New Orleans Adventure-Food and meeting the Green Fairy

We recently took a trip to New Orleans.  I had never been there, and it was on my list of places to go.  I had heard many wonderful things about the city, and finally made time visit. So glad we did.

What struck me  almost immediately was the vibe of this city.  It has a very weathered, grimy feel. There is a feeling of old memories and a veneer of wisdom.  In the French Quarter, the buildings are old and open, with high ceilings, peeling paint and cracks in the stucco.  It is romantic and alluring.  History oozes out of every crack and chip.  It is seductive.

And the food.

I went off of my vegan regimen (see previous post on that story…) and took in all that the city offers. First, to get the beignet.  We went to Cafe’ Beignet, as it was near our hotel.  Ordered our coffee and beignets, and had a seat in the courtyard. It’s around 9:30 AM and there is live music playing. An awesome jazz/blues group at breakfast.  The beignets were good; I confess, I’m not a big sweets person, but you have to try them, right?

 

On to oysters. Damn. They were perfect.  Raw oysters tell the tale of the ocean like no other shellfish.  Briny, but sweet and tender, they  bring alive all of your taste buds.  The gentleman shucking the dozen shown here has shucked over 3 million oysters, give or take.  For real.

New Orleans oysters

 

On to the best meal of the trip. We went to GW Fins, in the French Quarter. Known for its seafood, I had one of the best meals I have had in years.  No joke.  A delightful salmon carpaccio as an appetizer had the perfect blend of acid with the fish sliced paper-thin.  My main course is a specialty known as “Scalibut”.  It is a combination of scallops and halibut with lobster risotto, snow peas and pea shoot butter.  This was outstanding, cooked to perfection.  The pea shoot butter added an earthy softness that  pulled all of the flavors and textures together. Divine.

 

The service here was also the best I have seen in a long time. Nick knew the menu inside and out, and recommended the perfect wine pairings. He is spot on.  This place is a do not miss; make sure to try it. (Dare I say, went we to Emeril’s and I think GW Fins is better..)

But on to my favorite ritual.

Absinthe, aka “The Green Fairy”.

Absinthe is a spirit that has its roots in Switzerland and was made in the early 17th century.  The mystique of absinthe was that it had hallucinogenic properties, which caused it to be banned for sale in many countries in the 1920s. Favored by artists, poets and writers, it was the signature drink amongst the Bohemian set.  Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and Ernest Hemingway all imbibed.  Oscar Wilde stated about absinthe:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Absinthe does contain thujone, a chemical in the plant wormwood, the main floral in absinthe.  But you would have to consume enormous quantities for it to have any effect.  The more likely cause of  seeing pink elephants is the high alcohol content, up to 138 proof. It has a licorice taste from anise, along with other botanicals. I’m not a huge licorice fan, so I drink the “Mata Hari” brand, less licorice, more florals.

But one of the best things about absinthe is how you drink it.  There is a ritual around how the spirit is prepared.  The ritual conjures up images of bistros in France, with artists romancing show girls.  Decadence, bawdiness, and passion. The ritual itself is as intoxicating as the spirit.

First, you need an absinthe spoon. (These are really cool, and I want an antique one!)

New Orleans absinthe spoons

Place the absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on the spoon.

New Orleans absinthe1

 

Pour the absinthe over the sugar cube into the glass. Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful green color.

New Orleans abinsthe2

Light the sugar cube so that it melts into the glass.

New Orleans absinthe3

Add cold water to create the “louche”, the cloudy appearance the absinthe takes on when the water is added.

 

 

 

 

New Orleans absinthe5

 

Sip and experience “The Green Fairy”.

My absinthe experience was in the “Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House“, a bar that is over 200 years old. The bar is like a stage set, with peeling paint and old carved woodwork.  If you are going to try absinthe, this is the bar to try it in. With over 20 types to choose from, you will find one that suits your palate.

I was captivated by New Orleans. It is a magical, mysterious place.  And you need to walk through it, to experience all of the sounds, the fragrances and to feel the pulse of the city.

