Saturday, October 30, 2010

Around the World in Eighty Bites

Viewer Discretion Advised: The following blog contains subject matter and photos for mature foodies only.  If you have a weak constitution or are easily offended by delicious culinary descriptions, please do not continue.

Do you ever watch those shows where the host has the oh-so-horrible job of traveling to far off lands and sampling cuisines from all over the world and wonder, "How can I get a gig like this?"  Me too...all the time!  Well today I got to pretend to be such a world traveler and connoisseur when I spent the day at the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival.  This is the 15th year that EPCOT has hosted this event which features wine & beer seminars, cooking demonstrations, specialty dinners, book signings & visits by guest celebrity chefs, and food samplings from all over the globe. 

EPCOT's World Showcase is permanently represented by eleven countries each with their own restaurants and snack stops, but the Food & Wine Festival brings in some temporary tenants to share their unique offerings from across the globe.  The eleven permanent tenants also seem to pull out all the stops, not to be outshown by their temporary squatters.  It's a bit like an international culinary peace treaty.

Our first stop when attending the Festival is always in France so my son can dive into the escargot.  He loves it!  Anywhere we go, if escargot is on the menu then you know he's just got to have it.  The ones offered during the festival are particularly good and go by the ostentatious title of "Escargots Persillade en Brioche" which means snails cooked with garlic, butter, and parsley and tucked into little rounds of brioche bread.  Mon Dieu!

From France we travelled to Spain for some nice but unremarkable offerings of Spanish cured meats cheeses, & olives, but they also offered a Seared Albacore Tuna with a very remarkable Romesco sauce.  On to Belgium we went where I really enjoyed the Steamed Mussels with Roasted Garlic Cream and my guys dug into the Waffles with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream.

Next it was on to Australia for some Seared Barramundi (aka; Asian sea bass) with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes, Arugula, and Lemon Oil and some beautifully charred Grilled Lamb Chops with Roasted Red Potato Salad & Red Wine Reduction.  Both dishes were excellent!

We journeyed on through Singapore, Poland, and Mexico all of which had decent offerings with Mexico as the standout of the three with a really nice Tamal de Pollo and a beautiful, if a tad greasy, Taco de Chilorio (pork-filled taco).

We weary travelers suffered on and were rendered nearly speechless by the food finds at our next two destinations.  In South Korea, we discovered what we thought was surely the winning dish of the day, Lettuce Wraps with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw.  The pork was meltingly tender and the kimchi offered a crunchy texture with a spicy and tangy kick, all of which was enrobed in a soft and delicate green lettuce leaf. Near perfection!  As we made our way to Argentina, we were still enjoying the lingering taste of South Korea on the tips of our toungues.  As Argentina is known for its beef that's exactly what we went for, the Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree.  Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner!!  The flavors in this simple dish were enough to make you want to jump onto the back of your Argentine Criollo horse and dash off in search of more.  The beef was tender and flavorful, the Chimichurri Sauce (parsley, cilantro, garlic, olive oil & vinegar) definitely lead with the garlic but finished nicely with the herbs, and the Boniato (tropical sweet potato) Puree added just a hint of sweetness to balance all the flavors.  Now I really must try my hand at Chimichurri sauce!

I could go on and on about all the other samplings we experienced today, but it just can't top the ones I've already shared.  I guess its time to put away the passports for pampered palates until next year.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

If you're familiar with this book and now animated film, you'll understand why there are times I have so much food in my house it seems as if it just fell from the sky.  Today was no exception and meatballs were on the menu. Yes, it was a bit cloudy on and off, too.

Yet today wasn't just all about the meatballs.  You see, tomorrow is my husband's birthday and we decided to have the family dinner tonight because we already have plans for all day tomorrow.  When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday dinner he requested the meal his mother always made him, spaghetti & meatballs.  As much as I wanted to prepare him something a bit more upscale, I certainly can't blame him for wanting something soothing since this is his first birthday after losing his mother less than 3 weeks ago.  Spaghetti and meatballs it is!  But it's not going to be just any spaghetti & frozen meatballs and jarred sauce for us.  I'm talking about the best homemade meatballs and fresh marinara sauce you've ever had!

I actually started the tomatoes on their way last night while I already had the oven on.  Earlier in the day I picked up some beautiful plum and simple vine-ripe tomatoes, about  2/12 lbs. each.  (Yes, I'm ordering a scale so I can give you exact measurments in the future. Be patient I'm new at this.) I sliced the tomatoes in half, brushed them with olive oil, seasoned with salt & pepper then put them cut-side down on two baking sheets to roast at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until their skin is slightly charred.  There's something about oven-roasting the tomatoes (or any vegetable, really) that brings out their natural sweetness. Once they were done I put them in a bowl and covered them with plastic wrap to hold in the steam then refigerated them overnight.

Getting saucy...

