You Can’t Win ‘Em All…..or Can You?

Over the weekend my dear friend Holly and I were texting back and forth about how much we miss seeing one another, so we decided to meet for lunch this week.  After a surprisingly short game of dueling datebooks, we landed on Thursday (today).

Since Jeff had invited me to try a new crepe restaurant in Harrisburg for lunch one day this week, I thought I’d combine both dates and hang out with both Jeff and Holly at lunchtime today.  I love it when a plan comes together!

Pointing to JeffWe decided to meet on the early side of the lunch “hour” and it’s a good thing we did.  Au Bon Lieu – on Third Street in Harrisburg – is tiny.  There are only 6 small tables inside and 2 even smaller tables outside.  Jeff and I arrived at about 11:50 and there were only two tables available.  We snagged the one in the window and waited while Holly found a parking place.

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Eating My Words….After Eating Some Seriously Amazing Food

Sometimes the most unappetizing thing to eat is your own words!  Especially when you are not shy to share your opinions – like me.  So today, instead of breakfast, I AM eating my own words…fortunately I have a nice cup of coffee to wash them down – thanks, honey!

For quite a while I have been saying that I don’t believe we have any REALLY good restaurants in Central, PA.  That is not to say that there never have been…..some of you may remember The Empire in Carlisle or Brian Kent’s in Hershey….and it is also not to say that there aren’t current restaurants where you can get a good dish (dare I say even a great one), or good service, or nice atmosphere.  The problem I find is that these things rarely come all at the same time in Central PA.

So when I am asked about my favorite restaurant or where I like to eat, I usually preface my answer with something like, “If you don’t mind traveling…..”.  Or, my answer is that I prefer to cook at home.

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Food Journal

I realized today that even though I’ve only been Blogging about food since September of last year; I’ve been Jlogging about food for a lot longer!

Front Cover w FlowersI’ve spent the majority of the day committing to paper recipes for a class I am teaching in a few weeks; and, as often happens when I am thinking about things I’ve made in the past, I pulled out my food journal.  It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read past posts that I got sidetracked!  My self-diagnosed ADD kicked in AGAIN and with a smile on my face I traveled down memory lane.

My food journal is a beautiful brown-leather covered volume that I swore I would keep in pristine condition – I vowed to only write in it in my best handwriting.  Ahhh, the best laid plans…… A few of the pages began neatly – with legible printing; but over time they have become splattered and spilled upon and you can see some days where my passion for what I was recording overtook my desire to write neatly!  That’s how passion goes….

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Be It Ever So Humble…..

We just returned from a fantastic weekend with friends in Newport, Rhode Island.  If you’ve been following, you have read of our adventures and have seen some pics of great food.  The food yesterday was no exception!

We began our day later than usual and with a continental breakfast at the hotel (this was not the good food part, but it wasn’t bad); but once we got in full swing, there was no stopping us!  We left the hotel, bundled up and began the Cliff Walk.  The weather was perfect.  The skies were bright blue and although it was a little windy, the temperature was in the 40’s which made for a great walk!

Cliff View

We meandered from Memorial Avenue to The Breakers and back.  Unfortunately, the entire Cliff Walk isn’t open due to some storm damage from Sandy.  We missed what we affectionately refer to as Rice Krispie Beach and we missed our favorite part – walking over the boulders that make up the far end of the “trail.”  We heard from a shop owner (but did not confirm) that it will take approximately $8 million to make the necessary repairs.

Pesce

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S.A.T.U.R.D.A.Y. Night

Yesterday was a wonderful day. To recap, we found a new spot for breakfast because our favorite spot, The Franklin Spa, is closed until February 1st.  The original plan was to do the Cliff Walk yesterday; however it was very cold and windy. So we put it off. Instead we walked around town and shopped and had some drinks and shopped and had some drinks.

We got hungry around 2:30, but didn’t want to eat too much because we were going to see some friends from church who moved to Newport last year and we were having dinner with them.  So we decided on bloody Marys and soup at the Brick Alley Pub in downtown Newport.

The wait was long, but that did not deter us.  We ordered 6 bloody Marys and settled in for our 45 minute wait. Fortunately, a bar table became available and we decided to have our soup shoulder to shoulder.  While we waited we looked at all the interesting things on the walls and, of course, talked and laughed and laughed and talked.

