Me, Sher, and Ad

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Aunt Emmy's Angel Food Cake

Thank G-d I had John's Mom's stoneware bundt cake pan!
We often associate a particular meal with a certain family member or friend. My friend sister Sheryl makes an awesome chicken and tzimmes dish. Tzimmes is a traditional Russian Jewish dish of sweet stewed vegetables including prunes, raisins, carrots and potatoes. She first made it several years ago for Passover dinner and it quickly became a family favorite. (Mental note made to make sure that recipe gets up on my blog as well sometime!)

I associate my Great Aunt Emmy with her angel food cake recipe. She would make it each time my family visited her and Great Uncle Chic at their home in the Millburn, New Jersey. Uncle Chic's first name was Henry but his nickname was always Chic. I never knew why and thought it perfectly normal to call him that. When visiting them, the family would always congregate into Aunt Emmy's small but inviting kitchen. Their home was a formal yet warm one with a deep backyard that Adam and I used to play in. It was one of those tree covered yards, always dewy and moist, with moss growing around the eaves of the house and in the crevasses of trees. It abutted the Maplewood Country Club. Mom would always preemptively yell at us not to go into the golf course. As my cousin Anne used to remind me, we used to hunt for golf balls!

At that time in the late 70's, Uncle Chic was a tall, elderly bespectacled scholarly man. Mom had told us that he was a lawyer. I remember him having shelves and shelves of books and I always thought he was the smartest man I knew. He was so contemplative and knowledgeable.  Aunt Emmy was a petite woman with perfectly coiffed hair. She as so kind and loving as favorite aunts should be. Her hugs were strong and inviting. Her gravelly voice beckoning me in, "Come here you! Lemme give you a hug." I would smile sheepishly and run into her arms, smelling that same perfume.

I'm pretty handy with the electric mixer.
Aunt Emmy's angel food cake was a special treat. My brother Adam always requested it. It was so light and airy. She topped the cake with confectioner's sugar. Its baked crunchy top offset by the sweet soft interior. As Adam and I got older and Emmy and Chic had passed on, we would find ourselves talking about family, how much we missed them, and often bringing up the angel food cake. "Remember how good it was?" I would ask. Adam would respond, "Oh my G-d, it was SO good."

YUM! Look at that crust!
I never thought about making it until this project, Cooking Through My Family.  When Sheryl and I got together last year with our cousins, Anne and Jennifer, Aunt Emmy and Uncle Chic's granddaughters, I began telling them about my project. Soon enough, Anne was running back into the house to make me copies of family recipes of which I am so grateful for. I brought up the angel food cake and everyone chimed in how much they loved it too, but alas, Emmy never kept a recipe or passed one down to our cousin Jean, Anne and Jennifer's mom. It had become one of those family recipes which has unfortunately been lost. We are lucky though to have so many others.

Recently one day, I was lamenting about this to Sheryl. She brought up how she had forgotten until just then that she once did ask Aunt Emmy about the recipe while both were sitting down at the table in her kitchen. Could she have it? Aunt Emmy laughed her hearty laugh and said that she hadn't used an original recipe in years and the angel food cake was from a boxed mix! Mystery solved!
The finished angel food cake.

So in honor of my Aunt Emmy, I have made an angel food cake, courtesy of Betty Crocker's box mix. And it came out so good but I gotta tell you, nothing will ever be as good as Aunt's Emmy's.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Great Mechanic or Doctor? Keep 'Em for Life!

There is the old adage that if you find a great mechanic, keep 'em for life. I think that can apply for doctors as well. After all, each one provides a specific important service, necessary for work and life. Why not frequent the best that there is!  You wouldn't go to a crappy with cold hands and attitude? You also wouldn't go to a bad or untrustworthy mechanic, would you?

There once was a time when I thought changing your oil was just pullin' up the dipstick and then toppin' it off with any old oil:  5W-30, 10W-30, olive oil, vegetable, etc.  Luckily, I started getting schooled by horrified friends and family members about properly taking care of my car. 

