Paris – Part II: Bless My Heart

Hopefully you’ve had enough time to read [and re-read] and digest Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?.  If not, I’ll give you a few moments to read it……..Ok?

I’ll pick up at

Day 5: Monday 4/10/17

The day began with a bit of tension.  You see, Jeff has a wonderful sense of direction; but it was failing him. [I later came to realize that this internal GPS malfunction was likely due to the Metro – travelling underground can mess with your bearings, as I believe it did for Jeff – but I digress….]. We took the Metro to Les Halles on our way to O’Chateau – a wine tasting bar.  I know, I mentioned it was the beginning of the day and you’re probably wondering why we were headed to a wine bar at that hour.

To answer the question – we were meeting up with a tour group with whom we would spend the day exploring the Champagne region.  We had this goal in mind as we were aimlessly wandering the streets of Paris before the city had really awakened for the day.  After passing a unique building for the second time [“Big Ben….Parliament” – I know, I know, wrong city] we knew we needed some assistance.  So we hailed a cab and a few moments later we were hopping out at O’Chateau – closer to our hotel than the Metro stop we used!!!  But we made it.

Yes, we made it and were sipping our cafe and eating our delicious pain au chocolat when we found out from our co-conspirators for the day that each group had been told a different arrival time and that we were the last to arrive.  So we hurried through our breakfast, made quick pit stops and were climbing into the van en un rien de temps.

As we zipped through Paris on our way to Reims [grateful for a driver with experience navigating Paris at rush hour] and then as we cruised the highway between Paris and Reims watching the scenery change from bustling city to bucolic countryside, we got to know our travel mates and our tour guide, Richard. Our group consisted of Theresa, Mark, Leslie and Larry (friends from Texas (although Leslie & Larry don’t live in Texas any longer); Tanya from New Zealand and Shyla from Philadelphia (yes, our own backyard) who met running the Paris Marathon the day before; Jeff and me; and Richard.

Richard gave us snippets of information about what to expect from the day, what we would see, where we would visit and a bit of foundational information about champagne – but mostly he saved the champagne talk for stop #1.

We arrived in Reims a few minutes earlier than expected, so Richard gave us a little bit of time to explore the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims – a beautiful structure that elicits feelings of awe and reverence as you step inside.  It is a gothic art masterpiece that welcomes over 1 million visitors each year and is the site where the kings of France were crowned.  And it was a great first stop for our journey.

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Next we headed up the ‘hill’ on our way to La Maison Taittinger – one of the big boys of champagne.  We toured the cellars – which is to say we walked through 4th century chalk mines 18 meters below ground.  As we walked through the cellars we found ourselves both transported back in time and learning about current technologies in champagne production.  We were told about bottle shapes, riddling, disgorgement, aging, fermentation, blending, etc.

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Our cellar tour concluded with a LLLOOONNNGGG trip up a spiral staircase and a glass of champagne in the tasting room.  Richard educated us as we sipped and I learned from a delightful experience that sometimes a BRUT champagne (one to which less (or sometimes no) sugar is added) can actually taste sweeter than a SEC champagne (one to which more sugar – up to 50 grams per liter in the case of a DEMI SEC – is added).

From Taittinger we made our way past Veuve Cliquot to La Maison Penet, which has been family owned for five generations.  The vineyards of La Maison Penet stretch across the villages of Verzy and Verzenay – quaint villages that your mind conjures up when you think about the French countryside.  We sipped a glass [or two] in the cellars at La Maison Penet and then were treated to a fabulous lunch in la maison.  We sat with owner Alexandre and his marketing specialist, Justine.  The dishes served [made by Martine – Alexandre’s wife] were simple but remarkably tasty – a true example of farm-to-table at its best.  I doubt they even use the term farm-to-table in rural France [maybe not anywhere in France] – it’s just the way they eat.  The food is unbelievably fresh and simply prepared in a way that makes even the most humble ingredient a star.  And when paired with Alexandre Penet Extra Brut champagne, Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Terroir Escence Extra Brut champagne and Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Cuvee Diane Claire champange the foods shined [or is it shone] even brighter!

