Friday, December 2, 2011

Cream Cheese Walnut Shortbread

It's baking season! 

Ok, in my world it's always baking season.

It's COOKIE baking season!

I'm doing all my/our favorites, and adding in a couple of new ones.  We're having a Christmas party on the 10th, and the only dessert I'm serving is a huge platter of cookies.  It's the 2nd today and I've baked 4 different kinds so far.  Putting out a few for the family, and the rest are packaged and in the freezer, waiting for my friends to enjoy.

This is one of the new ones.  I cannot, for the life of me, remember where I got the recipe.  A magazine, I think.  I wrote the recipe on a card and forgot to make that notation.  My bad.  I did make a few changes, so I guess it's "my" recipe now, sort of.

With so many recipes swirling in my head, I thought there was lemon in this one.  I got the lemons out so they'd come to room temp (better for juicing).  Then, of course, I actually read this recipe and realized it didn't call for lemon. 

But then, after mixing up the dough, I tasted it and said "oh, please, walnuts and cream cheese are begging for lemon to join the party."  Not wanting to use my lemons for the job, because they actually do belong to another cookie, I did my little trick of using an essential oil to give me the flavor.

There's a lovely, family-run company called Beeyoutiful that sells, among other great products, a variety of essential oils.  I have many of them.  I used their lemon oil, about 10 drops, in this recipe.  Just gives the hint, or essence of lemon, without being a LEMON cookie.  Perfect.

Visit their website, buy their products, which are as great as the people who run the company:

Anyway, here's the recipe.  I doubled it.  It made almost 6 dozen cookies.

Cream Cheese Walnut Shortbread

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 sticks butter (3/4 cup) - room temp
4 ounces cream cheese - room temp
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
5-10 drops essential oil of lemon (or grated lemon peel, or lemon extract)

Heat oven to 350.

Combine flour and salt, set aside.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla for 4-5 minutes until very fluffy and pale.  Add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.  Stir in the walnuts and lemon if using.

I used my Pampered Chef medium scoop, but you can do 1 tablespoon size.  Scoop a ball and place on parchment lined baking sheets.  Flatten slightly with your hand.  They should be about an inch apart.

Bake at 350 for 14-16 minutes until just starting to look golden at the bottom edge.  They will seem soft when they come out, but being shortbread, they'll firm up nicely on a cooling rack.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Prep and Joy

Been in the kitchen all day?

I have.  A couple days now.  But since it's my favorite place to be, it's all good.  The old girl feels a bit tired and thanks to my ceramic tile floor, the hips and back are a teensy bit achy, but that's for old people who like to complain, so never mind.

I want to wish you a VERY Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thanks for reading my blog, trying the recipes, giving me your feedback.  I'm doing this for you and for me, so keep interacting, it's great.

Here's hoping you spend the day with the people you love the best, eating the foods you love the most, and taking more than a brief moment to stop and think about what you're thankful for this year.  Lots of people are hungry, hurting, or alone.  Some people are sick and in pain and long for a loving touch and a kind word.  I hope you all are among the joyful and well.

A little tip before you attack your bird tomorrow:  Be Prepared.

I've cooked probably 20 turkeys in my years.  And I learned a little trick many years ago that helps me get the bird ready to cook in the morning, and keeps the flow happening.  I use an electric roaster, and set it up on a table in my laundry room - out of the way, accessible to me :)

Oh, yeah, the tip:

Prepare a tray the night before.  Think of it like a surgical tray - everything at the ready!

Mine includes:

-  Instant read thermometer
-  Salt and pepper
-  Stick of butter
-  Pint jar with 1/3 cup flour (approx)
-  Spoon for stuffing the bird
-  Twine, for trussing
-  Skewers, for trussing
-  Fat separater
-  Baster
-  Scissors
-  Cotton gloves for extracting the hot bird out of the roaster
-  Wire whisk for making gravy
(in the morning, I'll take a quart of chicken broth out of my freezer)

I'm heading down to the laundry room now to set up the table, roaster, and tray.  Hoping the dog doesn't eat the butter before morning.

Many blessings to you and yours, have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Egg Coffee

No, it's the coffee you drink when you eat eggs.

It's the coffee that has an egg IN it!

There's a lot of debate among Scandinavians as to which country originated this delicious, rich coffee.  My darling mother in law is Swedish and she taught me how to make it.  My friend Carol is also very Swedish and makes this every day.  YET, when I was at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis not long ago, one of the experts there told me that it's very Swedish-American, and that people in Sweden often haven't heard of Egg Coffee.

You won't find chunks of eggs in your coffee, nor will it be cloudy or greasy.  When made right, Egg Coffee is a clear, rich, fragrant cup of joy.  It's simple to make, but obviously takes a bit more time and effort than Mr. Coffee.

Try it once.  Make sure you have something tasty to enjoy with it, preferably sweet and home made.  I had a slice of toast with butter and blackberry jam, and a bit of gouda cheese on the side.  Perfect.

Egg Coffee

1 heaping scoop freshly, slightly coarse-ground coffee for each cup of water
1 egg
2 tablespoons water to moisten grounds
1 more cup cold water

In a pot like this:

Or just a sauce pan on the stove (but the one above is so charming, and I bought it for $10 at a junk store),

Pour in your water, please make sure it's good, filtered water.  Bring the water to a boil.  While you're doing that, put your coffee grounds in a bowl, add an egg and the 2 tablespoons of water.

And then when you stir it up, it looks funky like this:

And then you dump that into your boiling water and turn down the temperature to medium low.  It'll sit in a blob on the top like this:

Now, this is important.  Don't let it boil!  Lower to just barely a simmer, so the bubbles come up around the edges.  You can take a wooden spoon and move the grounds gently apart to let some of the water simmer up amongst the mess. 

After about 7 minutes, pour in your cup of cold water and stir it all with the wooden spoon to break up the grounds and cause them to (mostly) sink to the bottom of the pot.

Cook gently for another minute or two and your coffee is DONE.  You might want to use a little hand-held strainer when you pour your coffee, just to catch any of the tiny grounds that rebelled and floated back to the surface.

Here's a happy cup of morning goodness.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wild Rice Casserole

Looking for a great new side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner this year?

Make this!  My mom would be so happy.  It's her recipe.

Wild rice is very Minnesota-ish.  And you can't go wrong with a stick of butter.

This is very simple to make, it can be made the day before with great results, and your house will smell so good, it'll bring tears to your eyes.  Or, maybe it only brings tears to my eyes because it reminds me of my childhood and my mom.

You don't get a picture today.  I'm not going to make this until Thanksgiving, but I wanted you to have the recipe so you can make it for YOUR dinner. 

Be thankful!  There's lots of reasons for it.

Wild Rice Casserole

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup wild rice
3 tablespoons chopped onion
1/2 cup slivered almonds
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms (crimini are good, white button are fine, too)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth, or water)

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.  Saute the rice, onion, almonds and mushrooms until slightly soft and fragrant, about 7-8 minutes, stirring here and there.  Don't let the rice brown.

Pour into a 2 quart casserole dish, and pour the chicken broth over it.  Cover and bake at 350 for about 1 1/2 hours, until broth is absorbed and rice is tender.  It's possible it could be done sooner, and it might take up to 2 hours.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Elderberry Syrup

This isn't for pancakes.

It's for health and wellness!

