Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good: 

My friend Donna got a good report on her PET scan. Way to go!!  Thank you, dear God for listening to our prayers, for guiding the hands and minds of her doctors, and for keeping her safe.

I booked our cruise for next month, and our hotel for Savannah, and also started working on the itinerary for our summer sojourn to Arkansas.

I still can't believe it, but our office is going to be moving to this building.  The building is new, the location is killer ... not killer like my first DCF office in Osceola County, where my windows got shot out twice, but killer overlooking Lake Toho, killer right in the center of downtown with all the new restaurants, killer with adequate parking under cover ... pinch me, it's all a Bobby Ewing dream ...

The Bad:

Is there some reason that our government has turned a blind eye to this price-gouging?  The gas that is being sold at these inflated prices was bought pre-latest Middle East crisis.  Jacking up the prices under the circumstances is outrageous.  It's got to be illegal.  Why is no one in high office taking a stand, demanding that rates be cut, frozen, and otherwise regulated? 

Also bad, very bad:  this past week I became aware that someone has stolen my identity and is using it to purchase various big ticket items.  I have already heard from three different stores regarding credit cards taken in my name, a checking account opened in my name, and other blatant instances of fraud.  I am in the process of filing a police report, contacting the credit companies, and all that jazz, but I can tell you, this is one serious mess.  (There was a little bit of good here, though.  The very helpful officer at KPD checked her computer and told me, "well, your driver's license is still valid and there are no warrants out for your arrest."  Any day I can receive that kind of reassurance from a police officer is a good day indeed.)

... and the ugly:

TALLAHASSEE — "A Clearwater activist has filed an ethics complaint accusing Gov. Rick Scott of using his office to benefit the chain of walk-in clinics he founded.

David Plyer, 64, based his complaint on a St. Petersburg Times report that Scott's health care policies — drug-testing state workers, switching Medicaid patients to private HMOs and shrinking public health clinics — could benefit Solantic Corp., a chain of 32 urgent-care centers in Florida.

The state Commission on Ethics will review the complaint for legal merit before deciding on action. Scott moved his $62 million investment in Solantic into a trust held by his wife, Ann, before taking office.

After the Times story, Scott said the state will not contract with the company while he is governor. "I've been transparent," Scott said Monday."

I am an employee of the state who is required to make certain financial disclosures, and also to take annual ethics training, which I just happened to do yesterday (the deadline is April 15).  As I went through it, I could not help but think, "wow, does the governor know about this?"

Apparently not.  Let us hope the ethics committee has the stones to do the right thing.

No cooking to report, unless you include reheating last week's lunch in the microwave.  Didn't think so.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Sorry to disappoint, but this has nothing to do with naughty pictures, and everything to do with naughty governors.

Sunday night, when the television is silent and the rest of the house is quiet, I like to catch up on the news.  Orlando Sentinel, Google News, and the Sunday Times.  There is a serial killer on Long Island, Mubarak is worried about his legacy, and the President is still trying to reduce debt with the help of Republicans.  Good luck with that one, Mr. President.

Then I caught this headline, followed the link and had another one of those "the top of my head is going to explode" moments.  There have been far too many of them lately, most caused by this dude:

Scott: Learning on the job

As he approaches 100 days in office, Gov. Rick Scott, a political newcomer, is learning as he governs.
All righty, then.  Look, I knew he was incompetent, and I haven't been shy about expressing my opinion, but seeing this out in bold print really hammers it home.  Who among us thinks we can get hired for a job without any experience whatsoever?  What company in it's corporate right mind, trying to fill a high level position that carries with it complicated and technical responsibilities, would hire someone without even rudimentary knowledge of what the job entailed?  What law firm would hire a high school graduate to serve as lead counsel on a first degree murder case? 
Governor Scott has no political experience whatsoever.  He hasn't even served at a local level.  It is one thing to boast that he is free of all the political ties that bind up in the state capitol, but with that sort of freedom comes abject ignorance.  He does not even understand his own job description, much less be able to effectively delegate to others.  He is abyssmally unaware of the political realities and is unable to communicate with staff, with legislators, and certainly not with the people of this state.  It is truly obscene to think that this individual holds the highest office in our state, and with it an incredible amount of power.  Anyone who thinks that the three branches of government have equal powers hasn't been reading the newspaper lately.

Once you read the article you will be shocked at just how much he doesn't know.

Here it is, 1:30 AM, and I am still awake.  Washing a boatload of dishes, some in the dishwasher, some by hand.  There is something very soothing about washing dishes by hand.   I am not the usual dishwasher around these parts, as my boys are good about cleaning up after me, but it is tax season, the sink and surrounding counters had reached critical mass, Cory is out keeping company, and it's just me and my shadows, the four-legged variety.  They have never offered to assist with dishwashing ... dishLICKING is an entirely different matter, however. 

Does anyone know why cats like to sit in the sink, by the way?

I guess it's just another one of life's mysteries.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Would you like some cheese with that whine?

I've been whining lately, and for that I apologize.  It is true that I am whining about important matters such as the economy and the perfidy of politicians, but after a while, it gets old.  So I'm taking a whine break today. Besides, I am too happy to whine because I finished booking our cruise.  We are really going on a real vacation on a real boat.  Woot woot!  It turns out that online booking, direct to Carnival is the way to go.  I am very pleased, at least at this point.  One of the best features is that this ship will be leaving out of Port Canaveral, right down the road a-piece. 

