Random Musings for the Weekend…

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Procrastination. So much to do and this the only weekend we have to do it, We’ve been decking the halls, only using real greenery, and attacking the Christmas Cards all weekend…laundry be damned!  If time allots, I’ll make cookies for Tony’s students. However, the recipe I use, the famous Stifter Monster Cookies, makes a boat load of cookies and even when making half a batch you’re still baking 2 – 3 hours later. Also will be attempting to finish bunch of things that absolutely must be done — switching the clothes, winterizing the back yard, etc. While I continue hiding from the inevitable, a few thoughts:
Route 2, Massachusetts

The Mohawk Trail

The Mohawk Trail: Next weekend we’re going to Massachusetts to see our nieces in a Christmas Pageant (unbeknownst to my sister.  Note to self, must tell her…). Figured we could do a leisurely drive home along Route 2, aka the Mohawk Trail, with a stop for shopping/lunch in Deerfield. As we frequent New England on a somewhat regular basis, we tend to do ‘hit and runs’. Especially this spring, my driving has always been geared toward ‘how can I get to where I need to go the quickest and with the least amount of headaches.’ As things have quieted down, we’ve begun taking leisurely rides home, usually stopping at least once or twice along the way. In September, as we were coming home from the Cape, we stopped in Groton, Connecticut, just south of Mystic, at the Submarine Force Library and museum.  Personally, my interest was less than enthusiastic, but Tony was thrilled. And, thankfully, his enthusiasm was contagious. Apparently, there’s a replica turtle thing there and we were able to board the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered sub that, back in 1958, crossed the North Pole, the first ship to do so. 

The USS Nautilus

The USS Nautilus

 

2012 To Dos: I’ve committed to do numerous epicurean things in 2012 and will compile a list, at some point soon, to share. The good thing is that I’ve started researching some of my ‘to dos,’ (did you know there’s a cooking school in Cresskill, NJ?) and am plotting out how I’ll spend Q1 of 2012 taking classes and traveling the Northeast, visiting friends and family and enjoying the fare along the way. I guess my only concern about this is that I’ve always wanted to take technique classes, as it takes me about a 1/2 hour to cut an onion, prior to taking formal cooking classes. Apparently, the two will be inter-mingled and I’ll keep you update on how that’s works out.

Roasted Butternut Squash

Roasted Butternut Squash from Simple Speedy Snacks

Recipes: A quick survey of my reader revealed that recipes would be welcome. In 2012, I vow to post recipes, from cookbooks on the shelf, to the family trove of recipes to recipes I find from fellow bloggers and classes I may take along the way.  Actually found a really nice, fall recipe for roasted butternut squash from Simply Speedy Snacks and am excited to try it over my extended holiday at the end of the month.

If eggnog weren’t completely gross, I would have stocked up for the ‘deck the halls’ weekend. But, alas, we found other liberations that helped us us out along the way.  We’ve been local this weekend, enjoying each other’s company and taking care of Christmas business (for the record, our tree, tiny though it may be, fell over on me last evening). Next up, researching and organizing 2012 cooking classes,epicurean adventures, and unknown areas to explore throughout the year. We’ll keep you updated on our adventures and promise to, soon, very soon, start posting recipes.

Pizza, Pizza …

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I’ve known my husband, Tony for about 10 years now. During this time, he’s always talked about his skills as a pizza maker, working in various pizzerias in Bergen County and Doylestown, Pennsylvania where he lived for a short spell.  With all this pizza talk, one would think that I have experienced this culinary wonder of his; however, until recently, such was not the case.   So much so, that I pretty much tuned him out when the prattling of pizza began to spew forth from his mouth.

Pizza at Restaurant Biola.

Italian Delights from Restaurant Biola

As I was baking a few weeks ago, the big man, which I affectionately refer to Tony as, started rifling through the cabinets, taking such oddities as yeast out (there’s something I’ve never used, but would like to experiment with).  Next thing I knew, he was calling Manny C and, magically, mozzarella and pepperoni appeared.  Before I could digest what was happening, we had a nice little pizzeria going on in the house and the most magical thin and deep crust pizza and Stromboli were plattered up (OK, they were tossed onto various cutting boards) for our enjoyment. 