I thought it was time to introduce a few recipes and ideas you can use in your own home and family, just like we do, to get and stay healthy.

The Sassy Family gets sick, yes indeed.  We get colds, coughs, tummy bugs, flu every few years, the usual viral junk that most people have to deal with.

It's pretty rare that we have to visit a doctor for any of it, though.  Most of the time, I can treat my crew at home with herbs, supplements, water, chicken soup, rest, and love.

If we need medical care, we get it.  A year ago, all 8 of us got a horrid food-borne illness and we needed help, big time.  I ended up in the ER to get IV fluids.  That was not fun.  No one else got as sick as me, and we figure since I'm a high-mileage model, my body was more easily depleted and I needed extra help.  We all recovered, thankfully.

We choose not to get a flu shot.  I've done the research, and it works better for us to live a healthy life of good food, exercise, sunshine, water, and a happy home.  Everyone has to learn what they can about those decisions and do what's best for their families.

Oh, did I mention I'm not a doctor?  Nor a health professional in any way.  Whatever I tell you here is not intended to do anything but suggest and inform.  You're on your own.

Let's talk herbal medicine, and specifically Elderberry Syrup.  I make this every fall and keep it in a quart jar in my refrigerator.  If we are coming down with a bug, or have been exposed to some crud, we all take a daily dose.  If there's a virus in the house, we might have a spoonful a few times a day.

I buy my herbs in bulk from a wonderful, family-owned and operated business called "Savvy Teas and Herbs."  (  Nickole and her husband Brian and their kids all work together, selling the most pure, natural, delicious, and beneficial herbs and teas.  Their prices are GREAT, the service is excellent, and you can feel good knowing you're supporting a small business.

Elderberry:  Anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory.  Major immune booster!

Echinacea:  Anti-viral, anti-bacterial, blood purifier, immune boosting goodness. 

Rosehips:  High in vitamin C, anti-inflammatory, and just plain tasty.

Nettles:  Great for allergies and nasal inflammation.

Raw Honey:  Sweet taste, good bacteria, anti-oxidant, great for digestion.

Raw Apple Cider Vinegar:  Beneficial for sore throats, stomach viruses, pH balance, much more.

Those are the simple ingredients. 

A word about cost.  You can buy a bottle of elderberry syrup at a health food store or on line, but 4 ounces will run between $8 and $12.  I can make a quart for around $8.  A quart is 32 ounces.  Do the math.

The most labor-intensive part of the process is straining the liquid.  And it takes all of about 5 minutes.  The rest of it is just soaking and simmering.

Here's the recipe, and the steps.  Make some.  Give your family and yourself a spoonful each day during cold and flu season.  Kids love the taste!

Elderberry Syrup

2 cups dried elderberries
4 cups boiling water

Pour the water over the berries and let sit for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

1/4 cup dried rosehips
1/4 cup dried nettles
1/4 cup dried echinacea

Pour the elderberries and water into a large pot.  Add the dried herbs.  Add an extra two cups of water.  Simmer over low heat for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so.

Cool the mixture.  Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.  Pour in batches through a mesh strainer, pressing with a spoon to extract all the liquid.  Dump the sludge into your compost, but NOT down the drain.  It'll clog.  Ask my husband.

1 cup raw honey
1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar OR fresh squeezed organic lemon juice

Stir the honey and vinegar into the elderberry mixture.  Store in a quart jar in the refrigerator. 

(This is what the herby mixture looks like when it's simmering, just for reference)

Mushroom Tart

My friend Karl wanted to know if I would make and the blog about mushroom tart, something new for the Thanksgiving meal.

Sure, Karl, give me a recipe and I'll make it and report back.

Nope.  No recipe.  "Find it yourself," was the reply, or something like that. 

Sure, Karl.  Whatever you say.

I found my basic recipe over at Fine Cooking.  They are brilliant cooks.  It's a total go-to for any recipe of quality and sure results.  I highly recommend adding their website to your list of favorites.

Here's the link to the original recipe:

I never say no to fungus. I like all different sorts of mushrooms, from the plain white ones to the super-earthy-meaty ones. Canned mushrooms are gross.

Few changes were made to the recipe.  I thought Gruyere cheese would be better than fontina, so I tried both, dividing the tart in half.  I also added thyme to the mushrooms at the end of the saute - thyme and mushrooms go together famously, in my opinion.  Shallots replaced the garlic.

Gruyere won the taste test among the discerning palates here.  Use whatever cheese you like, but make sure it's nutty, a bit earthy, and not too strong or tangy.

You can also change up the mushroom ratio.  I liked 2 ounces of shiitake, 6 ounces of white button, and 6 ounces of crimini, just like the recipe suggested.  Use your favorites!  Just come up with a pound.

Mushroom Tart

one sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package (Pepperidge Farm works well)
flour for dusting the work surface
1 egg, beaten

1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
black pepper

1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

In a skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and shallots and cook for a couple of minutes.  Sprinkle with the salt and then continue cooking as the liquid is released.  Stir every few minutes until they just start to brown and the moisture is mostly gone, about 5-7 minutes.  stir in the parsley, thyme, and pepper, and taste to see if it needs additional salt.  Set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 425.  Dust a work surface with the flour.  Roll out the sheet of puff pastry to 10x15 inches.  Leaving a 1 inch border, prick all over with a fork and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush the border with the beaten egg.  Bake for 5 minutes until the surface looks mostly dry.  Scatter the mushrooms over the surface, leaving the border.  Bake an additional 10 minutes until the crust looks very golden.  Sprinkle with the cheese and bake for 2-3 more minutes.  Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before slicing into wedges and serving.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sassy Kids Birthday Cake

There's a new 13 year old in my house today.  That makes two teenagers.  Teenagers are awesome.  Never let anyone tell you differently.  Happy Birthday Asher!

Kids here get to pick their birthday meal and birthday cake.  9 times out of 10, they pick this chocolate cake.  The recipe originally came from Eric's mom and is called "Salad Dressing Cake" - which means you use either miracle whip or mayonnaise in it.  Not gross.  Stop gagging. 

It makes the most delicious, moist, rich cake ever.

I haven't used a boxed cake mix in many years.  I think they're gross, and not any less work than making a cake from scratch.  And the idea of "doctoring" a boxed cake mix baffles me.  Why start with an inferior product and then add a few good things to it? 

Fine, I'm a baking snob.

But try this cake - it's so simple!  You can make a 9x13 pan, two 8-inch rounds, or 2 dozen cupcakes.  Frost with a regular butter cream frosting, or use half butter and half cream cheese for a yummy change.

Sassy Kids Birthday Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise or miracle whip
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 teaspoons baking soda

In a large bowl, beat sugar, water, mayo and vanilla.  Sift in the dry ingredients and beat til smooth.  Pour into a greased and floured pan of your choice and bake at 350 for 35 minutes (less for rounds or cupcakes).  The top should be slightly shiny but a toothpick should come out clean.  Cool completely, then frost!

Oooooo, shiny!

13 candles.  How is that possible?????

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

A Minnesota classic.  We love wild rice here, in many forms.  Soup, stuffing, side dish, casserole, cold salad.  Nothing says fall to me like wild rice.  Or, specifically, this soup.

A local restaurant and grocery store called Byerly's made this famous.  The old Dayton's store restaurant served this soup as well.  Some recipes call for ham, not chicken, not all use almonds and mushrooms, some are thicker and creamier, some brothier.  Mine has evolved into this current version, depending on what's in the house and how it tastes.

