Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!
Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Twin Towers

This past month marked the 15th anniversary of 9/11, that day of horror where America was forever changed by terrorism with the multiple attacks on our country. I have close friends who were there that crisp September morning. I have friends of friends who lost someone when the Twin Towers fell. Most of us remember where we were that fateful day.

9/11 has become another day in which you ask your friends, "Where were you?" It is reminiscent of the day the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, the day President Reagan was shot, or for our folks, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. These are days of infamy forever etched in our mind, meant to separate and weaken but they have only succeeded in making us stronger and closer.

Twin Towers  at night, July 2001 (source: Wikipedia)
I have a couple of books on 9/11 and spent the day going through them and watching the historical coverage on TV. The story I want to recount was a special memory I have of the Twin Towers, from the year before.

My memory of the World Trade Center is a rather specifically quirky one. I traveled up to NYC in September 2000, exactly one year before with my best friend David. We were going to spend the evening dining, clubbing and bar hopping, and then take the train back the following day. We traveled up that Monday evening, the 11th of September of 2000,

David and I stayed at the Marriott Downtown Financial Center. now called the New York Marriott Downtown, at 85 West Street in NYC. It was just one half block from the World Trade Center. We had a corner room with an awesome view of the Hudson River. On the other side of the hotel, the Twin Towers loomed overhead to the north.

After some predinner drinks, we ate at a restaurant called Lucky Cheng's on the lower East Side. Lucky Cheng's is a great fun place which hosts an interactive drag show while you eat dinner. The cuisine is Asian fusion with a possible side of insults and great entertainment thrown your way. We had a blast. We the hit the bars and clubs and from what I remember, had quite the evening of merriment and mayhem.

At one point, I got separated from David. Just prior, I remember telling him not to worry if it happened and I'd meet him back at the hotel. At 3:30 AM, I found myself wandering around the Village, not sure actually in which direction the hotel was. I was getting a bit nervous, not being able to find a cab. I was so turned around, I didn't know which way the hotel was! I walked for what seemed like forever, but was probably just a couple more blocks.

Dave and Myself, NYC, Sept 2000
I remember crossing a street and looking across a little pocket park and what did I see off in the distance? The Twin Towers fully lit up at night, shining and rising above all of the buildings. They were a ways off but it was a sign on which direction I needed to go. I let out a deep sign of relief and crisscrossed streets and parks trying the keep the World Trade Center towers in my sights. I eventually was able to hail a cab and made it back to the hotel.

David read me the riot act thinking I was lying dead in the gutter. I took my medicine because that's what best friends are for, right? To let you know when you've fucked up. I was just happy to be back after being lost. I have never forgotten looking up and being to happy so see those gleaming towers even in the middle of the night to lead my way. After sleeping several hours, we got up around 10 AM, checked out, and had brunch nearby.

David and I had such a fun time, we decided to return to NYC the next year, the very same weekend and make it a yearly trip. I booked the reservation at the same hotel one half block away from the World Trade Center for Monday evening, September 10, 2001, and check out September 11, 2001. I don't remember the reason why, but we cancelled the room about a week before. Something had come up. Of course I got through my mind thinking what if??? My thoughts then turn to remember the horror and tragedy which happened to all of those poor souls who lost their lives or were injured that day. G-d bless them.

Well it's been 15 years since the attack. I've been back but I never went back with David. I think its time we take that trip up again and tour the National September 11th Memorial and Museum.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Two Easy Recipes: Tomato Cucumber Salad and Crisp Rosemary Potatoes

Mom's Tomato Cucumber Salad
Are you ever at a loss for what to make with that grilled steak or chicken? Here are a couple of go-to recipes that I love making in a pinch. Easy, a lot of flavor, and minimal effort. How great is that?  Weekly dinners should always be like this!

The first is a basic recipe my Mom has been making as long as I know. It is the traditional summer tomato cucumber salad. Fresh, cold, zesty, and filling. This recipes combines two of my favorite summer veggies. I usually make a large batch for two or three nights. You can add onion if you want a bit more zestiness to it. But be warned, with the Italian dressing and onions, you may want to make it on the nights you don't have a date planned. :-)  

The second recipe, crisp rosemary potatoes, is my go-to recipe if I am making rosemary chicken or just grilling chicken breast. It is a great side dish!  I prefer to leave the potatoes in to bake for more time as I like them pretty crispy.