My Kind of Six Pack

My Kind of Six Pack

Words to Live By

Words to Live By (see center)

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Good? Morning…..Yes Indeed

The morning got off to a rocky start. We were all a little sluggish and then when we finally got moving and walked in the ccc-cold to our favorite breakfast spot, we were greeted by a sign that read, “Gone Fishing.  See you on February 1st.” Ohhhhhhh noooooooooooooooo!$*&!

Dejected, we walked back to our “hotel” to regroup.  Never fear, Jeff is here!  He not only has a list of back-up restaurants, he also will talk to anyone and has no qualms about asking a bazillion questions.  I love that about him.  He used this superpower to get a recommendation for an alternate breakfast spot – the Corner Cafe.

With much trepidation, we got in the car and headed to this new restaurant.  Fortunately we were not even a little disappointed! Our first decision was juice.  They had amazing combinations.  Jenny and I shared a Vitamin C Booster and it was d-lish! It was made from orange, cranberry, red raspberry and grape juices. Mmm mmm mmm!

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Salvation

I’m not sure if our souls were saved from sin or if we were led to sin; but dinner tonight at The Salvation Cafe was heavenly!

It’s not that rare to go to a restaurant and have one really good dish on the table. However in my experience it is exceedingly rare to have every dish at the table be exceptional, but that is exactly what the chef at The Salvation Cafe was able to produce this evening.

We ordered a pitcher of red sangria and three amazing appetizers to share:

  • Mussels in green curry coconut sauce with Thai basil.
  • Crispy Calamari with sweet and spicy vinaigrette and wasabi cream.
  • Quattro Formaggi with whole grain crostini.

Mussells CalamariQuattro Formaggi Appetizer

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Getting There is Half the Fun

Today was the first day of my absolute favorite weekend of the year.  Jeff and I take an annual trip to Newport, R.I. and for the last two years we have been going with good friends – the kind of friends who are like family!

Jeff & I and Jenny & Tom met up with Holly & Jeff at Holly & Jeff’s house AT the appointed time – 9:00 a.m.  Anyone who knows me knows it’s miraculous that I was (A) on time and (B) on time in the morning!  But we were.  And it’s a good thing we left when we did because we hit lots of traffic starting around the George Washington Bridge in NYC.

We were slowed to such a rate that Jeff was able to take some really cool pics of the bridge:

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Market Value

Another successful day of farmers marketing yesterday.  Mimi (my mom) and I departed her house at approximately 9:00 am (only an hour later than our designated departure time, which for us is not bad at all) and hopped on the PA Turnpike for an hour-ish ride to Reading.  Our destination – The Fairgrounds Farmers Market.

I did a little research (no, I did not simply throw a dart at the map) early in the week about PA farmers markets and the Fairgrounds Market sounded interesting.  Someone commented on yelp that it is, “not the prettiest or the most eclectic, but for quality of food, it’s the best.”  That review had me expecting a dumpy place – and while it certainly wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as Lancaster’s Central Market or the Ardmore Farmers Market, it was decent-looking.  It seemed clean and was well laid out with wide aisles and good lighting.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Thursday

My lunch with Ashley (my beautiful niece) and Mimi (my mom) got off to a slow start……I was at the appointed meeting place – Pizza Grill – at 11:30 a.m..  At 11:56 I texted to Jeff the following, “I should have known better than to make Ashley and Mimi responsible for getting one another here. What was I thinking? It’s like the blOnd leading the blind!”  LOL!!!!

When they finally arrived, we had a good laugh about our less-than-smooth execution of a plan!  And then we had a great lunch!  We ordered a sun-dried Tomato and Feta Salad, a Crab Pizza on whole wheat, and a cup of Seafood Soup.  Everyone was sooooo hungry, but once we ate we were all quite satisfied with our choices and were fortified for an afternoon of cookie baking.

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It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

IKEA and PF Chang’s: a trip around the globe

Who doesn’t enjoy a trip to IKEA?  I know I do….I like meandering through the upstairs displays of different rooms featuring IKEA products that you can purchase and configure on your own.  You can get good ideas and good bargains as well.

Having broken many of our wine glasses over the last few years, I thought I’d take a trip to the store in White Marsh, MD to see if I could find replacements and to see what’s new at the store.  I convinced my mom to come along – not that it took much coaxing!

