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Monday
Mar062017

Spring Viewing

It's swordfights and sandals season around here.  That means I force my peeps to watch every movie my mom and I watched over the Easter Season, and then some.  It's the "some" that has taken over for the most part, as my latest viewing of The Ten Commandments didn't hold up to the test of time.  Other than Yul Brenner.  So, if you feel somewhat religious, or at least enjoy the entertainment value of any movie with a concept of Theology, then here a list for you.

Pompeii

It has swordfights.  It has sandals.  It has gladiators.  Gladiators who must eventually kill each other.  But not before they become friends against the machine.  One's black, one's white (isn't that always the way with Gladiators?), both have British Accents.  In fact, everyone in this movie has a British Accent, except for Kiefer Southerland, who dismally tries.  It has romance, it even has Horse Whisperers.  But that's not all . . . it also has, gasp!  Natural disasters galore!  Mount Vesuvius erupts of course, but we all knew that.  What we didn't know about were the earthquakes, the pyroclastic flows and the tsunamis that went with it. Oh, and did I mention Jon Snow?  It has Jon Snow, doing something productive that season HBO killed him off.  And all charmingly connected together by the Pompeiian remains of two lovers in their final embrace.  Even Chris managed to stay up and watch.

Troy

Why this movie didn't do well in theatres is beyond me.  I once saw an interview with Brad Pitt where he said he didn't understand the power of an entrance, until he made Legends of the Fall.  Perhaps he hadn't made this movie yet. I'd call it a skin flick.  Mostly his.

Gladiator

I remember seeing this movie in the theatre and the exact point where every woman in the audience finally got Russell Crowe.  Literally, there was a collective audible gasp as he takes to a stolen stead and defies the Emperor.

Cleopatra

I've read Cleopatra's Memoirs, and this movie was historically very accurate.  Liz is just stunning, and Cleo is my favorite historical character.  The featurette included on the making of the film is a real piece of history itself, nearly putting Fox into bancrupcy. 

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Still hasn't lost its magic.  Like being on a roller coaster for the entire film, and one of the best opening scenes Steven Spielburg has ever done.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The best of the entire series.  Ok, I get that Steve met his wife and all he could come up with was magic rocks for the second installment.  The premise for the fourth installment was nothing short of ludicris (especially since the History Channel did they best to debunk the Crystal Skull myths).  This story has meaning, it has Sean Connery and River Phoenix, may he rest in peace, and everything else you expect from an Indy movie.

The Natural

What kind of wife would I be if I didn't mention Baseball as a Spring passage.  My Husband doesn't count the days until Spring, he counts the days until "Pitchers and Catchers" day.  What can I say, its a Baseball movie.  It has Robert Redford in it.  Better than "Field of Dreams" or "Bull Durham" in my opinion.

Saturday
Mar142015

Deconstruction: The Rueben

This time of year the bars and taverns are really hopping on Saturday afternoons.  March Madness.  St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Hungry Fans.  By I’ve now had enough of Bad Rueben Sandwiches and Green Beer to make it worth staying home.
 
How bad?

Watery sauerkraut out of jar or a bag, makes for soggy bread.

Fatty or thick cuts of corned beef make for tough eating.

Sauce that tastes like “special sauce” makes it taste institutional.

So I set out to perfect The Rueben.
 
It took a lot of research and taste testing on Saturday afternoons to figure out the best of all possible sandwiches, but I finally got it narrowed down and perfected.
 
What’s best?
 
Very lean, very thinly sliced Corned Beef.  Just enough meat on the sandwich, not too much.  About 3 or 4 slices thick.  More than that is just too hard to bite into
.  
Nutty Emanthaler Cheese shredded on top and bottom
.  
Dijionaise Sauce. It’s a more sophisticated thousand island dressing.  On the side.  I don’t like anything with mayonnaise in it cooked.  It just separates into a greasy mess.
  
Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw with black caraway seeds instead of the sauerkraut.   On the side.  Mayo in it, remember?
Sweet Bread and Butter pickle chips.  The kind in the refrigerator section.  Better yet, Jalapeno Pickles.  From Homesick Texan Cookbook.

And the best Rye Bread you can find.  Not likely found in the bread aisle of the grocery store, but at a bakery or farm market.  Grilled like you would make a good grilled cheese sandwich, with a thin spread of soft butter on the outside of the bread.

