JT, Friendly Confines, Flower Power, and GoT

JT, Friendly Confines, Flower Power, and GoT

On a road trip,  RM and I listen to music and frequently it is to James Taylor. I especially like his newest album, Before This World. I remember singing along with JT on our honeymoon/relocation journey to Los Angeles back in 1984.  We knew the lyrics to Fire and Rain, Sweet Baby James, Carolina In My Mind, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and Shower the People.  His familiar voice was and still is a comfort to us in uncertain times.

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Monday night, along with our growing brood, we softly sang along again to his music at his outdoor concert at Wrigley Field. It was a beautiful night in the ‘Friendly Confines’ as the music matched the mellow mood of an ideal summer evening in Chicago – a relief to us in our group escaping the Texas heat. While JT is legendary to our generation, our kids softly snickered, fogyish, his 10-piece band is the real deal full of horns, bass, percussion, fiddle, flute, sax and piano.  He also brought along Bonnie Raitt and his soulful session musician, Arnold McCuller. Memories of sitting in this intimate space under the iconic red sign, the fans, the groovy, flower power motif and the ivy-cladded brick walls, with our family, is indelible.

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Our Chicago week-ender celebrated RM’s December birthday without all the distraction of the holiday season.  We kayaked up and down the Chicago River, took pics in front of the Bean and the Buckingham Fountain, toured museums, picked our way through vintage shops, and gobbled down colossal burgers at Rocket Burger Bar on Clark Street in Wrigleyville.  We rented a house within a couple of blocks of the stadium from HomeAway and it met our families’ needs to perfection. Jimmy Buffett was also performing at Wrigley Field so Saturday night was filled with his parrot cladded fans as they fortified themselves at the local pubs before his show.  We just happened to walk by the entrance to the stadium when he and his followers belted out Margaritaville. It brought out goosebumps.

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While I thought the concert would be the highlight of the trip, the Sunday night season premiere of GoT (Game of Thrones for the uninitiated) took top honors.  The Cs got RM hooked several seasons ago on this fantasy drama and they, when together, throw Dothraki and High Valyrian vocabulary around as if they themselves are nomadic inhabitants from some long-lost sea. Worrisome, it took several hours to figure out how to access HBO from our rental (valar dohaeris), but with ingenuity, several degrees in engineering and computer programming, consultation with the internet, we watched the season opener, together, just as assuredly as winter is coming and just like home.

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Red Rooster

Red Rooster

I admire chef Marcus Samuelsson so when I planned a trip to NYC this summer, eating at the Red Rooster Harlem restaurant was top of my list of ‘must do’s’, along with touring the Guggenheim, seeing a Broadway show, and visiting the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I recently added to my growing cookbook collection, Samuelsson’s beautifully illustrated cookbook, Red Rooster Harlem, which includes his recipes, stories about his life in Harlem, but he also provides an eclectic playlist to accompany each section.  For example, there is the The Bar Playlist for the cocktail section, the Big Day Playlist for the entrée section, and it goes on like that throughout the book.  Songs by Wynton Marsalis, Roberta Flack,  Miles Davis and Erykah Badu make his list of favorites.

The Red Rooster did not disappoint.  I loved the vibe of the place with the multitude of bright and colorful paintings all over the walls, tons of homage to the red rooster in the decor, hip and helpful staff, amazing and creative dishes and oh, yeah, awesome soulful live music.   We met for brunch on a Sunday and the place was hopping with customers of all stripes and sorts dining in twos, fours, eights and more.  There was even a family celebrating a reunion down in Ginny’s Supper Club (downstairs from the Red Rooster, and on my list for next visit to the Big Apple) with matchy-matchy t-shirts.  And everyone was so happy in the space – some places just make you smile and the Red Rooster is such a place.

We ordered the cornbread first. Correction,  I ordered the cornbread, a core recipe at the Rooster, the minute we sat down at the table. I had recently poured over the chef’s cookbook for items I had to taste. This decadent cornbread topped the list.  I didn’t even ask my table mates what they wanted to order. I said, “an order of cornbread, please,” to our attentive waiter.  The bread, filled with fresh corn, aleppo pepper and coarse yellow cornmeal arrived quickly to our table, warm and crunchy, served with honey sage butter and an amazing tomato jam. I tried to share.

