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Step Into The Living Room…It’s Oh-So-Civilized!

The Living Room at FAU* is as comfortable as your own. Oh, wait…it might be even better! Comfy lounge seating √, gourmet kitchen √, full bar with crystal glass service √, popcorn in porcelain trendy square bowls √, barista coffees √, desserts, including gelato √ and fun concession stand items.

And did I forget to mention it’s a movie theater showing art films? OMG, I loved it! And there could be one near you…that is if you live in Boca Raton, FL or  Portland, Oregon. Continue Reading

Cannellini Bean Spread on Rustic Toast

I started pureeing white beans (and black beans) a while back and have featured them many times on these pages. Often they are the pillow on which a piece of meat or fish rests. In that application, they do double duty…they’re a tasty legume and they’re a silky sauce.

After I did it the first time, I was hooked. Think about it…it’s much more attractive and satisfying than a scoop of beans on your plate. :)

Continue Reading

Through My Lens

These days I do not leave the house without my camera because I’ve become involved in the world of photo challenges. What are photo challenges? They’re personal challenges in a public forum based on a group theme. No reward/prize offered. Just a new community to engage in. And, I love that it stretches my mind and opens my eyes. Every day!

I’ve added a new category called “challenges” under my FOTOS page (above). Take a look…perhaps it’ll inspire you to join up or do something similar. I plan to feature some of the 365 photos in my blog’s sidebar when I think they’re particularly interesting, like today (day 27). The complete work will be available on flickr though the link provided.

A New Way to Save Money at the Supermarket

See this powdery white stuff sitting on a spoon? It can save you money. And, no, it’s nothing I’ve been mis-using in any manner to create some drug-induced delusion. But I am on a high!

It’s corn starch. And it’s magical.

I read somewhere that the best glass and mirror cleaner was 2 tablespoons of corn starch mixed with 1 quart of water. Being frustrated with the streaks that even the best (highest priced) cleaners left, I decided to try it. I’ve been experimenting for several weeks before going public with the news…it really works! 

I’ve been using the solution:
• in the shower;
• around the bathroom sink basin/countertop, faucets;
• all glass tables;
• mirrors;
• kitchen countertops;
• stove top;
• stainless steel work table;
• and to clean the inside of the refrigerator.

It was working everywhere so, today, I gingerly sprayed some on a cloth and wiped down leather furniture and even passed it over the wood. And I can’t wait to try it as a spray starch when I iron. OMG, did I say that? Maybe I am inhaling some because I never, ever said that before! I mean, really, not ever!

My Research
I looked at several brands of corn starch in the supermarket and, interestingly, not one of them has ‘household cleaning’ as a suggested use, so I looked on the internet and found this website that says corn starch is one of the lesser known natural cleaning agents. 

How Much You Can Save
The highest priced corn starch was Argo at $1.69 for 1 lb.; most others were about $1.29. If more mathematical minds than me can figure out how many tablespoons of corn starch are in 1 lb., then divide that by 2 (2 tablespoons) to figure out how many quarts of solution can be made, I’d love to know. I’m thinking a lot. 

Meantime, as comparison, this could be your savings (x how many times a year you buy these products) versus a $1.50 or less for corn starch.

Arm & Hammer All Purpose Cleaner, 32 ozs. $2.99
Sprayway Stainless Steel Cleaner, 15 ozs. $4.19
Windex, 26 ozs. $2.99
Arm & Hammer Shower Spray, 32 ozs. $2.49
Weinman Leather Wipes, 30 sheets, $3.19
Pledge, 16 ozs. $4.29

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend my money in the wine aisle! And it’s so empowering to not buy in (figuratively and literally) to the hype. Let’s save money and help the planet.

I invite you to share any similar tips in the comments section of this post. 

Living the Dream in Italy (a special offer for FOODalogue readers)

Have you ever dreamt of chucking it all and living in Italy? …creating a vacation rental where you could entertain guests from all over the world? …harvesting olives and producing your own olive oil? …writing a book while sipping cappuccino (or vino) from your terrace in the Umbrian countryside? Or would you just like to live like an Italian for a week or so? If so, this post is for you!

