What I’ve Been Doing Lately…

Oh my goodness…..the last several weeks have been a whirlwind!  I’ve wanted to post so many times; however each time I wanted to write, it was about the surprise party I was planning for Jeff. And, of course, writing about it on the blog sort of ruins the element of surprise!

This year was a big birthday for Jeff – in fact, it was the Big Five-Oh! As in OhmygoodnesshowcanIbeturning50!?!  Although this birthday didn’t seem to hit him as hard as his 30th, he was still a bit mopey…throwing out phrases like, “this is my last shower (cup of coffee, work day, etc.) in my 40’s.”

As hard as this birthday was for him, it was hard on me too!  Just about every single sentence I spoke to him from January 15th through March 4th was a lie!  While that may sound easy [and to some it IS easy], it was pretty difficult for me.  I don’t know which was harder – thinking of the lies or remembering the lies!

And in the midst of the planning were Valentine’s Day (which isn’t that big a deal to us, but has to be acknowledged nonetheless), his actual birthday, class prep, a party for a friend, cooking for a bridal shower my niece Ashley was throwing for a friend [which happened to be the same day of the party], my regular schedule, and – oh yeah, just for fun – another kidney stone!!!  Additionally, I was trying to throw this party with 40 guests without raising suspicion that I was spending money – not easy to pull off when Jeff enters all the financial transactions into the computer!  If nothing else, I thrive on stress….

I’d like to say I took tons of pictures of the food; but that would be a lie.  I took pics of the party set up but by the time the party got underway, I was too involved in trying to surprise Jeff and hostessing.  Incidentally, the surprise part was a bit of a flop; but the party itself was a lot of fun!

Jeff’s good friend, Craig (you might remember him from my Something’s Brewing post) brewed two commemorative beers for the occasion and put together a killer playlist (which he and Jeff refer to as a mix-tape – those of you in my age bracket will giggle at this terminology)!  Having Craig take charge of beer and music was a huge help. That allowed me to focus on food and decorations.  So, I thought about what kind of food (1) goes well with beer; (2) can be prepared ahead and secretly transported to another location; (3) feeds a crowd and (4) is on Jeff’s list of favorite foods (or at least near the favorites list).

Chili bar was the obvious choice.  I decided to make my Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili (with ground beef instead of sirloin cubes as a time saver). After choosing the main food, the rest pretty much fell into place.  Rice, Fritos, Ranch Oyster Crackers (thanks, Ron), toppings (such as cheddar, pepper-jack, scallions, sour cream, and cilantro), a big salad [and not just any salad – MIMI’s SALAD], buttermilk cornbread with Honey-Cinnamon-Cayenne Butter, and for dessert – Jeff’s favorite – his mom’s chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and some s’mores bark for good measure.  Obviously, I needed to add some other beverages – wine for the non-beer drinkers, “middle of the road” beer for the less adventurous beer drinkers, bottled water and soda rounded out the beverage options.

Then came the theme – since it was a chili bar, I found some great printables on Pinterest and took it from there.  I designed the invitation and then created a burlap table banner to “match” the invite.  I also borrowed a previously used table banner reading ‘Aged to Perfection,’ which loosely related to the beer theme.  I wrapped “silverware” in brown bags and tied it with bakery twine, made some 50-related signs that I displayed in beer bottles and copied old photos of Jeff onto velum and wrapped clear candle holders with the velum for fun table decorations.  I used six-pack carriers as Frito “bowls” around the room, I put chalkboard stickers on wine and beer cups so people could personalize them and got paper plates and napkins to match the theme.  Throw in some bandanas and a Chili Bar sign and voila – a party.

Deciding where to have it was another challenge – it’s quite a complex undertaking to throw a surprise party for 40 people where the guest of honor lives!!!  I didn’t even try that.  A few places came to mind, but the clubhouse in my parent’s neighborhood was a great landing-place from a surprise perspective.  The challenge; however, was getting everything there without Jeff knowing.  For several weeks before the party I carted things from our house to my parent’s house – and I mean lots of things.  My parent’s living room was gradually getting smaller due to the pile of ‘party stuff’ I was making.

The day before the party, I prepped the food for the surprise and most of the food for the bridal shower (see above) – with help from a friend, thanks Tammy!  The day of, I had to get up early and head to my mom’s house to finalize the shower food and meet my niece for the food hand-off.  After that, Mimi and I set up the room and prepped the remaining food for Jeff’s party.  In the afternoon I raced home to get ready (there was barely time for a shower and some primping) and then met my sister to start carrying the pile from my parent’s living room to the party venue – thanks Laura!

