Recipe Links
Basil Oglio Fra Diavlo Black Pepper and Fennel Shortbread Crackers Bleu Bacon and Italian Burgers Blueberry Almond Crumble Pie Braised Beef Short Ribs Breakfast Sausage Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies Buttermilk Pancakes California Grilled Artichokes Capressa Fra Diavlo Cherry Garcia Icecream Cherry Sangria Chicken and Polenta Chicken Cacciatore Chicken Vegetable Soup with Broccoli Rabe Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting Chocolate Sparkle Cookies Christmas Shortbreads Classic Hummus Coconut Cake Coq Au Vin Wine Braised Chicken Cranberry Orange Crumb Cake Cream Corn and Lima Bean Succotash Cream of Crab and Corn Soup Devishly Chewy Brownies Eggplant Parmesan Fetticini Alfredo with Bacon and Peas Fusilli a la Vodka Sauce Ginger Chocolate Spice Cookies Gnocci with Broccoli Rabe and Sausange Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw Grilled Beef Tenderloin with Blue Cheese Butter Grilled Swordfish Hazelnut Biscotti Cookies Heavenly Blondies Homemade Italian Sausage Homemade Sauerkraut Hot Artichoke Dip Italian Meatballs Lasagna Bolonase with Ragu Sauce Little Sister's BBQ Ribs Molten Chocolate Cake Olio fra diavlo pasta salad Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake Quiche (Sans the Lorraine) Red Velvet Cake Seafood Francaise Shaved Brussel Spouts & Polenta Cake Slow Cooker Thai Pork and Coconut Rice South Florida Fish Stew Spagetti ala Olio Aglio and Pepperoncino Spiced Pear and Cranberry Chutney Steak Braciole Sunday Tomato Sauce Sweet Potato Corned Beef Hash Swordfish Oreganade Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin and Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce The White House Maryland Crab Cakes Tomato Bisque with Chichen and Rice Turkey Paprikash Soup Walnut Shortbread Christmas Cookies White Bean Pasta Fagioli
Saturday
Jul022011

Inside Mason Jars

The Outside Mason Jars led me to thinking about using them inside the house as well.  I’ve gotten very cautious about having lit candles around, particularly when there are adult beverages involved.  I've had some close calls, so now I always use some type of votive enclosure for a lit candle. 

One of my favorite shops in the Summer, is Taken for Granite, in Stony Creek. This is the kind of place that you walk into, and you instantly want to go home, throw everything out, and start over. 

Chris, on the other hand, claims no man should go into this shop by himself.

I purchased beach glass by the scoop at this shop.  You want something in the jar to keep the votive holder level.  The beach glass is transparent and creates a glow when the candles are lit.  Shells, colored glass beads, all would work. 

Tea lites work best, rather than full size votives.  I just use needle-nose pliers to reach in and replace them.  They burn just about enough for an evening, and if you forget to blow them out, no real harm done.  The adult beverage theme can work against you here and I promised my husband I wouldn’t burn down the house.  

Saturday
Aug202011

At the beach and Coconut Cake

My husband says I can over-complicate a chicken sandwich.  

The first time I spent the day with him and Grace, The Girl (pictured below), I invited them to a beach picnic at Hammonasset.  I had snacks, appetizers, hot food, champagne, sparkling pink lemonade, champagne glasses and dessert. 

Too much? 

That was just the food.  I also brought an 8 foot umbrella, towels to sit on, towels to dry off with, a cooler, a grocery bag, three chairs, and a table, and plates and utensils.  All matching.  Oh, and a garden trowel to dig out the sand for the umbrella. 

Chris still insists that I bring more to the beach than Hannibal brought when he crossed the Alps, but I think I’ve cut down.  Mostly on the amount of food and beverages.  Not because I want to, but because it’s really hard to bring Coconut Cake to the beach.

Tuesday
Aug232011

The Muster and Cherry Sangria

 

Chris and I host an "after the Muster" picnic on our porch this summer.  The Deep River Ancient Muster has been an event since 1934, hosting more than 150 Fife and Drum Corps from all over the world.  The past few years have taken their toll on the participation.  The parade, which is our favorite part, is still two hours of heart pounding drum rolls and cannon fire.  It's always the hottest day of the year, so after the parade, we usually want something cold and refreshing, and this year we made Cherry Sangria.  I took the leftovers, strained out the fruit and froze the remainder for another event.

