Mad Men Monday

The guy who disdains television - who actually has problems figuring out the remote control - is hooked on Mad Men.

It's true.  I absolutely love the show.

I think the first reason is that it is so true to life.  It's my youth being broadcast on TV every week.  I remember everyone smoking everywhere.  In elevators, in the movie theaters...  Hell...  my pediatrician would have a cigarette going while examining me.  It was a normal part of life.  Cigarette advertising actually touted certain brands as being healthy.  Doctor recommended. And the booze.  It really was everywhere.

It was definitely a fun time to be growing up in the Big City.

So fast-forward 50 years and I get to relive my youth every week.  On Mondays because we tape the Sunday show.  Tape.  Did I just show my age?  We electronically record it on our Digital Video Recorder.  We used to tape things. Last century.  I used to smoke, also.  I started when it was still good for me.  Before Surgeon General warnings were even thought of.  I was pretty cool.

But back to Mad Men...

We've been watching it on Monday, right after dinner.  So today I had the brilliant idea of doing Mad Men Monday and recreating some of those recipes from the golden years of canned Cream of Whatever Soup and frozen Veal Cutlets.

And what better place to find recipes than my mom's cook books from the '60s and '70s?!?  Two huge binders of recipes she created, cut out from magazines and newspapers, as well as recipes written out by my grandmother, great-aunts, family friends...  They've been my own personal Mad Men for years.

I have referenced these books forever, but I have to admit that I have rarely really read a lot of the recipes or ever really followed any of them exactly.  I would more often glance over pages, see something that caught my eye, and then used it as a starting off point to get the creative juices flowing.  And after really reading a few of them tonight, it was a little scary.

I can't imagine cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts for three hours even if the oven temperature is 275°.  On a bed of chipped beef, no less...

But there are a lot of them I really do want to have a go at.  And I think it would be fun to eat them in the living room while watching Mad Men.  We never eat dinner in front of the TV.

Time for a change!

So... I'm going to go through the books and start planning a few meals.  I don't promise to make them exactly as printed, because as low as they may be, I do have standards.  But I am going to try to be as authentic as I can be.

No cigarettes and no Scotch - those days are behind me - but a Bacardi Rum Cake for dessert is a definite possibility...

And maybe even some Heinz Beans...



18 Hours of Fun and Food

We just dropped off our friends Ann and Julie at the airport for their trek to Brittany and Paris.  A mere 18 hours ago we picked them up at the airport.  An overnight stay at Chez TimAndVictor is the perfect way to break up a long airline trip.  And they are just the perfect guests!

Julie lived in Paris Once Upon A Time and writes a really wonderful fun-filled blog, Julie's Paris.  I love visiting the city with them - even if it is vicariously through the internet.  They share meals with us the same way - which is how last night's dinner came into being.

A while back Victor made a really wonderful Stuffed Cabbage.  Ann asked him to make it for them when they came down.  And I had recently made  a Lemon Meringue Pie.  "I received one of those OMG I LOVE LEMON MERINGUE PIE" notes...

The menu was set.

But, Victor couldn't just serve Stuffed Cabbage...

Gnocchi was also needed...

Yummy, yummy gnocchi, in a sauce of butter, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.

Nothing fancy...

And, the dessert...  Lemon Meringue Pie.

The pie came out great, although it did separate just a bit.  Oh well.  It certainly didn't stop us from licking our plates...  I also made my regular meringue instead of the syrup meringue from the recipe.  Mine was better.

We stayed up late and woke up early.  Naturally, if one is flying off to France, one must get in the mood... Freshly-baked croissants for breakfast.


And Chocolate...

It's only fitting, right?!?  We ate our croissants, drank copious amounts of coffee, and compared travel notes on Paris and Italy.

Soon, it was noon - and time for even more food.  A simple build-your-own steak sandwich buffet was the perfect answer!

Thinly-sliced grilled filet mignon, homemade tomato jam, roasted red pepper spread, lettuce and tomatoes, salad with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette... and San Pelegrino Limon to add that continental flair...

18 hours.  Not nearly enough time, but we shall be visiting them for a few days this summer...  We'll be able to share France and Italy stories...  And we can drive and bring Cybil.

More fun and food awaits...


Tulips in the Garden...

Tulips in the garden

Tulips in the Park

But the Tulips I like best

Are the Two Lips in the dark.

