Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blue Hens

As you read in my gravy post, and after a brief interlude courtesy of Hurricane Irene, youngest daughter left for college. There are times, like when I look at her face and still see the adorable little toddler singing along to a news radio theme (the KYW theme…it was very cute) that I say “it can’t be” and then there are other times, when I say to myself “go, already”… like when I realize I only have five forks left in the silverware drawer because she has accidently thrown the rest away (I know this because I fished one out of the trash can one day). Regardless, time and the calendar have made the departure choice for us and I am happy and excited for her new adventure….besides, she’s only 31.9 miles and 45 minutes south on I-95.

I am looking forward to football games, parent weekends, visits home, cooking for her and homesick roommates and Facetime chats…but not so much the dreaded tuition bill! I knew she made the right college choice when, during our Italian adventure, I saw this beautiful Murano Glass Blue Hen, the mascot of the University of Delaware, in a Venice shop. What’s it called… Kismet? Serendipity?

So, the college paraphernalia gathering began earlier in the summer and the packing marathon began last Wednesday. We all know how much I depend on “To Do” lists and both Target and BED BATH & BEYOND offered great check lists to make sure the college bound (and their parents) did not forget anything. As you can see from the pile in the photo below, I think we are good! Older daughter arrived with reinforcements, and by reinforcements I mean the Subaru Forrester (best car ever) because, bless her heart, we will not fit all this shit these necessary items in the Mini. We were organized and neat and this made it easy to pack the car quickly and efficiently….in less than 15 minutes.

It’s just me, this old house, and a dog named Stella.

Unless you count the ants.

Now I can put the new silverware away. Beautiful hammered pattern from Oneida.


Stuff (notice Stella with a "Hey, what's going on here!" look)

Packed car

Daughter and stuff in dorm room

Typical dorm hall on move-in day.

Swarthmore Borough image from
95 image from
Delaware image from

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Roasted Figs Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Warm Honey Drizzle

A few weeks ago, I had an appetizer in a restaurant that was absolutely delicious….Roasted Figs Stuffed with Goat Cheese. So the figs arrive and I take one bite and I immediately conclude that I will absolutely replicate this delicious little first course.

I bought the most beautiful Mission Figs at 320 Produce yesterday, and not having anything else to do since we had to stay inside, I decided to make “Roasted Figs Irene.”

Preheat over to 425°. Cut an “X” into each fig but don’t cut all the way through the fig (I cut the little tops off of the figs but next time, I'll keep them on). Stuff each fig with one teaspoon of goat cheese. Place the figs in a roasting pan in which you can tightly pack them to avoid them tipping over and the goat cheese spilling out. Roast for 10-12 minutes, until softened. Warm 2 tablespoons of honey in the microwave (about 20 seconds) and drizzle the honey over the figs.

Very fancy and so good.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Chocolate Chip Muffins

I made youngest daughter Chocolate Chip Muffins so she’ll remember why she likes to come home. University of Delaware move-in day has been delayed due to Hurricane Irene. So anti-climatic for these kids...I feel so bad!

But these muffins are so good!

Chocolate Chip Muffins

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 cup milk or cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Position rack in center of oven. Butter, or line with paper liners, 12 - 2 3/4 x 1 1/2 inch muffin cups.

In a large measuring cup or bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla extract.

In another large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the chocolate chips. With a rubber spatula fold the wet ingredients, along with the melted butter, into the dry ingredients and stir only until the ingredients are combined. Do not over mix the batter or tough muffins will result.

Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter, using two spoons or an ice cream scoop. In a small bowl combine the topping ingredients and then sprinkle a little topping on each muffin. Place in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 18 - 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for about 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Makes 12 regular sized muffins.

Here she comes! Listen to Goodnight Irene here.

Irene photo found at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shake and Bake

We had an earthquake in the northeast yesterday…you may have heard. It was a little scary. Our friends in California are probably laughing at us since the earth shaking is pretty common there. This, however, was not my first earthquake. When I was teenager, there was an earthquake in Reading, PA, which is not that far from the Philadelphia row house in which I grew up. This earthquake occurred in the middle of the night and when the shaking woke me up, the first thing I saw was the statute of the BVM on my nightstand rattling…I thought I was being visited. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized it was nature speaking and not divine intervention.

That was a relief.

Anyway, I remember learning about faults, energy releases, etc… in school and I thought that a quick tectonic refresher would be helpful. The website UPSeis explains that “Earthquakes are usually caused when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. This sudden release of energy causes the seismic waves that make the ground shake. When two blocks of rock or two plates are rubbing against each other, they don’t slide smoothly because the surfaces are not smooth. The rocks are still pushing against each other, but not moving. After a while, the rocks break because of all the pressure that's built up. When the rocks break, the earthquake occurs.”

Hopefully, I'm not the only one that forgets stuff taught in grade school!

How long ago was that?

I baked Rocky Road cookies in honor of our seismic event. I will file these under “More-or-Less Homemade” since I used a Betty Crocker Chocolate Chunk cookie mix and added chopped walnuts and marshmallows.

