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Monday, September 28, 2009

High Holidazed

These are the 10 days of awe in Judaism, culminating in a 25 hour fast and day of atonement known as Yom Kippur. I work for a synagogue and consider myself a former Roman -Italian/Polish-Catholic who attends a Presbyterian Liberal church. My baby-mama works for a Presbyterian church and has parents who are both in the Ministry - Pop is a Lutheran Pastor, Mom is a Moravian Minister. Each parent is remarried; Step-Mom is in the Funeral Business, Step-Dad is also a Moravian Minister. My grandmother is a Pre-Vatican I-Edict-Latin-Mass-Roman-Catholic Fanatic, and my mother is a devout lunatic, so we have our bases covered for caring, spirituality, forgiveness and fanaticism I guess. Working for a synagogue is mostly wonderful, except on the days when I have to play the role of Shabbos Goy. It can be stressful, dealing with money and religious issues. I commented on Twitter last week that religion and money go together as well as fire and gasoline. I know it's no different in other religions - I hear just as many stories about my church and congregation issues. People push the envelope as far as they can and the staff, we shake our heads and say the same expression day after day - "If they could have died of shame, they would have dropped dead 20 years ago!" My boss, g*d bless her heart often says we should write a sitcom about the goings on in the synagogue and call it "Shul Business". We have a cast of characters worthy of the stock roles you find on the Fox or CW Networks. Harried Executive Director who plays the mother to all of us loonies. Sage-Wise and Witty Rabbi who smokes a good pipe, rides a cool bike, and can come up with a pithy one-liner religious statement called a Mishna Peah. There's the office executive secretary - now I'm completely embellishing this character for comic effect - who would be cast straight out of Central Casting 1950's - you know, Thelma Ritter or the sassy wise-cracking Selma Diamond type with a Millennium Flair and a chic wardrobe and haircut. We would also have two gay
characters - as we actually have two gay people on staff- myself and our beloved G Man - Mother G. He'd be the bellowing big man with the colorful coordinated wardrobe who struts about the building throwing love and attitude. My character - depends on the day and my mood I guess. Cranky but lovable, arty but sensible, sarcastic and fun-loving gay goy who needs to learn a thing or two from the wonderful cast of characters she works with. Sigh. My job. It's a good thing I like it so much.

The end of the High Holy Days always leaves me gasping for air. We work a lot leading up to the big service days then we work hard some more leading up to the final big service days. The refrain we hear year after year is, "I just moved to the neighborhood and don't have any place to attend." Or - "I'm not interested in supporting a synagogue, I just want to come to High Holiday Services (for 10 to 15 minutes) so I can pray. I don't want to pay to pray." In years past, the staff has gotten a small reprieve at Sukkot with two or more days off for the harvest festival - "And You Shall Dwell in Booths". I'm dwelling on my unhappiness at the moment. The way the holidays fell this year, there are no days off at all; most fell on the weekend and meant we had to work Saturday and Sunday for Rosh Hashana and then Sunday night for Kol Nidre and all day Monday for Yom Kippur. I choose to play martyr (I know, mixing my religion's guilt here) by working the Friday before the first day of Rosh Hashana. I figured I'd bank some time and good will towards my family leave time for the baby's birth in late November. Not such a great idea. I'm tired and miserable, more than cranky and frankly, I don't know what good will there is. Maybe it's the beginning of my Seasonal Affective Disorder - the shorter days, the darker hours, but I've been feeling paranoid at work. I posted on FaceBook today that I didn't understand my purpose here today. I was referring to what was I doing at work when there was so little for me to do and I was somehow made to feel/chose to feel/definitely did feel the vibe of - I'm not good enough to be out in public, so stay in the office behind the curtain you gay goy golem. I felt completely worthless and pointless. Yeah, I was there to write and take down people's information who came without a ticket or made previous arrangements to attend High Holiday services, but other than that, I had little to nothing to do. When I asked if I could help, the only thing I was told was that maybe usher - but since I have no clue as to what's happening in services, how could I possibly help? I was next told there was no room for me out in the hallway. So, for the past 5 years I was well-behaved enough to deal with the general public, taking guff and being told all manner of awful things when I had to turn away people without tickets when we were too full-up to take in any more worshipers hours after services started and were close to finishing for the day. For 4 previous seasons, when I was, oh, 70 pounds heavier, there was PLENTY of room in the hallway vestibule area for my former fat ass. But now, nope, no room for me to stand out in public, to say hello to people I don't often get to see. At one point today I actually had one of the ushers publicly berate me to tell me that I wasn't doing my "job" and that maybe I should be in the office. Great way to feel needed, welcome and wanted. Yep, Shul Business it's a real swell place full of good times.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Southwest Shepard's Pie