One of the best pieces of advice I learned was to shop around for a good mechanic. Rely on the recommendation of friends on who is trustworthy, friendly, and helpful. Ask them questions and if they take the time to go over everything with you (a couple times because you have no clue initially what they are talking about), then keep going back. It may take a couple of mechanics to find that one, but when you do, keep 'em!

When I lived in Berks County, I went to the Pleasantville Garage in Oley, PA.  The owner, Adam Hiller, was the ultimate trustworthy and honest mechanic. I was bummed when I moved realizing that the Pleasantville Garage wasn't a short drive away. You want a mechanic who treats your car like it's their car. You also don't want to get taken 'to the cleaners' with the final bill. Adam was always upfront about the prices and was always more than willing to work with me with the larger bills. Skills, trustworthiness, and customer service. Pleasantville Garage has it all.

Here are a couple links where you can find info on Pleasanteville Garage:

When I moved up to Schuylkill County, I realized I had to change doctors as well. I was going to a family medical office in Douglassville, PA. They were, ahem, OK. I just always sort of felt like a number going in and out of their office. I was never treated badly but sometimes it was as cold as that stethoscope against your back. I think it comes down to good customer service and showing a genuine concern for your patients. No one wants to go back to the doctor who does not put you at ease for your anxiety-ridden concerns.

I was very hesitant in picking out a new doctor. I had a major health concern and needed someone that I would instantly feel comfortable with. You want a doctor that you can open up to and reveal your deepest, craziest health concerns:  "Doctor, am I growing a third arm out from my back?"  "I think I have the Dengue Fever!?"  "I know I shouldn't obsess with WebMD, but they said...." "Ok, really how do I stop getting older?".

You also want a doctor that will give you the time to voice those concerns. I don't wanna feel like part of the herd being shuffled through the gate. I AM NOT A SHEEP! Take the time, lemme ask my ridiculous questions. Try and act like you are interested in my crazy and unsubstantiated health concerns!

After searching and asking around, I learned of a very good doctor through friends named Dr. Phillip Tobash ... but of course, his first appointment was months out. NEVER FAILS. I found another doctor (also recommended by friends) by the name of Dr. Benjamin Darhun. I did some research online and was happy with the reviews I read.

My first visit with Dr. Darhun was the best damn visit I could have hoped for. I opened up to him concerning my health issues and was immediately put at ease. I then got out the list ... no wide-eyed reaction, he calmly stated, "OK, let's see what ya got" with a smile.

Dr. Darhun took the time I needed to go through everything. Every visit has been good if not great. He listened to me, asked questions, and allowed me to follow up his answers without feeling a bit rushed.  I was ultimately diagnosed with a hernia and after surgery, the followup care was exemplary. On a side note, if you happen to need a surgeon for a hernia, Dr. Levente Szalai (say that 5 times fast) was equally incredible. He works out of the St. Joseph Medical Group in Reading, PA.

It is rare these days that you can develop such a good intimate working relationship with your primary doctor. If you do, keep this doctor forever!!!  I am lucky and I know it. If I could I'd have Dr. Szalai perform every surgery I may ever need. I would put the man on speed dial one down below Golden China and Dino's Pizza.  I DO have my priorities.

Ultimately, of course, the decision is yours and yours alone. Like it or not, you develop a personal relationship with your doctor and mechanic. Why settle for mediocrity when it comes to your health or your car? It comes down to who do you trust in the long term. Don't make the decision lightly

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mom's Brisket

Ingredients used.
Brisket. The very word brings up memories of a tender beef roast, rich with gravy, surrounded by potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and smothered in onions. I remember it being associated with special holidays:  Rosh Hoshanah, Passover, Hanukkah, or birthdays. If our family was having a meal like London broil or brisket, it had to be a special occasion. But that was fine, it made us savor the meal that much more. I can still remember the smell just wafting through the house.