Marinated Tomato Cucumber Salad
by Abby Deeds (MOM!)

-6 Roma tomatoes, diced into bite size pieces (or 3 of your favorite large beefsteak variety tomatoes)
-3 cucumbers, peeled and diced into bite size pieces (seeded or not, your preference)
***Thanks to friends Becky Kitchmire for the cucumbers and Leah Emerich for the tomatoes!
-1 small or medium red onion, chopped up fine (optional, or use a sweet vidalia)
-Italian dressing (I used the 4 Seasons dry box mix which you add your own olive oil and vinegar)
-salt and pepper to taste 
Ingredients all ready! 
-fresh basil cut into fine strips (My addition, optional)

You basically want equal parts tomatoes and cucumbers. The onion is completely optional. Realize that if you use a red onion, it will definitely have a stronger more pungent flavor. Add a little onion, taste, add more, taste, etc. Mix all ingredients. Top with basil strips. Cover with plastic wrap in a bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Serves 2-4 people.

Also remember, you can make your own Italian dressing if you are so inclined. I like the dry box packets or the pre-made bottled dressing because it lessens the prep time. Sometimes, it's all about convenience!

I like mixing up the vinegar and oils I use in this. For the vinegar, besides red wine, you can also try pomegranate or balsamic. For the oils, experiment with regular olive oil, extra virgin, or flavored oils such as lemon, basil, or garlic-infused.

Crisp Rosemary Potatoes
from Gourmet Magazine

-2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
-1 tablespoon olive oil
Crispy Rosemary Potatoes (the crispier the better!) 
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary(I've also used dried and the recipe came out great.)
-salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and generously oil 2 large baking sheets
Arrange potatoes in 1 layer on the sheets. 
Brush tops with oil and sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper. (I always use alot of rosemary.)
Roast potatoes in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden and edges are crisp, about 20 minutes. Serves 4.
***I usually keep them in longer, checking every 5-10 minutes depending on how crispy you like them! 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Three Lucky Memories of my Mom

Mom at 6 yrs (1948)
On August 24th, it was my dear Mother's birthday. She would've been 74. Hope she had a great birthday up there doing shots of her favorite Hot Damn liquor. Maybe she sat on the edge of a cloud in Heaven. spying on her kids while sipping Baileys, she loved that too. I can picture her enjoying herself, listening to some salsa, watching people walk by (if they have such a thing up in heaven). She was a people watcher. 

More recently before she passed in 2009, Mom just loved to sit on my sister Sheryl's front porch in Philly and watch the world walk by. Mom said it reminded her of growing up in Newark, sitting in the front of her building as a child. By now, my readers know that I often tell of memories of her as a sort of a record for my brother and sister and my niece and nephew, Angelica and Johnny as well. One day, I hope it will help them get to know their Nana better. 

Mom grew up in Newark, NJ, in an apartment building on Goldsmith Avenue next to Weequahic Park. It's comforting to know the building is still there. During some of those hot city summers, Nanny and Grandpop sent Mom to Camp Kalmia in Blairstown, NJ. She told me she used to enjoy camp but one evening she almost lost her life. A huge summer thunderstorm rolled through the area taking everyone by surprise. A huge stately maple tree stood next to the cabin soaring into the sky as far as she could see.
Camp Kalmia lake

A building from Camp Kalmia where Mom used to stay.
The strong winds took down that maple tree that stormy evening. The tree fell away from the cabin. If it had fallen into the cabin, it would've smashed right down the center onto where my Mom lay huddled in her sleeping bag hiding from the storm. She was lucky.

Mom also told me of how she was cruising with friends one weekend evening during high school around 1959. She opted to ride in the back area of the rambler station wagon. There was an accident, the car crashed, and she literally flew out the back of the rambler. 