It's an ideal soup to make after Thanksgiving, when you might have leftover turkey, the makings for good broth, and some pre-cooked wild rice.  I made it from start to finish today, cooking the rice, taking broth and cooked chicken out of the freezer, and thankfully having everything else in the house.

The following recipe makes a huge pot, enough to feed my family of 8 for two meals, and maybe even some lunch leftover.  This, with some crusty bread or popovers, and a fresh green salad, makes a perfect chilly-evening supper. 

Feel free to omit anything that doesn't sound good to your family, but don't rule out the almonds, they add a bit of bite and some sweetness that is surprising and good.

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 shallot, minced
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken broth
4 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup shredded carrot
3/4 cup chopped, slivered almonds
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken
2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup dry sherry (NOT cooking sherry)
salt and pepper
handful of freshly chopped parsley

In a large soup pot, heat the butter on medium low.  Add the onions and shallots and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.   Add a bit of salt and pepper, then the flour, and stir, coating the onion/mushroom mixture with all the flour.  Cook for a minute.  Turn the heat up to medium high, add the wine, and then the broth, stirring all the while to make it smooth.  Bring to a simmer for a minute or two.  Add the wild rice, carrots, almonds and chicken and cook for a few more minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and add the half and half and the sherry, and heat through.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you see the need.  Stir in the chopped parsley and serve.

(Note:  you made need to add more broth or water the second day, as the liquid may be absorbed and create a thicker soup than you like.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spanish Shrimp

I have no idea if this is really Spanish.  All I know is it was served to me at the lovely home of my beautiful Spanish friend Mari Luz.  She put on a full tapas spread for me, which included these shrimp, chorizo, bread, cheese, roasted red pepper salad, olives, tortilla, and I don't know what else.  It was divine.  There we were, two suburban moms on a Thursday, eating this fabulous food, drinking a delicious wine, and chatting away.  Did I say the word lovely yet?

Watching carefully, but not taking official notes, I really wanted to remember how Mari Luz made these shrimp.  I'll say hers were better, because they were, but what I replicated wasn't half bad.  It's hard to say which is tastier - the shrimp themselves or the luscious oil they cook in.  Whatever.  Pass the bread.

Spanish Shrimp

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, tail on (jumbo is great, large is fine)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and barely smashed, but kept whole
8 small, dried red chiles
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

Salt the shrimp.  In a large skillet (cast iron is great), heat the oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic and chiles and let them simmer carefully for 5 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't brown, but just hums.  Turn up the heat to medium, move the garlic and chiles to the outer edge of the pan, and add the shrimp in a single layer, not crowding the pan.  It'll take a few batches to do them all.  Sprinkle with some of the paprika.  After 2-3 minutes, turn and cook til just barely done on the second size.  Remove to a pretty, rimmed dish and keep warm.  Continue with the rest of the shrimp, adding paprika to each batch. 

When finished, pour the oil, garlic and chiles over the shrimp in the dish and serve at once.  Don't forget the bread, you'll want plenty to mop up the delicious oil.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine, Smashed Potatoes, Maple-Thyme Carrots and Delicata Squash

This is a Fall meal.  No doubt about it.  Lots of flavor, richness, healthy and hearty and satisfying.  And simple, really.  Just a few steps, plenty of ignoring, and there you have it - dinner is served, even when your football team loses.

The ribs recipe is a morph of a variety I read and pondered.  I was lucky to find my local health food store selling organic, grass-fed beef short ribs for 25% off and I pounced. 

If you are a lover of a bit of fat, some bones to gnaw, and amazingly tender and falling apart beef, then this would be the recipe for you.  The slightly creamy, winey, mushroomy gravy just adds to the beauty of it all. 

Best of all - it cooks in the crock pot!  Perfect for a Sunday of football and laundry.

Second best of all, the potatoes and vegetables roast in the oven on separate baking sheets, same temp, same time - handy!


Beef Short Ribs in Red Wine

3-4 pounds of bone-in beef short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 more tablespoon olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1/2 cup good red wine (zinfandel, burgundy, or blend, whatever you like)
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sour cream

Salt and pepper the ribs.  In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium high.  Add the ribs, browning on all sides, in batches if necessary.  Remove to crock pot.  Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet, turn heat down to medium low and add onions.  Cook, stirring a bit, until they are just soft.  Add the red wine and scrape the pan, simmering for a few minutes.  Add the onions/wine to the crock pot over the beef.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8, until the meat is very tender and falling off the bones.

Keep the ribs in the pot, remove the cooking liquid and strain the fat (mostly).  In the skillet, on medium, cook the mushrooms in the butter for 3-4 minutes.  Add the skimmed cooking liquid and simmer for 7-8 minutes until reduced a bit.  Remove from heat and stir in the sour cream.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour the mushroom sauce over the ribs and serve.

Smashed Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds small yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
seasoned salt, or just salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter
a bit more salt and pepper
freshly chopped parsley, or dried

If your potatoes are NOT small, cut them into 1/2 or 1/4.  Toss in olive oil, season, and roast on a rimmed baking sheet for about 40 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, add the butter, and smash gently, just to break up the potatoes.  Add a bit more salt and pepper if needed.  Stir in the parsley and yum!

Maple Thyme Carrots and Delicata Squash

carrots, as many as your family will eat
delicata squash (we ate 2 whole ones)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Peel the carrots, leave whole.  Slice the squash into rings, remove seeds.  Place all on a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle with the oil, syrup, salt and thyme.  Roast at 375 for about 40 minutes.


I do not want a big meal.  Almost never.  The feeling of being stuffed as become disgusting and even painful to me, taking away the true pleasure of what eating well ought to be.  The philosophy of satisfaction is something that's been developing in my mind and life for a while, and one I want to pass along to my children.

Some years ago, I was very overweight.  I loved food (still do!) and loved to fill myself up with it.  It was security and love and comfort.  Pretty typical of a lot of people, right? 

I still feel that way sometimes, and will not be phony and pretend I have it all figured out.

It's a constantly evolving philosophy, this concept of Satisfaction.

Rather than being full, I want to walk away from a meal being Satisfied; filled up with all the pleasant sensations of an excellent meal (or even a snack).  Taste, texture, aroma, temperature, and atmosphere are ALL so important.  The first two or three bites of any one dish tell most of the story. 

This is why I so appreciate how many restaurants offer "small plates."  You can call them appetizers, or half portions, or any number of other phrases, but at their finest they are a much smaller size of a typical starter, salad or entree.  I don't need a 16 ounce rib eye.  I might want one, but I don't need one!  This approach to eating, whether in a restaurant or at home, will serve the diner better than any pretentious ingredient or cooking method one can conjure up.

Smaller portions of a few, well-chosen dishes with the best ingredients I can muster are where it's at in my food-mind.  Lovely wine, if you choose, can complement and round out the lighter dining experience.

Eric and I often eat this way when we're out.  We choose an appetizer, salad and entree from a "small plates" menu and share everything.  That way, we might get to enjoy shrimp or scallops, mixed greens, and some sort of beef, pork or lamb, for a fraction of the cost for two full entrees with all the accompaniments.  We get to taste some of the best things a restaurant may have to offer without stuffing ourselves or breaking the bank.

How does this translate to home cooking?