To begin the sauce today, I first had to remove the skin from the tomatoes. The steam had done its job and the skin slid off the tomatoes like a nightgown might slide from a woman's shoulders revealing that beautiful, glistening flesh.  Oh yeah, this is going to be one sexy sauce!  I place these tantalizing tomatoes into a large stockpot and set the flame at medium.  Next I add freshly chopped garlic and fresh oregano & basil that I snipped from my garden.  Then in goes salt & pepper and a bit of sugar to cut the acid from the tomatoes.  Cover it with a lid, set the flame on low and just let it simmer all day, stirring occasionally. The tomatoes should break down on their own but you can use a potato masher to break up any chunkier pieces, if you prefer.

Next it was on to the meatballs.  I like to use 2 parts of lean ground beef to one part sweet Italian sausage when I make mine.  I add grated garlic & onion, dried oregano & basil, salt & pepper, eggs, tomato paste and bread that had been soaked in milk.  In this case I used 3 leftover hot dog buns as the bread.  Hey use what you have, right?  Mix this all together well and form into good sized meatballs, make 'em hearty so they don't get lost in the sauce.  Put them on a baking sheet (or 2) and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. 

Back to the sauce; this is the last time you can play with the flavors before you add the meatballs.  Once those meatballs go in you don't want to stir too much or you might break them up.  Taste your sauce to determine if it needs a little more of anything.  Here's when I add my secret ingredient, balsamic vinegar.  A couple of tablespoons will add a subtle depth of flavor that one might not have expected.  Once the meatballs are out of the oven introduce them to the sauce, give them a stir, and put the lid on for some privacy.  The marriage that takes place in the culinary confines of that pot is surely a match made in heaven.  As per requested, spaghetti was the pasta of choice tonight but any bed of pasta would suit these newlyweds.  Add a blanket of parmesan cheese and a nice glass of wine and let the magic begin.

Well, being this was a family meal and all we skipped the wine and added some garlic bread and a Caesar salad with homemade dressing.  There was enough garlic in this meal to quash any ideas of a romantic overture, for sure.  The good news is that with Halloween just two days away, the vampires don't stand a chance!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


While that might sound like a really great name for your pet Chihuahua, it's actually a traditional Mexican breakfast dish.  It basically consists of stale tortilla chips or strips cooked with salsa roja or salsa verde (red sauce or green sauce...sorry, I was just showing off!), and topped with fried eggs and, sometimes, shredded chicken.  I prefer it for dinner, sans the eggs.

When I roast a chicken for a family dinner, I generally go ahead and add a friend for it to hang out with in the "sauna" so I'll have plenty of leftover chicken meat that can be reincarnated into something totally different.  I usually take the opportunity to take shredded chicken and make a run for the border and I didn't veer off course tonight.  I could have made enchiladas or tortilla soup, but I wanted to try something different and I love Chilaquiles but they're hard to find on any menus around here. While I had a bag of tortilla chips in my pantry, I wanted to try to keep it a bit healthier so I cut fresh corn tortillas into wedges and baked them, rather than the fried version.  I also really prefer the taste of fresh corn tortillas, so I thought I was on to something special.  I slide the tortilla chips into the oven and turn my attention to the chicken and salsa.  I diced and sauteed some onions, added some garlic, in goes the chicken and just a jar of store-bought salsa.  Okay, looking good!  Sniff, sniff...what's that burning smell?  Yep, those fresh tortillas I labored over are now beautiful little charcoal triangles.  Ay, caramba!

So,  I reach for that bag of tortilla chips that I dismissed earlier and began building my casserole.  Chips, chicken & salsa mixture, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, repeat, repeat.  Put it in the oven at 350 and let it bubble away for about 30 minutes..  Cut it into squares, top it with some crumbled queso fresco (a mild white cheese), diced onions, a drizzle of crema (Mexican sour cream but not as thick or tangy) and avocado slices and you'll have your very own fiesta. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Deja Food

Do you ever find your refigerator filled with leftovers and your conscience battling between usefulness and wastefulness?  Trust me, in this high-paced, grab and go society we live in, none of us are immune to it.  As much as I love to cook and do so as often as possible, there are times that the family schedule just doesn't allow for a home-cooked meal.  During the peak times in our busy schedules I find myself looking at the towers of leftover containers in our refrigerator and wondering if styrophoam is a food group!

After having a slew of family in town over the past weekend and cooking for days, I found myself with the best leftovers of all - the homemade kind.  No styrophoam was harmed in the making of this blog!  I had leftover ham, steamed broccoli, and a bunch of shredded cheese.  Add some sliced scallions and a few eggs and we had a delicious frittata for dinner tonight.  Also a beautiful side note was some of the fruit that was left over from the weekend.