Mom told me she landed on the base of an old oak tree. She was injured but thank G-d did not break her back. She often told me her back continued to hurt her through the years due to this accident. She was lucky though again.

The last story is a funny one. During my Mom's high school years, she was addicted to the dance show by Clay Cole, disc jockey and host of the teenage dance party, The Clay Cole Show, which was the New York City's counter-part to Philly's American Bandstand.

Mom used to watch Clay Cole every day during her later high school years. She once told me of how she and her best girl friend played hooky one day from school to go on the dance show (unbeknownst to my Nana) . They cut class and took the train in to New York City to appear on the show. 

The girls got on the show, but then realized that my Nana watched it every day as well! So every time the camera panned the dancers, Mom and her friend would hide behind people, hoping that Nana wouldn't spot them dancing. Well, my Mom had luck on her side once again, and Nana never spotted them cutting class. 
Clay Cole with Annette Funicello circa 1960

I have to say, I love these stories about my Mom. I always knew she was a fiesty fun gal but knowing she was like that in high school too is just great. You need to ask your parents about their experiences growing up my friends. My sister, brother and I are lucky enough we have some of these stories. 

You can read more about The Clay Cole Show at these links:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Pulsing My Way to Pesto!

Last Year's basil crop!
Blogger's Note: I began writing this last Fall (2015) and for some reason put it aside and didn't come back to it until now. I wanted to complete it and share the recipes with my readers since I'm growing basil again on my deck. Both recipes below came out great and I highly recommend them. One change though for this year, I am going to freeze the remaining basil at the end of the growing season instead of dry it. In addition, this blog post is dedicated to my fraternity brother Alex Spiezio, who has encouraged me to continue writing about food and recipes. Thanks Alex!

Removing and cleaning the basil
I always seem to fail at my attempts at gardening. I have a great green indoor thumb but the outdoor garden seems to falter, probably due to my lack of patience or it becomes completely overgrown and unruly. What I am good at is growing herbs. Last year, my tomatoes faltered until the very end and my banana peppers only produced 4 peppers after something came by and ate every last damn pepper blossom off the plant. My herbs though did extremely well. I grew thyme, dill, catnip, chives, catnip and basil. I planted two Italian basil plants which did awesome! What to do with all that basil?

Over the past years, I have dried the basil out and used it over the winter for cooking.  I have also seen that you can freeze it in ice cube trays to use throughout the year. I decided to make pesto. I had never tried it but always have wanted to. I think it was my unnatural fear of food processors. LOL I've had a pesto recipe with tomatoes forever and have wanted to try it. I figured this was the year to make pesto! I reserved a third of it for use over the winter.

After about an hour of searching I finally found my food processor, a Black and Decker which was won at a bar raffle about two to three years ago, There it was, sitting in the basement in a dusty box never used, still wrapped in plastic, just waiting to take off a finger or two. Well I figured nothing like the present ... and I sure as heck wasn't gonna chop up and mix all that basil by hand. I'm a hands-on kinda cook but anyone who knows me knows that if I can use a machine to do the work, I will.

The food processor had so many parts, I felt like I was putting together R2-D2 from Star Wars; not to mention the possibility of slicing yourself just trying to figure out how the blades went in! But I have to say Thank G-d that the contraption has so many safety features because if it didn't, I'm sure my finger would be part of the 2015 pesto season. Once finally put together, the Black and Decker beamed back at me as if it were saying, "Well it's about friggin' time!"

Using the processor was actually a joy. It made things so much easier. Clean up ... again watching those sharp blades ... was pretty easy too. I don't' know how often I'll use it, but at least I can say I have! One observation when it comes to using it for the recipes: when you run the processor, keep an eye on the pesto. You don't want pesto soup.

One of my besties, Jen, gave me this great cook book, Giada's Family Dinners for one of my birthdays many moons ago. It is one of my favorites and Giada's recipes are so easy to follow and make. The one pesto recipe below comes out of it. Thanks again Jen!

Basil Pesto by Giada De Laurentiis  

2 cups fresh packed basil leaves
Giada's Pesto over rotini pasta
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
About 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a blender or food processor, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until finely chopped. With the blender/processor still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese. Season the pesto with more salt and pepper to taste. (The pesto can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Makes 1 cup.