A good recipe is a good recipe no matter from where it hails. I found a recipe in Parade Magazine, you know, the supplement zine/rag you get with the Sunday newspaper? The recipes in it are by noted cookbook authors such as Dorie Greenspan and the late, great, Sheila Lukins (Silver Palate Cookbook fame et al). Over the years I've cooked, taught and blogged about several recipes I've filched from Parade Magazine. I make a killer good potato crusted halibut - utilizing instant mashed potato flakes. My trick to making these recipes work is to use more seasonings and cut back the fat. The Southwest Shepard's Pie is a good recipe. Economical, easy and tasty. I wanted it to be a bit more flavorful and a lot lower-fat. That's my mission - to make healthy meals that taste great without compromising flavor, or adding in faux ingredients or relying on sugar and salt to compensate for the lower-fat content. I took out the butter in the sweet potato mash, switched from whole milk to skim; substituted lean ground turkey for the ground beef. Added corn tortillas to the bottom with a layer of low-fat shredded cheddar; tossed in some extra veggies just 'cause that's what I had on hand. Of course, there are some other tricks one could use to meal-doctor this dish. I could have used my favorite fillers - shredded carrots and pumpkin puree too. The meal could have been an almagamation of Deceptively Delicous Semi/Simply Home-Made goodness. Try it out, and let me know what ideas you incorporate. The original printed recipe states the total cost is less than $8 to make. I had all fresh and nearly organic ingredients - farm share items from the past week. Over-all it is a meal for 4 that's less than $3 per serving, plus you get great left-overs, it freezes well and tastes better the next day! How can you go wrong? The recipe reminds me of so many church-style casseroles, in a good way though. Or my Fall and Winter Favorite - Grecco - the ultimate church casserole meal. It is also like a dry-style chili topped with mashed sweet potatoes. Once you make it, you wonder why you never thought of this before. I've been doing versions of it for years, it just never came together like it did until now.

Southwest Shepard's Pie Ingredients:
  • 2 Tablespoons Oil - Vegetable, Olive or Canola
  • 1 Pound Ground Lean Turkey (93%)
  • 1 Medium Onion - Small Dice
  • 1 Red or Green Bell Pepper - Small Dice
  • 4 - 5 Garlic Clovers - minced
  • 2 Medium Zucchini - Small Dice
  • 2 Tablespoons No-Salt Mexican/Taco Seasoning (a combination of ground cumin, chili powder, garlic & onion powders, oregano and thyme)
  • 1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
  • 1/2 Cup Frozen Corn - (or fresh cooked corn kernels)
  • 1 Can Black Beans - drained and rinsed
  • 2 Cups Chopped Tomatoes (if using fresh, coarsely chop and seed)
  • 2 Pounds Sweet Potatoes - washed, cut into chunks (keep the skin on, for extra nutrients and fiber)
  • 1/2 Cup Milk (Low-fat or Skim)
  • Cooking Spray
  • 4-6 Corn Tortillas
  • 1 Cup Low-Fat or Fat-Free Shredded Cheddar or Mexican Style Cheese
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • Fresh Cilantro - coarsely chopped, for garnish (optional)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes in a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot and cover with cold water. Season water with a teaspoon of salt. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook the sweet potatoes until they are fork tender. Drain; mash with milk and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside, covered and keep warm.
  3. In a large non-stick skillet, brown the ground turkey until it is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drain the turkey if necessary and a put the cooked ground turkey into a bowl or plate and set aside.
  4. In the same non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add in the onions, peppers and garlic and saute until the onions turn from translucent to golden and the peppers soften and begin to take on some color - about 8 to 10 minutes. Add in the diced zucchini and saute another 4 minutes.
  5. Add in the dry Mexican/Taco seasoning and toast to bloom the spice flavor. Stir in the tomato paste. Add in the chopped tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes break down and the liquid they produce reduces. Add the cooked, browned ground turkey back to the skillet, along with the corn and black beans. Simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and ground pepper if necessary. Stir the mixture to fully incorporate all the vegetables and meat.
  6. Use a 9 x 13 baking dish and coat the bottom with cooking spray. Layer the corn tortillas down, over-lapping if necessary on the bottom of the baking dish. Spread a layer of cheese over the tortillas. Next, spoon the vegetable/meat mixture over the tortillas and cheese. Spread the mashed sweet potatoes over the vegetable/meat. Run the tines of a fork over the top of the mashed sweet potatoes to create a criss-cross pattern if desired.
  7. Bake in the pre-heated 375 Degree oven until top of sweet potatoes are browned and crispy - 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot and garnish with cilantro if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bicycle Findings

