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Friday, December 12, 2014

Mission to give

On the first Sunday of Advent, our church held and Advent Festival and dinner - crafting, dinning and then a Christmas Carol Sing-along featuring hymnal favorites.  It was a very well run event, with crafting stations carefully organized by the church volunteers and staff.  We had face painting; origami crane making, with the goal of making 1,000 cranes to be hung in the church; a scientific snowflake making station using Borax powder, string, Popsicle sticks, cuts and water. Our crystal snowflake is beautiful! Popsicle stick ornament making; linking paper chains together and topping them off with a star.
 My favorite area, crafting and writing cards to shut-ins and home-bound parishioners.  When I sat down to make a card I was over-whelmed with stickers and glitter glue!  I wasn't sure what I wanted to make but I put my inhibitions aside and just started crafting.  Before I knew it, I had a fun card and was ready to work on another.  
The creative process was easier than I realized.  It was the writing something meaningful that got me stuck.  And then I just looked around the room, listening to the sounds and I took it all in and put it into words.  I wrote of the experience of creating, of sharing a communal experience, of making something and giving it to others.  I wrote about the sounds I could here - the laughter and joy.  I wrote about the way the kids were so carefree and how much love and spirit was present in the Fellowship Hall on this day.  I wrote two letters, each describing the day's event in a way as to let the reader feel as though he or she were with us in the moment. 

I cannot think of a better way to share some bit of love than through a personal letter.  While giving money or gifts, things that people truly need at this time of year (food, clothing, shelter) are our HUMAN duties and obligations to each other, it's not just a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or any other faith-based duty, it's all of our duty to one another.  The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, an organization that I know of, contacted me recently, asking me to help spread the word through social media, about what they do.  As I thought about what I could write, or tweet, or even Instagram, to help direct attention to The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, it dawned on me during the Advent Festival, that what I was doing at church was very similar to the work at the mission.  We were coming together to help bring a bit of happiness to those in need.  Granted, the snowflakes and paper chains are not going to feed, shelter or clothe a person in need at a mission, but the cards will be mailed out and given to people in order that a connection is made, a joy is shared, a person knows that someone is thinking of you.  

Our church family does a lot of work to help those in need.  We support other missions, do house building, send money, clothing, food to organizations.  We have served meals at Broad Street Ministry.  This coming weekend we are doing a meal pack of 10,000 meals in 2 hours, through an organization called, Stop Hunger Now! We are a community of doers and givers.  I'm happy to be a small part of this just as I was pleased to be asked to help spread the word about Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.  

If you can take the time out to not only make a financial contribution to this charity, or a charity of your choice, you can write a card to someone who may come to the mission for a meal. SBRM is accepting holiday cards and is hoping you will write "something from the heart or a meaningful quote".  Cards or letters can be sent to :

Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission
P.O. Box 297
Philadelphia, PA 19105

I think I'll go and make a few more cards now...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Third time is the Charm: Diner en Blanc Philadelphia 2014

Note - 4 months later - this post has been sitting in my draft file for all this time.  I cannot believe my procrastination.  It's really a symptom of my depression and lack of desire to write.  Which is a darn shame, the photos and video are meant to be seen and shared, finally!

I was a table leader for this year's 3rd Annual Diner en Blanc Philadelphia extravaganza, on Thursday evening, August 22, 2014. It was, by far, the best year, best event, best location!  The only down note of the whole affair was that Liz couldn't be with me, as she and Nate went to Colorado for a week's vacation on the same day.

As I was in charge of 50 people, leading them from a meeting location on North Broad Street to some secret location, I was totally into the event from the first moment to the last sweep up of the night.  I treated the entire month of pre-event planning, my small part that is, as all plans for a party that I was hosting. 50 people were going to rely on me to bring them to a swell party, I wasn't going to abandon them once we set up our tables.Before the event, I stayed in close touch with all the guests on my list.  At the event, I had gifts for each guest, bubbles in a silver wand, and candy, along with a tag with the hash tag and my contact information.  Another special thing we planned at the party was to do a birthday sing to one of guests.  It was the 23rd birthday for one guest, and his mom told me in advance.  Since most of my friends at the event are singers, we did an "impromptu" birthday sing - in the best operatic style of Happy Birthday anyone ever heard!  This was an event that no one could ever forget!

The above video illustrates the sheer mayhem, magnitude and well-choreographed work that goes into doing a  party for 3,500 people.  Rules are integral in keeping this event gorgeous and well-run.

My group was seated at the south end of the event, near to Spruce Street, between the Double Tree Hotel and the Wilma Theatre.

One of the most photographed table center pieces of the night - an Eifel Tower with lights and flowers.  It was part of one of my guest's talbescape - it took up so much room they barely had space to eat, but it was worth giving up the space. Pat and her guests were featured prominently in many articles, photographs and the #DEBPHL14 video.