I don't remember the first time I heard my father say that little ditty, but I do know that I heard it so many times - along with his dozen or so of other corny jokes and sayings - that when there are but a few dozen brain cells left in this poor old head, they will be the ones taking up the space.

Seriously.  I can't look at tulips without thinking of it.  I can't get into an elevator without thinking of his midget joke.  Or see a keg of beer and not think of his light beer story.

And now, when you look at tulips, you'll probably remember that you heard the silliest little rhyme about them...

Pop lives on...

I was thinking of Pop earlier toady when I kinda flashed back on Valentine's Days of my youth.  To say that my father spoiled my mother would be a bit of an understatement.  When she got up on Valentine's Day, there would be a pile of gifts awaiting her on the kitchen table.  See's chocolates, flowers, a new outfit or two (my father bought a lot of my mothers clothes.  He had impeccable taste when it came to what she would like and what looked good on her.)  Her birthday, Mother's Day, their Anniversary... Mountains of gifts and sappy cards signed "RJ."  Of course she saved every one...

They had their differences and they had their rocky moments, but my father appreciated her and knew how hard she worked keeping the house and six kids together while he was gone for his 24 hour fire department shifts and then off at his second job - because being a San Francisco Fire Fighter alone wouldn't pay the bills.

A pile of gifts was only fitting - and he had as much fun buying them and we had as much fun watching her open them as she did. And he kept it up for the remainder of their 53 year marriage.

It's funny the things you remember.

It's also funny the habits you pick up.  We finally had to call a gift-moratorium a few years ago because we were doing the same thing to each other.  When we each bought the exact same ice cream maker - color, brand, and style - one Christmas (after stating no single-use appliances) we knew it was time to stop.

So while the urge is still there to buy out the store, a couple dozen tulips with a ditty by Pop, and a nice dinner is more in keeping with reality.

And a nice dinner, it was.

Pork tenderloin, twice-baked sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts.

I sliced the tenderloin into six steaks and marinated them in buttermilk, garlic, salt and pepper.  I then breaded them with panko breadcrumbs and fried them in a bit of olive oil.

The twice-baked sweets were really good.  After baking them, I scooped them out and mixed the potato with a bit of sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon bits.  Back into the oven they went for about 15 minutes.

The brussels sprouts just got a bit of butter, salt, and pepper.

Fun memories, a yummy dinner, and more of last night's cake later for dessert with the best guy on the planet.

I'd say it was a successful Valentine's Day.

The Year In Pictures

I had created a slideshow of 2021 meals, but later updates to the site saw its demise. Oh, well...

We ate well in 2011 and hope to continue the tradition into 2012.  I know that two weeks of 2012 will be fabulous when we eat our way through Italy.  The things one must do...

Have fun and enjoy.  We sure did!


Goodbye 2011

It's New Year's Eve 2011.  In a couple of hours it will be 2012. I get to enter 2012 with one hellava cold.  That nasty, deep, bronchial cough that makes me sound like a barking sea lion. And the requisite sinus headache, plugged up nose.  It's such a joy.

Fortunately, I really don't care about New Year's as a holiday.  It was fun when I was a kid and I even had a reasonably good time in my hotel days... Most of them, anyway.  There was the year at the Hyatt in Tahoe where some yahoo decided to throw his glass into the huge floor-to-ceiling fireplace at the end of the casino area.  Within minutes, hundreds of glasses were being hurled in the general direction of the fireplace.  Shattered glass everywhere.  It was a mess.  The Hyatt in Cambridge was another story.  Totally civilized.  All managers were scheduled to work. We were all in our tuxedos, women in gowns, and we just wandered in and out of the various parties and festivities.  A suite overlooking the atrium lobby was set up for us with an open bar and tons of food.  Very civilized, indeed.

Our last going-out-on-New-Year's-Eve was 2003 in New York.  We spent a fortune on a room at the Millennium Hilton, tickets to see The Producers - the night Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane returned - and planned to walk the half-block to Times Square to watch the ball drop.  The show was one of the most fun I've seen.  Alas, we were barred from walking that half-block to Times Square by some of the nastiest police I have ever had the misfortune to deal with.  We ended up heading back to our hotel downtown and having free champagne with the bartender, manager on duty, and a couple of other folks.  It was rather nice.

