It’s Raining Men!

Alleluia!

Today- 4/20- was the day my new grandson was due to be born, but he came six days early. Phoenix Lee Hodges was born on April 14th at 11:46 a.m. I already had Wyatt since I picked him up from school and he spent the night Tuesday, when A.J. called Wednesday at 5 a.m. to say she was heading to the hospital and was in labor. Six hours later, Wyatt’s little brother and my third grandson was born, all pink and cute, with long arms and legs and looking a lot like Wyatt did as a newborn.

Last week, between having Wyatt and watching Liam, I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Tuesday night I’d planned on making Yellowtail Snapper for dinner, so pulled it out of the freezer. It smelled a little fishy (but it is fish, after all), but still smelled fishy after I marinated it and sauteed it in butter. I’d boiled sweet potatoes to serve as a side, but as I was putting them in the microwave to heat up, I dropped the glass bowl and it shattered; pureed sweet potatoes and glass shards went flying everywhere.

“Let’s order pizza”, I said to Zeke and threw the fish and the potatoes in the garbage. So dinners this week, since I had Wyatt, were a matter of survival, not luxury. Wyatt had Chef Boyardee Spaghettios, Ravioli and when those were gone, pasta with my red sauce for dinner. Wyatt was SO excited about having a new little brother.

Wyatt, the pasta monster.

I’m going to look up to him and he’s going to look up to me. Well, since he’ll be in a crib, maybe he will look up to me more.

Wyatt said.

He, of course, told his friends at school about this big event. One of his friends told his Mom he would give her a sticker if she would put a baby in her belly. Big incentive.

I know it’s not like such a big deal having a baby.

Wyatt said.

Seemingly trying to minimize what had just happened.

“Oh, but it is,” I said. “Having a baby is probably the biggest deal in the world.”

I like being busy, but not over-scheduled, but this week was NUTS and I felt like I was doing everything half-assed. We got stuck in Washington D.C. until Monday, so had to tell my tennis captain I couldn’t play in our 55+ match Monday and when I got home, realized I was scheduled to play in another Beta match Thursday, on a day I was supposed to watch Liam. I e-mailed my captain, told her I couldn’t play and apologized. I also told my tennis partner I’d double-booked.

While I was watching Liam Thursday I got a phone call from my partner.

“Didn’t you say you weren’t playing today?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Well Theresa (our captain) thought you were.”

“What?”

I could then hear Holly say “Go get your tennis shoes,” and we hung up.

Luckily it worked out and they even won their match against my old team of Riviera. When I finally got to check my emails Friday, I discovered I’d emailed another Theresa (from my garden club), instead of my tennis captain, about not being able to play. She emailed me back saying she had no idea what I was talking about. Duh!

Wyatt had Pete the Cat day and a pizza party at school on Friday, so we went to Target to get a yellow shirt for him to wear. I also let him pick a toy for himself (a torturous experience because he had to look at every toy), got a new booster seat to replace his car seat, and I let him pick out a present for the baby. He choose a pacifier with a stuffed sloth attached. At home, I glued green and red buttons on his yellow shirt (from a Pete the Cat book) and he looked so cute Friday morning, heading off to school and joining other yellow shirted pre-schoolers.

I picked him up early from school so we could go meet the new baby. He tried giving me directions to his condo on Brickell, which I’ve only been to twice. I Wazed it, but also needed gas.

“No Gigi, you need to turn here. I promise you, if you listen to me you’ll be there in no time. And there’s a gas station nearby.”

He kept insisting I listen to him until I finally said: “Wyatt- enough!”

Then I heard soft sobbing in the back seat and turned back to see Wyatt crying in his new, big boy booster seat. I felt terrible.

“I’m sorry Wyatt, but Gigi is very stressed out right now and I just need to find my way.”

It had been an eventful, but also very stressful week and all the things I do to relieve stress- walking, writing and meditating- I had no time to do. We arrived at the condo, where his Dad met us downstairs and took us up to go meet his little brother. He ran into the apartment and was so excited, rubbing together his freshly washed hands with anticipation. He got to hold him, but was a little turned off by the umbilical cord.

“What is that thing?” he asked.

A.J. explained what it was and Wyatt said “He’s losing a little of his cuteness for me because of that.”

I held the baby, so small (like a cucumber according to Wyatt) with straight, light brown hair and full beautiful lips. A.J. took some photos of me with the new baby; I had Wyatt join us, as I didn’t want him to feel left out. I’d brought over a dinner for A.J., Justin and Wyatt- baked pasta with sausage, salad and garlic bread. I hugged Wyatt goodbye, told him to call me on his Alexa if he ever needed to talk and left the little family alone. And breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed to the Keys.

To tell you the truth, I am a bit overwhelmed by it all. It was an eventful week, filled with twists and turns. It was also a wonderful week, so I’m overwhelmed with joy, happiness and hope for the future, as well. Because with three grandsons, what other choice do I have?

Up Next: Smashed Potato Appetizers

Puff Pastry Fails (and Successes)

I ordered a tennis skirt for my summer league. It arrived but when I tried it on, was too tight, so I visited the store’s website to return it got into a live chat with a Tennis Warehouse staff member. I typed in the little bubble:

“I need to return my skirt because it’s too small. Covid.”

me.

She answered back

“I’m so sorry! I hope you feel better soon.”

tennis warehouse chat person.

And I answered back:

No, Covid weight gain.

me.