We met up with Craig (my beer & music hero) and Chris (his lovely wife who was such a big help throughout the party). Then Laura and I raced back to my parent’s house to change our clothes in the living room – laughing and somewhat out of breath.  Then Laura went back to the party venue to greet guests while I waited for Jeff to arrive for our “night out to celebrate his birthday.”  On the way out the door, my mom asked if we could help her by delivering her food to a block party (yes, this was part of the lie to get Jeff to the party).  Jeff [carrying some the of food for his own party] and I walked through the door of the clubhouse and were about 5 feet from the door to the room in which the party was being held when he looked over at me and asked, “do you want me to ACT surprised?”

In that split second I thought about the ramifications of murdering him, but decided that 40 witnesses were too many so I did my best not to strangle him and proceeded to enjoy time with our friends and family.  Although the surprise was not a success, the party was.

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And, as it turns out, so was the bridal shower Ashley hosted.  For that I made Cornmeal Cheddar Scones (my friend Tammy’s recipe), Caramel Macchiato Scones, individual omelets in ham cups and fruit skewers with orange vinaigrette.

As I mentioned, in the midst of all this craziness I was also preparing for some classes. The first class – Perfectly Provencal.  The foods and wines were a yummy tribute to the Provencal region of France.  The menu:

  • Double-Baked Cheese Soufflé w/ Parmesan Cream
  • Grated Baby Beet Salad
  • Seared Halibut w/ Spicy Mussel Aioli
  • Luxe French Potatoes w/ Lavender
  • Tian Provencal
  • Blood Orange Sponge Cake

The second class – Bring a Friend to Spain.  The foods for this were from all different regions of Spain. The menu:

  • Coca (Pizza) w/ Candied Red Peppers
  • Festive Frisee w/ Pears & Honeyed Lardon
  • Comforting Chicken in Almond & Saffron Sauce
  • Smokey Spiced Spanish Potatoes
  • Asparagus w/ Tangerine Vinaigrette & Pistachio Dust
  • Quesada Pasiega (Spanish Catabrian Cheesecake)

Perhaps my favorite event of recent weeks was the Doljanchi for our twin great-niece and great-nephew.  The doljanchi is the elaborate Korean first birthday celebration with a very interesting ritual – the doljabi.  In addition to the doljabi were tables and tables of delicious Korean foods and unmatched hospitality from Justin’s family.  We had a wonderful time and best of all I didn’t have to make anything, carry anything or keep anything a secret!!!!  I was able to be a guest and enjoy a beautiful celebration of two very cool little people who have stolen my heart!

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I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat tired from the flurry of activity over the last several weeks.  However, reviewing it all has reminded me how truly lucky I am.  I have a great husband (who is older than me), family and friends who are quick to ask “what can I do” when I say I’m throwing a party (AND THEY MEAN IT), three beautiful littles who bring joy and hope for the future to our family, and so many people with whom Jeff and I can enjoy life…one bite at a time!

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!!!!!

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.

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

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

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

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And I minced the sweet onion.

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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).

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

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

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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!

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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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Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar

I had a wonderful lunch today to celebrate my birthday.  Now, those who know me well will be scratching their heads because my birthday is in May.

My dear friend, Tammy – with whom I work – and I have been meaning to get together to celebrate my birthday; but life has come up!!!  When we see each other, it’s often because things at The Kitchen Shoppe are busy and we’re both working.  And she and her hubby are in the process of restoring a home. And I have a new niece.  So, like most of you, we’re busy.

But we finally sync’d our schedules.  Always wanting to eat somewhere new, I was happy when Tammy suggested Harvest, which she recently tried with her daughter.

When we arrived I immediately loved the décor.  One wall is beautiful warm field stone, there is funky lighting with Thomas Edison-style bulbs and pretty accents.  A large table in the front of the restaurant is made private behind interesting art glass panels.  It is a place that makes me feel at home (not that my home has these features).

Of course, we spend the first 15ish minutes catching up; so I’m sure we must have frustrated our waitress a bit – although she didn’t let it show.  She continued to check back with us to see if we were ready to order; but she was not intrusive and she continued to tell us in a warm way to take our time deciding.

I was interested to learn that, like the name implies, Harvest offers a seasonal menu. Right now they’re offering their fall menu.  Beginning December 21st they will offer their winter menu. I was also pleased to learn that all but a handful of their menu items are under 500 calories – a great thing for those who are calorie-conscious.  But, there are also some richer dishes for those who want to splurge a bit.

The menu offers flatbreads that sounded terrific, appetizers, salads, appetizers, and sandwiches – which to my mind are all great lunch options – as well as a myriad of entrees.

The decision about what to order was a difficult one.  We asked the waitress about her favorites and she recommended Edamame 3-Ways, which I’ll have to try on a return trip, and the Spicy Sausage Flatbread without the olives (a girl after my own heart). Tammy and I were also intrigued by the Mediterranean Trio, which includes hummus, babaganoush and something I’ve not heard of previously – Muhamarra.