This is one of my favorite photos that I captured on my brief walk down Broad Street once the party began.  Like many of my best photos, it was a lucky accident.  Sometimes I can get that money shot that captures everything about a mood in one fantastic moment.
LeAnne and I got a great tip from Philly Chit Chat blogger and photographer, Hugh Dillion - he told us to pose with our chins down.  Here we are, with our best foot forward and no double chins!
Capturing selfies - LeAnne and my friend, Maren (aka Super Maren) were in the process of taking a selfie photo - so naturally, I had to document the moment.
My friends, Dave and Suzannah - I think we were all tipsy by night's end.  Dave is being rather cheeky here, licking some whipped cream off his wife's cheek. 
All packed up and ready to roll back to our car.  Whew! It was a spectacular night that far surpassed all of my expectations. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Life Hacking: Lemon Ginger Honey and Bourbon Cough Syryp Elixir

I saw a post online from a website that I follow, called The Kitchn.  I'm a big fan of their posts and website.  Most days I find several things or ideas well worth giving a try.  One in particular caught my attention - a "cold or cough medicine" for grown ups.  It was a variation on a Hot Toddy - lemon, honey and a bit of bourbon, maybe thinned out a bit with some hot water, heated up and swallowed to warm you from the inside.  The recipe for this was straight forward, a few tablespoons of each ingredient and then all mixed together and warmed in a microwave.  

I was immediately reminded of a cough syrup elixir that someone made for Liz, a tincture of fresh ginger and lemon slices put into a small jar and topped with honey.  The honey and lemon juices mingle together, creating a light lemony syrup which is then infused with piquant ginger heat. 

Well, you know what I did? I combined the two recipe ideas and made a whole new bottle of joy!  I bought a bag of organic lemons and a big old hand of ginger root.  I knew we had some honey that a friend gave to us a while back from her bee hives, and I still had an ample amount of my favorite bourbon, Bulleit Rye Whiskey.  I cleaned the lemons and ginger, then sliced them all into small pieces and placed them into a 16 ounce canning jar.  Once the jar was packed with lemon and ginger, I poured in the honey.  Then, for good measure, I added the whiskey to the honey bottle, swirled it around to get out the honey crystal dregs, then poured the sweet whiskey into the lemon ginger jar.  All told, I added about a cup each of honey and bourbon to my jar.  Closed the lid tightly and shook the jar a few times to get the honey, lemon juice and whiskey all cozy.  Into the refrigerator it went.  

I'll let this sit for a few days so all the flavors can meld together and then I'll have a sip or two each night with my evening tea.  I may even make a batch or two of this as Christmas gifts - put up into smaller jars though.  4 ounce jars if I like you, 8 ounce jars if you're really special!  The jumbo jar stays with me!  As for how long it lasts, well that depends on how fast you go through the medicine.  I will say that you can keep adding honey and bourbon/whiskey to the lemons and ginger, and you can use the lemons and ginger to flavor your hot toddy, your whiskey cakes, your tea, or other consumables.  Should last you through the next polar vortex...

Lemon Ginger Honey and Bourbon Elixir Ingredients: 
  • 1 - 16 ounce Wide Mouth Canning Jar or other suitable wide mouth glass container with tight fitting lid
  • 4 Lemons (preferably organic) - cleaned thoroughly & cut into quarter sized half moon slices
  • 1/4 pound of Fresh Ginger Root - cleaned, but not peeled - cut into 1/8th inch slices
  • 1 Cup Good Quality Honey (or more as needed)
  • 1 Cup Good Quality Bourbon or Whiskey - Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Bulleit, Wild Turkey, etc. (use more or less as needed to fill the jar)  Do not use a flavored or honey flavored bourbon/whiskey as it will be too sweet or strong

  1. Wash and clean all the lemons and the ginger and the glass jar.  Dry all items.
  2. Cut the lemons in half length wise, then slice the lemon halves into half moon slices, about a quarter of an inch thick.  Cut the half moon slices into half again.  
  3. Cut the ginger root into slices, 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick.
  4. Layer the ginger and lemon slices into the jar, one layer at a time, alternating the layers until the jar is filled to the top, just below the rim of the jar.  Press the layers down with the back of a spoon to compact everything.
  5. Pour in the honey and then pour in the bourbon/whiskey.  Close the lid tightly and shake the jar vigorously a few times to combine all the ingredients and to get the lemon juices flowing.
  6. Put the sealed jar into the refrigerator and let the lemons and ginger macerate a few days before using, ideally 2 to 3 days.
  7. When ready to use, spoon a few tablespoons into a cup of hot water or tea and enjoy.
  8. The lemons and ginger can also be spooned out and placed into your hot toddy or cuppa.
  9. To make more syrup, re-use the lemons and ginger and refill the jar with honey and bourbon or whiskey.  
  10. The syrup will last indefinitely if refrigerated.  The macerated lemons and ginger will keep, in the jar, in the syrup mixture for up to 1 year.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Pulled Barbecue and Pumpkin Pork

It took a chance encounter at the check-out line in Wegman's supermarket to bring me back to blogging.  I've been not into posting lately, stress, depression, lost my mojo...the usual.  It's hard to post and create stuff after all these years that feels fresh and tasty.  I'm in that mood of who wants to hear/read what I have to say/write?  Anyway, I've been enjoying doing Instagram Posts and a few sparse Facebook posts these days.  I'm thinking the days of blogging as we've known it may be numbered.  Without instant feedback on who's reading these musings it doesn't feel like a lot of fun to write.  Must be my job stress talking...