And get to know the Green Fairy.  Quite the lady.

new orleans green fairy

 

 

 

 

 

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Fueling The Cause-Protests & Food

dc protest

I attended the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21, and it was an exhilarating experience.  There was an atmosphere of love, support, tolerance and a much justified dose of outrage.  My two friends and I drove down from the Philadelphia area. We waved to others on the road showing their signs from their cars and wearing their pink hats. The mood was uplifting; from the train ride in, though the march to the train ride back out.  I was so glad to be a part of this historic march.

This march has kickstarted many other marches on various days worldwide. With so much to protest about, I thought I would look into how food has played a part in the history of protests, and also touch on what to eat and drink when you are protesting.

The History of Protest and Food

Food and protests have gone hand in hand throughout history.  But why food?  Well, first of all, it was accessible.Tomatoes, eggs, easy to get and they make a great splat. NOTE: I don’t condone throwing ANYTHING.  No one should get injured in a protest.   While throwing food may be considered non-violent, I wouldn’t risk getting arrested for throwing an egg.

The first recorded protest with food was in 63 AD in present day Tunisia. Roman Emperor Vespasian was pelted with turnips by people who were angered by food shortages under his reign. That had to hurt…

turnip
ouch

Eggs historically were very popular at protests. In the Middle Ages people were put in stocks and pelted with eggs.  Abolitionist George Whittier was hit with eggs at an anti-slavery talk in 1834. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger was hit with an egg in 2003 on a campaign trip for governor of California.   In 2011 Afghan protesters threw eggs at the Iranian consulate to protest a fuel blockade that caused fuel prices to soar. But the biggest egg protest took place in 2013, when French farmers broke 100,000 eggs a day to protest the low price of eggs set by the European Union.

french egg protest
Sometimes you gotta break some eggs…

On to tomatoes. While typically seen as a response to a poor theatrical performance, tomatoes have been used in protests.  In fact, one tomato protest has turned into an annual festival. La Tomatina occurs in  Bunol, in the Valencia region of Spain on a Wednesday every August. The legend is that the townspeople were upset with their town council and threw tomatoes at them. That one event  became the present day festival.  The festival begins with a ham being placed on a greased pole, and participants climb the pole to retrieve the ham.  Once the ham has been obtained, the tomato throwing begins. A cannon sounds, and the tons of tomatoes are thrown. Its chaotic, and messy.  The throwing continues for two hours, then the cannon fires and the throwing stops.

Not sure what happens after that.  Many, many showers, I guess..

la tomatina
La Tomatina Festival

The cream pie in the face has had its place in protest history. Ok, most of the time, you see this in the Three Stooges or I Love Lucy… but both Ralph Nader and Rupert Murdoch have been “pied”. Anita Bryant got a pie in the face in 1977 during a press conference when  she was trying to justify the fact that she hated gay people.  Again, I don’t condone this, as it could cause injury, and you may get arrested for assault (but Anita had that one coming..)

Lack of food has had a significant place in protest history. The hunger strike has been used  in many circumstances as a form of protest. The first hunger strike is purported to have happened in ancient India.  Indian scriptures tell the tale of when King Rama’s brother fasted to urge the King to return from exile. Gandhi  was on a hunger strike for six days to protest the British government’s decision to place a strict separation between India’s lowest and highest social castes. Gandhi’s actions caused this decision to be reversed.

gandhi
Gandhi

In the United States, suffragettes went on hunger strikes in jail. This method usually got them released prior to completion of their sentence.  But Alice Paul, famous woman activist and organizer of the Woman Suffrage Procession (and a Jersey girl from Mount Laurel!), was force-fed in a London prison. This damaged her gastrointestinal system permanently.  Alice Paul returned to the USA, attended the University of Pennsylvania and continued her work in the Suffrage movement.  Read more about Alice Paul here: http://nationalwomansparty.org/learn/who-is-alice-paul/

Alice Paul
Thank you, Alice!

I found this really terrific blog called “Food and Resistance“.  It is a collection of food related protest signs from various protests.  Go check out the images. They are powerful and also humorous.