She ha ha’d me. I’m not even sure if my current extra pounds is even COVID related, although apparently the average weight gain during lockdown in 2019 was 1 1/2 pounds a week, which resulted in gaining 18 pounds over the course of the Pandemic. When I wrote last year of the COVID 19 (lbs), apparently I wasn’t far off. I don’t think I’ve gained 19 pounds, but I haven’t gotten on a scale in ages, so who knows?

I can’t even blame Covid; I think it was more the Holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, even Easter with Honeybaked Ham, Buttermilk biscuits, Potatoes gratin, three salads and two desserts was a gut buster. And then there’s been my frequent ice cream experiments, filled with calorie-dense heavy cream, sugar and eggs; the little containers of delight irresistibly calling to me from my freezer. Caramel Crack may be my so-far favorite. Also, just celebrating my survival and finally getting my second vaccine (another glass of Prosecco, please) has been cause for over-indulging.

It seems like while I’d tried to watch my eating habits during Covid, now that the end is near (we hope), I’ve been eating with abandon. Celebrating the end of the Pandemic as we know it.

Which brings me to a recipe I tried the other night for an Asparagus Tart. Apparently it’s trending, either on Tik Toc, Instagram or other social media outlets so I felt, as Foodie in Miami, I needed to give it a try. I wasn’t sure which one to make, so picked a Martha Stewart recipe. You can’t go wrong with Martha, right?

Martha Stewart’s Asparagus Tart.

It was a simple recipe, using fresh asparagus, which are peaking now and scream Spring! Puff pastry, rolled out into a rectangle is baked, removed from the oven and sprinkled with Gruyere Cheese. As the cheese is semi-melting, trimmed asparagus is layered on top, tip to end alternating, and then baked again. The result?

It was fine (and if you’re a woman, you know this means more than it appears at face value.) The crunchy pastry was topped with the melted cheese, which was just kind of oily and one-note. The asparagus did add a brightness to the dish, but overall I just felt it was kind of blah and not something I would make again. It needed some lemon, herbs, variety, creaminess. A drizzle of lemon creme fraiche would’ve been welcome, or a different kind of cheese. Plus, I don’t feel it qualifies as dinner, more as a heavy appetizer, so I added ham and fruit (Easter leftovers) to my plate.

Dinner.

When I researched other Asparagus Tart recipes, the variety I’d been seeking was exactly what they offered. One by the Food Network had a lemony spread of marscapone cheese, chives and tarragon and another by Melissa Clark (staff writer for New York Times Food) had goat cheese, tarragon, lemon zest and nutmeg. Now that’s what I’m talking about! So maybe, I’ll give it another try.

But, in the meantime, this puff pastry recipe reminded me of an appetizer I used to make all the time for my tennis Christmas Parties, which people loved. It’s an Ina Garten recipe called Savory Palmiers, with sun dried tomatoes and pesto, so the green and red went well for Christmas, but I’ve also made it for Valentine’s Day, as it comes in a heart shape.

Savory Palmiers.

Whatever the occasion, the crunchy, buttery, savory bites go well with a chilled glass of sparkling wine. And it can basically be made ahead and baked right before serving, but do remember to defrost the Puff Pastry in the fridge the night before making. Of course, eating these appetizers (and it makes 60!) isn’t going to help me at all with my COVID (?) weight gain.

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

R.E.M.

Resy Drive-Thru Event

After hours on the phone with a very nice American Express concierge (Nicole), I was able to score reservations to this unique, drive-thru event, held on March 18th in Downtown Miami. Ten of the best chefs in Miami prepared small dishes to sample, in the safety and comfort of your own car. We arrived on time, had to wait about 10 minutes and then were flagged in to enter. Four cars at a time, in two entrances, were allowed, and each car had the same server the entire time.

First, our temperatures were taken, with a non-contact thermomater, then we were asked our choice of still or sparkling water and handed a bag with different brochures, including one describing all the dishes and recipes for them. You were supposed to be able to download music to accompany the different courses, but I couldn’t get it to work and no one could tell me how to resolve the problem. I just gave up and there was live music playing anyway, so it didn’t matter much.

Band entertaining guests in cars in Downtown Miami.

A long wooden tray was handed to us, along with bamboo cutlery in a little pack and then the courses started. Of course, the first courses stand out more in my memory because, as I ate I got less hungry and the dishes started to blend together. The first course was a Strawberry Gazpacho with a Shrimp skewer by NIU Kitchen. I liked it, Zeke didn’t. The second course was three different vegan sushis from Planta. I didn’t expect to like it but I did! Especially the Torched & Pressed Miso Truffle Sushi. Delectable!

I’m not going to go through all the courses, but I will give you my top three. The Paellla Croquetas by Cafe La Trove (Michelle Bernstein) were very tasty and she is known for her croquetas, but when I looked at the recipe list and saw mussels involved, I stopped eating after the first bite. I’m extremely allergic to mussels and didn’t want to take a chance of projectile vomiting, especially all over Zeke’s car, while I still had seven more courses to go.

One of the courses- Papillote of Langoustine by L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon– didn’t appear at all. In its place was a Foie Gras Royale, Parmesan Blanc-manger, Essence of Maury “Vielles Vignes, served in a plastic cup. No, I don’t know what any of that is either (except the foie gras). It was very rich and decadent, but needed something to crunch with it, like a cracker.

