Sunday, July 27, 2014

Is Variety the True Spice of Life? Absolutely!

Olive Bread...Be still my heart!
I love the area I live in! In New Jersey, just outside Philadelphia and an hour or more from New York City, I am truly spoiled by the options spread around me.  Seasons? Yes, all four, bring them on! They absolutely add texture to life. Mountains? Galore. Ocean?, Of course, just pick your favorite activity source! And especially as a foodie, a food blogger and writer, this area continues to captivate me.

And believe me, I have traveled to many states where food "options" are as interesting as white bread. Sometimes just one, chain supermarket, where the most exciting spice was labeled "McCormick". And where most restaurants are limited to the standard franchised chained variety, i.e., dinner at the Outback or breakfast at (heaven help us) the Waffle House.

I'm not trying to be a food snob here (yes, I so am), but maybe it's because being wedged in between two major U.S cities, our area thrives with an ethic diversity that screams for food and flavoring variations!
A full market of cheese, every kind you would want!

I've written many times about the Reading Terminal, in downtown Philly that is literally 10 minutes from my house. It is the country's oldest indoor Farmers Market and there is almost nothing you can't find. It is a food lover's smorgasbord!

And now, yesterday, I found what will become a new favorite haunt about 25 minutes away in Marlton, NJ, A place where I walked in and immediately thought of my grandmother and aunt. Oh, how they would have loved this Italian Supermarket. Yep, (with the exception of a sushi bar among its incredible food court area), this place is a full blown taste of Italy with isles of olive oil and cases of cheese wheels. They had me at "Welcome to Rastelli's".

...and what is cheese without wine!
Stylish, with the ever so popular industrial design, my sister Betty and I walked in, gazed around, turned to each other and said "let's eat first." And so we did! It was hard to choose between the fresh roast pork, broccoli rabe, roasted peppers with provolone cheese sandwich, brick oven pizza, a large arrangement of deli style sandwiches (Caprese Panini, for Bet and an Italian hoagie for me), Java Juice, a variety of homemade soups and coffee bar. There's more. So much more like full meals, such as beef tenderloin, Italian meatloaf, roast turkey...I could go on and on.

Chicken breast stuffed with ricotta cheese, spinach & peppers 
It was definitely smarter to eat before shopping because it is so easy to go overboard when there is so much available. There is little in the way of packaged meats because butchers stand ready behind cases of fresh beef, chicken, and pork. How rare it is to get a custom cut of meat these days! Seafood? It's covered, Sam, who stands ready in the "Shells & Scales" department will help you select the perfect combination for a fabulous zupa di pesce.

Just pass the butter please!
I would need to write an entire other blog to describe the bread in this place. It is the kind that is usually only found on the 9th Street Italian Market in Philly. If bread is truly the staff of life, I am making my claim right here!

Rastelli's made me want to go home and cook. Really cook. Pots of steaming pasta, spicy sauces with sausage, meatballs and cutlets. Sprinkled with the best Parmesan cheese. The only problem, I won't have a functional kitchen for another week. But when it's finished, a trip back will be necessary to fill my house with family, friends and a blend of amazing aromas!

Sam has the goods...

As we were walking out of the market with our basket full, I realized what is right about this place. As someone who loves to cook, it is stimulating. It awakens the senses to the possibilities of creating a great meal. That is how this whole piece started today. Options and variety are crucial to living life well.

...and so much more!

And catching my eye as I left, was a sign standing near the door stating a brief history of what started as a family owned business. The last paragraph is what spoke to me:

"This is not your typical grocery. You can sense that the moment you walk through our door. The variety, the aromas, the freshness, the open market feel, the people who care as much about your food as you do. And we'll go to any lengths necessary. For the love of great food."

And that just about says it all...with one more thing!

Who knew this can was still around?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Design on a Dime? How About a Nickle and a Nail!

Once again I'm in the middle of doing something that I've never done before this year. Renovating on a budget. When redoing my other house in my other life, I selected the things I wanted, sat back and waited for the magic to happen. Now? I'm the magician. When I pull a rabbit out of the hat, I'm the one who put it there. And because I've wanted granite countertops since I bought this place a little less than a year ago, some razzle dazzle had to happen first.

Like budgeting (formerly a foreign concept), saving, and negotiating my way to getting a deal. I've learned to hold my own against a retailer who was trying to charge me tax on items that fall under "capital improvements". I'm sure he'll remember the look on my face when he patted my hand and said "Missy, you must let me handle this." I'm sure he'll equally remember my short exiting salutation.

I've learned to handle salesmen who want to tell me what to buy, and those who, at some point in our conversation, will say "I hope you're getting help with this." And I am. This week on YouTube I've watched "How to remove counter tops" and "How to remove a kitchen sink."

Now, I'm not an idiot. I know my limitations (anything involving electrical work is top on that list). And, I suck at measurements. In my world, square footage is usually a guess at best. So, professionals will install my granite countertops and sink, and a couple of strong, 6'4 guys will remove and carry out the old laminate tops. All I had to do to secure their services was give birth to them and a promise to buy dinner. The price of dinner aside, removing everything before the installers come to measure is a savings of $350. Swwweeettt! And, thanks to my ongoing video education, I will have everything disconnected before my sons even get here.

And....(and here is the exciting part to me), once the granite is down, I will be installing the stone backsplash! Another $400 stays in my pocket! In a nut shell, I don't have the patience to to wait and save enough money to hire contractors for everything I want done. And I don't have the money to bring them in now, so a compromise of savings and the willingness to do some things myself is needed. Following this?

Now, my friend Pam sometimes sees a problem with my "I can do this" mantra. "When you decide to bring a man home, don't tell him you took a wall down by yourself. You might intimidate him." Aah, Pam, when I decide to bring a man home, I hope that I will have picked one smart enough to understand that if I invited him in...he should be flattered, not intimidated."

But, my friend Lynne is on board with my DIY efforts. Last week she asked to borrow my sander so she could refinish her deck. I brought it over, explained how to change the sand paper, and she was off! I didn't see her for three days. Women with and guile!

My only concern now is the time it takes for measuring, fabricating and installing the countertops. Surviving two weeks without a functional kitchen has to be done smartly. I'll still be able to cook, but washing pots in the bathroom sink could present an issue. But like so many obstacles lately, I'll figure it out.

Times have changed. So many women are on their own and doing whatever it takes to make their lives work. I am merely one of millions who've been put in a position that now requires us to follow the wise words of Gloria Steinem, the original feminist leader, who once assessed,  "Very few jobs require the genitals of either sex, and those that don't, can be done by anyone." Now Pam, that's a women  who wasn't worried about intimidating a man!