when you’ve already been through the pain of kidney stones (which I’m told is worse than giving birth – since I’ve never given birth I cannot make the comparison), been poked and prodded with your most personal bits on display for all the OR staff to see, and had a stent in your ureter, I can assure you that you do not need or want snarky comments from anyone, let alone the doctor “caring” for you.

On the way home from the ER we picked up the new prescription.  When we got home, I added the new pill bottle to all the others and was completely overwhelmed by the amount of meds on the kitchen counter.  I wanted to just swipe them all into the trash and hide under the covers.

Looking back, I wish I had – because all the antibiotics led to another case of thrush.  I don’t know if any of you have ever had a case of thrush, but to me it was awful.  I felt generally run down and my mouth tingled – as if I’d been sucking on nickels for days.  My tongue was swollen with a white-ish coating.  Nothing tasted like it should and it made my desire to consume water nearly non-existent….which was not great considering I was supposed to keep drinking large quantities of water.

I made it through Sunday, Monday & Tuesday with a metallic taste in my mouth, periodic twinges from the stent and continued back pain.  On Tuesday I nervously went to the surgeon’s office to have the stent removed.  My blood pressure was sky-high because I was so nervous about the removal thanks to the ER doc’s kind words.   Again, I was feeling vulnerable with my personal bits on display, but the doc began asking me questions about work and before I knew it he said, “OK” and was done.  I didn’t feel a thing, which was a relief but made me want to go back to the ER and punch that snarky doc in the face!

I was hopeful that the stent removal would be the end of the pain, but it was not.  I still – weeks later – have a significant amount of pain in my back and still have the twinges in my lower left abdominal area.  I’ve been back to the urologist, back to my OB-GYN, and am now waiting for an appointment with a back doc.

Needless to say, it’s been a long summer.  I’ve had down days, but they’ve been very few and far between – somehow I’ve managed to keep my sense of humor through it all.  I appreciate the support of my loving husband and some wonderful friends.  They’ve kept me mostly smiling and optimistic!!!!  A special thanks to Tammy and Brittany who bought me a wonderful recovery gift – chocolate kidneys!  Yes, that’s right – on a trip to the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia they stopped at Mueller Chocolate Company and bought me this:

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So, if I have to write the proverbial “what did you do on your summer vacation” essay….I’d say I had all kinds of summer fun….travelling to Maine, kayaking the Casco Bay, spending time with Nate and Jeff, straining my pee, eating a kidney, making dietary changes and sucking on nickels – what more could a girl ask for?

Fall 2016/Winter 2017 Classes

The Fall 2016/Winter 2017 class schedule is out!!!  I have some great new classes in store for you….check out the Classes I’m Teaching page to see what’s on the menu.  I look forward to seeing you soon.

And while I have your attention, let me take this opportunity to wish my handsome husband a Happy 23rd Anniversary.  It’s been a wild and wonderful ride!

Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten….Part II

If you need a refresher on where the music took us at the beginning of our trip, take a minute to read Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

OK….now that we’re on the same page…

We left off with Jeff, Nate and I on the way to the Embassy Suites in South Portland for showers.  And oh, what an amazing shower it was! So good, in fact, that I posted this on FB:

“I just had one of the top 3 showers of me ENTIRE life and Clairsonic I’ve never been so happy to see you!!!!!!”

While Nate and I each took a shower, Jeff took a quick trip back to Bissell Brothers to see if any beers were still available for the day – the folks at Bissell Brothers are genius….they’ve created a huge demand to go with the limited supply…..they’ve got to be making a fortune! And he also stopped at Foundation Brewing to get some beers to share with his buddy Craig, who appreciates craft beers as much as (or more than) Jeff does.  In case you missed it, I had the opportunity to spend a day learning about the brewing process from Craig – it’s hard to believe that was nearly a year ago!

After we were all clean again we realized how hungry we were!  We had told earlier in the day that he should decide what kind of food he wanted for dinner and that Jeff would find a restaurant.  He decided on Italian and Jeff hopped to and made a reservation; but while he was down in the lobby Jeff asked the front desk staff about local Italian places – they made him a reservation at Espo’s.  When we arrived at Espo’s, we decided it looked like THE place for dinner so Jeff cancelled his first reservation.

Nate went into the restaurant thinking about spaghetti and meatballs, but after perusing the menu and listening to what we were thinking about getting he changed his mind.  He and I both ordered lasagna and Jeff ordered a seafood pasta special.

While we were waiting for our food, we did what nearly everyone does in a restaurant – we gawked at what other people were eating and it was then that we saw something so amazing it almost took our collective breath away.  We saw the biggest meatball EVER. A woman near us ordered the meatball appetizer, which seems like it will be skimpy as it includes only one meatball – but then when you see the meatball your eyes practically roll out of your head.

I know, I know – at this point you likely think I am exaggerating.  But when we asked our waitress about he meatballs we found out that each one is 16 oz. (yes, you read that right – 1 lb.) before cooking and approximately 14 oz. when it is served.  And to top that – the spaghetti and meatballS comes with two meatballs – we saw it delivered to someone’s table!

Suffice it to say, we ended up taking leftovers with us.  One portion of the lasagna could have fed Nate, me and a small African nation.  I swear to you the bag of leftovers had to weigh at least three pounds!  And not only was the food plentiful, it was delicious.  The lasagna had three kinds of meat in it – including pepperoni – and Jeff’s pasta had a generous portion of lobster chunks, among the other seafood.  Our waitress was not only very knowledgeable about the menu and friendly; she also had (I know this is going to sound weird) the most beautiful eyebrows!

While we ate we recapped the kayak trip and laughed until we nearly cried – I’m talking about the kind of laughing that has you uncontrollably making noises you never knew you could make!  It was great!   And on the way out we had to laugh some more when we saw the back of the t-shirt one of the kitchen staff was wearing – it read “the largest balls around.”

The dinner was just what we wanted, but left no room for dessert.  And we were so full when we left that we needed a walk.  So we drove back to Freeport to LLBean – and the beauty of it is that they’re open 24/7 so it didn’t matter that is was nearly 9:00 pm by the time we arrived!  We went through all the shops on the LLBean “campus” and then were so tired from a day of kayaking, yummy pasta, and a shop-a-thon that we quietly drove back to the hotel and practically fell into bed!!!!!

The Boys at The Bean

Day 6:

  • I was grateful for a little grace in the morning.  Although I had been a trooper – getting up early each day until this one, I needed some extra sleep and time to putz around the room before heading out!  Thanks Jeff and Nate for getting breakfast from downstairs and for patiently waiting for me!!!
  • The first stop of the day was, of course, Starbuck’s for a REAL cup of coffee.
  • Next, Freeport FD.  Nate and Jeff went inside to check out the FD and came out with big smiles and a t-shirt for Nate – a successful stop!

Nate Heading into Freeport FD

  • Then we traipsed over hill and dale, enjoying the scenery on the way to Wiscasset.  Of course, there was a long line at our GO-TO stop whenever we’re in Maine, Red’s Eats.  So while Jeff waited in line and caught up on emails and FB, Nate was gracious enough to browse the downtown shops with me.  We met up with Jeff when he was nearly at the front of the line and we had to decide what we wanted.  For me there was no real decision to be made – I wanted the lobster roll – so I went out back and snagged a table.  While I was waiting for Jeff and Nate I got splashed by a flying milkshake – no, I wasn’t angry, I was so sad for the guy who lost his milkshake though!  Jeff and Nate joined me at the table and while we waited for our number to be called I learned that Nate had ordered a burger.  A BURGER! At Red’s!  But after we got our food I quickly changed my tune – his burger looked terrific and he said it was.  In near silence we ate – Nate his burger and Jeff and I our lobster rolls – and we shared an order of the fried clams, which was a first for Nate.  I’m not quite sure he liked them, but I sure give him credit for trying all kinds of new things – lobster, mussels and clams – on this trip.  If you’re going to be adventurous with seafood, Maine is certainly the place to do it!

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  • With full bellies and somewhat heavy eyelids (at least on my part) we got back in the car to explore the “fingers” of the Maine coast and to search for a little oyster shack Jeff wanted to see.  We found the oyster shack and Jeff was going to try some oysters, but I think Nate and I shamed him out of it – we weren’t trying to, but neither of us could believe that he had room to eat another morsel.  So he got some to go.

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  • We continued our exploration, stopping for a few photos and at Bath Fire and Rescue (with their 110 foot ladder) along the way.  I was navigating and I thought we might see some pretty ocean views if we did the loop around Birch Point – but I could not have been more wrong.  Not only did we not see any water, we left paved roads and thought we might be leaving civilization!  However, all was not lost (even though we clearly were) because we did see an owl, a deer, several turkey (one fake, the rest live, including one baby), a dog and Wally the Frog Wizard.  Our encounter with Wally was a strange one.  I was looking at the map, Jeff was driving and Nate was in the back seat.  All of a sudden Jeff started laughing and said “you’ve got to see this” and he started turning around.  Nate was laughing too and they were both uttering things like “you’ll never believe it.”  So I thought for sure I was going to see someone mooning us or some similar sight, but when we backtracked, it was Wally!  And boy did we have some laughs about Wally!

Bath Fire & Rescue

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Wally Front

Wally Back

  • Next we went to Fort Popham.  We explored the Fort, posted some pics on FB (and I learned about interactive pano photos) and took a walk on the beach to stretch our legs – only turning around after Nate saw lightning.

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  • Next we explored Orr’s and Bailey Islands and ended up at Basin Point in for dinner at Dolphin Marina.  From Basin Point we could see Whaleboat Island – one of the islands we kayaked past on our trip.  Although after Red’s I thought I might never eat again, I was hungry by the time we made it to Dolphin Marina, but my body was screaming for veggies so I ordered the roasted veggie wrap and sweet potato fries.

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  • We headed back to the hotel, played a few games of Sequence and called it a night.

Day 7:

  • Sadly, this was the day we left Maine, but not before stopping in downtown Portland, at the Smiling Hill Farm, at Portland Head Light, the Maine Diner in Wells for lunch and in York at Stonewall Kitchen.
  • Around noon we heard about the crane collapse on the Tappan Zee Bridge and began to plot alternate strategies for getting home.  Jeff texted our new friend Lori to see if she had any suggestions – thanks for getting back to us Lori!  Ultimately we decided to stay the course and hope for the best!
  • We had a light dinner in the hotel bar – Nate and Jeff shared some wings and I ordered French Onion Soup – ultimately turning it over to Jeff to finish!  Nate went to sleep early with a headache while Jeff and I quietly played a few games of Sequence, ultimately succumbing to fluttering eyelids and sleep!