Thursday
Sep082011

August 28, 2011: Irene MacGyver

When my husband and I first started dating on a steady basis, we would spend the work week apart and the entire weekend together, mostly at my house in Stony Creek.  Inevitably, we ran out of restaurant dining options on weekends when I had not planned on cooking dinner at home.  Not daunted by lack of a plan, I usually find something I can throw together.  Chris couldn't fathom the idea that I could dig a few ingredients out of the freezer and pantry and put together a meal.  That’s bachelorhood for you. 

After a couple of these thrown together meals, he said to me, What are you?  MacGyver?”

Now, I never watched that series, so I had no idea what he was talking about, and for those of you who don’t either, the premise of this series was a secret agent who carried around nothing but duct tape and a Swiss army knife and got himself out of all kinds of predicaments with a few common objects he found lying around. 

Chris:  “You have string, a tin can, a tomato, bacon and a spatula and you come up with chicken saltimbocca!”

Now, I can cook just about anything with tomatoes, bacon and some onions and garlic.  So, my skills were put to the test this past week.  Hurricane Irene, by the time she got to Connecticut, wasn’t even a Hurricane anymore.   But that didn’t stop her from wrecking complete havoc in New England.  Once we got our power restored, we found out there were many, many less fortunate than ourselves.  Loss of life, loss of home, loss of livelihood with no recompense.  Our thoughts and whatever we can do to help, are with them.

For more than a week, we had no power and no running water.  That’s what you get in New England when you have a well.  I spent my day just trying to bath, feed us, and flush a toilet when we needed to.

Chris got called into work under a great deal of pressure from Corporate Headquarters.  He’s not a First Responder, nor is he a utility worker like our next door neighbor who worked more than 100 hours in that week.  He’s in the marine business.   So, while I was hauling water up the stairs to flush toilets and throwing spoiled food out of the freezer, he was waiting on some clown who came into the store because he didn’t have the right boom vang, gib line and roller furling swizzle sticks for his sailboat.

So, what did I cook?  I have no photos.  It’s hard to take pictures in the dark.  I will re-create some of those recipes because they are some of my favorite end-of-summer dishes.   

I had an empty refrigerator, but I’m planbed on Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin and Peanut Slaw, Amatriciana, South Florida Seafood Stew and Grace’s favorite soup.  Oh, and the post I was planning for the day of the storm, from our dinner party the previous evening, which we cancelled.  Seafood Francese and Sparkling Pinot Grigio.  Disclaimer:  the contents of this refridgerator are for medicinal purposes only.  Do not try this at home.

Tuesday
Sep132011

Seafood Francaise and a Mandatory State of Panic

We were anticipating having guests the night before Hurricane Irene.  

We had planned Seafood Francese with a sparkling Pinot Grigio.  I wanted to try it out the week before as I had never made this dish and don’t like to use dinner parties as test kitchens.    

I purchased a small amount of fish, shrimp and scallops and invited my Dad for lunch to be taste tester, prior to taking the pictures for my post.

Good thing, or you would never have seen this dish.

For several days prior to August 28th, the hype and build up of the Hurricane threat waged on.  All of the computer models on all of the news stations showed Her heading right for us.  The Weather Channel predicted an unprecedented storm.  Just like they did for Hurricane Ike last summer.   Ike evaporated into nothing more than a nasty summer storm, even though the supermarket shelves were devoid of water, bread and milk.

That Saturday morning the threat level started to escalate and speed up.  We got no less than 6 pre-recorded emergency messages on each phone line, from the First Selectmen of our town, warning us to stay off the roads from 9pm to 3pm the following day.  Then the Governor goes on TV and issues a travel ban for all roads, saying, “If you are out on the road, you will be stopped.”

Chris:  “The Governor has issued a Mandatory State of Panic”

Me:  “Should we cancel dinner?”

We did.  Chris and I stayed up and watched Hurricane footage until about 11:30pm and then went to bed.  We lost power about 30 minutes after that, and got our power back 8 days later, about 30 minutes after we got our brand new generator started.

