The Lingering Smell Of Basil

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.

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As soon as I feel the first warm hint of spring on my shoulders and see the first crocus I immediately rejoice! It’s Spring, not officially, but in my snow-sickened world it is the start. As soon as Spring is even in the air I start thinking of having barbeques, especially the one BIG BBQ we try to have every few years.  I’m imagining all our friends and family out in the back yard eating cheeseburgers from the Weber grill, dripping with either cheddar or American cheese. I think about   grilled chicken with barbecue sauce and juicy hot dogs, and bright yellow mustard. I also think of potato chips, the real kind, the ones we had as kids and not the baked, healthy, kind either. There would be Heinz ketchup, (of course I’m brand loyal) potato salad made with a touch of mayonnaise, coleslaw and perhaps a large tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh basil and a touch of light green extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the vibrant red tomatoes and the creamy white mozzarella cheese. I love how the earthy smell of basil lingers between your fingertips all afternoon.

In addition, we may have small roasted potatoes on the grill along side smokey-sweet yellow and white kernels of corn on the cob.  Red and white plastic table cloths, bright red or blue plastic plates (preferably the ones that have three sections, love those!) and disposable cups. Napkins would be stacked high in your hands as if they were towels. Messy and barbeques to me are happy synonyms.

Once we went to a barbecue at Charlotte’s house, (“Charlotte of the charmed life” as I call her) the table was like a set directly from a page right out of Martha Stewart Living. Everything matched, the beige, ironed linen table-cloth ( l-i-n-e-n),  the highest quality count, and the china decorated with large blue and yellow flowers bursting on the plates.  Of course, all the bowls, the silver utensils, they all matched perfectly as I watched in unmitigated horror and delight. This is not what I thought I was coming to, I felt under-dressed and ill at ease. It was absolute perfection just not MY type of perfection. It was for high-class people with lots of money and so very different from our dinners and us.

We dined on steak and salmon, ( I hid my salmon) a glossy arrangement of bright green, yellow and red fresh vegetables and imported cheeses. There were no sticky fingers and plastic glasses of lemonade, just a beautiful crystal pitcher filled with ice water, ice cubes that were in the shape of tropical fruit. I was afraid to eat, afraid to get the napkins dirty so I ate slowly and carefully and with my luck, ended up leaving a stain on the tablecloth which I fervently tried to hide underneath the matching napkin. There were no s’mores at this dinner, it was too elegant. We had assorted cookies from the expensive bakery in town shaped and iced beautifully like flowers and cars and ice cream cones but utterly tasteless.

At our barbeques we have cherry, blueberry and apple crumb pies glistening on the table inside with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream readily waiting in our freezer. I make my home-baked banana raisin-chocolate chip loaf and there would always, I mean always, be a chocolate cake and brownies.

I put my nephew, Jon, in charge of music so the sounds of Neil Young,  Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and various other oldies will be playing out the window like the days when music screamed from dorm rooms. It isn’t fancy or elegant and it may just be ordinary but I guarantee you, there will be, a lot of food, including s’mores and an equal amount of laughter. Hope you can come.

Paging “Mr. L” (Repost with Addendum)

kew gardens queens

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I had a friend on my blog who once lived in the same town that I grew up in at different times. We both lived in Kew Gardens, Queens.  He would read my blog fairly consistently and would always comment with his classic signature “Mr. L.” even though I knew his first name was Abe. When I wrote about our old neighborhood, he loved it. I wrote a few posts on the now dissolved oldkewgardens.com about what it was like growing up in that sweet town and that is where we first met. He contacted me after that and we stayed in touch.

He hasn’t been on in a long time and I’m beginning to get worried about him. He was last living in California, I believe, and was contemplating whether he wanted to continue living there or not. Mr. L. to me, was like my substitute dad or uncle, since my dad passed away ten years ago. We used to kid around a lot and talk about our favorite gourmet delicatessen, The Homestead. I still dream about their Polish rye bread, sour and chewy and their faux Sachertorte cake made with many layers of raspberry jam between layers of creamy, sweet, chocolate cake. When I lived at home, every birthday cake was this particular cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday.” A real Sachertorte from Austria is drier and has layers of apricot jam but this was sweeter, this was MY cake.

When Mr. L talked about his deceased wife it was with such emotion, always, he still missed her so very much. From what he told me he absolutely adored her. In every “conversation” he would bring up his wife and talk a little about her; those little things that really make up a great marriage, sharing breakfast, the same bed, holding hands.

I know this blog post isn’t going to win any awards, nor will it attract a lot of people but that’s fine. I know Mr. L had adult children but I don’t remember where they live. So, if anyone knows him (and yes, I do know his full name) please let me know. I know I am overly emotional and sensitive, that’s a big part of who I am but I care about him and hope he is alright. I don’t want to lose Mr. L if I don’t have to. Mr. L. please come back and say hello.

ADDENDUM 10/19 2011. I HEARD FROM MR. L TODAY!!!!!!!!!!