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Day 8:

  • In order to avoid the Tappan Zee at rush hour and to give Nate some extra sleep to combat his headache, we decided to sleep late and get on the road around 10 or 10:30.  No one was hungry for breakfast, but we did make a stop at Starbucks for some travelling fuel.

Travelling Fuel

  • We were leery as we neared the Tappan Zee; however I was driving and didn’t even have to tap the brakes once.  It was smooth sailing.  We did see the collapsed crane but it didn’t impede our progress.
  • We thankfully remembered to pick up Jeff’s car in Nanuet (of course, two of the three of us had set reminders on their phones).
  • Back on the road, we decided on pizza for lunch.  We stopped for a quick bite in Jersey – Jeff and I had pizza and Nate had soup.
  • The trip went surprisingly smoothly….Nate split his time between Jeff’s car and mine and it seemed like we were back in Palmyra to drop off Nate in no time.  We spent a little time reliving the trip and catching up with Cathy (Nate’s mom/our sister-in-law) and Ben (Nate’s brother/our nephew).
  • And then, the exhaustion of travelling starting to set in, Jeff and I began the last leg of the trip for home.  We arrived to a wagging, crying Macy who was proud to show us the toy Ashley had given her while we were away.
  • I had our suitcases unpacked and laundry started within 30 minutes while Jeff unloaded the car.

It was a wonderful trip and a great chance to get to know Nate in a way we otherwise would not have been able to get to know him.  I hope he had as good a time as we did.  He was a real trooper hanging out with the old folks for 8 straight days.

Day 9 (bonus):

For Jeff the trip continued into Thursday.  He invited his friend Craig over to share the haul of oysters and microbrews we brought back with us from Maine.  I hung out with them for a few minutes; but ultimately left them alone to have some boyz time!

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It has been great fun reliving the trip today.  I’m glad I waited to document the last half of the trip – it’s like I got to do it all over again.  I’m so grateful that we were able to go on this journey.

Steamy in My Kitchen Today

It is steamy in my kitchen today.  Not because of the weather, but because of the bevy of activity on the stove.  Today is a day of preserving and I’m up to my elbows in blackberries and cucumbers.


Blackberries

Yesterday, in the torrential downpour, Jeff picked a boat-load (yes, that’s an official measurement) of blackberries.  So today I had to honor his commitment to his garden by making something wonderful from the harvest.  I was going to make blackberry jam, but why do that when you can mix it up?  Jeff and I both had similar trains of thought for the blackberries. The thought  processes went something like this……

“Jam…..ok……but better……add herbs…..ok……..what kind…….basil? No……..thyme? Maybe…….rosemary?  Definitely…..but better……add a
dash of balsamic? Ahhhhhhhh.”

Having taken a ride on that thought train, today’s jam is Blackberry Balsamic Jam with Rosemary and it sure smells good in my kitchen!!!! The jam is made and has been passed through the food mill.  The jars are sterilizing on the stove top as I write.  All that is left is to fill them and give them private time to relax in a water bath.

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Just in case you’re wondering about jam vs. jelly vs. marmalade……..

What else is going on in the kitchen?  Bread and butter pickles.

I am not a lover of cucumbers.  In fact, I would almost rather starve than eat one; however I love cucumber spa water and I love bread and butter pickles.  So when my mother-in-law asked if I wanted some fresh cucumbers from her garden, I accepted with the intention of turning them into pickles.

[OK, I must confess – I took a quick break from writing to get the jam into the jars and the jars into the canner.  Now I can get back to writing about the pickles.]

Having never made bread and butter pickles, Jeff’s mom generously shared her recipe with me via Jeff’s phone.  However, I forgot to get the recipe from him and he is currently unreachable by phone so I did a google search for ‘bread and butter pickles.’  The search pointed me to Pinterest (darn), which yielded a recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker that sounded good to me.

The Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe for bread and butter pickles is currently in process in my kitchen.  I waffle cut the cucumbers using my mandoline (Q: Have I ever mentioned how much I love my mandoline? A: Only about a million times!) (Q: Have I ever mentioned the importance of safety when using a mandoline? A: Mentioned is too subtle a word for what I’ve done – ranted is more like it. If you want to read about it, click See John Cook: A Public Safety Message & Rant).

Now the cucumbers, having been salted according to the recipe, are chillin’ in the fridge.  As soon as the jam comes out of the canner, I will be on to the next step of the recipe. Stay tuned…..

B&BPickles

[Insert your favorite elevator music here!!!]

Ok, I’m back…..While I waited for the jam to finish, I:  Pickling Solution

 

  • soaked my plastic cutting boards in a bleach and water solution,
  • emptied and reloaded the dishwasher,
  • listened to my belly growl,
  • started a pot of cold brew coffee
  • rinsed the cucumbers according to the recipe instructions
  • thinly sliced the onions
  • prepared the pickling solution

 

Cucumbers & Onions in Pickling SolutionThen, while the cucumbers sat in the hot pickling solution, I:

 

  • made a quick trip to the grocery store
  • watered my plants
  • dusted the living room
  • swept the kitchen floor
  • baked some sweet potatoes for lunches this week
  • returned some phone calls
  • fed my growling belly

 

Finally, I packed the jars and put them in the canner for 10 minutes.

It was certainly a productive day, not just in my steamy kitchen; but at my house in general.  I’ll be happy in the months to come when I open a jar of jam or a jar of pickles.  And I’ll have some healthy lunches this week too.  So here’s to steamy!

All in a Days Work

 

 

 

 

 

Two for One – Restaurant & Recipe Review: Tania’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca

Over the last several years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Mexican food.  I love the complex, but fresh flavors.  I welcome the contrasts in textures between smooth and creamy (like mole or guacamole) and crisp and salty (like a crisped tortilla, flaky from a little oil and heat). Oh how this comforting food makes me almost sigh, ‘mmm mmm mmm,’ while I’m eating it!

This past Saturday Jeff and I took one of our weekend afternoon rides for produce.  We pick a direction and roam back roads in search of small produce stands with deliciously fresh offerings.  Sometimes we go with no plan in mind and see where the wind takes us; but Saturday Jeff had a little nugget in his hip pocket – Tania’s Mexican Restaurant & Store at 2180 Carlisle Road in Aspers.

In the midst of shopping for fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes (to tide us over until the ones in our garden ripen), cantaloupe, etc. we stopped for a late lunch – that turned into linner or dunch.

Although neither Jeff nor I speaks much Spanish and none of the staff we encountered spoke much English, we managed to order everything we wanted and then some.  Having never had horchata (a traditional Mexican drink made with rice, vanilla and cinnamon) before, Jeff suggested ordering one to share.  It was a good call!  The horchata was like the best rice pudding in liquid form.  And it reminded me a little of chai, which I love.  Being on the sweeter side, we saved it for “dessert” and drank it in the car after we left Tania’s.

While we decided what to order, a basket of warm chips and a dish of thin, tomato-ey, flavorful salsa was delivered to our table.  We nibbled on the chips dipped in yummy goodness as we perused the menu.  Jeff ordered 1 green chicken tamale, beef tacos and a side of guacamole.  I ordered the spicy pork & pineapple tacos and a side of Mexican rice.  Of course, we shared it all and were in heaven as we ate.

I like tamales, but Jeff LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS tamales so I only had a small bite.  It was comfort food in a perfect little package.  Each order of tacos included three 4 1/2″ tacos so I took one of Jeff’s tacos and he took one of mine.  I put some of the spicy red sauce that came with the tacos on the beef taco and it was delicious.  The sauce gave it a nice heat and although there wasn’t a lot of complexity to the beef/onion mixture it was really good.  The flavors were strong and clean and homey.  My spicy pork & pineapple tacos were much more complex in flavor.  The spicy (but not too spicy) rub on the pork was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple.  It was like a taste explosion in my mouth and I really appreciated that the meat in both the beef and pork tacos was cut small enough that you didn’t have the awkward slide of filling onto your chin or down the front of your shirt when you bite into them!

The sides were just as good as the main event.  The guacamole was simple, fresh and creamy, yet it had just the right amount of chunky avocado pieces to make it texturally interesting.  And the rice – oh, the rice!!!!!  You may remember that Jeff isn’t the hugest rice fan – having tasted his attempts at making rice, I understand why!  While he is an excellent cook in so many areas, rice is not his forte.  However, rice making is the forte of whoever makes the Mexican rice at Tania’s!!!!  When you first look at it you may be tempted to think it is going to be dry and boring – but do not rely on this deceptive first impression or you will miss something wonderful.  So wonderful, in fact, that I know in the coming weeks I will wake up in the middle of the night craving the rice.  The grains were moist but not soggy, perfectly separate from one another.  Clearly the grains were not simply cooked in water – there was a great flavor of something lovingly toasted and cooked with chicken broth and/or tomatoes.  And dotting – but not overpowering – the perfectly done rice were garlic, onions, peas and carrots.

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It was an exceptional meal followed by a trip through the aisles of the attached store.  We made our purchases and were shocked at how low the prices of our lunch and grocery items were.  It was a phenomenal value and I would highly recommend it.

Now for the recipe.  On Thursday Jeff and I went to the library for a rare trip where we could spend time between the shelves picking out books and DVD’s without rushing.  Normally we stop at the library on the way to or from somewhere else and just run in for what we need or drop our books in the outdoor book return.  But, I was able to look at books in a leisurely manner and checked out three cookbooks (I know, it’s an addiction – “Hi, my  name is Janice and I’m a cookbookaholic!”).

In preparation for an upcoming Mexican meal, I borrowed the book “tacolicious” by Sara Deseran.  Although my menu is set, I thought I’d get some inspiration from this book and I was not wrong.  One thing caught my attention immediately – Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca.  While on our produce mission on Saturday we found some perfectly ripe cantaloupes so on Sunday I made the agua fresca.

It was scrumptious!  And it was super simple to make. I had ginger in the freezer (as I always do), sugar in the baking cabinet and a lemon in the fridge.  The hardest parts (which were not at all hard) were cutting the cantaloupe and defrosting the ginger.  Once that was done it all came together in a matter of minutes.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of sugar so that the agua fresca would taste more like the perfectly ripe cantaloupe and less like sugar.

GCAF

It was a home run! Bright and fresh and a beautiful color. And I am so glad I didn’t put the full amount of sugar in it or it would have been too sweet for my taste.  I will definitely make it again, perhaps trying a little more ginger in it the next time.