Thank goodness for iPhones and Google.  I looked up ‘muhamarra’ and learned that it is a hot pepper dip originally from Aleppo, Syria.  This is another thing I will definitely have to try on a return visit!

Although many items were tempting, Tammy and I decided to share the Oven Baked Goat Cheese and each get a bowl of the Butternut Squash Soup.  Our decision was a good one.  The appetizer was described on the menu as:

“Oven Baked Goat Cheese – Almond encrusted, apples, local organic honey, housemade jams and crostini.”

 

App Close Up (2)

Full App (2)

It was yummy.  The jams were (1) seckle pear and (2) red pepper and ginger.  They were a great accompaniment to the creamy goat cheese.

The soup, was perfect for a 22-degree, windy day!  It was warm and creamy with just a bit of texture from squash that was not over-pureed.  It was topped with local organic honey and toasted pumpkin seeds.  The honey offered a sweetness that was the perfect contrast to the earthy soup.

Soup (2)

The portions were not large, but they were satisfying.  And they allowed room for a little dessert.  And lo and behold, Harvest offers little desserts!  The dessert tray arrived on what reminded me of an artists pallet.  There were many choices – all served in shot glasses – an idea I embraced for an upcoming class – Holiday Appetizers & Desserts in Miniature.  It was nice to eat a dessert from a shot glass to get the idea of how my students will feel in class.  The conclusion – it’s a great way to have what many people say they want after a meal – “just a bite or two!”

Dessert Selection (2)

Tammy ordered the Cinnamon Apple Strudel “shot” and I ordered the White Chocolate Cheesecake “shot.”  And although the desserts were small, the were large enough to share a bite with a friend.

t dessert (2)

j dessert (2)

The best part of the meal was sharing it with a good friend.  To me, good food in bad company doesn’t taste quite as good; but bad food in good company tastes better!  In this instance, I was lucky to have yummy food and wonderful company!

Thanks for lunch, Tammy!  It was a nice change to celebrate my birthday in November!!!

Trick or Treat? DEFINITELY Treat!!!

This morning….early this morning……I became a great-aunt for the first time.  I cannot wait to meet the newest addition to our family, Kendall Elizabeth!  I find it utterly amazing that you can love someone you’ve never met; but it’s true….my heart is so full it’s spilling out my eyes in the form of tears.

Kendall Elizabeth

Born 10/30/13 @ 1:43 a.m.

7 lbs 15 oz.

21″ long

I know it’s a day before Halloween, but I’ve decided Kendall’s nickname should be Treat!!!!

Congratulations to Ashley and Jason.  I am so proud of Ashley it’s crazy.  She is so strong and beautiful and kind.  She’s going to be an amazing mom! I can’t wait to see her in action.  And I’m so proud of Jason too.  Although I haven’t known him his whole life like I have Ashley; I can tell he’s going to make one heck of a dad.  His calm personality will serve him well if Kendall is anything like her mom!

And I’m so excited for Ashley’s sister (my older niece), Vanessa….today she joined a very elite society…..The Aunt’s Club!  With it come a lot of benefits (in fact, the benefits are endless) and responsibilities.  Among other things, Vanessa will have to buy the “happy 7 week birthday” cake, do arts and crafts that are potentially harmful to her eyesight, have many sleepovers, remember to feed Kendall dinner when she babysits, and always carry gum!!!!

This morning when I got the announcement that Kendall had finally showed up to the party, I woke Jeff to let him know.  I told him she’d been born and groggily said something like, “We’re great somethings now” to which Jeff replied (even just seconds out of a deep sleep), “I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been great.”  Ugh…..see what I have to live with?

I look forward to the many adventures of Kendall.  I have been blessed WWWWWAAAAAYYYYY more richly than I deserve!!!

Knowing When to Call Time-of-Death

Because we all have that sadistic streak in us – ok, you may not be willing to admit you have it, but I am willing to admit it – I am going to share my frustrating afternoon with you.  Although I wish it weren’t true, sometimes when I’m having a bad day it cheers me up, if only for a moment, to find out that someone else’s day sucks too.  I’m not proud of that, but there it is!

I drove myself crazy this afternoon.  Now, there are those of you who would posit (and perhaps correctly so) that it’s not a far trip; but some days…..oh, some days it’s closer than I think!

I was working on my dad’s birthday cake – a recipe that I’ve made previously with absolutely no trouble. A recipe, in fact, that I would recommend to others.  It’s bon appetit‘s Coffee-Walnut Cake with Coffee-Mascarpone Cream.  And it is delicious.

My Well-Worn Copy of the Recipe

But today the process of making the icing could have made me lose my religion!  What has always been a smooth process (and a smooth icing too, haha) was a mess!

