Saturday, January 28, 2012

Proud to be from the State of South Jersey

Ok….so the title is a bit of wishful thinking. But if you’re not from the area, you need to do know that New Jersey is divided into two portions; New York and Philadelphia. I am from Philadelphia, kind of. I live in the southern portion of New Jersey which has a Phillies Red summer and an Eagles green fall. Not like up north where they wear Yankee hats year round and root for the NY Giants and the NY Jets, both of whom actually play home games in New Jersey…in the same stadium. One that was just built to replace an outdated venue…that was also in New Jersey. I won’t even question the logistics of this cross-state maneuvering since I recently found out that the Cincinnati Airport is in Kentucky.

Anyway, I get my coffee from a WaWa (not a 7 Eleven!), and summer at the Jersey shore (not that Jersey Shore – they are from the New York portion of New Jersey). You may need to get out a map to follow me.
Recently, a friend from the northern portion of our state spent the day with me. We have an ongoing banter about which part of the state is worth our highest-in-the-nation property taxes.  Hers are higher than mine because property values are higher – much higher in northern New Jersey. “That’s because we have mountains, rolling hills and horse farms, she brags, “You have oil refineries”, I respond. New Jersey Turnpike Exits 13, 14, and 15. Check your maps. And so it goes, back and forth, neither surrendering an inch. It has been going on for years. Fortunately, we have much more in common than both living in a state where the Governor recently responded to a heckler with “You can’t insult me, I’m from New Jersey”. ???
But as I was fixing us lunch, a whole new north/south “claim to fame” topic came up. I had fried up some wonderful hard-wood smoked bacon that I actually bought from a butcher in (real) Philadelphia to make BLT’s. Since it was winter, as I was preparing our sandwiches, I lamented “I would love to have a Jersey tomato right now.” She smiled, “another great produce from the north”.  Okay….. North Jersey can lay claim to Bruce Springsteen, the Soprano’s, the Cake Boss, Frank Sinatra, MTV’s Jersey Shore and even part of the Delaware Water Gap! But not, not the Jersey Tomato!

My laptop was on the center island where we were about to eat lunch. I stopped what I was doing to research this statement. “Hey, I’m hungry”, she bellowed, “You are also ill-informed” I responded as I Goggled “Jersey Tomato”….and there it was in all of its’ sweet, sweet splendor! This summer fruit (yes class, seeds inside make it a “fruit”) is legendary for its juicy sweetness.  And come July, a tomato, a little olive oil and a salt shaker - is lunch.  We read through the history that would settle this latest debate. It proved that even as the 5th smallest state in the country, New Jersey is the 4th largest in tomato production, and they are “mostly grown in Gloucester, Cumberland, Salam and Atlantic counties” ALL IN SOUTH JERSEY.  We ate in relative silence, occasionally mentioning the weather.
Southern Jersey lives in the shadow of its’ northern half. We are a cluster of suburbs surrounding the Pine Barrens, blueberry fields, peach orchards, cranberry bogs and road side stands that sell silver queen white corn and blue claw crabs. Our shores are crowded with families. At our most southern point is Cape May where huge Victorian homes dot the landscape of the oldest seashore resort in the nation.

Up the turnpike, the other half of the state provides us with politicians, state lottery winners and a reputation that often makes us the butt of late night talk show jokes. I’m beginning to think that the people of the great states of the Carolinas have the right idea!

“That was a good sandwich, but you are right about one thing”, my old friend finally admitted. “It would have been better with a Jersey tomato, even if it was grown in the southern half”.  But then she couldn’t resist, “Did you know that Merle Streep was born in North Jersey?” It never ends. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January Diets and Girl Scout Cookies

The Girl Scout Organization has lousy timing. And I am not talking about the fact that young, eager scouts approach me at the front door of the supermarket while I am still fumbling to put my keys away and don’t have any cash. No, the fact that they are there at all smacks of a marketing department that fell asleep on the job.

When I approached the grocery store in December, I was ready to embrace the abundance of each isle. I had handfuls of recipes with highlighted ingredients. Cream of tartar? Check. Two bags of semi-sweet morsels? Check. Brown sugar? Check. Apple cider bread with golden raisins and cranberries? Not on the list, but definitely now in the cart. You get where I am going with this.