An additional menu item that came into play was roasted chicken.  Last night was the, literally, last night that our older kids were to be home and I wanted to squeeze in just one more family meal and have their grandfather over.  Since we were pretty much over ham and mac & cheese (as delicious and decadent as it is) I decided to roast a couple of chickens with rosemary, lemon, and garlic.  In addition, I thinly sliced some potatoes and added the theme of rosemary & garlic, tossed with some olive oil and set them to roast while the chickens were finishing up.  Steam some brocolli, set out some rolls, and dinner is on.  Oh, if it were only that simple.  One of the stories we told about my mother-in-law was the Thanksgiving that her turkey just didn't keep up the pace and finish on time, leaving a bloody trail in its wake.  She would have been mortified had she known.  However, my sister-in-law and I kept mom's glass full of white zinfadel (ugh) while my husband shoved the thing back into the oven and crancked up the temp. By the time we all sat down to dinner, mom was "happy" and we had saved the day.  Here's the problem...those damn chickens I bought and cooked yesterday did the same thing that Thanksgiving turkey did for my mom-in-law so many years ago. Never before has that happened! Yeah, payback is hell!  Love you, mom!  I can see your big smile laughing at me right now.  Hey, how come no one was placating me with endless glasses of wine?

Eventually, the roasters finished up beautiful and succulent...later than scheduled but worth the wait with plenty left over. We had a wonderful family meal and our older kids were able to spend time with their grandpa before departing for California very early this morning.

All that leftover chicken?  Oh yeah, this girl thinks ahead!  The possibilities are endless: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Enchiladas,. Quesadillas, Chicken Salad, Chicken Casserole with some Cream-Based Soup, etc...uh, hell no!  My guess is that something spicy is next up on the menu! Stay tuned!

Life Goes On

As I have mentioned, we lost my mother-in-law on the 12th of October after a long battle with ALS.  We held her internment service this past Saturday with just the family and her public memorial service the following day. It wasn't an easy task - it never is - but closure is good and the healing process can now begin.  The past year has been really difficult, but the past few months and especially the last six weeks have been brutal.

What really filled my heart was having the whole family together.  My son doesn't often get to see the family members who live out of state which include his half-brother and sister, two paternal cousins - one with a wife and new baby - his paternal aunt, and one maternal uncle (also his godfather). For this occasion, the only member of the family who was missing was my sister, which couldn't be helped.  Even my oldest brother's son and his very pregnant wife came to pay their respects.  It really helped my son - who, at 16, is the youngest of the group - to be surrounded by his entire family as he struggled through his first experience with losing someone close to him. While it was a blessing that he was the only grandchild who could see his grandmother at any time, it was also a curse because he had to witness her daily struggles and eventual decline.

I must take a "Proud Mom Moment" and announce some good news from the weekend!  Our youngest son has been acting in school productions for about 5 years and on Saturday went to the district drama competition and scored a superior status (the highest available) for his portrayal as Marc Antony agonizing over the death of Julius Caesar, and for his performance in his school's group comedy presentation.  This kid really has some chops!  He was concerned about missing his grandmother's internment service, but we all assured him that one of her great pleasures was watching him perform on stage and she wouldn't have wanted him to miss that opportunity.  Obviously, she was at his side the whole time.  He's the first Thespian in his school's history to earn a superior rating and he will now move on to the state competition in February.

So the days prior to the whole family's arrival were spent getting the house ready for everyone; figuring out who was sleeping where, putting clean sheets on the beds, making sure there were plenty of clean towels, and laying in supplies.... a lot of them!  We made a trip to Sam's Club and basically spent our children's inheritance.  You know me, when I don't know what else to do I start feeding people. I planned on menu items that would last us through the weekend since I knew that my house would become the central
gathering place.  I made a big pot of chili for when everyone arrived on Friday night, which also made a quick go-to lunch or snack and eventually got turned into chili cheese dip. We also had spiral ham(s), baked beans, potato salad, tons of fruits & veggies, etc. The list just goes on and on!  The most important items I had to pick up were the ingredients my sister-in-law needed to make her homemade mac & cheese.  It's the simplest thing to make but it's the best I've ever had.  Here's how we did it but the ingredient amounts will vary depending on the amount of people being served.  This is one of those "non-recipe" recipes that I'm always just winging.  You can make the quantities of cheese & butter as heavy or light as you like them. Take this and make it your own.

Homemade Macaroni & Cheese

Elbow macaroni, 1 cup dry per person
Sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
Whole milk
Salt & Pepper to taste

Boil the macaroni in salted water for about 8 minutes, or until it's al dente. Remember it will finish cooking in the oven.  Drain the macaroni and put 1/3 of it into a buttered casserole dish and add some salt & pepper then top it with 1/3 of the cheese and dot it with butter. Repeat the process until you have 3 layers, making sure you end with a nice layer of cheese on top.  Pour the milk over the layers until it reaches the top of the dish.  It may seem like too much, but it will absorb and keep the layers from drying out.  Bake at 350 until all the milk has absorbed and appears curdled, about an hour depending on how many servings you've prepared.  It won't hurt it if you have to poke at it every once in awhile to check for doneness.  Let it set for 15-20 minutes before serving then enjoy!