I was rejuvenated enough to hit up Publix for this and that, and at this point, most of my cooking is done.  That includes a new side dish I developed involving chick peas, chorizo, and tomatoes, similar to something we had last night at Bonefish Grill.  I'm always looking for something new to do with chick peas (besides salads and falafel) and this fit the bill.

Just go to the recipe blog site (click on the link in the upper left hand corner of this page) and you will find the chick pea and chorizo recipe, as well as the recipes for the whipped rutabagas with bacon and caraway, and the risotto with broccoli.  The recipes for the barbecue sauce and the ribs were posted on Saturday, April 9, or you can just click on the link.  I hope you enjoy these as much as we do.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Knitting with Roast Carrots

Slackford Studio

As if I didn't have enough WIPs all over the place, I just fell in love with another pattern, and it is only sheer laziness that prevents me from casting on.  Silly me, checking out the current edition of  "Knitty" and clicking on the patterns link and seeing a photo of Fallberry fingerless mitts and really, the only thing stopping me is not laziness, but the fact that I do not have any sport yarn in a color that even comes close to the perfectly named "Roast Carrots."  There is the ad up top - I can't make these things up.  I guess if the economy gets any worse, I can eat the mitts.  Really, what a beautiful color ... excuse me while I indulge in a little yarn envy.

This really ticked me off:

"School board members would work without pay, save for a $100 per-meeting stipend, under a proposal the Legislature is taking up on Tuesday.

The bill by the Senate education committee would do away with school board members' salaries for anyone elected, or re-elected, in 2012 and beyond."

But here is the gravamen of the issue: 

"Wise could not be reached for comment Monday. Last year, he proposed cutting, but not eliminating, board members salaries so they were the same as lawmakers, about $29,000."

I've got a better idea, Senator Wise.  How about all of you give up your salaries?  You know, all you state senators and representatives up there in Tallahassee.  Then we can look forward to filthy rich crooks like Governor Voldemort being the only people able to afford public office!

Part of my pique comes from my long-term friendship with Osceola County School Board Member Jay Wheeler, one of the hardest-working elected officials around.  Jay sends out a weekly unofficial School Board Update, which is often controversial, but always informative.  Jay pulls no punches, and also has no problem in operating completely in the open, in the true spirit of Florida's Sunshine Laws.  I get exhausted just reading about all the activities he engages in as a School Board Member. 

This reminds me, just a bit, of back in the day when I was in private practice, and was under contract to provide legal defense to parents who had children removed by the Department of Children and Families.  Originally my contract was with Osceola County.  Based on my areas of expertise, I was one of three attorneys who represented indigent defendants in dependency and delinquency courts.  I was paid an hourly fee for dependency cases, and a flat fee for delinquency cases.  The hourly fee was about one-third the average rate for my private cases, but there was considerable volume and that made up the difference.  Because of the nature of delinquency proceedings, the flat fee was entirely fair.  I worked hard, but I worked happy. 

Then the state took over the conflict/contract attorney system and all hell broke loose.  Besides the boondoggle of having to request payment from the JAC (Justice Administration Commission - now THAT'S an oxymoron!) in Tallahassee, rather than simply submitting a bill to the county office ACROSS THE STREET from the courthouse, we were faced with continual attacks on the amounts we were paid.  They wanted to pay us a flat fee for dependency cases, which, when taking into account the number of hours we had to put into each case, meant that after the first three months or so, we were working for free.  Since the average successful dependency case lasts close to a year and a half, you do the math.  Look, I suppose there are always going to be people who abuse the system - in this case, certain attorneys who padded their time so as to earn a hell of a lot more than anyone else thought reasonable - but the cure is to weed out the abusers, not punish those of us who play by the rules.  There were a number of meetings to address the issues, and at one such meeting, it was suggested by some of the people in charge that since attorneys are expected to do pro bono work, it was not unreasonable for us to donate most of our time working without getting paid.  My head still hurts thinking about that.  I always did my share of pro bono representation ... every one of the nine years I was in private practice, I had several clients who received legal services without having to pay for them.  Anyway, in time, I sought a job returning to work for the state as a Department employee.  I could no longer afford to pay my staff, and but for the fact that my husband and I shared office space in a building we had bought years before, I would have had to start working from home.  Today, three years after I left private practice, I cannot help but notice that many of my defense colleagues are doing without staff of any kind, and/or having to give up their offices.  And I will bet you real money that if you consider the salaries of the bean counters up at the JAC, and the salaries paid to the newly created Office of Regional Conflict Counsel, plus all the expenses associated with maintaining their offices, staff, etc., you will find that it cost the state a lot less under the old contract attorney system.

There is no involuntary servitude in the State of Florida and no one should be expected to work for free. 

Off my soap box ... for now, anyway.

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I am too frelling tired to go to Publix, and if something is going to get cooked, it is going to be from ingredients already present in my house.  Since my pantry is the size of my first apartment, and I have two big refrigerators, that still leaves a lot of room for culinary creativity.

To start, I have put together a big batch of Mom's Barbecue Sauce, which I will be using sometime this weekend to grace the contents of two large packages of meaty pork spareribs.  Treif, it's what's for dinner - not tonight, though, we're heading to Bonefish Grill with friends.

