The Staple of Hamburger Helper….

Okay, if you are utterly opposed to boxed meals, go ahead and skip this post. It isn’t even exactly in praise of Hamburger Helper, but rather some amusing anecdotes. I don’t know the history other than it was created in 1971 and was probably considered an “advancement” for busy people and those who were perhaps limited in culinary ability. After all, being able to brown hamburger, measure milk, stir in the other few ingredients in the box, and keep from burning the dish isn’t too challenging. A fairly complete meal in a single pan is welcome when it comes to clean-up.

My first introduction to it came a bit later, when I was involved in a somewhat serious (not long lasting, but that’s not the point) relationship with a guy who made it very clear he wouldn’t have it as a meal. Apparently in his brief and badly matched marriage, this was basically the only meal his wife was willing to prepare and he refused to eat it again. (I don’t know if he ever got over that.)

I don’t recall when I did prepare it the first time and as with many of these conveniences, adding ingredients such as onions, peppers, a few more seasonings does give more depth. Hubby is in fact a fan although one of the only versions I don’t care for is the classic Cheeseburger – his favorite. That’s one of the dishes he often makes for himself when I am on a trip. We will be having the Stroganoff this week on Thursday because that’s Camera Club meeting for him and it’s easy for me to have dinner at normal time and him to zap in the microwave when he gets in much closer to nine o’clock. That’s the version with the noodles, not the potatoes.

Loving the Blues….

I’ve posted before about Homestead Center for the Arts and the range of things we are involved in. Five years ago (another of the, “Can it really have been five years ago? Yep.”, moments) a somewhat casual comment turned into a program for bringing different genres of music 2-4 times a year into Homestead. At that time, few restaurants featured live music although a couple are now doing so regularly on weekends. Not surprisingly, the main type of music played is the 1970s+ and lots of Jimmy Buffet tunes. So the Music Series (MuSe) of HCA looks for other genres; as local as possible, which means no further north than Miami. We don’t have a large budget, plus the idea is to highlight local talent. Last night’s (Thus, Jan 17th) group of Sonny East was superb and a few people, to include the director for Seminole Theatre, took their contact info.

The courtyard of the White Lion Cafe was perfect, even though I did put my sweater on the latter part of the night. It was fried broccoli for the table as a starter, then I had the dolphin dippers and hubby went for the blackened prime rib.

Anyway, back to music. I am not enough of an aficionado to hear the difference in Delta, Chicago, Memphis, or Saint Louis Blues. I know there are regional aspects and perhaps if i heard examples back-to-back I could pick up on the variations. We haven’t decided yet what our next performance will be and we do have a group that loves the classical string trio or quartet in from Frost School of Music (U of M). And as odd as it seems with so much Latin influence around, we have yet to locate a good Latin Band within our price range. The search shall continue.

And More Days Slip By…..

Most decorations have been returned to their storage spot, although somehow, what appears to be the single addition of one item given as a gift now necessitates needing a box for it and three others. Apparently not everything went exactly back into the usual place, but we do also have boxes around the correct size. Leftovers have been consumed, tossed, or give away appropriately and when I pick up a pie crust tomorrow, an apple tart will complete the last of them. I don’t think there is enough apple for a full pie, plus there is still extra chocolate candy in the pantry. Small pieces, granted, yet candy nonetheless.

My lack of posting is an indicator of what the schedule has been like and not surprisingly there is no real let-up in sight. On the other hand, boredom is hardly an issue we need to be concerned with. I did manage to fire off an email to the fence company we will probably use to finally get that back in order which is the required step before contacting the landscaping lady. It so happens the big Seafood Festival will be the last Saturday and Sunday of Jan and last year, she had a booth there. This particular fence company tends to work fast if they are available and thus, it is possible, they will either be finished or have a completion date for us by that time. If she is at the Festival again, it will be a much shorter visit to talk to her than going out to her place. It isn’t really that far, but hey, every shorter errand does help.

Anyway, a very busy week ahead. In all the excitement, our only disappointment is it seems as if the hummingbird we so happily celebrated has gone away. It’s been several days with no sighting or apparent activity. Perhaps he was migratory after all. However, if we finally had one, another many well appear. Keeping fingers crossed.


“Rolling New Year Toast”…..

First, Happy New Year. Today is the last day for the kids to be here and I am hoping for a little more sunshine and less wind for our final pool time. Ah well, hot coffee and cocoa are to be had.

For our annual New Year’s Eve party, we invite a limited number of people because we don’t want anyone to drive far. The one set of friends lives about two miles away with only a few turns in between. The others are even closer. We also started a new tradition last year. We begin the party at 7:00 and at 9:00 we toast New Year’s in Brazil; at 10:00 in Argentina; at 11:00 St Croix, and midnight here, of course. That way if anyone wants to leave early, they have already raised a glass in toast. I wanted to include Iceland or Greenland, just because, but they’re too far ahead of us. It works well and by the same token, if someone wants to come later, we’ll have the festivities going until midnight.

