Musing with Max

Musing with Max

August 31, 2011

Things we lost in the Flood

My box of tchotchkis that my Mom and my Aunt had given me throughout the years and I didn't have the heart to throw away even though I'm too old for them. My striped curtains that I used for one year before we repainted the bedroom and were still brand new. All the paintings that we weren't using at the moment. Two bags full of books that I was going to donate to the library. All the glassware that I was saving for that future garage sale. My long Bill Blass coat that I've had for a million years and weighs a million pounds. My long white linen dress that I've had for about 15 years and only wear once a year cause it immediately has to be dry cleaned (didn't wear it this year). My hot water heater -- aka-Hot Water and a bunch of money to replace it since the warranty doesn't cover "getting wet". My faith in some people. I.e. the plumbers we've used since we moved here (and that's a lot since it's a 107 year old house) and wouldn't give us a price break even though they installed it only 5 years ago. My faith in Home Depot who has an ad on their website saying they install the same day or the following and had that idiot call me and say that we had to wait until sometime next week because "we had a hurricane you know". My sanity. My infinite patience with this type of stuff. My ability to shower.

Things we didn't lose in the Flood.

This little guy
these plants

My vintage dresses that are hanging in the portable closet in the basement. My dance costumes that I had the wherewithal to move to a high hook. My Winter curtains that are in a box on a high shelf. My paper towels that I had just bought a case of. My wedding dress that my  Mom packaged with such love. My washer and dryer. All the stuff we moved to "higher" ground. The wine. My faith in some people. I.e. the guy from Lowe's who said we'll try to get there tomorrow...and will. My ability to shower very quickly in ice cold water. My sanity. Power. The knowledge that, this too shall pass.

August 30, 2011

Waiting for Irene

Growing up in Florida, specifically Miami, hurricanes were the norm. Well actually, the threat of hurricanes were the norm because all the years I lived there I remember one touching down and making a left at the last minute which spared us the brunt of it. His name was David. I remember taping all the windows with big X's; something I never understood very well. Are hurricanes scared of tape? Are the X's signs for them to keep out that they actually heed? Whatever, all I know is we taped and taped and taped. We also brought in every single solitary plant and piece of furniture that could go flying and become a lethal weapon (apparently the X's didn't scare them), which meant an amazing array of stuff. My Mom's house had a back terrace and a side terrace and my Mom and Aunt were avid gardeners so in addition to what was planted in the ground there were pots of all shapes and sizes everywhere and hanging plants in every conceivable nook and cranny. The patio furniture consisted of white wrought iron tables (yes, tables) and chairs and couches and such. By the time we got all this stuff in the house we could barely walk, add to that 4 adults, a big giant Irish Setter and a nasty cat and it's no wonder that I passed out on my bed; head next to a very taped window, and slept through the whole thing only to spend the most of the next day moving everything out again and removing that damned tape from all the windows. I'm sure during my tenure we had plenty of tropical storms but once I left; well several years later, they finally got hit with the big one. Andrew. Andrew was a devastating category 5 and after so many years of hurricane threats and no actual hits the residents weren't very well prepared so damage was huge and also included extended power outages, food and water shortages, etc. For a little while there Miami became a third world country and the fear was instilled in it's citizenry. They became hurricane experts. Most of them installed state of the art shutters, none of that sissy taping crap, and have every single piece of equipment needed to survive any size storm and the minute that hurricane season opens they pull out the tracking maps so they can be at the ready. I live in the Northeast, we don't have hurricanes, we have nor'easters so when we were threatened with the full force of Irene headed right for us I had to think back to my Miami days for preparation. We bought lots of water, made sure our flashlights had batteries and we had lots of candles. Took all the porch and patio furniture into the garage and brought in the hanging plants which could function as heat seeking missiles in 85 mph winds. My brother called to make sure we had all the necessities: battery powered radio, no; battery powered lamps, no; indoor grill, no; shutters, (what?) no. No mention of the tape thank goodness. I could just see him shaking his head; we were headed for trouble. My thoughts of course turned to one thing. Food. First of all what was going to happen to my herb garden with all that wind and rain? The thought of it being destroyed was horrifying,
so I had to bring it in

and make lots of pesto

which I make in a food processor: drop two or three cloves of garlic in the feeding tube while the machine is running to chop, stop the machine and add about two cups of basil leaves, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, or walnuts, 1/4 cup of olive oil, a pinch of salt and process until a paste forms, stir in a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. If you are going to freeze it, leave out the Parmesan until you are ready to serve it.
Then the cooking bug really hit me cause I had to get rid of all this nervous energy and kooky anticipation, so I hit the tomatoes and sliced them very thick
 and tossed them with some olive oil, salt, chunks of garlic and the aforementioned herbs...thyme & basil in this case

and roasted them in a 300F oven for an hour and a half

and then put them away for future use.
I decided we needed dessert- Chocolate Mousse should do it