And the last time we have ventured out.

So here we are entering into 2012. My 60th year.

Other than the aches and pains, I don't feel like I'm approaching 60.  Of course, having never been 60 before, I'm not sure what it's supposed to feel like, but if cocky, reasonable self-assured, and extremely opinionated are traits, I'm definitely there.

2012 is looking to be a great year.  We just bought tickets to Italy for a 2-week vacation in June and will be staying in apartments in Rome and Florence - no hotels, thankyouverymuch.  Real bedrooms and real kitchens, and living rooms!  We'll be traveling with my baby sister and her partner and their three girls. We have our copy of Rosetta Stone Italian so we can at least try and ask a question or two in the language of our host country.  We'll also be bringing technology with us to get us through when pantomime and charades fail us.  It's gonna be a fun time.

Our last meal of 2011  tonight was another loaf of homemade bread and a big pot of beef stew.

We are the wild and crazy guys, eh?  But with this dang-nabbed cold, anything else would be a waste.  Besides, we're not Hoppin' Sauerkraut Greens Pork Pickled Herring folks.  We'll leave the superstitions to the superstitious and eat what we like. (I'm going to roast a freebie turkey tomorrow...)

The bread was the same as I made the other day.  That little bit of rye flour makes all the difference in the world.

And the stew was just stew.  I don't have a recipe for it - I just make it.

So Happy New Year to all, and a joyous and prosperous 2012.  The prosperous part probably won't happen because our government has sold its soul to Wall Street for personal gain, but there's always the hope that America will wake up in time for the 2012 elections and vote those bastards out of office.

Yeah...  And my cold will be over tomorrow.




An UnHappy Anniversary

Hard to believe that it's been 10 years since my Mom passed away.  Only 75.  She should still be around driving us crazy.  It would only be fair, considering we drove her crazy for so many years!

I don't know how she did it - six kids and married to a fireman who was gone for 24-hour shifts.  Actually, not true - I know exactly how she did it.

Mom Ruled The House.  Period.

She was loving, she was giving, she was fun and she was funny - and she was tough.  She laid down the rules and she followed through.  Every time.

As kids growing up we really didn't have a lot of rules but the ones we had were enforced.  One of - if not the - Cardinal Rule was Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Me In Public.  See those kids throwing temper tantrums in the grocery store or restaurant?  Had I - or any of my siblings - pulled such a stunt, I would not be here typing this, today.  Before we got out of the car, we were told what the expected behavior was.  Or else.  Until the day she died, she still had "The Look" that let us know we had crossed the line - again.

That is not to say we were angelic children - far from it, in fact.  But we knew what the limits were and when we had pushed them too far.  And there were always consequences.  Always.

Last week I started thinking about the upcoming date and decided I could either mope around and be depressed, or I could have a bit of fun and cook a "Mom Dinner" tonight.  Something quintessentially Mom.  I was emailing with the siblings and some of the comments were priceless. A favorite dessert memory was Mom deciding to bake a cake at 7pm and at 8pm all of us eating warm cake with the icing running down all over because she - and we - were too impatient to wait for it to cool.

The same thing would happen when she made fudge.  More than one time we would be eating fudge with spoons, giggling and loving every minute of it.  There were those big, thick homemade noodles in a brown gravy.  Her soups, her stews, her steak pie.  Her Chinese Casserole.  Her olive hors d'oeuvres...

We all have similar but also very different memories of our mother.  The interesting thing is that she actually raised us all a bit differently.  The rules were the rules across the board, but she helped us differently, encouraged us differently, according to our strengths and  needs.  She knew us, paid attention, and took her role very seriously.  She made her share of mistakes, but none of them sent us to therapy.  She was good.

She loved the Space Program and I'm sure would have been the first woman in space had women been allowed to be in space.  I remember many times my mom waking my older brother - and sometimes me if I would actually get out of bed - to see the Blast Offs from Cape Canaveral at 4am Pacific Time.

Or getting up after everyone else had gone to bed - and watch a late-night movie with her.  Just the two of us.  She was a movie buff and knew every actor, character actor, director...  I cannot tell you how many times I would call her up and ask "who was the actor who played in that movie with..." And she always knew.

She actually always knew a lot of things.  Typical of her generation, she didn't go to college and went to work right after high school.  WWII was still in full swing and she went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad in San Francisco.  She met my father there in 1948 and had to quit when they got married.  It was a good thing - my brother was born nine months and three weeks after they were married.