I’d give both the restaurant and the recipe (revised to include less sugar) 5 m’s out of 5.

mexican mmm

 

Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

I’ll warn you now…..this is going to be a packed post.  I’m going to try to tell you all about our trip to Maine in one sitting – a big undertaking, but one that will give you all the highlights about where we stayed, what we did and – most importantly – where/what we ate!

My last post was about the beginning of the trip – the first part of Day 1.  But it didn’t give you any insight into the end of Day 1; so I will start there and continue through the end of the trip!

Day 1 (halfway through):

  • after we picked up Jeff in Nanuet we hit the road and made our way to Darien, CT and dinner at Estia’s Back Porch Cafe.  The decor at Estia’s is funky and comfortable and the food is DELISH.  Nate ordered French Onion Soup and a side  of French Fries – he was obviously in a French mood!  Jeff, wanting to recreate the superb meal we had at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Long Island last summer, ordered fish tacos.  And I ordered the MTK Tuna “Burger” that came with a side of spicy Asian slaw.  I didn’t taste anyone else’s food; but I was incredibly happy with my choice.  My sandwich was served on a toasted English muffin and included an enormous tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was so big that Jeff had to finish it for me, which I’m sure didn’t disappoint him.  The spicy Asian slaw was the perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.

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  • After dinner we drove to and checked into the Hyatt House in Shelton, CT.  Because we were full and it was on the early side, we needed a walk.  So after a few minutes of settling into our room (which included a bathroom, bedroom and a living room/kitchenette combo with a pull out sofa), we got back into the car for a short drive to the campus of Yale.  We walked around campus and New Haven for about 2 hours – happy to stretch our legs and digest a bit.

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  • My dad has often joked that Jeff needs to eat approximately every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t surprising to me when he wanted to pick up a pizza at Frank Pepe’s on the way back to the hotel.  His reasoning – “I only had fish tacos at Estia’s.”  Clearly he had forgotten about eating half of my sandwich!  But I love his enthusiasm and couldn’t turn him down.  So he went into Frank Pepe’s while Nate and I stayed with the car.  I tasted the pizza, which was lukewarm by the time we got back to the room.  I’d definitely be interested in trying the wood-fired pizza at Frank Pepe’s when it’s right out of the oven – based upon the coolish taste I had, I’ll bet it would be amazing!  After our quick “snack” we dropped into bed with a plan to be on the road between 8:00 and 9:00 am.

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Day 2:

  • Although I am usually hassled for sleeping late, I was up and ready to go by 7:30.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and got on the road.
  • We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (for about 5 minutes) and finally arrived in Maine around noon.  Our first stop, Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Don’t worry, we weren’t corrupting a minor – Jeff just wanted to get some beer to bring back to PA to share with his BFF, Craig.

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  • After a short stop at BBB, we made our way to hotel (The Hyatt Place – downtown Portland) and, although our room wasn’t quite ready, we dropped off our bags and made our way to Commercial Street to wander through Portland.  We strolled through some shops, made a stop at Harbor Fish Market to order some fish to pick up on Tuesday before leaving Maine, and a stop at Nine Stones Spa for me to pick up my birthday gift from my mom and dad.  Thanks for the Kai perfume, Mimi and Pop-Pop!!!!

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  • Next we walked to the Portland Fire Department to see if Nate, a volunteer fire fighter, could get a shirt for his collection.  He struck out on the shirt, but was able to talk with the chief and see the FD.

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  • In need of a reprieve from the heat, we made a stop at The Thirsty Pig for a beverage and a nosh.  Our bellies were getting hungry, but we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner at Fore Street.
  • After a quick snack, we checked into the hotel, showered, changed, relaxed and walked to Fore Street on Fore Street for dinner.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation so we started with a drink in the bar…..Nate had a fizzy blueberry juice, Jeff a Manhatten and me a glass of Albarino.  After being shown to our table and taking a quick look at the menu, we ordered appetizers.  Nate had a salad of mixed greens with a yummy vinaigrette and over the top croutons made from homemade bread crisped to perfection.  Jeff had Wood-Fired Pork Belly with Allium Hush Puppies, Horseradish Mayo and Sunflower Shoots.  I had the dish of the night – Jet Star Tomato Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese & Butter Pastry.  We shared our appetizers with one another, ooh’ing and aah’ing as we ate.  Although I could happily have stopped after my appetizer, I just had to listen to all the recommendations I received from students to try the Wood-Fired Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter – so I ordered those for my entrée.  Nate ordered the Marinated Natural Half Chicken with Duck Fat Fried Sourdough and Wilted Greens, which we all agreed was incredible and still talked about days later.  And Jeff ordered Garlic Scape, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Salata Ravioli with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Smoked Squash, which he billed as very good but not excellent.  He has since told me, “I was jealous of Nate’s chicken to be quite honest with you.”  Because our meals had been so good, we had to try dessert.  Jeff ordered the Mini Ice Cream Sandwich with Hazelnut Coffee Ice Cream and Nate and I shared the Chocolate Custard Tart with Raspberry Coulis and Basil Ginger Ice Cream.  The tart was incredibly rich – just what you’d want when you have a chocolate craving – and the ice cream was a wonderfully interesting combination of basil-y freshness and gingery warmth.  It was a darn-near-perfect meal – the food was inventive and delicious and our waitress was friendly and attentive.  The only thing that bothered me was that our waiter in the bar used phrases like “what are WE having to drink” and “OUR table’s not ready yet.”  That’s just too touchy-feely and a bit condescending for my taste.  But, as Frasier and Niles would say, the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one tiny flaw you can pick at all night!!!!!

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  • After dinner we set out for a walk to aid digestion, but decided to cut it short when it began to rain.  We hit the hay in preparation for another early morning – the start of our kayak/camping trip.

Day 3:

  • After a quick breakfast at the hotel and a quick checkout, we loaded the car, stopped for Jeff’s beloved ice block, made a quick stop for fizzy juice at Bow Street Market and made our way – with much enthusiasm – to LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for the start of our kayak/camping trip.

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  • We met our guides – Ros and Pete – and our fellow islanders for the weekend, including (I apologize if I spell any names incorrectly):
    • 4 members of a family having a boys weekend – Terry, Bryan, Kiegan and Brendan
    • a couple from the Allentown area (near where I grew up) – Andrew and Angie
    • a couple from New Brunswick – Andre & Johanna
    • three brave women flying solo – Lorri, Ennie & Laurel
  • Including Jeff, Nate and I we made a group of 16 who would partner up and paddle tandem for the weekend
  • We had our orientation, packing session, lunch-making, lessons, stretching and finally headed to the dock to embark on our adventure.
  • After leaving Flying Point we paddled around Sister Island, Upper Goose, and Lower Goose and finally made our way to camp on The Goslings.
  • We chose our campsites, set up tents and “the restroom” and began exploring the island while we waited for dinner.  We had wine/beer/fizzy juices and got to know our travelling companions.  Then we sat down to a yummy lobster and steak dinner – Nate’s first lobster experience.  Except for someone touching his food – he seemed to enjoy it!
  • After dinner, the dishes were done and we trickled, one-by-one, to the beach for sunset and dessert – Pete’s specialty – Pineapple Upside Down ?Pudding?  It was supposed to be a cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven; however the mix was gluten-free, which if you’re not used to it, can mess up your camp cooking skills!!!!  However it tasted great and less-than-firm-texture didn’t stop anyone from eating it! Of course, having it served at sunset on your own private island didn’t hurt either!

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  • Then one-by-one we trickled off to bed – tired from the sun, the wind, the paddling and the early start.

Day 4:

  • Jeff and Nate (and perhaps others) got up early to watch the sunrise.  Except for the pics Jeff shared with me I missed it, but was glad for a little disco nap.  As those who know me might expect, sleeping without air conditioning isn’t my thing.  Combine that with Jeff’s snoring and it’s a recipe for not much sleep.
  • The blueberry pancakes Ros and Pete made fueled us for a long day of paddling.  After breakfast we did the dishes, played some cards, had a little island time, packed our lunches and got ourselves prepared to hit the water.
  • It was a hot, but gorgeous day for paddling.  We left the Goslings, paddled around Little Whaleboat and then made our way across the channel to Whaleboat, where we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we polled the group and decided to paddle all the way around Whaleboat, which is a long, beautiful paddle!  For our hard work, we were treated to an eagle sighting and Nate got some great pics of it!!! After conquering Whaleboat, we took it easy paddling back to the Goslings.

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  • Somewhere along the line, some of the group members started playing cards – Golf – while others hiked the island, hung out on the beach, got to know one another, swam or napped.  Dinner – chicken fajitas – was served, dishes were done, sunset was watched on the beach, brownies were eaten “in the kitchen” and one-by-one we trickled to bed – exhausted from a hot day in the sun paddling our little hearts out!

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Day 5:

  • It was a dark and stormy morning…..well it was!  So dark and stormy that we were instructed to batten down the hatches and stay in our tents until the storm blew over.  After the wind and rain subsided briefly, we broke down our tents, packed our equipment and personal belongings and headed to “the kitchen.”  Pete and Ros served coffee (hallelujah) and began making breakfast.  Some of us played cards while we waited.  Others enjoyed the beach and a swim for the last time on this trip and others sipped their coffee.  Somewhere along the line it started to pour again so we all tried our best to fit under the tarp and stay dry.
  • After breakfast, still riding the storm out, the dishes got done, cards got played (and soaked), camp was packed up and we all readied ourselves for our paddle.  We wanted to be ready to jump  into our boats and paddle like crazy once the rain stopped so that we could make it back to Flying Point before the rain began again.
  • Once the rain ceased, the last step before leaving the island was to dismantle “the restroom.”  That done we all headed for the beach, quickly packing our boats and getting into the water.  By the time everyone was settled and on the bay, the sun was shining brightly so Pete and Ros decided we didn’t have to rush back to Flying Point.  We would keep our eye on the sky and paddle as much as we were able.  We left the Goslings and headed between Upper and Lower Goose Island, then toward William’s Island, detouring around Sow & Pigs to Pettingill for a brief stop, and back around William’s Island to see the eagle’s nest. Finally, we headed back toward Flying Point – the weather still cooperating.  As everyone else was making their way into the dock, Jeff and I stayed further out with Ros and, in the quiet, were able to see a seal pop up very near to us.  He was so close we could see his whiskers.