After that, we had planned a short getaway for the Labor Day weekend, and when we got back, Summer was gone.   Time to put away the crisp whites and the ocean and sky blues, and do some fall cleaning.

Tuesday
Sep202011

Sparkling Pinot Grigio

This particular wine was a gift from a friend who gets to Trader Joe's outside of CT on a regular basis.  (In Connecticut, TJ is not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages).  We loved it so much, that when she finds it, she picks up a case for us.  At $4.99 a bottle, we can afford to do that.  We have tried to source it elsewhere, but it must be one of those Trader Joe's exclusives, much like Two Buck Chuck.  It is exactly as described, a fresh, light Pinot Grigio with a generous fizz to it. 

Wonderful in the Summer with fresh fish.

Monday
Jul232012

Market Day

I had hoped to find some interesting glassware in Italy, but it turns out we were in Ceramic-town, not Venice.  

We were inundated with shop after shop, all offering brightly colored ceramics, Limoncello, and pepperoncini.   You just get numb to it, because there is another shop selling the same thing just 10 yards down the street.

I was interested in going to Market Day, and arranged to go with the Chef, Angelo, to the Friday Market Day in Maiori. 

Can you say “Flea Market” in Italian?  It was more like the swap meet in Orange Country, or the Big Pine Key Flea Market in Florida.  Tents filled with tube socks, cheap Italian speedo underwear, sunglasses and plastic wallets.

But then we got to Ravello.  A charming, mountaintop town, centered on a perfect piazza of cafés, shops selling beautiful and unique Italian goods, and two magnificent ancient villas.  Villa Giobrani and Villa Rufulo. 

I managed to hobble all the way up the nearly ½ mile of stairs it takes to get to the Villa Giobrani, passing by some exquisite shops containing Italian knits and textiles, and ceramics.  You would think I would have been numb to the whole ceramic thing, but when you finally get to see something that is truly beautiful and very high quality, it practically jumps into your shopping cart.  At least it did to me. 

We passed by the shops on the way up to the Villa (why carry all that stuff both ways?).  By the time I got to the ristorante, it was time for my pain medication. 

Chris and I sat in the gardens, drinking beautiful drinks, until we got hungry, then made our way back to another ristorante we saw on the way up.  Much less fussy food, and much less expensive. 

Charming.  Outdoors.  Breathtaking views.  Simple food.

After lunch and vino, I now had to continue negotiating down the mountain steps.  However, with the pain medication taking hold, I was now in the perfect frame of mind to shop.  Inhibitions and judgment in low gear, I purchased a linen tablecloth the likes of which I have never seen in this country, and practically screaming to be included in my collection of antique and vintage tablecloths.

 

Ceramics?  

I don’t have the space for every dish set I see, so I’ve learned to use white plates, and dress them up with different linens, flowers and different serving pieces to change the look of my table and countertop.   

Friday
Aug102012

VintageTablecloths

I used to collect dish sets. 

For every occasion. 

They were my toys.

Until I moved cross country.

Again. 

Fact is, they weigh too much, they take up a lot of space, and they are expensive. 

Why I thought I needed service for 12 when I was single and had no children I don't know.  So, now I am down to only four sets, and two of them are white.   One set for every day, and the other is formal.

But I found some new toys.  Not nearly as heavy and take up almost no space.  (I'll not comment on whether they are expensive or not.)

Tablecloths.  The old ones woven of different colors into damask patterns.  They were seen on those formica kitchen tables from the 50's.  Cotton, washable, fun.  Usually small.  They were not for formal occassions.

I found a Summer one in Italy.  Matches all of the aqua blue I have around in Summer.

So when the seasons change, the plates stay the same, and the tablecloth changes.  Here are my Spring and Summer versions.  If you look back at some of the pasta recipes I published during different seasons, you will see Fall and Christmas. 

I even found one for Halloween.

Sunday
Mar102013

Green Glasses for Summer Beverages

Here are the results of my Green Glass mission.  To be fair, Chris bought me the etched stem glasses from Pottery Barn, and the butterfly etched tumblers I found at Home Goods.  The remainder were foraged all over The Shoreline, at countless shops, but none carrying the name "Antique" in them.