But she never stopped learning.  She was a voracious reader and was a pro at crossword puzzles, and every word game imaginable.  And she was a tough opponent.  She made us work for our points.  Not that we won very often.  She would quiz me about things - from spelling to multiplication tables to current events, asking questions.  She was easy to talk to.  She took a Creative Writing course in the mid-'60s just to be able to express herself better - as if she needed help, there!  She could write - and she could make smoke rise from the paper if she wasn't happy about something.

She watched her soap operas every day.  The ones on CBS.  Secret Storm, Search For Tomorrow, Edge of Night, As The World Turns... I was in Jr High School - 9th grade - and decided I was sick and stayed home from school.  All of a sudden I hear this screaming and "NO!  DON'T DO IT!" coming from the living room.  I tear up the stairs, thinking my mother is being murdered, and she's standing in front of the television, with tears streaming down her face, because someone had just killed their husband, or some such garbage.  I think I said a couple of words that at a younger age would have gotten my mouth washed out with soap as I stomped back down the stairs.  And yes.  She really did wash my mouth out with soap.  More than once, and one time with a teaspoon of Tide - the little granules getting caught between my teeth.  I don't remember what word I used, but I made sure it was never uttered in her vicinity, again.

Did I mention she was tough?!?  But she was also a softy.  A woman of many contradictions.  Always interesting.

And she was a great cook.

She was an adventurous cook and loved trying new things.  Therefore, we were adventurous eaters and tried new things whether we really wanted to, or not.  Mom cooked one dinner and we ate as a family every single night.  I don't remember battles at the table about eating this or disliking that.  If you didn't eat you didn't get dessert.  End of discussion.  If you didn't like mushrooms, you could pick them out - but Mom liked mushrooms and she would put them in.  She let it be known from Day-One that she was not a short order cook.  You ate or you didn't but there was no getting something later.  I always ate.  I was an adventurous eater.  Still am.

So, tonight, with so many ideas, so many recipes, so many memories, I decided on Steak Pie.  I have her cook books - they're right here on the website - and thought it was the most fitting. And it had to be in a 9x13 pan.

It really came out good.  But, not quite as good as Moms.

The one recipe I should have made was her Veal Scallopini.  It was my Birthday Dinner and it was, by far, one of my favorite dishes.  She actually made it with pounded round steak.  Veal was not something a family of eight ate on a fireman's salary.

After growing up, moving out of the house, and all that, I asked her for the recipe so I could make it, myself.  She was happy to oblige.  Too happy. I made the dish several times and it was never quite as good as hers.  I played around with it a bit and realized she left out one ingredient.  Intentionally.  On purpose.  My own mother! One day I called her on it and she blushed, turned every shade of red imaginable - and denied it.  My own mother!  She stammered and said she had used a seasoning packet at one time but they didn't make it anymore...  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.  I would remind her about that every now and again.  My own mother.

Yeah.  My Own Mother.

Gone for ten years, now.  Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could pick up the phone and ask her what was going on.  I would love to discuss politics with her, again.  She was a political liberal who recognized her own prejudices and tried not to pass them on to her kids.  I can see her indignation at  everything going on in Washington, the Middle East - all of it.  I mentioned her letter-writing, earlier.  She would make mincemeat out of this current crop of Teabag Republicans and spineless Democrats.

Both of my parents were great at letting us grow and make our mistakes.  We never heard "If I were you..." or "You should..."  They bit their tongues a lot and a few times I know they wanted to stop one of us from doing something stupid - but they let us make our mistakes and learn from them.  They never hovered - but they were there to help pick up the pieces - without ever saying "I told you so..."

So Mom... Thank you.  For more things than I'll ever be able to express.  Thank you.

I miss you.


Food For Thought

Occupy Philly Banner

We had leftovers for dinner tonight.

I wasn't cooking - we went into Philadelphia today to lend our support for Occupy Philly.

I have to admit that food-wise, our leftovers are generally pretty good.  They're definitely better than the leftovers we're getting from our current government.

Government-Bashing on a food blog?!?  Well...  Yes.

We have a Congress right now that wants to dismantle the government.  That wants to dismantle every safety-net and social safeguard there is and that wants to allow our food to be poisoned, our air to be poisoned, and our water to be poisoned in the name of de-regulated corporate profit.

