Sheryl and Mom, Holidays 2006

Sheryl and Mom, Holidays 2006
Sheryl and Mom, Holidays 2006: These Ladies Have Inspired Me To Cook!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Perfect Song for a Mood

Sometimes all you need is that perfect song to put you in a good mood. It amazes me how certain songs from my past and present evoke such great memories and feelings. I was in such a miserable mood this morning at work and popped a CD in my computer. My mood changed almost immediately. Thank you to that certain song for changing my mood! I needed it after a difficult morning.

Many years back, I went on a trip with my sister Sheryl to see Mom in the Florida Keys. Everytime now that I hear Gloria Estefan's album gloria!, it evokes such strong memories of that trip with Sheryl. With a Caribbean dance theme, the music takes me back to 1998, driving down US Route 1 south through the Keys, the car CD player blasting, smelling the salt air, the warm ocean breeze, passing palm trees, resorts, and marinas. What a wonderful time!

On the flip side, a certain song will also bring me to tears thinking about Mom. There are songs that she listened to which remind me of my childhood with her. There are songs which I associate with when she passed away that I cannot bear listening to. Sometimes I do listen to them when I feel the need to express my grief.

Songs from the 80's remind me of high school. Dark songs from The Smiths or The Cure remind me of depressive times in college. Guns and Roses and Motley Crue remind me good times at my fraternity parties and tailgates. Certain club music reminds me my party days in Philly and New York in the mid 90's. Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Tony Bennett, or Diana Krall singing the Standards just completely relaxes me.

That's the joy of music. It is a part of our day to day culture and life. Certain songs stay with us and can also influence us.  Almost like a drug, they are mood enhancing and often mood changing. If you ever find yourself in that sad mood, listen to one of your favorite "up beat" songs and don't be surprised if you are feeling a little better. Who needs therapy? Just give me a good song!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Epicurean Vacation: Part II

While visiting Dad and Martha out in California for my 41st birthday, I was treated to meal after meal of new culinary experiences! As I stated in the blog article before, Martha is an accomplished cook and the simplest of lunches and dinners were elevated to gourmet status by her deft hand.

For instance, one evening, Martha started us off with homemade pita and hummus. Tastes even better homemade! We dined on a medium rare rib eye. Unfortunately, as Martha, Dad, and I agreed, the ribeye turned out to be a bit tough, even cooked medium rare. BUT, our meal was elevated by grilled asparagus with an aoili sauce and roasted potatoes with an herbed mayonnaise of parsley, oregano, and chives. We drank a lovely 2009 Menage A Trois, a California red wine consisting of 3 varietals: Merlot, Cabernet, and Zinfandel. Dad had also picked up a wine to try, Poor Bob's California red wine. The irony of the name didn't escape my father, Bob. Unfortunately, although named extremely well, the wine tasted ... well poor! Hopefully Poor Bob's other wines are better than the bottle we tried. Nice try, Pop. Ha ha! The entire meal was rounded out with a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie.


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Another evening, we were treated to grilled hamburgers, medium rare of course, with toasted buns. Martha added sauteed portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions, and more of the aoili sauce. Again, simple elevated to gourmet!  One the side was freshly roasted beets and Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese.  That evening we drank beers from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California. Specifically, their Tangerine Wheat Beer and their Alley Cat Amber Ale. While out surveying the local bar scene in Humboldt County, California, I have also enjoyed their Downtown Brown Ale and their Great White Beer. Lost Coast Brewery is also a great brewery you can visit and dine at their restaurant .

One of my favorite meals that Martha made was a Thai dish of penne pasta with peanut-coconut sauce, chicken breast, and broccoli. The dish was made with limes, cumin, coriander, spearmint, garlic, cilantro, and ginger. Just an incredible culinary experience in my mouth! If you are interested in the recipe, email me and I will forward it on to you. Sidebar: I have started experimenting with different spices this past year, including coriander, cumin, turmeric, and curry. I consider myself pretty well versed in eating various ethnic cuisine. Now I need to start stepping up the plate and cook with these exotic spices!