Remember "The Pothole" episode of Seinfeld where Kramer repaints the four-lane highway, intending to make it a more luxurious two-laner, but his efforts only result in mass confusion along a section h of road he's "adopted" while cleaning the roadside? The drivers feel like they can stretch out in their cars along the wide open space Kramer's created. That's exactly how I felt upon discovering the new bike lanes along Pine and Spruce Streets in Center City Philadelphia this past weekend. Cruising along leaning back on the old bike, and stretching out down Pine Street. Yeah, it was a good feeling. Too bad it only exists on a few streets in the City. But man, it's nice that we have it! Thanks to the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia, the Streets Department and to our Mayor, Michael Nutter for coming through on this promise!
Along the new bicycle road, I found a few interesting finds - this sign between 15th and 16th and Pine Streets has gotten a cartoon make-over. Can't figure out how the person got up here to doodle on it - it's well over 15 feet up on a street pole.

Cars don't seem to get the hang of where they should be - along the lines of our luxurious bike lane, cars are still confused. Oh well, at least there will be minimal parking in our lane.

More stickers and linoleum signs embedded in the streets - this one used to say "Guess" but it's started to break apart. This is located at Broad and Pine. There are a series of these around town, mostly along Pine and Spruce Streets. "Believe", "Guess", "Naughty", "Dose". I noticed while taking this arty photo that the material used has a reflective quality, much like the illuminating street paint. If anyone has a clue what these are about, leave a comment. I'd love to know more about these signs. I've added photos to my "found art" pictures on my Flickr site.

Last bicycle find of the day - not in Center City but rather in South Philly - someone has spray painted a crude bicyclist image along a stretch of Morris Street between 12th and 5th Street. I doubt it's for a bike lane. South Philly just doesn't get bicyclists. Maybe these are a part of an urban street art war?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Crock Pot Cooking: Pork with Apples and Ale

I know it's Autumn when I start using the crock pot or when I make soup. I did both this weekend and have a refrigerator full of comfort foods to prove it. The great thing about the cooler weather is that I want to spend time in the kitchen preparing hearty meals and loading up the freezer with provisions for the colder season to come. I almost can't believe that I haven't posted this recipe previously; surely I've made this dish over the years and have alluded to it, posted photos and have made beef variations. I may post a lot of vegetarian friendly dishes and lots of salmon entrees, but I do eat a fair amount of the "white meats" chicken and pork.

Apples, Ale and Pork are about the most perfect combination of flavors. The crock pot pork dish I made was full of sauteed onions, carrots, garlic, peppers, apples and a bottle of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Ale. I liked the sour cherry tang that the Cherry Wheat Ale added to the finished product. A wheat style ale is also a definite plus, adding a hearty note. Other beers that could be used equally well - Pumpkin Style Ales, Blue Moon Belgian Style Ale, Stouts, Porters, or any heartier Ales. If beer isn't your thing - try a 12 ounce or 16 ounce bottle of Coke, Dr. Pepper, or a good root beer. I was looking for a sweet and spicy style "pulled pork" dinner. This is largely a "set it and forget it" meal. To get the best flavor out of all the ingredients, sear the pork butt on all sides, and saute the vegetables before putting them into the slow cooker. Your taste buds will thank you for taking this extra step!

Pork with Apples and Ale Ingredients
  • 2 Large Onions - cut into large dice
  • 4-5 Medium/Large Carrots - large dice
  • 5-6 Garlic Cloves - roughly chopped
  • 2 Bell Peppers, Green & Red - large dice
  • 4 to 5 pound bone-in Pork Butt - visible fat and silver skin trimmed
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon Oregano
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons Vegetable, Olive or Canola Oil - divided
  • 2 or 3 Medium Apples - firm tart apples work best, such as Fuji or Galas - seeds removed, skins on, cut into large chunks
  • 1 - 12 ounce Bottle of Sam Adams Cherry Wheat Beer
  • 1 Small Can (about 6 ounces) No-Salt Tomato Sauce
  • Heavy Bottom Pot or Skillet
  • Tongs
  • Crock Pot/Slow Cooker
  1. Wash and prepare all the vegetables and set aside. Trim the fat and silver skin from the pork butt; season on all sides generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or pot over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Carefully add in the pork butt and sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove pork from the pot, plate, and set aside.
  3. Wipe the pot out if there are too many burned bits in the bottom of the pan, otherwise, add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add in all the vegetables and saute until the onions are golden brown and the carrots are knife tender - about 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. A minute before you remove the vegetables from the pot, add in the paprika, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper and toss to coat the vegetables. Scrap out the pot and add the sauteed vegetables to the bottom of a large slow cooker vessel. Toss in the apple chunks. Place the seared pork butt on top of the vegetable mixture. Season the pork with additional salt, pepper and paprika. Pour the bottle of ale over the pork.
  5. Depending on how much time you have, set the slow cooker on low and cook for up to 6 to 8 hours, or set it on high and cook the pork 4 hours. Ultimately the pork should fall completely off the bone and shred apart with minimal effort. 1 hour before the pork is done cooking, stir in the small can of tomato sauce.
  6. Serve hot, over mashed potatoes or polenta. Makes 8 to 10 servings. Freezes beautifully!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday's Random Findings: Street Art