Along with the barbecue treif, I am planning on risotto, and decided to use up the box of defrosted chopped broccoli in my refrigerator.  What I have in mind calls for pignolas (pine nuts), olive oil, sweet butter, and a whole lot of garlic.  Check tomorrow's food blog, it will be there.  And I am going to prepare those rutabagas if it is the last thing I ever do.  Besides, they will be an awesome side dish for the ribs, since the boys have already inhaled all of the lamb shanks, resorting to eggplant rollatini as a side dish substitute.  They're not complaining.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On the sidewalks of New York

Friday night I took a walk down East 36th Street in Brooklyn, retracing steps I made fifty years ago to Public School 119, now known as the Amersfort School.  I wanted to confirm that it was there, rather than at Public School 217, that I experienced the Trauma of the Worms.  This topic came up during an office conversation about snakes, and a story I'd recently heard about little baby cottonmouths pretending to be fishing worms, with tragic results.  A flood of worm memories came to mind, and as I related my traumatic episode, I realized I wasn't sure which of the two schools I had attended in Brooklyn was the culprit.  So I took a little trip to Flatbush.

Once I saw the sidewalk in front of the school, I knew that it was there one of my worst nightmares occurred.  Imagine one chubby little six year old with curly hair (no glasses yet) walking to school the morning after a warm spring rain.  The sidewalk in front of the school is completely covered with earthworms in various stages of dying. Every spring for three years, I faced the Trauma of the Worms (not to be confused with the Diet of Worms or the Silence of the Lambs)  My mother explained that the worms came out because of the heavy rains, and some of them (must have been a couple of million) did not make it back into the nice damp earth before the sun dried everything up, including their invertebrate little bodies.  There was no place to put my foot without stepping on worms, and it creeped me out beyond anything I had experienced up to that point in my life.  I tried tiptoeing in between, aiming for small areas of sidewalk, hyperventilating the whole way to the front steps, silent shrieks of terror echoing in my head.  It was truly horrific, and I still have nightmares.  I know, I have issues.  But I still hate worms.

Answer:  to scare the bejeezus out of little kids

I don't know why I worry so much about incipient Alzheimer's, because from memory I was able to reconstruct my daily walk from our house to the school, recognizing the funny zigzag you have to take to cross Flatbush Avenue and still stay on Avenue K, and the corner where my favorite candy store was located.  It's a grocery now, but I faced that corner every time I crossed Flatbush, and I clearly remember the old-fashioned green Coca-Cola sign, something like this one:

I was also able to reconstruct the memory of a class trip I took in second grade.  My teacher, Mrs. Aaronson, had us walk, double file, across the street - East 39th Street to be exact - to the postage stamp-sized front yard of her house, where she gave us a lovely lesson on flowers and trees.  It was that day I learned that crocuses were the first sign of spring (at least in Brooklyn, New York) and it was not until years later I realized Mrs. Aaronson was wrong, and that it is, in fact, the appearance of the Cadbury Egg which serves as the first sign of spring.  She was correct that the forsythia is the official flower of Brooklyn, however, so I'll give her that.

Later I took a drive down Kings Highway to Flatbush Avenue, made a quick left to peek at the Exxon station there (it would have been an Esso station back then), and wondered if my father would remember the time he went to pay for gas, leaving me in the car with the motor running and I accidentally threw his car into neutral, sending me and the car sliding towards the traffic.  I certainly have never forgotten the look of terror on his face as he came hoofing after me, nor the look of relief and pride when I managed to stop the car's backward slide by pressing my small, six year old foot against the brake as I had seen him do so many times.

Is there anything as much fun as the interactive maps on Google?  I just took a long ride down Flatbush Avenue, past Kings Plaza, over the Belt Parkway, past Floyd Bennett Field, and over the Marine Parkway Bridge.  With the price of gas hovering closer and closer to $4.00 a gallon, it's the only way to travel.  Although I do miss the cobblestones that used to make up the roadbed on Flatbush Avenue in the vicinity of Floyd Bennett.  They were paved over many years ago, but I can still remember my father's car bumping over them on our way to the Rockaway peninsula to visit some of my favorite relatives.  Far Rockaway is where I did my candy-striper gig way back in 1968 at what was then St. Joseph's Hospital, but long before that I developed a fascination with the roads and most especially the Rockaway Freeway which ran under the concrete elevated structure supporting the tracks for the New York City Subway.

Once we left the Marine Parkway (Gil Hodges) Bridge, Pop would continue left onto Beach Channel Drive, speeding along the edge of the water, but at some point darting onto Rockaway Freeway, weaving under and around the el, back and forth between Rockaway Parkway and Beach Channel Drive, and then just when I thought I had the directions straight in my head, he would careen onto Seagirt Boulevard.  Memories of those trips remind me of the chase scene in the movie "The French Connection."  Pop was nothing if not an adventurous driver.

It's still all about the food:  Saturday evening Rob and I are going out to dinner with friends at Bonefish Grill, but that hasn't stopped me from thinking about ribs, risotto, and japchae.

Korean Glass Noodles

You know, up until this very moment I never realized the resemblance between Korean glass noodles and the Avenue K Worm Gang ... let's try a different picture, shall we?

Jap Chae / Chap Chae

Much better.  For a moment, I thought I had been sent to Bizarre Foods Hell, where I would be doomed to become Andrew Zimmern's taste tester on all of his eating adventures for all eternity. 

I first experienced japchae while in South Korea.  I feel the need to rhapsodize about that trip, but that deserves its own blog post, so for now we'll just take a quick peek at my family's favorite Korean dish.

