Some Things Better From A Restaurant….

As I have posted on numerous occasions, cooking is something Hubby and I enjoy. While we have certain specialties and of course I don’t even know how to light the grill, we share in preparation unless one of us has to be otherwise occupied. If he is grilling, I’ll take care of the salads and probably the sides. If I am doing veal paprika for example, he’ll handle salads after having done all the prep chopping for the main dish. One of the “givens”, is he adopted true “chef” techniques for chopping, has the specialty knives, and not only enjoys it, but cringes when he watches me chop in the same old-fashioned way I always have. Despite all of this, there are simply certain dishes we don’t bother with. Ribs fall into that category. Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day are times when burgers, brats, chicken, or ribs are really what one should have. Fried fish can be okay and yes, if one lives in New England, lobster is common.

Although ribs can be cooked in different ways, slow cooked for many hours no matter what seasoning one chooses is the correct method. Period. Ten to twelve hours is the minimum proper time and fourteen is even better. Duplicating that at home comes with far more effort than we wish to expend and we have no shortage of places in town offering excellent ribs. I personally go for the dry rub and Hubby is often torn, but generally goes that way as well.  We don’t have a strong preference as to cut even though baby backs do have a slight edge. Pork, not beef, as much because of his Georgia roots as anything. Granted, other boiled crustaceans,  few things are messier to eat and extra napkins and wipes are required. That, however, is worth the extra effort.

Days of Instant Coffee…..

A post to Twitter brought this old memory to mind. My mother did not drink coffee, so Daddy mostly drank instant. As I think I posted some time back, I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in the Army. I did, however, work behind the fountain at the Rexall Pharmacy with one of the big silver electric coffee urns and had to learn to make coffee in it. I also learned what happens when one doesn’t make it to suit the taste of the regulars and it didn’t take long to correct the “too weak or too strong” errors. Since this was in the years before Mr. Coffee type drip pots became popular, I had the home percolator for those who are of an age to remember such things. But, since I was rarely home enough to drink more than a cup, I still often used instant.

Somewhere in the process, a couple of coffee makers introduced coffee bags – the same thing as a tea bag. For me, they generally produced a more reliably smoother taste than most of the granulated since the amount in the bag was pre-measured. The  solution to single cup dilemma was the Kuerig type machine and who knows, maybe the inventor was faced with the same issue of wanting “brewed” coffee, but only one cup at a time. Not to mention, having all sorts of choices available depending on which cup/pod is selected. The drawback of course is trying to make coffee for a group. I have been told there is at least one manufacturer who has a combination machine; one side is a regular drip maker and the other the single serving type. This is why free markets and capitalism are so great. We will probably check this out the next time our drip maker needs to be replaced.

Growing Hyrdoponics…..

For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, there seems to be a surge of Facebook promotions for growing your own hyrdoponics. We do have at least two local places I know that have these on a commercial scale – well, not like really huge – but enough to provide goods at some of the farmers’ markets. We, in fact, had the indoor Aero Garden for I guess it was two years or a little longer. What it comes down to is we were successful in the growing and the lettuces were delicious. The problem was the volume. With the single machine, the yield was not very large and the seed pods we ordered were expensive enough to where we couldn’t claim we were doing this from a “saving money” perspective. (There was an option to get seeds from a store and create your own pods, but we never did that.) It was interesting and the set-ups I’ve been seeing on Facebook are for outdoor. Unless you have some sort of greenhouse protection though you will have a specified growing season. As I have mentioned in previous posts, ironically the year-round ability to grow here does not include items like lettuces for the summer because it is too hot. Now, it has been a while since we’ve done this so I suppose there could be some hot-weather variant available that I am simply unaware of.

Cost of goods won’t be a factor for some people as much as the pleasure they get in growing their own and the certainty of knowing the source.Once again though, I’m not sure about quantity of yield and how many plants it would take to have enough lettuces. We each have a salad for dinner every night we eat at home except Friday (pizza night). I usually have a salad for lunch if I’m home. I’ll keep an eye on Facebook posts and see if any actual people discuss their experience.

 

In Defense of Picky Eaters……

For all of you with adventuresome tastes, you do have a wide culinary world to enjoy – or at least explore. As more people stay at home (providing they can also get groceries), many appear to be trying new dishes and recipes. Several of my friends consider me to be a picky eater, although that can be a relative term. I grew up in a “standard” small, Southern town in the time of traditional fare, but indeed did not eat cooked greens nor yellow squash. A wide range of seasonings were not available, although for those who never had vegetables cooked with bacon grease, you are missing a treat. There were no Chinese, Italian, etc; restaurants, and when a pizza place did finally open, we of course didn’t cross the threshold since they also sold beer. (That was one of numerous Baptist prohibitions I violated in my college years).