All over the City of Philadelphia, one can find linoleum cut-outs embedded or stuck to cross walks and the black top of our streets. I have found them mostly in Center City around Broad Street at Lombard and over to Chestnut Street; near the Art Museum and occasionally around South Street or Old City. I have also seen them in other cities - I saw one in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. Like the "Toynbee" cut outs, I have no idea who is behind these, but I do think that it's a group effort. Typically these robot-like skeleton running figures are yellow or white, and the hands are either at the side of the body or one hand in the air. The heads have been cone shaped. This finding, at 15th and Spruce is unique; he's red, square-headed, the hand is in his "crotch" (a tribute to Michael Jackson?) and the appears to be another detail in the chest area - kind of a heart. You can see further photos of my Running Man findings here at my Flickr photo site.
Also along the street at 15th & Spruce was another street sticker cut-out. I noticed them all along Spruce Street from 10th Street up to 15th. Most were cursive style cut-out linoleum stickers that said "GUESS". The one I found today said "DOSE". No idea what these mean. I have an inkling that these might be related to the Fringe Festival, along with last week's red shoe prints along Walnut Street.

For the past two years, I've been spotting recycled art posted on street poles. CD's, skate boards, discarded scraps of wood, painted with silhouettes and characters. Usually there appears an "H" in a circle, or the initials, WTF. The greatest concentration of them happen to be in the area around South Street and Lombard, between 11 Street and Broad. Again, you can view more of these at my Flickr Photo pages here. If anyone has information about these creations, leave a comment. I'd love to learn more. I've looked up some photos on Flickr, and have viewed other collectors pictures, but haven't learned much more. These are a cross between street art and graffiti.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Random Findings: Michael Jackson aka Mr. Freeze

Those Loafers & The Sparkle Socks!

Find of the Day: Mr. Freeze, a Michael Jackson impersonator. I saw him and his "manager" setting up their boom box and collection bucket at the 18th and Walnut Street entrance to Rittenhouse Square today around noon. Perfect time to be out entertaining the lunch time crowds. The energy in and around the Square today was giddy and a bit hyperactive. Construction workers were lined up along and on the walls eating lunch and watching all the crazies go by. Two local bike couriers or courier wanna-be's were playing gags on people by "throwing" a dollar bill onto the side walk, which was tied to a length of fishing line. When someone would bend down to pick up the dollar, the guys would "reel" it in! I actually witnessed some random Joe Schmo, bend down, pick up the dollar and tear off the fishing line and pocket the buck! Priceless. I asked the guys how many times they've had someone take the money. They said that over the past 3 to 5 months they've only lost about $5! Cheap entertainment. video

My video and subsequent photos of Mr. Freeze was about as inexpensive too. Take a look at Mr. Freeze's foot work. He has the moonwalk and air slide down pretty well.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Home-made Pickles

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Food Section had a front page article in today's paper devoted to canning, putting up and pickling the summer produce and fruit bounty. I've been "putting up" cans of salsa for weeks now and making my own refrigerator pickles. When you have an over-abundance of tomatoes, peppers and onions, these are the first things I think about canning. Making a batch of salsa and canning 5 or 6 jars at a time doesn't take a lot of effort, for me anyway, and I will get to enjoy my weekly CSA produce share for weeks and months to come. So far I have put up about 16 jars of salsa - three different flavors and types: peach and tomato; fire roasted tomato and tomatilla; garden vegetable chunky salsa. In addition, I've made several batches of pickled vegetables - beets, onions, celery and cucumbers and jalapenos. I haven't yet mastered the art of long storage pickling and canning so I've been making small batches of refrigerator pickles. The canning method and time for storing pickles is a longer and more complicated affair, usually taking two days of prep - brining/salting and then the boiling process.