As I said, a chance encounter with a woman behind me in the check out line at Wegman's encouraged me to do a fuller post today.  I've done a few versions of this dish over the years with postings but this one will be the twitter/facebook/instagram scaled down version.  Sort of Thug Kitchen meets FancyCookingMoFo meshed in with my egotistical voice. Thank you Wegman's Lady!

The recipe conversation started because I had picked up an organic pork shoulder.  It was on the conveyor belt, and the lady behind me asked me how I was planning to cook it. 
Easy I said, throw it all into a Dutch Oven pot, like a Le Creuset, with:
  • 2 large chopped onions
  • 5-6 Medium/Large Carrots chopped or cut into large slices
  • Lots of garlic- crushed
  • Pour in a bottle of Pumpkin beer/lager or ale or use a good soda if you don't drink beer (like Coke, rootbeer or Dr. Pepper)
  • A bottle of good bbq sauce - I used Wegman's original
  • 1/2 can pumpkin (about 1 cup)
  • 1 bottle of water (use the bbq bottle, then you get all the dregs of sauce out of it!) 
  • Mix it all together 

  1. Put everything into the pot and cover the pot and roast in the oven at 375 degrees for 3 or 4 hours.
  2. For the last 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, take the lid off so the liquid reduces. 
  3. When the pork is done, you can shred it. 
  4. We'll have this for dinner tomorrow night, w/black beans, sauteed peppers and I'll served with corn tortillas.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

White Pumpkin Chili 2 Ways

UPDATE! I'm happy to say that I contributed this chili, the turkey version, to a chili contest at my church on Sunday, 10/12/14, and won for most unusual ingredient entry!  The second batch of this came out just was well, if not better than the 1st!  If you have a salt-free Mexican Seasoning mixture, use it! And again, do use the Goya Cilantro cooking base - it makes such a wonderful "sauce" for this white chili version.

As soon as the Autumnal chill comes whipping through our house, I want to pull out the Dutch Oven and Slow Cookers.  I also want to start cooking with beers and PUMPKIN - in just about everything!  I was in the mood for chili, but I'm tired of my usual version, with a tomato base and tons of ingredients.  It may be cooling off around here, but it's not yet time for a heavy hearty chili.  Instead I made a batch of white chili, using a Goya Cilantro as my base, along with posole, two kinds of white beans, and a lot of vegetables.  I made a portion of this totally vegan/vegetarian, so I could have it for work.  The rest I added browned, lean ground turkey.  Both versions were fantastic, and truly, the meat wasn't necessary, I just wanted it.  I served this with a quick doctored batch of box corn muffin mix, to which I added pumpkin.  Pumpkin really is the flavor of the season! Actually, pumpkin has very little flavor, it's the nutmeg/cinnamon/clove/ginger mixture that is the flavor we all think of as pumpkin spices.

Onward with our recipe. Use low-sodium, high quality canned beans if you are using canned beans.  Drain and rinse them - to remove more of the salt.  I love the Goya Recaito Cilantro base - it's super low in sodium and adds a nice base of flavor quickly.  Made from a puree of onions, garlic and cilantro.  A bottle of a nice pumpkin style ale if you desire. We had Sam Adams on hand, but any pumpkin ale that you enjoy drinking is what you need to use.  Saute the vegetables in batches so things cook evenly and develop their flavors and caramelize.  There's a reason to the order of cooking the vegetables - some cook faster than others.  
I used a vegetarian version of  Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (which means it had no lard in it!) and added 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree to the mixture.  It made the muffins very moist and kept them tender and fresh tasting for days!

 Cut the vegetables into even sizes - about the size of the beans - so that would be on the small-medium dice size.  This chili doesn't need to cook all day - about 2 hours max.  Note that it will taste much better the next day once it has a chance for all the flavors to marry together.  Most ingredients can be found in the Mexican Foods aisle of your supermarket.