Grace has an exchange student from France staying with her who is excited about being in the US for St. Patrick’s Day.  Won’t she be surprised to find out our traditional Irish Fare is actually Jewish Deli Food?
Thursday
May222014

Easter Foods and Easter Outfits: Savory Fennel Shortbread Crackers

 

When we were little kids, Easter meant the Easter Bunny, Easter Baskets, Easter Egg Hunts, the Easter Pagent, and of course, your Easter Outfit.  Because that's what you wore to the Easter Pagent and to church on Easter Sunday.  New dress, new patent leather Mary Jane shoes, and a new hat.  Because girls still had to wear hats to church back then.

My mother was very proficient in the Needle Arts.  All of them.  Knitting, Crochet, Tapestry, Rug Hooking and Braiding, Embroidery, and Sewing.  She taught me all of them as well, and I am glad to see that some of these arts are coming back into style, because it would be shame to lose them. 

So, the first Easter we were in the new house (the one my Dad built with his bare hands), she made us each coats for Spring, and we wore them to church on Easter Sunday. 

Now I am an accomplished knitter, and I offered to teach Grace the Girl.  Grace is 14 and has School, Art Class, Viola Class, Piano Class, Orchestra Practice, Chinese School, French Class and extra-curricular Math Class.

She said, "Margot, I'd love to learn, but honestly I don't when I would have the time."

But I'm grateful that she loves to get into the kitchen with me.  We've made everything we could think of with Peas and Artichokes, both Italian Rites of Spring. 

There was one dish my Mother used to make for Easter that I have not made, but once I had it, it becames one of the most cherished tradition at Easter.  Apizza Gain.  Sometimes called Pizza Rustica, Italian Easter Pie, Pizzagaina.  It's your basic heart attach in a loaf pan.  My mother's recipe was pretty sketchy and I have found others out there, but essentially it's 4-5 pounds of cured meats, 6 pounds of cheese, more than a dozen eggs, a ton of black pepper and crushed fennel.  It was traditionally made on Good Friday and then chilled and served after noon on Easter Saturday to break the Lenten Fast. 

We would break it up into pieces and share it with family and friends.  Sitting around the kitchen table, eating slice after slice with wine.  The combination of cheese, fennel, a crust, and the black pepper tastes great with nearly any kind of wine. 

These days, however, we limit the amount of cheese and cured meats we eat.  Who can afford the calories?  Who can afford to make the dish?  It costs more than $100 to make this loaf.

But I love the tradition of fennel and the black pepper with wine, so I thought I would try savory shortbread, something that tasted like the black pepper biscuits you can find in Italian delis. I have been working on a savory biscotti, but just haven't gotten the texture the way I want it.   I've tried to replace the sugar in a sweet recipe with cheese but you don't get that crispness or chewyness you get with sugar.  Then it hit me, eliminate the eggs.  That basically leaves shortbread.  The result is these Black Pepper and Fennel Shortbread Crackers.

These are quick to make, and a lovely to serve to friends who drop over on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the Spring, when it's just warm enough to sit on the porch in the sun and migrate to the fireplace when the sun goes down.

Monday
Mar242014

Fast Technology, Slow Cookers: Thai Pork and Coconut Rice

Back in the 80’s, I once had the pleasure of hearing author Tom Wolfe speak at a business conference.  As a newbie in the telecom/datacom world (see MCI Mail and the Days of Corn and Crab Soup), and as a fan of Wolfe’s many works about societal introspection, I couldn’t imagine what he would have to say to a group of techies that would resonate.

But that he did.  While he meandered around a number of subjects keeping the audience in side-splitting hysterics, he eventually found his way to what he considered the newest of technologies at the time:  cable TV and Car Phones.

From his comedic perspective, he lamented that he couldn’t understand why televisions, which you primarily left in your living room, were not connected to anything to get their reception, while telephones, which you needed almost anywhere you were, were plugged into the wall?

Gasp!

He then blatantly predicted that in the next 20 years, these two technologies would flip-flop.  The audience gave him a standing ovation.  I’m sure his research assistants were standing in the wings grinning.

A decade later I’m working at Sprint.  Sadly, their reputation has become somewhat tarnished, but I did spend 12 years there, and I learnt a thing or two.  In fact, they were the first company to build a nationwide cellular network, long before anyone else. 

But I digress. 

At one of our big Corporate Rah Rah events, our CEO spoke at the event.  He made a prediction as well.  He said, “Right now, if you leave your house and you realize you don’t have your wallet and your keys, you go back and get them.  In the not too distant future, we will add to that list our cell phones.”