Within seconds – or so it seemed – of beginning to beat my icing it curdled.  Now that I am writing about it, I realize I should have taken pictures of the “don’t.” But in the moment (or moments), I was so frustrated that the last thing on my mind was snapping photos.

As is true to form for me in most situations, I DID NOT panic.  I didn’t panic because I know there are tricks for saving a curdled icing.  So I began to try those tricks one-by-one to no avail.  First I tried continuing to beat the icing through the curdled stage, which made it curdle even further.  Then I tried adding a bit of melted chocolate (which is an emulsifier) to the icing.   No luck. Finally, I tried pouring it into a saucepan, heating it until it smoothed out, transferring it into a glass bowl in an ice-bath to chill, and whipping it again. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  Ha.  Nothing worked.  But I still did not panic.

With my blood pressure rapidly rising and my sense of humor rapidly plummeting, I turned to the internet and researched what to do if your icing curdles.  I found many posts detailing what I had already tried; but I found no new information.

I didn’t have time for this – I had a list of other things to accomplish today.  My house really needs to be dusted and vacuumed!

Ready to just sit down and eat the cake by myself and show up at the birthday celebration with an empty cake plate, I realized it was time to call time-of-death on my failed icing.  While I hate to waste ingredients (and those of you who know me know I am FRUGAL when it comes to ingredients), I realized that my blood pressure and my sanity were worth the few dollars I would have to spend on new ingredients.  I guess God just didn’t want me to dust and vacuum this afternoon!

The good news is that the short drive to the store and back cleared my mind!  When I got home I was able to make the icing correctly and finish the cake in less than 30 minutes.

Decorating In Process

Now I could have just snapped some pics of the finished product and pretended that the process of making the cake was a walk in the park, but no one would have learned from that and I would have missed the opportunity to help someone who’s having a worse day than I was!  Because even if you pretend it’s not true I know there are times when you are cheered up – if only for a moment – when you find out that someone else’s day sucked too!

Milestones, Markets & Mozzarella

Friday was the anniversary of the first date Jeff and I shared.  Interestingly enough, for that date HE cooked for ME!  22 years ago yesterday, I drove my little red Dodge Colt to his house in Lawn, PA (one of those don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it towns) for dinner.  If my memory serves me correctly that night was quite snowy, much like the winter nights we’re experiencing this year. I also remember having those excited/nervous butterflies in my stomach – would the night go well?  Was he a good cook?  Would this turn into something?  Ah, youth!

For dinner, Jeff made stuffed shells and a salad.  And for dessert – bananas foster.  I was hooked!  He went to a lot of trouble to make a nice dinner for me.  He didn’t just get take-out or throw burgers on the grill, he actually put effort into it.  And he seemed to enjoy the process, which was something we had in common.

I also remember distinctly while sitting at the table talking after dinner Jeff said to me, “I’m so sorry.  I have to clean up this kitchen or I won’t be able to pay attention to you.”  Holy moly! I wish I could say that the kitchen cleaning OCD has lasted throughout the years, but I would be a liar if I did.  That’s not to say that Jeff doesn’t clean the kitchen – he does. (Typically he gets sick of the mess before I do and even when he’s not cooking he’ll sometimes come into the kitchen and banish me to the living room while he cleans up so I can continue in a clean workspace.)  But his tolerance for dishes in the sink and a mess on the counter is dramatically higher now than it was 22 years ago.

Yep, that’s how long it’s been!  22 years since that first date.  22 years of ups and downs.  22 years of laughter and tears.  22 years of love (and some moments of hate).  22 years of being stupid and hopefully getting smarter when it comes to one another!

Through the years we’ve celebrated our “first-date-a-versary,” our “proposalversary,” and our anniversary many different ways.  The one I remember best was our tenth wedding anniversary.  We were on vacation in Maine (my favorite vacation to date) and were staying overnight at a bed and breakfast in Acadia.  We made reservations at a very nice restaurant in Bar Harbor.  We had spent the day hiking and, separately, we were each kind of dreading getting dressed up and using our best manners.  Almost simultaneously, we each blurted out that we didn’t feel like getting all dolled up to celebrate.  So, in a rare moment of spontaneity for Jeff, we scrapped our dinner reservations at the nice restaurant, threw on shorts and t-shirts and headed to The Lobster Pound where we ate fried clams and fresh steamed lobster with butter dripping down our arms!

Today, we are adventuring through Lancaster.  Our first stop, Lancaster Central Market.  If you’ve been reading the blog from the beginning, you’ve read about this farmer’s market previously.  Although I’ve made several trips to LCM, Jeff’s never been there.  This morning he suggested we visit the LCM and also make a stop at Spring House Brewery and Tap Room.

