Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

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

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/homedepot.com
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."
Me, visibly impatient, "OK, WHERE ARE THE DYING PLANTS YOU ARE SELLING FOR ONLY A $1.00."
"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.
Read!
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.
AND FINALLY....
Fireball, if consumed in large quantities, is a bad choice.




Thursday, June 9, 2016

Saving the Turtle, Losing the Tractor

Eastern Box Turtle hiding. 
Last Saturday John asked me to go to yard sale up and over Blue Mountain to hunt for some vintage and antique treasures. We'd get out by 7:30 AM and be at the yard sale within 15 minutes. My normal morning-self once again was lagging behind. I desperately needed a cup of coffee, some healthy carbs and a bit of protein. After that and about half a dozen various pills for ongoing ailments, I was ready to go!

We were just chatting while driving towards the mountain when out of the corner of my eye, I spied a turtle on the side of the road starting to cross the highway.

"TURTLE!" I yelled. "We have to stop and save him!"
"Marc, NO!" John flatly exclaimed. "Rt 183 is too dangerous, the highway is too busy. I'm not gonna let you get into an accident just to save a turtle!"
"John, I gotta save him. Don't worry I'll turn around where it's safe. I HAVE to save him. I'll be beside myself if we drive back this way and he is run over. I'll feel awful! I will NEVER forgive myself!"

Turtle on the floor in my back seat.
John was hemming and hawing but I was insistent. I was gonna save that damn turtle. So I ended up pulling off down a dirt road to safely turn around. Unfortunately, that "turn around" was also on a blind curve. Whoops, not such a safe place to pull out ...

"Marc, I can't believe you are doing this, this is so unsafe."
"Don't worry, I'll just inch out and maybe go NOW!" I slammed on the brakes, an eighteen wheeler screamed by missing us by a foot.

John, for some reason, was visibly freaked out by now. I was shaking from our near miss but that was not gonna dissuade me from the task at hand! I pulled out and drove back towards the turtle.

Once I reached him, I pulled off to the side of the road with traffic rushing by at breakneck speeds. The turtle was sitting on the shoulder of the road, poor guy visibly exacerbated, hiding in his shell... the turtle ... not John.

I grabbed the turtle, now realizing it's a rare eastern box turtle, and hoisted him up to the side car window to show John.

The turtle peaking out. I gave him some cat food.
"Yeah, yeah, can we go now?" John said through the car window. I put the turtle in the grass headed towards the field but thought the better of it thinking he would just turn around into the roadway again. I quickly opened the back door and put him on the back seat car floor.

I got in the car and John was just staring at me, "Can we go now!?"
I said, "Of course, I've been ready," looking at him like he was the one who caused the delay.

We started driving up and over the mountain to the yard sale.
"Just watch out," I began, "because the turtle may come under the back seat to the front by your feet."
"Whaaat?!" he exclaimed lifting his feet.
"Well I couldn't just leave him, he looked like he was gonna head back towards the road! I'm gonna just let him go in the woods behind the house, that way, he'll be safe. Hi turtle!" I said glancing towards the back seat while driving over the mountain at 50 mph.
"MARC!" John yelled, "Focus on the road please and not the turtle!"
"Oh yeah," I replied, "OK."

John and I finally arrived at the yard sale a couple minutes later. I couldn't find a safe place to turn around, so I drove a quarter mile down the road to make a U-turn, much to John's growing annoyance. We finally got turned around and parked in front of the house and John bounded out of the car to head to the house. I told the turtle we'd be right back and not to drive off without us.

1950s John Deere child's pedal tractor
As John and I walked up to the sale, a woman walked past us carrying a vintage 1950's John Deere peddle tractor that she had just bought. John turned around after she past and yelled, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME???" If we had been just 5 minutes earlier, that peddle tractor would have been bought by him.

I felt truly AWFUL. I knew he wanted it. He continued to the yard sale and stated flatly, "I am NOT leaving until I find something, ANYTHING, at this yard sale." Well unfortunately, that lady walked off with the best item. Everything else was bric-a-brac, old Christmas ornaments, Tupperware, old bedding, and some ugly lamps.
John and his lamp.