 White Chili Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Onion (about 2-3 cups) - peeled and medium dice
  • 5 Medium Carrots - (about 2 cups) -  peeled and medium dice
  • 6 Garlic Cloves (about 1/4 cup) - finely minced
  • 1 Large Red Bell Pepper (about 1 cup) - medium dice
  • 1 Large Green Bell Pepper - (about 1 cup) - medium dice
  • 1 Medium Zucchini (about 1 1/2 cups) - small/medium dice
  • 1 Medium Yellow Squash (about 1 1/2 cups) - small/medium dice
  •  2 Tablespoons Cumin
  • 1/4 Cup Ancho Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Chipotle Chili Powder (optional, for additional heat and kick!)
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme
  •  2 Cans Beans: (Low Sodium) Light Kidney, or White Beans or Pinto Beans (15-16 oz each) – drained and rinsed
  • 1 - 14/16 ounce can of Hominy or Pozole - drained and rinsed well
  • 1 Bottle of Recaito Cilantro Base by Goya
  • 1- 4 ounce can of Fire Roasted Diced Chilies
  • 1 Cup Pure Pumpkin Puree
  • 1-12 ounce bottle of a good quality Pumpkin Ale or Lager
  • 1 Cup of water
  • 2 Cups Frozen Corn
  • 1/2 Cup Packed Cilantro– minced - for serving/finishing
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper—to taste
  • Zest and Juice of 1 Lime (about 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 tablespoon of fresh lime juice)
  1. Use a stock pot, Dutch oven or other large and heavy bottomed pot. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers over medium-high heat.
  2. Add in the onions and the carrots; saute and sweat them about 8 minutes, or until they begin to take on a hint of color.
  3. Add in the garlic, stir and cook another 3 minutes.
  4. Add the peppers, the squash and zucchini and saute for 5 to 8 minutes minutes.
  5. Next add in all of the dry seasonings, cumin through thyme and stir to combine and toast.
  6. Add in the beans, pozole, frozen corn, cilantro base, diced chilies, pumpkin puree and beer and water.  Stir to combine.
  7. Bring the mixture just to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, 1 to 2 hours.
  8. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed; adjust as needed additional cumin, chili powder or oregano  Stir in the lime zest and juice last, to brighten the flavors and stir in the freshly chopped cilantro.
  9. Makes about 1 gallon of chili or enough to last several meals and freeze some.  Frozen, it will last for up to 4 months.  Serve hot with cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips or with brown rice, if desired.
  10. ADDING MEATS: If making this with the ground turkey, or any ground meat of choice, brown the meat in a separate pan, and season lightly with pepper and and some of the Mexican seasonings so that the meat has a layer of flavor. Don't add any salt, there will be enough in the final dish.  Drain off any fat and water, and then add to the chili pot along with the the liquid ingredients.
Notes: If you want to add bulgar wheat to this to bulk up the chili, add 1 cup of bulgar wheat  it when you add in the liquid ingredients, along with an additional cup of water. As the bulgar wheat cooks, it will absorb the liquid and more than double in size.  If the mixture is too dry, add in additional water, by 1/2 cup at a time.  Remember to stir the mixture to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. 

This recipe does use a few canned products, beans, pumpkin, cilantro base, diced chilies.  You can make things from scratch, but in all my years of massive cooking, it really is okay to use canned products so long as you know the salt/sugar/fat contents of each and realize how quickly it will add up in the final product. Posole, is a lime and salt soaked dried corn product.  It's a very Mexican ingredient and adds a quirky and wonderful texture to the chili.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Collingswood Food Swappers: Beer Booze or Grub Swap October 11th

October 4, 2014: Event was cancelled due to poor responses, rsvps.   Stay tuned for swap updates for November.

Late in getting around to this, but the next installment of Collingswood Food Swappers will be on Saturday, October 11, 2014, at The Factory, in Collingswood.  6 to 8 pm.  The plan is to hold it at The Factory, on 2nd Saturday.  The folks at The Factory will be holding a Halloween event, with 2 bands.  We'll be doing a Beer, Booze or Grub swap.  Our first one was so popular, I thought we ought to do it again.

Registration is at EventBrite, which is free.  I need a somewhat accurate head count, so I know whether or not this event can be held.  Register soon!  Here's the link:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Food Memories

Food memories are more powerful than we give them credit.  I recently saw a bag of circus peanuts in a grocery store and was instantly transported back in time to my childhood.  Eating a bag of oddly colored orange and banana flavored  peanut shaped and vaguely marshmallowy candies. The memory made me happy.

In sharing my guilty pleasure food, I started to think about other peculiar foods and memories that I have; eating a McDonald's hamburger and drinking an orangeade at my Catholic School's monthly "Hamburger Day" school luncheon.  The time after I had my tonsils out when I was 30 years old, and I couldn't eat for over a week. My first sold food was a hamburger from Nifty Fifty's. It was a simple, thin patty hamburger. I had it with a vanilla milkshake.  Bliss! 

 I remember dipping my French fries into a McDonald's chocolate shake.  My favorite meal when I was really young was my Bobci's (Polish for  grandmother) Sunday supper of roast beef, creamed corn, smooth buttery mashed potatoes; cucumbers and sour cream.  In high school, I spent a lot of time at my friend Marie's house.  Her mom, Jean used to make wonderful chocolate chip cookies - basically Toll House cookies but she made very thin and crisp.  After school at my Nana Rhoad's house I ate Lender's Bagels, toasted and topped with cream cheese and grape jelly.  Safe, comforting food and memories.

The life I had growing up was chaotic and violent.  The happy memories that I retain are what got me through my childhood and adolescence.  I think it's also what has propelled me into an adult life filled with cooking and food writing.  Food is memories, food is comfort, food is sustenance, and food can be a love substitute, for good and for bad.  I often think that when I throw a party or attend a party, the mark of how well the event went is by how good the food was. 

There is a Chinese practice to feed one's guests until they are full.  Many Asian cultures do this, preparing elaborate feasts that are over the top, with way more food than one should/could consume.  I attended one such banquet many years ago.  Towards the end of a multi-course meal, bowls of rice were given to the diners.  Many of us were so stuffed we couldn't even stand to look at the fortune cookies on the tables, let alone think about eating a chopstick's worth of rice.  We didn't know the protocol, so we ate the rice.  I think it was in bad form.  The rice was to signify that we were all full. By eating the rice it signaled to our hosts that we hadn't had enough to eat! 