I must admit that we got a bit carried away and made about 20 pounds of the stuff!  No freezes well!

And so, with my house now empty and quiet upon everyone leaving to make their way safely back home, it's time to cherish our memories and carry on.  Life goes on...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pizza and Pumpkin Bread

Another busy day comes to a satisfying end.  Took the son to school, hit the gym, spent our children's inheritance at Sam's Club, follow-up visit with the oral surgeon, finally some lunch, home, unload the car from aforementioned trip to Sam's, son stays after school to work on a project, pick him up, home for 45 minutes and back out the door to take him to driver's ed class.  Whew...breathe!  In the meantime we're waiting for my sister-in-law to get back into town with the hopes of meeting her and the father-in-law for dinner.  It's a no go as she was getting in too late and we still needed to pick our son up from his class so he could come home and start on his homework.  Off to a local Italian eatery we went.  Bizzarros!  Any of my local friends will appreciate this one.  Best pizza in town...hands down!

We pick our son up and head back home (with a small pizza in hand for him) and settle in for the evening.  This feels like the calm before the storm. I wash my hair and shave my legs while I can because the whole family rolls into town tomorrow and my house seems to be home-base. On the menu tomorrow; homemade pumpkin bread!  Have to balance out the fruit I'll also be serving for breakfast.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Workouts and Lockouts

I dragged myself back to the gym yesterday after having missed it for about three weeks and was hoping that my muscle memory didn't have amnesia.  It didn't - I'm being reminded of it with every move today!  So after the gym we went over to my father-in-law's house to meet with the minister and plan out my mother-in-law's service then took dad to lunch aftrerwards.  Got home and took the dog out back with me while I pulled some weeds.  The hubby comes out to say goodbye and takes off for the office but not before locking me out of the house!  Thank goodness I had my iPhone in my pocket so I call him and he turns it around.  In the meantime I'm pacing the patio after having downed about a gallon of water after my workout and had to...well, you know.  The sound of water splashing over from the spa into the pool certainly didn't help the situation!

Mind you, this is not the first time he's done that.  The first time was when my now 16-year old son was just a baby.  He and our older son decided to go on a bike ride to the beach on our tandem bike (yes, we have a bicycle built for two, but it's a kicked-up version!) while the baby was napping and I was catching some sun.  They were great and brought me some water, the phone, and the baby monitor before they took off on their ride and locking me out of the house!  Do you sense a theme here?  Let's just say that I got revenge without even making an effort.  The baby continued sleeping peacefully, I continued my sunning, and they got the workout of their lives beating it back to the house!  That part still makes me smile.

So as I cooled my heels yesterday waiting for him to get back my thoughts, of course, turned to dinner.  We have a joke between us that if he ever comes home and finds tuna casserole on the table for dinner, he'll know that there will be a serving of divorce papers for dessert.  When he first got married he asked that I never cook two things; Tuna Casserole and Hamburger Helper.  He said he'd eaten enough of that as a poor college student and could certainly afford to eat better now.  Like I would ever serve that hideous stuff anyway!  But, with the advent of Tuna Helper (gag) I was seriously considering serving it up and adding extra peas, which he hates.  Did I?  Of course not.  What I made instead was Spicy Seared Tuna with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy, Soy Butter and Wasabi Sauce.  Lucky man!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Comfort Food

Since much of my time lately has been spent on trying to comfort others through my food, I put this question out there on my Facebook and Twitter accounts: What is your "go to" comfort food?  Without a doubt, most people tend to revert back to their childhood food memories: Homemade chicken and dumplin's, homemade mac & cheese, momma's biscuits and gravy, grandma's stuffing, rigatoni made the same way dad and pop-pop did it. etc.  What I found very interesting were the regional offerings, those items not necessarily based upon childhood recall but built upon where they are currently based.  I like the idea of adopting the area one now lives in and embracing the comforts it has to offer.  Living in Florida?  You're all about the seafood. Living in the Cincinnati area?  It's Skyline Chili for you; however many "ways" you want it.  Of course, there were the shout outs for chocolate, ice cream, and cookie dough!

As for me?  Peanut butter comes into play as I plowed through a whole jar of it when my first "love" broke my heart about 30 (!) years ago.  Oh, the tragedy!  Ah, young love/ignorance.  When I need comfort food these days, I guess I turn to my mom's fried chicken.  Again, we're all running back home to childhood memories...guilty!  That would taste really good right now!

