Post # 40 Travels Abroad # 2 Naples

August 31, 2012 at 12:44 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

For those who don’t know it, Naples is in Italy, near the island of Capri, about an eight-hour train trip south of Rome.  If you view Italy as a leg (which most people do), Naples is just below the knee.    The hotel was directly in front of the causeway leading to the Castle Dell’Ovo.  From my hotel room, I could see Mt. Vesuvius.  It was an amazing trip.  Our hotel was centrally located so being the walker that I am, I ranged all over the city, getting to know the different neighborhoods and stores.

We had one lady on the trip with us who spoke passable spanish so could communicate in Italy fairly well.  To a point, anyway.  We went to a butcher the first weekend and I wanted a half pound of ham and a half pound of cheese.  I ended up with two and half pounds of each, and the ham wasn’t cooked.  Fortunately, the hotel staff were very understanding and turned it into a bunch of sandwiches for me and my team and themselves.

I ate like a pig on this trip because, well, it was Italy!  Italian food, you know?  The first day I was there, I went walking around and found a street fair.  I was by myself because the rest of the team were still sleeping off the excesses of the previous night that I had not been invited to (just got off the airplane, etc.)  So I wandered around the street fair watching the coming and going when suddenly I smelled the most mouth-watering aroma!  Someone was making fresh popcorn!  I followed my nose and bought a bag.  I jammed a handful in my mouth and had to stop myself from spitting it out.  It was covered with sugar!  Ugh!  I moved away from the vendor and tossed the bag in the trash.  How disappointing!

One evening, after I’d been there a few weeks, I went to a palazzo several block behind the hotel.  I found a small gelato shop, ordered chocolate, and sat eating my ice cream while watching people moving about on their own business.  Have you ever had gelato?  OMG!!  There are a number scientific reasons why gelato is different from ice cream, but the only one that matter is that gelato tastes so much BETTER!!!  I don’t eat a lot of ice cream.  I like it, but it sometimes affects me badly.  But this was so good!  If you ever have the opportunity to have some real Italian gelato, jump at it.

It was Naples that invented pizza according to people who live in Naples.  I will say that the best pizza I’ve ever had was in Naples.  I’ve had pizza all over the world (remember curry pizza?), and even all over Italy.  I still remember the pizza in Naples fondly.  I used to buy a cheese pizza on the way home from work, and sit in the hotel room eating lukewarm pizza marvelling at the taste.  The crust was the perfect thickness to provide a perfect bite, and had a flavor all its own.  The sauce was a sauce only the Italians can create.  Fresh mozzarella probably made that day from cows milked that morning.  And toppings that would make you cry they tasted so good.  One thing that always made me chuckle was the mushrooms.  I like a lot of mushrooms on my pizza and no place that I’ve been to has ever put enough of them on.  At least, not enough for me.  In Italy, they take one large mushroom and slice it paper-thin then spread it out over the entire face of the pizza.  There’s mushroom in every bite.

Naples was where I was introduced to fried calamari.  I went to a restaurant in front of the castle across the street with my team.  They all told me to try the fried calamari.  The Rule raised its ugly head and I ordered fried calamari.  I watched the chef go to the side of the causeway and lift a trap.  He pulled out a live squid, butchered it and tossed the entrails, ect. over the side and went back to his fire.  He gently sliced the calamari into bite-sized pieces, rolled them in flour, fried them up, and brought the plate out to me.  Start to finish, probably no more than eight minutes.  Only once before have I ever had fish that fresh.  It was so good, but so salty!  The waitress, an older woman with the indefinable air of a mama, told me to squeeze lemon over it.  It not only gave it that bright citrus flavor, but it cut the salt and made the whole plate wonderful.  Later in the trip, I tried calamari in different ways, but always went back to the fried.