Which is why when I approach the grocery store in January, the only things I am armed with are my Weight Watchers calculator and my resolve. The market no longer feels like I am entering my grandmothers’ kitchen filled with baked goods, great aromas, friendly faces, and comfort food. Now it’s more like going down into her basement. Get what you need and get out.

Except, this month, standing between me and my bagged salads, are young girls holding boxes of Thin Mints, Somoas, and (heaven help us!) Peanut Butter Tagalongs.  And I can’t help but think, January? Really?  The gyms are still full! Now, I am well aware that the Girl Scouts pull in $700 million annually hawking their cookies at this time of year, but, they could do better! Stay with me here.

There is a thin window of opportunity for them between the weeks we start shedding heavy, belly hiding sweaters and start worrying about bathing suits. And it usually starts with the Cadbury Egg. That’s right; they should start their campaign a few weeks before Easter. I, for one, would pick peanut butter patties over Peeps anytime. Not good for you? Okay, than wait till July. It is the busiest vacation month of the year and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t say “hey, I’m on vacation” before putting something they shouldn’t in their mouths. Trefoils shortbread cookies would pack great in a beach bag. No melting.

Not feeling it? Well then, how about fall. I mean, we are about to start the holiday feasting season by eating tons of candy out of a pillow case that our kids lugged around for blocks. Wouldn’t a Do-si-dos and a cold glass of milk be healthier? And – we wouldn’t have to wait for the kids to go to bed!

I, by any means, am not a marketing genius. So who am I to question the sales distribution of a multi-million dollar organization?  And maybe this is just a plea on my part to get them to move away from the one month of the year I can actually stick to a weight loss program.  And after all, part of the Girl Scout Promise, following “On my honor” is “I will try and help all people” Well girls; there are millions of us out there who you could help each year, if you would just learn to say "Merry Christmas, would you like to buy some cookies?" Just saying.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Summer Reruns, Moving On and Looking Back!

KC Note: As most of you who follow Kitchen Clatter know, I am on the move and will soon be settled into a new home after a short trip to Maine with friends. All new blogs, details, recipes and more will follow shortly (or as soon as I can figure out the modem to the internet!). For the next two weeks, my most popular posts from the last year will be featured.  This one, which was originally titled "My Own Modern Family and the "F" Bomb" still remains the most viewed and most shared post of Kitchen Clatters tenure. It was bought and published in a few newspapers. The memory of this encounter with my sons endures in my heart:

For one month of each year, my children are the same age. After 10 childless years, we had two boys in an eleven month span.  Not going into detail here, but sufficed to say we figured it out the problem with having the first one and the second one just surprised us. Having two kids this close in age is almost like having a set of twins where one is just a little smarter. Eleven months smarter to be exact, and that caused the older one to usually take the lead.

And that is exactly what happened when they walked into my kitchen one day and asked to talk to me. They were seven and eight at the time. And if there is one thing I have learned in life is that whenever someone starts a conversation expressing the need to talk to you, it is never good. As I remember, their exact wording was “we have a question for you” but the premise is the same. “Okay”, I answered and sat down at the table so that we were eye level. The older one actually took a deep breath and then started, “If we are outside playing with our friends, and you can’t hear us, is it okay if we say ‘damn’?” It took me a minute to figure out what they were asking. The younger one stood looking down, nodding his head as if he was thinking “I knew this wasn’t a good ideal”.

“You want to be able to curse, as long as I can’t hear you, correct?” They both nodded in agreement. “Just ‘damn' they assured me. Now, they were talking to someone who used to come home by curfew, wait for her father to fall asleep, climb out the bedroom window and go back out. I can’t even imagine saying “Dad, if you’re asleep and you don’t know, is it okay if…….?” 

I thought of this 20-year-old conversation the other day when I read that an anti-profanity crusader, who formed the “No Cussing Club”, had asked the ABC network to pull an episode of Modern Family where the adopted daughter (a toddler) of the married gay couple uses the “f” word. During the taping, the little actress used the word “fudge”, on the show, however, the word was muffled and her mouth was blurred. You get the picture. One father felt horror while the other tried to hide that he that he thought it was funny. In the end, the whole church thought it was funny. (Okay, I laughed too.)