A typical family meal in America might feature a huge plate of pasta, with bread and maybe some salad.  Or a large piece of meat, plus potatoes, vegetable and salad.  What about casserole (or as we say here, "hot dish")?  Lots of things mixed together, plopped on a plate and served with more bread.  All of those items have a place at the table, but it's the portion size and pleasure that gets out of whack.

Most of our children won't want to get near their vegetables and salad if they have a big pile of buttered noodles and two pieces of chicken to get through.  What about half of a chicken breast, a few bites of pasta, plus vegetables and salad.  Their hunger will guide them to finish their meal, not the other way around. 

Like I said, this hasn't been perfected in my home or my own life.  There are times when I stuff down something junky just to feel full and because it tastes good.  I usually don't feel great afterwards, but at the time it seems like a good idea.

Try eating less, and enjoying more.  Especially in the evening or when you eat out.  It has literally saved my life, and shown me what true Satisfaction is all about.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ramen Noodle Soup

Let me clarify - home made Ramen Noodle Soup.

This has become our new favorite lunch.  The kids ask for it all the time.  It started when Eric and I got back from New York and I wanted to make the noodle soup we had there.

I found some plain old ramen-style Chinese noodles at a better grocery store here in town.  You could also use the regular ramen packages, just toss out the flavor packet.  I start with my home made broth (chicken, beef, vegetable) and I add some extra water.  Then it's simply the noodles!

And then it's all about the toppings.

Ramen Noodle Soup

1 - 10 ounce package Chinese ramen noodles
2 quarts chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
1 or 2 eggs, beaten, (optional)

Bring the broth to a boil, add the noodles, and cook, separating them, for 3-5 minutes.  Slowly add the egg (if using), stirring gently the whole time with a chopstick, for just another minute.


chopped or shredded cooked meat
chopped green onions

chile flakes or chili sauce
fish sauce
soy sauce
sesame oil

Add any or all of the toppings as you please.  Eat with chopsticks, slurping the noodles, and then drink the broth.

Grilled Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, and Delicata Squash

I've heard tell you can grill anything.

Sure, why not?

I had six fat pork chops, 3 big sweet potatoes (ok, yams, they were orange) and two pretty yellow-and-green striped delicata squash.  They all wanted to sacrifice themselves on my grill for the benefit of my family - wasn't that kind?

This meal was meant to be cooked night before last, but then our family of 8 had too many directions to go and threw in the towel on dinner.  They ate mac and cheese and pizza instead.

But it all worked out in everyone's favor, because I'd already put the pork chops into a marinade.  Splash of white wine, some salt and pepper, and a couple of chopped garlic cloves.  I remember something I'd read in a magazine about letting pork chops sit in a "brine" for 24 hours before cooking and I said "ah ha!" and added a couple cups of water to the previous marinade.  Oh, and two tablespoons of sugar.  Into a plastic bag, into the fridge til the next day.

The squash and sweet potatoes would be easy, surely.

Delicata squash is lovely.  It's a winter squash, but you can eat the skin, as it's not terribly thick, and when cooked, becomes tender and sweet.  I sliced the squash about 1/2 inch thick (rings) and then used a small biscuit cutter to remove the center seed and pulp part.  The rings got tossed with olive oil and seasoned salt.

The sweet potatoes stayed unpeeled, sliced 1/2 thick as well into rounds, and went into a pot of boiling water, until they were just starting to get tender.  Then I drained them, let them cool, and peeled off the skin.  They got a treatment of just olive oil and salt, because later I'd crumble on blue cheese (for those who like) after they came off the grill.

I cook on a 20 year old Weber charcoal grill.  Rather, I should say Eric does most of the grilling.  Sorry to be severe on my own sex, but I really do believe that men were designed to cook meat over fire.  And they look so good doing it.

But I digress.

Tonight I grilled.  And learned two important lessons - go ahead and put the pork chops over the direct heat, but for pete's sake, don't cover the grill and let the heat go out.  A desperate phone call to my husband was made and I got things going properly, and the pork chops got marked nicely, and not at all over-cooked, and were the must tender, juicy, succulent chops I've ever put in my mouth.  It was due to the BRINE.  Trust me, it was not the cook.

The other important lesson I learned is DO NOT put delicata squash over direct heat.  That is, of course, you like your squash blackened.  Indirect heat.  Oh, well.  I learned!

All in all, the chops took about 7-8 minutes per side.  The squash and potatoes took about 3 minutes per side, if that.  Do the meat first, remove to a plate and cover with foil, then do the veggies. 

Here's a little plate of goodness.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New York, Day 4

What a New York day!  We finished with a bang, that's for sure.  Uptown Day did not disappoint in any of its particulars.

A block down from our hotel is a restaurant called the Sunflower Cafe.  The menu outside looked good, so in we went.  It was a sunny morning, we sat on their enclosed porch with lots of windows and a view of the morning life of our neighborhood.  Eric saw a guy suited up, carrying his surfboard.  Yep, surfboard.  My husband, who wants to be a surfer, has read all about the surf clubs out on Long Island.  I saw a guy loading golf clubs into his car, and I could get my brain around that.  Saturday!

We shared a bowl of fresh fruit

And the Eggs a la Sunflower (benedict with english muffin, lox, poached eggs and hollandaise):

Yes, that's 3 poached eggs.  And did I mention hashbrowns?  Who on earth could eat that by themselves?  It was really delicious.

Fueled and ready for some action, we hopped on the subway and went alllllllll the way uptown to 77th and Lexington.  Again, we found ourselves in a completely different world, this neighborhood of brownstones, Lenox Hill Hospital, terraces, luxury automobiles, and fancy dogs.  It was quieter than any other place we'd been in the city.  When we got to 5th Avenue, the police were blocking off the street for the - the Steuben Parade, a German American thing.  We didn't linger.

Central Park is immense.  And that statement is an understatement!  Thinking back, I am still amazed that such a place exists in a city like New York, or anywhere for that matter.  Did you know the park is entirely man-made?  Read the history of it here - it's truly fascinating that 843 acres of park came about in that way.

Me, in front of the Alice in Wonderland sculpture.

Charming snippets of poem encircle the perimeter of the sculpture.

Being the active sorts of people we are, we needed to see Central Park on bicycle.  We found this place on line: - and were excited about the idea of renting a couple of cruisers for an hour or two.

We headed north, up the east side of Central Park, along with what seemed like thousands of bikers, walkers, runners, strollers, skaters, and every manner of people moving their bodies and enjoying the day.  Loved that the streets through the park are closed to automobile traffic on Saturdays - I would not have wanted to encounter a NY taxi with my cruiser.

Ready to ride!

I could post dozens of photos of our ride through the park, but here's a sampling:

In front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

View of the Upper West side, across the huge lake.

In Columbus Circle, at the far southwest corner of the park.  My Atlas.

After returning our bikes, we headed west on foot, out of the park, in search of Zabar's.  Remember in "You've Got Mail," when Meg Ryan is shopping for Thanksgiving and she's trying to avoid Tom Hanks in the store, and she gets in the wrong "cash only" line, and he has to rescue her, charming the grumpy cashier named Rose?  Yes, that place.

Zabar's is a place to be experienced, at least once in a person's life.  It was busy enough on a Saturday at lunch time, but I'd love to be there on a Friday, when all the Jewish folks in the neighborhood shop for their Sabbath meal, or right before any of the major Jewish holidays. 