I'm not being hyperbolic about this - The EPA is under attack, USDA regulations are under attack.  Food conglomerates and chemical manufacturers are fighting labeling regulations - they don't want you to know what's in your milk, tomato, chicken, ground beef, or breakfast cereal.  The wealthiest of the wealthy are buying Senators and Representatives who, in turn, are doing their bidding.

Ever wonder about that label on milk or cheese that reads "No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.''?!?   It was written by Michael R. Taylor, in 1994 who, as FDA Deputy Commissioner, shaped the agency’s policy on rBGH. Until the summer of 1991, he represented Monsanto and the International Food Biotechnology Council.  Most recently he has been working as an FDA Deputy Commissioner For Foods.  They continually fight efforts to allow companies to simply state that they DON'T treat their cows with rBGH.  Just as with genetically modified foods or irradiated foods - they don't want us to know.  They don't want us to be able to make a choice. They are passing laws to make it illegal to state that food is NOT tainted with chemicals.

There are listeria outbreaks, e coli outbreaks, salmonella outbreaks.  Food-borne illnesses are rampant, but the cry is that our government is too big - too "Big Brother" trying to tell us what we can or can't eat.  HELLO?!?  If we want a clean food supply, we need MORE regulation, not less.

And the goal has been to keep us all too busy trying to keep a roof over our heads and make ends meet to pay attention.

And it has been succeeding.

Until now.

Victor Adding comments to the Occupy Philly banner.

We bailed out Wall Street and not a single person went to jail for their illegal activities.  They crippled our economy, our piddly retirement accounts went straight to hell, and they're making obscene bonuses and paying less in taxes than Victor and I did last year.

Teachers are under attack, civil servants are under attack.  Unions are under attack.

My favorite quote is:

Do you Remember when teachers, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks, took trillions in TARP money, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no taxes?

Yeah.. Me Neither.

And gays in the military?!?  Guess what?!?  I'm a Viet Nam Veteran.  I was a Gay In The Military.  And I'm married to a man.  I can't begin to describe the hoops we have to jump through when April 15th rolls around, the legal crap we have to deal with after being together for 17 years.

Fed up?!?  You bet I am.

And that is why I am supporting Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Philly, Occupy Wichita, Occupy Tulsa, Occupy Portland, Occupy San Francisco, and every other group out there.

We are "We, The People."

We Are The 99%.

It is past time for us to start paying attention.

Start reading labels.  Stop buying crap food.  Start asking questions. Start demanding answers.

Start Paying Attention.

We Are The 99%.




Earthquakes and Comfort Food

The first earthquake I actually remember was March 22, 1957.  My mom was 7 months pregnant with my twin sisters, my older brother was at school, and my sister and I were playing in the back room - a room built out the back of the house on stilts.  It started swaying back and forth and we went running in to my mom, with our dog, Peanuts, barking.

That earthquake - as I just looked up - was a mere 5.3 on the Richter scale.  Small, but it caused a lot of damage.  Our house on 19th Avenue had a lot of cracks and plaster fell from ceilings and walls.  (It was all lathe and plaster.)  I remember being wide-eyed and "WHAT WAS THAT?!?" but I don't remember being scared.  Probably because my mom played it down so well.

Speaking with her about it years later, she confessed that she had been a  complete wreck inside - but couldn't let us see her fall apart.  She had to make sure that we weren't scared.  My fireman father was at the firehouse, of course, so it was up to her.  Married to a fireman and mother to - eventually - six children, it was a role she had to play often.

I think the road above is Skyline Boulevard - the west side of the lake.   Parts of it and John Muir Drive on the south side slid into the lake that March morning .  As kids we spent a lot of time riding our bikes to Lake Merced and going fishing.  After the quake, we all drove over there to see the damage.  Pop flashed his fireman's badge and we got to go in and see it all up close.  It was pretty cool growing up with a San Francisco Fireman for a father.

Another road that collapsed was El Camino del Mar.  It ran from Lands End above Sutros along the Golden Gate to Lincoln Park and then the bridge.  The section from Lands End to Lincoln Park was never repaired and Mother Nature has reclaimed most of it.  The section is now part of the GGNRA and called "The Earthquake Walk."

We lived right between the two of them.