But, first, let me introduce you to Joan (a former Coca-Cola executive) and her husband, Roger Arndt, (a retired Delta captain). They are living the dream. During a 3-week trip to Italy in 2001, Joan and Roger got bitten by the Italian ‘amore’ bug and the rest is history. 

…or, rather, a humorous memoir called “Italian Lessons” which Joan penned about their adventure. It wasn’t always the sugary substance dreams are made of — no, sometimes, there were nightmares. They had to sell and dispose of much of their belongings in Atlanta (that was the easy part compared to what they faced in Italy). There they had to find the right property, open bank accounts, get driver’s licenses, hire contractors, meet the neighbors, the merchants, etc. and negotiate with everyone…all in Italian! Yes, there were times that tried their patience. But never their sense of humor. The trials and tribulations of uprooting life as they knew it in the suburbs of Atlanta and taking on the project of a lifetime is a fascinating and, oft times, humorous read that will leave you wishing you were in their shoes (especially now that the frustrations are behind and they are sitting back and enjoying the fruits of their labors).

What they created from the 12th century colonial convent they found a few years ago is really the stuff dreams are made of. It has been totally renovated to exacting modern standards. A separate air-conditioned residence, called a self-catering vacation rental villa, houses 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, living room and a large and fully-equipped kitchen. Rental of the villa offers access to an oversized pool, tennis and bocce courts, BBQ, laundry facilities, fax/PC, DVD/VCR, satellite TV and many other contemporary amenities. And did I mention a terrace, garden and up-close view of the olive groves? And, best of all, they want to share it!

Since life and everything that follows starts with our mothers, so, too, does my friendship with the Arndts. You see, our mothers became friends when they both moved to the same development in Boca Raton. When Joan wrote her book, her mother gave a copy to mine. Mine knew right away this would be something her daughter, Joan (yes we’re both Joan), would be interested in so she gave me an autographed copy for my birthday earlier this year. I read it, felt an immediate connection to the author though I’d never met her and only met her mother a few times. After all, it was my dream too. So I wrote and introduced myself. They liked what I’d done at FOODalogue. I liked what they’d done at LeVigne. I knew after the reading the book that it was not like other international rentals where there is always a level of uncertainty. Here, one could be 100% comfortable that everything would up to standards and furthermore the Arndts are American-born and speak English, Spanish and (now) Italian so communication would not be problem.

The Special Offer to FOODalogue Readers

Joan and Roger are offering a 10% discount to published rates if you book and mention FOODalogue. To paraphrase “The Godfather”…
that’s an offer you can’t refuse!

Additional photos, rates, and property details including floor plans are available on their website, LeVigne. Joan and Roger are like long-lost friends, only you haven’t met them yet :). They love company and will be as involved (or uninvolved) in your adventure as you wish and offer by prior arrangement: airport transportation, pre-arrival shopping, an arrival dinner, discount shopping and introduction to local artisans, a cooking demonstration and dining experience by an Umbrian cook at the property. They can also help with arranging day trips. LeVigne is 6 miles from Perugia, 10 miles from Assissi, 76 miles to Siena, 98 miles to San Gmignano. Florence is 105 miles and Rome 112.

Arrivederci, amici. Send me a postcard!

Note: “Italian Lessons” is available on Amazon. (See sidebar link.)

A Christmas Story. Ours.

Traditions (Old, New, Still-Evolving), Photos…and Food!

About Tradition. When my sister and I began to raise our families and gradually take over holiday dinners from the generation before us, we also began to inject a more foodie approach to the menus. Being half-Spanish and half-Italian and 100% American, those 3 cuisines generally dominate for the special occasions. Yes, it’s still fish on Christmas Eve and a roast on Christmas Day, but you never know what specifically or how it will be presented. There’s no set menu year-after-year. While we like to think we pay homage to ‘tradition’, we define it loosely and are always recreating the formula. Our kids follow suit and are building on the experience. Some might classify us as hard-core celebrators because not only do we gather to celebrate the calendar holidays, we create additional reasons to get-together, even if it’s for leftovers the next day! I guess, truth be told, we’re more about the ‘merry’. (Stay with me until the end of this post for proof of that!)