The Pink Champagne Flutes in the back come under the heading of Starbucks Habit. Several years ago my Financial Planner asked me if I had a "Starbucks Habit" meaning, do I spend $5 a day on coffee that I could be saving for retirement. 

I don't have a Starbucks Habit, thank you.  I make my own coffee.

I do, however, have a Chochkte Habit.  When I admitted this to him, he didn't know what Chochkties were, so I sent him this definition:

CHOCHKTE:  (CHOCH-KEE): Anything you find in discounts stores, import places, home decorating bargain stores, or the gift department of any major mall anchor store. Typically sells for $29.95, and five years later, you put them in your tag sale pile.

I was in a rather expensive establishment which specializes in upscale tropical clothing and home decorating when I spotted these glasses.  

I gasped, they were so beautiful.  

When I turned them upside down to see the price, I nearly fainted.  $70.  Each.  I put them back on the shelf and congratulated myself that I delayed gratification for the sake of my future retirement.

And then a very loving friend bought them for me as a going away present, when I moved back East, and I treasure them.  They are used exclusively for Easter Brunch.

Sunday
Apr072013

Italian Sausage: The Art of Snacking

This is my husband’s idea of a snack:  

Italian sausage, just fried out of the pan, with a chunk of sharp cheese.  Maybe a little Sunday Sauce to dip it into.  Spear with knife, place directly in mouth.  The dish is for photographic purposes only.

I have to make twice as much as I need for any recipe.

Second generation Italian children learned this snacking strategy early in life.  Typically, as soon as they were tall enough to reach the stovetop.

My mother would make her Sunday Sauce on Wednesdays, because . . . well . . . Wednesday is Prince Spagetti Day.   Then foolishly leave it on the stovetop while she ran some errands. 

You could smell it the minute you walked in the door from school.   Go Directly to Stove.  Do not Pass Go.  Do Not Collect $200. 

By the time she had gotten home, we’d gone through half a loaf of Italian Bread, dunked bite by bite into the pot of sauce.  (Double-dipping had yet to be banned.)

If there were going to be meatballs with the sauce, she would leave them in a bowl to cool after she had fried them.  What was she thinking?  What little were left went into the sauce for simmering.

And yes, they must be cooked first.  None of this dropping raw meatballs directly into the sauce to cook.  It’s just wrong.

Sorry.  That needed to be said.

Fast forward about 40 years.  I’m married to an Italian Man.  Third generation, but raised by his grandmother and great aunts, so technically, he counts as Second Generation.

Some things never change.  No pizza pockets in this house.

Saturday
Apr202013

Little Sister's BBQ Ribs: Danger!  Danger!

Danger Will Robinson!  Danger!

If that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, then you are too young to remember one of the more ridiculous TV series of the 60’s, Lost in Space.  I asked my husband what he thought of the series as a kid, and he loved it.  Given that he was just a little kid, he thought it was a pretty realistic adventure. 


 

I, on the other hand, thought it pretty hokey, but then I was a bit older than him.

 

 

 

Chris: " Yeah, you’re a lot older than me."

While it should have been “Stupid Will Robinson! Stupid!” it didn’t stop me from watching.  But then I would watch any science fiction programming I could find.

 What does this have to do with Little Sister’s Ribs?

Look, I got a shiny new smoker for Christmas!  It took Chris nearly four hours to put the thing together. 

About as long as it takes to make these Little Sister's Ribs.  

Bet he wasn't counting on that when he bought it for me.

Thankfully, my Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw, our typical side for these ribs, is a snap to make.

Thursday
May302013

The No Fish Zone: Grilled Swordfish Sandwich

My husband would be perfect except for one thing:  he doesn’t eat fish.

Of any kind.

Can’t even stay in the house if I cook it.  Must have been too many frozen fish sticks in Catholic Boys School.

Worse yet, he’s got Grace The Girl thinking along the same lines.   So, if I wanted to have fish as a meal with both of them, I have to cook two meals, and one of them has to be cooked outside.  But I made a discovery recently that all parents of young children should know about:

Me:  “Grace, do you eat fish at home when Mommy makes it?”