I’m a fan of the deep crust pizza and have fond memories of going out, in Boston, to Pizzeria Uno.  This was when the chain was in its infancy and it was a novelty to dine there.   Truth be known, up until a few weeks ago, Pizzeria Uno’s deep dish pizza was my favorite.  That’s a huge statement, considering that I live in the Land of Italians and there’s a pizzeria on almost every corner.  But Tony’s pizza, with the dough lovingly stretched out across a cast iron pan and layers of sauce, cheese and pepperoni strategically spread out across it, has taken the splendor of pizza to a whole new level.

Mushroom Pizza

Mushroom Pizza from Restaurant Biola

Perhaps, the best part of pizza is the easy, relaxed atmosphere it creates.  The first night we dined on Tony’s creations, Manny and his girlfriend joined us and we all noshed appreciatively on the pies while enjoying good conversation and many laughs together.  More recently, while my dad was visiting, we talked about politics, the family, and the oddity of the human species all while munching, with great enthusiasm, on a medley of pizzas, Stromboli and, new to the offerings, a calzone.

Benny making dough

Benny, making dough

Both Tony and his dad, a former baker, have no issues with yeast.  I, on the other had have avoided it like the plague.  However, whenever I have something home-made with yeast, whether it be bread or pizza, it’s a delight in and of itself.  Thus, another epicurean resolution I’m making for 2012 is to bake with yeast.  I’m sure there will be a lot of micro-managing between Mr. Rivera and Tony, but I’m confident it will be worth it.  As I line up my culinary to-dos, I’m sure, over the holiday season, we’ll be able to get Tony to make a few more pies, perhaps for the video camera so that we can turn all of you into pizza makers.

Thanksgiving in Connecticut…

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No, it wasn’t Christmas, but Thanksgiving in Connecticut was lovely and relaxing.    Higganum is roughly the size of Paramus NJ or that of the town I grew up in, Natick, Mass.  However, the populations of each are ~ 5,000, ~ 36,000 and ~ 33,000, respectively.  For perspective’s sake, the town we currently live in is ~ 75% smaller, 2.3 square miles, than those towns, with a population of ~ 25,000.  Yes, we’re rather close in Lodi.

The Connecticut River Museum located in Essex, CT

Higganum, which lies on the Connecticut River, is a ‘village’ in Haddam just south of Middletown and is considered mid-state.  As I thought the town was smack dab in the middle of nowhere, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a 20 minute ride to the ocean.

The timing of our arrival and that of the bird’s cooking clashed and we made our entrance just ahead of dinner which was excellent and had some new twists on classic Thanksgiving fare.  Dessert was yummy and my pie a success.  Other sweet delights included pumpkin and pecan pies, the pecan was fantastic, and a chocolate cream pie, which came to the festivities from Middletown, CT, via Massachusetts.

 

Contemplating the next great shot.

On Friday, we ventured to the Florence Griswold Museum, the ‘home of American Impressionism,’ in Old Lyme and then went to the beach for lunch.  The Museum was decked out for Christmas and had an exhibit from post-Depression era photographer, Walker Evans

Not knowing the name, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize numerous images.

The remainder of the grounds included a main house, barn, and gardens that meander along the Lieutenant River.  Loving historical homes and period furniture, I went to the house and was taken aback by the abrasive and somewhat militant little old lady giving the ‘tour’ (come on, there are 4 rooms and you can’t really go into 3 of them).    Interestingly, the main floor features a series of ~ 40 ‘painted panels’ on various doors and in the dining room.  Painted throughout the early 1900s, Old Lyme Art Colony members began decorating select panels and it was considered an honor to be chosen to paint a panel.   

The Hot Air Club

It could be argued that, without knowing it, these artists were living an epicurean lifestyle.  It was not uncommon for new comers to be welcomed into the dining room with a flurry of activity as chairs were shuffled to make room at the table.  And, on summer evenings, the artists would escape the heat of the house by dining on the side porch.  What started with a handful of bachelors, ‘jackets removed and sleeves rolled up’, the entire community eventually joined the group.  Soon, they named themselves the ‘Hot Air Club’ for both the weather and the lively conversation that inevitably ensued.