Thank goodness I'm heading back to visit our trainer tomorrow after about a 3-week hiatus.  Oral surgery, shaking off a "bug," and losing my mother-in-law has really put a downer on my workout schedule. Ugh, I feel like a slug!  It's time to get back on track.  Enough comfort food!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beef (and Broccoli)...It's What's for Dinner

On Friday I broke down and laid out the cash to replace the arsenal of cookware in my kitchen.  It was a move that was well overdue since what I'd been using was approaching the twenty-year mark.  Man, good cookware is very expensive!  You can imagine my excitement at the prospect of breaking it in!  So, with family in town for the weekend, I invited everyone over for dinner the next night.  My sister-in-law agreed as long as I didn't cook any of that "fancy stuff."  I said I'd cook whatever they wanted.  My goodness, they started tossing suggestions my way so fast I felt like I was watching a Wimbledon match with my head swiveling back and forth to catch every volley!  Mashed potatoes & gravy!  Turkey and dressing!  Corn!  Biscuits! Cranberries??  Okay, okay, I get it!  You want a Thanksgiving dinner about 6-weeks in advance.  I finally talked them around to chicken stuffed with rosemary, garlic, and lemon and cooked on the rotisserie spit either in my oven or on my grill. 

I awoke yesterday morning to a beautiful and cool beginning of my day.  I grabbed the newspaper, made myself a cappuccino, and ventured out to the backyard with the dog in tow.  I hook the dog up on her very long lead, take a seat in my chaise lounge with caffeine in hand and prepare to spoil my mind with the day's news.  Ah, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the breeze is refreshingly cool, and the damn dog has wrapped herself around not one, but two chairs in about five minutes!  It must have been hilarious to watch me try to use hand signals to get her to unwrap herself.  Okay, Casey...focus!  Go around, not that way, the other way!  Back up and try again!  Over and nauseum.  I love her but that dog really needs a helmet!

With the morning a wash, I figured I'd go ahead and visit the grocery store and pick up the "few" items I'd need for dinner.  Oooh, buy one - get one free (BOGO) on wine!  Load me up!  All was well until I strolled confidently over to the meat department looking for a sizable roasting chicken.  They had nothing but Calista Flockhart-looking offerings when I was looking more for a Dolly Parton-type.  No worries, I had a Plan B in mind.  I head over to my local gourmet/butcher shop, grab a number and pour myself a free beer.  Hey, don't judge me, there were ten other people ahead of me!  Finally, my number comes up and I ask if they have any plump roasting chickens.  Sadly, no, they do not.  Switch to Plan C...steaks!  I'll take five of the natural rib-eyes, please.  We won't even talk about the cost difference here.  One nice surprise that came out of this was my favorite guy behind the meat counter called me over and said he had a gift for me. I walk over and he hands me a huge package of ham ends and asks if I can make pea and ham soup.  Oh, now I get it!  I get free meat if I'll make him some soup.  Deal!  Since he's British, I may ask my British chef friend if there's a particular way they like their pea soup "across the pond."

I got home and decided that the only change from the "requested" menu was the protein. Why eat chicken when you can eat steak instead?  I certainly got no complaints!  Rib-eyes seasoned and seared to perfection, cheesy mashed potatoes, steamed corn, and broccoli casserole. Years ago I introduced this broccoli casserole recipe into my repertoire of side dishes and it was an instant hit with the ladies in the family who insisted it be included in every holiday dinner.  I thought it would be a good idea to make it for my sister-in-law, even though it wasn't a holiday.  I wouldn't be surprised to hear that when she pulled out of the driveway this morning to drive back to Georgia, she had the leftovers I gave her safely strapped in with a seat belt!

In honor of all the women in my family, I happily share the recipe with you!  It's simply one of those "back of the box" recipes that really work.  Enjoy!

Broccoli Cheese Casserole
2 packages frozen chopped broccoli
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 eggs
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoons chopped onions
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup VIGO golden toasted breadcrumbs
1/2 stick butter

Broil frozen broccoli for 5 minutes and drain well. Beat eggs, stir in mayonnaise, soup, onions, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Fold in cooked broccoli. Place entire mixture in casserole dish. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.
Breadcrumb topping: in small skillet melt butter; add breadcrumbs and stir until golden. After removing casserole from oven cover with bread crumb topping and serve.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spent most of today bouncing between staying busy by bringing order to the house and moping.  No, I'm not bipolar...we lost my mother-in-law on Tuesday.  My husband was having a particularly difficult day so when the opportunity presented itself to get out of the house and take our son to see his girlfriend, we decided this was a good time to shake off the doldrums and, since we had to eat anyway, check out a Cuban restaurant we pass on our journeys to and from Cocoa Beach. 