We sampled several items off the brunch menu including the Fried Yard Bird, Chicken and Waffles and the Mac and Greens –  all were superb – cooked to perfection.  The Yard Bird came with sweet potatoes and collard greens, the waffles and perfectly fried chicken were paired with smoked maple syrup, rooster hot sauce and house made pickles. The bird is the heartbeat of the restaurant and grounds their menu.  They make use of every part including chicken liver butter, chicken liver omelette, and Wild Wild Wings.  They even fold cracklings into their deviled eggs and serve it with duck salami. Yes, I am definitely trying that hat trick.

Chef Samuelsson is also a pickle guy so of course this Czech girl is enamored with his cooking. For dessert, we shared a bowl of mini-donuts filled with strawberry-orange preserves which was paired with chocolate dipping sauce and whipped cream.  So damn good.

The live jazz, including a strolling songstress, upped the funk of the place.  Every race and every hue is welcome at the Red Rooster. The legendary Apollo Theater is just around the corner from the restaurant and there are several Metro stops nearby to make your trip to the Red Rooster an easy journey from other parts of NYC.

Urban Walks in NYC

Urban Walks in NYC

When RM and I visit a city, we like to walk the streets, feel the pavement under our feet, and begin to understand what makes this unique urban space tick.  When we walk, there is time to appreciate the architecture, to observe the river, to revel in the nooks and crannies and hidden sight lines. A peek-a-boo into the city soul.

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Our tour guide, C1

The traffic stops and starts, sidewalk cafes beckon us over as we look for the past in the shuttered windows and trellised ledges.  The smell of spices and exhaust fumes mix along with the potent piles of rubbish oozing the remains of the day. We wince and turn away but continue our journey across Midtown streets in the light rain.  51st to 49th to catch a risqué Broadway musical or down to lower Manhattan to pose with the Fearless Girl facing down the Wall Street Bull, stepping carefully around and over obstacles, avoiding the flagpole banner-bearing pied pipers.

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City trash, everywhere

A good wander unveils many truths and unexpected gems of discovery some painful to observe like the crack zombies stumbling beside us on our way to Red Rooster brunch or the morning after remnants from a night too hard on Times Square. Getting lost is part and parcel to the urban walking experience.  Getting found again with someone you love is like renewing your vows all over again.

Nowhere is walking more surreally varied and trance-inducing than in New York City. We boomerang from Harlem to Greenpoint to Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side and back down again to the Brooklyn Bridge. We cross the East River by ferry to Smorgasburg, an open-air food mecca held every Saturday in an empty lot on the Williamsburg waterfront.  It is like a summer rock festival for foodies both alluring and sweaty.  We balance small plates on a rock ledge abandoned from a Domino sugar refinery while sipping fresh coconut water directly out of it’s cracked, greenish hull.  The whole place smells like Marrakesh, I imagine. We trek on through the heat to the cool insides of the Artists and Fleas to find a treasure or two.

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RM & I on the Brooklyn Bridge

We shuffle slowly through the Guggenheim, spiraling down beside masterpieces by Klee and Pollack inspired to try a sketch or two.  We look up at the Freedom Tower and down into the reflecting pools and worry when will it happen again, and where, and how many. We rest in Central Park until the algal bloom drives us up and out for gasps of fresher air and back to our pod for the night.

Reinvigorated in the morning after a good night’s sleep, clean socks, and a NY bagel, we complete one of the most popular walks in NYC.  We cross over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, feed our pizza pie-hole at the popular Juliana’s, located next to the more famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, and then journey back over in the moonlight with a throng of tourists snapping selfies from every angle while strolling the crowded boardwalk straddling this proud American architectural feat. Back to the pod by Metro this time, too tired for another trek uptown by foot.

C1 joins us on our walking itinerary as she is living in the Big Apple this summer and is excited to see all that NYC offers in two short months.  We took the Metro when prudent but enjoyed strolls along High Line Park one late afternoon before the summer heat wave necessitated a call for Uber. Too hot to walk even to the nearest Metro station.

Whether seeing the city on foot, by subway, taxi or ferry, the important part is to experience travel with the ones you love, even if it is only you. So, find yourself a path to follow and learn to walk again. You’ve waited too long. Happy Independence Day, sweet travelers.

