Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Beware of Falling Ice

The other day I was walking from my office in Allentown to my newly assigned parking lot. I suffer the fate of having to park in the lot furthest away from work. I quip bitterly that I park in the next town over. The first five times I guess it was funny. Now they think I am just bitter about the whole situation. And yes, they are correct.

From work, I walk down a long alley in between the county government building and a 19th century church. Glancing upwards, I spied several large icicles the size of stalactites hanging off the church roof just ready to come crashing down on whomever was treading below. Now we aren't talking about the icicles that as kids we would break off and eat. Ummm...did anyone else do that besides me? (silence ... crickets chirping) Anyway, the icicles on the church are the size of baseball bats. If one hit you, it would definitely knock you out or worse like stab you like the lightening rod did to that poor priest in the first Damien movie, you know the one, The Omen, 1976, which totally scared the crap out of this 6 year old boy for years to come!  And on I ramble....

As I carefully made my way down ice alley, I thought back to the winter of 2000 when I was a skinny 30 year old running to my job as an office clerk at the Philly gourmet goods company, Caviar Assouline. I was running late as usual and decided to cut across the upper end of Independence Park.

My circuitous route took me down Arch Street on the south end of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. I remember it being a warmer day after weeks of ice and snow. The winter had begun its thaw. Sidewalks all over Philly were blocked with signs declaring "Watch for falling ice!"  

That particular block of Arch Street was cordoned off with yellow caution tape and signs. And if you couldn't read, there was a nice sign with a picture of someone being struck by ice.  Other signs ominously stated, "Danger, this side closed!"  "This means you Marc Haynes!" "Use the other side you DUMB ASS!" 

That didn't deter me! Nope, no siree! I looked up, and although I saw icicles hanging from the top of the building several stories up, I felt that the fates were with me and I could make it safely to the other side of the block. I stepped around the caution tape and began my journey down the narrow length of sidewalk along the bank.

And of course almost immediately, I heard ice breaking above me. I let out a frightened, "Oh CRAP!" and bolted like a snowshoe hare down Arch Street. I got about halfway down the block and was struck by falling ice. With the wind knocked out of me, I slumped to the sidewalk and think I momentarily blacked out. 

When I regained my senses, two bank security guards which had witnessed everything were helping me to my feet. They bounced back and forth from  "Are you alright?" and "Are you an idiot?" Suffering from embarrassment, I just nodded yes to both questions. I have to say though that through the reprimands, both guys seemed genuinely concerned. Either that or they were just relieved I was still alive. "Didn't you see all the signs?" "Are you crazy?"

"Um, no," I began, "Just late."  I shrugged off the pain between my shoulder blades and hobbled like the Elephant Man the rest of the way down the block. Once around the corner, I sat down on a park bench with the wind still knocked out of me. After about 5 minutes, I gathered myself together and eventually made it the rest of the way to work, late.

So these days I take no chances. I always look up and am wary of hanging stalactites. I always abide by caution tape. And I have tremendously improved my sprinting speed down city blocks, just in case.

I wrote a blog post the other year on 3 ways I almost died but forgot to include this one. Seems like I now have a fourth.  Check out the other post I wrote through the link below: .

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cucumber Salad and White Russia

Sarah and Herman Newman, my grandparents on Mom's side.
These pictures was taken by my father in the early 70's.
This is another recipe from Sarah Newman, my maternal grandmother, and is one which came with her from Belarus where her family hails from. Nana specifically came from a small town named Ilya, north of Minsk in Belarus.  Ilya was a significantly Jewish town which suffered incredible losses at the hands of the German solders during World War II. Luckily, my Nana's immediate family emigrated from Russia during the early 1900's, although many family members still perished during the Holocaust.

An interesting anecdote I remember well from my Nana. She often would tell me we were White Russian, as opposed to Black Russian. The name Belarus actually derives from Belaya Rus, meaning "White Rus". Nana was always adamant that I remember this, "You are from White Russia.You are NOT Black Russian."

Black Russia was an area in the upper western part of modern day Belarus around the towns of Hrodna, Slonim, and Navahrudak. Even after moving to America in the early 1900's, Nana held onto her historically ethnic roots so strongly until she passed in 1976.  Could this be why I prefer the White Russian cocktail over the black one? Hmmmm.

Ethnicity aside, staples of an Eastern European or Russian diet include cabbages, potatoes, radishes, other root vegetables, and cold tolerant greens. Cucumbers also became a staple as they grew quickly during the short growing season over the Russian summer. The nice thing is that you can buy cucumbers year round so you can enjoy this recipe any time of the year.

My ingredients
Cucumber Salad by Sarah "Nana" Newman

3 large cucumbers, peeled (I used 4 medium sized ones and deseeded them.)
Sliced thin OR sliced lengthwise, then sliced 1/2 inch thick
salt and pepper to taste
chopped onion (I used a medium sized onion.)
Nana's cucumber salad
dash onion powder
1/2 pound sour cream
Mix well

As with a lot of old family recipes, measurements are varied and according to taste. I personally add (as do a lot of other people) 1/8 to 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar depending on taste. I do not add dill or basil as do others. Other variations include adding a bit (1-2 teaspoons) of sugar to counter the sourness of the vinegar. My neighbor Charlotte goes a step further and adds a bit of half and half to make it creamier and a dash of Coleman's Mustard Powder for an extra zing.

*Thanks to for help in filling out the historical and geographical information.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Nana's Tuna Casserole

I think everyone who lives east of the Rockies is just over this wintry weather. I know in Philadelphia that we broke a 130 year old record for the most 6 inch plus snowfalls in one winter!  We normally get an average of 18 inches of snow by this time but have received 50 inches plus. It's enough to give even Grizzly Adams cabin fever. 