Within the meals we've had, the ones we attended, cooked, shared, we cull through our life's history.   To be able to share in that with others is, for me, one of the most rewarding endeavors I can accomplish.  Food is more than nourishment. Food is memories.  What food memories do you have that make you smile?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Food and Film: The Hundred-Foot Journey

A few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity to go to the movies, in a real movie theater! It's a big deal for me because I've seen about 3 movies in a theater since our son was born nearly five years ago.  In my foot-loose and fancy-free days, I used to go to the movies weekly and I would often go to film festivals, seeing two movies in one sitting.  I remember days of doing a double feature, back when you could - but it wasn't so far back that the double feature cost a nickle or a dime! I"m old, but not that old! 

Planning a trip to the movies is an ordeal and an expense.  Tickets cost a fortune, then there's paying a baby sitter.  And DON'T even get me started on the rudeness of movie-going patrons. Talking. Texting. Cellphone lights. Ugh.  I prefer the comforts of my own home, knowing what's in my popcorn and not having gross sticky floors to walk upon; unless Nate spilled juice...

My friend, LeAnne, of the blog,, mentioned on Facebook that she had the chance to see and review two films on the same day - The Hundred-Foot Journey and Get on Up, the James Brown bio-pic.  She wanted to see both because the former film speaks to the blog's brand; the later film speaks to her heart!  I offered to see The Hundred Foot Journey in her place. A food movie, set in France, with interesting cultural clashes and cuisines.  A movie custom cut for me.

My thoughts and review of the movie, along with a recap of the panel discussion that took place after the movie are all on LeAnne's blog.  I hope you'll all wander over there to read it. You can find the link right here! Leanne's blog is a fantastic place to land.  she has the most unique voice and honest approach to her reviews.  Plus she's witty and engaging.  LeAnne and I go back over 20 years now - I wrote about her in a post last November, as part of a group of blogger friends' Follow Friday series. 

Go read my review.  I'm saving the choicest parts for you at! FoodieFilm: The Hundred-Foot Journey

UPDATE!: 8/13/14 - Leanne submitted eh post to BlogHer, a blog website for women bloggers, with all sorts of ranging topics and blogs.  We were the guest post blog on today's site!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pop up but don't pop out

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Christmas in July at The Top Gun Abode

Christmas in July is a novelty that I truly love.  It's not for the QVC shopping aspect, though I do tend to watch the home shopping network more fervently during this time frame, it's because there's something a bit wacky and wild about celebrating a winter holiday in the middle of summer.  With this in mind, I was inspired to throw a theme party at our house this past weekend - a Christmas in July fete. All it takes for me is one small idea and I can grow the biggest event out of it.  In two weeks time, we sent out invitations, planned the menu, shopped, cooked and decorated for our party.  It was one of the more fun and original ideas for a party that we've had in many years.  It was also a great success, as we not only made it a bit of a pot-luck dinner, but we also asked our guest to bring a donation for a food bank and/or a charity that gives toys to children throughout the year. 

Our family-friendly affair brought out a lot of kids.  Families from our circle of Opera Moms, to the families we have made into our village in Collingswood.  I loved seeing the children who had never before met play with each other, make new connections and just run with wild abandon.  I like to say that I know a party at our house is a success when I find the kids in the area behind our garage digging in the dirt and with faces and bodies covered in so much dirt that they look like they are young chimney sweepers!  The kids played, ran, dug and had a ton of fun.  When it came time to straighten up Nate's room, I found crumbs and sprinkles in his bed! The kids had FUN!

Our adult friends enjoyed themselves too.  I set out a feast for the occasion - cooking all night for the meal.  Cider brine roasted turkey; Coca Cola braised ham; sweet potatoes marshmallows; string beans with sauteed peppers and onions; cucumber salad; home-made guacamole. Guests brought watermelon medley; panzanella salads; ramen noodle salads; home-made tortillas and sweet empanadas.  I made a huge pitcher of 100% proof Southern Comfort Manhattans and 3 gallons of slamming red wine, brandy and fruit sangria (I'll be drinking this for weeks, there is so much left!)   Looks like enough for another get-together will have to be organized!

While I enjoyed myself very much, it was a lot of hard work for 3 days straight. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating the house with holiday lights and garb.  Then a full day of undoing it all and putting all the stuff away.  I am filled with awe at our friends' generosity.  So many people, from so many various aspects of our worlds came over to hang out and to donate to our charities.  We are donating the food to The Food Bank of South Jersey.  I think we collected over 200 pounds of food to bring to them! The toys will go to PegsPresents, a charity run by my friend, Lee Romano. She and her husband, Andrew, bring gifts, toys, gift baskets to kids who live in shelters.  They do this periodically throughout the year, not just at Christmas.  We received great things, games, puzzles, a skateboard! I know that there will be many happy kids and well-fed folks thanks to my friends!