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After lunch we chatted with Justine, Alexandre and Martine, placed our orders for champagne delivery and reluctantly climbed back into the van.  I could have stayed at La Maison Penet for much longer, learning about champagne and local culture and nibbling from the wonderful cheese tray while sipping some bubbly.

Following our delightful stop in Verzy we travelled to Vrigny to our last destination – Champagne LeLarge Pugeot.  The vineyards of LeLarge Pugeot are spread out across three villages – Vrigny, Coulommes-La-Montagne and Gueux.  In 2010, Le Large Pugeot began its shift to organic farming.

I didn’t fully understand the significance of organic farming until we were standing in the vineyard and we asked about the distinct difference between one row of grapevines and the next. We were told that the left side belonged to LeLarge Pugeot and the right to another – non-organic – vineyard.  Right then I could see the impact of organic farming!

After our walk in the vineyard, we sipped and sipped and sipped some wonderful organic champagnes and then we sipped some more!  Then, wonderfully light-headed from all the bubbles, we purchased champagne, said our good-byes and climbed into the van for our final ride….back to O’Chateau.  Along the way we talked and some of us snoozed and laughed and talked and snoozed and laughed.

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Throughout the day we learned a lot of things……some related to champagne and some not…..

  • 80% of the land in the champagne region is owned by small farmers
  • A good champagne is not produced from a single vineyard
  • The eyes should be pleased before the palate [the same is true for food]
  • The riddlers (not from Batman) can turn about 6,000 bottles per hour
  • A meal without wine is called breakfast
  • A fine Texas proverb – “it’s not bragging if you can do it”
  • Champagne makes you happy in 17 minutes, wine in 30
  • The term ‘bless your heart’ (one with many different meanings depending on which part of the American south you are from) is sooooo much funnier when it’s incorrectly changed to ‘bless my heart’ and spoken with a southern drawl by your Chinese tour guide/somelier [I’m almost positive Richard told me he was from China but I was a bit loopy so I apologize if I got that wrong] who has spent many years living in Paris and speaking French!!!!

  • You can have a marvelous time spending the day with new friends from around the globe – particularly if you add champagne!

Unbelievably, by the time we got back to O’Chateau, said our goodbyes and got our bearings, Jeff and I were hungry.  So we walked a bit to stretch our legs and found a chic Italian restaurant – Daroco – where we enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, pizza (Jeff), pasta (me) and a thick, decadent mousse au chocolat (Jeff…..but I had a taste…..or two).

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Still a little bit buzzed with full bellies and happy hearts, we returned to the hotel and fell into a deep champagne-induced sleep!  Ahhhhhhh…..

Day 6: Tuesday 4/11/17

After Day 5 sipping champagne and sitting more than walking, we needed a day to blow off the cobwebs and use our muscles.  We began the day with a quick ‘continental’ breakfast at Lauduree and then visited the Palais Garnier.  We strolled through the opera house, snapping pics and marveling at the opulence.

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Next we took the Metro to the Left Bank and then strolled over several bridges as we explored the islands of the Seine – Ile de la Cite, home to Notre-Dame de Paris, and Ile St. Louis.  We had lunch at another of Rebekkah’s suggested cafes – Le Petit Pontoise.

Then, as encouraged by Norb and Cam, we sauntered through the shops of the Rue Mouffetard.  And we finally took a little time to watch the world go by at a cafe [Cafe Delmas overlooking the ‘fountain’ (now under construction) at Place de la Contrescarpe] where Jeff sipped a beer and I sipped a cafe.  We sat at our little table in the sunshine and soaked in the local flavor.

On our way back to our home base, we walked with our dinner [a lovely roast chicken, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of champagne purchased on Rue Mouffetard] through Ina’s neighborhood. Along the journey we strolled through some pretty gardens and through Place Vendome.  By the time we made it back to our hotel we’d been on our feet for 12 hours and were ready for dinner, a rest, a shower and a long sleep!

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More to come on our trip to Paris – including a day learning to make croissants!!!

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Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?

I am a very musical person – no, I cannot play an instrument [and believe me, I tried 6 of them]; nor can I sing well [except in the shower and the car]. But, I love music and it seems to me the soundtrack of my life is always playing in my head. Consequently it is no surprise, that for months now I’ve been singing the first few lines of Billy Joel’s Somewhere Along the Line – both to myself and even, sometimes unaware, aloud.