We spent the afternoon yesterday wandering through the maze that is IKEA and dreaming about all the things we could do in our houses if we had all the money in the world! It’s fun to do that every once in a while. Even if you’re totally satisfied with and grateful for the home you have, it’s still fun to dream…

To quote Nicholas Sparks, from The Notebook:
“And I learned what is obvious to a child. That life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals. That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered.”

Anyway, after a few hours of dreaming and a shared banana, we were hungry!  So we decided to try P.F. Chang’s.  I’d been to one in Arizona, but it’s been a while and my mom has never been to one; so we took a chance.  And it paid off.

I remembered having a delicious Spicy Green Beans side dish during my last trip to P.F. Chang’s , so we ordered the Spicy Green Beans – which are stir fried with garlic in a spicy chili sauce – as a starter while we chose our entrees.  What was delivered (not by our waitress) to our table, however, was an order of the Crispy Green Beans appetizer – lightly battered and fried crisp, served with a mildly spicy dipping sauce.  It looked good, so we gave it a try.  It was so good we weren’t even going to mention it to our server; however when she came up to take our entree order she noticed that what was delivered was not what we ordered.  We assured her that we were fine with what we had received and placed our entree order.

We were enjoying our Crispy Green Beans when our waitress arrived with a complementary order of the Spicy Green Beans.  She said, “I’m sure I’ll have to wrap most of this to go, but I wanted you to have what you ordered.”  Now that, my friends, is good service!  Even though we were happy with what we received, she went out of her way to make sure we weren’t disappointed by the mix-up.  That is what makes you remember the service and want to return to a restaurant. Oh, and we were definitely glad she brought the Spicy Green Beans because they were even better than the Crispy ones!!!!!!

Although it was difficult to choose from the varied menu, my mom chose the Seared Ahi Tuna Wasabi Salad.  It was a wonderful choice.  The dressing had that typical wasabi explosion for your sinuses, but was not too spicy and the tuna was cooked (if you want to call it that since it was rare) to perfection!  The salad was simple, but delicious and the serving was quite generous.

I settled on the Crab Fried Rice.  Ever since our trip to the Lancaster County Farmers Market last week, I’ve had a hankering for crab.  Although not the most flavorful fried rice I’ve ever had, it was still very good.  It was not at all greasy, which most fried rices cannot claim.  Once I added a bit of soy sauce (which itself was very good – just the right amount of salty), it was quite satisfying – especially the large lumps of crab meat, the little bits of bacon and the al dente asparagus.  Again, the serving was very generous – enough for dinner for Jeff and I tonight!

We left with full bellies, four to-go containers and memories of a good dining experience. Oh, and some purchases from IKEA – including the wine glasses on my list.  I’m not sure there’s another way to leave Central PA and visit Sweden and China in the same day!!!!!

A Beautiful Day for……..

The question of the day for Jeff and I yesterday was, “Do we stay home and clean the house OR do we head to Kings Gap for a hike?”  Considering the holidays are coming up, which means more entertaining than usual, the WHAT WE SHOULD DO was obvious; however it’s been a while since we had a weekend day together and the weather was perfect……so we opted for Kings Gap.

We enjoyed each others’ company on the winding ride to the top of the mountain.  And when we got there we proceeded to the mansion terrace to catch the view during the day….the last time we were there, it was pitch black and the view was non-existent.  We were amazed at how far we could see – not only is the overlook perfect, but the sky was crystal clear!

After a few minutes and several pictures on the terrace, we set off for the garden.  Although this isn’t the best time of year for looking at all the herbs and native PA plants, we still had fun wandering through the space, pointing interesting things out to one another and talking.  A few minutes into our time at Kings Gap, Jeff’s cell phone rang.  It was our friend Ben.  If you’ve been reading lately, you’ll remember he is a landscaper.  We were semi-expecting a call from him – he knew we were thinking about a trip to Kings Gap and had a landscaping job he in the area wanted us to see.  So after a few more minutes in the garden, we got back in the car and descended the mountain…talking about our bucket lists on the way to meet Ben at the local General Store.