Rum Chocolate Mousse- adapted from The Joy of Cooking


  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) sugar
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) rum (can double this amount)
  • 1/4 lb (.1 kg). semi-sweet or sweet chocolate
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) whipping cream
  • 2 stiffly beaten egg whites
  • 2 cups (475 ml) whipped cream
  • Cook sugar and rum over very low heat until dissolved but not colored brown.
  • Melt chocolate in double boiler.
  • When chocolate is melted stir in 2 tbsp (30 ml) whipping cream.
  • Add sugar and rum mixture and stir until smooth.
  • When the mixture is cool but not chilled, fold in egg whites.
  • Fold the combination very gently into 2 cups (475 ml) whipped cream.
  • Chill in sherbet glasses at least 2 hours before serving.
Prepared a Zuni roast chicken for dinner along with tarragon mashed potatoes

figuring if we lose power,we can have cold chicken tomorrow, right? Along with a whole bunch of other eclectic stuff. The rain started in the early evening and just intensified and intensified, the wind pretty much stayed in check. The power stayed on; we had our lovely dinner watched some TV and went to bed at 2:30 am listening to the rain pounding away. Woke up the next day around 9:00 am to a light rain and sun sneaking through the clouds and this face
sort of saying "hurricane or no hurricane, I've got to go!"

but wait a minute what's that, since when do we have a lake in the back yard
and why is there water in the basement. Not good.

And then the phone started ringing and the neighbors started showing up and the rain stopped and the sun came out and we didn't feel so crappy anymore, and the herb garden survived. No too bad.

August 19, 2011

Cyber Redemption

I hate Facebook. This may sound very hypocritical coming from someone who has a facebook page but it's true. I have one because it is the only way these days to keep up with certain family members and friends. People who don't have time to return calls or emails but seem to have tremendous amounts of time to spend on facebook and the Internet recording every insignificant stupid thought that comes into their head and every single thing they do during the day as if this were so fascinating and earth shattering. Many a time I have been tempted to write "I've farted", "Oops again" just to see what reaction I would get from my minions of 23 friends. I'm sure none, it has nothing to do with them and is not about them. The internet, and Facebook especially, has bred a culture of Snookis, self centered, self involved people who think everything they think, say, eat, do; needs to be shared with the masses to show how interesting their lives are, meanwhile alienating everyone since they never bother with anyone but themselves. Then last week something very interesting happened. While catching up on the blogs that I read I took a look at Last Night's Dinner; which I hadn't looked at for a while mainly because the author is 9 months pregnant and has, understandably, been absent; and found this post:
A Pie for Mikey, written by her husband. Apparently, another food blogger they knew, Jennifer Perillo, had lost her husband suddenly a few days before and wrote this post: for mikey. I had never read her blog before but of course was curious once I read Last Night's Dinner's post. It was heartbreaking. Her prose is beautiful in the way she explains her monumental loss, and her daughters' devastation and her sweet request that to honor her husband one should bake his favorite dessert, peanut butter pie. I lost my father
the same sudden way when I was 16 and have thought of it pretty much every day since. I remember my mother's anguish, even though she tried not to show it. These girls are much younger than I, they will miss so much more. I sympathize with her because I can't even imagine losing someone I have loved for as long as I can remember
and can't possibly imagine being without. But most poignant was two days later when I went on to one of my recipe websites Tastespotting looking for help with a zucchini abundance; the first page was full of posts for peanut butter pies for Mikey, so was the second; it was overwhelming...and amazing. These people weren't necessarily her friends or relatives, they were just people, people from everywhere, who had read her post and felt her pain and did honor her and her husband's life by heeding her request. I'm sure this will not fill her void but it will make her loss just a tad more bearable to know that there are those out there who will reach out to someones need because it's not all about them.

I will not bake a peanut butter pie for Mikey, at least not today (my hips can't handle it) but I will follow the rest of her request:

 hug them like there's no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on.

August 17, 2011

A Thief in the Night

When we bought our house in South Orange and came to do the home inspection the guy who did the termite and infestation inspection called me over very gravely and said "You have a groundhog living under your porch". I just looked at him and smiled; he then said " You can call a trapper and have him trapped and removed". Well, I thought, why on earth would I do something like that? Groundhogs are cute and harmless and can earn you bucks like Punxsutaweny Phil. Hell, I could have my very own South Orange Sam. Then I planted my vegetable garden and I wished I would have heeded termite man's advice. My prized tomatoes went missing and there were strange little paw prints in the vegetable patch. To top it all off, they were usually the big juicy tomatoes almost completely ripened. One day he came walking down the sidewalk, turned onto our walk and walked right under the porch, in broad daylight no less. The nerve of the animal. Sometimes I would see him scampering through the back yard and over the fence and I noticed something interesting as the Summer wore on; he kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. While my tomato crop kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Well this was unacceptable. So to quote one of my childhood (OK adult too) heroes "I hope you realize this means war". I really wasn't sure how I would wage this battle so I devised a plan.
1. I would make sure TJ (Max's older brother) was outside as much as possible.
2. I would chase around after him anytime I saw him yelling something like "Get the Hell out of my house you *##&%+$#!!!!" 
He eventually figured out that TJ could care less since it meant he had to chase a much faster animal and after all he was a Chow and chasing was not part of his vocabulary or realm of activities. And when I chased around after him thrashing my arms and yelling obscenities he'd just stop and stare and, I swear, a couple of times I'm sure he pointed and laughed. Then one day, he was gone.
We rejoiced! For years we were groundhog free.