Earthquake area image from Google images.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fair One: Gravy or Sauce

If you are from an Italian family - especially in the northeast part of the United States - you likely call the stuff you put on pasta, gravy. I know this particular moniker is the source of fierce debate, but whatever you call this blend of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices cooked for at least three hours with a lot of meat, it’s delicious.

How did this term “gravy” originate?

My Wikipedia search extensive research reveals that "gravy" is an erroneous English translation from the Italian sugo which means juice, but can also mean sauce (as in sugo per pastasciutta). The expression for "gravy" in Italian is sugo d'arrosto, which is literally "juice of a roast" and is not specifically tomato sauce.”

Che cosa?

This explanation has apparently been adapted to explain that a spaghetti topping cooked with meat is called gravy and a topping made with other ingredients and no meat, such as Pesto or Alfredo, is called sauce.

Well, I’m glad that’s settled.

South Philly native and Philadelphia radio/TV personality and author Lorraine Ranalli wrote a book called “Gravy Wars” about this inexhaustible cultural conflict…when I finish reading it, I’ll write a review! In my family, we always called it gravy since my Italian grandmom made hers with meatballs, sausage and, if she really liked us that week, braciole.

So, this discussion is only useful if I tell you how to make this traditional Italian favorite:

The ingredients:

* Olive Oil
* 1 medium onion, diced
* Garlic, 4 (or 6 or 8) cloves, minced
* 1 can each of tomato puree, sauce and paste
* 1 puree can full of water
* 2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
* 2 Tablespoons fresh oregano
* 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
* Brown sugar, about two tablespoons (I find this mellows the acidity of the tomatoes)
* Salt

Brown the meat -- homemade meatballs and pork sausage made with parsley and romano cheese -- in a large pan. Once browned, remove and set aside…juices will flow to the bottom of the bowl.

In the same pan in which you browned the meat (do not wash it!), sauté the onions and garlic until a bit brown.

Add the puree, sauce and paste and the water and give the mixture a good swirl until the paste dissolves.

Add the spices, sugar and salt.

Add the meat with the juices and simmer for at least three hours.

I started my gravy at 11:34 a.m. and we did not eat until after 5:00 p.m.....and that's how it's done. This may have been my best batch ever. I served the gravy on fresh pasta accompanied by my house red wine, Cantina Zaccagnini.

Youngest daughter loves spaghetti and meatballs so I made her a special dinner for her last weekend home before heading off to the Honors Program at the University of Delaware next Saturday...she will do amazing things, trust me! Mom, sister, older daughter and her BF came to say "see you later."

Where did the time go?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Banana Split Smoothie

I never understood why the guys who operated the drugstore soda fountains in the 1950’s were called “soda jerks.” Although I don’t recall meeting one personally, they always look like boy-next-door types in the movies.

Now, doesn’t he look like a nice boy talking to Annette seemingly all interested and polite? He’s probably thinking, “scram kid…nobody puts baby on a stool.”

Anyway, says that “the name soda jerk came from the jerking action the server would use on the soda fountain handle when adding the soda water.” Apparently this was a very coveted job back then…they had to wear bow ties.

Do you think we could get teenage boys to do that now?

Can you imagine the facebook commentary?

Besides ice cream sodas, drug store soda fountains used to serve all kinds of other treats, like Banana Splits. I remember sitting at the counter at the Five & Ten Cents Store on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia with my best friend Maureen eating a burger, drinking a fountain coke and sharing a banana split. They still have a Five & Ten Cents Store in OCNJ and oldest daughter calls it the Five x Ten Store because we spent $50 one summer on toilet paper, laundry detergent and Motrin.

That was funny.

So, I thought it would be fun to make a smoothie using a drug store soda fountain classic, a banana split, as inspiration!

Banana Split Smoothie
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
1 banana
1 cup non-fat vanilla frozen yogurt
A few big squirts of Hershey’s syrup
2 cups ice
Whipped cream
Maraschino Cherries

Blend strawberries, banana, frozen yogurt, Hershey’s syrup and ice until smooth and creamy. Top with whipped cream and a cherry, pop in two straws, grab your sweetie (or drink it all by yourself out of both straws) and enjoy!

Soda Jerk photo from google images.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Headboard

So, I see this bed in one of my favorite catalogs and I fall in love…with the bed. It came with a lofty price tag and considering S&H, it was prohibitive indeed, over $2,500...that's a lot of coin.

We know from previous posts that I have a cute talented Irish handyman, so I show him the picture in the catalog and asked if he could make a similar version. He said “Oh, that’s grand! I can certainly make the headboard.” I really only wanted the headboard but that option was not offered in the catalog.

Let the woodworking begin.

I need to acquire some power tools.

Himself chooses beautiful interlocking 5” pine strips and puts them together with 2x4's. Next, he created a template for the arched silhouette and cut the shape with a jigsaw. A bit of sanding and, voilà! I have the headboard of my dreams. I wish I had photos of the building process but he built it off site.