The brisket of beef is also popular with Texans who love to barbecue and grill it. We Jews love our brisket braised like a pot roast. I also found out the hard way from some lovely (ahem) elderly Pennsylvania Dutch women that brisket is not sirloin, brisket is not pot roast, and brisket is not flank. It is it's own cut of beef from the lower chest of the steer. Hmm, who knew?  Apparently not this Jewish 40 something year old guy!

In preparation for this, John and I went to Dietrich's Country Store to pick up my brisket. I knew I wanted one marbled with some fat. It gives it flavor. Thankfully hanging out in the kitchens with the chefs of the Ritz-Carlton Philly (former employer) taught me something! (It also taught me how to smuggle out the largest cooked shrimp cocktail out of a walk-in fridge without getting caught by the Garde Manger chefs!)  I also knew I wanted one that was just over 3 pounds since I was making it for just John and I.  And Mom's recipe called for that. AND ... we know moms cannot be wrong.

Heading back to the glass case with all the meat I scanned it for the brisket. Nothing. Hmm. OK, but I see a nice pot roast so lemme see if I can use that.

When my turn came up, the 80 something senior Pennsylvania Dutch woman asked me gruffly what I wanted.  I told her I was making a brisket, didn't see any, could I take that pot roast over there? (pointing to it in the case)

Going into the oven.
"What??? That is pot roast!!!" (Um, yes I could read the little sign stuck into it.) "You want da brisket!"
"I know, but I didn't see any!"
"There one right in front of you!" she declared.

And sure enough, there was a nice 5 pound brisket staring me in the face, right in front of me, front and center, with nothing hiding in front of it except a sign stuck into it screaming "BRISKET!"

"Well that's just too big," I began. "I need a brisket about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds.  That's what the recipe calls for."
"Why don't you want this brisket?" she retorted. "This is nice brisket. You eat it all."
"Yes, I know, that's my problem, I will eat it all. No, no, no, I want a 3 to 3 1/2 pound brisket. Can't ya cut off a hunk and we'll be good?"

She looked at me incredulously. Just blinking and staring at me as if to collect her thoughts.
"No, I cannot! Who will want then a 2 pound little brisket? No one will buy a tiny brisket!"
"I don't know who will buy it! I just know I don't want 5 pounds!"
"You take 5 pounds."
"NO ...," I said firmly, "I want a 3 to 3 1/2 pound brisket! I don't want 5 pounds of brisket!"

At that point, another 80 something Pennsylvania Dutch woman who was observing this ridiculous argument came over to join in. Luckily, her aim was to just diffuse the escalation. I mean, it was about to go down!

"Helen, we have some nice smaller briskets in the back, let's go look and see what we have," she said calmly leading her by the hand.
"Why doesn't he want the brisket? He can eat all of it? Who is he, this young man!"
Well, I thought, that was first correct thing that she said all day!
'Helen' then said something in Pennsylvania Dutch which I am sure was not very nice.  "What did she say?" I asked out loud as they walked away.

At this point, John had retreated as far away from me as possible to the other side of the store.

After what seemed like hours (I know Helen was making me wait on purpose, I just know it!), Helen finally came back with a smaller brisket and slapped it with a thud on the meat scale.
"Here!  This is small brisket. You take this one. You eat extra."
I sighed heavily. It was 3.825 pounds.  Sensing that I was going to lose the 'exact weight brisket war', I settled on the slab she brought out.
"Fine, thanks, I'll take it. It's perfect." I said with a forced smile.


Mom's brisket recipe is a basic recipe, nothing fancy. If you want to jazz it up a bit, there are plenty of variations online. The Lipton onion soup pack mixed in with water and then cooked on top adds a real nice flavor. As with all of her recipes, I am cooking them as close to "as is" as possible to honor her memory. If I add or change anything, I always note it down below.