The office building we worked at had a cafeteria staffed by two women who took a maternal attitude toward the dislocated Americans.  Every day you went to the cafeteria to see what they were planning to make and if you wanted it, you told them so they could get a head count and not make too much.  If you didn’t want it, you could order off a set menu of sandwiches and salads.  At lunchtime, you paid and collected your dinner and sat and ate while the two ladies watched, smiling maternally.  They bought everything fresh that day.  Every Friday was fish day, and usually meant tuna.  Don’t even think about putting cheese on fish!  (Ice in drinks would kill you too.)  We had the most amazing meals, and oddly enough, my favorite (which I’m still trying to recreate) was white beans and pasta.  Tremendous stuff.

One of the team decided to lose weight while on the trip.  He chose to eat nothing but salad.  Every salad I saw him eat also had a quarter to a half cup of olive oil, a handful of cheese, and croutons on it.  And he added Italian bread and butter to the whole meal.  At the end of the trip, he moaned that he didn’t seem to have lost any weight at all.

I’ll tell more about Naples on another post.  I visited a lot of local sights I’d like to tell you about.  In the meantime, try gelato!

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Post # 39 Kids in the Kitchen

August 29, 2012 at 10:38 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 39 Kids in the Kitchen

Kids in the Kitchen?  What’s that all about?  Kids are funny creatures.  They want to be where their parents are.  The smaller they are, the more likely that is.  As they get older, that changes until they can’t stand to be on the same planet as their parents.  Then they come around again, and it all balances out.  I’ve told you before that I started learning to cook when I was thirteen.  But I actually was cooking long before that.  So were my sibs, Older Sister and Little Brother.  Getting kids invovled in the kitchen early helps them learn a lot of lessons which we won’t go into here, but the real question is how?  How to get kids involved and keep them engaged from the beginning of a recipe to the end?

First, it helps to make something they like.  When my mom said to pick any recipe in the cookbook and we’d make it, I picked my favorite.  So it makes sense to select something that they’re going to like.  Either let them select the recipe, or select something you know they’re going to like.  Years ago, I was a volunteer big brother and my little brother wanted to learn how to make MacNCheeze (as he called it.)  I told him okay, as long as he ate what came out of the kitchen.  We started with the box mix, then I showed him how to make it from scratch.  His mom told me later that he’s been eating from scratch ever since.

When I was a kid and learning to cook, there were no cookbooks for kids.  Heck, there were barely any articles in the kids magazines about cooking!  The closest you could come was in the boy scout or cub scout manuals.  They had articles about cooking outdoors on an open fire, but there was nothing like they have now where you focus on nutrition and start preparing at home.  My mom worked at a job outside the house and during the summers were left to our own devices a lot.  My older sister would be stuck baby sitting, but she had her own pursuits so my little brother and I were on our own a lot.  One day for lunch, he wanted scrambled eggs.  Plucky trooper that he was (and still is) he broke the eggs into a frying pan and started doing what he’d seen mom do.  I looked over after a while and said, “Fire, you need fire.  Turn the stove on.”  He loved the scrambled eggs.  I think he still loves scrambled eggs.  The next time he made scrambles, he added blue food coloring to turn the eggs green.  He was in a Dr. Suess mood and wanted green eggs and ham.  Couldn’t figure out how to make ham green so he settled for the eggs being green.

When kids are in the kitchen, the potential for disaster is high.  You have to guide them carefully throughout the whole process.  And you need to instill good habits early.  My mom and I discovered “Clean as you go” very late in life.  I think that’s the second most important cooking lesson.  The first is read the recipe three times: 1 – to get a sense of the recipe; 2 – to check ingredients; and 3 – timing and technique.  However, if you’re making something the kid(s) will like, they’ll have fun and follow the guidance.

There are a couple of things you can do that will push them along to becoming better cooks.  First, you can get them their own cookbook.  There are TONS of choices out there now.  I even have one called Green Eggs and Ham and is written like a Dr. Suess book and has recipes based on foods in his stories.  Loads of fun, and it will keep kids engaged since it’s something they’re already familiar with.  Second, help them create their on kitchen journal.  I wrote about the kitchen journal a few posts ago.  If it’s their own, they can start tracking success and failure, creating their own recipes, and start feeling the pride as they serve their own creations to their family.