Although my son is Korean, I never tried to cook Korean food until I had the chance to taste the real thing, and by that time he was 18 years old.  We do have a few Korean restaurants in the area, but they are still a bit of a drive, and in any event, we didn't know what to order.  The other problem is that much of Korean food is incendiary, and I have had to learn to work my way around those delightful little side dishes (banchan) that would blow the top of my head off.  Fortunately, there are dishes like japchae, galbi and bulgogi that are seasoned for non-chili heads, relying on the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil and malt syrup to delight the palate.

The end of a great meal in Seoul

For now I'm just thinking about the japchae, but I do have a bag of those noodles in my pantry, and who knows where that might take me - possibly to Publix for the rest of the ingredients?  Perhaps, given the amount of cooked food in my refrigerators, I'll concentrate on those barbecue ribs with a side of risotto.  And whipped rutabagas (I haven't forgotten).

I'll be sure to let you know.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

No Smoking Allowed

The best ribs I have ever eaten in my life are smoke free.  There is no smoke in the cooking method, nor is there any smoke in the sauce.

These days, thanks to Food Network, even a Northerner like myself knows that "barbecue" is a term that should not be indiscriminantly applied to foods cooked on a grill.  Also, technically speaking, one cannot turn a chicken into barbecue by slathering it with the contents of a bottle of commercial, or even homemade barbecue sauce.  Unless you are Ina Garten.  Ina comes right out and  calls her grilled chicken with barbecue sauce "Barbecue Chicken", without apology or explanation.  She marinates her chicken in a wonderful sauce she developed back in the day when she owned The Barefoot Contessa out on Long's Island's South Fork, and then carefully grills it over charcoals on an outdoor grill.  There is nothing low and slow about her straight forward method,  and there is nary a splinter of hickory, mesquite, or applewood smoking under the hood.  That grilled chicken is utterly delicious, maybe the best barbecued chicken I have ever made on a grill.

I never ate anything like "real" barbecue until we moved to Florida in 1991 and tried the food at Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q, usually just called "Sonny's" but not to be confused with Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse, which has a number of locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which should not be confused with Arthur Bryant's, which is in Kansas City, Missouri, and has been described by Calvin Trillin as "the single best restaurant in the world."  Since that time I have checked out Sonny Bryan's original location, as well as Arthur Bryant's original location, the one that Calvin Trillin rhapsodized about in his book American Fried.  We make sure we get to the Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock, Arkansas everytime we are there, and try to make it to Thompson Brothers BBQ whenever we are in Atlanta.  I have a soft spot for the latter, because it really is run by the Thompson brothers, a group of very nice young men, who run a spotless place with awesome food.  One of these days I am going to order their pineapple upside down cake.  And our newest addition to the list of great barbecue, Interstate Bar-B-Q in Memphis, Tennessee. 


Clockwise from top left:  Thompson Brothers; Whole Hog; Sonny Bryan's; Interstate Bar-B-Q
But the truth is, my first taste of barbecue ribs at Sonny's Real Pit was a huge disappointment.  I was expecting sauced ribs and what I got was an unsauced, smoked rib with a choice of sauces on the table.  Over time I came to appreciate traditional barbecue, whether it was ribs or beef or pulled pork, and I've done my share of dry rubbing and then smoking food here at home, by either jury-rigging our old gas grill, or with the use of our new grill's smoker box.  I like smoked chicken as well, especially the truly wacky beer can chicken recipe which produces a moist, tasty, gorgeous bird.

But my taste in ribs was canalized as a child, which means I greatly favor the ribs that my mother prepared  as well as the type of ribs served by Chinese restaurants.  No smoking allowed.  As a young adult, I ate my share of ribs at a restaurant in Commack, New York, appropriately called The Spare Rib, and those arrived at the table smoke-free, but heavily sauced, just like Mom's.  Despite the complete absence of smoke, these are all understood to be barbecue ribs, and in conclusion, if New Yorkers are not particularly authentic in our rendition of barbecue, we are absolutely delicious.

My mother made the best barbecue ribs I have ever eaten, and it is all about her barbecue sauce.  The ribs are oven-roasted in two stages, the second stage involving a lavish application of sauce.  She never used a grill in her life, and in my parents' world, smoking was reserved for whitefish and other Jewish delicacies, and store-bought bacon;  otherwise, pork should be eaten fresh.

The secret to her sauce is the main ingredient:  Log Cabin Original Syrup.  Don't get saucy and try to substitute real maple syrup - it will not work.  The other important ingredients are ketchup and mustard - it has to be Heinz ketchup, and no fancy mustard either.  For this you want the yellow stuff.  At any one time we have 6 or 7 different types of mustards open in the refrigerator, but the only time I have a bottle of French's yellow mustard in there is when I'm planning to make my mother's barbecue sauce.  Just like real maple syrup doesn't work, neither does Grey Poupon Dijon.  And as you might imagine, this sauce works very well on chicken.

I'll be posting the amounts and procedures over on the recipe blog in a day or so.  Once you make this sauce, you will never want to be without it.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

WIP it, WIP it good

I fell off the wagon yesterday.  I started another scarf.  Another WIP (work in progress) to add to my rather lengthy list of existing projects in various states of completion.  I couldn't help myself.  I can tell you that the yarn made me do it ... so soft, so light, so sunny.  I found a nice lacy pattern, and worked it into a scarf with lacy side stitches.  No garter stitch to force it into a neat rectangle, but instead, I let the pattern dictate a naturally decorative edge.

I am trying to post a picture, but my iPhone is in a state of somnolence despite having been plugged in for charging overnight. Picture to follow.  Here we go:

The iPhone gets balky sometimes.  I think that in the middle of the night, the iPhone conspires with Mandy, my GPS, to think up new ways to torment me.  There's an episode of "Doctor Who" which acted as a cautionary tale as to why we should not rely so much on machines and electronic devices, especially in our cars.