Here are a couple things that I learned along the way or maybe, um, made a mistake on. (insert 'ooops' here) I forgot to trim the majority of the fat off the brisket. It was pretty well marbled as it should be but if there is a large section of fat on the raw brisket, you want to remove that.

In addition, make sure you know which way the grain runs as you will be slicing the brisket against the grain after it is cooked. It is easier to see this when the meat is raw. Slicing the brisket against the grain will leave you with a brisket that is more tender and easy to chew.  Slicing it with the grain will leave you with a brisket that is stringy and chewy. Luckily, I remembered which way the grain ran after I cooked it.

There are many arguments for how thick or thin you should slice your brisket. Mom sliced it 1/4 in. or less. I have read on various websites that you should slice it the thickness of a #2 pencil which is just a little thicker than 1/4 in. On other sites, its states the tougher the brisket, the thinner the slice. I guess it does come down to personal preference as well.

To be honest, I think I took mine out too soon. Although it was medium rare how I like my steaks and London broil, I felt it could have been cooked a bit more. Several recipes say to cook the brisket until a fork slides in easily which denotes the tenderness and I forgot to do that.


Some people say that you should discard the cooking liquid in the pan. I say NO and make a gravy out of it or just use it as an Au Jus. Some recipes also call for ketchup, chili sauce, or BBQ sauce to be poured on top. Mom used Lipton onion soup mix and I stuck with that!  Certain recipes say turn the brisket once halfway through cooking time. I say put it in, set the timer, and walk away!  Anyway, if you try my Mom's recipe, you will enjoy a brisket with flavor. It brought back just so many wonderful memories for me.

Basic Brisket by Abby Deeds

Serves 6
3 - 3 1/2 pound brisket trimmed of fat (YES I FORGOT THAT PART!)
4 medium or large potatoes quartered
4 medium carrots sliced (I used a bag of those baby carrots, just love them!)
1/2 pound mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 large onion sliced
1 packet Lipton onion soup mix
1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350'F
Place beef on top of sliced onion in shallow baking dish
Place vegetables around beef
Combine soup mix and water, pour on top of beef
Wrap foil loosely around beef and vegetables
Seal edges air tight
No need to baste
Bake 2 hours
Take out and let rest for 15 minutes (This is important. It allows juices to redistribute.)
Slice 1/4 inch or less thick

Thursday, March 13, 2014

First Email Received

Twenty five years ago this week, the Internet was born. It is so amazing how our lives have changed due to its influence. No more encyclopedia sets. Snail mail is dying a slow death. You can listen to the radio anywhere you take your smart phone. It is just mind-blowing.

I wanted to recount an anecdote about my first experience receiving an email over the Internet. Way back in Fall of 1989, I was a returning sophomore at Rutgers College in New Brunswick, NJ and was living with my roommate Dan in the Tinsley Dormitory on the College Avenue campus.  Upon arrival for the new semester, we received a packet of information regarding school services, as we did every semester.

In this packet was a sheet on our new email service which could connect us with classmates, teachers, as well as beyond that, other institutions. "Email? What the heck is that?" It directed us to a hangar type building (now Financial Aid) right next to Brower Commons, the dining hall. Within this building, we would find a couple of rows of computers where we could "log in and check our email."

My roommate Dan, a budding journalist and eventually the editor of the college newspaper, The Daily Targum, was excited and intrigued. I was more excited about rushing my fraternity Phi Kappa Psi. Nevertheless, I went over to the computer building to check it out.

Once at the hall, I logged onto my "email" to see if there was any messages. Besides some welcome message from Rutgers College, there was nothing. No messages, no spam, no advertisements, no funny jokes from friends, just one introductory email from Rutgers College for the rest of the year. I logged on every week just to see if I received anything, only to be disappointed each time I reread "Welcome to your new Rutgers College email account!"