Anyway, my culinary experience did greatly expand as I left home for both foreign countries and other states. I do admit, I hadn’t the faintest notion of what a frappe was the first time I visited Maine and unless one is vegetarian, how can one not appreciate a Philly cheese steak? My point is, I do have a long list of “common” items I don’t eat, possible led off by eggs, bananas, and mushrooms. I am occasionally trapped into eating quiche due to social politeness, and yes, I apparently ate both eggs and bananas as a small child until somewhere along the way, I was able to express my dislike. (Mushrooms were not part of our diet so I was spared that.) Hubby, on the other hand, loves them and for a while was convinced if I just tried a different type/way of preparation, I would change my mind. He has given up and simply enjoys eating my share. I’m okay with the flavor; not the texture, so we cook with them all the time and I pass mine to him.

My point is, as long as we picky eaters achieve balanced nutrition, (which most of us do) don’t worry about us.

Supporting Local Restaurants…..

I don’t intend to get into politics. We are as is being said, in “uncharted waters” (or whatever term you prefer), yet some of the restrictions set out are simply not sustainable. As more hard data becomes available rather than mostly modeling, decisions as to focused solutions will hopefully come about in the next week or two.

In the meantime, small businesses considered non-essential will see some financial assistance with passage of the economic bill yesterday. Help will not be immediate of course, which goes back to the point of the mantra of having three-to-six months of savings set aside to carry one through emergencies. Many, of course, do not have that various reasons.

In the case of a barber shop being closed, there’s nothing we can do to help them. With our local restaurants, we can, and are doing carry-out to reflect at least the same rate as we usually do, and a little more. Less than two weeks ago, when I had one of those lunch out five days in a row in addition to the standing Wed and Fri Happy Hours, Hubby joked about me having lunch out more than anyone he knew. In general though, I do have lunch out at least once and often twice a week, so there is no reason not to do that now. Fridays nights have always been pizza night for us and Hubby’s favorite is Papa Johns. Under the circumstances, he said we would use one of the family-owned places instead until they are all able to re-open for regular business. I was especially glad to see the governor here is allowing those restaurants with their liquor license to sell beer and wine to go. (The usual laws pertaining to it being bagged and no open containers in the vehicle still apply). After all, when we dine out, we always order a bottle of wine or beer. I am also glad we’re in a position to be able to do this for at least a while.

 

FIGAT, Here’s What It Is….

There is a charming place, Cauley Square, about 25 minutes north that I have written about in previous posts. It’s a ten-acre, beautifully landscaped historic area filled with small shops and two main restaurants. The one up front is quite well-known and enjoyable. The second, the Village Chalet, is tucked back into tropical foliage and you do have to walk to get to it. Like the other buildings, it is in an old house brought in. It has a wrap-around porch to allow for outside dining and is cozy inside. It has passed through multiple hands over the years and the latest version is FIGAT Chefs Kitchen.

FIGAT is Federation of International Gastronomy, Art and Tourism. It’s an international organization that celebrates the love of food. Chefs are rotated every so often to different places and the reason they are in Cauley Square is because of the proximity to Redland which has unique agriculture. While they are not precisely Farm To Table, they focus on fresh. At the moment, their menu is heavily influenced with Spanish and Caribbean. They are not inexpensive, but portions are generous and worth what you spend. There will also be culinary workshops and events in the near future. Service is impeccable. This is not a place to dash into for a meal. It is intended to be leisurely and the sort of place where one has wine with lunch. Interestingly, their array of desserts (at least for lunch) are shooter size with choices of mousse, key lime pie, multiple flavors of cheesecake, and yes, the coffee is delicious. I will be sitting down with the lady in charge soon to write an article for the paper. They are involved in programs with various levels of students as well as entities associated with tourism. Unless we specifically wish to travel into the Keys to dine on the water, this will be our special occasion place if we want to go beyond our city limits.

 

Girl Scout Cookies…..

Ah yes, each January – and this is the part I find puzzling – we have the Girl Scout tradition of massive cookie sales taking place in the exact same month where there are leftover sweets from the holidays and many people are at least trying to cut back on calories. Now, in all fairness, some people don’t need to cut back and if one has lots of kids/teens to provide snacks for, this takes care of that and supports a worthy cause. We, of course, are in a position where it’s simply one more charitable contribution as I actually take possession of usually only two boxes. The rest is, “No, I don’t need more cookies, but here’s the $5.” I suppose I have now answered my own question as to why sales continue to be strong. It is indeed a tradition people still appreciate.

I do admit I was startled to see the upcoming (or maybe it aired and we missed it) Girl Scout Cookie Baking Competition. I am always amazed at the culinary artistry of most of the decorative baking competitions and from the trailers I’ve seen, this will be quite creative. I’m not certain of what the rules are and if there are extra points for incorporating as many of the kinds of cookies as possible. Which leads me to the next aspect. Even though I tend toward the time-honored favorites of Thin Mints, Shortbread, and Do-Si-Dos (for Hubby), the lemon are tempting and I nearly caved at the sight of Toffee-tastic and Caramel Chocolate Chip when I was at the grocery yesterday. There are some other new ones, too, and as a former logistician, I do wonder a bit. I haven’t spoken with the dedicated parents who do this year-after-year about how they manage the increasing number of choices. Anyway, I’ll see if I hold off for another week or if at least one more box will make its way into the pantry.