Our home is apparently under attack by a flock of wild turkeys who have the audacity to stroll up and down the side of the house, driving my two boy dogs to distraction.  I think maybe we caught a break with the weather, because while the rain came yesterday as expected, it blew over by the late afternoon, and since then the skies have been cool and clear.  That is good mood-making, as I head over to the courthouse for a day of review hearings.  It also means I can get away with wearing my light green Saroyan scarf, as my lucky color for today is spring green.

It has been a lovely day.  But both morning and afternoon in court have left me dragging.  Driving home, I had the illusion of taking the doggies out for a nice walk, Athene in her stroller and her brothers on their leashes.  Two seconds after walking into the house, I pushed that thought aside.  I could lie down on the couch and take a nap instead.

But before I nap, I would like to take a few (more) potshots at Governor Voldemort, also known as Rick Scott. 

Richard Lynn "Rick" Scott (born December 1, 1952) is an American politician who is the 45th and current Governor of the U.S. state of Florida.  He earned a business degree and law degree and joined a Dallas firm where he became partner. In 1987 he helped found the Columbia Hospital Corporation with two business partners; this merged with Hospital Corporation of America in 1989 to form Columbia/HCA and eventually became the largest private for-profit health care company in the U.S. He was forced to resign as Chief Executive of Columbia/HCA in 1997 amid a scandal over the company's business and Medicare billing practices; the company ultimately admitted to fourteen felonies and agreed to pay the federal government over $600 million.

This article, from the Huffington Post, sums it up, targeting each of Scott's failings, questionable actions, and dirty dealings designed to promote self-enrichment.  Have we become so jaded that we no longer blink an eyelash when the people running for office are convicted felons, or likely to become convicted felons during their term of office?  Why have we come to accept the fact that all politicians are dirty, and we just have to be content to vote for the lesser of two evils?

This is not just a Florida phenom, by the way; who can forget those videos of Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Berry smoking crack, subsequently serving time in Federal prison?  That did not stop the good people of the District of Columbia from electing him to another term as Mayor and various terms as councilman.  I remember wondering at the time, "what were they thinking?"  Which leads to the inevitable question to half of the voting population of Florida - what the hell were you thinking?  You freaking put a crook in office, and we have no provision for recall! (My friend from junior high school, Hugh, suggested an exorcism, but darn it, not in the Constitution.  Not that Rick Scott has ever read the Florida Constitution, much less resolved to uphold it.)

My father always told me that "politics were the dirtiest game in town", and I know he was right, but there are some honest politicians, or if not completely honest, aspiring to be honest.  Or honorable.  Or both, like this former Florida Governor

There is a reason why Voldemort is skirting our transparency laws, why he has basically shut out the media.  He does not want public scrutiny of his dirty deals.  You would think he was governing from Tammany Hall instead of Tallahassee.

I know we don't have to reelect him, but have you considered just how much damage he can do to the political, educational, and financial infrastructure in our state over the next 3 years?  And speaking of disastrous reelections, did you know that back in the 1990s, Rick Scott was a partner of George W. Bush in the ownership of the Texas Rangers?

Still haven't gotten to the rutabagas.  I haven't forgotten ...

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I am a long time devotee of Forgotten NY, a website created by a gentleman by the name of Kevin Walsh, which has spawned a book as well as 42 ... no, 43 "Forgotten Tours."  If I still lived in New York, I'd be signing up.  I love stuff like this ... I'd like to go back to the Transit Museum someday.  Last time I went was with Mark and Sandy and it had to be 1976 or 1977.  

The presentation of the tours has become more sophisticated with time, thanks in part to internet mapping.  For the last few years, Kevin Walsh has utilized something called Wayfaring which not only shows the tour route superimposed on a map, but provides an interactive list of "Waypoints", which is all really way cool.  Forgotten Tour 43, which is set for mid-April, covers an area of Queens I have some familiarity with, having spent far too much of my youth rushing to or from the Hunterspoint Avenue Long Island Railroad Station.  Although I hardly think one can dignify the dingy platform, which appears to have been frozen in time, unchanged since the last time I regularly rode those rails, in 1987.

I have really gone off-track here ... excuse the pun.  Okay, so I was poring over the Wayfaring map, and for some reason found it hysterically funny that the Queens neighborhood called Blissville sits right smack up against a big old cemetery - Calvary Cemetery, to be exact.  No bliss there, if you catch my drift.

The Borough of Queens, especially the western half, has an inordinate number of cemeteries.  Which makes it the most depressing borough in the City of New York.  Where else can your kids go to a high school that is in a cemetery?  And a Catholic school in a Lutheran cemetery, at that.  I guess the good news is that there really is no place for the kids to go to get into trouble, unlike someplace like Dr. Phillips High School here in Orlando, which is right smack across the street from Universal Orlando. 

I used to work between two cemeteries.  That was 1975 to 1976, and I was working with Mark at Robert Hall Clothes as a retail merchandise distributer.  Fancy title.  I remember my brother was so excited for me because my gross salary had finally broken $100.  I also worked for a while at a recycling facility, which stunk.  The facility, not the job.  The cemeteries were off of Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, almost directly across the street from one another.  No matter where you turned, dead people.  If you turned west to walk to the Chinese take-out, you were facing a cemetery.  If you walked east on Metropolitan Avenue, you were adjacent to a cemetery.  And then there was a back roads sort of route I took sometimes when going home, that took me down the Interboro Parkway (now called the Jackie Robinson Parkway), just under 5 miles long and I would pass three large cemeteries arrayed on either side.  I changed jobs, and changed driving routes.  Actually, that's when I got off the road and into the subway.