At the rate of current technology adoption, it was probably by the end the conference.

Fast forward yet another decade.  I get this email in my mailbox this morning:

Dear Family and Friends...at least the ones I had saved to my iPhone,

Do you remember when phones were attached to a wall, post, phone booth or a night stand? Well, for good reason, you could always find them.

Today, in my haste to catch the ever so late 6:15 train, I lost my iPhone.  You know, the typical snoozing with intent to nap and dropped phone on seat. "Stamford, Stamford Station"...snort, snort and I was off.

I have submitted the correct forms and paper work to Metro North (in triplicate) and they assured me that they have an 80% recovery rate...pick up at Grand Central within 5-7 days. I am truly optimistic.

Lucky for me, my company has supplied me with a biz cell phone and that is how you can reach me for the next 7 days.  I feel compelled to share my only vocal contact tool number....XXX-XXX-XXXX with all of you.   You can also reach me by email at forgetmyhead@nocellphone.com.

Now that the Holidays are over, the need to communicate will slow down considerably but we do still have snow and nasty weather to get through, more birthdays, Super Bowl and according to The Weather Channel statistics, 80 days before we're clear to Spring.

Sadly missing my "iConnection" to the world... Naked I tell you,

Susan

Good thing she didn’t have to rush home for dinner.  I had recently shared this recipe with her and she had some ­­­­­­­Slow Cooked Thai Pork in the crock pot to come home to.

Sunday
Mar232014

Sweet Potato Corned Beef Hash: Dad’s Favorite, if he could remember

My dad has dementia.  The doctors say its mild.  That’s because they keep giving him this screening test, and he keeps acing it.  He just can’t remember what he had for lunch.  And that was an hour ago.

Or if he took his medications. 

Or how many glasses of wine he had. 

Me:  Dad, be careful, you’ve had too much wine.

Dad: I only have a half a glass at a time!

He’s an Optimist, though.  His glass is always half full.

Between the Dementia and the wine, the concept of volume is now completely lost on him.  Any glass, no matter how big or small, is only half full if there is even a half inch of space between the wine and the rim.

Add to that, he can’t remember how many half glasses he had, and now you’ve got yourself a problem.  Especially if that problem is over 80 years old, and still thinks he can drive.

We’ve been trying for more than a year to get his Long Term Care insurance policy to kick in, so we can get him some full time help in his house.  He’s lived alone since my Mother's death.  He was ok for a few years, but once the Dementia started to set it, he really went downhill fast.

We didn’t know what it was at first.  It started with him repeating himself every 15 minutes.  And then we started to notice he was drinking a lot.  More than he ever did his whole life.

Can’t say I blame him.  Dementia is a cruel thing.  The short term memory goes because what the person hears in their ear, can’t quite make it to their short term memory center, so it’s more like 4-5 minutes of memory is all he has. 

Watch TV?  Can’t follow the plot.  Watch Sports?  Can’t understand the plays.  Read a book?  Can’t remember what the last paragraph was.  Socialize?  Can’t follow the conversation thread.

But long term memory is different.  He can still remember how to get pretty much anywhere he wants to go.  So, go to lunch?  Sure thing!  He remembers how to get to Lenny and Joe’s, alright.

He just needs to remember to turn the correct way on Route 1, and Long Term Memory will get him home.  Right?  Well, as long as he makes the right turn.  One wrong turn, and he’ll end up in Rhode Island.

So when we took him into the hospital for what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but became an odyssey of two weeks and two days, we were glad to have gotten some home care help for him when he finally did get back home.  She was given instructions to take him wherever he needs to go, and that she is to drive.  So the plan was to have her take him to lunch on Saturdays, so she is driving, he can get out of the house, and have his wine with lunch and the family no longer has to worry about him killing or maiming others, or lawsuits.

His Home Aid made plans with him (and by plans that means she leaves him notes taped to everything in the house) to take him grocery shopping and then lunch the day after he got home.  He didn’t want to go shopping, so she went by herself.  When she got back, he was gone.

In a panic, she called everyone in the family.  Then she calmed down, and called Lenny and Joes.  She managed to convince the manager it was an emergency and got my dad on the phone.  He was there, having his wine and his lunch, just like always.  He just forgot to take his date with him.

Old habits die hard.