So… my favorite dish was Indian Spiced Chicken Thighs with Cauliflower Raisin Amchar (a Trinidadian spice) by Balloo. It came topped with microgreens, a creamy sauce was underneath and a sprinkling of spices rained down on the whole shebang; it was flavorful, juicy and delicious. The Amchar Salad, with roasted cauliflower, golden raisins, cilantro, onion, pepper and spices was a perfect complement to the chicken thighs.

Second and Third Place was a tie between Harry’s Mushroom Pizza by Harry’s Pizzeria (Michael Schwartz) and Meatballs and Tomato Sauce by Carbone Miami. Dishes at the Resy Drive-Thru Event were served in a plastic box. I was surprised at how well Harry’s Mushroom Pizza held up in the plastic box, which has a tendency to steam food items. But, the crust was still crunchy on this wood fired King Oyster mushroom pizza which came with fontina cheese, black truffle crema and carmelized onions. The flavors tantalized the old taste buds and I ate the whole thing.

The Meatballs by Carbone Miami, a newly opened red sauce Italian restaurant in Miami Beach, came three to an order. They were packed with flavor, delectable and were garnished with salty shavings of Parmigano-reggiano. I ate one and took the rest home. They were just as delicious the next day when I had them for lunch, possibly more so because I wasn’t semi-stuffed. The other positive about this dish is it’s the only one of all the recipes I would attempt to make at home.

As for the desserts, the Yuzu Key Lime Sando by Pubbelly Sushi was absolutely addictive. The tart key lime and yuzu juice cut the richness of the condensed milk and heavy cream in the semifreddo. This was piped onto a graham cracker, which was topped with meringue and another graham cracker to make this amazing Ice Cream sandwich, with rainbow sprinkles coating the sides. I couldn’t stop eating it and ate the whole thing! After 10 courses! Well, 9 and a half.

There was music, tents, dancers and blow up balloons of donuts, hamburgers and meatballs, creating a festive atmosphere in the midst of the parking lot where the Miami Herald building used to be. As we left, we were directed to what looked like a disco car wash, with flames and smoke, a neon sign reading “The Eat is On” and girls dressed in white jumpsuits dancing. Once inside, an interior of Pepto Bismal pink dripping entrance, opened up to a gold room with gold curtains, gold disco balls and gold dressed dancers handing out gold bags. This was all to hammer home (not too subtly) that this Resy Drive-Thru was a Gold American Express event. Inside the bag was a donut from The Salty Donut, specially made for this event.

Drive Thru Donut Delivery!

It was a Rose and Strawberry Donut, with 24 hour Brioche filled with strawberry jelly, dipped in rose champagne glaze, topped with gold-dusted meringue, dark chocolate curls, gold chocolate pearls and 24 Karat gold leaf. It was just as stunning to look at as it was amazing to eat. But I didn’t eat it that night. I split it the next morning with Wyatt for breakfast. Just what I needed for breakfast after a ten course meal!

While I really enjoyed the Resy Drive-Thru event and it was a fun and different way to experience dishes from some of Miami’s Top Chefs, I still prefer going out to dinner, sitting down at a table and enjoying a glass of wine with friends for a delicious meal. The other downside to the event was that our car smelled like ten different courses of food the next morning. I rolled the windows down to air it out, but it took days for the lingering scents to vanish. But definitely less time than it will take to lose the pounds I put on that night!

Here’s the Meatball recipe from Carbone.

Up Next: My experience with the Asparagus tart recipe that’s sweeping the internet.

That Sneaky Bunny!

Easter kind of snuck up on me this year!

My husband and I took a quick trip to North Carolina to his family’s cabin in Waynesville. It’s not normally my favorite place to stay since “rustic” is a generous way to describe the accomodations. The ancient dishwasher from the forties needs to be hauled across the kitchen floor and hooked up to the sink; this no longer operates at all, so all dishes have to be hand washed. Since it was just the two of us, this wasn’t much of a problem.

The bed in the “Master bedroom” (and I use this term loosely) takes up almost all of the available floor space and, even at that, isn’t very big so, when sleeping (or attempting to) we’re right on top of each other. Every wiggle results in an adjacent wag and neither one of us gets a good night’s sleep. After the first night of this mayhem, I took to sleeping in the guest bedroom in a cozy twin-size bed. I missed my two-ton weighted blanket!

The pre-fab bathroom, with vintage linoleum, a rusty metal storage cabinet and dusty duck decor from the 80’s, is now equipped with a rain forest showerhead, which proceeds to cover every square inch of the shower stall. I don’t know whose brilliant idea this was, but obviously not a person who cared about keeping their blow-dried hair dry intact. I was forced to go purchase a hideous pink shower cap.

We arrived in the middle of a violent rain storm and were greeted with dirty towels, left by the previous visitors, dirty sheets on the dryer AND a forecast of rain all week. I can take rain and I can take cold, but rain and cold is not Muy Bueno!

Yet still… There’s a little stream that runs by the cabin and it’s a very relaxing way to go to sleep. Kind of like a meditation app, turned to “mountain stream” and there is something to be said about “fresh mountain air” and waking up with a view of the Great Smoky mountains. It was also refreshing to be in a location where they actually experience seasons; Spring had just started emerging in North Carolina and luckily the rain forecasted did not turn out to be true.

I enjoyed using my plant app to investigate different plants and trees around the neighborhood. The yellow Forsythia were brilliant on my many walks up and down the hilly streets, the sour cherry were blooming in delicate white and pink flowers that showered down on the ground, and a sweet little Lily of the Valley bush adorned the corner of our street. Robins, something I rarely see in Miami, were abundant in North Carolina, with their red breasts crowding on front lawns and in trees. If there was ever a harbinger of Spring, it is the robin.

