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The Social Security Birthday – and a Four-Day Birthday Weekend

Italian Cookies

One of the [many] fun things about being retired, is I can take a 4-day birthday weekend and not have to use vacation days! We get to just go. Well… after arranging the Nonna-Sitter, and all… but, you get the idea. It’s totally liberating to just do things when you want to and not have to figure out what’s convenient for the job.

We have great friends up in Rochester, NY, that we hadn’t visited in a while, so we thought a trek up north was in order. Next thing we know, friends from New Hampshire decided to join us, and we converged on Rochester on the day before my birthday for a long food-and-fun-filled weekend!

We arrived early Friday afternoon to Ann and Julie’s house, and withing a few minutes, Marlene and Pat arrived. We immediately started eating – the Sandwich Board came out and a plethora of sandwich fixings of meats and cheeses, breads and rolls, spreads and greens. A Bean Salad to die for… Did I take a picture?!? No. Did I eat?!? You betcha!

After filling ourselves on one spread, it was time for the next.

Ann made the most delicious Roasted Chicken Provençal – a recipe she originally got from the New York Times and has tweaked over the years with her own herbs, seasonings, and touches. Again, I totally blew it – no pictures. but damn! It is good. So good, in fact, that I listened carefully to the tweaks she made, and then printed out the NYT recipe. I’m probably going to make it this week.

The weather was perfect – we could sit outside without a care in the world and sleep with windows open – and after a good night’s sleep, we headed off to Niagara Falls. I had been to the falls many times – I opened the Hyatt Regency Buffalo in 1984 – and when in Buffalo in 1984, the hip thing to do was leave town whenever ya could. The honky-tonk of Niagara Falls never disappointed.

And it didn’t this time, either! It was even more fun because Victor had never been to the falls, before!

Niagara Falls - American falls

We headed over to the Canadian side – hoping for asylum – and six people in a van, passports in hand – were let in with a smile and a wave. Last time I was there it was a simple show a driver license. My how times have changed.

First stop was to actually view the falls – the American Falls come up first. And then we walked down to the larger Canadian Horseshoe Falls. They are pretty spectacular. I do have to admit that the very first time I saw them I was a tad disappointed. Yosemite Falls fall almost 2500 feet and it is spectacular in its height. And then, I learned that, while at Niagara, the fall height is under 200 feet, it has the most massive flow rate of any waterfall in North America and the sheer volume of water flowing over the falls can top six million cubic feet of water every minute.

That’s impressive.

From the falls, we headed to Niagara-on-the-Lake for lunch. The lake is Lake Ontario and it’s about 25km from the falls at the end of the Niagara River. We meandered down the Niagara Parkway and soon entered a quaint English village.

Lunch was at the Shaw Cafe and Wine Bar. The food was great and our waiter was perfectly goofy – he climbed the spiral staircase to take the photo, kept coming back with riddles for us to solve – and we did! Needless to say, he got a good tip. It was a fun meal.

Niagara-on-the-Lake

And then it was time to head back to Rochester. As friendly as the Canadian Border agent was heading in, his US counterpart coming back was his polar opposite. Sad, to quote the Tweeter-in-Chief.

Home and more food… It was a great birthday!

Sunday dawned and Ann cooked us breakfast – bagels and yogurts and bacon and eggs, juices and schmears and pots of coffee. The perfect start to a day that was going to be non-stop eating!

Before coming up, Ann had casually mentioned that she would love for Victor to cook a typical Italian Sunday Supper for all of us and Julie’s brother, Will, his Italian wife, Linda, and another friend, Ian. Ann and Julie had had the typical “We can’t ask Victor to come all the way up here to cook us dinner” and “Of course we can. He can always say no if he doesn’t want to.” You know they’re good friends when they have no qualms about asking – and you have no qualms about doing!

The one thing that made it interesting is Linda has celiac – as in diagnosed years ago and actually has it. She said don’t make a fuss, she would just bring her own pasta… don’t worry about it, don’t go out of your way… Of course, that meant we were going to do a pasta-free meal. Italians don’t only eat spaghetti!

The menu became Victor’s Eggplant Rollatini and Sausages, Fennel, Peppers, and Onions with Polenta! The eggplants came from our garden, the sausages came from Martin’s Meats in Reading Terminal Market, the polenta was stone ground yellow grits from Adluh in South Carolina…

Tim and Victor

Getting ready to make a mess in Ann’s kitchen! And then actually making one!

Making Rollatini

Again, I didn’t take any pictures of the finished products, but I did get a picture of the Cookie Tray that Linda baked! It was simply stunning – and every one was hand-made by her!

Italian Cookies

Everyone knows that we make a bazillion cookies every year and we make a couple of these, ourselves. The truly amazing thing is she made every one of them gluten free using her family recipes she tweaked with a cup-for-cup flour. They were simply out of this world fabulous! Words fail – not simply because they were gluten free, but because they were so varied and so totally delicious.

We slept well…

And then, it was over. Another breakfast and it was time to start packing up the car for the ride home.

I have had some pretty awesome birthdays in my 66 years, and this one is certainly in the Top Five!

We had a lot of fun at the falls and decided we should come back and spend a couple of days right at the falls and see them at night, at daylight, at dusk… so we’re looking at a train trip in late November and spending a couple of days just meandering around the town, the falls, and see what trouble we can get into.

And we won’t have to use vacation days…

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