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  • Just as we were pulling up to the dock at Flying Point, Jeff and I got a terrific surprise!  Kevin, one of our guides from last year’s trip, was paddling near the dock.  We had hoped to meet up with him at the Bath Fire & Rescue, where he works; but weren’t able to make the timing work.  So being able to talk with him for even a few moments was a gift.
  • The folks on the dock who helped us out of the water waited patiently as we caught up with Kevin for a few minutes.  Then we unloaded our kayak, made our way up the dock and back to the Outdoor Discovery School, turned in our borrowed equipment, had our team debrief and ate a quick lunch for the few folks who weren’t rushing to get on the road to home.
  • Finally, happily exhausted and ready for a shower, Jeff, Nate and I began our short trek to The Embassy Suites in South Portland – our home for the next two nights.

While I thought I could get through the whole trip in one post, I am tired from reliving the first part of our grand adventure.  If I got any of the paddling routes wrong, I hope Ros or Pete will correct me in the comments below.  When you’re doing the paddle you think you’ll remember; however we were able to cover so much “ground” (and frankly, I just turned 48 so the memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be) that I may have gotten some of it wrong.

I will catch up on the end of Day 5 and finish our adventure through Day 8 in my next post!  Thanks for reading!!!!!

The Journey of 1,044 Miles Begins with the First Hot Dog

Vacation is FINALLY here!  I’ve been packing for three days – at a leisurely pace, mind you – and am finally on the road.  My travelling companion for the day?  Not Jeff…..don’t worry – we’re on our way to pick him up……our nephew Nate.  And so far Nate has been a great companion.

We are heading to Freeport, Maine for another kayaking adventure on the Casco Bay.  And to say we’re excited is an understatement. But first we have to get there.  Right now, as I type, Nate and I are sitting in a Starbucks – perhaps in NJ, perhaps in NY (it’s too close to call) – waiting for Jeff to finish his training at Crestron.  He should be done in approximately 1 1/2 hours; so for now, we wait and I write.

To recap the day:  Our adventure began at about 11:30 this morning when I picked Nate up at home.  We wound our way around Palmyra, Annville, Lebanon, etc. to get to 81 and “set sail” when we hit the highway.

Our first stop was Yocco’s “The Hot Dog King” – a Lehigh Valley tradition since 1922.  Nate ordered a cheese dog and I ordered a chili-cheese, both to go.  We hopped back in the car and tried our best not to get dirty as we enjoyed our dogs.

Next stop, Bloomsbury, NJ for gas – gas is much cheaper in Jersey and they pump for you.  After that quick stop, we got back on the highway and navigated our way through NJ, around NYC traffic and onto the Palisades Parkway.

We made a quick pit stop at a scenic overlook to see the Bronx and Manhattan and to stretch our legs.  Finally, we drove past Volvo US Corporate Headquarters and Crestron and finally landed at Starbucks to chill until Jeff calls for a ride.  I don’t want to jinx things; but, except for one congested intersection, we made great time and hit very little traffic.

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Tonight’s dinner will be at Estia’s in Darien, CT.  Jeff and I ate at Estia’s Little Kitchen on our trip to Long Island last year and are excited to see if Estia’s in Darien lives up to the excellent meal we had in LI.

Then tomorrow we hit the road again and travel to Portland, ME for an overnight stay and dinner at Fore Street (which has been recommended by several of my students).  Stay tuned and I’ll let you know about dinner at Estia’s and Fore Street. Then we’ll be “off the grid” for three days while we kayak the Casco Bay.  Not sure where the wind will take us after that, but I’ll let you know!!!

A special thanks to Kara, Ashley, Mimi, Pop-Pop, Rob, Casey and Reagan, who are holding down the fort and catering to Macy’s every whim!!!!

Eating with Gusto!

As someone who loves to cook, I will tell you that my most favorite thing of all is to cook for someone who loves to eat.  Someone who, when you look at them, you can just tell is enjoying their food.  The look of joy on their face, the “audible eating” sounds being made (the mmm’s and the oh’s), and sometimes even the speed with which they eat give away the pleasure they are experiencing.

Sometimes – depending on the food – I AM that person.  But yesterday, I got to watch that person.  Jeff and I went to Shakedown BBQ (I’ve previously written about Shakedown) with my mom and dad to celebrate Father’s Day.  While we were there enjoying our food, I was seated so that I could see a table at which two brothers sat.  Not too long after our food was delivered, their food was delivered too.

Creepy as it may be, I am a people watcher.  I love to see what’s going on around me – especially in a restaurant. I love to peek at what other people ordered.  From time to time I even like to listen in on other people’s conversations – perhaps I shouldn’t admit this; but if you’re being honest, you’ll admit it too.

The brothers both ordered sandwiches.  I should take a moment to tell you that almost everything at Shakedown is Flintstone-sized.  So when I tell you the sandwiches are big, I am not kidding.  If I had to guess on the conservative side, I’d say the brother facing me had a sandwich that was a minimum of 5″ tall. But more than likely it was even taller than that.

Jeff commented to the tall-sandwich-brother, when he picked up the sandwich confidently to begin eating it, that he was a better man than Jeff – who had ordered a big sandwich and was using a knife and fork to help him eat it!

As I watched (I tried to be discreet) tall-sandwich-brother (whose name I now know to be Zack) eat his sandwich, I knew he was a kindred spirit.  There was a look of pure joy on his face – even while there was barbecue sauce running down his arms.  He didn’t care in the slightest that he was a mess – in fact, the mess may even have enhanced the whole experience for him. I thought for sure he would never finish the sandwich; but as he did I was smiling….thrilled for him that he had!

Just before I looked away, I saw him close his eyes, smile and sigh.  Before he had a chance to clean his hands, I asked him if I could take his photo.  I explained (hopefully not sounding like too much of a stalker) that I appreciated the gusto with which he delighted in his meal and wanted to share it on my blog.

Zack agreed to have his photo taken….so, here’s to you, Zack!  Thanks for being real and letting other people see you enjoy your food!  In my opinion, it was quite a compliment to Chris, the owner of Shakedown, for Zack to unabashedly devour his meal.

shakedown

Confucius reminded us, “Wheresoever you go go with all your heart.”  Please, please listen.  Love with abandon.  Laugh excessively.  And eat, like Zack, with gusto!

It Ain’t My Mamma’s Potato Salad

Picnic season is upon us…..the temperature and humidity are both climbing, the sun goes down later and it’s the season of long weekends, vacations, graduation parties, and other outdoor festivities.  That means it’s picnic food time!

This is the time of year – you know, between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that you can be out cutting your grass and jealousy slowly (or maybe not so slowly) creeps over you as you smell what ever deliciousness is on your neighbor’s grill.  According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) – this is peak hot dog season.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day American’s consume approximately 7 billion (with a B) hot dogs – 150 million on Independence Day alone (that’s over 10,000 miles of hot dogs)!

What do we typically serve with our grilled hamburgers and hot dogs?  Some of the most popular options for picnic sides are fruit salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob and, the star of today’s show, potato salad.

Although there are probably millions of recipes out there for potato salad, I will tell you quite confidently that my mamma’s potato salad is THE BEST!  It’s creamy and flavorful and both soft and crunchy – it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures……WHEN SHE MAKES IT.  That’s the sticking point – it’s only perfect when she makes it.  She has generously shared her recipe with me and I’ve made it and it has been good – even great – but not like hers!

Why am I telling you this?  Because we recently had a family dinner and, unfortunately, Mimi had to work so she couldn’t be there.  She graciously sent all the fixings, washed and prepped, for a delicious tossed salad (which in our family is not your traditional lettuce, tomatoes, croutons – it’s more a work of culinary art).  I had asked her to make the salad for dinner before I got the request that we have hamburgers and hot dogs.  Had I known that would be the menu, I would definitely have asked her to make potato salad!

But, these hardships in life [read this as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm and gratitude for my situation] teach us to adapt.  I knew I couldn’t serve Mimi’s Potato Salad to this particular crowd because they’ve all had it before and they’d know it was a sad imposter of the fabulous original.  So I decided to go an entirely different way (I know, surprising that I would do that).

I pulled out a potato salad recipe that I had developed for a class.  Here’s what I did:

The night before I assembled the potato salad, I:

  • smoked the potatoes
  • crisped and the bacon
  • hard-boiled the eggs
  • mixed the dressing

Before I continue, I should tell you a bit about a stove-top smoker, which is what I used to smoke the potatoes.  If you don’t have one of these in your culinary arsenal, you should! It’s a great tool for adding flavor without adding fat and is also a wonderful way of giving winter foods the taste of summer without grilling or smoking outside in the snow (which, of course, I have been known to do).

The stove-top smoker can be used on an electric or gas stove top, a grill or a camp fire/fire pit.  When you purchase it – and I just happen to know where you can buy a stove-top smoker –  the smoker is bright and shiny and pristine; however, the longer you use it, the more it will start to look like mine.  The smoker consists of four parts:

  1. Base (into which you add approximately 1 Tbsp of smoking chips, which come in a wide variety of flavors) 2
  2. Drip Tray (keeps your wood chips dry while smoking)
    3
  3. Rack (keeps your food elevated so that it is surrounded by smoke)
    4
  4. Lid (keeps the smoke trapped inside the smoker for maximum flavor)
    5

Generally speaking, you will add raw foods to the smoker and during the process of smoking they will become cooked.  What foods can you smoke?  The sky is the limit!  I’ve smoked chicken, seafood, veggies, cheese for pizza (you have to put it into a ramekin or you’ll have a mess), chickpeas for hummus, etc. etc. etc.

Back to the potato salad.  I assembled it the day of the picnic; however you could assemble it the day before to give all the flavors a chance to marry with a great result. Had i planned better, that is just what I would have done.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….

So back to the assembly. Because I had prepped some of the ingredients the night before, assembly was a breeze.  I got out my cutting board, my favorite ceramic knife, and set to work.

First, I cubed the smoked potatoes, which had been refrigerated over night.

11

I chopped the hard-boiled eggs, which had also been refrigerated overnight.

13

I crumbled the crisped bacon, which again was refrigerated overnight.

12

I minced the celery – including the leaves, which add great flavor and color.

6

And I minced the sweet onion.

14

I measured my shredded WHITE cheddar (I could go on a rant here about orange cheddar, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say it is my last resort).

9

I diagonally sliced the scallions – both the white part and much of the green.  I stop where the green begins to get dry.

8

And I whisked the dressing, which had been mellowing out in the fridge too.

7

Finally, I put all the ingredients (except for a few of the sliced scallions) in a LARGE bowl and gently tossed it until it was well mixed.  I tasted it for seasoning and adjusted as necessary.