Then two days ago she got there at her normal 10am.  She’s quickly learning little tricks to figure out if he has been driving. 

At his age, and with his medical diagnosis (yeah we got some additional bad news as a result of his out-patient procedure), he can do anything he wants, or doesn’t want.  He’s earned it.  Except drive.  That’s the next battle.  How do you tell a man of his prior strength and accomplishments that not only does he need help, he has a terminal disease, and he can’t drive.  So, if he wants to drink his wine, I’m not going to tell him he can’t.  I just have to get him off the road.

Anyway, she gets to his house and notices a bottle of wine on the counter. 

Home Aid:  Ed, did you go out this morning?

Dad: I don’t know.

HA:  How much money do you have in your wallet? (That’s how she keeps track of him.)

Dad:  $153

HA:  Well, you had $170 last night.  Where did you go?

Dad:  I went to get milk.

HA:  Ed, there’s no milk in the refridgerator.  Where did you go?

Dad:  I don’t know.

HA:  Ed, did you go to get wine?

Dad:  No. I had that wine.  (No, there are now two bottles on the counter, and there was only one the night before.)

HA:  Ed, you know you’re not supposed to drive, right?

Dad:  Who said I can’t drive?

HA:  Your doctors told you not to drive.

Dad:  Oh, that’s just something Margot made up!

So if you see my Dad out driving, please call me.  And then get out of his way, because he’s forgotten that I’m going to his house today to bring him is favorite leftovers from St. Patrick’s Day, Corned Beef Hash.

Monday
Apr082013

Spring Fever: Fra Diavlo Salad

It's never going to get warm.  Ever.

Just when you think you are done with this:

And ready for this:

You end up with this:

Hyacinths on the table, and a fire in the fireplace.

I'm sick of winter food.  Sick of braises.  Sick of roasts.  Dying for grilled food. Weather not cooperating. By the time April rolls around, I've made every winter dish in the book.  I want something that tastes of Spring.

I'd show you a close up, but it just looks like lettuce leaves.  Wet lettuce leaves.  But the taste?  OMG. Simple really.  Remember the Fra Diavlo Basil Oil?

Core and dice a couple of tomatos.  They don't deserve much more than that at this time of year.  Salt and pepper them, and pour some of the oil over them and let them macerate for about an hour.  Then toss with torn romaine lettuce and sprinkle with parmasean cheese.

It will taste like Spring even though the fire is going.

Sunday
Apr072013

Artichokes: An Italian Rite of Spring

I'm fairly certain I came out of the womb loving artichokes.

So did all of my siblings.  I can’t even remember trying them, only loving them.  And jumping up and down in anticipation of eating them come Spring.

There were six of us, Mom, Dad, me and my three siblings.  So, of course, she bought four artichokes at a time. 

She made the classic, stuffed and steamed for two hours on the stove-top.  We loved them so much, she would make us eat our dinner first and serve them to us for dessert.  

My father, still a young Irishman, could not fathom what we liked about these angry looking stalks, and he would sit there watching us peel back and scrape the leaves. 

“How can you eat those things?”

He would try a leave, make a face, and it was over for another year.  Eventually he succumbed.  In fact, he succumbed to most of the Italian food my mother put on the table once she got tired of serving the meat and potatoes fare he insisted on.

My mother would sit and watch us take the leaves off down to the heart.  And then she’d say, “I’ll eat that if you don’t want it.” 

Four Artichokes, four kids, one naysayer, and one heart eater.

We have a new artichoke lover in the family, namely, Grace the Girl.  Tried them.  Loved them.  I gave her a few words of advice:

"If you see stuffed artichokes on the menu, order them.  You will love them."

"If you see a menu item with artichoke hearts in it, don't order it.  You will hate it."

I don’t stuff them anymore.  Too much work.  I learned to grill them when I lived out West (See California Grilled Artichokes in Recipes).  Served as an appetizer.  What a concept, huh?

Saturday
Mar162013

Corned Beef and Sauerkraut: It's not the meat, it's the motion

I grew up with an Italian Mother and an Irish Father.  That made St. Patrick’s Day at our house pretty sad.  Nan (my mom) didn’t really know how to cook meat and potatoes, much less corned beef.   The traditional method was (and still is) to boil the pre-made corned beef brisket in water for a few hours, and then dump in big chunks of green cabbage and potatoes to cook in the liquid.

Yucky.

Mushy.

Greasy.

Fatty.

And the rest of the dwarves.

