Musing with Max

Musing with Max

February 21, 2011

Greek chorus

We've been talking a lot about Greece lately. Don't know why really, maybe that episode from House hunters International where the couple that lived in Athens wanted to buy a Summer home in the beach town of Stoupa. The places they saw were amazing and the prices were even more amazing, so of course our little heads start going and Frank starts checking real estate sites. Now, are we moving to Greece? Heavens no, I've never even been there let alone speak or understand one single solitary word of the Greek they say, it's Greek to me, Ha! We can still dream, can't we? Looking at all those beautiful stone houses on the Mediterranean which are probably money pits but who cares we can see ourselves there sitting on the terrace sipping some lovely wine, snacking on some lovely homemade hummus and tzatzaki, popping kalamata olives from our orchard while we gaze out at the aqua hued sea....Oh well, since we won't be doing that, at least not for the foreseeable future, what's the next best thing? Yep, Greek food to put us in the mood. And when I think of Greek food the first thing that usually pops into my little head is Moussaka, the Greek lasagna. I has so many things I love, eggplant, lamb, cinnamon, pine nuts and lovely delicate bechamel sauce.
So here is to Greece and all its tax evaders!

6 large eggplant (I actually use 4)
Oil for frying
1 1/2 lbs. Ground beef
1 1/2 lbs. Ground lamb
1/4 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. of Cinnamon
2 Tbsp. of pine nuts
1 Tbsp of Paprika
1/2 cup of parsley, chopped
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 1/2 to 2 cups Bechamel Sauce (recipe to follow)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Peel eggplant and slice 1/4 inch thick lengthwise. Place in colander add about one tablespoons of salt and let sit for one hour of draining. Wash eggplant well in cold water and dry thoroughly. Pour oil into a large skillet to cover bottom and fry eggplant slices on both sides, drain on paper towels. Add more oil as needed, eggplant soaks it up like a sponge. (this can and should be done ahead of time)
Season the meats with salt and pepper and braise in the water until the meat separates. Add onions and cook until onions become transparent, add all other ingredients except Parmesan cheese and cook for 5 minutes.
Lightly sprinkle the bottom of a baking pan (18x13x2) with bread crumbs, top with a layer of eggplant, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, add another layer of eggplant, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, spread the meat mixture over the eggplant, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and add a last layer of eggplant. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese evenly over the eggplant. Pour the bechamel sauce evenly over the dish. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes until light brown. Let stand 20 minutes before serving.

Bechamel sauce.

4 tbsp of butter
4 tbsp of flour
3 to 4 cups of milk
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat, add the flour and whisk until the flour is incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Add the milk slowly while whisking until the sauce is smooth and thickened. Add Salt & pepper to taste.

It actually tastes better the next day when all those lovely seasonings have taken their time in mixing in...and it can be made ahead at a whole bunch of different levels. Like for instance, the eggplant can be prepared ahead and refrigerated, so can the meat. The bechamel is best made right before since it tends to thicken quite a bit; but the whole thing can be prepared and built covered and refrigerated and cooked the following day. There are endless possibilities. Then it can be served on the terrace overlooking the aqua colored sea after popping some kalamata olives from the orchard and having some homemade hummus and tzatzaki, etc. etc etc. We can all dream, right?