My favorite? “Muslims Invented Coffee”.

Staying Fueled While Protesting

So you are getting out and standing up for what you believe in. Good for you! Here are a few tips for staying fueled during your protest experience.

  • Cut back on the coffee. I know, this is a tough one.  But  comfort stations can be few and far between, and lines can be long.  And peeing on the White House lawn is illegal…also a good idea to BYOTP.  (Toilet Paper)
  • Fuel up in the morning.  I recommend more protein than carbs.  Eggs will keep you fuller longer than a bowl of cereal. Perhaps a little fruit as well, to get some sugars for energy.
  • Bring snacks. Granola bars, more fruit.  You can also bring a wrap. Refried beans and rice with cheese in a tortilla are easy to carry, and have a great mix of carbs and protein. Make a few, and wrap them in plastic.  Yes, you will have to eat them cold, but you can deal this one time.
  • Bring water, but watch your intake. You will need to stay hydrated, but drink just what you need. Again, the peeing issue. Warmer weather will cause you to need more liquids. Look at bringing some green tea with honey. This provides good energy and will soothe your throat from all of your yelling and cheering. Throat lozenges are also a good idea.
  • Bring some chewing gum. This helps keep you from getting dry mouth, and you won’t drink as much water.

If you are one of the organizers of a march, try to engage restaurants and food stores who may be sympathetic to your cause to provide some eats and drinks along the march route.  They may choose to donate or sell. If they donate, make sure you provide a  money jar for  donations to cover their costs.

When you are done with your march, patronize the local restaurants. You are supporting the local economy, and you will assuredly meet others who were in the march as well.  Share a table with some strangers.

These are challenging times.  But I am so optimistic.  People are becoming engaged, getting involved and running for office.

So get up, get out, make some noise.  Fuel your cause.

 

 

 

 

Pass the Haggis-A Brief History of the Burns Supper

robert-burns

Robert Burns, the bard poet of Scotland , was born on January 25, 1759.  He became the voice of Scotland with his poetry and song. In 1801, on the fifth anniversary of his death, nine men who knew him well gathered to have a memorial dinner in Robbie’s honor. There was ritual and remembrances, and a toast at the end.

Oh, and haggis. More on that later.

Thus began the tradition of the Burns Supper.  Around January 25, people and organizations hold the traditional Burns Supper to remember Robert Burn’s legacy.  And  it is quite a party.

First, everyone gathers and chats, and checks out the whiskey selection.  Many varieties are offered, from light Scotches to my favorite, the dark, peaty, malty ones.

Next is the call to the table by the host and the Selkirk Grace is recited:

 Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The soup course is then served.  The Cullen-Skirk soup is traditionally served. It is a creamy fish and leek soup. Click here for the recipe.

The next part is my favorite–The Parade of the Haggis. A bagpiper leads the procession and “pipes in the haggis” to the guests. The chef follows the piper, and presents the haggis to each of the guests.  The haggis is then placed on the table in front of the host, and a reciter will  read the “Address to a Haggis”:

piping-haggis
Piping in the Haggis

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

To see what this means in English, you can find the translation here.

Whiskey is offered to the chef, the reciter and the piper, and the host ceremoniously slices open the haggis with a dirk-a small dagger- but any sharp knife will do.

About haggis.  This is a dish that was made in the fields by shepherds watching over their flocks. It was one of those  meals  that was born out of necessity.  Haggis consists of  sheep heart, liver and lungs, ground up, with oatmeal, onion or leek, spices, salt and some stock. It was encased into the sheep’s stomach and boiled or steamed.  Before you get turned off by this, try it.  It is quite delicious.  I love it. Haggis is served with “neeps and tatties”-turnips and potatoes. You can find a contemporary haggis recipe here.

haggis-2
Haggis, Dirk and Whiskey

After the meal, it is time for songs and poems. And more whiskey.  The host will  deliver the Immortal Memory Address, which  is a biographical telling  about Robert Burns, and ends with a toast to the Bard.