There are thing you, as the teacher/mentor/guide have to have.  The first is patience.  Kids think differently and so what we would think is fairly obvious, to them is as skewed as a lightning bolt.  You’re going to have to show them something more than once.  Lots more, for some things.  The second thing you need is the knowledge that the goal is the journey not the destination.  That means that if things don’t turn out exactly right, if it tastes good and doesn’t kill anyone, it’s okay.  The cookies may not have spread as they should.  So what?  If they taste good, it’s all good.  If anyone is disappointed, they can try again in a few days.  Writing it down in the journal may help to find the error.

Kids in the Kitchen can be a blast.  It can be a joy.  It can be a blessing.  Eventually, it can be less work in the kitchen for you.

Post # 38 A Muppet Birthday

August 27, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 38 A Muppet Birthday

Today is my birthday, but we celebrated yesterday since it was easier.  Partner/spouse likes to put a theme to celebrations and this one was no different.  One Christmas/Yuletide, it was the year of Charlie Brown and I received gifts featuring the famous wishy washy pitcher.  Another year, it was Peanuts and I received gifts featuring all the other characters.  This birthday was a Muppet birthday.  I really like the muppets.

I’ve liked the muppets for decades.  I’ve seen every one of The Muppet Shows, and have seen every one of the Muppet’s movies.  I even have most of them on DVD or Blu-Ray.  I know most of the songs from their moves by heart.  I used to have their theme song as my ringtone until I switched phone carriers.

So this year, I got a bright red Animal t shirt, and Muppet-opoly.  Think Monopoly with a Muppets theme.  And I got Kermit’s autobiography.  It’s a hilarious send up of the whole Muppet mystique.  Partner/spouse made dinner and he grilled steaks, mashed potatoes, and grilled vegetables, then chilled and marinated them.  For dessert, he made individual berry tarts that were yummy!  The veggies he grilled were brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and green beans.  He also added sugar pea pods to the mix, but only blanched those.  It was all dressed in a simple vinaigrette.  With the leftovers, I’m making potato gnocchi tonight, and serving with the salad and a sauce made from olive oil and fresh basil and bacon!!

Thinking of birthdays, for some reason brought up a memory from years and years ago.  My birthday that year fell on the day my dad had to leave for Viet Nam.  He was a marine at the time, and there were no guarantees that he would be coming back.  So we did the birthday celebration the day before just like this year.  When I make a cake these days, I usually make a sheet cake.  It’s easiest.  Back then, all cakes were layer cakes, the layers stacked on top of each other.  My mom had a trick to keep the layers in place.  She would stick a few toothpicks through the layers.  On your birthday, whoever got a toothpick was your servant for the day.  You weren’t allowed to be mean, but the other person was required to do what you said.  So, after dad left on the plane, we went home and mom went to bed.  We kids had another piece of birthday cake, and my brother got a toothpick!  “You have to be my servant!” I said.  “Uh uh!” he protested.  “Do so!” I retaliated.  We turned to our sister.  She was older by three years, so she always settled these disputes.  “That only works on your birthday.” she said.  “It IS my birthday.” I replied.  So my little brother had to be my servant for the rest of the day.  Silly game, but there you are.

I’m going to leave the post today with the following recipe gleaned from the Muppet book I got yesterday.  It’s a variation of Shoo Fly Pie, a pie so sweet you continually have to shoo the flies away from it.  This is called  Fly Shoe Pie, and apparently Kermit’s mom was famous for it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 heaping Tbl algae
  • 1 pinch fungus (your favorite type)
  • 4 cups pond water
  • 3/4 cups sunflower seeds, roasted or not
  • 1 large dollop honey
  • 1 shoe, any size
  • 3 cups fresh caught flies

Directions:

Grate the algae and pinch the fungus.  If the Algae is grating on you, pinch it too.  Carefully separate the pond water from the pond scum.  Save the pond scum for later.  It makes a delicious dessert topping.  While nibbling on the sunflower seeds – which have nothing to do with the recipe but sure are mighty tasty – use your doloper to dollp honey all over the shoe.  (A loafer is perfect for casual meals, but a high heel or wingtip works best for formal dining.  If you’re planning to eat and run, use a sneaker.)  Sprinkle 3 cups fresh caught flies over the sticky shoe.  Serve with chilled pond water and enjoy!