“Well, it’s a rainy night in Paris,
And I’m sitting by the Seine,
It’s a pleasure to be soaking in the European rain,
Now my belly’s full of fancy food and wine
Oh but in the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line
In the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line”

I began singing this tune a few weeks before Jeff and I left for Paris and, every now and then, I still catch myself singing it and longing for moments from the trip.  I know it’s taken me a while to write about our journey, but truly I’ve been processing it and organizing my thoughts and savoring the memories.

I’ll tell you right off the bat that the only pics I have from the trip are from my phone.  Yes, I did take my camera; but early on I discovered that the battery (although it was charged) was dead….I took that as a sign that I was to fully enjoy the trip – being present in each moment instead of worrying about how to best frame it for the blog.  And enjoy it I did!!!

Day 1: Thursday 4/6/17

Jeff and I spent a leisurely morning getting ready for the trip and loving on Macy. I know there are those of you who are able to jump into vacation at some ungodly hour like 3:30 a.m. and hit the ground running – I AM NOT ONE OF THEM [much to Jeff’s chagrin]!!!  One of my life mantras is, “why does fun have to start so early?”

We left the house at about 1:30 p.m., ran a few last-minute errands, and drove to the DC area in the rain.  The constant thrum of the tires on the road and the rain on the windshield lulled me to sleep, which made the trip go quickly for me.  Jeff had the radio on and was jammin’ to his tunes, so I’m fairly certain the trip went quickly for him too.

Jeff consulted YELP for a dinner idea and we decided on Mona’s Lebanese Cafe in Sterling, VA.  Let me tell you, the YELP reviews were spot on.  The restaurant was so quaint, the owner and employees very welcoming, and the food [served by Mona] was delicious.  To drink I ordered a Lemonade w/ Rose Water and I still think about how good it was.  Jeff and I shared hummus and pita as an appetizer and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. For dinner Jeff ordered the Kibbeh platter and I ordered the Shish Taouk – neither disappointed.  The basmati rice with my dinner was heavenly.  We ordered desert to go – baklava and rice pudding – and ate them later at the hotel while we read ansd prepared for the day of flying on Friday.  Both desserts were great – neither were overly large so we were satisfied but not stuffed.  Both had just the right amount of sugar – enough that you knew you were eating dessert, but not too sweet – very comforting.

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Day 2: Friday 4/7/17

Nothing more needs to be said about this day other than ‘airports and flying.’

Day 3: Saturday 4/8/17

We arrived in Paris at about 8:30 a.m. Paris time / 2:30 a.m. our time and took a cab to our hotel – The Hotel Indigo Opera where we met Aruillion & Mathilde.  We had previously stayed at a Hotel Indigo in NYC and were happy with out stay.  When we got to our room in Paris, we knew that we had made the right decision relying on our previous experience.

Not only were we able to check into the room several hours early, but we were upgraded to a two-floor suite with a view of the Eiffel Tower.  In fact, our view was framed by a tiny oval window in the corner of our living room and the couch was situated perfectly that you could see the Eiffel Tower in all its splendor when you lounged on the left side of the couch.

Being able to check in early was such a blessing – we were able to brush our teeth and generally clean up after the lllllooooonnnnnggggg flight.  And the bed looked so cozy that it was quite difficult to follow the advice of so many travelers about not sleeping when you first arrive, but rather keeping yourself busy for the first day so that you can more easily adjust to the new timezone.

We fought the urge to sleep and instead used Uber to get to Cuisine de Phillipe in St. Germaine.  This restaurant was highly recommended by my hairstylist, Rebbekah.  I know I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating – you should only take restaurant recommendations from people who enjoy eating like you do. And I was sure that Rebekkah has similar taste in food, atmosphere and dining experience.  My confidence in Rebekkah’s recommendation was proven to be 100% correct!

We had a typical French lunch, which consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.  These are usually a “package deal” – a special fixed lunchtime menu with limited choice for one price.  Often referred to as the Menu du jour, the special main dish being called the Plat du jour.  The plat du jour is often a non-menu special and often a great value.