I got entrenched in the Wayfaring map because I am absolutely crazy about maps.  Road maps, subways maps, railroad maps.  I love poring over them, figuring out new routes, familiarizing myself with street names and highway number designations.  I think I must be always looking for an escape route.  One thing, I almost never get lost.  Unless I am relying on Mandy, the portable GPS.  She once tried to send us into the Arkansas River.  I'm still mad about that.  So I use her as a backup, and continue to play Pavel Chekov to my husband's Mr. Sulu.  It's worked for us for close to forty years.

I once had a roommate when I was at Stony Brook who became seriously indignant when I referred to Veteran's Memorial Highway as "454".  She huffed that "nobody knows it by the number" and made me feel like an idiot.  I didn't bother to tell her that I also referred to Smithtown Bypass also known as Nesconset Highway as "347."  I couldn't risk triggering another one of her outbursts, as I was having a hard enough time that semester anyway.  I wonder if she has ever traveled on an interstate highway, which generally do not have names.  I'll bet she has a permanent earworm, courtesy of Johnny Rivers:  "they've given you a number, and taken away your name."

I know, I'm being mean.  But of the nine roommates I lived with during my four years in college, she was second from the bottom, just below the dingbat who majored in guitar and who practiced over and over and over again, and just above the winner for all time awful roommate.  Yep, she's the one who fooled around with her boyfriend while I was in the room, over and over and over again.  I should have put her together with the guitar guru, then she could have done it to music.

On to better stuff:  the weather was nice.  Hot, but nice.  I was not overwhelmed when I got to the office today, despite being out sick on Friday.  It was manageable.  And I am still on a high from the success of my hamantaschen.  I finished baking them today.  Perfect.

And I was also pleased with the results of my accidental lasagna.  Those no-bake noodles rock.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Victim of Television

My name is Cindy, and I am a victim of television.

This is another one of my father's expressions, and he would use it to describe my mother when she would buy some food product that was being hawked on a television advertisement.  Back then, it was something innocuous like a new flavor of Rice a Roni, or a squeeze bottle of liquid margarine.  These days my father would no doubt apply the same to me, for my undying devotion to cooking shows and my determination to recreate a particularly delicious dish or to try an interesting new technique. 

And, as it would seem, this is all about eggplant and Mario Batali.

Mario Batali

Mario is unfortunately not a big presence over at Food Network anymore, but the Cooking Channel is currently showing reruns of his 2004 series, "Ciao America", as well as "Molto Mario", a Food Network classic.  I happened to be watching an episode of "Ciao America" in which he was visiting Providence, Rhode Island, extolling the virtues of cheese and whipping up some toothsome recipes.

I have also been feeling just a tad guilty, because almost all of my recipes involve some sort of meat or poultry, and I have at least one vegetarian friend who is being left out in the cold.  So I am going to try this recipe for eggplant rollatini, except I may substitute chopped broccoli for part of the spinach.  When I saw this on TV, I really liked the different way the eggplant was prepared for rolling, and wanted to try it.  Badly.  Like when I was watching Giada deLaurentiis while I was walking on the treadmill, and she was preparing a recipe for shrimp scampi on couscous that grabbed my attention so much, I had to get off the treadmill, run downstairs to print out the recipe, and then out the door to get the ingredients.  Now that is what my father would call a victim of television. although I managed to control myself enough to wait until this weekend to pick up the eggplant and prepare the dish.

And then, because I couldn't find any cabbage to go with the corned beef, and I didn't really want potatoes without cabbage, I decided to make Toasted Lobster Ravioli with a Sherry Garlic Alfredo Sauce.  That substitution makes perfect sense to me.

Veering away from the kitchen, I am feeling better than I have for the last few days.  Most importantly, I think, is the shift in weather from miserable to marvelous.  The other is the vacation anticipation - we are at the point of planning our post-tax season trips, including Rob's birthday cruise, and I am looking forward to all of it.  Hopefully, later today (assuming today is Sunday) we will go over to AAA and book our cruise to the Western Caribbean.  I already asked for the time off, and praise the Lord, the week does not correspond with any in-service training, because that would be bad.  If everything works out, this will be our first time leaving from Port Canaveral, and just the thought of not having to drive four hours to the Port of Miami is exhilarating.  Since I drove to and from Orlando to Brevard County five times a week for almost four years, the trip to Port Canaveral will be easy.  And we could use easy right about now.

The other two trips are taekwando related.  One is our annual trip to Little Rock, Arkansas for the American Taekwando Association World Championship, held during the end of June.  Besides enjoying everything that goes with this event - the opening ceremony, the competitions, the sights around town, the traditional dinner with friends before heading back home - there are the extra "vacation days" planned around non-ATA places.  Last year we stopped on our way up in Memphis, ate some awesome food at Interstate Barbecue (you have not lived until you have eaten Bar-B-Q Nachos and Bar-B-Q Spaghetti) and went to pay our respects to The King at Graceland.

Memphis is Barbecue

This year we are hoping to swing east into Tennessee towards Knoxville and up into the Great Smokies and to visit some very special friends who moved from Florida a few years ago.  Great scenery and with all the driving, primo knitting time.  Hey, gotta plan ahead.