We ended our afternoon at Hammonasset State Park.  I love the beach, especially in the off-season.  We had turkey sandwiches (what could be better than a day after Thanksgiving sandwich?), watched some polar bear fools dive into the ocean (albeit, the water probably wasn’t that cold), and visited the Meigs Point Nature Center, effectively, a tiny building with some indigenous critters on display.

The remainder of the weekend was spent in Lodi, baking and rearranging the living room furniture. More importantly, we finished our annual Christmas letter and began plotting some Connecticut culinary adventures.

Random Musings for a Friday Night…

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While tired, I’m completely content.  Thanksgiving was spent in Connecticut, Higganum to be precise, which is an idyllic New England town; coupled with perfect fall weather, the day was amazing and well needed for the family.  Dinner was splendid and it was great spending time with family and friends in a warm, inviting setting.  Today, another perfect fall day, was spent at the Florence Griswold Museum and Hammonasset State Park (details to follow over the coming days) on the beach.  The holidays, and Thanksgiving in particular, should be spent with good friends and family and I’m fortunate to have been with both this week.  

As I embark upon the second half of the weekend, which, hopefully, will be as enjoyable as the first half, a few thoughts:

Still not afraid of the crust:   As I suspected, the pie was great.  While visually not eye pleasing, rustic was the term being thrown about, everyone enjoyed it.  When baking, I try to use fresh ingredients and am a firm believer in grating my spices as needed so the pie had freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg and, even, three types of apples (rule of thumb is to use at least two).  I’m also a firm believer in doing something with the crust, whether it be an egg wash or sprinkling sugar on top; the crust does need its own tender loving care to give it that something special.

There are hidden gems everywhere:  Old Lyme, CT, where the Museum is located, is a vibrant, historic arts destination where city folk of yester year, from New York and Boston, would flock to.  It’s amazing to think of all the hidden cultural gems that abound in the Northeast.  Connecticut has a well-known antiques trail and, today, I noticed a sign for the Connecticut wine trail; Route 2 in Massachusetts is sprinkled with cultural, historical, and outdoorsy activities; and Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine are teeming with equally intriguing towns.  I’m committed, in 2012, to do more exploring of such destinations and vow to bring to you my discoveries along the way.

Plan with the sun in mind:  Traveling frequently by car between the Cape, my siblings throughout New England and my personal homestead in New Jersey, I always try to factor in the setting sun.  Few things are as annoying as driving into a blazing sun, setting oh so slowly into the horizon.  I tend to take Route 84, albeit not today, and if you don’t time it right, you spend a good hour, hour and a half, driving with the setting sun in your eyes.  The whole process is rather tiring and can turn an otherwise pleasant drive into a pain in the arse; thus, I always advise those driving to keep such things in mind.

Always have a treat on hand:  Growing up, we always had something stashed in the freezer in case someone popped in (this proved to be most helpful for my mother and Mims and has saved me on a few occasions).  Mims, and mom, always had fudge, quick breads and inevitably, a Pepperidge Farm cake or two at the ready.  I’m not as diligent throughout the year, but come fall, I’m steadfast in doing a bit of freezer friendly baking for the holidays.  Last week, I made biscotti from Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook and froze them in serving sized containers.  Have already taken two containers out as a quick little desert for guests.

Cinnamon Girl:  I’m a big fan of Maker’s Mark and make my own little concoction (as far as I’m aware no one else has come up with this).  Essentially, I do a Maker’s and seltzer and add cinnamon.  It’s a very simple way to get a bit of additional spice into one’s life.

Am doing some local New Jersey things for the remainder of the weekend.  My father is visiting and, I believe, we’ll either be going to Thomas Edison’s House or a farm in the Hudson Valley and, am inclined to say, we may even kill a chicken for brunch on Sunday.  Perhaps we’ll enlist the help of a few friends, one of whom, Manny, is Portuguese and an absolutely amazing cook.   Will fill you in on the details over the coming days.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid…

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Ha. While I’m not afraid of the pie crust, I certainly have not perfected it. To be fair, this was only the second crust I ever made and, apparently, there is a learning curve. I decided that I’ll be describing it as a crumb crust to my family on Thursday. I’m confident it will taste good; however, it’s visually non appealing. I knew I was in trouble when I kind of had to patch the whole thing together; like making a quilt, without any of the implements, just dough. Not sure if it’s the surface I was rolling my dough out on, if I didn’t have enough flour on said surface, or if it just didn’t have enough water. I don’t know, but would love to hear any tips on making crust. Thus far, I’ve only used shortening, but perhaps butter is better.