Also, in North Carolina, ramps (also known as wild leek) emerge from the soil in the Spring. They are something of a delicacy since they’re only available for three months in the Spring and have to be foraged in the forest. Chefs go crazy for them. When we visited the Farmer’s Market in Asheville, however, the ramps that were left were puny, little green stumps.

“They’ve only just come out this week,” the hefty man at the Farmer’s Market explained. “They’ll probably be bigger next week. Have a Blessed Day!”

We’d come to get ramps and some kind of meat to Bar-B-Que, but the meat person wasn’t at the Farmer’s Market so we left, empty handed. We were taunted by signs saying “Don’t forget the meat!” and when we went back to the car, there was something in a plastic bag in the trunk of the car. I opened it up. It was pork chops we’d purchased at Ingles grocery store the day before.

“Looks like you forgot your meat,” I said to Zeke.

We forgot the meat!

We’d arrived Thursday night in the middle of a violent rain storm, so, as we unpacked the car, the pork chops got left behind. We went to a Butcher Shop in Asheville (The Chop Shop Butchery) and got a pork chop and steak to take home and grill. The steak was HUGE- like a Fred Flinstone Brontosaurus Steak, but my favorite was the Pork Chop. I whipped up a quick rub and Zeke grilled it. Served with boiled corn on the cob from the Farmer’s Market (ironically from Florida), grilled asparagus, sliced cherry tomatoes and garlic bread, it may have been the best pork chop I’ve ever had in my life.

My thoughts while in North Carolina, however, were on my grandchildren, my future grandson Phoenix, and my daughter A.J.’s family baby shower on Saturday after we got back. I was making Spaghetti sauce, Meatballs and Sausage for that and already had my Cotsco list ready, when it dawned on me, Easter was Sunday. I’m not a particularly religious person, so this could be the reason it escaped me, but more likely than not, I just have a lot going on in my life. All good, so no complaints, but busy!

Luckily A.J. had a Honeybaked Ham from Christmas she’d frozen. I’m rounding out the menu with Buttermilk Biscuits, Mustard Sauce, Broccoli Salad, Potatoes Gratin and a Carrot Salad. The Carrot Salad (Gajjara Kosambabi) was one of a whole series of Indian recipes from the New York Times Food Section that I was planning on making, but they called for so many ingredients I didn’t have, I just gave up and made the carrot salad. I’m not sure I’m crazy about it, but carrots remind me of bunnies, and bunnies remind me of Easter, hence why I made it. I did try a fun technique for lemon juice which I saw on the internet. If you only need a little amount of lemon juice, poke a skewer in one end and squeeze out the amount you need. This eliminates the seeds and helps the cut lemon from going bad quickly. Kind of like when you would stick one of those plastic thingamagigs into a fresh orange to suck the juice out. The video is below.

Carrot salad.

While I’m still on the carrot kick, I might make a colorful and fragrant Carrot Ginger Soup to go with the meal if I get a chance, although with a toddler, a five year old and a newborn baby eating with us, any kind of an attempt at a civilized meal with more than one course is dicey, at best. Emma’s bringing Corn Dip, Courtney a Fruit Salad and Chris a Coconut Flan he’s had his eye on but couldn’t justify buying. We will have an Easter Egg Hunt at some point in the day.

I have just hard boiled thirty eggs. My first attempt was in the Insta Pot, which resulted in two cracked shells. The Insta Pot is great for hard boiled eggs if you’re going to just eat them, as it makes the shells easy to peel, but I went back to my original method for hard boiling eggs to dye, which left me with no broken shells.

Fool-proof Hard Boiled Eggs

Place eggs in a heavy duty saucepan. Fill with cold water that comes 1″ over the eggs and put heat on high. Once the water boils, cover the pot, remove from heat and let sit 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, put in a cold water bath with ice and water.

I usually have asparagus at Easter, so I will give you my favorite asparagus recipe. It’s easy, quick and I think the addition of fresh lemon juice pairs perfectly with the Spring-forward asparagus spears.

Roasted Asparagus from Joy of Cooking

4 servings

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Snap off the bottoms of 1 pound of asparagus. Arrange the spears in a single layer in a shallow baking dish and drizzle over them very lightly Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Toss the spears to coat lightly. Roast until tender but still slightly firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with: salt and pepper to taste, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, tarragon or chives.

Serve garnished with lemon wedges to squeeze over.

Have a Blessed Easter, Happy Passover or just Celebrate Spring!

Good to Go!

The question on everyone’s lips these days is: “Did you get the vaccine yet?”

Now, luckily, I can answer “Yes!” I got my first Pfizer vaccine recently at CVS (actually located inside a Navarro, which is apparently owned by CVS) and it was very easy. I made the appointment online, Wazed my way there, parked and checked in at the front of the store. They didn’t ask me for my I.D. or Insurance card, but just told me to wait in a seat at the back of the store. As I waited, I thought how lucky I was to finally be getting the COVID vaccine. After about two minutes, my name was called, I got my painless shot and a white card telling me when to come back for my second vaccine.

Am I good to go?

I asked the CVS shot-giver.