Then this year, I came out one morning and found this
and these
on the floor and all the ripened Roma tomatoes were gone...aaargh! The varmint is back! What is my plan of attack? Well not this

cause I'd hate to bother him from doing this

So unless I sit outside at night to scare him off, we're resigned to picking them early like this
and buying them at the store so we can make stuff like this
Hot Summer Tomato Jam adapted from The New Basics Cookbook
6 allspice berries
6 whole cloves
1/2 tsp crushed dried red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 lbs ripe plum tomatoes
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine allspice, cloves, red pepper flakes and mustard seeds in a piece of cheesecloth and tie securely with a long piece of string.
2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes in the water and cook until the skins split, 1 to 2 minutes. Plunge them in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking, peel and cut into 1/4 inch dice.
3. Place the tomatoes and remaining ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Add the spice bag, letting the string hang out of the pan. Slowly bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Remove from heat and let cool, discard the spice bag and refrigerate.

So imagine my surprise when I came out this afternoon to find this running out from the tomato patch? That changes everything!

August 14, 2011

Flowers for my Mom

My Mother loved hydrangeas; she loved the way those big balls looked like cotton candy when the plant is in full bloom. Her eyes would just light up in such a way it almost seemed as if she were going to cry at the sight of such beauty. She once worked with a woman from Brazil who regaled her with stories as to how in Brazil they grew like wildflowers and there were fields covered with hydrangea bushes in bloom. She would close her eyes and imagine this infinite landscape of these beautiful flowers, and in her mind they were always pink. Unfortunately, my Mother lived in Miami Florida where the climate, sandy soil and hydrangeas don't mix. Every year she would buy the plants that were set out at Easter, 3 or 4 at least, and replant them framing the front of the house. When she planted them they were always in prolific bloom and they were always pink. She then proceeded to tend to them daily as if they were newborn babies only to be crushed once they were wilted and dead within a month. Then finally she gave up; all illusions shattered. Imagine her pure joy when I moved to New Jersey where the climate and acidic soil are just made for hydrangeas and they grow like wildflowers. When I told her she was ecstatic, and every year if she hadn't visited at the right time I would make sure to send her pictures of the plants in full bloom. She would swoon. My hydrangeas are now in full bloom, except mine are blue. Here you go Mom.
and sometimes pink

or white

or both

August 12, 2011

The Day the Earth Stood Still

No, not this movie

 even though I highly recommend it, cause not only is it great (not at all like the awful Keanu Reeves remake) but it's got to have the cheesiest robot ever, except maybe for the one from Lost in Space

 ...but anyway back to what I was saying. When you are unemployed time seems to linger on and on and on, the days seem quite endless and just kind of blend together, if it weren't for the newspaper I would never know what day it is. This is not necessarily a good thing unless of course you meant to be unemployed, which is not the case with me. We are always rushing time or trying to slow it down depending on what's going on, when you're working it's hoping the week goes fast so we can get to the weekend and then when you're on vacation it's slow down so you don't have to go back to work too soon. Typical humans, never satisfied. When you need to fill your days and can only spend so much time on line looking for a job it feels as if the earth has stood still, in just about everything. Summer seems to have come to a halt at a certain spot. For instance, my tomatoes. It is mid August practically and they are just beginning to ripen
very slowly

normally by now we would have had bushels of them and we'd be racking our brains trying to figure out what to make with them all before they spoil. I miss that, and I miss not having my lovely ripe tomatoes on a daily basis so we have had to resort to buying them
so we can make dishes like this

Stuffed Tomato with Mozzarella adapted from Mark Bittman

to go with this

Lamb skewers a la me

Cut 2 lbs. of lamb into 1 1/2 inch cubes and season with salt and pepper. Marinate for several hours in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, chopped fresh oregano, chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh mint. Remove from the marinade, place in skewers and grill until done (don't ask me how long, I don't grill) or broil about 8 minutes on each side. Serve

or we can also make this

Couscous with chopped tomatoes and me

Make couscous according to package directions, add chopped tomatoes and herbs of your choice, cover about 5 minutes. Toss and serve with this

Broiled Flank me

In a small food processor mince several cloves of garlic, add thyme, parsley and chop again. Add extra virgin olive oil, a generous teaspoon of Dijon or whole grain mustard and mix. Season the steak with salt & pepper and brush half the mixture on one side, flip over and repeat on the other side. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour. Broil 8 to 10 minutes per side and serve with this

Spinach me

In a bowl combine extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar with salt & pepper. Add baby spinach, a sliced red or white onion and a chopped hard boiled egg. Toss

And I have so many more tomato recipes to talk about but I'll leave those for another post because after all, all I have is time.

Here's Max daydreaming because he has a lot of time too.