After hours of back breaking shoveling on these snowbound days, all one wants to do is just vegetate on the couch with a favorite drink watching movies or sports on cable. Thank G-d for the Winter Olympics and Turner Classic Movies.  For John, that means a glass of Single Malt Scotch, for me a glass of port. Day-drinking on a snowy day can be so much fun!  It also makes shoveling a bit easier although my walkways may not be a straight. 

Another requisite for the snow day is the making of comfort food.  When I find that the temperature starts dipping below 30'F, I immediately get out that recipe box to see what "warm me up, stick to my ribs"  food I can cook up.  Give me my Mom's mac n cheese, my W/T franks and beans, or my good friend Jen's sausage and white bean cassoulet!  But my all-time favorite comfort food is my Nana's tuna casserole (but Mom always made it for us).

What is it about comfort food that is so warm, so inviting?  Is it the obviously thick hearty nature of the recipes? Or is it rich family memories associated with the food itself? Warm evenings around the dinner table after playing in the snow.  A hot bowl of home-made chicken soup while recovering from a cold.  Thick hot oatmeal with brown sugar on a frigid morning.  Hmm, maybe it is a bit of both.

Nana's tuna casserole recipe is fairly basic, but yummy nonetheless. One finds that there are many variations out there online. A lot of them add peas and carrots (shutter at the thought). I hate peas, except for my neighbor Charlotte's pea soup. Her pea soups lives up to the comfort food title. Just soo good! 

Nana's tuna casserole has just cream of mushroom soup, tuna, noodles, cheese, milk, margarine, and corn flakes on top. That's it! I usually add double the amount of tuna to the recipe because I like more in it. Hope you enjoy!

TUNA CASSEROLE by Sarah "Nana" Newman

1 can tuna fish (I like to use 2 cans.)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
¾ cup milk
½ package of noodles (12 oz) (I use the extra wide variety.)
1/3 stick margarine (You can use butter.)
Chunk Velveeta cheese, one 8 oz block cut into small squares to facilitate melting (I have used shredded cheddar, too.)
Corn flakes for topping

1. Boil noodles and drain well.
2. Combine tuna fish and mushroom soup.
3. Mix noodles with tuna fish, and soup in casserole dish
4. Top with cornflakes.
5. Heat milk, margarine, and cheese on low heat, then pour over the cereal.

6. Bake ¾ hr in oven uncovered at 350'F or until cheese is brown. (I also like my -cornflakes/cheese topping a little more well-done so I keep it in sometimes for 10-15 minutes longer. Your call!)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Forget Me Not Cookies and a hint from my Pastry Chef friend Marie!


Mom's recipe card she wrote out for me.
This is a great kitchen hint from my good friend Marie, who worked with me at the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia for years! Marie was the one of the Pastry Chefs at the hotel, then left to become the pastry chef at the esteemed Asian restaurant Susanna Foo as well as a number of other well known restaurants in Philadelphia. She currently works for The Restaurant School in Philly as the pastry chef instructor.  The great thing about being friends with Marie (besides just being a wonderful person) is that she is only a cell phone call away when I need baking advice!  And yes, I shamefully take advantage of that.

Nana's measuring spoons from the 1940's.
John and I were getting ready for our annual Christmas Eve open house when he was making his Mom's famous rice balls, or as the Italians know them, arancini.  He was using eggs and cracked a bit to many. My question was whether I could save the already cracked, separated eggs for my Mom's Forget Me Not Cookies that I was making in the next day or two.  What to do, what to do ... and then I thought of Marie!  I gave my good friend a buzz and Marie said that one could store refrigerated egg whites for up to 5 days and the egg yolks for 2 days. So rather than waste the eggs, I was able to use them later for my next recipe.  The eggs were saved!

Ready for the oven!
So onto the recipe for the Forget Me Not Cookies. These cookies are a very sweet meringue-style cookie with a hint of vanilla and the richness of chocolate chips. They were always my brother Adam's favorite. Sheryl and I loved them but I always remember Adam going crazy over them. They are very sweet, maybe he had a secret sugar addiction? The recipe is also very simple, only 4 ingredients. Mom always made them for the holidays or for elementary school class parties. Remember those days when your Mom would make cookies or cupcakes for someone's birthday? These days with the sugary sweetness of these cookies, you couldn't get them within 100 yards of any school. I think the sugar content would qualify for exclusion from within a school's drug-free zone.

A couple things:  You can add food coloring if you'd like when mixing, or try it with butterscotch or peanut butter chips. I made a double batch and used the mini-sized chocolate chips. Thank G-d though for my neighbor Charlotte!  I forgot to buy the chips but my dear 70-something neighbor (who can bake better than Betty Crocker) came through with the chips.  I also used my Nana's vintage aluminum measuring spoons from the 1940's. So I made my Mom's recipe with my Nana's spoons. It was pretty cool. Oh, and Charlotte gave us the colorful Christmas dish we served them on. The next morning, you just carefully take the cookies off of the baking sheets, careful not to break the meringues. They can be stored and will remain fresh for several days in a sealed container. The cookies came out great. Sheryl and John wouldn't stop eating them. (OK, I was eating my fair share, too!)


Heat oven to 350'F
The cookies are done and ready to eat!
Beat 2 egg whites very stiff
Add 3/4 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
Beat sugar, vanilla, and egg whites
Mix in 9-12 oz of chocolate chips

Line a cookie pan with foil (or one of those silicone baking sheets)
Drop by the teaspoon on the pan
Put in oven - turn oven off
Can be left overnight