I am a huge Modern Family fan and would watch no matter what, but I Googled this crusader, McKay Hatcher, and found that his group is 35,000 members strong and is made up of mostly college age students. So maybe there is hope to curtailing some of the profanity that so easily laces our vocabulary. Mine included, on occasion.

Yes, sadly, the “f” word is today’s “damn”.  It’s used in any movie without a G-rating. You see the word mouthed from frustrated professional athletes. You hear it in conversation from people passing you in the mall. I have seen it on Facebook and Twitter. Its use has leaped from taboo to what seems to be an acceptable form of expression.

Many years have passed since that treasured kitchen conversation with my boys.  And I am sure that since, many things have been said and done by both of them that I do not want to know about.  But at that young age, my own small modern family used such courage and honesty in even asking the question that I claim that morning as a victory.

 But still, I remember being confused on how best to answer. Part of me wanted to say “Think about this, guys, if I can’t hear you…….”, but I didn’t want to put that thought in their heads. So, I went diplomatic. “When you feel the need to curse now, what word do you use?” They responded in unison “dag”. Damn, that’s awfully close. “Well, why don’t you use that for a little while longer” I suggested knowing there would be a time they would figure out that they didn’t need to consult me on all of their choices. But, still today, my kitchen is always open, and I am grateful each time one of them still finds their way in to do just that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Distraction....then sadness.

I am easily distracted. It is a character flaw that I have trouble controlling. Out to dinner with my husband, I can be having a conversation with him and also tell you that the couple at the next table is having “bedroom” issues. She has closed the heater vents and wants the room kept cold to control her hot flashes. He is freezing in bed and not sleeping well. Their check came so I am not sure how it was resolved. Sometimes a distraction can bite me. I currently have a half-gallon of grapefruit juice in the fridge because I apparently lost aim reaching for orange juice when a mother and her teenage daughter got into a debate on whether pomegranate juice was actually good for you or just a hyped new concoction. The mother felt strongly that there wasn’t any benefit to pomegranate juice that you couldn’t get in orange juice. And now, I have grapefruit juice.

Sometimes, a distraction can actually sting me. The Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia is the oldest indoor farmer's market in the nation. Well over 100 years old, it is a unique conglomerate of vendors with a complete diversity in ethnicity. Italian, African American, Latino, German, Asian, Irish and Amish vendors join forces daily to hawk their meat, fish, produce, bread, coffee and many, many other products. There are butchers and bakers and everything in between.  In the center of the market is an absolutely amazing food court. (No standard franchise fast food places allowed.) And a visit is not complete without a roast pork and provolone sandwich from Tommy Di Nics or an Italian hoagie or cheesesteak from Spataro’s. It is estimated that over 100,000 people visit the market each week. And, as a regular who goes almost every other month, knowing the amount of foot traffic is key to my surprise when visiting there this week.

Nestled in the heart of the food court, as it has been for the last 40 years, is a small, usually crowded shop, known as The Spice Terminal. It is where cooks go to shop. It is where chefs go to shop. Famous chefs, TV star chefs, cookbook authors and anyone with a penchant to create culinary masterpieces could find what they are looking for at the Spice shop. And nothing fancy here, no small pre-packaged boxes or jars of crushed basil or oregano. No, everything hangs from steel shelving in small, measured bags, from saffron to orange -flavored peppercorns. It had small sacks of meat rubs before they became common and exquisite bottles of olive oils.  It is where I first found eggnog extract. (As someone who is allergic to egg yolks, I found I can make almost anything with Egg Beaters- except eggnog. Now each Christmas I mix a little softened vanilla ice cream, nutmeg, milk and eggnog extract in a blender, and I am in heaven!)

I was in the market at the end of December to visit my favorite butcher shop. I was headed to the spice shop for some hickory smoked-flavored sea salt (a must have for great steaks and chicken), when I was distracted by an older couple that were first time visitors and seemed lost. They asked me if I knew where a particular produce stand was. I knew it well, and rather than trying to explain how to negotiate the crowd to get there, I walked with them to the other side of the terminal, carrying one of their bags. When we got there, I bought tangerines, went out the side door and across the street to the parking garage. I was on the bridge to Jersey when I remembered the sea salt. So easily distracted.