We got to the market an hour before closing, which was just enough time to make it through all the aisles and to buy the things on our list – and, of course, a few things not on our list.

Part of the reason I like the LCM so much is because the building is beautiful…and incidentally, it has been a market for over 275 years!  That’s pretty cool.  Another reason I like it is that I can find things there that I can’t easily find other places – like micro-greens, a selection of sprouts and every time I’ve been to LCM I’ve been able to find Tuscan kale, which I love!  They also have a great selection of prepared food vendors, coffee vendors and other interesting items as well.  On this trip I found fresh turmeric…I have no idea what to do with it, but I bought some and will learn about it!!!  It looks like mini ginger root, but according to the vendor it is not nearly as fibrous as ginger.

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After marketing, we browsed through some of the interesting shops that surround the market and ultimately we made our way to the Spring House Taproom. We had to wait for seats and ended up at the bar, where we remained for the duration of our stay.  Jeff ordered a sampler, which included healthy-sized samples of 9 Spring House Brewery beers.

The Beauty of Beer

We enjoyed our rare time alone together talking and sipping from the sampler (and me from my Diet Coke with occasional sips from Jeff’s beers).  We also chatted with the bartenders and asked about the interesting names of some of the beers. Among those we tasted were Seven Gates Pale Ale, Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout (which Jeff has had before and really enjoys), She Monster Mango IPA (which has nothing on Alter Ego Brewing Company’s (AEBC) Mango Habanero), Lil’ Gruesome Peanut Butter and Jelly Stout, and Smoked Porter (which smelled amazing – I didn’t really appreciate the taste, but I should let you know I’m not much of a beer person (unless it’s brewed by AEBC)).

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There was so much beer in the sampler that Jeff needed a little something to eat….and, of course, I didn’t want him to eat alone!  So we ordered some Monster Mozzies, which are made in-house (including the mozzarella) and are ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!  They are served with house-made tomato bacon jam, which was over-the-top good!!!

Monster Mozzies

It’s only fitting that we’re celebrating this “versary” with food (shopping for it, buying it, and eating it) since our first date revealed our mutual love of cooking and eating.  Since that fateful evening 22 years ago, we’ve been cooking, eating and entertaining together.  We’ve shared many meals, tried many recipes, and (as our waistlines will attest) we’ve enjoyed a lot of good food.  Most importantly, we’ve been enjoying life together….one bite at a time!!!

Thanksgiving: Part I

Ready of not, the holidays are upon us!

Now I don’t know what your family holidays are like; but when my family gets together, chaos ensues!  You think I’m kidding?  Ha….be careful….you may have to be invited to see for yourself.

This past Saturday, Jeff and I drove to Bethlehem with my mom and dad to have the first of two Thanksgiving dinners.  On Thanksgiving, my immediate family will have dinner at my mom and dad’s house; the dinner in Bethlehem was with extended – but no less important – family.

So anyway, the chaos….it began before we even got in the car.  Now mind you, we were going for a Thanksgiving meal, but my mom – ever the hostess – made sandwiches for Jeff and I to eat in the car because we had arrived straight from a ministry event at church and hadn’t had time for lunch.  In addition to making sandwiches, she was also making sure she had everything packed that was on her list of things to bring to my aunt’s house.  My aunt lives in a lovely neighborhood, in a beautiful home that has a more than well-equipped kitchen and plenty of furniture.  Why am I telling you this?  Because when I tell you some of the things my mom packed for a few hours and a single meal, you will surely wonder if my aunt lives in a tent.  She DOES NOT.

We were each assigned something to contribute to the meal.  My mom was to bring a cheese tray and I was to bring roasted veggies.  My checklist included the veggies, a serving bowl and a serving spoon – pretty straightforward, right?  My mom’s checklist included all the food items, a tray, paper leaves on which to serve the cheese, small cheese knives, several kitchen knives, several spoons, small bowls for noshes including olives and nuts, 3 baskets, ironed cloth napkins, scissors, a cutting board, handiwipes, a thermal carrier to keep the cheeses cool, paper towels, her First Holy Communion dress and two tables – yes tables.  No, my aunt did not ask her to bring tables.

Needless to say, the trunk was full.  Unfortunately, so was the CD player – full of opera, classical music and the best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  I am not opposed to any of those types of music in moderation – but since the holidays are not a time my family practices moderation, we learned a little bit about “too much of a good thing.”  Add to the music a little too much heat and a little too much swaying in the back seat and you end up as I did – car sick….a great precursor to an enormous holiday meal!!!

I will be the first to admit, having everything needed to assemble the cheese tray – including a place to work without being in the way of the rest of the food prep – was terrific.  But the looks of incredulity on the faces of my aunt and cousin as we brought in bag after bag after bag after table were priceless!