She told me to stick around for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have any adverse effects. I shopped for a bit, then left. My only side effect was a slightly sore left arm. In the state of Florida, COVID vaccines are now available for those 60 and under with underlying medical conditions. Zeke got his Friday- the Moderna. Even though we both need our second shots (and they really aren’t fully effective until 2 weeks later), I breathed a huge sigh of relief. After a year of this s**t, Finally, finally!

I had a busy week of tennis, Zoom meetings, Happy Hours, lunches and dinners.

Chris and Courtney are all moved into their new little house in South Miami and on Wednesday I babysat Liam from 9:30 to 5:30. As I was leaving, Christopher complained I was working Banker’s hours, but I felt I’d done my Gigi duty. They were supposed to have a Yard Sale on Saturday, since their new house is smaller than their old one, but they weren’t able to get the permit in time, so it will be next Saturday. Christopher Face- Timed me on Saturday showing me angry people gathered outside Saturday morning, waiting for the sale to start. Oh well!It’s so nice to have them only 5 minutes away, instead of 8 hours, although I do miss seeing Liam’s sweet little face each morning.

On Friday I picked up Wyatt from school. I normally bring him a sippy cup of apple juice and milk (I know it sounds disgusting but it’s his drink of choice) but since I’d come from another appointment, I didn’t have it. I told him I would take him to Riviera instead to get a treat and a drink.

As we walked by the pool, I mentioned he might be tall enough to ride down the pool slide. When he tried to go down it before, he was turned away for being too short. He walked up the steps to the top of the slide, sliding by bunches of little kids in dripping swimsuits; I was worried he might slip. He got to the top and positioned himself confidently under the measuring stick. Some older kid said: “It doesn’t count because you’ve got your shoes on.” I resisted my grandmotherly urge to go up and give this brat a piece of my mind, but heard the lifeguard say “You’re good to go buddy!”

Wyatt walked down the steps, triumphant. I gave him a high five at the bottom of the steps. “I’m old enough!” he said. “You’re tall enough,” I corrected. He celebrated with chocolate ice cream and a lemonade. I know those flavors don’t go together either, but it’s what he wanted.

Speaking of ice cream, I received a wonderful ice cream cookbook in the mail from friends Gema and Rogelio called The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. I am obsessed with this cookbook and want to try so many of the recipes in it. So far, I’ve made Caramel Crack ice cream for a Chicken and Dumpling Birthday dinner for Emory, a Coffee ice cream (made by steeping coffee beans in the cream) for a dinner at Brooks and Sharon’s house Saturday night and an Aztec “Hot” Chocolate Ice Cream for dinner Sunday night with Emma and Gui. All have been wonderful, but I can’t imagine this ice cream diet is going to be good for my waistline, so I’ve been trying to give samples away.

But hey, it’s time to celebrate!

While I know some people are dubious about getting the COVID vaccine (as I was at first), I am now “all in”. I’m sick of being fearful of my fellow man, tired of having to cross the street while walking in my neighborhood to avoid fellow walkers, tired of staying six feet behind fellow shoppers in Publix, tired of being afraid to eat inside at restaurants and not being able to go to concerts or sporting events. Heck, I even miss going to church (and I’m not a church-goer)! I’m just ready for this whole thing to be over, so I will do my part and get vaccinated. I’m not saying I want a universal group hug… well, maybe that is exactly what I am saying.

I’m old enough (for the vaccine) and since I got my first shot, I’m also “Good to go!” Almost, anyway. By the first week of April I will be. Celebrations, champagne and more ice cream flavors to sample will be in order.

Mexican Hot Chocolate and Coffee Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop.

Up Next: Resy Drive-Thru

Herb Cooking Class

Our Pinecrest Garden Club had a Zoom meeting last week that I actually looked forward to. One of our members- Theresa Gilmore– conducted a cooking class called Cooking with Herbs. Theresa is a certified acupuncturist and homeopath who was excited to teach us how herbs can create tasty recipes AND improve our health. I went out and bought all the ingredients for the four recipes and had them, my cutting board and Cuisinart ready in my own kitchen, as we started the class at noon on Tuesday. I cooked along with Theresa as she talked about the health benefits of the different ingredients we were cooking with.

Basil, which was in the basil pesto we made, contains many vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and may help prevent cancer and fight free radicals. The other plus to basil is it smells delicious, so it gives aromatherapy benefits. Garlic, also in the pesto, is highly nutritious, improves cholesterol levels and combats sickness. Pine nuts contain magnesium and antioxidants and help keep your skin healthy. I asked if she used the basil stalks in the pesto. She said she did if they weren’t too woody, as the stems also contribute valuable nutrients.

Basil Pesto recipe by Theresa Gilmore

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (can sub chopped walnuts)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions:

Pulse basil and pine nuts in food processor. Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times. Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the side of the food processor with a rubber spatula. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the side of the food processor. Stir in the salt and freshly ground pepper, add more to taste.

Serving suggestions: Toss with pasta (and some pasta water) for a quick sauce, dollop over baked potatoes or spread onto crackers or toasted slices of bread. *I would add to this list, use to top tomatoes and mozzarella, on chicken or steak, in scrambled eggs or on a sandwich. I made a delicious tomato, mozzarella, arugula panini sandwich with this pesto the next day for lunch and also stirred some into my minestrone soup. Yum!