Three weeks later, I was in the city with my sisters for other reasons when we decided to eat at the terminal. “Sea salt” I remembered as I put my hoagie down and told them to watch it while I ran into the store. No distractions allowed today! I walked straight over not looking at or listening to anyone…only to be blindsided by the sign on the entrance to the store “good bye and thank you”. This can’t be. The once bulging shelves were almost empty. Glass containers of various teas and a few bags of other items were about all that was left. I went in and looked upon the empty shelves that just a few weeks ago would have filled my head with the wonder of “wow, what can I do with that?”  The large steel bars that held the most intense selection of herbs and spices, now looked like the sad skeletal remains of a once vibrant culinary master.

“What happened?” I asked the young clerk behind the counter, a counter that I could barely see over just before Christmas because of the tall stacks of candied fruits containers. “The owner is retiring and his children don't want it”. DON’T WANT IT! This is prime real estate! This is where you are almost guaranteed that 100,000 people are walking by each week!

In my early reporter days, I would have tracked the owner down to have a better understanding of what was happening. But now, it seems the “why’s” and “how’s” don’t matter. It simply is. How many small, independent retail shops are slipping away while we are distracted by other things in life? I will miss the scent and allure of the Spice Terminal. I will miss waiting in line just to get in to where you could inhale the aroma of coffee beans that filled huge wooden barrels. Oh, how I wish that three weeks ago I had bought sea salt instead of tangerines. Good bye, old friend....and thank you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Breakfast or Death...Make Your Choice!

So I am sitting in my kitchen eating breakfast, sipping coffee, reading a newspaper and watching the morning news (I like to call this multi-tasking) when a news alert comes on “Up next -Is what you are eating for breakfast killing you?” I stop eating my egg whites and turkey bacon and put the fork down. I want to sip my coffee but not knowing exactly what the culprit is, I have to wait for the commercials to finish before I possibly swallow the next bullet. I sit there quietly with my hands folded like a woman on death row waiting for the executioner to unlock her cell.

The term “up next” has a different meaning on news programs because I had to sit through the weather and sports before they got to this critical issue.  Apparently, a Swedish committee conducted a study that concludes the daily consumption of bacon or sausage (or both if you are eating Denny’s grand slam breakfast) can increase your chance of getting pancreatic cancer to 1.7 percent.  Now let’s be clear here, the chance of your contacting pancreatic cancer without ever touching bacon or sausage is 1.4 percent. Cancer of the pancreas is a rare form of the disease that usually doesn’t present symptoms till it reaches stage 4, so it’s serious stuff.  But, we are issuing “Breaking News” alerts, and scaring people with a study that revealed just a .3% increase in the risk of cancer. That is .3 percent; the decimal is not in the wrong place. It is not a typo. This is the result of a study that some government paid for – and it’s making news! And worse, it made my eggs get cold!

This I had to research! What this Swedish group found as the source of evil in our breakfast meats was the dreaded nitrates. This is not news. We have been told for years that processed meats preserved with nitrates are not a good thing. Having a ham sandwich for lunch? You’re doomed. Eating a hot dog? It’s over……. Or is it? 

If I had a time- travel vessel, I would pack up this group of Swedish scientist and take them with me back to my childhood. (They should eat a good breakfast because it’s a long trip.) What they would see is my sister, brothers and I gathered around our Italian mother making meatballs with a combination of ground beef, pork and veal. She would soak white bread in milk, add the seasonings and mix it all together with her bare hands. We would all get to roll the meat into balls while gathering up the left over chunks and eating them – raw. I guess the massive amount of salt we would shake on them is what saved us. (Before nitrates, salt was the preferred preservative. Now, it’s just something we are not supposed to have.)

When we were done, we would rinse our hands (no anti-bacterial soap here) go outside and chase the mosquito truck down the street and play hide and seek in the toxic fog (until my mother found out).  Oh, the fun we had! On hot days, we ate broken chunks of ice the milkman gave us off the rusty floor of his truck. We would ride our bikes without helmets to the neighbors where we drank Kool-Aid from colorful tin cups that were generally passed around from kid to kid.  Bacon, if you could afford it, was consumed without guilt or reservation, especially if it was served with a Jersey tomato, on soft white bread with mayo. And what a treat, Italian sausage, onion and peppers were (and still are) on a fresh roll.