Martha also cooked my birthday dinner which consisted of a deconstructed chicken pot pie. It was artistic, abstract, and delicious all at the same time. With heirloom carrots, mashed potatoes and a rich mushroom and pearl onion gravy, pardon the cliche expression, but it was simply to die for.  Who knew basic chicken pot pie could be elevated to something gourmet? She also made a tofu version for our vegan family members in attendance. One the side was a warm cabbage salad cooked with red onions, spinach, and dressed in a walnut balsamic vinaigrette seasoned with caraway and garlic.

For my birthday cake, Martha asked me what I wanted and as she has not disappointed my appetite in 18 years, I pretty much gave her carte blanche to surprise me. She did confirm, if I remember correctly, that I would be OK with a gingerbread cake as opposed to something chocolate or vanilla. This intrigued me, never having had a birthday cake of gingerbread. She made me ... get ready for this ... a gingerbread cake with a sour cream and maple sugar whipped cream frosting drizzled with a salted maple caramel sauce! So rich, so decadent, so good! The cake had fresh ginger(of course, duh!), Chinese five spice, and maple sugar and was topped with homemade candied pecans.  In three words, SHE DONE GOOD.

Next up, Part III:
My first experience with an authentic Indian dinner and lunch with Dad, Sheryl, and a herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Epicurean Vacation: Part I

The best vacations leave you with incredible memories. Usually those memories are of places and things seen. Vistas, views, people seen, artwork, shows, treasure found and bought, and evenings out make up the memories most often associated with a great holiday away! My trip in June with my sister Sheryl out to Arcata, California, to see my Dad and my stepmom Martha was no exception to that idea but with one major addition, the food!  My stomach growls as write this. It was truly a vacation of epicurean delights! 


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We traveled out for my 41st birthday and I knew I would eat well. Martha is an incredibly accomplished cook, and a cookbook author in her own right!  She has cowritten a wonderful cookbook, Locally Delicious: Recipes and Resources for eating on the North Coast with 5 of her good friends. The ladies call themselves the Heirloom Tomatoes with each having tomato names reflective of their personalities. Martha is the Jersey Devil Tomato!  A link about the cookbook can be found here at Eureka Books, in Eureka, CA.

In no particular order, I enjoyed the following epicurean delights!

Northern California, specifically Humboldt County, California, prides itself on it's locally grown food products and well as the freshest seafood one can imagine! My trip included two meals at a well known Japanese restaurant in Eureka named Bayfront Restaurant which ironically is also known for serving some of the best Italian cuisine in the area!  Being on the West Coast right by the Pacific, I chose the sushi to get a sampling of some of the freshest available. My first lunch with Dad included probably the best Miso soup with tofu and seaweed that I have ever bad, dragon roll with shrimp tempura, and a luncheon plate of several sushi: BBQ eel, octopus, yellow tail tuna, red snapper, egg over sushi rice, shrimp, and salmon. We downed our meal with traditional green tea and Kirin Ichiban Japanese beer. My second lunch at Bayfront Restaurant was with Martha and Sheryl. We dined on more miso soup with tofu and seaweed, soft shell tempura, salted roasted edamame, gnocchi with salmon, and chicken teriyaki with sushi roll. Of course I just had to pair my meal with more Kirin Ichiban Japanese beer! That meal was just as good!

The day Sheryl arrived (we flew out on different days), we went to lunch to a favorite spot overlooking the coast in the small seaside town of Trinidad. I dined on fish-n-chips with freshly caught rock cod. The fish was so fresh, firm, flaky, with a mild flavor. Trinidad is located above the North Coast Harbor and has spectacular cliffs and beaches with rocky outcroppings perfect for long walks. Tidal pools are abundant from the crashing surf and tides.

That was not the only way I was able to enjoy the rock cod though! Martha sauteed up cod cheeks one evening for dinner. They were SO tender! She paired them with a red cabbage salad with crisped pancetta and currants dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.

Breakfasts were also epicurean delight!  Martha served up the simplest poached eggs with a gourmet hand. On the side was a homemade pear cranberry compote, rhubarb orange marmalade, and her own spiced pickled watermelon rind. I didn't not think I would like the watermelon but I was sold! On another mornings, she made Ebelskivers with honey glaze. These traditional Scandinavian breakfast treats have been described online as a combination of pancakes and popovers. They are so much more though. You could eat a dozen of them and they seemed fairly easy to make. One morning, Martha indulged us with an asparagus frittata with mixed fresh vegetables and Chevre on toasted pita.