I think the above photo captures the spirit of the day and will become a classic keeper photo.  The blending of our worlds with kids being the focal point of our lives.  Merry Christmas!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Guest Posting for Diner en Blanc Philadelphia

 I've been asked to do a guest post for Diner en Blanc Philadelphia.  The post is now up - so I'm redirecting your attention to their blog for today.  Take a gander! I"m so excited!  And I'll be writing, tweeting, filming lots about this year's event, which will take place on Thursday, August 21st.  I'm a table leader this year, so while I still won't have any idea about the secret location, I'll have tons of inside scoop on the party once it happens!  Stay tuned!

My guest post - all about solving the mystery of the secret location:

UPDATE!: 8/13/14 - I happened to find that the blog post is also on Philly Focus - a blog and website devoted to happenings in Philadelphia.  It's run by Aversa PR Events - Kory Aversa.  Nice to have my stuff being posted around the town!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Cocktails with Bourbon, Rye or Whiskey

I'll blame it on my obsession with Mad Men, the 1960's period piece television series on AMC, that has sparked my interest in drinking "brown" liquors.  Jack and Jim were my previous drinking buddies, but now, well, I've moved uptown to a decidedly higher drinking caliber of spirits.  

At a dinner out at The Farm and The Fisherman Tavern, in Marlton, NJ, I was introduced to a craft version of sweet vermouth, called Antica.  It was used in a small batch bourbon Manhattan, and the drink went down so quickly, I could have easily had a second.  I went to the liquor store to find the vermouth and a better bourbon, but Antica is a difficult vermouth to find.  Instead, my friend, Steven, suggested that I try Noilly Prat vermouth.  He also showed me a decent, not too expensive small-batch rye whiskey called Bulleit.  It's one with which I'm familiar amoung the top shelf brands.  Why have I been slumming it with the commoners when there's been this great tasting rye to imbibe?  Using quality ingredients are making my Manhattan's smoother and in some ways, richer tasting.  Inspired by my better booze, I also stepped up my bitters and cherry selections, purchasing Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters - a pricey $15 for a wee bottle, along with a jar of Italian wild cherries in heavy syrup to really "kick it up a notch." Also not a cheap purchase.  These are not your grocery store mixers that's for sure.  It may be an expensive drink but it was money well spent. My wallet doesn't agree but perhaps my liver will forgive me...

I could drink a Manhattan every day, and I practically have this summer.  I've already gone through my first bottle of Bulleit.  I also created another summer cocktail, a newer more decadent version of sangria, made with muddled fruits, lemonade and club soda.  Whoa! Hold onto your fedora folks! This is a summer drink to end all summer drinks.  Whipped together on a whim, I have found a twist on a perennial favorite.  It's not so much a recipe as it is an idea.  Use what you have but use the best that you can find, oranges, limes, lemons, home-made or good maraschino cherries, lemonade, bourbon, whiskey or rye, good vermouth and a splash of club soda.  Enjoy, but not too much! You don't want to become a Don Drapper drunk.

Bulleit Rye Whiskey Sangria Ingredients - Makes 2 Cocktails
  • 1 Orange - Sliced and  Juiced/Muddled
  • 1 Lemon - Sliced and Juiced/Muddled
  • 1 Lime - Sliced and Juiced/Muddled
  • 2 Cocktail Maraschino Cherries
  • 1 Tablespoon  Maraschino Cherry Juice/Syrup
  • Shaker Glass filled with Crushed Ice
  • 2-3 Dashes of Bitters
  • 3 Ounces Quality Bourbon, Rye or Whiskey
  • 1 Ounce Quality Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 Ounces Lemonade
  • Splash of Club Soda
  • Ice and Cherries for Garnishment/Serving
  • Cocktail Shaker and Strainer
  • Wooden Spoon or Cocktail Muddler

  1. Wash and prepare citrus fruits.  Slice the orange, lemon and lime in half and squeeze the juices into a cocktail shaker.  Reserve half of each juiced citrus, and slice into rounds.  Add the citrus rinds into the shaker and muddle the citrus with handle of a wooden spoon or a cocktail muddler.  
  2. To this mixture, add in the cocktail cherries and syrup, 2 or 3 dashes of bitters, and the bourbon/rye/whiskey, vermouth and lemonade.  
  3. Put the top on the shaker, and shake thoroughly to combine and chill. 
  4. Pour drinks into rocks or short, heavy bottomed glasses filled with a few ice cubes and add in a splash of club soda to each glass.  Garnish with a cocktail cherry if desired.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto

Without realizing it this post is my 500th blog post.  Technically it's really not.  I say that because 1) I had an older blog for a year prior to starting The Bicycle-Chef.   Some of those early recipe blog posts have migrated over to here. 2) I've added and deleted posts from this blog; I'm not sure how many posts I've actually written.  Rather than wait weeks and try to roll out a big hoopla post, replete with videos, photo montages and self-congratulatory back pats, I'll post this lovely recipe. Video highlights can always be done at a later date!