Thank You, Erica

Candlelit Table for One

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I am not a paid restaurant reviewer so I am writing about my love of eating good food (not making it.)  I also have great admiration for those who cook incredibly well. Our friends, Mike and Erica, hosted a reunion a few weeks ago and old friends from the East Coast and the West Coast gathered together.  Erica made a divine appetizer of stuffed mushrooms based on Ina Garten’s recipe. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten and this is NOT the Food or Cooking Channel. We ate those amazing stuffed mushrooms with our eager fingers and never have I eaten such different tastes and textures in one appetizer. The sausage, olive oil, cheese, bread crumbs and mushroom appetizer combined with seeing old friends, talking, hugging and laughing, was a highlight of 2010 for me.

It felt like the kitchen scene from the movie, The Big Chill,  except no one died (although one person did leave the dinner table, head to the living room, wrapped himself up in a blanket, appropriated two pillows and apparently fell asleep on the couch for 3 hours.) I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Presently I fantasize about eating my favorite things in an expensive restaurant.  My husband and I would be seated inside a small dining room near a beautiful fireplace. A small bouquet of red and purple flowers sit prettily on the thickly starched white tablecloth where a soft candle would be burning.

To start, I would have jumbo prawns with cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon (that had a paper coverlet on it to protect it from seeds.) In some circles the prawns would be the delicacy but in our family we have named the shrimp as the vehicle to which we get to eat the cocktail sauce. Another example of this would be that lobster is the vehicle to get to the melted butter sauce. You get the idea.

After that I would order a salad made with a lemon/olive oil, vinagrette salad dressing (the words truffle and champagne could be added although I don’t know exactly what they do.) Ripe cherry tomatoes, julienned carrots, red cabbage, and chopped parsley and chives would be on top. I love adding sweetness to things so for me, some craisins would be tossed in there as well.

The table is laden with “everything” flat crackers and warm, soft, dinner rolls with butter, room temperature (I hate hard, freezing cold butter)  shaped like sea shells. My entrée would either be the outstanding chateaubriand, like it is prepared at the  restaurant X2O or the divine filet mignon served at the Crabtree Kittle House, both amazing restaurants are located in New York. Rice pilaf or mashed potatoes would work nicely with this meal, but nothing fried and undignified as french fries and ketchup (those go with cheeseburgers only.)  Grilled brussel sprouts paired with a hint of maple syrup glaze and slivered almonds would be our vegetable.

Blood orange or lemon sorbet served in martini glass would be our palate cleanser. It would be served to help settle our wonderful meal and to leave room (not that this has ever been a problem for me) for dessert.  I am a sugar junkie and I like a variety of things so because it is my fantasy I am picking two desserts: a fresh fruit tart served in a marzipan shortbread crust with vanilla custard and a fluffy (never flourless) milk and dark chocolate mousse cake with real vanilla bean ice cream.

Thanks for joining me in my food fantasy. Here’s to 2011, with good friends and great food.  Wishing all of you a Happy, Healthy and delicious New Year.

Turkey Time

turkey sandwich from Thanksgiving leftovers

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After Thanksgiving……Yummy!

We had Thanksgiving at our house this year so yes, I like turkey but when I am hosting Thanksgiving I find I am too busy to eat a lot.  After the guests left at around 7:30 I couldn’t wait to have my “real dinner.”  I had a mountain of turkey (c0ld), a little mayonnaise, cranberry sauce…..heavenly. Today, I am looking forward to it again, the chestnut, apple, raisin stuffing that my husband made, the leftover mashed potatoes, even the arugula salad. After Thanksgiving I love turkey leftovers and all the trimmings even more. A thick turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce makes me drool in anticipation. No meal would be complete without dessert(s): chocolate cake with amazing fudge-like frosting, apple-pie with a super, rich flaky crust, iced poppy-seed buns, gingerbread and banana bread with chocolate chips and raisins, Florentine cookies…..and more. I can’t wait another minute!

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An Honest Thanksgiving

Tender, juicy roast turkey - the main attracti...

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It will be Thanksgiving in just a few days. While we all are looking forward to moist turkey and my husband’s famous stuffing made with mushrooms and apples, raisins and water chestnuts, I have a small request. Please be kind and sensitive to one another. I don’t worry about what things will taste like; I know they will all be delicious. The only thing I worry about, quite honestly, is drama. Holidays can bring up all sorts of feelings: loss, bereavement, jealousy, resentment, sadness, and despair. Old wounds start to feel new, grievances and perceived injustices start to bubble to the surface. Before we dig in to the mashed potatoes my mother made (cough, cough, bought from a restaurant), and cranberry sauce let us think about each other first. During dessert let us try to rejoice in each others’ company instead of waiting for the air to get thick with tension as dense as brown gravy.

This year, for the first year I have actually mentioned to several members of the family that I am asking for a “drama-free” Thanksgiving. I have chronic pain, my husband has been feeling sad because of  lack of work, please try to remember this.  Work  alongside us, tell us things will be alright eventually. Life is not perfect but Thanksgiving should be about what we are grateful for, not what we lack.

I don’t want to hear sullen complaints about the food or the appetizers and I’m happy to cook and clean, taste, stir, serve and clean-up. I will not be happy with arguments, whispered secrets said too loudly and explosive outbursts. Please just leave your coats and any agendas at the door and please, please think before you speak. Be courteous to everyone else. Don’t brag, insult, or be insensitive to other people’s needs.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends. May it be peaceful, filled with great warmth, love, gratitude and great food. I am thankful for all of you.  Now, let us eat.