Our daily youthful activities would have caused this Swedish study committee to wake up at night in a complete sweat. If they thought a .3% increase was newsworthy, there wouldn’t be enough airtime to post the warnings that would come from their findings.  Now  today, I strive to eat what I consider healthy.  I would never advocate eating raw meat or playfully inhaling chemical sprays. And before I hear a lecture, my kids wore helmets while riding their bikes (at least within sight of me). But my point is, that over 50 years later, my sister, brothers and I are thankfully all still here, in spite of not having dangerous breakfast warnings coming at us from our black and white TV. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Fowl Cow?

My husband was way ahead of most of us when it came to cutting his consumption of red meat. As a matter of fact, 21 years ago this month, he gave it up cold turkey….um, literally.  On that snowy January day, as I had a nice beef stew going on the stove, he came home from a doctor’s appointment and announced “Colon cancer runs in my family, so I am not eating red meat anymore”. Now, I have been married to this man for 37 years and don’t actually know anyone in his family who has had colon cancer, but he said it and I believe him, and for the past two decades have stepped up to the challenge of creating “beef-less” meals.

At this point, I feel I should add that I love beef. As I remember, the smell of an eye roast with onions, carrots and potatoes roasting on a Sunday afternoon was (and I’m sure still is) without compare. I also must add that this man does not like pork. So for the past several years, you would find me at the kitchen counter starring at the business end of a chicken trying to figure a way to, well, beef it up. And remember, 21 years ago, the grocery stores did not carry ground turkey or chicken. There was no such thing as turkey sausage, turkey bacon, turkey chili, and turkey kielbasa or turkey hot dogs, the latter being a product I still will not buy. No, it was me, a knife and a chicken.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a martyr here because I did not give up beef. There were nights that I served him a broiled chicken breast while the boys and I shared a nice sirloin steak.  To this day, when we have dinner out, know that I am ordering prime rib, medium rare (another unhealthy habit). But in reality, cooking two different meats was rather expensive and inconvenient, so I learned to improvise.  Oddly enough, the recipe that quickly became a family favorite came on one Super Bowl Sunday when I was trying to fool the palate into thinking it was tasting hot pulled pork and not something that at one time clucked or gobbled.  (Insert picture)

I figured that almost anything cooked in a crock pot would fall apart eventually, so there is where I started. I attempted several different versions of slow cooking a turkey breast with all the appropriate seasonings, garlic powder, paprika, salt pepper, pepper flakes, vinegar, ketchup. I learned quickly to pull half the skin off the bird to avoid too much grease. I learned apple cider vinegar is the trick to a great BBQ sauce. More recently, (and most importantly) I learned that McCormick’s sells “Slow Cooked Pulled Pork” seasoning packs that when mixed with ketchup, apple cider vinegar and brown sugar is amazing.
So try something different, throw a half-skinned turkey breast in the crock pot with two packets of seasoning as prepared above. Cook on high for 1 hour and then on low for three more. Remove the turkey and scrape off the meat with a fork. Scoop up the pile of shredded meat and put it back in all of those great drippings for another half hour on low. Crack open a fresh loaf of Italian bread and stuff it! All the flavor of a pulled pork sandwich with half the fat.

As I mentioned earlier, life without beef and pork is easier these days. There are so many alternatives available in the grocery stores. And I admittedly feel above it all when I see someone inspecting a package of ground chicken with that “what can I do with this” look on their face.  I am almost always tempted to offer some unsolicited advice. I am the master of the Fowl Cow (a cookbook I was going to write on all things poultry till I realized it sounded like a book on bad beef!) But my real fortune in all of this has been to live within 15 minutes of the Reading Terminal Market where Godshall’s Poultry Market has everything from turkey pepperoni to turkey liverwurst and a turkey bacon that taste like sweet, smoked ham. The Amish have mastered the art of converting poultry to…well almost anything!