The Olives in this next recipe are high in vitamin E and anti-oxidants and are a source of healthy fat. They are also good for your heart and may protect against osteoporosis and cancer. Cilantro is good for so many things, Theresa recommended eating it every day. It clears your body of heavy metals, lowers anxiety, improves sleep, lowers blood sugar levels, protects against cardiovascular disease, prevents urinary tract infections and settles upset stomachs. It’s also an anti-depressant that’s good for hair and skin. Lemons obviously contain Vitamin C, but Theresa also recommended including a couple pits in the blend. Lemon seeds detox the body, relieve pain, prevent candidiasis (fungal infection of the digestive tract) and fight against parasites.

Za’atar Olive Tapenade by Theresa Gilmore

  • 1/2 cup green pitted olives (or use Kalamata)
  • 2 Tablespoons Za’atar (either make or buy on Amazon or Middle Eastern market0
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until roughly chopped. Serve room temp with flatbread wedges, celery sticks or cucumber slices for dipping. * I loved this recipe and also added a little low-fat cream cheese to celery sticks and cucumber slices, before topping them with this spread.

Tarragon reduces blood sugar, helps fight inflamation, improves sleep, appetite and helps with heart health. It has a licoricey taste that goes well with chicken, fish and on vegetables such as steamed artichokes, asparagus and carrots. Theresa said different kind of vinegars can be used for this recipe; she used a Tarragon Vinegar she won at a Pinecrest Garden Club meeting raffle that I’d made with tarragon from my garden.

Tarragon Mustard Dressing by Theresa Gilmore

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 3 to 4 good sized sprigs of fresh tarragon, lightly chopped

Directions:

In a large salad bowl, add the mustard, salt and pepper. Using a small balloon whisk, beat the vinegar into the mustard until completely blended and smooth.

Beating continuously, add the olive oil, then half the water until completely combined and until the dressing is a thick, smooth cream. Stir in the tarragon.

Taste the dressing; if it’s too sharp, beat in the rest of the water. Season and let sit 10-15 minutes before serving. Delicious over steamed green beans. *This is also a nice salad or sandwich dressing and I served it over sauteed yellowtail and it was delicious. It would also be nice on a grilled steak.

I hope you enjoy the recipes from Theresa and learned something about the health benefits of fresh herbs. I’ve always had an herb garden, no matter where I’ve lived, because I love adding them to whatever food I’m cooking; there aren’t many dishes that can’t be improved with some freshly chopped herbs. The wonderful thing about this cooking class was that, after a short time, I was left with four different sauces to use in my future meals.

Green Olive Tapenade.

If you would like to experience Theresa’s Cooking with Herbs Class, she is holding another one on St. Patrick’s Day, this March 17th, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. She will be making a Mint Mojito, Chicken with Basil Pesto, Asparagus with Tarragon Mustard Dressing and a Parsley Mint Millet Tabbouleh. The cost is $10 and the proceeds go to raise money for the Coral Gables Women’s Club Children’s Dental Clinic, serving underprivileged children in the community. It’s a great cause which has been around since 1939 and they need your help this year, more than ever. So “get lucky” this St. Patty’s Day with a wonderful cooking class to help a good cause and your health!

To participate, contact Theresa Gilmore at theresagilmoreap@att.net.

Like the legend of the phoenix All ends with beginnings What keeps the planet spinning The force from the beginning

Daft Punk

Up Next: You’re Good to Go!

Baked Corned Beef

St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner (this Wednesday) and I will be serving Corned Beef and Cabbage. Not exactly original, I know and to tell the truth, I’m not a big Corned Beef fan, especially when you throw all the other vegetables in with it and cook it into a soggy state, with everything tasting a homogenous pickled spice sameness. I discovered a Baked Corned Beef recipe years ago in the Miami Herald Food section that I now normally use to make my St. Patty’s Day Dinner.

The slimy, gooey Corned Beef in a bag.

While the Corned Beef is first boiled in pickling spice for hours, it’s finished off with a glaze and baked in the oven, giving a sweet and savory crust. The baking also alleviates the mushiness factor and makes for a firmer slice of beef. The other advantage to this recipe, is it can be boiled the day before and then only takes 30 minutes to bake.

I would serve this with a simple sauteed cabbage and boiled red new potatoes- tossed in butter and chopped dill. We need some green in our St. Patty’s day dinner! I’m not a big fan of Irish Soda Bread, but potato buns or rye bread would be welcome.

Baked Barbecued Corned Beef

  • 1 corned beef brisket, about 5 pounds
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spices
  • Whole cloves
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar

Rinse corned beef and put in large pot. Cover with cold water. Add pickling spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook according to package directions, or until tender. Cool in broth.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place beef in shallow roasting pan and score fat layer. Insert whole cloves into the fat. Mix butter, brown sugar, mustard, ketchup and vinegar. Pat on beef. Bake 30 minutes. Serve warm, sliced thin.

Makes 10 servings

This recipe makes a lot, but leftovers can be used for Corned Beef Hash or a Rueben Sandwich.

Simple Sauteed Cabbage

  • 1 small cabbage, outer leaves removed
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons bacon fat
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • splash of Apple Cider Vinegar

Cut core out of cabbage and cut in half. Slice as thin as possible. Melt bacon fat over medium high heat. Add cabbage, onion, salt and pepper. Saute 10 to 15 minutes until tender and cabbage begins to brown. Add a splash of vinegar, season to taste and serve warm.

May your troubles be less and your blessings be more and nothing but Happiness come through your door.