I later quipped to Dan that this email system was a joke. It would most likely be dropped by the university within the year. Yeah, right...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How to Remain Humble ...
I always love hearing when people read my blog. It gives me satisfaction knowing that readers find what I write somewhat interesting. I really appreciate that. As I approach the 4th anniversary of writing this little blog, my dreams include maybe one day getting it picked up by a large news website. I know chances of that happening are very slim in this huge behemoth of the Internet; I am honest with myself. But for now, I remain content to write something each week and post it for my friends and family to read.

The one month which I posted anything which garnered major attention was of course the AOL video and link to the blog post on my horrible little Old City apartment the Mole Hole.  The huge bump in the readership level was really nice but of course fleeting. I didn't think it would last so I am happy to keep slowly growing the blog at a steady pace.

I have a bad habit of Googling myself to see where my blog shows up. It moves up and down and all around depending on how many posts I put up that month. I have also mentioned before that I wanted to discretely dispose of other Marc Haynes' so I could rise in the Google "ranks."  If you happen to see my namesakes disappear, I know NOTHING ABOUT IT! (wink wink)  AND ... if I ever get too big for my britches, I will forever be humbled by this horrible picture of myself that I found the other month online. It is the most incredibly unflattering still from my AOL video. Well, at least they got my name spelled correctly.

OMG! Nice face.
I would have much preferred this snazzy gem if I do say so myself:

Um, hopefully I'm not the only one who uses the word "snazzy" who isn't in their golden years.  :)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mom's Mac n Cheese

Ingredients used!

This is not your ordinary Kraft Mac 'n Cheese. My Mom's is unique and borderline gourmet if I do say so myself.  I always knew it was different than the boxed Kraft Mac N Cheese. Maybe the commercials say that's the cheesiest, but my Mom's is definitely the best in my eyes. I made the recipe on one of our "Polar Vortex" days this winter when I was longing for some good home-made cooking. I yearned for something warm and yummy that reminded me of growing up.

I made the recipe and called my sister Sheryl, commenting that although it was just how I remembered it, I noticed it had tiny cheesey clumps in the sauce with the pasta and the sauce was actually very light but cheesey. Sheryl remarked that Mom used a Bechamel sauce and mixed it with the Kraft block cheese. BECHAMEL did she say? I was pleasantly and extremely surprised!

Who would have known that my mother, the ultimate 70's and 80's cook, would make a macaroni and cheese recipe that incorporates a version of one of the "mother" sauces of French cooking, the Bechamel sauce!

For years I grew up eating my Mom's mac 'n cheese knowing it was definitely not your basic recipe. I didn't know how or why it was different. I just knew that I loved it.  And ketchup helped. But then again, you know my love affair with (in my opinion) the most versatile and flavorful of all American condiments!  Growing up, I put ketchup on everything including my dreaded vegetable nemesis, canned peas.

Anyway, I hope you try it and like this recipe. If you do not, may I suggest a quick reading of Wikipedia's article on sauces?  It's an actually very interesting article! Oh who are we kidding, if my sister hadn't told me, I would've been wondering about it forever through bites slathered with ketchup.

So good!

Macaroni and Cheese by Abby Deeds

1. Cook 1 1/2 or 2 cups of macaroni, then drain. (Instead of the normal elbow macaroni, I used Rienzi brand #38 spirals. They held the cheese sauce nicely and really snazz up the dish.)
2. In a saucepan,  melt 3 Tablespoons of butter. Blend in 2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a dash of pepper to taste.
3. Add 2 cups of milk. Cook on a low heat and stir with a whisk until thickened into a roux.
4. Add 8-12 oz of Kraft or another brand of mild cheddar cheese, small cubes (less than 1 inch to facilitate melting). (I used the store brand and it came out just as good.)  Let the sauce cook on a low heat until the cheese is melted, stirring frequently so it doesn't burn at the bottom.
5. Mix cheese sauce with cooked macaroni.
6. Transfer into 1 1/2 to 2 quart casserole dish. Top with shredded cheese if you like.
7. Baked at 350'F for 35 to 40 minutes.