The next good one was the1964 Alaska earthquake.  We didn't actually feel the quake in San Francisco, but, living a mere 2 blocks from the ocean, we were down there to surf the tidal wave in!  Hundreds - if not thousands - of people flocked to the beach that day.  Fortunately, we were all disappointed.  The tidal wave that destroyed Crescent City up by the Oregon border barely caused a ripple 350 miles south.  Fortunately.

I can't even begin to count the earthquakes I've felt over the years.  Most of them were "Oh.  Earthquake."  and ya keep on doing what you were doing.  The really damaging ones - like the 1989 quake - really are few and far between.

October 17, 1989.  I had received the phone call that I had been hired at San Francisco General Hospital earlier that day and was at my sister's in San Bruno getting ready to watch the World Series.  We lost power for a few days and in those pre-world wide web and cell phone days, the nation watched what was happening but we were clueless.  All we had were battery-operated radios and they were hyping things left and right.  The sky was definitely falling.  When we heard the Bay Bridge had collapsed and the Cypress freeway had collapsed, we didn't believe it.  Surprise.

So... fast-forward 22 years and here I am outside of Philadelphia when a 5.9 earthquake hits - and I don't even feel it!  Talk about cheated!  I rather like the superior nonchalant "Oh. That little thing? Did a truck drive by?"  attitude that only a native San Franciscan who has survived a score of earthquakes can pull off with perfect aplomb.

I'm bad.  I admit it.  And I was cheated!

Nonetheless, I decided we should have something "San Francisco-ish" from my childhood for dinner.  Victor and Cybil did, after-all, feel the quake.   They would need comforting.  I decided upon Hamburger and Potatoes.

My mother knew how to stretch a pound of hamburger and this was always one of my favorites... Fried potatoes in one pan, hamburger, onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and S&P in the other.  When both are cooked, they are combined and served.

Since we still have a few bell peppers from the garden, I added them, too.

The perfect comfort food for a stroll down Earthquake Memory Lane...



So we found out that we really should have planted the broccoli earlier or later.  This is not prime broccoli-growing weather right now.  But prime time or no, we just had ourselves some really good broccoli!

I've done a lot of things in my food career, but actually growing the food has not been a part of it.  We did have a garden in Boston on Parker Street and I've grown zucchini (solely for the flowers to stuff!) but I've just never taken it seriously.

I've waxed poetically about fresh peas from the farmer's market or the perfect peaches from the orchard my sister lived on for years, but other than tomatoes and herbs, the stuff really hasn't been coming from my own yard.

I have been seriously missing the boat.

But I think that's about to change.

We're looking at the yard in a new way and with some work - and everyone knows I hate work - I think we can get rid of some way-too-big dogwood shrubs and build some raised beds.  I'd even be willing to put in a drip irrigation system.

It's all in the dream-stage right now, but I think we could pull it off.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy this little bit of home-grown goodness.

Steaks rubbed with smoked paprika and garlic, Phoebe's Baked Beans, and steamed broccoli with lemon zest and lemon juice.

Really simple, fun, and flavorful.

I'm actually amazed at two things - that it's taken me this long to get excited about home-grown food and that I am as excited as I am about home-grown food.  I know so many people who have had gardens for years - and years.  It's not like I haven't been exposed to it - or partaken of the bounty.  It just wasn't in my yard.

But that's going to change.




Suburban Gardeners

Farmer in the Dell I am not. I have always had an affinity for fresh produce - I was a produce-buyer for a gourmet food distributor once upon a time  and my years in hotel receiving and purchasing was an education unto itself - but my growing of produce has been pretty much limited to tomatoes and fresh herbs.  We've just never seemed to have the right space and sunlight to do much else.

Until this year.

After the winter storms did a bit of tree-damage, we (I am using the royal we here.  Victor has actually done all of the work) moved some plants around and gained a bit more direct sunlight.  Tomatoes, four types of peppers, broccoli, and corn went into the ground.

The neighborhood critters ate the corn before it ever had a chance but the rest has flourished.  Even the broccoli, that we just found is more of a cool-climate plant. (Lots of water and partial shade helped it thrive!)

And what a difference it is over the crap you buy in the grocery store.