It was like stepping into deli food heaven.  Hundreds of cheeses, meats, produce, breads, treats, salads, and everything you can imagine, plus a thousand things you've never heard of but discover you simply must have.

The meat counter.  Impossible to decide.

So here's what we chose, and arranged, and savored.

That, my friends, is:
Proscuitto di Parma
Pheasant and Rosemary Pate
Calvados Camembert
Greek Salad
Onion-Challah Roll
Rosemary Roll
Chocolate Rugulah
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

Closeup of the chocolate rugulah (yummy pastry),
with a view of the castle across the pond next to the grassy knoll,
upon which we partook of our lovely picnic.

We took our time, enjoying the food and the sights and sounds of Saturday in the Park.  There were families, birthday parties, young lovers, dogs, tourists, goofy kids, artists, and people like us, enjoying picnics and conversation.

After our picnic, and stretching our stiff cycling legs, we headed back east and picked up Fifth Avenue.  We walked all the way down, ending up in front of the world famous Plaza Hotel.  This is where all the carriages line up to take romantic (or tourist-y) rides through Central Park.

Again, I was amazed at the number of people walking down Fifth.  It was a typical Saturday afternoon, no doubt, but it's more bustling than any city street I've ever walked on.  We popped in and out of some shops, finally requiring some refreshment in the form of espresso.  Rockefeller Center, in the winter, has an outdoor skating rink, but in warmer months, it's open as The Rink Bar.  Two double espressos, please, served to us by a senior at NYU, majoring in opera voice. 

Eric simply had to stop at the Orvis store, which was on 44th street.  Then, two more blocks to the subway station and a quick ride to Grand Central again.  We had a glass of wine at one of the restaurant bars there and watched the flotsam and jetsam, coming and going at the end of the day.

Not a great picture, but here we are, dressed for fun!

Subway to Grand Central, shuttle to Times Square, subway to Columbus Circle, walk a few blocks to Patsy's at 56th and Broadway.

You know how when you have high expectations, and then you walk into a place and think, "hmmm, this might not be the happening place after all?"  I had that feeling.  Like our last night in New York might be a good dinner, and an early cab ride home.


With no reservations, we ended up lucky, getting permission from Joe (the owner) to snag the tiny table in the front window.  This afforded Eric a view of the street activity, me a view of the bar and restaurant, and both of us had the pleasure of watching the restaurant patrons come and go.

The walls are covered with autographed photos of all sorts of famous people.  Rose (the other owner, wife to Joe), told us that each of them has a story of degree-of-separation-from-Frank.  As in Frank brought Rosemary Clooney, she brought her nephew George Clooney, he brought his friend Julia Roberts, and so on.

Opened in 1944, Patsy's has been a family-owned restaurant all these years, standing the test of time during all the opening and closings of a thousand New York restaurants.  I think the charming owners, delicious food, great wine list, and waiters in white captains' jackets might have a bit to do with it.  Frank helped, no doubt.  There's a bronze statue of him on the bar!

We ordered a glass of wine and a bowl of mussels to share.  They were delightful, in a light white wine broth, with slivers of toasted garlic and plenty of freshly chopped parsley.  Then we shared a plate of the ravioli trio - one spinach-ricotta with the house marinara, one mushroom with a light tomato mushroom sauce, and one lobster with a creamy tomato sauce.  Eric and I agreed the mushroom was the best.  When the chef, Sal (son of the owners, third generation chef there), came out of the kitchen to go home for the night, we had a chat and I extracted some information from him as to why that ravioli was so delicious - a blend of white and portabella mushrooms, with ricotta, mozzarella and garlic.  It was meaty and smoky and perfect.

During our dinner, Rose (mentioned above) came to the table next to ours to "cook the books."  Love that she used a tablet of notebook paper and guest checks, aided by a pencil and simple calculator!  After enjoying conversation with her, her husband Joe, and finally their son Sal, we felt like family.  They gave us a gift bag of pasta, a lovely trivet, lots of hugs and kisses and good wishes.

Sal was the guy to meet!  We said "what should we do now, after this wonderful dinner?"  Oh, well, of course we wanted to head down the street to the Carnegie Club.  Ok, what's that?  One of the only cigar-friendly clubs around, thankfully with a good ventilation system, and a Saturday night singer backed by an 18 piece orchestra doing nothing but Frank Sinatra music.  Yes, please!

So Sal says, "I'm friends with the singer, tell him I sent you.  Tell the girl at the door you had dinner at Patsy's, you'll be able to get in without a reservation."  Yes, please!

Right before we left, we had the privilege of meeting Tony Bennett's daughter, who came to say thank you to Joe and Rose for the nice dinner she and her companions had.  That was fun!

Really cool.  It was just as Sal said, we gave his name at the door and the charming hostess led us right to a table.  The orchestra was getting set up, people came in and ordered their food and drink and cigars, and we were transported to the Copa, circa 1950.  We felt rather fabulous, really.

Here's the singer:

When we met him after the show, I told him he was Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin, and he enjoyed the compliment.  I got a kiss and his CD, which we've enjoyed a few times through since we got home.  There was a famous, retired boxer there (name escapes me just now) and a very old, yet still connected, music producer.

It was a blissful evening.  I grew up on Sinatra, Bennett, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, and the like.  It stands to reason that only in New York can you be in one place, doing one thing, and never expecting the next thing that might happen, and when it does, you feel like you're in a different place and time in history.

A perfect way to end our stay in the greatest city in the world!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New York, Day 3

Whew!  The battery is in the camera, and the camera is in the bag.  Let's go MIDTOWN!

I've been watching the Today Show since Katie and Bryant were doing their thing.  I had a secret little crush on the cute guy at the news desk, who had a full head of hair and a lovely personality.  Little did I know . . .

The goal of this morning was to get ourselves to Rockefeller Center and get some screen time on the Today Show.  We actually set an alarm, which is against the vacation rules, but we wanted to get there in plenty of time.

Apparently, plenty of time to the hoards around the outdoor fencing is way earlier than the honeymooners knew about.  On this chilly morning, we arrived at 7:30 a.m.and all the good spots were gone, and to add insult to injury, Matt, Ann and Al were all "away" or "had the day off."  Whatever.  We should have called ahead to let them know we were coming.

This proves we were there.  And little else.

Two good things happened:  We had our photo taken by a Today Show staffer and then could purchase said photo at the gift shop, which turned out to be one of the best pictures we've taken together in a while.  Yay!  And secondly, because it was cold and our hopes were dashed, we popped into the little bakery right there -

Delightful little Frenchy place, with delicious coffee, fresh orange juice, and pastries that could make you cry.  We shared the bacon, leek and Gruyere quiche and a chocolate almond croissant.  We chose wisely.  The quiche had that perfect and elusive flaky tender crust, and the filling was moist and terribly flavorful.  I've made quiche and that combination is no easy task.  The croissant was delicious, as well, but I am usually way more about the savory.  It's a tiny little place that does a bustling business of NBC tourists.  The coffee was heavenly.  I loved coffee in New York.

And I NEVER went to Starbucks.  Sorry.

Thankfully, it warmed up nicely and by the time we arrived by subway to the New York Public Library (main branch, near Bryant Park), it was a perfect fall morning.  We had to take pictures of the lions outside the building, so our kids would have a frame of reference.  Ghostbusters! 

See?  Lion.