Grace: “Yes.”

Me:  “Why do you eat it at home and not here?”

Grace:  “Because there’s nothing else to eat.”

Now there’s a concept.  Unfortunately, it won’t work with Chris.  He will eat scallops and shrimp or lobster on occassion, and I've seen him eat an oyster or two (mostly when we were dating).  But if it has fins and swims, that's his no-fly zone.

I order fish every time we go out for a meal.  Problem is, in New England you get either fried seafood, or you get some chef who tries to prepare fish with all manner of strange ingredients, adding sauces and toppings in an effort to make the menu look like Alice Water’s menu did back in, well, 1980.

“Our special tonight is swordfish, encrusted in potato peels, sautéed with chicken livers and spinach in a balsamic reduction, and served with brandied raisins and okra.” 

That sounds yummy.

When Chris isn’t home for dinner, I either grill fish or I make a simple sauté.  Having lived on the West Coast, I found that many restaurants out there do just that:  prepare it simply, and let the fish stand on its own. 

Now if I can just convert The Girl I might be able to enjoy a Grilled Swordfish Sandwich with my family at home.

Saturday
Jun012013

Crabby Patties: Maryland Style Crabcakes

 That Sponge Bob is a crybaby.”   No kidding. 

It’s not that Sponge Bob’s crabby patties are better than mine.  Or that Mr. Krabbs won't give out the secret recipe.  It’s just that I’ve spoiled everyone to anything but my crabcakes.  No one I know is willing to risk greasy heavy breading, canned ingredients, or heaven knows what other kinds of additives.


It took me many years to perfect them. 

It took me many years to even eat crab. 

My first experience with crab was as a kid when my mother and my aunts made spaghetti and crab sauce, from the local blue crabs available in Connecticut.  Cooked whole in tomato sauce.

(They were from Southern Italy.  Everything was cooked in tomato sauce).   

I couldn’t even stand the smell in the kitchen. 

Years later, I moved to the DC area, home of the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab.  One of my first social outings was to a crab feast.  A tactile event where whole crabs are steamed in Old Bay and dumped on a brown paper-covered table in front of a group of people with mallets and nut crackers.  

It was all I could do to get down my beer and corn on the cob.

Somehow, someone managed to get me to eat cream of crab and corn soup.  It was all the rage at a restaurant chain in the area called The American Café.  (I have never successfully duplicated that soup, try as I might).  From that point on, I would eat nearly anything with crab in it, as long as someone else picked the crabmeat first.

After I moved to California, I would often visit my cousin and her husband on Kent Island, which is smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  The hunt for the perfect crab cake and the perfect cream of crab soup would continue through my entire visit.

Turns out, I already had the perfect Crab Cake Recipe.   It came out of one of the White House Cookbooks, published during any Presidential administration, and I just happened to have a Clinton Administration copy. 

The first time I made them this season, I sent a plate over to my sister, who was babysitting her grandson.  To convince him to try them, she told him they were Sponge Bob’s crabby patties.

Out of the mouths' of babes.

Sunday
Jun022013

Summer Movies We Love

Summer movie viewing starts June 1st, and goes through Labor Day Weekend.  During this time period, you are allowed to watch any of these movies as many times as you want as long as there is no MLB on the tube.  There are links to Amazon (I get nothing from this) at the bottom of the sidebar), if you are interested in purchasing these movies.

Jaws

When this movie came out in theatres in 1975, no one had any idea who Steven Spielburg was, or how clunky the shark was when it even worked.  But no one went into the water the rest of that summer.  I couldn't sleep with my feet hanging off the bed.  No, it's not Snakes on a Plane, Jake.  In fact, its 45 minutes before you actually see the monster.  The suspense, the chemistry between the three main characters, and the music make this movie unforgettable.

The Deep

Actually, this movie is what I consider Peter Benchley's sequal to Jaws (as opposed to Jaws 2, or any of the remaining Hollywood digits).   You never know when you watch a movie you haven't seen in years whether it will hold up or not, but this one made it to the summer list.  The hairstyles and clothing that typically date movies are so classic and casual, and Bermuda prides itself on as little change as possible, so you really have a tough time placing the time period other than 20th century.  Robert Shaw died (at 51) shortly after making this movie, and here you get at least of glimpse of the handsome swashbuckler he played in his youth.  Nick Nolte and Jaqueline Bisset are at their most beautiful, and natural.  And as Chris points out, she doesn't wear a stitch of underwear in the entire movie.