Irish Blessing

Up Next: Cooking with Herbs

Easy Minestrone Soup

I love to make a pot of soup on Monday. It will be dinner that night, then lunch and snacks throughout the week. If I make a Vegetarian Soup, even better, because it fits in with Meatless Mondays. This Classic Minestrone Soup from the Cookie and Kate website, fits the bill perfectly. It also allows me to use up vegetable scraps I’ve saved in my freezer to make a vegetable broth.

I just put all the celery leaves, onion skins, herb stems and mushroom stems in a pot, cover it with purified water, add a couple bay leaves, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for a couple hours. Alternately, use purchased vegetable broth or, if you don’t want to have a vegetarian soup, use chicken or beef broth.

I like this recipe because it calls for seasonable vegetables so you can use what’s fresh and local. Also, you can personalize it to the vegetables you like. I used garbanzo beans instead of Cannellini beans and added some chopped cabbage because I feel it adds some heft to the soup. This soup can probably be made with things you already have in your pantry, making it easy and convenient.

Always taste your soup before serving, as it often needs salt or a little squeeze of lemon. I top this soup with a fine grating of Parmesan cheese, so it’s not technically vegan, but it tastes better to me this way and adds some unami flavor to the soup. I also like a little crushed red pepper on top, to spice it up a bit. Served with some warm, crusty bread, this soup makes a perfect Meatless Monday meal.

A delicious and nutritious Meatless Monday meal.

Classic Minestrone Soup by Cookie and Kate

Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 45 minutes Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups seasonal vegetables (potatoes, squash, zucchini, green beans or peas)
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes with their liquid
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup orecchiette, elbow or small shell pasta
  • 1 can (15 ounces) Great Northern or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups spinach, kale or collard greens, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for garnishing (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste and a pinch of slat. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened and the onions are turning translucent, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the seasonal vegetables, garlic, oregano and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour in the diced tomatoes and their juices, broth and water. Add the salt, bay leaves and red pepper flakes. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot with the lid, leaving about a 1″ gap for steam to escape. Reduce heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer.
  5. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove the lid and add the pasta, beans and greens. Continue simmering, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the pasta is cooked al dente and the greens are tender.
  6. Remove the pot from the heat, then remove the bay leaves. Stir in the lemon juice and remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Taste and season with more salt and pepper until the flavors really sing. Garnish bowls of soup with grated Parmesan, if you’d like.

Up Next: Cooking with Herbs.

The Longest Day

I watched my two month old grandson from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. That’s 14 hours. In addition to babysitting him, I watched my 5 year-old grandson Wyatt from 8 a.m. Sunday to 7 p.m Monday night (minus his three hour stint at school). Adding to this three-ring circus, was Chris and Courtney’s dog Maggie. She’s a boxer and a good dog, but she’s anxious, energetic and needs to be let in and out, terrorizes the cat Eloise and eats her cat food. There’s this World War II film called The Longest Day. With all due respect to the men and women who served our country in WWII, this last Monday seemed to me like THE LONGEST DAY of my life.

Up at the crack of dawn, instead of marching I was walking the floor constantly with my small bundle of joy. Instead of jumping jacks, I bounced him, patted his diapers and rocked him to get him to sleep. It was a regimented routine of: wake up, play, eat, burp, eat some more, burp some more and sleep. Over and over again. Instead of ducking bullets from the enemy, I was spit up on, drooled on, pooped and peed on.

I drilled him on his black and white flashcards, read a couple baby books and sang him songs in an attempt to entertain the troops. No Marine Corp Hymn for Liam (the only song my Dad knew how to sing). “Five Little Ducks went out to play” and “Five Little Speckled Frogs sitting on a speckled log” seem to be favorites, with Baby Shark coming in a distant third. A swing and a glider came in handy to relieve the constant holding of my small charge. I forgot how hard it is to do everything one-handed!

I even gave him a bath, which I think deserves an award for bravery- a blue washcloth instead of a purple heart? Liam is a happy baby and was a pleasant most of the day until about five, when he got extremely cranky, fussy and nothing made him happy. It felt like some kind of torture, but instead of a Prisoner of War, I was a Prisoner of Love. I desperately needed reinforcements. Wyatt left around 7, right after Liam finally went to sleep, so all was quiet on the Western Front. I prayed it might be an early bedtime (he usually goes to bed at 8), but no such luck.

There’s no way in hell I’m making dinner tonight.

I told Zeke, when he came home.

So he ordered two sushi rolls from Moon Thai and picked them up for dinner. Just as we were about to sit down to eat our Sloppy J and Sexy Lover roll, guess who woke up? Zeke said “You eat,” and held Liam and I then returned the favor. This reminded me of what my life used to be like with young kids, eating in shifts, gobbling down food as fast as possible and never having a minute to yourself. I don’t miss those days.

The Sloppy J roll had shrimp tempura and avocado inside, topped with tuna, salmon and yellowtail slices on the outside. The Sexy Lover roll has spicy tuna and cucumber topped with spicy tuna, sliced jalapenos, wasabi mayo and cilantro. Both were very good, although sloppily sliced. With dirty hair, spit-up all over my clothes and tight shoulders from holding the baby all day, I felt as far from a Sexy Lover as possible.

Being with the baby all day made me think I need to be doing more yoga, to get myself flexible, relaxed and able to handle these marathon babysitting sessions. Courtney is working 12 hour shifts in Labor and Delivery as a nurse at Mount Sinai and I will be one of the regular sitters each week. It also made me think I need to start eating healthier- more fruits, vegetables and whole grains- in order to stay in ship-shape for all these grandsons!