To finish, I scooped it into the serving bowl and scattered the top with the reserved sliced scallions and slid it, covered, into the fridge until my guests arrived!

recipe_image

It AIN”T my mamma’s potato salad, but if you want a fresh spin on potato salad with unique flavors and textures, this should definitely make it to your picnic-side-dishes list!

 

Before all you fellow grammar-nerds ask or complain – yes, it damn near killed me to use the word ‘ain’t’!)

 

Loaded Wood-Smoked Potato Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Smoke salad summer

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 8 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 6 oz shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 6 scallions (white and green parts), diagonally sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground smoked black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Instructions

Note: To smoke potatoes

Place approximately ½ to 1 Tbsp. smoking chips in the bottom of the smoker tray.

Insert the drip tray.

Cover the rack with aluminum foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Place rack in smoker.

Place the potatoes in a single layer on the rack.

Cover the smoker with the seamless lid.

Place over medium to medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender – approximately 20 minutes (white potatoes typically need a few more moments than sweet potatoes).

Assembling the potato salad

Cut smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1″ dice and place in a large bowl.

Peel and dice hard-boiled eggs and add to the potatoes.

Add the crumbled bacon, diced celery, diced onions, shredded cheese and all but a few of the sliced scallions and gently stir to combine.

In a separate bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently stir to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Top with reserved sliced scallions, serve and enjoy!

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Philadelphia in 36 Hours or Less

I cannot believe it’s Saturday already.  I’ve been wanting to write this post all week, but I’ve had a busy one so I’m just getting around to telling you about the trip Jeff and I took to Philly last weekend.  We went to celebrate my birthday (happy birthday to me – several days late) and to visit our still-really-new niece and nephew (congratulations to Vanessa & Justin on the birth of Tyson & Dylan).

Our journey began on Sunday morning after I finished making a lovely French country pate.  We hit the road at about 10 am and were making our first stop in Philly for lunch.  Jeff has been wanting to try a restaurant called South Philly Barbacoa and, since he never steers me wrong when it comes to food, I happily agreed to go.  Jeff read about South Philly Barbacoa in the May 2016 issue of Bon Appetit.  Adam Rapoport wrote about his recent trip to Philadelphia in an article entitled 32 Hours in Philly

SPB Storefront

We were pretty lucky finding a parking place only 1 block from the restaurant.  The restaurant is located in an area with all on-street parking so finding a space can be hit or miss.  The address for South Philly Barbacoa is 1703 S 11th Street, Philadelphia.  As we walked up to the restaurant, I knew from the whimsical exterior that I’d love it.

And I wasn’t wrong.  The restaurant is bright and cheery, but doesn’t have enough tables for the demand so we had to wait.  I’m not sure if ordering is always done at the counter or if we ordered that way because we happened to be waiting by the counter; but either way, standing near the counter built great anticipation for our taste buds and allowed us to peek at what was going on in the back.  Orders were being filled, tortillas were being made and there was much bustling of the staff.

We each ordered two small pork & lamb tacos and we added some condiments at the counter before proceeding to a finally-available table.  When we sat down, we got a glass of delicious a pineapple juice to share.  After snapping a few photos, we dug into our tacos.  As I was eating the first one, I was thinking that if I could only use one word to describe them, it would be delicious…no, it would be heavenly…..no, it would be comforting…..Clearly, they cannot be described with just one word.

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As I took the first bite of the second taco, I realized that there is a single word that could describe them……and that word it……..”holycrapthat’sspicy!”  I believe it was the pickled onion/pepper condiment that was the culprit.  I had just a bit of the condiment on the first taco and significantly more on the second one. After just one bite of that second taco I was sweating, trying to catch my breath and, to quote Cam from Modern Family after he tells Gloria he can spice her under the table any day, “I feel like I ate the sun!”  Even though it took a considerable amount of time for my tongue to return to normal size and to stop throbbing, I really did love the food at South Philly Barbacoa and will definitely give it another try!  I barely tasted the sweet tamale that Jeff ordered, so next time I’ll eat that before I burn off all my taste buds!

After lunch we wandered through the Italian Market – stopping at some of our favorite IMG_4048shops and enjoying one another’s company.  From there we headed to the hotel for check-in, which we were disappointed to learn would be delayed by at least an hour.  So we ran (ok, walked) a few errands – Jeff wanted to stop at The Art of Shaving to get some shaving cream and I needed to do an exchange of MAC lipstick at Macy’s. Then we went for a drink at the hotel bar.  Finally, after Jeff calling the front desk twice, we were able to check into our room with just enough time to shower and get dressed for dinner.

JamoneraSince it was technically my birthday celebration I was able to choose the restaurant.  (This is not a complaint, simply a fact – it usually has to be my birthday for me to get to choose the restaurant)  Initially I picked Barbuzzo (my favorite in Philly); but then I decided to really branch out and try one of their sister restaurants – Jamonera.  Being a Sunday evening, we were able to select their Sunday Tapas Tasting Menu.

If I’m being honest, after the first two dishes arrived, both Jeff and I were skeptical about whether the tapas tasting would fill us; however by the sixth dish we were slowing down and still expecting 4 more dishes.  The following is a list of what was offered for Tapas Tasting on our visit:

  • Charcuteria – cantimpalo chorizo, pickles, baguette
  • Grilled Ramps – salboxtada, spring onions, grilled bread
  • Manchego & Marconas – membrillo, marinated sheep’s milk cheese, pimenton
  • Scallop Crudo – pickled rhubarb, orange, Thai chilies, baby fennel, housemade lavash cracker
  • Cherry & Jamon Ensalada – housemade maraschino cherries, jamon Serrano, arugula, basil miticrema, marcona almonds
  • Papas Fritas – smoked garlic aioli, brava salt, housemade sherry vinegar hot sauce
  • Cantimpalo Tortilla – potato and egg omelet, mustard aioli mesclun greens
  • Crispy Calasparra Rice – sugar snap peas, manchego cheese, pickled mushrooms
  • Almejas – grilled Manilla clams, chistorra chorizo, saffon broth, local greens, parsley-almond picada, pickled ramps, grilled bread
  • Grilled Gulf Shrimp – gallega spice, castelvetrano olive puree, grilled plums, haricot vert, lemon

Wow!  What a menu.  The flavor combinations were unexpected, interesting and delicious.  In my opinion, the best dish of the night was the Crispy Calasparra Rice with pickled mushrooms – true comfort food.

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The service was attentive, but not intrusive. And a special thanks to our The Companyserver for running across the street in the rain for my favorite dessert – it’s a birthday tradition. The cocktails hit the spot. But the company – oh, the company was the best part!!!

Monday morning we got up early for room service coffee followed by a steamy walk in the city – can you say humid?  We persevered through the sticky streets, got a little exercise, snapped a few photos and found a cute spot for take-out breakfast.  I still cannot believe I was able to convince Jeff to order food from P.S.&Co., a vegan and gluten-free coffee-house/bakery.  P.S.&Co.’s website explains that they “aim to provide the cleanest, most delicious food that helps you feel incredible.  Our chef-driven menu is healthy in blueprint and decadent in taste.  No multisyllabic additives or peculiar preservatives.  We hope you’ll find our delicious, plant-strong food and beverages as a gateway to feeling and living your best life.”

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My first priority was a coffee – cold-brewed with filbert nut milk.  Then we got down to selecting breakfast.  I ordered coconut yogurt and a nut & seed bar.  Jeff ordered a breakfast sandwich and a brownie.  We walked back to the hotel to enjoy our breakfast and shower before driving to West Chester to see Vanessa, Justin and the babies.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I put sugar in my coffee (insert gasp here!).  I tried to go without, but that’s a habit that will be VERY hard (if not impossible) for me to break. Other than the coffee needing sugar, the rest of our purchases were delicious.  The coconut yogurt was not actually yogurt but a fauxgurt made from coconut and it was really yummy.  The seed and nut bar was quite tasty, if a little crumbly.  Jeff’s breakfast sandwich (on gluten-free bread) was really yummy and I have to admit that even the bread was good.  And the brownie – although not quite the texture of a typical brownie – hit the chocolate spot!

Shortly after breakfast, Jeff posted the following to his Facebook page – “Breaking news……I just ate a gluten free, vegan breakfast AND I actually lived to tell about it. I don’t see this being a trend, but baby steps are important. Now, onward to find a steak for lunch.”  He did not, in fact, have a steak for lunch!

Excited to See the Pak PackAfter a quick shower and repack, we were excited to get on the road to see the twinies.  There is truly something soothing about holding babies! And with twins it’s “two babies, no waiting!”  After ooh’ing and ahh’ing over Dylan & Tyson and switching who held whom, Justin returned from a morning of golf and we were all out the door for ‘dunch,’ or was it ‘linner?’

Jeff and I offered to bring food to the Pak pack, but they were all ready to get out of the house.  So we loaded into two cars and drove the short distance to Iron Hill Brewery.  We had a nice, quiet meal and then took a drive to see the not-too-distant-future home of the Pak pack.

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Finally, with full bellies and temporarily satisfied baby-holding-desires, we began the journey home.  All in all it was a wonderful, if short, trip to Philadelphia.  We ate some wonderful food, got our city-fix and spent time with one another and the Philly-pham.  Less than 36 hours later we were back at home!

Tubtrug! Gesundheit

I recently attended a meeting of the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library Food for Thought Cookbook Club.  If you’re wondering about the evening, read my post entitled Food for Thought.  Today, however, I am referencing my time with that group for a different reason.

GS Box in Sunlight

Today, I opened a box from Gardener’s Supply Company. Stay with me – you know I have a tendency to SEEMINGLY get sidetracked; but if you hang in there long enough, I usually bring it back around!

Why am I telling you about opening a box from Gardener’s Supply in conjunction to a reference to a cookbook club?  Well, while at the meeting of the cookbook club one of the members, Mona, began taking the dish she had made out of an interesting carrier that I hadn’t seenGS Box before.  At least I thought I hadn’t seen it before until she told me about it and then I realized I had seen it before, just not in the context of a food carrier.

The carrier she was using is called a Tubtrug and is from…..drumroll please….Gardener’s Supply (GS).  GS bills it as “one of the most useful gardening tools.”  Among other things, GS recommends using it for:

  • mixing soil
  • rinsing vegetables
  • repotting plants
  • feeding the dog (depending on the size of your dog and the size of your Tubtrug you could bath the dog in a Tubtrug)
  • stashing mittens and/or hand tools
  • soaking your tired feet

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So in my many journeys through the GS catalog I have seen the Tubtrug, I just never thought of using it as a food carrier until I saw it in action and realized just how practical it is for the task.