I'm a big fan of Cuban tamales and use them as my culinary litmus test when it comes to Cuban cuisine, so I had to start with one.  It didn't disappoint - light and fluffy with a little bit of Chorizo sausage in the filling, steamed (and presented) in a corn husk, drizzled with a vinegary Mojo, and topped with Ropa Vieja.  From there I moved on to the Pollo Enchilado, a Cuban representation of a Creole Chicken.  The chicken was a bit dry but the sauce was fantastic.  I found myself bidding adios to the chicken and filling in the empty places with yellow rice, letting it soak up all that spicy goodness.  The sweet plantains or, maduros, added a great balance of sweetness to offset the spice of the pollo sauce.  Yet, the winner of the night was the flan. Delicate and delicious with a great caramel sauce!  Okay, my next mission is to learn how to make Cuban tamales and then put my own twist on them.

A funny thing happened on the way home...

I stopped at the store on the way home from dinner and picked up some Visine and a bottle of wine.  In retrospect, I realize how that might have looked.  The checkout girl must have been thinking, "Man, that chick is really planning ahead!"  Well, I've always been a multi-tasker!  Came home, took a hot bath, put on my jammies that say, "Fatigued" across, front, popped the cork on that wine, and started blogging. 

So I leave you tonight with a sweet treat...

Buenas Noches!

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'm Bringing Funny Back!

I'm done with the morose theme of my last few posts.  Yes, our family is going through a very difficult time right now, but I need to pull myself up by the bootstraps and carry on.  I'm not easily defeated, but I do have my moments.

So last night was not a great one for me but, thankfully, I can see the humor in the whole fiasco.  While still recovering from oral surgery, I woke up at 3:15 AM with my jaw throbbing, my throat on fire, and a headache that took up residence behind my left eye.  By that time the hubby was well immersed into "lumberjack-land" and sawing logs like he was on a mission to mow down a forest. The Greenpeace people should be up in arms!  He also managed to steal all the covers and the dog escaped her kennel and decided that my side of the bed looked pretty comfy to her and did her best to take over all the space. I tend to pick my battles and admitted defeat.  Off to the guest room I went where I knew it would be quiet and I wouldn't have a dog breathing in my face.

Great...the carriage lights on the outside of our house glare right into our guest room.  I now offer an apology to anyone who has ever spent a night there.  Toss & turn, toss & turn, ouch, ouch, ouch!  Okay, that's enough!   I break down and take a couple of Advil at around 5:45.  I seriously considered taking the prescribed Hydrocodone but didn't want to find myself clinging to the ceiling like a cat on fire or completely passed out. Wonderful options, right?

Hey, tomorrow is a new day and I get to pack for some time away with friends.  A very casual next few days are on the agenda.  Much needed and much appreciated.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sad Sunday

Most of the time on my blog posts I try to insert a bit of humor along with my food finds but today is just not one of those days.  I've literally been in tears for the past three days as I watch my mother-in-law waste away. We've never been that close and I feel there has always been a bit of competition between us.  She was always the one to handle holiday get-togethers, then I came along and seemed to trump her. After 20 + years we'd made peace with that.  It's so very difficult to see my husband lose his mother, yet his love for her just resonates when he's with her and provides a calming effect, beautiful and sad at the same time.  Today my son went to visit her for, perhaps, the last time.  My guys, being guys, are very stoic when dealing with this situation and I feel like I'm channelling all of their emotions.  They don't want to talk about it and I can't help but sob so we're at an impasse.

It doesn't help that I'm recovering from oral surgery and look a bit like a chipmunk hording acorns for the winter in one cheek and my immune system is a bit challenged, thus a sore throat and swollen glands are just a bonus.  I'm just feeling a bit beat up.  Whah!  Can I get some cheese with that whine?

Thanks for listening, my friends.

 Look at the love and pride in those eyes!

Home Sweet Homecoming

Yesterday was another one of those days when you hit the ground running and don't look back. First on the agenda was greeting my sister-in-law and nephew upon their arrival from Georgia. Our family is in so much pain right now because we are slowly losing my mother-in-law to ALS. It's so difficult ro watch my husband losing his mother and, worse, my children losing their grandmother. We had to practically force our nephew into speaking/saying good-bye to his grandmother. It's good to have them home.

Okay, time to shift into "mom" mode. Homecoming: Suit fits, check; corsage, check; dinner reservtions, check; gorgeous girlfriend; check: A great time had by all? Who knows? I have a male child who gives me no information. Hope it all went well.

Yes, it went well and they had a wonderful time and made good decisions.  Beautiful proud!  Tough day but you do what you have to do.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stitches, Smoothies, and Soup

You just know it's going to be a great day when you start the morning off at the oral surgeon's office.  I can't begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to this day.  I even forwent a torturous workout with my trainer for the privilege of waitng for over an hour to enter a different type of torture chamber! 

I'd lost a crown on one of my teeth and needed to have it seen to.  Unfortunately, there wasn't enough tooth left to re-crown so extraction and preparation for an implant was my only option.  Oh joy!  Okay, I'm a big girl and I can do this...right?  Right!