Finally, there is a local level tournament in one of our favorite cities, Savannah, and that's the end of April, and you can bet we are going.  Beside the tournament, and the fact that it is our 33rd anniversary, we never tire of this beautiful and unique city.

Scenes from City Market in Savannah

And we always look forward to the food.  Besides our usual stops, I would like to check out a tea room that my boss found on a recent trip there. And walk along the waterfront, eat a praline, take a trolley tour ...

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

. . . and little lambs eat ivy . . .

Oy Oy Oy …!

Remember that little saying we learned in grade school – March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb?  It really used to be true when I was a kid back in Brooklyn.  Along with April showers bring May flowers, Lilacs always bloom for Mother’s Day, and Indian Summer always coincides with the Jewish High Holy Days.  Moving to Florida has skewed my chi, because it’s always summer in Florida and sadly, there are no lilacs this far south.  So I shouldn’t be surprised that the last days of March were beginning to resemble the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season.  Maybe it’s El NiƱo, maybe it’s global warming.

The weather had its way with me, and I was left battered and broken in its wake.  Body aches, headache, sneaky little palpitations, and exhaustion from the whole thing.  I tried to pull myself together, but by 9:30 it was obvious it just wasn’t going to happen.  I hope my little spider friend is having better luck than I am.  Not only do I feel rotten now, I know I’m going to feel worse on Monday morning when I have to deal with all the stuff I should have done on Friday.

There is not much I can do except rest, which gives me time to think about what I would like to do if I did not feel like a used washrag.  One thing I can do, and I am going to do, is open a window.  For the first time in many days, the weather is very pleasant, and I want to enjoy it while I can.  The Weather Channel app on my iPhone has already announced the bad news that by this coming Tuesday, we are back to thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening accompanied by yet another deluge of Biblical proportions.  Well, that’s not exactly what the app said, but I can assure you, that is what it meant.

I’m still thinking about hamantaschen.  I know Purim has come and gone, and I really should be planning for Passover, but we love hamantaschen so much we don’t need a holiday as an excuse to shkoff them down.  If you are from the metropolitan New York area, then you are probably well-acquainted with the typical hamantaschen produced by bakeries, with a thick, buttery cookie-like crust filled with either lekvar (prune butter) or apricot or raspberry preserves.  For some reason, I have never been able to find a recipe that replicates the crust, and so for many years I have made my hamantaschen using a recipe I adapted from a really neat cookbook entitled Mama Leah’s Jewish Kitchen, by Leah Loeb Fischer.  The resulting cookies are nothing like the bakery version, but they are delicious in their own right, and relatively easy to prepare because Mama Leah uses corn oil rather than butter or margarine in her dough.

I’ve seen corn oil used in a number of Jewish baking recipes, including some I got from my mother and my Aunt Ceil.  I am guessing the reason for this is that the baked goods will always be pareve – in other words, neutral, neither dairy nor meat, and therefore can be served after either kind of meal.  While neither my mother nor aunt kept a kosher home, old habits die hard.


I thought I had finally resolved to try the hamantaschen recipe from Joan Nathan’s book, The Jewish Holiday Baker, after considering, and rejecting a similar recipe from Marlene Sorosky’s Fast & Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays.  That cookbook has the very best Passover baking recipes I’ve ever seen, and the recipe for Flo Braker’s Cookie-Dough Hamantaschen also sounded good, but I liked the 2 tablespoons of wheat germ Joan Nathan tosses into her dough.  I was looking for a link to that recipe, and came across a link with this quote attached to it: 

Last year I made a recipe from both Epicurious and from Marlene Sorosky. They were okay.  The doughs varied quite a bit and I honestly was not motivated to make them again.  Joan Nathan’s book, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous is on my wish list so I googled her and Hamantaschen at the same time and this recipe came up.  I am really happy with the dough.  So easy to roll out, easy to shape, and when baked, it is not too sweet.  Leave the sweetness to the filling – this is a perfect marriage.

This comes from an awesome blog entitled “The Urban Baker”, which I’ve already added to my blog list. So this gal has already tried out the Marlene Sorosky recipe and found it just “okay.”  I was curious as to the Joan Nathan recipe, and it turns out to be different than her wheat germ version.  The pictures looked very similar to the New York bakery hamantaschen I grew up with, so a decision has been made to try the Urban Baker's adaptation.

All that thinking wore me out.

So I washed a boat load of dishes, pots, pans, and every sharp knife in the house.  What’s with that?  How did they all end up in the sink at the same time? Speaking of knives, the best line I read today came from my cousin Gary in response to a link I posted on Facebook regarding Governor Voldemort’s funding cuts.

The 45th Governor of the State of Florida

I have, as of late, been going on and on about da Gov demanding drug screens from all state employees (except the ones that work directly for him), and then saw the article about his making deep cuts into the budgets for services for severely disabled children and adults.  I commented that of course he had to make those cuts so he would have the funding available to drug test all the state employees.  To which Gary replied:  “Geez, what is with this guy?  He makes more cuts than Freddy Krueger.”

Speaking of lions and lambs ... I am thinking about lamb shanks.

Apparently lamb is one of those meats that are an acquired taste.  I grew up eating broiled lamb chops, and I always loved them, but when discussing recipes, a number of people have told me they either don’t care for lamb, or have never tasted it.  Some people find it too “gamy”, but these are usually the same people who have never developed an appreciation for roast duck.  Which is sad, anyway you look at it.