Ben took us on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride over hill and dale to the house of a wonderful couple for whom he is doing some absolutely incredible landscape and hardscape work.  We got to see the fruits of Ben’s labor in an ideal setting.  There were all kinds of tiered stone walls, a huge patio, a built-in grill that blends in beautifully with all the hardscape, and a fire pit area with several boulders for seating. Although it’s not completely finished, it is well on the way and gave Jeff and I many ideas for the blank canvas that is our back yard!  While there we also had the undeniable privilege of meeting Gretzky, a sweet, lovable, beautiful golden retriever.  He enjoyed many pats and scratches while we talked and got to know Barb and Bill.  We are so appreciative that they let us interrupt their day to gawk and drool over their backyard!

Next stop – lunch.  Ben suggested a place he likes to go when he’s working in the area and it did not disappoint.  Caffe 101 is in Boiling Springs in a newly remodeled brick building with charming back courtyard seating and a bright, cheery indoor dining area.  You order at the counter and serve yourself drinks.  The staff brings your order to the table.

Ben was glad they had the sandwich he was craving – a barbeque chicken sandwich with apple and cheddar.

 

 

 

He also ordered cream of crab soup that he said was mostly crab meat and which he indicated he will definitely order again. It looked great and was served with a crisp, seeded flatbread.

 

 

 

Jeff ordered a Rachel, which he ate in record time – as usual, I didn’t have a chance to ask for a bite.  But when I asked how it was he said it was very good!

 

 

 

And I ordered a turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich that was very good.  Fortunately for Jeff I couldn’t finish it and he got to try my sandwich.  The food at Caffe 101 was very fresh, nicely presented, and quite tasty.  The only thing that will keep us from going back soon is that it’s a bit out of our way.  But I am sure we will return when we have another day that’s not jam packed!  If for no other reason than to have a cup of coffee, which smelled excellent and to try a dessert.  They had pretty cupcakes that were decorated with generous amounts of icing and other tempting sweet treats!

From Caffe 101 we followed Ben to his house to pick out another tree for our backyard.  We looked at his garden, his inventory of trees, and we heard about some of his plans for next year (or the next several years).  AND, the highlight of the visit was meeting the newest member of the family – his new backhoe.  I can’t wait to have a chance to drive it!

We had a lot of fun spending the day with one another and with Ben.  So I was glad that I had started dinner in the morning – so that I could invite Ben and his lovely wife, Christa – who was travelling for her nephew’s birthday party, to dinner.  They accepted our invitation and we parted ways.  Christa was heading back from her trip, Ben went to work on a job, and Jeff and I  headed for home to finish dinner and at least vacuum the house.

Tune in later for a full description of dinner, a sneak peek into my rookie mistake, and to hear more about cooking, eating and entertaining, which when done with and for friends is soul satisfying!!!!

A Rare Treat

I had a rare treat on Tuesday….lunch with my husband on a weekday!  It wasn’t planned, which made it even better.

Jeff needed to pick up his car and asked if I could give him a ride.  As I was on the way to his office, I called him to let him know I’d be arriving soon. While on the phone, I teasingly asked if he’d be taking me to lunch as payment for the ride.  I was taken aback when he said, “yes!”  I expected him to reply with some sassy comment, putting me in my place for even suggesting that he had to pay for the ride!  Sometimes he knows how to render me speechless – not an easy feat!

On the remainder of the ride to his office, I thought about the different places we could go – some of our favorites…but as soon as he got into the car and I asked him if he had any ideas; he gave the exact right answer…Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe.  Immediately my mouth started to water.  Everything there is homemade – bread, pasta, sauce, pastries, gelato…..oh, the possibilities were endless.

When we arrived I was comforted by the homey interior – exposed brick, terra cotta colored paint on the walls, and framed photos of the owners’ travels to Italy.  And the cases lined with pastries and cookies reminded me of trays of cookies at weddings in my family.  All lovingly made and beautifully decorated.  When we looked at the offerings of the day, I immediately knew what I would be ordering.  Deciding took only as long as it took me to read the words, “tortellini with rolled eggplant.”  They had me hook, line and sinker!  As we waited in line to order I found myself muttering a silent prayer that they wouldn’t run out of the eggplant before I got to the counter!  You see, the folks at Alvaro’s make the best eggplant rollatini I’ve ever had.

The eggplant is sliced as thin as humanly possible, breaded so lightly you’d swear that angels blew the breadcrumbs onto the slices, and fried so gently.  The result is not greasy at all, but tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.  The base of the filling is the freshest ricotta you’ve ever tasted! Mmm mmm mmm!