Guests are invited to read from Burns’ poems and to perform songs, and this is great fun! Some folks have the Scottish brogue down, others, not so much.  Again, more whiskey…

Next up is the Toast to the Lassies– a  light-hearted lampoon of the shortcomings of women.  But fear not, ladies, because next is the Reply From the Lassies– an opportunity to note the shortcomings of men.  This is all done in fun and with great wit.  You can read both the Address and Reply here.

And now for the reading of one of Burns’ most epic poems, “Tam O’Shanter”.  It is a tale of drunkenness, debauchery, witches and ghosts. And the hero of the story is Tam’s horse, Maggie.  You can read both the Scottish and English version here.

tam-oshanter
Tam O’Shanter-Maggie lose her tail!

The evening progresses with more songs, poems and dancing.  The host will then do some closing remarks, thanking the chef and the piper and all who attended and raising a toast or two or three.

The finale of the evening is for everyone to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.  Nope, it’s not really a New Year’s Eve song. This is a song about friendship and the gladness of celebrating together.  You can see the Scottish and English translation here.

Once Auld Lang Syne is sung, the evening is officially over.

If you would like to go to a Burns Supper, look for a Scottish Society in your area that may be hosting one.  Or hold one yourself.  It’s  a bonnie auld tradition, full of fun and friends, with literature and drama.

Oh and whiskey…

 

 

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

 

cheers

The hangout. The go-to place. We all have one. But why?  Why have one place that you go to repeatedly? What is the allure to going to the same location, having the same experience over and over? Where is the fun in that?

The answer is:

Familiarity breeds well, familiarity. In other words, sometimes you just need a place that you can count on. Your happy spot. Your own version of “Cheers”.

We have lived in our new location for 2 years now, and while we enjoy eating out at all different types of places, we didn’t have our hangout.  And we missed that.

Growing up, I had a few places that were my hangouts. The Tewksbury Inn in Oldwick NJ, used to be a great bar and restaurant. The Inn was old, and the bar was an enormous old-fashioned wooden bar. The bathrooms were labeled “Bucks” and “Does” and there were deer heads mounted on the wall wearing hats, Hawaiian leis and smoking cigarettes.  You could get a burger and a pitcher of beer inexpensively and listen to local blues or bluegrass musicians.  But, as time went on, it was sold. The deer heads came down, and matching wallpaper and curtains went up. And so did the prices…. you can check it out here, but it ain’t no hangout…. $33 entrees, sheesh.

There was also Bernie’s Hillside Lounge in Chester, NJ.  Bernie’s has been around for a long time, and used to host  some well-known jazz musicians, like Bix  Beiderbecke.  I used to go there to listen to the Blue Sparks From Hell, a local band that played R & B, swing and blues. Frontman C.J. Tucker, was both talented and entertaining.  Sadly, Tucker has passed away, and the band is no longer playing.  But check them out on YouTube. Listen to one of their best songs “Caledonia”.  Bernie’s is still growing strong, playing music.  Stop in.

The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ was a haven for great music.  It was the place where everyone went to dance and drink. Sawdust on the floor, and plenty of graffiti in the restrooms.  Stevie Ray Vaughn and Buddy Guy were some of the notables that played here. I danced the night away many time, reveling in blues and R & B. I have a term for places like this.  It was my “clean dirty bar”.  Tidy enough to just barely pass a health inspection, but gritty,  colorful and raw.  Loved it.  It had closed for a time, but since has reopened, and back to being a roadhouse.  I haven’t been back in years, but may take a trip to see  if it’s still dirty.

So back to why we like our hangouts. Sometimes we need to go somewhere that doesn’t change much. After a day or a week of challenges, we all need to have some continuity.  And a hangout offers that. My requirements for a place to be a hangout are:

Casual Atmosphere-nothing fancy. I want to be able to go right from the horse barn in my horsey clothes to the hangout. No cloth tablecloths. No coordinating curtains and wallpaper. Just tables and a bar. Fireplace is a plus.