The refrigerator pickle recipe I use as a starting point is from the July/August 2009 Issue of EVERYDAY FOOD - A Martha Stewart Magazine. This is one of the best food/recipe magazines on the book shelves. Each month's recipes are easy and seasonal and are never filled with hard to find multiple ingredients. As easy as the recipe is, I have found ways to embellish and alter it, creating my own version. Depending on what I have on hand, I've varied some of the vegetables too, adding jalapenos or beets, turmeric and traditional pickling spices. Kirby or Persian Cucumbers work best, but in a pinch, traditional unwaxed and organic cucs with seeds removed will also work. Kirby and Persian Cucumbers have thinner skin and are smaller so they tend to pickle faster.

Refrigerator Pickles Ingredients:

  • 2 Pounds Kirby or Persian Cucumbers - sliced or ripple cut 1/4 to 1/2- inch thick
  • 1 medium White, Red or Vidalia Onion - sliced into 1/4 inch half moons
  • 2 Celery Stalks - cut into 1/4-thick widths, about 3 inches long in length
  • 1 Large Jalapeno - seeds and ribs (carefully!) removed and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Pickling Spices -(usually a mixture of whole cloves, all spice, celery seed, pepper corns, bay leaf and mustard seeds)
  • 1 Tablespoon Turmeric
  • 2 Tablespoons Kosher, Coarse or Pickling Salt
  1. Place the sliced cucs, celery, onions and jalapenos into a colander and sprinkle with the two tablespoons of salt. Set the colander in or over a bowl to collect the juices/water that the vegetables release. Allow the vegetables to drain for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
  2. Bring the sugar, vinegar, water and pickling spices to boil in a non-reactive sauce pot (not made of aluminum or copper). When the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and stir until the sugar dissolves and the pickling spices start to "bloom" and release their flavors. Remove from the heat, stir in the turmeric, and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature, up to 30 minutes.
  3. Strain the liquid to remove the pickling spices - which have given up their flavors (and will be annoying to eat!)
  4. Put the cut cucumber/vegetable mixture into a large clean glass jar and pour the vinegar pickling liquid over the vegetables. Cover/seal and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Will hold for 2 weeks refrigerated, although they can last up to a month just fine.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Found Objects or Random Findings

A new feature - Found Objects and Random Findings. I am a seeker and a finder. I have been my whole life. I also consider myself extremely lucky. I've been lucky in life to have wonderful people be supportive and strong positive influences on me. I've been lucky in love, especially since having met Liz ten years ago. I am fortunate with my jobs, usually working for (but I could write several entries on the bad jobs) wonderful places, with kind and smart co-workers and fair-minded compassionate employers. I've also been lucky in finding stuff - toys, tools, keys, other people's cell phones, id and money, lots and lots of money. If you didn't know me, you might think I'm making up stories about how much money I've found recently. Luckily, there have been eye-witnesses to the money findings. While biking recently, I spied a fifty dollar bill, a fiver and a buck on the street. The Sue's were with me, and I almost caused a bicycle collision but luck was with us - no accident and I left the morning ride $56 richer. About a week or so later, I found someones Blackberry Phone and wallet with cash, credit cards, several forms of id and some signed checks. The owner was lucky too, I figured out how to track him down and he had his belongings back within a few hours. It was a mitzvah kind of day for everyone.
I had been thinking of blogging about some of the stuff I find and then yesterday - Tuesday, I found this odd little object attached to a street sign along 18th Street near Spruce. It is an LED Light, connected to a battery and a magnet, wrapped in black electrical tape. A small label was stuck onto the light, with the words, "YOU ARE FATEBOOK" on the reverse side of the label, FATEBOOKTHESHOW.COM.

I checked the website out later, it's for New Paradise Laboratories new production of a play. I was particularly struck by this tiny object because it was hand-made and actually worked. When you press the battery, the light works. This is the kind of easy gizmo electric circuit stuff that I loved as a kid - I was often making easy light switches and electrical doohickeys out of a common battery, a Christmas light bulb and some old telephone wire. Little toys and trinkets that do multiple things thrill me. Pen knives, Pez, secret compartment watches, all get my juices flowing so to speak. Today - Wednesday, I was walking down 18th Street again, along Rittenhouse Square, and I found two more of these LED Light Advertisements attached to a fire hydrant. It's a sign telling me to blog about my findings! That and it's really good urban guerrilla street art advertising for this play. Keep looking up, down and around you, there's good stuff all around us - money, art, cool ads. I'll be posting about more stuff that I find. I have a growing photo collection of WTF Street Sign Art, Boot Scrappers, Graffiti and other cool Street Art that I've spied around town.