December 20 • The Children’s Annual Show & Boat Parade
Tradition: Decades ago, my sister started this tradition with all the children in the family. It involved rehearsals, coupled with cookie bakes, and then the big night of the show for the entire family and friends. She did it all — the scripting, costuming, dealing with ‘opening night jitters’ and playing the donkey more than once! The show went on year-after-year, much to everyone’s delight, until the children started hitting their pre-teens…and were ‘over’ it. Now, grown up, some with children of their own, it is one of their fondest childhood memories. Several years ago, my niece with the assistance of my sister, started the tradition again. It’s my hope that it will continue for a few years more with this cast of ‘characters’ and that they, too, will remember it fondly and continue it with their children in the years to come. Here’s a taste: Play video clip from Frosty the Snowman.
A Florida tradition is the holiday boat parade down the Intercoastal Canal – fireworks and boats dressed up like Christmas trees. This year it was scheduled the same night as the children’s show and my sister’s clubhouse (the current theater of the children’s show) is on the canal so after the show and our traditional pizza party, we walked outside to see the fireworks and boat parade…a festive way to start the holiday festivities.
Fireworks & Boat Parade
December 23 • The Nutcracker at the Kravis Center
This year my son treated me, his daughter, and girlfriend to a pre-Christmas Eve special night out (perhaps starting a new tradition?). We went to a new/artsy/eclectic restaurant (I’ll review it another time) and to the Florida Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker at the Kravis Center in Palm Beach.
We had a great dinner, the show was magical, and it set the stage for what awaited us the following day at my niece’s house.

December 24 • Christmas Eve
Tradition: In the early years, my sister did an all fish dinner in the Italian tradition on Christmas Eve and I did Christmas Day. More recently it’s become a shared responsibility…she with her daughter, Teri, on the Eve and I with my son, Jim, on the day. 
Teri is not only a good cook, she is a hostess with the mostest! The Christmas decorations were as magical as The Nutcracker’s set design and the menu was fish-a-licous! A moment about gift-decoration. A while back at some other family dinner, my niece went around taking a ‘funny’ picture of everyone. “Make an ugly face”, said she. Well, those ugly faces appeared in large size on the gifts. There was no question  who each gift belonged to!

Menu: Assorted fish hors’ d’oeuvres, cheeses & crackers. First dish: shrimp & artichoke salad. Main course: Crabmeat Cannelloni and Spaghetti with shrimp, feta, black olives, followed by a ‘traditional’ fried fish and salad course. Dessert: A chocolate fountain.

December 25 • Christmas Day
This year I wanted to do a Latin-inspired Turkey dinner. When I mentioned ‘turkey’, my son immediately said that he’d been dying to try a fried turkey. He also wanted to make a pumpkin flan– so the division of responsibilities for the dinner became apparent. He’d buy the fryer and do the turkey and flan and I’d do everything in between. Side Story: A key trait for a good chef is being able to ‘think standing on one foot'; that is to say, things don’t always happen as planned. A fried 20-lb. turkey takes less than an hour but, obviously, it has to be done outside. Christmas morning was raining and it wasn’t letting up. At 10:30 we had to make the decision to abort the fryer plan, but we were now pushing it for a 2:00 dinner. Enter ingenuity. The turkey went into surgery for back bone removal and flattening, it was done on time, and was probably one of the juiciest turkeys I’ve ever had. (Jim had injected a mojo-citrus marinade into the flesh the day before.) 

Menu: Turkey, Picadillo Stuffing, Baked Stuffed Plantains with Chimichurri Sauce, 16-ingredient salad. Desserts: pumpkin flan with praline brittle, homemade biscotti, guava & cheese, Christmas layer cake (store-bought), and turron. 

Spanish-inspired pickies for the bar.

Baked Stuffed Plantain with Chimichurri Sauce

16-Ingredient Veggie/Salad Tray

Picadillo Stuffing

Pumpkin Flan with Praline Brittle

After dinner, the kids got the remaining gifts (half were given on the Eve) and then the adults played “Slaughter Santa”. For anyone who doesn’t know, Slaughter Santa is a hilarious game of stealing gifts. Each of us buys and wraps one gift. By a draw of numbers, we select our order of participation. My nephew made up some playing cards that accompanied each gift (like ‘trade with the second person to your left’ or ‘make 2 people exchange gifts’). So #1 picks a gift and opens it. Then #2 can either select a gift or steal #1’s…and so on. There was a lot of stealing, teaming up, and laughter — and, in the end, each adult went home with a nice gift.