Independence Day

Clever take on H.G.Wells,  "The War of the Worlds" (a childhood favorite, I loved being scared by movies), great special effects that still hold up rather well, three hunks, and none of the dark mess that became The War of the Worlds recent remake.  Plus it came out on July 4th weekend when it opened in the theatres.

Twister

Given the recent disasterous tornados across the entire country, it's hard to say I used watch this movie for fun.  It does, however, portray an accurate picture of what we know about tornados, and where our technology is, even today, and it's a lot more thrilling to watch than the home videos you typically see on the Weather Channel.  

Chris walks into the room and this movie is on.  "It's getting windy."

The Long Hot Summer (both versions)

Paul Newman is Paul Newman and he is at his clever handsome best.  I actually liked the remake with Don Johnson as well, but couldn't find it on DVD.  Both are just steamy.  Whoever wrote the review on Amazon got it right:  southern fried melodrama.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

It's amazing what Elizabeth Taylor has done for full dress slips over the years.  (Love her, RIP) Why, why can't Paul Newman's character see that?

Tuesday
Jun042013

citronella mason jars

Chris and I had the fortunate experience to build a new house, and one of my requirements was a covered, wrap around porch with a view.  Didn't care what the view was, just something nice to look at.  After looking at 75 houses, we found it. Another wish come true.  Our home overlooks one of Connecticut's vineyards.  That was another surprise coming back from California.  That I would get to live next to a vinyard in New England. 

(There was once a time when everyone in my age group dreamed of owning a vineyard and winery.  After living next to one, I would now say that it's somewhat like having a boat.  They are much more money and work than you think, and it's always best just to have friends that own one.)

Now, I'm wedding cake when it comes to mosquitos, but I didn't want to screen in the porch.  My good friend Susan recommended a more natural method of bug control:  fans and citronella.  After we installed the ceiling fans, I went searching for citronella plants, but got some very funny looks at the garden center.  I’ll have to ask Mr. Van Wilgen if he knows anything about actual plants.  In the meantime, I was forced to consider either liquid or solid citronella.  My visual sense is offended by what constitutes citronella candles in the seasonal aisle at the big chain grocery stores, so I decided to create something myself.  We went antiquing, or as Chris is fond of saying, we went junking.

Me:  “How about that antique shop?  Can we stop there?”

Chris:  “No.”

Me: “Why not?”

Chris:  “Because they couldn’t find a sign that says Ye Olde House of Crappe, so they put up one that says Antiques.” 

After several Saturdays we found what we were looking for.  Mason Jars.  I went mad for Mason Jars,   particularly the ones with the wire bales and the glass caps.   I purchased simple clear glass votive holders, and citronella votives.  Regular Kosher salt holds the votives level, and raises them up just enough that the scent gets out, but not so much that the breeze from the fans will take them out.  (I did try using the tea lites, but found that just as they are starting to give off enough scent to keep the bugs at bay, they’re done.) 

We surround ourselves with these jars, lighting them about an hour before you think you need them.  Mosquitoes won’t fly over the candle scent and can't againsts the fans.  Done.

Tuesday
Jun042013

Summer Beach Mantle

Its official.  I'm crazy.  At least that's what my husband tells me.  My guests seem to enjoy it though.  Who decorates their mantle for every season?  Why that would be me.  I just don't like the summer kitchy crappe you find around here.

I do have a few sources for decorating that always have the best stuff.  I found these twig lights to replace the strand of cheap white Christmas Lights that shorted out a couple of weeks ago.  Not cheap.  I also found them online here. But please don't leave my site yet!  

Anyway, back to crazy.  I decorated with rocks.  And beautiful shells, but mostly rocks.  River rocks you can probably find at your local landscaping center.  And any kind of teal blue glass objects I could find.  In this case, we were at the Brimfield Antiques Fair last month, and I found these insulators used years ago to protect the connections on telephone polls.  Because Telcom been berry berry good to me.