Now, years later, has my husband’s decision to give up red meat been worth it? Well, I will tell you this, two weeks ago I was sitting in the waiting room of a local hospital while he was having a colonoscopy. When the procedure was finished, the doctor approached me with a smile and said “now that is the colon of a man who has not had red meat for the past 20 years. ” He added, “It is like a super clean, well maintained highway”. 
“I know”, I thought, feeling satisfaction, “I am driving the street cleaner”.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

TV or not TV, is it really still a question?

 TV or not TV….is that even still a question?
According to the American Family Council, I am breaking some kind of moral code for having a TV in my kitchen. The other day, I listened (on the TV in my kitchen) to a family therapist on a morning talk show say how harmful the interruption of a television set can be on the family table. Apparently, it is not soccer/football/baseball practice, late nights at the office, or the “I already ate at TJ’s, they were having something I liked” that’s disrupting the flow of family dinner conversation – it’s the TV.

Now, for as long as I can remember, there has been a television on the top of my refrigerator. It was there before it was stylish, before the Food Network, before there were 800 cable channels.  I am by nature a news junkie. I love to come down in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, pour a cup of hot coffee, turn on the local news and open up a fresh newspaper. Yes, I still read a morning paper - two actually, even though recently a nephew who was staying over called me a dinosaur after observing the daily ritual. A newspaper allows you to control of the flow of information coming at you like no other source. But that’s a different blog.

Anyway, while listening to this woman (on my kitchen TV) who mostly likely has missed many family dinners while promoting her book on tour, I started reminiscing about the conversations that have taken place while the TV was on behind us. (This may be where my sons want to turn off their computers).

When the boys were growing up, I felt strongly about having dinner at the kitchen table. I came home from work and cooked, I wanted them to eat it.  I wanted “The Walton’s” table where everyone was laughing and talking at once. But that rarely happened….usually it was me talking, them eating and their father interrupting with an occasional “leave something for your mother, boys”

We usually ate around the downbeat to the Action News theme and I would allow the background noise to play behind as an ignored guest.  I would try and provoke conversation by asking about school, but they usually wanted to talk sports.  They both played sports, their father coached them and I was always a spectator, so the subject was our most common bond. But I would try and push into other subjects and sometimes get cooperation.  “I joined a band today”, said my youngest son when asked how his day was, “you did?” I, surprised at that declaration, responded, “Do you play an instrument?” He nodded his head “Yes, the drums”, he said matter-of-factly, “how hard can it be.” Ok…

Dinner-time banter was warming. Even the TV became part of us. The weatherman talking about the potential of snow in the winter, or the first really warm day of spring, brought all new topics to the surface.  Their young observations amused me……right up until the night, one casual remark, stunned me.

While handing my oldest son who was in junior high at the time potatoes one night, I asked “How did things go for you today, bub?”  He loaded his plate and responded “we learned how to put a condom on in health class. Pass the gravy please”……..I think even the newscaster stopped talking. What did he say? I searched his father’s eyes to see if he had heard what I heard but he looked back at me and said, “I can’t believe the Phillies lost again”. WAIT A MINUTE!!! “Son, how did the teacher do that?” He rolled his eyes at my not grasping the obvious, “he used a banana! Can you turn on ESPN?”

This, of course led to a deeper discussion later at night, (as so many dinner topics do), but my point is this, it started at the dinner table. With the TV on! It’s not the television stopping family conversation; it’s the lack of participants. Turn off the TV, lady? I turned it up!!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The $450 Pizza

My husband, on occasion (OK, at least once a month) will go to the extreme side of things. For example, One Christmas I requested a Kitchen Aid stand mixer to replace my hand-held device that only had one beater, and he obliged. Under the tree, was a TV sized box that contained a commercial grade, Pro 6000 Kitchen Aid mixer that can make enough dough in one batch for 14 loaves of bread.  The fact that up until that day, I had never baked a loaf of bread should not be over looked here. It does not fit on my counter top for year-round use, so on occasion,  I will do a few push ups, run around the house, and get myself in shape to carry it from the pantry to the kitchen.