I transport food quite a bit and I’ve had my fair share of spills and mishaps in my car – in fact, I had a run of several autos that were cursed with the smell of spilled milk and believe me if you’ve ever spilled milk in your car in the summer you know you DO cry over spilled milk.  But, I digress…..

I purchased the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – which measures 15″ in diameter at the top and is 6 1/2″ deep – perfect for many platters and bowls.  If something spills in it, you can easily rinse it out in the sink or with a hose AND you can buy a lid for the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – so I did.  The Tubtrug is flexible, but when you put the lid on it, it is less so – more sturdy and steady.  AND, Tubtrugs come in many sizes and colors.

Tubtrug & Lid

Tubtrug & Lid

I can envision using it not only to transport food, but also as an icy server for cold drinks at a picnic, as storage for large quantities of fruits from the market or for when I need a REALLY big bowl of chips!  I’m sure I’ll find many additional kitchen uses for my Tubtrug and will keep you posted if there are any especially great ones.

I suspect I might need to buy one or two more for in the garden as well. And I can envision them being great storage bins around the house too.

A quick search of ‘Tubtrug’ on Pinterest showed me the following uses for the Tubtrug:

  • toy storage
  • cleaning supply storage
  • mudroom storage (a different color for each family member)
  • laundry basket
  • pet toy storage
  • baby bathtub
  • hamper
  • tub toy storage

Do you have a Tubtrug?  How do you use it?

Thanks, Mona, for the suggestion.  I cannot wait to deliver a meal to someone just so I can use my new Tubtrug!!!

Becoming a Better Cook

One of the things I like best about working at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School is the variety of items that make up my “job description.”  Among many others, one of the things I am responsible for is maintaining our Facebook page.  I know you’ll probably feels sorry for me when I tell you that that means I spend part of my day on Facebook looking at recipes, reading articles about cooking, sharing photos of food, responding to comments from our followers, commenting on other FB pages, spending time on Pinterest, posting new products that come into the shop, etc.

Yesterday, while I was enjoying my lunch I was also hanging out on Facebook where I found a great article from epicurious entitled 57 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Cook Right Now.  I skimmed through the article and then sent the link to my personal email so that I could read it more thoroughly later.  And that’s just what I did.

052416

There are so many good tips – some that I’ve shared in my classes and on the blog.  I found that, as a matter of course when I am cooking, I do all but 5 of the things the article recommends.

So, what are the 5?  And why don’t I do them?

  • 5. Four words to live by: chicken thigh family pack.
    I must confess that although I know that cooking with chicken thighs rather than breasts yields a ton of flavor and, because they contain more fat, they have a tendency to dry out less I simply do not care for the taste of chicken thighs.This is something I’ve tried to “get over.”  In fact, about once a year I like to try all the things I think I don’t like to see if my tastes have changed and sometimes I find – for some things – that they have.  For example, in the last several years I’ve started eating chicken livers, Brussels sprouts and Castelvetrano olives.  It used to be that I didn’t like ANY olives, but I am coming around.

 

  • 7. Join a CSA.
    I am so incredibly fortunate to have a husband who loves to garden.  So by the time August rolls around I am usually up to my eyeballs in all the fresh produce I can use (a good problem to have)!  I have absolutely nothing against CSA’s and sometimes I consider joining just to try things that Jeff doesn’t grow; but over the years he’s really expanded his garden and there isn’t a lot that falls into that category!

 

  • 19. Save the schmaltz.
    I have never saved chicken fat.  Not for any reason in particular, just because I haven’t done it.  But I do save bacon fat from time to time.

 

  • 35. Don’t toast your toast. Fry it.
    If I am eating toast – which isn’t a frequent thing on my plate – then it does go in the toaster.  I find the toaster less messy and I can skip the butter or oil and use those calories for chocolate!  I have, however, been known to “fry” a muffin from time to time.  Muffins are not something we have in the house often (although many years ago I went through a season of insomnia and was known to bake muffins VERY early on Saturday mornings.  Fortunately, I sleep like a baby again!) but when there are muffins here I like to cut them in half, slather them with a “healthy” amount of butter and put them buttered-side down in a hot skillet until they turn golden and crisp. Mmm mmm mmm!

 

  • 53. Air-dry your chickens.
    To date, I have not air-dried my chickens – I also don’t count them before they’re hatched.  But I will definitely be giving it a try to see if it really does produce crackly, crunch, golden-brown skin!

And what are my 5 favorite tips from the article?  That’s going to be difficult to answer because (1) there are many good tips and (2) it kind of depends on what you’re making….

  • 1. Buy an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
    If I have to guess when a piece of meat or fish is done, I usually over cook them.  Using an instant-read thermometer has DEFINITELY improved my cooking!

 

  • 4. Get your knives professionally sharpened.
    Working with a sharp knife is incredibly important from a safety standpoint and from an efficiency one.  And I happen to know where you can get your knives sharpened.  Dan at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School will do a great job sharpening your knives.  The current cost for sharpening is $3.95 per blade or $19.95 for 6 blades.  We recommend calling the shop before you come in to make sure he’s in – especially if you’d like to have them sharpened while you wait!  You can call us at (717) 243-0906.

 

  • 15. Keep your parmesan rinds and freeze them for later.
    Parmesan rinds make an excellent addition to homemade stocks, soups and sauces.  It’s a great way to use a part of the cheese that is often considered waste and it will add a new level of flavor and saltiness to the foods you slip it into.

 

  • 22. Find the biggest mixing bowl you can and buy it.
    My friends in the prep kitchen refer to me as being “volumetrically challenged” and I am.  I can never select the right size bowl for a task, which means I’m often washing more bowls than necessary because I chose one that was too small the first time.  Start with a much bigger bowl than you think you’ll need and avoid unnecessary bowl washing!

 

  • 51. Keep your vegetable scraps.
    Those people who have come to my classes (or those folks who work behind the scenes at them) have heard me say countless time to save your veggie scraps.  And they’ve also heard me tell about how frustrated Jeff gets when he tries to put something in the freezer and there is no room because it’s filled with chicken carcasses and veggie “ends.”  But, when he eats something that I’ve made with my homemade stock he is reminded that fighting for freezer space is worth it!

I hope you read the epicurious article and get some helpful hints.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 favorite tips are from the article!!!!  Leave a comment below!

 

 

FYI: The featured image for this post is actually a screen shot of the article on epicurious’s site.  You know I like to give credit where credit is due.

Moroccan Kimchi!??!

If you’ve been reading for a while or you’ve known me for any length of time you know I’m always looking to try something new – so a few weeks ago when the Fermentation Creation food fermentation kit arrived at the shop and Dan gave me one to play with I was in heaven.

Fermentation Creation Label

The timing was no coincidence – although I didn’t know the Fermentation Creation was on the way, I have been doing a lot of reading about the health benefits of fermented foods and I had just purchased a delicious container of Kimchi from one of the local Asian markets and used it in a funky Kimchi Stirfry recipe.

I should confess that I’ve never made Kimchi before.  I’ve never made sauerkraut before.  In fact, other than beer, I’ve never made anything fermented before.  But I’m not one to let a little thing like inexperience stop me!

I unpacked my fermentation kit and here is what I found:

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents Up Close

I visited Fermentation Creation’s recipe book online and took a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients.  I purchased Napa cabbage and daikon radishes.  I thought I had everything else I needed in the pantry, so I began washing, cutting and chopping the veggies.

Kimchi Veggies

A quick lesson in julienning daikon radishes and carrots.  First, peel the veg you wish to julienne.  Then cut it into pieces the length you desire for your finished julienne.

Cutting Daikon Radish 1

Since the daikon radishes and carrots are round, you want to create a flat surface so you can safely work with it.

Cutting Daikon Radish 2

Next, with the newly exposed flat side down, cut the halves into planks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 3

Finally, cut the planks into match sticks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 4

Cutting Carrots

After I got all my veggies cut, I salted them and put them in a colander (in the sink or over a bowl) to drain.

Napa Cabbage Daikon and Carrot

Salted Veggies Draining in Sink

While the veggies drained (for a very lllooonnnggg time) I prepared the marinade which included chopped red onion, kosher salt, Sambel Oelek Chili Paste, minced ginger, sugar, and lime juice.

Making Marinade 1Making Marinade 2

Sambel Oelek Chili Paste is an Asian condiment made of fiery red chilies, vinegar and salt.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Sambel Oelek – but I was too far into the process to be deterred.  I did have Harissa – which is a Moroccan condiment made from spicy chili peppers, paprika and olive oil.  So I threw caution to the wind and added the Harissa along with some rice vinegar.

Making Marinade 3

After the veggies had drained for the very lllooonnnggg time, I rinsed them, squeezed them dry and packed them into the jar.

Filling the Jar

Finally, I poured the marinade over the veggies and followed the instructions to cap the jar and place the airlock in place.

Airlock

Well, if I thought I had to wait a lllooonnnggg time for the salted veggies to drain, I was in for a rude awakening.  The hardest part of making my Moroccan Kimchi was waiting for the fermentation to happen.  Every day I stared longingly at the jar on the counter wishing I could open it and give it a taste.  However, I read that it is ideal to let your Kimchi ferment for two weeks.   So I waited a rrreeeaaallllllyyy lllllloooooonnnnnnggggg time.

Finally, today, I opened the jar.  I was filled with excitement, desire and a bit of reluctance – what if my Moroccan Kimchi experiment was a bust?  What if Harissa was the worst choice I could have made?  What if I waited two weeks only to find out my Kimchi was a failure?

Finished Kimchi 1

Finished Kimchi 2

Finished Kimchi 3

Fortunately, my reluctance was unfounded.  The kimchi is terrific.  IMO, it has just the right amount of heat – that is to say a lot, but not so much that it blows the top of your head off or scorches the roof of your mouth – and just the right amount of vinegariness (is that a word)!!!

To paraphrase Martha Stewart – “Moroccan Kimchi…it’s a good thing!”

 

Food for Thought

A special note of thanks to the wonderful women – especially Gretchen – at the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library Food for Thought Cookbook Club for making me feel so welcome last night!

gelnett library

 

I spent the evening celebrating one of my favorite cookbooksThe Silver Palette by Sheila Lukins & Julee Rosso – and learning about a new-to-me cookbook – Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  I got a new appreciation for the recipes in an old favorite cookbook and learned about a too-well-hidden English gem known as traybake.