December 27
Yes, they’re baaack. This time it’s for combined Christmas Eve and Christmas Day leftovers — and an evening of community theater. A presentation for the young…and the young of heart.

December 28
Peace and quiet. Rest. Clean house. Begin diet. …until January 4 when we gather again to celebrate my birthday.

Special Ending Notes
Note: Thanks to Laylita for the baked plantain recipe. It was the lynchpin for the dinner. The minute I saw it on her blog, I knew I had to build a meal around it. Recipes for picadillo stuffing, chimichurri sauce and pumpkin flan will be posted tomorrow. They’re just too delicious not to share.

And I leave you now with one of 3 videos – one made for each generation – that my son surprised us with. This was for the ‘senior’ set. Too funny! Tradition #??. Enjoy.

I wish you all a happy, healthy, warm, prosperous and yummy 2009!

Buddha’s Hand: It reached out for me in the supermarket.

Has it ever grabbed you? Have you seen it? tasted it? used it?
I saw this in a local supermarket and was intrigued. “What a great item for my blog”, I thought, and then I found out the price…$13 each! Like a hot potato, it was quickly out of my cart and back on the shelf. While I didn’t have my camera with me (bad blogger…I should never be without my camera), I  remembered my cell’s capabilities and snapped this (not-so-good) photo.

Still intrigued,  I came home and researched it on Wikipedia.

FYI: This is the way it grows.

From Wikipedia: Buddha’s Hand, Buddha’s Hand citron, or Fingered citron (Citrus medica var. sarcodactylus) is a fragrant citrus fruit. It grows on a shrub or small tree with long, irregular branches covered in thorns. Its large, oblong leaves are pale green and grow about four to six inches. Its flowers are white or purplish and grow in fragrant clusters.

The fruit itself is a type of citron and is often described as lemon-like or lemon-esque. The fruit is segmented into finger-like sections. It has a thick peel and a small amount of acidic flesh and is seedless and juiceless. It is very fragrant and is used predominantly by the Chinese and Japanese for perfuming rooms and personal items, such as clothing.

The peel of the fruit can be candied into succade. In Western cooking, it is often used for its zest. The inner white pith is not bitter as is usually the case with citrus, so the fingers may be cut off and then longitudinally sliced, peel pith and all, and used in salads or scattered over cooked foods such as fish.

The fruit may be given as a religious offering in Buddhist temples. According to tradition, Buddha prefers the “fingers” of the fruit to be in a position where they resemble a closed rather than open hand, as closed hands symbolize to Buddha the act of prayer.

The origin of Buddha’s Hand is traced back to Northeastern India and is believed to be the first citrus fruit known in Europe. It is speculated that the Greeks and Romans brought them back from Asia.

The tree itself is sensitive to frost, as well as intense heat and drought. It grows best in temperate conditions. Areas such as the coast of Southern California as well as inland valleys are considered ideal for its planting. Trees can be grown from cuttings taken from branches two to four years old. One must bury the cuttings (replete with foliage) deep in the soil.

It is thought that in some areas it is given the name goblin fingers due to the frightening aspect of the “open” position.

I’ve been tagged with a meme. A what?

Gloria at Cookbook Cuisine tagged me with a meme. With a what? I had to look it up on Wikipedia (see definition below). The subject of this meme is 6-random-things-about-me (“that you don’t know”, I believe is the unspoken). 

In truth, this, like chain letters, is not my kind of thing. In fact, I cringed. I like writing, I like photography, I like the actual food challenges and I have grown to like commenting on other blogs and getting to know everyone. But…do I really want to do this? And then put the onus on 6 others who may feel like I do? But, after some thought, I’m saying ‘yes’…just this once…because I don’t want to disappoint Gloria, who is so sweet and supportive, and the truth is I know I will enjoy reading other people’s responses.

But, are there 6 things you don’t know about me that I really want to share? Hmmm. You already know a little about my family and that I love to travel and eat! Well, here goes…6 random things off the top of my head.