The funny thing about the crust is that I had planned on snapping pictures of it so I can add some multi-media to my site (I don’t think there’s much ‘multi’ about a picture, but whatever). Another big Ha! I immediately eliminated the pre pie picture, desperately grasping at the hopes that the process of baking the pie would deliver a picture-perfect, edible delight. And, alas, my hopes and dreams were dashed when I peeked into the stove to check on the baking process (who doesn’t do that?) only to see a big, crumbly mess. That was the moment when I decided it best only to post things that come out camera worthy (or, something that makes you double over laughing!). Don’t get me wrong, some of the best fare isn’t especially pleasing to the eye, but I’m not going to be the one to flash those pictures around in a public forum.

My next baking project, probably taking place on Wednesday, is to make cookies for our youth group meeting at church on Sunday. We’re doing a Thanksgiving/first Sunday of Advent dinner and I’m making Pumpkin Cookies. It’s actually the recipe I found when Tony announced, unexpectedly, that he needed cookies for some event or another. It has all your standard cookie ingredients, plus a can of pumpkin. It turns out, with that one, the larger concern wasn’t the ingredients for the cookies, but rather the glaze recipe they provided as I only had ½ the ingredients. The cookies came from www.verybestbaking.com. The glaze I wound up using (after doing an online search) follows:

1 C Powdered Sugar
5 Teaspoons Hot Water
½ Teaspoon Vanilla

We’ll be in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. On the ride home, thought we’d do a not-too-far off the beating path side trip. Would love your suggestions on any fun towns or interesting places we should consider checking out along the way back (we do Tappan Zee, 684 to 84 and vice versa).

A House Filled With Yum…

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The O’Henry bars are out of the oven and the house smells great. I love this time of year and, even all the baking it entails. No candle can take away from or, even, enhance the wonderful aromas given off by baking (sorry, my Fresh Wave friends).

The O”Henry bars are easy to make. I could make them in my sleep. In fact, I made O’Henry bars as my demonstration speech in my college public speaking class. I’m convinced, as speaking publicly at that point in time was relatively new, that the only reason I got an A was because I came with enough premade bars for everyone.

I think back on this and wonder, was this the turning point toward a career in the hospitality industry? Alas, I don’t think so. I think it was something else, something deeper….something we’ll ponder at another time.

Tomorrow it’s ‘frosting’ the bars and making an apple pie for Thanksgiving. Need new cinnamon sticks, but other than that, should be relatively straight forward.

Random Musings for a Friday Night…

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Friday night; the night I usually do my ‘once a week’ things (sad, used to be the night I’d go raging on the town). Blogging might just prove to be a fun avoidance from those pesky little things moving forward.

Am baking O’Henry bars and an apple pie, for youth ministry and thanksgiving, respectively. An old family recipe, the O’Henry bars are quick, easy and I’ve yet to find someone who does not like them. The apple pie recipe I tend to use, and I have a ton of apple pie recipes, is from the ‘bible,’ aka The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Given to me by my sister, who excitedly exclaimed as she presented it to me, ‘it even tells you how to boil eggs’, I find the book to be a valuable resource in my various culinary endeavors.

So, before I go embark upon my exciting Friday night, a few thoughts:

Don’t be afraid of the crust: Pie crust is easy to make and takes one’s pie to the next level of yummy. While I remember, as a kid, making crust with Mims, my grandmother, my mother was the one who introduced me to the frozen crust. “It’s so much easier than making it from scratch and just as good,” she said. And dutifully, I listened. Well, it is easier and I’m a proponent of keeping one around just in case; however, it definitely isn’t as good (sorry Mom). So, go ahead, try a crust. The bible has a few easy recipes and you won’t be disappointed.

