My Idea of Perfect Weather

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Sun, Sugar And My Soul

Perfect weather: a bright blue sky with shiny puffs of cotton-candy shaped clouds, the sun warming my hair and no rain in sight. It’s a day where I sit outside in an old green lawn chair and watch the red cardinals and finches and funny birds with yellow mohawk haircuts visiting and eating from the bird feeder. I don’t chase the squirrels away, they eat the sprinkled food I leave on the ground for them. I laugh as they play and chase each other around always looking glassy-eyed and shocked. I love to see the bright yellow dandelions popping up amongst the green grass. I stare at the brightness of the yellow flower and the puffy, soft bristles that we blew in the wind when we were innocent children, making wishes, believing they would come true.

I would have a picnic outside with family and friends because we all know that everything tastes so much better if you eat it outdoors. Sandwiches on rye bread, thick with cheese and ham or cucumbers, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese on French bread with a drizzle of light green olive oil and a sprinkling of black pepper and pungent oregano. Art in a sandwich. We would drink home-made lemonade, sweet with sugar and the juice of many yellow, spongy lemons. There would be a variety of sugar cookies, spicy ginger snaps, chocolate chip brownies and my famous banana bread moist, rich with plump raisins and a dusting of brown sugar. Sunshine, sugar, sweetness, the essence of my soul; while these magical days don’t come often, we appreciate them more when they do appear, like a gift from the sky.

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My Most Memorable Birthday- 25!!!

bouquet of roses

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IT was my 25th birthday, my parents, sister and I went to a fancy restaurant in New York to celebrate. The food was smorgasbord style but I remember looking at layers of thick orange lox, plump, green, salty capers and huge layers of white onions. I had no idea what I was going to eat. I had always been a picky eater so I’m sure I had bread, butter and an assortment of cheese, which is still one of my favorite meals. The only thing I do remember vividly is the end of dinner when our plates were cleared off the table.

It was dessert time, my favorite time, and my favorite chocolate layer cake had been brought in by my parents from The Homestead Gourmet Shop in Queens. Every year I looked forward to MY annual, traditional chocolate layer cake with raspberry jam filling and creamy milk chocolate frosting with perfect, pink script writing that said HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Roses, pink and green, made out of frosting, adorned the perimeter of my cake.

There were three black and white-clad waiters singing “Happy Birthday” to (an embarrassed) me. All of the waiters were smiling, each had a bright white starched napkin draped over one arm. I remember looking up after I blew out the candles and saw the waiters singing and smiling, reminding me of the penguin clad waiters from Mary Poppins. After a minute, my eyes saw something so unreal that time stood still. One of the waiters was NOT a real waiter at all. It was my beloved “Uncle Teddy” who lived far away in Israel. My father knew he would be in town and my family had arranged for him to surprise me for my birthday, waiter outfit and all. I remember the moment it registered in my brain and I jumped up from my seat and cried with happiness “Teddy!” He came towards me to give me a big hug and from behind his back he produced a bouquet of roses. I will never forget the feeling I had, the sound of my voice as I screamed his name and the sobbing as I stood motionless in time with my very own special “waiter.” He hugged and kissed me, tears streamed down both our cheeks. It was the best birthday I have ever had and one that I will never forget.

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The Ethiopian Food Experience (A Foodie Blog)

For a girl who grew up on Wonder bread, butter and American cheese sandwiches for most of her life eating Ethiopian food was quite the dining experience. I used to be hesitant (ok, stubborn and frightened) by eating new foods until I met my husband who introduced various ethnic food dishes to me with patience. I eat Indian food, Chinese, Japanese (no sushi though) Asian-fusion, Thai and now Ethiopian (Italian food is a given!)  Not only did I enjoy it, I kept up with my husband in terms of handling the various spices and I admit, I was proud. Food to me now is an adventure and I LOVE it.

We ate in a fairly new, small, Ethiopian restaurant  and it was delightful. I felt like I was critiquing for Gourmet Magazine, I was that excited. The decor was simple and understated but truly reflected the beauty and simplicity of Ethiopia. There were a few black and white photographs from Ethiopia on the warm, burnt orange walls. The tables were classic and made out of wood. The restaurant is like sunshine; our waitress was mostly silent though out our meal but the owner was absolutely lovely and talkative.