If anyone decides to try this, please let me know how it turns out!

(recipe from Before You Leap: A Frog’s-Eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons by Kermit the Frog.)

Post # 37 Triple Ds

August 24, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

It’s coming up on my birthday weekend, so partner/spouse decided to start the festivities early and took me to breakfast today as the start for our normal weekly “errands day”.  We normally do this on Saturday, but the weekend schedule is iffy due to work so today was the day.  As we were leaving the garage, he asked where I’d like to go.  Being a fan of diners of the “hole in the wall” variety, I suggested one we’d been to about a month ago and had a good time at.  He nodded, then brightened up and said, “Or we could go to the one Dad and I went to in Norman that one time.”  Since they’d talked about a couple of times, I knew which one he meant.  So I agreed and off we went.

It’s in the “old town” section, which is about three blocks long and two blocks wide.  There are a lot of esoteric shops, tattoo parlors, high end furniture stores, and a few lawyers offices.  The section starts by renaming the street James Garner Parkway.  Apparently, he must have grown up nearby.  We also seen Toby Keith Parkway, and Micky Mantle Parkway.  It’s kind of fun explaining who these people are to partner/spouse.

So we park and walk the block and a half to the The Diner.  It’s about eighteen feet wide, and very deep.  Booths line one side, the kitchen and counter line the other side.  A very narrow walkway goes down the center.  The entry way is about five feet deep.  It’s always crowded.  So we walk in and the lady at the cash register smiles at us and tells us to sit wherever there’s a free space.  We find a booth near the back and plop down into it.  For being so small, it gave a great impression of airiness and space.  The decor mostly had fish in it, but fish wasn’t on the menu.  Very odd.

It was standard diner fare.  One side was all breakfast, the other side was all lunch.  I didn’t notice what time they closed, but there were no options marked Dinner or Entree.  He ordered a standard breakfast, but breaking habit, I asked the waitress what she recommended in the way of a burger.  She told me about one called the Southside that was a half pound burger on a toasted bun, with cheese, pickles, sliced ham, barbeque sauce, and mayonnaisse.  I’m not a big fan of either mayonnaisse or barbeque sauce, but figured, what the heck! and ordered it.  She said it was very good so I decided to trust her.

The clientele was about what you’d figure for a small diner in an “artsy” area.  All the staff sported visible tattoos.  I think we were the only people in the place who didn’t.  I have a tattoo on my right shoulder, but it isn’t visible when I’m wearing a shirt which is all the time.  The food arrived fairly quickly and was DELICIOUS!  That burger was amazing!  Hot, greasy, melty cheese, a ton of pickles, barbeque sauce tang, it was great!  Everything was made fresh.  It was truly a good experience.  Partner/spouse said, “This is one for Triple D.”

If you don’t know Triple D, you either don’t watch The Food Network, or you don’t watch it very much.  Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (Triple D, get it?) is a fun show with an over-the-top host, Guy Fierie, who is a lot of fun, entertaining, and pretty much up for anything.  My only problem with him is he doesn’t like gays, but who’s perfect?  He goes all over the country showcasing those restaurants that are off the beaten track, but have people beating down their doors because the food is good and the ambiance is amazing.  And this diner was certainly one for the show.

As partner/spouse said this I saw this:

I had to laugh.  In case you have troulbe seeing it, it says “Guy Ate Here” and has The Food Network logo, Guy’s autograph, and a stylized picture of Guy Fieri.  I don’t know if Guy ever did Triple D there, but he certainly ate there.  When the meal was over, I asked the waitress if it was okay for me to take the picture and she just laughed.  “Sure, hon!” She replied.  “We get asked that all the time!”