I've been on a tirade for years about seasonal produce and locally-grown foods.  I do not want to eat peaches and strawberries in January and I don't buy peaches and strawberries in January.  I love 'em both - but at the right time of the year.  I still remember the summer fruits that came out of my grandfather's backyard.  The strawberries and the grape arbor with the huge black grapes.  The peach tree next door at Mrs. McNamee's.  Fresh peaches with juice running down your arm.  And the best peach pies and peach ice cream a kid could ever have.  And string beans that actually had strings that needed to come off.  And fresh peas.

I'm sure those childhood experiences - plus a mother who cooked from scratch every night - were the major influences that kept me in the food business all these years.  I watched my grandfather kill chickens and my grandmother pluck feathers.  And I remember just how wonderful that fried chicken was.

Real food - back before the agri-industrial complex took over the food supply and ruined it for everyone.  Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, but I think the agri-industrial complex has done much more harm.  I'm reading Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook right now.  It's shocking.  But what is even more shocking is that people really don't care.  They just want it cheap.  No matter what it is and no matter what the human or environmental cost.

I know that it is impossible to buy everything fresh, local, and organic and sometimes we do need to make decisions based upon expediency or cost.  But the majority of the foods we eat should not have barcodes on them.  And they should be made with recognizable ingredients.

So as I remember the days of watermelons with seeds (they tasted so much better) and grocery stores with fewer but infinitely better products, I head back outside to see how we (Victor) might expand the garden plot for next year.

And then head back in to cook lunch.  Sausage and  peppers and onions.

The peppers really were fantastic.  There is just so much more flavor than anything you can find at a store.  We have a couple of hot peppers out there as well.  I want to try my hand at some hot sauce this year.

And I harvested the broccoli.  That will be with dinner tonight with grilled steaks.

Simply prepared.


New York, New York

We did a spur-of-the-moment trip up to New York yesterday.

It was Pride weekend, and with the passage of same-sex marriage in New York a couple of days earlier, it promised to be a bit of a raucous celebration.  We had to be a part of it.

We got into the city just in time for lunch - and experience parade-goers know one can never get raucous on an empty stomach - we headed to Eataly at 23rd and Broadway.  It just happened to be right on the parade route.

Eataly, for the uninitiated, is a huge food emporium put together by Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali.  It's an unbelievable experience of food court, restaurants, and groceries.  And it ain't cheap.  (But to put it in perspective, at Penn  Station on the way home we had an appetizer platter at TGI Fridays and two drinks that cost the same as our lunch.  And the service was surly and there wasn't a pleasant employee in the place. The better deal - by far - was Eataly.)

We wandered the areas and settled on lunch at Le Verdure - the vegetarian eaterie.

I had peaches and portobello mushrooms with greens and balsamic vinegar.  The peaches were perfect.  The mushrooms meaty and flavorful.  The balsamic wasn't the cheap stuff.  The sweet, the bitter, the sharp tang...  It worked perfectly.

Victor went for a caponatta.  Roasted eggplant and roasted red peppers with pinenuts.  It was stellar.  Both of these will be replicated at home.

Our dining companion two tables over was one of the latest cooking stars, Curtis Stone.  He just did an appearance on Good Morning America this morning.  He's easy on the eyes...

Eataly is huge.  There are breads, cheeses, meats, dried pastas, fresh pastas, fabulous-looking desserts...

Dried pastas range from about $2.69/lb to $6.99 and more.  They looked great, but we didn't buy.  We have a cabinet full of pastas right now.  Maybe next trip.

But they did have a great variety of sizes and shapes.  I had a lot of concepts and ideas running through my mind.

Fresh seafood.  Lots and lots of fish.

And the cheeses.  Oh.My.God.  The cheeses.

There aren't enough hours in the day to consume the amount of cheeses I wanted to bring home.  It was breathtaking.  There's just no end to my love of cheese.

And then we found the bakery counter.

A score of different cakes and even more individual desserts.  Calorie-laden gastronomic goodies.  I was in heaven.  Again.

Having been a baker, I just love the colors, textures, and flavors.  I also know just how difficult it is to try and replicate things like this at home.

I wanted two of everything.

If we lived in new York, this would not be my daily grocery store.  But I'd definitely be down here on a regular basis.  It was a lot of fun.  There were enough unique items at a reasonable-enough price to make it worthwhile.  They also had ridiculously over-priced items, as well.  Shop smart, as they say...