Once we arrived, others were not far behind.  All total we had 15 people spanning four generations, 3 dogs (too many open doors because one dog escaped), 2 wheelchairs, several arguments, lots of alcohol, the blaring of the smoke alarm, enough food to feed the 5,000 , and lots of love!  I loved my time in the kitchen with my cousins, Mic and Richie!  I love the banter and sharing of recipes and cooking tips, the chance to catch up and to reminisce.  The chance to work side by side and laugh and watch the rest of the family interact.

The menu included:

  • Cheese & Nut Board
  • Crespelle (a.k.a. Scripelle)
  • Waldorf Salad
  • Turducken (a first for me)
  • Horseradish Crusted Tenderloin of Beef
  • Baked Sweet Potatoes
  • Mashed Rutabagas
  • 3 kinds of stuffing (including the one in the turducken)
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Roasted Vegetable Platter
  • Baked Corn Casserole
  • Gravy
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Homemade Pasta with Honey Bacon Alfredo
  • Stewed Apples
  • Pumpkin Roll
  • Apple Pie
  • Cranberry Bars
  • Mulled Wine

Everything was delicious, but we should have pared it down a bit!  Marge, my cousin Mic’s wife, made some wonderful desserts that few of us were able to eat until the next day because we were too full from the rest of the meal.

Take a look at some of the pics:

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In spite of the motion sickness, smoke alarms, and pandemonium, I am thankful.  Thankful for good food, for good times and for family – however crazy! So, yes, the holidays are upon us.  The chaos has begun.  Here’s to making it through.

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving: Part II….

What is on your Thanksgiving menu?

Sunday Snapshots

This past Sunday was my mother-in-law’s birthday and we went to Jeff’s parent’s house for a picnic to celebrate.  It was probably the last picnic of the season and the part of me that hates summer heat and humidity is glad about that, but the weather WAS really nice!  Everyone who attended brought a dish or two and Jeff’s dad cooked hotdogs over an open wood fire….mmm mmm mmm!

Jeff’s mom and dad have a beautiful property with a small orchard and an ENORMOUS garden.  I had fun wandering through the orchard snapping photos while Jeff and his dad and Cathy’s (my sister-in-law) dad, Sam, cooked the hotdogs. When the hotdogs were done, we dug into the food.  We had a wide variety of dishes, but everything went well together and tasted wonderful.

As is always a smart idea right after eating – NOT – Jeff and I tried to entice our nephew, Ben, to come out and play wiffle ball with us.  We took turns pitching to one another and batting. Finally, when our older  nephew, Nate, came out to the field Ben mosied over and started to play.  He really hit his stride when I (A GIRL) left the field!!!

We finished the picnic with cake and homemade nectarine ice cream – not that we need another morsel in our bellies!  On the way home, I asked Jeff to make a U-turn so I could snap some photos and we decided to meander through the back roads to get home.  It was a nice drive, allowing us time to talk in a way that we don’t do when we’re at home with distractions. All in all, it was a relaxing day and great way to celebrate Marlene’s birthday.  I hope she had a good time!  And I hope you enjoy some of my snapshots from the day!

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Happy Birthday, Pop-Pop!!!

Today is my dad’s birthday.  If my math is correct, it is his 48th birthday, which makes me……uh, that can’t be right…..younger than I was when I got married…..I never have been too good at math.

Even though TODAY is the day, we did our celebrating as a family this past Friday evening.  Jeff and I, my mom and dad, and Laura and Shawn (my sister and BIL) went to DK Dogs on Derry Street in Harrisburg for dinner.  I know to many of you this doesn’t sound like the kind of place you take you father to celebrate his birthday; but for MY dad, it’s exactly THE kind of place! For my dad, the four food groups are hot dogs, ice cream, bread and beer – and you can get ’em all at DK Dogs.

If you go to DK Dogs, don’t expect fancy.  It’s not.  Don’t expect table service.  There isn’t any.  But do expect great food.  It’s abundant.  Now if you’ve been reading for a while you may be surprised to hear me label the food at DK Dogs great since I typically like my foods a little more sophisticated (not snooty).  But when you go into the experience wanting a good hotdog, you will not be disappointed…in fact, your expectations will probably be exceeded!  The difficult thing will be picking which dog(s) you want to order from a varied selection.

DK Menu

Collectively we ordered 3 DK Dogs, 1 Philly Dog, 1 Pittsburgh Dog, 1 Ultimate New Yorker Dog, 1 Chicago Dog, 1 Reuben Dog, 2 large orders of fresh-cut french fries, 1 order of Konstantine Fries, 2 Yuengling Lagers and 2 large bottles of water.  Whew!  And then we waited for our food….