My mother never made lamb shanks or even a leg of lamb.  By the time she got around to raising us grandkids, she was all about broiling lamb chops and baking chicken rather than any of the fancier preparations she had tried as a young mother.  My mother-in-law, on the other hand continues to be an adventurous cook, trying out new recipes all the time.  It was in her kitchen that I first tasted lamb shanks, and oh were they wonderful!  The lamb shanks, along with some lamb neck, were slow cooked with rice, tomatoes, onions, and seasoning until they were falling-apart tender and the rice, which was infused with lamb-tomato flavor, was mixed with green peas for the last few minutes of cooking.

The lamb rice was so good that my father, who did not care for lamb, loved the rice.  That lamb rice, with another dish that I cannot remember now, was the last meal he was able to eat and keep down.  This was May of 1983, sometime around Mother’s Day, and he was dying of cancer, after a 16 month battle involving chemotherapy which left him sicker than the actual cancer.  Despite this, he and my mother traveled from Sunrise, Florida, to Central Islip, New York, to see me, and to see the model of the house Rob and I had just contracted to buy.  I prepared the lamb shanks and rice, which I knew my mother loved, and another dish that I knew my father would enjoy, but heaping the lamb rice on his plate as well. 

My Pop, mid to late 1970's

The next time I saw him, he was in the hospital, and on June 24, 1983, four days after I arrived in Florida to see him, he passed away.  Pop is the reason I won’t gamble, not even to buy lottery tickets … but that is another blog post.

Back to lamb shanks – most recipes I have seen use the braising method to cook the lamb.  This is a tougher cut of meat, just as it is on any animal, and it benefits from the low, slow cooking with a flavorful liquid, that happens after the initial high temperature searing or browning.  My mother-in-law’s recipe is a little different, as there is no initial browning nor deglazing with stock or wine, but it is still the low, slow cooking – at least 3 hours – that makes the dish.

I have tried one other recipe for lamb shanks and that was Wayne Harley Brackman’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Roasted Vegetables, which turned out absolutely delicious.  The balsamic vinegar really made that dish. There is one other I always meant to try, even had purchased the apricots, but somehow never got to it, and that was Tyler Florence’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Green Olives and Apricots.  Still perusing the Food Network site … found North African-influenced Lamb Shanks with Couscous  from Emeril and Curried Braised Lamb Shank with Three Onion Couscous from Ming Tsai. There are others, of course, but these were particularly intriguing. So many recipes and only eight small lamb shanks defrosting.
(I may not be doing much cooking this weekend, as I slid into a giant flop on the all-ceramic tiled floor.  Ouch.  Nothing broken (I think), but I bruised my right arm, just how badly I don’t know.  Well, I can still type, so it can’t be that bad.) 

I also have an idea that comes from a recipe that has nothing to do with lamb shanks.  It’s another gem from Tyler Florence, and I have made this in its original form using beef short ribs. It was so delicious, I wish short ribs were more reasonably priced!  Trust me, I did not prepare the scallop part of the dish - even if I could find diver scallops I would probably have to take a bank loan to buy them, darn it.  I really think the combination of flavors will work with the lamb shanks.  Besides, there is no way I can get my hands on the kaffir lime leaves in Ming Tsai's version, but if I ever do, I promise I am going to try that recipe!

And to accompany the lamb shanks, a special whipped rutabaga recipe that even my turnip-dissing husband likes.

So assuming my arm doesn't get any worse and my headache stays far away, cooking plans are for "sticky braised lamb shanks", whipped rutabagas with bacon, caraway, and sour cream, and  for baking hamantaschen.

I am also seriously considering making that corned beef that has been hanging out in my outside refrigerator, along with some cabbage and potatoes ... it seems that young men in their early twenties have voracious appetites for Mom's home cooking ... how did my mother-in-law manage to feed three growing boys?  My father had a nickname for healthy eaters like that - "vacuum cleaners with teeth."  That is my son, the taekwando maven. 

Not that I'm complaining, of course.  Far from it.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.

Friday, April 1, 2011

To tell you the truth, this weather is starting to get on my nerves!

If I wanted rain all the time, I would have relocated to Seattle. 

But this is not Seattle, this is Kissimmee, and I can't get out of my car so I can pick up lunch.  My trial started an hour late because of traffic issues caused by the rain.  I had at least one unhappy witness, and I can't say I blame her.

All day long ... rain rain rain ... my feet feel clammy, my clothes are damp, my hair is flat, my head is ready to explode.  It hurts to wear my hat.  It hurts to move my eyes. 

It is soup weather.

I thought a lot about clam chowder.  Toyed with the idea of carrot or squash soup.  Looked at soup recipes involving mussels, scallops, or corn.  Realized I didn't want seafood or creamy or thick type soups. 

Chicken soup weather.  With tiny meatballs made from ground chicken.  A mirepoix of onion, carrot, and celery.  Chicken stock.  I thought about adding cannellini beans or vermicelli, but decided it would make the soup too heavy, too much like a white chili, or just too ordinary. 

Mexican Chicken Meatball Enchilada Soup

This soup is definitely not ordinary.  I was very pleased with the meatballs, which have a great complex taste usually missing from ground chicken recipes.  There is a little bit of heat to the soup from a secret ingredient, but not enough to make your nose run.  If you like things a little milder, stir in a spoon of sour cream just before eating.  Either way, don't forget those cute little tortilla strips.  They make a very tasty and colorful garnish.

Cook like there's nobody watching, and eat like it's heaven on earth.