The tortellini – of course, homemade – is fantastic.  The pasta is incredibly smooth and just thick enough that it doesn’t tear when it’s rolled into the tortellini shape.  The filling is light and flavorful.  And the sauce – oh, the sauce – is perfection!  It’s just the right combination of fresh tomato sauce and cream.  You’d expect it to be heavy, as many cream-based sauces are; but it is silky and light with fresh tomato flavor.  Jeff also ordered the tortellini, but he ordered the Italian sausage rather than the eggplant.  Normally I would ask for a taste, but I was so engrossed in my food – trying so hard to pace myself that I’d have some to take home – that by the time I thought to ask, he was finished!

It is almost impossible to leave Alvaro’s without some kind of sweet treat.  When you look into the cases lined with cakes and cookies and pastries and homemade gelato, you’d swear the dessert gnomes were whispering, “Try me, try me!”  But we steeled our resolve and left without dessert…..but not without a loaf of rosemary bread!

If you are looking for a warm, homemade, filling lunch – the kind after which you probably need a nap – I’d give Alvaro’s Bread and Pastry Shoppe 6 forks out of 5!!!!  And no, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes or my math!!!

Lunch at The Hershey Pantry

I had the privilege of spending the day with my mom and one of her oldest friends (oldest as in the number of years they’ve been friends, not her age)!  After many years on their separate paths, my mom and her friend reconnected in the last several years and I’m so glad they did.

Mrs. M (as she will forever be known to me) was like a second mom to me growing up, and her girls, like my own sisters.  There are very few memories of my childhood that don’t include their family in some way!

So when I had the opportunity to spend the day with Mimi (as we call my mom) and Gail, I didn’t pass it up – although I have to admit to a hint of reluctance since they’ve been known to spend hours talking about all the people they knew who are “no longer with us.”  I am happy to say today we talked mostly about the living!  We talked about travel and dreams and families and new life chapters and….hmmm, what didn’t we talk about?

And laugh, we laughed a lot. We laughed some at how getting older is not for the faint of heart and about how I am just beginning to suffer more frequently from Threshold Amnesia.  You know what it is.  I’m sure you’ve had it from time to time yourself.  Threshold Amnesia hits when you walk from one room to another and then cannot remember why you’re there!  Well, it’s happening to me more often lately and I’ve taken to going from room to room muttering under my breath, “scissors, scissors, scissors, scissors” as I walk so that I don’t forget that I’m on my way to get the scissors!  I’m glad I can laugh about it.  And strangely it was nice to spend time with my mom and Mrs M. today so that I could have a little glimpse of what to expect next!

One of our stops was for lunch at the Hershey Pantry.  As you can see, we did not stop laughing even during lunch. The ambiance at the Hershey Pantry was warm and inviting – especially after spending too much of the morning in a way-too-cold doctor’s office waiting room.  And I always enjoy the collection of funky teapots that line the window sills.  And oh, the menu.  I can never decide whether the breakfast menu or the lunch menu is more appealing to me.  It was nice to see that there were some “brunch” items on the specials menu so that we could choose sandwiches OR french toast.  Interestingly enough, we chose both!

My mom ordered the Grilled Turkey and Cranberry Sandwich.  I was actually considering this myself.  It was a beauty of a sandwich – roasted turkey breast on thick cut cinnamon bread with cranberry spread and swiss cheese.  The combination is just funky enough to get my attention and, from what my mom said, worked very well together!  It was served with a pickle spear and veggie chips.

 

 

Mrs. M ordered the Cinnamon French Toast.  It looked and smelled terrific and was topped with a “healthy” dollop of butter.  The quandary was syrup or no syrup.  In the end the decision was it was delicious on its own!

 

Normally I would have ordered something from the brunch selections because I absolutely love it when someone else cooks breakfast food for me – especially the Hershey Pantry; but when we walked in and I saw the soup selections on the specials board, I knew I had to order the Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Shredded Gouda.  Who could argue with that?  As I was waiting for the soup to come, I was hoping that it didn’t just sound like a great soup, but that it actually was a great soup.  It did not disappoint.  It was so flavorful and had a great creamy texture, although I don’t believe there was any cream in it.