Jeff had a red pepper and crab souffle, the plat du jour which was lamb stew, and a framboise souffle.  He is still talking about how good the lamb stew was.  I ordered the cheese souffle, beef with blue cheese, and a pistachio souffle (which had a hidden pool of dark chocolate at the bottom). We both ordered a glass of rose and we both had cafe after lunch.  I cannot say enough good things about this meal.  Each bite was a delight for the tongue and the senses.  It was so good that almost every day we considered a repeat visit!  Not only was the food amazing, but we enjoyed nice conversation with the family at the table next to us.  It was a couple and their daughter

who has been studying at The Sorbonne for two years. Her French (including her accent) was so good that we would both have thought she was a native.

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At one point during lunch I was so satisfied and relaxed that Jeff looked over at me and asked if I was ok.  To which I replied, “I think I may have fallen asleep for a moment.”  To avoid further temptation to sleep. we decided a walk was in order.  Luckily we were very close to Jardin du Luxembourg.  We strolled through the gardens, admiring nearly everything we saw.  Springtime in Paris truly is magical.  Everything is newly in bloom and the grass is bright green and fresh. And there is just something enchanting about strolling arm-in-arm with your love through the beauty of Paris.

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We decided to walk back to the hotel with no real route in mind – just to go where the music took us.  We enjoyed peeping in shop windows, keeping our eye out for The Big Wheel and Eiffel Tower, and the wonderfully warm weather. And we worked up a thirst….so we stopped for a flight of beer and a rest for our feet. Then we continued on the journey and as we were strolling back, we realized that our lunch had been big enough that we weren’t going to want a big dinner, AND we knew we were going to have to fall into bed early. With those things in mind, we strolled through a lovely market and picked up some quintessentially French items – a baguette, some Comte cheese, a bit of Bordier butter and the most beautiful, oblong Gariguette strawberries.

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We walked back to the hotel through the Jardin Tuileries and past the Louvre and while I showered, Jeff ran out for a bottle of champagne.  When he got back we assembled our picnic dinner and settled in for the night.

Oh my, what a dinner and what a wonderful way to close our first night in Paris.  Sipping champagne, nibbling on French traditions, and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance.

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Day 4: Sunday 4/9/17

Refreshed and ready to go, Jeff headed out in search of cafe (coffee) and breakfast.  I showered and dressed for the day.  By the time I was awake, vertical and ready for civil conversation, Jeff arrived back at the room with croissants and pain au chocolate from Lauduree, one of THE patisseries in Paris – in operation since 1862 and best known for their French macaron.  Mmm mmm mmm!

 

On tap for the day – a visit to the Bastille Market!  We conquered the Metro and easily found our stop near the market where we spent several hours exploring the stands.  We commented often that we wished we had a kitchen so that we could cook a meal from the fresh, fabulous ingredients.  But we did the next best thing as we strolled the aisles – we shared small bites of the offerings.  The first was a crepe de jambon et de fromage (ham and cheese crepe).  Not only did it taste fantastic, but it was also fun to watch it being made.  In fact, I found myself mesmerized as the crepier easily repeated the process, filling orders at a rate I envied.  

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I should tell you that Jeff can eat about every 5 minutes and sometimes I have to rein him in.  Not wanting to spoil his good time, but also not wanting to deal with stomach issues later, I picked my moments carefully! And there was no way I was going to stop him from enjoying some fresh oysters.  I don’t dislike oysters, but I don’t crave them the way Jeff does.  He has an oyster obsession so it was fun for me to watch him enjoying a half dozen briny fresh molluscs – the look of pure joy on his face was priceless.

After the market, we walked through the cobblestone streets of Le Marais – known as “Old Paris.” When you think Paris streets, the picture that displays in your mind must be from Le Marais.  It’s quaint and historic with winding streets and pretty shops. And fortunately it’s also home to L’as du Fallafel. All our walking had worked up a bit of an appetite so we decided to share a fallafel.  Please understand that sharing with Jeff means I eat 1/4 to 1/3 of whatever we’re sharing so I normally don’t feel too guilty about snacking throughout the day when I share!  Wow!  THE. BEST. FALLAFEL. EVER.  It’s hard to say if the best part was the fallafel itself or the sauce or the eggplant or the pita.