I had Emma and Guillermo over for pasta Sunday night with Wyatt. As we ate springs with my Grandmother’s pasta sauce, Zeke called me a hoarder. This is the thanks I get for making homemade Sunday gravy, with meatballs, sausage, salad, peas and bread! I was surprised to hear Courtney agree (Emma wisely stayed silent on the matter), saying she’d found something in the freezer she couldn’t imagine what I would be saving it for.

Could it be my frozen celery leaves, parsley stems or onion skins she was referring to? Or perhaps the chicken skin in a plastic bag, mushroom stems or parmesan cheese rinds? Doesn’t she know that eliminating food waste (a big problem in our country?) is all the rage these days? I’ve been ahead of the curve on that one for decades. My mom says I act like someone who was raised in the Great Depression and it’s true; I just can’t bear to throw anything away.

So I took my onions skins, mushroom stems, celery leaves and parsley stems and made a vegetable broth with them. I filled the pot with purified water, added my scraps and a couple bay leaves, brought it to a boil and simmered it for a couple hours. I find vegetable broth in the grocery store has an odd flavor. This broth unfortunately lacked flavor as well, so I added some salt and mushroom seasoning to punch it up. Perhaps a cube of vegetable bouillon would have helped as well. I used this broth as a base for a Minestrone Soup I made the next day.

I used a recipe from Cookie and Kate, which has wonderful vegetarian recipes. This soup is totally vegan, except for the Parmesan cheese on top. I also added Parmesan rinds to the pot, to give it a depth of umami flavor. You know the really hard part covering Parmesan cheese? I cut them off and save them to use in soups and pasta sauces. The only thing I haven’t made use of is the chicken skin, but just give me time.

In other news, Mr. Potato Head is no longer going to be a Mr., but now will just be Potato Head, in order to be gender-inclusive. Potato Head will come with various parts- eyelashes, mustache, purse and pipe- that can go either way (or both ways). Good news! After staying on the phone with American Express for hours last week, I finally scored tickets to a Resy event in Wynwood later this month for a drive-through dining experience. Ten Miami chefs, including Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz, are serving a ten-course meal to diners in their cars. It’s March 18th and I can’t wait!

Zeke and I went down to our condo in the Keys Friday to check on a boat cover I’d gotten him as a Christmas present. Luckily my brother-in-law trailered the boat back from the boat dealership, so we didn’t have to deal with that nightmare again, but when Zeke checked the boat last week in the boat yard, he couldn’t find the boat cover. I wasn’t too concerned, as I know how Zeke looks for things, but we decided we better go down to make sure it was there and put it on the boat.

When Zeke looked again, “Surprise, surprise!” (as Gomer Pyle liked to say)- there was the boat cover, in the head, just as Unique Marine had informed us. Zeke removed it from its bag and it was like a giant black amoeba sprawling out inside our boat, with no rhyme or reason as to how it was to go. There were no instructions, but we finally got it figured out, positioned it in place and we went to get a drink, before heading home.

Getting a margarita at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon was probably not the best idea in the world. But we were in the Keys, celebrating our victory over the boat cover, enjoying the day and missing our little slice of Paradise. The Big Chill serves a margarita I actually like, not easy to find in the Keys. Their Perfect Margarita is made with tequila (Jose Cuervo), lime juice and orange liqueur, exactly as it should be made; for some reason, the salt around the rim tastes better than regular salt. It went down quite easily, as we listened to some island tunes and looked out at the glittering bay. Getting the second margarita was probably not advised, but I did it anyway.

Needless to say, when we got home, I didn’t feel up to going out so we just grilled some sausages outside by the pool to make sandwiches and listened to Margaritaville on Pandora. Which is what we will continue doing as we count the remaining days of March, waiting to get our condo back in April. Until then, I have a little Drill Sergeant living upstairs who demands my time and attention.

Sausage Sandwich.

So bring me two pina coladas, I want one for each hand, Let’s set sail with Captain Morgan and we’ll never leave dry land, Hey troubles, I forgot them. I buried them in the sand, So bring me two pina coladas, she said goodbye to her good timin’ man.

Garth Brooks

Up Next: Minestrone Soup

Easy Barbecue Rub

My post about the Carolina Vinegar-based sauce for smoked pork got me thinking about easy and reliable recipes that I use all the time. When Jeff Bridges was learning songs for the movie Crazy Heart, his friend gave him some songs to sing that he said were in his back pocket, meaning something you can pull out and use without thinking or trying too hard.

This barbecue rub, which Steve Raichlen calls the “Granddaddy of all barbecue rubs” is one I use all the time. It’s great on pork, but I also like it on chicken, beef and even a robust fish, like salmon. I usually make a double batch because it lasts for months and I keep some in my pantry, for an “in the back pocket” addition to any protein.

You probably have most of these ingredients at home already.

Since most meats, after you account for the type and grade, mostly taste the same, the only way to noticeably change or enhance the flavor is through a marinade or a rub. After it’s cooked, a sauce added can also add to the flavor, but I sometimes find when I use this rub, I don’t even need a sauce. Raichlen suggests letting the rub marinate on the meat for 2 to 4 hours first. This is from his book Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs and Marinades.

Basic Barbecue Rub

1/4 cup coarse salt (kosher or sea)

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup paprika

3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir or whisk to mix. Transfer to a jar, cover and store away from heat and light. The rub will keep for several months.

Makes 1 cup

Up Next: The Longest Day