Saved some to dry and use over the winter
Toasted Pine Nuts by Giada De Laurentiis

1 cup of pine nuts

Preheat a small, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Place the pine nuts in the hot skillet and stir them until they become fragrant and golden brown on the outside, and pale golden throughout the inside, about 5 minutes.


I found this next recipe in a newspaper years ago and have always wanted to make it. Well I finally got the chance! I had enough picked basil to make both.

Pesto Al Pomodoro (Tomato Pesto)

Tomato Pesto and Giada's Pesto
3/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup packed fresh parley leaves
4 cloves, garlic, peeled
Kosher salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup peeled, seeded, finely diced ripe tomatoes (about 3 medium sized)
freshly ground black pepper

Place basil, parsley, garlic, and salt in a food processor or blender. Roughly chop. With machine running, add olive oil. Shut off machine and scrap sides. Run machine again and slowly add tomatoes. Process until blended.Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bird Watching in my Yard

This past Saturday morning, I poured myself a cup of coffee and began staring out the kitchen window, thinking about my fun evening last night with friends, and what the day held before me. My mind wandered as I contemplated life. I sipped my coffee. Thoughts turned to a tomato and cucumber salad I wanted to make later. Chores to do, errands to run. Fitting in the gym somewhere along the line.

I began to watch the birds and butterflies zip between the oak tree, the pussy-willow tree, the bird bath and the butterfly bush. I spend 15 minutes just relaxing and watching the birds.

I gazed out finding myself smiling. About 5-6 cat birds hopped from branch to branch in the pussy-willow tree, each taking a turn in the bird bath. Feathers ruffling, water splashing,. They seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as much as I was enjoying watching them. They'd hop out, and preen themselves on one of the branches, shaking off excess water.

Butterflies were all over the butterfly bush, competing for spots with a trio of small orange-grey bluebirds. I found alter that they were indeed Eastern blue birds. A solitary yellow American goldfinch flew from the oak tree to the butterfly bush and then up to the tops of the trees in the back of the yard. I also had a pair of red headed house finches in the pussy-willow, doing their best to annoy the cat birds. And a couple of robins hunted for worms in the grass.

I wanted to remember this perfect moment. I really just enjoyed it. Sometimes you need to take the moment, lose yourself, live in that moment, and just observe what it happening around you. You'd be amazed at what you will observe.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Home Depot Trip

Image borrowed from www/
John and I were at The Home Depot the other day buying some paint, some rope, and a bunch of other stuff you normally buy there. We had a cart weighted down with two 5 gallon drums of paint and we were slowly pushing it around the store when I realized I needed some top soil and possibly more plants for the deck.

We slowly pushed the heavy cart out to the garden section and I told John to wait with the cart by the entrance while I got a 25 pound bag of top soil on the other side; it seemed like a mile away. I carried the bag all the way back to the cart and was just about to place it in the cart when it split open, dumping out top soil everywhere. I started laughing and John rolled his eyes at me, sighing.

I carried the opened toil soil all the waay back to the soil/compost shelves. dropped it, and got another one. Then I walked all the waay back to the cart. Luckily this one stayed intact.

"Marc, why didn't you just bring the cart over to where the top soil was?" John asked.
"I didn't want to have to push this heavy ass cart all the waay over to the top soil."
"So, you took two trips, back and forth, to grab a 25 pound bag of top soil?"
"Hahaha, yeah I guess I did," I responded.
"I'm not gonna say anything." John said just shaking his head.

He began to turn the cart around to go towards the registers and I blurted out, "I almost forgot! I need plants! But I'm not gonna pay full price! Lemme see what's on clearance!"

I found a store associate watering marigolds and asked her.

"Hi, where are the discounted plants?" I asked.
"I don't know what you mean," she flatly responded, still watering marigolds.
"Um, where are the 'on clearance' plants?"
"There are some are on sale over there," she began, pointing to perfectly healthy plants. "Those are 30% off, Sale ends today." The woman was completely devoid of any vocal pitch or emotion. I began to get annoyed. 
"No, the really discounted 'on clearance' plants?" I clarified.
"Sir, I don't know what you are asking me."
"They haven't died yet, sir."
"ARGH!" I exclaimed in a huff.