Keeping that scenario in mind, a couple of months ago, he went to the Sam’s Club store to buy batteries. When he returned he tossed a magazine on the table titled “Home-Made Projects”, he had already earmarked the section “Making your own backyard brick pizza oven in one weekend”. What? We very rarely order pizza and are within walking distance of great pizza place named (ready?) “Brick Oven Pizza”!! That we never walk to! “Won’t it be great to have hot, crusty pizza year-round?” he enthusiastically asked.  At the time, it was 19 degrees with a wind-chill factor of 11 and the term “Ove-Glove” was starting to take on new meaning.

The following weekend had warmed up significantly and we headed to the stone yard. One of us was really excited.  The article stated that materials; cinder blocks, fire-bricks and vermiculite (I don’t know either) would cost about $120. He stood quietly for a moment as the register totaled $450 -with delivery, and then reached for his wallet avoiding my glare. I don’t have to tell you where this conversation would be going had this expenditure been “my” suggestion. Delivery was set for the following Saturday.

“I feel the need to build something with my hands”, he explained on the way home. It wasn’t lost on me that the closet door in our bedroom was falling off and we were having $450 worth of stone delivered so he could keep his hands busy. Now, my husband works in an office but is a craftsman by nature and I knew the finished project would be just perfect. And if he had the sudden urge to work with the earth, who was I to get in his way. But as Saturday approached, and the temperatures continued to climb into the 60’s, he postponed the stone delivery for one week to accommodate a tee time. I guess there are other ways to keep your hands busy.

Now several weekends later, his project is nearing completion. It is almost picture-perfect. I have done research on various pizza dough recipes as well those for artisan-type breads. I have learned that certain wood types offer flavorings that blend with some dough’s better than others. “You know, “he said as I was rummaging through cook books, “I read that pizza dough freezes really well. You could make several batches at one time!” I knew what was coming.…"hey, it’s a good thing I bought you that super-sized Kitchen Aid mixer!” Whew, I better get in shape.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kitchen Calendars

I am not one of those people that obsess about a new calendar. I don’t stand in the mall oogling at one of the many calendar stores that pop up during the end of each year. I don’t have to look daily at a pet, a farmhouse, a favorite sports team, or even 12 monthly wine suggestions (although, that’s not totally a bad idea).  No, the calendar that will hang on the side of my refrigerator for the next 365 days only has to have one thing; a great December photo.
It is true. As one holiday season is ending, I am (in a very small way) already looking to the next one. So the first thing I do when purchasing a new calendar is go to the back page and make sure there is at the very least a landscape of snow. Come next December,  I do not want a palm tree mockingly staring at me when the rest of my kitchen is twinkling in lights with the hope of flurries falling against the backdrop of a grey winter sky outside of the window over my sink.
I am not particular about many things in life. I do not have to have the latest in fashion (pause here for a collective “no kidding” from people who know me). While I can navigate somewhat, I am not the most up-to-date in the world of social media. Trying to figure out who is tweeting who on Twitter is kind of like watching football on the Red Zone channel with my husband….the ball gets hurled in the air from a quarterback in Philadelphia and lands in the hands of a receiver in Denver. It’s all over the place.
But there is one domain, I hold my own. I am the queen, sometimes the king, often the jester, but always, always; the ruler of my kitchen.  Like so many kitchens across this country, it is the hub of family activity. I love to cook. Soups are my specialty and often friends and neighbors will stop in on a cold Saturday afternoon to see what’s in the pot before heading home with a full Tupperware container. It is where my sons confided in me as little boys and continue to do so as men.  It is where my husband sits at the center island and tells me weekly how important it is that we find ways to put more money into our retirement accounts.  It is where I sit weekly with my husband and try and act like I am paying attention. Life may be created in the bedroom, but it is definitely celebrated in the kitchen.
 ……So back to the calendar.  This year’s was a freebie from a local pizza place. And, of course, December 2012 is a winter wonder of snow covered trees and mountains. So, it gets to stay.  But the intriguing month on this year’s supply of dates is actually January. Yep, the page exposed to a room that serves as a catering office preparing for family celebrations, or as ground zero in handling a family crisis, is one of a lake surrounded by mountains. And in the middle of the lake is a large rainbow that seemingly goes off the page and into, well, my kitchen.I am excited to follow that rainbow through each turn of the calendar page while telling stories, sharing recipes and allowing those following me into the intimate details of kitchen conversations. Let’s go through 2012 together!