But our real reason for being up in the city was the Gay Pride Parade.  It was time to head back outside.

New York is wall-to-wall people on any given day.  Throw a parade into the mix and it really becomes crowded!  Fifth Avenue was jammed solid with the most wonderfully-diverse people imaginable.

Just a wondeful, fun-loving crowd.

And I do mean crowd.

There were the scantily-clad disco-boys showing off their wares to bare-breasted ladies

and everything in-between.

It was really a celebration of people.

From all walks of life.

It really was diverse.

With both fun and somber messages.

Of course we had to pay homage to The Stonewall, where the modern gay rights movement started 42 years ago.

I've had more than a couple of cocktails there in the past and I do have to say the place was pretty much a dive, but I haven't been inside in 25 or so years.  It may have changed a bit.

The neighborhood has changed, too.

It was a great time in a great city with great people.  We had some really fun conversations with celebrants all over.  The young guy in the subway station who started taking off his veil - until we convinced him it was a good look on him!  The young girls on the subway, the guys across from the Stonewall.  And our sweet waitress at Eataly who couldn't wait for her shift to be over at 4pm so she could join in the festivities.

I've always loved New York but have been a bit disillusioned recently because of just how much everything costs - from hotel rooms to theatre tickets to getting there in the first place.

But all of that was swept aside yesterday when I really saw New York at her finest.

I was proud to be a part of it...

New York,  New York.


The Peditto Boys

We spent Father's Day today in Medford Lakes, New Jersey with The Cousins.

It was a family reunion with the Peditto Boys - the four sons of Victor's mom's older sister, Emma.  Emma was the 4th of 11 kids and Victor's mom was 10th.  A mere 11 years separated them.

It was the first time in years that all 4 brothers were in the same spot at the same time - and the first time I had met the youngest of the brothers - another Victor - and his family. It was great fun.

From canoeing

to swimming in the lake

to just shooting the breeze, there was plenty to do.

And in typical Italian Family Style, there was way too much food.

OMG was there food!

There were cheese trays and antipasti...

The cheeses were excellent - including a French Gourmandise with Kirsch that was really fun.

The antipasti had everything - from the typical prosciutto and salami and pepperoni to roasted eggplant wrapped around pecorino romano and soaked in balsamic vinegar.  And cherry peppers stuffed with three cheeses.  And roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, and every kind of olive imaginable.  And breads.  And crackers.

I could have just filled up on this.

Actually...  I did fill up on this.  And then I started some serious eating.

In this crock was Dom's Sausage and Peppers.  There was so much flavor it was almo0st scary.  I had two sausages and peppers on a sesame Italian roll and was in gastronomic heaven.    They simmered for hours with the flavors intensifying with every minute. You just  can't buy food like this at the store.

Kristi made a pulled pork that was stellar! (We brought some home!) She baked it low and slow for about 6 hours and the following day shredded it and added the sauce.  It was tender.  It was meaty.  It was perfect in another Italian roll.  She does a rub with Old Bay and brown sugar to start.  Two things I'd never think to put together - but it's a rockin' combination, for sure.  As I said - we brought some home with us!

And there were ribs finished with Blues Hog Kansas City BBQ Sauce.  It was pretty good.  Sweeter than I generally like but not bad.

Then there were the salads... Caesar, pasta, potato...I did mention there was a lot of food, didn't I?!?

I didn't always have a plate of food in front of me.  Really.  Sometimes I actually walked around and socialized.  But it does seem as if I ate an inordinate amount of food over the course of 5 or 6 hours.

The company was so good, the food was so good. I went for it.

And then we started on desserts.  Yes.  Plural.  Many plurals.

There were the fancy bakery desserts.

Apple pie...

Peach pie...

And my two favorites...

My first favorite was mascarpone and strawberries on a crust that was almost like a shortbread cookie.  It was thick, flaky, and buttery with perfect body without being the least bit heavy.  It was the perfect vehicle for getting the strawberries and mascarpone into my mouth.  I loved every bite.

My other favorite was a trifle of sorts.  Pound cake, strawberries, blueberries, vanilla custard, whipped cream... One of those desserts I could literally eat until I was sick.  I went from indoors to outdoors and didn't check the camera settings, so the picture has a lovely blue tint that does not even begin to do justice to the fabulous dessert in the bowl.

It was good.

The whole day was good.