When he delivered my timbered treasure, I was beyond pleased. I distressed it a bit with a hammer, a chain and a pair of 3” black pumps and then stained it using Minwax Polyshades in rich a cherry to match some other furniture in the room. The faux distressing gives the wood a well-worn feel and the knots in the pine, accentuated by the stain, add variety, depth and a bit of chic imperfection.

The inspiration piece is made of reclaimed Douglas Fir and boasts weather wear and old nail holes. As you can see, it is quite lovely, albeit expensive. I had it in my shopping cart more than once but simply could not justify the expense. I like my homemade version just as well...the curves are not as defined, and are longer, sleeker (that was purposeful) and - BoNuS - it was cheaper. The entire cost of the project was $292.21, which included the $7.21 for the stain!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shandy Land

A shandy is a perfect summer drink that is a cinch to make…and drink (especially on the hot summer days that we’ve been suffering through!).

The drink is simply a mixture of beer and lemonade, but my version also includes ginger ale. I like to use Blue Moon beer because the citrus undertones harmonize nicely with the lemonade and the ginger ale gives the drink a spicy little zip. The traditional recipe calls for just beer and lemonade in equal proportions.

The Shandy’s relatively low alcohol content makes it a popular tavern beverage and from my minimal research, it seems to have originated in Europe. There are many variations of this concoction and my two favorites (just from the descriptions, otherwise I would not be able to write a coherent post!) are the Texan Honeymoon which consists of lager beer and lime juice and a Chilean version, the Fan-Schop, which is a mixture of draught beer and Fanta orange soda.

So, my version is called a Ginger Snap Shandy

½ Glass beer
¼ Glass of lemonade, homemade or store bought, or lemon soda
¼ Glass of ginger ale
1 teaspoon of molasses

Fill a glass half way with the beer. Add lemonade, then Ginger Ale, add the molasses, give it a little stir and float a lemon slice on top. Crisp, refreshing, delish and easy as could be…a Ginger Snap Shandy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Farm to Table

On Saturday, I walked into town to browse through the Swarthmore Farmers' Market. Every Saturday morning, from May through October, the Borough hosts local growers who offer fresh vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, meats, and eggs (from grass-fed animals) and the most delectable, crusty bread. The market offerings are particularly helpful to those like me who can’t keep a homegrown tomato on the vine because the local critters insist on inviting their furry little friends over for a picking party. For some reason, they don’t touch my herbs…maybe they’re fussy.

If I get a message like this:

I’ll get concerned. At least they're polite.

So, I’m meandering around the Farmer’s Market and I see…




…fresh garlic


…and bread. Can you say YUM?!

So I buy tomatoes, garlic, and mushrooms and decide to make a nice summery pasta sauce. I also need basil, but I have that in my garden.

I sautéed the garlic...use fresh garlic whenever you's so worth it! Also, don’t be afraid to add salt. Salt helps release certain molecules, that enhance the flavor and aroma of the food. It also decreases bitterness and balances out very sweet flavors. I threw some over my shoulder for good luck.

Then I added the mushrooms and sautéed until they "shrunk" and released their moisture.

Next, the roughly chopped tomatoes. I added a little bit of red wine and let the mixture simmer for another 8-10 minutes minutes.

To serve, I poured the sauce over pasta and topped with basil and freshly grated Asiago cheese. Perfect with a glass of Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thanks to the website “Today I Found Out” for helping me explain why adding salt (in moderation) to food is a good thing!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I am about two weeks behind with my summer beverage postings.

Maybe not.

Does the $9 bottle of screw-top wine we drank in Ocean City count?

Foodie, Architect and I traveled into Center City Philadelphia on Tuesday night. We enjoyed a delightful dinner at Parc, taking in the sights and sounds of the city relaxing at their curbside bistro...very European. Among other things, we saw the most regal Great Dane, many very fit yoginis about to awaken their spirits (their rolled up mats divulged their destination), and some fairly mature women who really need to stop shopping at dELiAs.

Before dinner, we had a drink at Parc's bar that offers the most interesting and eclectic selection of mixed cocktails. Considering this, ordering a simple glass of wine would have been a waste, downright negligent for the sake of research (and fodder for this post)so we all, of course, dutifully ordered a fancy drink.

Architect had a Romarin made with Grapefruit Vodka, Rosemary, Elderflower Liqueur and Grapefruit Juice. Foodie had a customized version of the same, made with Gin. I had a Basilic, and, as the name suggests, it was infused with basil, but also contained cucumbers, Smirnoff Citrus Vodka and Elderflower Liqueur. Refreshing indeed..I even ate the liquor-soaked cucumbers!

Although this may not be the precise recipe, it is close enough to the Parc version.

1 oz of Smirnoff Citrus Vodka
3/4 oz of Elderflower Liqueur
8 very thin cucumber slices
6 Basil Leaves
Club Soda

Crush the basil leaves in the glass in which you will serve the cocktail. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the vodka, liqueur, and the cucumber slices. Shake well enough to infuse the taste of the cucumbers. Pour into the glass with the basil leaves and top with club soda. So incredibly good.

Photo of Parc from