Me, Sher, and Ad

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Car Issues as a Young Child

Here are a couple stories as a child that involve some car issues. As I have stated before, I was a pretty odd (maybe more normal than I realize) child.  All I know is that I gave my parents a lot of grey hairs. No wonder Mom did the 80's frosting kit every other week. 

Anecdote #1

I don't know why I wanted to do it but I did. I remember when I was about 5 years old,  my family was driving back from my grandparents' house in Willingboro, NJ on Rt 295 in South Jersey on afternoon. Car seats, what were they? We were all over the back seat. I don't know what possessed me to do it, perhaps too much sesame candy at my Nana's, but I rolled down the back seat window of our blue rambler station wagon while Dad barreled down the highway at 50 MPH. For some reason, I wanted to see the tire spinning so I started to climb out the back seat. My sister was preoccupied joking around with my brother and wasn't paying attention to me. My Mom saw me attempt to climb out and screamed, "MARC'S CLIMBING OUT THE CAR!" My sister grabbed my pants and yanked me back in. Mom turned around and screamed "WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!?!" "I don't know!" I cried. "I just wanted to see the tire spinning!"

Anecdote #2

The next time, we were coming home from an afternoon visit up to the New Jersey State Museum. It was the five of us again: Dad, Mom, Sheryl, Adam and I. I was about the same age. We spent the day going through the history and natural exhibits. Mom and Dad let us each buy an over sized postcard in the gift shop. I got an Eastern Timber Rattlesnake postcard. Sheryl got one with a baby deer, and Adam got a scorpion. We were traveling home, again on Rt 295. I was sitting behind Mom and decided to scare her with the rattlesnake postcard. I started moving the postcard by the side of her head just like a snake creeping up to her. Unfortunately, her window was down and the postcard went zipping out the window into the highway below. "MY POSTCARD! NO!!!!" I turned around quickly enough to see it zip under speeding cars and into the bushes, fading into the distance. It would be impossible to find and my parents c would not stop the car on the busy highway. I was an inconsolable mess! Sheryl felt so bad that she immediately gave me her postcard. I was so grateful. I still have it to this day.

Anecdote #3

My godparents, Ann and Rich Gardler, owned a farm down in Swedesboro, NJ. We would often visit the farm and spend the day with them. One afternoon about a year later, we had just pulled away from the farm in our green ugly Ford. I couldn't even tell you the make, I know I just hated that car. My brother was on one side in the back seat, I was in the middle, Sheryl was on the other side. None of us were wearing our seat belts. It just wasn't done back then! Suddenly, Adam's door swung open, I looked left, and I vividly remember I could see the field quickly passing the car. Adam started screaming, I was frozen in fear. Sheryl, the every level headed big sister, grabbed Adam across me and held him in tight. Dad pulled the car over and Adam cried in fear. He jumped over the the seat into Mom's arms where she comforted him. Dad hugged Adam as did Mom. Sheryl rubbed Adam's back. And there was me, still sitting there. Um what about me??? I started crying LOUDLY because no one was paying attention to ME!!! Sound familiar? Somethings never change. :)  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Memories of Mexico

Recent pic of the bull fighting ring, it's still there!
There are no crazy drunken bar stories in this post. My crazy drunken bar stories all happened during the 90's in Philly. As I've said before, another post, another time.

As a child in the early 80's, I remember traveling with my family across the border from El Paso, Texas to Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. We just drove in, no questions asked; no passports or government ID cards were needed to enter and return. It was a hot dry dusty August day. I remember driving down the main thoroughfare with no real destination in mind. It was just the thrilling idea back then of going into Mexico.  I remember looking out the dirty, dust covered windows of our sky blue Pontiac Phoenix and seeing a bull fighting stadium in the distance.

We ended up at a shopping mall and walked around inside. It was nearly deserted, dark and foreboding. I was nervous. I remember finding it peculiar that half of the lights in the mall were out. There was canned Mariachi music. Obviously, it wasn't like malls in the US that I was used to.  Local faces were staring back at us. We must have looked pretty peculiar to them, this family from New Jersey with three loud kids. I stared at a boy my age and he stared back at me, both of us wondering about the other and perhaps a bit suspicious. My mother searched for and bought a LLadro porcelain figurine of a young girl. You could purchase them for far cheaper there than in the states.