Great food with entrees under $20-yes, it can be done.  A hangout offers well priced entrees cooked superbly, plus burgers, salads and soups.  And some specials. No overdone plating, no foam, no pyrotechnics. Just fine fresh food cooked well.

A large selection of beer, wine and spirits- an extensive and changing craft beer list is a must.  With so many craft beers, local wineries and distilleries opening, I want to see  an establishment support local products IF- and only IF- they are quality.  And hard cider.  Love hard cider.

Friendly staff- without a doubt, one of the most important features of a hangout. Personable wait staff who know the menu, and are pleasant and chatty go a long way with me.  And a bartender who will remember what I like to order.  Remember, I can go anywhere, so if you get to know me I will be back. No surly or pretentious attitudes at a hangout.  No way.

We finally discovered our hangout here in Bucks County, PA. Becker’s Corner is located right near the beautiful Lake Nockamixon in Quakertown PA.  It meets all of the above requirements, and we head there whenever we don’t feel like cooking,  and we just want some time together.  We have gone there with friends, and we now run into people we know. And they have hard cider on tap. Perfect. Give this place a try.  You won’t be disappointed. And hey, we may meet at the bar.

What is your hangout?  What makes a place a hangout for you?  Share your place, spread the word.  Everyone need a place to hang out.

 

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I was having kind of a rough day yesterday. Let’s just say it was a day of roadblocks, contrary people and general frustration. My husband knew I was having a tough go, so he wanted to make me something special for dinner and asked me what would I enjoy.

And I couldn’t think of anything. Me. The writer of this blog, couldn’t come up with something I would like to eat.  I was really in a funk for that to happen.

So, my husband came up with a solution himself.  We had been watching a food travel show and it featured Charleston, South Carolina.  I have only been there one time, but I love the city. Culture, history, and great local cuisine.

One of the featured restaurants was Bowen’s Island Restaurant, on Bowen’s Island, just a short drive from Charleston.The place looks great, kind of the run down shack look that you know has really good eats.

As the show progressed, they featured a traditional Lowcountry dish called Frogmore Stew.

Well, my husband decided that this was what he was going to make for my” get of of the funk” meal.

So here is the low down on Frogmore Stew.  One-no frogs in it. Two-not really a stew.

Frogmore Stew is also known as Lowcountry boil or Beaufort Stew. Historians claim that it was invented by shrimpers who threw whatever they had together to make a meal.  It consists of freshly shucked corn, fresh shrimp, small red potatoes, sliced onions and beef sausage or kielbasa.  This is all simmered together in a crab boil mixture.

The results? Delicious! The seasonings from the crab boil plus the sausage all blend together in a spicy but not hot blend of flavors.  The potatoes become soft and creamy, and the skin of the potatoes absorb the boil and have a salty, pungent flavor.  The corn and the shrimp were tender and delightful. Pair this with a cold beer, and all your troubles will fade away.

I love a simple dish that was born of necessity. The shrimpers cooked with what they had on hand, and probably boiled it up right on the boat.  Shepherd’s Pie came about by the shepherds in Britain having to stay with the flocks to protect them,  and also created haggis, which is a mish mash of ground up organ meat,  and mixed with barley or oatmeal, and sewn into a sheep’s stomach and boiled. (Don’t turn your nose up, haggis is quite good.) The Syracuse NY area is famous for salt potatoes, which are small white potatoes boiled in a salt brine. The salt brine makes the skins  slightly dry and crunchy, while the inside of the potatoes is creamy and smooth.The workers on the salt flats in Syracuse would make salt potatoes for their mid day meal.  All simple fare, using what was on hand and not wasting anything.

Many recipes that are traditional to an area came from a group of hard working people  coming up with a meal to get through their day.   Local foods are the legacy of history, culture and community.  Enjoy in local cuisines, and while you are at it, find out the stories behind the food.

And be sure to tell the stories to others.