What do you think John bought? A brushed chrome floor lamp. He paid $3.00 for a floor lamp and stomped off angrily to the car to try and fit it in with me trailing after him yelling, "Don't hurt the turtle! Don't hurt the turtle!!!" John just kept muttering, "Don't talk to me, don't talk to me."

We somehow fit the floor lamp into the car and got back in to drive back over the mountain. Never one to let a good moment go, I turned back to the turtle and asked, "Are ya ready buddy to go home?" John gave me the dirtiest look and I laughed. "I think I'll call him Boxer, the box turtle."
John said, "I think I'll call him turtle soup!"


EPILOGUE:

Boxer in the woods behind the house.
Once I got home, I ended up putting the turtle in a box for a bit while figuring out where in the scrubby woods to release him. I tried feeding him some cat food kibble (which online, says you can do) but he was too shy from the incident or just plain traumatized by John. The floor lamp remains standing in the den, unplugged. I found the peddle tractor online selling for $295.00. John doesn't want the tractor ever mentioned again which is why I wrote the blog post about it. Ooops, sorry John. And lastly, Boxer the eastern box turtle is safe in his new home wandering the scrubby field and
woods behind the house.



Monday, May 16, 2016

Mourning Our Losses

There is a beautiful song called "A Boat on the Sea" by Kristen Vigard from the movie, Grace of My Heart with the lyrics "I never knew I was built so strong ... my heart is a boat on the sea ... I never knew I was built for hurricanes ... my heart is a boat on the sea." 

There is a strength you get from getting older that you never had before. It amazes you, tends to harden you, and also greatly saddens you.  It is a strength you develop from loss. You deal with death with emotions, tears, anger and frustration, but you start dealing with it rather matter of factly as well. It kinda sucks but it also comes from a place of strength you gain in being exposed to it more and more. The heartbreaking emotions are still there but you learn to process them better. Time does not heal old wounds. The wounds still hurt, but you get through it, somehow, hopefully stronger.

Forgive me for my rambling style, I may be a bit all over the place. I have found out this evening that one of my best friends from the 90's passed away. 

It has already been a tough Spring. I mourned the 7th anniversary of my beloved mother's passing on April 10th. That date through Mother's Day, this year May 8th, has always been difficult. I made it through as I always have but not without shedding tears. I think about Mom now more with smiles. That month between her passing and Mother's Day is broken by tears, and a sob here and there. I look up to Heaven and miss her, but smile knowing that I am more and more like her in my thinking, ethics, and morals. For that I am proud. 

RIP Randy
The crux behind this blog post is that tonight I found out I lost a dear old friend that I hadn't spoken to in the last 6 months. Randy Price died back in February in a tragic car accident. He was 53. I worked with Randy back in the late 90's at the City Tavern Restaurant in Philly. We were "thick as thieves" as they say, getting into all sorts of mayhem in Center City bars from Old City to Rittenhouse Square after working long shifts at the Tavern. He was so funny, always cracking jokes, genuinely nice and warm. His laughter and energy were infectious. 

Randy had contacted me after the "first" City Tavern reunion with the old crew saying how much he had wanted to go and was gonna try and make the next one. He and I rambled on one evening through phone calls and then texts into the early morning hours, reminiscing about old times, getting caught up. I was lucky enough that we actually expressed how much we meant to each other as old friends. I won't forget that. I just wished I had saved those texts. 

I had invited Randy through email, text, and voicemail, to our second City Tavern Reunion in February 2016. He never responded. I was disappointed but thought I'd connect with him again sooner or later. His accident was less than a week after the reunion. I never got that chance. His brother was going through his personal effects the other evening and found my cell # in a Christmas card I had sent Randy a couple years ago, calling me to let me know of the tragic news. 

Randy was an incredible person. He had sobered up and become a nurse. Our mutual friend Sam remarked that he was proud to call Randy his friend. Yes, Sammy you are so correct. There weren't many like Randy. He needs to be remembered as one of the good ones. 

I mourn for Randy's passing. Somewhat selfishly because I feel like I had just reconnected with him and there was a potential for our friendship to begin again and become stronger. I also mourn because his death was so unexpected, such a waste for someone who absolutely loved now what he was doing with his life. He was also proud that he had reconnected and grown closer with his two brothers.