Next we ventured through Les Halles in search of a beer store Jeff wanted to visit.  Unfortunately when we arrived it was closed. Rather than being discouraged, we simply added it to the itinerary for later in the week!  Throughout the day my fascination with the huge courtyard doors with oversized door-knockers became apparent.  I loved imagining what the enormous doors were hiding!

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We hopped the Metro back to the hotel for a quick rest and rejuvenation and then made our way to Galeries Lafayette where we ooh’d and ahhh’d over the dome, the architecture and all the wonderful offerings in the three buildings.  We finished our visit to Galeries Lafayette with a visit to the rooftop for a spectacular view of Paris.

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We strolled some more in the area around out hotel and realized that we were, unbelievably, hungry. Without a reservation, a plan or Jeff’s myriad of notes, we decided on a quick bite on the terrace at the restaurant next to our hotel – Mon Paris.  Rather then ask for menus in English or help translating – we tried out the GoogleTranslate apps on our phones. Jeff ordered the rigatoni with a glass of red wine.  I ordered the Tuna Bagel with Cilantro Cream and a glass of sancerre.  I don’t remember if I tasted Jeff’s rigatoni, but I can tell you that my Tuna Bagel was divine.  Fresh, perfectly seasoned tuna with an Asian twist on half a seeded bagel.  It was just enough to take the edge of and was soooooo incredibly fresh!

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We topped dinner off with a shared dessert of chocolatey goodness – the All Chocolate.  A chocolate sphere filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate crumbles that is accessed by pouring warm chocolate on the top to create an opening for your spoon. A.k.a. chocolate heaven.  We sat and rested our feet and watched the world go by for a while – each ordering a second glass of wine.  Finally, when we couldn’t keep our eyes open for a single moment more and knowing we had an early morning for our trip the champagne region the next day, we headed back to the hotel.  We were greeted by the sparkling Eiffel Tower and a puffy, inviting bed.  I think we both drifted off to sleep within mere moments of our heads hitting the pillow, still in disbelief that we were no longer dreaming about Paris, but living it.

Stay tuned for details of the remainder of our trip including our day in the champagne region and much, much more!

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!

Why I Fell in Love with Sammy Hagar…

I am not a fan of 80’s rock, although I am married to a man who is nearly obsessed with it [who incidentally insists, quite wrongly, that I am a closet rocker].   And until recently I would have told you that the only two things Sammy Hagar and I have in common is that I can’t drive 55 either and we both love his tequila, Cabo Wabo.  But I was wrong.  We do have at least one other thing in common.

What is it?  A love of cooking!

Last October my friend Tammy went to Cabo and brought back Sammy’s cookbook, ‘Are We Having Fun Yet: the cooking & partying handbook.’  She told me how funny bits of the book are and shared that it is an interesting read.

Fast forward to this Christmas when Jeff received ‘Are We Having Fun Yet’ [AWHFY?] as a gift.  While he was reading it, he would share snippets from the book – be it funny quotes about recipes or stories of Sammy’s life.  I listened with a new interest in Sammy Hagar, but didn’t get too engrossed until I was having trouble with a recipe for an upcoming class.  I’d been working on several iterations of the recipe without hitting that moment where I said to myself, “that’s it, that’s the one.”

For some reason I’m still not clear on I picked up AWHFY? and began paging through the recipes when one caught my eye – Papas Bravas.  I was so intrigued by the cooking method and by the sauce that gets served on the potatoes that I immediately ran to the grocery store to buy the ingredients.  After lovingly following the instructions, Jeff and I sat down to a dinner of just Papas Bravas.  OK, we had eaten a big lunch and dinner is a bit of an overstatement – we actually just had a snack of the potatoes but they were so incredible that we could have made a meal of them.

And with a little tweaking I found the recipe I’d been hoping to serve at my upcoming class, Bring a Friend to Spain.  As soon as I finished cleaning up the kitchen I sat down to make notes and type out my version of Sammy Hagar’s Papas Bravas.

What have I learned?  That although I’m not a fan of 80’s rock, I am a fan of Sammy Hagar.  I still can’t drive 55.  I still love Cabo Wabo tequila.  And I suspect that the next time I make something from AWHFY? I’ll Fall In Love Again!!!