Special thanks to my husband, who took the time and care to make me a wonderful meal.  What a great guy. Love you!

frogmore stew

South Carolina Frogmore Stew-RR Adams

  • 3 quarts of water
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pinch of kosher salt
  • 3 ounces of dry crab boil or Old Bay seasoning
  • 1- 1/2 lbs small red potatoes
  • 4 ears corn, husked and cleaned
  • 1 -1/2 lbs fresh large shrimp, unpeeled
  • 1 lb smoked beef sausage or kielbasa, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 dash of Tabasco sauce or to taste
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the water and throw in the halves. Add the onion, garlic, salt and crab boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes and sausage, and return to a boil. Simmer covered for 20 minutes. Break the ears of corn in half and add to the pot. Cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the shrimp and cover for 5 minutes-no longer! or your shrimp will be rubbery.
  3. Drain off the liquid and reserve.  You can use it for stock or marinade.
  4. Stir the melted butter and hot sauce together. Serve the butter with the plated stew for dipping or drizzling.

You can also add scallops and craw-fish to the mix.

Serve in bowls with a nice cold  crisp beer.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Table for One, Please

I thought I would write about an experience that I found, well, uncomfortable.

Dining alone.

I had to travel for work for a period of eight months to a town in suburban Maryland. It involved leaving my home on a Sunday night, staying in a Hampton Inn until Friday afternoon, and then I would head home for the weekend. And repeat.

Well, a girl’s gotta eat.  So I explored the area, only to find that I was working in the equivalent of a giant office park. No downtown, no cool local watering holes, just an endless amount of franchised restaurants. 5 Guys Burgers, Panera Bread, Bonefish Grill. You get the drift.

So, I would go in, and ask for a table for one.  And I was almost always met with “Will anyone be joining you?”  Nope.  Then you would get either the “isn’t that sad” look from the host, or the “what is up with you?” look.  I felt self conscious and awkward.  I could feel other people glancing my way.  I would order, eat and get out as fast as I could.

Semi-fast food places like Panera Bread weren’t as awkward, since you  basically serve yourself.  It seemed more acceptable to eat alone in places like that. But again–order, eat, leave.

Grub Hub offered some opportunity to at least get something delivered to my hotel.  The only catch was that it was usually a $20 minimum order for a delivery. That was usually more food than I needed. But I would order enough for dinner, and have something to bring for lunch the next day.  Tolerable, but limited as to selection.

I finally got so tired of eating out alone that I resorted to going to Trader Joe’s and buying frozen dinners that I could heat up in my hotel room microwave.  Sad…..

But here is the dilemma. As  unpleasant as it is to eat out alone, what would I have done if a person  asked me to join them, since they were alone as well?

Thought 1–serial killer, rapist, mugger

Thought 2–weird, chatty type who collects used paper napkins

Thought 3–I have been chosen by the locals to see if I will accept. The winner gets a free beer.

As you can see, none of the thoughts have positive outcomes. I am a solitary female in a strange city, so no way am I accepting any invitation. And isn’t that a shame. It is a shame that I can’t feel comfortable enough to accept what might be  a nice gesture from someone who knows what it is like to eat alone.  It’s a shame that my first instinct is suspicion. It is sad to be so cynical about what you perceive a person’s intentions to be.

So here is what I did.  Instead of withdrawing into my Kindle, I decided to chat up the wait staff, hosts, owners, anyone I could. And I mean chat up. My favorite experience with being the chatterbox was at an Indian restaurant. I told the host how much I adored Indian cuisine.  I asked the waiter for recommendations based on what he liked the best, not what the typical American diner would like. He grinned, and gladly shared his favorites with me, telling me all about the spices and flavors. There were Indian wines on the menu, and I didn’t know that India had vineyards. I asked about them, and the owner came to my table and told me all about how India was now delving into wine and starting vineyards.  He gave me a glass on the house.

At a Portuguese restaurant, I ordered in broken Portuguese (I learned  it a long time ago  for a trip to Portugal, and still can speak it a bit). The waiter and owner  loved the fact that I attempted to order in their language. We spoke about the traditional items on the menu. My favorite is Porco a’ Alentejana–braised pork with clams. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it; it is outstanding. They asked about my travels, and I spoke fondly of their country and how I loved the regional variety of the Portuguese cuisine.  They sat at my table, and we shared an after dinner cocktail.