Mom and Dad loved Mexico. When Mom and Dad were married back in 1976, they honeymooned in Acapulco while Adam, Sheryl, and I stayed with Nanny and Grandpop in Willingboro, NJ. It was a fun time staying with our grandparents. When Mom and Dad returned, they picked us up in the evening and we had to wait to see what they brought us as gifts. We kids were so excited. I remember staying up late in the evening in living room just waiting. It was later than I had ever stayed up, like 11 or 12 midnight.

Mom and Dad got each of us a colorful yarn covered bird, a wooden turtle, and for Adam and I, little clay bulls and bull fighters. Sheryl was given a handmade fabric doll. I still have my gifts to this day. And coins! they gave us Mexican coins. LOL, I forgot about those coins.

Mom told us of a story that on the flight home they hit major turbulence. Her Coca-Cola fell off of the tray table and went pouring down the aisle like a stream. We all laughed, just giddy from our beloved parents being home safe and sound. We also learned that Dad had been very sick for several days after getting bit by a mosquito. Aside from that, they said they had a nice trip.

I have been to Tijuana, and Baja, Mexico several times since then, all with my brother Adam. I always felt safe going across the border because he was a border patrol agent at the time. I love the country for it's colorful vibrant culture, history, art, and people. I know violence can happen but I don't put myself in those situations or areas. Instead, I stick to the main drag of Tijuana, enjoy my cerveza, and haggle for some great sterling silver. Although once, I did buy a bracelet marked sterling silver which ended up turning my wrist green! I guess "buyer beware."

The last time I was in Tijuana was years ago, I went with John, Adam, and my Dad. We were walking the main strip, the Avenia Revolucion, going in and out of shops. Dad was on a mission to find a soccer shirt for his grandson Westleigh. He went into every shop! Now Dad is an extremely wise, astute, intelligent man. He also talks to everyone! For better or for worse, this is a family trait. My brother, sister, and I also share this trait.

Well Adam, John and I were going in and out of shops with Dad trailing behind us. I then looked turned around to show him some art work and he wasn't behind me. I ran out onto the street and he wasn't waiting on the sidewalk! I was seized with fear and ran back in the store to get Adam and John.

Restaurante Iguana Rana
"We lost Dad!" I yelled.
John was a little freaked, grabbed our purchases, and we ran out the door to look for Dad.
Mr. Cool, Calm, and Collective (Big Brother Adam) was nonplussed by it all as we ran by him.
"Dad is fine," he said, "he is probably just talking to people again."

We checked the store next door, nothing. We checked the store after that and the store after that. NOTHING! No Dad!  There we were, Adam, John, and I, heads spinning looking up and down the main drag in TJ. Finally, we spied Dad across the street in front of a shop, haggling with the owner over a soccer shirt for Westleigh.  Adam sighed heavily, rolled his eyes, and muttered "DAD" really loudly.

We crossed the street and there was Dad, proud of his purchase for Westleigh and eager to show it to us, but not before the three of us admonished him for freaking us out! Dad brushed it off, exclaiming "But I got such a great deal Man!" I was just happy we found him quickly. Lunch was at Restaurante Iguana Rana with an old school bus hanging off the second floor balcony. Don't ask me how they got it up there. LOL. The beer and tacos were great.

One last memory of Mexico involved Adam, his wife Teresa, Sheryl, and I. We drove down the Baja coast from Tijuana down to the colorful small fishing port of Puerto Neuvo, the self described "Lobster capital of Baja". We drove past abandoned buildings and houses, followed by wealthy homes and colorful condos. What was finished was beautiful, vibrant, and gorgeous in color and style. What wasn't finished were just shells in various stages of completion. When the money stopped coming in, so did construction, and rather abruptly so it seemed.

Once at Puerto Nuevo, we had a delightful open air lunch at the Lobster House on a balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean, toasting each other over Coronas and margaritas. But the best part, besides family, was the fried lobster lunch I devoured, Puerto Nuevo style! It was a first and was SO good! Afterwards we shopped at the colorful arts and crafts stores which dotted the town.

My memories of Mexico will keep me coming back there. I know there are problems, I am fully aware of the possible violence and the poverty. But if you travel with friends, keep an eye on each other, and don't become a drunken idiot American, you can have a wonderful afternoon or trip.

NOTE: Photos are for representative purposes only. I do not own them.