Saturday
Jun082013

Build a Better Burger: or, the Great Wall of Clinton

It's finally here:  burger season.  Time to take that mess in the kitchen outside. 

Where it belongs.  

That means I also have to clean up the real mess in the kitchen from winter cooking. It took me an entire day to clean our great room and get the Summer Mantle Ready.

After three years in our new house, we have finally scraped together enough money to build our patio.  We now have a solid launch pad for the champagne corks to make it through the tree trunks.

But I digress.

Normally, a patio would not be such an undertaking.   Ours was a feat of engineering driven by our septic system.  That’s right, our septic system.  Turns out, when you are designing your new house, everything is driven off of the worst test hole on your lot, which determines the grade of the leaching field baffles, which determines the grade of the Septic Tank, which determines the pitch of your waste pipe leaving the house, which determines the grade of the foundation of the house, which eventually determines whether you can have a patio or not. 

Our house sits four feet out of grade in the front, and a good half story in the back.  The land is what the land is.  You work around it.  So our lovely wrap-around porch dropped off three to four feet in some spots, which necessitates the need for a railing. 

Which ruins the view.  Can’t have that.

When we made plans for the patio, it had to serve several functions:  it had to eliminate the need for a railing, so it had to be raised up to the level of the porch, or just a step or two down.  It had to be big enough for a grill, a firepit, and a fountain (eventually). 

By the time the landscape designer was done, it was five feet high, 35 feet long, and 12 feet wide.  Every single block had to be leveled.  Every single angle had to be calculated to come up the porch, bear into the mound that houses the septic tank and still have enough pitch to let the water drain off. 

It made me wonder how the Mayans and the Egyptians built their pyramids without a laser level.

Think you might never see The Great Wall of China?  No worries,  just walk through the vineyard and take a look at my back yard.  

So, its Summer.  Best of the produce, the best of the weather, and the start of burger season.  And now that we have a patio we can avoid that awkward time when it’s too cool in the shade, but not cold enough to go inside.

On my first try, I was able to get the cork through the uprights. 

Which brings me to burgers (bleu bacon and italian burgers).  Not just any burgers, but the kind you have to build.  Like a wall.  And just as much work.  But if I had a dollar for every time one of my guests said, “This is The Best Burger I have ever had” I’d have . . .well . . . ok about 10 dollars.  Not quite enough for a patio.  (I only have to make them another 15,990 times.)

Sunday
Jun092013

The Question of Carne: Pork Tenderloin

I really learned to appreciate meat when we were in Italy.  Not Pasta.  Meat.

On several occasions, Margot and I ventured out of the Villa for a meal at a local restaurant.  As these restaurants find themselves in a tourist-rich environment, the menus are printed in Italian with the English translation directly below.  They are categorized as most menus are, as Pasta, Seafood, and “Carne” which is the Italian word for meat.  Under this heading, you’ll see, for instance, something along the lines of “carna alla (something in Italian)” and underneath, “meat with (English translation).” 

Should you find yourself interested in one of these dishes (and me not being a seafood eater), you might want to know more about it (such as what kind of meat it is). 

When the waiter arrived to take our order, it usually went something like this:

Me: “what is the carne alla something?”

Waiter: “Is meat with something”

Me: “What kind of meat”

Waiter: “Si, carne”

Me: “I know, but what kind of carne?”

Waiter: “Si, is meat”

Me: “Yes, but what kind?”

Waiter: “Carne, si.  Is meat.”

You are now in the Italian version of “who’s on first” and the waiter will continue in this manner for as long as you can hold out. 

Eventually I would give up and order the questionable carne (English translation: mystery meat).  I still don’t know what any of it was.  Maybe they don’t know either, or they don’t want you to know.  It may have been beef, pork, veal, or donkey.  Or Soylent Green.

Whatever you order, you have to remember that the pace is much slower in Italy, and after you place your order, kick back, relax and enjoy your wine and the people watching because it may be a bit of a wait until your food arrives. 

When it did, I noticed that the dish would bear a passing resemblance to the description on the menu, but not by much.   But by this time, they figure you will eat whatever they put in front of you, and they’re right.