Fresh is the way to go: We’re a childless couple, and in the food department, that’s borderline being single. My sister and her family came over once, the kids were hungry, and the only thing I could offer was a can of sardines; apple sauce, that expired 3 years prior — we may have even moved in with the jar; or rice, that wasn’t cooked. My sister triumphantly pulled a box of microwave popcorn out and, we, sadly, couldn’t produce a microwave (we even called friends). So, sometimes, it’s a sad state when it comes to the food in our house. This doesn’t bother me as we tend to buy food as we need it, whether it be from a grocery store, the farmer’s market, or the local ‘farm’ by work, DePiero’s. And, I’ve grown to enjoy this. We don’t have food sitting around aimlessly and the quality is always better than things left in the fridge for Lord knows how long. So, I say go local, go fresh. In fact, my husband, Tony, and his friend, Manny, even buy a lot of our meat as needed and I’ve vowed to go with them to the chicken farm to pick out our dinner one night…ekks.

Ice can be fun: My fine friend’s at Maker’s Mark (who have a marketing budget I would kill for) send gifts at Christmas to their ambassadors (yes, I’m an ambassador). The gifts have been great, Maker’s Mark wax stamp, they’re known for their wax bottle top; a mini shaker and bar accessories; and, last year, bourbon ball ice cube trays. Well, we loved the frozen bourbon balls and used that thing so much that it cracked apart. So, for Tony’s birthday, I got him some fun ice cube trays. Actually, what I got him was this silicone baby food freezer thing from Williams Sonoma (really?  Do people really make their own baby food?). So we have half bourbon balls and they’re fun.  Sometimes, it really is about the simple things.

FYI, Ikea also has fun ice trays, however, the main draw back is that the ‘cubes’ are little. 

Keep the basics around: I once needed to make cookies for some sort of event (thanks, Tony, for the advance notice) and really didn’t have a lot of things in the cupboard (again, we don’t keep a lot on our shelves). I pulled what we did have out and searched the verybestbaking.com website for some recipes.  Happily, I now have a recipe for amazing pumpkin cookies!

Holiday Shopping: It’s that time of year. I work in a department with few employees. Christmas time has always been awkward with gifts. However, last year I stumbled upon an amazing candy jar at Williams Sonoma. I got the assortment and used them as gifts for my colleagues, which they loved. So, I highly recommend, for those needing to buy for numerous people, these fun confectionery treats as they’re inexpensive, yummy, and a classic gift for just about anyone.

I’ll update you on my baking endeavors this weekend and hope, as we get closer to Thanksgiving, to hear about your successes, challenges, and tips and techiniques you used to keep sane…opps…I mean to make your masterpieces.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

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It is the most wonderful time of the year…for baking!  I’m a baker, albeit an amateur baker; but, none the less, I’ve always enjoyed baking.  Is it because it brings back fond memories of helping my Grandmother, Mims, when I was a kid, the wonderful aromas baking fills the house with, or because I find comfort in the simple pleasure of baking and watching those I love enjoy the fruits of my labor?  Not quite sure and not really interested in pondering it (at this moment), but I do love baking.

There’s a certain je ne sais qoui about growing up in New England and the various epicurean pleasures that abound.  Chowdah made with cream, the wonderful scent and even better taste of an apple crisp coming out of the oven on a chilly fall day, clam bakes by the ocean.  The food is delightful and the entire region is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Warm, inviting, harking back to a simpler time and place; capturing this feeling and offering it to those I love has, over the years, become my mission.

And, today, I begin to share this with all.  Why Nor’east?  Well, because I’m now a Jersey girl (must be read in a obnoxious tone…Jerzee).   And I’ve grown to love…ekks, that may be a slight exaggeration, the area.  Why Epicurean?  Well, I’d like to enhance my skills as a baker and perhaps figure a thing or two out about cooking.  So, I’ll be traveling the Northeast, taking baking and cooking classes, visiting culinary artisans, sampling local fare; and will bring my discoveries here to entertain, educate and delight readers of all ages.

So, I invite you to join me.  Come to a class with me, share recipes (I get a kick out of old family recipes and trying to recreate them), tell me about your journeys and epicurean discoveries along the way.  Most importantly, I hope you enjoy the journey I take you on.