Hubby had to work today and tomorrow, so there wasn’t much sleeping in although he did have a slightly later start. Granddaughter tried to stay awake last night, but did get a bit wired so she finally gave in and got into her nightgown. She did sleep in a bit this morning, too although not very late.

I am slowly recovering the house and one of the rules I have for the party is nice paper plates and high end disposable cutlery which includes no food that requires cutting so you don’t get into the issue of that. Even though there is still quite a bit to clean and rearrange, big garbage bags take care of much of it.

Closing again with Happy New Year and hope it is a good one for all.

Something Slightly Different…..

For reasons that aren’t important, we will be taking the turkey as the “second meat” to our friends’ house for Christmas dinner. Although we often fry the turkey, it is a bit of a production and then you do have all that oil to deal with after. That leads us to the option of roasting. We did smoke it one year, but that really does take a long time. Hubby is a big fan of Alton Brown and using a brine for the bird is something he strongly recommends. Once again though, you have a  large quantity of liquid to deal with after the fact. (It does help that the gallons of brine liquid aren’t boiling hot.)

So, when we were in Georgia for Thanksgiving and Hubby’s cousin said she had used a dry brine this time, he was intrigued. The turkey was excellent and we are giving it a try. It’s a two-part process of mixing the kosher salt, sugar, pepper, etc., together to completely cover the bird, but placing it on a wire rack on a baking sheet uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. Part two is to place an apple into the cavity, mix unsalted butter with more herbs and spices and rub that mixture all over the turkey before roasting at 350 degrees.

Tonight we will be making a modified version of “siete potencias”; a seafood stew traditional in Puerto Rico and other places as the Christmas Eve meal. The origin is apparently African although I’ve never really checked into that. There are of course regional variations and we have done the full seven-ingredient version. With only the two of us though that makes for a lot of stew and it doesn’t keep for more than a few days. Since the kids don’t arrive until Dec 28th, it’s just easier to have less leftovers as I’m stocking the refrigerator for what we’ll have with them.


The Lack of Lettuce…..

I have to admit a nation-wide (or maybe it’s global at this point) ban on romaine lettuce was not something I anticipated. As much havoc as it is causing in our personal shopping, I feel terrible for restaurants who have moved away from ice berg lettuce in favor of romaine as being more upscale and popular. There are many who do the “classic wedge” though so I guess that works if they can get adequate supply. It appears that field greens and of course spinach are safe, but again, romaine does tend to be a greater percentage of the trade. This brought to mind our time in Desert Shield/Desert Storm when fresh vegetables simply weren’t available. We did get some fresh fruit such as apples, oranges and tangerines, and figs (which I don’t eat). There was also fruit juice. Lettuce was simply too perishable and in the huge quantities of food needed for military rations, the big cans of vegetables are what are used. The Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE) as rations have some vegetables in items like Chicken A La King or Beef Stew, but at the time, that was about it. I know they’ve done a number of changes with the menu since then so there may be more options.

Anyway, when we did finally return to Germany, it was mid-May so the growing season was in full swing. That meant no shortage of lettuce and for at least a while it was strawberry season. Their strawberries are always delicious and especially so that summer. I’ve always loved the white radishes although at the time I was not a fan of white asparagus. There were naturally other culinary items we’d missed such as the wonderful pastries and we caught up on those as quickly as we could. Not surprisingly good German beer and wine were in the liquid category.

Wandering Around the Square…..

I’ve written in previous posts about the town square of Covington, Hubby’s home town. We always have lunch one day there and I then stroll around as he goes to take photos. The New Orleans-themed restaurant was closed, as does happen the day before Thanksgiving and we were already scheduled to have dinner at Mystic Grill with his sister and her husband. The “Fish Camp” place close to the square is being converted into a Japanese place and unfortunately, the Irish Pub didn’t succeed either. We went to the Your Pie which has pizza, paninis and salads. As an aside, the romaine lettuce recall is causing issues for restaurants and diners alike. Anyway, Your Pie is unique in it is set up similar to Subway. They serve 8-inch thin crust pizzas and you pick from a variety of crusts and toppings or you can order one of their creations. They do give you a number and bring your order to the table. I went with whole wheat crust, marinara, pepperoni, salami, sun dried and fresh tomatoes. Hubby had a turkey and pesto pannini.