The ladies of the Food for Thought Cookbook Club get together every-other month to celebrate a different cookbook.  Each person makes a recipe from the featured book and they share a time of fellowship and have a lively exchange of tips and hints for each of the recipes being enjoyed that evening.  At the end of the evening, they make their selection for the next (or next few) book(s).  The books, of course, are available at the library!

Next month’s book for the Food for Thought Cookbook Club offers a picnic theme and in November, they’ll be celebrating my favorite cookbook author and food personality, Ina Garten, for the release of her new book Cooking for Jeffrey.

Although I had just a few moments after the group disbanded to peek into the library, I was able to see that it is an absolutely beautiful space with lots of natural light and a large, welcoming children’s library.  In addition to the cookbook club, the library offers many other activities including a fundraiser in December called Tree Fest where Christmas trees are decorated based on children’s books and the community votes for their favorite tree.

If you ever find yourself in Selinsgrove, PA – take a few minutes to explore the library – although it may not fill your belly, this library (like all libraries) offers much food for thought!!!!

Saturday’s Pizza on the Big Green Egg

I spent the day on Saturday at The Kitchen Shoppe hanging out with folks who were learning about the Big Green Egg.  I’ve written about the BGE in previous posts and believe I have explained that to call the BGE a grill is the understatement of the century.  Yes, you can grill on the BGE, but you can also do sooo much more – you can bake, smoke, and roast too.

On Saturday, I was cooking pizzas on the BGE.  My assignment from Dan, our BGE guru and my boss, was to do an INTERESTING pizza.  Other than those traditionalist who only eat their pizza with red sauce and cheese, the pizza was well received.  So much so that I was asked to post about it on the blog.

On the BGE

So here’s what I did:

  • The Dough – I used Gran Mugnano ’00’ flour in my old-favorite pizza dough recipe – Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough (see below)
  • The Toppings – Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig & Ginger Jam (replaced the sauce), julienned prosciutto, crumbled blue cheese, arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper) and a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • The Temperature – between 600 and 700 degrees F
  • The Tools – pizza peel coated with a healthy layer of corn meal, pizza lifter (like a giant, round spatula), pizza cutter
  • The Charcoal – a mix of Wicked Good Jake’s Blend and Big Green Egg
  • The Time – about 6 to 10 minutes – until the desired doneness is achieved

Before Being Fully Devoured

In addition to the pizza, folks who came out for the Big Green Egg lesson with Dan also ate pulled pork, spice rubbed chicken, BBQ salmon, and 1 1/2″ thick steaks cooked at 700 degrees F.

The food was delish, the weather was cooperative and the company was wonderful.  What’s your favorite pizza on the Big Green Egg?????


Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
  • 3 cups “00” flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)

Instructions

Combine yeast and sugar in a bowl large enough to hold approximately 2 cups of liquid. Add 1/4 cup water, stir and let bloom (about 5 to 10 minutes).

While yeast blooms, place 3 cups of flour and 1 tsp sea salt in to bowl of a food processor. Whirl to blend.

After the yeast mixture blooms, add the honey, olive oil and 3/4 cup warm water. Stir with a whisk.

With the food processor running, add the yeast mixture through the feed tube.

Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl and forms a ball.

Remove the dough from the food processor and knead for a few minutes to remove air bubbles. Dough should be soft and elastic.

Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

Let rise for several hours. The longer the better. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator with great results.

After the first rise, punch the dough down, divide it in half, form each half into a ball and let it rise again for about an hour (or more if necessary).

Shape the dough and top it with your favorite ingredients.

Bake in a hot oven (500 degrees F) or cook on the grill.

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My New Favorite Condiment!!!

So I recently discovered a new condiment and I am ADDICTED with a capital ADDICTED.  So much so that Jeff asked me if I plan to put it in everything I cook!

calabrian chile paste

What is it?  Calabrian Chile Paste! It is made by crushing Calabrian peperoncino (dried peppers) with olive oil.

It has a kick, but in a great way.  And it is a terrific flavor enhancer.

So far I’ve used it in Pasta with Vodka Cream Sauce, Baked Shrimp Scampi and as part of a sandwich spread mixed with mayonnaise and orange marmalade.  But trust me, those recipes are just the beginning a beautiful friendship!

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find it locally YET; however I’m working on Dan at The Kitchen Shoppe!  For now, the best deal I’ve found is online at Nordstrom’s and the best part – free shipping!

If you love spicy foods, you’ve got to give it a try!  And if you’re not a big fan of spicy, a little bit will boost the flavor of ho-hum recipes.

What’s your favorite condiment?

My Own Kind of Kind

American writer Henry James once wrote:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

While I agree, I also think he forgot one…..the fourth is to make kind.  Or at least to make a knock-off of you favorite Kind Bars!

That’s just what I did yesterday – thanks to Jeff and the folks at “the kitchn.”  Not only did Jeff find a recipe for me to use to replicate my favorite smoked almond kind bars on “the kitchn’s” site, but he also picked up some bulk nuts and seeds for me when he was in Lancaster on Thursday.

Where can you find the recipe for Smoked Almond Snack Bars!  Right here!

So, how’d it go?  The recipe was sooooo easy!  The only thing I think was missing from the instructions was to say that peeling the parchment paper off the bars has to happen at just the right moment.  If you try to take it off too soon, you may feel like throwing the whole mess in the trash.  But if you let them sit a bit longer, it will peel right off.

I made a triple batch in a half-sheet tray (approximately 12″ x 18″) and was able to get 30 bars that are approximately 1 3/4″ x 4″ – a great snack size! I used 1/3 smoked and salted almonds and 2/3 plain almonds.  I used a bit less salt than was called for because the smoked almonds were salted.  And I used a bit less than 1 tsp. of Liquid Smoke for a triple batch.

Because I had to run Macy to the spa, my bars cooled for about 35 minutes after they came out of the oven.  I did have to put them back into the oven for about 2 minutes to get them out of the pan – but fortunately the recipe told me how to handle such a situation! After I cut the bars and let them cool for several hours, I wrapped them in waxed paper and am storing them in the freezer per the recipe instructions.

So how does the recipe rate?

4 and 1_2 ms

I’d give it 4 1/2 M’s out of 5….the taste is great, it yielded the promised amount and the instructions were informative. The only thing missing was the information about removing the parchment paper – of course, the recipe writer may not have had trouble with that step.  But there’s always room for improvement, right?

Let me know how it goes if you make them!!!!

Hope & Blueberry Macarons

As a cooking instructor,  I go into each class with a passion for the food I am presenting, gratitude to be able to do what I love and hope. Hope that I don’t cut off a finger, drop something, burn myself or otherwise get myself into an embarrassing situation from which I cannot recover.  Hope that everything runs smoothly and that I’ve planned and prepared well.  Hope that my helpers (to whom I affectionately refer as my “backup singers”) remain safe and energetic.  Hope that my students enjoy the food I serve, will use one or two of the recipes again and are having a good time.  And hope that I can inspire someone to stretch their skills or try something they didn’t think they could do.

With demonstration style classes, it is easier to “read the room” and to know if your information is hitting the mark with students.  Because most everyone is listening at the same time to the information I am presenting, I usually only share information once – of course, there is the occasional question for clarification or the random “I missed that, could you say it again?”

In contrast, when I am teaching a hands-on style class, it is more difficult to know if everyone is understanding what I’m saying.  Often there are one-on-one conversations happening – between and among students, with me and one or two students, etc. – and folks are working at their own pace.  There are times in hands-on classes when I’m giving an explanation or I am showing a technique and some people miss it.  This is the nature of hands-on classes.  As much as I try to stop and reiterate the important points, I know some things get missed.

And with all classes, regardless of the type, there are some folks who give immediate feedback while I’m teaching a recipe, some folks who comment and/or ask questions at the end of class, and some who leave without comment.  I welcome feedback.  I like to hear what students think about what they’ve eaten, techniques they’ve learned, experiences they’ve had, etc.  I appreciate constructive suggestions and, if I’m being completely honest, I appreciate the occasional “ata girl” too!

So this past week, when I answered the phone at work – the way I usually do, “Good morning…The Kitchen Shoppe….this is Janice….may I help you?” – and heard in reply “oh good, just the person I wanted to speak with” my interest was piqued!  It was a student – K.S. – from my recent hands-on macaron class with a question.

We talked briefly and she told me about her recent adventures in macaron making. Before we hung up I promised to email her some information as soon as I could locate it.  Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on it pretty quickly and had the email off to her in short order.  Just as quickly I received a reply with a brief note and a photo attachment.  The first paragraph ended with “I’ve attached a picture for you ~ I’m so happy about how they turned out!”

Not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to see this:

macaronsblue

Beautiful macaron shells.  Glossy, smooth tops.  Perfect “pieds” – or frilly feet – on the bottom.  A pretty color.  As an instructor my heart soared!  Clearly K.S. had learned what I’d been teaching that rainy Tuesday night in November!  There’s just something satisfying about being a part of someone else’s learning process…

Of course, I replied that I was so proud to see a pic of her labor of love.  And K.S. blessed me with another photo:

macaronsbluefilled

A plate of perfection!  They look so good I can almost feel the crisp shells melting in my mouth.  And it did not escape my notice that the backdrop was a beautiful cloth with an illustration of French lavender.  A little nod to the French macarons!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to K.S. for providing feedback, for sharing her photos, and for giving me permission to share them with you.  Now there’s just one more thing I hope….that they tasted as good as they look!

In Deep Shishito

OK, true confession time…..I began writing this post on December 4th.  I know, I know….it HAS been a while since I’ve written.  But in my defense, Christmas time in retail is REALLY busy!

So let’s pretend it hasn’t been 44 days since I started the post.  I KNOW you can grant me the grace of using your imagination!  Read on – with love and forgiveness in your hearts!

I cannot believe my stomach is actually growling as I type these words – if you had asked me on Sunday, I would have told you I was too full to EVER EAT AGAIN!

Jeff and I were running errands in Hershey after church and we were both hungry…..when he asked me where I wanted to go I told him I was hungry for a burger.  Of course, ever prepared, he steered me toward Grantville.

I know I’ve shared this previously, but for purposes of this story I need to reiterate that Jeff is a BBQ guy.  He LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS bbq. I tolerate his bbq fetish, but do not readily admit to being a BBQ gal.  Oh, I know, I’ve written about bbq – particularly during our trip to Texas (see Always Bet on Blacks) – and I usually enjoy the bbq restaurants I begrudgingly go to with Jeff, but for some reason I have (or more accurately HAD) it in my head that bbq is not really my thing.