Bull fighting stadium pic courtesy of the blog:
Restaurante Iguana Rana, Tiguana:
Lobster House, Peurto Nuevo:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Nana's Potted Chicken

I hadn't done a family recipe in awhile, so I got out the trusty old recipe box and picked one out that I hadn't made before.

This is an easy stove top recipe for stewed chicken. It comes out real juicy. I remember Nana and then Mom making it during the 70s and 80s.  I found quite a number of variations of potted or stewed chicken online, many from the 50s and 60s. My Nana's recipe is decidedly from that time of simple, yet good cooking. It has European origins and as my wise sister pointed out, was probably used as a cost savings dish.

The recipe was passed down to my Mom without any set amounts. Just add as much ingredients as you think would taste good!  You'll see with the recipe below. And I just realized that much of Mom and Nana's cooking included the essential chopped onion, sliced carrots, and sliced celery. One may think that this is a bit plebeian or common but in fact, it is the basis for any good solid recipe involving meat or fish. It is often used in braising or in stews.

When I worked at the Ritz-Carlton Philly as one of the purchasers, I learned bits and pieces of cooking techniques from the chefs. He probably doesn't remember it, but Chef Matt, the Garde Manger and banquet chef, taught this annoying twenty-something guy how to make a mirepoix, which is the basis for many recipes in French cooking. Wikipedia defines a mirepoix as a mixture of chopped onions, celery, and carrots, of which there are many variants. It serves as "a flavor base for a wide variety of dishes." Here is the link for the wiki page: mirepoix.

I found it pretty cool that my Nana, a housewife originally from Belorussia, was using the same basic cooking technique as the French.

POTTED CHICKEN by Sarah "Nana" Newman

1. Clean chicken parts well
2. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder
3. Add chopped onion, sliced carrots, and sliced celery
4. Pour on ketchup or tomato sauce - dilute with water (or with chicken stock)
5. Cook on medium for 1 1/2 hours until tender (cover the pot)

A couple of things:   One has to remember that this recipe is 50-60 years old. Times were different then, and there was less variety available than today. I would never use ketchup in this recipe but back then, it was perfectly acceptable. I used tomato sauce and chicken stock.  But don't judge a recipe solely for it's ingredients. Instead, understand where and when this recipe came from and then try and make some substitutions!

In addition, specifics are not mentioned. It does not say what type of pot to use. I used a large skillet with a lid because I was cooking only chicken breasts tenderloins. But you could use a large stew pot if you are doing many parts of bone-in chicken. Use as much chicken as can fit into a medium or large pot/skillet so that the chicken does not touch the sides of the pan. How much onion, carrots, and celery? Who knows. LOL. I added even amounts of each and it came out great. Check out a similar recipe online or guesstimate it.

For my recipe, I adjusted the cooking time downwards because as I stated before, I used chicken tenders. They cooked up faster than the 1 1/2 hrs. I would say they were done in 40-45 minutes. And this was with me turning down the temperature to simmer and keeping an eye on it.  I also used 3/4 a bag of small baby carrots, four stalks of celery, and a medium sized onion. Lastly, I served the meal over brown rice and would have included a picture, but my camera on my phone is a piece of crap. BUT ... it was sooo good and the chicken was sooo tender!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Car Shenanigans of my Youth

I was driving to work the other day down Route 78 and some huge ass tractor trailer started every so slowly nudging into my lane. I leaned on the horn while screaming bloody murder above my 80's mix CD, "WHAT THE HELL!" Yes, I drowned out the Bangles while flipping off the truck next to me, spewing my Dunkin' Donuts coffee all over the Camry dashboard. OMG I am so now middle-aged!

Luckily, the rest of the commute into work was uneventful. But it allowed me to remember past near misses and some minor accidents that I had during my high school years. (UM ... Dad, this is the part where you may want to stop reading. AND I LOVE YOU!)

Like the time I was driving with one of my high school best friends, Angie, and I came around a turn in a corn field. I was driving our fire engine red Nissan Sentra and took the turn too fast, going over a small turn marker into the field. She screamed, I screamed. We survived the plunge into the corn field. Luckily no damage to the car, although I was picking corn shocks out of the front grill when I got home.

Reminds me of Mark's bro's Camaro
Another time, I was riding in the back seat of my friend Mark's (brother's I think) early 80's Camaro. Mark, Greg, and I were coming back from cruising the Deptford Mall when Mark took the ramp off of Route 55 going at least 70 mph. I remember the car going airborne for a second or two and all of us collectively sh*tting our pants. And there we were screaming like 5 year old school girls.