In an effort to dress up this beige mess, she would slather on a glaze of mustard mixed with brown sugar and bake it in the oven to finish it off. But you can't make chicken salad out of chicken poop, no matter how much mayonnaise you put on it.

Mostly, we ran out of the house.  We were kids and the cold outside didn’t daunt us, but the menu for dinner did.  

Fast Forward:  I now live in Connecticut, smack in the middle of New York and Boston, New Haven and Hartford.  Prime St. Patrick's Day territory.  

And worse, it's not even over on one day, it takes up nearly two weeks.

Turns out that most of the Bag Pipe Corps that march in these parades, actually march in all of them.  If all the parades were scheduled on the same day, they would get very small, very quickly.  

You can't throw a dead cat without bumping into Corned Beef and Cabbage on any menu within a 200 mile radius.

In fact, its not actually about the corned beef.  Unless you are going to brine it yourself, buy it in the grocers and just follow the instructions, which is:  cook in water in a slow cooker for about 6 hours.

Turns out, it's really what you serve with the Corned Beef that makes it interesting.  

Paired with some Homemade Sauerkraut, and baked sweet potato fries, corned beef has become meal we look forward to come Spring.

Monday
Mar112013

Indoor Easter Egg Trees

You know those houses you drive by at this time of year with the Easter Egg decorations hanging from the bare branches of a tree in the front yard?

Admit it, you love them.

Grace and I decided we wanted Easter Egg Trees, too.  Problem is, there are so many trees in front of our house you can't see us from the road.

We cut these little bushes before their leaves came out, and stuck them in pretty buckets filled with sand.

Then we got ambitious and attempted to blow out and color our own eggs.  After an entire afternoon, we had two eggs done.  They were not pretty.

Luckily, we found these lovely egg decorations at a craft store.

Saturday
Mar092013

Hazelnut Biscotti: So easy a child can make them

Wanted:  

Blogger Editor for fun food blog.  Duties include recipe testing, photo 

shoots and editing. Author needs a self starter with some knowledge of computers and food.  No experience required.  Must be over 12 years of age.  

I got a respondent to my advertizement.

Ok, it was more likely an enticement and recruitment.

Doesn't matter, she works for food.

Grace the Girl is actually a wonderful kitchen slave.  And she made these Hazelnut Biscotti from start to finish, she edited the recipe text for me, and she helped me stage the photo and do the photo editing.  

I'd tell you I can now sit back and relax, but truth be known, she makes more of a mess in the kitchen than I do. 

Saturday
Mar092013

Pasta Primavera: It's not easy being green

Or Khaki.  That’s what color the peas were that my mother served us as kids.  Right out of the can, heated in their own liquid. 

Serious Ick Factor. 

Then spooned onto your plate just when you thought dinner was going to be alright.  You weren’t allowed to leave the table until you ate your peas. 

Mushy to boot.

Having delayed their consumption until the bitter end, they were now cold as well.  My first attempt would be to bury them in a spoonful of mashed potatoes and swallow them whole, but that rarely worked.   I would end up just trying to figure out how to hide them in my napkin, the potatoes, my shirt sleeve, even in my mouth until I could get outside or into the bathroom and spit them out.

Flash forward:  I’m standing at the Farmers Market in CA, paying $7 for a basket of fresh shelled peas.

Flash forward some more:  I’m making chicken pot pie for Grace The Girl, having only met her a few weeks prior where I saw her demolish a chicken pot pie at The Griswold Inn.

Chris: “Chicken Pot Pie is her favorite.”

My mom made the best chicken pot pie.  She was a pie-maker and made the best crust on the planet.  The ingredients were simple:  chicken, chicken stock slightly thickened, peas and carrots.  I could have lived without the peas, but for this dish we were allowed to pick around them.   With the advent of frozen peas, this might not have been necessary, but our taste buds were too tainted to try them.

As I’m spooning filling into the pie shell, I realize I have put nearly an entire box of frozen peas into a 9 inch pie.  The last thing I wanted was to have this seven year old think dinner at my house was punishment, so I painstakingly spooned the filling back into the bowl, and picked out more than half the peas.

Grace:  “Peas are my favorite.” 

Of course they are. 

As Grace and I decorated for Spring with indoor Easter Egg Trees, we got inspired and made this Italian Classic:  Pasta Primavera.  The perfect dish to use up the last bit of frozen New Year's ham, and the first fresh peas of the season.