I was excited to try the Ethiopian, thin, spongy bread called Injera that everybody was talking about. I love eating with my fingers so diving in to tear off a piece of bread and grab and pinch food was not only delicious but fun too. Across the restaurant I saw two men eating with forks and I scoffed; I felt superior (though I still haven’t mastered the art of chopsticks yet.)I can definitely relate to eating with my fingers and getting messy. It’s a grown-up version of your toddler’s tray table.

We started with an avocado salad that was lovely and light, it had chopped onions and tomatoes mixed in (maybe some peppers too). I did miss a dash of salt but I decided to stay in the moment. Interestingly, we brought some home for leftovers and it seemed to have gotten spicier overnight, perhaps it needed time on the bread to absorb the spices. I admit, on the second day it was a little too spicy for me to handle eating.  It was served on the very thin, fermented bread that many say “you either like it or you don’t.” It has a unique taste alone but once you are sopping up delicious sauces with it, it is much more pleasurable. It acts like a sponge absorbing the heat and spice of the food.

We ordered a tasting platter (again served on their bread) and we were delighted with what we got. The platter contained very small portions of three types of meat and three vegetarian dishes. Honestly, sometimes we didn’t now what was what  but we didn’t care. There was a little chicken, a little lamb and I think a little beef though it was quite indescernible. It also came with three different vegetarian samples: puree of peas, lentil and cabbage. I loved the lingering smell on my fingers from the spicy food.

It’s the type of restaurant you want to introduce your friends to. It really is a sweet gem. You WANT this restaurant to succeed and I have no doubt that it will. I’m eager to go again and soon.

The Homestead (A Foodie Blog)

In the town I grew up in there was an amazing European deli (now it would be called a gourmet shop) that had the most wonderful things. For my birthday every year my parents would buy me an Americanized version of Sacher Torte, a Viennese chocolate cake separated by layers of apricot jam ( or raspberry jam in my case). There was only one place this special cake could be found and that was in The Homestead Gourmet Shop in Kew Gardens.

If you mention The Homestead to people who grew up in and around Queens ( esp. Kew Gardens and Forest Hills), you will hear  audible groans, sighs of pleasure and individual memories sprouting up like wild daffodils. Some remember the two different kinds of potato salad (one German, the other with mayo), others the enormous pieces of Polish Rye bread, thickly sliced and a bit sour. For our family we usually ordered different taste sensations: chicken and shrimp salad (1/4 lb. each) the tiny mini-gherkins, sweet and tart in one bite and of course, roast beef and freshly baked turkey sandwiches..  They had home-made apple, cherry  and cheese strudels, the delicate, buttery flakes of crust, the fruit oozing out. There were imported cheeses, breads of all kind, and imaginative sandwich combinations which were unheard of 45 years ago. A favorite of my sister’s was turkey, ham, cheddar cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. It became a family favorite. Going to the Homestead was practically a religious experience, and it never disappointed us. You could practically meet half the town there on Sunday afternoons, neighbors talked and we stood in line like good soldiers eagerly awaiting our turn. When you first opened the door to the Homestead, you would smell wonderful, different smells and then your salivary glands would start in over-time.

These sandwiches were so important to us that when friends visited my sister and I from the city once, we hid the sandwich. We would not share our Homestead sandwich, we would not part with even a bite. That’s how good they were and how embarrassingly shameful and selfish we were. Let them eat packaged cookies, we thought. No one is having this sandwich except us!  I remember it was a Roast Beef sandwich on Rye with Russian dressing, or in our code, an R with R  on R. Apparently sharing was not in our vocabulary at the time. They also had small individual aluminum cups of chocolate pudding and egg custard. How the egg custard shimmied, the chocolate pudding with its cooked skin draping over the cup. There were bins of imported cookies and candies, and delicacies from far away.

The Homestead was run by a man named Teddy who really was a superstar in our town. When he acknowledged us we felt special. The best deal my sister had was when she became friends with Teddy’s daughter, Barbara. They went behind to the back and made the glorious sandwiches themselves which they took to the beach. We were all jealous of her and she knew it.

To this day, if we visit our old neighborhood, a stop at the Homestead is required.  German potato salad, famous at the Homestead has been known to have been brought to others by car, train and plane. We still talk about this amazing deli and sometimes when the longing is too great, we head for Kew Gardens for a trip back to the old days. And we eat. A lot.