The odd thing is, I wasn’t thrilled the food I in Italy.  I mean, it was good, but I was expecting to be blown away by everything I ate.  I wasn’t. 

It made me think of my Italian Grandmother.  When I was a kid, our family would periodically go out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants (Italian, of course.  There really wasn't any other kind.)  On rare occasions, we would talk my Grandmother into joining us. 

Afterwards, her critique of the meal was always, “Isa no like I make.”

I guess when it comes to the food in Italy, I could say, “Isa no like Margot make.”

Monday
Jun102013

Bed, Breakfast and Buttermilk Pancakes

After my niece’s out-of-town wedding I had invited some of my family members back to our house for a few days. 

What was I thinking? 

We spent Friday and Saturday on Long Island, coming back from the wedding in Nassau County through the North Fork and the Long Island Winery’s because we just don’t have enough wineries in our back yard.  Then the ferry ride home, always an adventure.  Then home sweet home and houseguests.

At one point, my cousin’s significant other commented:  “I’d come back to this Bed and Breakfast any time.”

Really?  All kidding aside, we did have a great weekend.  The hit, it seems, was the pancakes.  Real Buttermilk Pancakes.  The ones I took out of the freezer. 

Bob:  “these pancakes are so good you don’t really need anything on them.”

That’s because they were fried in butter, Bob.

When Grace is with us on the weekends, we spend our time making a mess in the kitchen.  And pancakes make a big mess.  For Christmas one year, Chris bought me a pancake dispenser so that I could get the perfect round pancakes. 

It only makes four at a time, and by the time you open it up, spoon more batter into it, and get ready to flip you have batter in your hair.

Regardless of how you get the batter onto the griddle, the perfect pancake starts with the perfect batter.  We wanted ours to be thick and fluffy like cakes, with crispy edges.  It took Grace and me six years to finally perfect ours.  We make a big batch and then freeze the leftovers in waxed paper and foil.  Just take them out the night before and let them thaw in the refrigerator, then warm them up in the toaster oven for serving.

Your houseguests will never know you didn’t get up at the crack of early to make them.

Wednesday
Jun122013

Summer Fireplace

Because I don't have an outside fireplace yet.

That was the question, wasn't it?

I was lucky enough to have an outside fireplace when I lived out West.  It was a cheap little something I picked up at the local big box building supply, and had to put together myself.  But it was open all around and that meant it wasn't the most efficient gadget I'd ever bought.  

Frankly, the sun and the stars had to align before you could actually light it:  

Too hot, who needs it?  Too windy, can't light it.  Too cold, go inside.

Same goes for firepits.  Plus, no matter where I'm sitting, that's the direction the smoke is going.

I set out wanting to have an actual woodburning fireplace on the patio.  Not such a good idea.  Those little cinders going up the chimney?  The chimney that keeps the smoke going in one direction?  

Well, they can land on your roof, or anywhere else on your house and that's not good.  Turns out, we would have had to build a chimney two stories high and free-standing.  That was not an engineering project I wanted to tackle.  Firepits?  No different, which means it would have to be someplace out in the yard and not on the patio.  

Back to the drawing board.

I have come up with another idea for an outdoor fireplace, but have not executed yet.  Maybe next year.  In the meantime, I found a simple solution that feeds my need for fire, even in the summer.

Candles.  In the fireplace.  I've seen it done with just candles or candleobrahs in the fireplace, but it looks just like that.  No real charm.  The secret is to use Birch Logs as a background for the candles.

I've done this a couple of different ways: 

  1. Rout out circles in the front bottom log so you can place votive holders in the circles.
  2. Slice off a piece of the bark for the front bottom log so the votive holders can sit level on that log.
  3. Luck out and find just the right candleholder that sits across the grate in front of the bottom log. 

If you are going to cut the logs to hold the votices, the trick is to get logs of two different sizes.  The bottom two should be about 6-8 inches in diameter.  Then you want one about half that size for the top log.  Place them on your fireplace grate with the two larger logs on the bottom and the smaller one sitting between the two on the top. 

When it's raining out and you can't sit on your porch, light the candles in the fireplace.  The candlelight against the birchbark is what makes the difference between the metal candleobrahs and a real fire.