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My niece joins us for bruch at the Red Rooster
Biochemist in the Kitchen

Biochemist in the Kitchen

Shirley Corriher’s book, Cookwise, is one of the cookbooks in my collection gifted to me by C2.  I was flipping through the section on bread baking recently and noted that in nearly all of her recipes, Shirley calls for using ¼ of a vitamin C tablet along with ¼ of a cup of crushed ice chips into the bread making process. I read her bio and learned that she is a trained biochemist and consults with major food companies to improve their recipes.  She is very specific in her instructions too which is so helpful especially if you are just beginning to learn to develop bread.  C3, home recently for Father’s Day, made her first loaf of bread from scratch following one of the Cookwise recipes and it turned out soft and yeasty.

The results reflect her attention to detail.  For example, instead of stating that we should stir until combined, Shirley tells us to mix on low-speed with a mixer for five minutes.  She tells us if the flour should be chilled or room temperature. She teaches us why to use vitamin C in our dough.  I learned from her that vitamin C is a natural dough conditioner. It is the only enhancer allowed by 100% organic bread makers and even the rigid French bread laws allow for a little bit of vitamin C. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, improves the qualities of rustic loaves, making them lighter in texture while, at the same time, helping to marginally decrease the overall mix time, which is a good thing for dough.


Next month,  C3 and I are headed to Norwich, Vermont, to take a week-long pastry class from the professional bakers at King Arthur Flour Baking School.  We expect to hone our skills at pastry and learn more about the science of cooking.  Maybe we will start a pop-up business of our own.  All I can say is — BAKE!


Here is an example of one of her bread recipes using the secret ingredient, vitamin C and rice.

Rice Bread

  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
  • I T light brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water (115 degrees)
  • 1.5 Cups and 1 3/4 Cup bread flour
  • 1/4 500- milligram vitamin C tablet, crushed
  • 1/4 cup crushed ice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 cup cooked long-grain rice (white or brown)
  • 1 T oil for bowl
  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 large egg, beaten

Stir the yeast and brown sugar into the warm water in a bowl of a heavy-duty mixer.  Let stand for 2 minutes, until foam appears, indicating yeast is alive and well.  Add 1.5 cups bread flour.  With the paddle blade, beat on low-medium for 4 minutes to beat air into the dough.  Let the sponge sit for 30 minutes to 2.5 hours for improved flavor and texture.

Remove the paddle blade and insert the dough hook into the mixer.  Add vitamin C, crushed ice, salt, oil and remaining 1 3/4 cup bread flour.  Knead on low-medium speed for 5 minutes, until the dough is very elastic.  Add parmesan, cayenne, and rice.  Work into dough by hand or in the machine.  The dough should be very soft and slightly sticky.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat with the oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until slightly more than doubled in volume, about 1.5 hours. To keep the plastic from sticking to the dough, spray the side of plastic touching the dough with cooking spray first.

Punch dough down with a closed fist.  Reach to the back of the bowl under the dough and pull the bottom of the dough up and over the center.  Repeat the same action at the front of the bowl, then turn the dough out onto the counter.  Using both hands with a gentle cupping and tucking action, shape the dough into a smooth, tight round.  Grab the sides of the round and stretch it sideways into an oval.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave on the counter for 15 minutes.  The dough is now ready to shape.

Cup the dough with both hands, fingers spread out behind the loaf on either side and thumbs in front of the loaf.  Press your thumbs into the dough and down against the table.  Then pull or tuck in part of the bottom half of the dough.  At the same time, pull the top of the dough tight and forward with your fingers.  Now move your thumbs down slightly and press down and in again to knead and tuck again.  Repeat this motion two or three times.  The ends of the loaf go down in a slight taper,  Tuck them under, then pinch the ends and bottom seam together.

Spray a 5 x 9 x 3 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and place the loaf in, seam side down.  Brush with beaten egg. Let the dough rise until slightly more than doubled, about an hour.

About 30 minutes before the dough is fully risen, place a baking stone on a shelf in the lowest slot of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees for at least 30 minutes. About 5 minutes before baking, turn the oven down to 375 degrees and carefully place a shallow pan with 1/2 inch of boiling water on the oven floor.

Brush bread again with the egg and place the pan directly on the hot stone.  Bake for 45-55 minutes.  Remove the loaf from the pan.  The loaf should be very brown and sound hollow when thumped from the bottom.  If using an instant-read thermometer it should read at least 200 degrees in the middle of the loaf.

 

Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?

Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?