Carefully Embracing Something New…..

I grew up with a pressure cooker in the house as did many of our generation. My mother was not a particularly accomplished cook, but she did like using the pressure cooker for several dishes and there weren’t too many of the “explosions” common to its use. I never bought one as an adult though. Fast forward to a few years ago when “Instapot” came onto the scene and was met with praise by quite a few people. Hubby mentioned a while back he was intrigued with the idea and this is how we wound up with one under the Christmas tree.

In essence, it is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, and warmer with a sear function. It can do all this through electronics and “smart technology”, which also means it ha all sorts of read-outs and steps in preparing a dish. As Hubby read the instructions (and multiple warnings), I knew I had no intention of using this thing until I watched him a few times. So, black eye peas from the dried state New Year’s Day was the initial trial. Rather than having to soak the peas for hours, it required only a quick rinse. In this case, the pressure cooking option was the way to go. Everything is electronically sensed so you set the cooking time and there is a digital “countdown” as it goes from preheating to cooking, then venting. While you don’t have the old worry about carefully controlling the temp to avoid the infamous “explosions”, the warning is very clear about keeping hands away as it vents after finishing the cooking time. We didn’t need to, but if we had not been home, it would have automatically gone into warming mode for a period of time. Our next try (maybe this week) will be to attempt the sear the meat and then switch to slow cook so you really do need only the single pot. Naturally, things can also be programmed ahead, but we will be taking this one step at a time.

 

All the Star Wars…..

This is actually a two-item post. In early November, the ShowBiz Entertainment Complex opened in Homestead. We did several articles about it for the paper and it is impressive. The company has quite a few movie theaters in multiple states, but only five of these complexes, and ours is the first one in Florida. When you enter the complex, there are thirteen bowling lanes to the right, an electronic arcade to the left and a full bar in between. In addition to the standard concessions, there’s also an ice cream and coffee bar and a cafe that serves a nice menu. Beyond all this are ten movie theaters; one of which is equipped with a very high tech system, SDX. All the theaters have Dolby sound and big screens though so any of them present quite the experience. I was going to go with Hubby a couple of weeks ago to actually watch a movie, but some kind of last minute crisis interfered. Son and daughter-in-law had “date day” while they were here and went to see Star Wars. The plan to take granddaughter New Year’s Day didn’t come about as other things took priority. Anyway, I finally went with Hubby this week to see Star Wars. The reclining leather seats are quite nice and the fact I could take in my glass of wine was even better. Each seat has not only a cup holder, but also a tray to comfortably hold items.

Now onto the movie. Since we are of an age to have seen the original Star Wars, that puts us in a different category than the kids. I will acknowledge still being somewhat confused with prequels and sequels that make up what I think are now nine movies total. It’s been interesting watching the original stars age as they have and of course the unexpected death of Carrie Fisher three years ago was especially poignant in seeing her on the screen. It’s difficult to know how many young girls have been influenced by her role as Princess Leia. The movie, Rise of Skywalker, was true to the format and the special effects were amazing as always. I really do think it can come to a close now, but Hollywood may well have other ideas.

There was a big crowd for the ShowBiz ribbon cutting.

A New Decade….

While I had wanted to post yesterday, we always do a party for about a dozen people and balancing prep plus having the kids and a very active four-and-a-half year old, computer time was limited. In fact, I’d hoped to sleep in this morning. On the other hand, having a bit of quiet time is useful. And yes, I did have a mini-cupcake and a shortbread cookie for breakfast. I will seek a home for some of the extra sweets that have come our way. We have a new family across the street with four children, so I’ll see how “over-loaded” they are. Fortunately, one of our neighbors and party-attendee is a widower who just returned from visiting family in California. He will be happy to take leftovers of pulled pork, chicken wings, etc,. and we do have plenty to share. I always buy too much and even then think, “Maybe I should add one more thing.” Hubby sighs and no longer tries to reason with me.

Anyway, it’s interesting the number of people who are asking, “Where did the decade go?” In our case, everyone at the party (less granddaughter of course) remembered entering the New Millennium and what excitement that was. In fact, our son was in the High School Class of ’99, and he’s still not sure if that was cooler or if being in ’00 would have been.

It has certainly been a decade of change and I think many of us have mixed feelings. It’s difficult to know what the next ten years will bring. I haven’t done formal New Year’s resolutions for a long time although great for those who chose to do so. Hoping for the usual for family and friends, knowing the odds are someone will have difficulties to deal with. Perhaps at least the first year of the new decade will be calm.