I was in a state of complete and utter rapture upon entering.  You put me in a place with architecture, history, art and BOOKS, and you can collect me sometime next month.  It really is a beautiful building, seeming more like a museum than a library.  Hallowed ground indeed.

We found no ectoplasmic residue, yet we did not visit the old librarian and the card catalogs in the basement.

My sentiments exactly, though modern English works well for most of us:
"A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."


We made quick trip around the block to the beautiful Bryant Park area.  The park covers a full city block, with a large green space, fountains, trees and a few food and drink areas.  It happens to be the location of the famous fashion show held every early spring, showcasing the upcoming fall collections.  I felt important knowing I tread on the same ground as supermodels, celebrities, designers and fashionistas.

We were famished and wanted street food.  Nearly every single corner in New York City has a cart selling something or other - pretzels, hot dogs, nuts, falafel, sausage, and a million other things.  We popped over to the nearest vendor and Eric got an Italian sausage with peppers, onions and grainy brown mustard.  I had a falafel sandwich in a pita with "white sauce" and "hot sauce" plus tomato, lettuce and onions.  Add in a diet Pepsi for me and the bill came to $12.

A few chairs in Bryant Park became our picnic spot, and we ate and slobbered and basked in the sun.  The people watching was great - jugglers, sunbathers, suits, moms with toddlers, painters, and every other type of person you could imagine.  The food was delicious.

Drip-down-to-the-elbow goodness.

Every girl needs at least one item of animal print in her wardrobe.

We rounded out our afternoon with a visit to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.  It's an incredibly ornate and overwhelming church, rich in history and art.  Staying on Fifth Avenue, we wandered in and out of several shops, buying a few treats at the affordable places (H&M, Sephora) and simply gazing and admiring at the not so affordable places (Saks Fifth Avenue).

Grand Central Station is not to be missed in Midtown Manhattan.  The site of many famous movie scenes, plus the hub of much activity and transportation throughout New York and beyond, it's a place everyone should see one time.  I love the ceiling painted with the Zodiac, the old clock in the center, the huge American flag, and the constant flux of people heading here and there and everywhere in between.

There's Eric, in the middle of it all, with the clock behind him.  Isn't that a great sweater?

Next stop, the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  It was just about 5 o'clock, which meant we needed a bit of rest and refreshment. 

I think we should go in.

In we went, and we toured the lobby, enjoying the decor and general splendor.  Peacock Alley is the name of the lobby bar, and we arrived just in time to get a table near the piano where we had an excellent view of the fabulous people coming and going.

I will not even tell you what we paid for two cocktails (one each, thank you), but we decided in the end the experience made it worth our while.

That's a scotch for Eric, and a fancy champagne cocktail for me,
infused with strawberry and peppercorn.
It sounds pretentious, but it was spicy and yummy.
Those are wasabi peas, mixed nuts, and tart, briny olives.

After a short subway ride back to the hotel, we collapsed into bed for a nap.  Such a delicious feeling to know we could eat, sleep, and do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, at any time of day, without the needs and demands of children.  Sure, we missed them in theory, but we lived in the moment and enjoyed the blissful adult time together.

It was time for a slice.  Of New York pizza.  Now, you could talk to 100 New Yorkers, and they would have 100 different places to recommend to visit for the perfect slice of pizza.  The big, triangular pieces with thin crust and minimal toppings, that you fold in half and eat with reckless abandon.

Our hotel sat above a place called Mike Due Pizza.  We're pretty sure that "Due" means "two" in Italian and Mike had another pizza place in town somewhere, but probalby not named Uno.  We didn't really care, because for 10 bucks we got two slices of pizza (one sausage and ricotta, one spinach, mushroom, olive and ricotta), and two sodas.  It does NOT have to expensive to eat in New York!

We declared it to be a "neighborhood" night, so after pizza at Mikes, we visited Fitzgerald's Pub, also directly under our hotel.  This was a Yankees place, and it was game night, so that's what that was all about.  At least the owners were really Irish!  Fun guys, father and son it seemed.  Then we headed across the street to The Hairy Monk.  Uh huh.  This was a Red Sox place, meaning every article of decor in the joint screamed either Boston or the Sox, and that was the game on the television.  I'd hate to be on the street when the two teams played each other.  Who knows, maybe they don't, baseball is funny like that.

Time for bed, and the close of another great day in the greatest city in the world.

Tomorrow is our last day, and Uptown Day, and what turned out to be the tastiest, busiest, most active, and at the end, most surprising day of all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New York, Day 2

To my great sadness, we have no photos available (yet) for this day.  Camera trouble again, so we used Eric's phone, but alas, are unable to download them.  Hopefully, after he gets a new phone and transfers the photos, I'll be able to add them later.

Nevertheless, NOTHING can change what a great day we had on Day 2, otherwise known as Downtown Day.  Despite being up pretty late the night before, we were up at 7:30 and out the door by 8:30.

Across the street from our hotel was, of course, a place called Bagel Express.  Of course we had to have a bagel in New York, right?  I had an "everything bagel" because I that's how I roll - garlic, salt, seeds, and whatever else makes a salty, savory, chewy round of glory.  Lox spread for me, which was the lovely, raw-ish, smoked salmon mixed into cream cheese.  Yum every day of the week, and twice on Shabbat!  Eric had eggs and bacon on a roll.  Coffee for me, fresh squeezed orange juice for him, but as usual he drank part of my coffee, too.

We hopped on the subway, being professionals by now, and got off at Wall Street.  Hey!  Look!  There's Trinity Church!  Heere at the Wall!  So many of our sights, sounds and savors came from movies, I cannot begin to count.  This one was from "National Treasure."  It's a beautiful church.

The financial district is amazingly laid out.  Large, old buildings, cobbled streets blocked to traffic, suits and cops and pedestrians and tourists like us.  We saw the federal building where George Washington was inaugurated, and the Stock Exchange.  We simply had to pay a visit to the Bull, and took both the appropriate and inappropriate photos.  It's a huge, bronze (?) sculpture of what is now known as the Merrill Lynch bull.  Sponge Bob was there.  Have I mentioned that many parts of NY are both fascinating and surreal, all at the same time?

We then walked down to Battery Park.  Another unexpected surprise!  It's immense!  It was so fun to be at the very bottom of New York City, on a warm, sunny September morning.  We went all the way down to the water's edge and waved to the Statue of Liberty.  She looked especially pretty that morning.  People were boarding boats to go on Statue tours, or harbor tours.  We wondered if the water was fresh or brackish.

Can I just say that squirrels and pigeons in New York are fat and tame, obviously well-fed and very used to human contact?

It was a bad shoe day.  The only real answer for that problem when one is in lower Manhattan is a trip to Century 21.  It's an immense, crowded and busy designer wholesale store, sort of like TJMaxx and Marshall's, times 10, all in one place.  Woah.  I bought a pair of Tommy Hilfiger flip flops that just exactly matched my outfit for the day (floral and black) and ditched my "comfortable and sensible" loafers into Eric's messenger bag.  I could have spent more hours and dollars there, but we had an agenda!

Yes, we did pause at the World Trade Center site.  We didn't have tickets for the memorial area, but we looked and the buildings and immensity of it all.  My heart continues to break.