February 18, 2011

Life Savior

When I started writing this blog it was mainly as an outlet. I had just become unemployed very suddenly and without much warning and the prospect of sitting at my computer spending the day going through the job listings was depressing to say the least, boring also comes to mind as well as a few other choice words, but I digress. I started writing to take a break from the job sites and do something I've always enjoyed but was too bashful, insecure, scared, you pick it, to do. There was no conscious or coherent effort to make this blog about anything in particular. The fact that I write a LOT about food says a LOT about what I enjoy doing with my time which is definitely cooking, in the Spring (if I'm still writing, oh yes) it will probably also include gardening, something else I thoroughly enjoy. This is clearly not a food blog; there are a bunch of food blogs out there and some are quite amazing, I am not about to put myself in that category. However I write about what I love. So here comes the tale of Max, the one constant in this little story.
Long story short, or maybe not: On December 25th 2005 we had the unfortunate experience of having to put our beloved pet (baby) TJ to sleep.
It was devastating. We had him since he was 7 months old and he was 14 at the time. Yes he was sick, yes he had crippling arthritis and hip dyspepsia among other things and yes that night he started to go into convulsions but still... Anyway after a couple of years of being "petless" I started to get antsy and spent an incredible and probably unhealthy amount of time looking through the Jersey Animal Coalition's (local shelter) website and pestering Frank no end. Finally one day in April of 2008 he said "OK, let me see that website" and picked about 7 dogs to look at, including the 2 collie puppies I was interested in. I'll spare all the details except this one, when we walked up to Max's (he had the unfortunate name of Timothy at the shelter) crate and he jumped over to the door where Frank was looking up at him I actually heard violins. This was love at first sight and I knew then and there that the 2 collie puppies were bupkus. So we rescued (it is debatable who rescued who, my money's on Max) this 1 1/2 year old combination beagle, treeing walker coon hound, pointer, etc, etc, mix. and immediately renamed him. He took to us (Frank) right away, walked in the house and jumped on the couches, the beds, you name it. Training of furniture etiquette ensued, it has worked to some extent. He knows what he is allowed on, the couch in the TV room, and what he's not allowed on, everything else. Translation: He lies with us on the TV room couch while we're home and watching TV, he lies on everything else when we're not home or out of sight.

and he lies on Frank whenever possible

When Frank's 3 month consulting assignment with JPMorganChase came to an end in June 2008 after 9 years he decided to take a couple of months off and catch up on some software that he felt he badly needed to learn, therefore he and Max spent all day together. They went to the dog park, they went for walks in the woods, they played catch in the back yard, went for power walks, and just plain hung out. In September of 2008 the economy of the great US of A collapsed big time and Frank who has amazing knowledge and experience could not find a job. It took a year; a long anxious,terrifying year. It was a trying time yet we got through it with amazing aplomb. We woke up every day to be greeted by this incredible little creature who couldn't be happier to see us, he'd look at us with those big brown sad eyes and his tail would wag so hard that half his body would wag with it, he'd take his paw and try to grab our hand, if we argued (and remarkably we did little if this) he'd try and either sit on one of our laps and grab us with his paws or put his head down and go lie in his bed forlornly. I can go on and on and on. The last two years have not been easy yet we have endured, gotten through them, forged on, with an ease and peace of mind that surprises and amazes me since Frank and I tend to be pretty volatile people. I can only attribute it to one thing:
So why do I wax poetic? Why the corny sentimentality? Well this morning as I was getting ready for work and the heat was coming up the radiator in the library started to make a whimpering sound and Max went in there and started to whimper because he's sensitive that way. Last year in my darkest hour when I lost my Mother and the sadness was unbearable, he sat next to wherever I was and laid his head on my lap. When we drove to Miami for her funeral and stayed at my brother's house he was the glue that bound us all and comforted us one by one and we were able to smile.  I realized that in all this time Musing with Max no post has necessarily been about Max...or maybe they all have been since he gives me the gumption I never had before. He will not judge, I can do nothing wrong, he loves me and I am better for it.

February 2, 2011

Ice Age

This Winter refuses to let up. As if one storm a week weren't enough today's was of all things an ice storm and as far as I'm concerned there is nothing worse. Yes, sure it looks beautiful with that sleeping beauty quality of everything covered in ice
but that's just the problem...EVERYTHING is covered in ice. And if you don't have to go anywhere or leave the house for any reason at all, like say walk the pooch, well then that's just fine. But unfortunately that's not reality, we have to go out. So after taking Max for a very eventful and somewhat dangerous walk we slid to the train station and braved the increasingly slick sidewalk to go to work only to find that the trains were being canceled left and right.....So after an hour or so of waiting I slid back home only to find that everyone was working from home because WE ARE COVERED IN ICE
with icicles the size of 2 year old children dangling from our windows

and everywhere else around the house for that matter

and the temperatures are supposed to plummet tonight which means that whatever little bit melted will just ice over again. And it's only February 2nd and heaven only knows what that stupid groundhog did, I'm sure nothing positive. So while I toiled away on my computer chatting with people in California who consistently told me how bad they felt for us...yeah right! Every once in a while I snuck upstairs and hugged this

Hmm, maybe it's not such a bad winter after all...

...And we're still glowing in the fact that Miss Pickering came by for a visit; I do hope she brought The Hound