Another morning, Martha made homemade mini pancakes from a recipe from Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkley, CA , a favorite spot of hers and my fathers. And still another, she whipped up Creme Brulee French toast!  So rich and so decadent. One of my favorite breakfasts was just having coffee and a croissant at the downtown Eureka at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates while Dad was in a meeting around the corner. I enjoyed writing my blog on the netbook and people watching out of the large cafe windows. The croissant wasn't the freshest, but the Italian roast coffee was so warming on a foggy morning.

Next up, an Epicurean Vacation: Part II .... dinners!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Neighbors / Bad Neighbors


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I grew up in the idyllic hometown of Wenonah, NJ. I have such fond memories of my youth there. In the 70's,  two out of our three neighbors were very, very nice. We had Violet and Tom Conoway across the street. They were a sweet elderly couple that acted as surrogate grandparents to Adam, Sheryl, and I. Mrs. Conoway would bake us cookies. We would come into their little kitchen which always smelled so good and have cookies and milk. Adam and I would follow Mr. Conoway around in his yard and garage. When we were really young, Mom and Dad would sometimes arrange for us to stay there for a bit if they had errands to run and we couldn't come along. Just popping in would assure yourself of getting an oatmeal cookie or two!

On one side of our home were the Millers. Mr.and Mrs Miller were younger than the Conoways but about 10 years older than Mom and Dad. Mrs. Miller was sweet as well. They were the neighbors that my parents would talk to over the fence, have an occasional glass of wine with, exchange zucchini bread recipes, and hire their daughter Betty Jane to babysit us kids whenever needed.

On the other side ... well let's just say we did not get along with them. I will call them the Smiths. They were about the age of the Millers. They had one son: shy, introverted Billy. Billy never went out, was a mathematical genius, had pasty skin and thick glasses. Definitely not a sociable fellow. Billy was older than my sister and all momma's boy. He and his mother would be seen creepily throwing the ball underhand to each other for exercise when he was well into his teens.

Mrs. Smith and my mother did NOT get along. The Smith's yard was completely overgrown and unkempt. It was a tangle of bushes, vines, and foot high weeds. Mom complained that they were lowering the property values on the block. She continually warned us not to let our whiffleballs fly into their yard. We would sneak over and grab them and often got yelled at by Mrs. Smith for trespassing. She was notorious for keeping them. Or, she would bring them over and bang on the door, yelling at us again for being so irresponsible at 7 yrs of age. Uh ... okay. When she was nice, which wasn't often, she would bring us into her house to give us the ball and show us her pet box turtles. We went nervously. The odd thing about it was that her two pet turtles were kept in forced hibernation in the refrigerator crisper. I AM NOT KIDDING! Where most people kept their lettuce, she kept two box turtles. It was such a disturbing odd sight. There is just nothing more I can say about it! Just odd, just disturbing.

Then there was the Smith's electric organ. Mrs. Smith had an organ which she played at ungodly hours in the middle of the night. She would be playing Abba, Barry Manilow, the Eagles, and other 70's soft rocks hits. The organ was located up in the attic right next to window. My parents would call and call pleading with her to stop. She would for the evening but then start up again the next night. It was a nightmare.  After continued complaining, Mrs. Smith started to leave on the attic light all night just to antagonize us. It shown right into my bedroom window. Mom and Dad were undeterred and kept up the calling.  She finally stopped.

The funny thing was that Mr. Smith was such a kindly older man. He was nothing like the harpy of a wife we were subjected too. I think he knew he couldn't argue with his wife and would just give in to her craziness. Eventually, the Smiths moved to a home several blocks away. The home they moved to looked exactly like the one they moved from.

Soon, a new family moved in. We were so nervous as to whom we would "get". After all, you can pick your friends but can't pick your neighbors! Bob and Kay Croney moved in with Kay's daughter Tracy, and luckily, we got along so well with them, as neighbors should. Our parents had glasses of wine together, we would all talk across the fence, and had a BBQ every now and then. Tracy was in Adam's grade and if I remember correctly, they even went together to the prom or homecoming one year.  Our parents became friends and she became like a "sister across the yard." All was how it should be!