To go with the soup, I ordered the Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich. After all, what goes better with a good cup of soup than a grilled cheese?  The Ultimate has four cheeses, tomatoes and basil in it…..ahhhh!  It was also served with a pickle spear and veggie chips.  It was great paired with the roasted red pepper soup.

The service was attentive, but not intrusive and the price was just right … thanks for lunch – and a great day – mom!

 

Camaraderie – Shopping, Sophia’s, Etc.

I had a GREAT day today.  Looking in from the outside, you may look at my day and ask, “Why in the world would anyone say THIS was a great day?”  But from the minute I woke up, things were wonderful!

My day began early, but with a cup of coffee that was like solace in a steaming mug.  Typically Jeff makes the coffee in the morning because he makes much better coffee than I do; however this morning I was up first and sprinkled a light dusting of cinnamon into the ground coffee before I brewed it.  Ooh, how I love this – the smell, the taste……who can complain?

My dear friend Holly picked me up at my house and we met my mom at our rendezvous point and then shopped for wall art at a local outlet that is only open to the public every 6 weeks.  We had fun going through dusty boxes of pictures and mirrors and finding treasures for our walls.  It was a good example of teamwork – we picked things for each other, guarded the single cart we had to fight for, and acted as the voice of reason for one another. It’s funny how much relating you do when you’re shopping!  You tell stories, learn about one another’s tastes, and catch up on current happenings.

Sophia's on Market

Photo from Sophia’s on Market website.

After shopping we headed to Sophia’s on Market in Camp Hill for coffee and a snack. When we arrived we collectively decided that the shopping had made us hungry and we’d have lunch instead.  Oh darn, I had no choice but to order one of my many favorite sandwiches!

I chose the Marinated Roast Beef on French Baguette. Mmm mmm mmm.  The baguette is warmed slightly (not toasted) and brushed with mayo (which mixes nicely with the marinade to make the sandwich a little messy – but in a good way). The sandwich is topped with red onion, dark leaf lettuce and melted provolone. For my choice of a side dish I decided on the creamy potato salad.  It is one of my all time favorite potato salads except for consistently being under-salted in my opinion.

As difficult as it was for me, I saved half my sandwich for Jeff, who was at home mowing grass and aerating the yard.  AND as much as I wanted one, I didn’t order a Grammy’s Chocolate Cookie.  They are hands-down my favorite cookie.  They are fudgey and although they are well-baked, they remind me of eating the thick, chocolately batter right out of the bowl.  They are topped with sugar crystals and are just the right texture to dip into a cup of coffee.

I had chance meetings with two former classmates from my Leadership Harrisburg Area – Community Leadership Series class today – one while shopping and one at Sophia’s.  I hadn’t talked to either of them since graduation last May so it was nice to catch up and to be reminded of the fun we had learning and growing together. Our class – the best class – was composed of amazing individuals desiring to be servant leaders in their communities.  What a treat is was to see Andrew and Beth.

After lunch, I returned home to shampoo the carpets in the house, spend a little time in the yard with Jeff, and do some reading.  While cleaning is not on my list of favorite activities, the moment of joy I experience when I stand back to look at a completed job is!

My day was filled with reminders of the varied relationships I am fortunate to participate in.  And, as Gary Smalley says, “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”  I do not lead the world’s most exciting life; but I am leading a life that makes me smile. I am blessed with acquaintances, friends and family with whom I can shop, dine, learn, labor, cook, eat and entertain!

*If you are reading this, Tracey H., thanks to you I finally learned how to spell camaraderie!!!!

On the Road

Yesterday was a LLLOOONNNGGG travel day; but this morning sitting on the deck in my pajamas watching the sun come up, enjoying the ocean breeze on my face, and having a cup of coffee I KNOW for certain it was worth it!  Here I am on the Outer Banks no longer dreaming about vacation, but living it.

We travelled from central PA to Corolla, NC with two cars containing four adults, three kids, two dogs and enough “stuff” for an army.  Jeff and I do not travel light – we had to bring a few things for the kitchen – a sharp knife, my favorite pepper grinder, tongs, a microplane grater, herb snips, a blender – you know, just the basics!

But what did we eat along the way?  We packed snacks for the trip, but had a stop planned in Williamsburg, VA.  OK, I know, when you think Williamsburg you think Colonial Williamsburg – that is NOT where we stopped.  We chose a stop at Pierce’s Pit BBQ for several reasons.  It is easy access to the highway, we’d be there right at lunch time, it’s dog friendly with many outdoor picnic tables and room for them and the kids to stretch their legs, and they have AMAZING food.