Friendship, Food & Farmers’ Markets

One of my first posts was about how food connects and over the last few weeks I’ve had evidence of it!

Last week I received a text message from my friend Tracee which got me thinking about writing this post.   Her text began, “Holy early good morning!!  Sorry to message you so early but…”  OK, let’s stop here and analyze the beginning of her message – she completely understands that for me 7:48 am (her time) and/or 9:48 am my time is early!!!  She was off to a great start!  The message continued, “I am at this awesome produce market in Ft Worth Texas and I thought of you…”  Now some friends would think of you when they hear your favorite song, or watch your favorite t.v. show, or see you favorite flower; but a good friend knows – and understands that – you have a passion for produce markets and thinks of you when she’s looking at fresh fruits and veggies!  She went on to write, “…need anything you can not find in pa?”  A seriously great, true friend would travel from Texas to Pennsylvania with produce in tow if you asked!!!!

I replied to her, “Happy Friday!  You know me well….I love a good produce market!  I’m good [meaning I don’t need you to bring anything back] but send some pics!”

Her reply? “OK will do.  Great stuff!  I knew you appreciate interesting ingredients.”  She then proceeded to send me 14 pics – with captions!  You gotta love a friend like that!

The following is a slide show of Tracee’s pics (some with captions) with her permission to share!

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This text exchange also got me to thinking of a recent trip I took with a different friend (no, I’m not bragging / yes, I am blessed) to Roots Country Market & Auction.  I’ve written about my friend Tammy in previous posts (in fact, one of her delicious recipes made one of my “Best Thing I’ve Eaten All Week” posts).  Tammy is another friend that falls into both the “friend that gets me” and “true friend” categories.  She’s a gem.  In my mind, I equate Tammy with Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) [the glamorous Hungarian wife of Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert)] who is dragged unwillingly from an upscale Manhattan penthouse apartment and the city life she adores to a ramshackle farm.  You see, Tammy is a beautiful, put-together woman who at first glance seems like she might not be tough enough for life on a farm; but if you think that of her, you’d be underestimating her strength – both physical and mental.  In fact, she now lives on a farmette and raises chickens.  Anyway….as usual, I digress.

Tammy and I travel well together and enjoy the same kinds of experiences.  So when she suggested a trip to Roots Market on our most recent day together, I was fully on board.  And I was armed with a restaurant to introduce her to.  We left around 8:30 (early for me and late for Tammy) and started at Roots Market.  I’m so glad Tammy drove and knew exactly how to get to Roots.  You see, she and her hubby frequent the auction to purchase produce for “the girls.”

We zig-zagged our way through the market looking at fresh produce, baked goods, fresh meats, etc.  We plotted our purchases and had to backtrack to a few stands once we’d made our way through the whole market.  But, we’re not just about produce markets.

When we left Roots we headed for downtown Lancaster and shopped at some cute boutiques, home stores, and an olive oil tasting room. We looked at shoes, clothes, jewelry, home items, soaps, lotions, hats (lots of cute hats), coffee, tea, etc.  In doing so, we worked up an appetite.

Being married to Jeff has prepared me well to have a restaurant in my hip pocket for nearly every occasion!  On this day the restaurant was Hunger-N-Thirst Craft Beer and Provisions. I made a quick stop in the bottle shop to see if I could get any HopSlam for Jeff (alas, I could not), we made a pit stop and then made our way to the dining room.  We each ordered a glass of wine (red for Tammy  / white for me), we shared the shrimp cocktail appetizer and ordered our entrees.  For Tammy, the BLT Panino.  For me, Veggie Panino.  The shrimp cocktail was not your mama’s shrimp cocktail!    It is described on the menu as “Chilled Horseradish Dusted Shrimp / Herb Puree / Pickled Vegetables / Crostini / Tomato Jam” and it was D’lish!  I didn’t taste Tammy’s panino, but mine was an odd choice for me.  I typically would not order a veggie sandwich at a restaurant.  I would eat one at home, but would typically find many other things on a restaurant menu that appealed to me.  In this case, however, the combination of “Sweet Potato / Kale / Red Onion / Smoked Provolone / Maple-Sage Aioli” was too interesting to resist.  And it was quite yummy!!!