Waiting

The following are descriptions (from the menu) and pics of the dogs:

  • DK Dog – Sharp American cheese, Mustard, DK homemade chili, onionsDK Dog
  • Philly Dog – Grilled onions, mustard, provolone cheese on a pretzel rollPhilly Dog
  • Pittsburgh Dog – Fried bacon wrapped dog, swiss cheese, DK homemade coleslaw, mustard on a pretzel rollPittsburgh Dog
  • Ultimate New Yorker Dog – DK homemade country brown kraut, mustard, sweet relish, New York onions with red sauce

Ultimate New Yorker Dog

  • Chicago Dog – Pickle spears, mustard, onions, sweet relish, hot banana peppers, tomatoes, celery salt served on a poppy-seed rollChicago Dog
  • Reuben Dog – DK  homemade country brown kraut, swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing

Reuben Dog

Although you know what fresh-cut fries are, you may not know what Konstantine fries are.  I didn’t get a pic of the Konstantine fries before they were devoured, so image the picture below smothered with rich gravy and cheddar cheese sauce.

Fresh Cut Fries

After dinner, we all drove back over the river and reconvened at our house for coffee and cake.  It was nice to have a break in the action to digest and to see a beautiful sunset over the river.

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During the day on Friday, in addition to making food for our Saturday kayak trip, I made a Coffee Walnut Cake with Coffee Mascarpone Cream Icing for my dad’s birthday celebration.

The following are some pics of the process of making AND EATING the cake:

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In our family we don’t really need a reason to get together over good food, but it is fun to have a reason for a celebration!  And although we’ve been lax as a family on birthdays this year – giving gifts and cards months late – we did this one right!

Happy Birthday, Dad!  You’ve taught me many lessons over the years.  Some you meant to and some you didn’t – but I learned all the same!  You’ve given me a lot of good advice too.  You may not have thought I was listening; but I was.  Two things in particular come to mind….

  1. You can’t make people respect you.
    AND, my all time favorite,
  2. Take your foot out of the shoe.

What’s the best advice you’ve received from your father?

Can you guess which DK dog I ordered?

Monday HaHaHa: The Shed

Did you know that laughter is good for your health?  We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.”  It’s true.   According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, laugher can:

  • Enhance your intake of oxygen-rich air
  • Stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increase the endorphins released by your brain
  • Activate and relieve your stress response
  • Sooth tension
  • Improve your immune system
  • Relieve pain
  • Increase personal satisfaction
  • Improve your mood

With that in mind, I must be one REALLY healthy gal!!! Why?  Because last night I had not only the Monday MmmMmmMmm, but I also had the Monday HaHaHa!

You see, Jeff and I were invited to attend a reunion of team members from the missions trip Jeff went on in May of 2012 to Biloxi, Mississippi.  I was not part of the team; however as a spouse of a team member I was honored to attend and to “eavesdrop” on the reminiscing!

Andy, one of the team members, and his wife, Maureen, hosted the group.  The reason for the get-together was the debut of the new food network show, The Shed.  The Shed is a BBQ and Blues joint in Ocean Springs, MS and was one of the stops on the missions team’s itinerary during their trip.  In honor of the debut, Andy and Maureen served some rockin’ Q with some sauces from Central PA and from The Shed.

In addition the beef brisket, pulled pork and ribs, they also served macaroni and cheese, chips and dip, and baked beans.  Being an “outsider,” I came with food in hand to earn my place – I made a new coleslaw recipe.

After a great prayer to kick off the evening, we dug into the food.  There’s something great about the atmosphere created when you serve BBQ and beer.  People seem to roll up their sleeves and automatically relax.  The group talked and laughed and ate and ate and ate.  Once you’ve bonded with folks on a missions trip, it seems you’re no longer self-conscious about eating heartily or shy about taking the last of anything!

Before the 10:00 PM kickoff of the shed, we watched the sneak preview aired by food network on Sunday.  Not only was it a great intro to the show, it was really neat for me to watch the group interact and remember the funky place they had been.  The team members recognized folks on the show, talked about what they ate when they visited The Shed, and laughed about the time they shared as though it was just yesterday.

After the sneak preview, there was still time before the kickoff show aired, so Andy broke out his journal from the trip.  Each team member (and even us non team members) who attended last night’s reunion was interested in hearing Andy’s recorded memories.  It was cool for me to learn that Andy is quite sentimental at heart.  He saved pamphlets and menus and other documents from the trip and carefully shared them with the group.  The following are scanned images of The Shed menu Andy saved:

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Of course, those who were not in attendance were remembered as well! Not only were they fondly remembered, but they were also lovingly teased as well – please remember, I wrote ‘LOVINGLY’!  They were not the only ones who were mocked for their eccentricities – those in attendance took their share of ribbing too!