After, he went off with his camera and I went to the Town Square Olive Oil shop. We haven’t been down to our Olive Morada for longer than we like, but we aren’t going to deal with holiday traffic. I had to restrain myself in stocking up, but how is one to resist cilantro and roasted garlic infused olive oil and I had to have blood orange and Persian Lime. Then there was the new bacon and I did stop at that. The Cork wine store was open as well and they did have the Nouveau Beaujolais in. Not for us – that was the gift to give Hubby’s cousin who hosts Thanksgiving. Then there was time for coffee at the Bread and Butter Bakery and I very carefully ignored the pastry section.

It was a lovely afternoon and a sweater was enough warmth since the temperature didn’t drop much until after the sun went down.

Trip, Day 8…….

Have completed sort of the last leg depending on how you want to count it. We spent yesterday afternoon, last night, and a bit of this morning with old friends in PA we hadn’t seen for a couple of years. They are closing in on a kitchen remodel, so we went out to eat at one of the older inns; a nice place with plenty of choices. Having had my crab cakes at lunch with the kids, I opted for a creative chicken dish, although everyone else went for seafood in one form or the other. I had already passed on the oysters on the half-shell – never been something I can deal with. Actually, I don’t eat oysters in any form, nor other mollusks for that matter. Anyway, we got caught up on lots of things and commiserated with Dodgers’ fans afterward when the outcome of the game/series seemed pretty obvious.

The trip down this morning was smooth and we’re ready for the warmer weather that has eluded us for the past week-plus. This late in October, you never quite know what you’ll get and unseasonably cool was it for the week. The rain has passed though, so that does help. Tomorrow is scheduled to be clear for good flying barring those different things one can encounter when traveling. I stocked up on Halloween candy before we left to avoid having to shop for it on the day of. If Hubby has time he will get the skeleton out of the garage and place him on the porch in the rocking chair. I don’t think we’ll mess with much of anything else and he is the most popular decoration we have anyway. I suspect the battery to ensure his eyes glow will need to be replaced and think we probably have a spare on hand.

Trip, Day 7…..

You can’t expect no rain on a 9-day trip. Mother Nature will have her way at some point. At least it did taper off early afternoon. Although Hubby didn’t get to go into DC for his photo shoot, there is a Wild Wings within decent walking distance of our friends and he had a nice lunch as well as watched some football before returning here and watching more football.

Girlfriend took me over to the National Harbor which is a great place if you haven’t been. It’s at the base of the drawbridge on the Maryland side. It’s modeled after the Inner Harbor of Baltimore with hotels, restaurants, shops, lovely water views, now a Ferris Wheel, and not too long ago an MGM resort complete with casino. It is quite large and we walked all around before going to the Sports Bar for lunch. The three really nice sit-down restaurants weren’t open until evening except for the Asian-themed Ginger and we weren’t in the mood for that. The sports bar wasn’t so loud we couldn’t talk. I probably should have had the crab cake, but may have that today with the kids.

The performance last night was enjoyable and they did include some of the younger students, mostly to give them a chance on stage before the bigger audiences for Nutcracker. Son choreographed two pieces and we would have been impressed even if we hadn’t known they were by him. Both modern and the influence of Lucy from Bowen-McCauley Dance was easy to identify. As we suspected, granddaughter was overly tired by the time it ended and we prudently decided to catch-up at early lunch today. She had become restless after the intermission and I did “Grandma duty” by taking her out to run around in the open spaces of the lobby and up and down the staircases a couple of times. We did use our “inside voice” to make sure she wasn’t disrupting the group that had some event going on upstairs. After lunch today, it’s on to PA.

Trip, Day 5…..

Time to head back to DC. For a change on a trip I was able to book all our transportation so we are not having to get up terrible early and mostly not caught in the heaviest urban traffic. Yesterday was the Museum of Modern Art with a surprisingly large exhibit about post-WW II rebuild of Yugoslavia and the subsequent development of the Adriatic as a major tourist draw. The use of concrete was a particular focus. In the gallery with the older definition of “modern”, there is something about seeing “Starry Night” in person.

Having not yet been into one of the many Irish pubs, we had lunch in the nearby Connolly’s. Hubby had traditional fish and chips and I had a salad special with shrimp.

We went early for Top of the Rock to be able to walk around and did see the skaters in the Plaza. Once we made our way through the line to get up, I told Hubby to take his time. Had the weather been less cold – quite a wind at 67 stories – 68 for him since he did that last one using the stairs – he would have hung around an extra hour to get the sun setting colors.

We’d saved the NY steakhouse for our last night and our first choice was booked. The runner-up was okay, although not what I experienced a couple of years ago at a well-known one, nor one I will name since I don’t particularly recommend it. The service was quite good though and the steaks were flavorful. The ambience was also okay and I will say it was nice to dine where we weren’t crammed up against two other tables.

I have to post this and get ready for departure. Hope the Acela trip back to DC goes as smoothly as the trip up.