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We were too full for dessert and Tammy had to hit the road to make it home in time for a class so we got back on the road after lunch.  But the day of adventuring was wonderful.  A time to REconnect, REfuel and RElax!

So next time you’re thinking about a friend, head to a farmers market and send them some pics or, even better, take them along!

And a special thanks to all my friends who “GET” me!

And because they’re so darn cute – here a pic of TyDy connecting over food earlier today!!!

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Think Spring

Spring classes at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School are open for registration.  You can visit The Kitchen Shoppe website to peruse the cooking class brochure or – if you want to quickly see only the classes I’m teaching -visit the Classes I’m Teaching page of this blog.

I hope to see you at one (or more) of my classes.  I’m looking forward to each one and hope you will be too once you read about them!!!

What To Do with the Ashes from Your Big Green Egg: A Public Service Announcement

I know, I know….I haven’t written in a while.  If you’re miffed at that, you may be even more miffed at what I’m going to write about here – because it is cooking-adjacent, but only periferally.

Being the week of Thanksgiving, I’ve been super busy – cleaning (I mean scrubbing) the refrigerator, grocery shopping, making and checking off lists, doing as much ahead as I can for the Thanksgiving meal, and getting my hair colored.  Of course I’m getting my hair colored.  You don’t think I can face the holiday season without fresh hair color, do you?  That would be like asking Super Man to save someone without his cape!!!!

Today was hair color day.  This morning I got up early, returned a book to the library, stopped for my Tuesday coffee (only some of you will truly understand this), picked up the turkeys (yes, turkeyS), and made it to Rebekah’s salon (Bella Vita in Harrisburg) with only seconds to spare.  In fact, I was so on-time that I didn’t even get to sit in the waiting room – she was ready for me upon arrival!

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been getting grayer by the minute – and not just my hair, but my left eyebrow as well – yep, just the left one!  So sometimes when Rebekah colors my hair she also colors my eyebrows.  Even though only the left one has grays in it, she does them both so they’ll match.  The left eyebrow was desperately in need of color today so after she lovingly applied my hair colors (yes, colorS), she gently applied some of the color to my eyebrows.  Yes, before you ask – I am high maintenance!  As my dad used to say when I was growing up (keep in mind he was in a house with all women), “It takes a lot of work to be naturally beautiful!”

As my hair processed I sent some text messages, read my emails and pinned more than my share of pins on Pinterest.  When Rebekah determined I had processed long enough, she rinsed the color out of my hair and then wiped it from my eyebrows.  If you’ve ever had your hair colored, you know some of the hair color stays behind on your skin even after your stylist washes your hair.  Normally I don’t think too much about that because the next time I wash and especially condition my hair, the leftover color on my skin goes away; however, when the color stays behind on the skin behind my eyebrows, I look like a very surprised Groucho Marx sans moustache!!!

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I commented about it to Rebekah and her reply to me was “do you have a fireplace?”  When she first asked I was thinking to myself, “did she just have a stroke? She’s talking fireplaces in response to Groucho Marx.”  But I answered in the affirmative and she then asked, “Is it real or is it gas?”  I shared that it is a gas fireplace.  Keep in mind, I’m still wondering why in the world we’re talking about fireplaces; but I’m a good sport so I went where the conversation took me!  She told me that she had asked because ashes remove hair color.

If I may be honest (like that’s ever a problem for me), I thought she had finally lost it.  Ashes and hair color?  When she told me she understood that it sounded strange, I was less worried about her mental status and thought, “Hey, I have all kinds of ashes in the bottom of my Big Green Egg.  I’ll try using some of them to scrub my eyebrows when I get home.”

So Rebekah completed my color and cut, dried and styled my hair and rang me up.  I left the salon, ran a few more errands and finally made it home just a few moments ago.  As I was walking out to the deck I was wondering if Rebekah was serious or if she was just trying to get me to rub ashes on my face – hey, you never know.  Anyway, I gathered a small dish of ashes from behind the draft door of my Big Green Egg, tore a paper towel off the roll and headed for the magnifying mirror in my bathroom.

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I did as Rebekah instructed and moistened the paper towel, dipped it in the ashes and rubbed it over my eyebrows.