At 10:00, when Andy tuned into the show, a hush fell over the crowd and all eyes were glued to the television set.  We watched the show and had a lot of laughs.  The Shed (the place) seems like a fun place to work and it seems like the family who runs it is living their passion.  The Shed (the show) on food network is kind of like Duck Dynasty, but with a loose focus on food.  I couldn’t help but think it would be great fun to assemble the group every Monday night to watch the show, but real life will prevent that from happening.

Jobs and kids and commitments will get in the way; but for one night the group got to reassemble and remember – and I was honored to have been a part of it. When Jeff returned home from his trip and told me what an amazing group of people he travelled with, I believed him but had no frame of reference.  Since the trip, I’ve gotten to know some of the team members better and had a little better understanding.  But last night, seeing them in action, I got a first-hand look at how well the team had bonded.

Take a look at some photos of the night:

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It’s interesting that I find myself writing about a place I’ve never visited and that makes food I’ve never tasted (well, that’s not EXACTLY true, I DO have a bottle of Shed Sauce in my fridge).  Typically I write reviews about places I HAVE eaten.

I cannot comment on the food, but I can tell you that the group shared a term with me that they coined at The Shed – ‘audible eating.’  Audible eating would probably give Emily Post nightmares if she were still among the living.  Audible eating comes from using no silverware and eating amazing food – it’s the sound of finger-licking and mmm’ing and slurping.  Perhaps it is the sound of utter culinary satisfaction!

And I can also tell you that the group I hung with last night included many “ShedHeds.”  In fact, this group and other groups from Daybreak Church who have been to The Shed have been known to mail-order Shed Sauce.  Fortunately, it’s now available in our area so that’s no longer necessary.

So I can tell you for certain that if I ever find myself in Ocean Springs, MS, I WILL visit The Shed.  And I can tell you for certain that having a Monday HaHaHa does for the soul what having a Monday MmmMmmMmm does for the stomach.  I hope you have a group of folks with whom you can simply laugh – those rich, deep belly-laughs that will improve your health!

Share a laugh with others…what’s your favorite joke?

Shhhhhhh!

Shhhhhhhh!  My friend Holly is turning 40 (I hope this is not a secret) and her husband, Jeff, is throwing her a surprise party (this is the secret).  He asked me to make a few things for the party and although I’ve been Tweeting pics all day, I haven’t indicated why I am cooking.

The house smells amazing as hundreds of meatballs cook. Today I am making two types of meatballs and tomorrow I will be skewering hundreds of grape/cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil leaves.

My contributions to the party include:

  • Buffalo Chicken Meatballs with Blue Cheese Dressing

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

  • Greek Meatballs with Eggplant & Feta with Tzatziki Sauce
  • Greek Meatballs with Eggplant & FetaCaprese Skewers with Basil Pesto

Caprese Skewers Continue reading

Happy Birthday Beautiful Girl!

A very quick post to wish my niece, Ashley, a happy birthday and a wonderful year filled with more blessings than she can imagine!

Ash & ChoochI love you, Ash….you are so kind-hearted and strong and smart and beautiful.  You always make me laugh and I am sooooo proud to be your aunt!!!

Beautiful GirlI Hope You Dance!!!!!

Entertaining Successes and Failures

Last Sunday – Mothers Day – I spent the day with my mom, my sister and my two nieces.  It was a wonderful day.  We began the first leg of our trip at 11:00 a.m. (ok, 11:05 – I was running late).  We traveled to Millersville (through A LOT of traffic) to pick up my younger niece, Ashley.  I was (and still am) quite surprised at how much traffic there was in Millersville on a Sunday – clearly someone needs to do some traffic studies for the town, but that’s a rant for another day.

We didn’t even get out of the car at Ashley’s apartment – she met us in the driveway and we set of for Vanessa’s apartment in West Chester.  Although we did our best to arrive on time, we were about 45 minutes to an hour late.  But the good news for Vanessa – our hostess for the day – was that we were famished when we arrived!  Hungry guests make for great meals.

Mothers Day was the first time Nessa hosted the family for a holiday (I thought about writing “minor holiday;” but I don’t want to offend any moms, least of all my own) and she did a terrific job with brunch.  She served mimosas, which are always an excellent choice for brunch, a delicious egg casserole, yogurt and granola, fruit salad, and muffins – blueberry and chocolate chip.  The food was beautifully displayed on the dining room table with white plates, colorful napkins and bright yellow tulips.

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

Today is my husband Jeff’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Baby – and we found a great way to celebrate!

When I asked Jeff last week what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said he needed time to think about it.  He was mulling over the idea of either going out for sushi or having dinner at home. On Thursday, after getting a recommendation from a trusted source, I called him at work and suggested a day-trip to D.C. for oysters.  Of course, being the king of travel planning, he asked for more information and after I obliged he happily accepted.  He LLLOOOVVVEEESSS oysters!

Union Market Entrance

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