Ahhh youth. Ain't it grand.

One weekend I hijacked ... um I mean borrowed (and eventually got grounded by doing so) my Mom's Honda Accord and took it for a joy ride down to Ocean City, NJ, with my friend Mike while the folks were away. We stayed at my Uncle John's and got our 18 year old asses tossed from at least 3 bars. Coming home, we got behind a bus load of cheerleaders. Mike thought it would be a great idea to pass bottles of beer from the Honda to the bus, so we drove in the oncoming lane along side of the bus as Mike proceeded to hang out the window passing the beer to the girls. It was one of Mike's typically crazy insane ideas, but I was game!  :)

Just like Mom's Honda Accord!
I was driving with one hand and hanging onto Mike's shorts with the other so he didn't fall out of the car. The idea didn't fully come to fruition due to an ongoing Lincoln Town Car which caused us to quickly veer off the road into a LUCKILY empty motel parking lot.  I was, once again, sh*tting my pants, sweating bullets, and what was Mike doing? He was screaming to me, "THAT WAS F*CKING AWESOME, HAYNES, F*CKING AWSOME! MY LIFE JUST FLASHED BEFORE MY EYES!" Bottles of Busch beer were strewn across the road to the Jersey shore.

I miss the Pontiac Phoenix. :(
One more time, I was driving our blue Pontiac Phoenix with my friend Don McManamy around Woodbury Heights, NJ, when, once again, I took a turn waaay too fast. The car skidded on sand and jumped a foot high curb, breaking both axles, and blowing out the curb side tires. The car came within 2 feet of hitting a grove of trees. To this day I am so happy Don is alright! We nervously laughed about it at my 25th reunion this past Fall. Anyway, I ran to the nearest house to call my Dad and it turned out to be my classmate Eric's house. He just laughed at me and the next day told everyone at school how I totaled the car by his house. In the meantime, I thought about the ways my Dad would kill me.

I was totally dishonest about it and Dad knew it. He ripped me a new one. I eventually confessed, he forgave me and we moved on. Alot was going on at that time with my folks separating and I think he figured I was acting out, which I probably was trying to show off. To this day though, I hate myself for how I handled it. He has always maintained it's OK, it happened, learn from it and move on. I love that guy.

One summer evening I was driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge for a night of dancing at Flannigan's on South Street Philly with besties Marguerite, Angie (AGAIN!), and Mandy. We were driving over the bridge singing Madonna's "Holiday" at the top of our lungs when we realized Mandy was driving in one of red light lanes with TRAFFIC COMING TOWARDS US! We all screamed and Mandy swerved into a green lane at the last moment. We have never let her forget that one. Every time I hear that song I think of that night driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge!

Another night coming back from the Philly clubs with these three gals, I was driving the Sentra east on Rt 676 into South Jersey. There was a low concrete median at that time separating 4 lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. I absentmindedly decided to cross over three lanes, thereby going straight over the concrete median. Well, the girls screamed and sparks flew from the undercarriage of the car for a good 50 feet but the trusty Sentra kept going!

Late 80's Nissan Sentra
After a slow down and a head count, we continued on our way back to Wenonah. I dropped off Mandy, then Marguerite, and finally Angela, 12 miles south in Mullica Hill. The next morning, Dad woke me up and asked me to come outside. I followed him thinking "Oh sh*t."  He asked me, "Do you know the back left tire on the Sentra is all shredded?" I told him I must have driven over something on the highway, what could it have been?  He looked at me suspiciously and I ended up paying for a new tire out of my AMC Theater paycheck (I worked there with Angie!). I just couldn't believe the tire didn't give out until I arrived home in the driveway. Dad was just thankful it didn't blow on Route 55.

Remember this car Adam? :) 
Well those are my stories. Now my sister and brother are not innocents in this blog! But being the good dutiful little brother that I am, I won't go into full detail BUT, if you ever see my brother Adam, ask him about what happened to our Chevy Chevette his freshman year at the Crossings Apartments at Glassboro State College OR ask my sister about ... well, let's keep that one quiet. Sheryl has a lot of dirt on me. :)

I do not own these photos, they were each borrowed as purely examples of these vehicles.