Today, in part due to a fabulous burger experience, I am proud to admit that while I wasn’t paying attention I’ve become a bbq gal!

I write all this to explain that I was less-than-enthused when Jeff suggested a bbq joint when I said I was hungry for a burger.  The mean-spirited, hangry part of me wanted to dig in my heels; but the part of my stomach that knows Jeff very rarely steers me wrong when it comes to food won out.

Shakedown Sign

While we were driving to Grantville Jeff explained to me that he had heard that Shakedown BBQ has some amazing burgers.  So I waited to pass judgment until I tasted them.  I passed the time on the ride looking at Shakedown’s burger menu – there were some truly interesting burgers on the menu, but the one that caught my eye was named In Deep Shishito (IDS).  Having just learned about shishito peppers in the last year and being a lover of pickled ginger, the IDS sounded too good to be true.

The description:

“Bacon – Cooper – Shishito Peppers Wikipedia – Grilled Onion – Pickled Ginger – Asian BBQ Sauce – Habanero Mayo – Cilantro – Texas Toast”

I know, it’s not your traditional burger, but my mouth was watering just thinking about it.  So we ordered one IDS and one The 98 to share.

The 98, Chris’s riff on the Big Mac, is described as follows:

“Bacon – Cooper – Lettuce – Tomato – Onion – Pickles – 1000 Island – Texas Toast”

While we were waiting for our food, we introduced ourselves to Chris – the owner – and told him about our BBQ quest in Texas.  He shared that he had been to the same places we had gone and then some – and not just in Texas but across the country.

Chris brought us a piece of Shakedown’s brisket to try and it was heavenly.  Not since Black’s in Lockhart, Texas had I tasted such a wonderful piece of brisket.  It melted in your mouth, had just the right smokiness and the sauce was a perfect complement to the meat – spicy, but not too and tangy, but not too.

The brisket, however, was forgotten as soon as I took the first heavenly messy bite of the In Deep Shishito.  It was the messiest burger I’ve ever eaten – and I mean that as a complete compliment!  It was also the tastiest.  It was like bbq and asian food had a party in my mouth!

The 98 was good – really good – but in my never-to-be-unshared opinion, it had nothing on the IDS!  Had I not tasted the IDS, I would have said The 98 was a great burger (and it would have been a completely truthful description) but the IDS just completely outdid (and outdoes) every other burger I’ve ever eaten.  It is an explosion of flavors – most of them a seemingly unlikely combination of tastes – of the absolute best kind!

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After we finished eating, Chris generously took us on a “tour” to the smokers.  We talked more about bbq and raved about the food.  I told Chris – and I mean it – that often when we go to restaurants we are disappointed because we can make at home what we had eaten and it is as good as, if not better than the restaurant version for a fraction of the price; but that this restaurant visit did not disappoint in any way.  The food was fresh, tasty and passionately prepared.

Fast forward to today (January 17th) and another trip to Shakedown.  Jeff and I took my mom and dad to have the Shakedown BBQ experience.  Of course I raved about the IDS the entire way from our house to Grantville!

We arrived and the first question my mom asked when we pulled into the parking lot was, “This is it?”  Ok, I should explain it’s a tiny place.  And I will also tell you that both times we were there, it was chilly inside – this is not a complaint, simply a note so that you can plan accordingly for your trip to Shakedown.  Today I wore jeans and a sweatshirt and only my hands were chilly.

Of course, once your food arrives and the burger juices are dripping down your arms, you won’t care what the temperature is inside.  And even better, if you order the IDS – which I cannot recommend highly enough – your mouth will be on fire.  The combination of “every 10th shishito is a hot one,” the Habanero mayonnaise and the warmth of the pickled ginger light the best kind of fire on your tongue!

In Deep Shishito

Mimi’s assessment – “unique, juicy, messy, who ever thought of putting pickled ginger on a burger – genius! And French fries – to die for.  Great pulled pork – not too much sauce so you can taste the complex flavors of the smoked meat. The real deal.”  Mimi had the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on it.

Pop-Pop’s assessment – “among the best burgers I’ve ever had and probably the best French fries I’ve ever had. The only burger I can think of that rivals this one was at The Village Whiskey (about which I’ve previously written) in Philadelphia.  The homemade thousand island dressing was awesome.” Pop-Pop ordered The 98.

Jeff’s assessment – “amazing. Bangin’.”  Jeff had a special – the Reuben.  I will add to Jeff’s assessment of the reuben – truly the best Rueben I’ve ever had – the smoky flavor of the corned beef brisket was delectable.  And – some of you will understand this – this reuben is wwwaaayyy better than Reuben’s Reuben (what happens when you put a narcissist in charge of snack time)!

The fries that we all raved about – beer battered bbq rubbed fries.  Need I say more?

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Of course, Chris came out to the table and chatted with us for a few minutes.  He talked about changing the menu and my heart skipped a beat.  I said, with obvious concern in my voice, “No – not the IDS – please don’t take it off the menu.”  Chris began talking about the limited availability of shishito peppers in the winter and I think I stared to pass out.  If you taste the IDS, you’ll understand why my blood pressure spikes at the idea of not being able to get an IDS when I’m craving one.  It’s a bit of a masochistic experience – a bit of the gratification of the IDS comes from the “painful” heat from the shishitos, Habanero mayo and pickled ginger.

We oohed and ahhhed through our meal – sharing bites of everything on the table. Then when we were finished, we mopped off with wet wipes and dried off with paper towels.  We bussed our table and on the way out I told Chris – with 100% seriousness – that am not above groveling for him to keep the In Deep Shishito on the menu.  Today is the first day of the week and I can already tell you the IDS will be the best thing I eat all week!

Shakedown – follow the smoke to one of the best meals you’ll ever have! And check them out on Instagram & Facebook.

Have you been to Shakedown?  Please share your experience below!  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for – you need to go ASAP!!!

The List

I’m crossing things off the list.  No, not the naughty list, although it is that time of year.  This is a different holiday list.

Since Jeff and I are hosting Thanksgiving for my family at our house, the list making began yesterday.  I can’t complain about the process of making the list – it was actually quite fun.  We each got a cup of coffee, snuggled under the covers with our Thanksgiving recipes and began THE LIST.

Thanksgiving 2015 List

What is The List……it’s our way of staying organized and not dreading holiday company and it has three major components.

First, the list of all the items we will serve for the meal. Some of the items are old favorites and some are new additions.  Some we will make and others have been assigned to other family members.  Here’s what the 2015 menu looks like:

  • Turkey (brined and cooked on the Big Green Egg)
  • Stuffing – Laura
  • Mashed Potatoes – Mimi
  • Corn Pie
  • Brussels Sprouts with Maple Bourbon Glaze
  • Cranberry Apple Sauce
  • Gravy
  • Sautéed Pears with Bacon & Mustard Dressing
  • Pumpkin Pie – Pop-Pop

It’s a carb-heavy menu I know – but you have to give the people what they want!!!!

Now for the second component of the list.  The daily tasks.  We write the tasks we will do each day – including calendar items from our “regular life” so that nothing is forgotten.  As we match Thanksgiving tasks with days, we work backwards, filling in things that can get done early where there is time available.  We also try to schedule some “me time” or “us time” on the list so we’re not completely burnt out by the holiday.

The following is the tasks section from The List:

SATURDAY:

  • confirm food assignments
  • buy small roller cover
  • make applesauce
  • 2nd coat of paint on bench
  • gym
  • call cuisinart
  • bathe Macy
  • state store
  • make chicken cordon bleu meatloaf
  • fix cords on bedroom television

SUNDAY:

  • hang hooks
  • wash sheets
  • clean upstairs
  • clean master bathroom
  • gym
  • grocery shop for all but perishables
  • make pizza dough for Barb’s party
  • make meatballs and sauce for Monday night dinner
  • bake sweet potatoes for lunches
  • make soup for tonight’s dinner

MONDAY:

  • J&J work
  • Jeff men’s ministry in p.m.
  • buy charcoal
  • take beer to KS for party
  • finish painting bench
  • iron napkins

TUESDAY

  • Jeff ear doctor
  • clean living room, kitchen, powder room
  • get pumpkin beer from Craig
  • corn out of freezer
  • chicken drippings and broth out of freezer
  • wax bench
  • pick up turkey
  • Barb’s party

WEDNESDAY

  • finish cleaning
  • walk with Macy
  • brine turkey
  • make corn pie
  • prep Brussels sprouts
  • crisp bacon for pears
  • prep gravy ingredients
  • prep sautéed pear ingredients
  • make dressing for pears
  • get BGE ready (chips, charcoal, drip pan, etc.)
  • set table
  • set buffet table

THURSDAY

  • 3:00 am – light BGE
  • 3:30 am – turkey on BGE
  • make gravy
  • make sautéed pears
  • last-minute straightening
  • fill water glasses
  • ENJOY company

Finally, the last component of The List is the groceries.  We make two grocery lists…..one we will use on Sunday when we purchase everything except the perishables and the other for those things that have to be purchased at the last minute.

To save time at the store – which we all know will be quite crowded no matter when we go this week – the list is sorted into categories.  I won’t share the entire list with you, but the categories are as follows:

  • Produce
  • Meats
  • Bakery
  • Dairy
  • Snacks
  • Baking
  • Dry & Prepared
  • Frozen
  • Liquor Store
  • Miscellaneous

I don’t always sort my grocery lists this way, but I’d say I do about 85% of the time and I miss it when I don’t have it sorted.  The days I don’t take the extra time to sort my lists are the ones I find myself wandering back and forth through the store because I’ve missed something in produce and don’t discover it until I’m in the frozen foods section.

If you’re new to hosting holidays, I’d strongly encourage you to find your version of The List.  Our way won’t work for everyone, but it is a great jumping off point.  Knowing what you need to do each day will keep you from panicking or being overloaded on the actual holiday.

A funny story from one of our early Thanksgivings – one that I’m sure is not unique to us, but from which I hope someone can learn.  I’m not sure it was the first time we were hosting Thanksgiving, but it may have been.  I didn’t realize Jeff had purchased a frozen turkey.  I didn’t discover that fact until Wednesday evening when I began thinking about what time I needed to put the bird into the oven.  Well, after many phone calls with my mom, I’m sure a few tears and some panic, Jeff and I were up most of the night changing the water in the bathtub to thaw the turkey (which was so large it didn’t fit in our kitchen sink).

I wish I could say that was the year that inspired The List; but we are slow learners.  It wasn’t until many more panicky holiday moments that we realized a list would save us stress, long nights and a more than one argument!  So from years of holiday experience, I present to you The List!