Another subway ride took us up to Canal Street.  If you've ever breathed the words "designer knockoff" this is the place you have in mind.  The instant a woman emerges from the subway steps, she is accosted by quick and shifty Asian women, with well-worn glossy fliers depicting photos of every designer handbag she's ever fantasized about.  Mutters of "handbag, handbag, you want Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Coach?" are repeated over and over again, on every street and corner in the entire Canal Street area and into Chinatown.  What they want is to escort you to a back room somewhere, away from the eyes of the police, to show you their illegal copies of designer handbags.  In years past, the hawkers openly displayed their goods on street corners, but the police shut that practice down.  Now, they continue to conduct their business on the sly, supposedly.

I declined.

We were hungry and wanted lunch.  Joe's Ginger was our goal, as I had eaten there once before and fell in love with the soup dumplings, noodles, and incredible prices.  After stumbling a bit and over-consulting our map, we found our way to Mott Street and entered the tiny restaurant.

When you walk into a restaurant in Chinatown and there is a table of older Chinese people sharing numerous dishes, you know you've come to the right place.  Other than those folks, we were the only ones in the place.  Mid-week, right time of day, apparently.  Last time I was there, it was Chinese New Year, I had to wait 45 minutes for a table, and had to share with another man and his horridly obnoxious 4 year old son who only ate pizza in his small life, and thus went hungry.

What are soup dumplings?  The only way to know for sure is to eat them, but here it is:  a Chinese dumpling, shaped "pouch style" filled with meat and/or vegetables and SOUP BROTH.  Yes, in the dumpling.  They come hot and moist in a steamer basket, ready to be moved to your large ceramic soup spoon that you've filled with the sauce of soy, rice vinegar and slivered ginger they bring to the table.  My method is to poke the side of my dumpling to allow a bit of the broth to escape, then take the spoon to my mouth, support the dumpling with my chopsticks, and slurp-chew-chomp my way to heaven.

So we shared that, plus a plate of fat, pan-fried noodles with chicken and bok choy.  Many tiny cups of fragrant green tea accompanied our meal.  I'm convinced Asian people are healthy both because of the food they eat and the tea they drink.  Talk about smooth digestion!  We walked away satisfied and rich, to the tune of about $18 for both of us for lunch, including tip.  Eating in NY does NOT have to be expensive.

I wanted to shop, Eric wanted to nap.  That man could take (and has taken) naps in just about any place or situation.  Once, at camp, he konked out on a bed of pine needles with a tree root for a pillow.  This is not made up.  I sent him to Columbus Park, where Chinese men meet to play Mahjong and checkers and card games, at a rather sedate yet cutthroat level.  I advised him to look like a tourist on a park bench, rather than a homeless person.  He'd be on his own if he got arrested, I assured him.

Pashminas, the lovely silky, cashmere-seeming scarves are plentiful in this area.  I bough several, for me, friends, and Eric's co-workers.  I bought cute little Chinese fans for my girls, and popped in and out of several shops, hoping to find a pretty, yet legal, "designer inspired" handbag.  I ended up with one, disappointed there weren't more.  But as the men and boys in my life say often, "Just how many purses do you need, Mom?"  Chumps.

It started to rain, I bought an umbrella for $5 and advised the cute man who sold it to me to raise his prices when the rain starts.  He laughed.  So charming.  Eric texted me that his nap was dampened, and to meet him in the pavilion where the neighborhood had gone to continue their games and their music.  I found him, and again was transported in a way that only NY can produce - was I really there, or in a small village in China somewhere?  I cared little - the experience was heady.

Time for a new culture and experience.  Little Italy!  They do, indeed, sit right there side by side.  Guess what?  There was a festival!

He's the patron saint of Naples, Italy, and we just happened to enter their world on the first of a 10 day festival.  Lucky us.  Mulberry Street was lined with food vendors, restaurants, games, drinks, souvenirs, artisans, and anyone else you can imagine.  There are numerous restaurants on this street, and for the festival they had all built an outdoor seating area in front of their establishments, open on the sides but covered on the top.  The rain had stopped, and we were in for a real treat.

It was time for espresso and cannoli.  Hi there, - can you serve us?

The two most beautiful, charming, and friendly waiters gave us a primo table and took our order.  Why not have a Prosecco?  We were still celebrating our anniversary, right?  Eric had a double espresso and a chocolate-dipped, chocolate-filled cannoli.  I had two bites, and it did not disappoint with a crispy pastry, creamy rich filling, and lovely drizzling of more chocolate on top.  Our charming waiter thought Signora needed her own dessert, so when Eric was done, he brought to me, on the house, a Tiramisu that he says "I made myself, just for you."  Ha.  While I had my first taste, he shared the secret recipe.  I promised I'd write about him on my blog.  And friends, this was not your everyday tiramisu.  I could taste every single element of the dessert - the espresso, the amaretto, the lady fingers, the creamy mascarpone, the bitter cocoa.  We demolished the whole piece.  And of course, they found out it was our anniversary, so before we left, I got a kiss and two more cannolis, on the house (again) to help us celebrate later.  Did I mention these boys were charming?

We walked all the way up Mulberry Street, many many blocks,  It was a nice day, cooling and cloudy, but the rain stayed away, and there was a party, right?  We bought t-shirts for the kids and generally enjoyed holding hands and being part of something special outside of ourselves.

My friend Darbi, from high school, lives in the East Village.  We had a date to meet her and her boyfriend at 6:00 p.m., so we walked the whole way up, taking our time.  Along the way, on Houston street (pronounced Hoh-ston, not Hew-sten) we stepped into - which is one of the many places Harry and Sally met in the movie "When Harry Met Sally."  The famous scene where she did that thing, that embarrassing and funny thing, and the lady at the other table said "I'll have what she's having" - took place at Katz's Deli.  There's even a sign marking the table. 

A bit of time to kill led us into a tiny cafe near Darbi's apartment, where we rested and read magazines and watched it start to rain and blow again.  It was a peaceful hour.

Darbi and her darling Kiwi named Kelvin took us to what might be my favorite new pub.  It's a LITERATURE pub!  Really!  Can you imagine?

The walls are covered with photos and paintings of every author you can imagine.  The women's restroom is wallpapered with pages from Milton's "Paradise Lost."  And when they bring you the check?  It's tucked into a book!  A real book.  Ours was a collection of Hemingway's short stories.  Figures, as I wrote my senior thesis about "A Way You'll Never Be."  Page 402 in our check-book.

It was then around the corner to , a newer place that Darbi and Kelvin hadn't tried yet.  Fun for them and us! 

We started with the caramelized and grilled figs with (get this) gorgonzola mousse.  It was really beyond delicious and simple and perfect.  Eric and I then shared the Tortara di Manzo, which was cured beef tenderloin, shiitake and chantarelle mushrooms, poached egg yolk and mint pesto with sliced radishes.  All piled in a perfect cylinder and beautifully presented.  Succulent, really.  Our shared entree was Tagliatelle Integrali al Ragu di Coniglio, which, translated, meant whole wheat pasta ribbons and a rabbit ragu.  It was great, but the beef tartare was the best thing we ate there.  Chianti was the wine of choice for the meal.

Did I mention that sharing food in New York is the way to go?

A fond goodbye to Darbi and Kelvin, and a cab ride to our hotel was the lovely end to a full and beautiful day.

Tomorrow - we do Midtown.  Today Show, library, shopping, French bakery, street food, Waldorf, neighborhood pizza and pubs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New York, Day 1

Eric and I have been married 20 years.  TWENTY!  That's cause for celebration, right?