Here is the beauty in this. By engaging with the owners and staff, I was no longer solitary. There was conversation, and I learned new things. By being curious and open, I was on the receiving end of the passions of the people who worked there. People who love what they do, what they create,also love to talk about it.  And they so appreciate someone who shows  an interest beyond the standard “what is your house special?” question. And, because the staff was working, no one was going to follow me to my hotel.  A plus.

I don’t have that job any more, so I don’t  travel for work. I will most likely never set foot in those restaurants again. But because I made the decision to be outgoing, I gave myself the gift of a good dining experience.

So, if you find yourself  having to dine alone, try being the chatterbox.  Even if you are in an Olive Garden, ask your waitperson something. They are probably a local student working their way through school, or a parent trying to make ends meet.  Everyone has a story to tell. And if you show them some interest beyond the Perkins Pancake menu, you may find yourself learning  more about the world.

It’s worth a shot.  Beats eating frozen dinners in the Hampton Inn.

Porco a’ Alentejana(courtesy Jean Anderson from “The Food of Portugal” cookbook)

Here is the recipe for the braised pork with clams.  It is easy to make, and it is really, really delicious.  You have to marinate the pork for 24 hours, so plan ahead. Enjoy!

Makes 6 servings

  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 TB of a paste made from- 1 peeled and crushed garlic clove, 1 tsp of kosher salt, 1 TB of paprika, 1 TB of good olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 large bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB lard or shortening
  • 1 large yellow onion peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove peeled and minced
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 18 small littleneck clams in the shell, well scrubbed and purged of grit.
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  1. Rub the pieces of pork well all over with the paste and place in a large shallow  nonmetallic bowl; add the wine and bay leaves, cover and marinate about 24 hours, turning occasionally.
  2. Heat the olive oil and lard in a large heavy kettle or pot over high heat until ripples appear on the bottom-the fat should almost smoke. Lift the pork  from the marinade (save the marinade to add later) and brown in three batches, transferring  the pieces to a large heat-proof bowl as they brown.
  3. When the pork is browned, dump the onion and garlic into the kettle, lower the heat to moderate and stir fry for 3 to 4 minutes until limp and golden.
  4. Turn the heat to low, cover and steam the onion and garlic for 20 minutes.
  5. Blend the tomato paste into the reserved marinade, return the pork  and the marinade to the kettle and adjust the heat so that the marinade barely bubbles, then cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours until the pork is fork tender.
  6. Bring the liquid up to a gentle boil and lay the clams on top of the pork, cover and cook another 30 minutes or until the clams open.  Discard any unopened clams.
  7. Season to taste with salt and pepper and ladle into large soup bowls. Serve with a chewy crusty bread and a crisp green salad.  Pair with a rich red wine.

 

 

 

 

Run For The Roses 2016

This past Saturday was the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby. As a lifelong equestrian, and owner of a retired racehorse, this is one of my favorite days.  Nothing says tradition like the Kentucky Derby. For those of you unfamiliar with horse racing, this is the first leg in what is known as the Triple Crown. The next two races are the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. If a horse wins all three races, then he is a Triple Crown winner.  No easy feat.  Since the running of the Triple Crown began, only 12 horses have won all three races.  The first was Sir Barton in 1919, the most recent was last year with American Pharoah after a 37 year gap with no Triple Crown winners.

The race is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky and is always on the first Saturday in May. People flock to the racetrack for this historic race day.  Traditional hats for the ladies are worn, some are incredibly outrageous. And there is the traditional cocktail of the Derby–the Mint Julep.

mint julep
Mint Julep in traditional julep cup
derby 2016 5
Some of our Derby hats

Since I love this day, I started my own ritual of hosting a Kentucky Derby Party at my house about 4 years ago.  The menu follows a Derby tradition consisting of:

Bourbon Pulled Pork Sliders

Cole Slaw

Bourbon Baked Beans

Cheese Grits

Carrot Cake

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie ( of course!)

 

derby 2016 4
Got to have the centerpiece!