The dental assistant comes in and goes over the procedure, takes my blood pressure which was elevated, of course (hell you're fixing to yank a tooth out of my mouth...hello!), and gave me all the paperwork to sign.  This paperwork also included the total cost of all involved - well, up goes my blood pressure.  She then proceeds to prep me for "surgery," paper hat on the head and all. So now I'm getting nervous!  Why on earth does my hair need to be covered?  Is there a possibility of random stuff just flying out of my mouth and landing in my hair?  Okay, knowing me, there is a big chance of certain words flying out my mouth during a moment like this.  Oh wait, I wasn't able to actually speak this whole time.  Yet that didn't keep the doctor from trying to engage in a conversation.  Are they taught that in school?  Man, I had to result to gibberish and sign language to respond.

As much as I tried to maintain my calm exterior, I was not a happy camper on the inside.  I kept finding myself rising up to follow that tooth and reminding myself to find my "happy place."  You know what?  My happy place isn't within miles of a dental office! They teased me with Pina Colada-flavored topical numbing solution when I certainly could have used the real deal.  Guess what?  I felt that damn needle anyway...three times! Breathe through your nose, breathe through your nose, and ignore the sponge that's in danger of being swallowed.  Somebody save me! 

Well, I lived through it and was starving afterwards.  Could I eat?  A resounding NO!  So I stopped by our local produce market which happens to make amazing and healthy smoothies and grabbed "lunch."  Dinner tonight?  Soup.  I have a better liquid diet in mind which could also serve to be a painkiller.  Yeah, you know what I'm talking about!

This day was so much fun that it left me in stitches...literally! 

Here's a question for you:  Say you have a friend who calls you up asking if you and your family would like to join him and his family on the beautiful South Carolina coastline next week while our kids are out of school, then mentions that we can all fly up together in his private jet.  Do you (A) play it cool and tell him you'll have to check your schedule and get back to him, or (B) do you hang up the phone and run to grab a suitcase so fast you leave a vacuum in your wake?  Yeah...I thought so.

I've been blessed with incredible and generous friends from all walks of life.  Some rich and some poor; some famous and others who are just regular people like me.  I don't care what you have or don't have, what I do care about is if you have a good heart and treat people kindly.  All I want from a friend is what I try to give to mine; respect, support, kindness, love, and sprinkling of humor to keep it interesting.

It's interesting how, not too long after blogging about a local eatery featuring Lowcountry cuisine, that I'll find myself right in the heart of  South Carolina's Lowcountry itself.  Actually, I'm not sure I'm doing this type of food honor by calling it "cuisine."  It's down home cookin', plain and simple!  I've always wanted to go to Charleston and stroll its beautiful historic streets and taste the food that is a melting pot of culinary influences from all over the globe.  Looks like now I'll get my chance!  Maybe I'll put together a Lowcountry Boil while we're there to thank my friends for including us.
Cheers, ya'll!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Fall"ing Into October

About a week ago, on the cusp of October, a friend of mine asked if I was planning anything grand to blog about for Octoberfest...umm, not really. He challenged me to create a cocktail to celebrate the Fall.  While I'm not a Mixologist, I have experienced a near fall at the hands of one.  Let's just say it was a Dark & Stormy night!  I'm more of a pop-the-top/cork kind of girl so mixing it up behind the bar really doesn't resonate with me unless I'm on the receiving end.  I'm thinking about a Pumpkin Martini...we'll see.

Having said that, though, I did come up with a quick and easy menu tonight that's definitely a nod to Octoberfest.  Beer-Braised Brats with Sauteed Onions & Saeurkraut and Pickled Beets. 

Job done, I hope!


Monday, October 4, 2010

Weekend Update

Does the title of this blog post remind anyone else of Saturday Night Live or is it just me?  I feel a Chevy Chase pratfall coming on! 