Now BBQ is not typically high on my list of favorite foods, but it is VERY high on Jeff’s list of favorites – and those of you who are married understand that sometimes “compromise” is the word of the day!  Compromise is pretty darn easy at Pierce’s Pit.  They have so many options and a really good BBQ sauce.  I ordered a pulled chicken sandwich, French fries and lemonade.  Jeff ordered a pulled pork sandwich, French fries and sweet iced tea.  The fries were addictive and the sandwich was both delicious and big enough to share with two dogs, which meant everyone got back in the car happy!

 

We took our time at Pierce’s Pit so that we could get some of the stir crazy from the car out of our systems, but eventually we got back on the road.  We made a stop for fresh produce at one of the many fruit markets on Rt. 158 and then headed to our final destination – Corolla.  Fortunately, I had a game plan in place for dinner.  I knew after riding in the car all day we’d be hungry for something homey, but wouldn’t want to spend too much time cooking.  So, I brought lasagna, which I put in the oven and left Jeff to watch while Holly and I headed to the grocery store to stock up for the week.

What a joy to go grocery shopping with someone who shops like me.  No lollygagging – just action.  We were armed with a well-organized list and hungry bellies so it went fast.  In fact, it’s a little frightening that you can spend $308 in a matter of minutes!   When we got back to our place, bringing in and putting away groceries went quickly – everyone pitched in so that each person only had to go up the stairs a few times.  And by the time the last item was put away, dinner was ready.  Lasagna, a yummy salad and some warm bread with olive oil dipper.  Oh, and of course a few glasses of wine and a few beers!

So, what does today hold?  Now that I’ve got a pot of taco soup simmering on the stove, some veggies and dip ready for snacking and a pitcher of sweet tea in the fridge, the sky’s the limit.  I have an old friend to visit and there’s no time like the present…..if anyone needs me, I’ll be at the beach!

Turn the Beet Around

I think Gloria Estefan would forgive me for the word play on her song title – especially if she tasted the pickled spiced beets from The Village Whiskey – Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Philadelphia restaurant.

The Village Whiskey beets are what inspired my purchase of 10 pounds of red beets at the Lancaster Central Market on Friday. Philadelphia is a little far to drive for an appetizer, so I have to learn to make them on my own.  I hope Jose Garces will forgive my twist on his recipe.

The Village Whiskey makes their pickled spiced beets with baby red and golden beets, but I made mine with oven-roasted, full-grown red beets since I am still waiting for a late planting of beets in my garden to yield results.  Sadly, the rabbits had their way with the beets Jeff planted in the spring.

I roasted my 10 pounds of beets after washing them and wrapping them in foil.  They cooked in a 350 degree oven for approximately 90 minutes (they were big beets).  I let them cool, peeled them and cut them into bite-sized pieces.  While I was peeling and cutting the beets, a pickling solution was simmering on the stove.  Now I don’t know what The Village Whiskey puts in their recipe – that is for them to share or not; but I put some allspice, cinnamon, mustard seeds, thinly sliced onion, thyme, bay leaves, orange zest and orange juice along with some water and different types of vinegars.

After the beets were prepped, I poured the pickling liquid over them and now they are just swimming in the liquid getting happy, subtly spiced, and “pickley.”  Tomorrow I will can them so that I can enjoy them for months to come.  When I serve them, I will likely want the toasted baguette and whipped ricotta that is served at the restaurant with all their pickle selections.

Whether or not you want to try to make pickled, spiced beets on your own; I would HIGHLY recommend a trip to The Village Whiskey if you are in Philadelphia.  The restaurant is small and they do not take reservations, so Jeff and I try to arrive between lunch and dinner.  Not only are the beets amazing, so are the pickled herb cherry tomatoes and the french fries cooked in duck fat – especially when they are topped with delectable short ribs and cheddar cheese.  And if you are keeping up with the latest burger fad, do yourself a favor and do not pass up the Village Burger.  It is served on a buttery, light and flaky sesame bun with lettuce, tomato and house-made thousand island dressing.  I add the caramelized onions and one of the terrific cheese selections.  This is the kind of burger you wake up hungry for!

The Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA  19103