Onto recipe writing.  For a recent food swap I attended with The South Jersey Food Swappers, I made a batch of pesto, using kale as the basis for the pesto.  I had kale pesto at a food swap a year ago and I was so taken with it I knew I wanted to make it.  It took me a year but the wait was worth it!  I adapt things all the time, tossing ingredients in until they "taste right" to me.  My friend, Jamie Lynn, made the original batch of Kale Pesto.  I'm not sure what all she had in hers, maybe some basil; perhaps a bit of cheese; certainly olive oil.  I figured I'd give this a whirl and see how it turned out. Making pesto with kale couldn't be any harder than making it with a variety of herbs, including the all-important basil.

I made ten 4 ounce jars for the swap, and one 6 ounce jar for sampling.  My "actual" recipe would therefore make 5 to 6 cups of pesto.  I'll try to cut this down to a more manageable amount for home use - 2 cups max.  It's all about handfuls of ingredients; blanching the kale to tame the bite; and whizzing everything in a food processor to get it lusciously smooth.  This pesto was: Blanched kale and blanched garlic; basil, parsley, mint, toasted walnuts, olive oil, and Pecorino Romano cheese (it's cheaper than Parmesan), salt and pepper.  The kale helps stretch the pesto and adds a healthy veg to the mix.  Using parsley and mint help with the taste, adding in a sweeter element to work with the basil.  I picked walnuts instead of pine nuts because they are less expensive and because they have a softer taste than the bitter edge that pine nuts can sometimes add.  The recipe can be worked to suit your tastes and needs. 

Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto Ingredients:
  • 2-3 Cups (loosely packed; about 1 small/medium bunch) Fresh Kale Leaves - cleaned, de-stemmed of woody/tough center rib
  • 1 Bunch Basil (about 1 cup loosely packed)- cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves - cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 2 - 3 Garlic Cloves - peeled
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil - or more as needed
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Walnuts
    Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
    1/2 Cup Grated Cheese - such as Parmesan, Locatelli or Pecorino Romano

Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
1. Clean the kale, basil, parsley and mint Set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of  water to a rolling boil.  Add in a tablespoon of salt.  Next, add in the de-stemmed kale leaves and cook for 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic after 5 minutes and cook for 1 minute more.

3.  Put the basil leaves, parsley and mint into a colander and then drain the blanched kale and garlic leaves in that same colander, pouring the hot  water over the herb leaves.  Drain, and then immediately run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze the kale and herbs dry, wringing out as much water as possible.

4. Add the blanched kale, garlic and herbs, basil and parsley,  into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a large/heavy duty blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose. 

5. Scrap down the sides of the work bowl or blender and add in the walnuts, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few more times to grind the nuts.  Lastly, add in the cheese and pulse a few more times.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
6. Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.  Adding the kale to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups.   

Add more of each, kale, basil, parsley, mint, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Food Finds: More Winning Meals in Las Vegas

You would be hard pressed to find a bad meal in Las Vegas.  Anything is possible but this is indeed an eating town.  Finding "cheap" eats is another adventure altogether not just off the beaten path or outside of the strip.  As I wrote in my previous post, we had a more than enjoyable light lunch on our first foray onto the Strip.  Our next few meals in the heart and hotels of Las Vegas would prove to be winners as well.  
Breakfast on the Strip: A quiet breakfast in a subdued beautifully lit "created" Italian street scene in the lower level of the Venetian Hotel.  Meandering into the Venetian Hotel, up, down, across, you're not sure if you're in an M.C. Escher drawing or some Bizarre Disney Land experiment.  The Venetian offers many lovely zen-like places of calm in an otherwise town of  pulsating madness.  

We hit up Caffe Zefferino for a quiet breakfast.  It felt very authentic.  The mood lighting, the air quality (smoke free!) and the pretty surroundings, with the calls of the Gondoliers in the distance truly put us in a happy place.  Breakfast was more American style in that the portions were large and tasty.  Coffee, well, stick to Starbucks, but for a good breakfast that won't hurt your wallet and will keep you going well past lunch, this is a place to fill up!

Dinner on the Strip: We had fun meal at The Yard House at the LINQ along the QUAD corridor between The Flamingo Hotel and Harrahs.  I was skeptical at first, not wanting to dine at yet another knock-off bar filled with penis balloon toting bachelorettes (there were quite a few, wearing sashes and tiaras no less); or muscle headed bachelors sporting foot long dong bong vuvuzela shaped drinking vessels strung around their necks (way more than a few of these all over the place). 

The Yard House is a multilevel, fine pub grub dining and drinking destination in the heart of what is to my eyes and ears, a busy, night club, food club, shopping arena.  It was too dark for food photos so none to share.  I had the first of several street food fusion meals.  Korean meets Mexican style tacos.  Short Ribs slowly cooked until meltingly tender.  Piquant Mexican Rice.  Luscious Beans.  And an East-Coast Centric Micro Brew Draft Beer List - which really surprised me.  I opted for some North East Coast brews. If you find yourself in Las Vegas, the street known as the QUAD is worth a look-see and The Yard House is well worth a stop for a nibble and a slosh!