John just looked at me and stated "I'm am just so mortified right now." And he walked away.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Advice to my Niece the Graduate

Gelly the Graduate! 
While I was vacationing in San Diego this June for my niece Angelica's graduation, I pondered on what to write about. I wanted to impart some wisdom to her from her Crazy Uncle Marc. What could I say which she would appreciate?

At her graduation party, I had already told her how proud of her I was. How I enjoyed so much watching her grow up, becoming a responsible young adult, graduating with honors, and receiving her diploma! There needed to be something more...

The next day, I was in San Diego's Balboa Park enjoying a morning to myself wandering around the gardens, studying the architecture, all the while trying to allow my thoughts and ideas to come together through my surroundings. NOTHING. LOL. I sat outside the Botanical Gardens watching koi fish lazily swim to and fro. I got out my laptop and realized my laptop was dead! Argh!!! I forgot to check the battery! I was getting nowhere fast.

I decided I'd grab a quick beer in the Prado Restaurant and brainstorm. Sitting with my beer, I was playing with my camera when I caught the whiff of something so strong, yet fresh and energizing! I glanced over at the bartender. He had just plucked an entire pitcher full of fresh mint leaves for mojitos. The bartender said he barely noticed it anymore, having spent each morning for months plucking off the fresh mint leaves.

Botanical Gardens, Balboa Park, San Diego
WOW, I thought, what an incredible scent. And then it hit me upside the head like the San Diego desert heat! That's it! Angelica needs to appreciate the details in this journey we call life. So I went old school, got out my pad and pen and began writing furiously. 

ANGELICA (OR Gelly, as we call her), just take moments and stop and listen to the cacophony of life around you. For instance, while I was at that bar, I heard:
the Chef speaking Spanish while stirring a large pot of sopa,
the clinking of bar glasses,
the soft jazz in the background,
the bartender shaking his cocktail mixer, making endless mojitos,
the jarring sound of a dropped silver tray,
and the murmurings of the waitstaff during lunch.

Uncle Marc and Gelly on the way to graduation!
This is LIFE! It is quick, it rushes by. You need to take stock of your life AS IT HAPPENS and enjoy it to the fullest. There are wondrous things to see and experience in every aspect of it from the mundane to the exciting; from the sad times to the happy times! Obviously, don't spend every second obsessing over every minute detail but appreciate the details you do notice! These details are what makes up your very existence as you experience it. Because before you know it, you will be older and wondering in amazement at how fast it has all gone.

Some observations off the top of my head to help you realize what I am talking about: (in no particular order)

  • The strong scent of fresh herbs or flowers (think rosemary, mint, lilacs, or honeysuckle)
  • The softness of your doggie Zoey the Morkie's hair
  • Zoey's rhythmic breathing while sleeping
  • Spending the day just wandering and not (G-D forbid) always checking into social media
  • The smells and tastes of your Mom's cooking
  • The taste of fresh fruit and veggies
  • Learning to appreciate all types of music from the soft jazz playing in the background of a restaurant to your favorite country music (And I know you know a TON of country music, LOL.)
  • The smell of fresh sheets and towels
  • Your favorite perfume
  • The warmth from rays of sunshine on your face
  • Quiet time alone
  • The refreshing crisp feeling of jumping into a pool
  • Drinking ice cold water and feeling it deep inside you
  • Actually listening to the birds during the morning
  • ENJOY the morning, take 5 extra minutes and drink your coffee outside!

I could go on and on. I hope this helps. I truly wish you the best. As they say, you are the master of your own destiny and YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR OWN LIFE STORY. (OK OK, I got that from the pictured card, but oh so true!)

And some general advice from your Uncle:

Become cultured.
Take time for yourself to learn, grow, and heal.
Accept your imperfections.
Do something you love for your career, don't get sucked into what others want you to do.
Learn a language.
Fireball, if consumed in large quantities, is a bad choice.