Anyway, let's start with Friday night and an impromptu high school reunion with about a dozen classmates.  Being the first to arrive, the hubby and I had time to check out our friends' band who was playing just outside our designated meeting place at the Historic Downtown Fall Festival.  It was very difficult to pull ourselves away from the music and go back to the restaurant where we were to meet.  This band (Mo Geetz) totally rocks and it just blows my socks off to know that their guitarist - an aging, raspy-voiced veteran - is my son's guitar instructor.  That man can really lay it down!  But, I had a great time reconnecting with friends I hadn't seen in a while.  We definitely need to do this more often and get more friends involved.
Moving on to Saturday.  My son's girlfriend came over and they began their assignment of doing homework together.  Sorry, but if you want to hang out and homework is due, then you can work side-by-side and get it done.  When it was time for lunch, I took the opportunity to introduce them the my new favorite diner, Sun on the Beach.  They had the hardest time making a choice.  "If you order grits and I order home-fries then we can share."  "Wait, we need crepes and fried-green-tomatoes, too."  They were just too cute!  At around 4 PM we transferred the kids to her house because we were meeting friends for a 3-hour sunset cruise. 
The group of friends who went on this three-hour tour are people I work on a celebrity/charity golf tournament with.  We each spend dozens of hours a year raising awareness and funds for a worthwhile cause, but never really pause to do something for ourselves.  When the sunset cruise came up for auction last January at the charity event, we decided to go in as a group and bid on it.  Too bad it took us until October to get all of our schedules straight and find a day when we were all available!  It was a gorgeous day cruising down Cocoa Beach with a rainbow on the horizon, dolphins frolicking alongside, and the promised sunset melting into the Atlantic.
Sunday was spent in my favorite place - my kitchen.  I marinated a boneless leg of lamb and made hummus, tabbouleh, and tzatziki sauce because gyros were on the menu.  Note to self:  Don't put a leg of lamb on the grill, shut the lid, then get distracted by chatting with your son's friends who stopped by to visit.  I ran out to the grill to find flames practically shooting out of it!  That poor lamb looked like a meteor.  Fortunately, I just flipped it over and got a nice char on the other side, then transferred it to the oven to finish cooking.  Whew!  Disaster diverted...pass the ouzo.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Paradise, Projects, and Pizza

Thursdays are my husband's day off so we usually plan to work on some of our little "projects" or tackle things that we've been putting off.  Well, yesterday was all of that rolled into one and jacked up on steroids...figuratively, of course!

We started the day with a visit to our friendly trainer who seemingly takes great pleasure from putting middle-aged people through their paces (or pacemakers!)  I'm hoping he's certified in CPR...damn, should have checked that fact before signing on with him!  While I joke, though, I'm very pleased with the results he's getting from both of us and we're on target with our goals.  I'm bulking up while the hubby's bulking down so that's a very good thing.  From there, we moved on to our favorite new food joint for an early lunch overlooking the ocean while listening to Jimmy Buffett on the sound system.  Almost paradise!

On to a visit with the in-laws to check in and see if mom's having a good day.  Not too bad, considering that we're slowly losing her the the demon that is ALS.  She was fairly alert, had eaten a bit, and seemed to enjoy our banter but it's very hard to distinguish what's really going on.  Dad's hanging in there and getting more rest because he now has more help which is a blessing.

For the past few weeks I've been hinting to the hubby that I'd really like to get our Fall decorations out of storage so I could start decorating the house.  His response was he wasn't bringing one more item into "his" garage until we could park both of our cars in there.  After 23-years of marriage I'm familiar with the history here, so I really didn't hold much hope.  But, he's diligently been working on that project and we can now fit 2 cars into our 3-car garage!  So I thought I'd make my move again.  "Honey, can we now please get the Fall decorations?"  To which he responded, "Only if you help me clean out the storage unit(s)."  Fine...

OMG, where the hell did all this stuff come from?  I know we've been married for a long time and have accumulated a lot of "treasures" over the years, but seriously!!  There's no way to organize, decide what to throw away and what to keep, or just wrap the mind around, well, all of it, before we have to pick our son up from school.  Toted, hauled, & shifted things in a hurry and got my goal accomplished and loaded on board.  We grabbed our from school who was, of course, starving (!) so we stopped for a quick bite of sushi before heading home to unload the truck.  Boy, is that kid ever a fearless eater!

The real task began when we got home and I entered the "project zone" and kept finding things that needed to be done because the sun was still shining.  Let's clean off the back patio (the one that extends beyond the screened pool enclosure), which had really become The Land Where Grills Go To Die.  We had a huge old gas grill and a Webber charcoal one that we hadn't used in years and were providing low-rent housing for countless squatters.  We cleaned them up and dragged them to the garage. Mind you, this is the same garage my husband had just taken a bunch of stuff out of.  While we were at it I trimmed my herbs, pulled a bucket-load of weeds, cleaned up the butterfly garden which had gone to weed, went to battle with more spiders (and won), lost a battle with a cactus, remembered that I'm as crazy with a leaf blower as I am with a pressure washer, and moved a heavy granite-topped table...twice!  I think we wore a track in the grass between the garage and the backyard.

I finally made it to the inside of the house to begin the project that started this whole snowball effect, putting up the Fall decorations. I lasted about an hour before exhaustion and hunger took its toll.  Dinner?  I phoned it in, literally, and ordered a pizza from our favorite pizza place, Bizzarro's. What started as a little mom & pop pizza joint at the beach has blossomed into countless franchises throughout the county. This pizza can hold its own anywhere in the country. I have to chuckle when I think about each time we visit the original location because it's almost like visiting the "Soup Nazi" on the old Jerry Seinfeld show. Don't hesitate or you might find yourself being directed to the back of the line!