Il Fornaio at the New York New York Hotel: Head here for the sheer audacity of doing the entire NY skyline, from The Statue of Liberty, all the important iconic sky scrappers to a miniature Brooklyn bridge walkway.  Whether or not you do the roller coaster that winds its way around and through the buildings is up to your and your nerves.  If you find yourself hungry and the Coney Island food court fare isn't for you (and it shouldn't be) walk through the casino floor and do yourself a favor and have a nice, calm, quiet meal in Il Fornaio Restaurant and Bakery.  Authentic, New York style, thin crust pizzas.  Decent wine by the glass selections.  Good hearty bread with nice olive oil for dipping. If you aren't starving, you and your dining companion can share a salad and a pizza and feel satisfied for under $50! 

Off the Strip and way way away from the casinos:  If you are adventurous, not into the crowds and hubbub of Vegas, in any of the areas like the main strip, downtown near the Stratosphere, or in Old Las Vegas in the Old Downtown now known as The Fremont Street Experience, I have some DYNAMITE Places to suggest.  You'll need a car or be willing to pay a lot for taxi rides. 

District One LV - off the beaten path, in one of the many areas of the China/Asia Town district of Las Vegas, there are dozens of places to dine.  I can't exactly remember how we stumbled into this place. I think we were googling one place, and found three others and then practically threw a dart at a map and here is where we landed.  District One LV is a brand new Vietnamese Seafood and fusion bar and restaurant.  We hit on the hip insider's spot before the hip insiders found this place and ruined it!  Uber cool, the place has a North West Street Food and Pho vibe going on in here.  Lots of street food and other Asian food fusion influences happening on the menu.  If only we had time to eat more and more often...

Our meals were very memorable.  Fresh Shrimp Spring Rolls in delicate cellophane rice paper wrappings.  Inside was a crunchy center that contrasted nicely with the tender bite of the basil leaves and shrimp. Steamed Edamame pods topped with a stir fry of Szechuan peppers, garlic and sesame oil.  More addictive than potato chips.  Rachel enjoyed a platter of Vietnamese pork offerings - chops, sausages; veggies, and broken rice topped with a poached egg.  Break the egg over the rice, pour on the Nam Ploc vinegar and you create a succulent sauce for the meal.  I had a Korean Fried Cornish Hen with Chinese 5 Spice, along with the steamed broken rice.  I think Rachel got the velvet box meal here but mine was very good.  After a few wheat style summer ales and even the fish heads would have seem like a gold-plated meal to me.  We ate until we were ready to burst and then took a few bites and sips more, rolling our way back to our car.  Happy, sated and delighted with our turn of luck at finding this true gem.  

Up a piece by the New Orleans Casino, in the shadow of the strip but several miles away, we discovered a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant called Abyssinia.  After our one and only night in a hotel dead smack in the heart of The Strip, at The Flamingo (the less said, the better...) we spent 3 nights at a time-share condo 4 miles outside of town.  We had a car, lots of guide books and ample time to find better food finds than what the management of corporate Las Vegas wants the tourists to find. After our amazing luck at District One LV, we weren't sure we could find another wonderful "ethnic" meal as cheap and plentiful.  How wrong we were.  I cannot find any decent Ethiopian places back home so it surprised me to find a large Ethiopian community in Las Vegas of all places.  We had a combination dinner of meat and vegetables, which was way more food than we could handle, even if I was famished.  Ground lamb; stewed lamb; chicken in spicy tomato flavors that I can't even begin to identify.  Goat. Lentils 2 ways; Collard Greens. Raw cabbage salad and stewed cabbage. All served on a platter of spongy bread called injera, along with a basket of additional bread.

Way off the Beaten Path: Henderson, Nevada: The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill.  As if the food finds weren't already superb, we found another buried treasure in the desert.  Rachel and I took a side trip to Nelson, Nevada, to visit an old gold mine and reclaimed town.  A post with those photos and stories will be forth coming.  After a few hours of photo taking we were hot, tired and ready for a proper meal in a cool spot. More googling and glances in my guide books led us to Henderson.  It's a town know for the famous Ethel M. Chocolate Factory (which we didn't see but I did load up on their chocolates at the airport shop); the town is also listed in my guides books as having more than a few great places to eat.  And away we went! 
In a strip mall shopping center we discovered The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill.  It is clean, lovely but looks like a take-out sandwich shop.  We were a tad skeptical but the aromas and platters of food all around us told us that we were about to strike it rich.  Our meals were out of this world.  Again, more authentic ethnic food, served up by some of the most handsome Greek gods.  Tender fresh hot  men pita; juicy plump grilled shrimp and chicken kebabs.  Fluffy rice pilaf; cool refreshing Greek salad; tangy tzatziki sauce.  I ate every drop of food in front of me and could have enjoyed more if there was room in my belly.  To think we almost passed up on this opportunity.

It was a quick trip filled with a lot of laughs and some amazing meals.  Vacations should be about enjoyment of the new found things.  Our trip to Las Vegas was unique as so much of our nearly 30 year friendship is.   Whatever brings to you to Las Vegas, convention, business, sin and pleasure, you won't be disappointed by the many authentic food finds if you just look beyond the glitz.