On a different note:  Please remember that if there’s ever anything you want to ask me about food or my travels, or just about me, please feel free to do so.  If you use the comment section, I will reply in the comments section.  If you use my email address, please reference the blog in the subject line so I don’t think it’s spam.

Enjoy!

Post # 36 I’ll Have A Cappuccino, Please!

August 22, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Dedicated to the principals!  Names changed to avoid law suits!  But the story really happened.

A few decades ago, I worked in a sales position and the store I worked at was located in one of the popular malls in the area.  This was at a time when coffee bars, specialty coffees, and the like were becoming popular.  Starbucks was well known, but still not everywhere, and certainly not in malls.  Fast foods were still serving standard black coffee with creamers and sugars if you asked.  And the thought of paying $7 for a melted candy bar in a cup was outrageous.

Well, for me it was outrageous.  I don’t like coffee.  I think it doesn’t live up to its own advertising.  The smell of roasted coffee beans is wonderful.  Fresh brewed coffee smells like the best stuff on Earth!  The taste, however, leaves a LOT to be desired.  I don’t like coffee; I don’t like mocha; I don’t like any of that stuff.  And don’t tell me that coffee with chocolate is good, and that it enhances chocolate because it doesn’t.  As many times as people have said “you can’t taste the coffee in it” I’ve tasted the coffee in it and don’t like it.  (My partner/spouse is the same way about salmon, but he’s deranged.)

So one of my employees (I’ll call him Buster) fell in love with the whole specialty coffee craze.  Every evening before he clocked in, he would stop at the mall’s coffee store and order a Double Chocolate Cappuccino.  It always smelled wonderful, but I was never taken in by it.  Now, Buster was a young guy, mid twenties, and in the Army.  He was a good looking, well built young man, and all the girls in the mall were crazy about him.  He was on the way to being married, though, and let the girls flirt but never followed through.  The girls at the coffee store would load his coffee with chocolate and whipped cream at no extra cost and he would just lap it up.

One evening, another employee looked at Buster and said, “That smells really good.  Can I have a taste?”  This kid (I’ll call him Toby) took a healthy slug and said, “Wow!  What IS that?”

Buster laughed and said, “It’s a cappuccino.”

Toby went on and on about how good it was until finally he turned to me and asked, “Can I go get one?”  It was a slow night so I agreed.  Turning back to Toby, he asked, “What do I ask for again?”

Buster said, “Just tell them to fix you one like Buster’s and they’ll know what to do.”

Toby came back with a cup topped high with whipped cream and a whipped cream mustache.  Toby was a young kid, only 17.  He hadn’t worked for me for very long.  He was hired as Christmas help but was good at his job so I kept him on.  He was very proud of the fact that he was in a professional job where he had to wear a tie instead of working fast food like most of his friends.  He drank that down, savoring every swallow, and in a very short time asked if he could go get another.  I nodded, remembering the days when I could drink pure sugar and not gain weight.

The following week, Toby showed up for work.  Buster was helping a customer, and I was doing paperwork.  Toby stood at the counter, drumming his fingers lightly, acting very impatient.  When the store had finally cleared out, he turned to Buster and said, “I’m mad at you!”

Buster was surprised.  “What did I do?”

“I went out to dinner with my parents on Sunday.  After dinner was finished, the waitress asked if anyone wanted coffee or cappuccino.  I was trying to impress my parents so I said that yeah, I’d like a cappuccino.”

“Were they impressed?” I asked.

“Yes, they were.  Dad even talked about his son growing up.  The waitress set down their coffees and my cappuccino.  I took a big swallow.”

I started laughing because I knew where it was going.  “Good stuff?” I asked.

“No!  I asked her, what the heck is this?”

“It was cappuccino, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“That’s what she said.  So I asked why didn’t it taste like chocolate!  Every cappuccino I’d ever had tasted like chocolate.  She said because I hadn’t ordered it with chocolate.  It was terrible stuff!”

“I looked like an idiot.” he finished.

 

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