Great food, great fun, but the best thing is the people. Nothing brings me greater happiness than to gather people from all walks of life.

When you host a party, you become catalyst for others.  They meet and experience people that they would not have met otherwise.  Old friends get to catch up, new friendships are forged. And you, as the host, are the creator of all of these new connections.  And then your ritual becomes a ritual for others.

This is really why I host my Kentucky Derby Party every year. I want to be that catalyst. I want to create a tradition and ritual for my old friends, and  include new friends each and every year. I want to hear about  the latest job,  graduation, loss and  gain.  I want to laugh until my sides ache from all of the funny tales. But most of all, I just want to watch my  friends sharing a good time in a ritual that has become a part of all of their lives. Their laughter, their presence in my home, is their gift to me.

 

derby 2016 ladies

All the Lovely Derby ladies!

Thanks to all who attended this year. It was my great pleasure to have you all in my home. See you next year on the first Saturday in May!

Derby Party Recipes

Here are the recipes that I always have at my Kentucky Derby party.  Enjoy!

Mint Julep

The key to a successful mint julep is really good bourbon.  Get the good stuff, do not skimp here.  My favorite is Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve.   A julep calls for fresh mint to be muddled in each glass, but I have found that to be time-consuming, plus I end up with pieces of mint in my teeth! My solution is to infuse mint into the simple syrup.

To make the simple syrup, you will need equal parts water and sugar.  I did 3 cups of each, and that is enough to serve 30 people multiple drinks. Boil the water and sugar mixture until the sugar has dissolved.  Take at least 10 stems of mint, more if you like, and bruise in a mortar and pestle. Take the sugar mixture off of the heat, and toss the mint in the hot mix.  Allow the mint to steep until the desired mint flavor is  achieved, at least 15 minutes.  Strain the syrup through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove the mint pieces.  Refrigerate until it is cocktail time.

Mint Julep Recipe

  • 1 1/2 jiggers of bourbon
  • 1 jigger mint simple syrup
  • crushed ice

Put two heaping tablespoons of crushed ice in a cup. Add the bourbon and simple syrup and stir.  A splash of club soda is optional.

Bourbon Slow Cooked Pulled Pork –recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson

  • 2 lb pork shoulder
  • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup bourbon (you can use the cheaper stuff to cook with)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  1. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides and place in a slow cooker.
  2. Scatter the onions around the pork.
  3. In a large bowl, mix the brown sugar, bourbon, soy sauce, mustard and ketchup. Pour over the pork.
  4. Set the slow cooker to low and cook for 8 hours.
  5. At then end of 8 hours, remove the pork and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  6. Using an immersion blender or regular blender, blend the onions and sauce to a smooth mixture.
  7. Shred the pork with two forks and mix some of the sauce with the pork. Serve with the extra sauce.

I used 10 pounds of pork for 30 people, adjust the quantities as you need. I cooked the pork the day before, then returned it to the slow cooker and heated it up for the party. Easy!

Cheese & Garlic Grits –-Chef Mark Williams

  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup ground corn grits-regular or quick cook
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, diced
  • 3 large eggs,  yolks and whites separated
  • 1/3 lb grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup minced garlic (prepared minced garlic is what I use)
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Add salt to water and bring to a boil.
  3. Slowly stir in the grits.
  4. Simmer, stirring frequently until grits are soft, less time for the quick cook grits. Add the butter and remove from the heat.
  5. Add the cheese, garlic and yolks of the eggs.
  6. Allow to cool before adding stiffly beaten egg whites.
  7. Lightly fold in the egg whites and pour mixture  into a buttered souffle dish or high sided  casserole dish.
  8. Bake until golden brown and firm in the center, about 30 minutes.
  9. Serve warm.

These are a little bit of work, but so worth it.  They come out light and fluffy, like a souffle. I tripled the recipe for 30 people, and used two casseroles. I also only used 1/2  a cup of garlic for the tripled amount.  Personally, I think that 1/2  cup of garlic  for the single recipe is overpowering, but add to your taste.