If you get anything from this post, please say a prayer for someone that you were close to that you've lost and deserves to be remembered. In addition, let those know how much you love them. We need to be reminded how much those mean to us in the event the unthinkable happens. Life changes in an instant. It is so cliche', but so true.  As my friend Paul stated, live each day as if it were your last. 





Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Today I Buried a Rabbit. Happy Spring ... :(

Bloggers NOTE: I posted a picture of a dead rabbit in the middle of the blog post. This blog post is also a bit graphic in terms of dealing with a dead rabbit. There is no blood though, just a recently departed rabbit. You have been forewarned!

Covering the rabbit grave.
On Monday, I had the unhappy pleasure of burying a dead rabbit which I found in my front yard. Yep, that was my evening. I had wanted to work out. I had wanted to do a nice bit of yard work. Nope. I had to dig a grave in the woods behind my house and bury an unlucky bunny.

I had just pulled into my driveway and stepped out of my car. Glancing over between the bushes next to the car was a large rabbit, just lying there. I literally gasped as his size. He almost looked like he was peacefully sleeping on his side. But I knew he was dead. His one visible eye was glazed over and cloudy. He was just such a magnificent example of an eastern cottontail rabbit. Poor guy. Looked like a pretty healthy weight and beautiful coloring.

Bloggers NOTE: YES... I anthropomorphized the rabbit into a dude rabbit. Get over it, move on.

There was no blood, it looked as if the poor guy's neck was broken.  I was thinking a stray cat might have done him in, we have a number in the area. Some friends said he was too big to be taken down by a stray and that maybe a coyote or fox got him.

Sir Rabbit 
I know people have mentioned of a couple coyote dens up at Mintz's farm nearby.  I can say it most likely wasn't a coyote because they are known for only killing enough to feed themselves and their pups. Now foxes on the other hand, they do kill for sport. Ever hear about the saying "the fox in the hen house?"  Chicken coops are surrounded by chicken coop wire for a reason, to keep out the foxes.  If allowed into a chicken coop, a fox will kill every last chicken indiscriminately for sport. And again, there were no signs of trauma on the rabbit except for the neck area.

Other people mentioned owls or hawks. Charlotte my neighbor mentioned an American eagle. We have a pair seen quite often on Lake Wynonah. I would think if it were a hawk or eagle, there would've been rabbit hair about or why didn't the bird take the rabbit? He might escaped and then crawled between the bushes for safely, only to succumb to his wounds. I'll never know for sure but my money is on the fox.

Friends asked me if it was a male or female rabbit. They were concerned about a possible nest of bunnies. I didn't check the underside to look for the sex and as I said earlier, I made him a guy rabbit. I picked him up with the shovel and made my way back into the woods. His limbs were starting to stiffen but his body hadn't yet begun to show signs of rigor mortis. It must've happened then on Sunday night.
Workout.

I wanted to go far back into the woods so that if the grave did start to smell through the earth, it wouldn't waft up to the house. I trudged about 300 feet back into the scrubby woods, laid the recently departed rabbit down on the ground and began digging. Our soil in Schuylkill County totally sucks  and is rocky with field stones and shale. It took me a bit to dig a hole 2 feet x 1 foot x 2 feet deep. I guess I got my workout in after all!

I laid the rabbit down with the shovel into his final resting place and stared at him for a moment, saying a small prayer for God's creatures. Such is the way of the world. You know the deal. Nature is cruel, circle of life, rest in peace, all that stuff. Sad but it just happens.

After covering up the shallow grave, I covered it with some field stones and branches to prevent raccoons, coyotes, or the occasional dog from digging it up. Don't need a mess on my hands. It's bad enough I have to do the burial. I didn't feel like reburying a carcass.

As I came back into my yard, I spied another full-size rabbit race across the road into the neighbor's yard. Well at least there are more, I thought. There will always be more rabbits, I  then chuckled. I did look for a rabbit's nest in the yard just on the off chance it was a girl rabbit but couldn't find one. I don't need a nest of hungry baby bunnies looming on my conscious after assuming it was a dude rabbit.