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It worked like magic.  Not only did I clean the skin behind my eyebrows, but I also removed the excess hair color from around my hairline.  I heartily apologize for ever doubting you, Rebekah!!!

Those of you who have been reading for a while and/or who have been to one of my classes and/or who work with me know I hate to waste things. So, now I’m thinking about how I can package and market these ashes…..hmmmm….that ought to keep my brain busy for a while!

Nutrition Information – Clean Eating Class

Thanks to all who attended my Clean Eating class last night….I hope you all learned something and enjoyed the clean food you tried.  I learned a great deal in researching for and preparing the class and I enjoyed spending time with you as we talked about this new-to-some-of-us approach to eating!

As promised, the following is a chart with the nutrition information for each of the recipes we tried last night.  As I mentioned, the recipes (except for dessert) were from cleaneatingmag.com – I used the nutrition information with each recipe where provided. If the nutrition information was not included, I entered the recipe into SuperTracker to get the nutrition information.  The ingredient list in SuperTracker does not always match the ‘specialty’ ingredients in some of the recipes so the nutrition information may vary slightly.

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Thanks again for coming to class and remember clean eating is not about dieting, it is “consuming food the way nature delivered it, or as close to it as possible!”

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?

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!!!!!

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!

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!”

 

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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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!!!

My Sweet Spot

Many years ago I read a book entitled “Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot” by Max Lucado.  I didn’t know it at the time I read it, but there were big changes coming down the pike in my life!!! Fast forward to today and I’ve found that – somewhat unknowingly – have I put into practice what I learned in the book.

Lucado offers “the big idea” at the beginning of the book when he writes:

“Use your uniqueness (what you do)

to make a big deal out of God (why you do it)

every day of your life (where you do it).

At the convergence of all three, you’ll find the cure for the common life: your sweet spot.”

He illustrates “the big idea” with this diagram:

Sweet Spot Diagram

So why am I writing about this?  Because today I received the gift of one of those rare glimpses of what it means to live in your sweet spot!  I love teaching cooking classes and I enjoy every class I teach, but today was different from many of the other classes in that it really felt like everything came together at just the right time, in just the right way, with just the right people.

Does that mean that today was perfect?  Nope!  There is no such thing as a perfect day.  But it came pretty close and even those minor glitches in the day caused me no alarm or unease.

So how do you find your sweet spot?  Well, Lucado suggests studying your S.T.O.R.Y.  And, based on my experiences over the last many years, I happen to agree.  So what does S.T.O.R.Y. stand for?

  1. What are your STRENGTHS?  In my case, I believe my strength is in teaching – being able to take a concept and explain (either verbally or in writing (which also made me a pretty good technical writer)) it in a way that is understandable to people. Although there will be a few of you out there who share teaching as a strength, I suspect for most of you your strength will be something else.
  2. What is your TOPIC?  My topic is food.  I enjoy working with it, eating it, experimenting with it, etc.  Again, your topic will likely be different.
  3. What are your OPTIMAL CONDITIONS? For each of us, this will be different – some will like a more structured, predictable situation and others a more loose, variable situation.  I like the variety of coming up with different food combinations and playing with my food!
  4. What about RELATIONSHIPS? Do you function best alone or surrounded by other people?  Do you work best as part of a team or as an individual contributor.  I love the interplay between me and my students and I greatly appreciate the support of the team of people it takes to deliver a great class.  It is never simply about the instructor!
  5. What makes you say, “YES!”  It is when your strengths, topic, optimal conditions and relationships intersect that you find your YES!

Today, I was given the gift of my YES!  So here’s a shout out to all the people who came to the class and worked the class.  Without you I doubt my Yes! would have been possible!!!!!

P.S.  The menu for today included:

  • Creamy Bacon Pasta with Coffee Rubbed Scallops
  • Caramelized Onion & Butternut Squash Soup w/ Chipotle Coffee Cream
  • Fennel & Prosciutto Salad with Honey -Coffee Vinaigrette
  • Coffee Crusted Filet of Beef
  • Braised Cabbage with Coffee, Molasses & Bacon
  • Cappuccino Cheesecake

The following is a snap of the soup – it looked too pretty not to photograph!!!!

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