1. I retired early from the 9-to-5 grind. With this economy I’m wishing I didn’t.
2. My heritage is half-Spanish, half-Italian.
3. I live in South Florida for 14+ years but most of my friends are in NY and I miss them.
4. Zumba is my favorite exercise (aerobic dance to Salsa music).
5. My maternal grandmother lived in good health and with all her marbles till she was 101-1/2.
6. I was very happy on Election Day.

OK, so now the way this goes, is I tag 6 bloggers (sorry…hope you want to play along).

Amy & Jon of We Are Never Full
Peter of Kalofogas

and you follow these rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

[A meme (pronounced mi-m) consists of any idea or behavior that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation. Memes propagate themselves and can move through the cultural sociosphere in a manner similar to the contagious behavior of a virus.] 

The Answer to the Question + Slow Cooking Experiments + Si es Goya…

When I was interviewed by Tinned Tomatoes, she asked whether I would ever blog about a “dish gone disastrously wrong”. The answer was Yes…and here it is, along with my conclusions about slow cooking. Also stick around to the very end for a shout-out olé to Goya and Badia products.

It all started when I spotted a crock pot that wasn’t being used in one of my mother’s cabinets. I had been thinking about slow cooking for a while (since I started this blog I’ve been thinking about nothing else but cooking) so I immediately took possession of it. To reference how small this particular cooker is…that’s an 8 oz water glass next to it. I imagine there’s a Barbie somewhere who is looking for her first kitchen appliance. 
Experiment #1: Arroz con Pollo (chicken & rice)
These are the ingredients in the order they went in:
1 tomato chopped
1 red pimento
1 well-seasoned chicken leg and thigh
1/2 cup short-grained Valencia rice
1 cup chicken broth mixed with 1 packet Sázon with achiote
2 teaspoons chopped chorizo
1 teaspoon capers
1 teaspoon stuffed olives

Even though most recipes called for 8-10 hours, I knew this was done way before that time — basically because I peeked and the rice looked like it could hold up wallpaper!
Conclusion: The flavor was delicious but that’s only because I put good ingredients in the pot — but I would never serve it to dinner guests or myself (again). Sadly, the chorizo had all it’s flavor sucked out of it and was tasteless, but the real problem was the rice. I suspect it was my fault for using short-grained which I generally find trickier than the long-grained variety even when I do it on the stove top. THUMBS DOWN.

Experiment #2: Pork Chops Encebollada con Pimientas al Estilo Fricassee (Pork Chops and Onions in a delicious sauce)

This is a combination of 2 dishes popular in Puerto Rican and Cuban cultures. Seemed like the perfect dish for my second Slow Cooker experiment.

2 center cut pork chops
1 sweet onion sliced in rings
4 dried prunes
stuffed olives & capers with a splash of their juices
mini Sweet Pepper (or substitute rings of green pepper)
1 small can Goya Spanish Style tomato sauce
1 package of Goya Sazón
splash of Naranja Agria (bitter orange juice found in Latin section of supermarket)
Mojo Madness dry – this is a Caribbean citrus seasoning that I found in the supermarket and have been enjoying but any adobo style seasoning will do.

The method and order they went in the crock pot: A drizzle of olive oil on the bottom, pork chop that had been seasoned with Mojo Madness, layer a bed of sliced onion rings, second pork chop, layer of onion. Add peppers, prunes, olives, capers, can of tomato sauce, packet of Sázon and a splash of Naranja Agria.

Conclusion: I don’t understand the merits of slow cooking. I could have accomplished the same thing (twice!) on the stove in under an hour and I think it would have tasted better. I’m so  ‘over’ slow cooking.

Anyone care to share their slow cooker experiences?

Si es Goya tiene que ser buena…y Badia tambien.
I don’t know about other markets but if you live on the East Coast of the U.S. anywhere from North to South, you know the above marketing refrain…”if it’s Goya, it has to be good”. Goya dominates the Latin food products market. While I don’t cook Latin with any great frequency because it’s not calorie-friendly, for some reason experimenting in slow cooking brought me immediately to comidas criollas. In preparing 2 Latin-inspired dishes, almost back-to-back, I was struck every time I went into my pantry by just how many Goya and Badia Spice products I actually have on-hand at any given time.
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