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Just days after RM and I were hitched for life, we moved to the City of Angeles so that he could embark on his early career as an aerospace design engineer in beautiful Burbank. The first month, we searched for a suitable place to live.  The one major requirement made by RM was space for a woodworking shop to accommodate his budding interest in furniture making.  This desire was fueled by his recent purchase of a Shopsmith Mark 5 multipurpose tool.  Fond of your Swiss Army Knife and its potential uses?  Then the Mark 5 is a tool for you.  It is a sander, a drill press, a router, a lathe, a table saw and more — all in one Inspector Gadget inspired machine.  But it needs ample space to operate.

I had envisioned an apartment or condo in a complex with a nice pool surrounded by palm trees but instead we made one of the many compromises over the years in our marriage, and signed a lease to a small apartment near Los Feliz Boulevard in Glendale next to Griffith Park and just a hop and skip over to Hollywood.  I liked the location, he got a shop.

Our apartment was located over a garage in the back of a residential home occupied by another renter. The place was well-maintained, clean, in a low to middle class neighborhood, and had a back lot for a small garden which included a lovely lemon tree. RM voted for this living arrangement because he had the rights to the garage below the apartment for his wood shop. Of course, our cars parked outside in the elements as they continue to do so to this day due to his hobby, along with his propensity for collecting parts and raw materials.  I am not complaining as our home is filled with his lovely work but just stating facts to emphasize his need for space.

When we signed the lease, we didn’t realize the proximity to a very busy Taco Bell that was located just on the other side of the cement wall.  We also didn’t realize how thin the walls were in this apartment.  Not only did I get to hear the sounds of a busy woodworking shop below –  that Mark 5 could put out some white noise – but the fatal malady to our happy first home was the amplified voices of the fast food orders coming through the speaker at the Taco Bell discussing options like Nachos Bell Grande or “do you want a drink with that?” at all hours of the day and night.  I have to give the staff at the Bell credit, they were consistent with their greeting of “Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?” or “Would you like hot, medium or mild sauce with that?”  The sounds of the orders and multiple options over and over again was akin to the annoyance one gets with lots of repetitive noise like a person chewing loudly, a workmate snapping gum, water dripping in your sink or the constant clearing of a loved ones throat.

We both developed the condition which I later learned is called misophonia or literally, hatred of sound.  Not much research had been done on this sickness but the sound of fast food ordering through the loud-speaker even to this day triggers the condition and continues to bug us both. When we hear the echoing voice through the speaker, it triggers anxiety, our heart rate goes up, we might sweat a little and then our usual tendency is to just get away from the noise as quickly as possible.

Today, we avoid ordering through the drive-thru and instead opt to park and go in. We never eat at Taco Bell. It is the amplified voice that still sends us both up the wall even thirty or more years later.  So my advise to you all is to be sure you sleep one night in any place you pick to rent or buy before signing a contract, so that you avoid a morning greeting of “Welcome to Taco Bell, may I take your order?”

 

 

Motherhood Memories

Motherhood Memories

Memories of my mom.

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  1.  She did a lot of laundry including ironing sheets before cotton blend and polyester came on the market.
  2. She favored cooking casseroles.
  3. She had great legs.
  4. She was patient.
  5. She let me style her hair.
  6. She read a lot of books about Watergate.
  7. She loved me.
  8. She let me jump on my bed.
  9. She liked the television show, Dark Shadows.
  10. She loved gardening.

She helped all of her brood learn the importance of making great memories.  Miss you everyday, Mom, but a little bit of you is in all of us.

Happy Mother’s Day 2017!

Jute Flower Pot

Jute Flower Pot

Stymied by a steady, cold rain this week-end barring the garden gate to our Mom and Daughter grass seeding and sod project,  C3 and I audibled for crafts and wine while we waited for the Kansas April showers to rumble through.


We played a lot of frisbee with Scout too.


We drove through torrents of rain to the Depot for sod in case the weather cleared and we also picked up a cheap plastic hanging pot, potting soil and jute twine.  All females in my brood have glue guns but you will need one for this project.  All Texans pack glue guns.


This craft is perfect for two.  One to operate the glue gun and adhere the twine and another to turn the pot. Just check to be sure the twine is lining up close and there aren’t a lot of gaps. We wrapped the plastic hanging basket wires too for that extra something something.


Thank goodness the sun finally peeked out so we could get outside and enjoy nature, seeding and sodding a lawn and planting spring flowers, pole beans and finding the perfect spot for our DIY jute pot.