Exactly.  We saved our pennies, made lots of plans, and took a long-awaited trip to New York City.  Just the two of us for five blissful days, while my wonderful friend Michelle stayed with my brood.  They ought to erect a statue in her honor in Central Park . . .

We ate, walked, shopped, ate, talked, looked, laughed, met, gaped, ate, and slept a little bit.  Very few stones went unturned on our trek through the greatest city in the world.

Thus starts a four part blog series covering the highlights of the trip.  Of course, food will feature a good bit in the entries, but I want a permanent journal-type record of all the wonderful things we saw and did together.  I hope you enjoy the photos and editorial.  Please take time to click on the links provided to learn more about some of the places we visited.  And if you get a chance, visit them yourself in person!  New York is amazing.

Here I am, in the "town car" on the way from the airport to our hotel:

I've had a (fixation, obsession) love of Manhattan since I was a very young girl.  Every time I read a book or saw a movie that took place in NY, I felt more and more that I ought to be there.  To visit would be great, sure, but I really hoped to live there one day.  By the time I was in high school, I enjoyed tossing around the phrase "I'm going to be a lawyer and live in New York."

Life happened, and here I am in Minnesota, surrounded by a family I love and involved in a life that keeps me busy and happily fulfilled.  "Some Day" Eric and I might live there for a year, when the kids are out of high school and we can do something crazy like that.

We got to our hotel at about 2:30 p.m.  It was a really interesting place, one I found in a travel book from the library.  I looked under "cheap" and found The Carlton Arms Hotel, on 3rd Avenue and East 25th Street.  Gramercy Park neighborhood, only 8 blocks from the Empire State Building.  Great, central location.  The hotel is artsy.  Nah, that's an understatement.  Each room is painted by a different, local artist.  From the door of the room to every square inch of wall, bathroom, and even ceiling, the rooms all have different themes or subjects.  The first night we did not love our room, so the nice guys at the desk happily switched it for our other three nights.  It's a very no-frills place, no room service or concierge, no elevator, fresh towels upon request, etc.  But for $130 per night with a private bath in a nice, safe neighborhood - SOLD.  It was clean and fun and perfect for us.

View from our fire escape.

After a quick check-in, it was off to the Empire State Building.  I was there once, but 22 years ago, and Eric was eager to see that to get his first look at such a huge city.  On the way, we stopped at a "deli" which we learned in NY means convenience/grocery/liquor/hot-and-cold-food type of store.  Some are bigger than others, some have more to offer in the way of food, or a table to sit at, but they are everywhere!  This one was larger, with plenty of choices.  We wanted something quick and spicy and cheap.

Bowl of ramen soup, with ham, mushrooms and egg.  VERY spicy, delicious.  $6 for the two of us to share.  Just enough fuel to keep us going for the afternoon.

Here's Eric, enjoying:

A few more blocks, and we were there.  What a production they've got going at the ESB.  Lots of weaving through pipe-and-drape, funneling past gift shops and photo booths.  Two different elevator rides (and $22 each for tickets) took us to the 86th floor observation deck.

A few blocks down . . .

                             . . . in the lobby . . .                                               . . . and just one amazing vista!

At the top, we met the first of many people who would leave us with the feeling that New Yorkers are among the friendliest and most delightful people we've ever encountered.  The much talked about "Rude New Yorker" was never found in our treks around the city; just the opposite, really.  Funny, helpful, outgoing, educated, and very willing to share the love of their city with the tourists they encounter.

For the record, while we were at the top, my very sweet husband asked me if I'd marry him again.  I told him I'd give it at least another twenty years, and we shared a kiss which must bring the total of such actions in this very place into the millions.  It's NOT just in the movies!

It was time to head back to our hotel and get ready for a big night out.  It was the actual day of our 20th anniversary, and we had reservations at Bar Americain (  It's owned by Bobby Flay, and judging by the menu and reviews, we had high hopes.  Secretly, I had a tiny apprehension about a restaurant owned by a celebrity chef being rather cliche' and I'm very thankful to say I had no need for such concern.

It's located a few blocks north of Times Square, which means it's in a busy and hopping area.  Even on a Wednesday night, there are people everywhere, on every city street in NY.  It's one of the things I love best about this city - the energy.  The constant flux and flow of people and taxis and conversation and lights and music and life. 

Again, we enjoyed talking to people at the bar, and got some recommendations of things to do and see during our trip.

But let's talk food, shall we?  Alas, in the grand tradition of technology and our lives, it was at this point the camera stopped taking clear pictures.  You'll have to just imagine, then.  But go to the website, they have cool pics!

We shared each course, and started with the Shellfish Cocktail "tasting of all three" - which meant Shrimp-Tomatillo, Crab-Coconut, and Lobster-Avocado.  They came presented on a long plate, and each cocktail was in a large shot glass.  It was lovely!  Our favorite was the shrimp - two huge, perfect shrimp, with a pool of the tomatillo sauce at the bottom of the glass.  It was tart and herby and incredibly good.  Both the crab and lobster ones were delicious too, very fresh and generous pieces of the shellfish, fresh herbs, perfectly seasoned and delightful.  Rose' wine and Prosecco went beautifully with this appetizer (one each, and we shared).

Next was the Lamb Tenderloin Salad.  This was by far our favorite dish of the evening.  Succulent, medium-rare slices of warm lamb, atop a bed of arugula and what tasted like a simple balsamic dressing.  Tiny cherry tomatoes, slivers of fresh mint, a dollop of thick, Greek yogurt and diced and roasted fava beans finished the plate.  So many flavors, but they all melded perfectly, yet could be enjoyed for their own distinct character.  I have never tasted such lamb before, it was just the right amount of tender and rich.  Eric kept asking if I could make that salad at home.  I'd like to try!

Our entree was Duck with Dirty Wild Rice, Pecans and Bourbon Sauce.  Yes, it was as good as it sounds.  There were a few slices of medium rare duck breast, along with a leg and thigh quarter.  The breast meat was so very tender and flavorful, perfect for swirling in the bourbon reduction on the plate.  But the dark meat!  Oh, divine.  I do not know how the skin could be so incredibly crispy and crackly good, while the meat underneath was moist and falling from the bones.  The dirty wild rice had too many things going on for me to even guess, but it was both sweet and savory.  The entire dish had a very Southern feel and flavor to it.  Cabernet and Pinot Noir went very well with both the lamb and the duck.

We rarely order dessert at restaurants, but hey!  it was a celebration!  The Bourbon Praline Profiterole was a good choice.  Tiny cream puffs, split and piled high with vanilla bean ice cream, topped with a crispy-glazed praline pastry crust, drizzled with a bourbon caramel sauce.  Yes, it was as good as it sounds and we wished we could have licked the plate.  Espresso was necessary with dessert.

Sigh.  What a meal to remember.  What a great event to celebrate, and what a wonderful husband I have.

To finish the night, and because the lights were calling, we walked down to Times Square.  We were there once in the winter, but nothing compares to a warm summer evening!  It's as bright as day, even at midnight when we arrived.  A million people might be an exaggeration, but not by much.  SO many people, from all over the world, smiling, taking pictures, holding hands, looking in every direction at once.  It's a magical place, to be sure.

Stay tuned, Day 2 will be coming soon - downtown including Wall Street, World Trade Center site, shopping, Chinatown, Little Italy, lots of walking, and more great food and fun.